Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Wish List Part 3 - Music

Hey you! Buy me some stuff off of my Amazon wish list.

Alright, so I haven't really got all these postings where I plead for gifts my my adoring public done in time for anyone to have presents sent to me in time for Christmas. But since I'm not a Christian anyway, and loathe everything about Christmas except for the part where people buy me stuff, it doesn't really matter if you get it to me before or after the holiday. The spirit of giving to me can last all season long...

I love music. I love buying music. But there are only so many dollars I can commit to buying music that hard choices have to be made when at the record store.

The band most responsible for making me a music fan to begin with is U2. Prior to discovering their music on my own in my very early teens, I didn't think I liked music very much. Unlike a lot of kids in my generation, I didn't have parents who turned me on to Bob Dylan and The Beatles or an older sibling who opened my eyes to The Ramones or The Clash. No, my mom listened to shit like Air Supply and my brother had records from the likes of Kiss, Kansas and Foreigner.

My dad did give me my very first album. It was Bobby Vinton's Greatest Hits. I'm pretty sure that the first albums my mother ever bought for me were the two Disco Duck records.

So yea, I pretty much thought music wasn't my thing. But then I heard U2 and I turned into a lifelong music geek. Just finding that one great band made me realize there was great music out there and I went looking for it. They profoundly changed my life. And while I have been pretty disappointed with their output for the last decade or so, (hitting their most horrible low point with 1997's Pop) I will always feel grateful to them for their earlier work. It's those early albums that got the re-release treatment in the last year or so.

Last year was the 20th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, which made me feel really old since I can remember going to the Turtles Records and Tapes nearest my house in Stone Mountain to buy it on the day in came out like it was yesterday. So they put out a few different editions of a remastered version of the album. The best one is a 2-CD/DVD set that comes in at over 50 bucks.

Earlier this year they released new, remastered versions of their first three albums - Boy, October and War - each one with an extra disc full of bonus tracks. And then they also put out a new version of their live album Under A Blood Red Sky, packaging together the album and the DVD for the first time.

Together, they are like a box set of my high school years.

Like I said, I have a limited music-buying budget and hard decisions have to be made. It is really hard to justify throwing down more than 30 bucks (or more than 50 for Joshua Tree) for albums you already own, even if they do sound a whole lot better and are loaded with extras, when you can get two brand new albums that you don't already own for that same price.

But man, I really want these bad.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Wish List Part 2 - Movies

Time once again to try to convince all of you out there to buy me stuff from my Amazon wish list for the Winter Solstice celebration. If anybody is interested in buying me some DVDs this holiday...

After Before Sunrise, the single best movie from the decade of my twenties, the other two movies from the 90s that I feel the most connected to are Kicking and Screaming and Beautiful Girls. I have probably spent enough money renting them both over the years that I could have owned them a dozen times over, but they are still not a part of my video library.

By the mid-90s, several movies were trying to encapsulate the whole "slacker"/"Gen X" thing. The most notable of these was the contrived, pedestrian, hipster piece of shit Reality Bites. Unlike that garbage, Kicking and Screaming is full of characters that seem like real people. The debut movie from Noah Baumbach, who would get well deserved notice a decade later for the excellent The Squid and the Whale, begins with a group of friends at their college graduation night party. Several months later and they are all still just hanging around their college town wondering what to do with themselves. Josh Hamilton is excellent as the hapless Grover, who is wandering aimlessly since breaking up with his girlfriend, played by Olivia d'Abo, because she went to do a program in Prague. Their courtship is played out in the film as a series of flashbacks, giving us the hopeful ending without the cheesy sentimentality. Chris Eigeman, a veteran of the Whit Stillman movies, is his usual dry self. Eric Stoltz plays that student who never leaves, we all know one of those guys, right? And then there is the young Parker Posey, who seemed to be in every movie I saw between 1993 and 1997.

This movie really has a special place in my heart. It came out about a year after I graduated college and what was going on in it looked a lot like my life at the time, minus the snappy jokes. I also visit my old college fairly often, and even though I graduated 14 years ago I can walk into the Jackson Street Pub in Macomb, IL and will see a guy that I went to school with who never left.

It is also a really funny movie.

And it has one of my favorite endings ever.

Available for years only on VHS, it finally got the Criterion (can we pass a Constitutional amendment that says only they get to make DVDs?) treatment a couple of years ago.

Released only a few months later than Kicking and Screaming, Beautiful Girls captures a different group of the same generation, a few years older and way less educated. Unfortunately not on a Criterion edition, and not even manufactured anymore it seems.

Timothy Hutton plays a guy who returns to the small town where he grew up to go to his high school graduation and try to figure his life out. Really, Ted Demme's best film (I don't care if you think it's Blow). Hutton is the only one of his group of friends that left, with the rest seemingly content with their empty jobs and nights at the bar.

There are many things to love abut this movie, but the thing that stands out for most people is the relationship between Hutton and a thirteen-year-old Natalie Portman. In the hands of anybody else, these scenes would have come across as only creepy. But with these actors and this director, they play out as a completely understandable crush by a 27-year-old man on a pubescent girl. For this film alone Portman is forgiven for Padmé Amidala and, well, pretty much her entire adult career.

The whole thing also works, of course, because in the end it is not really about the love between a creepy guy in his late twenties and a middle-schooler. It is really about a guy who is ten years out of high school not wanting to accept that he is a grown-up. Something I really related to when I saw the movie at the age of twenty-five, and why I fell in love with it so much.

It was in this movie that I realized for the first time that Matt Dillon is a pretty good actor. And it introduced me to the genius of unknown character actors Max Perlich and Noah Emmerich.

Beautiful Girls is also responsible for making Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline a cool song again (or for the first time depending on your point of view), and probably why it is played at so many sports stadiums now.

Remember, gift-wrapping is completely unnecessary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Late Monday Hate - New Parent Edition

So since I became a father it is impossible to get anything done on time. I'm thinking that my Monday hate postings will kind of come on whatever day I can get to it. And since we're in a parent mode, why don't we list the things I'm hating about child-rearing?

First off, parenting books. I've seen a bunch of these things now and I've come to the conclusion that they are all full of shit. Most of them seem to be selling one agenda or another and all they succeed in doing is making parents over think everything. None of the things you are told to do in these books are backed up by any real scientific study, they will just make broad claims as fact.

Like, there are some that make it sound like child abuse if you give your baby a pacifier. They tell you that you kid will never learn to suck her thumb and ruin any chance she has of getting in to Harvard. They don't actually back their claims up with any actual facts, you are just supposed to take it at face value because they are the "best selling" parenting book out there. What's really going on is the breast feeding hippy-Nazi's going all freaky about putting anything in a baby's mouth besides mom's nipple and maybe a twig off a hemp plant because there will be "nipple confusion." I've figured out that nipple confusion is as big of a myth as the lost city of Atlantis and compassionate conservatism. I've heard a lot about how it "can" happen, but no instances of it actually happening. And the people who have a problem with pacifiers are the same ones who think it's perfectly OK and normal to breast feed your kid until she's in junior high.

Baby cries, baby is given pacifier, baby stops crying. It's all good. And my kid knows how to suck her hand with no problem and can tell the difference between the nipple with the food and the one without in about a millisecond.

Throw the books away and just ask your pediatrician for advice. The kid will give you a pretty good idea what to do, too.

Speaking of pacifiers...

I hate the cutesy alternative language people make up for kids. Why the fuck can't we call things what they are just because a child is involved? What the hell is a binky? That doesn't mean anything. Pacifier is really appropriately named thing, why do parents insist on renaming it to something so meaningless? It's not a onesie, it's called a bodysuit.

There's also the putting of a Y on the end of words to make them sound more kid-cute. You know that it doesn't make a crap-filled diaper smell any better by calling it "poopy," don't you? What the hell is wrong with just poop? Personally, I prefer shit. But the wife has an opinion on my language around the daughter.

Another version of this is talking to the baby how you think she's going to say things. If my mother calls herself "Gamma" one more time I'm going to scream.

Don't even get me started on the stupid words parents make up for genitalia.

Seems to me it shouldn't be a radical idea to teach kids the right names for things and the correct way to pronounce them.

And then there are the people who think they know who the baby looks like. I have heard just about every possible combination of who my daughter looks like. People have told me she looks like me, others say my wife. I've had some of my family say my daughter's various cousins or other relatives. You know what? She looks like a baby. Babies this young (weeks old) don't look like anybody. Any claim that she looks like anybody is just people projecting some preconceived idea on my kid. Babies are like Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica, there are about seven basic models. That's why it is so easy to switch them in the hospital and there are identity bracelets on every limb to make sure that doesn't accidentally (or purposely) happen.

The most dangerous thing I can't stand is the "blame medicine for Autism" movement. I am so sick of seeing this anti-intellectual movement treated with legitimacy. I have heard so many claims of there being "studies" that show a connection between vaccinations, oxytocin or some other drug and Autism. None of it is true, and the studies they site as evidence of these connections are either real studies that are being misrepresented or just flat-out made up. Because of the misinformation spread by these wackos, more parents are choosing to not get their children immunized, and they put my kid at a higher risk.

But you want to know one thing I love about having a baby around? You really don't realize until you have one just how much babies fart, and ours really let's 'em rip with the best of them. And they stink like crazy.

So these days I can just cut loose with mine and blame it on the kid. That's the joy of fatherhood right there.