Sunday, December 19, 2010

The iTunes Top 10

Of all of the phenomena in my life that fascinate me to no end, one that continues to beguile me is how the top 10 "most played" songs on my iTunes account don't even close to resembling the list I would make if I were to compile my top 10 favorite songs of all-time.

This could be the result of one or more of the following factors:

  • Magical elves are messing with my hard drive and changing my stats so they can mess with my mind.
  • The top-played list only represents my listening activity over the last four years since I bought my current computer (the top two songs on my previous computer were "Jungle Boogie" by Kool & the Gang and "Northern Sky" by Nick Drake). It would obviously be a far different list if it could track my listening statistics back to the fourth grade.
  • Elton John is messing with my hard drive and changing my stats so he can mess with my mind.
  • The iTunes account only represents songs played through iTunes and my iPod, and leaves out CD's I've listened to repeatedly on long, lonely drives when I was contemplating the meaning of my life (such as the James Brown Christmas Album).
  • Just because a song is one of my all-time favorites, that doesn't mean I want to listen to it all the time. Some songs need to be saved for special occasions (such as "Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year," off the James Brown Christmas Album).
  • No one is messing with my hard drive; the truth is the following songs ARE my all-time favorites, and I only THINK my favorite music is my favorite music.

10. (tie) "Let's Stay Together," Al Green, and "Razzmatazz," Pulp

"Let's Stay Together" was one of those songs that was familiar but ignored until I heard it in the background during "Pulp Fiction." Then I saw Al sing it at Red Butte Gardens and it became an all-time favorite. The Pulp track is miles from R&B, but the building crescendo into the final chorus is a killer.

9. "Walk Like a Zombie," The Horrorpops

I found this one while compiling a special zombie-themed CD mix for my sister's birthday a few years ago. I actually had the chance to see these guys at the Avalon two years ago for fifteen bucks, but passed for reasons I can't remember.

8. "How You Like Me Now," The Heavy

The first time I heard this song--in a Kia commercial, of all places--I swore it was a remix of an old James Brown track. Turns out the lead singer of this British band is just JB reincarnated. Just a dirty, nasty bit of badness, this track.

7. "Hold You in My Arms," Ray LaMontagne

The lead track on my sister's wedding video, it's been one of my all-time favorites ever since. Luckily I had the good sense to attend Ray's concert when he came out to The Great Saltair two years ago.

6. "Tiny Dancer," Elton John

Yep, the "Almost Famous" song. First heard it at a time in my life when I really need it. About a year ago I picked up a DVD compilation of performances from a show called "The Old Grey Whistle Test" that features Sir Elton playing this solo on his piano. Great stuff.

5. "Good Days Bad Days," Kaiser Chiefs

One of many songs I discovered by mining the soundtrack of TV's "Chuck." If that show ever goes off the air, iTunes should sue for future lost revenues.

4. "All the Young Dudes," Mott the Hoople

I had the chorus to this song stuck in my head for about four years before a late-night Time Life infomercial finally let me put a name to it. Four years is a long time to have an unnamed tune stuck in your head, man. A long, long time.

3. "Stuttering," Ben's Brother

Probably the best use of a stutter in a pop song since Roger Daltrey stammered his way through "My Generation" for The Who back in the 60's. Don't think this song will carry the same weight in the long run, but it's got a chorus hook that will melt your brain.

2. "Oh Me Oh My (I'm a Fool for You)," Aretha Franklin

Every once in a while I try to decide whether my all-time favorite female singer is Aretha Franklin or Janis Joplin. According to iTunes, it's Aretha. My only beef with this song is the studio version ends right as The Queen of Soul is taking off. Real Shame.

1. "Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow," Jonathan Richman

My first and so far only visit to Kilby Court was to see this guy, and it still stands as one of my all-time favorite shows. The renowned Godfather of Punk (and in my opinion, EMO, though in a good way), Jonathan Richman is an acquired taste that is well worth acquiring. Trust me.

* * *

So I don't know...maybe this list is closer to my all-time top 10 than I thought. I definitely like all of those songs. Maybe they represent something I can't articulate consciously. Isn't that kind of what music is about anyway?

(Incidentally, if any of you clicked on that James Brown Christmas link, I hope you listened to the whole track. Trust me, you need to listen to the whole track.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Tron Review Online

My new review for "Tron: Legacy" is online at the Deseret News website:

"Tron: Legacy is a Stylish Update"

According to Rotten Tomatoes, I seem to be in the minority among critics. But Roger Ebert agrees with me, at least.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

School of Rock

A little over a year ago, some of my longtime high school friends and I put together a band to perform at a charter school out in North Salt Lake.  We called ourselves The Guitar Heroes in order to send the kids the message that if they learn to play real instruments instead of fake ones (read: Guitar Hero and Rock Band accessories), you can rock and roll for real. The set was a big success, and the gym full of jumping, screaming elementary ed kids instantly became one of my favorite audiences.

My current band Groove Theorem has been on a bit of a hiatus lately, so a little over a week ago, I hooked up with BretO and Cheetahman again to play a few more tunes for the K-6 crowd. For this year's performance, we wanted to raise the stakes. We picked up an additional guitarist, put together a four song set instead of three, and even wore suits for the gig. We also added an extended Kanye-Disco Coda to the one song that remained from the previous year's set: Neil Diamond's "America."

Just like last year, playing for the kids proved to be a revelation. For one thing, eight-year-olds aren't the harshest of rock critics, so you are able to relax and have a lot of fun (which was good, because my drum kit refused to stay anchored and was shifting around on my risers the whole show). But what was more fun was watching the kids' faces while we played. Some jumped and screamed, others just sat and stared. It was clear that some of the kids knew the drill, and others were getting their first dose of real Rock and Roll.

Though our message was the same, this year we went with the name Thunderlips, a derivation of a previous name The Cheetahman and I had used a few years ago with another band (The Atomic Thunderlips Traveling Ministry). We may have to go back to that full name, though, after Cheetahman informed me that another band in Cleveland is already on MySpace under that name. Either way, it was pretty cool to have 300 kids chanting "Thun-der-lips! Thun-der-lips!" at the beginning of the show.

I can't remember the first time I was introduced to Rock and Roll. I remember discovering my mom's Beatles albums in our basement when I was in the fourth grade, and I remember seeing ZZ-Top at the Delta Center when I was eighteen. But I know for a fact that I never had a band come play at Tolman Elementary School, even a bunch of amateurs like us. Those kids are totally lucky.

But I think we were luckier for getting to play for them.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Deseret News / Mormon Times Articles Online

My newest articles for the Deseret News have been posted online. One, a book review for a U.S.S. Enterprise Owners Manual, ran last weekend. The other just ran for Mormon Times, a subsidiary of the D-News. That article is a review of a new book about using humor in education. Shouldn't be too hard to understand my interest in either assignment.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Odoriferous Emanations

The time has come for another major life decision. After over twelve years of use, my one bottle of cologne has finally run out, and the time has come to find a new one.

Back in the summer of 1998, I went out with a girl from Sandy and wound up wandering around the Southtowne Mall.  I have no idea how this happened, but I do remember passing through the perfume/cologne section of some department store, at which point my date mentioned that she liked Polo Sport. You can pretty much fill in the rest from here.

Anyhow, that bottle of Polo lasted me a long time (Too long? Do these things even expire?), but now I need to find another option. This is a tricky challenge, because most perfumes and colognes smell exactly the same to me. I don't know if it's because I'm a guy or because I have an underdeveloped sense of smell, but unless something smells really, really good (tacos, the ocean, victory), or really, really bad (tuna fish), I won't notice it.

So help me out. What should I buy next? Make your suggestion count; if I pick it up, it's gotta last me at least a decade.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bruce and Me

OK, so it's official: I look like Bruce Willis.  I've always wanted to think I looked like Bruce Willis (at least since I started shaving my head), but I never felt justified in making the claim on my own.  I needed external confirmation.  You can't pick your own nickname, and you can't pick your own celebrity doppelganger.  These are the very pillars of civilized society.

So who offered me this external confirmation of which I speak?  1990's country star Collin Raye, that's who.  Last week after one of his recent concerts at the Desert Star Playhouse in Murray, I was hanging out with Mr. Raye backstage* discussing the extended piano/guitar solo at the end of the early 1970's Derek and the Dominos hit "Layla" when he interjected the following:

"Has anyone ever told you you look just like Bruce Willis?"

Doppelganger confirmed.

That was Wednesday night. On Saturday, I was out in North Salt Lake at a clubhouse party when my buddy Tyler and I chose to approach a girl who looked a lot like Meg Ryan. That resemblance, in fact, was our method of breaking the ice with her.  Then Tyler continued the game:

"So what famous person does my friend here look like?" (indicating me)

"Bruce Willis," she said, without skipping a beat.

So there you go.  Two unrelated confirmations that I look like one of the baddest action heroes to ever grace the silver screen (or the small screen, I might add; I've been a big fan of Bruce ever since his "Moonlighting" days). Truth be told, my sister has maintained my resemblance to Mr. Willis for several years now, but I always dismissed it because she is legally and genetically obligated to make me feel good about myself.

But Collin Raye and Meg Ryan aren't.

Yippie Ki-Yay.


*A future post will clarify the circumstances of this exchange, but for now I will just sit back and let it fester in your totally-blown minds.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Movies for Music Fans

Anyone who has read more than a half dozen posts on this blog, sat through a semester of one of my English classes, or talked to me at a party for more than ten minutes knows that music and movies are two things that are near and dear to my heart (almost as dear as hard shell tacos). And while there are plenty of movies out there with great soundtracks, the ones that really get through to me are the ones that are about those soundtracks.

Here is a list of seven great movies for people who love music:

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

The plot: Pretty simple, really. At the height of Beatlemania, John, Paul, George and Ringo arrive in town for a day's worth of press conferences, TV tapings, and a live concert, dodging rabid fans, sophisticated press agents and local police along the way.

The music: Some of the best of the early Beatle catalog, including "Can't Buy Me Love," "If I Fell," and "All My Loving," among others.

The moment: Early in the film, while the Fab Four are hanging out in the dining car of the train they are using to make their next gig, Paul wanders over to flirt with a couple of school girls. It would just be another charming throwaway moment if one of the school girls wasn't Patty Boyd, future wife of both George Harrison and Eric Clapton, and the woman who inspired the song's "Something" and "Layla."  That must have been some cameo.

Almost Famous (2000)

The plot: I've always thought of this movie as the film equivalent of "The Wonder Years," if Kevin Arnold was an aspiring music journalist who wound up on tour with a 2nd tier rock band in the early 1970's. Instead of chasing Winnie Cooper, this Kevin (William Miller, played by local SLC product Patrick Fugit) winds up falling for a semi-mythic groupie named Penny Lane (Kate Hudson.)

The music: The movie is a semi-autobiographical account of how director Cameron Crowe got his start at Rolling Stone, so the film is jammed with music from pretty much every act from the early '70's: Bowie, Zeppelin, Hendrix, and an unforgettable sequence with Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."

The moment: William Miller may be on tour with a real rock band, but he's still an outsider. When things go bad late in the film and William has no one else to turn to, he calls up his mentor, Creem Magazine editor Lester Bangs (played by Philip Seymour Hoffmann), and the resulting conversation says it all.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

The plot: Two black-suited ex-cons reform their old R&B band when God inspires them to raise the money to save the Chicago orphanage they were raised in from imminent foreclosure. Along they way they battle local police, neo-nazis, Indiana rednecks, and Carrie Fisher.

The music: The music in this film is the template for a working knowledge of soul music. Not only do James Brown, Aretha Franklin and John Lee Hooker play on the soundtrack, they also show up in cameos throughout the film. This movie is ground zero for my music appreciation.

The moment: After looming in the background like the angel of death for two hours, Carrie Fisher finally tracks down our heroes in a dank sewer. When he finally takes off his sunglasses for the first and only time in the film, you know why John Belushi was one of the greatest comedians to ever hit the screen.

The Commitments (1991)

The plot: A rogue group of working class Irish misfits from Dublin band together to save soul music and figure out what on earth those lyrics to "Whiter Shade of Pale" really mean. The perfect movie for any white suburban kid who was raised on Motown and James Brown.

The music: Do-it-yourself covers of soul standards from Aretha Franklin to Wilson Pickett.

The moment: The drummer wants to kill the lead singer. The sax player thinks he's a jazz soloist. The trumpet player has turned all three backup singers against each other. The manager has a price on his head from the loan shark he used to score the band's equipment. And outside, Wilson Pickett may or may not be on his way to jam after he finished a gig of his own.  In the middle of everything, the band gathers on stage for one last rally before the lights go out, delivering a cover of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" that explains just what soul music is all about.

High Fidelity (1998)

The plot: John Cusack's Robb is a thirtysomething record store owner who is going nowhere. When his longtime girlfriend leaves him (for a New Age Tim Robbins), Robb revisits the girls of his past in order to make sense of his future, wondering if he is miserable because he listens to pop music or if he listens to pop music because he is miserable. Based on Nick Hornby's novel of the same name.

The music: "High Fidelity" is set in the 90's, but it's about a record collector, so the soundtrack covers ground as diverse as The Velvet Underground, Marvin Gaye, and the Stiff Little Fingers.

The moment: When Robb finally concedes to attend the local debut of his manic employee Barry (Jack Black)'s new band, he expects the worst of garage rock. What he gets is something entirely different.

Pirate Radio (2009)

The plot: At the peak of the British Invasion, the only way Britons could listen to rock and roll on the radio was to dial in to a pirate broadcast from a ship anchored somewhere off the mainland. "Pirate Radio" is a fictionalized account of one of those ships, told through the eyes of a prep school dropout who is sent to the ship to meet his long unidentified father.

The music: Set in 1966, the movie features the best of The Who, The Stones, The Kinks, and tons of other British Invasion greats.

The moment: When one of the DJ's steals the girl of his dreams, Carl (the dropout) finds himself in familiar rough waters. When two members of the crew try to cheer him up, you realize that the movie is about a lot more than music.

That Thing You Do (1996)

The plot: The prototype tale of a one-hit wonder set in the excitement of the early 1960's. When amateur drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) joins a local band called, yes, "The Wonders," their catchy hit takes them from small-town Pennsylvania to the top of the national charts, then leaves them alone at the peak with no way down.

The music: Unlike most of the other movies on this list, the music in "That Thing You Do" is all original, penned to mimic early 1960's styles, and it is remarkably effective in doing so.

The moment: When the band inevitably splits, leaving Guy at the recording studio with no one to play with, he runs into his Jazz, drummer Del Paxton, who passes on some advice that has pretty much defined my amateur musical career.

Honorable Mention: American Graffiti (1973)

The plot: Before George Lucas made "Star Wars," he directed this relatively low-budget film that follows the hijinks of a group of friends on the last night of summer in 1962. Even though it's not about a specific musical topic, the period soundtrack is omnipresent throughout the film, mostly channeled through the radio broadcast of famous DJ "Wolfman" Jack that the characters always seem to have playing on their radios.

The music: Set in 1962, "American Graffiti's" soundtrack covers the best of early rock and roll, right up to the days before the Beatles hit. Del Shannon, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly...they're all here.

The moment: In one of the most contemplative scenes in the movie, Richard Dreyfuss' character Curt actually drops in on The Wolfman because he wants to drop off a dedication to the elusive blond he's been chasing for the whole movie. Growing up, my favorite scene was Curt's initiation into the local Pharoah gang, but as I get older this encounter with The Wolfman takes the number one spot.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Back in Print

From time to time, you may have a new option for reading my inane, pop-culture laced ramblings. I've signed on as a freelancer for the Deseret News.

Here's my first offering. It's (surprise) a list of recommended Halloween songs. It also appears in this morning's print edition, which means it's technically my first appearance in print in about six years.

Let the good times roll.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I Love Movies

I'm not sure where I got the idea (or the motivation) to do this, but over the last couple of weeks I've been putting together a highlight reel of some of my favorite movie clips. Like I said, I'm not sure why I did it, but I do know that it's been a lot of fun to see so many of my favorite moments in close succession. I'm sure you'll recognize a lot of these clips, but if any seem unfamiliar, let me know and I'll tell you where to find them. Even if you don't recognize them, I'm sure that half a dozen of these will make you smile, if not more.

Just so you know, there is a touch of PG/PG-13 level language in a few of the clips.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Paper Wars

Just found this through, one of those geeky sites I check out now and then:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Carrie Fisher is the Center of the Universe

Last week I dropped by the Davis County Library to check out some new reading material, and picked up a copy of Carrie Fisher's recent memoir, "Wishful Drinking." It was a pretty eye-opening account of a woman born to a pair of 1950's Hollywood celebrities who went on to deal with substance abuse, manic depression, and the eternal burden of an iron bikini.

I finished the book by the end of the day. The next day, her celebrity father died.

I don't think there was a connection.

What was even stranger, though, was realizing just how central a role Carrie Fisher has played in my pop culture universe:

1. Carrie Fisher played Princess Leia in "Star Wars."

The first "Star Wars" film came out six months after I was born, and I spent the first ten years of my life wanting to be Han Solo when I grew up.  While I never quite developed the same crush on Princess Leia as some of my fellow peer-nerds, that infamous gold bikini from "Return of the Jedi" might explain why I never went through that early childhood phase where boys think girls have cooties.  Not that it helped any.

2. Carrie Fisher played John Belushi's estranged ex-fiancee in "The Blues Brothers."

If "Star Wars" is the keystone of my appreciation of science fiction, "The Blues Brothers" is the keystone of my appreciation for comedy. When I was a kid, "The Blues Brothers" was that cool movie on cable where they have a car chase in a mall. In high school, it became the foundation for my deep appreciation for soul and blues music. By the time I left on an LDS mission to Chicago, the film had a flat-out divine import. A mission from God, indeed.

3. Carrie Fisher was married to Paul Simon.

Before "The Blues Brothers" solidified my R&B roots, my parents raised me on a steady diet of Motown and Simon & Garfunkel. To this day, "Mrs. Robinson" instantly links me to memories of our family Honda weaving through Douglas Fir trees in Yellowstone National Park, even though the song itself was written in Greenwich Village, New York. I still maintain that Paul Simon is the greatest songwriter of the late 20th Century (even though he truly needed Garfunkel to bring his best stuff to fruition). Carrie Fisher would probably agree with me.

Moreover, Ms. Fisher is an accomplished writer (four other novels to date) and stage performer (the memoir was adapted from a live comic performance she used to do...or may still do.  I don't know, the book came out two years ago.)  With all those different interests, Carrie Fisher, like Steve Martin and Woody Allen, is nothing more than a considerably more successful version of me.

(uncomfortable silence...)

Yep, that pretty much says it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Further On Up the Road: 2010 Epic Summer Film

For anyone who wasn't able to make it out to Sugarhouse Park last weekend, here is my submission for the 2010 Epic Summer Film Festival, "Further On Up the Road:"

Unlike my previous Epic Summer submissions, I didn't go for the mockumentary this time. This piece is more an attempt to tie together the different interests I was pursuing over the summer, and pull out some kind of common theme. Near as I can tell, the common theme was Rock and Roll. From the band I played in to the bands I photographed to the road trips I took, music seemed to play a dominant role in the experience, much more so than humor, anyway.

A number of people thought I should have identified all the locations in the photos and video clips in the film. Since I didn't, I'll list some of them below:

  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Seattle, Washington
  • The Jimi Hendrix Memorial, Washington
  • Sturgis, South Dakota
  • Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
  • Mount Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota
  • Cody, Wyoming
  • Quake Lake, Montana
  • Antelope Island, Utah
  • The Layton City Amphitheater
  • The Bountiful Days of '47 Parade
  • Yellowstone National Park

If anyone has a specific question about any of the images or clips, feel free to leave a comment.

A KISS Conversion?

Some of my favorite moments in life are the ones you never see coming. Not that they are particularly great or wonderful, just that they are so far from anything you expected when you woke up that morning.

I have a new moment for the list.

Last Wednesday night, about 10:30PM, I was standing with my buddy Chidsey on the west end of Rio Tinto Stadium in section 17 under a full moon as KISS blasted out the chords to "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" on a brilliantly-lit stage fifty yards away.

This moment is improbable for several reasons, including:

1. I am not a KISS fan.
2. As recently as 4:37PM that afternoon, I had no knowledge of KISS's plans to play a concert in Sandy, Utah that evening (let alone any intention of attending).

Yet, the moment came together. Somebody gave Chidsey a couple of extra tickets to the concert, and Chidsey gave me a call at the precise moment when spending an evening watching four middle-aged men in stage makeup rock out to a collection of innuendo-driven 1970's anthems like "Love Gun" sounded like a perfect idea.

So after two hours and 20 tracks of exposure to the full KISS experience, I still can't quite call myself a fan, much less a full-fledged member of the KISS Army. But I have a much better idea of why the Army digs them so much. Why they get dressed up to go to their concerts. Why they go crazy when the automated stage lifts the drummer's kit forty feet in the air and shoots steam out the bottom to make it look like it's about to blast off into the stratosphere.

Something about those old guys in eight-inch platform boots is pretty fun. Something about them bringing some veterans on stage to present an oversized donation check, then leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance while guitarist Tommy Thayer waves a fifteen-foot American flag is kind of cool. And something about lead singer and "Star Child" Paul Stanley repeatedly referencing the band's new album "Sonic Boom" and how you can get it exclusively at Walmart reminds me that even though we all like to take rock and roll seriously, we really shouldn't.  Especially when a harness lifts 61-year-old Gene Simmons to the top of the stage scaffolding so he can spit blood and play his axe-shaped bass guitar at us from fifty feet in the air.

Almost, thou persuadest me to be a KISS fan...

I'm still not much of a fan of KISS's music. But last night I became a big fan of the KISS Experience.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Epic Summer: Deleted Sequence

Tomorrow night I will be participating in my fourth Epic Summer Film Festival up in Sugarhouse Park.  It's an annual event where a bunch of laid-back folks hang out and watch amateur films about outdoor adventure and humanitarian efforts.  Very cool vibe.  A buddy of mine turned me on to the event four years ago after we hiked The Subway together, and I've been a participant in the festival ever since.

This year's submission, "Further On Up the Road," is probably the most "epic" of my films so far, in this case attempting to capture the events of an entire season instead of a single hike or road trip.  Even so, at the end of the editing day, some pieces don't quite fit into the final product.  One of my favorite things about the summer season is making fresh salsa, and I put the following sequence together in the hopes of working it into the film.

As much as I love fresh salsa, I couldn't find a good way to work this footage into the final film logically.  But I don't want it to go to waste, and I'm kind of bummed about summer being over, so here you go.  If you love fresh salsa, it is kind of fun to watch.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Promote Giant Squid Awareness!

Last night I had a dream that I was attacked by a giant squid that was in my refrigerator.  The details are kind of sketchy--where's an "Inception"-like architect when you need one?--but I seem to remember the squid was left over from a sequence in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that Steven Spielberg planned but never filmed.  There was also some kind of connection to Sam Elliot playing a truck driver.

On a related note, my band is making its debut performance tonight at the Layton Amphitheater.  I plan to check the place for hidden squid before I take the stage.

That is all.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Countdown to the Debut

I'm getting kind of excited.  My new band Groove Theorem is playing the Layton Amphitheater next week on the night of September 8th (a Wednesday).  The show is free, and we're going to be joined by my good buddy Paul Timothy.  Here's a taste of what we've been working up for the show:

Hopefully the neighbors won't complain too much...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's Fabulous Light Cycle Voyage

Other than knocking out an occasional Tetris game on my outdated cell phone, I'm not what you would call a gamer.  The only substantial game I've ever passed was the original "Super Mario Bro.'s" back in junior high, and the closest I've ever come to joining a LAN party is playing the plastic drums in "Rock Band."  Yet I've recently seen two movies that feature video game themes as a critical part of their stories:

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"

I was a little nervous going into my viewing of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."  The one preview I had seen suggested the film was going to be a bit heavy on the EMO hipster side, but in the aftermath of Pilgrim's epic battle, the only EMO quality of the film that really bothered me was the 75-pound beanie-wearing doofus sitting in front of me who kept texting through the movie.  

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is about a lot of things, but mostly it's about a kid who meets the girl of his dreams, then has to fight his way through a series of her "Evil Ex's" in order to date her.  These fights are illustrated through the use of a video game metaphor.  Each battle is presented like a fight from "Mortal Kombat," with animated point totals that pop up whenever he finishes off an opponent.   Even as a non-gamer, I still think the device is the most astute true-to-life aspect of the entire film.  When the dust clears, the dating game definitely feels like a battle, and along those lines, more like boxing than chess.

In spite of its branding as a box office bomb, I really enjoyed the movie.  It definitely leans on the 18-22 side of the audience spectrum, but not so much that I felt completely alienated (or nauseated).  Instead, the creativity of the film inspired me, and the heart of the story connected to themes and feelings that were universal, even if they were universally painful.  The Beck and T-Rex-fueled soundtrack is great, which shouldn't be a surprise once you learn that the film was directed by the same guy who did "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz."  Plus this movie marks the first time in memory that I've ever found myself attracted to a girl with blue, green, or purple hair.

I guess there's a first time for everything.


The first and only time I had seen "Tron" was at the Davis Drive-In when I was a little kid.  After re-watching it last week--in anticipation of the re-boot/sequel coming out later this year--I know why.  "Tron" is a cool movie, but it sails over the head of a five-year-old.

As simply as I can put it, "Tron" bounces back and forth between the "real world" and the "virtual world," where computer programs are personified by characters in neon suits who run around CGI-generated environments trying to battle a huge evil program (Master Control Program--MCP) that wants to take over the "real world" as well.  At the end of the first act, Jeff Bridges gets assimilated into the virtual world, where he teams up with the programs to fight the MCP.

It makes sense to me now, but there's no way I would have grasped this as a little kid, let alone appreciated its foresight.    But now that I do, I'm excited to see "Tron: Legacy" this December, and not just because the GGI is going to be so much better.  Special effects aside, the philosophical concept of the original film  was pioneering in its exploration of "Matrix"-like virtual reality, and it's especially interesting to note the religious metaphors and parallels that are present.  Namely, the "real world" programmers are called "users" by their personified programs in the virtual world, and one of the primary philosophical battles in the virtual world centers on the debate as to whether the "users" even exist.  One could even take the metaphor a step further when you realize that Jeff Bridges plays a Christ-like role in the film, as the one "user" who enters the digital world on behalf of the programs.  Pretty heady stuff for Disney.

But if that's too out there, just see the new movie for the light cycles.  They look way cool.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Wounded Mosquito Productions Internship!

This week, across the country, hundreds of millions of bright-eyed youngsters are starting a brand-new semester of college, in many cases, for the first time.  But in these days of intense competition and uncertain economic climate changes, a degree will only take you so far, and many employers are looking for something extra in prospective employees.  That is why, in the proud tradition of Dunder Mifflin and Kramerica Industries, Wounded Mosquito Productions has decided to offer its first-ever official internship* for the Fall 2010 semester.


The Wounded Mosquito Internship will give one successful candidate a variety of genuine, real-world professional experiences, including (but not limited to) the vast world of modern media, the behind-the-curtain world of modern academia, and the ever-changing tasty world of local culinary establishments.  The intern will function side-by-side with the company President and CEO to execute and maintain the high quality standards of Wounded Mosquito Productions.  (Specific high quality standards of Wounded Mosquito Productions subject to change).

Specific responsibilities include:
  • Waking President/CEO up in morning
  • Preparing breakfast for President/CEO (or lunch, depending on circumstance)
  • Texting friends/associates of President/CEO to make social plans for weekend
  • Surfing Internet to look for ideas/clients for President/CEO
  • Grading English papers for the President/CEO while he does other stuff
  • Running the iPod while driving to shoots with President/CEO
  • Attending functions with President/CEO, such as Jazz games and afternoon matinees
  • Driving company vehicle if President/CEO is way pooped after a long day
  • Assisting the President/CEO with important scientific experiments, like testing new salsa or smoothie recipes
  • Remembering stuff that President/CEO often forgets, like turning off the stove before leaving the house
Minimum Qualifications

The selected candidate must:
  • Speak/write/recognize English
  • Be high school graduate, or thereabouts
  • Be able to cook pretty well
  • Be able to write stuff fast in case President/CEO starts getting lots of ideas really quick
  • Be able to drive a manual transmission
  • Have a clean driving record, or at least a cleaner one than President/CEO
  • Be able to understand satire
Preferred Qualifications

The ideal candidate will be:
  • Female
  • Single
  • Into cool stuff, like music and food
  • Smart with a cool personality...and hot, too
  • A former athletic trainer (President/CEO needs to lose about 15-20 pounds)
  • Not way taller than President/CEO
  • Willing to put up with President/CEO's eccentric-genius habits
Additional Details 

This is an unpaid internship, and Wounded Mosquito Productions does not offer college credit, at least any that would be accepted by an accredited institution.  (At the same time, candidate does not need to be enrolled at an accredited institution to qualify for internship.  Candidate can be in massage therapy school, for example).  Company will provide successful candidate with her own parking space. At the conclusion of the internship, candidate will receive autographed certificate of completion and photo with President/CEO.  They may go out to dinner or something, too.


If you are interested in applying for this position, please send a resume and head shot to  A representative of Wounded Mosquito Productions will contact you if the President/CEO wants to bring you in for an interview, or just meet you downtown to grab a burger or something.  President/CEO may decide to bring on multiple candidates depending on professional and social needs.



Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Defending Ray

Three years ago my sister and I drove a thousand miles to Comic-Con to meet Ray Bradbury.  His work was that important to, at 87 years old, we worried that if we missed our chance he might not be around to give us another opportunity.

Three years later, Ray is still alive and well, and back in the news.  Just shy of his 90th birthday, Bradbury is none too pleased with modern technology.  Specifically, he hates the Internet, Kindle, Big Government, and thinks we should go back to the Moon (and on to Mars).  People have been giving him grief for his apparent techno-phobia, especially because his phrasing of terms (IE, referring to "Internets" instead of "Internet") makes him come off like a senile old crank.  But I think his critics are missing the point of his message.

Ray Bradbury may not have a perfect technological understanding of the things he is criticizing, but 90 years old or not, I think he still gets it.  In spite of the futuristic, sci-fi element of much of his work (he defines himself as a fantasy writer, for the record), Bradbury's stories have always found their greatest strength in their humanity.  And for all the obvious advantages that modern technology affords us, over-reliance on it can take a heavy toll on that humanity.  Bradbury understands this, and I think this is why he says the things he says.

Digital technology can open wonderful doors of imagination, whether it comes in the form of a camera or a blog or a software program, but it also lets us be lazy if we want to.  You don't have to be a great photographer to take good-looking photographs, and you don't have to be a great web designer to drop some text into a template and hit "publish."

Cell phones and text messaging can be great for staying in contact with friends, but all too often I see groups of friends ignoring each other while they text the friends that aren't there.  Facebook and other social media allow us to reconnect with friends we've lost touch with over the years, but trolling someone's profile page and making occasional comments on their vacation photos doesn't create a depth of relationship.  It just suggests its presence.

I thought it was interesting that this summer's biggest movie is built around a question about our perception of reality.  "Inception" has plenty of cool special effects and an open-ended plot that keeps you guessing, but the film resonates with me because it points the finger at one of the central issues of our time: are we using technology to make genuine connections with the people around us, or are we letting it alienate us even further by using it to create our own personal cocoons of perceived reality?

Ray Bradbury made his career writing about Martians and dinosaurs, but he can also demonstrate the simple profundity of sitting on a deck with a cold drink while the sounds of nature connect you to the meaning of life.  He champions the genuine article over the synthetic, and in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, he's not alone. When he rants that we have "too many Internets," I think that's what he's afraid we're losing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My 2010 Road Trip By the Numbers

1,800: Approximate mileage of the entire road trip, starting in Bountiful, north to Yellowstone, east to Devils Tower (and then Mount Rushmore), south to Nebraska, and west on I-80 to home.

583: Photos taken on the trip.

867: Number of dead bug bodies that are still blasted across the front of my car.

30+: Gas mileage for the trip.

6: States I covered during the trip, including Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and thanks to my GPS, Nebraska.

3: Fridge magnets I picked up to commemorate the trip.

2: National Parks I drove through (Yellowstone and Wind Cave).

5: Times I wondered if I should have ordered two burgers instead of just one at Maddox on the way up, because they're just so darn good.

15: Mph rate posted on the new speed limit signs along the dirt road by my family cabin.

1: Batch of fresh salsa I made at the family cabin, officially kicking off the fresh salsa season.

1,000: Number of people in attendance at the Island Park Ward sacrament meeting.

650: Pound-weight of the boulder my friends and I rolled into Quake Lake on Sunday afternoon because we got bored with skipping rocks.

1.5: Rainbows that showed up at Devils Tower the evening I arrived.

.42 Percentage of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" that I watched on my laptop inside the borrowed tent I had set up in the dark in a $12 camping spot under the tower while a windstorm tried to blow me away.

9: Deer I encountered at 5:45AM while driving in for some sunrise shots of Devils Tower.

17,000: Bikers I encountered on highways between Devils Tower, Wyoming and Custer, South Dakota, thanks to the annual biker rally in Sturgis which was taking place the same week.

17,000+: Bikers I encountered while cruising the main drag in Sturgis, which is located just off I-90 in-between Devils Tower and Mount Rushmore.

18: Length of the horns (in inches) that were sticking out of the helmet of one of the swarm of bikers that visited Mount Rushmore with me.

7: Times I encountered the Biker Mama of My Dreams at the Mount Rushmore Gift Shop, but failed to speak to hear out of fear that she would stick me with a shiv.

117: Extra miles tacked onto the total trip because my GPS told me to go south into Nebraska after Mount Rushmore instead of cut diagonally across Wyoming like the Google Maps thing suggested.

75: Times I had to hit the brakes, deactivate my cruise control and drop 20MPH because a clump of semis were trying to pass each other and blocking both highway lanes.

8: Times AT&T dropped my call home along I-80 while my parents were trying to help me research room prices for Wyoming motels.

0: Dead bodies under my motel bed in Rawlins, Wyoming.  (If you'd been there, you'd have been excited, too.)

7: Times I wondered whether I should make an extra spin north to Maddox once I emerged from I-84 just south of Ogden before completing the journey home, because their burgers are just so darn good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Double Rainbow at Devils Tower

Yesterday I finished a road trip that covered 1,800 miles through six states in six days.  Along the way I stayed a night at Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming, and just before I arrived, I caught this off the highway.

I dropped the sound for the first several seconds because a Marvin Gaye song was playing on the car stereo in the background, and YouTube sends me these threatening e-mails whenever I post something that has external music on it.  You know, because YouTube is a champion of copyright honesty.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Dream Lives...

Yeah, so remember that piece I wrote a while back about all of my one-gig stands with different garage bands?  Remember how I told you about the newest one that actually had some potential to go somewhere?

It never really went anywhere.

But that's just the bad news.  The good news is I'm in another band, and this time we really have a chance to go somewhere!  Honest!  A few months ago my buddy Dan (the guy standing up in this clip) recruited me into a blues band he was forming.  I joined up, we started playing with these two guys Matt and Chris up in Kaysville (the source of all true blues), my buddy Dustin invited us to open for his band at a bar called The Fifth in Bountiful, the Fifth dumped us all for a radio promotion, Chris left for law school, we picked up a new bass player named Ryan, named ourselves Groove Theorem, and decided to rent out the Layton Amphitheater and put on our own gig in September.


On Wednesday night, September 8th, at the Layton Amphitheater, Groove Theorem will make their public debut, with special guest Paul Timothy (the guy sitting down in this clip).  The performance is free of charge (the rental would have cost us twice as much if we had sold tickets, which didn't seem promising being our first gig and all), and will wrap up before 9PM, so you really don't have any excuses to miss it.  It's a perfect way to cap off your summer, or just continue the epic Labor Day Party you have been riding for 72 hours.

See you there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An Open Letter to LeBron James

Dear LeBron,

I just wanted to write and say thank-you for the last two weeks.  No, seriously.  Summer is typically a sports wasteland for me.  I'm not a baseball guy, not a tennis guy, and definitely not a golf guy.  The World Cup is OK, and football is still a ways off.  So it was nice to have a constant stream of NBA-related news on ESPN.  And from what I can tell, that stream isn't about to dry up anytime soon.

What's even better is that the Jazz got in on the big show, too.  I never figured you'd consider making Salt Lake City ground zero for your magic kingdom, but I was excited that Kevin O'Connor got Big Al Jefferson and Raja "Clothesline" Bell into Jazz uniforms.  For a while there I thought the only Utah moves were going to be all of our unrestricted guys signing with the Bulls.

Speaking of which, if you had to leave Cleveland, why didn't you pick Chicago?  I think we can all understand why New York or New Jersey were dubious options (not to mention the career-ending decapitation/ACL tear that awaited you in Clipper-Land), but between Miami and Chicago, it seems to me that The Windy City held a lot more long-term potential.  Really, why wouldn't you want to play with this guy?

I get it if you just want to be able to play with your best friends.  It's your career; why wouldn't you want to spend it in the most enjoyable environment?  But that's where things get confusing.  Do you want to win titles and play with your friends, or do you want to be the Greatest Player of Post-Jordan Times?  Because going to Miami suggests the former, and leaving through a live TV special suggests the latter.

That's why the last two weeks has been so interesting for me.  It would be easy to just brush you off as another ego-maniac pro athlete, but there are too many angles to your story to dismiss it.  The Hometown Betrayal angle.  The Superfriends angle.  The Greatest Teammate vs. Greatest Player angle.  In the blink of an eye you went from beloved hero to Public Enemy #1. You turned the Heat into the East Coast Lakers.  You made Kobe likable.  At least MJ waited until his Hall of Fame speech to poop all over his legacy.  And now he's turned on you, too.

But don't get me wrong; aside from the way you treated my mom's hometown, I'd have to say that overall I'm pretty happy with what you brought to the table this summer.  And I can honestly say that I can't wait for next season.

Give my best to the boys.



Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Lawn Care

I hear a lot of the same questions over and over again...

Where do you get your ideas?
Are you on drugs?
Do you want me to call the police?

Another one came up recently at the Yogurt Stop in Bountiful.  A dozen of us were innocently enjoying our custom made pay-by-the-ounce desserts when a girl in the group sent the conversation onto a random tangent:

"Is it OK for girls to ask guys out on dates?"

About half the guys in the group grumbled slightly, and the other half shook our heads.  Then came an empty awkward silence that said far more than anything we could have verbalized.

When it comes to dating, I often feel like a third-world dictator.  I only have a fleeting grasp on a small corner of a very big world, but I will cling desperately to that corner until I am assassinated.  I can't choose which girls will respond to my interest, but at least I can choose who to invite.

This may sound sexist in our modern world, and maybe it is, but the simple truth is that if I am interested in someone, I will ask them out.  If I'm not, I won't.

Now, there are alternatives, especially if like most girls you are convinced that the only reason the man in your sights hasn't asked you out is because he is too shy to pull the trigger.  If you want to encourage interest, speak to him in public situations.  Laugh at his lame jokes.  Follow his blog.  Better yet, invite him to a party or some kind of group activity.  Just don't cut his grass.  If you ask him out, he'll think, "hey, isn't that my job?  I feel like I am being metaphorically kicked in my man parts."  And an empty awkward silence will follow.

We don't want to get kicked in our man parts.  We just want to rule Cuba in peace.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

A Kiss that Fell Short of Greatness

Call it an impulse buy.

Last night--technically really early this morning--after a rare viewing of "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey," I downloaded a Kiss song.  Not a make-out song, a Kiss song.  Meaning the band.  Kiss.

It was the first time I've ever downloaded a Kiss song.

See, in spite of their stature among the icons of late 1970's/early 1980's Classic Rock--an era I have mined repeatedly--I've never been much of a Kiss fan.  Mostly because I expected more from them.

Allow me to explain:

My first exposure to Kiss came during a family trip to Cleveland, Ohio when I was somewhere in the neighborhood of five years old.  My mom's side of the family lives out there, and while hanging out with my cousin Jamie (who was about twelve years old, if I remember right) I discovered half a dozen Kiss albums in his bedroom.

The album covers astounded me.  If the makeup and costumes and overall evil appearance of the albums was any indicator, the music should have come straight from the bowels of Hell itself.  It was almost scary.  It was also kind of cool.

My cousin never actually played the albums for me, though.  We were too preoccupied with his Atari.  Instead, I went on to have my Beatles phase in elementary school, and my unfortunate pop phase in junior high, before cementing my Classic Rock roots in high school.  I picked up a CD compilation of Classic Rock hits because I desperately wanted a copy of "Sunshine of Your Love," and the disc also happened to have a Kiss track: "Rock and Roll All Nite."

I wasn't impressed.  I thought Kiss would have produced the darkest, edgiest music ever, but instead I got this bizarre power-pop rock that kind of felt like it would have been better suited for a Broadway stage.  It turns out Kiss was a lot more Butt Rock than Classic Rock.  More Motley Crue than Led Zeppelin.  Too bad.

I do have to give them credit for the costumes, though.  They definitely took Bowie to the next level.  And given that my first exposure to them came at the same time "Star Wars" was shaping my young mind, it's safe to say that Kiss may have played a small part in the formation of my lifelong interest in the visual arts.  I just didn't dig the actual product that much.

So why did I download "God Gave Rock and Roll To You" last night?  I don't know.  For the same reason I downloaded "Pour Some Sugar On Me" or "Rock and Roll Heaven" by the Righteous Brothers.  Music serves a lot of different purposes.  Sometimes corny 80's rock anthems just sound right.

Bill and Ted would probably agree.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tornado Delay

I have no idea what this commentator is saying, but it's probably something along the lines of, "this is awesome.  This is way awesome."

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Bona Fide

It's official.  Next January I am going to be an uncle.  A real one.

Beast Wench is having a kid.

Up until now, I have happily served as an auxiliary uncle to several of my close friends' children, with mixed results.  I'm not sure all of them really know who I am.  But in January, all that will end.  My sister--my only sibling--will have a baby, and I will finally be bona-fide.

Coming from a small family, this is a big deal.  Most of my friends have been aunts or uncles for a long time now.*  I have a lot of important life experience to pass on, and it will be nice to finally have someone around who is genetically obligated to listen to me.  While my sister and brother-in-law labor to provide food and shelter for their newborn, I will be there to cover the important stuff.  Namely, to make sure the child grows up a devoted follower of the Utah Jazz, and that he/she sees "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" at a young age, long before the kids at school ruin the experience by doing all the best lines in bad British accents.  I'll be there to block the influence of country music, and to let the glory of Tom Jones shine in.

It's gonna be a blast.


*Yes, I realize that most of my friends have also moved on to give birth to their own children, but from what I can tell, being an uncle is the better gig.  It's kind of like being Vice President: your name is on the ticket, you share in the glory and the prestige, but you really don't have to do anything.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Streak

On the night of June 27th, 1998, I sat in a fifth-wheel trailer in Island Park, Idaho, scribbling in a black ten-dollar hard-bound journal from Deseret Book.  I'd finished my first year of school at the University of Utah after returning from Chicago, and had just arrived at the family place outside Yellowstone for the first time since before I'd left.

Twelve years later, I still haven't missed a daily entry.

As much money as I've spent on camera lenses, computer equipment, and retro Air Jordan's, there is nothing as valuable to me as the ten journals I've filled in the last dozen years.  It's cool to think that I could go back to any day from that period and tell you exactly what I was doing.  All too often in life we worry about the things we haven't done, but journals are a nice way to remember what we have enjoyed.

Here are a dozen examples from the last twelve years:
  • Met George Lucas, Ray Bradbury, and Luke Skywalker.
  • Taught English composition to firefighters in South Jordan.
  • Got paid fifty bucks to be a bouncer at a Saltair young adult dance.
  • Been a Best Man twice.
  • Totaled a 1964 Mustang.
  • Saw James Brown in concert.
  • Saw Sammy Sosa hit a home run at Wrigley Field.
  • Ate a raw Habanero pepper.
  • Finally scored a goal in an official rec league soccer game (that wasn't for the other team).
  • Won a fresh salsa competition and a chili cook-off.
  • Sang lead for a real Chicago blues band at The Blue Chicago.
  • Got mugged in The French Quarter.
Here are twelve things I'd like to accomplish in the next dozen years (assuming civilization is not wiped out by a zombie/robot apocalypse first):
  • Watch a movie at either The Spud Drive-In outside Driggs, Idaho or The Sky-Vu Drive-In south of Monroe, Wisconsin.
  • Become an uncle.
  • Get a book published.
  • Buy another Mustang.
  • Visit the old Tatooine set from the original "Star Wars" shoot in Tunisia.
  • Lose enough weight to fit the medium sized "Elvis meets Nixon" t-shirt gathering dust in my dresser.
  • Sit courtside for a Jazz the Finals! (Brother's gotta dream, right?)
  • Have someone throw their underwear at me while playing drums onstage.
  • Reach 100 "followers" on this dumb blog (this is a hint).
  • Get Natalie Portman's phone number.
  • Convince people to finally start referring to my friend Bill as "Dr. Thunder."
  • Bench press 300 lbs.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sweet Dreams, #176

Some of my dreams are one-hit wonders, like the one where I was Clint Eastwood or the one where I was popping wheelies in a Mitsubishi Eclipse with Salma Hayek.  Others are recurring, like the ones where I'm driving cars with no brakes or running over hippies with a double-decker bus.

One such recurring dream has me serving a second mission.  It's always a nightmare, which is strange, because I distinctly remember enjoying my mission.  Maybe it's because serving a second mission would suggest that I screwed up on the first one.

Here is what I wrote in a notebook after one recent "second mission" dream:

"...I wake up on couch in the living room of a host family during some sort of a mission transfer.  One of the family's sons has a friend who is completely tattooed and is constantly texting with some kind of a fake tail that has been surgically attached at his left hip.  When I wake up I am covered in travel bottles of NyQuil and disappointed that I am on a second mission (and less than one month in).  As I lay on the couch I notice that the family has these little gnome house servants who are sneaking around my stuff stealing items (like disposable contact lenses).  When I confront them about this, one says, 'puck you.'  I think I may be in the middle of a transfer to the office with another missionary (it's his disposable contact)."

I don't know what the part at the end means.  Actually, I don't know what the whole thing means.  If any of you have any ideas, feel free to share.