Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What that hole in the dome shows us

Yesterday, one of my Dallas-based friends posted a picture of Ray Charles on my Facebook wall with the inscription, "Saints looking good this year." You know, just to pile on my prediction.

This was my response:

He laughed, because he knows it's true.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Revised Saints record prediction, part II

After that ... thing ... against the Cowboys, I'm revising my ever-so-lofty Saints preseason prediction downward again.

5-11. Maybe.

We've all seen worse Saints games, but those were in worse eras. That's supposed to be the paper-bag past, not the Payton-Brees present. Even if they are back in the abyss, we as fans are not there yet mentally. The Super Bowl and all the playoff runs ... they were just here! What happened?

My wild guess: Sometime in the future, perhaps a year or two from now, we're going to find out about some deep rancor or something else very wrong that is now going on behind the scenes in the Saints camp. This isn't about lack of talent or drive; this is how you function when there's something mentally choking you. I suspect we don't know the half of it. That's the only explanation I can think of for the promise-to-reality ratio of this team that is rapidly approaching 1980 levels.

As I said in the last downward prediction, I hope I'm wrong. There are flashes of greatness and the season is young, and like most people I have no firsthand insight; this is simply my guess. But if I am right, I hope my guys can overcome it and go back to being the team they're capable of being.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Give up the Ghostbusters sequel (a fan's plea)

... And with it, spells out why there should not be a Ghostbusters III.

It pains me to say this. Growing up, I loved the original movie. And the sequel. And the book of the sequel. And the soundtracks. And the cartoon show. And the sticker albums. And my official Ghostbusters II suit. And the cereal. And Ecto Cooler. When I read in 1997 that Ghostbusters III was in the pipeline for 1999 and would star the original cast and Chris Farley, I couldn't wait. Even after Farley's death, any glimmer of hope for a sequel was good news. As long as the original cast had a hand in it, any new stars (provided they were as well-selected as their predecessors) would only help propel the franchise forward.

But 25 years later, Harold Ramis is dead and Bill Murray is a no-go. So it should not happen.

Here's why: At this point, any sequel will seem like a blatant cash-grab and star vehicle. The much-maligned Ghostbusters II, at best, delivered a decent story that stuck close to the source material and also to the time frame. At worst, it suggested that the well wouldn't be particularly deep for future episodes without some evolution. Reimagining the franchise with so many key players gone would practically constitute an act of hijacking, regardless of who the cast is. (It's entirely possible that the Murray, being the mischievous scamp that he is, is fully aware of this.)

Murray said he'd like to see Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Linda Cardellini and Emma Stone as Ghostbusters. That's some star power. But who could watch a Ghostbusters film starring McCarthy and Wiig and not think about Bridesmaids? (Or if, say, Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper got involved, The Hangover?)

Part of the appeal of the original Ghostbusters was that it was the first real chance to see the combined brain trust of Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon go nuts with their own material, unconstrained by the censorship limits of television. Most of them were big (or rising) stars at that point, but Ghostbusters was their statement.

Pretty much anyone cast for a Ghostbusters seqreboot would ether distract with their star power and underwhelm, or be unknown and underwhelm. There's no reason to do this. It's a trap!

Some of the reasons Weird Al rules

A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine noted on Facebook how sad it was that we all stopped talking about “Weird Al” Yankovic. I felt as if I contributed to his horrific omission by not finishing a blog about the famed parodist that I began in the wake of his massively successful new album, Mandatory Fun. By finishing it and posting it here, I hope to reignite the conversation that is always just bubbling under the pop-cultural surface. It’s the least I can do for humankind.

This will surprise no one, but I am a huge fan of Weird Al. I bought his newest CD, Mandatory Fun, on July 15, the day it came out. Yes, CD. I still buy CDs sometimes, but usually only for albums I want to experience as capital-A Albums, such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Mandatory Fun, like so many Weird Al works before it, definitely qualifies.

A picture of CDs, a DVD and records taken by an iPhone. The first time this has ever happened.
Owning Weird Al hardware is an enduring tradition for me, spanning vinyl, cassettes, CDs and DVDs. My collection is far sparser than it should be, but all of them have been played to near-extinction. I’ve only once given up an Al-bum, in 8th grade, and that was to trade a different one and an R.E.M. CD to be named later. I don’t regret that particular trade, but it’s not likely I’d do it again. Al for Al means loss of Al. That’s bad Algebra (get it?!!).

Weird Al is worth it. I’d go so far as to say he’s one of the most brilliant all-around artists ever.

Hear me out. If all Al had ever done was “Another One Rides the Bus” or “Eat It,” I would stop at “funny ’80s parodist.” But he’s so much more than the sum of his parts.

When I first began this blog, its title was, “All the reasons Weird Al rules.” But outlining all the ways Al is awesome is not physically possible on a medium as limited as the Internet. So here instead, are some of the reasons Weird Al is awesome.

He is not of any time period. Few refer to Weird Al as someone who was popular in the ’80s. Instead, they refer to him as someone who has been around a long time and is perpetually making a comeback from the last comeback. He rivals (and possibly exceeds) artists like Madonna in his ability to reinvent himself and stay current. And he manages to do it without it feeling formulaic — this, I think, is helped by his ever-increasing sophistication. Had Lorde been around in the 1980s, Al would have written “Foil” just about foil, and it would have been a hit. But today, the song is partially about foil and mostly about conspiracy theorists, and it’s even better. Weird Al’s enduring talent, and ability to seamlessly mesh with today, is why he’s the only person who could appear on both Family Double Dare and @midnight and have it make perfect sense both times.

He performs original music. Yes, it’s often a tribute to other bands and/or genres, but it’s there. And it’s good. “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is a fine example. But don’t let that take away from the the fact that...

Good parody is difficult to pull off, but Al makes it look easy. Ever try to write, draw, sing or act like someone else? It’s hard as hell, and even harder to do well. Now add original, lampooning lyrics. If anything, Al is so effortlessly good at it that a million no-talent hacks (and thousands of some-talent hacks like myself) think they can do it.

From age 13 on, I attempted to ape Al on numerous occasions. One was a parody of Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” titled, “Why Can’t I See Now?” Another from 8th grade was a Michael Jackson parody called “Spam Jam,” in which I attempted to mock pop artists: “I asked my neighbor for Proclaimers/He said later ... Duran Duran and Tears for Fears/Make each song seem like it’s the last/But I like it! I like it!/Spam ... Jam!”

One of my favorites was after the Enron collapse, set to the hook of the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”: “Run into the ground/That’s Enron/Stocks droppin’ down down/That’s Enron!”

And those are the pearls of my parody catalog. They’d be Weird Al’s mental outtakes.

Al can rap better than most rappers. “It’s All About the Pentiums” and “White and Nerdy” are stunning for their flow, never mind everything else that makes them stunning. And yes, “White and Nerdy” has evidence of audio clipping, but a lot of rappers employ that and AutoTune as well (which Al doesn’t), so it’s all good.

He and his band are top-notch musicians. Al’s versatile band — consisting of John “Bermuda” Schwartz, Steve Jay and Jim West — has been together since 1982. I read some random comment recently that Al fronts the best cover band in the world. Hear hear. The “cover” part optional.

He’s a shrewd businessman. For years, Al has exercised nearly complete control over his output, writing, producing and directing his own material. He keeps up with the times in an economical sense as well, with his recent declaration that he will focus on timely singles from here on out. Some have misunderstood this (along with everything else about him) to mean that he’s retiring. But if anything, it means he is attempting to gain relevance, not rest on his laurels. With his seven-videos-in-seven-days approach (which he did before BeyoncĂ©, contrary to popular belief), Al has shown that he can give a boost to the flagging record industry. By bringing back the single, he might resurrect it further.

He did "Albuquerque." A nearly-12 minute stream-of-consciousness rant that concludes (and prolongs) the excellent Running With Scissors, it tells the story of a guy whose hatred for sauerkraut leads him on a Pee Wee-esque journey through life. (The CD’s lyrics sheet runs out of room after the first verse, with the pledge that they’ll try a smaller font next time.) Only Al could have done it. Even he’s surprised by how repeatably listenable the song is.

His humor is clean, but just edgy enough. I love R-rated humor as much as anyone, but I personally admire Al for managing to keep it clean. Clean humor usually suffers for being clean, but dirty humor sometimes gets bogged down in its own profane tar pit. Good, clean humor that's also edgy and fall-down funny is some of the hardest humor to compose. It's rebellious in its own right. When Al TV "asks" Kevin Federline if the "F" tattoo on his arm stands for "failure," I never fail to cry with laughter. It needs no help from other F words.

Al’s simply an impressive person, even if you don’t care for what he does. He’s a funny, humble, likable guy who has carved out a career that has entertained millions and has stood the test of time. We should all be so lucky.