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Archive for October, 2007

Parentarazzi at the Hallowen Parade

I just went to a Kindergarten Halloween parade. It was like covering the Michael Jackson trial.

I could see the camera flashes going off a half block from the school. Three classes of Kindergarteners each had two parents, four grandparents, cousins, neighbors, and the doctor and three nurses that delivered them, all lined up, waiting for the parade to start. They all brought a video camera, a regular camera, a camera phone, and a sketch artist. It was insane.

When the parade started moving, so did the Parentarazzi. In mass. People were almost tripping over each over to get their 32nd shot of little Timmy dressed up as Spiderman. It was hilarious – not the kids, who were cute, if not a little shell-shocked from all the attention.

It reminded me of covering the Michael Jackson trial a couple years ago. One morning, Jacko Pappy Joe Jackson showed up in front of the courthouse without warning and, literally, took a lap, with all the reporters and photogs chasing him.They were mowing people down on the sidewalk, elbowing each other out of the way, and practically brawling with the Jacko supporters trying to shield Joe while yelling in German (Jacko’s big with Euros – apparently they never received that last album).

OK, it wasn’t that bad. This morning’s scene, I mean. Not the record. That was terrible. The parade was kind of fun. As long as they don’t do it in First Grade.

Posted on Wednesday, October 31st, 2007
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Concord Jedi

I saw the weirdest thing in Todos Santos park on Sunday. And it had nothing to do with the doggy Halloween costume competition.

I saw this guy in his early 20s, dressed as a Jedi. That’s not so crazy this close to Halloween – or in Berkeley. What was strange was that he had a group of youngsters to whom he was seemingly giving Jedi lessons. And there were parents sitting there, watching like it was pee-wee soccer or something.

Is it just me, or did someone figure out how to convince parents with too much disposable income that he can make their kids into Jedi? And why didn’t I think of it first?

He was running them through drills and doling out dueling tips as they sparred with plastic lightsabers (maybe he told the parents it’s against California law to break out the real things until the kids turn 12). I couldn’t get close enough to hear what he was saying. Had I known this was happening, I would’ve dressed up as the evil Darth Maul and crashed the party, screaming and swinging my own lightsaber, scarring the youngsters in the process.

Anybody know anything about this? I tried Googling “Todos Santos Park” and “Jedi,” and got a bunch of gibberish that looked like lyrics to a Sigur Ros record.

Posted on Monday, October 29th, 2007
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The Boss Thursday Night

Well, I was right to a degree. The new material off Bruce Springsteen’s new record “Magic,” sounded better after I saw him and his E Street Band play much of it live Thursday night at the Oracle Arena.

That said – it still wasn’t enough. That was a memorable Springsteen show, just not for the right reasons.

My theory was that Springsteen, who’s usually the best live rock act on the planet, would elevate the mediocre (for him) new material in a live setting. I was hoping it would benefit from the electricity (magic?) the band usually produces on stage.

But that wasn’t even the biggest problem. Yes, he played too many songs from the new record without enough classics to balance out the songs people didn’t know. But, at two hours and ten minutes, the show was at least 50 minutes shorter than any previous Springsteen show I’d seen. I know, most shows run a standard 90 minutes. Those are mortal bands. Sorry, but when you’re as good as Sprinsgteen, and you usually work that hard, you create expectations.

But what was really troubling was, while still better than 95 percent of the rock shows you’ll see in your life, this was disjointed. People were sitting down – definitely not the norm at a Springsteen show. The rock and roll preaching, the high-fiving, the connections that make the E Street Band one of the world’s greatest rock bands, was missing Thursday.

It was all very perfunctory. For them, anyway. The show only got going once they ripped into “Badlands” about 90 minutes in. Suddenly, everything was right. But the lights came up way too soon for “Born to Run,” which usually closes the show. And, though there were still a few songs afterward, it was obvious that something wasn’t right.

Maybe Springsteen is getting tired. He’s been working mighty hard the past six years, including last year’s triumphant “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Seesions,” after which he toured one of his best shows ever. It seems that “Magic” was pushed out too early. It could’ve benefitted from another year of cooking and some better songs. I don’t care that Rolling Stone and all the usual music mags say it’s a 5-star record. It’s not even close. Anytime one of the usual “genius” artists (Springsteen, Dylan, Radiohead, whomever) trot out something new, some critics feel it’s their job to explain why they know it’s brilliant and you don’t. Only this time, they’re wrong, and that was proven Thursday night. When a show relies heavily on newer, mediocre material, the show can’t help but be mediocre. Which, for Springsteen, is unacceptable. His career has lasted too long, and been too brilliant, to settle for anything less. The usual effort just wasn’t there, nor were the results.

I know a lot of people going to tonight’s (Friday night’s) show. Hopefully, for them, Thursday was an aberration. Maybe I’ll wake up Friday morning with a clearer perspective on Thursday. But I doubt it.

Posted on Thursday, October 25th, 2007
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Springsteen Anticipation

It’s a good day.

The sun is shining, I haven’t been reprimanded once all day, I’m eating chili while wearing a white shirt without incident (so far), and I’m going to see the Boss tonight. And just in the nick of time. I need to see him play some of those new songs before I declare the new album “Magic” as no better than a collection of outtakes.

That’s right, I said it. And that’s sad, because Bruce Springsteen’s last three records have been among the best of his career. Despite that, my friend and colleague Jim Harrington said it best in a story appearing in last week’s A&E section. When considering quality, depth and longevity, it’s quite possible Springsteen has had the best career of any rock artist who’s lived. Or not lived, for that matter.

There’s your plug, Jim. Thanks for taking me to the show tonight.
But there’s scores of you out there who understand what it was like not being a Springsteen fanatic … until you saw him live. “Magic” is the right word. Springsteen can take average-to-good songs for anyone else and make them grand epics on stage, worthy of a memory that lasts for years. Not that a large percentage of his material isn’t already great. But seeing it live changes everything. I can’t tell you how many people — myself included — who’ve told me one Springsteen show made them Boss disciples.

Yeah, I did tell myself that. Out loud.

So I can’t wait, because I really really wanted to love the new record. I’ve listened to it at least a dozen times so far, with no breakthrough. I started seeing the light a bit this morning – I heard things I hadn’t heard before, lyrics started making sense, grooves got a little more groovy.

It must be the anticipation of seeing the show. I’ll be back tomorrow to let you know whether it worked.

By the way, the over-under on Springsteen yelling “1-2-3-4″ is a firm 34 for tonight’s show.

Posted on Thursday, October 25th, 2007
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Check Out My Friends

Music from some old friends of mine will be featured on Thursday’s episode of “Ugly Betty,” which I believe is on at 8 p.m. on ABC.

During the bowling scene, whatever that means, the Leonards will be playing. A great rock band with lots of sloppy-but-great Replacements-ish hooks, the Leonards have been around since at least the early ’90s, when my band (Nag Nag Nag) played just about every other show with them on the same bill. They’ve had members die and quit and have managed to stick it out and survive.

Along with a bunch of other bands, a writer from L.A. Weekly put us all into this “Alternative Power Source” coalition, in which we shared bills, cross-promoted, and generally helped each other out. We also did a lot of drinking and assorted other stupid things. (Never challenge an entire band to a fight in the middle of Melrose, even if they are your friends. You’ll end up being pushed down a hill in a shopping cart.) We all even put out a compilation record “Smells Like L.A.,” (our answer to the “teen spirit” of the Seattle scene) on something called Wrecking Ball Records. If you find a copy, let me know. I was the extremely good-looking guy with long hair on the inside sleeve …

It’s good to see that at least some of us stuck with it.

Posted on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007
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Choice of Presenters at BET Awards

I don’t usually get serious on the blog because, frankly, I’m just not that serious of a guy. But today is an exception.

Black Entertainment Television allowed two members of the so-called “Jena Six” to present an award during its Hip Hop Awards last week. The black Louisiana high school students, along with four others, beat and stomped a white student into unconsciousness last December, escalating racial tensions that started months before when three white students (none were the victim) hung a noose from a tree. The teens were arrested and charged with various degrees of battery and attempted murder, raising the ire of the black community for a perceived double standard from law enforcement.

The pair got a standing ovation from the BET crowd, which is really frightening. Whether they were treated too severely or not, anyone involved with a six-on-one beatdown doesn’t deserve the hero treatment from celebrities. I’m not sure what they were being lauded for. Again, even if they weren’t treated right by law enforcement, they still beat and kicked a fellow student into the hospital.

According to www.thetowntalk.com, host Katt Williams joked, as the teens stepped onto the podium, “They don’t look so tough, do they?”

Not unless you’re under them getting the snot kicked out of you.

I’m a suburban white man. So I can’t begin to imagine being a black kid at a high school where, for standing under a tree were whites usually stand, some stupid punks hung a noose. It was a small-minded act and some sort of reciprocation would’ve been understandable. But to beat a kid senseless who had nothing to do with it — essentialy just for being white — is just as bad.

But for the adults at BET, who are supposed to be setting an example, to treat two of these kids as heroes is even worse.

(Bonus round: Bossip’s “Random Ridiculousness: BET Hip Hop Awards,” The Source’s “Jena 6 at the BET Hip Hop Awards” and NPR’s “‘Jena 6′ the Latest Rap Group?”)

Posted on Monday, October 22nd, 2007
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I Love Alaska

OK – So I’m spending Saturday night watching (on Tivo) “Men In Trees,” which chronicles the drama-humor of a small town in Alaska, complete with weirdos and a small town radio station where philosophy is spouted daily.

Am I wrong, or did we do this in the ’90s with much better results?

I admit to being guilty and not reading the reviews, so I’m not sure what the professionals think of Nothern Exposure 2007, er, ah, “Men in Trees.” But I’ve watched it twice now. And you’d be much better off ordering “Northern Exposure” DVDs from Amazon. It’s not even close.

I thought I had other important things to blog about today – like Sarah surviving the cutdown on “America’s Next Top Model” (she will be mine). But the idea that a TV network can wait a few years until an excellent and popular show is canceled before ripping it off, is irritating. “Northern Exposure” was original, well-written and entertaining; “Men in Trees” is a rip-off. Though I have to say, after spending a week in Alaska earlier this year, there’s plenty of off-beat people for ten TV shows.

Posted on Saturday, October 20th, 2007
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I Have Questions

I’m brimming with curiosity today. At the moment, it’s how someone can accidentally mix broccoli, beef, white rice, soy sauce, lettuce, fried onions, croutons and Italian dressing into such a yummy, lunchtime taste treat?

Where were we? Right. I have questions.

WHY do people like me have to wait five months to get a court date (hypothetically assuming I’m involved in a legal matter) when Britney Spears gets to go to court two or three times a week? Am I not a bad-enough parent?

And WHY can’t Britney just comply with one freaking tiny itty-bitty detail of a seemingly easy court order? The judge suspended her visitation rights with her kids Thursday because she didn’t give the company charged with doing her drug testing contact information so they could, you know, tell her it’s time to pee in the cup. Is this so difficult? Are they asking her to pass the bar exam? Are they asking her to run a marathon for charity? Are they asking her to give her life to Christ? Are they even asking her not to drag a stupid little dog around in a stupid little purse, or stop tanning, or stop inhaling Big Macs? Is that really worth not seeing your kids? As a guy who would eat one of his left toes (I already ate most of the right ones — I get hungry) to see more of my kids, I can’t even fathom the stupidity and insensitivity of this person. I’d vow to stop writing about her altogether … if it wasn’t so much fun.

WHY is former 49ers receiver Antonio Bryant such a funny guy? Bryant was cut after last season and, though talented, still can’t find a job in the NFL because of his reputation for being a pain in the rear. That and he faces a four-game suspension whenever he comes back. So you’d think, since he’s unemployed and needing to show he’s mended his ways, he wouldn’t sue the league for asking him to submit to drug tests, since he’s not technically an NFL employee anymore. Sure it makes sense, if you’re one of those hippie-types all into civil rights and chaining yourself to trees and stuff. On the other hand, isn’t suing the league and saying you don’t want to take drug tests kind of like saying “I want to smoke pot and watch a lot of cartoons until someone hands me a job.”

WHY does Marc Anthony remind me of Steve Buscemi?

WHY do stores have Christmas displays out when I’m still shopping for Halloween?

HOW many listens does it take to begin to properly appreciate the new Radiohead record? Three. Maybe less, if you’re driving on a dark freeway in the rain.

I guess that wasn’t a question if I already knew the answer.

And, finally, DID I really just e-mail my girlfriend to suggest we watch “America’s Next Top Model” tonight, so I can see if Sarah made the cut this week?

Holy cow. I’ve become a girl.

(Photo of Marc Anthony courtesy of barbarroja)

Posted on Thursday, October 18th, 2007
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Another Volley in the Secret Squirrel War.

The war between man and squirrel continues

We’ve had some, er ,interesting feedback about last week’s People Column/squirrel fiasco. Among those came from a reader who called and said her 3-year-old refused to go to pre-school after reading the People Column photo caption, describing a wildlife expert releasing a squirrel into the forest last week (see photo accompanying my Oct. 11 blog entry). I wrote a cutline stating the squirrel turned tail and exacted revenge on its captor by devouring her.

This, of course, was not true.

But not enough to upset a few folks who believed it. Including the mom who called saying her child saw a squirrel outside the window and was refusing to leave the house. She said we needed to check our facts better. She’s right, it turns out. Squirrels really don’t eat people (as far as we can tell).

But I do wonder if our literary level is such that a 3-year-old can actually read the People Column. It must be true, because no responsible parent would read something like that to a 3-year-old if there was a remote possibility it might frighten him into not wanting to go to school.

Next week we get into the secret plotting of chipmunks to steal the next presidential election by infiltrating Ohio polling places.

Posted on Tuesday, October 16th, 2007
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Squirrels Don’t Kill People…

Rare Squirrels

This squirrel got me busted.

I’ve heard that no fewer than six editors and other assorted office people fielded calls today from readers, concerned about today’s People Column in the Times. Some just didn’t think it was funny which, of course, I’m used to. And some wanted to know if it was true …

They wanted to know if squirrels eat humans.

I’ve consulted with a wildlife expert, and here’s the answer:

No.

I was kidding.

The picture showed a rare Western grey squirrel departing its cage in Fort Lewis, Wash. A woman from the state’s fish and wildlife department was behind the cage, doing the releasing. In the caption, I wrote that the squirrel “immediately turned around and ate the state worker who released it.” Then, after I said the squirrel was released to help boost a sagging population, I wrote “And to help control mountain lions. By eating them.”

So, again, I’ve checked with a wildlife expert. And I can tell you this:

Squirrels don’t eat mountain lions.

I was kidding.

But, in an interesting twist, I’m pretty sure mountain lions, and people in West Virginia, eat squirrels.

I have to go now … to call back some readers who want to know if that poor female wildlife expert was really devoured by a squirrel. I’m glad we cleared this up.

Posted on Thursday, October 11th, 2007
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