The Riff - November 2007

It's Hard Out There For a Daredevil...

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 5:46 PM PST
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Breaking news: Evel Knievel is dead at 69. As we remember the 1970s stuntman and orthopedic-surgery poster boy, let's also remember his unwitting contribution to our slang lexicon: He helped make it legal to call someone a pimp. In 2001, ESPN's website ran a photo of Knievel with a caption saying that he "proves that you're never too old to be a pimp." Knievel sued for defamation. The case made it to the Ninth Circuit Court, which ruled against Knievel, finding that ESPN had tagged him a pimp not to suggest that he managed prostitutes, but rather that he was, as the kids say, "cool." "It was most likely intended as a compliment," concluded the majority. Knievel's decision to try to jump over the majestic canyon of the First Amendment seems even more bizarre considering that, according to his AP obit, he used to brag about having been a "swindler, a card thief, a safe cracker, a holdup man." (Photo: evelknievel.com)

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Sundance Still Embracing A Misnomer

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 1:47 PM PST

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The Sundance Channel exists to produce sleek, artier-than-thou programming. That is its niche, and, though I personally choose not to watch shows like One Punk Under God and Anatomy of a Scene, I can accept that. What I refuse to accept, however, is the channel's willful mauling of the English language in service of a puffed up celebrity interview vehicle called Iconoclasts. Each episode pairs together two "iconoclasts" and "explores the intersection where two great talents meet—and where creativity comes alive," says Executive Producer Robert Redford. The third season wrapped up last night with a show featuring Madeleine Albright in conversation with Ashley Judd. Past episodes have featured Sean Penn with Jon Krakauer, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder with surfer Laird Hamilton, Renee Zellweger with Christiane Amanpour, and Robert Redford himself with Paul Newman. Even aging media mogul Sumner Redstone has been on. The thing is, this is probably a really great show for people who love celebrities—like E! True Hollywood Story for the alternative crowd—but none of these celebrities are actually iconoclasts. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word is (1) a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration or (2) a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions.

Genuine iconoclasts include H.L. Mencken, who made a career out of smashing all manner of popular beliefs and prejudices. There's a good case to be made for Salman Rushdie as a model iconoclast, with respect to both literature and religion. But Robert Redford? Look, I liked Sneakers as much as the next guy, but when was the last time Redford shattered any contemporary American idols? The point is, mere accomplishment in a given field does not an iconoclast make. I plan to e-mail Sundance about this; pedantic language-conscious Riff readers should feel free to do the same. Resist corporate verbicide!

—Justin Elliott

John Fogerty's Back

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 1:45 PM PST

It's still amazing to me that Creedence Clearwater Revival, a late-60s, early -70s Bay Area band, was so good at playing Louisiana swamp blues; but they were. And John Fogerty, the band's controlling but visionary leader, was largely the reason why (proof below).

At 62, Fogerty, despite a legacy of post-band-breakup lawsuits with record labels and band members, is back with a new solo release, Revival.

The album might as well be called "What's Done is Done. Let's Rock." There's an air of openness and self-awareness to album; sort of a second (or third) wind for Fogerty. Songs range from simple blues/country ("Don't You Wish It Was True") to reflective nods to the old days ("Creedence Song") to straight-up political rock and roll ("I Can't Take It No More").

Check out a good Q&A with Fogerty on Pitchfork.

Winter Holidays = God Awful Pop Music

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 6:01 PM PST
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Regrettably, I spent my morning listening to songs on the Monster Ballads Xmas CD and the LeeVees' How Do You Spell Channukkahh EP. Any holiday spirit I had when I woke up this morning has now been completely ripped out of my system.

I'm not sure why holiday rock almost always = terrible rock, but the monster ballad CD and the silly Jewish rock EP are living proof that rock songs about Santa and pop songs about potato latkes are not, and will never be, cool, funny, interesting, or enjoyable in any way. I want to personally thank them for giving me a full-fledged holiday headache.

Baby Grace: Sleeping in the Bed Her Mother Made

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 9:52 AM PST

You have to be made of stone not to have been following the Baby Grace case. The one that had hardened cops weeping and fondling tiny pink sneakers after her little decomposed body was found floating in Galveston Bay. Even the forensic artist brought in to create her likeness so she could be identified came away moved. After 14 weeks of nature taking its toll on Baby Grace's tortured little body, one would imagine that job to be a horrible one, but the beautiful innocence of a child whose true face she'd only ever see in her mind's eye makes the artists' description of that task simply transcendent:

St. Louie Woman: Sickness in the Suburbs

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 8:42 AM PST

This is one of those stories that you just can't stop thinking about and wondering what the hell is so wrong with people. You read the news and suddenly the whole hermit/Walden Pond thing just makes so much sense. If only there was a way to legislate against stupidity and viciousness. There isn't, but that didn't stop suburban St. Louis politicians from doing it anyway. Wrong as the underlying act was, heinous as it was, making online harassment, without a clearly stated threat, a punishable offense only makes things worse. Ninety percent of the blogosphere is prima facie harassment; they better get a lot more jails built and be ready to face a whole lotta 1st Amendment cases.

It's been hard to miss the story about the 13 year old girl who committed suicide after a MySpace boyfriend wooed, then cruelly mocked and dump her. The 'boyfriend' turned out to be the mom of her former best friend and only four houses down the leafy suburban cul de sac. As horrible as was a grown woman intentionally setting out to spy on a child (how dare she de-best friend her daughter), the details are even worse. The New York Times has the goods:

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Holiday Music Mercy Courtesy of The Killers

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 6:17 PM PST

The holiday season offers no shortage of peril: themed turtleneck sweaters, Bûche de Noël, office party punch. And of course, the one holiday intrusion that none of us can avoid, from the dawn of Black Friday through 'til Christmas Day, is the ubiquitous playing and marketing of Christmas music. This year, if all the harking of angels on high and Beach Boys covers are getting you so down that even Neil Diamond's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" can't raise you up, The Killers have just the song for you. "Don't Shoot Me Santa" is the feel-good—in a super dark way—iTunes download of the season, with all its proceeds going to AIDS charities as part of Bono's RED campaign. For those of us who have always dreamed of tying up Brandon Flowers with tinsel and tormenting him in the desert, Christmas has come a little early this year.

Wonder Woman Gets Her First Female Scribe

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 9:53 AM PST

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The Times just profiled Gail Simone, the first woman to write DC Comics' Wonder Woman series. MJ was on the story back in July, when Charlie Anders introduced readers to Simone as part of a generation of feisty female comic-book geeks who are breaking into the boys-in-tights club. Simone helped get the ball rolling with her Women in Refrigerators site, which listed the horrible demise of many a female superhero. So don't expect Wonder Woman to pull a Captain America any time soon. Meanwhile, it looks like Simone is keeping Princess Diana of Themyscira plenty busy fighting off a troop of groping blue gorillas.

Lars and the Real Girl

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 7:35 PM PST
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The second the credits started rolling after a recent showing of the film Lars and the Real Girl, my friend turned to me and said, "That was the most boring film I've ever seen in my life. I fell asleep, like, five times."

Boring? I disagree. The film creeps along at a slow pace, but can you tell the story of an extremely sensitive, emotionally wrecked young man whose platonic relationship with a blow-up doll helps him get over the death of his mother and social anxieties at a fast pace? You could, but it probably would have to star Will Ferrell and be directed by Judd Apatow.

Remixing Rudy Giuliani's Broken Record

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 5:57 PM PST
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Nice. WFMU's Beware of the Blog is collecting remixes of Rudy Giuliani mentioning his favorite (only?) topic. As DJ Joe Biden might say, all Rudy needs is a noun, a verb, September 11... and a beat. My favorite so far is Miguelito Contraband's "Gold Plated 9-11 Diapers" [MP3].