Friday, August 29, 2008

In Yo Facebook!

This week marks a very special anniversary for me. As of last Monday, it has been exactly one year since the beautiful morning I made one of the most important commitments a young man can make...I joined Facebook.

For those who don't know, Facebook is a social networking Web site that links a series of custom dynamic profile pages. It's a cross between an online rolodex and a big book of personal ads.

On the plus side, Facebook has helped me reconnect with a number of old friends I haven't seen since high school. When your friends can be spread out anywhere from your parents' basement to a mud hut in Thailand, it's nice to have a place where everyone can stay in touch.

But Facebook is more than that...your profile page is also a huge advertisement for who you are...or rather, who you want people to think you are. Facebook offers a bunch of highly-addictive applications that let you list your music interests, post photos and videos, and even rate your friends according to their punctuality, attractiveness, and intelligence. For example, my friends have rated me the seventh most desired person for marriage. I'm only ranked #24 for my fashion sense.

And that's where things get shady... One feature lets you post your current status, like "Josh is looking forward to the Al Green concert next week", and when you look at the status page for your whole network, you can see what everyone else is doing, too. But they're not doing it with you. Your page can tell you that you have a 74% compatibility rate with someone's movie taste, but that doesn't mean you'll ever go see one together. In fact, there are some people on my network who I haven't had more than a fifteen-second conversation with. Facebook has a nasty way of presenting us with a counterfit social reality. We can create impressive social images without leaving our own bedrooms.

Let me put this in context: Someday I am going to dress in polo shirts, wear dockers, and drive a minivan. Until then, I live in this world called, "The Singles Scene". Now, the only way out of the Singles' Scene is something called "A Social Life". For example, going to parties on the weekend, where you might actually meet girls, is considered "social". Playing Grand Theft Auto all weekend is considered "anti-social". There are levels in-between, such as when you go to parties and only talk to the three people you already know, who are also guys and are afraid of girls too, and that's called "Josh's weekend itinerary between 1998 and 2005".

But then along comes Facebook. Suddenly you can sit in front of your computer and send cute little messages to members of the opposite sex without actually having to interact with them. You can keep in touch without actually risking rejection, or worse, a real relationship. You can recruit them into your zombie army, and never have to bring cash for a tip at a real restaurant. But until we get off the keyboard and actually go hit the town in some pimp-o-matic love machine, we're not much more than a bunch of one's and zero's, people. And we all know how much action one's and zero's get on a Saturday night.

Of course, maybe that's just what we want. Maybe it's easier to control our images from a distance than to let people see the real you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Turntable Gems

After doing the piece on Techno-Zombies, I started thinking about another bit of classic culture that seems like it’s on its last legs: the music album. Whether it comes on vinyl, CD, or even 8-track, the album still retains a sense of cohesiveness, but now that people are increasingly going online for their music, it’s becoming a vanishing breed.

Once again, our friend technology has served up a tasty double-edged sword. On the plus side, I don’t have to spend fifteen bucks to get one song anymore. On the negative, the likelihood of me listening to (let alone buying) an entire album is increasingly small. Which is too bad, because even though I love the ability to download songs individually, I do get the feeling that I’m missing a lot of hidden gems. Gems I can’t identify from their 30-second samples on iTunes.

Besides, a lot of great albums aren’t just made up of great songs. They’re made up of songs that go great together; the old “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” idea. In fact, most of my favorite “albums” don’t even contain my favorite songs; they just create some of my favorite moods. So here are a few recommended albums from the Josh catalog. Some you’ll recognize, some you won’t, but all worthy of a spin.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, The Beatles

Might as well start with the most clichéd of the bunch. The current trend is to point to “Revolver” as the greatest of the great Beatles albums, usually with the argument that “Sgt. Pepper” gets the press, but “Revolver” really laid the groundwork. That may be true, but “Sgt. Pepper” stands out more in my mind for being a cohesive work. Listening to it for the first time on my parent’s record player—it was the first album I ever bought—looking over the lyrics on the back and trying to identify all those people on the cover, there was a distinctive sound to the whole work. Songs like “Getting Better” may not have been as huge as “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, but they still fit together sonically. Even the token Indian tune from George fits, though I usually hit skip when I’m listening to the whole CD. From the opening orchestra warm-up to the big bang at the end of “Day in the Life”, the album felt like a total experience; not just a collection of songs.

“Thriller”, Michael Jackson

Listening to this album is totally depressing. Depressing because it’s so good, and depressing because Michael had to go and get replaced by that alien two years later. I really miss jeri curl Michael. “Thriller” may not feature any of my all-time favorite songs, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is one of the most cohesive and creative records ever put out. Even when you get beyond the big-name songs like “Beat it” and “Billie Jean”, you still have songs like “Human Nature” and “PYT” that would be flagship tracks on anyone else’s record. And for all the lousy production sounds that make a lot of 80’s music so corny, Jackson’s stuff really hits a unique quality level, Vincent Price monologues notwithstanding. All press and Jacko craziness aside, this is one fun album.

“Love, Power, Peace: Live at the Olympia in Paris, 1971”, James Brown

99 out of 100 people (or more) will tell you that the definitive James Brown live album is “Live at The Apollo”, and I agree that it’s a great record. But my personal favorite was recorded almost a decade later in Paris with the original JB’s and a bass player named Bootsy. The Olympia album is awesome, jumping out at you, grabbing you by the neck, and making it funky all night long, baby. It earns it’s keep on one moment alone: at the end of track 2 (“Brother Rapp”), JB and the boys go into an extended jam, then turn on a dime to jump into “Ain’t it Funky Now”, instantly changing tone, pace, rhythm, everything…completely in sync with each other. All in one super-funky instant. JB was truly one baaaaaad mutha.

“The Raw and the Cooked”, Fine Young Cannibals

I’m totally serious. Like most people, I bought “The Raw and the Cooked” to get “She Drives Me Crazy” and maybe “Good Thing”, but what I found was an album that had a lot more to offer. Aside from having one of the coolest band names ever, The Fine Young Cannibals had a great knack for bringing together different music styles in a fresh, fun and unique way. In spite of the obvious late 80’s synthesizers and production style, half the tracks on “Raw and the Cooked” sound like they were taken straight out of a 1950’s Doo-Wop act, and they sound great. They’re fun, kooky, and sincere all at once. People really need to hear this one.

“Pet Sounds”, The Beach Boys

Like John Milner in “American Graffiti”, I wasn’t a huge fan of the early Beach Boys surfing music. But this album isn’t about surfing. Legend has it that Brian Wilson was inspired to write this album by the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul”, and that they in turn were inspired to do “Sgt. Pepper” by “Pet Sounds”. Regardless of who inspired who, this is the album that contains “God Only Knows”, and that should say enough on its own. But “God Only Knows” is far from the only quality track on here, and even the no-name songs rise above “filler” status and blend the whole work together into a sonic melancholy daydream.

“I’ve Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, Aretha Franklin

Unlike their more rock and roll counterparts, 60’s soul acts rarely seemed to be too concerned with the album concept. I think they were more into the single scene. But this album from Aretha Franklin is such a powerhouse that the record packs a huge punch in spite of itself. From originals like the title cut and “Respect” to lesser-known covers of classics like “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Drown in My Own Tears”, there is no doubt of Aretha’s status as Queen of Soul after you give this record a listen. There’s just something about that voice.

“Loaded”, The Velvet Underground

The Velvet’s had one whale of an identity problem. Their first album—the one with the bright yellow banana on it—spends half the time exploring the seedy New York underground (“Venus in Furs”), another part just playing stripped down rock and roll (“Waiting For the Man”), and the rest of the time spinning some of the most heartfelt and whimsical tunes I’ve ever heard (“Sunday Morning”). But as cool as the first album is, my favorite is probably “Loaded”, the last one they made right before the band blew up. “Loaded” is actually kind of a pop experiment; instead of do their usual far-out oddball artsy thing, the Velvets decided to see if they could write some pop songs. But even if they aren’t as “pure” as some fans might like, I still love “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll”, even if they inexplicably cut out the “Heavenly Wine and Roses” passage out of the former (you can get the full version on the “Fully Loaded Edition”).

“ZOSO”, Led Zeppelin

Yeah, I know…another gimme. Still, the memory of listening to this album on cassette while navigating the snow-covered Viewmont High parking lot the winter of my junior year is too firmly entrenched in my mind to blow it off as a cliché. “Whole Lotta Love” opened the Zeppelin door for me, and the fourth album blew it off the hinges. Chuck Klosterman says that every guy goes through a phase growing up where Zeppelin is the greatest band (if not the only band) in the universe. As much as I’d like to think I’m totally unique and unencumbered with the sentiments of regular folks, my experience supports his point.

“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust”, David Bowie

Long after I converted from records to CD’s and joined the rush of the digital age, I picked up the Ziggy Stardust album on vinyl at Randy’s Records in Salt Lake for five bucks and listened to it in my parent’s basement. As I lay there on our orange and yellow shag carpet, I officially decided that I was a Bowie fan. I thought his later stuff was OK, even some of that funny “Labyrinth” stuff, but there was a totally different sound from the Ziggy days. That whole fuzzed-out guitar and moody glam thing really came through for some reason. Maybe it just resonates with the inner orange-haired oddball in all of us.

“War”, U2

I’m pretty sure that the first U2 album I got was “Achtung Baby”, or maybe “Joshua Tree”, but I’ve always held a fondness for the raw stripped down sound of “War”. The early-early stuff still had some New Wave in it, but I think U2 really hit their sonic stride with songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Years Day”. But here again, tracks like “Two Hearts Beat as One” and “Like a Song…” fill out the experience nicely. It doesn’t really have the trademark Edge Echo on the guitar, but it makes up for it with straightforward energy and passion. Almost like really good garage band rock by angry Irishmen.

“The Stranger”, Billy Joel

I listened to this album constantly as a kid, mostly on my parent’s car stereo as we’d go on the late night drives that were the foundation for the road trip passion that emerged later in life. People talk about how Billy Joel isn’t quite “cool” like most rock and rollers, while not quirky enough to have a Neil Diamond type of niche, but when it comes down to it, none of that crap really matters, cause if you like the music, you like the music. And I love “The Stranger”. Billy balances some great bar-band rock and roll with some genuine piano romance, and even manages to blend them both in a couple of songs (“Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”). There are big songs (“Movin’ Out”) and unknowns (“Get it Right the First Time”) and sappy ballads (“Just the Way You Are”), and there’s one song that has haunted me for years (“Vienna”). So if that’s not enough to make Billy Joel cool, then whatever, man…whatever.

“Déjà vu”, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

The cover of this album looks like one of those old west shots from the 1800’s, and it suggests you will be hearing music that hearkens to simpler, perhaps more dangerous times. It’s the second album from three guys who left their pop-inclined bands (The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Hollies, respectively) to link up for more sophisticated music. It’s also the first album to include fellow former-Buffalo Springfield alum Neil Young. “Déjà Vu” is every bit as cool an album as the cover would suggest, with a sound that hints of the old west without injecting all the phony twang that today’s country albums are saturated with. Of course, Crosby and Co. aren’t cowboys at all; they’re hippies. But them hippies can sure make some down-home tunes.

“Village Green Preservation Society”, The Kinks

If people have heard of the Kinks at all, it’s usually through primitive proto-punk rockers like “You Really Got Me” or maybe the greatest transvestite song of all-time (“Lola”). But on “Preservation Society”, Ray Davies sets aside all the raw guitar and writes a collection of songs about a simple fictional small town in Britain. Kind of an English Dandelion Wine, I guess. Sometimes its whimsical, sometimes it’s melancholy, but altogether it’s a cool album. I even used it in my graduate thesis.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why Dating in Utah Sucks

Applying logic to dating is like applying a staple gun to a sleeping baboon's behind: it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the long run you're just asking for trouble.

So even though it doesn't make sense on paper for any upstanding member of the LDS church to have trouble getting married in Utah, the reality is that many of my peers have felt compelled to venture far beyond state lines in search of eternal bliss. A week or two ago I sent a completely unsolicited e-mail to a girl in Arizona I have never met, in spite of the fact that I currently attend a ward with approximately 150 eligible females. One of my best friends married a guy from Russia, and they spent five of the six months of their engagement on different continents. Another of my best friends married a girl from Hungary. And why do we seek out such difficult options when there is so much before us? The simple reason is that the grass is greener the farther you get from Utah County. The real reason is more complex.

Granted, you can probably apply some simple rationale to the singleness of many of my eligible peers: chronic fear of commitment, refusal to accept adult responsibilities, slavish crack habit. But even if elements of these reasons are present, to get the full context of the situation one must consider a number of other mitigating factors.

Keep in mind, folks: these aren't excuses; they're just reasons. And this isn't meant to be a finger-pointing session, unless the finger is also pointed at yours truly as well.

The Media Play Factor

Have you ever walked into a CD store with no idea what you wanted to get? The options are overwhelming, and most of the time you don't even know where to begin. Now, imagine that you can only pick up one CD for, say, a lifelong trip to a deserted island...that just happens to have working electricity and a stereo. Wouldn't that make you think twice about which album to get? Maybe three times? Three hundred?

The very reason people think it should be easy to get married in Utah is the same reason it can be so hard; with so many options around, everyone can pretty much justify treating each other like crap. Why bend over backwards for someone who won't return your phone calls when you have another 10,000 eligible options within 10 square miles of your apartment?

Of course, even after you finally find the CD you want, you usually don't have to worry about whether it likes you back. The Media Play Factor cuts both ways.

The Comfort Zone Factor

Just because you have tons of options around doesn't mean you're going to do anything about them, especially when hanging out with your same five friends prevents you from ever having to take the risk of speaking to a girl or guy who has the potential to reject you. Most of us remember standing against the walls at junior high dances, wishing we had the guts to dance with someone, but paralyzed with fear in spite of those tempting Def Leppard beats all around us. Many of us are still leaning against those same walls.

The Culture Factor

I could be genetically disposed to go out-of-state to find a wife. My dad met my mom while he was attending grad school in Ohio. Up until she got engaged to my roommate, my sister had a reputation for attracting the interest of a variety of foreign suitors. When I was up at Utah State, this girl got a crush on me after I helped her in the writing lab, then she got deported to South Korea. For this reason I think my best solution for finding love is to enlist on a South Pacific oil freighter.

On a similar note, since my mom is a convert (and the only member of the church on her side of the family), I grew up in an environment that combined a rich church history with the perspective of an outsider just coming in. Which means I go to church every Sunday, but will always choose James Brown over Lex De Azevedo. The night my mom went into labor my parents were watching Steve Martin's debut on Saturday Night Live. When Rob Nish played "The Liberty Bell March" in Sacrament Meeting my family was doubled over laughing, because we were the only ones who knew the march was also the theme to "Monty Python's Flying Circus". Call me worldly, cultured, or just weird, but with an upbringing like that, it makes it really hard to relate to anyone raised on EFY soundtracks who thinks Tarantino is a kind of pasta.

The Aristocracy Factor

If there is one aspect of the dating process that girls seem to struggle with more than any other, it's that guys place a high priority on physical attractiveness. And I won't lie; if it's not there, the game is already over. The male equivalent is what I call the Aristocracy Factor. One of the difficult things about dating in Utah is the culture of success. We may not always realize it, but Utah is a very wealthy place. We all crack jokes about being poor and starving and all that, but there are a lot of us who are doing quite well. And so are most of our church leaders. That being said, sometimes there's an unspoken degree of expectation that comes with dating. Any guy who's out on the field understands that he has to market himself as a provider, no matter what the girl says about money being unimportant. Maybe it isn't, but no girl is going to be attracted to a guy who clearly can't take care of himself, let alone her and her prospective family. Unless it's one of those "attracted to the idea of fixing him" things, which I really don't get, and don't want to get into here.

What it comes down to is this: I'm just as ambitious as the next guy, but I want to know that my wife will be willing to live in a cardboard box with me if we have to, and sometimes it feels like if you're not in line to become a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or just rooted in a family already stocked with them, you're out of the running. I realize this is not true with a lot of people, but sometimes it sure feels that way.

The Technology Factor

Back in the stone ages of the 1990's, one of my biggest dating concerns was whether Girl X's little brother would actually give her the message I left when I called her home phone. Nowadays, with everyone tied to a cell phone, that's not a problem. But our technological advances are hurting us as much as they are helping.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the reason most girls don't return phone calls is because they aren't interested and don't have the nerve to call the guy back and tell him so. This fear to engage another human being, combined with the accessibility of technology (IE, the text message), has enabled our generation to hide inside pretty little cubicles built of digital walls, which keep us from ever really having to interact with the world around us in a meaningful way. I can call some girls and leave voice mails that never get returned...but if I send the same girl a text message she will respond inside of sixty seconds. There have been times I swear I have been standing in groups of a half dozen people, and all but one of them was texting or talking to someone else who wasn't present. And chances are, if the people they were calling/texting WAS present, they'd be trying to contact someone ELSE, because for some weird reason, no one seems to want to interact with the person right in front of their face anymore.

But texting is not dating, and neither is posting comments on someone's Facebook Wall. It may feel good to have all sorts of cute prospects in your friend network, but there is no joy to be found in reading a bunch of status updates on a lonely Saturday night.

The Happiness Factor

If you want to make a 26-year-old girl mad, tell her about the 19-year-old girl you want to ask out. In general, this is because the 26-year-old assumes you are just chasing the 19-year-old for her looks, as part of some short-sighted quarter-life crisis thing, and in many instances she may be right. But there is something else at work here. Another advantage the younger girl often has.


Don't get me wrong, here. Not all young girls are optimistic, and not all "older" girls are pessimists. There are exceptions to every rule, I know. But in general, the older you get, and the more experienced you get, and the more rejections and disappointments you pile up, the easier it is to get bitter. And that's true regardless of gender. Now, you want your spouse to bring out the best in you, just like all the GA's recommend. But who is going to bring out your best? The girl who's sarcastic and cynical, or the girl who's happy and excited about life? After dating for fifteen years, you get the feeling that you lost your innocence somewhere along the way. So even though it might be fun to kick back with your peers at a party and gripe about how much it sucks that the ward is getting younger (when in truth you are only getting older) and how dating is such a pain in the behind (always has been, always will be), when it comes to a real relationship, I'm going to go where I can feel positive about the future, not where I can complain about my past.

The Sensitivity Factor

This is by no means confined to Utah, but part of the reason singles are hesitant to interact face-to-face is because showing any degree of sensitivity or vulnerability has been deemed inherently uncool. And yes, I realize I'm calling the kettle black right here. I as much or more than anyone, have worked very hard to keep my social circle guessing as to my true thoughts and intentions. After all, why give my enemies the advantage over me?

Seriously, though, I think that the majority of us WANT to be in situations or relationships where we can show vulnerability or sensitivity; we just think we CAN'T. Either because it isn't cool or because we're worried that we'll scare the other person off. Or just get kicked to the curb like someone's red-headed stepchild. So it's easier to just maintain a distant air of confidence and refuse to let anyone really get to know you, because, you know, playing hard to get is the best way to go, right? Everyone is justified in being a little gun-shy to open up after getting your heart kicked in a time or two; but at some point you're going to have to stick your neck out and take that risk again. Eventually it's going to pay off, right?

* * *

So when you consider these factors, it's not super hard to see why looking beyond Utah might seem like the grand solution to a long-term dating dilemna. Don't misunderstand me, I love my home state, and will defend it to the death. But sometimes dating in Zion makes me feel like Michael Corleone in "Godfather III":

"Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in."

If you got that reference, chances are you didn't grow up in Utah.

Missing the Boat: The Lost Lessons of Napoleon Dynamite

This is actually the producer's minute editorial I did today on the Cafe. Strangely, when I imported the clip onto iMovie it was all distorted, so instead I will just post the text here. This is good for me, because my IFB was sticking out of my ear the whole time and it would have distracted you from the important message I am trying to share. This is bad for you, though, because the IFB was a lot funnier than anything I said.

Tomorrow another movie will be released about another LDS missionary having another life-changing experience in another country. It will probably be written and produced with sincere passion born of personal experience and a genuine desire to translate the LDS experience onto film. It will also, in all likelihood, last for about two or three weeks in the theaters, then disappear onto the DVD shelves of Deseret Book.

This will not happen because of poor quality or poor effort. It will happen because somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that the LDS population was desperate for movies about LDS people, and this idea is mistaken.

When the Clean Flicks people sat down with a VHS copy of "Titanic", they didn't dub in references to Home Teaching and CGI Mormon Missionaries into the background; they just cut out the naked bits.

The Mormon population is not clamboring to hear the tale of a conflicted Elder's Quorum President as he strains to balance his multi-level marketing job with his loyalty to his son's church basketball team and his wife's struggle to suppress the emerging eco-terrorist feminist movement at her enrichment meetings. They just want to see Bruce Willis fight the bad guys without dropping the F-bomb every thirteen seconds and having to watch him hang out at strip clubs on his nights off.

Now don't miss my point...there have been some very good movies made about LDS people, and there may be more to come, but if "Napoleon Dynamite" taught us anything, it is that A. Moon Boots are Funny, and B. LDS filmgoers are looking for movies with LDS values, not necessarily LDS stories. And if you look at the box office, it's clear that there are lots of non-LDS people who are looking for these kinds of movies too. LDS filmmakers are missing the boat.

Granted, the sense of humor employed by "Napoleon Dynamite" is not for everyone. But even people who hate "Napoleon Dynamite" admit that it's a clean film, a lot cleaner than anything Mike Myers or Adam Sandler has done in the last ten years. "Dynamite" proved that you can be clean, funny, and financially successful. Yet nobody seems to have gotten the message, and while Napoleon himself has gone on to do typical Hollywood gross-out comedies, Utahn's have seen a steady stream of low-budget movies about LDS people that no one outside the culture can relate to. And no one inside the culture is that keen on them either, because they're always gone in two weeks.

Now, the artisitic purists will insist that they have stories to tell and refuse to sell out to worldly pressures. If you're content telling a personal story to a limited audience, go for it. If you need someone to play the bald wisecracking best friend, don't hesitate to let me know. Just don't expect any different response than you're getting now. There are bigger opportunities out there if you want them.

All you have to do is follow the curly red perm.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Celebrity Politico

The news hit like a slab of warm butter on a windshield...the feds just blew the cover on 24,000 of their old spies, and you probably know a few of them.

Remember Julia Child? That french chef? She was a spy. Oh yeah, she was packing bugs in those pastries, slipping throwing knives in her knicker straps, and tucking a little pouch of cyanide pills in her rolling pin. Hard to believe, but it looks like the Pampered Chef was living the kind of life Sean Connery was only pretending to live onscreen.

How about Ernest Hemingway? His kid was a spy. So was some catcher with the Red Sox. And remember the crazy general from "Dr. Strangelove"? The one that orders the nuclear attack because he's convinced the commies wanted to sap and impure his precious bodily fluids with flouride? Turns out the guy that played him knew more about it than we thought.

Whenever the worlds of politics and celebrity collide, good times always follow. We don't have to look any further than the night the King of Rock and Roll staggered over to the White House in a black velvet overcoat and demanded that President Nixon make him an official drug enforcement agent. The photo op that came out of that gem was one for the ages.

But some people don't like it when the Beltway meets Tinseltown. John McCain even made an ad about it. He thinks Barack Obama is on a par with Britney and Paris, and he's probably right. But I've got bad news for you, senator. It's nothing new, and it won't keep Obama from getting elected. We crossed that line back when John F. Kennedy showed the world he was prettier candidate than Richard Nixon. So Nixon went on Laugh-In. Clinton went on Arsenio. President Bush is on the late-night talk shows all the time, and he's not even trying.

When I was a kid, growing up in the tough suburban ghettos of Bountiful, Utah, I didn't know a thing about Ronald Reagan's policies. I knew he was the president, and I also knew he was the guy in the Superman outfit in that Genesis video. To me, politics and comedy were the same thing. Twenty years later, my generation is more likely to get their news from Jon Stewart and Conan O'Brien than Katie Couric.

So my advice to senator McCain is this: Johnny Boy, it's too late to fight it, so you may as well join it. Jump in head first, get yourself a posse, cut a rap album, and make a cameo in the next "Batman" movie. For Pete's sake, man, you lost the bobblehead giveaway to Obama in every state. You've gotta do something. If the other guy can go on the Ellen DeGeneres show and get down with his bad self--TWICE--and still hold a lead in the polls, then maybe he's onto something.

Maybe it's that we're just shallow, and we deserve what we get. Or maybe you really are a celebrity, whether you like it or not. So you may as well act like it.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Gas Pains

Last weekend my dad and I got together to go test drive some BMW's at Harrison Imports in Bountiful. One of them was a sweet 5-series that could run like there was no tomorrow. The mileage was a little high, but the price was reasonable, and for a while I wondered if it was time for Josh to make a little auto upgrade.

Then I realized something. The 5-series had a V-8, probably got around 20 miles per gallon and took premium unleaded gas. So I backed off, and I was ashamed of it. Even as the summer’s gas surge starts to cool off, I began to wonder if it was still enough to kill the American love affair with the open road. I wondered if Salt Lake City was doomed to become a clustered network of train tracks and rickshaw paths, shuttling the downtown population back and forth in a lifeless post-automotive nightmare. I'm all for alternate fuel innovation, but I can't drive 55...especially if it's in a Prius.

The short answer is no. The American love affair with the SUV might be over, but like Wheaties and Eddie Van Halen, our relationship with the open road is here to stay; America is not about to cut ties with Henry Ford's baby.

But I do hope that one thing comes out of this mess. I hope people wake up enough to finish what has started in the last few months. As much as I want a break at the pump, I worry that if prices drop too much too fast we'll go right back to our old ways. And next time, we really might wind up paying ten bucks a gallon. We keep running these stories about some guy in Indiana who's getting 200 miles per gallon out of his '85 Mustang. Well, let's get these cars off the airways and onto the roads, cause I'm tired of letting a rich oil guy from Dubai build mile-high skyscrapers with my gas money while his next-door neighbor plots to blow me up. America’s dependence on foreign oil is like dating a Paris Hilton; it never really makes you happy, but you’re too afraid of being single again to cut the cord.

Yet even Paris knows that the best solution is to go for a balanced strategy of domestic oil production and alternative fuel development. If Nancy Pelosi won't let me drill in my own backyard, we should go drill up in Canada. That place is huge, and there's hardly anyone even up there to notice. And if they do, we can just make them the 51st state they've always wanted to be. If that's what it takes to get me in my BMW, then so be it.

Cause I don't ever want to have to stand on a used car lot again and tell some salesman that ‘it's not the years, honey; it's the gas mileage.’”

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Like a Celluloid Virgin

The other day I was having an interesting conversation with my roommate Mark. Mark and I often have interesting conversations, many of which center on topics like independent film, how I need to finish my drives with more confidence while slashing to the lane in basketball, and how his decision to move to Provo now that he has finished law school may or may not constitute social suicide.

But this day we were talking about "The Matrix", and how it takes nearly 45 minutes before you even find out the context for all the weirdness you are watching in what you supposed was your conscious reality. ("There is no spoon!") What we concluded was that it would be cool to go back and re-experience some movies for the first time, if only to have the fresh experience of having your world flipped upside-down by some cool plot twist, like the ending of "Sixth Sense".

I remember the day I walked into the "Revenge of the Sith" on opening day. It had occurred to me that this would be the last time I would ever walk into a "Star Wars" movie for the first time. The first time I'd see that opening line and the 20th Century Fox logo and all that stuff, without knowing what was going to come next. That's a pretty cool feeling.

Here are a few of the movies I wish I could experience again for the first time:

"Star Wars", 1977

I don't actually remember seeing this in the theater, though according to my parents I saw it when I was about six months old. Apparently I was afraid of the Jawas. Given the impact that this movie had on my childhood, as well as the constant string of creative efforts I've pursued since then, I would love to be able to watch "Star Wars" again for the first time, if only to see that first shot of the Star Destroyer sweep across the screen.

"A Hard Day's Night", 1964

Not long after diving headfirst into my own delayed Beatlemania phase in the fourth grade, my parents let me rent their first movie, "A Hard Day's Night". I really hate using this term, because it's pretty cliched and kind of creeps me out, but I still remember how fresh the Beatles' music sounded when I was first hearing all of it. There is a quality--especially in their earlier work--that is very alive and enthusiastic. The movie reinforced that, and ramped up my enthusiasm for them (even though John Lennon had already been dead for several years by that point). I loved the energy and dry humor and fast-talking wit, from the desperate races through the streets to the traincar conversation with the stuffy old coot to the coy discussions with every girl they encountered along the way. Plus all the "new" music--the stuff I hadn't heard yet--was awesome. The only negative was that I was disappointed to find out that they were all chronic smokers (boy, was I in for a surprise). It wasn't until a couple of years later that I got into their later stuff (my mom only had the albums up through "Revolver"), but "Hard Day's Night" is a perfect example of everything that was great about early Beatlemania, even if I wasn't there when it happened.

"The Empire Strikes Back", 1980

I do remember going to see "The Empire Strikes Back", though only vaguely. I remember thinking that it was pretty obvious that Darth Vader was lying to Luke when he told him he was his father. I mean, it was Darth Vader, right? How could he be trusted to tell the truth? He'd just lopped off Luke's arm, for Pete's sake. But now, in my more matured condition, I can't help but wonder what it would be like to see this movie for the first time and have that moment hit me fresh. A lot of people consider Vader's revelation to be the greatest movie twist of all time, and I think I was just too darn young to appreciate it.

"Jaws", 1975

A couple of years ago I got together with some friends to watch a movie, and we happened to put in the "Jaws". I'd been watching the movie for years, but there were a couple of people in our group who had never seen it before. I can't tell you how fun it was to watch their reaction to all the scary bits. I had totally forgotten how genuinely scary that movie was. It would be awesome to go back and see the fish chum scene for the first time.

"Back to the Future", 1985

It's kind of hard to explain this, but "Back to the Future" is one of those movies that is totally underrated because it is so totally popular. I mean, with all the Universal Studios rides and the pop culture references and such, you kind of forget how good the movie really is. You just assume it's another of those hugely popular 80's movies like "Ferris Bueller" and "Top Gun", then you actually go back and watch it and it almost knocks you out how genuinely fun, sincere and well-written the thing is. I really think it's one of the last family comedies that could appeal to young and old audiences without offending either. (I'm guessing a lot of people will argue in favor of all the Pixar movies here, but unlike "Back to the Future", with the Pixar movies I'm good after seeing them once). So what I'm getting at is it would be great to have that experience again.

"The Bourne Supremacy", 2004

I actually like "Bourne Ultimatum" more, but the reason I wish I could see "Supremacy" fresh is to erase the experience I had seeing it the first time. Because every time I watch "Supremacy" now, I am reminded of the 55-year-old jerk who was sitting next to me, jabbering to his wife through the whole movie. At the end of the car chase scene in Russia, when I got fed up and shushed this guy, he actually had the nerve to tell ME to shut up. I was absolutely dumbfounded at this response. Before I just thought he was an idiot who talked his way through movies; now he was one of the most quintessentially oblivious and inconsiderate jerks I had ever encountered. Plus he wore those super-ugly Dockers shorts that only came a third of the way down his lanky old-man thighs. I was completely possessed by the desire to pound this guy into oblivion, or at least tell him that if his wife was too dumb to understand what was going on, that the two of them should wait and just hire someone to deliver a copy of the movie to them in their lobotomy recovery ward when it came out on video, but I was too stunned to even respond, and I didn't want to become the very thing I was feeling so self-righteous about, so now I'm stuck wishing I could see the movie over again and clean my memory out.

(sound of Josh pounding head against wall)

"Almost Famous", 2000

Part of the reason I wish I could see "Almost Famous" for the first time again is because I had such a GOOD experience the first time. I was going through one of those social low-points, where a relationship I had been busting my tail on had completely shattered and lay in a shambles at my feet. In this state I turn on a movie that is essentially a movie-version of the Wonder Years TV show, written by a guy who clearly loves music at least as much as I do. I see the scene at the top of the ramp after the concert and the sceneon the tour bus and the phone call scene at the end of the movie, and at the end of it all I get that great feeling that comes along every once in a while that reminds you that in spite of some crap turns, life is going to turn out totally cool. And the movie still makes me feel that way today.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Techno-Zombies and Live Debuts

Last week I finally managed to make my on-air debut on the Cafe. It took an important topic like zombies to coax me out of my comfort zone in the control room and in front of a battery of live video cameras. So I celebrated by flubbing a camera transition and screwing up at least one major line, but at least the hour I spent shining the top of my head with car wax really paid off.

A couple of initial observations from the experience:

1. It is extremely quiet on a live TV set.
2. My head is really, really shiny on TV.
3. It is EXTREMELY quiet on a live TV set.

I'm planning on making this an every Friday gig, but I need to come up with a name for the thing (like News Omelette or Catch of the Day). So far the best idea I've had is "Morning Yogurt: A little fruit, a bunch of nuts, and a whole lotta culture", but I can't use that for obvious reasons.

Here's the clip:

Original text:

Good morning, today I'd like to take a moment to talk to you about zombies. Now, I won’t be talking about the cool flesh-eating kind of zombies that were immortalized in George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead", at least not today.

No, the kind of zombies I'm referring to are the elements of our popular culture that are, according to, "dead but don't know it". Things we know and love that are becoming obsolete as they are replaced by new and innovative technologies. Among them, Cracked lists the phone book…newspapers...mp3 players…even cold, hard cash.

Now, I don't entirely disagree with the cracked editorial staff as they sound the death knell for our aging technologies, but I do think it's sad. And it may not be wise. Phone books may be little more than landfill fodder these days, and maybe my online news comes faster than the daily fish wrap, but I’m not ready to turn over all my reference needs to a temperamental Internet connection. Downloading all of Neil Diamond's music onto my cell phone in convenient mp3 format may be cool and edgy, but it doesn't replace the thrill of opening up the high-quality packaging of my comprehensive three-disc boxed set and weeping playing "Love on the Rocks" plays quietly by a crackling fire. Technology may give us convenience, but it often robs us of the experience. Getting cash in a birthday card will always be more fun than a direct deposit.

I guess my point is that while it is important for us to continue to develop our new technologies, we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss the old reliables they're replacing. Modern society may want to turn us into a network of bandwidth-swallowing free-floating brains connected by our ethernet cables, but just because we have the technology doesn't mean we should always use it. Just because we can clone Richard Simmons doesn't mean we should.

In a busy world, there's certainly nothing wrong with holding onto a few zombies every once in a while. In fact, it might be the best thing for us.