Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Shoot the Piano Player

I have very few beliefs or ideals, but I do posses a great love of democracy. I am a true lover of the people. The elites can suck it.

This goes double for the arts. I think poor and middle-class people should have art and music supplies airlifted in regularly. Give it to them as a tax break. Besides, it will keep them occupied so they won't have the time or inclination to break into my pleasure compound.

Some of my favorite art and music has come from the untrained, the unschooled, people who just have a burning desire to express themselves and create something out of nothing.

Lately, however, this love for the common people and their artwork has taken a turn.

As part of some sort of city-wide program, two pianos have been moved into the library lobby. The idea is for people walking by to play them and express the beauty which lurks within their weather-beaten and cigarette-reeking fingers.

For the most part, people are actually playing or attempting to play songs, which is a nice surprise. I was envisioning lots of angry Hulk-inspired bashing, if not teams of our regulars pushing the wheeled pianos out the front door in a mad rush to the closest pawn shop.

So while the idea has been somewhat successful, it is telling that the people who birthed this idea are safely walled away far, far away from the actual pianos. Me, I work on the two floors where I'm constantly hearing pianos echo throughout the day.

Last weekend, someone plinked out the piano part to Elton John's Benny and the Jets for about an hour. I'm not a big Elton John fan in the best of times, other than that Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting song, when he actually put some rock music in that rock music of his, but hearing the same six notes over and over again in the course of an hour would make the most hard-core Elton John fan run for the exits. Since that day, I have had just about every Elton John song I know running on a constant loop in my head, taking up precious space that could be used for making coherent blog posts.

Not only am I starting to feel like I work in the perfume counter at a particularly low-rent mall, I'm starting to hate the piano in general. If Beethoven himself got on one of the pianos, backed up by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Schroeder from Peanuts, I'd still want to set the thing on fire and dump it in the river.

Nobody seems to know when the pianos will be removed, but my love for music and artwork coming from regular people? That was removed several weeks ago.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reflections On a Picture My Friend Kevin Uploaded to Facebook

It's 1986. You've just gotten off work and all you want to do is microwave some Orville Redenbacher, drink some Miller Lite and watch Magnum, P.I..
Your significant other wants to go out.

Shit. Instead of a relaxing night at home, you're going to have to be in a crowded, sweaty club, full of obnoxious people, overpriced drinks and DJs playing Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, when you could be watching Magnum solve a mystery and mess with Higgins.

Then again, if you go along with this idea and don't act like too much of a baby, there's the possibility you could get laid at the end of the night, so after some negotiation (two hours, tops, with the possibility of one dance depending on darkness, intoxication levels and music selection) you end up going out.

After walking in you realize you've made a mistake and are already checking your watch every few seconds wondering what she sees in this place. You've got better music at home, and you don't have to pay to drink, either. I'll bet Magnum's doing something cool right now.

"No, I don't feel like dancing right now. You go ahead, though. I'll be right here."

Jeez, this sucks. I wish I had that popcorn I was going to make. Well, she's happy, maybe that'll pay off later. I should really go to the bathroom.

God, these people are just terrible. Don't they have to work in the morning? And they see me heading to the bathroom. You can't just move two steps? No? You're going to make me walk all the way around you while you have your yelly conversation? Yeah, that's cool, why ...

Holy shit.

Hanging out by the bathroom you see them. Three people who deserve to be carved into a Mount Rushmore of '80s awesomeness.

"What...what are you guys doing here?"

"We're looking for people to join our big rock and roll comedy awesomeness tour. Mr. T's sleeping on the bus. Looks like you're tonight's big winner."

"Let's go. I can call work from the road."

After that, people describe your life as a roller coaster ride. This is laughingly incorrect, as you will only encounter constant highs, highs not known to mortal men. You will experience explosions of excitement and exquisite life-changing ecstasy day after day. You will also be turned onto Rodney Dangerfield's secret knowledge of the occult, which will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

At least that's what I got out of the picture. You might just see Pee Wee Herman, Rodney Dangerfield and David Lee Roth hanging out in front of what looks like a county fair or miniature golf course.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dennis the Menace

Remember that old '50s TV show based on the Dennis the Menace comics? No? It used to be on Nick at Nite all the time. It was called Dennis the Menace.

Well, about 15 years ago I was visiting my parents and decided to drive up to Tampa to check out this antique toy show. I figured there would probably be some cool old robot or monster toys that I probably couldn't actually afford, but it's not like I was doing anything else, and maybe that cute girl that ran that vintage store in Ybor City who was nice to me would be there and she'd dump her stupid boyfriend/co-owner and we'd start a new life together, buying and selling awesome old toys and ...

Oh yeah, Dennis the Menace.

Jay North, the actor who portrayed Dennis was advertised as being a special guest star for this thing. I didn't really care. I was more concerned with the two women in front of me who kept braying in horrible New Jersey accents about how the show was being run inefficiently because it was done by Floridians.

I'm not a huge regional pride guy. I mean, sure, you have a connection to your area, either because your parents made you grow up there or you were too frightened of the bigger world to move away or you just like the area, but really, who cares? What are we? Bosnia?

But these ladies were really rubbing me the wrong way, mostly because they betrayed a lack of manners. I wouldn't go to wherever they were from and loudly complain that people used made-up words like 'youse' and 'dese' and dressed in wife-beaters and sweatpants. When you're in a foreign place, you accept the local culture.

No matter where I went, they always seemed to be right in front of me. They had to make comments at every booth, saying stuff like, "What is dat? Dat's stoopid" to vendors, and generally bringing a hateful little cloud of sarcasm and rudeness into my hunt for robots and Draculas. Strangely enough, the only thing they seemed to be excited about was the special appearance by Jay North.

I finally lost them and was hanging around a booth that was full of boss (and expensive) Planet of the Apes toys. As I'm poking around I hear Jay North take the stage. I still don't care, so I keep shifting around the plastic apes, wishing that my part-time offset printing job actually paid enough to provide for both essentials and awesomeness.

After a while, I realize that Dennis is getting more and more excited, so I start paying attention. I manage to catch him right in the middle of a rant about how television changed for the worse in the '60s.

"It seems people didn't need family friendly TV anymore," the Menace raged. "No, they only wanted weird stuff about hippies driving around solving mysteries, smoking dope and having sex."

Wait, how did I miss that show? Was that on HBO?

He continued on in that vein for a while, sounding angrier and angrier, but that's the only quote I can remember. I'd like to say that someone pulled him off with one of those big shepherd's crooks, but I'm pretty sure that didn't happen. I did see the cute Ybor City vintage store owner, mumbled a "hi" to her and left without buying anything or starting a new life.

A couple years after that I heard Dennis the Menace had a right wing radio show, which makes a lot of sense, although it's not on his Wikipedia page. He will probably be Florida's next senator.

And the obnoxious women? They would end up being the first female co-presidents of the United States. But that is a story for another time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm Your Garbageman

My trash can was left rolling around out in the street this morning. I am at the age where this results in letters to the editor and decade-long speeches on how nobody takes pride in their work anymore.

Truthfully, I can't say anything. Back in high school my friends and I came up with a game. I drove a huge '77 Lincoln Continental. Think of a tank, only faster and a bit more maneuverable, piloted by a 16 year old blaring out Bad Brains and the Clash.

Every Thursday was trash day. Every Thursday morning I'd pick up my friends to drive to school, and we'd cruise the neighborhoods looking for trash cans. After spotting one, I'd floor it, sending the trash can either into outer space, or frequently being dragged under my transmission for a half mile or so.

Naturally, this was hilarious to us.

There was one house that constantly put their three garbage cans out in a sort of pyramid shape, which was pretty much asking for us to drive through it. Looking back now, considering it was Bradenton, the owner could have been a WW2 veteran, a guy who served his country honorably and whose only solace now came from arranging his garbage cans once a week.

Being teenagers, we didn't think about any of that or even consider what pains in the ass we were. We just liked seeing all the trash cans fly away when being hit by a huge chunk of Detroit steel.

Man, was I a shitty kid.

So today when I have to lug my empty trash can from the street in the rain, or I have to stop the car in the street because the can has blown into the driveway, I figure it could be a lot worse.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Moving Pictures

I saw True Grit last night. It was good. As a general rule I avoid remakes, because, really, what's the point, but you know, it's the Coen Brothers. Even their crappy movies are pretty good.

Now that I'm out of the coveted 18-35 year old age range, nobody gives a shit what I think about movies, and it shows.

Actually, it doesn't seem like Hollywood gives a shit about movies, period. Three quarters of most movies are remade from an older, better movie (True Grit gets the Awesomeness Exception), or based on some TV show that nobody liked 30 years ago, or a video game or a comic book nobody cared about. And do you think anyone involved in any way in shit like The A-Team or GI Joe actually cared about it? Did the directors or writers really yearn to tell a story? Did the actors really try to find the inner B.A. Baracus? No, they didn't care, and I think they actually hate anyone who actually paid money or wasted their precious cable time to see their shitty movies.

The indie ghetto is almost as bad, but at least you don't feel the hate for the audience from every frame. More like condescension. You know as soon as you see the handwritten credits while a guy and girl tonelessly sing with a kazoo or ukulele, you're gonna get a story about a guy who works as a crossword puzzle editor who's gonna meet a girl who knits sweaters for birds navigate their way through the trials and tribulations of being young, quirky, and upper middle-class.

Then there's a gazillion CGI movies where plastic shiny animals trade pop culture references and fart at each other, but as I'm childless, I don't have to watch those.

It's been said there are only a handful of original stories, everything since the time of the Greeks or Cavemen or whatever has just been updating and refining these universal themes. But there are really only two themes for a good movie.

There is only "Holy Crap! Check this out!" and "Listen to this story." Examples of "Holy Crap! Check this out" would embrace everything from Buster Keaton to musicals to martial arts to exploitation flicks. "Listen to this story" could be anything from "There's this cab driver who's all messed up" to "This village keeps getting raided so they try to find some protection" to "This cowboy goes on a 5 year obsessive quest to track down his niece."

Obviously, "Listen to this story" could apply to anything, even movies based on crappy kid's TV shows that were made to sell toys, but it has an important qualifier. As soon as you have to add sentence like "Yeah, you remember that old commercial/sci-fi movie from the '50s/TV show," the "Listen to this" story gets weakened, and eventually dies. If you have to add, "Someone wears a fat suit and farts a lot" or "Nicolas Cage and John Travolta" or "Adam Sandler and his less-funny friends" or "Yeah, it's Will Smith's kid" the genre shrivels up.

Is this a perfect system? No, it's not. It's more a "I'll know it when I see it" system. But it works for me. I guess. I'm watching a PBS American Experience on the Civil War as I write this, so maybe I am too old to comment on pop culture.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Death and Taxes

Every year at work we get about every tax form under the sun. So far this year we've only gotten a bunch of 10-40EZs. They're all up on a wire rack in the front of the library. A few days ago an older couple was looking for some specific form and couldn't find them. When they realized all we had was the 10-40EZs, the man walked off muttering, "What has that Obama done?"

That was almost as good as the time the Tea Party was meeting at the library before walking over to City Hall to protest the indignity of paying taxes. One of the older guys noticed the DVDs and asked, "How much are these?"

"They're free with a card," I said.



As a dedicated public servant I fought the urge to say, "Yeah, they're free. Just pay your damn taxes and shut up."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reading List

Few things in life give me more pleasure than seeing movie punk rockers, so I pretty much had to buy a copy of Destroy All Movies: The Complete Guide to Punks of Film since Santa crapped out. The thing is huge; at over 450 pages, it will stand as the definitive guide to movie punks. The size is justified, if there was a guy with a mohawk being booked in the background of a scene for 30 seconds, the movie gets a review.

Editors Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly keep a conversational tone throughout, with an overall feeling of talking movies with a couple of your buddies. With review summaries like, "A stupid, unattractive man is denied intercourse," you know you're in for a good time.

They also have a good eye for Hollywood shortcuts and cliches: "...Wearing black means you're depressed; if you're male and a hairdresser, you are most certainly a flaming homosexual; dyed hair and headphones means you're probably a shocking and eccentric babysitter at the door of Steve Martin or Tim Allen,"

Movie punks were all over the place in '80s and '90s movies, whether showing how wild and weird the big city was, how things regressed after the Road Warrior inspired apocalypse, or just as zany sight gags in stories of nerds trying to get laid. Because of this, not only have Carlson and Connolly compiled an exhaustive tome on movie punks, they've created an amazing record of trash cinema, one that brought back memories of working through Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Encyclopedia to Film back in the early '90s.

Mixed in with the more cliche movie punks are longer reviews of what I guess would be considered the punk movie canon, Repo Man, Suburbia, Another State of Mind and Rock and Roll High School. Interviews are featured with actors, writers, musicians and directors, even a page-long interview with the patron saint of cinema nerds, the great Eddie Deezen.

Eddie Deezen!

The authors are opinionated, funny and rude when needed, yet are still able to convey what makes a movie like Suburbia stand out from the more exploitative fare, and to enthuse wildly about classics like Surf 2, Get Crazy, Rollerblade, and Class of 1984. Well, they're classics to me, anyway.

If you have any interest in punk rockers, trash movies from the '80s or fun in life, get a copy now.

I also managed to read Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption over Christmas, written by the lady that wrote Seabiscuit. It's the story of Louis Zamperini, who started out as a juvenile delinquent who decides to start running track, comes close to breaking the 4 minute mile, goes to the Jessie Owens Olympics, shakes Hitler's hand, causes an international incident by stealing a Nazi flag, survives 47 days at sea after his bomber crashes (fighting sharks with fists and oars), then survives brutal conditions in a series of Japanese POW camps for years. I, on the other hand, couldn't ride my bike on the trail yesterday because it looked like rain.

After coming home, Zamperini suffered from PTSD, and he figures the best way to deal with that is to go back to Japan, find the commander of the Japanese POW camp, and kill him.

Obviously not as light-handed in tone as Destroy All Movies, Unbroken is a great non-fiction page turner, one that's inspiring and awe-inspiring without giving in to "greatest generation" hokum. I mean, look at that sentence up there! That's material for like 3 or 4 awesome books! Read it and go hug an old person.