Monday, September 24, 2007

The Best mp3 Site

Okay, so it’s long been established that I’m cheap. I don’t like to spend money. That probably comes from never having had any money – after moving out of my parents’ house, my jobs ranged from cashier at a gas station to cashier at a sub shop, with brief forays into ushering at a movie theater and one sad day as a waiter at a restaurant that served mainly breakfast to the kind of people who eat long breakfasts on weekdays on the east side of cities and are drunk (or maybe stoned) by the time breakfast rolls around, so their breakfasts involve alcohol, making obscure jokes to their waiter (me) who doesn’t get them, and leaving a tip that was nowhere near worth it.

By the time I had a job that earned some money – my current one – I also had a massive amount of debt from student loans used not just to finance college and law school but an ill-advised (albeit fascinating and scary) trip to Morocco. And I have five kids. So I’ve never been what you would consider flush with cash, and likely never will be.

But I am what you would consider flush with a love of new music, and unheard music and rare artists and things that others have never heard of so that I can say I discovered them. And after discovering them, I can mostly keep them to myself. While I frequently bemoan the fact that my tastes in music, books, TV, movies, clothes, etc., are not popular, secretly, I actually like that. I like that not everyone gets my music, books, TV, movies, clothes, etc., because it makes me think that people are just not as cool as me, not as hip as me, not as intelligent as me, not as sensitive as me. They don’t get it because they’re not as anything as me.

That’s how I got through high school, by the way. That was why the girls didn’t like me. It had nothing to do with being about 100 pounds overweight, or the spiky hair or the comic books or the D&D. It was all about being so good that girls didn’t like me.

So while I appreciate it when my music occasionally breaks through – like when the Violent Femmes get their music into a commercial

(although I do not appreciate it when a cool song like “Melt With You” gets used for a Taco Bell commercial because (a) I’ve never liked Taco Bell ever since someone spread a rumor about the one down the street from the movie theater I worked at and (b) the commercial with “Melt With You” is all about melting cheese and the way they film the people eating burritos and stretching the melty cheese, it looks like snot coming out of the people’s nose) I would actually be horrified if my music was to suddenly become super-popular to the point where it was overplayed and stopped being so cool. Overplaying things, any overexposure, always makes things uncool. Look at Steve Carell.

(And, on that note, I’ve learned that instant access to songs that I like can make me like them less. Here’s a partial list of songs that I’ve always loved and now that they're on my iPod I’m kind of over them: Ballroom Blitz, Come Sail Away, Modern Love, Faith, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Peanut Butter Jelly Time… I take that last one back. I’ll never get tired of that song.)


Back to the subject. With little money and a love of obscure songs, the Internet has been a blessing to me. I mean, yeah, the easy access to information, yeah, the instant communications around the world, blah blah blah. What the Internet has really meant is free music from obscure bands. I have discovered bands I might never have known existed because they don’t make it into Entertainment Weekly.

(And another side note: I have less time these days for reading magazines and decided to cancel two of the three subscriptions I had. Previously, I subscribed to Newsweek, Discover, and Entertainment Weekly. Only the last one survived.)

(Also, I don’t read anything in the Sunday paper anymore except the comics, and the sports section.)

Without the Internet, and helpful people posting their songs on the Internet for me to download, I would not have discovered hundreds of great bands including The New Pornographers, Allison Crowe, Adam Chikushin Tucker, The Apparitions, or my current favorite (who I’m listening to right now), Joe Henry.

And before you artists and copyright lawyers get all mad, let me add: first, I only download legally, and second, I make it a point to get out and buy CDs from the artists who I decide I like. So the free sample of music serves its purpose: I discover them and then they make some money off of me.

But we music downloaders know that there’s a lot of information out there, a lot of songs, a lot of sites, a lot of crummy bands trying to suck you into using precious disk space on your computer and iPod to store their crummy songs. And you’ve got to sort through them, be judicious, not download just anyone because the songs will get lost in the shuffle (literally) and you’ll have to keep skipping over junk just to get to, say, a song from Say Hi To Your Mom.

That’s where the music bloggers come in. They do the work for me, and for all of us, and sort out what’s good and what’s bad and post it and link to it and generally let me save some time by going to their sites and seeing what they’ve found for me. And I’ve spent a lot of time going through the music blogs, and deciding which ones were worth visiting and which ones were not.

I’ll give a few nods to some of the good ones before getting to The Best, so you can check them out yourself. I don’t know much about them other than what I tell you here; I don’t read about the bloggers, I go there for the music. But I like Muruch, a new one I’ve found. You’ll find ethereal, generally quieter and somewhat obscure music there – like Petra Haden’s version of Don’t Stop Believing. I also like 3Hive, which posts a really eclectic set of music and has pretty good descriptions of the songs that are generally trustworthy. They get a little chatty, but who am I to knock someone for that? Music For Robots tends to lean towards the obscure rocker end of things, and has some really interesting selections. And for British invasion, there’s no beating Headphone Sex, which is where I found the band Bromhead’s Jacket, which is the best of the British “lad rock” bands.

Those are just a few of the 20 or so sites I skim through on Sunday mornings when I used to read the paper, looking for the next new thing and updating music for my jaded ears. But they all pale in comparison to The Best of the mp3 sites, Fingertips.

Fingertips each week puts up “This Week’s Finds”, a post of just three songs per week. But what a set of songs! Each week I go there and download the three songs selected without any hesitation. I don’t know what the guy who writes it does or how he does it, but he has an uncanny knack for finding the absolute best songs out there. I can hardly think of a song I downloaded from his site and did not like. And you don’t have to skim through 15, 20, 30 songs to find a couple that sound interesting, or wade through lengthy posts, or pictures. It’s just the three new songs, each week.

What sets Fingertips apart, too, are the descriptions of the music. He posted the song “The Underdog” by Spoon, and not only was the song great, but he mentioned in the blurb about the song that they had a complex bit of clapping in it (he gave the actual time of the song that it would happen) and I was cued in to listen to it and he was right, and it actually very much contributed to my enjoyment of the song.

Here’s Fingertips’ description of the song I just now actually downloaded from the site, “Summer’s Ending,” by Steve Goldberg:

Well okay summer has actually already ended, but just barely, and in any case the indelible complexion of late summer/early fall is delightfully embodied in the words, the music, and the spirit of this charming song. The bittersweet cello that leads into the first verse--with its singular way of sounding upbeat and sad at the same time--is just a hint of the tuneful orchestral treat the Pittsburgh-based Goldberg has in store for us, with its nicely incorporated string, woodwind, and brass parts. I like how, even so, the guitar and drums--the only "normal" rock instruments on display--are still given their due; the guitar plays an important textural role, and the drums are woven into a larger percussive sound with a nifty sort of homespun finesse. And boy was this homespun: the self-titled album from which this comes was recorded over eight months as Goldberg's senior project as a music student at Carnegie Mellon University; all the musicians on the album (a total of 22 instruments employed) were CMU students as well. Goldberg even sang into a microphone that was custom-built by an electrical engineering student. And perhaps it took an actual college student to so evocatively capture summer's end, with its looming, double-edged departure scenes ("I couldn't wait to leave/But now I want to stay"). Kind of gets you right in the stomach. The CD is available via Goldberg's web site, as is the MP3.

I have a love of good writing, and This Week’s Finds displays that, capturing in one paragraph enough information about the song, the artist, and the feeling it conveys, to make me want to listen to the song even if I just didn’t automatically download whatever he tells me to. I love the use of the phrase “indelible complexion” and “looming, double-edged departure scenes.”

I also broke my rule and tried to find out a little about the blogger behind the music. Here's what Fingertips has to say about its creator:

Fingertips is designed, written, edited, and nourished by Jeremy Schlosberg. All mistakes are his, all dead links are his responsibility (but don't expect them to be fixed overnight!), and everything that he says is great that you think is not so wonderful, well, what the heck. "It's a strange and beautiful world..."

Then, when you click through his name, you get:

Jeremy Schlosberg is a writer, editor, and playwright with 20 years of experience writing for a wide variety of national publications, including the New York Times, GQ, Salon, Smart Money, Utne Reader, Lingua Franca, Parenting, and others too numerous (and, often, obscure) to mention.Jeremy's love of music dates back to epiphanies experienced while listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in Junior High School. You know, it wasn't a bad place to start. Soon enough Blood on the Tracks came along; by the time of This Year's Model, an abiding love for intelligent, passionate music had taken root. While he has largely steered clear of writing about music professionally, occasionally the opportunities have arisen. Musicians he has interviewed over the years include Jane Siberry, Dar Williams, Lucinda Williams, and the late, great Kirsty MacColl.You may email Jeremy via this page.

(I actually also only assumed that “Fingertips” was a "him", which might be kind of sexist of me, but that’s me: I ride my own melt.)(Plus, I was right. Is it sexist if you’re right?)

So it's not surprising that Fingertips is well written, given that background. And, it seems, it should not be surprising that I like the music Fingertips picks out, since one of the earliest albums I owned was an 8-track that included "Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road," too. (I also owned Supertramp's Breakfast in America.)

The world is a large and confusing place. It’s the kind of place where you think, as a kid, that you’re going to want to travel the world after you get done working at all the fast food restaurants, but then you end up in Morocco eating a sheep’s eyeball and getting a gun pointed at you. It’s also the kind of world where thousands of bands are posting millions of songs, a dizzying array of music that would overwhelm even the most diligent music-surfer. In that kind of a world, it’s nice to know that you can always live in the suburbs of Wisconsin eating Ranch Pops, and it’s nice to know that someone out there will post, each week, the exact three songs you want to hear right then. Thanks, Fingertips, for doing that. It makes you The Best mp3 Site.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Best Game Show

I am resigned to the fact that the only way I will ever get rich is if someone just gives me the money.

Not through my education, which given the way the interest on my student loans keeps compounding is not only the most expensive thing I’ve ever done but will also continue to keep costing me money for years.

Not through my hard work, since I rarely do any hard work and much of the time I spend “working” is actually spent writing entries like this, which has a way of keeping billable hours down. That and my clients rarely see the need to pay me.

With hard work and education out as sources of riches, that leaves luck and knowledge. Which means the lottery or game shows.

I’m already playing the lottery as much as I can ($2 per week, about – a big chunk of the allowance Sweetie gives me), so game shows are the last frontier for me, the only way that I stand to get rich in my own lifetime, to have a lifestyle that involves no alarm clocks, no ties, no traffic jams, and a lot of traveling, hotels, continental breakfasts, and plenty of time to read so that The Ministry of Special Cases does not sit for weeks on the dresser by my bed, slowly gathering rings from the baby bottles which get set on it each night when both A and B wake up at the same time and Sweetie has to get me to give one of them a bottle, too, after a few sips of which the twin I'm holding falls asleep, so I set the bottle aside on the only open spot on my dresser: the shelf where the book I’m reading sits. Or, I should say, the book I would be reading except that I rarely spend time reading because I’m usually exhausted from those all-nighters with A and B, and when I’m not exhausted, I have TIVO which is set to record a variety of great TV shows including
Three’s Company and, now, Torchwood, which I watched last night and which looks really, really good, not least because the previews for the second episode made it look as though they’re going to hunt an alien that makes people want to have sex. Sex and aliens. Think of it. It’s the perfect combination for a TV show. Or an invasion of the Earth, because we'd let them.

While you think of that, also think of this: Why was it still called Three's Company after Chrissy moved out, and Terry moved in and Cindy kept coming around?

If I was rich, I would have all the time in the world to watch Torchwood and read The Ministry of Special Cases and still spend some time with the family. But getting rich, like I said, means that I will have to, I think, win a game show.

(Or sell my latest idea for a TV show. My longtime fans – well, fan—okay, Sweetie and anyone who happened to stumble across this blog through some weird search – know that I wrote a sitcom that will someday be a great hit [you can read the pilot here] but I also the other day on the way home from work had a genius idea for another sitcom that would make me rich just on the concept, plus I’d cast A and B in it and get rich off of them, too, but not in a creepy Joe Simpson way; in the good-stage-parent way, except that I can’t think of an example of a good stage parent, so I might have to be the first.

The idea is this: Fuller House. It’s a simple premise: Ashley (Ashley Olsen) is suddenly widowed in a non-scary/non-threatening way and is left with identical twin boys and some girls to raise. So she asks her identical twin sister Mary Kate (Mary Kate Olsen) to move in and help her – but Mary Kate brings her would-be filmmaker fiancĂ© with her, and he sells the family's life as a reality series that he's directing.

This is genius, I know. Sweetie claimed it wasn’t and that it was the plot of Hope and Faith. I don’t know how she would know that, since nobody has ever watched Hope and Faith, but I checked on IMDB and that’s not the plot at all. So it would work.

And you naysayers who point out that Ashley and Mary Kate played one person on the original Full House and so it doesn't make sense to cast them as twin sisters on some kind of continuation which doesn't even include Bob Saget because I don't like him, he almost keeps me from watching How I Met Your Mother, but not quite because I don't have to see him, too, can just be quiet. It’s TV. It doesn’t have to make sense.)

But until that idea, or my other sitcom, gets picked up, I’m stuck with game shows. And I thought I would get rich off one game show in particular a while back, one of only two game shows I’ve ever tried to get on. I don’t bother with the newest game shows out – Deal or No Deal, The Power of 10, whatever else is out there. These game shows don’t require any knowledge at all, so far as I can tell. Deal or No Deal requires only luck, or seems to require only luck, since the contestants the one night I watched it seemed completely incapable of grasping the concept of the odds that the briefcase had $1,000,000 in it when that was one of 10 remaining choices and the other 9 all were $100 or less; and were simultaneously incapable of grasping the concept of “a bird in the hand…”

No, I like game shows that require skill and knowledge, and not the weird knowledge you need for things like Wheel of Fortune. “Before and After” my butt. Who would ever come up with "Tom Cruise Missile" as the answer to a puzzle? I’m looking to showcase and use real knowledge, or at least real trivial knowledge, and that means that I tried out – many many times – for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

When that show had its first go-round with Regis, I and the family watched it religiously because it was a lot of fun and gave even non-smart people a chance with the multiple choice and all. And I was a natural for the show, I figured, because I was (am) really smart, and because I really wanted to be a millionaire. So I constantly, whenever I could, called that number they had and took the test and on three separate occasions I passed the test and they said that someone would call me the next day if I was selected to go on to the next round – in New York! With Sweetie there! With lifelines back home!

And each time I waited and waited and didn’t let anyone use the phone and worried when people did call that somehow the call waiting would not work and I’d miss Millionaire’s call – really, I did worry that – and each time Millionaire failed to call me.

I was crushed. It is so much worse to nearly qualify and then not get picked for the next round than to not qualify. “Better to have loved and lost” is not true. Remember that guy whose friends tricked him into thinking he won the lottery by taping the numbers from the day before? I always felt kind of like that. (And if I was that guy, by the way, those friends would have been thrown out a window. That is the least funny joke I can imagine.)

So Millionaire, with its great questions and increasing level of difficulty, and even some strategy, and lifelines, and all, could have been The Best Game Show. But they broke my heart. And I can’t forgive that.

Millionaire’s betrayal returned me to my first love: Jeopardy!. I’ve always loved Jeopardy!. I love the buzzer, the questions, the categories (Potent Potables? Great!), the round where the scores can really change, Mustache-Trebek, bareface-Trebek, Final Jeopardy!, writing on the screen. But you know what I really love about Jeopardy!? The snob appeal. The fact that only smart people really love Jeopardy! and do well at it.

When I was in law school, my roommate and I used to compete at Jeopardy!, which is exactly the geeky kind of law school thing you’d expect pre-lawyers to do. He’d keep score, and we had rules – you could not answer before Alex finished reading the question, even though we had both read it already, and you had to answer in the form of a question, and we even disallowed lame questions like if you said “Who is 1984?” which is technically a question but a dumb one, so it didn’t count.

We competed like that to show each other that we were smarter, which is probably 99% of the reason someone watches Jeopardy!. I’ll admit it: it’s more fun for me to watch the show around people so I can rattle off answers and impress them.

Jeopardy! is the most challenging of all the game shows because it strives for that snob appeal. Have you ever taken the test to get on the show? My college exams were easier. Sometimes I watch and get one or two answers right the entire show. There’s no multiple choice, here, either. You know it or you don’t – no help. Just like life, in fact, if life required that you know the document that was the predecessor to the Constitution (and can quickly recall that information in the form of a question.)

(It’s What are the Articles of Confederation?, by the way, and when my roommate and I competed you’d have to ask it that way. If you said What IS the Articles of Confederation? you were wrong because “articles” is plural.)

But don’t think you just have to be able to spout esoteric information (not trivia, either; they ask real categories.) You also have to be able to consider how much to wager on Daily Doubles, and you have to gauge your knowledge of a category and make your Final Jeopardy! wager before even seeing the question. Alex will tell the players (and us at home) that the category is “Big Band Singers,” and you’ll think I’ve got this and wager all of it,

but all you really know is Frank Sinatra, and suddenly you’re faced with “He was known as the man who taught American to sing” and you’re stumped but the guy next to you is frantically writing “Who is Fred Waring?” and he’s right and you’ve got to hope that your wager, leaving you with $10,001, is enough to keep you ahead of him because who bets all his winnings?

It’s that strategy and calculation on top of all the information you need that puts Jeopardy! over the top in the end, because it lets geeks like me prove not just that they know more, but that they can outmaneuver the other nerds.

Jeopardy! has other points going for it beyond it’s ability to let me show off the one talent that a lifetime of comic books and D&D has left me with. It also has made its way into the pop culture as a test of smarts– remember, on Seinfeld, that time that George became a genius because he stopped having sex? How did he prove he was smart? By watching Jeopardy! and answering the questions.

Plus, Jeopardy! has spawned one of the very few memorable and funny Saturday Night Live skits. Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek hosting celebrity Jeopardy! still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

A final reason why Jeopardy! is The Best Game Show: That exclamation point. It’s not just oh, hey, Jeopardy’s on. It’s This! Is! Jeopardy! The exclamation point, by the way, beats the tar out of Millionaire's question mark. (I told you. Broke my heart.)

I know that Jeopardy! doesn’t pay as well as that harlot, Millionaire, but it offers more snob appeal and has always been there for me and never led me on, not even the one time I was able to try to qualify, since I had to take a test and I apparently did not pass because they never notified me that they’d give me a chance to the second round. Jeopardy! hasn’t been flooded onto the airwaves, has not been handed over to not-Katie-Couric, has not been switched from prime time to mid-afternoon just before Ellen, and has not, in any significant way, changed itself. Even Wheel of Fortune has modified its puzzles, and eliminated the shopping with prize money.

Jeopardy! just keeps cruising along, with its columns of answers and Audio Daily Doubles and that awesome theme song. It will just keep cruising along, I imagine, timelessly putting its answers out there for you to respond to in the form of a question.

And someday, I’m sure, one of those answers will be He made his first billion when his “Fuller House” became an overnight sensation on television.

Remember to respond in the form of a question.

The Best Of... Sports

Click the pictures to go to the article!

The Best of... Sports!!!!!!

The 5 Best Looking NFL Players, According To Other People.

What would you ask God, and 63 other things you REALLY WANT to know about the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament! (WHODATHUNKIT?!)

Whodathunkit!? The 64... make that 68... Best Things You REALLY WANT To Know About This Year's (2011) NCAA Mens' Tournament.

Whodathunkit?!: The 64 Best Things You Want To Know About the 2010 NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament.

The Best Football Team:

1990-94 Buffalo Bills

The Indianapolis Colts

The Best New Sport

Awesome Ball

The Best Postseason Sporting Event:

March Madness

The Best Quarterback Ever:

Brett Favre

Whodathunkit? -- Superbowl XVLEIRALVERHIII: The 3 Best Things You Want To Know About the Superbowl

Whodathunkit?!-- The 64 Best Things You Want To Know About The 2009 NCAA Tournament!

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Best of ... Movies


The Best Of... Movies: 

222 Words About "The Avengers."

A sort of review of "Dream House"

720 Words About "Fright Night" (Random Number Of Words Reviews)

The Best Happy Endings That [SPOILER ALERT!] Aren't Happy At All.

The Best (Movie) Sequel

The Best Tom Hanks Movie (That Demonstrates He's Always Playing Himself.)

The Best Batman Movie... So Far

The Best Christmas Movie:

Bad Santa

The Best Disney Cartoon:

The Little Mermaid

The Best Ending to A Romantic Movie:

Green Card

The Best Evil Supercomputer In A Movie:


The Best Fake Musical In A Real Movie:
Hamlet 2

Monsters, Inc. (reader nomination!)

The Best Fight Scene In A Movie:

Neo vs. Agent Smiths

Norton's First Fight With Tyler

The Best Horror Movie:

The Amityville Horror

Sin City:


The Best Lead In A Romantic Comedy:
Hugh Grant

The Best Movie About Something That Really Happened:

Touching The Void

The Best Movie Line:

The Best Movie MonsterGamera
Godzilla (Reader Nomination.

The Best Movie Weapons (And How I'd Use Them In Real Life)

The Best Robot In Movies:


The Best Slasher Movie:

April Fool's Day

The Best Star Wars Movie

The Best Teen Movie That's So Lame It's Cool:
Bring It On

The 10 Best Movie Villains, According To The Boy (And Some "Man Walks Into A Bar Jokes.")

The Best Way To Write A Movie Theme Song