Saturday, May 12, 2007

Happy 7-0, George!

I quote him often on here, and for good reason—along with Robin Williams and the late Richard Pryor, George Carlin is probably the most influential stand-up comedian of my generation, and just one damn funny dude.  George turns 70 today, if you can believe that.  His observations about little everyday minutiae and the quirks of the English language are brilliant, and even though he's turned into a bit of a curmudgeon in recent years, he can still pack a punch with his humor—if you catch him on the right night, that is.  I was lucky enough to have an older sister who bought Carlin's albums back in the '70s, so I was exposed to his work at a very early age (probably earlier than I should have been), and it didn't take me long to memorize most of his routines, which I would often recite verbatim to friends and classmates.  I even had the temerity to do one of George's bits for a 7th grade Speech class!  I hated having to memorize stuff on the fly, and the topic was "humorous interpretation", so since I knew his stuff inside and out anyway, I did his routine "Some Werds" from the Toledo Window Box album (not to be confused with the seven dirty ones bit!), which included lines like, "a bone is like a crumb...if you break a crumb in half you don't have two half-a-crumbs—you got two crumbs!"  The teacher had this jaundiced look on her face at first when I announced I was doing a G. Carlin work, but I never uttered one objectionable curse word, and she actually gave me a B+ for my efforts!  In fact, one of the funniest Carlin albums you'll ever hear is called Take-Offs & Put-Ons, which was recorded in 1965 before it was fashionable to use swear words in public.  Just goes to show that the man was funny, whether he was "dirty" or not...

George's "Seven Dirty Words..." bit is the stuff of legend, of course, but his work goes well beyond that.  Another Carlin classic is his "Baseball and Football" routine, which never seems to get old, no matter how often you hear it.  "Baseball is played on a diamond in a park—the baseball park; Football is played on a gridiron in a stadium—WAR Memorial Stadium!"  George also coined another phrase that I just love regarding the sport of lacrosse:  "Lacrosse isn't a sport—it's a faggot college activity!"  And regarding NASCAR, George sez, "Who cares who wins these things—it's the same five rednecks every week anyway...I wanna see a multi-car pile-up and a car fire!"  I could go on and on, but you get the idea...

I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Carlin about 20 years ago and got his otto-graph.  My friend Tom and I attended his performance at the Midland Theater in K.C. in 1987, and we were heading back to the car after the show when we spotted a limo parked outside a door marked "Stage Door".  I skeptically figured it was a decoy and that George was long gone already, but we waited around a few minutes anyway, and sure enough, George and his entourage emerged from the building, thus Tom and I hastily scampered back across 13th St. to meet him.  I remember he was wearing a white ZZ Top ballcap, and I remarked, "Hey, another ZZ Top fan!"  George politely signed my show program and said, "I noticed you two skulking across the street, there," and to this day, every time I hear the word "skulking", I think of George Carlin...

Sadly (and perhaps predictably) George's career has soured a bit over the last ten years or so.  There was his rather questionable foray into TV sitcom land in the mid-'90s with "The George Carlin Show", where he was very much out-of-his-element.  He also put out a CD in 1999 called You Are All Diseased that was so hateful and full of vitriol that I actually deleted it from my collection without even burning a copy first.  What was once bitingly satirical humor had turned into mean-spirited rancor.  Although he has done some slightly funnier stuff since then, he still seems to want to milk the "bitter old man" shtick for all it's worth.  It's somewhat understandible—George's longtime wife Brenda died the day before his 60th birthday, and it's not too hard to see how that could harden one's heart, but I was quite disheartened to read a couple years back when Carlin actually turned on members of his own audience in Las Vegas and started berating them—very uncool, George!  These folks paid good money to see you perform, dude—don't be ripping your own people, even if you do have issues with them!  Predictably, he blamed it on some pain medication he was on and promptly went into rehab.  Sure, right, whatever...

Still and all, none of that diminishes what has been an outstanding career, George is one of those comedians who makes you think after listening to him, and one Carlin routine resonates with me more than all the others, and it's all about religion.  I'll just warn you now—those of you who are religious at all would best be advised to steer clear here, lest ye be offended, because it so accurately encapsulates how I feel about organized religion:

"Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky, who watches everything you doevery minute of every dayand the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to doand if you do ANY of these ten things, He has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where He will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever until the end of timeBUT, He loves you..."

To paraphrase George's own early '70s bit about the late Ed Sullivan:  "Thanks, George!...A little maudlin, gang, but thanks, George!"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Unrelated thoughts...

The big highway message boards around KC the last couple weeks keep warning motorists about some "Aggressive Driving Enforcement Zone—April 26-May 22".  Dumb question, but why are the law enforcement types even tipping their hand here?  Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the element of surprise would be the key element in nabbing these miscreants...

A BOOT TO THE HEAD... the hateful-looking skank with the tattoos who was being mean to her little girl at Margarita's Mexican restaurant this afternoon while I was trying to enjoy my chicken burrito.  The little girl was just being a little girl, but this be-yatch expected her to stand at attention the entire time they were there.  I may be guilty of judging books by covers here, but I'd bet my next paycheck this child was born out of wedlock, and this whore probably has a different boyfriend every other weekend.  This is one of those times when I truly wish they'd make it mandatory for people to fill out an application in order to breed...

ANOTHER BOOT TO THE HEAD... all these people with those little earpiece cell phone things.  As G. Carlin once said, "Technology has brought us these self-important twits."  Call me old-school all you want, but I am so sick of these fuckers at the grocery store going around acting important and jabbering away, while I think they're actually speaking to me at first until I spot that high-tech Q-Tip in their ear!  And while I'm at it—what is so bloody important that can't wait until you get home to talk about anyway?  This is precisely why I don't even own a cell phone—I like being inaccessible!

"Back In The U.S.S.R."—THE BEATLES (1968) "On the way the paperback was on my knee/Man, I had a dreadful flight…"  I always thought Paul had a paper bag on his knee!  Who knows what was actually in that paper bag, too!

Ya think?  Well, that's a damn sight better than "Scorching Winters", I dare say!  Summers are supposed to scorch, you big dummies!

Lots of controversy surrounding Atlanta Falcons QB Michael Vick today, as some folks who personally know him are claiming that he was/is well-aware of and has an "affinity" for the literal dog-eat-dog shenanigans that have allegedly been going on lately at a home that he owns in Virginia.  These allegations may or may not be true, but one thing's for sure—young master Vick has this bad habit of stepping on his own winky—whilst wearing spiked golf shoes...

1) Enzyte "male enhancement" products (all)
2) (all)
3) Enterprise Rent-A-Car (all)
4) Sonic Drive-Ins (w/the two dorks in the minivan)
5) Geico Insurance (w/cavemen)
6) Allstate Insurance (w/the Dennis Haysbert lectures)
7) Geico Insurance (w/the babbling gecko)
8) Subway Restaurants (w/Jared)
9) (w/that "I'm thinking of a number" pussy)
10) Hanes bras and panties (w/some artsy-fartsy female dance troupe prancing around in their ugly-ass underwear and looking utterly silly)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Top 10 Kiss Blunders of All-Time--Part 2 of 2

5) Double Platinum/Smashes, Thrashes & Hits song remixes  As I’ve stated before, I take a real dim view when bands and/or producers screw with the integrity of their own original recordings.  Nothing wrong with going back and doing remixes to clean up the sound quality or remove defects, but it chafes my hiney no end when they start making major changes to the recordings like overdubbing new vocals or guitar parts or drum machines or whatever, and that’s what Kiss did on their first two best-of compilations, 1978’s Double Platinum and 1988’s lamely-titled Smashes, Thrashes & HitsSmashes contains noticeably-different mixes of "Love Gun" and "Rock And Roll All Nite", and in a very heinous move, they substituted Peter Criss’ original vocal on "Beth" with that of the late Eric Carr.  I don’t fault Carr so much here because he was really desperate to get a lead vocal on any Kiss record.  Gene and Paul would give a couple tunes to Eric to sing in concert, but their egos were too fragile to allow another talented singer like him to grab a little of the spotlight on record, so he seized the opportunity to sing here, but I always thought it was very insulting to Peter Criss—"Beth" is his baby, pure and simple!  In some cases, they simply re-cut songs altogether, like "Strutter ‘78" on Platinum, where they added a totally unnecessary disco-y beat to the song.  Mind you, they didn’t do this to every track on those albums, but what I’m saying is if you’re so proud of your previous output, then why fuck with it?

4) Eric Singer in Peter’s make-up/Tommy Thayer in Ace’s  In a move that pissed off more than a few Kiss fans (me included), when Peter Criss parted company with the band for the second time in 2001, Gene and Paul compounded the situation by bringing drummer Eric Singer back to the band and having him wear Criss’ cat make-up and costume for their overseas tours.  Criss later returned briefly in 2003 for a tour, but when Ace Frehley left for good in 2002, he was also replaced with a facsimile, former Black ‘N’ Blue guitarist Tommy Thayer, who’d previously been "Ace" in a Kiss tribute band, and was also part of the Kiss technical staff on the road.  Singer and Thayer are both good soldiers and very good musicians as well, but I would’ve much preferred to see Kiss retire the make-up and costumes for good after the original four broke up the second time and if Gene and Paul wanted to continue making new music under the band’s name with Singer and Thayer (or Bruce Kulick), then fine and dandy.  Everything that’s transpired since the so-called "Farewell" tour in 2000 has made this group look more like a Kiss tribute band than the real McCoy—sorta like when Willie Mays played for the Mets...

3) Dynasty/Unmasked/Music From The Elder  Kiss was a very fractured band following the release of the four solo albums in 1978, and the period from ‘79 to ’81 was downright strange, as the band had no real musical direction during that time.  They had lost their edge, and were trying to appeal to too-wide an audience, and the whole thing pretty much disintegrated over three of the weakest albums in the band’s history.  Not that there weren’t some good songs on Dynasty—"I Was Made For Lovin’ You" has aged remarkably well in almost 30 years and "Sure Know Something" is one of Paul Stanley’s finer vocal performances.  Problem was, this stuff just wasn’t Kiss!  The hardcore fan base that had been brought up on "Deuce", "Cold Gin" and "Black Diamond" felt disenfranchised, and rightfully so.  Although the band still rocked-out in concert, they were wimping-out on record, big-time.  Actually, Unmasked really wasn’t a bad record at all—if it had been done by a different band.  It would have made a great Toto or Eddie Money album, or a really edgy Billy Joel album instead.  In fact, on the song "She’s So European", if you didn’t know any better, you’d almost swear that it was the Piano Man himself singing instead of Gene Simmons.  As for Elder—an ambitious but ill-advised concept album intended to impress the critics—it was just plain weird hearing Paul Stanley singing about "a child in a sun dress" and other Harry Potter-ish fantasy clap-trap.  A couple tracks do rock out here, namely "The Oath" and "Escape From The Island" (a rare Kiss instrumental), and right at the end of the final track "I", we hear the call-to-arms from Gene when he screams, "I wanna Rock and Roll all night!"  This signaled the end of this three-year "Lost Weekend", as their next album would be much harder and heavier and return the band to its former glory.

2) Kiss Meets The Phantom of The Park  "A Hard Day’s Night meets Star Wars", as Paul Stanley described the original concept of the 1978 made-for-TV Kiss movie, Phantom is one of those classic "seemed like a brilliant idea at the time" deals—and a monumental flop too.  It didn’t seem as bad to me when I was 14 as it does today, and boy, is it bad!  Loaded with dreadful dialogue that sounds like it was written by 3rd-graders, a hokey storyline, and simply awful acting all around—and most of that came from the professional stiffs they hired for this thing!  At least the band had an excuse—they weren’t trained actors.  It didn’t help that the movie was produced by the Hanna-Barbera folks, better known for their Saturday morning cartoon fare—can you imagine the possibilities if say, George Lucas or Steven Spielberg had directed?  The film was beset with problems anyway, as Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were easily bored and got fed up with waiting around for shooting to begin—Ace actually got in his car one day and drove off in his full costume and make-up.  And here’s a blunder within a blunder:  during the scene where the "evil" Kiss faced off with the real Kiss, Ace’s double was a black guy in full make-up and identical costume, but Frehley had to point out to the director that the guy’s hands were still black, so they outfitted him with a pair of flesh-colored gloves.  There’s another scene that supposed to be the real Ace, but you can easily tell it’s the black guy just by the size of his lips (no racism intended here).  Must’ve been the day Ace drove off...

1) Carnival of Souls  This is the one Kiss album I absolutely abhor.  Of everything they’ve ever released, this is the ONLY Kiss CD I ever seriously wanted my money back for.  Even Music From The Elder blows this piece of crap away.  You’d think Elder would’ve taught Gene and Paul a lesson, but once again, Kiss decided to try and impress the critics instead of the fans by not remaining true to themselves and by making a record they had no business making.  I’ve had this CD for ten years now, and I think I’ve maybe played it from start-to-finish four times, at most.  It was recorded sometime around 1994 as the follow-up to the somewhat overlooked Revenge CD from ’92, but sat on the shelf for three years while the whole reunion thing happened with Ace and Peter returning, and thank goodness they did, because if this pile of excrement was the direction the band was heading musically, I might’ve disowned them.  In a nutshell, it was Kiss trying to sound like Soundgarden and all those other crappy Seattle grunge bands that were hot at that time, and the result was beyond pathetic.  Revenge was a heavy album, yes, but it was bright and had a positive vibe to it—not dark and depressing like Carnival, which was just a lame attempt at aimless, boring, gloom-and-doom slacker music for all those Gen X-ers to commiserate to.  There’s a world of difference between "I’m a War Machine," with all its cartoonish macho bravado and "Hate—that’s what I am," with its dark and foreboding tone.  I could just picture the accompanying tour for the album, if it had ever happened:  Gene and Paul wearing flannel shirts and ugly green sweaters with stocking caps looking like a couple Mountain Dew adrenaline junkies on skateboards.  COS was the only Kiss album that got zero stars from me...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Top 10 Kiss Blunders of All-Time--Part 1 of 2

You wanted the fuck-ups—you got the fuck-ups!  As I've previously noted on this here blog, Kiss is my favorite band on Earth in this hemisphere, but they aren't above a little reproach now and then.  The Hottest Band In The World has made its fair share of missteps over the past 35 years or so, and in best "They can't do that to our pledges—only WE can do that to our pledges" tradition, please allow a true Kiss fan to lampoon those times when those Gotham Ghouls went astray...

10) Creatures Of The Night album cover  In one of this band’s most innocuous yet curious moves, their 1982 comeback album Creatures Of The Night has been issued with two different cover photos, neither of which featured the actual lead guitarist who played on the record.  Upon its initial release, COTN’s original cover featured the beautifully spooky shot of the band’s faces in full make-up over a dark blue backdrop with their eyes glowing brightly รก la the "I Love It Loud" video.  It’s unclear to this day who actually played lead guitar on COTN—depending on who you ask, Vinnie Vincent played a little on it (and did co-write three tracks), Bruce Kulick’s brother Bob played on a few tracks, and heaven knows, Eddie Van Halen may have dropped in for a session or two.  But what is clear is that neither Ace Frehley (whose face adorns the original cover) nor Bruce Kulick played a note on this record, which makes the 1985 re-issue of the album with a new cover photo featuring Bruce and the band without make-up (and not looking very Creature-like, either) a total mystery.  In addition to the new front cover, the cool original back cover featuring a lightning-streaked dark sky was replaced by someone's leather-clad butt (Gene's or Paul's, I presume).  They also remixed a couple songs in places and even flip-flopped two tracks in the batting order ("Saint & Sinner" and "Killer") for reasons unknown.  Order was eventually restored (literally and figuratively) in 1997 when PolyGram released the Kiss remasters, and COTN reverted back to its original cover, track lineup and sound mix.

9) Vinnie Vincent  Ol’ "Ankh Head" was a pretty decent songwriter ("I Love It Loud", "I Still Love You", "Lick It Up" and "Young And Wasted" were all co-written by him), and he also co-wrote for other groups like The Bangles, but he was a very average guitar player, at best, and a megalomaniac to boot, thus his tenure with Kiss was a short one.  V.V. was a stop-gap replacement for Ace Frehley for the ill-fated Creatures Of The Night tour—even I wasn’t aware that Ace had left the band until literally the night of a Kiss concert at Municipal Auditorium on March 1, 1983.  My reaction to him was not unlike that of most Kiss fans: "Who the fuck is this guy?"  Unlike the way AC/DC fans took to Brian Johnson almost immediately after replacing the late Bon Scott, Kiss fans didn’t embrace Vincent at all (probably because Ace was still very much alive), and Vinnie did nothing to make us forget our favorite Space Man/Plumber.  His guitar solos were weak and all sounded the same, and he looked (for the lack of a better term) kinda faggy, both with and without make-up.  True, Paul Stanley has made a career out of gender-bending to a degree, but he looks a lot cooler doing it and has far more charisma.  Vinnie also let his own ego get the best of him, expecting the band to treat him as an equal, even though he was basically a hired hand who had yet to earn his stripes, and he eventually got the heave in ‘84.  Gene Simmons even tried to make peace with the guy and throw him a bone by recording a couple of V.V.’s songs for 1992’s Revenge album, and Vinnie managed to piss all over that venture too.  Vinnie Vincent had all sorts of potential, but was his own worst enemy.

8) The Kiss caskets  Of all the merchandizing Kiss has done over the years—everything from posters to t-shirts to dolls to condoms to pinball machines—the most crass offering of all has to be the Kiss caskets that have been on the market about five years or so now.  Yes folks, for about $3,000, you can go to your final reward in style and line Gene Simmons’ bank account at the same time!  For those of you who opt for cremation, I’m sure they have Kiss urns available as well.  "Death, I hear you calling…"

7) Asylum-era wardrobe  It’s a mystery what the band was thinking when they wore such gaudy outfits on-stage and in the videos for the 1985 Asylum album.  We’re talking loud day-glo colors, sequins, boas, evening gloves, the works—it was as if Kiss had raided Phyllis Diller’s closet!  Even Gene Simmons expresses complete dismay looking back on the subject:  "I looked like a drag queen…"  It’s too bad that the tacky wardrobe choices (and hideous album cover) overshadowed what I think was a damn good record.

6) Gene’s acting career  After Kiss took off the make-up in 1983, Gene Simmons could no longer fall back on his alter-ego demon persona, so to compensate for it, his insatiable ego got the best of him and he answered the call of Hollywood and became a serious actor in movies and on TV—much to the band’s detriment.  It was at this point that Kiss became a hobby for Gene, and he basically phoned things in musically for quite a while, particularly on 1984’s Animalize, where Paul Stanley practically carried the band on his shoulders, producing the record himself and playing some of Gene’s bass parts in addition to his usual roles.  They even imported Jean Beavoir of The Plasmatics to do some of the bass work, and the songs that Gene did manage to contribute to that album were all pretty half-assed, at best.  This is not to say Gene was a bad actor—he was actually quite good, especially in Runaway with Tom Selleck and in his guest appearances on TV shows like "Miami Vice" and HBO’s "The Hitchhiker", and he even got blown up by Rutger Hauer in Wanted-Dead or Alive—but it was obvious his head was elsewhere when it came to the band.  This pattern continued off-and-on through the rest of the ‘80s, with Gene diluting himself even further by also running his own record company, signing and producing other bands like Keel, EZO and Giuffria on top of the movie stuff until Stanley finally got in Gene’s face and told him to knock off the extracurricular stuff in the early ‘90s.

Happy Harry Day!

Today would’ve been Harry S. Truman’s 123rd birthday.  Remember that gawdawful song Chicago did in 1975 that went "America needs you, Harry Truman…" in tribute to our 33rd President?  Dreadful song, but the sentiments therein are still very applicable these days—we could sure use a "no bullshit" leader like him now around these parts.  It was pretty cool growing up in an area with an ex-President practically in our back yard—having the Truman Library and his home in nearby Independence made me feel a bit more in touch with history when I was kid.  I clearly remember the long ordeal and the nightly news updates when he was dying during the Christmas holiday season of ’72 and how bummed I was that Harry didn’t live to see the finished product of the Truman Sports Complex (Royals/Kauffman Stadium didn’t open until the following April).  I also remember Dad and my brother and I boarding the shuttle bus in the stadium parking lot for the ride over to the Truman Library and standing in the long line for over four hours on that sunny but frigid Winter afternoon to pay our respects when Truman laid in state.  My old man—a staunch Republican—was still a fan of H.S.T., and I was always grateful that he took me out there that day.

Keep giving ‘em hell, Harry, wherever you are…

France has a newly-elected president, one Nicolas Sarkozy.  Hmmm—doesn’t sound all that French to me, but I’ll patiently await the verdict from the panel of experts at Faux News Channel on whether or not the man actually looks French…

For the second straight year, over-the-hill pitcher Roger Clemens has decided to start his season two months later than everyone else by signing with the Yankees for several bajillion dollars.  What the fuck is this "I’ll start pitching whenever I get around to it" crap?  This ain’t the PGA or tennis where you are your own entity and can play whenever you feel like it—baseball is a TEAM sport!  I don’t care if Clemens is a sure-shot Hall of Famer, either—he should be expected to go through Spring Training and start the season on time just like everyone else instead of this mercenary "here I come to save the day" bullshit he pulls every year.  He doesn’t even have to accompany the team on road trips now when he’s not scheduled to pitch, either.  Mr. "Rocket Man" is totally self-serving, not to mention a complete jerk too.  I hope some National League pitcher beans him right on his fat head in his first plate appearance during Interleague play.

Oh by the way, did I mention that I don’t really like Roger Clemens very much?  Don’t want to mislead you or anything…

And of course, ESPN will have their hype machine running at full-capacity when Clemens finally does get going this year, just as they do with all the other sports figures they obsess over and waste so much "SportsCenter" airtime on like Barry Bonds, Terrell Owens, Bill Parcells, Michelle Wie, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Brett Favre, et al.  This may be a looooong summer…

In between thunderstorms and bailing out my crawl space the other night, I managed to work in the film Little Children on DVD.  It reminded me of Crash from two years ago in that I neither truly liked it or disliked it, but it still managed to hold my interest throughout, for some reason.  Getting to see Kate Winslet nekkid and having sexual relations was definitely an asset, but it was actually a fairly interesting story with a few quirks, too.  I can also see why Jackie Earle Haley got the Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod too—he creeped me out pretty good and was quite convincing as the sex offender/ weirdo.  Not the greatest film I’ve ever seen, but well worth a look.  About a B-minus on my scale.

Don’t know about you, but I’m already tired of this new trend in celebrity schmuck-dom being perpetrated by spiteful spouses/ex-wives and/or their children, as in the case of Alec Baldwin’s vitriolic voice mail message and David Hasselhoff’s drunk-off-his-ass videotape that are currently making the rounds on YouTube and on regular TV.  In both cases, the spouses are claiming innocence in the whole matter as to how these things got released to the media in the first place.  The ex-Mrs. Hasselhoff was on "Larry King Live" last night denying everything, and overrated whore Kim Basinger (Mrs. Baldwin) has been doing same in the media.  In the words of Mr. Dylan, "Let us not talk falsely now…"

Yes, I know this crap is mere fodder for the tabloid media and all, and all the masses out there eat this stuff up because they are shallower than shit, but once again I must quote Chairman Townshend:  "Why should I care? WHY should I care?"  As for the above celebrities:  go fight your fucking battles in private.  As for the masses: get a fucking life, America!

"Brass In Pocket (I’m Special)"—THE PRETENDERS (1980) This song never did make a lot of sense to me until I sat down to read the lyrics, and strangely enough, it still doesn't!  "Detroit leaning"what’s that mean? "A wink and a tail" sounds like "When can I tell?" and "Gonna use my sidestep" sounded to me like "Gonna use my sausage"!  Was Chrissie hiding something in her pants she didn’t want us to know about?  Coincidentally, when my big sister took me to see The Who when I was 15 in April of ‘80, The Pretenders opened for them.  Sis knew nothing about the group prior to the concert, and actually thought Chrissie Hynde was a dude at first!

There is now a team in that NFL Europa league in Cologne, Germany.  Can’t you just picture the headlines following a bad loss—"Cologne Stinks It Up."  They also have a team called the Rhein Fire—"I’ve seen Fire and I’ve seen Rhein"?  The league itself has changed monikers several times:  it was previously NFL Europe, and before that, the WLAF (World League of America Football), or "Waffle League" as David Letterman once referred to it—"You can’t spell waffle without W-L-A-F!"