Monday, April 30, 2007

Welcome Cruciverbalists

For those of you who read my feature in yesterday’s SJ-R, which was totally upstaged by Dave Bakke’s goose noir column, I thought I’d share some additional information on crossword puzzles. I did enough research that I could have filled the entire Parade supplement with interesting-at-least-to-me crossword minutiae, but then we would have missed out on Walter Scott’s riveting answers to important questions from real-life readers who aren’t celebrity publicists just shilling to get their clients’ name in front of the much-sought-after Parade demographic.


I’ve you’re a fan on the NY Times puzzle, there’s a guy, goes by the name of Rex Parker, who blogs about his daily crossword experience. I email-interviewed him, but he’s not from around these parts and so he didn’t fit with the local angle of the story.

On his blog, Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle, he writes about the clues he liked, the ones he didn’t like, and the one’s that gave him the most trouble. Rex said his commentary is in the spirit of the great “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, although it’s somewhat more serious. He also includes pictures that correspond to some of the clues.

It’s endlessly entertaining if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s especially interesting to a middling cruciverbalist such as myself who can delve into the mind of an expert in hopes of divining some deeper understanding of the way of the crossword.

I also interviewed, through SIU School of Medicine’s Public Affairs Office, Dr. Robert Struble, Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry and Pathology.

He said that a study found that people who were highly intellectually active had a decreased risk for dementia and that crossword puzzles were good for keeping the mind mentally fit, which means that I should be able to blog about Red Hat conspiracies well into my nineties.

I got to correspond several times with Will Shortz, who is probably only the biggest crossword celebrity in the world, thank you very much. As a point of comparison, my talking to him would be like a string theory enthusiast getting to meet Yoichiro Nambu or a garlic fanatic sharing a kitchen with Emeril Lagasse. See what I mean; this was big time.

Shortz, or Will as I came to address him, is a really nice guy and from what I understand he’s living quite comfortably having parlayed his love of puzzles into a small fortune.

Of course all of this - the article, the column and now this blog post - has forced me to face a harsh reality. I may be a nerd. I mean, we’re talking about crossword puzzles here. Yes they’re intellectually stimulating and a lot of really interesting and accomplished individuals share my passion for them, but it isn’t exactly a glamorous or daring pursuit. You won’t see the winner of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament with Amanda Peet or Angelina Jolie on his arm.


Actually, I don’t think I’m a nerd. I just haven’t posted this picture since October and was looking for a proper segue. Okay, maybe I am.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What's Your Favorite Song?

On the McSweeney's Web site, they ran a series of short essays celebrating favorite songs. I thought it might be interesting to do the same here. It's also a good way to keep BFS active without relying too heavily on me to generate content. Your encouraged to post your own essay on your favorite song. It doesn't have to be as long as what I've written, but it would be nice if it were as maudlin and overblown. Or you can play it straight. Just don't reveal any private personnel matters that might get me into trouble.

Drownin' in this City

I first heard “Within Your Reach,” the last song on the Replacement’s Hootenanny album, while in college. It wasn’t until I bought the album in 1989 (and yes I do mean album, as in LP, as in pressed vinyl) that the power of the song really struck me. The song has soul. Deep, indelible soul.

Here on this classic post-punk album, amidst a collection of drunken and rollicking numbers, was an aching ballad that was more real than any song I had ever heard. Paul Westerberg recorded the song by himself with just a guitar, an effects pedal, and a cheap drum machine. The chords ascend and then descend throughout the song, creating a ethereal numbness to accompany the lyrics that are as pointed and direct as pointed daggers being directed at you.

Ah, the lyrics. Simple, yet powerful and perfect. Angst wrapped in anger topped off with a dollop of self-pity. Resignation climaxing in a wail of defiance. The perfect song for anyone who didn’t get the girl, knows they’ll never get the girl, still wants the girl, and wants her to know it and somehow feel bad about it, but of course she won’t feel bad about it because she’s probably into Richard Marx.

The lyrics play off the classic R and B song, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” But while that song is optimistic that true love will conquer all, the singer here is stricken helpless by love. He lacks all perspective with no hope of traversing natural barriers that metaphorically separate him from love.

“Reach” found some success after it was included in the soundtrack to the movie Say Anything. Fans of the film will remember that it played as the Lloyd and Diane sat pensively on an airplane, waiting to set-out on their life together. Totally inappropriate.

It’s said that Cameron Crowe, the movie’s director, had originally intended for the song to play during the movie’s most memorable scene. When the recently dumped Lloyd stands beneath Diane’s bedroom window, rain beating down upon him as a baptism on his soul, he holds a boom box defiantly over his head. The song that plays is meant to convey the contents of his tortured soul. “Reach” would have captured perfectly the torment that was welling up inside of him.

The movie’s producers probably recognized that this was the money scene, however, and wanted something by a more established artist to drive sales of the soundtrack. So instead we heard Peter Gabriel “In Your Eyes”, a good-enough song, I suppose, but ultimately unsatisfying knowing what could have been.

“Reach” also received extended play on my answering machine during the early- to mid- nineties, a fifteen-second snippet of which preceded the standard “leave a message” request. It annoyed friends, confused relatives, perhaps even vexed a telemarketer or two, but it never achieved the desired effect – to impress girls with my sensitivity and outsider taste in music. For girls to have been impressed, they would not only have had to have been Replacement fans, or at least like the song, but they would have also have had to call. Few did. And thus the song’s pathos touched me even deeper.

The song obviously doesn’t speak to me today as it did then. I no longer play it five or six times in a row. Maturity has a way of wising-up a rebel without a clue. But it is still one of the most powerful songs that I have ever heard. And if you don’t get it, then you ain’t got no soul.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hang the DJ /Hang the DJ /Hang the DJ (scenes from a father/daughter dance)

I’ve never been a DJ-for-hire, but I would think that to be a good one, it would take more than just a killer CD collection.

I would think that rather than working off a predetermined set list, that you would have to be able to read the audience and see what songs are getting the best reaction and then spin accordingly.

And I would think, and maybe you would too, that even before the first song is cued up, that a good DJ would take a look at who is gathered to hear the music and maybe even take a moment to consider something about them. There could be some clues there as to which songs would be best to play.

For example, if the audience consists of Catholic school girls who range in age from five to 14, but trend towards the younger,

and if the girls’ escorts for the evening are their fiercely protective fathers who are notorious for being militantly old-fashioned when it comes to their daughters’ virtue,

then you would think that a good DJ would immediately scratch Nelly’s Hot in Herre from the playlist.

Wouldn’t you?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Scandal on the Airwaves

My interest isn’t normally piqued when a car salesman changes dealerships. In fact, I’m usually not even notified when such transactions take place. But Walt Skube isn’t just any car dealer and as a blogger who enjoys the occasional foray into media critiquing, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the news that shocked both the AM morning talk show community and the local advertising world.

It wasn’t unusual to hear Walt’s voice coming out of my radio this morning at approximately 8:52 AM. This is normally the time he calls into AM Springfield and chats briefly with congenial host Sam Madonia (although his boss, Bob Ridings, usually takes the Wednesday morning spot), while pitching the latest deals on new and pre-owned vehicles. But there Walt was, engaging in some comfortable banter with . . . Jim Leach?

It was like hearing Ed McMahon guffawing to Dick Cavett jokes. Taking nothing away from Leach and his fine morning program, it just didn’t sound right. In fact, I felt that I was witness to an act of betrayal, a secret rendezvous between two secret lovers. At that very moment, Atlantic Starr was playing on sister station, WNNS. Or they might have been, I didn’t dial over to check.

It wasn’t until I was over the initial shock and regained my faculties that I was able to focus on their conversation. This moment of relative calm was itself shattered when I heard Walt say that he had left the Ridings family of dealerships and that I was no longer 30 miles away from Walt Skube. More like three miles. It seems that he is now plying his considerable auto trading talents for Springfield-based Landmark Ford. And with this, I’m left with more questions than answers.

Did Skube and Ridings part amicably?

Did Landmark lure him away, like Couric to the Eye?

Is there any animosity between Skube and Madonia or the WFMB sales staff?

Can Skube and Leach be happy together once the initial excitement of their freshly blooming relationship begins to autumn?

Has Bob Murray been seen keeping company with Warren the Painter?

Suffice to say this turn of events has turned my morning commute topsy-turvy. To me, this story is every bit as big as the canning of Brian, Kellie, and Barstool Bob. But you just watch, the liberal/conservative/moderate mainstream media will completely ignore it. Thank God for us bloggers.

I didn't expect anyone to actually have any inside scope on this. But I fear that now that someone has come forth with allegations, my carefree, albeit little seen blog could stir up some unwanted controversy from the outside. So it was with heavy heart that I deleted some comments. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but it made me uneasy having them there. I suppose this is one instance when blogging unanonymously has a downside.

Thanks for commenting,

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Resolved: Michael Scott is not a jerk.

Although this topic generated a lukewarm response at a Saturday night poker gathering, I believe that it is a topic rife for debate.

I maintain, that despite his many faults and shortcomings, Michael Scott, regional manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin, is not a jerk. He is egotistical, immature, self-absorbed, oblivious, dense, inappropriate, and often grossly unempathetic. But the only time he is really a jerk is in his dealings with Toby. When he insults or offends anyone else, it’s usually not his intent to do so. He also has a tremendous desire to be liked and accepted, although he’d prefer to be honored and adored. And, finally, except for the aforementioned Toby, he seems to genuinely like everyone else in the office, especially and curiously, Ryan. Therefore, in my estimation, he is not a jerk and shouldn’t be characterized as such.

Now, you can call Andy a jerk, because he is manipulative and scheming, and doesn’t care what people think about him. Dwight could be considered a jerk, at times, but I don’t believe he should be held responsible for what the voices inside his head tell him to do. Angela can be a jerk, in a prudish sort of way, but her meanness is born of intense fear and debilitating repression, so we’re more likely to pity her than dismiss her. But Michael is just a fool, a jester who thinks that we are all laughing with him, when often we are laughing at him.

So now I put it to you, Dear Commentors, is Michael Scott a jerk?