Known Johnson

September 18, 2004

Various and Sundry, vol. 194x

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:03 am
  • Look left! You can now hop from here directly to a page on Blogcritics where you can see all of my posts and all of my currently 1200+ comments. 1200 comments?! Maybe I need to spend a little less time there. My God, man, have some self-control.
  • Some things probably go without saying, but count me among those excited for the Star Wars Trilogy DVD boxset arriving in stores Tuesday. At this point, I think I’m done bitching about Lucas adding in new footage. As long as they don’t change the tone and fun of the movies, these new pieces of footage are just eye candy. It makes Lucas happy, he likes his CG. Don’t fret – I would bet, were I a betting man, that someday down the road we will see the original, un-appended trilogy. It’s just too good of a marketing opportunity, I can see Lucas’ team in a scenario like this:

    “Now that Lucas has finished his cleanup of the old movies, let’s get these out on DVD!” (Long pause as they salivate over the revenue this release will generate.) “No, wait, let’s hold off. Let the fans get really desperate for these movies. Lucas wants to add in footage that meshes with the new films, which the fans will hate. If we put out the originals on DVD now they’ll never buy the new ones with the added footage. Let’s wait until just before Episode III comes out and release his finished, updated Trilogy. The fans will have waited so long for these on DVD they won’t care too much if they’re altered. Then in, say, 2006, we’ll ‘uncover’ the original footage, clean it up, and release those films in whatever format is the big thing at the time. And the fans will rejoice. And buy them up in droves, too.”

  • Really, really can’t wait for Nov. 3. Let’s just get this freakin’ election over with already.
  • 70% chance of rain here tonight. Alissa and I are going to an ASU football game with her dad and brother. There’s a 30% chance I’ll walk out of there dry.
  • Joey isn’t bad. I’ll put it this way: it’s both as funny as Friends was in the last couple of seasons at its best, and it’s as bad as Friends was in the last couple of seasons at its worst. At least it has room to grow, I guess.
  • Surprising music recommendation: The Presidents Of The United States Of America’s new album (yes, they’re still together,) Love Everybody. I picked this up for Alissa last week and was really surprised to find that it’s a great, fun, smart album. I think Weezer fans, especially, would enjoy this mightily. Before you scoff, they’ve moved on since the “Lump” days, people, you should too.
  • Call me a dork, but I really want one of these. Or one of these. Can’t stand the games of today, but give me Yar’s Revenge any day.
  • This is the last bullet.
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September 16, 2004

Gratuitous yard photos

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:24 am

For those who followed my on-and-off year-long struggle to landscape our backyard, here’s a few shots from a week and a half ago to show the lovely green progress of our sod:

Grass is so much nicer than dirt.

“This one gets almost 6 miles per gallon . . . “

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:20 am

Yesterday I saw a truly wonderful vision – a stretch limo created not from your usual luxury car but from one of those confused truck/SUV hybrid, with the tiny open bed instead of a closed-off rear end. It was a Cadillac EXT, to be exact, and it was one of those extreme limos. You know the kind – not content to just be bit longer, the builders evidently used the scale on which city busses are built as a comparison. What I thought was so wonderful about this was that there’s this gigantic automobile, capable of ferrying around seemingly dozens of people, and tacked onto the end as if an afterthought is this tiny little truck bed. I thought, “That’s a really intriguing and brilliant artistic statement, that we have grown to demand such needless excesses in our lives that we entirely ignore any need for utility and usability.”

Then again, maybe it’s just another way for some guy to compensate for those devastating feelings he has that he’s “inadequately equipped,” you know, the ones he gets all those emails about. Imagine the limo he could make out of this . . .

September 15, 2004

Album of the day: Tears For Fears – Everybody Loves A Happy Ending

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:19 pm

I’ve been what you might refer to as a reluctant Tears For Fears fan for most of my life. Like with Crowded House, it wasn’t until recently that I could actually admit that my musical tastes have pretty much circulated around these two bands all along, even if my tastes diverge from them as frequently as they do mesh with them. Being a “metal guy” in high school, it was pretty much totally uncool to say how much I truly loved Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and Tears For Fears “Head Over Heels,” but thankfully I can’t even see a reason to find shame in admitting that now. I was a stupid high school kid who swore up and down that Def Leppard was the best band in the world, even while knowing that “Dont’ Dream” was just about the most gorgeous piece of songwriting I’d ever heard – that’s just not cool to admit. That’s not to slight Def Lep at all – I’m just saying, take a look at my collection and see which two of the three bands mentioned above still have a home in my collection. And why wouldn’t they? Those two songs are damn near the premier examples of the perfect pop song, outside of, say, the output of a little Liverpool band in the 60s.

I know Tears For Fears ended for a lot of people with 1989’s The Seeds Of Love, what with Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal getting all Pink Floyd, as Smith took off for a solo career and Orzabal continued on with the “band.” Fans pretty much turned a deaf ear to his two offerings, but as with all things of this nature, I have to ask myself that if they didn’t have the burder of living up to the TFF moniker, wouldn’t most fans have loved them? Most likely – they really weren’t all that much different than the more serious pieces on Seeds Of Love, if maybe they indulged in the big sappy balladeering too much. Well, damn, who cares too much when you’ve got the glorious golden pipes of Roland Orzabal pushing them forward?

I was a little excited to hear the boys mended whatever likely meaningless differences had separated them and were at work on a new album. But I also got the usual worries that arise from something like this – is this a cash-in on the currently “in” status of 80s music, an album most likely filled with very tiresome and hackneyed filler and one hopefully Big Hit, or is this an album of music that simple had to be made, needed to be made, filtered down from the ether to the TFF teammates who, in dramatic 80s teen-flick fashion, made a mad dash to each other after the Big Revelation woke them from their depressed slumbers (and probably through likely rain-slicked streets, you know?)

Originally slated for release something like April or May of 2004, the release date slipped back ominously as Arista Records unceremoniously dropped the band like the proverbial hot potato. After hearing Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, I have to ask, “Arista, what the hell were you thinking?” Even if the album can’t possibly match the sales of Songs From The Big Chair or The Seeds Of Love, this is the kind of artistic statement labels should want to have among their roster.

As if the 90s never happened, Happy Ending picks right up where Seeds left off with an especially fitting placement of the title song in the first track position. “Everybody Loves A Happy Ending” sums up everything people loved about Tears For Fears – it’s all here, from the soaring vocals to the breakdown in the second half of the song that features a happily-lifted-from-the-Beatles-songbook melody, complete with Orzabal’s well-placed impressionof that ascending “wooooh” thing that McCartney pretty much patented. So what if “Call Me Mellow”‘s chorus nicks the melody of The La’s “There She Goes”? No one seems to care that the chorus of Modest Mouse’s “Float On” is just James’ “She’s A Star,” so who’s to blame TFF for borrowing a great chorus too? And it has to be intentional that “Who Killed Tangerine” almost perfectly mimics the halting structure of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” right?

If there’s one thing people will find fault with, it’s that the album is a true album. You need to hear it as a collection of specific songs in specific spots because, individually, the songs aren’t as strong as their past offerings but together, it’s a great album. That’s nothing to scoff at – a great album is something that’s become more and more rare as bands struggle desperately to get a foothold in the industry with just a single song. It’s not such a great loss that it’s an album full of merely good songs with a few near-greats sprinkled in. Maybe some will be turned off to know that it’s also drawn more from the post-breakup style of the material Orzabal crafted, but with just enough of Smith’s psychedelic pop influence to keep it from getting as dry as the Roland-led band’s material often did. Regardless, there’s a hell of a lot of beauty in Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, and it’s a great tragedy if it goes ignored by a public that may be growing weary of the 80s cash-in reunions. This is one of the few real deals you’re going to find out there.

Sympathy day off

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:35 am

I was out from work sick yesterday (yes, actually sick, and not just playing sick to get a free day off) and it occured to me this morning as I got ready to go to work that sick days need to be followed by at least one free day off, a sympathy day off, if you will. Think about it: you’re out sick, really ill, feeling awful, can’t do anything but sleep or really disgusting things. Jumping right into work after having spent a day very ill, well, that just sucks. That’s just trading one kind of suffering for another. You deserve a day off after you’re relatively “better” to “normalize” yourself, a day free of work or pressing matters to just mentally recover.

September 12, 2004

DeepDiscountDVD

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 1:58 pm

I’m giving DeepDiscountDVD a try, having had a couple of successful, but VERY slow transactions with their sister site, DeepDiscountCD quite a long time ago. Just a few minutes ago I ordered up a copy of King Crimson’s latest DVD (well, a reissue of two older concert videos – Live in Japan and The Noise) for an amazing $11.98 including FREE shipping. I’m not dying to see this right now, as I’ve already seen both on VHS long ago, so I figure this is probably a safe choice for an experiment. Let’s see how long this order takes – make note of the day, and I’ll post when the DVD arrives. Hopefully they’ll do me right and get that thing out to me quick.

My previous experiences with DDCD showed that while they had great prices on CDs – typically the lowest around and again with free shipping – they were very, very slow. I believe the one order took at least a month, and the other was pretty close to that. This, for me, is typically not a good option – I can wait a week for an item to arrive, but a month for a CD is far too long.

My moods shift rapidly when it comes to music and even waiting for a week is pushing my patience. However, I’m starting to shift my purchases online now. The lack of local availability of items that fit my quirky tastes in music has always been a problem, but now I’m just plain getting pissed with one of my longtime favorite music stores, Zia Records. In recent years, I’ve watched their stock shift from heavily indie rock to a more even mixture of very “corporate,” mainstream stuff, which is fairly saddening in and of itself. What’s worse is that I actually have found things at Best Buy locally that even Zia isn’t carrying, and that is pretty frightening. Not to mention that Zia’s prices have been drifting upward for years now, and their new prices on most new releases are far higher than Best Buy. I want to support these local stores but they have to meet me half way – I spend far too much on music to pass up saving $2-3 on each CD to support local stores, I’m sorry to say. But today took it too far.

Having noticed last week that the above-mentioned King Crimson DVD was on sale for $14.99 at the Tempe Zia location, I decided I’d purchase it there. Best Buy and Circuit City are apparently not stocking this, and they were $16.99 and $19.99 respectively according to their websites anyway. So I headed off to the nearest Zia (one of five in the general Phoenix area) to pick it up – but found it was not on sale at this location and bore an $18.99 price tag. I asked the cashier if it was actually on sale but just didn’t have a sticker and he replied that no, it’s not on sale. When I asked why the Tempe store had it on sale he told me that that store is entirely separate and they have “their own sale prices” on things. So let me get this straight: Zia Records is a local chain store, all owned by the same person, all utilizing the same distributor, carrying basically the same items – and they share stock by transferring it from store to store, but for some reason they don’t all have the same price? Does this make sense? Can you imagine going to Best Buy and finding that the location you’re at has something $4 more expensive than others for absolutely no reason? I told him that that was ridiculous and that I was skipping that purchase and walked out, vowing never again to purchase new CDs and DVDs at any location other than the Tempe store.

I’d like to say I’m not going to purchase any new CDs locally anymore at all unless it’s on a very good sale, and I’m slowly working my way towards that. Yes, it’s going to hurt the local stores if I do this but at some point you just have to put your foot down and say STOP. They keep blaming us, the customers, for their declining sales but they have to realize at some point even those of us who want to buy local and support local have to draw a line. You can’t keep complaining that your sales are dwindling when you frequently feature prices of $17.99 and $18.99. Lower the price and I promise you people will buy.

The worst part of all of this, the pricing and the lack of stock, is that they’re destroying something I dearly love: music shopping. I love nothing more than browsing through the aisles of a music store. I’m in Zia so often and examine the stacks so thoroughly that I probably actually have a better idea of what they have in stock than anyone outside of the store’s computer. I scour the racks for used CDs, mainly, but I just as frequently purchase new discs that catch my eye, usually things I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find elsewhere or cheaper. I can still go in search of used stuff, but the whole process is becoming tainted by bad experiences like today. What’s sad is, I know I can likely find many of the older items I seek out used cheaper online, but I choose to buy them locally at Zia because I want to support these local stores. I’m becoming jaded now, however, and those cheap Half.com deals look better and better, even if I do have to wait a week or more to get my CDs. Patience is something I’m willing to learn, and unfortunately it will be at the expense of the local stores that I’ve so loved.

Most creative use of the word “best”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:45 am

Saturday Night Live must be scraping the bottom of the barrel for rerun material – it’s pretty obvious they didn’t want to show too much of the crap from a disasterously bad season, so last night they opted to pull out one of their “best of ” shows dedicated to one member of the show. No, unfortunately it wasn’t a sure thing like Will Ferrel, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase or even Dana Carvey (they must have lost the rights to air these when they became available on VHS/DVD.) No, instead of the certified, truly best actors SNL has had to offer in the past we got “The Best Of Jon Lovitz.” Let me repeat that with emphasis: “The best of Jon Lovitz.” Jon Lovitz? Really? He has enough material that warrants a “best of” show? Well, if the 45 minutes we watched of last night’s show is any indication, the answer there is a big NO. And yet . . . it was still funnier than most of last season (which, strangely, had a very few extremely funny moments among the dreck – the writers must have worn themselves out on a few bits and so we got stuff like “The Falconer” way too often.) That’s faint praise, if it isn’t obvious.

“It’s time for SNL to go off the air.” How many times have you heard that? I’ve probably said that too, but I don’t know if I can honestly stand behind that. I simply cannot imagine Saturday Night without the Live. That would leave the only option as the primary choice – MadTV. While it has its moments, MadTV is just as spotty. I just find MadTV much less pleasant to watch – I don’t like most of the actors and I don’t like most of their characters. You’d think with a shorter running time they could pack in more quality (I have frequently wondered why SNL doesn’t cut their shows to an hour – there’s ALWAYS a half hour, at least, of supremely subpar material) but they’re as unreliable as SNL’s 90 minutes. NBC knows SNL will always get better ratings than anything else they could offer. Why? Because they know without even the crappiest of SNL, what choice does a person have?

September 11, 2004

Can you hear me now?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 7:58 pm

Cellphones suck, that’s all there is to it. Alissa and I have a cellphone each and we each use it about the same – a minute here or there, usually no more than an hour a month. Yes, that’s right, an hour. Neither of us particularly likes talking on the phone, but we realize that both of us really need to have a phone handy for little things. We just don’t use it the way I see most people do – using one basically as their main telephone. These phones are basically a total waste of $80 a month – the cheapest deal we could find – and Sprint should be very happy we’re their customers, what with us giving them about $55 more than we really should, the way I figure the minutes we use and all those lovely fees they like to add on.

So now that my contract with Sprint is up, we’ve decided that this $80 a month thing is ridiculous and thought maybe we could try those phones with the cards you buy to “fill up” the phone with minutes. I’m sure it’s technically more expensive per minute, but we’ll actually make out better because we simply do not use them enough to warrant 5000 minutes a month. The problem is they don’t make these phones-with-cards a very appealing deal, either.

The first problem I noticed is that the cards often state that the minutes on them have to be used within 45-60 days after activation. Why? What difference is it to Virgin or whoever when we spend our minutes? They all seem to have something like that. It may not be a day-limit, but it’ll be something like “You have to recharge your phone with $20 of time every XX days.” It’s the same deal – it’s nowhere near as “free and clear” and they like to claim it is.

The other big problem is the choice of phones. In order to make use of these cards you have to buy a new phone that can use them. And of course the cheap phones are a compromise – flip phones, like we need (having dealt with both unintential calls and the annoyance of unlocking a phone to use it we know we want nothing but those,) are the expensive choice, seemingly around $100 each. So that’s $200 for both of us to have phones. Sure, we might be able to coordinate having one phone, but that’s asking a lot – one of us will always have the phone when the other one needs it, so that option is out.

And another thing: I don’t need a camera in my phone. I don’t need the ability to text-message anyone. Nor do I need a walkie-talkie in my phone, either. Why would I want to do any of these things on a phone? If I want a picture, I use a real camera. If I want to send text, I will email from a computer with a real keyboard. If I want a walkie-talkie . . . well, I just won’t, okay? It’s a phone, it’s already built to transfer a conversation between two people. Why do I need another method of doing that, one that everyone around me can hear very clearly too?

What I really want to know is, why is the cellphone industry still like this? Why can’t I buy a phone and use it with ANY service for as long as I like? Why do I have to buy a new phone if I want to switch from Sprint to AT&T? Does this make sense to anyone? You can’t tell me that phones can’t be set up to work with any and all service out there. It’s like the whole number-switching deal that was supposedly so difficult and/or impossible, but when they were forced to it became apparently no problem, and every company was acting like it was their idea to do it in the first place. And another thing, why are we still paying per-minute? Can you imagine paying per-minute on your home phone? Why is this concept not a thing of the past? I’m actually surprised one of these companies hasn’t decided to undermine everyone and do just that – you know this has to happen at some point, so why not now?

September 9, 2004

EP of the day: Dan Friel – Sunburn

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:31 pm

I have a bass. It’s sitting right over there in the corner and it’s gotten tucked further and further away from me as time has gone on. Other things move in front of it, or find themselves stored on top of the amp, and eventually it’s just another thing taking up space in a room that desperately needs more free space. I never seem to find any time to play the thing, but I like having it nonetheless, regardless of how much extra space it takes up. I’ll turn on the amp occasionally, put the cold body against my chest, and I’m sometimes surprised at the sounds I can make on it. I often realize, sadly, that with some actual practice, a teacher perhaps, I could probably very easily play this thing in such a way as to evoke the kind of reaction out of people that means they recognize the sound as music. There are actually people out there who can just pick these things up and make beautiful sounds. At the moment, I’m not one of them.

I enjoy things like Dan Friel’s Sunburn EP for a slightly different reason. Like weird indie band Self with their toy-instrument powered album, Gizmodgery, Friel is not content to make beautiful noise on “regular” instruments. No, Friel instead employs the use of things most people would scoff at if they hadn’t heard what he can do with them. Among the list of instruments, Friel notes a keyboard he’s had since he was 8 years old, with, as he says, “built-in lame ass drum machine.” Walkie talkies, remote control car joysticks, a mysterious 5-string guitar (I picture those really cheap guitars you see for sale at Toys R Us,) and two guitar pedals – one overdrive and one delay/loop unit. Oh, sure, lots of people could figure out ways to make intriguing noise with things like the above, but Friel has actually formed all these oddities into very solid songs that skew most often toward Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP – that razor-sharp guitar that everyone adopted in the mid-90s. The difference here is that Friel’s songs are pure pop – behind the distortion and odd noises you find catchy melodies, “7 Sisters” being the most ear-wormish of all with a simple chiming, distorted keyboard (I assume?) motif figuring prominently. “Death” takes that same square-filter distortion and applies it to a catchy, near punk anthem. “B2bs,” a track recorded live, plays like Aphex Twin. With a spastic beat propelling this short piece along and what sounds like distorted Moog as the melody, it’s hard not to make a comparison. Through all 7 tracks, the main thing that shines through is Friel’s strong sense of melody – the sounds used might be harsh, but what he creates with them winds up being surprising and addictive.

Unfortunately, Amazon does not appear to be carrying Sunburn, so do yourself a favor and hop over to the Velocirecords website and order a copy. Come on, it’s $6. Give it a shot.

September 8, 2004

Gratuitous pet photos

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 2:35 pm

Dead cat sleeping:

Dead cat

So proud (if you knew him, however, you’d know he was just a big ham):

Proud
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