Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Beer and a Movie

What better way to unwind after a long holiday weekend than by taking in a heartwarming tale of an innocent young sprite who helps a disillusioned assassin rediscover the joy of racking up a body count. The Movie Geek’s Club will be showing Leon (The Professional) at 7:30 this evening at the Capital City Bar and Grill. The movie stars Jean Reno as Leon and a too-young-to-ogle Natalie Portman as Mathilda. All the cool people will be there and you should too.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Victor Needs a Ride

I’m looking to buy a used bike for my son Victor, preferably a 12 -inch model. If you or someone you know are in possession of a late-model two-wheeler in reasonably good condition, please respond to this post.

In the interest of making this a legitimate blog post and not just a classified ad, I’ll share the story of how we came to need a used bike.

We bought Victor a brand-spanking-new bike this spring, but in the interest of long-term usability, we went with an 18-inch model with training wheels. Shortly thereafter, a friend let Victor have her daughter’s old 12-inch girlie bike* after he taught himself to ride it sans training wheels while visiting. Unfortunately, the tire on the mini-femm bike blew out on Sunday and he can’t yet manage the bigger manly bike as a two-wheel conveyance. Not wishing for him to revert back to training wheels, I’d like to find a used bike to get him through the summer or until he hits a growth spurt.

Victor, even more than his two bike-riding-age sisters, loves to be out on the open sidewalk. He rides every chance he gets, even when he’s supposed to be getting in the van to head to school. But it’s been four days now since he last rode and he’s becoming despondent. His mother and I fear that he will turn to drugs to fill the void in his life that had been filled with exhilarating rides through our neighbors’ yards. Please help Victor avoid this dire fate and get back up on his own two wheels.

*He rode it without shame, but has requested something less purple and pink for his next bike.

Monday, May 21, 2007

After the Paint Dries

One of things I looked forward to when I started writing for the newspaper is getting to write one of those column’s in which I respond to readers’ comments or questions. Unfortunately, I don’t get enough response to do a full-blown, readers’ mail column. I do, however, have one reader who has taken the time to respond to my last column by posting a comment on the SJ-R’s Web site and so I’ll use this space to respond to her kind words.

Congratulations. This is even more boring than the typical Bakke column.

Thanks for the kudos Daphne. I consider it high praise indeed to be mentioned in the same class as a seasoned professional such as Mr. Bakke, who has been boring people for a lot longer than I. Now that I’ve been at this column writing thing for over a year now I have to admit, it’s a lot harder than it looks.

It really is quite difficult to avoid topics of interest and I find myself racking my brain each month in search of the superficial and the tedious. But you know what, every time the muse of the mundane fails to visit and I think I might have to settle for writing something meaningful, I’m suddenly hit by inspiration. It never fails. And before you know it I’ll have scribbled off 630 words of pointless blather that I get to share with totally disinterested readers such as yourself. It’s a gift, and one for which I’m very grateful.

I should also say that it helps to know that there are readers out there who actually get it. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of writing another ennui-inducing column, I’ll stop and say to myself: “What’s the point? Am I actually even boring anyone or am I just kidding myself here?” I guess it’s part of the lonely life of the writer that you never get to hear the yawns.

Oh well, I better sign off. I just proofread what I wrote here and I’m starting to get sleepy.

Keep reading and I’ll keep boring the pants off you,

P.S. If there are any topics that you find particularly tiresome, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can work them into a future column.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Very Important Things You Should Know About

Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Red Hat party
I read where the dastardly Red Hats are being celebrated in a musical that’s playing in Chicago. I’m sure it’s in the vein of the Franz Liebkind-penned production of Springtime for Hitler, and similarly inspired. No doubt it glosses over all of the bunco schemes and beat downs in painting them as a benevolent, senior-empowering group of civic-minded citizens. History will tell a far less kind story, my friends.

Speaking Power to Truth
Can anyone provide a literal definition of this phrase? It’s quite popular with the radical set, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it means, other than shorthand for “I’m about to say something that the man doesn’t want you to hear.” There’s something quite insufferable about people like that.

No Idols, Just American Music
For everyone complaining about the Grandstand lineup, and you’re certainly justified in doing so, take heart in the upcoming American Music Show at the Taste of Springfield on July 7. I plan to blog about the event more extensively when the date draws nearer, but know that while it may not offer the recognizable names that you desire, the lineup is long on sheer quality. No cheesey ballads or concocted anthems, just real rock and roll and hardcore country. The Bottle Rockets are going to be here for chrissakes, that should more than make up for whatever muck that Daughtry character has in store for us.

We’re not going to Moscow. Zip in. Zip out. It’s like going to Wisconsin
Speaking of the American Music Show, we’ll be traveling to Wisconsin next month to see one of last year’s headliners, Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles*. They’re playing in Port Washington at a free show in a park right off Lake Michigan. If you have the means, I highly recommend making the trip. It promises to be a kickin’-good time. And if you’re still not sold, Russ will be there.

Come on!
The SJ-R publishes a report on the Springfield Police Department’s purchae of two Segways, almost 40 people have commented on the story online, and not one mention of Gob Bluth, the man who came to personify the tackiest mode of travel ever invented? Sometimes I feel as if I’m surrounded by a cultural void.

*Be sure to pickup a copy of their new CD that’s due out on June 12. The new Wilco is out now. If anyone's heard it, please comment.

Monday, May 14, 2007

On the Dole Again

If you’ve been following the series of articles in the SJ-R about the state’s health insurance plans for children, you’ll have read about the experiences of families who have signed on to the wonderful new programs to improve healthcare and make benefit glorious leader Rod Blagojevich. And you’ll have been somewhat surprised to learn that some of these families are earning a more than respectable wage, yet are still availing themselves of state-funded coverage for their children.

When you look at what the state is offering, it does seem like an attractive deal. It’s much cheaper and is more comprehensive than many employer-sponsored health plans. And if you have more than two kids, the annual income threshold is unexpectedly high, making it a viable option for many middle class families. So why not seek wellness by suckling on the government’s curative teat?

When we think of Medicaid and similar programs, we think of the poor and indigent. In short, we think welfare. And no matter which side you approach it from – as a liberal who feels welfare is compassionate or a conservative who feels that it breeds complacency – most of us who read blogs would feel it below our station to go on the dole. We’ve been taught to work hard and sacrifice to avoid the plight, and the stigma, associated with living on the government’s dime.

Yet there is also the feeling that if the state is going to offer it and we’re going to fund it with our tax dollars, then why not exact as much back as possible by letting the state pay for the kids’ annual physicals and the occasional emergency room pebblectomy.*

So where do you stand? If you could cut in half the amount you pay now for health insurance and still keep your favorite pediatrician, would pride alone prevent you from signing-on to a from of Medicaid?

*This procedure, I'm told, is quite rare and as such may not be covered under even the most comprehensive of plans.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dining with the Enemy*

We’ve all played the little getting-to-know-you game in which we take turns naming three famous people we’d like to have dinner with. The idea here is that the choice of dinner companions, and perhaps more importantly, the topic of dinner conversations that would arise, reveals something about a person’s character.

For example, if one were to choose to break bread crumbs with Gandhi, we can assume that this person is a deep-thinking, peace-loving soul. Or a pretentious twit.

On the other hand, someone who wants to smash a fruit and vegetable platter with Gallagher isn’t the least bit pretentious, but probably a twit just the same.

It’s a worthwhile exercise, provided you don’t slip into Mike Lupica-stlye sentimentality. In the interest of stirring up some commentor-generated content, I thought we’d try it here, only with a twist.

Instead of naming three people, you’ll be dining intimately with just one guest. And this person should be your ideological opposite. If you’re a liberal, pick a conservative. If you’re a right winger, pick a leftie.

But the idea here isn’t to provide you an opportunity to throw consommé in their face or jam a chicken bone down their throat.

Instead, pick someone who, for all of your differences, you harbor a quiet respect. Someone whose intelligence you value and whose point-of-view you would like to get a deeper understanding of.

I’ll start it off. Since I’m a moderate who votes both sides of the aisle, I’ll be dining with two others.

Now if Amanda Peet were a white separatist and Angelina Jolie were out blowing up Humvee dealerships, then my choices would be clear and you can be darned sure I’d be asking to look at a dessert menu.** But since they both probably share a lot of the same political views and I wouldn’t want to offend by choosing one over the other, I’ll have to look elsewhere.

With that said, sitting to my left will be none other than William Jefferson Clinton. Yes he disgraced the presidency with his randiness and we’re starting to hear from former Friends of Bill, who have shifted their support to Obama, that the Clinton’s aren’t the most loyal or trustworthy of allies. Still, he is a very intelligent person who certainly doesn’t lack for charisma. If he were candid in his thoughts and wasn’t worried about his comments being leaked to the media, it could make for a fascinating conversation.

To balance out the table, to my right will sit Walter Williams, libertarian/conservative columnist. I admit this is kind of last minute invitation, but I was intrigued by his column in today’s SJ-R***. I use to read Williams quite frequently and although we disagree on many things, in particular on smoking bans, I still enjoy reading his views. He’d make for a delightful dinner companion, provided he didn’t flout the law and light up.

I’d let Bill and Walter do most of the talking while I listened and enjoyed a savory tuna steak accompanied by a nice ale or two. It would be a civil and enlightening affair, and hopefully Bill could charge it all to Hillary’s campaign.

Now your turn. For whom would you cross the political divide to dine with?

*This title was taken from the movie Sleeping With the Enemy, a 1991 Julia Roberts/Patrick Bergin vehicle that was awful in ways too many to mention. Although my wife got to hear them all when we watched it together some years back.

**I’m not sure what this means, but it means something.

***I particularly liked this line: “True compassion for our fellow man requires that we examine not the intentions behind public policy but the effects of that policy.”

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Simpsons Plan

The mayor recently announced that our city will indeed compete to host the premiere of the upcoming Simpsons movie by proving that ours is the real Springfield. I hate to be pessimistic, but based on what I’ve read, I don’t think we’ve developed a winning strategy.

It seems that we will be betting on the fact that we are home to a donut factory, a power plant, and a bald man who runs the power plant.

Yes there are similarities between our hometown and the animated Springfield, but after 400 episodes of the show, I would think that even the inhabitants of a remote fishing village in Southeast Asia could come up with enough resemblances to stake a claim as the real Springfield (That Nguyen Duy Phong. He always drunk, just like your Barney Gumble!)

The show’s creators aren’t scouting a shooting location or looking to cast parts; they simply want a real life place that captures the spirit of the Springfield that they’ve created. And it’s here that we do have a real advantage, but we won’t sell it by having Fox 55 personalities dress up in Marge and Homer Halloween costumes or coaxing a bad Monty Burns impersonation out of Todd Renfrow. We have to be willing to show our vulnerable side.

Our Springfield, just like Bart’s Springfield, has an inferiority complex. Shelbyville isn’t our Shelbyville, Chicago is our Shelbyville.

We need to convey the jealously that we feel as Illinois’ second city (or third, or fourth). How we seethe with contempt whenever one of their big city newspaper columnists suggests that we live in a backwater burg. How we scream foul when our tax dollars our exported north of I-80. And how the governor of the state refuses to live in the capital city, lest he be contaminated by its corruption. And then we hit them with the story that will surely resonate inside Matt Groening’s soul.

A common plot on the Simpsons involves the town trying to overcome its second-class status by gathering all of the mettle they can muster to achieve some goal that will prove their worthiness to the outside world. And then they fall flat on their face, the victim of their own avarice or ineptitude.

Or in case of the episode titled Marge vs. the Monorail, the victim of a slick con man named Lyle Lanley who rides into town and convinces the city to empty its coffers into his pockets. Sound familiar, long-time Springfield residents?

I’m a little sketchy on the details, but once upon a time a swindler by the name of George Celani convinced us that he was going to bring jobs and wealth to our community by turning Capital Airport into the hub for his fledgling Kayport express shipping empire. Deals were made and money was invested before Celani disappeared into the night. I’m told that a taunting, Nelson-like Ha! Ha! could be heard echoing throughout the city once the swindle was uncovered.

So here is what I propose. We produce a brief mockumentary of the Christopher Guest variety. In it, we convey the message that we’d love to host the movie’s premiere, but that we’re a little leery of slick-talking outsiders offering to put us on the map. Then we tell our woeful story.

Taking considerable dramatic license, we have citizens/actors tell of how they tied their hopes to the coming of this wonderful new enterprise, and how they’re still struggling in the aftermath of those shattered dreams. They could mention the governor refusing to live here and talk about how our annual civic-pride festival had to be cancelled because people got a bit overzealous in drowning their sorrows. Maybe we could even get Richard Roeper or some other Chicago columnist to play himself while heaping ridicule on us poor Springfieldians.

And then the film would end, in true Simpsons spirit, on an optimistic note with the townsfolk again coming together and willing to take another chance to demonstrate our community’s virtues.

With a good script and the right local acting talent, there is great comedic potential in this approach. But this idea will never make it past this blog.

I suspect that those in charge of host-the-Simpsons campaign will take the sunny, happy approach favored by tourism councils and highlight all of the quirky coincidences that tie our Springfield to theirs. And of course they’ll play the Abe card. But I know about Jebediah Springfield and Abraham Lincoln is no Jebediah Springfield. Lincoln is a dignified figure, revered by all and the butt of no jokes. How un-Simpsons like!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My Top Boss Hitbound iTunes Singles

Russ, Shoo, Anon Com, and Brad have posted their Top 20 Most Played Artists according to their digital music delivery system of choice. I can't figure out how to find the top 20 artists on iTunes so I'll list the top 20 most-played songs. And of course, I'll provide a prologue and then comment on each selection.

As others have predicated, these aren’t the songs that would make it on to an all-time favorites list. They simply encapsulate my inaugural venture into digital music and the somewhat unfortunate practice of listening to singles rather than entire albums.

I should say at the onset that that airplay was heavily influenced by frequent family dance parties. Several of these tunes are among the most requested by my kids. It makes me proud that I’m able to influence their musical taste at an early age so that they might never fall victim to the scourge of Top 40 radio.

I’m surprised that several of their other favorites (Float On by Modest Mouse and Cool by Gwen Stefani [Tessie and Maria in particular]) didn’t make the top 20, which causes me to doubt the accuracy of the iTunes most-popular logarithm. Included in the top 25 was a Todd Rundgren song that I rarely play, except when it shows up in shuffle mode.

Notably absent from this list are any of the bands from my early indie rock years (the Replacements, Galaxie 500, Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground.) This shows that, unlike baby boomers who never venture beyond the now-classic rock of their youth, Generation X is far more progressive in their musical tastes and thus maintains a stronger connection to youth culture.

Also absent are any of my many favorite slow songs. I’m a big fan of sitting in the dark with headphones on after everyone is asleep and just turning my mind over to the music. I suppose that I’ve compiled so many songs that are good for this purpose that I don’t repeat them enough to make any most-played list. And in the case of Aimee Mann, I tend to listen to her by the album rather than by the single.

And now, without further ado, is my iTunes Top 20 most-played singles.

1. The Notre Dame Victory March - The University of Notre Dame Marching Band
My kids call it the stomping song and it's always good for rallying the troops after too-much TV has left them listless.

2. Ohh, La La - The Ditty Bops
I love this song; I can't believe I missed them at the Underground City Tavern. The kids also like the Ditty Bops, especially the tall one.

3. Sister Kate - The Ditty Bops
I love this song too. It's a cover. Think the Andrew Sisters at their naughtiest.

4. You Really Got Me - The Kinks
My son Victor has chosen this as his personal anthem. He doesn't understand what it's about yet, but he will someday.

5. Do You Want To - Franz Ferdinand
I was kind of surprised to see this so high on the list. I must have worn it out when I first got the CD. Great beat, easy to dance to. I give it a 9.2.

6. You Are Invited - The Dismemberment Plan
I have Acrylic Afternoons, a now defunct WQNA program, to thank for this one. A very simple yet catchy melody.

7. Where Were You - The Mekons
For some reason this song sounds political, but the lyrics suggests lovelornness. I suppose there isn’t any difference. (read into that what you may; I’m not sure what it means.)

8. Heavy 33 - Verlaines
From the popular No Alternative compilation. An eerie and intense number from a Dunedin, New Zealand band.

9. Outtasite (Outtamind) - Wilco
An upbeat song from one of the best bands currently working in America. I’ve seen Wilco live three or four times, but not in the last several years. This song makes me want to buck-up for their increasingly more expensive concert tickets.

10. Joed Out - Barbara Manning
Also from the No Alternative album and a cover of the Verlaines. I love her voice and this a very cool tune.

11. Slow Dog - Belly
Another dance party favorite. I’m not sure what it’s about, but I like it just the same. Tanya Donelly, a former Thrown Muse, has a very expressive vocal style.

12. I’d Run Away - the Jayhawks
These guys should be huge. And since they’re not, they should play in Springfield some time.

13. Academy Fight Song - Mission of Burma
This is one of those songs that early indie rockers cited as a favorite. It should be a favorite of yours as well.

14. Rose of Jericho - Eleventh Dream Day
Fans of some of my early compilation cassettes will remember this song (Melissa likes to dance real slow) from one of Chicago’s best bands.

15. Smoking Daddy - Freakwater
Featuring a member of EDD (see #14), these two women rip it up with their backwoods harmonies.

16. Amie - Pure Prairie League
The first 300 or so times I heard this song I thought it was okay, but not great. Then one day not long ago, while driving to work, I heard it while flipping through 101.9 and for some reason cranked up the volume. It really is a great song.

17. With Arms Outstretched - Rilo Kiley
Another song I cribbed from Acrylic Afternoons. There’s an indescribable allure to this song. It might be Jenny Lewis’ voice, or just Jenny Lewis.

18. Star Sign - Teenage Fanclub
Hey there's a side of me unknown, big deal.
And say, should this unknown force be shown, big deal.

19. Same Old 45 - Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles
We’re going to see them again in Wisconsin next month, marking the fourth state my wife has seen them play in less than a year. I’m really looking forward to the show and their upcoming release.

20. Sunless Saturday - Fishbone
If I played a professional sport that required me to get geeked up before competing, this is one of the songs I would listen to in the locker room.

Well, that’s it. Those of you who are blogless are free to post your top 20 in the comments section.