Big Talk, Real Slow

big.talk.real.slow@gmail.com

A few short conversations about travelling

"It was…a few years ago. I was travelling a lot. I had finished my masters. I was, at the time, 29, and thought that if I didn’t travel now, I was never going to. I did the summer mostly in Europe."

"Because you’re a cliche."

"Ha, yes. I know. But I’d never been before. And it is different in some very key ways. Anyways, I started west and worked my way east. I acquired the habit of going to Starbucks. It’s weird, I don’t really go to Starbucks much here. I did, but it was mostly because it’s hard to avoid."

"Market share through ubiquity."

"Exactly. And it was worse there. It was like its own sovereign nation, with embassies everywhere I went. They serve the same things, with a few exceptions, usually region specific things, and they all seem like they should have a fireplace built into the wall, to warm your feet. It became a sort of home away from home. Really, that’s what it was, a little slice of home. They’re designed with that in mind. Emulating that slice of home. That sort of comforting space that you can always feel safe at. And they have free wifi.

This one time I’m in Barcelona and I’m enjoying my Americano. I’m catching up on emails, planning out my next few days and I see a man walk in. I don’t really pay him much attention. When he’s up at the counter, I have another look at him and he looks like an old college friend of mine. Same short buzz cut, glasses, tall, he’s even wearing the same sweater vest and tie combo. I am staring at this man, and my mind is saying, ‘That’s Adam!’ but that doesn’t make any sense. 

I log into Facebook and, it’s him, I’m not just remembering him wrong. And there’s nothing about him leaving town. At this point the guy gets his drink and he’s coming towards me and I’m…scared, I guess. Something isn’t right here. And the man starts speaking to me, in Spanish — Adam doesn’t know Spanish — and then, in broken English, asks if he can share the table. I nod, in a panic.

I can tell I’m staring at the guy, trying to make sense of this. I don’t know how long I’m doing it, but at some point another person enters. A couple, actually. She looks like a high school teacher of mine. He is…or rather, he looks like, my ex, Jeremy. No doubt in my mind: this person looked exactly like him. Even walked like him. You know how you can get to know somebody’s walk? This guy walked like Jeremy. He looks at me and doesn’t react, in any way. It’s not him.

That’s when I look around, I mean, really look around, and notice that everybody in this Starbucks in Barcelona, far far away from home, looked like somebody else I knew. Friends, family, a few old coworkers, the bartender at the local pub, my landlord. People I know, or knew.”

"What did you do?"

"What could I do? I left." 

"How…do you explain that?"

"I don’t. I can’t. I haven’t told this story in years because people would offer explanations or sympathy, but they weren’t sure what they were offering sympathy for. It’s hard for me to let go of this event and how it made me feel.

Everything was almost the same, but completely different.”

***

It’s a joke, a fucking joke.

These guys, make a few thousand with their penny stocks and think they’re doing alright.

Fucking dilettantes, that’s what they fucking are.

That thousand, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even, that’s insignificant. The giant universe of money doesn’t notice the scraps you’ve put on your plate. You have not gotten away with anything. That is a speck of dust suspended in a beam of light. And you will always be that speck, because you don’t realize how much is out there.

Had to take a plane to Mexico, work, you know. Stupid me, I get sucked into chatting with one of these three legged dogs in the boarding area. He calls me a sucker for having to work when I could be going where he is, Punta Cana.

Can you believe it? That’s his bait. Punta Cana. 

Would’ve laughed in his face, but instead I tell him, “I’ve been to fucking space.”

It’s true. I have been to fucking space.

He looks up to me and says, “You can do that?” and I tell him all about it. Dropping figures because I know that’s what’ll impress him. It’s just that easy. And the rest of the time he’s waiting to board he’s got this big ugly frown on his face, realizing everything he is missing.

***

There are few obvious pleasures in listening to old Mountain Goats songs.

The music is, to be charitable, primitive. “It’s the lyrics! Listen to the lyrics!” becomes the mantra and crutch that most fans try to use when prosthelytizing. Nevermind that John Darnielle’s bleating is, perhaps more than his three-chord structures and the tape recorder hiss, the most abrasive of the sonic elements. And while a solid mix tape can do wonders, few of the early albums and tapes are cohesive enough to recommend. 

Things have gotten easier: Since 2000, the albums have gotten better, at least musically, and the albums thematically tighter. On the best albums, We Shall All Be Healed and All Hail West Texas you get a scope from these slice-of-life portraits of down-and-out characters who have lost all hope.

Lately I started to revisit his “Going to…” series, a collection of songs spread out across several albums about travel. The places range from exotic (Going to Lebanon) to pedestrian (Going to Buffalo). Images of planes and airports, and themes of loss and distance appear time and time again.

Most of the characters in these songs are in denial. They believe that the lover who is boarding a plane can no longer hurt them, that their friend isn’t at death’s door, that they aren’t in mortal danger, that things will be different in Cleveland. They all labour under the assumption that distance will change who they are and how they feel.

And who hasn’t thought about this? Moving somewhere, anywhere, means we have to change so many fundamental things about how we interact with the world. We change our surroundings, our jobs, our friends. Sometimes the ties and relationships that bind us to a place can suffocate us. Moving to a different state doesn’t just signify a change of scenery, it means cutting those ties. 

But Darnielle cuts through this myth. We can only blame so much on our surroundings. Eventually we have to accept that we are part of the problem. Darnielle is obsessed with hopelessness: characters are stuck no matter where they go. They are stuck, and don’t even know it. 

In these songs, place is rendered insignificant. Wherever we go, the exterior becomes a metaphor for the interior, for better or worse. Trouble follows us down the interstate, burdens are transatlantic. Travelling is a form of denial. 

For all its pessimism, though, some “Going to…” songs can be strangely optimistic. The song Going to Scotland is about two young lovers from Oklahoma who are consumed by their young, physical love. No matter where they go, they will always be in love and happy. Here there is some hope. Maybe most of songs are bleak, but maybe I missed what they were actually trying to say. We are part of the problem, yes, but we can be better then the place we find ourselves in.    

An Analysis of the New Season of Two and a Half Men Based on a Bus Ad I Saw

I have to say that until last week I couldn’t care less about Two and a Half Men. I’ve seen episodes. I’m decidedly not a fan. I’d estimate that half the branches I work at have copies of at least one season of the show handy. It’s inoffensive to have around, and, yeah, some people like it. It fits into a broad definition of something you’d have in an office break room, something that barely asks anything of you except to laugh on cue. Again, perfectly understandable: I would never watch an episode of something really taxing (like, say, the Wire) on my lunch hour.

Even having only watched a handful of episodes, the premise is easy enough to decipher. Jon Cryer’s character (a) is a stuffed shirt and chronic worrier raising his not-so-bright son (Angus T. Jones) with the help of his hedonistic brother played by Charlie Sheen. He is a Bad Influence, but he balances out Cryer’s fussiness, so it works. There is also a sassy maid.

The bus ad (see: title) wasn’t overly complicated. The title of the show, the network, and the eponymous two and a half men. Cryer, Aston Kutcher, and Jones are all wearing suits, singing into the same microphone. That’s enough, really, because a) the show does amazing in the ratings suggesting that a lot of people like to be told to laugh on cue and b) because the show’s new goal is to establish Ashton Kutcher as Charlie Sheen’s replacement on the show (b).

The central conflict in the series has always been between the laid back Sheen and the nerdy Cryer. Together they are a nuclear family: Sheen as cigar smoking, newspaper and La-Z-Boy father and Cryer as dotting, worrying mother to Angus T. Jones half man (c). The title is a really broad play on words, but now the ad introduces a new subtext: Who, in this cavalcade of faces, is the half man?

Kutcher’s bearded face stands in contrast to Angus T. Jones’ baby fat. Kutcher has always been an impish figure. His series, Punk’d, was all about him playing schoolyard pranks on other celebrities. I’m sure that’s why he was chosen: his public image matches the archetype he’s out to play. Sheen, though, was an old school cad; Kutcher projects the air of a frat boy. To put a finer point on it: Sheen is Playboy, Kutcher is Maxim.

Angus T. Jones has had his puberty televised, and it isn’t flattering. The oafish character he’s been reduced to playing is probably the writers working with what they’ve got. In the poster he has a sneer. Because he’s a teenager? Because they can’t traffic in his charming youth after his awkward televised puberty? Either way, he is clearly a child, and clearly the one we’re supposed to believe is a half man.

Cryer though. Jon Cryer isn’t a young man. His most famous pre-2&1/2 Men role was as Duckie in Pretty in Pink and that was released the year I was born. But looking into that poster, at his softened edges, he evokes a Howdy Dowdy vibe. (Several casual “Am I the only one that sees it?” surveys have backed that up) Some photoshop was done: soften the lines in his face, makeup to give a cohesive shine, a sparkle in his eye that makes it appear glassy and dead. He’s boyish.

None of these men actually appear as a fully grown heteronormative man. Kutcher comes close, but in the show’s premiere he’s been made as a sort of Charlie-in-waiting character. Dumped by his wife, about to commit suicide, he eventually works his way into a threesome with two buxom blondes. But our first sight of him is through a glass window, soaked by a storm. He is more puppy than man.

The puppy, the mother, and the teenager all live together, all exploring different facets of modern masculinity. In viewing the opener of the season premiere, drawn by the issues of gender the poster brought up, I found out that Charlie Sheen’s character was killed in a particularly violent way. The show’s conflict has been changed into something deeper and all together more radical: what we have now is an Oedipal struggle played out. With Charlie dead, the classic patriarchy has been abolished and Cryer, Kutcher and Jones are free to explore what it really means to be a modern man in a society that is becoming (or trying to become, at least) post-gender (d).

Needless to say: I will be tuning in and seeing how this plays out.


 

(a) I never bothered to learn any of their names.

(b) I’m not really going to get into Charlie Sheen’s meltdown because that’s mostly outside the scope of this piece and something that’s had a lot of space devoted to it already. I will say that it’s pretty interesting that when people found out that Charlie Sheen was almost identical to his cartoonish character of the same name (even to the point where the real Sheen was the caricature), they stopped laughing.

(c) I’m convinced that they were made brothers as to limit the homosexual sub-textual reading. The actual house work, i.e. stuff that a 50s housewife was expected to do as her duty, is done by the sassy housekeeper as to keep some sort of heteronormative balance to the show. Even still, she’s biologically female, but coded as gender neutral.

(d) The biggest clue? Cryer’s character cleaning up Charlie’s ashes, as both a reinforcement that he was ridding himself of Charlie physically, but also, in the act of cleaning (see note c), reenforcing the idea that he is now able to act outside of traditional gender roles.
 

The TV’s already gone, and, regardless, the consoles are packed away. They were one of the first things to go, a fount of distraction that would keep me from the tedious work. Of course, I just end up on my PC, which will be the last thing to go. I can play Spelunky and fool myself into thinking that I’m not procrastinatingIf I dug out my NES from the plastic bin it’s in, and then managed to find the copy of Super Mario Brothers (that I packed in a separate box) I’d be able to play the same game I played almost 18 years ago. The first stage, with all its secrets and shortcuts, is clear even now in my mind. I don’t need to dig through the boxes of stuff: it’s burned into my muscle memory.Spelunky randomly generates levels. That’s to say, I can’t look back in 18 years and play its first level from memory. Its first level changes. Every level changes. There are some constants. The type of enemies don’t change, for example. Neither does your skill set; you always have the ability to jump, unfurl your whip, throw a bomb, or launch a rope. But extra abilities and items are never in the same place, nor are the enemies, because the geography is never static. You can’t beat Spelunky with memory. You have to understand the game and how it works.
***I was right to pack my personal stuff first. I went through my desk drawers, garbage bag beside me, ready to discard everything that was meaningless. I ended up filling two bags with old receipts, bills, business cards, stray buttons, manuals to long dead electronics, etc.My personal things take up much less space. There’s a healthy smattering of movie tickets and concert stubs, but it’s mostly letters. My first batch, letters from a long distance ex, are old wounds and I’ve poured over them enough times that the individual letters have lost their power. There’s just a collective numb sadness about the whole thing, that old ache that only exists when it rains.
***Spelunky’s masterstroke is in the way it sits comfortably in the land of the familiar and the new. The randomly generated terrain gives me something fresh, something to hook me in. But the retro pixel art along with the gameplay and mechanics – some of the oldest in gaming – evoke those lazy Saturday afternoons playing Ghosts ‘n Goblins. So each play feels simultaneously comfortable and fresh.The familiar cushions the fact that, while there are new pleasures to discover, the world of Spelunky is a harsh place. When you die, you start the whole ordeal again from the beginning, and it’s incredibly easy to die. Cavemen, man-eating plants, yetis, snakes, all manner of traps: everything conspires against you. Even your own tools can turn on you. The levels, while random, come in themes, and every forth level leads to a different theme, whether it be jungle caves or sub-zero ice caverns. Each of these hides new perils, new ways to get hurt, new ways to die. The game is embedded with a terror of the unknown. If it wasn’t for that bedrock of familiarity, it might be too daunting to play.***It’s hard not to notice the parallels when I get to more recent letters and more recent exes. Patterns emerge and the repeating beats are unsettling. A narrative of desire and regret plays out several times. And here I am at regret again. Moving out of my home because it isn’t much of a home anymore, and having nobody to really blame but myself. Realizing you’re in a cycle is the first step to breaking it, but it’s also a sobering reminder of your limitations.***I’ve played Spelunky dozens and dozens of times these last three weeks. It’s a distraction, but it’s a necessary one. I can deal with things a lot better without constant reminders of what I’m losing.So I load up the game and try going straight through without using shortcuts, but I never get very far.Somewhere between playthrough 50 and 60 an unsettling thought emerges: Maybe I’m not doing so well in Spelunky because I’m just not learning anything. Maybe the problem isn’t the game. Maybe the problem is me.  

The TV’s already gone, and, regardless, the consoles are packed away. They were one of the first things to go, a fount of distraction that would keep me from the tedious work. Of course, I just end up on my PC, which will be the last thing to go. I can play Spelunky and fool myself into thinking that I’m not procrastinating

If I dug out my NES from the plastic bin it’s in, and then managed to find the copy of Super Mario Brothers (that I packed in a separate box) I’d be able to play the same game I played almost 18 years ago. The first stage, with all its secrets and shortcuts, is clear even now in my mind. I don’t need to dig through the boxes of stuff: it’s burned into my muscle memory.

Spelunky randomly generates levels. That’s to say, I can’t look back in 18 years and play its first level from memory. Its first level changes. Every level changes. There are some constants. The type of enemies don’t change, for example. Neither does your skill set; you always have the ability to jump, unfurl your whip, throw a bomb, or launch a rope. But extra abilities and items are never in the same place, nor are the enemies, because the geography is never static. You can’t beat Spelunky with memory. You have to understand the game and how it works.


***

I was right to pack my personal stuff first. I went through my desk drawers, garbage bag beside me, ready to discard everything that was meaningless. I ended up filling two bags with old receipts, bills, business cards, stray buttons, manuals to long dead electronics, etc.

My personal things take up much less space. There’s a healthy smattering of movie tickets and concert stubs, but it’s mostly letters. My first batch, letters from a long distance ex, are old wounds and I’ve poured over them enough times that the individual letters have lost their power. There’s just a collective numb sadness about the whole thing, that old ache that only exists when it rains.


***

Spelunky’s masterstroke is in the way it sits comfortably in the land of the familiar and the new. The randomly generated terrain gives me something fresh, something to hook me in. But the retro pixel art along with the gameplay and mechanics – some of the oldest in gaming – evoke those lazy Saturday afternoons playing Ghosts ‘n Goblins. So each play feels simultaneously comfortable and fresh.

The familiar cushions the fact that, while there are new pleasures to discover, the world of Spelunky is a harsh place. When you die, you start the whole ordeal again from the beginning, and it’s incredibly easy to die. Cavemen, man-eating plants, yetis, snakes, all manner of traps: everything conspires against you. Even your own tools can turn on you. The levels, while random, come in themes, and every forth level leads to a different theme, whether it be jungle caves or sub-zero ice caverns. Each of these hides new perils, new ways to get hurt, new ways to die. The game is embedded with a terror of the unknown. If it wasn’t for that bedrock of familiarity, it might be too daunting to play.

***

It’s hard not to notice the parallels when I get to more recent letters and more recent exes. Patterns emerge and the repeating beats are unsettling. A narrative of desire and regret plays out several times. And here I am at regret again. Moving out of my home because it isn’t much of a home anymore, and having nobody to really blame but myself. Realizing you’re in a cycle is the first step to breaking it, but it’s also a sobering reminder of your limitations.

***

I’ve played Spelunky dozens and dozens of times these last three weeks. It’s a distraction, but it’s a necessary one. I can deal with things a lot better without constant reminders of what I’m losing.

So I load up the game and try going straight through without using shortcuts, but I never get very far.

Somewhere between playthrough 50 and 60 an unsettling thought emerges: Maybe I’m not doing so well in Spelunky because I’m just not learning anything. Maybe the problem isn’t the game. Maybe the problem is me.  

History Lessons

I’ve been in Portugal for two months now. My biggest struggle has been trying to make sense of all the disparate threads that underline modern Portugal, a metaphor to crystallize what I’m looking at. I thought the key to all of it was the suburban alcove that I’m staying in. It’s a manufactured piece of land that didn’t exist ten years ago. What was then farmers’ fields is now condos, a gas station, a super market, and a Burger King. I still think it’s a powerful symbol: all these condos are being built while the country suffers a financial crisis that has led to a credit crash and an IMF loan with steep, and potentially devastating, conditions. But this is a symbol of the Portugal that is yet to come, instead of the Portugal I’m in right now.

After weeks the answer presented itself in a story my aunt told:

When she was a child, about 30 years ago, she had a cousin who fell down a flight of stairs. Despite hitting her head pretty hard, she was fine. But it was around that time she started to have fits. Shaking, convulsing. The whole deal.

The child’s mother wasn’t sure what to do. She took her to the village’s doctor, who didn’t really have a straight answer aside from recommending she go to the hospital. So they went to the hospital, and they ran their tests and they hazarded some guesses, and gave her some medicine, but the girl still had fits. The mother wanted answers, not guesses.

At one point, she asked the local priest, a severe man, and a known exorcist, to come and see her. She even had a seizure while he was there. The mother was hoping that the priest would have the answer, but he just shook his head, “She is not possessed.”

At her wit’s end the mother had one last recourse. Early one morning she went to the other side of town, to the village witch. The mother, sheepishly, presented her young daughter to the old witch, and told her everything: told her of the fall and of the fits, of the doctor and of the priest. The witch hears all this and says, “She doesn’t need a witch! She needs a head doctor! She has epilepsy!”

Potential

This is Reed’s daily routine.

1. After waking up, he opens up a can of Jolt Cola. If Jolt Cola is unavailable, he is willing to use RC Cola.

2. In a separate large glass, he drops three cubes of ice. Full cubes, if possible.

3. He pours the Cola into the glass. He lets it sit for two minutes.

4. He drinks the glass halfway.

5. He then opens a can of chilled Red Bull, pours it into the glass, leaving an inch at the top. He downs whatever remains in the can.

6. With his old beat-up espresso machine, he pulls a shot and pours it into the glass. He lets it sit for 10 seconds.

7. He chugs it all down, uninterrupted..

8. He lies back down in bed for 16 hours, staring at the ceiling, thinking.

Lansdowne Station Malaise

Big Money is at his strip club. It’s not open yet, of course. The laws of God and man won’t let it be open before 11. He is fine with that.

His place is next to a church. They share a wall. When he bought the place, much emphasis was placed on how lovely the neighbours were. Big Money has always tried to reciprocate.

Big Money likes to sit outside the club in the morning and get a sense of the street. It is a warm summer morning, nice now, but he knows it will turn into one of those days where the simple act of breathing becomes a chore. He has never been to his native Philippines, his mother always promised to take him back someday, but she passed away when he was a young man, so that never came to pass. Still, the stories she told of the heat remind him of this. And visa versa.

His calender is full today. He has fingers in many different pies, one of every flavour. He has a successful ATM tampering business, for one. The regulars know not to use the ATMs in his strip clubs because, sure as shit, you account will be lightened a few hundred. They shrug: the bank is insured, and will give it back. Victimless crime, really.

The strip clubs are a nice, safe business, but they depress him. The clientele make it worse. In one of the back rooms an elaborate ritual takes place: She slits her wrist, and he slits his and they suckle on the other’s wound, a sad hunger in their eyes, never fulfilled. Big Money himself fells the custom is too tribal, too raw. He is city-bred and is above such things. 

There’s talk that the entire west end is starting to be infected with airborne depressants. It is accidental, the effect coming from a nearby gelatin factory. The science escapes him, but a modern day chemist wouldn’t know what to do with the mixture either. This is something for the gypsies and warlocks, of which there are few in the city. Tell one of the witches about the combination of bones and hoofs and oils being burned up at the factory and they might tell you it’s a powerful force of bad will.

Be that as it may: The west end has him down.

Pac-Man remembers when he could run this course in 20 seconds. That was a long time ago. That was before he and his best friend and manager, Maury Horvath, were multi-millionaires. Before Pac-Man changed his name from Puck-Man (“It sounds a bit too…ethnic.”). Before his very public divorce.
Pac-Man is older now. Not as fit as he used to be (and can you blame him? He puts on some much for every role). He goes to his personal gym whenever he’s got a lot on his mind. Under these unflattering fluorescents, he runs. Today, he sees a familiar face.
It’s Maury. In a track suit.
“Oh no. No, we’re not talking about this.”
Pac-Man starts another lap and Maury, lazy on his best day, is already puffing and wheezing. He tries to keep up, but gives up and shouts, “I really think you aren’t giving this a chance.”
“It’s already been given a chance Maury. It’s name was Doodle Jump. You can put me in it Maury, but that doesn’t change that this is a rip-off”
Maury coughs again. He walks to the gym wall and leans. Pac-Man does not care. He keeps on running the course. “I don’t want you to think this is because it’s an iPod game either. You know it’s not about that,” Pac-Man says, zigging and zagging through the course.
“You saying that it’s not about that, means that it’s about that. I know you can” -cough- “open a big console game, you’ve got that momentum, I’m just keeping you open to new paths. Championship Edition opened a lot of doors. Let’s keep ‘em open.”
Championship Edition. Pac-Man smiles. He remembers that. People had been saying that he was done in this town for years, that his jump to 3D was a joke. Back in the day, even Sonic would make cheap shots him. “Sells more cereal than consoles.” Oh, how they’d laugh.
Championship Edition changed that. It was a gamble. A remake, but better, with the same star and same director. Maury was the only one who believed in him in those days, and now…
Pac-Man finishes his lap. “I know what this is. This…who’s the kid behind this.”
“Can I smoke in here?”
“No.”
Maury makes his way to a bench and sits down, “I don’t know” -wheeze- “who they’ve got” -wheeze- “attached.”
Pac-Man squirts some water over his head and towels himself off. He lets out a sigh of relief. His knees are killing him. “Who ever it is, they’re using my name. Not just mine. Dig Dug. Galaga. Those were good games. It just feels like a greatest hits.”
“Oh, woe to you, Pac, you’re getting old. You’re reading yesterday’s news: we’re all getting old.” Maury gets up, realizes what a silly idea that was, and sits right back down.
“It’s a gimmick Maury. You know that. You can see that, right? Sure, add some power dots to the mix, add some old school goons and you’ve got a hint of nostalgia, but it’s old news. I don’t want to do it.”
He sits down next to Maury. His knees are on fire.
“I’m sorry Pac, I’ve got to smoke.” Pac-Man just waves him off. He’s too tired to resist. “Things are more complicated then that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Pac…it’s…look, with the recession…certain assets aren’t as…”
“Oh God.”
“I was hoping we wouldn’t have to have this conversation, but we’re having this conversation. This,” he gets up and spins around like he’s doing a drunken rain dance, “All this will just go out the window. If you even have a window at the end of it.”
Pac-Man is shaking. He feels faint.
“Look, Pac, you can keep your integrity, or you can keep your house. But you can’t keep ‘em both.”
Pac’N - JumpStarring: Pac-ManComing to an iPhone near you in 2011!

Pac-Man remembers when he could run this course in 20 seconds. That was a long time ago. That was before he and his best friend and manager, Maury Horvath, were multi-millionaires. Before Pac-Man changed his name from Puck-Man (“It sounds a bit too…ethnic.”). Before his very public divorce.

Pac-Man is older now. Not as fit as he used to be (and can you blame him? He puts on some much for every role). He goes to his personal gym whenever he’s got a lot on his mind. Under these unflattering fluorescents, he runs. Today, he sees a familiar face.

It’s Maury. In a track suit.

“Oh no. No, we’re not talking about this.”

Pac-Man starts another lap and Maury, lazy on his best day, is already puffing and wheezing. He tries to keep up, but gives up and shouts, “I really think you aren’t giving this a chance.”

“It’s already been given a chance Maury. It’s name was Doodle Jump. You can put me in it Maury, but that doesn’t change that this is a rip-off”

Maury coughs again. He walks to the gym wall and leans. Pac-Man does not care. He keeps on running the course. “I don’t want you to think this is because it’s an iPod game either. You know it’s not about that,” Pac-Man says, zigging and zagging through the course.

“You saying that it’s not about that, means that it’s about that. I know you can” -cough- “open a big console game, you’ve got that momentum, I’m just keeping you open to new paths. Championship Edition opened a lot of doors. Let’s keep ‘em open.”

Championship Edition. Pac-Man smiles. He remembers that. People had been saying that he was done in this town for years, that his jump to 3D was a joke. Back in the day, even Sonic would make cheap shots him. “Sells more cereal than consoles.” Oh, how they’d laugh.

Championship Edition changed that. It was a gamble. A remake, but better, with the same star and same director. Maury was the only one who believed in him in those days, and now…

Pac-Man finishes his lap. “I know what this is. This…who’s the kid behind this.”

“Can I smoke in here?”

“No.”

Maury makes his way to a bench and sits down, “I don’t know” -wheeze- “who they’ve got” -wheeze- “attached.”

Pac-Man squirts some water over his head and towels himself off. He lets out a sigh of relief. His knees are killing him. “Who ever it is, they’re using my name. Not just mine. Dig Dug. Galaga. Those were good games. It just feels like a greatest hits.”

“Oh, woe to you, Pac, you’re getting old. You’re reading yesterday’s news: we’re all getting old.” Maury gets up, realizes what a silly idea that was, and sits right back down.

“It’s a gimmick Maury. You know that. You can see that, right? Sure, add some power dots to the mix, add some old school goons and you’ve got a hint of nostalgia, but it’s old news. I don’t want to do it.”

He sits down next to Maury. His knees are on fire.

“I’m sorry Pac, I’ve got to smoke.” Pac-Man just waves him off. He’s too tired to resist. “Things are more complicated then that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Pac…it’s…look, with the recession…certain assets aren’t as…”

“Oh God.”

“I was hoping we wouldn’t have to have this conversation, but we’re having this conversation. This,” he gets up and spins around like he’s doing a drunken rain dance, “All this will just go out the window. If you even have a window at the end of it.”

Pac-Man is shaking. He feels faint.

“Look, Pac, you can keep your integrity, or you can keep your house. But you can’t keep ‘em both.”

Pac’N - Jump
Starring: Pac-Man
Coming to an iPhone near you in 2011!

without a radio, we can all still hear it in our bones

Well, it’s…it’s 1:35 in the morning here at HITZ 103.5: It’s 1:35 a lot of places, actually. Maybe if it’s a cool night you’re getting me down on the other side of the lake. If you are, give us a call. Lines are open.

That last track was, of course, Toxic by Britney Spears. A good song. Not my favourite, personally, I’ll be honest. Unpopular opinion, but I hold up Womanizer to be the better song. Unpopular opinion. I might have to hang up my badge, my radio presenter badge, I’d have to hang it up if anybody ever found out.

The one before that was Backstreet’s Back. Off of their second album. That really solidified them. That second album—let’s look at it straight on—no sophomore slump. They just delivered. They were on a run there. Millennium came next and that has a lot of staples, a lot of good tracks there. Larger than Life. That’s off that album. You know, their fourth album, Black and Blue also solid. They all have that glossy Max Martin sound. It was a mistake to move away from that. Hindsight is 20/20. Easy for me to say.

A lot of comparisons have been drawn between them and the New Kids on the Block, but I think Maurice Starr didn’t know how to use the talent in his group at first, and then he…he stumbled on it. Still churned out two solid albums. The Backstreet Boys were better for the form. Tried slightly different things. And Martin was a good producer, but he had great talent too, and there were these little incremental leaps of genius. What do you think? Give us a call. The lines are open. While we’re waiting, let’s take a short commercial break and get to some more music. You’re listening to HITZ 103.5: The Station that Never Sleeps!

—-

Zigga-a-zig-ah. God. A classic. Just burst onto the scene. And that video. That video. Jeez. Lyrically, they’re still very playful, not really plunging the depths. We draw the Madonna comparison when talking about Lady Gaga. That’s true, it’s a – it’s a very valid comparison to make. But stylistically, the Spice Girls – you can trace a direct line to the Spice Girls.

Madonna broke new ground, but she was obvious about it. She broke new ground to break new ground and now that no ground exists to be broken, well, what do you do? Lady Gaga, well, she’s an engine of change, but—you know what? Let’s leave that open to some callers. You know the number.

No, the Spice Girls. They just…they just were something else. That video, running around in their loud casual clothes, their style, in the face of the British upper class. It’s not a class thing, though. It’s about being free. Free of everything. Free of—free of—free of ideology. I think that’s what I thinking of. They were expressing freedom. What it means to be free.

We’re coming up to 2AM here at HITZ 103.5: The Station that Never Sleeps.  

—-

It’s 3:03 AM here at HITZ 103.5. We are the Station that Never Sleeps. No matter how much we may want to. We’re having some technical difficulties, I’m told. Should only be a few minutes. That’s what that dead spot was a few minutes back, and we’re just checking equipment on our end.

Last week I was at a music festival. Primavera Sound, in Barcelona. I went to see Pulp. I am a big fan of their work, which any long time fan is sure to know. I’m usually good for one – at least one – Pulp song a night. They were great. Of course. Been out of the game for ten years, and you wouldn’t know it.

Hearing them play Underwear was surreal. Just surreal. It puts me in this different time altogether.

[cough]

Sorry, excuse me.

My..ummm…my…ummmm…ex-wife, before she was my ex-wife, before she was my wife, even, was with this son of a bitch. Hit her. Hard. From what she says, he was a big guy that hated his life and took it out on her and their son. She left him, thank Christ, and we met, and I remember on one of our first dates she told me one of her favourite songs is I Will Survive. Made sense to me. I asked it if gave her strength, and she said, no. That the song only really meant something after the fact. That it reminded her of that time, of all of what she was feeling. It was a…a….a…symbol. A symbol.

You know, it’s funny, I hate I Will Survive because it reminds me of that piece of shit asshole. Sorry, excuse the, the, language. I just picture him beating her and it makes me mad. Not all the time, but sometimes I hear it, when I’m at the gas station, or in an elevator, and it just brings that to mind. Funny.

I didn’t really think of it much of that until I was at this festival. I had some off hours and walked around and I went to this band’s thing. I just saw two drum kits and I thought, “Alright, these seem like my type of guys.” I sat down and waited. Guy comes out and it’s…I don’t know…dance music, it was dance music. Stuff that you move to. Saw these kids dancing, and just moving to the music, but…it was like they were in a trance. There was nothing in between them and the music. Where ever the song went, they went too, and it was unlike anything I’d really known. Even early 90s Madonna, the dance stuff, or Ace of Bass, were impossible to get completely lost in.

It just got me thinking…some of this music, maybe even a great deal, is about the memories that come with it. Everybody goes to Pulp, because Pulp…gives them a taste of nostalgia. For me at least, they bring to mind that point where the secrets of sex are starting to bubble to the surface, and for you, maybe it’s just that charge of being young and overwhelmed with a vague confusion. Music has changed, you know. It used to be about the past, but you kids are looking for the future. You go to these things, all of these things and you just have your head so deep in it. There were over hundred bands playing. But they chase after them. It’s more than just hearing the new sound, nowadays it’s about hearing the next sound.

But I think, and this is going to sound weird, but that you’re trying to find music for the future. You’re going to find that one damn song that just glows, and you will build a moment to fit that song perfectly. Then you find another song, and try to do it again. Instead of having a life then attaching songs to it, you scout out the soundtrack to a future you will build. Does that make any sense? It’s not about capturing who you are, or who you want to be, but where you want to be. 

[cough]

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaannd it looks like we’re back in business. We’re gonna slide into a few minutes of commercials and then get into another commercial-free half hour of all your favourites, here on HITZ 103.5.

Form and content: A review of “All Day”

On November 15th, Girl Talk released a new album, All Day. If there are still holdouts, the arguments against Girl Talk are getting slimmer. All Day is a reminder that, despite the number of party DJs and bedroom mashup artists, nobody does it better than Gillis.

On paper, albums by the party-owning cut-and-paste DJ Girl Talk exist for instant gratification: There’s the grin-inducing spot-the-samples game (i.e.: “Shiiit, M.O.P. murder vows ladled over ‘Party In The U.S.A.?’”), and there’s also the fact that the entire mega-mash-up is stupendously danceable. Gillis’ musical Frankenstein project recycles many of the hooks and samples he used on his first LP—Jackson 5, Bananarama, Ludacris and the Beastie Boys (or at least the Pringles commercial-perverted version of the Beastie Boys.) All Day is just a refinement of Gillis’ technique. The samples are somehow more karaoke-machine-universal than ever, and his formula of mixing current hip-hop with ‘80s and ’90s nostalgia trips hasn’t changed in the least. But neither has his ability to churn out infectious mash-ups capable of turning even the stiffest blokes into dancing machines.

Night Ripper and Feed the Animals showed Gillis making good on the spotty promises of his earlier efforts (Few things can be funnier than hearing Jay-Z try to shout “JIGGA MOTHAFUCKA” while being cheese-grated through the theme to The Price Is Right) both consistently energizing, engaging, and — perhaps most importantly — wonderfully self-aware. 2006’s Night Ripper — the very point at which people started buying Girl Talk tees and reading Gillis interviews — is a frequently brilliant, nigh-impossible feat of pop cultural bricolage, and a far greater work of art than most seem to have credited it.

Befitting the party-starting functionality of All Day, it doesn’t ever go into the chin-stroking appeal of obvious precedent and the samples aren’t given new contexts so much as new purposes.  Foxy Brown’s “Hot Spot” becomes softer and more accessible when paired with the soothing croons of Peter Gabriel. The chords of “Blitzkrieg Bop” seem to be shifted into a minor key juxtaposed with “Get Ur Freak On,” as if Gillis makes some secret connection between disparate acts. Gillis seems less frenetic on All Day, less possessed by a manifesto of cramming as many samples into as small as space as possible. "Get It Get It" is the best illustration of how the roomier confines of these songs allow the samples to breathe, evolve, and take on a life of their own without wearing out their welcome.

On All Day, he doesn’t seem to have any overarching ideology, no consistent ethic in mind to give the record a sense of cohesiveness. What All Day and Girl Talk himself are nostalgic for is not a specific sound or even a specific period of time, even though Gillis’ sweet spot is alt-rock and pop-rap from the 90s. It’s not “hey, remember ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’” or, “whoa, what happened to Skee-Lo,” but rather nostalgia for a time when MTV and radio were the primary methods of conveyance. So what does this mean? Is the essence of a song really just something that can be pared down, all the fat trimmed off?

The point is simple: “shut up and dance”.

On May 21st,  Harold Camping predicted that the rapture would happen and that the faithful would rise up and be taken to heaven. This is ridiculous. Unbelievably so. We know this now, because the date has long pased, but nobody was falling for it at the time either. Everybody had an off the cuff sarcastic remark the day of and the weeks leading up to it. It was an easy target.
But let’s imagine it did happen. Just for a second.
Imagine us being left behind.
Not so much the particulars of going back to business as usual, because I don’t think we’d lose that many people. Just imagine what it would be like to try to live in a post-rapture world. One day people just disappear. Confused Facebook statuses. Hashtag #rapture. The question left for everybody else: What now?
Would Jesus be coming? When? Is this it? Some denominations say that the period following rapture is one of severe famine and war, while others say that we’ll be ruled over by a benevolent Anti-Christ. There will be a lot more questions, and precious few answers.
How would people of different faiths react? The ones that lived exceptionally good lives, but just worshipped the wrong God? Christian church attendance, for one, would skyrocket, I think. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…
Imagine how suspicious you’d be of people around you. You’d secretly wonder why they’re down here with the rest of us. The Rapture would make us all damaged goods. Maybe not individually, but as a culture. We are the reject pile.
I think the 20-something Parkdale crowd will talk about that one guy who got taken. Kenny. The one who wrote plays. “He seemed like an alright guy.” They’ll talk about him and how they never saw any of his plays. He will become The Writer Who Was Taken. They’ll break into his apartment one day and get his computer running, and hijack the .txts and .pdfs. They’ll stage his plays because they’ll want to understand who Kenny was, and maybe hidden in this one act about an oppressive father there will be some sort of hidden truth about how we should live. One guy will unironically call the play post-ironic. He will talk about how irony has been dead for a while. He’ll talk a lot. When the end comes, when the rapture comes, we’ll all talk a lot.  

On May 21st, Harold Camping predicted that the rapture would happen and that the faithful would rise up and be taken to heaven. This is ridiculous. Unbelievably so. We know this now, because the date has long pased, but nobody was falling for it at the time either. Everybody had an off the cuff sarcastic remark the day of and the weeks leading up to it. It was an easy target.

But let’s imagine it did happen. Just for a second.

Imagine us being left behind.

Not so much the particulars of going back to business as usual, because I don’t think we’d lose that many people. Just imagine what it would be like to try to live in a post-rapture world. One day people just disappear. Confused Facebook statuses. Hashtag #rapture. The question left for everybody else: What now?

Would Jesus be coming? When? Is this it? Some denominations say that the period following rapture is one of severe famine and war, while others say that we’ll be ruled over by a benevolent Anti-Christ. There will be a lot more questions, and precious few answers.

How would people of different faiths react? The ones that lived exceptionally good lives, but just worshipped the wrong God? Christian church attendance, for one, would skyrocket, I think. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…

Imagine how suspicious you’d be of people around you. You’d secretly wonder why they’re down here with the rest of us. The Rapture would make us all damaged goods. Maybe not individually, but as a culture. We are the reject pile.

I think the 20-something Parkdale crowd will talk about that one guy who got taken. Kenny. The one who wrote plays. “He seemed like an alright guy.” They’ll talk about him and how they never saw any of his plays. He will become The Writer Who Was Taken. They’ll break into his apartment one day and get his computer running, and hijack the .txts and .pdfs. They’ll stage his plays because they’ll want to understand who Kenny was, and maybe hidden in this one act about an oppressive father there will be some sort of hidden truth about how we should live. One guy will unironically call the play post-ironic. He will talk about how irony has been dead for a while. He’ll talk a lot. When the end comes, when the rapture comes, we’ll all talk a lot.