Monday, July 30, 2007

3 Makes a Pattern: Tall, Women Bass Players

If we didn't have blogs to remark on these things, nobody would care.

I am ready to declare a new archetype: tall, skinny, women bass players. Because next to nothing about music, my three examples here are all from movies. Also, two are fictional, but this is an archetype we're talking about, so I don't think that makes a particular difference.

Tina Weymouth of The Talking Heads

The Talking Heads have made two brilliant flicks, True Stories (Texas in a nutshell through a Talking Heads prism) and Stop Making Sense, which is the best concert movie I've ever seen.

Whenever I try to explain why Stop Making Sense gets to me every time I watch it, I just end up as a blubbering sack of a man.

The best explanation I can give is that it is so clearly a perfect representation of the world from one odd and specific perspective that, even if you only understand that perspective marginally, there's no way not to be swallowed up in it.

Tina Weymouth was the Talking Heads bass player. (I think she also did some of the vocals for Noodle of the Gorillaz.)

When I think of Tina Weymouth, I think of her performance of "Genius of Love" in Stop Making Sense. It's a very catchy tune - if you watched any MTv at all at any time in 1995, you would recognize it from as sampled in Mariah Carey's song "Fantasy."

When I first saw Weymouth sing Genius of Love in Stop Making Sense, I thought she looked really nervous. After watching it again, I realized it wasn't that at all.

It's just that Weymouth seems so open, so vulnerable while she sings. It's like Gene Hackman's acting, if Gene Hackman were playing bass and were a beautiful blond woman. I am doing a shitty job of explaining this.

Anyway, yeah. Tina Weymouth is tall.

Stella of The Crescendolls

I talk a little about Interstella 5555 here as part of another 3 makes a pattern post about how rock stars think of themselves as aliens.

Interstella 5555 is a movie by legendary anime director Kazuhisa Takenôchi . The only sound in the movie besides a very few sound effects is the Daft Punk album Discovery. There is no dialogue.

The first part of InterStella 5555 I saw was Something About Us on YouTube. I had no idea it was part of a movie - I thought it was just a really amazing Daft Punk music video.

I thought about writing about Something About Us, maybe saying something about how this combination of an incredibly overwrought, sentimental song and an incredibly overwrought, sentimental anime love story could combine in to something affecting and genuine. Then I watched the rest of the movie on YouTube and realized the whole film was like that.

At that point, I didn't have anything smarmy to say at all. Interstella 5555 is incredible.

Takenôchi's anime tends to have tall, skinny, heroines (according to Wikipedia, anyway). In Interstella, the tall, skinny women heroine is the band's bass player, Stella.

Like Tina Weymouth, Stella seems very vulnerable. In this case, though, Stella seems vulnerable because she's so guarded about her emotion.

If someone's expressionless in a movie, we can attribute whatever emotion we want to them. In film, this is called the Kuleshov Effect.

There's also a component of what Scott McCloud calls "projection" for comics. Anime tends to have very simplified characters in very complex environments so that people project themselves in to the characters and viscerally experience the environments of a comic.

Anyway, Stella is skinny women bass player #2.

Katie of School of Rock

School of Rock is a decent movie that would have sucked if Jack Black didn't work so goddamned hard in it (see: Ace Ventura, Turner and Hooch). Jack Black: respect.

The kids hold up their part in the movie very well. Eponymous band bass player Katie is played by the lovely Rebecca Brown. IMDB lists her as 5' 7" (at 15!), but what's important is that she's relatively taller than the other kids in Jack Black's class.

Tall woman bass player #3, and 3 makes a pattern.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stupid Shit My Roommates Have Done (2 of 3)

I come home one day to find the air conditioning dangling precipitously out of our fourth story window. It takes me a minute, then:


Roommate casually wanders in.

"Oh, yeah, I tried to open that window to get some air in here."

"Aside from that making no sense, do you realize you could have, I don't know ... killed someone?!"

She hadn't realized.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

ribble's Spanish

Here is something I never considered: a graduate degree.

When I finished college, I had been in continual education for 18 years. I was of the opinion that this was quite enough.

A few weeks ago, I started to think about what it was I'd learned over all those years.

So I wrote out a list, by category, of all the things I studied in school, and ran through each subject trying to see what, if anything, had stuck in my mind. Here's my first:

As a South Texas resident who was never snoby enough to learn French, I studied Spanish through secondary school and college for a total of six years of instruction.

Spanish was consistently my worst subject, but then I am convinced that it was also consistently the worst-taught. However, to everyone's surprise including my own, somewhere along the line I did end up learning to speak it.

I still limit myself to two of the eight (I'm guessing) tenses - present and past participle - and I can't understand any conversation that isn't directed at me (which means I can never eversdrop effectively). Nevertheless, I can generally make myself understood by someone who speaks Spanish and, almost as often, understand what they are saying to me.

What's more, these people come away with the impression that I speak Spanish, and there are now too many of them for me to believe that they are all humoring me.

Part of why I retained this skill is that Spanish is a very handy language to know in New York. I've used it at work, on film sets, in a cab, buying gum, getting something to eat - everywhere, really. Nothing makes one comfortable in a skill like continual use.

I think that it also has to do with Mexico being Texas' second culture, much like the Brits have a sort of intuitive sense of India.

In San Antonio, where I grew up, the place I was most comfortable in the world was the Mexican restaurant down the street, El Mirador.

In New York, the places I am most comfortable are Elite Cafe on Amsterdam, my laundry spot on 4th Avenue and the Mexican restaurant up the Slope, La Taquaria. Spanish is language one among the staff at all these places.

Maybe that's why it feels like I learned Spanish without trying - it was almost too much effort to not know it. Before I learned Spanish, I was like a stranger in my own land.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fun With iTunes Ratings

I've been having a great time rating my music on iTunes.

I have been Apple-loyal since the IIc. Apple is easy to love because their software is versatile and accomodating - everyone can use it in his or her own way. It's like how Maxis (Sim City) used to say that they didn't build games, they built toys. There's only one way to play soccer, but there's a million ways to play with a ball.

I had been conciously avoiding the My Rating feature in iTunes - don't know why exactly, maybe because I thought it was the sort of thing I'd need to go all out with. I tend to never throw anything away. As a result, I have a lot of brilliant music, a lot of crap music, and a good amount of decent stuff that I am just so over.

Rating all the music in my iTunes library was going to be a long-term project. I didn't want to leave it half-done or just rate a few songs, because it only seemed liked song rating would be useful if I rated all the music I listen to.

But I think what was really holding me back was that I hadn't settled on a consistent system to use to rate my music.

It doesn't exactly define the eon, but we are living in the greatest age of personalized rating in history. Aside from this new iTunes habit of mine, I most regularly rate on Netflix and on my TiVo. I also watch a maybe a hundred short films a year for First Sundays, which I sort in to the categories of Show, Maybe and Reject.

Over my many years of rating shit, I've decided it's important to decide on a consistent criteria and stick with it. If I'd rated my music without a consistent system, the results would be worse than useless, because once I'd finally settled on a system I'd have to bring all my old ratings up to date with the new criteria and then there would be a terrible mix of the old system and the new system and it'd be a right mess.

I take this sort of thing pretty seriously.

For First Sundays, I rate by what I can in good concious show on the screen to our audience. For example, we reject a lot of good films that are not comedies because we are a short comedy film festival. Other stuff, especially stuff we're on the fence about, we reject because of length.

On the TiVo, I try to rate based on what I will actually watch since I leave TiVo suggestions on and it takes my ratings pretty seriously.

The Wire is the best show on TV and arguably of all time, but there's no point in watching it piecemeal - there's just too many plotlines to keep straight, for one thing. The Wire really demands to be watched on DVD or one eagerly anticipated week at a time. The Wire gets one thumb up.

Futurama, though, I will watch at any time. Futurama gets three thumbs up.

Netflix is where I really go crazy. Netflix has basically become the central data stronghold for everything I think about movies. I suspect I have this in common with many Americans, but at this point I am paying my $13.99 a month not for my two movies at a time, but to keep track of all the movies I've seen and all the movies I want to see. Netflix gets my honest, subjective opinion about every movie I've seen.

Because it's uses an out-of-five system, I decided it was useful to think about iTunes ratings in terms of video game review t.v. show X-Play's out-of-five rating system.

I used to be hooked on X-Play, not because I play a lot of video games, but because I respect a good bit of video game criticism. It's like I'm Tom Townsend for the digital age.

I also decided to base my ratings on how I felt at that moment - not on the song's greater significance in the music world, not on how I liked it when I was 8, but how I felt right then. I could always change my ratings, after all, unlike, say, my Netflix ratings, which I was probably never going to look at again.

With this as my basis, may I present my out-of-five iTunes rating system. I will give my examples in Beatles songs because, although we may all have differing opinions on which Beatles songs are preferable to others, everyone in the world knows all Beatles songs by heart, just like we have all tasted Coca-Cola.

1 of 5
Beatles Songs With This Rating: Yesterday, Down in Cuba, While My Guitar Gently Weeps

2 of 5
Barely tolerable.
Beatles Songs With This Rating: Here There and Everywhere, Piggies, All My Loving

3 of 5
Beatles Songs With This Rating: Something, Drive My Car, Revolution 9, Glass Onion

4 of 5
Beatles Songs With This Rating: I Am the Walrus, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, Dear Prudence

5 of 5
Fucking amazing.
Beatles Songs With This Rating: Lady Madonna, Hello Goodbye, You Never Give Me Your Money

I thought long and hard about the distinction between 4 of 5 and 5 of 5. Finally, I decided that a 5 of 5 song was one that made want to loudly sing along with despite usually being on the subway at the time. Call it the Paper Lace test.

(This whole entry may be an excuse to post that last link, by the way).

Rating things is strangely gratifying.

It feels great just to get bad songs out of the way. It's like when I read Moby Dick - I wrote notes in the margin so that next time I read it, I can skip to the good stuff. Now I get to skip the bad songs on my favorite albums without having to think about it.

I've also found that my new smart playlist of music rated 5 of 5 is great for building playlists. I start with what I've already decided is the best stuff and find the things that go together. Because of this, I sometimes think of rating new stuff as mining for new materials for my playlists.

Because I'm listening to music with a set of objectives, and because I'm making a point of listening to everything I'm rating above a 1 of 5 at least once, and I've been listening to a lot of music I haven't listened to in ages. I now have a "Haven't Listened to in Awhile" playlist for songs I've rated above 3 of 5 that I haven't listened to in the past two years.

Rating is most gratifying when I'm going through the songs of bands with a large and diverse repetoire - bands like The Beatles, or They Might Be Giants. Bands like these have songs I love and songs I love to hate.

Watching myself settle in to this new project has revealed to me some wider implications. We know that harnassing millions of opinions is a pretty good way to sort the good stuff from the crap. But that means our votes are one among millions. Why do people like rating things so much?

Rating things from our couch is easier than, say, going to the polls, sure, but I think it's more than that.

I remember hearing that one of the most effective methods the Japanese used to gather information in their POW camps was to just give prisoners a pad of paper and a pencil and gather up what they'd written at the end of day (God knows if it's true, but I'm trying to make a point here). Or, to site another example, I am not the only person writing a blog entry today that less than twenty people will read.

People have a natural tendency to want to express their opinions, and we love to feel like our opinions are heard, even if only by ourselves.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Stupid Shit My Roommates Have Done (1 of 3)

My Cousin the Revolutionary, Female Roommate #1 and I are in the living room when who should walk in but a big, fat roach. We scream like little girls for awhile (this is back when roaches in my New York City apartment still seemed like a big deal), but eventually we get the thing cornered.

So the roach is halfway under some object and halfway exposed. Because its head is in a dark place, this roach believes itself to be completely safe. It is, in short, in a perfect position for us to do some roach crushing.

As the owner of the apartment, the oldest and the most level-headed, I am in charge of Operation Roach Crush. I send MCTR to fetch an appropriate roach-crushing object while I keep a careful eye on the roach and Female Roommate #1 stands on a piece of furniture.

After a long moment while I keep a careful eye on our visitor, what should come flying in to my field of vision but a CD Case - not a jewel box even, but a soft CD case. The type of object you would feel free to give to your one-year-old because it has no sharp edges of any kind and could not possibly do any damage to anything.

Out of all the objects of moveable size within my apartment, this is the one my cousin has selected to kill our intruder.

The CD case lands directly on the position of the trespassing roach, alerting it to our position, scattering it to the dark corners of my apartment where we have no hope of reaching it and, predictably, doing no damage to it whatsoever.