Trust the Gene Genie

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Those three little words

Thom G.'s a pro at this. I'm not. But here we go anyway, my contribution to three word Wednesday. The words this week are Avoid, Class and Sticky.

I looked around the classroom and immediately saw him: John Armijo, pronounced "Ar-ME-hoe." His dad was Mexican, his mom was Czech and he was all bully. Our class bully. A world-class jerk, thanks to his international heritage.

I managed to avoid him most days. Whether it was by ducking behind the temp next to the playground when recess started and ended or by waiting until lunch was just about over to enter the cafeteria. If I didn't make eye contact with him during class, he usually left me alone.

Today, I wasn't so lucky. It was Tuesday, the day our class spends the hour after lunch in the library. John hated most everything about school, but hated the library especially. Who could blame him, really. It was full of books and everyone knew he couldn't read. And he knew that everyone knew. So, as if to prove his worth to the world at large, he picked on kids the worst at the library.

And I'll admit to not always playing nice. Living under the constant threat of an attack by John was exhausting. Sometimes, me, the quiet kid who usually just minded his own business, I would make a snide comment under my breath as he walked by. Most of the time it was the garden-variety schoolroom insults. You know, "John's so fat because he was born under a La-Z-boy recliner." We were fourth-graders, it was the best we could come up with.

But today, in the library, I was tired. I was mad at John and ready to be done with him. Why couldn't he go to some other school or find some other class to terrorize? I sat on a bean bag with a copy of "Where the Sidewalk Ends" flipping through trying to find my favorite poems. And John walked by.

I watched him, careful to keep my eyes on his knees and feet and not make eye contact. And before I could stop myself, before I really even felt my mouth move and my vocal chords tighten, I said aloud, "Keep looking, John, all these books have words."

He stopped and for a second just looked at me. As though he was processing what I said or simply couldn't believe he heard it. Then, faster than I'd ever seen him move, he snapped his arm out and slapped the back of "Where the Sidewalk Ends." My hands still gripped the edges of the book, tightened by reflex-contracted muscles when the Shel Silverstein classic hit me full in the face. I actually heard my nose crack and felt the blood quickly run down my face.

I tried tackling him but it did no good. It was like a monkey wrestling a gorilla. He kicked me in the gut and pushed me to the ground. He was getting ready to sit on me and, I presume, begin pounding my face when our teacher walked over and pulled him off. I'm not sure how long she had been watching.

We were both sent to the office. John glowering and sullen; me smiling, bloody-faced and sticky.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I'm your sea lion woman

It's July, in case you don't have a calendar. In Redding that of course means unsufferable heat. The countryside all around us has been burning up in wildfires for the past two weeks and all the smoke it has dumped into the atmosphere has kept temperatures to the low 90s. Pretty great. Except all that smoke. You get home at the end of the day feeling like you've smoked two packs of unfiltered Camels.

Well, the fires are still burning. The wind has changed the direction of the smoke so the air was nice and clear. Which means our proper July temperatures are back. It was 112 yesterday and today was 111. It's funny. The heat during the day wouldn't really get to me. It's bad, but it's not like I'm out all day in it. No, what kills me about this place is that it never cools down at night. The low last night (or, I guess, this morning technically) was 90. You read that right, 90 degrees. All night long it never dropped below 90 degrees. That's the kind of weather that drives people crazy.

Anyway, my point with all this was to say it's time to check in with my summer predictions and maybe zap off another addition of perfect pop songs.

First, the predictions:

1. At the interstate gas stations, regular unleaded is $4.69 a gallon. I'm sure we'll see $5 at least by the end of the month.

2. I haven't seen "The Incredible Hulk" (nor do I plan to) but it seemed to garner slightly better reviews than it's predecessor, but was still greeted by a general unanimous "meh." To quote Brian Hamblin, who really should have his own blog, "I didn't love that movie and I didn't hate that movie. It was better than the first Hulk movie, and there weren't any flaws that really screamed out at me (you know, if you accept the premise of the Incredible Hulk in the first place), but that said, it was just a little bit better than 'blah.'"

And M. Night Shyamlalnsnalnadnalanduan's "The Happening" has already been forgetten by most everyone who's seen it. As a result, no one still cares about our little Manny.

3. I'm more excited than ever for "Dark Knight." "Wall-E" was amazing. And "Get Smart" was mediocre.

4. I'm halfway to dropping my 10 pounds. I started at 200 and now I'm at a solid 195. I successfully made it four weeks without sugar and I've been more than happy to go back on. Interestingly enough, I haven't noticed much change to my weight since doing that. But I'm pretty sure if I want to drop the next five pounds I'll need to start exercising or something.

5. I'm still planning on doing something awesome. And I still don't know what that will be.

So there we are with that. Now let's talk music. If you recall, we're talking about perfect pop songs that happen to be covers. You may also recall that once we get through with our list of songs, a few lucky winners receive the compilation on CD. That's so we're all on the same page.

4. Britt Daniel's "Bring it on Home to Me" -- It's a cover of the old Sam Cooke standard and it's brilliant. Britt, Spoon's lead singer and principal songwriter, keeps the rockabilly vibe of the song but strips it down to it's bare essentials, turning it into a kind of percussion-led driving indie-pop song. It's got a killer groove.

5. Feist's "Sea Lion Woman" -- Another indie darling, I really dig Feist because she seems so capable at balancing her near-boundless creativity with supersharp pop insticts. Her version of "Sea Lion Woman," a Nina Simone cover, rings with jangly guitar hooks and this great foot-stamping backbeat. It even come complete with hand-claps. It's a brave cover -- Simone owns, and I means owns, just about every song she sings. But Feist does a textbook perfect job of reinterpretting the song and making it hers.

6. Franz Ferdinand's "All My Friends" -- This is a great example of how to cover a song. "All My Friends" is an LCD Soundsystem track from their 2007 album "Sound of Silver." It was still warm when Franz tackled it and they do it justice, adding their trademark gargage guitar and pushing the electronica to background. It works, leaving the song's great beat intact but pushing the melody up a little further to the top making it a really groovy little song.

So that's where we're at. Weigh in if you've got thoughts.

Friday, July 04, 2008

It's magic

I wanted to get this up earlier today. It's Marvin Gaye performing one of the single greatest interpretations of the national anthem I've ever heard. And just today I've heard already three terrible versions.

Anyway it's the perfect antidote to Lee Greenwood's embarrassingly gauzy and jingoistic "God Bless the U.S.A." Use this to wash it from your mind:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

It's called emotional truthiness

We've gotta take care of some house-keeping and then I'm going to give you my two cents on Pixar's new film "Wall-E." Because everyone wants my two cents on "Wall-E."

First, if you'll look to the right you'll see my links updated. Included in the list is Nik Dirga's blog, "Spatula Forum." Nik is an old editor of mine now living the adventure with his wife and spritely young boy in New Zealand. You'll be hard-pressed to find better pop culture analysis and commentary on the Web.

Also on the list is Traci Gunderson's blog, "The G-Funk Era." Traci is an old high school aquaintance who I'm sure I would have hung out with much more often had I known what a wickedly sharp wit she had. Her blog is brilliant. Now if only Hamblin would start one.

So, onto other things.

Becky and I took the girls to go see "Wall-E" on Saturday. The film is wonderful. Like most Pixar films -- well, all of them except for "Cars" -- "Wall-E" pulls off the seemingly impossible high-wire act of being fun, smart, exciting and really funny without alienating adults or boring children. And it's gorgeous. The computer animation is litterally breath-taking in many spots. Pixar makes other computer films out there look like junior high computer club projects. It's amazing.

It also got me thinking about Pixar's long string of success. Their films aren't just good by animated film standards or family film standards or even comedy film standards. They're just plain good by major film standards.

And I realized it's because every one of their films -- whether its about talking toys or talking fish or talking ants or talking rats or monsters or superheroes -- is emotionally honest at its core. With the exception of "Cars" of course, which only seems to get worse the more you watch it.

But regardless of the plot or the characters, there's true emotion organically embedded in each of their films. That means you sit through the movie and never hear a false note, never feel manipulated and never feel pandered to. Remarkable for any film in this day and age.

And if you think about it, emotional honesty is what makes most of the great films out there great. Whether it's Michael Corleone running away from and then embracing his familial destiny or Rick Blaine coming to grips with his past and finding a way to do the right thing in World War II-era French Morocco, great films ring emotionally true.

Romantic comedies live and die on this principal -- or should. Imagine a world without films like "Made of Honor," "Runaway Bride" or "The Notebook." It would be so pleasing. Most romcoms fall flat or just plain suck because they go through these impossibly back-bending plot conventions and genre requirements.

You know, you've got the hoary R&B musical montage at about the half-way point (usually Aretha Franklin), you've got the gay male best friend (really? every single high-society gal that has some "important truth" to learn about herself before she can make good with the love of her life has a gay best friend every step along the way always quick dispense fashion and relationship advice?), you've got the mistaken infidelity and finally the chase to the airport/bus station/dock and/or wedding to confess true love. "The Holiday" anyone?

In contrast, look at film like "When Harry Met Sally" or "Say Anything." Had "Say Anything" been a conventional romantic comedy Diane's dad would have found remedemption and/or been found innocent at the end of the film and attended the couple's wedding. Instead, Lloyd shuts the door on him pretty good at the federal penatentury ("I'm the distraction that's going with her to England, sir.") and he and Diane take off for Europe far from having a secure relationship. It's brilliant and miles away from sentimentalistic. It feels real-life.

But enough about that. I'll end my rant complaining about summer TV. It's the summer of the reality show. Every night on every channel. It's killing me. And they have that producer think-tank, lowest-common-denomonator, completely common-sense-insulting stank about them.

I mean "Greatest American Dog"? Really? You're a broadcast network television station and you're going devote 12 hours of primetime to the search for America's greatest dog? Which will actually end up being a search for an astoundingly out-of-touch, wealthy, emotionally stunted dog loving American with waaaaaay too much time and money on their hands who believe their pet is actually a child. In the commercials one woman actually calls her dog her soul mate. Her soul mate. Please, someone find this woman help her connect with society around her, with our human fraternity, with the real world. She's in need of serious help.

Popular Posts