The Riff - April 2010

Vietnam Revisited

| Fri Apr. 30, 2010 1:44 PM EDT

Two interesting Vietnam-related things to check out today:

1. This morning, WGBH Boston launched the Vietnam Collection, an online video library drawn from their 1983 series Vietnam: A Television History. The series was originally recorded on film (actual film!), and now those hours of archival footage and interviews with key decision makers and vets have been digitized and released to mark the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Browse the online library here.

2. I had an opportunity to speak with Karl Marlantes, author of the epic new Vietnam War novel Matterhorn, about a week ago. We discussed why it took more than 30 years for him to get the book published, talked about the craft of fiction, and touched on the reverberations of Vietnam. Read the interview here.
 

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Soldiers in Afghanistan Remake Lady Gaga's "Telephone" Video

| Thu Apr. 29, 2010 1:53 PM EDT

This, via ThinkProgress' Amanda Terkel and the Washington Post's Dave Weigel (who says "the Taliban win"), is pretty awesome. It appears to be a video of soldiers in Afghanistan recreating Lady Gaga's notorious "Telephone" music video. Watch:

Win.

Will Boobs Cause Armaggedon?

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 4:42 PM EDT

Last week, Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi claimed that scantily-clad women were responsible for earthquakes: "Many women who do not dress modestly...lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes." Sluts! They never rest. Especially not Jennifer McCreight, who is fighting this claim with an immodest proposal. And she's not alone. Introducing Boobquake, an international call-to-arms for women to dress provocatively to prove Sedighi wrong. Boobquake has taken the Internet by storm (pun unintended), flooding (sorry!) Twitter with pictures of cleavage, trending under the hashtag #boobquake with over 56,000 Facebook fans...and numerous news outlets and blogs reporting on the breastivities.

McCreight's mission for Boobquake is as follows:

On Monday, April 26, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own...I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that's your preferred form of immodesty...With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake. If not, I'm sure [Sadeghi] can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn't rumble.

But then, an earthquake hit Taiwan, which didn't bode well for Boobquake participants. McCreight followed up with a blog post, saying, "No, the Taiwan earthquake is not statistically significant—yet. If we get many of a similar magnitude in the next 24 hours, then we might start worshipping the power of immodesty."

You might ask, how is flooding the internet with pictures of boobs different than any other day on the Internet? You would, of course, be correct, but today’s boob pictures are for science!

John Brown's Jazz Opera

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 3:58 PM EDT

Yesterday, because it was within walking distance of my house, and because I have an unhealthy fixation with the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre, I checked out the San Francisco Community Music Center's production of John Brown's Truth, the world's first-ever improvised jazz opera about the 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry. While I don't want to give away the ending, suffice to say, the main character dies in the end. It was a novel concept, and one which I'm hardly qualified to critique the musical merits of, but I will say that the audience seemed to enjoy it, and the little girl with the jump rope—who periodically invited the audience to join her rhymes about Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X—deserves her own solo act.

It was tough to really appreciate John Brown's Truth, though, because it didn't seem particularly concerned with the truth about John Brown. Pottawatomie Creek, where Brown presided as five pro-slavery Kansans were hacked to pieces in 1856, goes unmentioned. I know, I know: Let he among us who hasn't been implicated in a quintuple homicide cast the first stone. Instead our story picks up in 1859, when Brown gets a message from God to become a martyr for the anti-slavery cause, so Brown becomes something of a one-dimensional hero.

But I don't mean to pick on the performance, because 150 years (and change) after his death, no one really knows what to make of Brown.

15 Minutes with Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Passion Pit front man Michael Angelakos started his first band in kindergarten, a time when he focused his lyrical creativity on subjects like ninjas and dirt-bikes. Since those days, Angelakos has moved on to weightier subjects like love and self-deprecation, but the beats he and his Passion Pit bandmates create certainly don't lack for youthful exuberance. In 2009, following the success of Chunk of Change—an EP Angelkos recorded solo in 2007 as a gift for his girlfriend—synth-tastic electropop band Passion Pit released its debut album Manners to critical acclaim and some criticism, too. Rolling Stone, however, praised the record, and Angelakos for "his loose beats, shamelessly fruity melodies and breathless little-boy vocals." I spoke with Angelakos about the genesis of his relationship with music and what it means to go from being a one-man band to front man of a band that headlines tours and sells out shows.

Mother Jones: What first made you interested in music?

Michael Angelakos: Music is one of the few things I'm relatively good at, one of the things I understand a little better than everything else. I became really creative around the time I started understanding that people could be creative with music and that that was allowed. I stated taking piano lessons at age five, but I never did what my piano teacher told me to do. I would just do whatever I wanted. Pretty soon after that, my parents realized I wasn’t supposed to be in that bracket of children who follow the rules. 

MJ: Were you in bands with friends in middle school and high school? 

MA: Oh yeah, I had bands even in kindergarten. In fact, the beginning of "Better Things" is from a recording I made when I was five or six. It's on a tape. And let me tell you, I was slave driving—my little brother had pencils in his hand slamming on a single-head snare drum and I was screaming at him to play in time for the recording. Really, I had tons of bands over the years. At one point in high school, I had 15 different projects. I just kept flying from one idea to another. This is why it's hilarious to me that I'm still in this band after three years. The fact that I'm still doing it is like a weird therapy. If I didn't have a label and a manager behind me, it would be tough for me to pay attention to just one project. I would have gone on and recorded five or six more CDs in the span of time I've been promoting this one record.

Cypress Hill's Live Stoner Spectacle

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 6:35 AM EDT

At Cypress Hill's annual 4/20 show the hip-hop aficionados basically hot-boxed the entire Warfield Theater in San Francisco. In the middle of the four-piece crew's three-hour set, their mascot—a human joint!—wandered center stage coughing and looking like a blazed mess. At that point, the rap group's head honcho B-Real proceeded to fire up a 14-inch dick-like blunt, an image which pretty much sums up most stoners attraction to this lionized venue on this most holy night. Yes! It's the weed! And an uninhibited celebration of it through open indulgence in it. Every super-relaxed bro in that maxed-out crowd (especially the dude in front of me wearing the "Got Weed?" shirt) was lighting up either a middle-finger-sized joint, a pipe, a one-hitter, or just feeling loopy from the unavoidable mega-contact high.

It was so dope. I almost forgot who was on stage.

The appeal of Cypress Hill—the SoCal-based gangsters-turned-rappers act stars B-Real (who’s an ordained Santeria priest), Sen Dog, Eric Bobo, and DJ Muggs stand-in DJ Julio G—lies more in their brazen ganja-toking displays than in their music, which is a rock-and-rap-and-sometimes Latin-flavored bro-down. B-Real's nasally rhymes—layered with turntable scratches, laptop samples, and Latin drums—get trumped by the "let's get high all the time" mantra that underlies most of their jams, which is appropriate for a 4/20-themed show.

The fans I talked to at intermission confessed to either loving the group since its '90s heyday or just remembering their awkward junior-high affection for Insane In The Brain. The group played this mainstream hit plus some tracks from their new album Rise Up! which also dropped on 4/20. They ended with Rock Superstar and roused an impromptu mosh pit on the ground floor. Sen Dog stage-dived a few times to the dismay of his security detail, which pummeled through the crowd continuously to rescue the rambunctious onetime member of the Bloods. All in all, it was a fun show, as you can see from the video below.

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Bad Advice from Funny People

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 3:00 PM EDT

 Reading The Believer's just-released book of advice, You're a Horrible Person, but I Like You, it's hard to remember that the magazine once wore the working title 'The Optimist'. A week ago, hundreds of advice-seeking Americans and I piled into the San Francisco JCC to hear comics Larry Doyle, Daniel Handler (aka children's author Lemony Snicket), Eugene Mirman and Marc Maron doll it out at an event cosponsored by The Believer and Litquake. The event, sidesplitting as it was illuminating, did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the book falls short of that high mark.  

Here's why: As the working title might imply,The Believer is, at it's heart, enduringly optimistic and intelligent, a mix managing editor Andrew Leland describes as what might happen 'if the New Yorker drank some beers, then went to Central Park and read the New Yorker'. The same darkly funny little one-offs that feel like a breath of fresh air in the magazine's ocean of serious-minded (if not always serious) copy sour after about the first hundred pages. Though the marquee names in the collection (among them Aziz Ansari, Judd Apatow, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman and the original Believer Dear Abby, Amy Sedaris) each deliver their unique brand of terrible advice, the conceit that worked so delicately in its short form gets bogged down by the sheer volume of absurd questions and their unrelentingly malevolent answers. 

Still, they're pretty funny. Not as funny as an entire book by Daniel Handler maybe, and certainly not as funny as Eug-Tube, but funny. So here's my unsolicited advice: if you're the sort of person that needs something slim to read for several 15-minute intervals over the course of maybe two or three weeks, your $13.95 is money well spent to LOL once or twice and silently hehe a few more times before updating your Twitter status with a new nugget of anti-wisdom. For those commuting by train from Flushing, Queens each morning, try on the more serious, less-ROFL inducing, un-tweetable Believer instead. 

16 and Pregnant and Almost True

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 9:00 AM EDT

If you're reading this, you've probably never seen an episode of MTV's new reality show '16 and Pregnant', the latest in Dr. Drew's collection of quality family entertainment. Reality, yes, but Jersey Shore it ain't. Instead, 16 and Pregnant purports to show the 'reality' of teen pregnancy in America by filming the every simper and pout of pregnant teenagers from about the second trimester through the first few months of their new baby's life. That means baby-daddy battles, lots of (teenage) temper tantrums, and distraught soon-to-be grandparents. 

The show is heartrending, its genre of 'reality' closer to True Life than Real World (though Reality TV production values give it a vague air of the latter). Watching teen-mom-to-be Lori respond to the suggestion that an open adoption is 'the best of both worlds' by name-checking a Hannah Montana song really drives home the point that kids shouldn't be parents. My first instinct was to applaud MTV's unflinching portrait of one of the country's most persistent problem--after all, we have the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any industrialized nation. Seeing the true cost of teen pregnancy and it's aftermath up close and personal might make some viewers reconsider the pervasive (in some circles) perception of baby-as-teacup-Chihuahua-alternative. Better still, MTV does an excellent job of directing its teenage viewers to resources that might help them avoid pregnancy in the first place. Are we witnessing progressive, public-minded programing here? 

Eh... some of '16 and Pregnant''s more glaring omissions make me think perhaps not.  

Consider the audience. The reason I'm guessing you haven't seen '16 and Pregnant' has everything to do with the ads. MTV clearly knows where its eyes are coming from: GED and Internet accreditation courses dominate in ad minutes, followed closely by mail-order acne systems that 'really work'--not New Yorker readers, these. 

420- Worthy Tips for Pick-Up Artists

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 4:16 PM EDT

It must be 420 because I got a press release from someone who's been drinking the bong water: It advises men how to pick up “city women” by wearing hair mascara, ankle charm bracelets, and mirdles (that’s male girdles, for all you non-pick-up artists out there). Piggybacking off the New York Times' fashion article on peacocking, self-proclaimed “celebrity” pick-up artist and My Jewelry Box CEO, David Mamane (A.K.A. Diamond Guy) hocks his company’s sparkling wares, along with a few others, with these oh-so-cleverly disguised seduction tips:

1. Not so good at starting a conversation?  Ask her if she wants you to open her beer with your belt.  The hipster guitar belt buckle and beer bottle opener are a great conversation starter.
2.
If you’re a genius at talking the talk, lure her in by wearing a bright “notice-me” watch that says you are always available when someone is looking for the time. This red, white and blue watch from MyJewelryBox.com says you’re patriotic, leading to more conversation!  
3.
Had to give up your gym membership during the recession? Look 7 lbs slimmer by wearing a Mirdle from Kymaro and explain to girls that you are comfortable with who you are and don’t need to go to the gym to look this good.
4. Charm her with an ankle charm bracelet that features a lock and key from MyJewelryBox.com. Tell her you have the key to her heart at your feet and give her this ankle bracelet if she’s worthy of it.  
5.  Lighten-Up your locks and show your softer side with the portable Fix My Roots hair mascara from Kymaro. Paint it on before you hit the town and you’ll be amazed at how you can secretly seduce.

Horse Feathers' Impressionistic Lullabies

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Horse Feathers
Thistled Spring
Kill Rock Stars

The latest offering from Portland indie quartet Horse Feathers is a decent follow-up to their first two albums. And while they've got a few new members, frontman Justin Ringle is present in full force, his voice pushing and pulling the folky, string-filled sonnets into bloom.

It's up for debate what makes Horse Feathers so ethereal. It could be the layered cello, violin, and piano that make it pretty. The "songs may have words—enigmatic, artfully slurred words—but in many ways, the band might as well play instrumentals," an NPR reviewer said of a 2008 HF release. And while it's true that the band offers more orchestral feelings than clearly defined narratives, I don't think they could lose their vocals. Ringle's voice is its own instrument—and half the music's power is in its constant intrigue.