Curses, These Verses Are My Prison Cell

They Might Be Giants, Glean – I’ve been a fan of TMBG for about eighteen years now, and I still consider them my favorite band. It’s only been two years since the band’s last album, which I hope is good news for the future. Back in their early days, they would put out an album every two years, but that was before I became a fan and their production slowed somewhat after that. Well, okay, that’s not entirely fair, since they put out several children’s albums in the intervening years. They’re still quite prolific, especially for a band that’s been around for so long. I’ve noticed several artists among my favorites who seem to just write songs constantly. While most of TMBG’s albums have some fairly bleak lyrics, I noticed a theme on this one of feeling trapped by music. The fact that I heard a lot of these songs on Dial-A-Song before the album release makes a little difficult to view the whole thing as a single entity, but since I generally review TMBG albums song-by-song anyway, I guess that’s not such a big deal. While I wouldn’t say that the album as a whole feels particularly original for the band, they do experiment with some interesting new styles and sounds.

Erase – I kind of feel that there should have been a warm-up first. I think this is comparable to some of John Linnell’s songs on Nanobots in that there aren’t really any musical changes; it just keeps going in the same way. Interesting that it mentions deep-sea divers and mermaids; those things must have been on Linnell’s mind at the time. Of course, many classic mermaid tales involve the diver dying when they see mermaids, which fits with the dark lyrics to the song. I wonder if there’s any relation between the button marked “Erase” and the fast-forward button from “The Cap’m.”

Good to Be Alive – There was a discussion recently on Facebook about whether TMBG’s songs sound like nursery rhymes, and lyrically this one definitely does. It’s a more laid-back song with John Flansburgh singing to his body parts. For the most part there doesn’t appear to be any particular irony to the lyrics, with the possible exception of the mention of his leg being “shaky” and “barely more than decoration.”

Underwater Woman – I’m getting tired of all these nautical themes! No, seriously, this one also utilizes mermaid legends to paint a picture of a woman who sounds rather depressed and lonely. One complaint I have about it is the line, “brushing her hair, eating a pear.” Could you really not think of a better rhyme, John?

Music Jail, Pt. 1 & 2 – This one really struck me when I first heard it. Musically, it’s really cool, with kind of a gypsy sound to it and a short clarinet-heavy solo. It’s a lot more cheerful than you’d think from the title. Actually, I remember reading something, I think by David Lowery of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, about how how songs often don’t reveal the true meaning until the end, and that probably applies here. Part 1 makes Music Jail sound awesome, despite its name. Then, in Part 2, Flansburgh sings in falsetto about how he feels stranded and alone. The phrase “music jail” is pretty evocative, and could mean a few different things. Does the narrator feel trapped by music, or stuck in a musical rut? It is interesting how this is the first song on the album to have a rather complex arrangement, with the first three being quite straightforward.

Answer – Probably the catchiest song on here, as evidenced by the fact that I find it difficult to get out of my head. It seems to be about realizing that you might not get what you want in life, but what you do get isn’t necessarily all that bad. It’s somewhat ambiguous as to whether the line about the narrator being “the answer to all your prayers” is meant in a comforting or a creepy way, but I prefer the former.

I Can Help the Next in Line – The music to this one is kind of funky, a lot like Mono Puff. It’s fairly slight lyrically, basically just being a mixture of common phrases. TMBG does that kind of thing a lot, but usually there’s a little more of a twist.

Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel – Another kind of goofy one, insulting a woman in an old-fashioned manner. It doesn’t progress much beyond its basic idea, but it has a nice tune and is pretty funny in its way.

End of the Rope – Fairly typical TMBG, and Linnell especially, in that it plays on a metaphor for having gone crazy. That’s a good thing, by the way. And while the theme is typical, I don’t recall having heard anything else by the band all that musically similar. The keyboard has kind of an old-school R&B sound to it (“you’ll play that ‘clink-clink-clink’ jazz or you won’t get paid tonight!”), but the vocals don’t really match that. I wonder if this is the closest we’ll ever get to Linnell singing the blues.

All the Lazy Boyfriends – There’s a bit of a Magnetic Fields vibe to this one, at least as far as the music goes. It’s basically about crappy boyfriends who keep saying they’re willing to change but never really do anything. I like it, but I can’t think of anything much to say about it. As far as songs about women putting up with terrible men go, it’s a huge improvement over “Take Out the Trash.”

Unpronounceable – While it can be difficult to know exactly what many TMBG songs are about, it sounds like the narrator met someone he found attractive and didn’t know how to react, and is now obsessing over it. I don’t know whether the person’s name is LITERALLY unpronounceable or the narrator was just so caught up in his own thoughts that he didn’t catch it. The sound is quite appropriate for the subject matter, with a lot of echo and the broken-down vocals at the end.

Hate the Villainelle – A villainelle is a poetic form that apparently just started as a typical ballad, but later came to have a specific structure. It’s nineteen lines long, with five tercets and a quatrain, and a particular rhyme and repetition scheme. I’m no expert on poetry, but based on the description, I think this song actually is a villainelle, so the whole thing is pretty meta-referential. While Linnell sings it, Flans wrote it, and he once again mentions music trapping him in prison.

I’m a Coward – Flans returns to lounge-style singing with this, but the music includes electric guitar with a fair amount of static. It’s pretty simple lyrically, expressing a longing for a friend to help the narrator overcome his cowardice. If he only had da noive!

Aaa – A rock number about morbid curiosity, with the singer wanting to get into things that really shouldn’t be disturbed. One of the sillier lines regards his having heard that there’s alien blood inside golf balls.

Let Me Tell You About My Operation – A fun, jazzy song about an operation to remove the narrator’s memory. Kind of similar thematically to “Erase,” I guess. The repeated “tres bon” definitely puts me in mind of “Au Contraire,” which both used that phrase and ended with another jazz-style repetition.

Glean – And the whole thing ends with a laid-back instrumental, which sounds like something that would play while time passes in a movie or something. I kind of think this should have been at the beginning, as it would mean more of a build-up for “Erase,” but that’s a minor complaint. Do that many people even listen to albums in order anymore?

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The Magic Art of the Great Humbug

I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed that Dr. Oz more or less shares a name with one of the biggest charlatans in popular fiction. Of course, Oscar Diggs later went on to learn actual magic. I can’t say I’ve ever actually watched Mehmet Oz’s show, except when I’ve been in a waiting room and basically had no choice. I remember Beth telling me years ago that, when he was on Oprah, a bunch of women were asking him questions about their poop. Well, that’s one way to discuss your scatological fetish on daytime television. From what I’ve read, though, the guy has promoted homeopathy, Reiki (which is basically healing people by putting your hands near them but not actually touching them), psychics, and crazy weight loss supplements.

To be fair, he didn’t actually name-check some of the products associated with him, but his fondness for snake oil has led to increased sales of many of them. And his wife is into all kinds of so-called natural cures. The drink that was supposed to give the Cowardly Lion courage isn’t too far off from the stuff he advertises.

Apparently Oz has recently claimed his program is “not a medical show.” Which is fine as far as it goes, but do you really think the people who watch him and take him seriously don’t believe it’s authentic medical advice? It’s sort of like Fox News, in that it certainly has the right to exist, but people who take it seriously can really muck up serious discussions on related topics. And why does everyone nowadays have to say they intend their idiotic statements to “start a conversation”? A conversation with whom?

Another thing that’s kind of annoying about this is how, when anyone calls out a snake oil salesperson, their response is typically that their opponents are in the pockets of Big Pharma or Monsanto. And no, I don’t trust the corporate lobbies either. People will typically compromise their integrity for money, and that includes doctors.

I think a significant difference is that at least there’s SOME oversight for the medical establishment. It’s not perfect, and a fair amount of medical practice just seems to be prescribing whatever is currently being promoted and seeing if it works, but for “alternative” medicine there’s really no authorized process of testing and double-checking at all. Its practitioners are just as eager to make money, though. If magic is real, why sell it through infomercials instead of demonstrating it in a controlled environment (which, by the way, would probably also result in a generous government grant)? Not to mention that some of the alternative therapies don’t even come close to making sense. Isn’t a major part of homeopathy that things are more powerful in tiny doses? How would that possibly work?

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Blue Overall

Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, by Christopher Moore – I’m trying to catch up on the few books of Moore’s that I haven’t yet read. Apparently his original idea was to write a novel about the color blue, which then morphed into somewhat fantastic historical fiction about the Paris art scene in the late nineteenth century. The story begins with Vincent van Gogh, who allegedly shot himself and then walked several miles to seek medical attention, but the gun was never found. That part is true. The fantastic element added by the novel has it that he was actually murdered by a supernatural supplier of pigments, specifically the incredibly rare and valuable ultramarine blue. Made from lapis lazuli, this was the color in which the Virgin Mary’s cloak was traditionally painted. Investigations by the fictional baker turned painter Lucien Lessard and his real-life contemporaries eventually reveal that the Colorman, as he is called, is a man who has been around for thousands of years, supplying paint to artists and using their paintings to preserve his own life. His unwilling accomplice is a Muse who possesses various women to inspire artists. The book is printed in blue ink and augmented with actual paintings that intersect with the plot. It can be pretty complicated, but it’s fascinating how much real history Moore was able to fit into it while still using weird and comical elements.

Insane City, by Dave Barry – This novel incorporates a lot of elements of Barry’s comedic essays, including his probably only slightly exaggerated take on Miami and his observations about everyday life. The plot is largely a comedy of errors, with a strange mix of eccentric but generally believable characters getting into situations that intersect in bizarre ways. Seth Weinstein and Tina Clark, the latter the daughter of a billionaire tycoon, are going to Miami to get married. On the night of his bachelor party, however, Marty ends up losing the ring to an orangutan and harboring Haitian immigrants in his hotel suite. Like a lot of Barry’s work, it comes across as mostly intended for guys, but that’s not to say I don’t think women would enjoy it. One running gag I particularly liked is how Mike Clark, a member of the exclusive Group of Eleven, is obsessed with joining the even more exclusive Group of Six, only to eventually learn that all the latter group really talks about is the super-exclusive Group of Four.

Posted in Art, Authors, Book Reviews, Christopher Moore, Dave Barry, History, Humor | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Holiday for Sims

I’m now playing The Sims 3 with the Seasons expansion pack, and one thing that’s immediately obvious is how the holidays are given generic names instead of real-world ones. This does make a certain amount of sense, as they don’t necessarily want to reflect any specific religion or nation, although I’ve always figured the Sims’ world is in sort of an alternate United States. In spring, the main holiday is Love Day, apparently named by Costington’s.

You can also hunt for eggs in the park.

There’s Leisure Day instead of Labor Day in summer, which is kind of weird as the name isn’t religiously charged like Valentine’s Day or Easter, but in a way it makes more sense. After all, Labor Day is when you’re supposed to get a BREAK from laboring. Fall has Spooky Day as its Halloween equivalent, and it includes costumes and trick-or-treating.

The park has a haunted house and apple-bobbing at this time of year, and you can carve and destroy pumpkins.

I believe there’s also a kind of party you can throw that involves feasting, which is kind of a Thanksgiving thing. Finally, the winter holiday is called Snowflake Day. It’s around this time that Sims get the desire to throw gift-giving parties, which are pretty cool as you don’t even have to pay for the gifts for your guests. I believe you can actually throw such parties in any season, though.

The generic holidays are interesting in light of the fact that Santa Claus could show up in the first two games, and he was actually CALLED that, not Annual Gift Man or anything. He’ll visit if you have a Christmas tree and cookies, and leaver a present for the household. In the original Sims you also need a fireplace, but apparently Sims 2 Santa has figured out how to get in without one. Also, you can interact with Santa in Sims 2, while the first game only had him show up when everyone in the house was asleep.

The Sims 2 also let you throw a New Year’s party to which Father Time could show up and turn into Baby New Year.

Although there was a Seasons expansion for Sims 2, I don’t think there was any relation between what season it was and whether you could celebrate Christmas or New Year’s. I don’t know much about Sims 4, but I know there’s an add-on that will let you decorate with Christmas trees and menorahs.

Another series that features holidays similar to but not exactly the same as real-world ones is Animal Crossing. For instance, a day or two before Christmas, a reindeer in a Santa suit named Jingle will visit for Toy Day.

Here’s a list of holidays and other events throughout the year. These apparently vary based on region; for instance, only North American copies of the games have Groundhog and Labor Days. They also have celebrations on the days that Americans celebrate Independence Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, and Thanksgiving. The Fourth of July has fireworks commemorating the opening of the train station, and Veterans’ Day is replaced with a holiday to honor police officers. Interestingly, Valentine’s Day and Halloween have the same names as in our world, even though they come from Christian tradition.

Posted in Animal Crossing, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Holidays, The Sims, Valentine's Day, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coronation Cameos

I first watched Return to Oz around when it came out on video, and while I quite enjoyed it, I wasn’t familiar with the source material at that point. Now, of course, I’m very familiar with it, and one interesting thing I didn’t note was how many characters from the books show up in it. Most of them are just cameo appearances. I get the impression that the writers wanted to stick with a small cast, and it was basically the same size as the one from the original book and various adaptations of it. The Wizard of Oz had Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion; while Return has Dorothy, Billina, Jack Pumpkinhead, Tik-Tok and the Gump. According to a recent post Jared Davis made, the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion were originally supposed to have larger roles. There was also going to be an appearance by the Army of Oz, who would be comic relief characters much as they are in the book Ozma of Oz, but they were cut. Ozma actually had a quite large cast, consisting of all the principal characters from Wizard (except Toto), a few from The Marvelous Land of Oz, and several new ones. L. Frank Baum would do something much like this in later books, working in appearances by pretty much every familiar character plus a few new ones, but most of the time he kept his casts a little more manageable. Where quite a few characters from the books DO appear, however, is in Ozma’s coronation scene near the end. Fans have scoured this scene pretty thoroughly for familiar faces, and the topic has been discussed on numerous Oz forums. Some characters ended up being barely visible or not seen at all in the finished film, but show up much more clearly in promotional material. Here’s an overview of the scene, and there are also conversations on the subject here and here. One thing I did wonder about was, if Return had been a success and Disney had gone on to make more Oz movies, would they have counted these appearances as canonical? I’m guessing not, since some of them didn’t even exist at the time Ozma took the throne in the books. If the Patchwork Girl is already around, for instance, an adaptation of her book couldn’t include her being made, which is a key part of her story.

Then again, they put Jack Pumpkinhead in Return and only touched on his creation.

In this shot, the Bumpy Man can be seen to the left of the Tin Woodman, and next to him is a barely visible Braided Man.

The Bumpy Man shows up again here, only this time King Rinkitink is to his left, and beyond him Scraps, the Guardian of the Gates (I think), and the Shaggy Man. Oddly, Shaggy’s stack of packages looks like the one the Braided Man is depicted holding in Road.

Maybe he gave them to Shaggy to hold while he fixed one of his braids.

The guy in the back right with the long mustache looks kind of like the Wogglebug as he appeared in the failed 1905 stage show, and I think a lot of the people in the front are MGM-style Munchkins. More than one person has been identified as Button-Bright (maybe he got so lost he ended up in two places at once). The guy in the sailor suit holding what appears to be the Magic Flower from Magic is probably Cap’n Bill, although he seems pretty active for a guy with a wooden leg.

A clown has been identified as Notta Bit More from Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Cowardly Lion, but since I don’t think Disney had the rights to the Thompson books, it might be intended as Mr. Joker from the China Country instead.

Or for all we know he could be one of the clowns from Merryland.

I seem to recall someone mentioning they saw Mustafa of Mudge from Cowardly Lion somewhere in the crowd, but I doubt that’s the case. And while Glinda doesn’t play a major role in the film despite being Ozma’s main supporter in the books, she’s been spotted in the scene, standing behind the Musicker.

Keeping a low profile, are you, Glinda? I’m kind of surprised more animal characters didn’t show up, as I don’t think it would be that hard to have stuck in a mostly stationary Hungry Tiger or Woozy. Oh, well.

Posted in Characters, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

She’s in Love with the Dark

The Dark Is Rising Sequence, by Susan Cooper – I don’t recall having heard of this series of books until fairly recently. I know there was a movie, but it didn’t do well, and I understand it was a poor adaptation. I read something about their making the hero American, when it’s a distinctly British series. The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, was intended as a stand-alone novel about four children who find a magical artifact while staying at the seashore, but it left many questions unanswered, like what was so important about the grail they found. The next one, The Dark Is Rising, introduces Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son who just turned eleven and finds out he has magic powers. There’s a connection between the two due to the presence of Merriman Lyon, the Drew children’s great-uncle (probably not biologically) and Will’s mentor, and probably the great wizard Merlin under a slightly different name. The third book, Greenwitch, brings Will and the Drews together during a festival in Cornwall. It turns out to be Jane Drew’s selfless wish on the Greenwitch that brings about the temporary defeat of the Dark. The Grey King has Will visit Wales and meet the boy Bran, who has a mysterious past. Everything is wrapped up in Silver on the Tree, which brings back all of the main characters. They’re pretty intriguing stories, yet a bit dreamlike in their logic, in that it’s not always entirely clear HOW Will and his friends manage to drive off the forces of evil. Time travel occurs pretty often, with Merriman mentioning how the future can affect the past. There’s also a continuing theme that seemingly ordinary people can have hidden sides, often serving as agents for the Light or Dark. British mythology features heavily, with not only Merlin but also King Arthur, Wayland the Smith, and Herne the Hunter showing up. There are references to many other local legends as well, most of which I didn’t know about previously. While I couldn’t help wanting a little more detail at times, the series is a good read and a nice overview of the mythical side of Britain.

Posted in Book Reviews, British, Mythology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Holy Hatred

I guess I’m a little late in talking about the GoFundMe campaign for the anti-gay pizza parlor in Indiana, but I was thinking this morning about how that might piss me off even more than the owners’ homophobia. It’s like when the right-wing media declared Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day in retaliation for the consternation over their donating to anti-gay groups. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid all companies that do disturbing things with their money, but when they come right out and TELL you they’re doing so, they’re pretty much asking for you not to patronize their business. Obviously, if you’re against gay marriage or don’t think it’s a big deal either way, you’re not going to stop buying from these places, assuming you ever did in the first place. Don’t forget that the Chick-fil-A thing was started by Mike Huckabee, one of those former fat guys who now preaches about how terrible it is to be fat, and there he was promoting fast food. And I doubt that local pizza parlor was doing all that much business anyway. Declaring that they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding was the best business move they ever made, as it earned them over $800,000 from an online campaign started by Lawrence Billy Jones III, an employee of Glenn Beck’s Blaze Network. He claimed he wasn’t anti-gay, but that businesses could basically do whatever the hell they wanted. The thing is, don’t businesses already have the right to refuse service for any reason as long as it’s not discriminatory, which really just means they have to CLAIM it isn’t discriminatory? The argument I’ve sometimes come across is whether businesses should be forced to cater to hate groups, like when a store bakery refused to write “Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler” on a cake. (By the way, today is Hitler’s birthday, and I don’t know why I always remember that. It’s kind of creepy, but it’s a memorable date, and I don’t even smoke pot.) As Jon Stewart pointed out, this is a horrible comparison, but that doesn’t mean people won’t use it. I remember hearing a recent story about how SEPTA (the Philadelphia area public transportation company) couldn’t legally ban anti-Muslim ads from their buses.

Putting aside the legality of it, why would anyone donate money to a place that declares themselves anti-gay? It’s not like you’re advancing a cause; it’s pretty much the reverse. And while you might be able to hide behind religious belief if you oppose gay marriage, I don’t think this extends to giving money to other people who vocally oppose it. It’s really just hateful. Oh, and by the way, Memories Pizza seems to have taken the money and run.

Speaking of hate, the vitriol leveled against Anita Sarkeesian continues, and it just makes me wonder why she’s a target. I’ve watched some of her videos, and she comes across as quite calm and personable. If your issue is with militant feminists, why attack the ones who aren’t even remotely militant? I think it’s part of a tactic where, if you smear the moderates, you don’t even have to bother with the radicals. Not that most of the people who attack Sarkeesian are smart enough to PURPOSELY use this tactic, but it’s there nonetheless. If people who bring up the slightest point about how society remains largely patriarchal are compared to Nazis, the women who seriously think men can’t be feminists are just too far off the radar to even mention.

It’s sort of like how every Democratic presidential candidate is immediately called out by the right wing as dangerously left-wing, even though most of them are pretty moderate. Obama certainly is. On the other hand, do moderate Republicans ever run for office? I’m probably showing some bias here, but I do know a fair number of Republicans are in favor of gay marriage, which you’d never know if you just looked at the presidential candidates.

By the way, apparently Religious Right activist Daniel Lapin thinks Islamic extremists are sexy.

Okay, he actually claims that LIBERALS think Islamic extremists are sexy, but which do you think is more likely? According to Lapin, they’re just all so masculine, and our society is way too effeminate, by which I guess he means not willing enough to indiscriminately bomb the entire Middle East. This hard-on for masculinity among such people really gets under my skin (not literally, because that would be pretty gross). If Lapin wants to keep masturbating to the CIA’s most wanted list, that’s up to him.

But the larger issue here is that of painting anyone who has sympathy for the misguided and doesn’t think war is the best way to solve any problem as total wusses. Or, you know, they could have just gotten the message that violence typically begets more violence.

Finally, is Chick-fil-A still proudly anti-gay? I wouldn’t mind eating there again, not that they have them in New York City.

Posted in Corporations, Current Events, Feminism, Gender, Politics, Prejudice, Religion, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments