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Where Oh Where Has Your Punchline Gone?
I HATE VALENTINE'S DAYwords Senior Cranky 2002
If it isn't enough that the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation, those of us content with our misery have to face that ogre of consumerized sentimentality and mass-produced displays of affection, St. Valentine. Hooray for love indeed. It's sad when adult human beings have to be told when to acknowledge something they supposedly hold so sacred and dear. It makes you wonder if anyone really loves anyone else or if two people just get together to keep their genitals warm and kill time watching reruns of Seinfeld.
For yet another year I'll watch the candy, card and jewelry companies roll out the hazy-filtered, slow motion propaganda to insure a spike in first quarter profits. Endless sappy vignettes of idyllic love that guilt every ordinary shmoe into emptying his wallet for trinkets and baubles and tiny candies that taste like fudge and bathtub caulk (see 2/19/80 column, "I HATE PEPPERMINT PATTIES").
Valentine's Day rallies hordes of the pathetic and confused to stationery stores seeking the embroidered plush toy that most represents their deepest emotions. Back in my time, if you wanted to show someone you cared, you made sure you did it with gusto. Any idiot could show up with a handful of flowers he pinched from the neighbor's yard, but it took some sort of romantic genius to find out a girl's favorite song, get on top of the building next door and have a three piece band sing it to her.
So what if the roof turned out to be covered with an inch of fresh tar and the lead singer took a header into a bucket of flathead nails? It doesn't matter. What matters is that you came up with an original and thoughtful way to show your emotions. It's not your fault that your cigarette ash sparked an inferno and that the guy with the stand up bass kept winging chunks of flaming roof sludge onto the innocent crowd below. These things happen. What is important is that you did something that left your lady damp in the drawers and that, at least when you're young, is a good thing.
Then again, maybe it was just me who took an extraordinary interest in pleasing the ladies to the point where my exploits became the stuff of legend (see 7/27/75 column, "I HATE FIRE POLES"). And I'm not referring strictly to satisfaction in the carnal sense. No sir, any dumb monkey can hump a woman into giggle fits but it takes real finesse to make a dame believe she's the center of the universe. A good breeze can blow up her skirt but only a true professor of amoré can make her weak in the knees and faint of heart. You just have to be willing to work hard, never give up and lie like a Portuguese sailor.
But you don't find that kind of gumption in folks these days. Everyone looks for the easy fix, the path of least resistance. I blame the media since they're so daft to begin with and obviously take pleasure in converting the unrealized potential of horny teenage boys into complacency and sloth. It's more profitable to keep Johnny on the couch with the clicker in one hand and his grease gun in the other. That way he becomes much more receptive to the idea of dropping two months of pizza delivery money on a cubic zirconia unicorn in the hopes that it will get Mary Lou to uncross her legs. When are we going to realize that the simple transaction of jewelry for sex is an empty, hollow transaction (see 4/19/95 column, "I HATE THE NETHERLANDS").
It's sad to think of a whole generation of lustful youngsters who feel obligated to tuck in their shirts and head to the nearest five and dime for a clip-on huggy bear and a polyester rose. What kind of future do they have if they already can't think for themselves. I know the poor buggers are blind from hormones and sugar cereals and they'd sooner hump a hole in the sofa than expend the energy on a proper courtship, but it's time we encouraged some individuality and free thinking. Do you think the foundation of this country was laid on the principle of doing exactly what everyone else did? Maybe back when people were killing indians and stealing land, but besides that, no.
It might shock you to think that I'm sounding the bugle for the return of romance, but Christ, anything has to be better than stuffing the coffers of Hallmark and Hershey just because that's the way it's always been done. The inability of people to scribble anything more on a card besides their name and and an illegible "I love you" only goes to prove my theory that America has become a nation of flabby, gutless sheep who'd just as soon pay to get spanked by a black-hooded stranger as they'd pay forty bucks for a nice pork chop dinner by candlelight. I have no idea what that means, but it positively sickens me.
Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see. - Helen Keller
Where Oh Where Has Your Punchline Gone?
There are rumors in the air that need to be dispelled with a bit of truth. You may have noticed in the racks and on the streets that there are no new Punchlines. By this you may have assumed that Punchline has died. You would be forgiven for jumping to such conclusions since when someone keeps a regular appointment for six years and suddenly misses it without notice, the worst is often feared. Horrible fates are imagined. Car wrecks. Catastrophes. Spontaneous combustion. But the reality is less spectacular, as reality often can be.
Punchline has suspended publication until further notice for a variety of complicated and boring reasons that we will not bore or complicate you with right now. Instead, please busy yourselves in this temporary silence with all the matters you have been postponing since dedicating your life to the full-time consumption of our humble weekly newspaper. We will work diligently to provide some fresh online content and current listings info so that many of you may sustain your frenzied social lives.
We thank everyone who called to offer help, support or just to inquire with sincerity if 'everything was all right.' The fact that we aren't publishing is a fair indicator that things are half right at best. But take comfort in the fact that we still love what we do, appreciate the city we call home and know in our hearts and in our heads that even though we feel socked in the mouth and out of breath, the towel has not hit the canvas.
why do you want to hurt me?
Please Put Down the Broken Beer Bottle and Let's Talk About This Rationally
words Pete Humes
Is it because of what happened with your grandmother? I told her I wasn't ready to get serious. I gave her plenty of warning. Besides, she was supposed to be out of town until Monday.
Did you just talk to Phil in accounting? Because you know the guy couldn't tell the truth if you put a gun or a giant conference table full of powdered donuts in front of him. The fat bastard is just looking for an excuse to ruin my life because he says I lost a tape of Simpson's Halloween specials that I never borrowed in the first place.
Is it because of the parallel parking thing? I thought we both agreed that the scratch was already there.
You didn't get the email that was supposed to go to Gary did you? Because in plenty of other cultures, when you Photoshop someone's head onto the genitalia of a bull, it's seen as a tribute.
Did you see the debut episode of the sitcom I created? Because there is no way that I based the character of the disgruntled hot dog vendor on you. First of all, the guy is Lebanese and he has a ton more chest hair than you. I know with the limp and the way he calls everybody "admiral" it may appear to be eerie and unequivocally about you, but you know what? It so totally is not.
Did you find the drawer of your opened personal mail in my office? The explanation for that is hilarious actually and it wouldn't do justice to go into it right now on such short notice and without the proper lighting.
Is this about the bite taken out of your hoagie sandwich? I know it was a really big bite and I know that most of it was chewed up and spit back out right next to the rest of the sandwich. I know that it wouldn't have been so bad if the person hadn't been so disgusting and was simply content with eating food that wasn't his. I know it seems like you have me backed into a corner on this one, but just because there was an accompanying Polaroid of me chewing with my mouth full and sticking out my middle finger, you really can't prove anything without DNA.
Or perhaps it's because instead of hiring the reputable, professional Annapolis moving company like I suggested, having just used them myself for my move to Washington DC, instead you hired your neighbor's friends who do moving on the side. Nothing like hiring a bunch of bozos who don't know the first thing about packing and moving furniture and fragile household items. Did you really think the move would actually go smoothly. Perhaps you thought I was bragging about my move and could one up me on cost? Cost is only one factor and Von Paris was reasonable, but very experienced. They have been named the official Mover of the Baltimore Orioles, the Baltimore Ravens and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, after all. And they obviously know what they were doing. You don't move lamps, let alone TV's without having them wrapped up. There are things like moving pads and blankets. What kind of bozos did you hire? Well, don't blame me and I won't say I told you so.
Is this about the company Dodgeball game? Because you know that hitting people is the whole point, right? Just because you fall unconscious and spreadeagled on the pavement doesn't mean I can't take one last victory shot.
This isn't because I make a whole bunch more money than you is it? Because I look at your paychecks and you really have no room to complain. If you're going to be mad about anything it should be about that whole grandmother thing.
This isn't about the way I tore into you at the sales meeting, is it? Because I'm pretty sure the whole marketing department was laughing with you.
Is this not even about me at all? If you're looking to hurt me just you can manifest physically the unbearable frustration and inadequacy that is near boiling inside of you, wouldn't you rather pound the crap out of that short dork over by the pool table?
Is this because whenever we'd play videogames at my house and you were beating me I would accidentally trip on the power cord? Because believe it or not, some people are just clumsy all the time. They call them klutzes. Look it up!
You aren't still mad about the time in high school when I dumped a Slurpee on you in the mall? Because that didn't even happen to you, it was a scene from the movie Weird Science.
Is this just misdirected anger over the cancellation of Ally McBeal? Because you should calm down and give Boston Public another chance.
Is this about the crack I made in the steam room? Because if it is, let me tell you that just the other night I was watching a special on the Artic and this penguin had an absolutely enormous penis.
Is this about the elevator shaft thing? Because I know at least like, four people who say that scar makes you look like a complete bad ass.
There is no way that you can still be mad about your sleeper sofa, is there? Because I've told you that the joke wouldn't have been as funny with any less than four goats.
Did you read my diary? Because that hurts my feelings first of all, secondly, that is a complete invasion of my privacy and lastly, if I want to spend my free time writing songs about your orthopedic shoes that's my business.
Did you find those charges on your VISA statement? Because if you did and you haven't gotten your long-distance bill yet, you really shouldn't let the credit card stuff bother you so much.
Is it because every time we go out for drinks I order a Diet Coke for the sole purpose of dumping it in your lap? Because traditions are important in a friendship and I think we need the consistency to remind us how much we mean to each other. Besides, it makes the waitresses laugh and when they're happy we get extra Chex Mix.
Is it because of what happened with your dog? Because I'm telling you, you didn't see the look on his face. I know we were forty miles from home. I know it was the interstate. But if nothing else, believe me when I tell you what I saw on his face. That dog wanted to get out of the car. That dog wanted to walk home. Is it my fault he doesn't know to look both ways before crossing?
Is it because I drank the last of the coffee and didn't brew more? Because if it is, then I completely understand. That was an awful crappy thing to do. I deserve it.
This is about the grandmother thing isn't it? Look, that was a crazy time for me. Put the bottle down, stop breathing so heavy and quit that buggy thing you're doing with your eyes. None of this is worth the kind of violence you look like you're capable of inflicting. Unless of course Gammy told you about what happened in Atlantic City with the cops and the chase and the crying and the catching on fire of the all-you-care-to-eat breakfast buffet. In which case, before you kill me, may I finish my chicken quesadillas?
In like a lion...
The Magazine of Wayward Ephemera
words Jay Pfeifer
I was running down Park Avenue just the other day when I stepped on a pile of papers starting to blow across the sidewalk. I kept running for a few steps but then turned around to get a closer look. As I approached, I began to wonder what I might find. A love letter? An angry "don't park in my spot" note? Nope. Instead, I found a decidedly unromantic pile of hand-written time-cards - just some business correspondence. I gathered them up and placed them on the steps of the nearest home, figuring that the rightful owner lived there or that whoever found them next would at least not sweat on the timecards. Normally, I would have run right by that pile of paper but this time I stopped. Why? There really is only one explanation - Found Magazine, one of the few truly mind-blowing magazines of the past few years, shows just how revealing these lost pieces of paper can be.
Found is a profoundly simple idea - people from around the country (presumably friends of the editor) collects misplaced ephemera and publish them in this magazine to create what they call that Found experience. Or as the founder and editor, Davy Rothbart, writes, "There's no better way to really feel someone than to read a note they've written filled with subtle shades of what they really want and what they're most afraid of." Charmingly off-the-cuff, Found presents each note exactly as it was found. The magazine looks as if it was put together with a roll of scotch tape and a copy machine with wrinkled notes and brief introductions cut out and taped to the copier itself. The material packs quite a wallop as it is but Rothbart's rough-hewn design lends each note an extra level of intimacy.
Even though Found is anchored in the very physical world of pen and ink, reading the magazine is a tremendous exercise of imagination. The notes within Found present the entire range of human emotion. A large number of them present people on the edge ("if U don't change I'm never speaking to U [sic]); and the mystery of Found is that we can never know what brought this anonymous writer to scrawl their pleas. A large number of the pieces share the unintentionally humorous self-seriousness that defines the characters of Christopher Guest's documentaries but a couple notes, however, cut through the light-hearted tone and deliver a genuine chill. A woman posted a handbill offering a reward for "copy of video George Bush and members of Congress had taken of me making love; they sought to thwart my fraudproof national telephone voting system." If that doesn't get your imagination going, nothing will.
If you can find a copy of Found, you will start to notice the little scraps of paper stuck in nooks and crannies and as Rothbart says, "four out of five are duds, but that fifth one will keep you looking."
HOOKS TO DIE FOR
The Legacies of Joe Strummer and Maurice Gibb
words Ryan Muldoon
Since just before this Christmas past, Headphone Heaven has struggling with the task of writing a fond farewell to Joe Strummer. Struggling. Struggling in vain. Vain? "Train In Vain." Time to dig out London Calling . . . again.
See? It's impossible. It's impossible for me to write anything of any consequence about a man whose life's work, whose art was of nearly limitless consequence. I can tell you what a great band The Clash was, and how much their music has touched and inspired me, but what good is that? If you don't already know what a great band The Clash was, you're either too young or too old to care, or you just haven't been paying attention. Beyond that, what good is it to hear it from me? What have I accomplished that would make anything I could say about Joe Strummer worth reading? I could say nothing that couldn't be better said by someone who knew Joe Strummer, someone who took the words of The Clash to heart in such a way that it revolutionized their own life, someone like Billy Bragg, whose touching tribute to Strummer can be (and should be) read here.
On the other side of the musical coin (as if there are only two sides), word came this past weekend of the passing of Maurice Gibb from the Bee Gees. You may ask just what the two deaths have to do with each other. In the cosmic scheme of things, nothing. But who could help but saddened by both losses? Both men died fairly young (Strummer at fifty; Gibb at 53), despite having lengthy, decade and genre spanning careers in music (if you think the Bee Gees were nothing more than a disco group, you owe it to yourself to take a spin through their enormous back catalogue). The influence of both groups cannot be overstated, be it for their greatest songs ("Clampdown," "London Calling" from The Clash; "Tragedy," "To Love Somebody" from the Bee Gees), or for the residual vibe left in their wake (the turbo-charged, righteous aggression played by bands in small clubs every night across the world for The Clash; the perfectionism and attention to detail displayed in recording studios and low-fi bedroom set-ups across the world for the Bee Gees). Still, one can't help to think it's Strummer who will get the lions share of fond farewells from the press. Maybe that's only because it is ostensibly cooler to like The Clash. The Clash never fell from grace. They began hated by "the man" (or at least as a really catchy thorn in his side) and rose to international acclaim. The Bee Gees, on the other hand, started racking up the hits as early as 1967 ("New York Mining Disaster 1941," a title that could easily be mistaken for a Clash song. Come to think of it, so could "Stayin' Alive"), never once hated by "the man." Rather, they ended up hated by "the people" after the disco wave crested and crashed. Kids who loved the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever sold the album at yard sales coast to coast to buy Combat Rock (to this day, it's impossible to flip through a used records bin without coming across Saturday Night Fever), before eventually for getting that and moving on to ... to what? Does it really matter?
In an article in The New York Times Magazine last month, Chuck Klosterman similarly compared the lives and deaths of Dee Dee Ramone and Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby, "both shaggy haired musicians who wrote aggressive music for teenagers," Klosterman wrote. "In a macro sense, they symmetrical, self-destructive clones; for anyone who isn't obsessed with rock and roll, they were basically the same guy."
Joe Strummer and Maurice Gibb were basically not the same guy. But for anyone obsessed with rock and roll, they will both be missed.
Till then, I remain, Rockin' Ryan (tweet! tweet!)
words Ryan Muldoon
DATELINE: HOT TOWN! SUMMER IN THE CITY! BACK OF MY NECK! FEELING DIRTY! AND GRITTY!
I’ll probably get no love from Mike Love for saying this, but I hate the summer. No, wait. I don’t hate the summer. I hate the heat. I hate the humidity. I hate walking outside at ten o’ clock at night and feeling like you could cut the air with a spork. I hate living in fear that my air conditioning will go on strike over poor working conditions. I hate sweating profusely just by going to get the mail. I hate the way summer makes my hair do a very credible Peter Brady impersonation. I hate cars in the summer, the way each one driving past seems to raise the temperature a half a degree, the way you have to unfold a collapsible cardboard shield that reads “WILD WATER RAPIDS” across the dashboard just to prevent the heat inside your car from reaching levels able to sustain alien life, the way they clog the interstates day and night, in search of a beach, a friend’s pool, a RainBird, a Slip-N-Slide. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. So maybe I do hate the summer.
I almost – almost – even hate listening to music in the summer. Again, I’m overstating myself. In fact, music may be the only thing that allows me to retain my sanity in this satanic season (in all other seasons, my sanity is maintained through the combination of Zoloft and Tai-Chi). But the fact is that there exists certain music that is impossible to listen to in the summer. It’s impossible to find an overriding pattern as to why this is; rather, it just is, and there is no rhyme or reason to why certain music just doesn’t mesh with the summer. Whatever the reasons (or rhymes), I’ve said goodbye to Devo, to Iron Maiden, to Tricky, and I won’t be seeing them again until late September, at the absolute earliest. Often it feels that there is no choice but to resign myself to listening to nothing but Bob Dylan all summer long, if only because The Zimm’s most impenetrable lyrics and unmistakable drawl seem to make the most sense to me when my brain is suffering from severe heat exhaustion. A couple of hours in the sun and I, too, am ready to smoke an eyelid and punch a cigarette. Adding to the frustration is the unsettling feeling that 2002 has peaked too soon, blowing its collective load already, with such fine albums by The Flaming Lips, DJ Shadow, Sonic Youth, Radio 4, and plenty more.
But fear not, loyal readers... both of you. There exist at least a couple of other options to keep your musical sanity. And if neither of these works, you can always crank up Bringing It All Back Home one more time and wait it out. Actually, that’s pretty solid advice for any time of the year.
California bands often get a free pass from my odd “not-in-the-summer” theory, probably because summer is the only season they have out there, and thus it’s the time when their music sounds best (it’s true of Love, it’s true of Black Flag... I haven’t quite figured out when exactly Green Day sounds good). So who could help but be surprised when the gorgeous sophomore release from Beachwood Sparks, Once We Were Trees, revealed itself to be an autumn album of the first order? Could anyone deny that the band had made a massive leap from their corny-by-comparison self-titled debut, towards becoming something like Spiritualized with cowboy hats? That unsteady description becomes more apt on their recently released follow-up EP, Make The Cowboy Robots Cry (Subpop). Continuing their quest for country-space-rock supremacy (and changing their line-up for the third time in as many releases, for those who care about that sort of thing), the EP adds an extra dollop of psychedelic bloops and bleeps to the Sparks pedal steel and vocal harmony base, the end result being that the good times that turned to melancholy on Trees shows up as nothing so much as disassociated insanity here. Cowboy Robots hits an early high on its opener, the seven-minute “Drinkwater,” and spends the remainder of its twenty-two minutes coming down, though without closing the weird doors opened up along the way. Beautiful.
Working for a while longer to close the gap between the down home and the far out are The Radar Brothers, also (perhaps only coincidentally) based in California. Their latest release, And the Surrounding Mountains (Merge), is kind of a slow-moving, gorgeously dreary masterpiece, and with its ultra-cool and calm guitar mini-symphonies, it stands as a perfect antidote to the oppressive summer heat. Mountains feels both large (the cinematic “You and The Father’s”) and small (the bird chirps that introduce “The Wake of All That’s Past”) in scope, which to a more agile reviewer would mean something like The Radar Brothers are a band that encompass a large swath of sound. But to me, it just sounds like an album I can fall asleep to – and one I would be happy to wake up hearing.
WRITING ABOUT BUILDINGS
Metropolis Tries to Be About More Than Architecture
words Jay Pfeifer
Architecture occupies a unique space in the arts because pretty much everyone gets it. Working or living in a building is so immediate - we interact directly with an architect's work on a daily basis. There is no distance between the viewer and the structure in architecture, which is not the case in most other forms of art. That said, most of us like to enjoy architecture from an arm's length. Sure, it looks like Frank Gehry just scrunches up aluminum foil to design each building but the complexity of this discipline is immense. Given the nasty details of architecture, is there a magazine that a layperson can enjoy without getting bogged down in the nitty gritty of flooring and recessed lighting? Metro-polis is about as close as we can get. Lighter than Architectural Record and not as interior-design focused as Architectural Digest, Metropolis provides a good look at the work of today's cutting-edge architects trying to keep it as accessible as possible for those of us without a degree in architecture.
Metropolis bills itself as a magazine devoted to design (do we really need another one of these?) and leavens its architecture shop-talk by gamely tossing in a couple of stories about posters and new cell phones. But it's awfully clear that they really just want to talk about architecture; all of their regular departments have a distinct architecture / urban planning bent and the stories they call out on the cover are devoted entirely to new buildings.
Naturally, the architecture coverage is the heart of Metropolis. The most important thing in any architecture magazine is the pictures and they do a great job integrating them into the magazine. Their expansive layout of a brand-new, all-glass Volkswagen plant is stunning, you can really appreciate the scale and grandeur of this new facility. It's a good thing too because, as we could have expected, some of the writing gets a little dense. When the story on the urban planning struggles in Sacramento starts to make your eyes water you can always fall back on the pretty pictures.
Despite their efforts, Metropolis remains an architect's magazine. You'll notice that the ads look a little different than they do in other mainstream mags. It's kind of like reading one of those airline magazines with every ad pitched toward traveling businessmen; it's clear what they are selling but you just don't connect. In Metropolis, ad after ad for specialty ceiling fans, floor tile and pendant lighting make it clear that unless you're re-doing your loft in New York City, you won't find much of interest here. Likewise, when the ads aren't hawking building materials they're hawking shockingly uniform minimalist furniture that none of us can afford. By the way, it looks like cold angularity is back and all our houses will soon look like an updated version of Cameron Frye's house.
All is not lost for the non-architect reader, however.
If you can overlook the dense writing and focus on the wonderful layouts, you just found a perfect magazine to read in front of the television. Toss it out there on your coffee table and thumb through it when you don't have anything better to do. You might see something that you like but you will definitely look at Richmond differently after you read Metropolis.
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