Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Angels

So I'm walking up towards Sunset Blvd. in the dark. It's about 6pm and I have somewhere I need to be. Up ahead I see a derelict slumped on the side of a building. "Great..." I groan inwardly and think "...another crazy guy. Should I cross the street? Nah, he looks harmless enough." He's bedraggled and filthy and his only companion is an enormous crap filled shopping cart, but he's somewhat stoned and probably immobile for the moment.

As I get closer a mini-van pulls over ahead of me and stops in front of the vagabond. Out pops a man a bit older than myself and a little boy no older than 5 or 6. The man takes the boys hand, and together they walk towards the street person. In their free hands are bags of groceries. I stop and watch as they gently approach and lay down the food for the man. The transient's face lights up with an enormous and impossibly white smile. "Thank you, thank you so much!" he slurs. The suburban man says a few more things, encouraging I'm sure but I can't hear, before taking his kids hand and returning to the van. The van is overflowing with groceries. The mom sits in the drivers seat, smiling warmly at her families return.

I resume my walk, as the van pulls away and the homeless man happily inspects his good fortune. I am moved almost to tears as I turn onto Sunset. Angels are truly among us.

Let's back up. I have lots of sympathy for the homeless, but I've always recognized that the vast majority of these poor souls are sick - as in mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs. I hardly if ever help them out with food, I NEVER give them money or any amount of my time. In my opinion, the best place for them to be is in a mental institution or in drug rehab. I often in fact find myself angry with them, having been around the world to places where people truly have nothing - it is a great insult to me and the world's impoverished for someone in Nike shoes and an I-Pod to ask for money (but this has happened on quite a few occasions).

Lack of money and opportunity is not the downfall of the street person. This is a great lie. Lack of mandatory mental health care and drug rehabilitation is the actual reason we have to step over these wayward souls in our parks and on our streets. Common sense dictates, in a civilized society, that these sick people should be forcibly incarcerated - though treated humanely and compassionately, until they are ready to get with the program. Living in filth and putting a blight on society should not be options; especially in a country so rich with resources.

That aside, the reality today, is that the American version of untouchables are permitted to dwell in the shadows. So called "progressives" are first and foremost in promoting a "street culture" that festers actively in society. Santa Monica, is an absolutely beautiful town, that is rotting from the inside thanks to the hundreds if not thousands of bums that reside in parks and public areas. San Francisco right now is out of control, worse than I've ever seen it, with dank and dangerous denizens nearly more abundant than tourists.

So with this in mind, I really do find it encouraging, that even in the face of such helplessness, people are moved to help - even if that very help may be ultimately counter productive.

Steve Page of Barenaked Ladies wrote a song about suicide, and sings about how at a certain bridge in his hometown of Toronto, that just happened to be the number two bridge in the world (second only to the Golden Gate) for people jumping, they built a massive net to catch would-be suicide jumpers at the cost of millions upon millions of dollars. Of course, suicides all but stopped at the bridge, but soon went back up even more at another bridge less than a mile away. Absolute absurdity; as much as is giving food or money to an insane person. Logically, it's easy to see that if anything, these hopeless acts are done to make the giver feel better about themselves, to ease some of the guilt for being so blessed.

But I think there is a lot more going on here than cold logic. A suicide net may be ridiculous, giving money to a bum may be foolish - but the day we stop building nets, and the day we stop lending a helping hand, is a day I don't want to see. In a simple act of kindness, even an illogical act of kindness, we can make an immediate difference to a person in need. There is no sin in this act. "But it's selfish or impractical!" we may argue. Nonsense, I say. There are blessings all around us, and when we make the tiniest effort to bring those blessings to someone in their darkest hour, we truly can change the world through the human heart.

I hope I have the courage someday to lead my daughter by example the way that little boys family in the mini-van did. We must never stop believing in a better day for all of God's children, all of them. And if we have to be clumsy and foolish in our efforts, that is about a million times better than being indifferent. God bless us all, every one.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Barenaked Blast

What a party! On the night of November 28, 2006; five Canadian blokes entertained us SoCaler's with a rockin' boppin' slammin' good time of rock, roll and general silliness. Replete with improvisations, showmanship and unmatched pop rock chops - the Barenaked Ladies were in full effect to a 3/4 full crowd at the Universal Gibson Ampitheater at Universal City Walk.

My brother and I did our white boy dancin' throughout the show, in the seventh row no less. Steve and Ed were hopping and kicking up and down throughout, the rest of the group provided a rock solid rythm section (Tyler on drums, Jim on bass) and musical hues (Kevin on keyboards.)

The set list was the perfect mixture of old and new, as an uber fan I especially appreciated the first half of the program, where after a couple of new tracks and a hit they settled into a list of one random song per album - in order! This meant I got to hear rareities like "Just a Toy" and spazz out in a geeky way.

My brother was familiar with most of the other songs, and appreciated the groups musicianship and boundless energy. Highlights included a two song acoustic set that was TRULY acoustic, with a single mic picking up all vocals and entirely cordless instruments. They effortlessly punched through the barber shop harmonies of "Hello City" and then turned an old electric guitar rocker "Alternative Girlfriend" on it's ear by delivering it in an entirely authentic bluegrass package - complete with a mandolin no less!

I also for some reason, got the biggest adrenaline high of the night in the very next song "Too Little, Too Late" which is just a standard upbeat rocker. A song I have always been fond of, but live it simply transcended with the perfect mixture of lights, jumps and sounds.

The standards "One Week" and "Million Dollars" were crowd pleasers of course - and the show closed after the second encore with "Call and Answer" perhaps Steven's best power ballad. All in all I'd give the show an A, for outstanding energy and a rockin' good time. I did see them only once before, and as great as last weeks show was, the show in 2002 was even better. A sold out 25,000 seat ampitheater (as opposed to Universal's mere 8,000 or so) coupled with witnessing a band that was at the near peak of their popularity, produced a show that was probably the single most energetic concert I have ever witnessed. That last weeks show was a close second, didn't dampen the magic for me at all. It was a great time.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, even more so since I've traveled the globe, through all manner of first and third world countries. I've seen first hand why we are so lucky to be living in this great country. Being grateful is so important these days, when global despair and pervading helplessness threaten to cloud the truth that we are truly blessed in every way that matters.

This year was also especially gratifying for me personally, for the past six weeks I've been on Jenny Craig, and as of this past Turkey Day I have lost thirty pounds. It has been the best gift I could give myself, though there is plenty of credit to go around. My mom and my brother for constantly being in my ear about my health and future. My wife for setting a hard date for going to Jenny Craig. And especially my beautiful two year old girl for being the number one reason to live healthier.

I also got to visit my dad and east coast mom earlier this month, it was great to see them as well; I hope they can come out in January and see the munchkin.

All in all a great month, Wednesday night I get to see the Barenaked Ladies with my brother. An excruciatingly detailed review will follow.

God bless my family and friends, best wishes for an equally good December and an even better new year.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Duty and Honor

Far be it for me to cry foul on free speech. We are in America, and this is where you can say whatever you want - no matter how ignorant, stupid or wrong you may be. But lately, as things have taken a turn much for the worse in Iraq, I've been pondering. Pondering the state of things today, and where we are going, but most of all where we have been.

Someone mentioned on the radio, "could you imagine how CNN would cover D-Day?" It struck a nerve with me.

I Googled and found this tremendous article that describes in detail what the media coverage of today might look like over 60 years ago. Yes, this editorial is snarky and satirical, but it cuts to the heart of what I think is the biggest danger we face from ourselves.

A total lack of duty and honor as Americans.

There are people who are against what we are doing, fine. There were people in 1941 that were against entering the war as well, and they had the misfortune of being labeled traitors and communists. I don't think we need to go that far with the current crop of naysayers. But I do think a healthy disdain of defeatists isn't really a bad thing.

We have to win in Iraq. The consequences of losing are just too dire. Think back to D-Day or Iwo Jima, or any other initial SNAFU's in our military's history. What if Abe Lincoln had to give detailed daily reports on Civil War casualties to today's media? Do you think Americans could have stomached 7 or even 10 thousand deaths a day?

War is ugly, war is brutal. But by God we need to support the men and women overseas who are fighting for our freedom. I don't understand how Americans can be so glib about what a 'disaster' the middle east is right now. How Bush is 'evil' and 'lied' to us and how it is all hopeless. It baffles me how "torture" at the hands of US Soldiers should take priority in discussions over and above killing insurgents and extracting information from them.

I've come to realize that those who are for bringing the troops home yesterday, and who think that everything that we do is a joke, and that we are NOT fighting for freedom and peace; these people, are truly without honor. I have no use for them. They have no concept of how lucky they are to live where men and women are dying right now to protect their stupidity.

I also believe that there are some among this crowd who truly want us to fail. Deep down they believe that our soldiers are not the best and the brightest, rather they are the poor and stupid, and just one order away from murderous animals.

Ultimately, they think that being right is more important than the prosperity of our nation and neighbors. I just repeat to myself, "I do not agree, but will defend to the death your right to say it..." this quote helps me stomach the honorless.

And then I look at the world and America's reaction to places like Darfour. 60 minutes ran a piece last night that didn't even use the word "Muslim" once in it's description of perpetrators of the systematic rape and murder of over 300,00 Africans (so far) living there. Yet they were happy to blame the US for the problem. Yes, our country is apathetic, and in many ways pathetic, even impotent in the face of this crisis. But how can journalists call out our government, and yet not have the courage to call the killers what they are? No sense of duty as Americans, no honor as human beings.

These "blame America first" journalists are self-hating hypocrites who condemn and ridicule this country every chance they get, with no regard for the very real consequences of their defeatist jargon. They do not help, they actually hurt, our chances of victory in the middle east. They are dangerous in a very real way - they put lives in danger. This goes beyond free speech, beyond dissent, and into the realm of treachery.

Now I believe this is America, and there is nothing legally that should be done against these deluded cowards, but I wish some of their more centrist colleagues would call out these American bashing journos once in awhile.

They need to rediscover duty, and put America first in a time of war. At the very least, they need to rediscover honor, and intellectual honesty when it comes to painting a picture. In this day of instant media gratification, more than ever, it is time for clarity and truth. Arriving at the truth can be complex, especially tricky is navigating through the dogma centers that pass for Universities these days, but the truth can be found and boiled down to an absolute.

We must win.

It is harsh for some to hear, but when I look at my daughter, I know we cannot, ever, EVER, give in. I have studied history all of my life, and I know it is repeating, RIGHT NOW.

What scares me, is that so few of my fellow Americans know this - or even care. They really believe that if we could just get out of the middle-east, everything would go back to normal; just like Vietnam. (Oh yeah, the Vietnamese communists slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their own people when we left, but things went back to normal for us, I guess that's all that matters.)

Newsflash: Iraq is not Vietnam. Even the most ardent anti-war congress members concede that immediate withdrawal would be a disaster. So why, why, WHY, are so many Americans hell-bent on seeing this thing fail?

I just don't get it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Best Show on Television

I've always been a geek film lover; Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, etc. Movies and television shows that take us somewhere else, different worlds, strange beings, I love it all.

I've never been a huge fan of "real" drama. Shows like ER, Law and Order or movies like Million Dollar Baby, are expertly written and produced, but often so grim and depressing as to be classified as something else besides entertainment. I go for the sizzle, the fun, in movies and tv. I want to enjoy myself when I devote two hours of my time to sitting on my butt.

Which is why I am at a loss to explain why I love, love, LOVE the television series Battlestar Galactica. Oh sure, I can hear you saying, another Sci-Fi series, another goofy show with plastic sets and latex covered actors. Wrong. BSG is a gritty, dark, drama of the highest order; on par with the likes of The Shield, The Sopranos, or any other grim top quality show you can think of.

This is not phasers and photons, this is bullets and knives. You may remember the cheesy show in the late 70's, about a handful of apocalypse survivors on the run from metallic monsters called the cylons; well this version of the show has the same premise, only told without the wacky aliens, cheesy production values and wooden scripts. Imagine the hardest hitting drama you've seen, acted out in space - with intense emotions, unflinching violence and very adult situations; and you have the new Battlestar Galactica.

As I've said, the show is by no means fun, but I still love it. It is strictly for grown ups only, with intense developments on a weekly basis that have included graphic murder, intense agony and even a rape scene (my absolute least favorite thing in movies) as well as frequent f-words. Okay, so that word is "frak" a substitute for our favorite expletive, but you get the idea - this show pulls very few punches in delivering the drama.

And yet, maybe it is because there are so many cool things in this world; spaceships and explosions, different worlds and fantastic imagery, that I put up with, and even find myself enjoying all the angst. I also think that the rich tapestry of very real, though very flawed, characters, elevates this show way above standard fare.

Above all, as depressing as the show seems to be, it still has that faint glimmer of hope laced throughout. That search for a new home is ever present in the day to day calamities of these people's lives - and you can see it in their faces. There is a better place for us somewhere, and we are all on this journey together through hell to get there.

Do yourself a favor; rent the first disc of the first season of this show on DVD, and watch the first episode for fifteen minutes. If you are not absolutely hooked and sold, I would be absolutely shocked.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Barenaked Ladies Are MEN

Well, if you've stuck with me for this long you must be a glutton for punishment.

Here we go with the second part of my wordy and mostly worthless review of the "Barenaked Ladies" new album. "Barenaked Ladies Are Me."

Or rather, the second part of this album, which is online now, but will be released in a physical CD form next year, is called "Barenaked Ladies Are Men." Yes, it's wacky wordplay, BNL style. Accompanied by a wacky release of the record in two parts.

This album in total has 29 songs, they are releasing it all at once if you pre-ordered on I-Tunes. If you missed it, you can still get a 27 track deluxe version. Elsewhere on-line there are various versions, a 15 track version, a 25 track version, and others.

In record stores you can only buy a 13 track album. The physical CD, the second part of the record (with 12 songs) will be available in early 2007.

Confused? Me too. I didn't even realize that by pre-ordering I got two extra tracks that will pretty much be unavailable now, save for a USB stick that is being sold at shows and at their fan club website that has all 29 songs plus other multi-media.

Bottom line, last week I reviewed the 13 track first part, here is the 12 track second part. They could have made this easier to grasp.

"Barenaked Ladies Are Men" is even better than "Barenaked Ladies Are Me." It has a great mix of up-tempo and more melancholy tunes. Starting off with a Kevin Hearn mellow-fest, "Serendipity." Probably one of my least favorite tracks of them all, this song still has a groovy (albeit a bit repetitive) chorus. It's nice to break up the songs with different noises, and in that respect this track delivers.

Next is a kick butt song, "Something You'll Never Find", and it's one of my favorites. A rocking blaster with great retro 70's rock hooks and fantastic trumpet work. Let me take a moment to just say - for a bunch of guys who are all married (except Jim I think) and mostly all have kids, the songs certainly seem to be all about a lot of screwy relationships with various different women. This either means they are recalling their past, they have very active imaginations and/or their marriages are very complex. Not good or bad, I'm just sayin' is all.

Next up is probably the most musically lovely and romantic track - "One and Only". Now lyric wise, who knows. It seems mostly sincere, but there are stabs here and there that seem to be the usual irony laced barbs typical of BNL.

Speaking of irony, ready for good times at the expense of others? Then cue up "Angry People" and enjoy perfectly sardonic BNL taking the piss out of the rage filled morons of the world. This one is destined to be a classic at live shows and on peoples i-pod play lists. Great, great song.

The perfectly crafted pop/rock song of "BNL Are Men" is "Down To Earth" which has just the right amount of hard guitars and exquisite rhythm to get you dancing and super silly. It seems to be about, gasp in shock, a girl - who is young and gorgeous and has a train wreck of a personality. Nice.

If you are suspicious of "One and Only" being a bit sarcastic, then the track "Beautiful" is definitively so. I can't remember a more viciously condescending song from BNL, but again the music is just so gorgeous - you don't even realize you're listening to a bitter 35 year old trying to take power back from a stunning 20 something.

Next is probably the song that will be most remembered from all of BLAMen, "Running out of Ink" A great upbeat jam, a bit reminiscent of the energy level from "Upside Down" on BNL's last record. Lyrically, this is very self-referential in a clever and biting way. Funny stuff.

Ed Robertson makes it a perfect trilogy of beautiful ballads with bite on "BLN Are Men" with the track "Half a Heart". I haven't nailed down what he's trying to say yet, but I can gather it's another perfect mixture of longing, angst and anger bubbling out of a gorgeous and romantic arrangement of guitars and harmony. Like most of BNL's work, this song has an amazing bridge that is pure candy to the ears.

This next might be my favorite of all 29 (did I already say that about another song?) "Maybe Not" sounds like Journey meets, well, BNL; complete with cheesy hand claps and wah-wah pedals. Love the intro, love the power chords, love the whole dern thing.

While the previous track might be my most favorite, this next one "I Can I Will I Do" might be my least. It's the only song I skip, besides "Easy" which I skip because I've been listening to it for months. I get what they're doing here, it's a bit Al Green, a bit lounge singerish, a bit cheesy and spiteful. Similar to "Conventioneers" in mood, I am just not the biggest fan of stoner funk groove sarcasm. It works well to break up the record, because it sounds so different, but I'm thankful that BNL only does this on occasion.

Almost done with the second half of their opus, BNL hits hard with "Fun and Games". Where "Take It Back" was a heartbreakingly serious look at 9/11 with a perfect mix of feelings and facts, "Fun and Games" is a straight ahead condemnation of very specific people and incidents - that uses humor as it's deadly weapon. If you read this blog at all, you know I am decidedly pro-war on terror. This song makes an unmistakable statement against all of it, and I still think it is a GREAT song. It is so well done, including a mind blowing interlude that degenerates into a dixie land ragtime circus, that I can overlook the misguided intentions and really appreciate the work and humor that make this song fly. Contrary to what you might think if you read my rants, I abhor war, it's ugliness and brutality. There is nothing remotely appealing about it, and in that this song and I are in complete agreement.

Finally, the album comes to a gentle close with "The New Sad", an ironic song about- irony. Appropriate for BNL to say the least. Again, the melody is divine, and Steven's voice strikes just the right mix of soothing tones and playful crooning. Well done BNL.

But wait! There's more! Four bonus tracks! The first two are still available, if you get the music online, the second two were only found on the i-tunes pre-order for the deluxe edition (and now only on the USB stick sold at shows and at the fan club.)

"Quality" is an upbeat ditty that to my ears sounds too similar musically to "Fun and Games". Believe it or not, even I have a threshold for songs that are too much pop, and this song actually crosses over it a bit. Very sing songy and repetitive, it's not one that I would miss. (Wow, did I just diss that song?)

"Another Spin" is Kevin Hearn trying to rock out. He succeeds to a point, better than previous upbeat efforts, but this is still b-side material. Even so, I enjoy the horns and harmonies quite a lot, as usual BNL makes them sound effortless.

"What A Letdown" is a song that I think has been around for awhile, having been played live in many shows. It is a great power rock song, in the vein of "The Old Apartment" for it's thumping bass groove and guitar pounding. Definitely could have been included on the record, but it's cool to have such a strong song as one that fans need to dig a bit to find.

"Why Say Anything Nice" is a song that is sort of, not like anything BNL has ever done before. It reminds me a bit of Billy Joel's horn heavy songs ("Easy Money" or "When In Rome"). I can see why this song was left off as one that wouldn't fit, but it is still a joyous bar band rocker. The "Tower of Power" like horn stabs make it fun and rambunctious. I wouldn't mind at all if BNL's next record continued in this direction (though it has been a death knell for other groups, such as "Huey Lewis" or even "10,000 Maniacs")

Well there it is. That's all. If you're still here, I have only one thing to say...

You don't get out often enough.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


"Barenaked Ladies Are Me" is the new album, BLAM for short.

The short version of my review; it's awesome.

For part one of the the long, long version, read on.

First, I love the title. Anyone who listens to BNL for more than a minute knows that they are all about word play. The Barenaked Ladies Army in this case I'm guessing, refers to the fans. There was another army in the 1970's, the "Kiss" Army, a legion of devoted fans who worshipped the make-up glam metal act Kiss and propelled them into the stratosphere of arena rock.

BNL are at a similar crossroads now in their career, meaning that, devoted fans are the only ones who will keep them going strong commercially - since fickle (okay, corrupt) radio has apparently decided to not play their stuff. The shows will sell out, and the record will probably go platinum, because the Army is out in force.

And in this way, the album is very much for the fans. First of all, it is a double album. Two parts, 29 songs. That alone is more than enough to put off a casual listener.

Granted, there are multiple ways to buy the record - in stores only part 1 is available, 13 songs in all. But there are various permutations to down load online, with different tracks labeled as "bonus" and "extra." As a true blue fan, at the end of the day, the only version to buy is the Deluxe Edition on I-Tunes with both albums and 29 songs.

This record is BNL's magnum opus, the White Album, in every way. Generally I am against the "unfiltered" approach. We've all had to suffer through Prince releasing EVERY SINGLE SONG he has ever done, EVER. With the exception of musical Gods like the Beatles or well, the Beatles, I think music artists should edit, shave down and polish their records to a high sheen of only the best tracks in the best order.

But sometimes the whole picture can really work, and that's the case here. This record is a big ol' package of love to the fans from every angle; starting with a heavy web presence describing in utmost detail it's creation. has lots of info and the band has been very active in responding to fans in this forum. If you look back through the archives you'll find a pretty complete sense of their day to day lives while the record was being made.

Even more detailed are the free BNL podcasts on I-Tunes. There are currently 29 podcast entries ranging from 10 to 20 minutes each of Ed and Steve (and occasionally others) talking about all manner of things, but generally focusing on describing the making of BLAM. A truly awesome window into the world of making a professional record - a must for any uber-fan like me.

Genius really, to hook the fans and get us invested in the album months before it's release. In a very real way I have become attached to this record like no other before. I have heard it's growing pains almost from the beginning, and I have found myself devoted to it in a similar way (though much less intense I'm sure) as the band itself.

Having shared so much with the fans probably has something to do with the fact that BNL are releasing this album for the first time from their own label. (With the exception of last years Christmas album.) That means, they finally have complete creative control over the content of the record. It's a bit daunting, I imagine, but the disc sounds just as polished and professional as their previous works.

Alrighty then, let's start with the songs. If you're not going to get the record, you might as well skip the rest of this. I'm writing here just to articulate my rather strong thoughts and feelings; indulgent and silly I know, but then - that's the whole blog thing ain't it. Ridiculous self-important arm chair critics, we have all become.

First off is a beautiful slow tune "Adrift". Now if this was a short, or even standard length record, I'd say it would be a mistake to lead off with such a sleepy song. But "Adrift" works it's magic well and gets us warmed up for the long journey ahead. It's dreamy, and typically BNL with very cryptic lyrics. ("You're an abacus." Huh?)

Just so you know, for the most part I'm not even going to try and pretend to know what the guys were thinking when they wrote these songs. So as far as lyrics go, you're pretty much on your own. I'll give you my own personal take about the words on occasion, but don't presume to think I know what I'm talking about.

Next up is the achingly sublime and silly "Bank Job" which tells in fine first person story form, the details of a heist gone wrong. Again, this isn't the most rocking tune, but it picks up the pace a bit from the last song - and has a lovely hook rich with harmonies.

Let me just say at this point, that I never realized what a HUGE influence the Beach Boys have been to BNL. I've always known they were there, but on this record - it is so obvious that Brian Wilson and co. have made a tremendous impact on these Canadian boys.

I'm ready to rock out by now, and thankfully, "Sound of Your Voice" delivers. This is classic BNL angst music. A sweet and nostalgic upbeat package of 50's style music with a bitter center of lyrical cynicism and sharp humor. Plus it's the first time that Steve Page sings.

Next is the first single "Easy", back to Ed on lead vocals. This is a song that I've listened to over and over since it was released almost 2 months ago. Needless to say, I've burned out on it. But it is great, and certainly a fine choice for individual release. Reminds me of "Ventura Highway" a bit. An ideal song for driving.

After this upbeat tune comes the albums first real ballad, the Steven Page penned "Home." I haven't really zeroed in on the lyrics yet, but first impressions are that it's another "I don't know how to tell you how I feel so I'll be vague and ironic" love song from Mr. Page. It has a lovely and haunting melody, plus plenty of great crooning that Steve does so well.

Then we come to what could either be the end of the first side (yes, I'm old school) or the start of the second. "Bull In a China Shop" is vintage BNL, up beat and breezy, a bit jangly, with a killer chorus and bridge. This is the albums first genuine toe tapping, dance until you're silly, romp of a song. Again, the despondent lyrics contrast the pretty packaging, but they can't keep this song down. It's my favorite on the first part of BLAM.

Then BNL shift gears abruptly with the stoic "Everything Had Changed". This song displays the musical expertise and craftsmanship of the group. A deceptively simple and slow tune with a fantastic otherworldly old-tyme sound of grinding accordions and banjos. I hate to use the word "haunting" again, but it applies here. This is definitely more "O' Brother Where Art Thou" than "Gordon".

Then Jim Creegan, the bass player, steps in with a tune of his own to sing. "Peterborough and the Kawarthas" is probably the most listenable song he's ever delivered on a BNL record; a sweet and mellow ditty that rolls off of his tongue and into our ears. Very sentimental, very romantic. Probably the most sincere track on the album.

"Maybe You're Right" sounds like the Dixie Chicks new record, in that it starts small and quiet and ends huge and bombastic. Even better than the Chicks, BNL has horns! This song is way epic, clearly the signature song of BLAM pt. 1.

"Take It Back" is so far BNL's most political offering, dealing pretty much directly with the fall out of 9-11. Some might say they are casting stones, but to my ears the song sounds more like a sober reflection of the pain more than a spell it out condemnation of anything or anyone in particular. Musically this might be one of their best ever. I just can't get the melody out of my head. If "Maybe You're Right" is the centerpiece of BLAM pt. 1, then "Take It Back" is an amazing follow up number 2 punch to the gut.

After getting bludgeoned a bit, Kevin Hearn quiets it down with "Vanishing" a typically spacey offering from the gentle genius. Talk about haunting, this guy wrote the book. I love his voice, even if it isn't close to the technical skills of Steve or for that matter Ed and Jim.

"Rule the World With Love" is vintage acidic BNL. A great big sarcastic F-you to the screwed up planet we live on - again, delivered as an upbeat dessert cart of fun sounds. I love the "Benefit of Mr. Kyte" like sounds in the chorus; yes, this is a circus and we're all covered in it.

"Wind it Up" is the blasting rocker that probably many fans were looking for since this record started. It features blistering guitar work and bombastic power chords. A great way to wind up the "physical CD", aka "Barenaked Ladies Are Me."

Stay tuned for part 2 when I tackle the "Barenaked Ladies Are MEN" portion of the new album. (Yes, I will explain.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Best Band Ever

I grew up listening to the Beatles, Billy Joel, Carol King, Jimmy Buffett and other singer/songwriter types. The emphasis was always on craftsmanship and skill, melody begat harmony which gave a warm comfy cozy feast for the ears. The abrasive guitars and mistake-filled jangle of metal acts of the time, Led Zepplin, AC/DC, etc. were lost on me. I didn't like the noise that pounded my head, clearly these were inferior musicians.

In hindsight, that last statement is probably not true. But what is true is my love for the melody and rhythm that only pop music can deliver endures. Thankfully there is a band today which speaks to the very best stuff of the aforementioned singer/songwriters, and yet still has a rocking edge that recalls groups like the Who, Rush and other "harder" acts. This band is my absolute favorite of all time, five Canadians guys who share my musical sensibilities and my askew sense of humor. Barenaked Ladies.

Their commercial career has been fairly successful, with top ten singles and albums, including a number one song "One Week" that was played endlessly in the summer of 1999. They were big in Canada for years before finally making it here in the US with that song and the accompanying album.

And yet, in the bigger picture, they are a band that has a tremendous core group of fans (ala' Grateful Dead or Dave Matthew's Band) that guarantees financial viability for them over the years, even when their music has faded from the radio airwaves. Their fans buy the albums, and they love the shows. Boy do they love the shows.

Barenaked Ladies live are something to behold. The show is a shared experience a fair cut above most rock acts. They improvise complete songs, they dance in synch, and the set list is never the same. I took my wife to see them, and she a moderate fan, just couldn't believe the energy level and connection with the audience that was sustained for over two hours.

I suppose my own connection with them is so fervent because we share the same age and backgrounds. The boys have mostly known each other since high school, meeting each other at "band camp" as teenagers. My friends and I always talked about getting a band together, but the pesky detail of us not being musicians always stood in the way of that. Barenaked Ladies are the band we would have been if any of us could play a note.

BNL's (Barenaked Ladies) classically trained backgrounds come to the fore both in concert and on the records. Their bass player Jim Creegan uses a mammoth upright bass that he's been lugging around since grade school. The bass plays fat and deep and is a signature of the groups sound. The drummer Tyler Stuart played in a marching band. The groups leaders Steve Page and Ed Robertson are the Lennon/McCartney of the bunch - and I make that comparison in all seriousness, though I am a perversely devoted fan. Kevin Hearn, the keyboard player, is perhaps the most technically talented of them all, he is a relatively latecomer to the group, though he has known them since they started.

As musician's, they would probably never say so, but they are about as skilled as popular artists get. Don Was, a world class producer who has worked with some of the biggest names around, oversaw the making of the multi-platinum record "Maroon" and said BNL was the most technically accomplished band he had ever worked with.

As for the fans, they are devoted, but they can be classified into two groups.
"Gordon's" and "One Weeker's."

Gordon, being their first album, was a monster hit in Canada that was the country's biggest seller for years.

One Week, was the aforementioned number one song in the US.

Basically "Gordon" fans are the people who knew the band from college when they were playing banjos and acoustic. The "One Week" people are the youngsters who discovered BNL on the radio and dig the rockin' sounds of the newer stuff. Most fans, like me, fall somewhere between these two groups, and enjoy both.

I love BNL's earlier records for the humor, earnestness and exuberance. They were often mistakenly categorized as a "joke" band, such as Weird Al Yankovich, because the first record has some pretty funny shtick. The truth was that "Gordon" has darker layers as well. A running joke now with the band is that with each new album, there's always critics who say "This is a more mature sound for the group...", when in fact they've been "mature" since the beginning.

I can't get enough of the recent records, including the one that just came out, for the rock and roll and the assuredness of professionals at the top of their game. These guys know exactly what they're doing and deliver knockout blow after knockout blow with their unmatched song-writing and fierce musical chops.

I'd say if you've never heard BNL before, start with their Greatest Hits CD. It has the perfect mixture of all the sounds of their career.

(Some would say get "Gordon" but to me that only gives half the picture of what BNL is about, especially these days.)

Then check in here next week for my excessively long review (glowing of course) of their brand new album that came out two days ago - "Barenaked Ladies Are Me". A 29 song opus that really defines BNL as perfectionists and prodigious recording artists.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Where's Nemo's mommy?

So my two year old kid has now graduated from the excruciatingly boring "educational" videos featuring sock puppets, cuddly animals and mind numbingly repetitive music - to the far more tolerable feature films of Disney and Pixar.

Thankfully, she still spends far more time with books than with TV, but because of the marketing geniuses at Disney; the two have become intertwined. It all started when we were reading her favorite book, a "Where's Waldo" version of Finding Nemo. For some abjectly insane reason the thought occurred to me that she may want to see her beloved orange fish in animated form.

From the moment I fired up the video, she was absolutely entranced, far more than she's ever been with a "Baby Einstein" or some such. "It's Nemo!" she proudly proclaimed, as the three dimensional pixels danced across the screen.

For those of you who have never seen a Pixar movie, the animation is bright and vibrant - in every way absolutely stunning, even to grown up eyes. It simply blows away the production values of any "children's" programming or videos.

Two vibrant clown fish played and danced in and out of an anemone atop a brilliantly beautiful coral reef. "That's Coral and Marlin, Nemo's mommy and daddy." I said. My little girl was in heaven.

And then the barracuda showed up.

The very first scene of this movie has Nemo's mommy and all of his brothers and sisters (in egg form) eaten by a ferocious carnivore. Thankfully the bulk of the carnage is off camera, but the scene does involve big nasty teeth and a brief fight between the barracuda and Marlin (Nemo's dad). Marlin is knocked out and the screen goes black, he awakens to find his fish wife and all but one of his children's eggs gone. He cradles the remaining egg (Nemo) and sobs and swears to protect his new son. All of this before the opening credits.

This continues in the grand Disney form of dead or dying parents - from Bambi's mother being blown away by a hunter (a moment which I will NEVER forget seeing on the big screen, I must have been five or six years old). To the lion king's daddy getting trampled to death by a herd of wildebeest. Even so, I was really concerned that I had goofed up by letting my two year old see death and it's fallout (even in a very family friendly fashion) so early in life. Thankfully, I think she handled it well.

After seeing the opening scene, my daughter turned to me and asked simply "Where's Nemo's mommy?" She had watched the entire scene unfold, unblinking, and had totally grasped (for the most part) what she had seen. As gently as I could I tried to clarify what had happened, and at that point the story flash forwarded to Marlin and his young son Nemo going to the first day of school. Happy, colorful, joyful images took over.

My little girl watched the entire remainder of the movie, becoming distracted only a handful of times. She got upset and scared, and needed the arms of daddy, for the few intense scenes (a shark chase, a deep sea dive with a sharp toothed monster fish, a whale swallowing Marlin and his friend Dori) but overall I could tell she really enjoyed it. Having read the book thousands of times, she constantly pointed out to me when places and fish showed up that she recognized.

She even got tremendously excited at the happy emotional highlights, especially when Marlin finally finds his kidnapped son. In the final scene, Nemo gives his dad a big hug - at which point my own little girl spun to wrap her arms around me. She had watched the whole thing, and gotten the story. She seemed genuinely relieved and thrilled to have made the journey with Marlin and Dori to find Nemo.

This was over a month ago. To this day she asks to watch "Nemo" all the time. Most days we say no or distract her - but we do allow it 2 or 3 times a week. She loves following the story, exclaiming excitedly at her favorite parts, still a bit timid and clingy during the scary scenes. She anticipates these moments with a fearful whine and a run to daddy or mommy. We hold her and remind her that she's seen this story before and everything turns out good.

I do have concerns that this may have been a bit much for my daughter, to see such an intense story at so young an age. True, most two year olds I've encountered wouldn't have necessarily even comprehended the Nemo book, let alone a feature film designed to entertain adults as much as children. But my kid isn't most two year olds. She gets the story, and she talks about it with me when she's lying down for bed. Even if she hasn't actually seen the movie in several days. The story, the sacrifices the characters make - the perilous adventures they go on, all have made a big impact on my little girls psyche.

But I think she's fine with it, and in some ways I think it's good for her.

In a very real way, her path in life mirrors the story of "Finding Nemo" itself. Marlin from the beginning promises Nemo that nothing will ever happen to him. Later, Dori, Marlin's fish friend, correctly points out that this promise is silly. "If nothing ever happened to him, then NOTHING would ever happen to him!"

And so it goes with kids.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Right Wing Wacko or Liberal Wiener?

Whenever the question of politics arises in polite (or semi-polite) conversation,
I find myself sighing under my breath and keeping quiet. Because no matter what the issue, I can usually find something to disagree with just about anyone at any time.

It's not that I'm ornery, or itching to argue; I just have to think things through before I sign on to a position. This can be pretty inconvenient for someone who follows party lines.

I must be a centrist, moderate, whatever you want to call it. Because when my good liberal friends talk about how it's our military and foreign policy that are responsible for terrorism - I buck and refute. And when my conservative colleagues at work talk about what a great president we have - I groan and refute.

I guess labels are important, because I've been called a bunch of them over the years. My views on certain issues have certainly changed drastically as I've grown up, but I hope my heart hasn't hardened beyond the point of reason.

Here's a silly, slightly embellished, but basically true story, of encountering a bunch of goofy naked apes.

I was in Africa, at a photo-tourist camp, having dinner with a bunch of older folks who just happened to be from Berkeley. Our esteemed driver mentioned to them that I had voted for George W. Bush. (It wasn't true, but I think the driver made the assumption based on our discussions about Iraq.)

The dinner conversation exploded into rants such as "I can't believe you would vote for that mad man." "You've got to get your facts straight." "You are like many ignorant Americans." etc. etc. I sat quietly and didn't say much, after all I was technically working - getting paid to shoot wild life in Africa, I didn't need to jabber with a bunch of hippies pushing 70 about world affairs. Yet their rants continued even in the face of my silence.

"I am so ashamed of being an American these days. It's so embarrassing."

That was the last straw. "I couldn't agree more." I chimed in. They sat in shock at my sudden response, for about a nano-second. Then they carried on with their politico speak, oblivious to my jab.

Things settled down for awhile, and civility returned to the conversation. But later that night around the boma (camp fire) the drinks flowed and the attacks continued, culminating with the words "idiot" and "moron" being thrown in my direction.

I finally had to speak up saying to the effect "Look, I respect all of your opinions, it's clear you don't respect mine. It's okay though, I'm used to it. I'm from Berkeley remember?" This remark was outwardly ignored, but it seemed to have a chilling effect on the group conversation.

But one lady in particular kept screeching at me, and yes, yelling at me, not so much intentionally - but the booze ratcheted up her voice volume.

I couldn't help myself, and baited her for the next two hours, with little jabs like. "Just keep yelling, you might convince me." "Well, nothing that screaming won't fix". etc. Even her nutty friends tried to calm her down, since I was almost placid and she was the one being a shrill you-know-what.

The next evening I was ignored by the entire party in a fashion similar to social behavior in junior high. I didn't mind though, the camp managers, a lovely south African couple, still treated me and my producer to an evening of good conversation and food.

I did almost choke on my Kudu (antelope) when one of the Berkeley folks, a man named Victor, chimed in with "Excuse me, I have an animal question..." in a goofy lilt. "Do you call a group of Mongooses, Mongeese?" The driver and I shot each other a look. Yep, we agreed silently, idiots.

"Mongeese" became a running joke of the trip. After sitting with lions for hours, one of us would say quietly "Excuse me, I have an animal question..." culminating in an absolutely filthy scenario involving animal sex and mongeese.

This was yet another time in life when I found that the best remedy to closed minds was laughter.

(By the way, when Victor found out that he was eating Kudu antelope, he just about had a fit. "I can't believe I'm eating one of those beautiful animals!" Another running joke on the trip.)

I'm not sure what the point of all this is, but I felt like writing while my video project renders.

I guess I'm just trying to say, that right wing wacko or liberal wiener - whatever my views are; I've got to always ready to listen as best I can without getting personal if I can help it. It may not be possible sometimes, but I've got to do my best.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


As the father of a two year old girl who is as innocent as she is beautiful, I can't help but worry. Worry about her future, worry about the dark and often cruel world that she will - in far too few years, become aware of.

Frequently my worries dwell on that most insidious and vile excuse for a human being, the school bully. He or she us found at every level of schooling, public and private. Whether by fists or words (which can be the most harmful) the bully preys on the gentle and the kind. The bully is reprehensible, a true manifestation of evil as far as evil goes without actually murdering or maiming (at least most of the time).

I was a target throughout my school days, but I made it through relatively unscathed physically or mentally by simple avoidance. I got beat up in third grade (body slammed into concrete) and though traumatic, I bounced back quickly. My broken collar bone healed fast, and my spirit was undeterred.

I must have faith that whatever trials my angel faces, she too will be able to withstand the trauma of small minded brutes. I can only teach her what I was taught, that respect, love and kindness are the best things to put forward in this world. That anger and fear will only rot away at the soul. We should feel pity for the wretched we encounter, and not let anger fester in our hearts.

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes, the bully needs to get his nose bloodied. Witness our world today. But in day to day life, we as fellow humans must pick our battles very carefully. 999 times out of 1000, it's just not worth it.

In the day to day, I find that the bullies still exist in the adult world, more genteel, but no less angry inside. Whether it's the woman barking over my shoulder at the salesclerk, or the man on the phone who cuts me off and flips me the bird; I really try to laugh at them - they are pathetic.

And most of all, I really search for the good people out there. A smile and a pleasant remark go a long way, even in Los Angeles. Not a flippant and insincere "Have a nice day." but a genuine word or act of kindness, is a rejuvenating jolt to the heart.

After the aforementioned cutting off and bird flipping, the perpetrator roared off and ran a red light. I sat there at the intersection, steaming at the bully. A lady in a beat up Honda pulled up a long side. I glanced over. "Now that is a fool!" she said with a smile and a shake of the head. A wave of relief and gratefulness washed over me. I returned the smile and we chatted briefly but heartily about jackass drivers, culminating in a good laugh before driving away with grins and waves.

The world has a lot more people like that lady than like the cell phone bird flipper, and that is what I must pass on to my daughter. The bullies will always be there, but they will never win. Not as long as most of us take the road of love and understanding.

(And the one in a thousand kick to the groin.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

A response...

Recently in my e-mail group of buddies (that I have known for 20+ years) the proverbial hornets nest was kicked over the issue of the war in Iraq. Most of us being from Berkeley, you can guess where the majority firmly sits. Here is my response to the question "Was the invasion of Iraq worth it?" I held off from responding to them directly, it pains my heart too much to get them angry at me. Maybe they'll stumble across this in a few months when passions have cooled.

As Winona Ryder said in "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut"


Things do indeed look bleak. I concur with Allen that it will be up to the Iraqis to take it from here, at a certain point they're going to have to be willing to fight and die for freedom, if they are to have any chance at a future.

The liberation of Iraq. Was it worth it? Who knows...only time will tell.

But I fear that history has already shown what needs to happen for a lasting peace. In the big picture, Iraq is only the beginning.

This will not end with negotiation, diplomacy, etc. These islamo-facists, like the nazi's before them, want all Jews dead. Period. Plus as an extra bonus, with an equal passion, they also want all Americans dead. Dead, dead, dead. There is no grey area.

There is no trade policy, no settlement, no financial compensation that will change this fact. They are here to kill us, whether we watch Fox or PBS, it makes zero difference to them. If we support or hate Israel, they don't care. If we send money to Hamas, they don't care. They'll take the money and still try to kill as many Americans as they can. Withdraw from Iraq? Yeah, we saw how well withdrawing worked for Israel. Vote for Hillary? That and 50 cents will still get your throat slit.

I think many in this country simply cannot wrap their brains around this basic truth. Ten percent of the Muslim world is out for blood, with a ferocity that matches the worst of the nazis. The majority of the remaining Muslim population is complicit in the manner of the majority of Europe in WW2. Their religion has been hijacked, and they don't seem to care.

These facts are required starting points for any and all coherent discussion regarding the middle east. Recognize first, that we are dealing with an enemy that can't be reasoned with, an enemy that will not stop until they either rule the world or are wiped out. What we do, short of killing enough of them, will have ultimately no effect on their desire to kill us.

The idea that Bush lied kids died, blood for oil, all that junior high shit, I'm afraid will mean less than nothing at the end of the day. Just like the appeasers in Hitlers day, "if only we hadn't been so harsh on them in the treaty of Versailles" it's nonsense. If we were to leave the middle east tomorrow, we would still be the great satan. They would still be coming for us.

Lord knows our country is far from perfect, but I don't for the life of me understand how we can devote so much passion to fighting amongst ourselves instead of uniting against the real enemy. If the Neville Chamberlins of this country would take ten percent of their self-loathing energy and actually put it towards supporting the troops (Israeli and US) AND their mission, we might actually have a chance at doing some real damage to the ones who want to kill us.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The truth hurts.

This one may be a bit hard to handle for some.

I am at a loss right now to understand why anyone would sympathize with Hezbollah or Hamas over the current spate of killing in the Middle East.

Am I crazy? Or is this what really happened?

Israel withdraws from all of it's occupied territories. The Palestinians promptly elect terrorists as their leaders, and then attack. Coming across the border into Israel, killing some soldiers and kidnapping others.

Israel leaves Lebanon for good in 2000. Hezbollah promptly becomes entrenched along the border, stocking up on Iranian and Syrian rockets. Then a couple of weeks ago they decide to launch these rockets into cities and kill and kidnap some Israeli soldiers as well.

I'm waiting for the part where Israel provoked these actions. I'm waiting to hear about the atrocities the Jews committed to warrant such actions from their neighbors.

Still waiting.

What is more astonishing to me is that the UN, most of the EU and yes, even some people in this country - including Jews, are saying that Israel has overreacted and there needs to be a cease fire. No really, I'm not joking.

There are people so blind in this world, so full of self-loathing, that they can't see that we are in a third world war. With attacks on civilians from islamo-fascists on every continent except Antarctica, the wackos have gone global. And yet somehow it is Americas fault. We are the bad guys.

I guess this patently insane belief will be comforting when the next major attack on our shores arrives. Thousands of Americans dead, oh well. The chickens have come home to roost, we got what we deserved.

Sorry, I don't buy it.

Here is the hard truth. I know people don't want to hear this, but I fear it is unavoidable. I pray for peace in our time, but to achieve this we will most likely have to go down a dark path first.

History shows us, history has made clear - that the only way this will end, the only way to a lasting peace, is when we make it so incredibly painful for our enemies to attack us - that they will stop.

I fear we must kill, and kill, and kill. And then kill some more. We did it with the Nazis. And we must do it to these fanatics, who are the current embodiment Nazism.

Guess what. Hitler is here, in the form of religious zealots who see peace only through death and domination. And it's not just a few radicals in caves.

The government of Iran has made it clear that the starting point for their diplomacy is to wipe Israel of the face of the earth. I ask, how do you deal with this incontestable fact?

If we are smart we will strike first, before it is too late. Iran is building nukes, and make no mistake, they WILL use them. God willing, we will have the courage to do what is right and take down their nuclear capabilities with swift and precise military action.

If we wait until they strike first, then we will have to kill millions upon millions of mostly innocent Iranians. (And God help us all if it comes to that.) The scary part is, the maniacal leaders of Iran know this.

And they don't care.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Do you have what it takes to play...

For the past few years I've enjoyed watching Poker on television. From the ground breaking World Poker Tour coverage (the first televised tournament circuit to use "hole cameras" to look at players hidden cards) to the World Series of Poker on ESPN and a few others. It's a fun time, to be sure, but I was always suspicious that I was missing the bigger picture.

Enter the Game Show Network. Their program, High Stakes Poker, blows all the other poker shows away by far. It is not tournament Poker, where players frequently risk their "tournament lives". This is a cash game. Players are putting their own actual money in jeopardy. The minimum buy in for the High Stakes game is $100,000. The most a player will buy in for in a typical WPT or WSOP event is under $10,000.

In tournaments, especially WPT events, the blinds and antes escalate at a tremendous rate; artificially generating excitement and putting the onus on luck for a player to win. In High Stakes, the blinds and antes stay the same, granted you'd still lose $1700 every round of play, but even so the players are able to really use their poker skills, as opposed to automatically going "all in" when they get short stacked. This show really is a poker clinic, a showcase for some of the best in the game.

Interestingly though, since tournament players are the pros we all know, they are the ones who are mostly in the High Stakes TV show. Cash game champs, like Todd Brunson, are fewer in number; although players who are proficient at both like Daniel Negraneu or Barry Greenstein do fill out the field. Especially hilarious this last season was tournament great Phil Hellmuth finding out that he didn't have nearly the cash game prowess he thought he had.

Best of all though, is commentator Gabe "Welcome Back Kotter" Kaplan, who mixes just the right amount of sharp wit and sarcastic humor with insightful poker brain power. He makes watching the show a real joy.

And speaking of joy, when watching High Stakes, it becomes evident that there is a noticeable lack of joy around the table at key times. I absolutely think this is the biggest and most brilliant element in High Stakes.

In the somewhat sanitized realm of the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker, we never get insight into the dark side of the game. When people bust out they've lost their entry fee. Very rarely they blow up (i.e. notorious hot heads like Matisow or Hellmuth) but you never get a visceral sense of the gut wrenching pain that poker can deliver.

I have played in enough low stakes home games where things got testy, to know that Poker can be utterly brutal and merciless. Guys (regrettably including myself on occasion) get angry over losing $20. High Stakes gives us more than a glance at this truth. When a player gets clobbered, we really get to see the pain, and what some would call the unsavory side of poker. Tension, angst. It's all there. And I think it is an absolutely crucial part of the game that has been all but lost through the white washed lens of television.

When I day dream about making it "big" in poker, High Stakes is the program that keeps me grounded in reality, and I enjoy it that much more for it's utter honesty. It shows that those who are truly successful at this game can take the good luck with the unbelievably brutal bad luck - and persevere.

So, if you are at all a fan of Poker on TV, you must, must, MUST watch High Stakes Poker on the Game Show Network. It's poker, for real.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

To the Pain

It's that time of year again, when my thoughts turn to stalking through the woods, on the hunt for that most elusive of game - my best friends.

It's called paintball, and it's a game I've enjoyed for over a decade now. I don't get to play as often as I'd like, but ever since my friends and I celebrated my bachelor party with paintball and poker instead of booze and strippers four years ago, it has become a highly anticipated annual event.

On 250 beautiful wooded acres up north near Fiddletown California, we wage our war among the pine trees and poison oak. Bugs bite, burrs attack and sweat drenches our camouflaged bodies - as we taunt one another and shoot gallons of paint mercilessly through the air.

At the end of the day, our skin is splotched every color of the rainbow with deep bruises and a myriad of welts. We soothe ourselves by drinking and trying to take each others money (in that other form of combat known as poker.)

Four intense days of competition all day and night, and yet somehow we remain on speaking terms, and in fact, by trips end have reaffirmed our bonds of friendship many times over. A great thing at our age, with more and more family/career obligations upon us - it's a welcome indulgence in fellowship.

The camaraderie is what makes the trip great, but the paintball is the draw. And paintball is a bit strange when I really think about it. Grown, privileged men, far from the bloody horror that is actual war, seek to basically replicate the sadistically giddy adrenaline of firearm combat. But with the fear of actual death and/or dismemberment conveniently removed, paintball becomes instead boys at play; as we were as ten year olds - romping around with sticks and toy six shooters. "I got you! No you didn't!" etc. One of the great adult things about modern paintball markers, that shoot 68. caliber gelatinous balls of paint at over 200 mph, there is little doubt when you have been shot.

It hurts like hell to get hit, but this seems to only add to the appeal. It's a great incentive to keep behind cover, and a bit of pain adds a vital ingredient of "danger" that makes it seem that much more real. Of course, it's a very safe sport; statistically less injury laden than golf or bowling. But it's hard to remember that when someone is shooting at your head.

There must be something deep rooted in us that gives such a thrill at this stalking and being stalked in the woods. I never feel more alive than when I come across an enemy player unaware of my presence. The thrilling rush I get from "lighting him up" is second only to a handful of carnal and gastrointestinal pleasures that I've had in my lifetime. Paintball is truly something I savor and look forward to all year long.

Monday, May 08, 2006


With just another home run to go to tie Babe Ruth's mark of home runs, the spotlight will soon shine on Barry Bonds. I don't know what kind of person he is, short of the unmistakable fact that he cheated in baseball. And lied about it. And continues to lie about it.

Hank Aaron, let's remember, is a true baseball legend. By no means a saint or perfect, he nonetheless gave his heart and soul to the game - and endured endless racism and threats against his life and family to slowly but steadily erode and then shatter one of baseball's oldest and most prestigious records. And guess what, he didn't lie to everyone and to himself; he played for pure love of the game, and enough money to live well. One of the best players ever? Um, yeah I'd say so.

I have no sympathy for Barry Bonds, only pity. While I hope he eventually gets thrown in jail for perjury and his records are expunged - I'm not holding my breath. I take solace in the fact that no matter his inevitable breaking of Hank Aaron's homerun record, Bonds will only be seen as a junkie and a cheat for the rest of his life and beyond.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


My heart goes out to the million plus people who have marched this week in protest over potential immigration reforms, these folks have a lot to lose and I admire their initiative and passion.

They are, however, completely misguided.

The poor and working class, which the marchers claim to have compassion for, are the ones that will be most negatively impacted by an amnesty or open borders policy.

It is amazing to me how blinded people are by the simplistic and foolish notion that it is okay to break the laws of this country as a means to a better end. Our current immigration laws are in place not just to protect the citizens of this country, but to protect immigrants as well.

Imagine you are waiting in line for a movie, just about to buy your ticket, and someone comes in and cuts directly in front of you and buys the last tickets available. This is precisely what is happening to the millions of LEGAL immigrants and lower middle class workers today - thanks to an unprecedented influx of ILLEGAL immigrants brought on by a corporatist president and administration.

Jobs, that many Americans WILL take for a decent wage (despite what the president says) are being undercut by desperate people who are here illegally. Our government looks the other way and big business reaps the benefits of this near slave labor. Meanwhile, hard working honest immigrants, like my next door neighbors, get the shaft - as their wages are undercut and unions are weakened.

Our economy works insofar as capitalism fosters prosperity and freedom. To undercut that by bringing in "brown people" to do the dirty work at the benefit of the corporate loving Republicans just churns my stomach. And I can't believe that George W. Bush's biggest allies in this scam are working class liberals. They have been duped, big time. They think they are fighting for the poor and oppressed, but they are actually setting the nails to these peoples coffins.

Encouraging illegals to risk their lives so that they can come here and work for less than minimum wage.

Let me say that again.

Encouraging illegals to risk their lives so that they can come here and work for less than minimum wage.

That's what the marchers are in effect asking for - open borders and complete destruction of the working middle class in this country. They are damning legal immigrants to the same substandard living conditions from whence they came, and they are helping out those of us in upper income brackets by increasing our cheap labor pool. It is disgusting.

To add icing to this disturbing cake, anyone like me who questions the marchers and their misguided intentions - gets to be branded a racist, bigot, jingoist or some other fun slur. Instead of having an intelligent discussion about what to do, I get to have names hurled at me. Sticking to the issue seems to be impossible for the impassioned liberals and big business folk. Anger makes for strange bedfellows indeed.

Well, let me just say, that as a racist bigot jingoist, who actually cares what happens to our Mexican brothers to the south- the current policy can work if it can be enforced. If you are illegally entering this country, you are a criminal and should be deported immediately. I'm not saying you should be thrown in prison as a felon, as some more hard line people are - but there must be consequences. To deny this is to deny Mexicans a fair shake.

Follow me if you can - by not acting when someone breaks the law, we are encouraging the kind of corruption that is common place in their country. We must lead by example, and with tough love in our hearts. We do no one a favor by looking the other way when an illegal alien steals jobs from a legal Mexican resident. We are hurting both parties in the long run, especially the men and women who have jumped through countless hoops to play by the rules.

There are no easy answers now that George W and co. have opened the floodgates. With over 11 million illegals here today, deporting them may be impossible for lack of political will or simple logistics. But we must take steps and secure our borders to prevent further abuses of the law and of human beings.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Kong is King

With raising a child there isn't a lot of free time to spare, so when Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong appeared in theaters last year, I helplessly watched from my busy life as it came and went from the big screen. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my favorite set of movies since the original Star Wars trilogy (movies that are pretty much directly responsible for my career as a camera operator and editor) so I surprised even myself that I didn't rush off to see the new Kong on opening day. A busy life will do that to a person, and you realize that you've actually become (gasp!) an adult with the corresponding responsibilities.

Well I finally saw the flick last night at home and I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly. My favorite kinds of movies are ones that take me someplace else, and while I always want as much realism as possible in the story telling, nothing thrills me more than escaping from the banal evils of the real world. Movies like "Boys Don't Cry" or "Shindler's List" may be great films, but they are so depressing as to be disqualified as entertainment. Watching a poor young girl getting raped and murdered is not my idea of an enjoyable evening, nor is a painstakingly detailed account of the 20th centuries worst crime of humanity. Important films yes, enjoyable movies no.

King Kong is everything that serious films are not, yet I couldn't help but be awed by Jackson's vision. From a stunning opening montage of depression era New York City (mind bogglingly detail rich and heavily researched) to an incredible journey into the heart of darkness - Kong never falters or missteps in telling a classic tale with reimagined vigor and stunning special effects.

Critics universally raved, the nerds and the public were less forgiving, citing a three hour running time and subplots that didn't pay off. I thought the various smaller stories actually worked quite well, though they didn't dovetail neatly or spectacularly, there was a lot of subtext that I think the fanboys missed. Three hour running time? Didn't bother me in the least, because everything I was seeing was interesting and moved the story along. In fact, once the action kicked in I was shocked at how quickly the remaining two hours blew by.

The geeks also bitched about uneven special effects. As I get older this becomes an increasingly lesser concern of mine, any major studio can pull off great optics and CG work these days - the tricky part is a gripping story and characters that work. But judged merely by it's FX work, I'd have to say Kong was pretty incredible and groundbreaking in almost all it attempted. There was a ton, repeat a ton, of green-screen work which normally takes me right out of a film - but here, as with Lord of the Rings, it was so well done and seamlessly integrated with practical sets and actors, that I hardly noticed. When I did notice, I was amazed at how good it looked.

It may be because I didn't see it on the big screen, but all the problems I heard about in the Brontosaurus chase were not readily apparent to my eye, save for a handful of brief shots - the close ups of our heroes running between the Bronto legs. But these shots were so quick, and the editing seamless that I never got taken out of the moment - the chase was a thrilling ride from start to long middle to end. It was over the top in a good way.

Over the top really says it all. Like the carnival rides we enjoyed as kids, this movie was bigger and louder and longer and better in the most positive sense. The creepy crawly bugs were unrelenting, my wife groaned repeatedly "Oh come on!" as the scene got more and more extreme. This fanboy was in geek heaven.

But the key to this film was the wordless dialogue between Naomi Watts, our heroine, and the entirely computer generated Kong. I never thought I would be moved by a computer generated character until I saw gollum in Lord of the Rings. I never thought I would cry over a computer generated character until I saw King Kong. What the filmmakers have done is nothing short of true movie making magic. They have succeeded in getting the audience emotionally involved with an object that only exists in pixels of light; a perfectly crafted and rendered 25 foot gorilla that strikes exactly the right balance between pure animalistic terror and gut wrenching sadness.

From enormous, and extended fight sequences of dinosaurs and Kong to the heart wrenching finale atop the empire state building - Peter Jackson's King Kong is a magnum opus of both excess and beauty. It is extreme and extremely touching. For the modern film goer and genre enthusiast, it is the best recent example of a movie that simply cannot be missed. I can't wait to watch it again!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Ah Vegas...

Though the number of smokers has dropped precipitously over even the last five years, the casinos of Vegas still burn my lungs and stink up my clothes in rapid fashion.

It was a fun two days and one night with my buddy and me, and we prowled the strip like two tigers on the, okay, like two overweight thirty five year old geeks chilling and taking in the scene. It was a trip.

There is lots more construction, big surprise, but the town is still garish and now turning away from the Disney-fication it underwent less than a decade ago. All the major hotels on the strip now have burlesque shows again, and there is no shortage of female body parts prominently displayed on billboards, taxis and bus stops everywhere. As a heterosexual male who is also a human being I guess I shouldn't complain, but it all seemed forced and blatant to the point where I was wondering if Vegas had some serious issues.

On a more practical note, the casinos took $150 of my money, $120 of which went to the poker table and the rest to machines. I haven't played at a card table in over five years, and I must say, that even though I ended up in the negative, I had a blast playing. Most of the people were greener than I, especially in the $60 tournament I entered, and it was quite fun to win pots from them. Everybody also was really friendly and chatty, a different experience from my previous card club forays. Back then everyone was dead serious and concentrating on the cards, this time there was so much fresh and enthusiastic blood it was just a joy to be there.

Poker has truly exploded in Vegas. Every major strip hotel we walked through had new or expanded poker rooms, and multiple tournaments every day of the no limit hold-em variety. We got the biggest kick out of watching a few hands at a no-limit Omaha table in the Wynn casino. We saw a $9000 pot go down, holy crap! I was hoping to win a couple hundred, and these guys were messing around with the cost of my baby girls child care for a year! What a place.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Okay, enough with the terrorist!

I'm off to Vegas this weekend where I'll partake in my first ever No-Limit Texas Hold-em Tournament. Yikes! I'm a bit scared of losing my $60 buy in, but I'm more scared of going out too quickly. I'll probably play really tight and get blinded out, but that's okay. Should be fun.

Poker has been on my mind of late, and you just have to read this article.

It puts the game, especially Hold-em, into perspective. It turns out, that poker is not about winning, indeed, it's about losing the majority of time; but making correct decisions as often as you can is how you keep financially in the black.

And, as the article concludes, poker is a great lesson for life. Bad luck will, repeat WILL, raise it's ugly head sometimes. But if you have your own head in the right place - and make correct decisions, you should have no regrets about what could have been because you wouldn't have done it differently.

I'll post a full Vegas report next week. Until then, may all your hands be wild and your pots be monsters, or some such.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Who We Are

Regardless of where you find yourself on the political spectrum, it has to be very clear this week that what we are dealing with is not a matter of what we have done, or what we can do to make things better. It's not about our foreign policy, or our secret prisons. And it certainly isn't about trade policy or oil. It is, quite simply, about who we are.

The president of Denmark has rightly stated that he will not apologize for his country's freedom of the press. Many Muslims across the world have demanded such an apology, and have resorted to violence to emphasize this demand. So if we do apologize for our freedom, they'll go away, right? Wrong.

Look at any news program today, and you will see the real face of radical Islam. This religion of peace has been hijacked by zelots who see two options - their way or the highway. And they don't heed to their own tenets, much less the pillars of western society; freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the pursuit of happiness. All they see is death to the infidels, all they want is such.

Guess what kids, there is a sizable group of fanatics that want us dead. Period. They don't care if we voted for Nader or Buchanan, they don't care if we plant trees or smokestacks. They don't care if we drive Hybrids or Hummers. They hate us. Not for what we have done, but for who we are.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bad Billy

I have loved the music of Billy Joel since I first heard 52nd street. I was 7 years old. He became one of the cornerstones of my musical history, the others being the Beatles, Carol King, and Jimmy Buffett. All immensely talented singer-songwriters with a knack for melody, harmony and meaningful lyrics.

But something was special about Billy; Unlike the other artists (with the possible exception of The Beatles) I remained a big fan of Billy on into my adulthood. Though he was from my parents generation, something about his working class and down to earth approach struck a chord with me. (Pun intended.)

I saw him in concert on many occasions. I rode along with the millions of fans with the popular "Innocent Man" and "Storm Front" albums. But I also stuck with him in his less commercially successful works like "The Bridge" and what I consider his two best albums, "The Nylon Curtain" and "River of Dreams." (Of course I say less successful, but these were all platinum records.)

It was in 1993 that he came out with what was to be his last pop album. Now it's been 12 years, and I have become a long suffering Billy Joel fan. He has been writing loads of classical music, and even put out a record of the stuff. Music so classical in form that he had to have an actual classical pianist play it. Not exactly accessible pop music.

But also during this time I have discovered his pop music anew on various occasions, especially his last three records. I have learned that even so called bad Billy Joel music, is really quite excellent. A track like "When In Rome" that seems like a throwaway, a light and frothy tune on first listen, actually gains resonance with me as I get older. Plus it's snappy.

"The Bridge" is probably his most dated music - the production values are very much a part of the 80's, but the lyrics are perhaps his most meaningful. Tracks like "This is the Time" and "Code of Silence" are newfound favorites of mine.

And yet, I, and I imagine millions of others, am hungering for something new. Well, it still hasn't arrived - but we do now have an enormous box set filled with rare and obscure recordings. "My Lives" chronicles Billy's earliest days to the end of the Shelter Island sessions in 1993.

Disregard the handful of previously released album tracks sprinkled over the discs, I have no idea why they are included. Billy has become notorious recently for re-releasing rehashes of the same old greatest hits. Thankfully, the bulk of this box set contains never before heard material and most of his b-sides. It is, for a fan, absolutely essential.

Highlights for me include tracks that are earlier incarnations of songs, often they are superior to the final polished version - such as the fantastic piano heavy "Prime of Your Life" which is actually an early version of the acapella "For the Longest Time." I know the latter is a fan favorite, but I can't get over the finger work on the former.

I also love getting great recordings of his B-Sides; Of note, "Elvis Presley Blvd." and "The House of Blue Light" are Billy at his bluesiest, - catchy but decidedly un-pop songs that were relegated to the backsides of 45 vinyl until now.

And in those songs is really the greatest strength of this collection; this is ultimately -Billy Joel unpolished. A lot of these tracks are demos, so you get a sense that Billy is just really enjoying himself, instead of doing what he usually does, trying so hard that it hurts. He knows that this isn't the final product, so he has fun. And it really comes through, as some of the most joyous, kick ass stuff that he's ever done.

As far as I can decipher from the documentary "Shades of Grey" - the original intent for Billy's last album was to do a record called "Road House" that was somewhat blues centered and more raw sounding. Billy recorded the songs mostly live with his band out on Shelter Island, and he intended to produce the disc himself. The result was a session of the most natural sounding, uncommercial, and what I know had to be the best sounding Billy ever. Unfortunately, that album never surfaced.

Billy went back into the studio and redid the songs, along with a few new ones, under the guidance of a "professional" producer -and came out with another slick record. A very good record, again loaded with lyrical powerhouses, especially the title track "River of Dreams," but not the free and easy, bluesy and ballsy Shelter Island sound.

This collection, for all purposes, is that sound. From the late 60's, to just over a decade ago; it is Billy Joel at his most honest. And therefore, I think, at his best.

He is still touring regularly, and there have been tiny hints at a new pop album in the works. I hope he trusts himself enough to produce it on his own - the raw demos in this box set prove that Billy Joel is at his most powerful when he is unfiltered.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The New Love of my Life

Well the missus broke down after my year long whining fits and ponied up big bucks for what I consider the ultimate "How did we live before this?" item in the Universe. The I-Pod.

Not just any I-Pod, but the latest and greatest (until June probably) state of the art, video playing, 7500 song holding, ultra slim and slick, pimped out, fifth generation, mack daddy of them all I-Pod.

And I have to say, I think I'm in love - and the honeymoon isn't anywhere near over. I love having all of my CD's in a tiny little thing. I love that when I play this thing in my car, I get only songs that I like. It's like a satellite radio station, just for me.

Above all else though, I guess the gadget freak in me has achieved geek nirvana simply because this thang is just so bleeping slick. The interface, the design, it really is the most elegant piece of technology I've ever owned, or even held in my hand for that matter.

The wife doesn't quite get it, and I guess I really don't either. Sure it's great, but I can't quite put my finger on what makes it so geek-tastic. Ah well, 40 million other Ipod owners and a skyrocketing stock are testifying to the same thing I am - this thing rocks.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Poker People

So here it is, 2006, and all the world loves poker. You know poker right? It's that game that's played where everyone gets two cards, then five cards are turned over in the center of the table. Then someone pushes a big stack of chips forward and says "All in!" and the other players sweat for about an hour before deciding to call or fold. Texas Hold-Em' is what they call it, and THAT is poker - to the EXTREME! Right? Wrong.

Poker is a little game that I just happen to have been playing since I was 13. Well over two decades ago. Now some years I played maybe once every other month, and some years I played every week, but over that period of time I've had a lot of experience at low stakes home games of a variety much broader than the silly macho pissing matches that are suddenly on every two bit cable channel in town.

There is an entire joyful world of poker out there, unbeknownst to the current bandwagon Texas Hold-Em crowd. Now I don't begrudge them that much, they are fun to take money from; but I do feel sorry for them missing out on what is so great about the game. Poker is not staring down your opponent and pushing all your chips in with an 8 and a 2 in your hand, then getting lucky and sucking out your opponent who has an ace and a king. Poker is a far more complex and subtle, thinking persons game, that demands - if you are to have any success in the long run - patience, critical thinking, and an unwavering focus of attention.

And contrary to what all the books will tell you, Poker is not about the money - or even about winning. It's about getting together with friends and competing with your brains. Poker is social and poker is competition. It is the best of both.
Pay attention, it's your bet.

Now, I've been pretty rough on Texas Hold-Em so far, but there are more than a few reasons why it is the most popular poker game in the world right now. Texas Hold-Em, especially the no limit variation, is a blast to play - and a deceptively simple game that actually has a lot going on under the surface. It is, a very fun way to play poker. And it is almost as fun to watch on television, only two cards in the players hands - and the advent of miniature cameras to see these cards, makes for an exciting couple of TV watching hours.

But how many people know how to play the far more exciting and complex cousin of Texas Hold-Em - that mind bending game called Omaha? If you want big pots, and big adrenaline - Omaha is the game to play at your next gathering. And make it a cash limit game for goodness sakes, what fun is no-limit tournament style when most of your guests will end up sitting around for a couple hours or more while the two luckiest players get to pretend they're on television?

And try seven stud every once and a while, make it high low with an 8 qualifier, and feel your brain come alive - because you actually have to pay attention to the exposed cards. Then keep mixing it up, play some lo-ball - and see if you can keep up. If you feel a little wild, try some wacky games. These aren't my favorite all the time, but they do liven up the party a bit. Try throwing in some wild cards, play pass the trash or baseball. Stretch your mind and the fun will follow.

And for goodness sake, please don't think you know about the game because you wear sunglasses and a hat and can quote Chris Moneymaker. Or rather, go ahead and think that, and I'll relieve you of your chips, pronto.