Thursday, July 20, 2006

"God willing and the creek don't rise"

I don't know if you've ever heard that old expression, but my grandparents and parents say it all the time. I recently took a journey down to Shannon County, MO, where my grandparents' families are from. When they were growing up, the saying was a lot more literal. When it rained hard, the creek rose, and they couldn't get to town. That seems pretty clear to me, but now I'm not so sure, given some sources I've found on the internets (such as this one) that take the "creek" part of the expression as referring to a native american tribe known for harassing west-bound travellers. Then from etymology to current usage, I don't quite agree with the definitions provided here, either. Now I'm no expert, but if I were, I might paraphrase the old saying with something like "barring any unforeseen obstacles" or something like that. For a remote, rural, and religious family in the Ozarks, God and the creek were two very real obstacles to be reckoned with.

There were other obstacles, too. My grandpa's family had a truck with disfunctional brakes. When they drove to town, they had to coast down some big ol' hills on some thin passageways through trees that we might hesitate to call roads today. So, God having willed it and the creeks having stayed at a ford-able level, they'd drive that way to town, but on the way back there was a hill that was too high and steep to coast down safely. So they had this tree they'd cut down, and they'd tie it on a long rope or chain to the truck at the bottom of the hill, then drive up and over, dragging the tree up as a counterweight to their descending truck.

Not all obstacles come in deity or natural-phenomenon form, either. Language is another barrier. I'm not talking words themselves, but specific usages. Take this dialog between a waitress and one of my great uncles on the occasion of his first-ever trip to a restaurant, for instance:

Uncle: (orders something)
Waitress: How do you like your eggs, hon'?
Uncle: Oh, I like them a lot. I eat 'em most every mornin'.
Waitress: No, I mean how you like your eggs cooked?
Uncle: Oh, now that's the best way to eat 'em, if you ask me.

Now, I know these stories seem implausible, but I have every reason to believe they're true. And I know it's trite, but it blows my mind to think about how much we take for granted today as compared with the world these stories tell of. Last night a violent storm tore down trees and knocked out power all over St. Louis. I wanted to find out about the damages, but there was no TV, no internet, no nothin'. I turned on my car radio and lots of the local stations were out as well. Hell, the Eads Bridge even closed for a while because some of a building fell on it. Now, that's not quite the same as the creek rising, but it's sort of close.

Hmm, that was supposed to tie things together and wrap 'em up a lot better than it did. Well, shit, as my grandma says, ain't that enough to gag a maggot? Well now that's a whole 'nother story for a whole 'nother time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

the fabled catbird seat

St. Louis native John Goodman was the first person I ever heard refer to "the fabled catbird seat," talking to his character's brother in Raising Arizona. Well, that's not really true. I most likely wasn't paying attention when I saw the movie, and I never really heard it until a friend kept saying it and I asked what it was. I had a vision that looked something like this:

My friend had no idea what it meant. Hmm, I thought, this is the exact reason the internets exist. So I looked it up, and had to amend my mental image:

Turns out the catbird is just a kind of bird in the South that tends to pick really high branches to sit on, according to this little investigation. The phrase may have originated down south, but it's currency in the north was assured by none other than legendary Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber, who heard it playing poker (which does sound to me like the perfect time to use it) and added it to the list of colorful phrases that so endeared him the public (here's a nice discussion on that).

Here's where it comes full-circle for me. I first (maybe) heard the phrase from John Goodman, a hometown hero from my current hometown. It's entirely possible that John Goodman first heard the phrase from famed humorist James Thurber, a hometown hero from my ancestral/fake hometown of Ohio, who wrote a short story called "The Catbird Seat" (cliff notes here) in 1942.

Turns out The Catbird Seat is also an indie record label/podcast/review site, a rabble-rousing political intrigue & exposé site, and even the personal web log of a youth minister's wife and mother of two. One thing is clear: wherever it came from, this phrase is here to stay. In a world such as ours, what with its neverending panorama of rising and falling idioms, with phrases flashing in the pan for just a year before they fade from favor and consciousness, "the catbird seat" is truly sitting in the fabled catbird seat.

Monday, May 15, 2006

cheez popcorn & colt 45

That's all.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

muncie indiana

Until a few months ago, the only thing I thought of when I thought of Muncie, Indiana was the scene in The Hudsucker Proxy where Jennifer Jason Leigh tries to sing along with Tim Robbin's rendition of his alma mater's fight song (gooooo Eagles!!!!). Well, that all changed when my roommate/bandmate Robbie started researching midwest bands for possible show-tradings. Turns out there's some kick-ass artsy-folky-rock-type music (come on now, you try to describe it better than that) being made in Muncie, Indiana.

First off, there's Arrah and the Ferns, what with their banjo-licious grooves and unparalleled bounce. Plus, who else is gonna sing a song about Emo Phillips? Next up is This Story, who actually seem to have about four hundred members, but not in a creepy, cult-like, Polyphonic Spree sort of way, and who take full advantage of their potential loud- and quiet-ness with some real damned dramatic tunes. Finally, from nearby Portage, IN, there's the Holographic Angels, purveyors of the tastiest in guitar and mandolin stylings.

Needless to say, I can't wait until July 26th, when Arrah and the Ferns and the Holographic Angels are coming to town to play with my band and St. Louis' own The Aquatic Record. It will without a doubt be a Wednesday night to remember. I already remember it, though it hasn't happened yet. How could I ever forget? I will always remember. I will never forget. Ever. No way. Not a chance. No god-damn uh, uh, . . . , shit, wait a second, lost my train of thought here . . . what is it I'm writing about? Aw, the hell with it. It'll come to me later.

Monday, May 08, 2006

my giving nature

Generally I am a very giving person. But let it be known that I will not, under any circumstances, give the following:
1. A rat's ass
2. A flying fuck (in general or specifically at a rolling donut)
3. A ladybug
4. A shit, half a shit, or any fraction of a shit
5. A god-damn

Conversely, I am at all times ready to give:
1. A damn (of the non-denominational variety)
2. A hoot
3. A fuck (of the non-flying variety)

Glad we could clear that up. Thanks.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The execution of the last imperial family

I heard a great and disturbing story the other day. It's about the last Tsar, Nicholas, and his family. They were being held captive after the revolution, and then finally someone decided they ought to be killed. Knowing what was coming, Nicholas and the imperial family sewed a bunch of jewels and diamonds into the corsets of his daughters-- both to hide the riches and to protect the girls' lives. It ended up being a really bad idea, though. A group of men came into the chamber and started shooting the imperial family. Everyone fell down, but the daughters weren't dead. The gunmen kept shooting, but the daughters kept on not dying. They tried bayonets, but that didn't do the trick either. Finally they had to resort to shooting them in the head (I swear I'm not making this up-- read a first-hand account to get even more details. While you're at it, watch this movie too, and you'll realize that this wasn't so very long ago and that these are real people we're talking about. Plus it has some cool music).

What a great story. I mean, I can't imagine the pain the daughters must have been in. And I can't imagine how freaked out the executioners must have been when they couldn't seem to kill the daughters. And of course there's a lot one could say, if one felt like it, about the symbolism of those precious diamonds and jewels. And it's so cool the gunmen tried so hard to not have to ruin their victims' good looks, even though as it turns out they were gonna go dump the bodies down a well somewhere anyway (again, it's all here). I guess I'm just blown away because it's so much better than any story anyone could ever make up about the death of the last imperial family. It seems like someone should make a movie with this scene in it. Wait, maybe they already did. I'll have to check that one out and get back to you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Silvio Rodriguez

Do yourself a favor:

1. Turn on your speakers.
2. Go to this page.
3. Listen to "Ojala."

It'll most likely become your jam for up to three weeks.

Then, if you speak some Spanish, do yourself another favor:

1. Get a Spanish to English dictionary (or use an online one, like this one).
2. Click on the Lyrics link on the music player on the myspace page.
3. Have fun with the many ways those words can make sense and nonsense: maybe you think it's a love song. Maybe you think it's about Fidel Castro. There seem to be plenty of theories.

There, now. Wasn't that nice? Don't you feel better? Good.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ray Harryhausen

This Sunday, God willing and the creek don't rise, I'm going to see Jason and the Argonauts and another few short films on the big screen, followed (or is it preceded?) by a talk from Ray Harryhausen himself. For some reason I've seen Clash of the Titans about 50 times in my life, but I've never seen even a scene from Jason and the Argonauts. I only know two things about the movie. First, how cool the famous skeletons look:

Second, the score is by Bernard Herrmann, whose score for North by Northwest has got to be about the best movie music ever made (though he's more famous for Psycho and Citizen Kane). Yep, he's a national treasure.

So throw in some bad-ass skeletons, throw in a spectacular composer, and add to it Harryhausen himself (who seems to be a great talker, based on interviews like this one), and you can see why I'm so excited. Of course, it will most likely sell out and I won't be able to see it anyhow. Damnit. God might not be willing, and the creek may well rise this Sunday. Looks like I've got some ark-buildin' to get to...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Ring

To make up for that rant I just wrote, I want to talk about a re-make I thought was good: the American version of The Ring. Not only was it good, but it incorporates into the plot what I take to be a bit of an editorial comment akin to my rant below. If you've not seen the movie, don't keep reading.

For much of the movie, we don't really know the cause of all this evil shit. There's a weird tape, there's something about water, and something about utter terror. When the hero of the movie investigates the weird tape further, she finds this young girl with weird psychic powers who is dead down in the bottom of a well. Predictably, this young girl had a bad childhood, and was hated and killed and everything. So, and this is the twist I think makes the movie great, the hero is convinced that if she just unearths the body, this evil force will let go, and the curse will be lifted, and the child's spirit will finally be free to go to heaven or whatever. This is just the sort of pat over-explanation that tends to ruin re-makes and other movies. And The Ring tricks you that it will follow that formula with a fake ending at this point. Then it turns out the hero did something terribly wrong, because now she has unearthed this evil creature who isn't grateful, isn't set free to rise to the heavens, but is let loose to do evil in a much more direct form. Ha! The motivation of this evil girl has transcended the clichéd, too-neat explanation most movies are too ready to ascribe to evil characters.

Now, granted, for the same reasons as outlined in the previous post, it is a lot less scary once you actually see the girl, since the visual impact can't match the terrible things you'd imagined without seeing. But that twist, the fake ending, really injects the movie with enough energy to drive to the real ending. And the mystery of evil is never solved, but remains a sort of brick wall which must be dealt with as it is and can't be liquidated by any pop-psychology bullshit. At the end of the movie, I am left with the hope that the next two viewers of that tape will be Dr. Phil and George Lucas.

On the warpath: Redux Schmedux

People, I'm on the warpath. For too long I've been silent about something that really raises my hackles (well, that's a lie, I rant about this about once every two weeks, but not often in written form). Raises 'em right up there, sky-high. What the hell are hackles, anyhow? Oh, the hairs on the neck or upper back. I see.

What I want to rant about are all these remakes of old movies. I have nothing against remaking old movies in theory, but here's the crux of my irritation: all these remakes ruin themselves by trying to give back-stories to everyone or to explain everything that might have been less than crystal-clear in the original movie. A few examples should clarify my position:

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: why do we need to know about Leatherface's horrible childhood? Why do we need to know about his motivation? Isn't it way more terrifying to have no idea why this psychotic halfwit is trying to kill, dismember, and eat people?

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: even Tim Burton falls into the trap, with the back story on Willie Wonka and his relationship with his father. Seems to me a big part of the appeal of Willie Wonka the character is the mystery of who he is and where he came from. The lack of explanation is a real driving force in the original, and filling that empty space in in the remake has the effect of suffocating the viewer.

The Amityville Horror: this is one of the worst. Instead of just some evil force that confuses and terrifies us, as in the original, the remake provides a child ghost, a possessed father, and finally a ridiculous buccaneer-looking guy who ran a native-american torture camp underneath the house. Again, how much more terrifying to not know the cause of this evil? How much of a let-down when the movie foists answers on the audience instead of leaving us room to think?

The new Star Wars movies: so technically these aren't remakes, but part of what makes them suck so much is their obsession with filling in every last unknown from the original trilogy. Every loose end is tied up, every appealing mystery is solved, every place where we might have imagined something vague and wonderful about what the original movies didn't tell us has been replaced by some pat story or connection. This is especially true with all the useless-to-the-plot information we get about Bobo-Fet, or however you spell that guy's name. I mean just seeing him without the mask is an immediate let-down, and I guess the mask is a cheesy but apt metaphor for my problem with these remakes in general: whatever face these remakes supply, it can never hold a candle to what the audience imagines if given a little room to do so.

I guess as a movie fan I like to have some room in which to interpret things, and wonder about details, and imagine different pasts for characters. As a lover of horror flicks, I find that confusion and lack of understanding heighten the sense of terror. So I take it as a personal affront when some director decides to fill in a bunch of holes in a remake. I think of those holes as places where a movie, as a living organism, can breathe. And as doorways through which an audience member can get into the world of the movie. Filling them in kills the movie and shuts out the viewer. Fuck that, I say. I'm on the warpath. Maybe the thing to do is to get these remakes on VHS, then randomly delete a few minutes here and there throughout the movie, just to cut yourself some slack and make them watchable. Then again, as with all rants like this one, why don't I just not watch the shit? Fine, I won't.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

144 Ping Pong Balls

Ping pong balls are hard to find. Well, hard isn't the right word. But you'd think they might have some at Walgreen's, or the grocery store. Nope. Well, ok, then they must have one at Target, right? Especially that crazy Super-Target with guitars and olde-style popcorn kettles? Nope. Surely they must have them at one of those big strip-mall sporting goods stores, but do you want to take a 45-minute bus ride both ways just to buy some ping pong balls? The only other place is Wal-Mart, and you probably don't want to go there on account of their being all evil and everything.

These are the considerations which, about one week ago today, led me to do a bit of e-commerce. Lo and behold, the good ol' internets had tons of ping pong balls, and beyond that a star-ranking system for balls, super-balls that are supposedly indestructable, all manner of paddles, and my favorite, a robot that shoots ping pong balls of various spins and velocities (this one runs for $695).Well, I'm a bargain hunter. It just didn't seem worth it to pay for shipping and everything and only get 6 or 12 balls. And amounts a little higher than 12 started to get expensive. But then once you hit a gross, they come down. (Do you know how many a gross is? It's 144. It's one of those numbers that have a name, like 20 is called a score. You can read all about it here). I put down my $30 and forgot all about it.

Then, this morning, at approximately 8:58 a.m. on this sleep-in-Thursday, there was a sharp rapping at my door. All at once I remembered all those considerations enumerated above, and I bolted out of bed and signed for the lightest package I've ever received. It's mostly air. 144 white ping pong balls. (Hey, that has a good ring to it. How about in German: something like Hundert Vier und Vierzig Weiße Tischtennisbälle. Damn, that might make a good, catchy, 80s protest song like Neun und Neunzig Luftballons).

Now there's a lot you could do with 144 ping pong balls, and it's not all pong-related, let me tell you.
-This guy, for instance, played a merry prank on a co-worker.
-I was thinking about those huge tubs of plastic balls you used to jump in at fairs and carnivals.
-If there were a sudden flash flood in my basement and I couldn't escape, I'm pretty sure I'd survive for up to two hours by breathing the tiny bits of air trapped in each ball.

Well, I guess I'll go play some ping pong.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

the riddle of steel

Giants stole steel from Crom. Crom was angered. And the earth shook. Fire and wind came down from the sky, and killed the giants. Steel was left on the battlefield. Who found it? Not gods, not giants, just men. Learn the riddle of steel Conan. Learn its discipline. Only this can you trust, [points to sword], not men, not women, not beast. This you can trust.

These are the final words Conan hears from his father before his entire tribe is wiped out at the beginning of Conan the Barbarian. Judging by the magnitude of ass Conan goes on to kick, most viewers would probably agree Conan must indeed have solved this riddle of steel. But what the hell is the question, and for that matter, what the hell is the answer? And don't give me any of that "it's too complicated to put into words" bullshit. You're selling Conan short if you don't think he has the poetic skills to express the riddle of steel. When asked what is best in life, Conan's response is practically a haiku:

To crush your enemies,
have them driven before you and
hear the lamentation of their women.

Whatever the answer is, Conan keeps his mouth shut about it. Obviously he takes his father's advice to heart: killing men, throwing a woman into a fire, and punching a horse are all great ways to avoid trust. And he's always talking up good old Crom who, by the way, is of the earth. I don't think he buys James Earl Jones'-- er, Thulsa Doom's-- explanation that flesh is stronger than steel, either, and neither does the author of this amusing article on the subject).

So what is the riddle of steel? Hell, I don't know. I'll have to go check out some metallurgy books from the library and get back to you on that one.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas...

. . . that is to say, palindromes are awesome. If you've never seen the palindrome comic strips of Jon Agee, you're doing yourself a disservice. Come on, go read them already. There's also this sort of spooky palindrome comic right here on the internets. And let me tell you, lots of people go apeshit for this stuff. It's not just words either-- there was this guy in the 14th century who wrote a pretty big piece of palindrome music called Ma fin est ma commencement, "my end is my beginning." And it is.

I'd like to wow you with one of my own, but I have trouble getting beyond stuff like bob, mom, dad, and radar. Luckily, Hasbro has graciously laid the groundwork for this one:

Thursday, February 23, 2006

who's next?

The other day a friend and I were listening to Neil Diamond's 12 Songs. It got us to thinking: now that Rick Rubin has so successfully squeezed out some hidden remaining greatness from both Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, who's next? It has to be someone who was once awesome and has fallen somewhat in their older age-- that's the rule. No, not Springsteen. Not Neil Young. Maybe John Mellencamp, but only if he changes his name back to John Cougar. Ok, maybe John Lydon. What's that? Leonard Cohen? I don't know about that one.

I think our best idea was Deborah Harry. Imagine it. It's great, isn't it? We should start some kind of petition.

Monday, February 20, 2006

why our world is awesome

I can't believe Weekend at Bernie's really exists. Did someone really make that movie? Pinch me. Is this really happening? What? There's also Weekend at Bernie's II? Holy shit. I could die a happy man. And if I do, it is my sincere and abiding hope that my corpse will be involved in zany hi-jinks.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

family circus

Matt is sick today, so lil' matty had to take over.

Mudslide kills thousands

Dick Chainy's accidental shooting

Spring training underway in Florida and Arizona

Friday, February 17, 2006


Hoverboads, like this one from Back to the Future II, are fucking awesome. Don't try to deny this. You know deep down in your heart that it's true. Everybody thinks so. Just this week I've had four or five discussions about hoverboards, and everyone who talks about them gets this far-away, glazed-over look in their eyes. You know that look-- that look that's probably fueled by the now lost but once near-universal belief that hoverboards really existed when the movie came out. That look that probably looks just like the look you might have when you wake up from an incredible dream-- the look of remembering something wonderful, once close at hand and firmly in your possession, now just beyond the realm of the actual. It's a bittersweet look: though the idea that hoverboards existed is destroyed, the joy that this idea once brought you remains, forever accessible as a source of dreamy comfort on rainy and sunny mornings and afternoons.

Then again, if those happy thoughts aren't enough, and you have $9000 lying around, you can just go and fuckin' buy one, dude.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

brotherly love

Through a series of strange coincidences beginning the December before last, I have become obsessed with rock and roll music from Philadelphia. That Christmas I received from my brothers no less than five albums of Philly-born rock. In chronological order: The Delfonics' La La Means I Love You and The Delfonics, Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, a True Star, and Dr. Dog's Easy Beat and Toothbrush. I can't think of a single song I don't like on these five albums. The Delfonic's version of A Lover's Concerto rivals both the Toys' original and the Supreme's version. Though he later turned to a-bit-too-smooth pop stylings, earlier Todd Rundgren is all over the place and really exciting. Dr. Dog will give you the dreaded "Dog Fever," which renders you incapable of listening to anything but Dr. Dog, and from which I am just now recovering two years later.

The Delfonics idoolized Little Anthony & the Imperials, who in turn were inspired by Frankie Lymon, a big part of the inspiration behind both Motown records and Len Berry's manufactured group you might have heard of, the Jackson Five. Their producer, Thom Bell, might be the one who invented those soulful, sliding French Horn lines that became so popular in later R&B. You know the ones I'm talking about-- those ones like at the beginning of "Didn't I blow your mind this time" that sound like they're calling out straight to you from the land of soul.

Right before A Wizard . . ., Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything was like a compenium of all the best rock hooks and tricks of its day. I wouldn't say many of the songs on it are great, but they are without a doubt perfect in every way. A Wizard, A True Star is much more scattered and disconnected, with ethereal moments popping out whenever you start to get sick of what else is going on: ADHD rock at its finest.

Dr. Dog is intertwined via shared members with two other Philadlphia bands of similar ilk: the now-defunct Raccoon and The Teeth, both of whom I've been enjoying the hell out of lately and using as a treatment for my Dog Fever, the way a recovering heroin addict switches to methodone on the way back down.

Thanks, brothers. Thanks, city of brotherly love.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

strange encounters with jesus

The other night I dozed off, and when I awoke Jesus was on my television, getting darker and brighter in waves. This naturally blew my mind. I'm not a religious person, but there for about ten seconds I was completely terrified and convinced. Then I realized it was a DVD glitch: I'd been watching the now-cult-classic The Big Lebowski before I fell asleep, and sometimes when my DVD player gets stuck it makes the frame it's on get darker and lighter. I wonder why. Anyhow, the image I saw was very dark and must have looked something like this:

Even though I'd figured out a rational explanation, I was still pretty excited. I mean, who cares how it happens, having a vision of Jesus is still a great thrill. So I busted wide-eyed into my roommate's bedroom and dragged him in there to see, but damned if the DVD didn't come unstuck just right at the moment he entered my room. He claims he believes me.

So that was pretty weird. Weird enough that I told the story a few times, even though I was afraid people would think I was turning into a Jesus-freak. I tend to tell stories that take way too long. I give way too many details and often forget to finish. Well this is just what happened last night, when I was at a Valentines Day party and trying to tell the story of my vision of Jesus. I made the mistake of mentioning the DVD glitch before I ever mentioned Jesus, and the conversation immediately turned into some sort of panel session on just why and in just what ways DVD's tend to get stuck (could it have been this?). This must have been about a twenty minute interlude, after which I suddenly remembered to tell the rest of my story. I got to the Jesus part, and was just telling how the DVD came unstuck right when my roommate entered, but at that very moment a gust of wind knocked down a little framed picture of Jesus that was sitting on the windowsill across the room.

This naturally blew my mind even more. It was really weird. Weird enough that I'm telling the story, even though I'm afraid people will think I'm turning into a Jesus-freak.

Whew, I gotta tell you, I'm really glad nothing Jesus-related happened this time around. That would have really, really, really blown my mind. Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

whence matty lite

Matty Lite is my bowling name. My karaoke name too. Needless to say, Matty Lite is my cosmic-karaoke-bowling name as well. And finally, Matty Lite is my name all across the internets on whatever things I join on the internets. In case you didn't notice, Matty Lite is a pun on a commonly used affectionate nickname for Natural Light. It isn't my fault that this nickname is so similar to the nickname of my good friend matty fred. I'm not sure how that ended up that way. And to be honest I could count on one hand the natty lites I remember drinking in my days. And nobody has really ever called me Matty, either. I have no explanation for myself.

So really, all I'm trying to accomplish here is to set the tone for a couple themes I imagine will rule the day on this here blog: I am fiercely dedicated to stupid jokes and puns, and most of the stories I tell will be of the shaggy dog variety.