Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Things People Assume I Like But I Really Don't Pt. 3

That's right. I don't like Kevin Smith. I'm not saying I virally hate Kevin Smith like I virally hate Dave Matthews Band...I just don't like him...and it isn't for lack of trying on my part. At one time I owned all the movies. I read some of the comics he wrote for. I even went and saw Kevin Smith live when he came to Springfield. And some of it I even liked. I laughed when Jay would make some grotesque sexual innuendo. I found his comic book writing style interesting. I even thought he spun a good yarn when I saw him live. But as much as I laughed I always came away from each Kevin Smith experience questioning myself. "Is this really that good?" I would wonder. "Is Dogma really as clever as I think it is?" I'd ask myself again. "Is Kevin Smith a genius?" I never gave these questions too much thought. I just went about my life thinking that Kevin Smith must be a genius or else everyone would hate him. Then two things would happen and all that would change.

One Sunday at Dungeons and Dragons, a conversation was hatched. We were discussing the recently released Clerks II (which I didn't care for). Two of my friends, who hated Kevin Smith anyway, were ragging about the film, saying it was the same Kevin Smith bullshit all his movies hang their hat on - dick jokes, fart jokes, and Jay and Silent Bob. Another friend, who was a Smith fanatic, loved the film and said the dick jokes, fart jokes, and Jay and Silent Bob were exactly the reasons why it and Smith were great. I listened to the argument unfold and at the end I had to side with my friends who hated Kevin Smith because I believe they were dead on with the Kevin Smith Movie Formula, that ultimately they rely on dick jokes, fart jokes, and Jay and Silent Bob.

Don't get me wrong. I like a good dick joke, and I love a good fart joke, but I don't necessarily think they make for strong comedy. Groucho Marx gave an interview on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971 and in it he talks about the use of vulgarity in Hollywood. Basically, Groucho says that anyone can go on stage and say something dirty and get a laugh, and that it takes a true comedian to get a laugh with a clean joke. Here's the interview:

I actually agree with this. I think there are a lot of great comedians who use vulgarity in their acts, but at the end of the day I don't think they're as strong from a comedic standpoint as Bill Cosby, or Steve Martin, or Red Skelton, or Justin Wilson, or Jack Benny (the list goes on). For me, Kevin Smith's use of vulgarity is good for a laugh, but it's a cheap laugh, and I can't call him a genius for that. As for Jay and Silent Bob...I see them as a crutch. Kevin Smith has said on many occasions that he would like to start making films without this duo, and in fact tried once with Jersey Girl which was a flop. So how did Smith follow-up his flop? Another movie with Jay and Silent Bob is how. I'm not against using gimmicks to make money. If you have a product that makes money and you want to exploit that product to make money then go for it! I would probably do the same if I had a gimmick that people were into. However, again, I can't call doing that genius because to me it goes back to that "too easy thing." It's too easy for Smith to throw Jay and Silent Bob into a film and give them a huge array of dick jokes and fart jokes. He knows their presence is going to bring people out to the theater and sell tickets. This is not genius...it's just savvy business sense.

So is Kevin Smith a genius? Is he one of the best directors in Hollywood? Well, I don't think so, but if you talk to any Kevin Smith fanatic, and ask them to name off the best directors in Hollywood, Kevin Smith's name will almost always come up next to names like Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, Kubrick, and others, and they get so mad if you disagree with their assessment. Ultimately, what I think wins the argument is Smith's own assessment of himself. He has admitted time and time again that he is just making movies about dick and fart jokes and that being compared with the best directors in Hollywood is probably a hasty judgment. Anyway, that about does it for my latest installment of Things People Assume I Like But I Really Don't. Now bring on the hate!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Songwriting Spank Material - "Love Is All"

On May 24 of this year a man named Robert Zimmerman will turn 70 years old. You might know him by another name - Bob Dylan. Ten years ago when Dylan turned 60 years old the music community realized something it hadn't considered - Bob Dylan is getting older and one day he will die, and there will be a void in the world of songwriting. I heard a debate shortly after his 60th birthday. The subject was simple - Who is Bob Dylan's heir apparent? And everyone had an opinion. Some went with more mainstream choices - Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. Others had less mainstream ideas - Sarah McLachlan and Connor Oberst. I heard people try to make a case for Billy Corgan and Elliot Smith. I, myself, thought I'd discovered the next Dylan in a little known songwriter named Dan Bern (who I still contend is the best songwriter you've never heard of). Then one day, my good friend Clint e-mailed me about a songwriter he'd come across that I needed to check out. Clint has never disappointed me with a musical suggestion. The songwriter's name is Kristian Matsson, and he performs under the name The Tallest Man On Earth, and I can tell you, without a doubt, he is the next Bob Dylan.

The Tallest Man on Earth has two albums - Shallow Graves and The Wild Hunt - and every single song on them is not just good, but brilliant. I could do a Song Writing Spank Material blog for all of them, and in particular: "The Blizzard's Never Seen The Desert Sands," "I Won't Be Found," "Pistol Dreams," "Shallow Grave," "The Wild Hunt," and "Burden of Tomorrow". However, I decided to be really disciplined about this and decided to narrow my choices down to one song. This was an incredibly hard thing for me to so because I think a lot of these songs are equally brilliant, but one I kept coming back to was "Love Is All."

Again, I don't know that "Love Is All" is necessarily the best song in The Tallest Man On Earth's arsenal, but it's a major player, and it has a lot of great songwriting elements. The first thing that strikes me about this song is the chord progression and the over all style of the guitar. It's very different from a lot of The Tallest Man On Earth's stuff. It's more subdued and plays around with more minor chord changes than in most of his other stuff. The second thing is his vocals. He plays around with a hook at the end of each verse "w-hoa-oh-oh," "si-i-i-in," and so forth. These phrases bounce with the acoustic guitar. Then as he says the word "rise" he lets us see his vocal range and the song builds from there, and it builds wonderfully. So the guitar is interesting, the vocal phrasing is diverse, and oh yes...the lyrics are amazing. That first line where he says, "I walk upon the river 'cause it's easier than land," is a line I can truly say I wish was mine. I could go on and on about how great this song is, but I'll let you listen for yourself. Here is The Tallest Man On Earth with "Love Is All."

Come Gather Round Thumby Wherever You Roam

I have been decidedly less ranty these days. I think the reason is I've had a lot on my mind. I'm getting ready to make a major move in a few months, my health isn't as good as it has been, and I just feel like there is a lot more to worry about with my own life. I just haven't had the drive or desire to just get mad at insignificant things. However, that doesn't mean that insignificant things don't still piss the hell out of me and bottle up over time. THE BOTTLE HAS TO BURST! THE SHIT NEEDS TO COME OUT! AND WHEN IT DOES IT'S TIME FOR (trumpets and horns and shit playing fanfare) A THUMBY!!! I happen to have 3 for today. Enjoy.

1. Fat Dude At The Post Office - Hey man, could you do me a solid favor? Could you please, FOR ALL THAT IS DECENT AND GOOD IN THE WORLD, take that five bucks that you were going to use to buy Baconnaise (actual product) and Oreos, and buy a belt? You really need one. Yes, I know you think Baconnaise is tasty, and when you spread it on the Oreos you can actually hear your arteries screaming from inside your body in much the same way a live lobster squeals when you put it in boiling water. However, here's the thing. Your ENTIRE ASS is hanging out of the back of your pants. The whole thing. A harvest moon. There is nothing left to the imagination, just the rolling red of your Fruit of Loom's barely clinging to your massive hamhocks and the crack of your ass poking out of the top like a smelly volcano. I couldn't help but overhear you talking to someone on the phone about someone's pregnant girlfriend, and that "just being how pregnant women are." How would you know? Who have you ever gotten pregnant? Is this how you get them, standing in a "spank me" position with your massive red ass hanging out of you shorts? Do the ladies drip when they see your crack poking out the top? Do you cock your eyebrow like James Bond and use pick up lines like, "Play your cards right and you might get to see the rest of my smell canyon."? FIX THAT SHIT, MAN! And until you do, please accept this Thumby.

2. Lightning Strikes Twice - Going from my apartment to the store, or to get gas, or to really anywhere, takes a great deal of patience due in large part to the people who dwell in the apartments in my complex. The Northpark apartments are really dominated by two social groups of people - black people and white trash - and any given day the activity of choice for both these demographics is to stand outside by their cars, drink, smoke weed, and play loud music, oh and also yell. If it weren't so fucking obnoxious to live next to, I would say it was good, from a racially standpoint, to see two diametrically opposed forces commingling together in drunken, stoned to the ba-jesus belt, harmony. But they just stand outside all day, everyday, and not just some of these people. A lot of them do. What the fuck are they doing all day? How boring does your life have to be that you would rather stand outside all day by your car drinking and smoking pot? Sure, the drinking and smoking pot might be fun, but all day? We're talking like 10-12 hours these people are outside. Anyway, I digress. So, any time I have to leave my apartment to go some place, it's like trying to navigate my car through the crowded streets of New Delhi. You never know when someone is just going to back out of their parking spot full speed with little regard to who or what might be behind them (probably because their back window is blocked by trash bags filled with dirty clothes...and really...why waste precious Twinkee calories moving those?). You never know when some drunk idiot is going to just walk out into the street from behind a car, or when a stupid child is going to run out in front of you. Getting out of the complex is a tangled adventure a lot of times.

So...Sunday. I leave to buy duct tape and because I wanted some food, so I decided I would have to go to Wal-Mart for these things. I'm slowly traversing the curve of the street inside my complex when I happen upon a group of white trash and black people (probably 7-10) all drinking Old English Malt Liquor (I wish I was kidding about that) and standing IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING ROAD! And here's the thing...they saw me driving up way before I happened upon their little Pow-Wow, and did they move out of the way like normal, rational thinking people? Fuck no! Instead, they waited until my car was about 3 feet from the perimeter of their little booze social, all stopped talking to me, and stared at me like I was some sort of moron. I'm the moron, for driving my car in the road where they were standing. Me. Clearly, I didn't pay attention in school when they taught us that roads are for standing in the middle of and for having booze and weed parties with your homies and Aryan brothers. Clearly I failed to heed my mother's advice when she taught me the three lessons of life - always take a jacket, chew with your mouth closed, and stare viciously at motorists when they want you to move out of the street. I'm the moron. It's a fact. So, you can see this situation irritated me somewhat, but I was alright when I finally got around them and was on my way to Wal-Mart.

So, I get into the Wal-Mart parking lot and I'm looking for a place to park. Now, my Wal-Mart has stop signs, and I heed them. I've heard conflicting reports about whether or not parking lot stop signs are actually something you need to obey, but I heed them because there are too many stupid drivers out there who don't know the precise ballet that is parking lot etiquette. So there I am, camped at a parking lot stop sign, a two way stop, and an SUV is oncoming. The SUV has the right of way, it can just go on through the intersection, or turn, or fly away, or combust. Whatever, it's up to the driver because they have the right of way. Well, this idiot didn't do any of those things because apparently they flunked Eyes and Eye School, and they decided that the two way stop should be a four way stop. To make matters worse, this genius starts waving me through, and is getting annoyed at me because I'm not moving. After about 30 seconds of frantic waving the driver finally gets fed up and blows through the intersection. WHY THE FUCK DO PEOPLE DO THIS? This happens to me all the time. I'm at a two way stop, the oncoming car pulls to a stop and waves me through. Why? If I were a cop I would pull that person over and ticket them for not knowing a simple road rule. It's so so so irritating, but again I digress.

So after the genius driver pulls through the intersection, I pull through the stop and turn left into an aisle, and what should I see when I get there? A group of teenage girls and some adults standing in the middle of the fucking road talking with each other like it's an ice cream social, and once again, the entire group turns around, glares at me like I'm a child molester, and walks away slowly. FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!

So anyway, to these two separate groups of people and to the Einstein of stop signs, I have a bird on one hand and a Thumby on the other. Go fuck yourselves!

3. To Everyone In The World Right Now - Shut up. Seriously, just shut the hell up. I am tired of hearing your problems. You all think you're victims, that life is somehow slighting you, that everyone else should be feeding you grapes off a silver platter. I have news for you - shut the hell up. You're not mutually exclusive. You're not a target, a victim, and no one is slighting you. Everyone has problems. Today people lost jobs. Today people lost someone they love. Today someone found out they were sick. Today someone found out they were going to lose a house, or a car, or a limb. The world is a long chain of suck and we're bound by it. Stop throwing yourself a pity party, stop trying to get other people to solve your problems because I guarantee you those other people have problems too. Above all, just do what I do. Suck it up, get out of bed, and get the fuck on with it. Until then, suck on this Thumby, leave me alone, and shut the hell up.