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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Nicsperiment's 9 Best Albums of 2010

The usual setup: I haven't listened to all the music released this year. I have listened to a lot of music this year. Of what I have listened to, here are my nine favorites and why:
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9. The Gaslight Anthem--American Slang--This is good, old-fashioned rock and roll. Though Gaslight Anthem has shorn off most of their punk-rock edge, the songs are still strong enough to carry the album. If this album has one weakness, it's that the lyrics are a bit too obtuse to tell the All-American story vocalist Brian Fallon seems to be going for, but that is a tiny weak mark against a very strong album.
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8. Mono--Holy Ground: NYC Live--Of course, if you are Mono, you do not need lyrics. Accompanied by the aptly named Wordless Music Orchestra, Mono plays through most of their 2009 release, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, as well as several older songs. The two guitars, bass, and drums already sound like an orchestra of their own, so Mono's post-rock stylings slip perfectly into the setting. This is perhaps the most emotionally powerful album of the year, and no one utters a word.
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7. A Plea for Purging--The Marriage of Heaven and Hell--From the first scream, A Plea for Purging vocalist Andy Atkins sounds extremely angry, and that tone carries throughout this pummeling album. The title here is literal--the band spends all ten tracks attacking preachers who bring business into the church--and the attitude is relentless. APfP also toss in clips from absurd "prosperity" sermons throughout, amping the outrage, and by the time the final sample is burned away, one feels like they just got into the fight of their life, lost, but somehow won.
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6. The Contortionist--Exoplanet--If a death metal Sci-Fi concept album tickles your fancy...Actual lyrics from this album:
A warning to conducting officers of the machine:
You are exposed to the diatomic focused gravity.
Stray cosmic rays are threatening our generational biosphere.
Celestial missiles envelop nearby space climate zones in the void.
Prolonged exposure to trace amounts of dark matter produces an exponential decomposition.

These are actually somehow all the lyrics from The Contortionist's song "Oscillator" and most of the other songs on Exoplanet follow in this mold. Also, this is probably one of the most beautiful heavy albums ever created, and contains at least three moments that are consistently tear-inducing. It's pretty.
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5.The Chariot--Long Live--And on that note, perhaps this list tilts heavier than usual, but I feel like there was more innovation in heavy music this year than any other genre. With a so-called "soft-rock indie revolution" being touted by hip websites like Pitchfork, it's no wonder that the really interesting things actually happened in the genre at the far opposite end of the spectrum. The Chariot are as heavy as it gets, channeling chaos into ear-confetti, and Long Live is their masterpiece, miraculously more atonal than anything they have released, yet also more listenable than almost anything anyone else has released. Soft-rock can suck it.
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4. Letlive--Fake History--And on THAT note, my major complaint with the direction music has taken lately is a lack of energy and passion. With a misconceived notion of irony and a missing interest in anything real, hipsters have popularized many bands that are far less interesting than hearing Lambchop's "Song that Doesn't End" on a five-day loop. Conversely, I can't think of any album I've heard this year with more passion or intensity than Letlive's Fake History. Their hardcore roots are only a starting template, and throughout the album they rip through so many unexpected directions, multiple listens are needed just to process. It's lively.
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3. Portugal the Man--American Ghetto--I feel like classic rock throwback bands are a dime a dozen these days, with bands trying desperately to emulate the sounds of past greats. Instead of doing this, Portugal the Man actually sounds like the natural progression of classic rock. They respect what came before, but keep their eyes on the present. On top of that, they actually sound like they are having fun, and American Ghetto plays out like a breezy summer day in a well-planted city-park.
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2. Deftones--Diamond Eyes--Art-rock pioneers Deftones should have nothing to prove, but after their last few albums hit depressing dark lows (while still being quite good) and losing their bassist to a coma, they have come back to show that they can release an album that doesn't seem to be coming from the perspective of rock bottom. Simply put, Diamond Eyes is a beauty, bringing out some of the dreamiest sounds Deftones have ever recorded while also containing some of their most brutal. I never thought this band would release a "feel good" album, but it's impossible not to do so after listening to Diamond Eyes. Chi Cheng would be proud his brothers have forged ahead.
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1. Gorillaz--Plastic Beach--Gorillaz's previous album Demon Days was a tough act to follow. Maybe that's why it took front man Damon Albarn five years to do so. Demon Days was a cohesive triumph, finding hope during dark times. In these more confusing days, Plastic Beach conveys conflicting emotions but is an even greater victory for Gorillaz. Though Gorrilaz is fronted by cartoon characters, no one else has songs with the honest emotions of "Melancholy Hill" or "Cloud of Unknowing" or that sound as downright cool as "Stylo" or "Empire Ants." As usual, it's near impossible to put Gorillaz into any kind of genre, but if you've ever felt a little left behind, lonely, sad, happy, confused, or really anything, than you can probably feel this album. It's the best thing I've heard this year.
I apologize for bagging so heavily on hipsters and so-called Indie music during this, and the previous year's list. I only do so because I feel like people are caring less and less and feeling less and less, and honestly anything that is real and not just trying to approximate emotion (isn't that what sociopaths and serial killers do?) is worth praising these days. Unless of course it is promoting killing yourself or hurting people in which case no, no, no, that is bad.
Also of Note this Year (In Alphabetical Order):
Anberlin--Dark is the Way, Light is a Place--Anberlin proved something in 2010: they are a cheesy rock band. They can write a good, hard-driving rock song as well as anyone, but apparently the one time they decided to load an album with them (2007's Cities) was a fluke. What Anberlin would really like to do is record a few good rock songs and bury them in between schmaltzy ballads. Then again, if cheesy rock ballads are your cup of tea, I really can't think of a band that does them better.
Arcade Fire--The Suburbs--While Arcade Fire has always put out enjoyable music, I've never bought this whole saviors of rock thing (about them or anybody). Win Butler's voice doesn't have the power to carry a great hook and wife Regine Chassagne's voice can be tweetingly grating at times. That said, their first two albums had some great songs, and this one does, too, but not as many, and the attempts to branch out into electronica do them no favors.
Demon Hunter--Storm the Gates of Hell--Demon Hunter have their most major member shakeup yet, and they lose a bit of the epic edge in the process. The guitarists are completely new to the band, and while their contributions are noble and Ryan Clark's voice has never sounded better, this release feels like it is missing something.
Interpol--Interpol--Interpol continue their downward spiral of diminishing returns. Their first album was a masterpiece., their second was okay, their third felt tentative, and their fourth just sounds unnecessary. It doesn't help that the band's strongest asset--its rhythm section--is handcuffed for almost half the tracks, bass low in the mix and drums non-existent.
Jars of Clay--The Shelter--Jars of Clay dropped another excellent album this year, featuring guest contributors on each song. If I was actually normal and made a top-ten list instead of a top-nine, this would have snagged the ten spot. At this point, this band can do no wrong. Every song is strong, and the guest artists add a feeling of community to the proceedings, but never distract. This isn't a hard-rocking release, but it is full of energy, spontaneity, and joy.
Joanna Newsom--Have One on Me--This three disc monster is a hard listen. Half of the songs are only harp or piano with voice-accompaniment, and to be honest, the band-backed tracks are much stronger. I can't help feeling that culling the best tracks into one disc would have made for a much more engaging listen.
Jonsi--Go--Sigur Ros' lead-vocalist, Jonsi, is a major reason the band reaches ethereal heights, but without the rest of his band, many of these tracks feel small and undercooked. Don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful album in it's own way, but this is dolphin leaping through a hoop at Sea World where Sigur Ros is a Blue Whale hurtling through the depths.
Linkin Park--A Thousand Suns--When Linkin Park first attempted to deviate from their fun but familiar rap-rock format, the result, Minutes to Midnight, was horrendous. They set themselves up for an even bigger failure here in an attempt to create a concept album centered around impending nuclear apocalypse as a metaphor for the way we treat each other...but somehow, it's actually...good. The rapper raps again, the singer sings again, every band member seems intent on doing what's best for the song, and they succeed in their concept. When singer Chester Bennington belts out the line Love keeps us kind at the end of the album, I actually felt it. It's a shame this album is being overlooked. The sum really is greater than the parts, so singles in this case don't really cut it. I applaud Linkin Park for sticking to their guns, producing the album they wanted and not selling out to popular tastes. I think it works.
The National--High Violet--I hate to call The National overrated because I really like this album...but The National are overrated. Because they come from an indie background but actually have a singer who can sing, and a band that can play, they inspire a lot of awe. The fact is that they have recorded some songs on this album that sound so epic they could be made into films, but once the 3/4 mark hits, everything kind of begins to slip into the same groove. Maybe next time they can bring more diversity into each track so that everything doesn't bleed together.
Norma Jean--Meridional--I have made no secret of my dislike for Norma Jean's previous album, The Anti-Mother. This is certainly a step in the right direction, a full-sounding album without any throwaway tracks. Three huge flaws from the last album still loom--The lyrics make no sense, the drums sound weak, and the guitars don't take any risks. Somehow this is still an enjoyable listen, and I can only hope they continue to go up from here.
Sade--Soldier of Love--From start to finish, this is fun to listen to, like talking to an old friend, even though a close listen reveals that musically she is doing things differently than she has before. I hesitate to call anything Sade releases aggressive, but the title is Soldier of Love, and she does step more heavily here than she has before.
Starflyer 59--The Changing of the Guard--As usual, Jason Martin's music is a blast to listen to, but if he gets any more low key, he will be dead. I miss the old bombast and 40 guitars layered on top of each other. After a pretty laid-back decade, I am ready for this guy to rock out again.
Sufjan Stevens--The Age of Adz--I could almost give this album its own blog entry, but to be concise: Sufjan ditches his banjo and any landmarks of previous music to present an almost entirely electronic album with some of the most straightforward lyrics he has written and some of the most schizophrenic arrangements. It has its merits (and to be honest, almost made my list), but it is just a bit too out there. Only a little bit, though.
Weezer--Hurley--This is leagues better than Weezer's previous album, Raditude, but that is not saying much--that album was terrible. On the bright side, at least half of the songs on Hurley are actually quite strong, but as has been the status quo for recent Weezer, the lyrics are sloppy, the riffs feel recycled, and there are hardly any guitar solos to be found. With that said...
Weezer--Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition)--Weezer finally releases the long-awaited re-issue of their 1996 masterpiece, Pinkerton, along with a ton of long-awaited B-Sides and live material. Just hearing the B-Sides awakens a hunger for the sound of the Weezer of yore and shines an even harsher light on the music they have been churning out as of late.
And finally, as always, there were plenty of albums I wanted to hear and haven't, or have heard but haven't formed an opinion of yet. Those albums will have to wait until next year for a mention, just like the following did:
Albums from 2009 that would have made that list had I heard them:
P.O.S.--Never Better--The best rap album I've heard in quite some time, with some of the best lyrics, and the most interesting backing tracks.. Vastly underrated.
That's it. I was shockingly on the ball last year. There was other stuff from 2009 I've recently heard that I liked (Phoenix's or Zombi's newest albums, for example), but nothing else I liked as well as the nine I listed then.

And if you made it all the way through this, you get a cookie.
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Book Should I Read?

I don't know how many times people have asked me that question. For some reason seeing me at peace with a book is a bit intimidating to some people--but it shouldn't be. Anyone who knows how to read can read a book. I'm not sure why a stack of pages scares people these days, but it does. I won't diss Kindle or Nook here--I don't go for it, but I think anything that gets people to read is a good thing, as long as it isn't inciting negative action. I guess in our blurby, tweeting culture, a single paragraph of connected sentences can be daunting, let alone pages and pages of them.
Well, stop whining!!!
Reading a book is easy. All you have to do is find something you like and read it. The more you read, the more you'll want to read, and, well, I'm just going to say it, the smarter you'll get. I'm serious. When you actually take in a full body of information and not just a synopsis or a collection of catchphrases, your brain will actually wrinkle. If you've read a book or two, you will know that wrinkling your brain is a good thing.
With that said, yes, I get that trying to form some sort of a reading pattern can be difficult. I love the classics, but if I read nothing but them, I get burnt out. Instead, I try to alternate more difficult books with lighter stuff. With a newborn in the house, I think I felt like reading a little bit more popcorn than usual this year, too. To get an idea of how to keep a steady rhythm going, here is every book I read in 2010 in chronological (the) order (that I read them):
I Am America, and So Can You--Colbert and Contributors
From Hell-Moore
The English Patient--Ondaatje
Sphere (2nd reading)--Crichton
Cruel Shoes--Martin
The Terminal Man--Crichton
The Corrections-Franzen
Friday Night Lights--Bissinger
The Awakening--Chopin
Something Wicked this Way Comes--Bradbury
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland--Carroll
Cash--Johnny Cash
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Outcast--Allston
Blood Meridian--McCarthy
2001:A Space Odyssey--Clarke
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Omen--Golden
Rabbit Run--Updike
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Abyss--Denning
Thing Fall Apart--Achebe
Star Wars: Shatterpoint--Stover
Rabbit Redux--Updike
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom--Kahn
The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War--Hemingway
Under Kilimanjaro--Hemingway
Red Harvest--Hammett
Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye--Ritz
At the Mountains of Madness--Lovecraft
The Call of Cthulu--Lovecraft
Rainbows End--Vinge
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Backlash--Allston
Star Wars fiction is a great guilty pleasure of mine, and the four I read this year recharged me after reading more difficult books. I meant to review every book I read this year, but if you've been following this blog for a while, you know how that went. Anyway, good luck in your own reading adventures. I'll have my annual top nine music list up soon.

I Love Being a Dad

Nothing else deep to say in that vein. All the things I wasn't feeling a year ago I am now. It's really awesome.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Tribute to Craig's Brother's Lost At Sea

Craig's Brother
**NOTE**As 2011 approaches, so does the ten-year anniversary of some of my favorite albums. The Nicsperiment will highlight the most underrepresented of these sadly unnoticed mini-masterpieces throughout the next year

At some point in high school I decided that the thing I really liked was punk music. Never one to dive too deeply into anything or go through a phase, this only manifested itself in sporadic MXPX and NOFX (any band with cool letters) listens, and a place in my senior book's favorite bands list as "obscure punk music" somewhere beneath U2, Portishead, and John Williams.
After high school graduation, I found a fat sum of bills in my pocket. I combined this money with my Wal-Mart Retirement Fund (another story, but I will just say that my five-month stint with Wal-Mart had ended by that point) to make a nice chunk of change, and I actually managed this money well for a year before blowing the majority on college books, a cheap bass and an even cheaper amplifier. By that point, listening to punk music wasn't enough. I actually wanted to play it--as quickly as possible--but I am getting ahead of myself.
Over the summer and my first semester of college I used a small portion of these funds to build up a sizable punk music library. I am using fancy words such as 'sum' and 'sizable," but let's be honest, for the first and only time in my life, I was going through a phase. One of the albums I purchased was Craig Brother's Homecoming, and for some reason, I found myself coming back to that album more than anything else. I even started speaking a little differently, the diction and intonation of the lead vocalist's voice coming out in my own. I am using fancy words like 'diction' and 'intonation,' but let's be honest, I sounded weird, and people noticed and made fun of me.
Anyway, I am not sure if it is fair to call this time in my life a 'phase,' as I still enjoy punk rock music more than most genres and still like all of the music now as equally as I liked it then, but that was the only period in my life where I completely ceased to listen to other genres. I was a rebel and all I liked was punk, flabnabbit. If the beat wasn't fast and the vocalist wasn't a little angry, I didn't want no part in it.
This period of time went on until February 27th, 2001, when Tooth and Nail Records finally released Craig's Brother's much delayed second album, Lost at Sea. I was working in a stage production called Final Exit at the time. I am using fancy words like 'stage production,' but in reality I was in a Christian Haunted House where I got to wear sweet Darth Maul makeup and scare the crap out of people. Being in close contact with a bunch of fellow Christians my age, I got to spend a healthy amount of time debating and lamenting various issues. As I was dealing with many conservative people (and I don't necessarily mean politically), I found my main argument with them to be:

1. America was not founded specifically by Christians to be a Christian nation during a golden age where everything was perfect that began at the beginning of time and lasted until the early 1960s when 'they' took prayer out of school. It was founded by enlightenment thinkers with a much different concept of God than many of us would call 'Christian' during a time like pretty much every other in human history where people mostly drank, fornicated, and hurt each other.

2. Actually, I summed up my main argument with people in # 1, except

3. Punk rock music is super awesome, and if you think it isn't, you are super lame. Also, don't tell me that heavy music where people scream is evil and un-Christian or I will kill you.

Anyway, this stage production shared a facility with a Christian Bookstore, and I made darned sure that on February 27th that store would have currently-on-a-Christian-distributed label Craig's Brother's new album Lost at Sea waiting for me.
They did. When I popped the CD into my car stereo with my younger cousin Calen (Calen, you made it to the Nicsperiment. That is your reward for being in Final Exit with me ten years ago), I heard the familiar boom-tap-boom-tap-boom-tap drum beat of the first song, "Glory." Then, about three minutes in, something crazy happened. The drums went into a martial beat and a children's choir began singing. It sounded kind of awe-inspiring in a way children's choirs don't usually sound.*
Then the next song started...and it was kind of slow. The vocals came in and vocalist Ted Bond suddenly sounded more R.E.M than Lagwagon. And then the lyrics hit me. And here is the first verse:

And though my sermon salts the air
My ears are still left empty, silence now holds dominion
Words once adorned are now laid bare
Unpolished lumps of nothing, so much unheard opinion

Wow. Somehow this dude hit exactly on my feelings at the time, and his voice was literally floating on an aggressive lullaby--literally, the song is called "Lullaby"--not a crazy punk rock beat. And wait, is that an E-Bow in there?--I didn't even know what the heck an e-bow was. The song ends with the lines:

There's so much to see with eyes wide open
But not a thing worth placing hope in.
Is that the idea?
It all seems like such a rip-off. Am I supposed to act like it's okay?
Take it like a man?
Don't give me that fantasy. I'm nothing but apathy and impotent anger.
And not a thing worth placing hope or anticipation
Except the gentle thought of darkness and silence and slumber?

I don't have to look these lyrics up because I still know them by heart. I must have listened to that song every day for three or four months straight after that drive. Then the next song, "Masonic," began and there was no punk beat there either. There were harmonies, though, and they were awesome, and there was a bass fill-in that wasn't composed of 8th-notes, and it was awesome. And just like whatever girl I was crushing on at Final Exit that obviously wasn't awesome enough to realize how awesome I was, the girl in this song rejected the singer, too...and it was awesome.
The songs just kept rolling, "Divorce" holding onto the punk beat as a familiar island, but the lyrics still pushing, "Head in a Cloud" following with harmonies that soared above them into Outer Space. Next was a song that was not only absent a punk beat, but featured a VIOLIN.** And those lyrics:

Have all the plans that you laid out so carefully
Fallen short of your Neo-Victorian fantasy
You cling to so desperately?
Despite the righteous beliefs that you profess
You still can't cover the stains that mark your Sunday dress
No need to confess

This song is followed by two non-punk relationship songs, "Falling Out" and "Set Free," the second of which is a ballad--not a love ballad--it's a breakup song, but certainly not cheesy or one-note. While not completely topical, these songs still fit the mood of the album, and, while still a bit heavy, lighten the tone a little, until punk music rears its boom-tat head again on the penultimate track, "Prince of America."

Prince of America
Why do your tears fall so rampantly?
Are you not satisfied, in a world without context
Where everything's trivial, and nothing has meaning
Not even the throne you're heir to?

The album ends with the title track, a 7-minute monster that incorporates all of the musical and lyrical ideas that came before it. I won't even attempt to describe this song lyrically because I can't really do it justice. Suffice it to say, if you thought the above lyrics were juvenile, you will think this song is more so, but if you are actually correct in your opinion and think they are awesome, you will think this song is even more so.
This album said everything I felt, carried all the punk-rock attitude that I wanted, but was, for its majority, not punk rock. The overarching musical style was pretty hard to describe. Punk influenced rock? Whatever the case, I began dusting off my older music. I replaced my old Portishead cassettes(!) with CDs. I started playing more tempos than breakneck on my Bass. I felt musically free again, but still loved my punk rock--I realized that in all honesty, everything that I liked artistically was punk rock in some form: The free-for-all aggression of Deftones or Project 86. The Edge only hitting one chord for an entire song when someone else would jam pack it with notes. The Dismemberment Plan feeling all out of place. Portishead not sounding like anyone else. Moby marrying 100 year-old gospel songs with dance beats. Bjork being out of her mind and not covering it up one bit but celebrating it.
All punk rock.
Also, at that point I really solidified my Christianity as rebellion mindset. Not rebellion "as the sin of witchcraft," but rebellion as standing against things that are anti-Christ--even if those things are the church (not The Church) and its misled members. Thanks, Craig's Brother! I'm sure this was your intention!
And a final goofy story on Craig's Brother's Lost at Sea:
One summer after college I hit a kind of dark patch and drank far more than usual. One night I ended up in a bar with a good buddy of mine and we ran into the bass player of a certain no-longer-together indie-rock band that was also on Tooth and Nail records (though far after Craig's Brother was), and the bass player's wife. We then conspired to drink ourselves into a stupor, though I became the go-to-guy for dusting off the pitchers, of course. At one point of mass consumption, the bassist and I happened to have our hands raised in the air, and our shoulder tattoos popped out. I had been contemplating getting the cover of Lost at Sea on my other shoulder for some time. I figured no one else on the planet would ever get this tattoo. Then I saw it on this guy's upper arm.
"Dude, that is so awesome," I said. "That is one of the best album's of all time. You beat me to it."
Now I can never get Lost at Sea's artwork permanently etched onto my body.
It's just not punk rock to get the same tattoo as somebody else.

*Legend has it that Craig's Brother, without the label's permission, hired a children's choir to perform the trendsetting vocal performance during the bridge to "Glory," only to find the children's performance unsatisfactory. The children's attending parents then took a crack at the part, and their performance is actually what made it to the album.
**More Craig's Brother trivia: Ryan Key, lead vocalist for flash-in-the pan (but by comparison to Craig's Brother, huge) punk band Yellowcard did a short stint as a Craig's Brother touring guitarist. Legend has it that Key once crashed the Craig's Brother van, then quit shortly after to form the aforementioned Yellowcard and briefly struck it big. However, the violinist from Yellowcard played violin on this decidedly non-punk sounding Craig's Brother song.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So How About It

Do you want this guy to make you part of the 'we,' 'all,' or 'our,' in how he is "changing how we all live our lives?"
I think I have made it pretty clear that I don't.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It is Really Something to be Alive Pt. 2

Crystal had to work today, so Fox, one year old, and I, twenty-eight years old, had to fend for ourselves. We only really get this one day together a week, since by the time I get home everyday from work he is almost ready for bed.
First we ran by the Post Office and then Sweet Wishes Cupcakes* to pick up some free ones Crystal had won. After this we went to Highland Road Park, and I carried Fox around.
Highland Road Park is mostly composed of trees and hills. It really isn't an Urban park. The wind was blowing really hard and Fox and I tried to duplicate its noise with our mouths, but it kept dissolving into laughter. We marched down a big hill and made staccato marching noises, crossed a stream**, and came upon a huge dirt pile. Of course when I see something tall I have to climb it, so up we went, much to Fox's delight. By the way, I forgot to mention that my book-loving son had been clutching Baby Beluga to his chest this whole time. As we reached the top of the pile, I held Fox up in the air, and his sweet baby mullet whipped around in the wind. Eventually we reached the tennis courts and gym at the back of the park. We peeked into the gym and watched some high school kids play basketball for a minute. I miss the sweet smell of sweat, rubber, and adrenaline, and the steady sound of the ball hitting the tile. I got a quick nostalgic shot of that anxiety I used to feel during opening tip-off, looking around, realizing that the kids in opposite colored jersey's were about to become my rivals for an hour. I hope Fox plays when he's old enough. We then walked through the tennis courts and witnessed hundreds of people sweating in the Louisiana December sun with no cellphones or computers***.
Fox and I took the long way back to the parking lot. The west park bridge was covered in police tape. Some kids, obviously celebrating the spirit of the outdoors by mistakenly taking the bridge for bonfire lumber, had burnt the bridge away****. Fox nestled his sleepy head into my neck, pressed baby beluga deep into my chest, and made smiley gurgling noises. He is clearly too cute for his own good.
Then we went home and I fed him his lunch while sneaking cupcakes while he wasn't looking. Yeah, don't think I'm mean, he is getting one after dinner. Just because I eat five pounds of cupcakes doesn't mean I'm a monster.
*You just gained five pounds from reading that sentence.
**I'm lying, it's a man made drainage ditch. But hey, when you are surrounded by trees and grass and can somehow sublimate all the cigarette butts and coke cans into clean earth, it's a stream.
***I'm actually typing this up on a typewriter.
****I'm sure this is what happened. Either that or Facebook maliciously burnt it away in a gambit to further keep people indoors.

It is Really Something to be Alive Pt. 1

Last night I went out to rent a film while my wife put our son to bed. As I passed the haunting lights of our Christmas Tree, I knew that it was a time to listen to my The Sixth Sense Soundtrack*. I knew that the movie, Citizen Kane**, was a Blockbuster Exclusive, but in an attempt to save $3, I checked the Racetrac gas station by the Interstate, which contains a Blockbuster Express machine. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a very frightening man sitting on the concrete, hiding behind the ice machine, smoking a cigarette. Maybe the music was making me paranoid. As soon as I opened my car door, someone ran full speed toward me. I ducked down into my car, only to hear a disengaged young female voice announce that her school dance team was short on funds and needed money for uniforms. I gave her all the cash I had in my wallet, one US dollar, the one with George Washington's face on it. She robotically thanked me and ran up to the next car pulling up. As I exited my car, I noticed teenage girls with money envelopes running all around the urban wasteland of a parking lot. I went inside, the machine did not contain Citizen Kane, and I walked back outside. The scary hiding man was putting his cigarette out on the curb, and I scurried to my car, drove away. I hit the Interstate, headed for the next exit. A loud noise blasted from inside my car and I jumped out of my skin. The noise came from The Sixth Sense Soundtrack, backing the moment in the film where the first ghost passes by the restroom. I laughed hysterically and drove on to Blockbuster.
The Blockbuster was packed***. I found Citizen Kane and walked to the counter. The three employee's were talking about how one of them liked to glue quarters to the ground in the mall, hide, and watch as people struggled and failed to pick them up.
"You jerk!" I yelled. "I fell for that once, and when I realized the quarter was stuck and I was being watched, I got so angry, I tried even harder to pull it up off the ground."
"So did you get it?"
"No! I felt like a moron."
As I left, one of the girls yelled, "Stay away from those quarters!"
The Sixth Sense Soundtrack ended. The final notes always remind me that we are all alone on this rock hurtling through the darkness together. Of course, I believe God is with us, but I truly feel he gave us each other so that we would not feel alone. I'm sure that's how watching The Sixth Sense makes you feel, too.
After the soundtrack ended I put on The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"****, and pulled up to another gas station because at this point I was out of gas. There was a large, scary man with a skull cap hovering near the Redbox machine next to the gas station. While I was pumping my gas I heard him yell, "What up, Puta!" to a Latino guy getting into his car. "Hey, screw you, man!" the guy yelled back and spun out of the parking lot. I tried to pump my gas as quickly as I could, but just as I was replacing the nozzle, I heard, "Say, bruh, whatup bruh?" in an incredibly deep voice.
Oh crap, I thought. I turned around and he was right in my face.
"Say, bruh, you got anything, even one or two dollars just so I can get some gas money, bruh?"
"I gotta be completely honest with you, man, I just gave my last dollar to those dance team girls running up and down the street."
"Hey, you my man, you my man. Say, bruh, put it right there."
He raised his fist, and I bumped it.
"Say, bruh, what does 'Puta' mean?"
"I heard it the other day and it sounded Mexican, so I told that Mexican dude just now 'Hey, Puta!' and he got all pissed at me."
"You probably shouldn't say it."
"Why, bruh, whas 'Puta' mean?"
"Ha. Something really bad."
He appeared to be edging over to my passenger side door so that he could go home with me.
"Haha, that's my boy. Say, bruh, you have a good night."
"You too, dude." I got in my car and left.
When I got home I made a special sauce out of mustard, mayonnaise, Budweiser Barbecue Sauce (tm), chili powder, and cayenne pepper, then spread it on a couple of Turkey and Cheddar sandwiches, tossed them in the sandwich maker, and drank a Pepsi Throwback while Crystal and I watched Citizen Kane.
*Because that movie was awesome. Seriously, no matter what you think of his later work, M Night Shyamalan made a masterpiece with that one (and I also think Unbreakable was a minor masterpiece).
**I'm lying. The film was actually Going the Distance, a romantic comedy my wife wanted to see, and I agreed to, as my last pick, Prince Caspian, was absolutely abysmal. It was even worse than the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe adaptation from 2005. Seriously, is it that hard to adapt a 140 page book? Don't even get me started. Going the Distance was actually a raunchy sex comedy more than a romantic comedy, but it was quite funny and Charlie Day stole the whole movie. If you don't know who Charlie Day is, nevermind. Go watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on the FX network at 9 PM Central, Thursdays.
***There were only two other customers inside. See the previous post.
****I'm lying, I put on "It's Been Awhile" by Staind.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I Am Going to Miss Blockbuster

There is something to be said for actually seeing and touching something. Slowly sensory experience is fading from our daily lives. The things we see grow more uniform, and more and more the things we see exist within the boundaries of a computer monitor. We do not have to see many people in person to live what is considered by modern standards to be a normal existence.
I love going to Blockbuster Video Store. I enjoy interacting with the people that work there. They are usually quirky and odd, and if I don't get a good movie conversation out of them, I at least get a memorable experience. I enjoy interacting with other customers. The only thing more gratifying than having a complete stranger amusingly tell me that a film I know I will never watch is a great movie I should definitely see is a complete stranger recommending a movie I can find common ground with them on, and then having an actual conversation with that person that reveals the human nature behind our likes and interests. I enjoy going into Blockbuster with no clue what I want to watch, having the case of a film I have never heard of catch my eye, renting that film on a whim, and watching it only to find it become one of my favorites. I enjoy falling for candy sales and unexpectedly chewing through a box of Jujyfruits while I watch my movie. I enjoy going into the store with my wife and having the shared experience of searching for something to watch, the goodhearted argument to see whose pick will win, other people overhearing and coming into the mix, me later grudgingly admitting that her pick was great, or hearing the same thing about mine.
I do not have a Netflix account and cannot comment on the act of clicking on an icon and watching a film while never leaving my home or encountering another human being, but I cannot imagine it being a more rewarding experience than what I have described above.
On my most recent trip to Blockbuster, the dire straits the business is in stood out more than ever. Discounted rental stickers hung on every case, every case crammed in an unorganized stack. Every month Blockbuster pops up as a business most likely headed toward bankruptcy. With the trend toward a completely isolated, computer-based existence rising exponentially, I don't imagine it will be long before I am forced to use my computer just to watch a film. At least there is still the theater...for now.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Final Overdramatic (Facebook) Note

This is the final note I posted on Facebook, archived for myself, I guess.

Most of our parents came of age in the 1970s, or "me decade." This phrase (coined by novelist Tom Wolfe) means (to quote all-knowing Wikipedia, which is iron-clad truth) that the 70s brought a "general new attitude of Americans towards self-awareness and away from history, community, and human reciprocity awareness." For some reason "finding oneself" has gone from generally not existing to apparently the most important activity one can partake in. Want to graduate college, get a job, settle down, find a place of residence, get married, and have children? That sounds like a plan...BUT WAIT!!! Have you found yourself yet? If not, I suggest you move back in with your parents. milk that as long as you can, and figure things out, dude. But this isn't really information I need to get out there. The 20s have transformed from a time of action and progress in one's life to a stagnant wasteland one wanders through until hopefully the miracle of the 30s happens. A lot of times, though, people do not want this for their life, but our society has changed so much that many have been forced into this position. I realize how fortunate I am to be where I am now, but I also spent a full year of unemployment after college hunkered down in my parents' house, clueless of what to do with myself. I also realize that I could lose everything and end up back in the bedroom with the Indiana Jones poster on the wall.
It's not that everyone even wants to have to "find themself", but even those of us who want to progress, even those of us who do not feel obligated to play X-Box Live in our childhood bedroom all day are forced into a stalemate by life. And let me add a quick note here: I do not think getting married and having children is the end all be all. It's not what everyone wants, it is not what everyone should want, and it CERTAINLY does not make anyone better than anyone else. Any idiot can get married and procreate. I am simply using this as an example of life progress because it is where I am right now and I am awesome and so worthy of your praise and attention, but I think the true goal is simply a sort of mental self-sufficiency where one thinks of one's self as an adult and does not feel like the world owes one more time to pedal one's bike with the kickstand down--finding one's self.
The only way you can actually find yourself is by the process of living. Feeling like you need 30 years to become an adult is not the way to do it. This is the world we live in now.
We live in the world of Facebook, where it is important to state your mind and who you are, to form an identity out of the things you can squeeze out of your keyboard as you sit alone in the dark. Or light. Dark just sounds more dramatic. Everything is about identity now, and Facebook is simply an outgrowth of that. In case you haven't caught on to what I am attempting to acheive in this clumsy segue, I am saying that Facebook is only an outgrowth of our society's continued trek inward--a trek away from community, but toward spending years locked inside ourselves in a desperate flailing solo waltz of self-expression. Yes, that was a dance metaphor. I could have said tango or samba, but for some reason waltz sounds sadder and more hopelessly isolating.
Instead of actual community, living one's life for others, we live our lives to satisfy the growth of ourselves. Facebook is a perfect tool for this lifestyle because no community is actually neccessary. Though we think of Facebook as a community, it is nothing but a digital mirror of ourselves, our wants and desires, a carefully sculpted view of how we want others to see, perceive, and understand us. Instead of dealing with the uncomfortable act of holding a conversation, we can say that we "talked" to someone when what we really mean is, someone commented on one of our pictures and said our shirt looked cool, and we said "thank you." This is not a real conversation. No one is looking into our eyes, no one is seeing the subtle motions of our mouth and faces, no one is reading our body language. There is no art to it.
The same society that has produced a generation of self-reflecting wanderers has also produced a system of communication in which it is never neccessary to step out of your own head.
As the age of growing up is pushed to the point where our bodies are obviously already degenerating by the time we feel we have reached it, Facebook and other social networking websites only further our inabilities by encouraging us to stay in a place where we don't have to. We don't have to build an actual support system or lay a foundation beneath it because we can just construct one from electronic, wi-fi fables.
Maybe it is time to return to a place of closeness and reality with one another where we can lift each other up, support each other, raise organic vegetables in self-sustaining gardens, feed the children, save the babies, drive cars that use love as fuel, end war, dance around a hill holding hands and spinning in a circle as flowers fall from the sky and Julie Andrews serenades us from the top of a mountain, and live in a pineapple under the sea, absorbent and yellow and porous. It is time to be human again.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

I've Finally Done It

Why I'm Leaving Facebook

I have had a Facebook account for exactly six years. Facebook reached LSU's campus during my final semester there, and I signed up in my final weeks. Back then only college students could create a Facebook account. In fact, you actually had to have a college e-mail address just to create an account. Back then Facebook was a fun diversion that I checked out a few times a week.

Fast forward six years.

95% of the people I know over the age of 10 have a Facebook account. It is ubiquitous. That means it is everywhere. There, you learned something on Facebook.

Anyway, I now check Facebook far more than once or twice a week. Facebook has been fully incorporated into my life. I can't go a day without telling hundreds of random and not-so-random people how cool the combination of what I am eating and listening to is. I can't go a day without intruding into other people's personal business--personal business that has now inexplicably become public knowledge. I can't go a day without looking at photos of people I never actually see or talk to in real life.

I can't go day without checking my stupid Facebook account. That is pathetic.

I haven't made it a secret that I am a bit of a technophobe, however, Facebook goes several steps beyond this. Facebook is not natural to human existence. To illustrate this while also highlighting a bit of my own character, here is a fake conversation between 28 year old Nicholas and 17 year old Nicholas. To set the scene, 17 year old Nicholas is sitting in his Thunderbird behind New Roads after school, watching the sun set over a cane field, listening to the radio (most likely to Portishead, Deftones, or The Police), and counting down the minutes until he has to go to work. 17 year old Nicholas has no cell phone and uses the Internet to read screenplays of movies that have not yet been released, download MP3's that take an entire night to finish, and look at other things perhaps best left unmentioned on a public forum. I use this version of myself because he was not afraid of anything and had solid and unshakable opinions. This was probably because he was naive and inexperienced, but still, he was pretty awesome.

28: Hey, dude!

17: Holy crap! You're me! And your nose is huge!

28: Yep, I am you in 11 years.

17: Awesome! Are you a famous writer now?

28: No, not really.

17: But you still write everyday, right?

28: Oh yeah, everyday. I work on my short stories, and novels, and Facebook.

17: Facebook?

28: It's a website...where you connect with people.

17: Connect with people? Sick, dude! I thought I would be married with a kid by now, not hooking up with random strangers on the Internet!

28: No, no, no, you are married with a kid.'s a social networking site...where you interact with your friends.

17: Like Instant Messenger? But I hate that crap! Anyone can have access to you at anytime. Why do you think I come out here by myself?

28: Well, it's not exactly like that. You post information on what you are currently doing and where you are and people can talk to you about it.

17: Why the hell would I want to do that? Where is the mystery? Most people have no idea what I do with my time, and that adds an enigmatic note to my life that makes me who I am. Really, it isn't anyone else's business. What are you doing to me, man?

28: Well, I mean, you can look at pictures of everyone else and see what they are up to, too.

17: This is a nightmare! So everyone can have almost unlimited access to almost everyone that they know?

28: Well, not just know. Anyone that you meet, even if you are probably never going to see again. And your parents' friends. Sometimes even their friends, too. But it's cool. I post funny things that make people like me more, and...

17: Wait, I care about what people think about me now?

28: Well yeah, don't you?

17: No dude, I don't give a flying crap.

28: Seriously?

17: Yeah, man. I don't care. And how is it anyone else's business anyway?

28: But...but...

17: The future sounds terrible. Really, that's what the Internet has dissolved into? Social networking? Do people still talk in real life?

28: Well...mostly we use Facebook and text.

17: Text? What do you do that with?

28: Your cellphone.

17: I have a cellphone now? No! If you have a cellphone it means that anyone can reach you anywhere. I never want a cellphone!

28: It is integral to your life.

17: No! I am moving to Canada.

28: Canada has cell phones and Facebook, too.

17: Great.

Anyway, enough of that. Essentially, I am quitting Facebook because it is merely a voyeuristic means to serve my own ego. It serves no useful purpose in my life except to keep in contact with people I don't otherwise see, and frankly, I can just do that with e-mail. There are other reasons of course.

For instance, one time after I posted a music video I enjoyed, a Christian woman I had only met on one occasion left the comment "Seriously?" under the video and immediately defriended me. Seriously? I didn't spend so much of my life fighting religious oppression (and still coming out with not only my faith intact, but my joys and interests as well) only to place myself in a position where people I barely know can take potshots at me again. I am an adult. That is just ridiculous. It happens all the time.

Also, the word 'ridiculous.' It is not 'rediculous.' If I have to see one more person spell that word incorrectly on here...well, I won't because I'm leaving.

I haven't even mentioned the times I could have been doing something constructive only to fall captive to Facebook's seductive spells.

And finally...Facebook is just unnatural. Just last night I saw an adult offend another adult by responding to their status with something that would have been appropriate in a real-life private conversation, but was absolutely humiliating in the Facebook environment. If not for Facebook, these division causing arguments would not even occur. At this point in history, do we really need more fruitless arguing and absolutely asinine things tearing us apart?

I guess we do.

Facebook fits in perfectly with our sound bite culture. Any idiot with a keyboard can say anything they want to anyone else at any time without putting any thought or care to it. Near unlimited access to information, and we use it to let everyone know what our favorite breakfast cereal is, or argue that someone else's favorite breakfast cereal sucks. Facebook is the slow death of American culture. It is why the brightest minds in China create bullet trains that can top 300 miles an hour, while our brightest minds' voices die out in limitless electronic fuzz.Yeah, I know that is melodramatic, but seriously, how much time is lost every year due to this one website?

If Facebook is still around in 50 years, it will most likely be in Mandarin.

And I'll probably be on it. But not now.

On Monday I am cutting the cord.

Hey, did you honestly think I would do this in a way that was not pretentious?