Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My 100 Favorite Songs

The Killers – Losing Touch
Dolly Parton – Jolene
The Replacements – Shiftless When Idle
Brendan Benson – Alternative To Love

100. Toadies – Possum Kingdom
99. The Stills – Lola Stars and Stripes
98. Weezer – Say It Ain’t So
97. Shivaree – Goodnight Moon
96. Toadies – Tyler
95. Hunters & Collectors – Holy Grail
94. The Black Crowes – Jealous Again
93. Weezer – Buddy Holly
92. Josh Rouse – My Love Has Gone
91. Ben Kweller – Thirteen
90. Coldplay – Swallowed In The Sea
89. The Cardigans – Live and Learn
88. Guster – Satellite
87. Fatboy Slim – Praise You
86. Led Zeppelin – How Many More Times
85. Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
84. The Doors – L.A. Woman
83. Cake – End of the Movie
82. Bob Dylan – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
81. Cornershop – Brimful of Asha
80. Moby – South Side
79. Alice in Chains – No Excuses
78. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Proud Mary
77. The Doors – Light My Fire
76. George Thorogood & The Destroyers – One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
75. Alice in Chains – Down in a Hole
74. U2 – One
73. John Hiatt – Cry Love
72. Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey
71. Oasis – Underneath the Sky
70. Fountains of Wayne – Stacy’s Mom
69. Smoking Popes – Pretty Pathetic
68. The Cars – My Best Friend’s Girl
67. Grand Funk Railroad – I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)
66. Alice in Chains – Man in the Box
65. Audioslave – I Am The Highway
64. Queen – I Want To Break Free
63. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising
62. Rogue Wave – Temporary
61. Pure Prairie League – Falling in and Out of Love/Amie
60. Todd Rundgren – Bang The Drum All Day
59. Annie – Heartbeat
58. The Black Crowes – Gone
57. James Taylor – Mexico
56. Bob Dylan – Isis
55. Gillian Welch – Elvis Presley Blues
54. Sheryl Crow – All I Wanna Do
53. The Eagles – Desperado
52. Cake – Mexico
51. The Strokes – 12:51
50. Everclear – Santa Monica
49. The Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar
48. Big Star – Thirteen
47. The Verve – Lucky Man
46. The Presidents of the United States of America – Stranger
45. Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
44. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
43. The Stranglers – Golden Brown
42. Aimee Mann – Wise Up
41. Michael Nyman – The Heart Asks Pleasure First
40. Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time
39. Badly Drawn Boy – You Were Right
38. Marcy Playground – Sex and Candy
37. The Presidents of the United States of America – Naked and Famous
36. The Shins – New Slang
35. The Rolling Stones – Dead Flowers
34. Van Morrison – Stranded
33. Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue
32. Audioslave – Doesn’t Remind Me
31. Tom Petty – I Won’t Back Down
30. Nada Surf – Inside of Love
29. Bob Dylan – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
28. Peter Bjorn and John – Objects of My Affection
27. Steve Miller Band – Jet Airliner
26. Iggy Pop – The Passenger
25. Hans Zimmer – Fort Walton, Kansas
24. Badly Drawn Boy – The Shining (Avalanches Good Word For the Weekend Remix)
23. Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over
22. Steely Dan – Do It Again
21. Al Stewart – Time Passages
20. Tom Petty – Learning To Fly
19. Fleetwood Mac – Gypsy
18. Nada Surf – Blonde on Blonde
17. The Killers – All These Things That I’ve Done
16. U2 – With Or Without You
15. Social Distortion – Bad Luck
14. Blur – No Distance Left To Run
13. Cracker – Low
12. LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends
11. The Rolling Stones – No Expectations
10. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Salvation
9. AC/DC – It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)
8. Thelma Houston – Don’t Leave Me This Way
7. Wolf Parade – I’ll Believe In Anything
6. Green Day – Basket Case
5. Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone
4. Jimmy Buffett – Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
3. Blondie – Heart of Glass
2. Ray LaMontagne – Empty
1. Oasis – Supersonic

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Ten Greatest Things Ever: Supersonic

Almost three years ago I started counting down my 100 favorite songs as filler for this blog when I didn't have anything else to post. That ponderous exercise is now complete, and it's time for a new gimmick for the down times: the Ten Greatest Things Ever.

"Supersonic" by Oasis has been my favorite song since I first heard it ten years ago. I can't really explain it. The lyrics are deliberately gibberish. But Noel Gallagher's guitar in this song is the most wonderful sound I've ever heard.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Update

Yesterday I finished the first draft of my book, the autobiographical story of my 2010 on the poker circuit as well as the dating circuit.

It is amazing what a young man can get done with no job, no significant other, no social life, and no interest in obtaining any of them.

The tentative title is "Plenty of Fish." A few people prefer "Life on the Bubble."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Love Is Boring: The Office Series Recap

The seventh season finale of The Office aired last night. Though the show will continue next fall in some iteration, Steve Carell’s departure effectively ended whatever remained of what was once the best show on network television. Carell's Michael Scott had been The Office's protagonist for several seasons. While the show left many things to be desired over the last few seasons, Carell's performance was never one of them.

The central theme of the first two seasons of The Office was suburban loneliness. The vast majority of the drama generated those first two seasons came from the actions the various characters took to combat that loneliness. Though every character on the show fought this battle on one level or another, it was most poignantly depicted through salesmen Jim Halpert. Jim was in love with the receptionist Pam, herself engaged to the inadequate warehouseman Roy. Meanwhile, most of the comedic plotlines were based around manager Michael Scott’s ignorance and buffoonery.

The Office
peaked during its second season, finding the perfect balance of comedy and drama between Michael’s antics and Jim’s daily torment. The second season mined as much heartbreak from Jim’s tortured soul as it could, then threw a perfectly timed curveball in its final episode when Jim finally professed his love to Pam.

Season Three wisely took a step back, introducing Rashida Jones as Jim’s new love interest and Ed Helms as Andy, a second-tier utility character who would eventually play half a dozen different roles. Other than Carell, no actor on The Office possessed the range and talent of Helms, which became more and more obvious the longer the show aired. Season Three prudently recalibrated The Office’s formula, substituting mirth for melodrama, focusing more intently on Michael, Dwight, Angela, Andy, and Pam, who was now on the other side of the goldfish bowl. The writing was outstanding throughout the season, in the mechanics of the individual episodes as well as exploration of long-term plotlines (the merger of Dunder-Mifflin’s Scranton and Stamford branches, Michael’s relationships with Carol and Jan, the construction of round, dynamic characters in Andy, Dwight, Pam and Roy).

After Pam and Jim were finally allowed to be together and celebrate their love in half-hour television dramedy cookie-cutter bliss, the show’s writers and producers faced an unsolvable dilemma: unrequited love is a dramatic thing to observe, but legitimate, dependable love is not. They should be lauded for squaring Pam and Jim away, for letting them live and love together in peace rather than dredging up soapy plotlines to keep their original theme alive. However, this left them without compelling emotional characters. Season Four began the conversion to Michael as the show’s dramatic center, though this was often supplemented by Andy and Dwight. This was a tricky metamorphosis, as Michael Scott had always been too small and self-centered to genuinely generate empathy. Michael’s quests for romantic fulfillment had no chance of packing the emotional punch that Pam and Jim’s had, as Michael had built up too tall a wall of repugnance during the first three seasons.

At the same time, the quality of the writing began to deteriorate. While Season Three actually felt even fresher and more creative than the first two seasons, the sharp blade of wit began to dull in Season Four. Inexorably, the show simply became less and less funny. When they weren’t retreads, the jokes became more desperate and obscure. All the American standby gimmicks – holidays, birthdays, weddings, etc. – had been mined. Any prejudice Michael could have – racism, sexism, homophobia, drug use, prison, disability, technophobia – had been used as a launchpad for an episode somewhere along the way. Any plausible office romances had been played out. Any decent prank Jim could pull on Dwight had been executed.

Michael was presented with an erratic array of love interests, starting with Amy Ryan’s Holly Flax. Holly was too intelligent and virtuous for the version of Michael Scott we had seen the first four seasons, but their original relationship was believable in its brevity. It was conceivable that Holly could have an attraction to Michael and even date him for a while, but the indecent Michael Scott of the first four seasons would have eventually revolted her. The challenge of the seventh season was creating a kinder, gentler, more selfless Michael, a version the audience could believe could land someone like Holly and root on to do just that. Though this was executed efficiently, casting Michael as a father figure for new receptionist Erin while minimizing his bigotry, Holly leaving her perfectly normal, well-adjusted boyfriend A.J. for Michael was ultimately too farfetched to accept as anything more than a plot device.

As the show began to crumble, it seemed Pam and Jim had little left to offer comedically or romantically, their supply of cinematic ammunition exhausted. But a closer look reveals the writers were actually villainizing the couple. Take the insipid “Koi Pond” episode from Season Six, when it’s revealed Jim deliberately let Michael fall into a local koi pond when he could have caught him. Or “Michael’s Last Dundies” in Season Seven when Jim is bored by Erin’s confession that she finds Gabe repulsive. Or “Training Day”’s obnoxious flaunting of the couple’s baby daughter to new boss D’Angelo Vickers. Perhaps it remains to be seen why Pam and Jim are being cast in a newly malevolent light, but no one will be left to care when it is explained.

Plotlines degenerated into absurd retroactively-inauthentic gimmicks like Pam’s mother (played by a different actress than the original seen in season two) dating Michael and Pam’s having dated salesman extraordinaire Randy Cordray (which would have been a major plotline in season three but was just assumed to have happened). Later episodes insisted on gathering the officemates together outside of work, often in ridiculous scenarios such as the dreadful “Christening” episode last fall.

Season Seven was actually quite a bit better than the previous one, mainly because a lot of good material was stockpiled for some “event” episodes down the stretch – Michael’s proposal to Holly, his departure, temporary replacement by Will Ferrell, and the star-studded season finale, The Office’s best episode in years. Last night's episode was a classic, worthy of standing alongside the show's greatest moments.

The Office's top ten episodes:

10) "Search Committee" (Season Seven)

When you save your best jokes for two years and hand them to some of the most talented comedians in Hollywood, good things are bound to happen. James Spader’s take as managerial applicant Robert California took the award for best cameo in a competitive category.

9) "Money" (Season Four)

The most epic, plot-heavy episode in series history. Credit card debt forces Michael to work a telemarketing job to supplement his Dunder-Mifflin salary, while Pam and Jim stay overnight at the Schrute Farm. This was as cinematic as The Office ever got.

8) "Conflict Resolution" (Season Two)

Jim recalls many of his greatest pranks on Dwight and Michael turns out to be “sort of an expert at photoshop.”

7) "Booze Cruise" (Season Two)

The series' most heartbreaking episode. Pam and Roy set a date for their wedding, Jim breaks up with Katy, then hits bottom and confides in Michael.

6) "The Return" (Season Three)

Though "The Return" refers to Oscar’s return to the office from his “gaycation”, it’s really a showcase for Helms as Andy Bernard. Pushed over the edge by one of Jim’s pranks and Michael’s dismissal of his friendship, Andy reveals a tortured side for the first time – snapping and punching his fist through a wall. Meanwhile, Karen confronts Jim about his feelings for Pam for the first time, and gets an honest answer. "The Return" also features a classic, ironic quote from Michael in reference to Andy: “I don’t understand how someone can have so little self-awareness.”

5) "Casino Night" (Season Two)

The episode that had the courage to break the tension that had been building in every preceding moment, to violently push the show in a different direction. The show was never the same afterwards, but “Casino Night” gave more weight to every episode aired before it.

4) "Dinner Party" (Season Four)

Arguably the most hysterical episode in the show’s history, "Dinner Party" contains its two funniest lines ever, both spoken by Dwight: “So…can we come in?” inquired on the steps of Jan and Michael’s condo immediately following an epic spat; and “Purely carnal, that’s all you need to know” in reference to Dwight's relationship with the 60ish former babysitter brought as his date to the dinner party.

3) "The Injury" (Season Two)

"The Injury" featured Rainn Wilson’s best performance as Dwight, who suffers a concussion while rushing to Michael’s house after the boss steps on his George Foreman grill and burns his foot. Clever one-liners about the injury abound, especially after Michael bandages it in bubble wrap.

2) "The Client" (Season Two)

"The Client", with Tim Meadows in the title role, was the first Office episode in which something actually happened. "The Client" built upon everything that had been established up till that point, then pushed the show in a new, more explosive direction. The Pam and Jim drama reached new heights with a rooftop grilled cheese “first date” before Jim quietly suggested to Pam for the first time that Roy wasn’t the right choice. But what made this episode truly indispensable was how deftly it expanded Michael’s personality and role in the show. Michael’s interactions with the client showed why he has his job as branch manager, how he could have risen to that position, and how he could continue to function in that capacity. Most importantly, "The Client" created a love interest for Michael for the first time, and did so in plausible fashion.

1) "Christmas Party" (Season Two)

"Christmas Party" could be the flat-out funniest episode ever, with Michael buying a video i-Pod as a not-so Secret Santa for Ryan the Temp despite a $20 limit. The brilliant Secret Santa/White Elephant concept hilariously highlighted the quirks and nuances of the whole cast of characters. "Christmas Party" also featured Dwight in elven ears, a drunken Todd Packer, and Jim nearly telling Pam his feelings before chickening out. As it concluded, the episode circled back to the central theme of loneliness. No less than five characters became symptomatic during the episode, using alcohol and the holidays as an impetus to absolve their desperation.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gods of Thunder

A couple nights ago I saw this movie Thor, one of the more enjoyable of the comic book adaptations that have flooded movie theaters over the last few years. Thor is a talented warrior and heir to the throne of the interstellar capital of Asgard. But his father, Odin, banishes him to Earth for his lack of wisdom and humility. Odin sends his Mjölnir, a magical hammer which accentuates Thor's strength, behind him with instructions that it can only be wielded by those who are worthy. The Mjölnir winds up lodged in a rock like the Sword in the Stone until Thor proves himself ready.

This provided the most obvious bridge that's ever been presented in my long history of introducing blog posts with analogous comparisons. I've been known to reach. This one would have been easy even without Thor's job description: God of Thunder.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are the most talented team in the NBA. Their starting five reads like the cast listing for The Avengers, Marvel's team of superhero all-stars:
  • 22 year-old Kevin Durant, the freakishly smooth 6'9" 22-year-old All-NBA first teamer who led the league in scoring each of the last two seasons
  • 22 year-old Russell Westbrook, another physical marvel whose size and speed give him an unfair advantage over anyone who'd seek to guard him
  • 21 year-old Serge Ibaka, "Air Congo", 16th of 18 siblings, sculpted like one of Tony Stark's Iron Men, the NBA's leading shot-blocker
  • 26 year-old Kendrick Perkins, the Gimli of the group, on hand for his defense, his enforcement, his loyalty, and his dwarven beard
  • 27 year-old Thabo Sefolosha, the exotic long-armed defensive specialist, resident of five different countries and speaker of three different languages

21 year-old James Harden, another fantastical creature transplanted from the world of comic books, is the first man off the bench and logs more minutes than everyone except Durant and Westbrook.

The Thunder also boasts one of the league's better benches, stocked with potently-powered specialists whose skills just aren't as diverse as their starters.

No team's talent compares to the Thunder's, yet Oklahoma City is still publicly viewed as a precocious band of heroes rather than their true identity: a malevolent arch-villain set to dominate the Western Conference for many years to come.

Like all supervillains, the mighty Thunder have a fatal flaw. It is this flaw which makes them so abhorrent. Oklahoma City plays incredibly selfish basketball. Though they finished the regular season 5th in the NBA in scoring, they were just 24th in assists.

Westbrook finished 41st out of 64 NBA point guards in assist ratio - the percent of his possessions that ended in an assist - even while distributing to the NBA's leading scorer. Durant finished 50th of 59. Ibaka was 338th out of all 339 NBA players.

It all starts with the point guard, Westbrook. He's too fast to guard closely but tall enough to get a shot off any time he wants. He led all NBA point guards in rebounding this season. Westbrook is unguardable. His problem is that he knows this, and looks to exploit it every possession. Westbrook's modus operandi is shooting, whereas most point guards are taught to pass first.

Westbrook has taken the bulk of the media scrutiny during the playoffs, but Durant is just as parsimonious with the basketball. He's dodged the criticism because he's shot 45% in the playoffs compared to Westbrook's 41% and Westbrook has taken more shots during the playoffs. But if the ball finds its way into Durant's hands, the possession is going to come to a close with Durant taking a shot.

It gets even worse in crunch time, when Westbrook, Durant, and Harden are all on the court together. Westbrook starts with the ball and doesn't give it up unless double-teamed. On the rare occasions he finds Durant, the lanky Texan is obliged to shoot it immediately. He knows he's not getting the ball back if it leaves his hands. Durant winds up taking covered threes or driving wildly to the basket with no plan other than tossing the ball towards the basket when he can't drive any closer. Durant's skills are so brilliant that he ends up making many of these difficult shots, so many that no shot he takes can really be considered a bad shot. Meanwhile, poor James Harden is stuck in the corner chucking threes, which has never been his forte (35% during the season, 27% in the playoffs). Harden is more benevolent with the ball than the team's other scorers, but sees it so rarely down the stretch it hardly matters.

OKC has wisely surrounded their alpha dogs with a quartet of egoless defensive-minded role players. Ibaka, Perkins, Sefolosha, and Nick Collison are more interested in blocking shots and drawing charges than taking shots. The latter three average about 10 points per 48 minutes, while Ibaka scores about that many in the 30 minutes per game he averages. Indeed, OKC's front office should be lauded for the creation of this juggernaut, which began in Seattle before the Sonics were reborn in the Midwest. In 2007 Seattle drafted Durant and Jeff Green. They followed that up the next year picking Westbrook fourth overall, then snagged Harden with the third pick in '09. The Thunder really became formidable after trading Green for Perkins in February, jettisoning an unnecessary scorer in favor of one of the NBA's premier post defenders.

The scariest thing about the Thunder is that they are the third youngest team in the NBA. Durant is locked up for the foreseeable future. Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka should be around till at least 2013. Perkins signed a four-year extension with the Thunder immediately after the trade, and Collison and Sefolosha are signed through 2014.

But Oklahoma City's title hopes will be stuck in a rock until their leaders prove worthy of the prodigious talents bestowed upon them.

Monday, May 09, 2011

My 100 Favorite Songs: #2

Ray LaMontagne - Empty

As deliciously haunting as this song is musically, it's even better lyrically. Among its best lines:

I never learned to count my blessings,
I choose instead to dwell in my disasters

Well I looked my demons in the eyes,
laid bare my chest, said, Do your best, destroy me.
You see, I've been to hell and back so many times,
I must admit you kind of bore me

Its the hurt I hide that fuels the fire inside me

Saturday, May 07, 2011

You're Getting Older...

It's easier for me to hang out with little kids than people my own age.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

April Top 15

15. Adele - Rolling in the Deep
14. Amy MacDonald - Spark
13. The Strokes - Machu Picchu
12. Beady Eye - Millionaire
11. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - My Love For You Is Real

10. The Waifs - London Still
9. Tom Petty - Free Fallin'
8. Aerosmith - Sweet Emotion
7. Ween - It's Gonna Be (Alright)
6. Rogue Wave - Bird On A Wire

5. Beach House - Zebra
4. Fleetwood Mac - Silver Springs
3. Nine Inch Nails - All The Love In The World
2. Audioslave - I Am The Highway

Song of the Month: The Waifs - Up All Night