Friday, July 30, 2004

Go away, Jon Dore

Dear Metro,

Please get rid of this unfunny Jon Dore idiot, whoever he is.

Peter Lynn

I sent that unpublished letter to Metro, the free subway paper, because as long as they keep printing the asinine rambling of this Dore imbecile, I'm getting less than what I'm paying for -- and as I said, Metro is a free paper. As far as I can tell, the only one who benefits from Dore's continued presence in Metro is Sandy Garcia, who's no longer quite the worst columnist in the paper writing about Canadian Idol on a regular basis.

Garcia is still bad, mind you; about the only thing more unsavory than last year's creepy albino contestant, Billy Klippert, was Garcia's obvious wet-between-her-chubby-thighs crush on him. And her point-counterpoint Idol Showdown discussions with Chris Atchison seemed to get uncomfortably personal, to the point that readers began to write in to demand that they ease up on each other with the personal attacks. (Hard to blame Atchison, though: The phrase "Sandy, you ignorant slut" seems to be self-evidently at least half right.) And she's got an off-putting habit of writing things like "Billy Crystal kept the audience entertained with his hilarious antics" in stories about the Oscars; calling Crystal's antics "hilarious" is injecting unnecessary editorial opinion into a news story, and wrong opinion at that.

But bad as Garcia is, Dore is worse by several orders of magnitude. His columns are virtually content-free, serving only to annoy. Witness this example from an early column:
Metro has given me 300 words per column to infotain, alarm and shock the community of Toronto about what it doesn’t see on television. Three hundred words per column. THREE HUNDRED WORDS. Oh sweet soul sister of mercy! Let the filthy gossip flow from my fingertips into the hearts and souls of Idol fans everywhere.

How will I convey this information you ask? Each and every gossipy letter will be carefully selected and then delicately placed into a word. Which, in turn, will be strung together with other carefully chosen words. Soon forming tantalizing sentences creating dazzling paragraphs altogether a masterpiece gossip column of 300 words! Here we go! Buckle up! Put the kids to bed! Turn off the phone! Cancel your dinner plans! Lock up your bike! Hold on to the railing! Feed the Sea Monkeys! Put out that back alley can fire!

That's 144 words of nothing worth saying. The column purports to offer "A look behind the scenes with Idol's special correspondent" ("Most of my readers are absorbing my always entertaining, gossipy prose while they are travelling to work via bus, streetcar, or subway," says Jon in one column, self-congratulatorily), but I've seen no insider gossip. It's almost nothing other than self-indulgent rambling and attempts at "wacky" humour. Take the lead to his last column, for example, which is about typical:
I was lying in bed Sunday afternoon watching a videotape of my grandfather’s eye surgery while eating blueberry waffles with Kahlua when I was suddenly struck by a horrible realization.

Not a single Idol performer has a moustache. "SWEET SUNNY SIDE SMOKE STACKS!" I exclaimed to myself. What happened to the moustache? When did it leave? Where did it go? Why are tomatoes red?

See? It's so wacky! What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Watching his grandfather's eye surgery? Who does that? And look at the foods he mixes together! Crazy! And his expressions? Unprecedented looniness! Hilarious!

Well, no. I'd call this style of humour sophomoric, but I remember that I didn't find this kind of throw-random-things-together-and-hope-a-joke-comes-out-of-it business funny when I was a sophomore. It was cutting-edge comedy when I was in grade three, though. I'll admit that.

When it's not self-consciously "wacky", Dore's column is self-servingly masturbatory:
Please ladies … Leave me alone! I get it. I understand. Consider your message decoded. I’m catching your drift. I’m reading your mail. I’m walking your dogs. I am a writer. Sure, I’m a writer with his very own column. I suppose you could say that I’m an intellectual Casanova. Sure, I’m pulsating with excessive levels of witty, sexual energy. However, I don’t need to be distracted from my writing by clumsy, heterosexual, romantic advances. As a writer, I obviously have no problem meeting women so please stop throwing yourself at me. Holy sheesh kabobs! Besides, I would never abuse my position as a columnist to lure the ladies into my exciting lifestyle of movie premieres and celebrity parties.

So who the hell is this idiot, anyway? Why would a newspaper allow this? What kind of columnist can get away with 300 words of incoherent drivel that serves only a reminder to watch Canadian Idol before wrapping it all up with an annoying "Love, Jon"?

Well, one suspects that Dore must somehow be involved with Canadian Idol, although Metro didn't do much to explain how (probably assuming I should already know what the connection is, since presumably anyone reading a Canadian Idol-related article must be doing so because he watches the show, and not because he's trying to find a way to stay occupied during an overlong commute). And it turns out that in addition to his career as a stand-up comedian, Dore is indeed a special correspondent on Canadian Idol. So getting him to write for Metro probably seems like some sort of "coup" to the editors, which makes me sad for Metro. I would probably know Dore worked for the show if I watched it, but I won't because I don't particularly like most reality TV, although I do particularly hate Canadian Idol host Ben Mulroney, who's managed to keep himself in the public eye by virtue of having a famous (or notorious, depending on your politics) dad, despite failing to show evidence of any discernable talent of his own. So now I have at least two people on Canadian Idol to hate with a burning passion.

I'm going to hate Dore a little more than Mulroney, however, because while it's easy enough to just not watch Canadian Idol, he also keeps popping up in the paper and making me wonder, "Oh for Christ's sake -- what's this idiot rambling about now?" Then I read the latest column and hate him anew. He might actually make Canadian Idol watchable, for all I know. He might be the funniest man alive on the stage. But for God's sake, keep Jon Dore off the printed page.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Where the fuck are the balloons?

I didn't catch that much of Kerry's speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, but I did catch some speech I plainly wasn't supposed to hear. On CNN's coverage of the immediate post-speech festivities, as balloons trickled down slowly, you could clearly hear the convention's producer, Don Mischer (helpfully identified by CNN via a "Voice of" chyron), yelling into an open microphone: "More balloons! More balloons! No confetti! Where the fuck are the balloons?!"

CNN's anchors subsequently apologized to any viewer who'd been offended by the use of this Cheney-esque word.

Update: Of course I was paraphrasing above. Drudge helpfully transcribes the tirade, however (and includes an mp3 to boot):
"No confetti. No confetti yet. Go balloons. Go balloons. More Ballons. All balloons. All balloons. Come on guys, let's move it! Jesus. We need more balloons. I want all balloons to go, goddamn! No confetti. No confetti. No confetti. I want more balloons. What's happening to the balloons? We need more balloons. We need all of them coming down! Balloons. Balloons. Balloons. What's happening! They're not coming down. All balloons. Where the hell! Nothing is falling. What the fuck are you guys doing up there?"

I was right about the confetti, you'll see. Mischer didn't seem to care so much for the confetti.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Cameron Diaz: Uncensored and unsexy

Normally, I wouldn't post a link to anything pornographic. Fortunately, linking to the infamous Cameron Diaz bondage video doesn't represent any sort of deviation from that rule after all, as it turns out there's nothing erotic about it at all. It's so mind-numbingly dull, I'd almost go so far as to call it work-safe. If you absolutely have to clean the pipes to footage of Cameron Diaz, you'd be far better off going with that gratuitous, mesmerizing scene from Charlie's Angels where she jumps out of bed and ecstatically shakes her Spiderman Underoos for all they're worth.

Speaking of unappealing:
  • Krispy Kreme has turned their doughnuts into a frozen beverage for summer. Just when you thought America couldn't get any fatter, here's your opportunity to suck a glazed doughnut through a straw.
  • Roy Orbison wrapped in clingfilm is unappetizing in principle, certainly, but these fantasy stories on the subject are oddly compelling.

The Man Who Invented the Future

The top story right now at Salon is a lengthy interview with Alan Moore. If you know Alan Moore, you can imagine that he's got plenty to say about current events. If you don't know Alan Moore, he -- as the article states nicely -- "... is not simply one of the finest writers in comic book history. He's one of the world's finest writers, period."

I only wish I could have been listening in on an extension during this transatlantic phone interview to hear this crazy-bearded English literary magician utter the words "I pity the fool!" while speculating about the grim possibility of Mr. T as a future President of the United States.

Because knowing is half the battle

The last few G.I. Joe PSAs has finally been posted over at FenslerFilm. Were they worth waiting for? No, not really. The best ones were all released first. But for the completist, all 25 are there now. And why not order yourself a T-shirt while you're at the site? Personally, I'd go for "Porkchop Sandwiches", but why not do your local IT guru a solid and get him a neat "Help Computer" shirt? Maybe he'll let you take a look at your boss's Internet Explorer history and give you some juicy negotiating material in time for your next salary review.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Zebra Hotel Foxtrot

I picked up the new Wilco album, A Ghost Is Born, about a week ago, and about all I can say about it so far is that it looks like it's a grower. At least, I hope it's a grower, that its pleasures will slowly reveal themselves through repeated listening. The fact that I haven't bothered to do any repeated listening has to be a bit telling, though. I don't love it, and I don't hate it. It's just sort of there, and not that interesting. In a couple of places -- notably, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", which isn't half the song it was in its earlier live incarnations -- Jeff Tweedy clearly overworked the material until he'd beaten the original charm out of it. Elsewhere, he just makes a couple of bizarre decisions, such as appending 12 minutes of monotonous feedback hum to the end of the penultimate track, "Less Than You Think". I've read that this bit is meant to convey the sensation of the migranes that Tweedy suffers from. While I'm all for an artist being able to use his work to talk about the significant things in his life, why would he literally try to give his fans a headache?

Still, all this hasn't kept the album from garnering some rave reviews (though one suspects that these might be due to leftover goodwill from the last album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and to a tendency among critics to automatically praise "artistic" albums like this rather than look like they don't understand them). And it didn't stop the recent Toronto show from selling out in 36 seconds. And I do have to say that the last track, "The Late Greats", is catchier than Spanish influenza.

However, if the new album's just not doing it for you, you may want to fire up your favorite file-sharing program and compile this ersatz alternative followup album to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which consists of demos, b-sides, compilation cuts, and fan-only tracks released during or after the YHF era. Call it Zebra Hotel Foxtrot if you like. It's more accessible, the rockers rock harder, the ballads are more heart-wrenching, and it's just a lot more fun.

1. "Not for the Season"
Before the evolution of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" revealed how drastically Tweedy could overwork a perfectly good song, there was this one from the YHF demos. A radically different take called "Laminated Cat" appears on the Loose Fur side-project album, but as with "Spiders", the song is far more likable when it's shorter, rawer, and devoid of the influence of producer Jim O'Rourke. It usually appears as the last track of the demo compilation, but as an upbeat rocker, it's a great opener here, kicking things off with a "one-two-three-four" count-in.

2. "Alone"
Available in two different versions on the YHF demos, this song is also available in a more produced version called "Shaking Sugar" on the album The Palace at 4 A.M.", which was released by former bandmember Jay Bennett and collaborator Edward Burch after he was turfed from the Wilco during the making of YHF. (Bennett didn't lose any time; he put Palace out on the very same day YHF was released.) Either of the two versions is fine; they aren't much different. Pick the one you like better.

3. "Nothing up My Sleeve"
A folky guitar-strumming tune with a propulsive pitter-patter beat, this track from the YHF demos is just the song for that certain someone you're long past sending out love songs to: It's not that I don't care anymore / We lost touch so long ago / It may be our anniversary / But I, I wouldn't really know.

4. "Venus Stopped the Train"
Another one from the YHF demos rerecorded by Bennett/Burch for The Palace at 4 A.M.", the later version provides an example of how Jay Bennett is just as good as Jeff Tweedy at overworking a tune. Just piano and voice (save for a sampled rainstorm intro), the original demo version here is simple, devastating, and perfect.

5. "Rhythm"
How do you follow a simple, devastating, perfect piano-based tune? With another one that's all those things, but even more so. The juxtaposition of "Venus" with this track on the YHF demos is either fortuitous or genius, and one dares not tamper with it. Note that the official title, "Cars Can't Escape", was given with the release of the Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break your Heart and that Wilco later made a more-finished version of the song available at their website under this title, but as usual, the demo version is the better one. If you're searching on a file-sharing program, look under "Rhythm", the original title.

6. "Won't Let You Down"
Those bewildered by Wilco's recent musical direction will welcome this throwback to the days of Being There. No bleeps, no bloops, just straightahead alt-country-flavoured rock, courtesy of the YHF demos.

7. "Let Me Come Home"
You'll notice the YHF demo tracks have been lumped together here, and that's no accident; it's an attempt to preserve some continuity and keep this compilation sounding a little more album-like. This one's not from the demos, per se -- it's taken from the Amos House Collection, Vol. 3 compilation -- but the lyrics are founded upon a pretty little piece of music found there known as "Instrumental 1".

8. "Old Maid"
From the You Can Never Go Fast Enough compilation, a tribute to the cult film Two-Lane Blacktop, this piano ditty wouldn't have been out of place on Wilco's first album, A.M. More comfort music for those bewildered by the new Wilco.

9. "Woodgrain"
For the faithful who actually bothered to buy a copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot after it had been floating around on the internet, Wilco made a fan-only EP called More Like the Moon available for download from their website. The first two tracks, "Camera" and "Handshake Drugs", are available on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, respectively, albeit in different forms. This, the third of the More Like the Moon tracks, is a simple folky guitar number with some YHF-style electronic textures.

10. "A Magazine Called Sunset"
It's obvious that Jay Bennett was still in the band for this one. Hearkening back to the pop mastery of Summerteeth, "Magazine" is covered in keyboards, vibes, and Bennett's Brian-Wilson style instrumental confection. This one's the fourth track on More Like the Moon -- you'll see an attempt to preserve the tracklisting for the sake of continuity here -- but a couple of just-as-finished versions are available on the YHF demos. As before, pick the one you like best. It's a toss-up between the first one on the YHF demos and the one from More Like the Moon for me.

11. "Bob Dylan's 49th Beard"
A live staple, this one finally got its official release on the fan-only EP. (Let's hope that recent touring favorite "Kicking Television", which was left off A Ghost Is Born, likewise pops up at some point.) This one has a little of the "Mermaid Avenue flavour. Speaking of which, Mermaid outtake "When the Roses Bloom Again" and its companion on the Chelsea Walls soundtrack, "Promising", could have made this compilation, but they're not really of the YHF era. "When the Roses Bloom Again" belongs with the Mermaid stuff, and "Promising" is an A.M. outtake. Plus, this compilation doesn't really need any more slower tunes, and the thirteen tracks here -- running a total of 42:08 -- are quite enough for an album.

12. "More Like the Moon"
If you didn't want to call this compilation Zebra Hotel Foxtrot -- and you needn't, because it was just a joke -- you'd do well to call it More Like the Moon if only because the fan-only EP of that name came with three lovely choices of downloadable album covers in PDF format. One of them would look quite handsome on this compilation. As for the title track itself, it's lovely, sedate, and at six minutes in length, actually a little bit boring. Some nice Spanish-style guitar, though, and it's well worth including.

13. "The Good Part"
This up-tempo b-side from the "War on War" single would have also worked well as the opener, but putting it as the closer gives the tracklisting a nice sardonic edge; after all, if you yield to the lyrics' cajoling to get to the good part and skip ahead, the album will be over. Plus, it's a welcome kick in the pants after the last track, the Hawaiian-flavoured intro is suggestive of the sun going down in the west, the sampled crowd noises are suggestive of an encore, and the song ends on a fat, crashing, satisfying chord that finishes the album nicely.

Man vs. Clown? Try Peter vs. Ian!

It was high noon. There was a dry wind this day, kicking up some dust and sending the occasional bit of tumbleweed scurrying across the open plain. You could almost hear a tune from an old western playing in the distance, almost feel Clint Eastwood's hot breath on the back of your neck as he said some dramatic thing that would likely be the last thing you would ever hear. The only thing to save your life, break the illusion, and snap you out of Hollywood was the martini mixer casually taking place right smack dab in the middle of it all.

People seemed to be enjoying themselves. There were a few more than a couple of handfuls of them. Fifteen, maybe twenty at most. Gentlemen told witty stories as ladies chuckled appreciatively. Vodka got swirled, sipped, and almost never spilled. And standing there almost unnoticed among this elite group of party-goers were two old friends... Peter and me.

I listened as Peter regaled me with tales of editing text at work and his latest accomplishments in NHL 2004. I retorted with quips of married life and reality television exploits. Everything seemed okay until Peter pointed out that someone was coming our way. It was Ian. Ian was a former housemate of mine in a house in which Peter too once abided, although the three of us did not live there at the same time. Nonetheless, Peter was familiar with him and indicated discreetly as he approached that they did not get along. Then they met.

Ian was furious and demanded to know what Peter thought he was doing there. Peter said that he was just there to enjoy the party and didn't want any trouble. That wasn't enough for Ian; he was out for blood and said so. His voiced was raised considerably and People began to take notice. Again Peter tried to diffuse the situation saying that this wasn't the time or the place for fighting. As Peter turned back to continue his chat with me, Ian shoved him to the ground. The altercation now had everyone's full attention and all conversation ceased. All eyes were on Peter. He calmly picked himself up and dusted off. A threshold had been crossed and this was the last chance to turn back. Ian had started all of this but Peter vowed that if it continued he would finish it. Ian answered with a swing. Peter ducked and tackled the smaller, off-balance Ian and the fight went to the ground.

The crowd circled around them and watched anxiously. Most of it was quite even with both men getting cut and bruised but eventually the tide turned in Peter's direction. Slowly but surely, Peter gained control and Ian began to panic. Panicking was the wrong thing to do. Peter grabbed an arm, slipped it between his legs, and barred it to perfection. Ian cried out with pain and struggled to escape but the grip was far too tight. Peter used the strength of his entire body to wrench Ian's scrawny arm. Ian begged for it to stop but Peter had no intention of doing so. With a sickening snap, Ian's arm broke and went completely limp. Ian screamed like girl and didn't stop. Most of the women and some of the men in the crowd blanched. One poor girl fainted. People began to mumble about it being over, saying that Ian had had enough but on Peter went. Ian lay prone and cradled his broken arm with his good one but was no more in a position to defend himself. Peter took the remaining good arm and applied a figure-four armlock saying that he wanted to see the look on Ian's face when he broke the second arm. Ian cried anew, pleaded for Peter to stop. Peter told him to beg more, to call him master, to call him God. Ian complied but the torture would not stop. None of the crowd could stomach this any longer and all began to simply walk away into the dry nothingness. On Peter went until finally the other arm could hold out no longer, snapped, and became as twisted and as unnatural looking as the first. I stepped in and suggested to Peter that it was over. Peter said that he would say when it was over. Peter looked into Ian's eyes, told him that he was worthless, and bit a chunk out of the side of his face and spat it into his eyes. It was disgusting. Standing up, Peter delivered a mighty kick to Ian's groin and said that now it was over.

With the party over and no one left to schmooze with, Peter and I began our own walk into the empty, open plain. Whimpering silently now, mostly to himself, the last thing we heard Ian say was this: "Aw fuck, now I have to take the subway home."

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