Sunday, July 29, 2007

This Place is a Dump

I’m a slum lord
According to Dane Carlson, who has developed some sort of formula to determine the monetary value of any blog, BlogFreeSpringfield is a rat- and asbestos-infested hovel located in a dilapidated neighborhood with bad public schools and an inordinate number of liquor stores and payday loan offices. He’s got this place listed at $9,000 and change, which is at the low end of the Springfield blogging market. It’s probably not safe for you here, so go find yourself a blog in a nicer neighborhood.

Hey there hot chicks who are suckers for any dork with a guitar.
Are the Plain White Ts the James Blunt of 2007? If the speed at which I change the radio station the moment I hear “hey there Deli. . .” is any indication, they’re well on their way. The Ts have little hope of attaining a level of insipidness that would equal Blunt at his snivelingest, but radio program directors seem determined to take them there. Russ is probably big into them.

Shut the f*** up, Donny!
I finally got around to rewatching the Big Lebowski last night. I’d forgotten that Aimee Mann has a bit part, playing one of Flea’s drug addict companions. Just one more reason that the Coen brothers are the coolest directors/producers in Hollywood. Can anyone boast of an oeuvre the equal of theirs: Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona, the Hudsucker Proxy, O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Big Lebowski? Even some of their lesser-to-me works such as Barton Fink and the Man Who Wasn’t There only lag behind because of the greatness I’ve been conditioned to expect when a film carries the Coen banner. What do you think John Goodman would rather be remember by, his adaptation of Fred Flintstone, or his star turns as Walter Sobchak and Big Dan Teague?

Record store? What’s a record store?
I’m looking for a couple of songs that iTunes doesn’t stock. If you know of any channels through which they might be procured, please let me know.

Making Time by Creation - iTunes has a version of it by The Creation, which sounds like an updated version by a revamped lineup of the band; I’m sure Wikipedia could tell me for sure. But I want the version as heard in the movie Rushmore, during the montage which introduces viewers to Max Fischer’s propensity for joining school-sponsored extracurricular clubs. A cool song in a great movie.

Seven Year Ache by Roseanne Cash - This was a big radio hit back in the 80s and might qualify as a guilty pleasure if not for the legitimacy of the Cash appellation. With all due respect to Trisha Yearwood, I prefer the original.

Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometimes as performed by Beck - This was originally recorded by something called the Korgis. I prefer Beck’s rendition only because it is ingrained in my brain after repeated viewings of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I can’t seem to wipe it out of my memory (Get it? If you’ve seen the movie you do. It’s still not that funny though, I suppose.) Anyway, iTunes won’t part with this little gem unless you shell out for the entire soundtrack. What is this, the nineties?

I did download one song on iTunes today. Driving home from church I had the pleasure of listening to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris do a cover of Boudleaux Bryant’s Love Hurts. It’s not as guttural-sounding as the Nazareth version, but it probably also hasn’t been swayed to as much at high school proms. It’s quite a pleasurable listen. The surprising part of this discovery is that I didn’t hear it on WQNA, but rather, on Alice. On Sunday mornings they apparently take a break from playing the Plain White Ts and spin some rootsy acoustic records.

I Love You, Beth Cooper
This is one funny book. If you're a fan of John Hughes movies, you'll love this story written by Larry Doyle, a former writer for the Simpsons. I'm only halfway throught it, but I'm already prepared to give it my full endorsement.

Speaking of books, my SJ-R column last week was on how being well-read is not as valued as it once was (not that Beth Cooper qualifies as literature.) My thesis is that in today's fast-paced, instant information age, people don't have time to curl up with a good book, and don't see the benefit in doing so. I bemoan this turn of events.

Oh well, thanks for slumming.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Two Thumbs Shamefully Up: The Movies You Hate to Admit You Love

Just for a moment, back to something frivolous.

Everyone seemed to have good fun revealing the guilty pleasures that have found a welcome home on their iPods. In that same spirit of disclosure, speak thee now of those movies that are hidden behind the rows of respectable DVDs in your collection? No, not those movies. I mean the ones that were universally panned by critics, but that you simply adore. Or the ones that are of a genre that a person of your particular gender, age, or persuasion shouldn’t be caught dabbling in, yet dabble you do. Surely you all have among your favorite movies, at least one that you don’t like to talk about. So start talking.

I’m prepared to reveal, for the first time in a public forum, that I like the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. Yes, a chick flick of the highest order. A Hugh Grant vehicle in which his school-boyish stammering and true-hearted roguishness is introduced to an international audience, making him an instant star and affording him the opportunity to dump Elizabeth Hurley for Divine Brown.

For the record, I find Hugh Grant’s act as thin as most of you do, but it works in this film, perhaps because I was seeing it for the first time and did not yet know it comprises the entire output of his instrument, to borrow a term from famed acting instructor, Lee Strasburg. Grant plays the role of the yearning, yet commitment phobic “guy” as well as anyone could. Well, maybe Jack Black could have done it as well, but from what I understand, he doesn’t preview well as the dreamy lead.

Better than Grant are the supporting characters who were all very good and also good for a laugh or two. I’ve always liked the British sense of humour and it could be that this has skewed my perception to the point that a line spoken with a British accent sounds funny to me, while the same line spoken by Pauly Shore would sound stupid. Still, there is some genuine humour here. The comedy most often involves one of the merry band of wedding goers saying something inappropriate, not in a crazy morning DJ kind of way, but delivered more subtly by someone who is socially awkward or indifferent.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie doesn’t involve comedy or any of the four weddings, but the lone funeral. In it, Matthew recites W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” after his companion, the drunken and jolly Gareth, drops dead from a heart attack. Maybe it’s Matthew’s Scottish accent, which for some reason makes people weep instantly, or more likely the way the character delivers the lines, but it is truly touching.

Speaking of accents, Andie MacDowell’s is clearly one of the most fetching in Hollywood. It’s not really Southern Belle, more Southern Siren. Some may find Ms. MacDowell’s voice whiney, and in St. Elmo’s Fire it was, but only because she had to play opposite Emilio Estevez’s uber-annoying character, Kirby. If I recall, I whined a lot during that movie as well.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is a good movie, not a great one. I would never lay out cash to own it, or even rent it again. But if I’m ever couch-ridden and come across it on Lifetime, I’d much rather watch that than Trick My Truck or the NBA finals.

Before leaving you to reveal your celluloid shame, I want to differentiate between a guilty pleasure and a movie that is so bad that you find it irresistible. You know the type, the serious drama that plays as a perfect satire. Road House is a great example of such a movie. I can’t help watch it when it’s on, not so much for the ridiculousness of sissy-dancing-boy Patrick Swayze being passed off as a Zen-guided, backwoods brawler, but for the dialogue that was obviously screen tested for coolness by an arcade-full of mulleted adolescent boys. It’s unintentionally brilliant, but it’s not what we’re looking for here.

We don’t want to know movies that you love for their awfulness, but movies that you honestly think are good and worthwhile, even though it pains you greatly to admit it.*

*Since James Blunt hasn’t yet made his cinematic debut, I’m going to guess that Russ goes with From Justin to Kelly as his favorite guilty pleasure. And I have a feeling that Monkey Boy simply adores anything with Streisand in it, as long as the other monkeys aren't around.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No Concession: If we lose, we win!

It occurred to me that the most indisputable way for us to prove that we are the real Springfield is to lose a popularity contest to a lesser -field. Winning would feel false and derivative of some idealistic Humbleton. The real Springfield would never win a USA Today contest. It doesn't ring true.

Imagine an episode of the Simpsons in which Ang Lee comes to shoot the Krusty the Clown story for a Lifetime Television feature presentation. Wouldn't he eventually decide, after scouting the town, to shoot the Springfield scenes in some other location. And wouldn't he eventually dump the real Krusty and cast James Woods to play the complicated clown. Now that makes sense.

So shed no tears if we come up short in the final tally. We can only be validated in defeat.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I Like American Music

As you might remember, this blog called last year’s American Music Show one of the best, if not the best, evenings of live music in the history of Springfield. All indications are that this year’s show will be just as strong so I feel confident in issuing an entreaty to you, the entertainment-starved community. Go see the show. We must support those who would provide us quality music or we’ll be forever damned to Grandstand-level performers.

It would be easy for the organizers of the Taste of Springfield to sign-up some local bands to take the stage and provide background music during the festive eating binge. There’s nothing wrong with local bands, except that, well, they’re local and you can hear them most every weekend. But instead of giving us more of the same, they’ve made the music the highlight of the evening by putting it in the hands of someone who knows good music. You may not have heard of many of the bands set to perform, but you’re bound to like them.

For my entertainment dollar, the Bottle Rockets are the main draw at this year’s show. I’ve seen them several times in the past, opening up for Uncle Tupelo and later Wilco, and they never failed to put on an energetic performance. They have a lot of great songs to draw upon. Brian Henneman is a terrific songwriter who injects a lot of emotion into his fairly straightforward lyrics and puts a little pop in his alt-country numbers. Gravity Fails is a personal favorite.

The Romantics get the official top billing and will probably draw the most enthusiastic response of the evening. I’ve seen them once before, when they opened for the Kinks in Champaign back in the early 80s. I don’t remember being blown away by their performance, although we were sitting up pretty high in the Assembly Hall and only made our way past security and closer to the stage when Ray and Dave started playing. Binky the Broken Bassist (see pics below) said they played a show with the Romantics and they were tearing it up. I think we can expect a rawer, garage rock sound than some of their hits might indicate.

I’ve only heard one track from the Shazam, but it’s a kicker. Sean Burns compared them favorably to Cheap Trick, and I’ve also read comparisons to Badfinger and the aforementioned Kinks. I’m a big fan of power pop when done right (Big Star, the Posies, etc.) I expect an experience similar to what the Woogles provided last year, i.e., a band that I hadn’t heard going in but still blew me away with every song. Silvio Dante and Paul Weller like the Shazam, so that’s saying something.

I’m not too familiar with Rex Hobart, although I know I’ve heard some of his stuff on WQNA. He gets credit for naming his band the Misery Boys, which is so much cooler than the Blowfish.

The Damwell Betters provide the local flavor and I’m looking forward to hearing them along with the nerdabilly stylings of Crazy Joe and the Mad River Outlaws from over Ohio ways.

The only disappointment is that Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles aren’t returning. Maybe next year?

We saw them in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago and they’re in fine form promoting a great new album. That’s them below performing in Wisconsin and another shot from earlier that evening where they proved to be lovely dinner companions (the east coast rockers sat on one side of the table and the Springfield groupies were on the other.)

It’s also unfortunate that the Second City troupe was booked at the Hoogland on the same night as the American Music Show. I would liked to have seen them and the two events will probably draw from the same crowd, but live music almost always trumps live comedy.

And apparently Saturday kicks off the 150th anniversary of someplace called Ashland, but since that’s a week-long celebration, there is really no reason not to be in downtown Springfield on Saturday night. Is there?


Kicking it in Port Washington.


Sarah, Rob, Mike and Binky

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Upon further review

The consensus in the newspaper, among those who know him, is that Rev. Jerry Doss is a reasonable and compassionate man. So how to we square that with his harsh accusations of injustice over a police action that was executed properly and without injury? Perhaps an analogy would help.

Imagine a football coach, playing on the road in a game in which every call seems to be going against his team. In reality, some of the calls were made incorrectly, while others were just calls he didn’t like. But perception can easily skew reality and the coach is convinced that the refs are playing to the home crowd and his team is the victim of their one-sided decisions.

By the fourth quarter, the coach has had enough and the next time a yellow flag is thrown on one of his players, he storms out onto the field to protest. Only this is one of those times when the correct call was made. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Yet the coach can’t see this, so enraged is he from previous injustices. His players, who were already frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of fairness, are further outraged when they see their normally even-tempered coach dissent so venomously.

Meanwhile, the home team fans are baffled. They saw the replay of the play that caused the coach to blow up and the call was correct (they’ve already forgotten about the previous bad calls where the coach had legitimate grounds to protest.) They immediately think the coach is either delusional or conniving. The boos rain down as the coach is pulled back to the sideline.

When play resumes, tensions between the two teams on the field are even greater, with the refs caught in the middle. Hopefully, the game will end before an all-out brawl ensues.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Secret Police

Okay, I’m back. Man, them chicks is loco.

It’s been brought to my attention that this blog has been lacking in substance in recent months. I admit that I have been trending towards the light and breezy, in part because of an increased inkling that my thoughtful commentary comes across as foolish blowhardedness. This explains my recent foray into blog theatre; if I'm going to be thought a fool I might as well enjoy acting as one. But I didn’t garner the most intelligent commentors in the blogosphere by dodging the serious issues of the day. So here’s a little red meat for some of you regulars (if you’re still out there) to chew on.

I’ve never worn a badge and I’m probably not fit to carry a gun. But I don’t believe that this disqualifies me from commenting on the Springfield Police Department and their festering image problem. In fact, as an average citizen with little experience dealing with the police in an official capacity, I think that I can see, maybe better than those with a more active stake, how and why a group that is comprised generally of well-meaning and hard-working individuals can be seen as manipulative, furtive, and bigoted by so many in our community.

I don’t mean to suggest that the SPD’s problems are simply a matter of image. There are clearly issues that need to be addressed. But if I wish to speak with any authority at all in hopes of having my words taken seriously, which will be increasingly more difficult after the hostage charade, then I must limit my commentary to an area on which I do have some expertise: public relations and in particular, how it is viewed through the media.

I don’t know if Don Kliment was a good chief. I have no reason to doubt that he was at the very least competent at administering to the inner workings of the department. But I do think a legitimate criticism can be made about how he dealt with the external goings-on. In short, we seldom saw or heard from the guy.

The chief needs to be a public figure. Ideally he or she would be a well-liked and trusted figure who cuts an impressive image, but at the very least this person should be recognizable, accessible, and exhibit all of the outward signs of proper hygiene.

Whenever there is an issue involving the department, the chief should be out in front of it, instead of tucked away in city hall. When reporters call, the chief should be answering the phone. When TV20 comes scooping around, it should be the chief’s mug on the nightly news.

The chief should be someone who will openly defend the officers when they’re wrongly accused, even if it means angering the accusers. But also someone who will acknowledge when mistakes are made and who will be as open and upfront as the law and the sensitivity of their work allows. In short, we need Frank Furillo, except he shouldn’t be carrying on with the DA, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

My initial impressions are that Ralph Caldwell will be better as the public face for the department, at least to the extent that he is allowed to be. He seems like he will be more comfortable in the public eye and in all other ways he seems qualified for the job. But even in handing him the reigns, the department, and probably to a larger extent the mayor’s office, bungled the public relations aspect.

First off, they need to relieve themselves of the 2,300 page albatross. Someone should do an assessment of the risk in releasing the infamous ISP report to determine if the potential harm is greater than the suspicion it continues to generate by remaining concealed. One of two things could happen if they release the report, either the public would see that their clamoring was for naught or the department would be forced to deal publicly with some problems that might look clearer once exposed to the sun. Of course a third possibility is a lawsuit, but that’s why we have Jennifer Johnson.

Secondly, a nationwide search for a new chief should have been conducted.

The argument against looking outside the department largely consists of pointing to former chief Harris as reason enough to hire from within. But were Harris’ problems the result of his not being a veteran of the SPD or were other shortcomings to blame?

Sports teams don’t automatically hire the long-time assistant when the head coaching job comes open, why is it assumed by those in the department that there isn’t a Belichick-type cop from some other burg who could come in and shape the troops into a championship force? If, after a good long look, Caldwell was still the best man for the job, then he’d have been given a leg up in the credibility department because it would have helped dispel the notion that he is the mayor’s boy and the rank and file’s crony.

There pervades in the SPD, an attitude of “we know what’s best and if everyone would just leave well enough alone then we can get on with our jobs.” I don’t dispute the fact that the police are the experts when it comes to policing and that much of the criticism leveled against them is unfounded or misguided. But theirs is clearly one of the most scrutinized and sensitive of occupations and since they’re compensated through taxpayers’ dollars, you can’t expect the public not to take an interest in their work.

Even if every officer were honest, upstanding, and vigorously tolerant of all races, colors and creeds, there still would be the impression that prejudice taints the enforcement of justice. Circling the wagons at every accusation of wrong doing only exasperates that notion, even if the accusation is bogus. The unfortunate truth, however, is that not every officer is Andy Taylor and not every cry of police misconduct is without merit.

I appreciate the work that police officers do. I understand that they must confront the dangers that we civilians can flee from. I also understand that much of the work they do is confidential. But from my perspective, the Thin Blue Line would be more formidable if it were more perceptible. I hope the new chief appreciates this and becomes a more active advocate for his officers and a more responsive servant to the citizenry.