Sunday, November 30, 2003

The only fucking thing worse than not having a date is getting stood up for one. Okay, it's not the only thing worse, but it still pisses me off.

Addendum, 730am Monday: Turns out he was sick with the flu and had taken a bit of Nyquil, which is why he didn't call. So I wasn't actually stood up. Yay.

Addendum, 1000am Monday: We've rescheduled dinner for tonight. Yay!

Yes, yes, I'm fully aware that I haven't gotten done nearly the amount of writing I'd intended to do this weekend. Friday night I actually went out. The numbers: 3 bars, 3.5 hours, 7 bourbon & Cokes (2 prior to leaving the house), 1 Southwest Steak Bowl at Taco Bell afterwards. Good to see my friend Michael, whom I don't see enough of, as well. Yesterday I didn't do much, save for reading Tracks cover-to-cover and watching a lot of college basketball. And living up to my rep as a total and complete phonewhore. Today, I worked on more writing (as yet incomplete) and watched the heartbreaking Colts loss to the Patriots, 38-34. Peyton's line: 29/48 for 278 and 4 TDs. Wowza.

You may notice the button to your right for Link and Think: The Personal Publishing Communities Respond on World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day, of course, is tomorrow, December 1. As part of L&T, I'll be publishing a post about my experiences with AIDS; I encourage you to do the same. It's not too late to join in, and I feel strongly that increasing awareness of AIDS and HIV is still all-too-important, especially as the CDC reports that HIV infection rates among gay men are on the rise again. Africa, meanwhile, is being decimated by the disease, and as residents (as I am and most of my readers are) of the most prosperous nation in the world, a nation which can spend $87 billion on Bush's dirty war, we have a RESPONSIBILITY to be doing more. Silence still = death. More tomorrow.

Shake it like a polaroid picture.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge may not tip off until Monday night, but the Big Ten's already won one over the ACC: Purdue, led by 22 points from the indestructible Kenneth Lowe, toppled #2 Duke in the championship of the Great Alaska Shootout tonight, 78-68. [Lowe was named tournament MVP, as well.] Staying up past 2am was well worth it to see this. This also means that all of the top 4 teams in last week's coaches' poll lost this week, so we can assume it'll be rock, chalk, Jayhawk at the top when the new poll is released on Monday. And gee, you think Georgia Tech and Dayton (winners of the Preseason NIT and Maui Invitational, respectively) might join the Boilers in the new poll? And speaking of upsets of ranked teams by unranked Big Ten squads, how 'bout those Hawkeyes, eh, sliding past #16 Louisville at the Wooden Tradition? All 8 Big Ten teams in action Saturday won, actually. It's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Odds & ends:

Amen, brother, amen. [Friday, November 28 post.]

This is why I don't shop on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving: scary people.

Nice move by Bulls GM John Paxson, hiring Scott Skiles (Plymouth '83 baby!) as their new head coach. And interesting that while everyone trips over themselves to talk about the Lakers, my Pacers have quietly gone to 14-2, the NBA's best record, after holding Iverson to 12 and topping the 76ers last night. You think Indiana at L.A. on Sunday might be worth a look? [And I try to avoid the NBA!]

Similarly, on the college side of hoops, everyone's talking about Duke - especially since UConn was embarassed Wednesday night (and how about Preseason NIT champs Georgia Tech? Can you say "sleeper"? I thought you could) - and yeah, they looked good last night. Of course, the Blue Devils were playing Liberty, which for them is akin to an intrasquad scrimmage (actually, probably easier). They won't (fingers crossed) have such an easy time of it tonight, taking on Purdue in the championship of the Great Alaska Shootout (1230am EST, ESPN2 - I love me some Feast Week!).

I heard Len's "Steal My Sunshine" today, and thought to myself, whatever happened to them? Do you know? You? You? Someone in Canada must know, right?

Right on.

Chrisafer had a great, great post about Joe Orton, and in extension, his own identity, this week. It got me thinking about Orton again, which is always a good thing. ['fer's thinking-about-ourselves-vis-a-vis-litgeek posts are always my faves.] So Tuesday night, I watched Prick Up Your Ears, the film bio of Orton starring Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, and Vanessa Redgrave, again. Brilliant, just amazing, so true to Orton's diaries, which I highly highly recommend to anyone with interest in a) the life of a supernova of a playwright, and/or b) gay life in London in the '60s. I don't recall when I first read The Orton Diaries; I was likely near the cusp of 20, and was thrilled: here was a stunning, famous playwright extolling the joys of cottages (or, as we know them in the U.S., tearooms) - which, frankly, I was a big fan of at the time. [If you think I'm sluttish now...] Oldman's never been sexier than he is in Prick; it also reminded me that I haven't read some of Orton's plays in quite a while. So I shall.

Friday, November 28, 2003

This week's downloads are up early - hey, it's a holiday weekend! They're two very different versions of the same song, one of the most underrated records of the '80s (or at least 1984).

The song is "State of Shock," which was released on The Jacksons' Victory album, their first album as the brotherhood since 1980's Destiny (which seemed light-years away, considering Michael's Off the Wall and Thriller came during the interim). The hit (and album) version of the song featured Mick Jagger. Neither of these is that version.

The first is the song's 1983 demo, recorded by Michael and Freddie Mercury. The track isn't dissimilar from the way it appeared on Victory, albeit a bit underproduced. Michael leans a bit into his vocals more than he does on the single version, but that might simply be a consequence of trying to outsing the great Mercury. Both Michael and Freddie engage in some... interesting scatting in the song's outro. And be sure to check out this thoroughly bizarre I-have-far-too-much-spare-time page of "interesting comparisons revealed" between Messrs. Jackson and Mercury.

The Jacksons didn't appear at Live Aid in 1985, but Jagger did, solo. Who was more natural for him to bring onstage with him than his frequent (and perhaps best) concert foil, Tina Turner? They duetted on "Shock" and the Stones' "It's Only Rock'n'Roll," and completely transformed the song, making it sound completely unlike its original (Michael who?) and much more like the kind of thing Tina was doing circa '78, when she was making the rounds covering Rod Stewart's "Hot Legs." It's got a tough, muscular, rock structure in this arrangement - played by, believe it or not, Hall & Oates' band (hello, G.E. Smith!). Any time I can hear Mick'n'Tina duet, it's a guaranteed good thing.

Bonus! Talking with Erik today, we were discussing songs by Michael's siblings not named Janet, and the topic of oldest sister Rebbie Jackson (pronounced 'ree-bee') came up. 1984's "Centipede" was her first single, her first hit single, her first gold single, and the only hit or gold record she ever had. A surprisingly solid record, it was written and produced by - who else? - little brother Michael. Give it a listen; it's by no means a milestone of any sort, but is a fine pop record.

Coming next week: Paul's favorite record by any member of the Jackson family! Here's a hint: peeing standing up.

You might've noticed that lately I've been much more in rockcritgeek mode than in a while. Well, it's nearing the end of the year, when a young (or not-so-) rockcrit's thoughts turn to year-end polls, Grammy nominations, and Pazz & Jop, oh my! Grammy nods come out next Thursday, P&J ballots mid-December (I think), and year-end polls are about to start appearing. Keith Harris, an ace critic if ever there was, has a blog now, too: Useful Noise. And it's more than just static.

I learned from Matos's miniautobio this week that he's been making a living writing about music for 4 years, now - and he's more than 4 years younger than me. It's almost my freakin' 33rd birthday, and I'm about to make like Sean Paul and get real busy. And, like R. Kelly, have me some fun. Call it a little preview of the remix, if you want.

New posts will be up this weekend (likely today) over at Rock Me Tonight, there'll be mucho more writing here, as par for the course, and I've offered to write a review of Alan Light's new music mag, Tracks, for Rockcritics Daily. As the great poetess Trina once said, I'm about to show y'all how to pimp this shit. Shall we?

Holy shit. As is so often the case, Marcello's got it right: 16-year-old Joss Stone is the real deal, possibly the most soulful singer I've heard all year, with her The Soul Sessions sounding like it came fresh outta the Stax/Volt pressing plant circa 1968 - yet still wholly contemporary. More soon, but rest assured she's the real deal in spades.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Good, mellow Thanksgiving Day. Putzed around online, chatted with some friends, worked on cleaning my room a bit, and enjoyed a huge dinner with the gang - 2 plates of leftovers and an entire pumpkin pie in the fridge, yay! Lazy days are so good - and so needed from time to time. Here's hoping you had just as enjoyable a Thanksgiving, and remembered to give thanks. Now it's time to slip between the sheets with a book and read a bit before drifting off. 'Night.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

You think Bob Knight's gonna have a good Thanksgiving? He's certainly got a defense to be thankful for this year, as Texas Tech has looked impressive in each of its four season-opening wins this year, including tonight's 65-54 victory over Utah in the Preseason NIT semis at MSG. Unfortunately, the General won't get a crack at the #1 team in the nation - 'cause UConn's went down tonight, losing to Georgia Tech by 16. Which makes it fairly likely that TTU will get a 5-0 start and a Preseason NIT trophy Friday night.

Speaking of upsets, hello, Charlotte! The 49ers toppled defending champs Syracuse in their opener, in the Carrier Dome, 96-92 tonight. Think the rest of C-USA is suddenly a little worried?

The college hoops march to San Antonio's just getting started, folks... in the next week alone we get the Wooden Tradition in Indy (Louisville-Iowa and Indiana-Xavier), a likely Duke-Purdue final in the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, and the always lip-smacking-good ACC-Big Ten Challenge (which this year features such main courses as Illinois-North Carolina and Duke-Michigan State). Yummy!

I know it's cheesy, but it brings a smile to my face every year (and today, I could use it):

Things You Can Only Say and Get Away with at Thanksgiving

1. Talk about a huge breast!
2. Tying the legs together keeps the inside moist.
3. It's Cool Whip time!
4. If I don't undo my pants, I'll burst!
5. Whew, that's one terrific spread!
6. I'm in the mood for a little dark meat.
7. Are you ready for seconds yet?
8. It's a little dry, do you still want to eat it?
9. Just wait your turn, you'll get some!
10. Don't play with your meat.
11. Just spread the legs open and stuff it in.
12. Do you think you'll be able to handle all these people at once?
13. I didn't expect everyone to come at once!
14. You still have a little bit on your chin.
15. How long will it take after you stick it in?
16. You'll know it's ready when it pops up.
17. Wow, I didn't think I could handle all of that!
18. That's the biggest one I've ever seen!

More seriously, I'm very glad that my country has a national holiday devoted to giving thanks; what a superb concept. Remember what you're thankful for - the day's name isn't actually "Turkey Day," it's Thanksgiving - and give props to whomever you like to give props to. And let the people in your life you're thankful for know it. Happy Thanksgiving.

I was hoping this would be the answer I got. Yay, queen! [He'd have to be the only member of the Fab 5 with a partner, then. *pout*] Link via John the Waremouse.

Ted: Food & Wine Connoisseur

Which Member from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is your type?
brought to you by Quizilla

I keep my alarm clock/radio on the local "modern rock" station (terrible website, BTW), because I need something so wretched in the morning that I'll jump up to turn it off and make it stop - and not only do they play horrid music, they run that obnoxious Mancow in the a.m. So this morning, my alarm goes off at 6:50 like usual, but I actually laid in bed with my ears perked, in the hopes that they'd ID whatever song was playing. All I knew was its melodic sensibility, and that it was kinda loud, but in a good way. To my shock and awe, it was the new Blink-182 single, "Feeling This." It's got their traditionally aggressive drumming and basswork, but also their not-always-traditional dual lead vocals (one singing the chorus, one kinda yelling the verses). They've always, I'll grudgingly admit, had a flair for melodic pop-punk, but it really seems to be at the fore in "Feeling This." It's not made me a sudden fan, and I certainly won't be running out to buy their new self-titled album, but it's a refreshing surprise, and gives me a bit more respect for the Blink boys.

Damn it, I'm so sick of my job. FUCK the Planning Council. Not my immediate coworkers, mind (whom I love), but the assholes in management. Fuck 'em.

I need to bottle and keep this anger around, use it to light a fire under my ass to find another fucking job. Enough with this status quo bullshit I've been riding for too long.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Queer Eye drinking game: drink every time Kyan says "bro." If you're doing shots, you'll be drunk by 11pm EST, guaranteed. That minor annoyance aside, however, the new "season" of QE is going from strength to strength. Last week's taxidermist hippie episode was sublime, and this week's (which my coworkers and I referred to as the "Mr. Potato Head" episode) was even better - they turned a nebbish, toupée-wearing lawyer into - well, with the glasses, Moby, only more neurotic. Tonight's show featured cameos from Rosie O'Donnell and the cast of Broadway's Taboo (including Boy George), another not-to-hot Straight Guy transformation, amazing furniture, and a great OK Go song (five words I never thought I'd say), "You're So Damn Hot." I've already named next week's show "Angry Carson," if the previews are to be believed. And heaven knows I certainly don't want to miss that. Who knew that friggin' reality television would give us the two best shows of the year, in America's Next Top Model (back in January!) and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? Oh, and don't miss the very well-done (and very clever) website, Straight Eye for the Queer Shows.

And in totally shocking news, Jai's official website is really, really gay.

Jay-Z's The Black Album has some good stuff, some so-so stuff, and is more uneven than it deserves to be. But the Rick Rubin-produced "99 Problems" is motherfucking HOT, ya hear me?! It's the sound of Hova gettin' raw and Rubin getting back to his roots, all hard rock riffin' and bangin' beats a la Radio, the opposite of, say, the Neptunes joint (and single) "Change Clothes," an obvious - though that doesn't mean bad, though unfortunately it's a little uninspiring - commercial sop. "December 4th," featuring Jay's Mom, is quite nice, too - another solid Just Blaze joint - and Mr. Carter and I share not just a birthday, but a birthdate, it turns out. In fact, Paul (coming back soon) and I were discussing birthdays recently, and discovered that while I share one with Jigga, Paul shares his with Eddie Van Halen - and that nicely sums up our (musical) differences in one convenient factoid.

Speaking of music bloggers, one of the kings, Michaelangelo Matos, is back, thank goodness. He and Nate Patrin (2 to choose from!) are the reasons I started this shit, almost 16 months strong and counting. 'Nuff respek.

More odds & ends:

Fetishes are funny things. I've no idea where the majority of mine came from, only that they turn me on. But I wonder why sometimes. And no, I won't tell you what they are, thankyouverymuch.

The recent "official" news of the disbanding of Stone Temple Pilots saddened (but didn't suprise) me. One of the most critical underrated bands of the '90s, STP made a blissful marriage of Scott Weiland's oh-so-flexible vox with a heavy-duty guitar-bass-drums attack - but one which could croon as well as wail (cf. "Sour Girl," or most of their fine Unplugged performance from '93). Their swan song, the hits comp Thank You, features the previously unreleased "All In the Suit That You Wear," and it's prime STP. It won't convince you if you're a nonbeliever, but if like me you're a fan, it certainly does the justice.

Anyone who refers to Junior Vasquez as "feckless" - and can write about the synchronicities of deep house and life in such a manner - has my eternal respect. That means you, Geoffrey. [BTW, if you don't know John, you really need to; he's one of us.]

Dr. Tom Davis has always been one of the classiest coaches in men's college hoops. I can't imagine that returning to Iowa tonight - as the opposing coach - will be easy, or fun for him. But it's yet another reason to respect him.

Happy birthday, Erik!

More reasons I'm waiting this year to put together my "best of '03" lists: Alicia Keys's "You Don't Know My Name" and Anthony Hamilton's "Comin' From Where I'm From" get better - and closer to my 2003 top 20 - with each listen, as do (to a likely non-top 20 extent) various tracks from Bubba Sparxxx's Deliverance (P&J cult hip-hop record of the year?) and Britney's In the Zone, Elephant Man's "Pon De River, Pon De Bank" (which I just picked up on), Vivian Green's "Emotional Rollercoaster" (ditto, and watch her pick up a couple Grammy nods next week), Kelis's "Milkshake" (undeniable, and I shoulda just admitted it from day one), Lemar's "50/50" (better than "Dance With U"), OutKast's "Hey Ya!" (took me a while, but still only my fourth- or fifth-favorite from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), and Nelly Furtado's "Powerless." And then there's...

OH! The Glorious Return - artistically I mean, they've never gone away - of the Pet Shop Boys. Their new 2CD best-of, Pop Art, came out yesterday in the U.K. (and the triple-disc version, including a CD of their favorite remixes of their own songs, is available as an import, hint hint wink wink), and its first single is a corker. "Miracles" entered this week's British Top 40 at the lofty heights of #10, but more importantly, it's marvelously great, marrying Neil Tennant's pitch-perfect lyrics (celebrating, in this case, the glory of love in a decidedly non-Ceteran manner) with up-to-date electronics (coproduced by Adam F, interestingly). Better than anything off their last album, Release (which sounded a bit rote, truth be told) or its subsequent Disco 3 set, this is the sound of a rejuvenated and carefree PSB. Praise be, they've still got it!

Finally, a couple of worthwhile pieces on the apparently retiring (literally, from hip-hop at least) Jay-Z: Elizabeth Mendez Berry looks at the man and his self-created myth in "The Last Hustle" (from this week's Village Voice), while Jigga himself all-too-briefly reviews his own catalog for's "Hova Rates Hova."

Listening to Aaliyah's "More Than A Woman (Masters At Work Alternate Mix)" is like sliding into the tightest, hottest, wettest fuck imaginable. Absolutely carnal bliss overload.

Newly added to the blogroll:
The hot midwestern non-racist skinhead Drubskin, who's also an incredibly talented erotic artist, Mighty Maloney, my new Canuck sweetheart, and the California chronicles of Jerry, who found my other blog, Rock Me Tonight, and gave up some unsolicited praise - the best kind! Thanks, baby.

Odds & ends:

Anyone know what's been up with Blogger? It's eaten not one but two posts of mine in the past 24 hours.

Well, well, well... it's not the same as knocking off #1, but regardless, hello again, Chaminade!

I suppose a Chemicals remix of Kylie's "Slow" makes up for the inclusion of Liz Phair: details about the forthcoming Queer Eye soundtrack are beginning to emerge.

Please oh please! The mere thought of getting to see the original lineup of Motley Crue - which I never have - is enough to make salivate, a lot.

Kurt Loder has some thoughts about MJ.

The more I listen to Erykah Badu's Worldwide Underground EP, the more I'm thoroughly convinced that it's her best record yet. Where Mama's Gun suffered at times from being so lyrically heavy (and, occasionally, a bit clumsily so), this record has no such problems, chiefly because it's at heart a groove record, with a real '70s feel pervading most of it (or, in the case of the Sequence homage "Love of My Life Worldwide," an early-'80s feel). "Back in the Day" and the 10-minute-plus "I Want You" especially stand out in those terms. Badu's about setting a mood here, and does so expertly.

Go Home Productions's quickie "Jacko Under Pressure" is well worth hearing, because you won't believe how well the vocal line of "Rock with You" meshes with the Queen and David Bowie track - and for the news soundbites he cheekily drops into the mix. And it was conceived, made, and played on national UK radio in under 24 hours! Props.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Ah, Spice Girls. Those were the days. VH-1 thinks so, too, as last night they premiered a Spicy episode of Behind the Music (and if you missed it, don't feel badly; apparently the only things VH-1 is capable of promoting these days are their stupid "Big In '03" show and endless specials about the Hilton Sisters and Michael Jackson). It was largely disappointing, mainly because they only got interviews with Melanie Chisholm and Geri Halliwell (Sporty and Ginger, respectively) and didn't spend enough time on the girls' solo careers (apart from pointing out that Geri's has been akin to watching a car crash). But the upside is that it reminded me of why I loved the Spice Girls in the first place.

So you know what I had to do, right? Of course: I made a comp.

Spicy!: The Best of the Spice Girls
1 "Christmas Wrapping" - where the Girls show great taste in seasonal covers, taking on the Waitresses' cult holiday classic. A refreshing choice, in that it's not a particularly "up" song - also good that it doesn't take a lot of (over)singing. Fine fun.
2 "Goodbye" - their last-ever single, as the then-four-piece sent departed Geri a love letter. Classy, solid balladry.
3 "Holler" - the first single from their last album, the ill-titled Forever, and one which holds up surprisingly well, likely due to Darkchild's superb production. It's a meaty, elastic R&B groove which works a charm. For some reason, though, the way they sing "holler" always makes me want to rhyme it with (I have no idea why) "intifada."
4 "Holler (Masters at Work Remix)" - Kenny and Louie work their magic on the Girls, opening "Holler" up widescreen, giving it a seductive, late-night feel.
5 "Who Do You Think You Are" - a horny attempt at funk which ends up more on the faux side of things.
6 "Move Over" - a track from the sophomore Spiceworld - a better album than their debut - which unfortunately became a Pepsi jingle in '98. Ergo, all the "Generation Next" chanting. Important in a sociological study of Spice, as they were supreme queens of marketing.
7 "Wannabe" - the original atom bomb, one which detonated with only slightly less worldwide (commercial) impact than "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." A solid, but by no means spectacular, pop record - apart from the "zigga-zig-ah!"s. There was better to come. True fact: upon first hearing "Wannabe," I was utterly flabbergasted as to how this song about group sex ("if you wanna be my lover/you gotta get with my friends") had made onto the radio. I really thought that was its gist, initially.
8 "Mama" - more midtempo than ballad, and more effective than you remember, largely due to its acoustic guitar. As songs about mothers go, at least.
9 "Stop" - Spice Girls-go-Motown by way of Boy George. Cute, kitschy, totally throwaway.
10 "2 Become 1" - one of their better ballads, actually tender and not smarmy. "I need some love like I've never needed love before" gets me, somehow. Another fine vocal from Sporty.
11 "Say You'll Be There" - now, this was more like it. Marvelously tough bassline and high-pitched synth lines in a fine song about devotion whilst still being an independent woman.
12 "Saturday Night Divas" - I've never figured out what this song's supposed to be about; I actually meant to leave this off. Not one of their best.
13 "Too Much" - a lovely, softly swinging ballad with an almost '50s feel to it, while still sounding contemporary, nealy swingbeat.
14 "Spice Up Your Life" - a pseudo-Latin fiesta of a dance record, and by furlongs their finest single ever, this was Spiceworld's first salvo. Rubbish lyrics about treating life as a party (I think), but it just bumps so sexily as to be positively absurd. And it references the lambada!
15 "Never Give Up on the Good Times" - their best non-single. Sounds like an early-'90s pop/aceeeed house record, what with its silly scratching and jittery keybs in the intro. The chorus is full of possible joy: "never give up on the good times/gotta believe in the love you find/never give up on the good times/livin' it up is a state of mind." Norman Vincent Peale should've been so pithy.
16 "The Lady Is A Vamp" - its fun torchiness would've been more effective were it not for just plain stoopid lyrics. But it's still effective, just less than it might have been.

They weren't perfect, but they were better than they get credit for being. And they were more fun than most you care to name. As pop artists, they ruled for a couple years, and deservedly so. Take notes. [And ignore most of their collected solo work, please. Except for that fab recent Emma (Bunton) single, "Maybe," Geri's Weather Girls cover, and most of Melanie C's Northern Star (save for those hideously gay remixes of "I Turn To You").] Their blood was shed so that Girls Aloud might live.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Odds & ends:

I've succumbed (largely due to his suggestion), and for your convenience, have put together and posted an wish list. Feel free to buy me nice things. *grin*

New downloads: Javine's "Surrender," which I wrote about on Wednesday, just grows and grows on me; it's actually got the excitement tantmount to "Crazy In Love." Meanwhile, the Girls Aloud cover of "Jump (For My Love)," I'm thoroughly convinced, is one of the most avant garde records of '03.

Winning the Big Ten: priceless.
Winning the 100th "Big Game": priceless.
Going to the Rose Bowl: priceless.
Ruining Ohio State's BCS dreams: the most priceless thing of all.
And all before an NCAA record crowd of 112,000+. Congrats, Michigan. [Also winning, though not attractively, and locking up third place in the Big Ten and a likely New Year's Day bowl in the process: Purdue.]

Paul's gonna yell at me for it, but there's another late-breaker from '02 with a shot at my P&J ballot: Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela (which I own thanks to BJ), which is a sublime tribute to the late genius Fela Kuti. Of course, Mr. Cox will likely have even more of an issue with my likely inclusion of Texas's "Inner Smile" on my singles list, by virtue of its place on the Bend It Like Beckham soundtrack; the song originally came out as a single in the U.K. in 2001. [But here's a fun fact: it was coproduced by pop genius/Mr. New Radicals, Gregg Alexander!]

Friday, November 21, 2003

Odds & ends:

Nate takes on the Rolling Stone "500 Greatest Albums" - and much better, and more thoroughly, than I did, I hasten to point out. His new(ish) livejournal, Awkward Uprocking, is pretty great, too.

Loving: the new pop-up blocker on the new Yahoo! toolbar, and the streaming net radio formerly known as Spinner, now Radio@Netscape Plus - now with a Bollywood channel!

Paul Stanley or Rufus Wainwright: who's gayer? Discuss.

Thinking more and more about Pazz & Jop. I might actually slide Mariah Carey's The Remixes into my Top 10 albums. [Shut up, you. And you, even though I'm glad to see you posting again.] Other albums likely to be Top 10-ish (in no order):
Soilwork, Figure Number Five
Justin Timberlake, Justified (late-breaker from '02)
Basement Jaxx, Kish Kash
Music from the Motion Picture Camp
Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won
Postal Service, Give Up
Mandy Moore, Coverage
Erykah Badu, Worldwide Underground EP
Richard X, Richard X Presents His X-Factor, Vol. 1
Music from the Miramax Motion Picture Chicago
The Bad Plus, These Are the Vistas
Dizzee Rascal, Boy In Da Corner
Bubba Sparxxx, Deliverance
DJ/rupture, Minesweeper Suite (late-breaker from '02)
Chemical Brothers, Singles 93-03 (2-CD version)

Coming tomorrow: new weekly downloads. They'll both be UK singles from female artists without US record deals because, to quote Veronica Webb on Funkmaster Flex's The Mix Tape, Vol. II: 60 Minutes of Funk (Loud, 1997), they are "premium pussy." And because you need to hear these singles.

What odd days.

I'm - not in a funk precisely, but not sure where I am, in terms of headspace. To most of the world I seem my usual, happy-go-lucky self, I believe, but inside, that's not quite it. What I do know is this:
1. I'm still pretty fucking sick of being single. Why is being single so damned hard?
2. My sex pendulum has swung back; I'm just not in the mood for hookups for their own sake. I mean, I can get myself off. What I really crave is the affection: the kissing, holding, whispering in each other's ears, caressing, sleeping together even. [I'm getting better at that last one as I get older - more flexible, not physically, but in terms of balancing my wants and those of my partner.]
3. Talk about the bride stripped bare (godiloveroxymusic): I just told someone (my erstwhile fuckbuddy, if you have to know) that I'd really like to date him - and that had he made a move before I asked Travis out, frankly, Travis and I never would've happened. Who knows?

I know this feels a bit incomplete; so do I, lately.

The photography of Michael Meads is utterly, breathtakingly, stunning. If Bruce Weber's work weren't so self-consciously "sexy," it might look this good. Meads photographs (mostly) straight boys in the deep south, but these pictures, none among them explicitly sexual, are so painfully erotic - and homoerotic - precisely because of the ease with which straight boys (boys meaning anywhere from 16-30, at least that's what I'd guess most of their ages are) so often carry themselves. There's posing, yes, but there's nothing posed. Everything in these photos screams real. These are "good ol' boys," good even when they're being "bad." It's guys hanging out, drinking beers, smoking, being affectionate in the most loving, nonsexual ways, playing with guns and snakes, pissing, and showing off their cars. Phe-fucking-nomenal work, truly devastating. [Link via Snozzwanger, who's apparently one of the subjects, but he won't say who he is (was).] [Penis alert: not all of it's work-safe.]

I'd be rooting for Michigan to beat Ohio State tomorrow anyway; the Wolverines are playing better than any team in the country right now, save phenomenal Oklahoma and maybe USC, and I just don't like the Buckeyes - plus, I think they're incredibly overrated. But as if I needed another reason... three letters regarding UM QB John Navarre: A-S-S.

Shower up, boys!

Thursday, November 20, 2003

I've added Fit to be Tied to the blogroll, and want to tell you how I know its author, Geoffrey Saunders Schramm (that's his homepage, not the same as his blog). Mr. Schramm is officially, now that we've re-made each other's acquaintance, the person I've known the longest without ever actually meeting; we were both on a Madonna discussion list back in the early-mid '90s, back in the days of Usenet, Bitnet, It was an odd list; somehow, both Geoffrey and I had happened upon what had to be the only non-gay-dominated Madonna discourse on the then-nascent 'net. And it had a bunch of homophobes on it, of all things. Hello, had those people never actually heard Mads?! I distinctly recall Geoffrey sticking up for me at least (but likely more than) once - hopefully, I did the same in return. And now, thanks to the serendipidity (his word choice) of the 'net, and the blogworld in particular, we're connected again. [Props to 'fer, the middleman in all of this.] His blog is good, intelligent stuff, and his thesis sounds fascinating to boot. Pay him a visit, won't you?

Oops; just realized that I forgot a single in this anticipating-my-P&J-ballot post: Jane's Addiction's "Just Because," still likely my rock single of '03 (though "Dance Commander" is hot on its heels).

I have four things to say about Jacko:

1. "A handcuffed Michael Jackson walked into the Santa Barbara jail on Thursday to face child molestation charges that could destroy the pop superstar's career and send him to prison for years."
Don't you kind of have to still have a viable career for it to be destroyed? Just wondering.

2. "Jermaine Jackson angrily defended his brother in an interview with CNN. ... 'My brother is not eccentric. ...'"
Which universe are you living in, Jermaine?

3. Notice Janet's thus far been smart enough to keep her mouth shut. Maybe because she still has a career.

4. There's an incredibly cynical part of me that almost wants to wonder if this entire thing is some sort of elaborate publicity stunt to remind people that Michael's a) still around and b) has a new album in stores (the pathetic Number Ones, not all of which were #1s, and this not even a decade following the HIStory best-of - all the new record does is serve to put a point on a career in bas relief decline, since it's sequenced chronologically). I know it's not, but can't help but wonder. And that's, in some ways, the saddest thing of all. Remember, Michael used to be full of life and magic and amazement and so, so gifted. Pull out your copy of Off the Wall or Thriller if you've forgotten, and remember the times.

Oh, and one of the Associated Press's music writers, Nekesa Mumbi Moody, wrote a great story yesterday about MJ's fading career.

Okay, now I'm mad. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced their class of 2004 today, and I'm pissed off. Yes, of course Prince got in on the first ballot - how could the most brilliant musical force of the last 25 years not?. And I'm happy to see ZZ Top make it in. I don't have a qualm with the selection of The Dells, either. But George Harrison?! He's in for one reason: he's a dead Beatle. Harrison does not deserve to be in as a solo artist whatsoever. Jackson Browne?! Ah, sleepy El Lay singer-songwriters rejoice. Bob Seger?! Traffic?!?! The most infuriating thing is who didn't get in. I thought John Mellencamp was an easy first-ballot selection, but apparently his art didn't have the reach of Steve fucking Winwood's. Patti Smith and The Sex Pistols still aren't in; I've starting to lose hope that either will ever make the cut, sadly. Yet more proof, as if we needed it, that the self-appointed "official" gatekeepers of rock'n'roll are boring, middle-aged white men. *Yawn.*

Big news on this week's Billboard Hot 100, where there's something happening for the first time in 8 1/2 years: one group with two songs simultaneously in the top 5. Back in April '95 it was TLC with "Creep" and "Red Light Special"; this week, it's fellow Atlantans OutKast, with Andre 3000's "Hey Ya!" up 5-3 and Big Boi's "The Way You Move" rising 8-5. Wowza. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below slips 5-11 on the new Billboard 200 album chart, largely due to the phalanx of debuts (Jigga, Pac, G-Unit, above it - and has been certified 4 times platinum. That's a lot of bank, y'all. My burning question: think they've got a shot at a Grammy nod for album of the year? Nominees are announced two weeks from today - on my birthday, so hopefully NARAS won't spoil it with a bunch of nods to shit like Evanescence and Jason Mraz (moderately cute, but so bland).

Adorable Joe posted a wonderful piece this week about loose family ties, and one of the comments posted really made me think. Most all of us want our family members to have and do the best, and have trouble realizing we can't control them - not "control," per sé, but that once they become adults, there's so little we can do. I feel this acutely, being not only the oldest child, but the only male of four kids. So not only am I the big brother, but to three younger sisters; I've always been a bit overprotective of my siblings (and Mom), but especially with my baby sister, Sarah. Sarah's 23, and graduated from Purdue a year ago with a Bachelor's in literature, which gladdens me, as I majored in lit in college, as well. She takes after her big brother in many ways - some good, some not, please no clever remarks from the peanut gallery on this - and often makes me proud. But right now, I feel she's making some very foolish choices. And yes, I understand that making foolish choices is part of being young - heaven knows I made my share - but it's still tough to see someone you love and care about so much doing things which you know will be ultimately harmful to that person, and having no way to prevent what's coming. But I guess that comes with the territory of being an overprotective big brother, huh?

The good news is that I get to see her for the first time in 2 years next month, as I'm heading back to Indiana for Christmas. Yay, queen!

So, Rolling Stone has released its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Consider me decidedly unimpressed; this has got to be one of the most predictable, pedestrian such lists I've ever seen. Interesting that a mag so obsessed with what's "hot! now! wow!" constructs a top 16 in which the most recent album came out in 1976 (and even that's a comp of Elvis tracks cut for Sun in the '50s). The only albums in their top 20 from the last 25 years are Nevermind at #17 and Thriller at #20. But, really now: Hotel California at #37 yet Sign "O" the Times at #93 and no R.E.M. in the top 100 at all? Pathetic; their attempt to prove that they're still down with rock history smells awfully mothballed. Let's not speak of it again, shall we?

Addendum: Erik pointed out that I somehow overlooked London Calling. So let's recap: it's "a top 16 in which the most recent album came out in" 1980. Woo. Still not impressed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Maybe I missed the memo on this, but when did Andrew Sullivan get so - there's no way around this, so I might as well just say it - HOT?! Whoa, check out the guns!

This pics are taken from Drew's Friendster profile, for which I must thank the Beaverhausens - though it turns out (and I really shouldn't be surprised) that Mr. Sullivan and I only have three degrees of Friendster separation. I don't know if I'd respect him in the morning, but... [You're smart; finish the sentence yourselves.]

Grace Jones's performance on "Slave to the Rhythm" is one of the single greatest vocals ever recorded.

Ever. It's not about tone, etc.; it's about the way she imbues the words she sings with such utter drama. Genius.

So last night, I was talking (separately) with both Erik and Paul about the fact that I'm so single-oriented. [I'm talking music, people, music.] And that every once in a while I think about doing a Top 5 or 10 albums of all time post, but then I remember that that would include writing about Sign "O" the Times - and really, can anything top the post Matos put up in May, in prep for his forthcoming book on saidsame album?

And then later, the Big E and I were discussing boxed sets. He thinks the greatest, ever is Marvin Gaye's The Master, especially for its rarities ('81 NBA All-Star Game "Star Spangled Banner," I vote for Steely Dan's Citizen Steely Dan, for its completeness (every track, every album, '72-'80, third and fourth discs the best). We agreed on the unexpected joy brought by the Planet Squeezebox 3-CD accordians-around-the-world box, and the 3 discs of early experimental electronics collected on OHM, both various artists comps on Ellipsis Arts. And I'm a big fan of It's Your Thing: The Best of The Isley Brothers, especially the baby-makin' body-rockin' boots-knockin' perfection of its third disc.

Yeah, I know I'm kinda rambling. Hello, I'm a blogger...

Odds & ends:

How not to get fired because of your blog, unlike this guy, who did - by Microsoft.

The all-time greatest pick-up line in a song lyric:
"You're kinda cute - wanna take a bath?"
- Prince, "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" (Sign "O" the Times, Paisley Park, 1987)

Last night, finally, was the premiere of the first new episode of Queer Eye in 2 months (or so). It might've been the best episode yet, because the straight guy really wanted and was completely open to change. And the Fab 5 were right - he was a total hottie post-transformation. Loved the way they worked his family into the proceedings, too.

Ask Erik about his personal connection to Toto IV sometime. He told me the story last night, and it's a really good one.

Apparently, I'm cursed. Trying for a second time to burn a totally-working disc of my best songs by year last night, again for some reason the one song which didn't burn is my favorite of all-time: Stardust's "Music Sounds Better With You."

I think that Meetup is a great idea, one of those examples of the 'net really bringing people together. But I worry that the folks who sign up are gonna be - well, loser-ish. I've signed up for the next local Dean '04 Meetup, though, and hope I'm proved wrong.

Further proof, as if we needed it, that many OSU fans are just plain stoopid. I mean, c'mon, people. I love sports, too, especially college football and basketball, but ultimately it's just a game. Unless you're actually playing in said game, it will not change your life (and probably won't even then).

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Cor blimey! Coming on like "Crazy In Love"'s big sis, Javine's "Surrender" IS exactly what I'd feared coming down the pike over the weekend, a 2003 late-breaker (UK-only, no less!). With a chorus swiped from '71 Diana Ross, horny horns borrowed from Beyoncé, a galloping, thumpy beat that makes me delightfully antsy, and handclaps lifted from any record you could name, this might be a single-by-committee, but it's got Javine pushing it with everything she's got. And it's insistent, and that, ultimately, is what gets it over - and oy, does it ever! Ace, ace, ace.

Coming off of his Grammy sweep in 1981 - including the entire "big 4" categories, Song, Single, Album, and New Artist - and his smash charttopper from the motion picture Arthur (which won him an Oscar), the pressure was on Christopher Cross in January 1983. That was when he released his sophomore effort, Another Page (Warner Bros.), and it essentially was just that: a very similar record to his debut, state-of-the-art polished pop, mixing ballads and midtempo numbers drenched in studio gloss. It's pretty awful, especially the "thanks, General Hospital!" hit "Think of Laura." But I've always had a soft spot for the first single taken from this Page, "All Right." It's a relentlessly upbeat song with would-be "rock" guitar lines (including a solo, incredibly) that should hit all the wrong buttons. But when you catch me in the right mood - or at age 12 - I can at times be a sucker for such schmaltz:

"You should pick it up
Ooh, and try it again
'Cause it's all right, think we're gonna make it
Think it might just work out this time
It's all right, think we're gonna make it
Think it might work out fine this time..."

It's got background vocals from the marvelous Michael McDonald. And you know who's largely working as Cross's backing band? Why, it's those L.A. studio wizards, Toto! Yes, this is easily digestible radio schmaltz. But it's good easily digestible radio schmaltz. I know you're bobbin' your head - 'cause I can see you.

I finished reading the first volume of Felice Picano's memoirs, Ambidextrous: the Secret Lives of Children, this morning on my way to work. It's rather breathtaking, and is by far superior to all of Picano's novels save Like People In History. That's not to say that the rest of Picano's ouevre is inferior, per sé, because it's most certainly not; he's one of the finest gay authors of the last 30 years. But this is even better. In his youth - before really hitting his teenage years with full force, in fact - Picano was a teen pornographer, a glue-sniffing homosexualist, a cunt-fingering precocious preteen, and already developing his prodigious gifts as a writer. All of those and more are on display in Ambidextrous, which has been blessedly returned to print this year by Southern Tier Editions of Harrington Park Press, fast becoming of the U.S.'s finest publishing imprints. The other two volumes are titled Men Who Loved Me and A House on the Ocean, A House on the Bay, and both of those are back in print as well. I eagerly look forward to reading them. Give me Picano over Updike or Bellow any day.

Some of the best fiction I've read in the past year has been (at least semi-)directed towards young adults, Brian Bouldry's The Year of Ice and Alex Sanchez's Rainbow Boys at the head of the class. Turns out that gay fiction for teens is a burgeoning market, thank God. Salon has a superb piece on this, spun around an interview with David Levithan, author of the new addition to the "genre," Boy Meets Boy (which certainly sounds like a must-read). [You have to watch a 10-second ad to read the entire piece, but it's worth it.] Also new is Rainbow High, Sanchez's sequel to his superb first novel.

Of a completely different ilk is Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics, the recent collection by Douglas Crimp (The MIT Press, 2002). This is an intellectual H-bomb in the face of the queer "establishment" (Crimp doesn't spare Andrew Sullivan any vitriol, trust) and, for that matter, the AIDS establishment. It's much needed, and always put forth clearly and intelligently. I've just read the Introduction yet and am already devastated. I'll be giving this book a permanent place on my bookshelf (and will write more about it as I make my way through it).

Speaking of AIDS, if you've any interest in the topic, or CBS's Reagans bungle, or the forthcoming HBO film of Angels In America, you absolutely must read Frank Rich from this Sunday's New York Times. His piece is titled "Angels, Reagan, and AIDS In America" and is pretty brilliantly spot-on (and spot-on brilliant), even by Rich's usual high standards.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention today's Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. My optimism is guarded - courts in Alaska and Hawaii have said similar things in the past couple of years, and those states now have prohibitions against same-sex marriage in place - but it's optimism, nonetheless. My gut says that Massachusetts will take the path forged by Vermont and Governor Howard Dean (who celebrated his 55th birthday yesterday) a few years back. Consider my fingers crossed.

Finally, has there ever been a more eloquent mainstream pop record about homosexuality than Rod Stewart's 1977 "The Killing of Georgie (Parts 1 & 2)"? I think not. [Of course, if you think differently, please share with our studio audience in the Comments.]

Monday, November 17, 2003

Since apparently I never have enough irons in my music-geek fire, I decided tonight to take my "best singles of each year of my life" project to its logical conclusion: a 700MB disc of death. [It's actually 607MB, but who's counting?] I added on songs from 1970, plus a few others:

1970: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," Diana Ross
runner-up: "One Less Bell To Answer," the Fifth Dimension
runner-up: "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine (Part 1)," James Brown
runner-up: "Sunday Morning Coming Down," Johnny Cash

1980: "He Stopped Loving Her Today," George Jones*
runner-up: "Love Will Tear Us Apart," Joy Division*
runner-up: "Let's Get Serious," Jermaine Jackson**

runner-up: "What Cha' Gonna Do For Me," Chaka Khan**

runner-up: "Why (12" Mix)," Carly Simon**

runner-up: "Let The Music Play," Shannon**

runner-up: "Sweet Love," Anita Baker***

runner-up: "The Boy Is Mine," Brandy and Monica**

runner-up: "No Sex," Chris Rock****

2003: "Crazy In Love," Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z*****
2003: "Lucky Star," Basement Jaxx featuring Dizzee Rascal*****

*Switched the order here. No matter how great Joy Division's (arguably) defining moment, it can't top the greatest country single ever recorded.
**Newly added as the last runner-up of its respective year.
***Newly added as third runner-up of 1987.
****Newly added as second runner-up of 1999.
*****Far and away ahead of all other singles this year, this pair will be my top two of '03; I'm just not certain in which order.

Wanna trade? Get in touch. [Your copy's going in the mail Tuesday.]

There are a number of records which I passionately love and know that I will be the subject of much derision (or at least, laughter) for doing so, Rupert Holmes's "Him" and Toto's Grammy-laden Toto IV foremost among them. But you know what? No pleasure should ever have to be guilty - isn't pleasure our apex as humans, what we love most? - so I refuse to feel as such about 'em. And here's another: Jefferson Starship's "No Way Out."

Even the most staunch defenders of Grace Slick and her band of merry men will admit that once they turned their Airplane into a Starship, they went downhill, fast. It didn't get much worse than '80's Starship, as they slid into arena-rock territory (either Jefferson or not), and their 1984 album Nuclear Furniture was no exception. Its first single, however, provided a little relief. Underpinned by a great keyboard riff, this is another one for the '80s infidelity songs hall of fame (alongside the aforementioned Holmes record and Linda Ronstadt's "Easy For You To Say," and housed in Ike Turner's basement or something). The song's truest gutpunch comes in the bridge:

"She doesn't want to lose me
So she only sees what she wants to see."

*Sob.*I mean, really, this is a slickly produced record with nothing to redeem it. But it somehow does the impossible and redeems itself, largely via its cutting lyrics, which I'm a sucker for. Is "No Way Out" a great single? No. Do I love it regardless? Damned right I do. And just wait'll I get to writing about Andrew Gold's "Lonely Boy"...

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The White Stripes are incredibly overrated. Yes, they're good. No, they're not changing the world. Or the world of music. But that's not to say there aren't some fine tracks on Elephant, among them current single "The Hardest Button to Button." While it's not destined to be as immediate as "Seven Nation Army" and its attendant guitar lick, it's better. And the Stripes are so damned tight - while sounding, at times, shambling - which is something I appreciate more than you know. Why is "Button" better? Because it sounds like a Troggs outtake, because it has lots of loud cymbal, and because its title is "The Hardest Button to Button," for no apparent reason. Yay, obscurity!

Okay, just when I thought they couldn't go further over the top, Girls Aloud do. And thank goodness! For the Love, Actually soundtrack, they've covered the friggin' Pointer Sisters' 1984 smash "Jump (For My Love)," done in a hard-techno/pop stylee. The Girls are all forceful and defiant, like "bitch, you'd better jump!" They're practically yelling. And the beat just throbs nastily. This might be one of the pop events of the year. It might even top "Sound of the Underground" for sheer avant-garde flava; these Girls are the least prepackaged prepackaged girl group ever. And if you met 'em in a dark alley, they'd kick your ass. Woo hoo!

Saturday, November 15, 2003

I'd been thinking, since I found out that I'll be a Pazz & Jop voter, that I'd simplify things and just do a top 10 singles/albums this year. But after hearing from my left-hand man that he'd really like to see me do my usual year-end Top 50 (like I did last year), I've decided, why mess with a good thing? So a Top 50 singles/tracks it shall be (though I'll likely only do a top 10 albums, which I didn't even do last year). My current (and ever-changing) "best of 2003" playlist is now up to 203 tracks, though it still includes a couple mixes and a couple older tracks which, while they won't be in my '03 list, will make my end-of-year 700MB extravaganza of a CD. It currently includes 7 tracks apiece by Basement Jaxx, Britney, Bubba Sparxx, Erykah Badu (and all of those from a 10-track EP!), and Richard X, and 6 apiece from Mandy Moore and Dizzee Rascal (rookie of the year, hands down). Current serious contenders for my top 10 singles, in no order:

Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, "Crazy In Love"
Basement Jaxx, "Lucky Star" featuring Dizzee Rascal and "Good Luck" featuring Lisa Kekaula
Johnny Cash, "Hurt"
Justin Timberlake, "Rock Your Body"
Electric Six, "Dance Commander"
50 Cent, "In Da Club" and "21 Questions" featuring Nate Dogg
t.A.T.u., "All the Things She Said"
Postal Service, "Clark Gable"
Soilwork, "Overload"
Britney Spears, "Toxic" and "Me Against the Music" featuring Madonna
Richard X vs Kelis, "Finest Dreams"
R. Kelly, "Ignition Remix"
Panjabi MC, "Mundian To Bach Ke (Beware of the Boys)"
Freeway featuring Jay-Z and Beanie Siegel, "What We Do..."
Jay-Z featuring Pharrell, "Excuse Me Miss"
Dizzee Rascal, "Fix Up Look Sharp"
Floetry, "Say Yes"

That's only 20, so provided nothing else slips in, this shouldn't be too hard. That Floetry single, by the way, is a real late-breaker; even though it's been out since summer (or did it come out in the spring on only start impacting in the summer?), it's only just started to hit me, hard. Quite possibly the downright sexiest single of '03.

My #1 album is still, without question, the Jaxx's Kish Kash. By furlongs - nothing else comes close. Can't wait, however, to see how high Dizzee places in P&J as an import (Boy In Da Corner comes out in the U.S. in January on Matador); if he ends up above #10, he'll go down as the highest-charting import ever.

I love Ashanti's "Rain On Me" for its well-used (and well-placed) sample from Isaac Hayes' "Walk On By," and for Ashanti's breezy, light kiss of a voice. I really would love to see her leave the vicegrip of Murder Inc. (oh, wait, it's just The Inc. now) and do something more original than she generally does. C'mon, Chapter II was just that, a retread of her debut album. I'm rooting for Ashanti against all odds, because she does have a lovely voice - not incredibly strong, but that could change over time, and it's got a lovely tenor to it - is beautiful and confident, and has a charming prescence about her. Alicia [Keys], please, give the girl a call.

Mya's "Fallen," however, I like for much more than its Pharcyde sample (from "Runnin'"). This girl can most definitely sing, dance, and is more than a woman. Why isn't she a superstar? I mean, she wipes the floor with Ashanti. Watch this Balto girl nab an Oscar nod within 10 years or so; she's in it to win it, and will.

Well, well, well, if it isn't the return of Nelly Furtado. "Powerless (Say What You Want)" is a multiculti anthem in the waiting, both lyrically and musically, jamming together banjo, tablas, hip-hop beats, and Arabic sounds - here's the key, of course - successfully. Let's hope this success extends to the meat of her soph album, Folklore, out 11/25. Yes, "I'm Like a Bird" got run into the ground and quickly got annoying, but let's not forget that it's actually a good single. And the remix of "Get Ur Freak On" she contributed to was masterful (as was her part in Ms. Jade's "Ching Ching"). I hope for more rapping, I hope for production from Timbaland, and I hope folks notice if she pulls it off.

OK, OK, OutKast's "Hey Ya!" is starting to grow on me. But it definitely rides the coattails of its brilliant Bryan Barber-directed video. "The Way You Move" is still by far the superior single.

Usually, when an artist retools a classic for a greatest hits record, the results are to be feared - the lone exception, I feel, being the Police's "Don't Stand So Close To Me '86," which I actually prefer to the original. Accordingly, I was worried when I heard that Underworld were rejiggering their grandest commercial moment, "Born Slippy NUXX," for their forthcoming Anthology 1992-2002. I needn't have worried; these are professionals we're talking about. Member Rick Smith stripped the track down to its vocals and, for the first 1:00 of the song, laid them atop nothing more than a piano (!!) playing the song's melody, slowly building in bassline and keyb effects. "Rick's 2003 Edit" is marvelous.

Britney's "I Got That Boom Boom" featuring Ying Yang Twins and a banjo - really! - is bizarre, just bizarre. I never thought I'd hear the former Mouseketeer making a crunk anthem for the pussy-poppin' girls.

Tell you what, though: this is a surprising album, in all the right ways. More on In the Zone soon.

Fuck retro-nuevo or whatever folks wanna call it - you know, the "movement" led by D'Angelo (MIA?), Badu and Maxwell. Not that I'm sayin' fuck them, but besides hatin' on labels, why not go for the source, or stuff that's made from it, y'know? A couple of singles which harken seriously to some gutbucket soul have come to my attention of late, and they're both from new artists.

The first is Anthony Hamilton, and don't hate on him for being signed to Dupri's So So Def; Dupri actually deserves some applause for signing Hamilton, whose first single is such a love letter to Bobby Womack it's ridiculous. The production is contemporary, but his voice and topic harken to Womack's "Across 110th Street" (featured on the Jackie Brown soundtrack). Hamilton is on some gritty, low-down shit, and for that we should all rejoice.

The second is an artist I actually discovered via VH-1! Amazingly, they still play videos (about 2 hours a day, I think), and I was fortunate enough to catch Robert Randolph & the Family Band's "I Need More Love" on the channel recently. This is some crazy steel guitar-based Stax/Volt '67 shit, like a gospel rave-up 'cept it's not about church - though it is full of pure unalloyed joy. Su-fucking-perb.

And since we're talkin' country, I've gotta mention Bubba Sparxxx, whose sophomore album Deliverance recently dropped and is seriously hot. Talk that Timbaland saves his best productions for Missy are wrong; this album is jammed full of 'em, and Bubba's either made leaps and bounds as a rapper or I just slept the first time around. "Back in the Mud" is on a rock tip with a classic Tim chorus (and features Bubba spitting awfully fast), "Comin' Round" takes it into a bumpin' bluegrass direction (really - check the fiddle sample!), and "Kuntry Folks" features Cee-Lo on the hook and sounds like a Dirty South anthem-in-the-waiting - except that it's based around acoustic guitar (and is too slow for stick-in-the-mud clubs hungry for crunk). Those are just three highlights from a full-length that's full of 'em. Granted, I haven't heard Jigga's Black Album yet, but is it possible that Bubba's dropped the hip-hop elpee of '03?

Friday, November 14, 2003

At last, new downloads are up for your listening pleasure.

One of 'em, the 12" mix of Carly Simon's "Why," I've already discoursed upon. If I may be so bold, I think that's one of the best pieces of rockcrit I've posted here, so feel free to enjoy it again (or for the first time) while listening to said song, a truly awesome record.

The other is one you may not be familiar with, one which has become my favorite of the myriad of "Without Me" bootleg/mashups which surfaced last year. A fellow named DJ Marchino combined Eminem's rap with Metro Area's "Miura" to create - what else could it be? - "Without Miura," and it's surprisingly delicate and gorgeous. I was introduced to Metro Area by Paul, who recommended them over my find of '02, VHS Or Beta. I don't know exactly how to describe them (him? her?) as anything other than really soulful, largely voiceless, minimalist techno, warm and cold simultaneously. Like all of the best boots, "Without Miura" completely recontextualizes both songs involved, so props to DJ Marchino, whoever he (she?) is.

Todd's got a new blog - having 2 blogs is the new having 1 blog, haven't you heard? - called Global Comment, which he calls "A portal to international news, foreign policy, international relations and diplomacy." Sounds good to me.

Also good is the new issue of Vanity Fair (their website is basically bereft of content, unless you want to subscribe, so I'm not linking it). Since it's their December issue, it's also their annual "Hall of Fame" issue, and this year the cover goes to what VF calls "TV's Gay Heat Wave." It's a gorgeous Mark Seliger shot...

...of the Will & Grace quartet, along with Queer As Folk's Gale Harold and Queer Eye's Carson Kressley. There's an accompanying article (which I haven't read just yet - come now, such pretty pics on which to lavish attention!) and three more photos, adding in the rest of the Queer casts (both of 'em) along with most of that from Showtime's forthcoming The L-Word and the schmo from Boy Meets Boy. What, no Reichip?! What you really need to see, however, is at the far right of the first photo inside, where we see Eye's Ted Allen sliding a hand into Peter Paige (Folk's Emmett)'s leather pants. Grrrowl! Ted is positively smoldering.

It's been a good day.

At work, we get 2 hours per month for doctor's visits. If you don't use it, it's gone; it doesn't roll over or anything. So I figure, why not use it whether I need to or not? So today I had a "checkup" I'd "forgotten" until yesterday. Translation: I left work three hours early (using an hour of sick leave for the extra hour), which gave me time to run some errands, get my hurr did (freshly shorn, yay!), pick up my computer, and such. I also ran into my friend Shawn, whom I hadn't seen in months, at Supercuts, so we had lunch (well, he had lunch and I had a cocktail, as it was 3pm and I'd eaten at 1130am). I also met with Todd and Jenn for drinks later; Todd's boyfriend retrieved him shortly after my arrival, so I sat and talked with Jenn over Jack Daniels and nachos. Then I met up again with Shawn to see Mambo Italiano, a/k/a My Big Fat Gay Italian Wedding. Really - that's pretty much all it is, trading Greek stereotypes for Italian ones, moving the setting from Chicago's Greektown to Montréal's Little Italy, and tossing in lots of you-can't-be-gay handwringing. It's a trifle, and not a great one at that. Wait for it on DVD or cable.

Much better is the new Alicia Keys single, "You Don't Know My Name." Apparently, her sophomore effort, if this single's any indication, is worth waiting for. She's singing as sweetly as ever, the song's underpinned with her piano (with a gorgeously Mantovani-esque trill in the chorus), and the multitracked "ooh ooh"s are sweet brown sugar. "Know" is about falling for and thinking about a guy who doesn't, well, even know your name. And it includes a nearly 2-minute spoken word breakdown in its middle - a phone call, no less! This is completely lovely, easy soul, and I do mean soul.

"Change Clothes," the first single from Jay-Z's The Black Album, is fine-ass too, but I haven't heard it enough to write about it just yet.

My computer's back! And it's healthy again! Yay, queen!

More proof that people will sue for anything. If you signed away the rights to your life story, honey, you don't have a leg to stand on. And as much as it pains me at times to defend J-Lo, I found "I'm Glad" to be the ultimate homage to Flashdance, a big love letter with a juicy kiss sealing it. [I'm thinking about doing a Top 10 Videos for '03, even though Pazz & Jop doesn't do a video ballot anymore - and "I'm Glad" will definitely be in there. I mean, Lopez nailed that pull-the-chain-and-get-doused-with-water strip club scene.]

Odds & ends:

At last, he is free: R.I.P., Tony Thompson. The drummer of Chic and the Power Station died Wednesday, leaving Nile Rodgers the only instrumentalist remaining from that groundbreaking, bodyrocking band. [Bernard Edwards passed a couple of years back while on tour in Japan.] Erik and I were discussing just the other night why it is that Nile's never been seen as part of that upper eschelon of all-time great guitarists, like (I'd argue) EVH - though not Hendrix, Beck, and Page, the holy trinity. Nile's chicken-scratch style is so instantly recognizable, and so ridiculously influential, it seems a crime to me that so many just consider him a member of "some disco band." Oh, how wrong you are - just check the resumé.

One of my favorite things in the world is Hostess Cupcakes - or, as I like to refer to them, Ho-Cakes. Why? Because as this classic reminds us, "Hos got to eat, too!"

Last night the 2003-2004 NCAA Men's Division I College Basketball season kicked off in fine style with the Coaches vs Cancer Classic in NYC, which featured 2 games last night with two tonight. Wake Forest looked good in their win over Memphis, while Marquette looked sloppy, but tough, in a ragged victory over St. John's. Tonight's the big 'un, though: St. Joseph's vs. Gonzaga, baby. Mm-mm-good. [And is it wrong that I have a little crush on Marquette coach Tom Crean? (Horrible pic of him there; he looks much better in his glasses, too.)]

R.I.P. to Michael's blog (no link available), which he's taken down for personal reasons. Ray-Ray's blog is still up, but he's no longer posting, so I've taken the link down until if/when he resumes.

Ha! Yet another reason why new father Kos rocks.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

*Sniff.* [Via Todd.]

Not much posting these last couple of days because of work, and still not having my computer back at home. That should change, hopefully, this weekend.

Friday a.m. update: I get my computer back this afternoon. Also this weekend, Paul should be resurrecting The Rub and putting God's Audio-Visual Aid to bed. Of course, we'll both be watching loads of college football as well. The big game this week? Purdue-Ohio State, of course, #10 taking on #4 in Columbus with both Big Ten and BCS implications on the line. [I say if the Boilers win, they'll get a BCS bowl, because not only is someone else above them in the standings destined to lose, but they'll get mondo quality-win points for beating the Buckeyes. My dream scenario has us winning Saturday, and then OSU winning at the Big House next weekend, thus giving us the Big Ten title - and accompanying trip to Pasadena - outright.] On the agenda, as well: finishing Felice Picano's marvelous memoir Ambidextrous and a trip to see Love, Actually (I'm a sucker for Brit romcoms with big ensemble casts). More posting over at Rock Me Tonight, too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Today, I finished reading the shortest novel I've read all year - and one of the best. To my great surprise, it's the new novel by John Grisham, Bleachers. This novel, only 183 pages, explains more thoroughly than anything I've ever read, or anyone I've ever heard, the pull of high school sports: on its players, on its fans, and on the athletes whose lives have to go on somehow after having been the Kings (and Queens) of their small towns. Bleachers centers around a small southern town, its football team, and most of all, its longtime coach, who's on his deathbed at the start of the novel. Grisham, whom I haven't read in eons (likely since The Client, which I read after seeing the film), has an alarming ear for dialogue, and knows football like John Madden. Any sports fan - especially any high school sports fan - needs to read this quick and rather brilliantly executed novel.

I was slow in coming to the dance, but have now fallen in utter and complete love with the greatest homage I think I've ever heard to the Cars: "Stacy's Mom" by Fountains of Wayne. I only first heard this 2 weeks ago, and its intro convinced me I was hearing the Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl." Its video pushes it even further, including a kid in its opening who's a dead ringer for Ric Ocasek - and then includes a tribute to Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher." "Stacy's Mom" is definitely one of the videos of the year, and might be one of the singles, as well. I've never been a big Fountains fan - I respect 'em, but don't really care that much for their brand of power-pop - but am thrilled to see them finally getting a much-deserved hit. "Stacy's Mom" has got it goin' on.

Odds & ends (rock out with your cock out edition):

The first person to leave a comment with the name of the Scorpions' 1984 album which featured "Rock You Like A Hurricane" (no looking it up, scout's honor applies) will get a copy of an mp3CD (700MB) of rock I recently made, on which "Hurricane" is featured. Here's a hint: the album title is also a lyric in the song.

I always heard Jon Bon Jovi's "who's bad, who's bad?" (circa the 4:05 mark of "Bad Medicine" as a taunt towards MJ, myself, coming as it did so shortly after the Bad album.

Anyone else think we - and the legacy of Ministry - would've been better off had Alain Jourgensen actually OD'd from heroin circa 1992 (or '94 at the latest)?

Skid Row's second album, Slave to the Grind, was actually pretty decent. First single "Monkey Business" rocks pretty f-in' hard. No, really. When Sebastian and the boys weren't busy being homophobic pussy assholes, they actually kinda knew how to crank.

The biggest problem with limpbizkit's cover of The Who's chestnut "Behind Blue Eyes" is easy: they're scared to do anything with it. At least when they covered "Faith," they did something with it. I hated the result, but at least give them credit for attempting to be interesting - which is apparently beyond Durst's peabrain these days.

Speaking of, Townshend's best solo effort by far is "Rough Boys."

"Did you ever have a bad dream, wake up and it not stop?"
- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, "Jennifer She Said" (Mainstream, Capitol, 1988)

Monday, November 10, 2003


Odds & ends:

I believe the correct response is Oh. My. God. Boy George has a Gaydar profile. NYC boys, now's your chance! [Via 'fer.]


So thoroughly appalled by the cover of the new issue of Rolling Stone, I don't even know where to begin. Almost makes me wish I hated "I Think I'm In Love With You" (but I don't, natch). And yes, I watched Newlyweds, once, and found it sickening and insipid. For his sake, I sure hope Nick Lachey's getting some good snatch for putting up with that moron.

You can take the boy out the country... but you can't stop the boy from loving, without good reason (apart from the fact that it rawwwwwwks), Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin' With Disaster."

I still attest that since NBC bought it, Bravo has been going downhill little by little. But there are still bright spots: Queer Eye, which returns with new episodes 11/18, on though I find him rather unctuous, I can't stop watching James Lipton's Inside the Actor's Studio. This Sunday, that show starts new episodes as well, with the cast of Will & Grace, which should be a highly entertaining (and enlightening) hour of television.

Rejecting spending limits for his campaign is one of the smartest things that Governor Dean has done yet. There's absolutely no reason we Dems shouldn't have a playing field equal to Bush's, as we know Rove & company are going to pull out all the stops in their book of dirty tricks in '04. Dean's already proven that he knows how to raise money cleanly and simply - it's the internet, stupid! I pledged some money for '04 this weekend, I'm proud to say.

Thank you, Joe, thank you! Kernan's putting his hat in the ring gives the Dems an excellent shot at holding on to the Governor's mansion in Indiana, where we've been housekeeping for (believe it or not) nigh on 15 years, now.

"But I'm not a slave to a god
That doesn't exist
And I'm not a slave to a world
That doesn't give a shit"

- Marilyn Manson, "The Fight Song" (The Golden Age of Grotesque, nothing/Interscope, 2001)

For the record: I posted the previous entry when sober...

...but did not, in fact, spend the entire weekend sober. Yesterday I didn't do a thing, just laid around watching the I Love the 80s Strikes Back marathon on VH-1; it was kind of nice to veg out on that level, which I hadn't done in months. That happened at least in part because my computer has been at the doctor's; I get it back today, apparently back to speed and virus-free, yay! [Hopefully, this should mean I'll be posting new downloads tonight. Any ideas/requests? And, depending, I may be posting some Isabel pics, too, which I finally got back last week.]

9pm update: my computer's time at the doctor took longer - and more money - than expected, so she won't be back in my arms until Friday.

Saturday, however - Saturday was interesting. My coworker Anita invited us over to the new 3-story townhouse she and her on-again/off-again fiancé Donnie just moved into. B-Lo, Sirena and I came, along with B-Lo's fiancé Wes (one of the nicest rednecks you'll ever meet). Donnie was making scrimps (fried in cornmeal!), and I was drinking a deadly new drink from Bacardi, 151 Rum Long Island Iced Tea, which is just what you think it is: pre-mixed Long Islands topped off with 151. Whoa. Delicious and dangerous. So we were just hanging out, listening to music and talking and drinking and eating...

...when Wes, of all people, decided we should go the the Rainbow Cactus, the area's biggest gay bar. It turns out that an old friend of his works with Anita at her second job. This guy's second job is as a doorman/bouncer at the Cactus. So I suddenly was playing "tour guide" for this motley (but very fun) crew. They saw Jennifer Warner, who infamously can't keep "her" top on - the rationale is "if you'd paid this much for these tits, you'd show 'em off, too." That was a bit eye-opening for the gang (the guys couldn't believe Jennifer's breasts, and the girls were all "where is it tucked?!"). And then on top of that, I, rather well-soused by this point (I'd switched to Jack Daniels once we got to the bar), started dancing with Anita. And, yes, we had some PST, ladies and gents. For those coming late to our party, that's Public Shirtless Tom. I never, ever thought I'd find myself in a local gay bar, dancing to Beyoncé (that's the anthem, get ya damn hands up), grinding into the backside of a female coworker when she wasn't running her hands up and down my chest. Wowza. It was some evening.

Made it home about 2:30am. And some lesbian stole my Zippo which my baby sis gave me. Grrr. Spent a lot of time on the phone this weekend, too, particularly talking college pigskin and handicapping Pazz & Jop with him (coming back soon), talking '80s (and how hot we find Time's Joel Stein and his DSLs) with him, and listening to him clean his kitchen (more fun than you might think - really). My life is all too glamorous, yes, I know.

We'll miss ya, kiddo. Come back soon.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

I would so totally fuck Mya. And her new single, "Fallen," might actually be better (!) than "My Love Is Like Wo." Really.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

*Sigh.* The news today that Suede are breaking up truly saddens me. More than Oasis, more than Blur (though maybe not more than Pulp), they were the sheer essence of the Britpop explosion in the '90s, a glorious Smiths-gone-glam(mish) mess of stolen kisses, smeared mascara, and ripping guitar riffs. I don't expect their new Singles comp to be released in the states (do they even still have a U.S. record label?), so I'll actually shell out for the import - 'cause Suede have got the import to warrant it (get it?). Brett Anderson, you'll forever be my forbidden lover.

Various and sundry thoughts from the CMA Awards (yes, I was jotting down notes, what else?). It's very stream-of-consciousness, so bear with me.

Oh. My. God. Am stunned that "Hurt" took Single. Notable that John Carter Cash get total silence when accepting his Dad's awards - you know how at most awards shows, there's someone hooting while an acceptance speech is delivered? Not for John Carter Cash, that's respect. The Cash tribute was great. Hank, Jr. totally channelling Johnny on "Ring of Fire"! But gold lamé? Well, that's Hank, I guess. Travis (Tritt) and Sheryl (Crow) doing "Jackson," yay! Sheryl needs to just cut the pop shit and make a country album. Willie opening with "I Walk the Line," Kristofferson doing "Folsom Prison Blues" - kinda thought he'd do "Sunday Morning Coming Down," which he won the Song of the Year CMA award for in '70 thanks to Johnny. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band doing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," with everyone joining in - only could Johnny get this disparate group together on stage in harmony. The Possum (George Jones, if you have to ask) giving out Entertainer: "God bless Johnny and June Carter Cash." He appeared to tear up as John C. Cash accepted the album trophy from Kid Rock and LeAnn Rimes, who looked like Rock's hooker for the evening. When Rock opened the envelope, "As it should be, Johnny Cash." Rick Rubin - the man who cofounded Def Jam, who produced Licensed To Ill and Slayer - now owns 2 CMA trophies (for producing Cash), wow. Same thing, a non-Nashville guy winning those two prizes for production, happened 2 years ago with T-Bone Burnett and the O Brother phenom. Cash went 3 of 4 tonight, wow - he's the big story, even though he tied with Alan Jackson.

Gosh, that Jimmy Buffet song sucks, so of course it won Vocal Event, but better that than Toby & Willie, I guess (would've liked to see Rock and Crow take it - knew Dirt Band and Cash wouldn't). Alan's Male Vocalist win an honest-to-God suprise - is Toby gonna be shut out?! George Jones forgot to read Entertainer nominees, but what are you gonna do? He's George fucking Jones and you're not; he's the greatest country singer of all time, alright? Entertainer goes to Alan again? Wow! Toby did get shut out completely, going 0-for-7. How's that boot in your ass feel, Toby? That's backlash - and frankly, I'm glad. Here's hoping he returns to writing some good, heartfelt songs and stops being Bush's lil' cheerleader. "I Love This Bar" isn't bad, just boring - which from him is criminal. Sitting in the audience not winning, he just looks pissy everytime they pan to him.

Brooks & Dunn's "You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl" sounds like a Southern rewrite of "Honky Tonk Women" - accordingly, it's pretty great. Are B&D becoming the new ZZ Top? I sure hope so. It was a honky tonk kind of night, 'cause George Strait (whom Vince Gill introduced as "King George") did a new song titled "Honk! If You Honky Tonk" - pretty good, complete with piano and steel guitar solos. George is SO hard country. And of course, Alan is, too, Buffet collabos notwithstanding.

Gutsy of Tim McGraw to play "Red Rag Top," a year-old song which actually caused controversy at the end of '02. Great performance, and his lead guitar player is hot.

At least 6 cuts to Amy Grant in the audience laughing at things her husband (Vince) says.

Could Joe Nichols turn into the next Strait over time? His music's got the twang, and he's got a helluva voice on him. Nice to see a true new artist, and a talented rookie at that, take home the Horizon Award.

I love Shania's weird faux-punk Asian fiddle player.

I loathe Rascal Flatts, and their lead singer even seemed to have trouble staying on key during "I Melt," and am cranky they won Vocal Group (shoulda been the Chicks, even though we all knew it wouldn't). But have to give them at least a little respect for pulling a Ving Rhames and giving their award to Alabama.

20 separate performances, plus the Cash tribute - and every time they cut to commercial and said "coming up next," whatever they promised was actually in the next segment. How refreshing. This is without a doubt my favorite awards show, year in year out. And Vince is such an adorkable host.

Busy, busy day at work today. Trying to finish typing up my thoughts on last night's CMA Awards, what to vs. what not to reveal on one's blog, and why the thoughts of a man who finds "asshat" a clever insult (and his minions) mean nothing to me. But it'll all have to wait, 'cause here comes another client... [I actually do work at work, sometimes.]

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Odds & ends:

GeekSlut's mentioned in Tristan Taormino's column in the new issue of the Village Voice! Woo hoo!

The death penalty's an issue on which I'm still wishy-washy; I think it depends on the particulars of each case. But if you kill 48 women, you fucking deserve to die. Preferably in the manner in which you killed most of your victims. Honestly, I hope this psycho is murdered in prison.

Superb post by Erik on best-ofs/hits collections.

My roomie has a superb post of his own up today, about the issues surrounding having vs. not having a car.

I'm happy that Letterman's happy, I really am. But dude, did you think about this, upon deciding to have your first kid: you're gonna be in your mid-70s when he graduates from high school. Your mid-70s! Of course, perhaps Dave's taking advice from frequent guest (and creepy septegenarian parent) Tony Randall, who will likely be dead when his kid graduates.

How is it that I only recently - i.e., within the last week - discovered the marvelousness that is OutKast featuring Sleepy Brown's "The Way You Move"? Frankly, it's a) nice to hear someone other than Pharrell singing the hook to a hiphop single, and b) surprising to hear (at least on their respective first singles from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below) Big Boi outfunking Andre 3000 ("Hey Ya!" may be many things, but particularly funky is not one of them). So fresh, so stripped-down during the verses, and so salsatastically sexy on the choruses. Mm-mm-good like Campbell's clam chowder.

Oh, and I've covered another 9 songs in the past 2 days over at Rock Me Tonight, if you're curious. I'm now almost halfway through 1981.

And in case you missed it - I know it's already popped up throughout the blogworld - here's the transcript of Cher's recent appearance on C-SPAN. [No, it's not a joke. It's very much worth reading, too, if you haven't already.]

Tonight, of course, is the 37th annual Country Music Association awards. Yes, I know, it seems that apart from the film industry, no one likes to pat themselves on the back more than the Nashville crew. But the CMAs are different, because they're the realest - they're the original country music honors - and they've got the Country Music Hall of Fame. [Going in this year: Carl Smith and Floyd Cramer.] The CMAs are to the Grammys as the ACMs are to the AMAs. They're the big 'uns.

So, Toby Keith looks like the man to beat this year, with 7 nods, most of them for his duet with Willie Nelson on "Beer For My Horses." If the dynamic duo picks up Single of the Year (that's a link to all of the nominees), Willie would become the only artist to take that particular trophy home three times; he won with Waylon Jennings in '76 for "Good Hearted Woman," and in '82 for his Elvis cover "Always On My Mind." If either Randy Travis ("Forever and Ever, Amen," '87) or Johnny Cash ("A Boy Named Sue," 1969) pull off astounding comebacks and win, they'll join Willie and last year's champ, Alan Jackson, as the only ones to win it twice. Also keep in mind that a victory here for Cash's "Hurt" would mark only the second time in the history of the award that a single which peaked below #40 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart take the biggest prize. [The first? The Soggy Bottom Boys' "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow" just 2 years ago.]

The specter of Cash, of course, looms mightily over this year's awards. He's got 4 nominations (Album for American IV: The Man Comes Around, Single and Video for "Hurt," and Vocal Event for a collabo with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), and there's going to be a special tribute to him from Hank Williams, Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Travis Tritt, and the aforementioned Dirt Band. Expect to hear a myriad of tributes to the Man in Black from the podium this year (host Vince Gill is a HUGE fan - though, really, who isn't?), and expect to hear his name called as a winner at least once. He's got to be considered a stone lock to win Video of the Year; in any other year, Brad Paisley would get this for his hilarious "Celebrity" clip (which he'll be re-enacting onstage tonight), but the truly awesome power behind "Hurt" is undeniable.

The big(ger) question is, could Cash pull off a bigger shocker and win Album of the Year? Barring a Toby landslide, I think he can and will. The Dixie Chicks deserve this prize for Home, one of the most fully realized, complete statements of art (and fun) of the last year, but have no chance, I think. If they win, I'll be thrilled, but also utterly shocked (politics certainly plays a role here). Which means a lot of folks who might have voted for the Chicks will switch their allegiance to Cash. And, honestly, there will be a definite sympathy vote for John R. as well (and for those unaware, the nominations were announced before his passing - he actually received these nods on merit, though I think the longplayer rides the coattails of the single and video). I say he takes it. Neither Horizon Award nominee Joe Nichols nor previous winner Tim McGraw should be a factor here.

In Female Vocalist, I think you'd have to be a fool to bet against reigning queen Martina McBride, whom Nashville seems to have anointed their new, true diva (Shania + Faith = 0 nominations), though the fact that Dolly Parton made the cut for the first time since '87 - and let's be honest, who doesn't love Dolly? - may bode well for her. Alison Krauss, Terri Clark, and Patty Loveless were all too quiet this year, and Trisha Yearwood's missing from the category for the first time since '96.

Male Vocalist is a tougher call. The easy way out would be to go with Toby, who took this home last year and assuredly won't go home empty-handed tonight. Making predix more difficult in this category is the fact that due to a tie, there are six nominees. McGraw, Jackson, and perennial George Strait will likely have to settle for their noms, which leaves hotshot Paisley and Kenny Chesney, both of whom are coming off banner years - especially Chesney, who's really only been eclipsed by Keith and the Chicks in '03 (including his first massive headlining outing, a big summer success). Call it Toby, with Chesney the dark horse and the much-loved-in-Nashville Paisley coming up fast.

Vocal Group likely won't go to the deserving Chicks, and Lonestar and Diamond Rio should just enjoy their prime seats at the Opry. Who else? Veterans Alabama - this is their 20th nod in this category, and amazingly, they've only won three times previously ('81-'83) - and young bucks Rascal Flatts (their second nod). Rascal Flatts, much like Paisley, are a young group coming off a huge year which saw their sophomore album Melt go platinum fast than you can say "platinum." They're also the most pop of the five nominees. Alabama, however, will get a big block of votes because they're retiring. Don't count 'em out, but bet on the Flatts to take home their first CMA Award tonight.

If you don't know who's gonna win Vocal Duo, a category which really should be discontinued, you must know nothing about country music. As CMT's Chet Flippo points out, Brooks & Dunn, good as they are, were seemingly put together for the sole purpose of winning this award upon the Judds's retirement - and they have, 10 times. Make it 11.

Vocal Event of the Year is always a wacky category, one pulling in guest star-packed album tracks and high-profile cross-genre collabos, and this year's no exception. Alongside the Nitty Gritty/Cash collabo are Toby & Willie, Alan & Jimmy Buffet with their recent #1 "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere," a Tracy Byrd all-male fiesta that you needn't bother yourself with, and Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow's "Picture" (which actually made it to #21 on the country chart). This is a toughie. Toby & Willie were huge, Alan & Jimmy were huge (and will open the show with a performance of said smash), and Rock & Crow's pairing was a breath of fresh air on both radio and video channels. I can't imagine the legions of "Margaritaville" fans in the industry denying Alan & Jimmy, however.

I can't be bothered with the Horizon Award, a/k/a Best New Artist When We Get Around To It.

The songwriters, Nashville Gods, get their moment of glory with Song of the Year, and this year, the category mirrors Single of the Year with one exception - that being the 800-pound elephant that is Cash's "Hurt." I guess the Nashville establishment just couldn't bring themselves to nominate the industrial titan Trent Reznor for his phenomenal composition (originally, of course, recorded by nine inch nails) - but wouldn't you have loved to see him on the Opry stage? The mind boggles. Taking its place here is Brooks & Dunn's "Red Dirt Road," which means (since it's not up for the corresponding Single award) it doesn't have a chance in hell. Paisley's "Celebrity" seems to light for either trophy, Darryl Worley's war-baiting RNC anthem "Have You Forgotten?" too strident (and stale - it was a true flash-in-the-pan record, and let's hope he's never forgiven for it). Which results in a very interesting pair duking it out. On one hand, you've got the Keith/Nelson duet - alright single, but to bestow upon it the award as the best-written country record of the year seems a bit much. Left standing, then, is Travis, whose shocked-the-hell-outta-everyone comeback, "Three Wooden Crosses" (from his second gospel album, no less!), is a marvel of both writing and (as always is his case) performance. I think "Crosses" takes home Song, and has an excellent shot at Single, too - shades of '98, when Steve Wariner pulled a similar coup with "Holes in the Floor of Heaven." I don't expect Cash to win in Single, but think that Toby & Willie have a really good shot. However, I'm going to stick to my guns (as it were) and say that Nashville welcomes back Mr. Travis with wide-open arms and awards him two big prizes (and let's hope he can keep it back up).

What's left? Entertainer of the Year. [If you think I'm handicapping Musician of the Year, you've gotta be crazy - but let's hope it goes to Union Station's brilliant dobro player Jerry Douglas.] The Chicks, interestingly, even having had the year's biggest country tour, are absent from this category, which really makes it no contest - as big as the year was for McGraw, Jackson, Chesney, and B&D, Toby Keith practically owned 2003 in country music, and will be rewarded with the CMA's ultimate prize.

The funny thing about the CMAs is that the awards almost seem secondary - there's only 12 given out during the show, which means the bulk of the 3 hours is filled with lots of funny one-lines from host Gill, and performances out the wazoo - over 20 this year, including a Parton/Norah Jones duet. And if you can't be bothered, well, you know I'll have something (or a few somethings) to say about 'em tomorrow. [The CMAs are at 8pm EST tonight on CBS.]

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