Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

I’m glad the judges used their save on Michael Lynche last week. However, that means two go home tomorrow, increasing the likelihood of another “shocking result.”

My picks for the Elvis show tonight:

  1. Crystal Bowersox (“Saved”) – As usual, the best of the night. Her only problem is that she’s performed so well each week that she doesn’t get bonus points for improving over the previous week that some contestants do.
  2. Siobhan Magnus (“Suspicious Minds”) – I liked both halves, unlike the judges. To me, the first part set up the second just as it was supposed to. I listened to it again to try to hear the notes Simon thought were off, but only one seemed to be ever so slightly off to me. My only complaint would be that she tends to get a nasal tone to her voice at times. In the top 10, she was torturing high notes on Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire”. In the first top 9 (Lenon/McCartney), she gave a decent, but very boring rendition of “Across the Universe”. I think this was her best since the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” (top 12), though Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” (top 11) is a close contender. She definitely peaked with Aretha Franklin’s “Think” (top 20), and I’m hoping she can repeat that level of performance in weeks to come. I think that all depends on song choice and whether she can effectively work in some glass-shattering high notes without going overboard.
  3. Lee DeWyze (“A Little Less Conversation”) – Good, solid performance with a lot of energy. All the whinging by the judges about his facial expressions is getting tiresome and distracting. Who cares? If he sings well, then he sings well. This week, he was much improved. The past several weeks he’s done OK, better than most of the men. I did appreciate his boldness last week having a bagpiper, though I wouldn’t have brought him down that staircase in such a melodramatic fashion (putting him off to the side would have been more appropriate). It was great to see the reaction of the judges to that stunt, though.
  4. Michael Lynche (“In the Ghetto”) – Michael gave a very moving performance. I’ve always liked the melody of that song, but the lyrics (written by Mac Davis), when sung by white men like Elvis, seem patronizing and dripping of white guilt(*). Still, I don’t want to read too much into Michael’s choice to do that song, especially since he said the Crystal recommended it to him. Last week, I thought Michael’s “Eleanor Rigby” was very good, almost great (he did go over the top at the end). I thought his changes to the original were very creative and interesting. I couldn’t believe he was dead last in the vote.
  5. Tim Urban (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”) – Nice voice. There were a few places where I think he should have used his strong voice rather than quiet voice, but he showed real talent. It’s a shame he was cursed with a face that makes him look confused or dull at times, even when he apparently isn’t. He has been improving, which is making VFTW look even more pointless. I understand why they did, but they would be a bit more credible today if they had gone with Andrew Garcia or Aaron Kelly. Not that I want them to look more credible, mind you.
  6. Casey James (“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” by Lloyd Price) – Good, but not exceptional. He needs to watch his vibrato as he’s going to start sounding like a goat if he’s not careful.
  7. Katie Stevens (“Baby, What You Want Me to Do”) – I’m always a bit ambivalent about Katie. The song lyrics were too mature for her, in my opinion. Her voice was great, as usual, but I’ve always been a bit bothered by her appearance. I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but she looks like a very spoiled girl. In her interviews, she doesn’t come across as egotistical, though. And, I can’t deny her voice.

(*) In retrospect, the “child needs a helping hand” meme in 1960s was a driving force behind welfare. That has translated into government institutionalized single-parent motherhood with built-in disincentives to have a two-parent household or to escape the ghetto. This “helping hand” only feeds the cycle, which is ironic since Mac Davis originally titled the song “The Vicious Circle”. The best thing the politicians did in that era was to end Jim Crow, which was government institutionalized racism, but they should have left things at that.


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I haven’t been taking the time to make any comments on American Idol here for weeks. I’ve been disappointed that the women keep getting cut. Previously, I’d predicted the opposite. Of course, the women have had a few flops. Tim Urban should have been cut early, but he’s a VTFW pick (these are the people who kept Sanjaya in the competition). Funny enough, he’s improved the past few weeks–not enough to win, but not horrible enough to give the worsters much satisfaction. The whole concept behind Vote for the Worst is halfway funny, but also pretty lame. Sure, it’s fun to make fun of things, but at some point, if you’re obligated to put something down all the time, it wears thin, like the Addams Family, where everything was supposed to be like opposite day. The maturity level is pretty low when the best they can do is talk about Kara DioGuardi, a grown woman, having lots of sex. What are they, 12?

Despite the corniness of the show, I still like Richard Nikoley’s description of American Idol as an example of the American Dream.

At this point, I like Siobhan Magnus and Crystal Bowersox the best. I think Michael Lynche deserved another chance. He’s better than many of the others, and I wish he’d improve his song choice and arrangements to be sharper.

I saw How to Train Your Dragon (in 2D, we got the showtimes mixed up). [update: That was a happy mistake, as I doubt a 3 year old would put up with wearing glasses for 2 hours] It’s quite entertaining, a good children’s movie. But we also learned that it’s much too long for our 3 year old granddaughter. She managed to entertain and annoy the audience the last 10 minutes, playing keep-away-from-grandpa under the movie screen, until I could corral her off to the side, out of view. Otherwise, the movie was enjoyable for me.

After hearing so much about the movie Precious, my wife and I rented it. We almost let our daughter see it, but she wasn’t interested. [update: FWIW, I mistakenly thought it was PG-13, not R. Another happy accident that my daughter didn’t want to see it.] I would not recommend the movie, unless you like sad stories. Definitely don’t let your children watch it, as it is very disturbing and very explicit. I wonder why such movies get such critical acclaim. Sure, the acting was convincing, but damn.

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My wife found this video:


Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

There’s also this video about war money:


War Money from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

I’m right there with you, Ronnie Bruce, if you think people should be able to choose not to give their money to finance wars. I just hope you’ll agree with me that they have that same right to withhold their money for other things, rather than watching government waste it or worse.

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Only a handful of men sang well tonight. If viewers voted for all of the top 24 at the same time, women against men, this first week would have been a rout, with 4 guys going home. So many of these guys just don’t belong in the semi-finals. I think the judges made some big mistakes in Hollywood week.

I’ll just list the good ones:

  1. Andrew Garcia (“Sugar We’re Going Down” by Fall Out Boy) – Nice performance. Perhaps, as the judges said, a little safe, but this guy is good enough that his “safe” version is superior to all the other performers. He’ll go far into the finals.
  2. Casey James (“Heaven” by Bryan Adams) – A very close second. Putting aside the annoyance of the judges (and my wife) going on and on about his looks, he gave a good rendition of that song. He’d have to have some great pipes to try to out sing Bryan Adams, but I don’t think he does, and so I don’t think he should try that approach.
  3. Todrick Hall (“Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson) – I liked this much more than the judges or my wife. I didn’t realize until I looked up on YouTube what the original pop song sounded like. Kudos to him for his originality. He was a bit rough around the edges, but showed real talent. I can’t see him winning the top prize, but if he makes good song choices, he should make it several rounds into the finals.
  4. Lee Dewyze (“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol) – OK performance. When I replayed it, I liked it better than the first time. He seemed a bit nervous and constrained at times. He sounds, right now, like a cookie-cutter of the bands he’s covered, so he’ll need to show some more uniqueness to stand up to the competition.
  5. Michael Lynche (“This Love” by Maroon 5) – Decent performance tonight. He’ll get to the finals easily, but I don’t see him lasting long there.
  6. John Park (“God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday) – Bad song choice for this venue. Still, he showed he’s got a very good voice, which puts him ahead of everyone else not on this list.

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With a couple exceptions, the best singers rounded out the end of the show, leaving everyone before them in the dust.

My list, in order of performance quality:

  1. Katie Stevens (“Feeling Good” by Michael Bublé) – She made the hairs on my neck stand on end. Her voice was very powerful, but expertly controlled. I didn’t hear any pitch problems that Randy mentioned. Other performers were more unique, but none of them quite had the power and control. I think other performers will probably do better than her in coming weeks, but she’s definitely finals material.
  2. Crystal Bowersox (“Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morrisette) – She showed great talent with the two instruments and a great voice, integrating them all well in her arrangement. Better than any real-life street performer I’ve seen. Ought to squeak by into the finals.
  3. Didi Benami (“The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson) – Very sweet and captivating performance. This one particular performance reminded me a bit of Megan Joy from last year–Meagan at her best, that is. I’m hoping Didi shows more variety and doesn’t follow Megan’s tiresome quirky-warbly-voice-on-every-song gimick. She’ll probably be in the finals, but will need to be great to stay long.
  4. Siobhan Magnus (“Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak) – She built from a mediocre start to a pretty good ending. Hauntingly beautiful. I expect she’ll have even better performances to come.
  5. Lilly Scott (“Fixin’ A Hole” by The Beatles) – Very nice performance from a very unique artist. Definitely one of my favorite performers to make it several weeks into the finals. To do so, she’ll have to be very careful in her song selection to showcase her strengths.

The other performances were mediocre to horrible. On a side note, I thought Haeley Vaughn did much better than she was given credit for. However, it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly how to describe it, but something about her pronunciation, enunciation, timbre, or whatever grates my nerves when I hear her sing. It could be, as one judge suggested, her tendency to smile so much while she sings. I wonder if some intense coaching could help her to smooth out her technique.

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Conan Go Bragh

Kudos to Conan O’Brien for a classy farewell speech and a pretty kick ass jam to close the show. Start at 32:00 in the following video for the speech and about 37:00 for the song:


Even with the masturbating bears and other such low-brow humor, O’Brien has a million times the class of the senile idiot on CBS who has imbued his increasingly dull attempts at comedy with appeals to the more hysterical, alarmist, dishonest political figures and ideas.

Leno is OK. He’s no Carson and is a bit more dull (for my tastes) than O’Brien, but at least he isn’t an arrogant fool. Also, Craig Ferguson often does a very good monologue and seems to be a good guy, though I wish he’d leave out the pathetic skits (Prince Charles, Aquaman, Murder She Wrote) and just get to the guests.

It’s funny how 17 years ago I watched this tall redhead who looked scared as hell step into Letterman’s shoes for the first night. I was disappointed, having been used to watching Dave for so many years after Carson, and feeling that he was cheated out of that job. But since then, I’ve come to appreciate how that goofy Irishman is a much better person.

Good job, Coco, and I hope to see you in 7 months on another network.

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Sarah Palin is milking this thing for all it’s worth, continuing to pretend that Letterman intentionally made the joke about her 14-year old. In a segment I saw on FNC America’s Newsroom, they ran with that presumption. Brent Bozell pontificated about statutory rape and whatnot. Bullshit. I don’t believe for a second he realized that Palin had her younger daughter with her. It’s obvious he intended to make the joke about Bristol, the 18-year old. I wish those people would stop lying about this. They’re throwing away any moral high ground they might have had.

Letterman’s shtick, from way back in the 80s when I first started watching him after Carson, is being an asshole. It can be funny when the butt of the joke is a grownup celebrity, for example. Going after Bristol was going too far. She doesn’t deserve to be ridiculed on national television, just because her mother’s a joke. And, when he did explain his intention and apologize, he poisoned the apology with more low blows, which made him look insincere. If he’d resisted doing that, I think the statutory rape lies would get far less traction.

Part of the problem is that Letterman has become more politically partisan in recent years. His Great Moments in Presidential Speeches was funny. Unfortunately, I have yet to see him showing Obama having a no teleprompter moment, or doing something else stupid. I realize that Obama’s popularity amongst entertainers and the media makes him untouchable as the butt of a joke. But Letterman has previously had the guts to disregard popularity. Not this time. Instead, he’s taken sides against Republicans pretty much all the time now, effectively eliminating half of the source material for political jokes. That’s just lame.

As part and parcel of this, his show has had some climate change chicken littles, guys who predict massive catastrophe not supported by any real data. He doesn’t challenge them, but gives them free reign to spread their hysteria on his show. Meh.

I miss Johnny.

Addendum: Someone remind New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb that Republicans are supposed to be the ones who keep government out of the board room.

Minor edits for clarification.

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