Deadwood

I started watching Deadwood, the TV show on HBO last night. I don’t exactly know why other than I just listened to Marc Maron interview Tim Olyphant on WTF.

I’m intrigued by that era and part of America because it was such a contrast. East of the Mississippi was fairly civilized by 1870. But all you had to do was cross that river and you’d go back 100 years.

There are few movies and shows that capture what it must have really been like back then. The two that come to mind are “The Revenant” and the Cohen Brothers version of “True Grit.”

The former captured the brutality and the latter the language. HBO’s Deadwood is lacking a little in both. First, I find it hard to believe everyone was dropping the F-bomb so liberally back then. I’m sure they were coarse people, but they had to have better profanity for that timeframe. Second (and this could be said about all modern westerns), they do a great job of making the men look haggard and filthy with their crooked yellow teeth and stubbled faces. Meanwhile, the whores all look like they’ve been getting to the gym.

Jeopardy

As I listen on the periphery to James Holzhauer chip away at Ken Jenning’s record, I think back to my own experience of trying to make it as a contestant on Jeopardy.

I was a freshman at the University of Illinois (same place James Holzhauer went) and saw the call for participants for the college competition at the end of the show. This was pre-web so you had to send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope (aka a SASE) with your name and college. That was pretty much it. If you wanted more details, you’d have to VCR an episode, and pause it then try read the blurry fine print.

It was 6 months later, and I was now a sophomore when then reply came in. They were holding tryouts for the for Midwest in Dayton, Ohio in a month. I told my folks I got picked and they were thrilled. So my mom booked a hotel, came to Champaign and we drove the 5 hours to Dayton together.

The tryouts were held at the nicest hotel in downtown Dayton, probably a Hyatt or Hilton or something. I just remember a lot of brown and glass.

There were over 200 students. It was a smorgasbord of nerds. While most of us had at least one parent with them, I still felt like one of the coolest guys in the room. And it was mostly guys. This was just one of 5 regional tryouts going on that day.

We were all given slip of paper with a number. Then some show biz looking guy with a clipboard told us how things would work. When our number was called, we’d file into the ballroom and listen to the instructions.

When my number was called, me and and 49 other college students entered the ballroom. There were several televisions and long tables with pens, paper, empty glasses and pitchers of water. It felt like we were about to get a time share pitch.

Clipboard came in said nothing and turned on on all the TVs. Then Alex Trebek came on and gave all the instructions we needed. He said he was going to read 25 questions, and unlike the show, we didn’t have to buzz in, just write the answers on the sheet. We’d get 30 seconds each to answers.

The questions were challenging, but reasonable. It felt like the written portion of a driver’s test. You feel like you got most right, but surely 2 or 3 trick questions will throw you off.

We handed in our sheets as we left the room and went into a waiting area for the results. It couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes when clipboard came out and said he’d like to see the following 5 people. Then he rattled off their names. None of them were mine. Then he said, “everybody else, thanks for coming,” and went back in to ballroom with those 5 people.

The rest of us just looked at each other mouths agape. We were all saying how it was impossible for them to have “graded” all those sheets in such a short time. It felt rigged!

That afternoon, my mom tried to cheer me up as we drove back to Champaign. She said they probably made their decision randomly, which only helped a little.

To this day, I still have this vision in my head of clipboard and his cohorts laughing over donuts saying, “dude, just grave the top 5 off the pile. Any geek that’s willing to spend a weekend in Dayton is easily Jeopardy material.”

Mount Everest

I’ll say this anyway, but does anyone really give a shit whether you climbed Mount Everest or not? So many people have done it with the help of modern technology and a lot of money, that it’s hardly the hill anyone needs to die on anymore.

John Krakauer’s, “Into Thin Air” is a great book, but casts a pretty negative light on those who chose, or can afford to ascend the top of that mountain.

How big a deal can it really be these days? We know it can be done. It’s like people who run tons of marathons. Once you run one, everyone pretty much believes you can run 2, 3 or a 100.

My favorite tragedy was Steven Fossett. He was the guy who kept trying to go around the world in a hot air balloon by himself. He eventually did it, but it wasn’t like Phileas Fogg in a wicker basket. He had this super high tech gondola that looked like a lunar capsule attached to a gigantic balloon. When you saw it, you’d think well of course he go circumnavigate the globe in that!

Sadly, Fossett died in a plane crash in the Sierra Nevada mountains and they couldn’t find his body for months. When he died, I remember someone saying, “at least he died doing what he loved.” Which technically isn’t true. He loved flying, crashing is what killed him.

Carpinteria

We took a trip down to Carpinteria for the Memorial Day weekend. It’s a small town between Ventura and Santa Barbara. The odd thing is I will always remember the name of this town for Kai’s Power Tools, a set of Photoshop plug-ins that were popular in the early 90s. The company that made KPT, was based in Carpinteria.

Kai Power Tools let you do some psychedelic effects like Mandelbrots and Fractals with a funky realtime user interface that encouraged experimentation. The problem with these plug-ins was you had to be the first person to use them. Otherwise, they were way to recognizable. Also, they made everything you did look an album cover for Yes.

Back in the late 90s, I was at MacWorld industry party in San Francisco. I think it was hosted by Corel or Adobe. I was with my buddy Raji Krishneswami (I just love his name). We had just arrived and on our way in, we passed Kai Krause, the “Kai” inventor of the power tools of his namesake, who was with comedian Charles Fleischer. I recognized both of them and said, “Hey Kai”, and turned to Fleischer and said, “Welcome Back Kotter, right?”

Neither of them seemed to appreciate the reference, but at least I remembered who they were. Most people there didn’t seem to notice either one of them.

The Lemonheads with Tommy Stinson at Slim’s

Last night we saw The Lemonheads at Slim’s in San Francisco. Tommy Stinson opened doing a solo acoustic act. I tried taking pictures, but they turned out horribly, so the best I can do are these shots of posters that are hanging at the DNA Lounge down the street.

The first act was a trio called the Restless Age. They’re from upstate New York and do a lot of session work. They’re like an updated version of The Band. They had a very early 80s sound about them, think Marshall Crenshaw doing Yacht Rock.

Tommy Stinson put a personable set. He was chatty with the audience, telling us about 11 year old daughter. This was the first time I’ve seen him as a solo act. I’ve seen him a couple times with The Replacements and Bash N’ Pop.

The last time I saw The Lemonheads, they were just “Lemonheads” and it was at Treto’s Uptown in Champaign around 1988 or ’89 around the same time I saw Dinosaur Jr. in their original line up. Coincidentally, I saw the latter a couple years ago at the Regency Theater. So I’ve been digging some GenX Fossils a lot lately.

Evan Dando sounded great, despite looking a little fried. It was great to see a rock star again, and not some clear eyed just happy to be famous newbie up there singing. I don’t think he was clean, but he also wasn’t incoherent.

1993’s “Come on Feel The Lemonheads” still holds up as a decent power pop album. I bought a copy of it in the cutout section in 1995, and still give it a listen a couple times a year. I was hoping to hear some stuff from it, and they did about 5 or 6 songs from it. So I left happy.

Italy Trip

So the big news for the end of 2018 is we went to Italy. I didn’t post anything while we were on the trip because I was too busy enjoying myself, and I didn’t want it to be known we were out of town for so long.

The trip was amazing. My wife is a natural born travel planner. She put the whole thing together and got the idea to go for Christmas and New Years after seeing pictures from a friend of her’s who did the same thing last year.

We took the kids and they are great travel companions. We visited Venice, Florence, and Rome over 10 days. You can never spend enough time in Italy i have discovered. However, we did spend enough time there to get a great feel for it.

I will be posting more details from the trip in individual pages on the site. The first installment is ready and online now. Go check it out.

Take his wife, please!

Several people whose opinion I trust(ed) have told to me to check out “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” because I like comedy so much. Oh my god, I could barely make it through the first episode. I hated it so much, words couldn’t describe it. Thank God, Emily Nussbaum, TV critic from the “New Yorker” did it for me.

Everyone overacted in the episode I saw. Like “Madman”, its a reproduction of a reproduction. The creators appear to be modernizing the past as it should have been instead of portraying it the way it probably was. What’s next? A remake of “I Dream of Jeannie” with some stupid twist like a secret dominatrix lair in her bottle?

I wanted to like Mrs. Maisel because I wanted to find a show I liked period. It has a great cast and the premise (though I haven’t seen Tony Shaloub this cliched since “Wings”). To say it’s edgy is to misunderstand the term. Instead, it’s horribly precocious and pretentious. But that’s not the worst thing about it. It’s phony, sterile, and predictable like a Dan Brown book.

I remember when everyone was reading “The Da Vinci Code”. They talked about it like they had been reading some illuminated manuscript they discovered in the catacombs of the Vatican.

We were out to dinner with a bunch of friends who had all read it. Everyone was sharing parts they loved. I finally chimed in, and per my usual, ruined the moment, and said, “doesn’t it bother any of you that Langdon pretty much solves everything on the first try?” Pause, and everyone went back to gushing over the book like it wasn’t fiction “I had no idea Opus Dei existed.”

The Da Vinci Code and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel remind me of Michael Crichton’s books – a tired hero trope with a veneer of research. It’s like someone took some Elmer’s glue and stuck a hardcover version of a better book over a ratty pulp paperback.

I’m glad to see scripted television come back, but the glut of reality TV and user generated content on YouTube has lowered the bar that even mediocre and unoriginal are good enough to escape real criticism.

2018 in review the books

I got on a tear toward the end of the year reading books. Though I don’t remember them all, here’s a short list of the ones worth mentioning.

 

This book was much better than his last one because he goes back to the semi-autobiographical essays I like so much.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mention reading a quasi self-help book because most of the rehash old ideas and don’t tell you anything you didn’t already know. This one actually had some decent insights. In particular, start small, really small and also change how you see yourself in order to implement a new or break an old habit.

I pre-ordered this book after listening to Nell Scovell’s interview with Marc Maron on his podcast. There’s a lot of great stories, some funny, some not funny at all, about her experience as a comedy writer.  

I read about this book in the Wall Street Journal and had to get it. I haven’t been a hardcore “Simpsons” fan for quite some time, but still like the show. There are some laugh out loud funny parts in this book.

I’m still not finished with this book. I have been reading it at bed time, and only manage to get through about 1/3 of a chapter before falling asleep. It’s a great read and has some interesting theories about how and why this country is bat shit crazy. It’s not boring, but it is set in a very small type.

I grabbed this one at our local bookstore on an impulse at the beginning of the year. And now I can’t remember a thing about it. I finished it, so it must be decent.

The author of this book was on “Fresh Air” and was a really great interview guest. I ordered the book and started reading it. I got about half way through it this summer and put it down and opted for some more uplifting books.

This book was a Christmas present from my brother in law who knows I’m a big fan of the show. It’s the kind of book you can pick up read a few entries and put it down. You know, a toilet book. Marc Maron is a surprisingly good interviewer and gets a lot of guests that either appeal to me right away or surprise the hell out of me as interesting.

I literally just cracked the spine on this one yesterday and have only gotten about 30 pages in. It looks to be an eclectic and fun read. It’s not just one long narrative. There are pieces written by other people as well as random cartoons and recipes.

This isn’t a complete list. Just the stuff I remember for now. If I think of others worth mentioning, I’ll update this post.

2018 in review the concerts

This year was a so-so year for concerts. We didn’t see that many and the ones we did aren’t that memorable. All told I think it was 4 or 5 and I did posts for most of them. We do have one more coming – John Legend’s Christmas Show in Oakland.

Here’s a list of shows we saw and their posts…

There’s always someone playing in the Bay Area, so hopefully in 2019 there will be something good.

Let Me Clear My Throat

I was listening to Marc Maron interview Mike D and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys yesterday and decided to pick up their new book. I thought it would be a good read for a traveling. I was wrong. I have no idea if the book is any good yet, but it weighs a ton.

Weighing in around 3-4 pounds.

Like a lot of teens from the 80s, I liked “License to Ill” when it came out. But I was totally sick of it by Summer. So when “Paul’s Boutique” came out I pretty much ignored it, despite friends telling me it was worth a listen.

It wasn’t until I saw them live on the “Check Your Head” tour that I really appreciated the Beastie Boys. I had friends who worked for Jam Productions in Chicago and they got us into a show at the Riviera for free.

We missed L7, the opening act, and the show was already underway when we got there. It was total bedlam on stage and in the audience. They were playing their own instruments and tearing it up. All I remember was there was a ton of light. It was not dark like most concerts.

I got up in the shit pretty quick and joined the melee. I had seen several shows there before, but this was the first time they were just letting anything happen. They weren’t stopping any of the stage diving or crowd surfing, so I partook.

What I love about the Beastie Boys is they’re not just a band that played music. They were more like 3 dudes who played with music.

Hopefully the book as entertaining as they were.