Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Less-Than-Serious Side of Marathon Monday

Marathon Monday isn't all about intensive training, shin splints, and qualifying times. There's also a lot of silly costumes, goofy posters, and early morning keg stands. I spent Marathon Monday near the corner of Beacon and Park, in the throws of Boston University's upperclassmen housing, where the student body came out in full force to cheer on the runners. While the elite athletes received the loudest cheers of the day, these less serious characters were crowd pleasers too....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Where Has All The Good Music Gone?

One of my father’s favorite quips is, “In the 60s and 70s people learned to play before they made records.” I dream of those days, when music was an art and not a product, and when the Top 40 actually represented the best music out at the time. Flashback 40 years, and you’ll find the Top 40 list of 1969 sprinkled with time-honored hits like Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” The Zombies’ “Time of The Season,” Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner,” The Beatles’ “Get Back.” The list goes on and on.

You know what’s on the list now? I’ll give you a hint; the lyrics go like this:

Womanizer, woman-womanizer,

You’re a womanizer, oh

Womanizer, oh

You’re a womanizer baby

Wait it gets better…

You, you, you are

You, you, you are

Womanizer, womanizer, womanizer.

If you haven’t guessed by now, the song is “Womanizer” by Britney Spears, and its unabashed delivery of pre-fabricated, uninspired radio garbage is a slap in the face to people with ears everywhere.

The saddest part is that, against the other Top 40 competition, Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” starts to sound like the most genuine attempt at song craft available. But while my roommate and I pretend to be giddy over Miley’s endless product line (we have a life-sized cut out and matching Hannah Montana lip gloss rings), it’s really just a nauseating joke to cover up my true disdain. If Disney’s tween star is the best thing our modern, consumerist culture has to offer, I’m officially leaving the planet.

Who decides the Top 40? The vast majority of people I know share my loathing for what the list has to offer, and yet there it stands—a glaring monument of proof that those songs are full-blown, screaming fans popular. Is this the case of some big wig exec milking the naiveté of the masses, recklessly pulling the reigns of the bandwagon and culturally blindfolding everyone who hops on? In my mind, he also smokes cigars and has an evil mustache. This is probably not the case.

In reality, however, over 81% of the market is controlled by four major labels. Warner, EMI, Sony-BMG, and Universal are sitting pretty in the warm comfort of oligopolistic control, and I’d bet two front row tickets to a Jonas Brothers concert their CEOs don’t listen to the stuff they produce.

To be fair, the big four are so huge, they actually do manage to put out some good music by real artists, but those acts are flown so low under the radar few ever get noticed.

In a music forum at abovetopsecret.com, the user “Theneo” offered this pearl of wisdom:

Music is now the preserve of people that have

no talent but massive ambition. They sing and

dance and model and parade around and are

more famous for how they dress than their

so-called music.

It seems beauty trumps talent in the age of digitized everything and bona fide not- so-much. The hair is fake, the tan is fake, the boobs are debatably fake; why not the music too? New pitch correction technology makes it possible for good looking people to get into the music industry for that reason alone, and apparently a pretty face on an album cover is easier to sell than a mind-blowing guitar solo. But, and it’s a big but, we’re the ones buying into it.

Some mornings, as I lay in bed, listening to my neighbor wail through our thin apartment walls to the cookie cutter sounds of Rhianna and Lady Gaga, I have to wonder: Is there really value in the music coming out of the Top 40 factory? Do people genuinely like this stuff?

Yes, I did own the Spice Girls’ first album, and I turned up the volume far louder than my mother could stand when Hanson’s “Mmmbop” came on the radio. But that was when I was nine, not 15, and certainly not 20.

Up until that point practically everything I had been exposed to was spoon-fed to me by parents, teachers, or Saturday morning cartoons. It only made sense to be spoon fed music by the pop demigods of major record labels and their PR deals with MTV (which my father devotedly refers to as “The Devil”).

But I also focused my attention on 90s gems like TLC’s Crazy Sexy Cool, The Cardigans’ First band on the Moon, and No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. (The first three albums I ever bought, in order.) While these aren’t exactly masterpieces, they did come from talented people with relatively meaningful messages to share—AIDS awareness, heartache, feminist anti-oppression. It was pop, but I was learning something, man. And, by the way, I still enjoy those entire albums today.

If I was force fed what the music machine is doling out now, I’d grow up with a world view entirely devoted to big asses and expensive champagne, and I wouldn’t remember a drop of it by next week. The product of music has become as expendable as Q-tips and paper clips, and just one more thing to throw on top of our heaping, socio-cultural pile of garbage.

Phew... that felt good.

Monday, March 2, 2009

We Want the Funk

George Clinton took over the newly dubbed House of Blues (formerly the Avalon Ballroom) last Wednesday, and kept up his reputation for bringing the funk late into the night.

I knew I was at the right place when I overheard a couple bathroom attendants joking about how good ol' Geroge was going to shut the place down. In a city that clams up by 2a.m. (Hey--was that a New England pun?), the late-running, 4+ hour set was a much needed slap in the face.

I ventured in with visions of PCU dancing in my head-- the coolest/funkiest George Clinton has ever looked, I would argue. Fifteen years later, he's still a pretty funky guy. He may have gained a few wrinkles and pounds, but the rainbow colored hair is still as vibrant as ever. More importantly, Parliament can still perform the pants off of most funk outfits.

As I shuffled my way through a sea of dancing people, I managed to snap a few shots. The House of Blues may have an atrocious coat line (and a $5 coat check fee!), but at least they are very lax about cameras, despite their claims otherwise.

Yes, there was a man wearing a diaper. And we loved him.

Some of my fellow funk-aholics.

The man himself.

Some pictures that are much better (a.k.a less blurry) than mine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chisels and Chainsaws 2009

Check out the 5th annual ice sculpting competition held on President's Day at Christopher Columbus Park:

Created with flickr slideshow.

For more information, take a look at event coordinator Nicole Seisler's website.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Boston University Wins 57th Beanpot

One week later, victory is just as sweet…

So it happened last Monday, but I thought a quick mention of the Beanpot was still worthwhile. As a graduating senior, I felt obliged to attend my last possible Beanpot championship without being “that creepy alum” on the outskirts of the student section—slightly too old, possibly too drunk, and definitely trying too hard to maintain a sense of youthful insouciance. (Also trying too hard to avoid words like “insouciant.”)

Caught up in the thrill of victory--and two goals within 30 seconds!--I lost all ability to capture the moment (expect nothing from the 3rd period). I did, however, capture the most crowded, sweltering T ride of my life. For 18 stops, I breathed in the re-ventilated breath of hundreds of cheering freshman and fist-pounding frat boys. Deep breath in… prolonged gag out. Worth it? Totally.

Created with flickr slideshow.

For a better description of the game, check out this story from ESPN, or go to the Official Beanpot Site.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The International - Review

Suspense Sans Cliche -- Just How I Like It

By some stroke of luck I found myself at Regal Cinema this evening, front and center for a free pre-screening of The International, starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. (And left just as undecided about who has the cooler star-worthy name.)

It's a classic man-against-the-system journey, with bug taps buried deeper than corporate corruption. Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) is an Interpol officer with a history of dead witnesses and poorly managed anger. He crosses paths with Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), an investigator for the New York District Attorney's Office, when the two share interest in a case involving an international bank brokering small arms deals with China and various Middle Eastern nations.

Let me tell you something, it doesn't matter. By the time the film reached its climactic action + blood + guns + suspense peak (and reach it, it did), I could have cared less what deep-seeded crime was being busted. Director Tom Twyker did a fine job of balancing political-thriller gimmicks with well-timed humor and super-stretched (in a good way) moments of tension.

Similar to its blend of tension and humor the movie also combines violent, sometimes gory, action with delicate attention to detail. (i.e. After the glass roof is blown off a building, and sent crashing down to crush its prey, snow falls through the opening left behind.)

And thank you, thank you, thank you for saving us from the boy with a vengeance, girl on a mission lust-fest that has plagued the last 75 crime suspense films I've seen. It was one cliche the film definitely did well to avoid.

Of course, there were downsides. As it took us from Germany to France to New York City, the script tended to veer a bit too far into the land of philosophical one liners a la "truth is stranger than fiction" and "justice is an illusion." There was also an unfortunate cut shot when a dying, blood-stained man was magically carried across 5th avenue to die quietly next to the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir. Implausible.

If The International is a film worth seeing, it was made even more so by the fact that I saw it for F-R-E-E, free. (Sorry, but I couldn't hold back from the brag.) For you unfortunate souls who have to dish out the ungodly wads of cash it takes to get into a theater, it's probably still worth it. You're likely to chuckle, cringe, and hang on the edge of your seat at least once. At worst, you won't be bored.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Jordan's Experience

It's Like a Furniture Store on Speed...

Despite my fully furnished apartment and dangerous oversupply of lamps (It's a problem, but I'm working on it.), Jordan's Furniture has been tempting me to check out its merchandise for ages.

In 2004, the chain opened its largest store just outside the city, in Reading, Massachusetts. In addition to traditional furniture showrooms, the Reading location also offers a 3-D IMAX, Bose home theater store, ice cream vendor, and (get this) trapeze school. The gimmick seems to be working. According to the store's website, Jordan's sells more furniture per square foot than any other US retailer. It's all pretty impressive, considering the business operated out of the back of a truck from 1918 to 1926.

The megalithic home good chain first grabbed my attention during the 2007 World Series, when president Elliot Tatelman announced his new Boston-centric promotion: a total refund on all Jordan's purchases from March 7 to April 16 if the Red Sox won. My superficial interest in baseball intensified with every crack of the bat, and as I looked on while the Red Sox did, in fact, win the series, I couldn't help but snivel at what could have been a free La-Z-Boy recliner in my living room (or a swiveling, brass reading lamp for that matter).

Tatelman tried it again in 2008, but was saved by the Ray's ALCS victory.

Despite the failed promotion, my curiosity grew when I discovered that the Jordan's in Reading offers a plethora of amusements and activities. "Jordan's Furniture: Not Just a Store, an Experience," the catchy tagline called. Who knew. It turns out the place has even made it onto Roadside America, though they favored the location in Natick.

Up until this weekend my lamp addiction and I had been able to refrain from the Jordan's "Experience," but when I read in February 4th's Improper Bostonian that the Beatle's Revolution exhibit was rolling into town, I had to go. The display was set up in recognition of the legendary rock band's arrival to the United States 45 years ago, and "Yellow Submarine" director/animator Ron Campbell was schedule to appear. If I didn't see it, what would my Beatlemania-member father say?

Fortunately, I got my hands on a car, and was saved from the treachery of a two hour ride on the MTA.

At 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, the parking lot looked more like mid-morning on Black Friday. Apparently this was one experience I'd have to share with a crowd.

With a chorus of Handel's "Messiah" blasting grom overhead speakers, I walked through the store's revolving doors (appropriately sized for the mattresses and sofas patrons were supposed to be lugging out with them, though not one person did), and entered a world of oversized jelly bean flowers, fountain light shows, and pre-pubescent trapeze artists. In that moment, I forgot lamps even existed. This is not your grandmother's furniture store.

(Onlookers point their gaze to the ceiling as a student in the
TSNY Boston trapeze school
swings high above a mural of Boston's Zakim bridge.)

"It's like Vegas, but for furniture," said Jon Daly, a Boston-native who came to Jordan's with his girlfriend, Colleen Leary, just to see the Beatles exhibit.

"We've bought stuff here before," she added, "but we usually just come to see the IMAX movies."

The place was teeming with kids, most of which went from obnoxious to cute when their parents opted to cart them around in charming "Taxi" strollers provided by the store. A very large, very green, very pro-Red Sox monster loomed over the escalator leading to the "Area Rugs and Living Room" floor. A lifeless mannequin-turned-Yankee-player hung trapped in its clutches. Frank Sinatra's voice rang out over a brassy tune, perfectly synchronized to the flashing burst of lighted fountains, called Liquid Fireworks, in the distance. Patrons stopped dead in their tracks to gawk, like lost tourists in the heart of Manhattan.

(A ridiculously cute toddler hops in a ridiculously cute
stroller and goes for a ride so ridiculously cute, it should be illegal.)

The Beatles Revolution exhibit was meek by comparison. Nestled between Fuddruckers tables and a Jelly Belly kiosk, it consisted of no more than a dozen metal display racks, set up Scholastic book fair style in a 20 by 20 amoeba of open space. Prints of art and photography by the Fab4 and their closest companions hung for sale. Prices ranged from $65 for commemorative plaques, to thousands of dollars for signed pieces of psychedelic art.

Ron Campbell sat unassumingly at a poorly defined "entrance" to the exhibit. A crowd had formed around the dark oak table in front of him (on sale, 3rd floor) while he painted to caricature of a man who hadn't yet been born when the Beatles took America by storm.

(Ron Campbell shows off his artistic talent, and one
young visitor to the exhibit gets the caricature of a lifetime.)

A young boy ran through the crowd, excitedly informing his companion (and, by way of volume and projection, everyone else in the room) that he could afford to buy a photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono as they lay in their hotel bed, making sleepy statements about "Hair Peace" and "Bed Peace." The price tag? $195. The 9-year-old officially has more expendable income than I do. Moving on.

The store's IMAX was showing The Dark Night--not quite up to par with my hopes for a larger-than-life trek across the surface of Mars or the peaks of Everest--but the rest of the "Experience" was as one would expect. I ambled through room after room of discount furniture, testing out leather club chairs and Tempur-Pedic beds, and playing house with my boyfriend. I even got away without buying a lamp, though I did succumb to two giant scoops of frozen yogurt. (Worth it.)

(A photograph of Ringo Starr and one of his psychedelic designs hang
on display, while a giant green monster lives out every die-hard Sox fan's fantasy.)

And so the experience was had. The curiosity is cured, and the cat's still kicking. While it is possible to enjoy a trip to Jordan's without a need for furniture, it may not be for everyone. I happen to be easily amused (and the whole lamp-obsession thing didn't hurt). It's certainly a babysitter's dream--amusement park-like distraction for the kids with none of the expense. But unless you live close by, have a car in the city, or are suffering from a deadly case of boredom, the journey might not be worth your while.

PS- Today's warm weather was my snow-be-gone dream come true!

(The sign in front of Jordan's Furniture in Reading, MA foreshadows
all the joy and oddity that awaits visitors inside. Note: grimy snow bank
still lingers in bottom right corner, fighting the day's near-50 degree temperatures.)

Experience Jordan's for yourself, no money or furniture need required:

View Larger Map

Yellow Submarine, the 1968 classic animated film from Ron Campbell and the Beatles:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Make it Stop

(BU students in front of Marsh Plaza forget everything they’ve learned, and head into the storm.)

And you thought February would be warm…

The news was hard to bear, especially coming from a groundhog, but our old friend, Punxsutawney Phil proved his point this week as another Nor’Easter hit Boston on Tuesday, February 2.

Umbrellas were out and hoods were pulled tight over reddened, and often disgruntled, faces as the blustery winds reached upwards of 40 mph and the lingering, grimy snow drifts of yester-storm gained three new inches of powdery fluff. As day turned to night, Mother Nature showed no signs of stopping.

“I hate snow in Allston because it’s so dirty,” said Steve Mattson, 23, as he slumped his shoulders over a Brubaker’s beer at local Allston hangout, Our House West. What’s his favorite thing about snowy weather? “Throwing snowballs at cars. I did that yesterday.”

(Note to self: Add “risk of snowball attack” to list of reasons why snow in Allston does, in fact, suck.)

Just when you thought it was going to end; that the puddles of ice and slush lurking ambiguously at every corner would melt off, dry up and disappear; that birds would sing, and suns would shine and $20 would magically appear in your—Wait, that’s going too far. But seriously man, this snow sucks.

(CommAve. snow bank, rising in tandem with your

odds of getting a snowball in the face.)

For all the Negative Nancies, Hawaiians, and miscellaneous frozen precipitation haters out there, I present:

10 Things I Hate About Snow*

1. That guy with that snow covered backpack on the T. Do you see yourself? Look at your reflection in the window, guy. That is your voluminous textbook-stack-turned-camel-hump pressing its soggy, icy and altogether un-soft surface into my face at every stop. Something has to change here. Fast.

2. Everybody else on the T. Who are all you people? You’re so dispersed out there on the street, but jam everyone into a two-by-four T car on a snowy day, and it’s a small world after all. On the bright side, I now know that Dentyne gum, does in fact make for minty fresh breath. (Oh, and by the way, I like that scarf you’re wearing, ma’am. I got a good glimpse of the fabric as it lurched, full force into my eyes while I clung for dear life to the stairway handrail.)

3. That mysterious substance on my shoe. It’s part white, part gray, part boring a hole through the suede of my boot. And it will never come off. Ever.

(An icy bicycle seat contributes to the overcrowded T problem.)

4. Icy sidewalks that the
mysterious substance on my shoe can't seem to combat.

What is the “salt” even for? It’s more like seasoning for pigeon scraps than it is a storm preparation. Is the city in debt because of liability insurance? Young, vibrant 20-something athletes wielding power bars and lucky rabbit’s feet wipe out on these streets. (Note to self: Add “dangerous, icy sidewalk maelstrom” to list of reasons why I’m glad I’m still decades away from becoming infirm.)

5. That piece of snow that just went in my eye. Will you stop?! I’m trying to walk for Christ’s sake. On the bright side, I feel inspired to start wearing ski masks. Maybe the Allston hipsters will embrace my new nonconformist fashion statement.

6. The questionable surfaces at every street corner. To step, or not to step? That is the question. Allston City Councilor Mark Ciommo should give out cash prizes

to anyone who can guess whether they’re walking onto a sheet of ice, or a four inch slush puddle/death trap for the foot. Seriously, my left foot died twice yesterday. I'm running out of socks. (Another snow-in-eye victim, also in desperate need of winter head gear.)

7. My seriously inhibited jay-walking skills. So… many… snow banks. Must… go… to corner. Will…miss… T. I can’t wait till the spring when I can illegally frolic across any street whenever I damn well please, and not have to worry about trekking over a mini-Everest to get to the other side. [insert chicken crossing road joke here]

(Even as they rise, snow banks reach new low, now prohibiting courtyard jaywalking too.)

8. That car that’s double parked over an ice bank in front of my driveway. Dude, the cops. The cops actually came to my door to complain about you. Where are you? And why must you insist on denying the conditions out there? Park on a street that gets plowed, man. You’re never getting out, and now neither am I.

9. Cabin Fever. Within the 48 hours surrounding the storm, I consumed approximately 6,000 calories (none of which derived from either the fruit or the vegetable section of the food pyramid), watched eight episodes of Arrested Development, and took part in three Mario Parties and two Stratego battles. I skipped one class, took two naps, and went to the gym exactly zero times. If this doesn’t end soon, I’ll wind up on a bad reality TV show.

10. Snow ≠ Spring. Remember that time when you could go outside for more than five minutes, and still feel your fingers? Me neither. There are many dresses in my closet that are just as upset about this as I am.

(Above: An innocent pedestrian feebly attempts to block the wind and snow with her bare hands; doesn't stand a chance. Left: Icy sidewalk maelstrom. Below: The underappreciated Building and Ground team on Boston University campus is the only thing keeping me sane. Shovel away, savior. )

* This list is directed specifically towards snow in Boston/Allston. Three cheers to snow in Northern Vermont, Lake Tahoe, the Poconoe Mountains, or all of the above.

Phew, that felt good. Sometimes you just have to rant. Go ahead… try it. And hey, all that said, at least we’re not in Kentucky.

(Trick of the trade: pictures in sepia hide grimy street snow, create winter wonderland effect, and subsequently, false hope.)