Today in the ol' email bag, this arrived, presented unedited:
"I'm a nascar fan but I. Won't watch it on nbc that is a leftist leaning they hate American thAt want are rights and freedoms but the goverment controled network they got there heads so far up Obama ass that if he stops they will come out his mouth. I will not watch anything on nbc."
Understandable. Lots of turning left in NASCAR. Keep that up, we'll be socialists by 2015.
Step inside the garage for a few quick words on this week's "Breaking Bad," three good elements and three not-quite-as-good (boron, we're looking at you). Spoilers abound, so make sure you've watched the damn episode first:
Hello, Carol: "Lost" both pioneered the flash-forward in this current age of television and turned it into an instant cliche. But this ep reclaimed it. Putting aside the obvious question of what the hell happened to Walter White between the rest of this episode and the moment when the world's most literate graffiti artist properly spelled "HEISENBERG" on his vertical blinds, this short sequence was flat-out perfect. I thought the best touch was Walter going to replace the socket cover after grabbing the ricin -- why bother? -- and then, his pitch-perfect two words: "Hello, Carol." That's not at all the tone of voice of a man who's broken and defeated. This isn't the end of Walter White.
Hank: The way that Hank reacted to the knowledge of Walt that he gained on the throne was perfect; no dramatic last-stand statement, but more of a weak, almost pathetic vomiting from the weight of awareness. But then his investigative instincts kicked in, and suddenly all the pieces fit (to coin a phrase). We got a quick tour through the entire history of the show through evidence photographs. Of course, it would've been a lot easier for Hank to just watch the first four seasons on DVD. What, they don't have those out in Albuquerque?
The garage scene: This is going to go down as one of the finest scenes in TV drama history, hands down. Watching Walt transition from fear to indecision to awareness to mastery in the course of half a dozen lines was flawless. And "tread lightly" joins the "Oh, indeed" pantheon of hipster badass shorthand.
And a couple bits that didn't quite work:
Jesse's perpetual downfall: "Deja vu," Walter says as he walks in on a despondent, slouchy Jesse yet again, and yes, there was the feel that we've seen this all before. Throwing the millions out the window was new, though.
The critical overflow: Every TV critic and plenty of amateur yahoos (/tips cap) is weighing in on the metaphorical significance of every element of the show, and it's almost too much. I find myself overanalyzing every element of the show ("Chekov was the one Enterprise crew member to win the pie contest in Badger's story, and the writer Chekov had that line about a shotgun over the fireplace in the first act needing to be fired by the third ... also, pie is like Pi, which is 3.14, which ... isn't that Walter's license plate?") Anyway, the show needs to breathe.
The weeklong wait: I caught up with the show before season 4 started. Now, having to wait a week between episodes is like getting fed a meal one bite at a time. Which kind of sucks.
This is just delightful: Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" transposed -- turned inside-out, really -- on the piano. The jaunty trills here are straight out of a New York City-in-the-fall movie soundtrack.
I think I see the problem with poor Kurt ... he was just playing in the wrong key.
Update: And here's Paul Anka giving it the full lounge-lizard treatment, via @RobertMatre:
The album: Kenny Chesney, "Life on a Rock"
Genre: Cheese-and-bacon-wrapped country
Verdict: Country music for people who are scared of country music
Why do you listen to music? It's an important question, one that occurred to me as I was listening to Kenny Chesney's latest. Chesney gets slotted in with country musicians, which is correct enough, though he owes far more to Jimmy Buffett than he does to Johnny Cash. But while he employs the usual elements of country music -- storytelling verse, singalong chorus, guitars aplenty -- whatever soul there might be is buried under the crushing weight of friendly chord changes, wistful fake-nostalgia lyrics and genre-appropriate instruments. This is the Applebee's of music: safe, easily digestible and only vaguely memorable. Every CD should come with a side of honey-mustard dipping sauce.
Here, let me demonstrate. You can check out the opening track, "Pirate Flag," in the video above. Hit play as you read this, and let's see if we can tick off the crowd-pleasing marks that Chesney hits in this song:
• Beachy ukelekes, to put you in the right frame of mind
• Reference to coming from, yep, a "little bitty homegrown small town"
• Moonshine that makes you want to get naked, which would seem to be the basis for some ugly court cases
• Getting on a Greyhound bus to leave this world behind
• Finding sun and sand, of course
• References to spending his whole life running around, while the wind still blows him ... um, around (interesting: "around" rhymes with "around")
• Something about a note in a bottle to a long-legged model, which makes no damn sense at all
• Finding love with an "island girl" and living beneath a "pirate flag," which in these days of Somali pirates is probably not a good idea
• Those crazy "friends back home" wonder what he's doing, as friends do
• References to rum, blender, salt air, local bars, sails and other beachy-type things
• Absolutely no references to, you know, working or paying for this paradise or anything like that. At least Zac Brown's "Toes" was honest, that you get your ass booted back stateside when the money runs out.
This is Mary Sue wanking, pure and simple. (Stick with me here: there are people who write fan fiction of their favorite genres: Harry Potter, Star Trek, Twilight, et cetera. And when they do, they always insert a character who's basically a stand-in for the author, a character who happens to be just the tiniest bit smarter and wittier than all the characters, while getting to romance certain ones and one-up others. Kenny Chesney -- or, more properly, the character named "Kenny Chesney" -- is, like Jimmy Buffett before him, the middle-aged white guy's Mary Sue.
Which, granted, is a very lucrative role to play. Who doesn't want to chuck it all and head for the sun and sand? (Preferably on something a little less aromatic than a bus, though.) The thing with Chesney is that it's all so calculated, the way that chain restaurants ladle on adjectives (applewood-smoked bacon! Southwestern roasted-corn salsa!) to shorthand you right into the right frame of mind.
You generally shouldn't judge an album by its song titles, but in this case, you'd probably be on target: "When I See This Bar" is a story about, yep, a bar. "Spread the Love" is a faux-reggae joint about -- you guessed it -- spreading love (First lyric: "All God's children gotta come together"). And hey, while it must be nice to have the coin to hire the Wailers and Willie Nelson, you'd wish they had more to work with than in-the-pocket impersonations of themselves. It's like meeting DeNiro in a restaurant and asking him to do "You talking to me?"
Look, bottom line: this is a perfectly serviceable album, one that absolutely makes me want to go grab a margarita and hang in the sunshine. Plenty of white folks dreaming of beaches will be playing this through their Bluetoothed ipods by the pool all summer long. But they're going to have a hard time remembering the last song that played as soon as the next one starts.
Here's how my writing day generally goes: rise with the sun; make myself a lovely cup of jasmine tea; stare out at the verdant expanse of nature as the world unfurls itself to me; sit down at the Smith-Corona and magically usher forth words, paragraphs, chapters, worlds. It's harmonious in its sameness, a Zen conduit to creativity.
And if you believe a word of that, hit yourself in the head with your cell phone so I don't have to. Writing in the 21st century is a mass of stolen moments, weaving through distraction like you're running the trench of the Death Star (dated reference, or classic reference? Should I put a video here? What about a link to that cool new NO. GET BACK TO THE POINT.)
Anyway, you see what I mean. Writing for me is less a matter of finding the time to work than finding the focus to work. I'm all over the place, both psychologically and literally. We'll talk the mysteries of the writer's mind another time; for now, let's talk about physical location.
I've got a very nice office, with two computer screens, big bookshelves stocked with Important Books (second edition of "Catcher in the Rye"; a conspicuously-unused book once owned by my parents entitled "How to Raise a Brighter Child"), and other signed/souvenir ephemera, including enough press passes to encircle the head of a small child. It's a lovely place, quite conducive to work ... and I spend a whole lot of time outside it, banging away on a laptop half the size of my desktop setup.
Why? Hell if I know. I do know that sometimes getting out of the house (which is where my office is located) is outstanding for creativity, or for dodging the sofa that lures me into just a 15-minute nap, promise. But the folks at the local sports bar know my usual order, if not my name. I've got my own spot staked out there by the window. Chicken wings and flatscreen TVs aren't quite as literarily romantic as, say, Hunter S. Thompson's Woody Creek Tavern, but the setup works just fine. I tend to find a seat by a window, put on headphones, and find either wifi or a satellite uplink, just like Hemingway used to. (I have not, as yet, seen anyone reading an article that I wrote in the same spot, though once I did see a guy reading the article just above mine on that day's Shutdown Corner. I wanted to encourage him to scroll just a little bit downward ... but that wouldn't have been creepy at all, no.)
Now, I'm not talking about writing on the road, in press boxes and airports and hotel rooms and the like. That requires a whole different set of skills ... for starters, the ability to stay the hell away from whatever noxious creations are decorating the press-box buffet. And that, too, is a subject for another day. Prepare thy stomach.
Anyway, for writers, a little transience isn't always the worst thing in the world. Flexibility is the key these days; hell, I wrote the first draft of the first post-accident Tiger Woods story on my iPhone while on a train ride at Stone Mountain Park outside Atlanta. Does it make for a more distracting environment, or less? Up to you, I suppose. Works well enough for me, though I can imagine the dog wishes I were home a little more often.
A few random observations on tonight's Mad Men episode. Spoilers all over the freakin' place.
Quick synopsis: An awards ceremony is interrupted by the news of MLK's death. Don takes his boy Bobby (version 3?) to Planet of the Apes. Peggy tries and fails to get a new apartment. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce doesn't quite know how to handle the thorny MLK situation.
• The centerpiece of this episode is the revelation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. It's one hell of a contrast to crisis reaction today: the attempt to keep the news from the awards show attendees, the long lines for the pay phones, the inability to reach one another ... it's all completely anachronistic now, so much so that it's tough to remember a time when we weren't totally interconnected. Though Joan Holloway selfies from the club last week would've gone viral worldwide.
• Race relations have burbled under the surface of the entire series, and even now none of those crazy white folk quite seem to understand how to deal with the race problem. From Peggy's awkward what-do-I-do hug to Pete's sudden sanctimony to Harry's "I thought this was a work day" hard line ... the world is shifting out from under these people, and they've got no idea what to do next.
• "I've never had sex! Not even once!" Michael Ginsberg, smooth operator.
• William Mapother, Creepy Insurance Guy, meets Don and crew in a scene so odd I want to believe it's actually a time-displaced Ethan Rom from Lost.
• January Jones continues to pull off the spectacular trick of being a bad actor who also acts badly.
• Between this and the recent episode of "Justified" where Boyd and Ava try to buy a house ("Thank you for coming, but we don't need your shit"), real-estate agents aren't getting the best PR in critically-acclaimed dramas these days.
• That existentialist bit at the end, where Don wonders how to love his kids, and then wonders why it hurts so much to love them ... that's where Mad Men starts to wobble on the tracks. It sounds like something meaningful, but it's gravitas without enough setup. Gotta earn those deep-water dives.
Episode MVP: Dr. Zaius. Didn't think it was possible to put a new spin on the end of Planet of the Apes, but this episode pulled it off. Man is a nuisance, indeed. But hey, how about a SPOILER ALERT next time, huh?
Line that should be an album title: "Going to Harlem in a Tuxedo."
Roger Sterling quote of the ep: "The man knew how to talk. I don't know why, but I thought that would save him. I thought it would solve everything."
I write a bunch of stuff each week. Here's some of the best ... or worst, depending on your POV.
It was NFL draft week, so I whipped up a little story on how NFL draftees need some good financial planning right from the moment they hold up that fancy new jersey. (Tip: Diversify yo' portfolio.) Also did a slideshow on the worst selections at every single position in the first round ... not quite draft "busts," necessarily, but exceedingly poor decisions. And, since draft fans are lunatics and easy prey, I posted a video of them getting pranked with fake player names.
Hope Solo plays soccer. I know nothing about soccer. But I do know that tweeting out your phone number to 700,000 followers isn't a good idea.
Game of Thrones author goofs on Jets, gives Game of Thrones geeks a chance to rail on NFL writers. Good times.
My most-read/shared story of the week: Nike stores are pulling "Boston Massacre" t-shirts from their stores. Solid idea.
An openly gay kicker is trying to make the NFL, which would be historic and all. If you consider kickers legit NFL players, that is.
This was badass: Scott Fujita hikes to the top of Machu Picchu, signs his retirement papers there. At age 33. I only slightly hate him.
Hey, Danica: shut up and race.
Thanks, as always, for reading. More on the way.
The Walking Dead is a perfectly gory little show. And bikini models are a joy to look at. I'd imagine the Venn Diagram of people who want to see these two genres mashed up is a relatively slim crossover, and yet here we are with the Walking Dead 2013 Swimsuit Calendar. Only, as io9 points out, the fact that the makeup artists didn't go full zombie here leaves us with a bunch of models who look like either car-crash relics or victims of domestic abuse.
Though considering how gory the show gets, that's probably for the best. Not sure I want to know who's in the market for a swimsuit model with a missing jaw, or with her intestines roping out of her shapely belly.
For those of you intrigued, here's the requisite making-of video. Open sores never looked so sexy!
Footballs to the face, misfiring teammates, deflected passes and more: my stories of the NFL’s Week 6
I wrote a bunch of stuff on Sunday over at Yahoo! about the NFL's Week 6. Here's a handy click-n'-go compilation:
• Matt Ryan doinked a pass off an opponent's helmet and still got the completion. That's when you know it's your day.
• One of the Oakland Raiders made a devastating hit on ... uh ... another Raider.
• NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport took a football to the face during the pregame show. Ouch.
• Larry Fitzgerald joins Randy Moss as the youngest receivers ever to top 10,000 yards.
• ....and finally, you will not believe the list of violations this Steelers rookie racked up in just a few minutes.
So there you have it. Thanks for checking 'em out. More coming very soon.
You know about the traveling-gnome prank, right? Take a gnome, photograph him around the world. Insanely cool. Anyway, for the last 20 years, I've been doing my own version, using a tiny X-Men action figure. Gambit has been to the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Sydney Opera House, and all over the United States. I've got photos with him with everyone from Michael Jordan to Johnnie Cochran. Here he is making his debut at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Well done, lad!