Friday, July 31, 2009

But Not Too Young

In the past month or so, I've learned that two of my friends are fighting cancer. One has testicular cancer and the other lymphoma. These aren't older friends who are closer in age to my parents than to me with whom I've bonded due to wacky circumstances. They're people my age, born within a year of me, and that scares me a little bit. More than that, though, it's a huge wake-up call.

Many kinds of bone, ovarian, and testicular cancers are found in a disproportionate number of young adults aged 13 to 24. Fortunately my friends have both been told that they're extremely likely to recover fully - that if you're going to get cancer, theirs is the kind to get. They were both also aware of changes to their body/health, and sought medical attention that allowed them to detect the tumors while they were still fully treatable.

So this is my very own These Gentlemen Public Service Announcement: Pay attention to yourself. Most of this blog's readership falls in the young adult category. But we're not too young, and we're definitely not invincible. And that's something I'm going to keep in mind the next time I consider venturing outside in a bathing suit without putting on sunscreen.

(Sorry if this post is a downer, but I think it's important, and I'm not really in a place where I know how to make it entertaining.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Subliminal Apology of Starbucks.

I was surprised to find, a couple days ago, a story about a new experimental coffee outlet that opened in Seattle last week. As it turns out, Starbucks opened a coffee shop that didn't have the standard Starbucks iconography stamped all over walls, signage and aprons. This particular location isn't even called "Starbucks".

15th Ave. Coffee and Tea is the Starbucks translation of an independent coffee house, and the company hopes to create a community-focused feel for it's new one-off. Now serving beer and wine, this attempt at shedding the cookie cutter feel of the current Starbucks brand will incorporate later hours to attract the poetry crowd for an occasional slam or open mic. What it won't incorporate are the Starbucks name or logo, or even some products, such as the frappuccino.

The opening of this new store bears a subtle confession; Starbucks has realized that the connection with their clients, and the prestige of their product, have been damaged by multiple stages of replication. Situations where a Starbucks is located in close proximity to another Starbucks are commonplace, and for a while that was a profitable strategy. But the more common something becomes, the less it's a treat.

I think the big problem for Starbucks has been its focus on getting people in the door, as opposed to making Starbucks a place where you want to stay. The seating is very cramped, and adding cream and sugar to my coffee is almost always a juggling match with several other people. I understand the philosophy behind cramping the real estate, and hoping to inspire interaction between people, but reading, studying, and having a private conversation don't come as easy in a Starbucks anymore.

Reviews for the new store on are generally positive. 15th Ave. seems to have a rustic and individualized feel, with great products and service. But any success at the experimental shop stands as more evidence that Starbucks has lost its way. Hopefully, for the company, the two types of locations can work in tandem to serve two types of customers, the ones who come for the coffee, and the ones who come for the shop.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pitchfork - Global Media Goliath

I was thinking recently about how our generation basically grew up with music videos as a viable commercial art form (or at least a common promotional entity) and have seen it fade out to a more niche part of the music-making process. The long-running joke about MTV not showing videos has been true for so many years that we really are moving toward a new and different world. Sure, there's videos on demand and the ubiquitous YouTube, but when labels are trying to survive for a few more years, throwing half-a million bucks at 3 minutes of visuals for a pop song looks like a poor investment.

And then I realized belatedly that with the advent of, the Pitchfork Media empire has really edged closer to an actual empire. It's become conventional wisdom that Pitchfork is this generation's Rolling Stone, for better or worse, and now they're our generations MTV too. Plus the Pitchfork Music Festival has become the Lollapolooza that Lollapolooza no longer properly is.

But as Chris Ott one of the website's most notable writers, put it, the economics of the situation, like those for most internet entities, are not very good. To quote:

"[F]ewer than 10 people could make a living (e.g. middle-class) wage via Pitchfork, thanks to the other 60 or 70 who don't (and don't seem to mind that they're engaged in a talking head pyramid scheme). I've said before that writing for a living is an untenable, abhorrent aspiration of the very rich and overeducated, but I'm talking about writing about music, pop culture, op-ed garbage like that. I have friends who write meaningful articles and books on finance and law and the environment and political history: they deserve to and make out just fine."

So even when you add to the equation, whose "programming" is mostly inexpensively shot mini-concerts in zany locations, (a roof, a church, a basement), there's not much more money coming in. It'd be like if MTV only showed videos from bands performing in their studio. So at the end of the day, perhaps adds a dozen video producers/editors to the payroll, but this is still not exactly helping the situation, since the most popular music web publication is still only putting food on the table for two dozen people.

Sure the last 20 or 30 years now look like a coked out car crash of greed with an often terrible soundtrack, but the future don't look all the bright either.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Edgy Post-Modern Writers with Three Names

There was no way I was gonna start with Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace's masterwork/clusterfuck/paperweight, so I checked out his first novel The Broom of the System from the library instead. It's under 500 pages, which makes it novella in comparison, and indeed it actually read quite fast. Before this I struggled my way through The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, a book that's quite a bit more R rated than the movie (par for the Ellis course).

This is all to say that after reading these books I'm done with Ellis for a long while. On the other hand I'll probably pick up a book of Wallace's non-fiction the next chance I get. In a funny way these two writers seem to compare a bit of Shepard Farley and Jeff Koons who I wrote about not long ago. Ellis, like Koons is an enigma of an artist. Both seem to have this real indifference to other human life, although Ellis's boarders on hatred. None of the characters in The Rules of Attraction or Less Than Zero (which I had read last year) have any redeeming qualities. Money makes you numb. Youth makes you numb. LA makes you numb. New England makes you numb. Listening to a Talking Heads album will not make you un-numb. Everyone is numb, and so they have sex a lot, because young people have sex. His work gets a bit numbing after a while, and this is without even reading American Psycho.

Wallace, like Farley is a maximalist. I can't stretch the metaphor much beyond that, except to say that both can fit lays upon layers with a real deft-ness. The Broom of the System switches styles, every few pages or so. At times the character Rick Vigorous is narrating, but most of the novel is dialogue without any added explanation of who is speaking. That said, after reading a page or so, it becomes clear who is conversing. He also weaves in a number of short stories for good measure. All of this adds up to a sort of philosophical mystery novel. Solving the mystery is less important that asking why, and Wallace uses the entire novel to question and pontificate. This is without a doubt a boys novel, with a silly randomness that sits somewhere between Vonnegut and Pynchon. I can see why Wallace developed such a passionate following, he had a humility and humor that certainly remind me of Vonnegut's best work.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Working Man's Roundtable

Work. As inevitable as death and reality television. In order to survive and prosper, we must first put forth the effort deemed necessary by society. Some of us find positions at which we excel. Others buffet from job to job, finding varying degrees of satisfaction. Here at These Gentlemen, the question has been posed: What is your dream job? What is the station in life you feel is most fulfilling, most worthy of being chased after, that which continually drives you onward in dauntless pursuit? However, the Roundtable is not a place for idle musings. This is a forum of action and decisiveness. Thus in addition to explaining what their ideal position is, the Gentlemen will also go about detailing what it is they have done to make that dream a reality.

I would have put up this response about work earlier, but I spent the last week on vacation. Something in me said the atmosphere was not quite appropriate. As I have returned to my regular labors, so do does the Roundtable once again emerge from the shadowed rooms in which we gather and transcribe these thoughts. From that dark place, a ray of light emerges, one which I hope you enjoy. Without further ado, the Roundtable.

Max Nova

My dream job, unsurprisingly, would be professional music appreciator. John Peel is one of the few people to really have this job, although some days it seems like Chuck Klosterman and Bob Boilen get pretty close.

To attain this job I've already listened to a lot of music, a looooot of music.

John Ozkirbas

My goal is to become a State's Attorney for Baltimore City. Specifically, I want to handle sexual assault cases and help the court apply newer types of evidence and methods in finding evidence for these cases. It's a lot to handle, but I want to take it on.

As far as what I've done to achieve that goal? I graduated from UMD, majoring in Psychology and Criminal Justice, minoring in English, and participated in a sexual assault prevention education group called "SAFER" for two years. In addition to doing the traditional SAFER activities, I paid special attention to the legal application of rape and decided to make it my personal mission to increase accountability for people who commit this atrocious, tortuous crime. I decided that the best way I could do so was to step into the grind myself. So, I went to Law School.

So far, I've been doing fine. I've gotten through my first year and I'll be returning at full time, so, major milestone passed. Currently, I've been clerking for a small firm called "The Law Offices of David Ellin" at 20 South Charles Street, Baltimore. David Ellin used to work for the State's Attorney's office here in Baltimore and he takes me along to court whenever he has a case. He shows me the ropes a little bit and I get to see him in action, which is great. It's been an enriching experience, particularly for a first year law student. I suppose my next step is to return to school in the fall, do well, try out for moot court, and try to set up an internship in the State's Attorney's office the following summer. After that, we'll just have to see where things take me. I'll just try and steer it towards making the world a better place as much as I can.

Birmingham Graham

Dream job(s):
actor, costume designer (film), webdesigner, linguist.

I'm currently freelancing all of the first three (so if you've got a job for me...) and we'll see how I feel about that in another year. School is a maybe and a must at the same time, so I guess that's in the cards somewhere. If I wasn't an artist I would definitely be a linguist, with a focus on regional colloquialisms. I would be fluent in at least five languages. Maybe when I retire.

The thing about it is, in real life I find even 5 year plans
ridiculous, not to mention unrealistic and depressing, so at the moment I'm flying by the seat of my pants in my chosen profession, like the messy artist I can't help but be. I'd love to not be working in food service or retail for the rest of my life (or ever again, if I can help it) and after living on my own for a year my standards for "dream job" are quickly deteriorating. Now pretty much anything with health insurance would fit the bill. From where I stand, stories of "business trips," "power lunches," and "company picnics" sound so awesome and so magically unattainable, and all the while my 9-5 friends envy my freedom and choice/ability to pursue my art. I'm sure I'll agree if I ever get one. It's funny how the grass is always greener. Especially when it comes to dream jobs.

David Pratt

I would think this one is obvious for those who know me. My dream is to become the President of the United States of America. The first election year in which I will be old enough to run is 2020. As for working towards this goal, it's a difficult question. Sometimes I feel like it's all I think about, others I wonder what I've ever done to make anyone pay attention to what I'm saying. It all comes down to making people sit up and take notice. For that to happen, I know I have to be much more proactive about getting the word out there. More than anything, I want to prove that in this age, and in America, a man can rise to the top without a massive political machine and billions of dollars behind him. I want to prove that all it takes is communication, honesty, and a vision of enough strength to unite a country. In this new world of the internet, the instant message, twitter, facebook, and even, dare I say, the blog, I believe this is all possible.

A lot can happen in 11 years, and I'm confident that I'll have this on lockdown when the time comes.

Matt Lindeboom

Dream Job:

I want to be one of those writers from whose work a phrase or a paragraph is stripped and pasted on a website dedicated to inspirational quotes. For example:

On Existence: "The world is an hour glass, floating upside-down in a mercurial ocean of a tepid god's banal imagination; a fossil; a tool rusted and bent. Sigh."

On Love: "My advice is to fall in love often. This will make remarrying much easier."

On Popularity: "Make them laugh, give generously, set a solid moral example, and they'll never ask about those bodies in the basement."

So I want to be Normal Mailer. To further my plans I've begun to drink gin in the morning with my cereal.

Ali Daniels

When I was 5 years old, I decided one day that I would like to be a movie star, please. And that was that. Later I realized that I really like singing as well, so I broadened my goals to 'generic performance career' and I swing back and forth between wanting to be a singer more and wanting to act more, and between stage and film. So really, I have the most stereotypical dream job that America offers, but I'm okay with that. I just wish it didn't meant that there are simultaneously millions of other girls vying for the same thing.

What have I done to attain super-stardom? Not a whole lot, actually. I have a fancy piece of paper that says I received a degree (magna cum laude, no less. Ooooo.) in theatre, which doesn't prove much of anything to future employers. I write songs in my spare time, but I'm not entirely sure what I should do with them once they're written. In the coming year, though, I plan to audition my ass off and look into that little 'What next?' question. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, if you know anyone who needs a vocalist to sing a wedding or a funeral, my fee is very reasonable and I come highly recommended.

Daniel Strauss

My dream job is really in two parts, either writing, or acting for the camera. What am I doing to attain it? Yeesh. That's the hard part. Currently, I'm writing as much as I can (I'm currently working on a screenplay about my camp experiences) and performing improv all around Chicago, most notably with my iO (formerly Improv Olympic) Harold team at the iO Theater. We'll see what happens.

And thus we conclude another Roundtable. I hope all of our readers have taken a bit of inspiration from our own musings. Perhaps this will move others towards reaching for their long-held goals and ultimately obtaining those half-forgotten desires of yesterday. Remember, you get out of life what you put into it. However I am confident that we all have it within us to achieve that which we want in life, and to strive for it is the mark of - what else? - a gentleman.

We'll be back next time with more from our Gentlemen when the Roundtable punches in next.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Book Review of Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Stories poured out of New Orleans after Katrina. I was a sophomore in college and we were supposed to get “refugee roommate” from Xavier College, which had been heavily damaged in the storm. He never came. Two years later I went to the Gulf Coast with a volunteer program through my school. Even then, the evidence of the devastation was still glaring. Next to newly renovated homes there would be abandoned houses gutted, muddied paneling marked with an X by searchers, the date it was searched, a designated body count and notations for any hazards. Dig your hands into the soil and you’ll probably come up with a shard of pottery, a piece of a plate, part of a mug’s handle. Millions of pieces of plates and cups and bowls, all broken and swept out of houses by rising and receding flood waters, buried now in the soil of the Gulf Coast.

Stories, for the most part, were all we had. Media coverage spread a thick layer of violence and misery over the gulf coast in one course stroke. National Guardsmen and law enforcement who went into New Orleans, in particular, were prepared for roving bands of heavily armed men, snipers, and mass looting. The city’s police chief spoke about babies being raped. But when law enforcement got there what they found were mostly normal people in trouble. People who wanted to get out.

Zeitoun, is a non-fiction account of a family’s struggle after Katrina; a struggle not only with nature’s power to devastate, but also the devastative power of those who wield authority over us in the wake of disaster.

Zeitoun is titled for Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian American, who owns a successful painting and contracting business in New Orleans. His wife, Kathy, a convert to Islam, helps him run their business, and they both raise their four children. As Katrina reaches the shore, Kathy leaves New Orleans with their children, but Zeitoun stays to look after their properties and repair any damage to their home as it happens. He’s stayed through other storms. This one would be no different.

The storm passed and Zeitoun left his house to survey the damage. Trees were downed, panels of roof were ripped off, and windows were broken. There was damage but it was not the worst he had seen, and everything could be fixed. The world was quiet and it seemed he could even call Kathy and his family could return. Then the water came. Zeitoun watched as the water level rose from 6-inches to 2 feet, then 5 feet, then 9 feet. He could no longer go downstairs in his house. The sight of New Orleans under water challenged reality.

“Though every resident of New Orleans imagines great floods, knows that such a thing is possible in a city surrounded by water and ill-conceived levees, the sight, in the light of day, was beyond anything [Zeitoun] had imagined. He could only think of Judgment Day, of Noah and forty days of rain.”

At night he could hear the dogs barking lonelily at the dark.

“The neighborhood was full of dogs, so he was accustomed to their barking...But this night was different. These dogs had been left behind, and now they knew it. There was a bewilderment, an anger in their cries that cut the night into shreds.”

With the world he knew underwater, he rode through this new one in an old canoe he bought from former tenant. His wife begged him to leave; but he situation had changed. Where before he had merely stayed to look after his properties, he now rode around looking for people to help, dogs to feed. Zeitoun came from a family of sailors, and his explorer’s spirit took over:

“He wanted to see everything that had happened and would happen with his own eyes. He cared about this city and believed in his heart he could be of use.”

At first Zeitoun’s experience was like the water that flooded New Orleans, itself, clear and not yet dirty. He felt that God had kept him in New Orleans to do good, so he stayed and looked around for what good he could do. But the water grew dirty with oil and detritus: dead animals, chemicals, branches, and cars. Similarly, the atmosphere of New Orleans grew steadily more poisonous. More police, Army, National Guard, and military contractors were arriving. On television, officials were threatening the “armed gangs” that battle hardened soldiers were being sent in to restore order at any cost. Zeitoun even saw a group of these armed looters and did his best to avoid them. Kathy nearly drove herself mad thinking of the thousands military contractors, the Army, the police, the National Gaurd, all those guns.

“Kathy added it up. There were at least twenty-eight thousand guns in New Orleans. That would be the low number, counting rifles, handguns, shotguns.”

The thought of a her husband alone in New Orleans with all of those guns, a Syrian man in a city under a sort of martial law in post 9-11 America. Something bad was going to happen to her husband.

Then Zeitoun disappeared.

What follows is a view of the maddening and frustrating dichotomy that draws and repulses the world away from America. The questions and answers raised by Zeitoun’s story, the specters of hope and cruel indifference that weave themselves into every story that we tell about ourselves make this an essential book.

Zeitoun is writer Dave Eggers’ latest accomplishment. Author of five books including What is the What, about Darfur, Sudan, and A Heart Breaking Piece of Staggering Genius, a memoir laced with fiction, Zeitoun lives up to Eggers’ extraordinary ability. For the book, Eggers interviewed Zeitoun and his family over a two year span. His research took him from New Orleans, to Jableh, Syria, to Spain. Though non-fiction, the book reads like a novel. Eggers is able to capture the spectacle and horror of a flooded New Orleans and reveal a story that peels back the assumptions and old cliches of the American story that we take for granted, and reveals something raw and true, with grace and humility.

Simply Zeitoun is beautiful. You should read it.

Authors proceeds from the book go to the Zeitoun Foundation. It’s purpose is to “aid in the rebuilding of New Orleans and to promote the respect for human rights in the United States and around the world.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Evil Eye

(Drawn by Kimberly Geiter)

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
- Anonymous

Origins of this cliché stem back to ancient Greece three centuries before the birth of Christ, but it remains as prevalent in our culture now as it had at any other time or place. This phrase reveals two concepts: 1) what's perceived can be just as important (if not more so) than what's
physically in front of you 2) eyes are one of the primary means by which most people gather information to form said perceptions. In the strictest biological sense,we use our eyes to see and absorb physical information about our surroundings. We evaluate and verify our other senses with what we see, and when our eyes don't work as they should, we find corrective measures to make up for the loss. On the opposite token, we often look into the eyes of others for information on the internal world, as well. There, we feel we'll find truth, sincerity, or even a glimpse into a person's soul. Many may also use a glance or a look as a form of communication, as if to transmit an intent or a thought from one's eyes through another's. Eyes are portals, no matter which side of the glass you're looking through, and they reveal to us the world.

Many cultures forewarn about the "Evil Eye" - that a mere glance or long stare can transmit a sinister intent, infecting the victim with bad luck, injury, disease, or even potential death. Commonly, such a curse originates from feelings of envy, where a spiteful person covets an item or quality that another possesses. Casting the Evil Eye is typically (although, not necessarily) unintentional - transmitted during either compliments or insults about the coveted possessions. Speaking isn't a requirement, however, as one could perform the same functions just as effectively glaring from afar. Symptoms of "catching" the Evil Eye often have to do with dryness - dehydration, withering, or desiccation - and primary victims are thought to be young children or babies, as so many comments are often made about them. Within Turkish culture particularly, a standard belief holds that comments about one's clothing and appearance can bring bad luck to a person just as well - possibly evidencing the presence of an Evil Eye.

In Turkey, there exists a common emblem used to counteract the Evil Eye. Often a tear-shaped amulet or circular bead made of glass, the symbol consists of a concentric series of white and differently shaded blue circles with the darkest circle at the center. Called the mavi boncuk (pronounced "bon-jook") or nazar boncugu (pronounced "bon-joo-goo"), this "Evil Blue Eye" was crafted to meet the gaze of Evil Eye casters, matching their sinister intents with benevolence, as if to say "Don't bother. Everything is alright." Mavi boncuks are traditionally given as gifts to new friends and beloveds, made and conveyed in the spirit of love. These amulets, emblems, and charms harness that benefecent energy and protect the person or item bearing the symbol from the Evil Eye, bad luck, and general harm. This motif is very widely utilized, displayed on babies and clothing, as well as tattoos, horses, and cellphones, and placed next to the doorways of houses. Turkish Airlines is specifically known for sporting mavi boncuks on the tales of their airplanes, while this Gentlemen has one hanging from his bedroom wall as we speak. Today, mavi boncuks may come in many different colors, but its power is always on the positive - never the negative.

Although certainly an interesting concept, what's more are the mavi boncuk's origins. The Turkish clans of old consisted of a variety of darker-complected peoples from Mongolia and traditionally Muslim nations who melded together as these tribes headed west and the Turkic empire expanded. Long story short, these tribes eventually settled in what is now modern day Turkey as other, fairer complected peoples from the west (some language homonyms suggest persons of French, Gaulish, or Frank origins) began exploring east. It is said that a group of these peoples made their way across the Eurasian continent and encountered the Turks shortly after the Turks had staked their territory. The Turks had never seen people's from the west before and were particularly amazed by the blue eyes of the strange people they encountered - thinking them beautiful. Gifts were exchanged before parting (some staying) and the Turks took this as a sign of good luck. The mavi boncuks were forged into a symbol to harness this benevolence and use it for the general good. The Evil Blue Eyes became a general ward against evil forces and spirits in the ensuing centuries and have been crafted and displayed proudly for the past 3,000 years.

Other, darker interpretations of the mavi boncuk's origins discuss the fear the Turks felt at the arrival of said western people. Although they found the blue eyes attractive, the Turks were wary of the power that beautiful eyes can have - considered a harbinger of misfortune if they were to be turned on you. The mavi boncuks were created not out of a positive act, but to meet aggression with an equal force. Perhaps a near warning, the wary gaze of the mavi boncuk returns a sinister intent of its own, as if to snap back balefully, "An eye, for an eye." The blue of the eye instead is part of a mediterranean motif as a symbol of protection, thereby deflecting or absorbing the maleficent forces conveyed by any purposeful, unintentional, or invisible Evil Eyes. The eye-shape pattern would then add insult to injury, instead of actively protecting the bearer from destructive influences.

"When the Eye of Horus opened, the world was enlightened. When it closed, darkness came again"

Historians suggest that the mavi boncuk may be found as a symbol over 5,000 years ago, first recorded by the Mesopotamians or Egyptians. Others present evidence claiming that similar eye figures may have originated as far back as the Upper Paleolithic Age - before agriculture had taken root in human society - between 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. By that hand, it is no surprise that the mavi boncuk would have similar cultural analogues across multiple faiths, cultures, and folklives. Can you think of any? What else can eyes symbolically represent? As always, Gentle Readers, post below.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is Any One Else ...

... a little creeped out by the new Quaker Oats ads, with their ominous tagline "Go Humans Go." When I see this ad go buy on the back of buses, I shiver a bit. Although the company is trying to have him portrayed as some sort of benevolent capitalist version of the old Marvel character The Watcher, instead the quaker man has become a sort of creepy non human entity that gives us fuel for his own sick twisted amusement, and perhaps some darker for evil experiment.

The strange thing, though, is I really like the Burger King ads with "The King." Maybe it's because Burger King seems in on the joke - here is a strange character who is coming to either kill you or stuff you full of hamburgers, or do one by repeated doing the other until you die. The creepiness is the whole point.

I May Be A Liberal But ...

While I do spend most of my days hugging trees like many liberals, there are times when I stray from the party line. Thus this will be an irregular series where I mention some dumb things on the left. Lest you thing I'm ever switching teams, go back and read some of the transcripts from the Sotomayor hearing. The Republican party would need to completely and fundamentally change for me to ever vote that party line. Step #1 would be - Stop being racist to Supreme Court nominees.

* Trial Lawyers - The Dems get a loooooot of money from trial lawyers. But the amazing proliferation of malpractice suits created by these lawyer tends to hurt many of the folks who the Democrats claim to represent. First off, it has a pretty big negative effect on the number of doctors and their field of focus. JStone mentioned to me that back in his home county there were basically no pediatricians because of the high cost of malpractice insurance. Thus he became a man (through choice of primary physician) at the age of 4. Also, the sheer amount of frivolous lawsuits and wacko payouts inevitably come back around and wind up costing jobs to companies that have to bend over backwards.

Now - there are a lot of evil and stupid companies, and their are some incompetent doctors. But if you go in for heart surgery and have some complications, part of the reason is HEART SURGERY IS DIFFICULT! If it was easy everyone would be doing it and the world would be a pretty different place.

* Farm Subsidies - Now both parties are guilty of this but it's still a bummer that the Dems don't do much to stop this. The way the US farm system is set up is incredibly unfortunate. It's 2009 and you still have plenty of people being paid money not to grow crops (it was funny in Catch-22 but at this point it's just sad) and you have large subsidies going to huge corporations who have turned our food cycle into efficiency over health. We already have more than enough calories to feed everyone, but we need to start getting better calories. Ready anything by Michael Pollan or Fast Food Nation for a better explanation of what's going on.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday Comics

Under the direction of editor Mark Chiarello, who was last responsible for the absolutely astonishing SOLO series, DC Comics is currently putting out one of the most groundbreaking comics on the stands today, and at the same time one of the most retro: Wednesday Comics. A weekly art extravaganza, WC is printed on classic newspaper paper like the old days, filled with full page strips serialized over the course of three weeks by some of the greatest names working in the industry - from the mainstream to the indies. This is a celebration of comics as an art form embracing the present, past, and future of the medium in one fell swoop. And it is gorgeous. Not every strip is as spot on as the others but as a whole it's a wonderful package, and some of the strips (like Azzarello and Risso's Batman) are already establishing themselves as weekly must reads. The project is on such a scale that USA Today is serializing John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo's Superman story on their website, with the first portion included in the print edition.

The roster is as follows:
- Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (the team behind Vertigo's award winning 100 Bullets) on Batman
- Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook on Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth (a Jack Kirby character done in the style of Prince Valiant)
- John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo on the aforementioned Superman
- Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck on Deadman
- Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones on Green Lantern
- Kyle Baker takes on Hawkman
- The absolutely All-Star team of Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred on Metamorpho: The Element Man
- Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway on Teen Titans
- Paul Pope on Strange Adventures
- Husband and Wife team Jimmy Palmiotti and the sensational Amanda Conner do Supergirl
- DC Comics Executive Editor Dan Didio, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Kevin Nowlan take on the Metal Men
- Ben Caldwell on Wonder Woman
- Father and Son Joe and Adam Kubert on Sgt. Rock
- Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher on The Flash
- and finally Walter Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze bring the unlikely combination of The Demon/Catwoman

That right there is a veritable Justice League of comic's talent. At $3.99 a pop it's not the cheapest entertainment investment (the whole series should run you $48 plus tax) but this is a really beautiful tribute to the old Sunday pages back when Will Eisner and Walt Kelly ruled the roost. It's also doing quite well, and while nothing has been confirmed, there's talks of another Wednesday Comics event next year - which means people are already assembling their dream teams, and as a would be one day comic's editor, here's mine.

(Note: for the sake of this game I'm trying to be as realistic as possible in the current environment - no repeated creators, and no one ezclusive to Marvel (like Brian Bendis) or on such bad terms with DC that they would never be invited (Chuck Dixon, Mark Waid). Characters may repeat from year to year because I sincerely doubt DC will run something like this without a Superman or Batman feature to anchor it.)

Jason's Dream WC2 Roster:
- Darwyn Cooke on The Spirit (The Spirit returns exactly where he belongs - the oversized Sunday section he debuted in - guided by the best talent to touch him since his creator)
- Geoff Johns and John Cassaday on Superman (I'm literally drooling just thinking about it)
- Garth Ennis and Brian Bolland on Batman (Bolland on interiors? Heaven)
- Grant Morrison and Doug Mankhe on Shazam (All-Star Captain Marvel by the Scottish God of Comics himself)
- Keith Giffen, JM Dematteis, and Kevin Maguire on Blue And Gold (The JLI team provide a Bwa-Ha-Ha a week with the buddy comedy of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold)
- Warren Ellis and Steve Dillon on John Constantine: Hellblazer
- J. Michael Straczynski and Jim Lee on Aquaman (I'd beg for a monthly but we know Lee can't hit those deadlines)
- Peter Milligan and Cliff Chiang on Human Target (the team behind my favorite comic book series of all time reunite just in time for the new TV show)
- Paul Dini and Bruce Timm on Zatanna (Magic. Mayhem. Fishnets. By the team who brought you Batman: The Animated Series)
- Denny O'Neil and JH Willliams III on The Question (Denny O'Neil, who wrote The Question's ground-breaking 1980s series brings more Vic Sage and Zen Noir accompanied by perhaps the best illustrator working today)
- Adam Hughes on Wonder Woman (The All Star line seems pretty much dead - lets see what he had in mind)
- Matt Wagner on Green Arrow/Black Canary
- Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra on Dial H for Hero
- Joe Kelly and Ethan Van Sciver on Plastic Man
- Sam Kieth on Arkham Asylum

I couldn't even find a place for JG Jones... maybe in round 3...
Oh man. I've just made myself so sad realizing this will never happen.
I ought to go buy issue 3 and cheer myself up.

Secret Files and Origins... coming soon weekly to TG.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

So Remember that War Craft Freakout?

I was going to write about sexual predators underneath a bridge in Miami (and I will), but first I found something that had to be posted first. A few weeks back, David made a post about kid who had an unbelievably violent freak out after his mom cancelled his warcraft account. He tried to stick a remote in his ass. It was so out of control people wondered whether it was staged, as has happened to be the case with many an over-the-top web phenom.

Matt Lindeboom said...
I'm really wondering whether or not this was staged. The remote in the ass was, well, bizarre.

Wow I am... yeah.

JUNE 23, 2009 12:48 PM
Jason Heat said...
I also watched this and had to think it was staged - the timing of everything seems a bit too 'perfect'

JUNE 23, 2009 1:28 PM
David Pratt said...
The thought that it had been staged crossed my mind, but two things keep me from invalidating it entirely.

1) The way it is set up is ridiculously embarassing for the kid in question. Being put on like it is, presented as real, I can't imagine an apparantly junior high/high school-age kid willingly subjecting himself to being seen that way.

2) Dennis's comment points out the validity of the video regardless of source. People are dying, killing themselves, and engaging in illicit sexual activity for video games. Staged or not, the video is far from inaccurate.

JUNE 23, 2009 1:31 PM
Jstone said...
I'm gonna have to agree with Matt/Jason.

I mean i've done weird shit in a tantrum but the hiding in the closet and the remote up the ass. The seemless transition from little brother, to tantrum, and back to little brother. Its like they have stage cues. And the fact that you hear some guy yell and then suddenly the whole thing stops. Suspicious.

PS- my confirmation word for this post was "subjewuw" just strikes me as weird

Anyway, here seems to be some proof that it was staged. Another freak out video:

The senior editor of said,

"You know that kid who posted a video on-line about a month ago of his brother having a freakout because their mom suspended his World of Warcraft account? Well, that was a pretty good freakout, sure, but since then the two of them have posted four more freakouts. FAKE."

Thanks to Boing Boing for the scoop.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Halfway Through the Year Part 2: Concerts

Another year and I still have my hearing, amazingly. So far I've seen another 30 concerts already, but along with the usual loud stuff, I've had the chance to see more classical stuff which has been wonderful change of pace, although a lot of the music is still quiet mysterious to me. Sometimes as I'm standing at the 9:30 Club or the Black Cat, I felt like I see the same bands over and over, but I generally realize there's a reason I come back to see bands again. Here are a few of the things I've really dug thus far in 2009:

A Place to Bury Strangers - One of the loudest bands around. But they'd be nothing without melody, and underneath the fuzz and the pounding, these are great great songs.

Jim Hall Trio - Absolutely the quietest concert I've ever been to, and one of the best. Hall, whose been playing jazz guitar for many decades may have moved very slowly onto the stage, but his fingers still move like a dream. It was stunning for him to take a song like "My Bloody Valentine," which he's probably played literally a thousand times, and still spin gold out of it.

Fischerspooner - Although it was at the 9:30 Club, this was more of a performance than a concert. But it was a great performance - a bunch of New York Artist types taking the piss of a big budget concert experience but still giving a fantastic show.

Bang on a Can - The folks behind the Bang on a Can classical collective brought a mini-version of their 24 hour festival to Clarice Smith. I don't think everything I saw was inspired, hell, some of it were downright bad, but that's the risk you take with modern classical. Yet their live recreation of Brian Eno's Music for Airports, played in the sprawling CSPAC lobby, was utterly transcendent.

Chick Corea + John McLaughlin - The years of experience and the amount of great work from these two leaders and their crack band of Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride and Brian Blade is just mind boggling. Each one of these guys is a band leader in their own right, and yet this is a proper band and everyone contributed to the whole -- and played their ass off.

The New Deal - The New Deal are three guys playing live techno, and even after an extended sabbatical, they're one of the best live bands around.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sonya Sotomayor is doing wonders for my resume

Sonya Sotomayor’s story has given me ideas. Now before you roll your eyes, hear me out. Whether or not her compelling story should be a Supreme Court job qualification has been controversial; but no one can deny it's an attention-grabbing quality. For that reason I’m adding a short biography to my resume that highlights the triumphs in my life story as a tool for getting potential employers’ attentions.

Here’s an example of my current resume:

Matthew Lindeboom


Loyola College in Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland
Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Writing, May 2008


Grew up in Moorestown, NJ also known as “Dirty South Jerz” for its abundance of water treatment plants. Parents emigrated to South Jersey from unknown parts of Northern Jersey and gang-ruled Rhode Island, looking to escape harassment from roving bands of cannibalistic raiders out of New York City.

Mother set rigorous standards for education, including the forbidding of doing homework in front of the television; even 
"Seinfeld" which was the only good thing on anyway. From early age, achieved many academic and sports awards.

Age 8, awarded gold star for committing a Random Act of Kindness -- helping Mrs. Hughes clean up the spilled markers.
Age 9, earned the Busy Business Bee Award for successfully playing the Stock Market Game during recess.
Age 12, MVP award, REC Roller Hockey
Age 13, made travel soccer team.
Age 14, voted onto Student Council.

As a freshman in high school, overcame acne and long-gaurded age barriers to ask out a sophomore girl on a date. Girl declined, but did not lose heart. Asked her out again a year later and she agreed. Bravely ignored social norms and took her go-cart racing. 

“It was pretty awesome,” she was reported to have said.

After College took the “maverick” route and took a year off to take a job in South East Asia. Once in SE Asia, became first American to pledge that he would not say, “I’m really thinking about becoming Buddhist.”

Upon return to America, joined the 99.75 percent of travelers who return home and talk about how “different” life is abroad, and how you “should totally go!”

Now responsibly living at home to save money and pay off student loans, despite intense social pressure to go west and make fortune. Seriously, contemplating swearing off gluten, despite love of soft pretzels and gyros. 


I’m going to save the rest for those potential employers. I can’t be showing the entire thing to everybody. That’d be like asking for somebody to plagiarize my idea and then I’d lose my edge. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. Did you know that in Vietnam and China they eat dog? It’s so different, you should go and check it out. Better go soon so you can put it in your resume, though. I’m thinking about copyrighting this idea.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Dream

It was Stan Lee, the spiritual Godfather of Marvel Comics and former head honcho for years and years, who anecdotally gathered his editors around sometime in the 1970s once it looked like the comics industry was here to stay and said 'We no longer need change - we only need the illusion of change' - a philosophy which has carried through mainstream Super Hero comics almost completely undeterred to this day. In the 1960s, especially in the new and blooming Marvel Comics, change was a constant - characters actually aged, their surroundings changed, their premises weren't yet set totally in stone.

Nowadays that kind of change is almost impossible to find - characters have a status quo and almost every great change will eventually revert back to that status quo. Daredevil and Spider-Man may both be publicly unmasked, Steve Rogers can be murdered on the steps of the Capitol, Spidey and Mary Jane can even enjoy a 20 year marriage together - but eventually things revert back to their most classic forms. There's a logic to this - comics are unique in a way that no other industry can boast: characters like Superman or Batman have now been published consistently on a monthly basis for 70 years, and nearly all of their appearances are canonical. In the goal not to alienate both long term and first time readers, these characters enter a sort of cyclical pattern - whereby they constantly change and revert - or the 'illusion of change.' This is especially true once a character reaches a certain degree of popularity or mainstream attention - a small character can be endlessly re-tooled, but once public perception of a character is established you can bet that they'll be back that way one day.

Even harder to change is the actual premise of a strip, the fundamental ideas that govern a specific Super Hero. One of the few lasting changes has been the marriage of Lois and Clark, completely changing the 'Love Triangle' engine that a lot of people felt was the core of Superman's success (Clark loves Lois, Lois loves Supes, Supes wants Lois to love him as Clark). Now, with Lois knowing who Clark is, the nature of Superman's core has changed - Lois is played as Clark's tether to humanity, his true connection to the people of Earth in his times of greatest struggle as an outsider, his greatest source of strength and his greatest weakness, and in a way his embrace of mortality even as a God. Even with this deepening of the character, most of the Superman mythos remains the same: Clark is a mild mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper, kryptonite can kill him, Jimmy Olsen is his goofy pal, Metropolis is his home, etc. All of these elements are intrinsically Superman and even if one changes for a time it will return because that is the satus quo.

Which is why has happened recently and over the years with the X-Men is so fascinating.
In a way it makes sense that a comic book who's premise is based in evolution would be one of the few to slowly but genuinely change past the point of it's original concept and evolve into something I don't think can ever revert back from.

The X-Men's original premise was that Charles Xavier was a mutant with a Dream - a fictional analogue to Martin Luther King. Homo Superior, or 'mutants' had begun to evolve from Homo Sapiens, each blessed and cursed with strange and wondrous powers. More importantly, their very arrival signaled the impending deth knell of the Human species, a prospect that fundamentally scared the crap out of a culture that generally fears and hates what it does not understand. Mutants are considered a menace to society and face termination and camps. Xavier secretly runs a school to train and teach young mutants with an eye towards peaceful co-existence between man and mutant alike - never hating the humans back for their fear, but offering peace as a choice instead. His students become the outlaw group the X-Men, designed to combat the more violent and proactive mutant groups, especially those led by Magneto - Xavier's old friend, a holocaust survivor, and the Malcolm X to Xavier's MLK.

So while there are a ton of other fantastical aspects to the stories, the core of the X-Men is a few things - that Xavier dreams of peaceful coexistence, runs a school to teach young mutants, operates in secret; the world not knowing he is a mutant, and is embroiled in a deep idealogical debate over the nature of evolution with Magneto. The X-Men are taught the moral code of most heroes: not to kill, to act selflessly and with care to man and mutant alike, lead by example. His greatest student is a young man named Scott Summers, or Cyclops, an orphan who looks to Xavier like a father figure. Cyclops is so straight laced that it becomes a character point - some fans see him as lame, but he becomes synonymous with Xavier's dream. Established many times is that Scott is groomed to be Xavier's succesor. Being an X-Man is the only thing Scott knows.

What makes the X-Men so culturally relevant is the idea of mutant as the minority, easily accessible to any group who has been hated or feared. The camps in Days of Future Past are reminiscent of Concentration Camps during the Holocaust, the rounding up and registration of mutant Americans like Japanese internment camps. Prop X, a law written to keep mutants from breeding is the Marvel U analogy to Prop 8. Gay, Jewish, Black, White, Straight, Asian, what have you - all of us have likely been persecuted at one point because of what we are and the X-Men stand as a spandexed point of unity to that shared experience. Because of that the X-Men have been one of the few comics to embrace a diverse cast - the first major change in the comic being the '70s when they went from a classic whitebread quintent to a more adult lineup featuring a German (Nightcrawler), Canadian (Wolverine), African (Storm), Irishman (Banshee), Native American (Thunderbird), Russian (Colossus), Japanse (Sunfire), and soon a Jew (Shadowcat). Even with this radical cast expansion the school remained the same. And of course, Scott led them unwavering into the field.

But the basic tenets of the X-Men have actually completely changed now, and in a deep and profound way. Whether it be a response to the changes of society or the evolution of the story, Xavier's dream is no longer the guiding force of the X-Men as a group and I truly believe we have moved so far past that original concept that things will never fully revert.

The X-Men comic and what it represents has truly evolved and in the world of mainstream comics that is amazing.

One of the key moments of this was Grant Morrison's 'outing' of Professor X to the world at large as a mutant. Suddenly the school was no longer a secret, and that was a total game changer in the premise of the storytelling. Taking the Homosexual metaphor that True Blood has also been playing with - once the X-Men were out of the closet, there is no going back. That would be an insult to the very audience supporting the comic. Scott Summers took on the headmaster role of the school after being posessed by and released from the ultimate evil and was no longer the straight forward boy scout he used to be - carrying on a telepathic affair with the White Queen. 16 million mutants were massacred by Sentinels in Genosha - showing that mutants were no longer a minority in the way they had always been, but capable of populating a country the size of Israel. And Charles Xavier was revealed to have been manipulative in ways only hinted at before - including Xavier hiding the existence of Scott's younger brother Gabriel and how he almost killed him - creating a seismic schism between teacher and student.

Then Marvel pulled the coup de gras - in an attempt to make mutants more unique and less prevalent, with a magic word they rid the entire Marvel U of every mutant but 200. Mutants are no longer the inheritors of the earth - they are a dying species hell bent on survival at any cost. Forget the dream - there is no school anymore, Xavier has been completely replaced as the X-Men's leader. Scott Summers is no longer a teacher or the leader of a team - he is the spokesperson for an entire people, like Moses before him. Settled in San Francisco, America's cradle of acceptance, Scott has gone from student to President/General/Ambassador/Savior. The man who wouldn't kill now has a secret Wetworks team he sends to take hits out on mutant and human foes alike. He operates on the political level against the government of the United States and sees his people as an army.

It's actually rather startling to see how a concept to born and bred in the '60s, that gained entirely new success with it's diversity in the '70s, and was the example of absolute excess in the '90s has come to perfectly capture the fears of our generation, in the post-modern and technical age. Who has time for dreams when the Government is telling you how to breed? (or marry?)

Scott Summers is the new face of the X-Men, and while Xavier will still live on the margins, I don't see us ever going back.

The dream is dead.
Embrace change.

Gaming for Charity

Last night I discovered that web-based game wizards The SpeedGamers were planning to run through every Final Fantasy game in the course of 7 days. For those of you familiar with these giants of the role-playing industry, you know this is no easy task. However, as they took down the original Final Fantasy in just under 6 hours, and look to be coming in on beating the sequel in the space of the same day, I have faith they can do it.

Their undertaking itself isn't nearly as important as why they are doing it. The marathon is being held to raise money for ACT, Autism Care & Treatment. My oldest nephew is autistic, and thus this cause is quite near to my heart. I donated what I could when I found out what was going on. I'd like to encourage others to do the same. It's estimated that autism may affect as many as 6 out of every 1000 children in America. While there are many forms and degrees of autism, it universally impedes the ability of individuals to interact with others. Early diagnosis and treatment can lead to greatly improving their lives while we look for a cure.

The playthrough also features live comments from people watching, and commentary from the gamers themselves. It's exciting and entertaining, all for a good cause.

You can watch and donate online at:


Also, this is hardly the first example of gamers using their mad skills for the purpose of raising money. Gamers across the country have banded together annually for Penny Arcade's Child's Play charity. Child's Play donates games, books, toys, and money for sick children all over America. You can find out more about Child's Play at

Until next time, enjoy the show.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Be a Gentleman

Wondering how you too can become a member of the elite writing society that is These Gentlemen? Well, look no further, cause now is your chance.

We're looking for a new full time writer here at TG. Interested? Of course you are. So what do you have to do?

Shoot a sample post, along with a brief description of who you are and what you like to write about to A bit about why you're interested in TG wouldn't hurt either. But the sample is the main thing - give us an idea of your voice and interests.

Look forward to reading you.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Domestic Dangers: Tips for Living Without Health Insurance.

I pulled the cat from the tree, and on my way back down the dirty, wobbly ladder my mother warned me, “Be careful, you don’t have health insurance.”

“So I’m the one who goes up?”

“Well your dad is too chicken.”

I have video evidence (Warning, there be profanity here):

If you watched the video you will have noticed that my speech was rich with profanity, a positive cornucopia of cursing. I’m afraid of heights.

But that’s not the point. My point is that if the ladder had fallen, maybe with the cat clawing to my head for dear, precious life, followed by a sudden, sickening thud of my body making contact with earth, I would have no response for the doctor or nurse when they asked, “So how will you be paying new sternum and cat claw removal today?” Alas, I am one of the 40 million uninsured in America.

I have a job at a small web design firm, and my boss can’t afford to pay for health insurance for her employees. On my current salary I cannot hope to pay college loans and support a $500 a month Health Care habit. I am eligible for no government program that yet exists.

But that’s not my point. My point is that there are tips out there for people like you and me; or if you have scored a sweet gig with health benefits, here’s a list to guffaw about over a good Chablis.

Lucy from Associated Content ( has a few hints to care free living (ha ha. Get it?) Lucy says:

1. Open a savings account devoted solely to health emergencies.

2. Purchase a health care discount card. There are companies that offer a card for a monthly fee that will give you access to discounted rates with participating physicians. “Medilinq, Alliance Health Card, and United Consumers Association are a few.

3. Some doctors or dentists will consider a payment plan if you afford pay the entire amount.

4. If you have a real emergency, GO TO THE ER. There is a Federal law that prohibits hospitals that participate in Medicare -- which is most of them -- from turning away patients who be broke. But you must be really, very broken for them to fix you.

Alternatively, you may better identify with the I don’t need no stinkin’ government crowd, Lila from the anti-state website offers this advice that will let you “stand up to the big lie of modern life – that people need the government to survive.”

1. Inform yourself.
Buy yourself a small textbook of anatomy and physiology and learn how your body works. Make sure you know where all of the organs are.
Learn the basic chemistry and physics behind vital processes like oxygenation, PH balance, and osmosis.
Buy a hand-book of first-aid and learn how to perform simple first-aid measures, like applying a tourniquet, or dislodging a bone from the throat.

2. Explore Alternative Health Sources

This includes ancient Indian medicine, Chinese medicine, and American Folk medicine (Moonshine, ya’ll)

3. Eat Nutritious food. (I once knew a man who could live on lentils alone, and he liked it.)

4. Exercise. (Go on a hike, take up jogging, join a fringe militia.)

5. Keep Positive. (Who needs all ten of those things anyway?)

As always, to your health Gentlemen.

Halfway through the Year Part 1: Books

The last few years I've been on a reading tear. There's so much I haven't read, so I've been all over the place reading. Looking at what I read the first half of the year, I'm actually pretty happy by how balanced it has been. I've been slowly working through old issues of Granta and McSweeny's and it's been nice to read such a wide variety of shorter fiction and non-fiction. For the rest of my reading I've actually found a good balance between novels and non-fiction books. I've read a few more novels than not, but the fiction has tended to be a bit shorter.

Here are some things I liked thus far:

E.L. Doctorow - Ragtime
A wonderful elegant, effortless novel. The novel weaves a nameless family through a host of early 20th century celebrities. The novel runs through with a head of steam. And yes, it's the novel that begat the movie and the musical.

Paul Auster - City of Glass
Jean Echenoz - I'm Gone
Luis Fernando Verissimo - The Club of Angels
The very different deconstructed mystery novels, all three of which deal with the nature of identity. City of Glass was especially trippy, as the main character spends much of novel masquerading as Paul Auster until he winds up meeting with . . . Paul Auster.

E.B. White - The Essays of E.B. White
E.B. White is like the world's best uncle. He's not an edgy bugger but he's a deeply decent human being, and a warm funny writer. And it's hard not to love the guy who wrote Charlotte's Web.

George Pelecanos - Drama City
Pelecano's is the most well known crime author, or for really novelist, from DC and his novels have the verbal feel of a Wire episode (for which he has written and produced). His dialogue is absolutely spot on, and his endless DC name dropping is, to me, delightful.

Yannick Murphy - Here They Come
Written an adult novel in the voice of a youth voice is very tough. And much like Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, this takes a long series of unrelated observations and moments and strings together a beautiful novel.

Five Years Too Late: Two Hours at the Warped Tour

Because I am a well-connected, basically famous person, every once and awhile I get to do something cool for free. More often it is something that would not be as cool if it hadn't been free, but it was free and thus we arrive at the same cool conclusion. On Tuesday it was to spend a few hours at the Warped Tour's stop at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.

I had never actually attended a Warped Tour, but the ambience was as expected: the stench of meat, cigarettes and pot permeated the air as people milled and swayed about to music bouncing and rolling off the trees and sculpted hills of the Pavilion. It was fun; I got to see Flogging Molly for the first time in almost four years. They are just as Irishy and cursey and bouncy as I remember. I wanted to join the moshers but got self-conscious at the last second, partially because I was clearly one of the oldest people there who were not parents, and partially because I was pretty sure I would die viz Mufasa in the stampede.

On the Devil's Dance Floor!

What was neither expected nor fun for me was the fashion display, and my own intrinsic old woman reaction to it. Because of course everyone looked terrible, it was an outdoor concert for which the average age of its participants was about fifteen. Sweat, grease, and bad hair conquer all!

But this was incredible. It was like every bad fashion idea since the sixties had taken up residence in this tiny square. Pants with waistbands well below the cheek line and what in the 90s might have been called "bustiers" but are now just "Target bras." Leather headbands. Shutter shades. Mullets! And not even the "I'm fine with my deer rack and pickup" mullets, the really trendy "this is totally not a mullet because it's called 'scene'" mullets.

I actually found myself yelling at a staggering pubescent in front of me with roughly five inches of I-kid-you-not-blue-boxer-briefs, "That was ugly when MY generation invented it!!!" At this point my concert buddy and kind host was severely regretting bringing me, but I couldn't help myself. It was that bad.

One larger girl was dancing intensely in the 90-degree heat wearing a yellow plastic poncho, hood up. If that's not the dumbest reason to pass out and get trampled, I don't know what is. I did manage keep that one to myself, though this time my host agreed.

Maybe realizing you're too old for Warped Tour is just another aspect of growing up; going back and realizing that not only do you not fit in with certain aspects of youth culture, but you have no desire to participate in them. For instance, I can't think of one situation in which I would prefer to walk around for eight to ten hours with markered messages from friends all over my body. I have no interest in thickening my eyeliner to the width of the actual pencil. And I really only want a poncho if it's raining and I'm walking home from the grocery store.

Whatever it means cosmically, it was a good reminder for me that adulthood is not without its perks (particularly experience and 20/20 hindsight), with some good music and dancing in between.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Auto Tune the Nation-My Interview With Evan Gregory of The Gregory Brothers

I woke up this morning to find a text message from a Maryland phone number I didn't recognize. The message is brief. "Hey, would you be willing to interview the Gregory Brothers?" Oh, sure, my skeptic mind thinks. I've seen this one before. Some prank happy friend of mine, from Maryland, of course, knows my newest obsession is the "Auto Tune the News" videos, a series of music videos created and performed by the New York based Gregory Brothers, and is playing a joke on me to see if I'll bite. Must be, right?

After much text messaging, it turns out it's fellow Gentleman Steve Bragale who sent the message, and that the interview is very real, despite my assumption that everyone in the world is constantly going out of their way to play trivial, very specific jokes on me. So it was on a July afternoon that I had the pleasure of sitting down and having a conversation with Evan Gregory, one of the four masterminds who co-created, co-writes for, and acts in Auto Tune the News.

These Gentlemen: Tell me a bit about the Gregory Brothers. Where you guys are from and how did you get started making music?

Evan Gregory: Well, there was three brothers, Evan, Andrew and Michael, and Sarah rounds out the group, she is my wife. How did we begin? I'm not gonna get into conception or childbirth or any of those issues that had to do with the origins of the brothers themselves.

TG: Ha, ha. Fair enough.

EG: We grew up in Virgina, in Radford, a town in the southwest part of the state. No one in our family is a professional musician, but music was at least a part of the picture when we were going up. As a quartet, we've been playing together for a couple of years, doing original music. We've toured around quite a bit. We're based in New York, so we play up here all the time. Music is pretty much the center of anything that we're doing, and that includes the video stuff. Michael is by trade an audio engineer, and he started off the video stuff last fall when he put up some videos corresponding to the presidential campaign debates.

TG: Sure, yeah, I saw those.

EG: So he wanted to write a song about that and put it up in video form, and it got a little bit of attention. So we started collaborating to produce more songs about each one of the debates. It was during that time that it kind of evolved a little bit, and we hit on the idea of auto tuning speaking voices so you could turn them into some semblance of singing. So, that's the watershed idea that got us to the novelty that comprises some of the attraction of the Auto Tune the News videos.

TG: My friends and I who have seen the videos all agree that it’s a relatively simple idea that requires pretty top notch execution in terms of sound and video editing-take me through the process of creating of one of these videos.

EG: The early steps in the process are just finding the content, which can be quite laborious. It's just about finding stuff that's out there on the web. We're not DVR-ing every single cable news show that's out there. Our messages are no more sophisticated than just ripping stuff that's out there on the internet. But we still have to identify stuff that we think is gonna be funny. It's a combination of, "Is this clip gonna be remotely funny? Can we crack jokes about it?", and then, on top of that, "Could we set it to music?" Over time, we've gotten a little better at that as we've learned which speakers are gonna be good unintentional singers.

TG: That definitely shows.

EG: And sometimes we can make a guess about who's gonna be good if we haven't tried them before. But we do get surprised sometimes. You'd think some shouting, talking head on Fox News is gonna turn into a great R&B wailer, and he turns out to suck.

We write all the music beforehand, do all the original beats and the musical aspect. Then we'll line up the clips with the music and do the actual auto tuning, so, turning all the spoken stuff into melodies. That's the really fun part, because you get to see how the piece is gonna come together, and what's gonna turn into a catchy chorus, stuff like that.

The last step is doing the video. We take all the melodies that we came up with and start writing our own lyrics to mesh in with it, and turn it into one overall piece that fits together. And then of course, [for] the video, we just do whatever comes to mind in front of a green screen and splice it all together. Sometimes it's cracking on whoever is speaking, sometimes it's whatever dumb visual gag comes to our heads. The whole thing is simultaneously a parody of news, media, and politics, and the media cycle around politics, [and] using the music to parody hip hop cliches.

Obviously, the editing comes last, [we] splice all the video and line it up with the music. So, the audio is finished first, and then we do the video to line up with the audio.

TG: It seems like sometimes, you guys will find something that's so ridiculous that you can't even believe someone said it until it's played back. In the fourth episode, for example, the chorus about Judge Ginsburg being "very lonely without another woman."

EG: [laughs] Yeah. There's tons of that stuff out there. Sometimes, you might not even notice it if it just flew by you on a news channel, so [it's great] when we manage to catch it, and then highlight it by turning it into some sort of chorus or melody. That particular line from Barbara Boxer, of course, we emphasized it by repeating it and turning it into a harmony, so then it really jumps out at you and sounds totally insane.

TG: I know you guys have been featured on Rachel Maddow's show. It seems like you're all are pretty big Katie Couric fans. Has she seen your stuff?

EG: [laughs] Yes, she has seen it. We haven't talked to her directly, but we've talked to some people who work for her, and I think she gets a big kick out of it. I didn't know this beforehand, but apparently, she's kind of of amateur singer, and is really into singing Broadway show tunes around the office, which is kind of a funny picture. She gets featured so often for a couple reasons. One, we just found out really early on that she has a voice that's top notch for using the auto tune tools that we have. There's practically no other voice out there that just readily takes to it like hers does. It's just so easy for us to turn her voice into a melody...she very quickly became an all-star. Now on top of that, you have her delivering her monologues on the nightly news...whoever is doing the writing [for those] always sets her up with these nursery rhyme phrases. Those are practically song lyrics's always a trip to do those songs.

TG: Do you ever let the clips and what the people are saying influence what the piece will sound like musically?

EG: Yes, to an extent. We usually don't shape the entire beat around one piece. What we do is let he energy of a particular clip take the beat up or down. Like from the latest episode, where John Boehner is shouting "Hell no," to the Cap-and-Trade Amendment, he just got so emphatic that we had to put that into a chorus that gave a big musical lift, and turned into a much bigger part of the song...some clips lend themselves to being bigger hooks and bigger choruses than others.

TG: Who are some of your favorite musical artists? What music are you listening to lately?

EG: Tchaikovsky, Nobuo Uematsu, Dan Penn, Paul McCartney, and Herb Alpert come to mind. Also Ne-Yo.

TG: Do you have a favorite politician or analyst, other than Katie Couric, to use in your videos? Anybody who you'd like to use in an episode, but haven't yet?

EG: We've always wanted to get Keith Olbermann, but I don't know that his voice is gonna take to it the best because he speaks in such a low register. He did a appear for a fraction of a second in the latest episode, but didn't have a speaking role.

We had real high hopes early on for Sean Hannity and some of his Fox News pals, but he actually sounds terrible. Glenn Beck sounds okay, though.

TG: What's next for you guys? Have you had any TV offers?

EG: We have had a lot of requests and offers. We'll probably be figuring that out this summer, in terms of where we're gonna take it next. In the near future, we'll at least be putting out a few more episodes of Auto Tune the News. We'll keep the series going for a least a few more weeks, before we think about what the next wave of stuff is gonna be...beyond that, we're gonna be looking for ways to get some more ideas out there. Everybody in the group has got really different musical ideas and we all kind of meet in the middle to produce it together, but there's a lot of stuff churning over here on our end in terms of different ideas that ware waiting to get out. We'll probably try to cue some of those up.

TG: Anything specifically?

EG: I don't wanna really get into the TV stuff because it's so far from the coming reality...but we just released our own EP of stuff we've been playing on tour for a while. Andrew is gonna be putting out a record....Sarah fronts a band that we may be recording for also...on the video front, we're probably gonna apply some of the stuff that we've been doing for Auto Tune the News in some other context...for me, it’s funny because that whole area can just be so sober that, I guess, it’s the same reason you can get a lot of laughs at The Daily Show or the Colbert Report, just sending up people that are so permanently serious can be made even funnier because of that contrast. But I think we want to try applying it to some other areas too, before it gets too old.

TG: Thanks so much for your time. Keep it up.

EG: You got it, we're not gonna quit.

You can purchase the EP, Meet The Gregory Brothers at the Gregory Brothers' Website, You can also check out all the Auto Tune the News videos on YouTube,, and purchase t-shirts at their new online store.