Friday, May 30, 2008

Nine Inch Nails - The Slip

Artist : Nine Inch Nails (1988 - present)
Title : The Slip (2008)
Genre : Industrial Rock
Rating : ***** **½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
Trent Reznor celebrates NIN's freedom from a record company telling them what to sound like by releasing not one, but two free-to-download CD's in 2008. The first one, Ghosts I-IV, is a study in minimalism. OTOH, The Slip is a legitimate full-length CD (10 tracks; almost 44 minutes) that you can legally snag with Reznor's blessing at (where else?) .

What's To Like...
I have to start by saying that this is the first NIN album that I have ever listened to in depth. So I won't be comparing it to any of their earlier stuff.

The arrangements are excellent. I presume I have Reznor to thank for that. The lyrics are adequate, and you can understand what he's saying. (Methinks I've been listening to too much Doom Metal lately). The instrumental portions are really quite good.

And did I mention this - it's free!

What's Not To Like...
Okay, enough of the guitar reverb already. Who do you think you are, Jimi Hendrix? Reznor also has this annoying habit of taking a couple bars of perfectly good music, and repeating them ad nauseum. The spirit of Erik Satie must be possessing his soul.

Last, and least, this disk seems to freak out my truck's CD player. Normally it is constantly spitting out the Track Number, and how many seconds have played on any individual track. But with The Slip, all it does is keep repeating "Unknown Artist - Unknown Album" over and over again. Weird.

The Din of NIN...
I suspect that NIN is, like red wine, Polka-Metal, and Salvador Dali, an acquired taste. Lots of people have given their opinions of The Slip at RateYourMusic; there doesn't seem to be any consensus. Some, like me, think that Tracks 6-10 are better than Tracks 1-5. Others think that Reznor hasn't done anything good since the mid-90's I do find it amazing that the overall rating for Ghosts I-IV is higher than The Slip at RYM (3.53 vs. 3.35).

Personally, I found myself liking this album a lot more than I anticipated. I was expecting thrashing, gnashing, and bashing; instead I got ten catchy, carefully-constructed songs. We'll give it 7½ stars, and bump that up to eight if they cut back a bit on the distorted guitar. And maybe-just-maybe allow ourselves to be talked into going to see them in concert the next time they pass thru Phoenix.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Viva La Pasta!

I'm sure Che would've approved of this one.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

RIP - Robert Asprin ("Myth-Taken")

Robert Asprin, Author
b. 06 June 1946
d. 22 May 2008

Robert Asprin is an author best known for his "Myth" series of humorous adventure stories, featuring a sorceror's apprentice (Skeeve); a cynical magician (Aahz), a seemingly-silly dragon (Gleep), two "Mario Brothers" type Mafia hoods (Guido and Nunzio), and a host of other maladjusted figures.

He was also an enthusiast in the Society for Creative Anachronism, {"SCA"}; his personna being named Yang the Nauseating. The Myth Series, besides recounting the zany antics of Aahz and Skeeve, is also rife with knee-slapping puns. Indeed, each book's title is a "Myth-play" on words : "Hit or Myth", "Another Fine Myth", "M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link", "Class Dis-Mythed" etc. And each chapter begins with a witty, contrived quote. Example : "Maybe I should have kept my nose out of it." - C. de Bergerac

The first couple tales have a lot of dimension-travel in them, an art that by now you know I engage in as well. However, Asprin's dimensions (ANAICT) are entirely fictitious. At least, I've never been on any that he describes. Nevertheless, a significant portion of the series' charm was seeing what pleasantly-dysfunctional world Asprin would come up with next.

Sadly, the series eventually staled. The puns got scarcer, so did new dimensions, and the storyline downshifted into first gear by following Skeeve's attempts to run a sorcery business. Boring.

Eventually also, Asprin ran afoul of the IRS, with whom he shrewdly finagled a deal wherein the Feds would receive a portion of the proceeds (for back taxes) from any and all future books written solely by him. So what did he do? For the last 10 years or so, all his books have been "co-authored" with various people. The IRS never got a penny. You gotta love his ingenuity!

The last Asprin-penned book that I read was called "Myth Alliances" (2003), and co-authored with someone named Jody Lynn Nye. It was okay, but still not up to the level of the first 4 or 5 books.

If you've read all the Piers Anthony books, and are looking for more, then the Myth series will fit the bill. You won't find true enlightenment here, but you will find yourself chuckling, and laughter is good for the soul.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In remembrance...

This Memorial Day is for all those who served their country without question, and paid the price with their lives, limbs, and sanity. Now it's time to bring the rest home from a meaningless war fueled only by Republican political aims.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Just a thought...

How 'bout a Barack Obama - Chuck Hagel ticket?

Friday, May 23, 2008

RIP - Dottie Rambo

Joyce "Dottie" Rambo
b. May 02, 1934
d. May 11, 2008

The fundamentalist gospel singer, Dottie Rambo, died while on the way to do a Mother's Day show. The bus she was in skidded off the road, smashed into a guardrail, and then crashed into an embankment. Of the eight people in the bus, all of whom sustained injuries, Dottie was the only one killed. Ouch.

Along with her husband, Buck, and eventually their daughter, Reba, the family for decades was a mainstay among gospel singing groups. Their heyday was probably 1968-1981. They performed under various names, including "The Singing Rambos", "The Rambos", and "The Swinging Rambos".

Buck must've taken that latter name just a bit too literally; because, to quote Wikipedia, "In April of 1994, Dottie and Buck divorced. Within a short time, Buck married Rambo's secretary." Ouch again. The flesh was willing, and the spirit was weak.

For fundies, finding "acceptable" music LP's for your kids to listen to was always quite the challenge. Rock & Roll was a no-no, cuz it promoted sex and drugs. Country & Western was a no-no cuz it promoted sex and booze. Show Tunes like Mary Poppins were a no-no cuz they promoted Black Umbrella Sorcery. And Handel's Messiah just sounds crappy when played by the little old lady on the church's out-of-tune piano. So, along with the Happy Goodmans and the Bill Gaither Trio, the Rambos became a big fish in a very small evangelicalistic-music pond.

If you haven't heard of the Rambos, you aren't alone. RateYour Music, normally encyclopedic when it comes to albums, barely has anything listed by them. Via Liz however, we have five Rambos LP's in our vinyl collection.

It is not common knowledge, but Buck and Dottie also had a reprobate son, John James. He had a body distorted by excessive steroid use, was an ex-green beret and had anger-management issues. He went postal a number of times, first wiping out a town called Hope, Washington (along with most of the Washington National Guard). Subsequently, he massacred half the evil commies in Vietnam (leaving the other half for Chuck Norris); then obliterated the combined Russian and Afghani forces around Kabul; and finished up by killing all the pirates in Southeast Asia, along with most of the Burmese army.

But I digress. Rest in peace, Dottie Rambo. Yours was not an easy life. Hopefully, you've found comfort now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Some have questioned the existence of one of my multiple personalities. No, not the time-traveller; that they accept. It's the sheepdog in Wyoming that evokes skepticism.

So here's a picture for all you Doubting Thomases. My name in this incarnation is Rex, and obviously I'm not always herding sheep. I have a lot of extraordinary talents, one of which is contributing to this blog. Which is a lot more rewarding than dealing with ovine quadrupeds and wool-gathering bipeds. Arf, arf.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Touched by His Noodly Appendage

A.k.a. "The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster"; a.k.a, "The Pastafarians". We'll be featuring them a couple times over the next few weeks. You can research them at They are also in Wikipedia.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Deathwatch 2008 - Charles Barkley

Ex-NBA all-star Charles Barkley is back in the news. It turns out he owes $400,000 to a Las Vegas strip casino - the result of two disastrous days of gambling last fall. October 18 & 19, to be exact.

You can read more about it here. Faced with criminal charges, and after allegedly ignoring repeated attempts by the casino to contact him, Sir Charles had this to say : "My mistake. I'm not broke, and I'm going to take care of it."

Ummm, let me explain something to you, Chuckie. Las Vegas casinos are owned by a corporation called The Mafia. They have a very effective "Debt Collections Department". They aren't gonna write off that $400,000.

At best, they'll plunk both your kneecaps with bullets and let you wheelchair around until you get them their money. At worst, the next water-hazard on a golf course you find yourself in ...well... you'll be staring at it from the bottom up.

Pay up quickly, Chuckster. We'll pull you off the Deathwatch List when you do. Otherwise it's 50:50 whether you park in handicap spaces for the rest of your life or feed the fishes.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rebate Blues

Nice going, Dubnutz. Your spendaholic ways have given us a record deficit, so now you go and borrow more money from China to give us a meaningless tax rebate. Was it really just 8 years ago that we actually had a surplus in our budget, thanks to old tax-and-spend Clinton?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mr. Brooks

Title : Mr. Brooks (2007; 121 minutes)
Genre : Suspense
Rating : **½ (out of 5*)

This Weekend I Watched...
A well-respected businessman by day, Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) is addicted to mudering by night. Demi Moore plays a detective trying to solve the spree; Dane Cook plays a photographer who wants to learn serial-killing from the master; William Hurt plays Mr. Brooks' inner voice.

What's To Like...
The plot is novel, and there are lots of twists along the way. There's plenty of action and suspense, mostly due to four (count 'em, four!) serial-killers (both actual and wannabees) traipsing around. The interaction between Costner and Hurt is quite good.

What's Not To Like...
For the most part, the acting sucks. Demi Moore never could act; and who the heck is Dane Cook? A comedian, I am told. Sorry, Dane. Stick to stand-up.

However, it's the script that really stinks up the place. Mr. Brooks battles his inner demon. Okay. But then he offs Demi's soon-to-be-ex, and she becomes a suspect. Does this ever get resolved? No. Meanwhile, there's a murder where the daughter goes to college, and she's a suspect. Does this ever get resolved? Nope. And Demi wanders around trying to solve Mr. Brooks' slayings. I'll let you guess whether this ever gets resolved.

Help! My Cheerios have been shot by a Cereal Killer...
I get the feeling one wasn't supposed to take this movie too seriously. I mean, Demi Moore and Dane Cook?? Come on. Why not throw in Hulk Hogan and Dennis Rodman too? Heck, Benji and Mr. Ed could have been worked into the script somehere, and they would've held their own in the acting category.

Nevertheless, the movie was entertaining, as long as you focused on the psychiatry, and not on the whodunit. It's probably only worth two stars, but we'll tack on an extra half-star for a bit of gratuitous T&A and some clever, scene-stealing wit by William Hurt.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Portnoy's Complaint

Author : Philip Roth (b. 1933)
Title : Portnoy's Complaint (1969, 309 pages)
Genre : Fiction, Comedy
Rating : C

This Month I Read...
Philip Roth's best-known work caused a sensation when it came out in 1969, for its shock value, sexually-taboo subjects, and Jewish humor. The book is essentially a 300-page monologue by the book's protagonist, Alexander Portnoy, to his shrink, one Dr. Spielvogel. Alex recounts his life, in more-or-less chronological order, focusing extensively on his four favorite sex partners - "The Monkey", "The Pilgrim", "The Lieutenant" (attempted only), and his hand. We won't mention the liver, the cored apple, the bottle, and his sister's bra.

What's To Like...
If you like the Mel Brooks style of humor, you'll enjoy PC. One-line zingers abound, such as, "The perfect couple : she puts the id back in Yid; I put the oy back in goy."

The book was banned in Australia when it came out, which naturally stimulated sales Down Under. It is self-deprecating, and obviously semi-autobiographical; so you'll have fun trying to figure out how much of this was drawn from Roth's life. You'll meet his domineering mother, his Willy Loman-esque father, and his plain-and-patient sister. You laugh as Alex tries to cope with his Jewish heritage and survive in a goy world.

What's Not To Like...
It's a monologue. A very lonnnnnggggg monologue. Try imagining having to listen to a Mel Brooksian rant for, say, 12 hours straight. It may be funny at first, but it grates on one's nerves before very long.

There's no plot. There's little progression, other than Alex grows older. And if you're looking for Alex to impart to you some grains of experiential enlightenment, forgetaboutit!

So. Now vee may perhaps to begin, Yes?
I think the book's chief value lies in its ground-breaking impact when it came out. Up till then, American literature was pretty tame. And boring. No cuss words, nothing to offend the WASP and the Jewish communities, and above all, nothing about S-E-X. Portnoy's Complaint burst through all that phony Puritanical bullsh*t, and made people laugh while doing so. And the rabbis and Jewish leaders couldn't call it anti-Semitic, cuz Philip Roth is Jewish.

Nevertheless, the book didn't age well. The shock-threshold has long been exceeded, and without that, the limitations of a chapterless, 300-page monologue are exposed. As you tire of the same themes and the same humor, you'll find it difficult to keep reading the book. I did complete it, and I'm happy about that, but it'll be a long time before I read another Philip Roth book.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Unbearable Cuteness for the Week

I don't know who that big white dog might be, but the pit bull is a dead ringer for Preacher, and that could easily be Huxley in the foreground - he isn't afraid to stand up to Preacher.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Paradise Lost - In Requiem

Artist : Paradise Lost (1987 - present)
Album Title : In Requiem (2007)
Genre : Doom Metal
Rating : ***** *** (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
We saw these guys when they opened for Nightwish here in Phoenix last November. PL turned out to be a talented metal band (is that an oxymoron?). They were also a good fit with Nightwish, so I went out and found In Requiem; their 11th , and latest, release.

Paradise Lost has been around since the late 80's, and is considered to be one of the bands that pioneered the genre Doom/Death/Goth Metal. Their albums often explore new territory - they incorporate symphonic elements into their songs and, over the last few years, they've been fusing Synth with Metal, which is said to sound a lot like "Depeche Mode Metal". Now there's an interesting concept.

What's To Like...
Hey, these guys are good! They sing (as opposed to grunt or growl); and you can even understand the lyrics. There are a whole bunch of bitchin' guitar soloes, and just enough symphonic tinges to keep us Nightwish fans oohing and aahing.

What's Not To Like...
Not much. The themes are the same old Metal ones - gloom and doom; sadness and badness. No tiptoeing through the tulips here. Still, I guess that's inherent in Metal, and those themes, although banal, are well done here.

YouTube Links.
You can hear the title cut, Requiem, here., although there's no video with it. PL made a video out of the third track, The Enemy, which you can see here. If you like these two tracks, you'll like the whole album. YouTube has a whole bunch of live videos of PL.

Metal Tolerance Quotient (MTQ).
In Requiem is said to be a return by Paradise Lost to their more metallic roots. I do not claim to be a MetalHead - most of my Metal has to be hybridized - Folk-Metal, Symphonic-Metal, Polka-Metal, etc. So hearing them live butted up against my MTQ.

Still, the more I listened to In Requiem, the more I grew to like Paradise Lost. Which makes me wonder - does one's MTQ change over time? Is listening to Metal kinda like drinking red wine - an acquired taste? Would I have hated this album five years ago? Does this mean that sometime in the far-distant future, I might actually like to listen to groups like Black Sabbath, Cradle of Filth, and Cannibal Corpse, without bemoaning thir utter lack of musical talent? Oog. Let's hope not.

But I digress. From a technical sense, In Requiem is an excellent album. The songs are well-constructed, all the musicians are great, and although you won't confuse the lead singer with Pavarotti, IR is objectively worthy of at least eight stars. How much you personally enjoy this album will be a function of your MTQ. So pour yourself a glass of red wine, and settle back and enjoy the YouTube links given above.

Friday, May 02, 2008

RIP - Albert Hofmann

Albert Hofmann
born : 11 January 1906
died : 29 April 2008

Albert Hofmann passed away earlier this week at the tender young age of 102. He was a chemist, which we all know is the coolest profession in the world. We pay homage to him for the highlight of his illustrious career - being the first to invent (synthesize, actually) LSD-25.

He first made it in 1938, and in typical stoner fashion, promptly forgot about it for 5 years. On 16 April 1943, he unwittingly became his own guinea pig when he accidentally got a small amount on his finger, and it absorbed through his skin into his bloodstream. Three days after this first acid trip, he did another first - the first acid overdose, when he misjudged the dosage of his initial deliberate trip.

Throughout his life, Albert stood by his conviction that LSD was a legitimate psychoanalytical tool, taking lots of trips as part of his research. Yeah right, dude. Like I'm buying that story.

LSD was outlawed in the USA in 1966, which of course promptly led to thousands of flower-children trying it. Gotta find out why the feds don't want us to take this stuff, man.

Farewell Albert Hofmann! You have achieved deified status in the great realm of Hippiedom, right up there with such luminaries as Timothy Leary, Maynard G. Krebs, Jeff Spicoli, and San Mescalito. We salute your contribution to science.