FFWDing to the Best Part: “Absolutely (Story of a Girl),” Nine Days (2000)

If you liked rock music that wasn’t too hard or dissonant but you still wanted to seem “alternative,” the late ’90s and early 2000s were a glorious time.  After grunge but before auto-tuning, there were scores of bands—some seemingly indistinguishable from one another—who churned out out accessible “adult alternative rock” (slash “power pop”) that zoomed its way up the charts.

Some acts got pretty big (Matchbox 20 Twenty, The Goo Goo Dolls).  Some were one (hit) and done (Semisonic, Stroke 9). And I. Loved. ALL. Of. Them.

One of my favorites was Nine Days, based on the upbeat and guitar-rich contents of The Madding Crowd, the band’s fourth album (but the first to appear on a major label). “If I Am” was used to great effect in a Dawson’s Creek episode or two, and was wrought with emotion and catchy as hell, despite the seeming contradictory phrase that closes out the song: Continue reading

FFWDing to the Best Part: “Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)

There is an ever-growing lists of songs that I don’t hate, per se, but which I’d be perfectly content with never ever hearing again during my remaining years on this proverbial merry-go-round. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is among them. Also on the list? ‘Sweet Caroline,’ ‘Brown-Eyed Girl,’ ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me,’ and even — dare I say it — ‘Hungry Like the Wolf.’ Done to death, are these numbers.

‘Sweet Home Alabama’ also has that relatively unique but certainly annoying trait where it conjures up a vaguely unpleasant aural memory every time I hear it. Picture it: 1994, I’m a college junior, and I was with my boyfriend at the time, who was DJing some sort of high-school dance (a church youth group? Such details I cannot remember.) Anyway, this song was already dead tired then, but it was requested, so he played it. And the kids had a chant that accompanied the chorus. I had never heard this chant — as clever as it is forgettable — before, have never heard it since, yet I hear it in my brain whenever forced to listen to this southern-fried-rock classic.

It went a little something exactly like this:

Sweet home, Alabama (‘Bama, bama, bama!’)
Where the skies are so blue (‘They-are-so-blue!’)
Sweet home, Alabama (‘Bama, bama, bama!’)
Lord, I’m coming home to you

You’re welcome.

There is one slight hiccup of a second of this song that I still enjoy, however, proving the theory once again that nearly every song can have a “best part…” Right at 2:17 – 2:19, before one of many instrumental breaks, Ronnie Van Zant mutters “Here I come, Alabama.” It’s a throwaway, but I always liked the rhythm of it … and how it leads into the eventual second-best part: Merry Clayton in the background, wailing away: “Alabama — Ahhh, ahhh, ahhh — Alabama ahhh, ahhh, ahhh…”

A Song You Know All the Words To: ‘Baby Got Back,’ Sir Mix-a-Lot (1992)

‘Day 8′ of the 30-‘Day’ Music Challenge. While the previous entry left me stumped for even one viable choice, this task is tricky for the direct opposite reason, because there are so many songs to choose from. I’ve been a music fan since before I knew what that meant, toe-tapping along in the back of my Mom’s Dodge Dart. Toss in an aspiring karaoke ‘career,’ and I dare say there are tens, if not hundreds, of ditties I know every word to. ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ is embarrassingly among them, partly because I did a 10th-grade extra-credit project defining all the references, partly because I considered it a personal challenge.

Karaoke 5 (Ole)

Thug Life.

But the one I’ll focus on today is ‘Baby Got Back,’ and I’m focusing on it for a karaoke-related reason. Back when I first picked up the mic, the trend of preppy white chicks doing rap/hip-hop/what-have-you hadn’t really reached critical mass. At least not in my then-home of Cincinnati. So when I would take the stage — in a pink button-down and khaki capris –and attempt ‘Bust a Move,’ ‘Shoop,’ or ‘O.P.P.,’ it was taken as amusing and (occasionally, if I enunciated properly) entertaining.

But my piece de resistance now and forevermore — until I learn ‘Empire State of Mind,’ anyway — is ‘Baby Got Back.’ It’s kitschy but respectable, it’s hard enough that it can impress karaoke goers, and it has some truly iconic phrases contained therein. ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hon.’ ‘Red beans and rice didn’t miss her.’ And my favorite, ‘I’ll keep my women like Flo Jo,’ at which point one needs to flash a quick somber expression to acknowledge the Olympian’s premature passing.  Pour one out.

Anyway, what was most fun about this number was not the relentless bass line or the tongue-in-cheek bridge, but the fact that I knew all the words. Perhaps this poetry was burned into my brain from senior year of high school, it’s unclear. But the end result was that a karaoke performance could be rendered more ‘impressive,’ whatever that means in the karaoke context.  My signature move was to stand in FRONT of the karaoke-word screen, thereby proving I was legit and didn’t need no stinking lyrics crutch.

This has unfortunately ruined future rap attempts for me, because I insist on learning every word to any spoken-word piece I want to attempt, lest I look like I am reliant upon the screen.  Which, by the way, is a big part of karaoke, so I’m not sure why I (or anyone) cares.

Anyway, Mr. Mix-a-Lot, you seem like a pretty cool dude, and I’m proud to have performed your  iconic tune in at least five states (Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland) and probably more than 10 dozen times over the 15-plus years it’s been in my repertoire.  Thanks for making it so catchy … and so memorable.

Scene by Scene: “The Princess Bride” (1987)

Since its release, Rob Reiner’s fairly tale spoof The Princess Bride has gone from cult classic to one of the most beloved films of its generation. Which scenes make it tick? Rating each section on a scale of 1 to 10:

A Kissing Book (00:00) 7/10 The opening cough and Hardball! video game play with the audience expectations generated by the title card, hinting at the fantasy trope subversions to come. Fred Savage’s jaded kid pre-empts audience criticism by whining about the love story opening so unattractively that the audience feels subconsciously compelled to defend the story, on grounds of its lush cinematography, if not its overwrought, digest-form romance.

Three Lost Circus Performers (7:15) 8/10 Wallace Shawn, publishing scion and occasional character actor, shrieks so broadly as to clue even the youngest viewers in that they are watching a send-up, a Fractured Fairy Tale which one can enjoy in proportion to one’s familiarity with the original material which it parodies. The clear switch from location shooting to soundstage encourages us to see the work as a play.

A Damper on Our Relationship (17:20) 10/10 Is this the greatest swordplay choreography in the history of cinema, or merely the greatest comic swordplay? The Man in Black’s dry wit verbally fences just as spryly with Mandy Patinkin’s unexpectedly laconic sword-for-hire, with a final result somewhere between Buster Keaton and Woody Allen.

I Don’t Even Exercise (25:04) 7/10 Thanks to Andre Roussimoff’s gigantism-induced mushmouth, I couldn’t understand half his lines in the pre-subtitle era, but slapstick comedy comes through in any language.

Never Get involved in a Land War in Asia (29:30) 9/10 Shawn’s improbably confident Sicilian again steals the battle of wits, right up to the moment when, well, you know.

You’re Only Saying That Because No One Ever Has (39:00) 5/10 Despite the stagey perils of the Fire Swamp, the helpless waif and unflappable swashbuckler are less fun alone together than when playing straight man/woman to the zanier characters from whom they are temporarily separated.

If You Haven’t Got Your Health (50:24) 4/10 The films’ emotional nadir is also its least memorable section; torture never makes for entertaining viewing, only for setting up a cathartic rescue.

Mostly Dead (60:30) 9/10
Manic Miracle Max improvs, a compassionately shrewish wife, and a chocolate-covered pill bring the story back up to speed in time for the final act.

Storming the Castle (74:31) 7/10 What’s a holocaust cloak? Who cares? The lisping clergyman and doddering king remind us: all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good to be a moron, but thankfully more competent heroes know when and how to threaten dismemberment.

Prepare to Die (81:28) 9/10 Ah yes, I knew we had some catharsis around here somewhere. In fine heroic fashion, the knife in the belly is all but forgotten ten minutes later.

I Knew He Was Bluffing (87:23) 6/10 A quiet denouement; the once-skeptical boy’s shy request for a repeat performance gives voice to the audience’s approval of the film. The sitcom style “greatest hits” closing credits satisfy that wish to see it again.

P.S. I don’t know that the book is better than the movie, but it does help plug some of the “But what about…” questions raised by William Goldman’s Cliff Notes style adaptation of his own novel, which in turn claims to be “the good parts” of a still larger work. Cut, and cut some more: a lesson many recent movies should have learned in the editing suite.

I Predict a ‘Riot’

One of the things my boyfriend Ryan and I share is a love of music. He’s better at learning about new stuff, I’m better about talking about old stuff (e.g. 80% of this blog). I like to over-analyze lyrics, while he patiently listens; he likes to build spreadsheets of his ‘dream’ music-festival lineup, which I review in quiet bemusement and admiration.

This summer, we’re headed to three music festivals.  Lollapalooza (Day One only, where I hope to see Interpol, AFI, and six minutes of Eminem); LouFest (in my hometown, where we’ll hopefully see Arctic Monkeys, Matt & Kim, Cake, and/or Outkast); and Riot Fest.

CHI_Admat_FINAL_Sponsors-1024x811

Now, both of our musical tastes tend toward the ‘alternative’ side — whatever that means anymore — but his is more on the ‘folk’ end of the spectrum (Mumford & Sons, Lumineers) while I’m on the ‘punk’ side of things (Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, the aforementioned AFI).  All of the scare quotes are being employed, by the way, because none of these designations mean anything these days anyway. Only one thing is certain — Rihanna will always be terrible.

ANYWAY. Riot Fest really tends toward the ‘punk’ side of things. It’s also geared toward folks who graduated high school between, say, 1985 and 1990, so the crowd is a touch older than me and therefore [a touch + six years] older than Ryan. But it’s in beautiful Humboldt Park, in mid-September, and the lineup includes not only The Cure, Jane’s Addiction, and Cheap Trick, but also Slayer (!), GWAR (!) and Pussy Riot, so I’m thinking we’ll have to go to at least two of the three days.

Although it’s more than three months from now, we are already strategizing. One night, we sat down and plotted our ‘must sees’ versus our ‘Ehhhhhhh … might be fun to sees.’ Columns one and columns two, respectively.  ‘Should we rank both lists?’ Ryan asks. ‘No, just the first one, I think,’ I reply. And this is what we were left with.

Here is Ryan’s:

Ryan's Riot Fest Wants

Here is mine:

Beth's Riot Fest Wants

One, I realize another thing we have in common is atrocious handwriting (and mine’s worse, which is really unforgivable, considering I’m of the fairer sex).  Two, he has but one band on his ‘must’ list … I have 11 (with all apologies to the Might Might Bosstones, who apparently got downgraded).  At least one of my 11 is Weezer!  And this is basically a reversal of our LouFest lists, where I really only care about Cake, and he has taken to calling it ‘RyanFest,’ because he’s so excited about what it’s offering.

Well, we are learning from each other. He’s teaching me about The 1975 and Wild Cub, and perhaps I will introduce him to Thurston Moore and Cheap Trick.  Win win?

My ‘Next’ Dinner, in Photos

Next is a ‘special-occasion’ restaurant in Chicago conceptualized by executive chef (and master of molecular gastronomy) Grant Achatz. It’s not your normal restaurant. You don’t make reservations; you buy tickets months in advance (which cover gratuity, taxes, and — if you want — beverage pairings).  You don’t order off a menu; you are presented with a multi-course culinary experience of Achatz’s choosing. And the restaurant doesn’t have a ‘type,’ per se.  Every four months, the cuisine offered shifts radically. From vegan to Thai to steak, to the food of Paris in 1906.  Hence, one wonders what’s ‘Next.’

I’ve had tickets to Next on three occasions.  Through a series of unfortunate events — one of which involved my boyfriend of two years breaking up with me three hours before our reservation — I had never actually gone before. So I was a tad nervous when my good friend AKD sold me her tickets that she was sadly unable to use. I figured the third time would be the charm, or serve as a final strike … and a sign I should no longer attempt to go to this restaurant.

But attempt I did, with my friend Heddy. The current theme is Modern Chinese, and it was wonderful, from amuse-bouche all the way to dessert. Unlike my trip to Alinea — Achatz’ other restaurant, which has appeared on the top-10 of all North American dining establishments (along with French Laundry, Per Se, Red Lobster, etc.) — I had bites of food that were simply sublime. The focus, I felt, was a little less on the pageantry and more on the taste bud engagement. So quickly, I’d like to share photos of my experience — mostly for AKD so she can live vicariously, but also to capture this once-in-a-lifetime meal for posterity.

Ordinarily I try not to eat much meat, but when dining out, especially at noteworthy restaurants, I tend to let this tradition slide, because I want to eat the meal as the chef intended. And it’s a good thing, because if I’d avoided mammals this night, I would have missed out on a lot.

I am using (in quotations) the descriptions provided for us at the end of the meal on a nice ‘fortune’ slip, but the description narrated by the waitstaff  at the time was infinitely better. Also, we missed photographing a couple of the courses. ALSO, because this is my awkward life, they told me to be discreet with my camera, so some of the pictures are snapped hurriedly (and all without flash, of course).

The "playbill" welcoming us to our evening and describing the 'Modern Chinese' concept.

The “playbill” welcoming us to our evening and describing the ‘Modern Chinese’ concept.

 

This 'centerpiece' of Chinese okra, cilantro, parsley, and ????? was crushed using a French press to create ...

This ‘centerpiece’ of Chinese okra, cilantro, parsley, and ????? was crushed using a French press to create …

... this savory, room-temperature broth

… this savory, room-temperature broth

'Scallop Dumpling with Watercress and White Fungus ... Pork Dumpling with Jujube and Cuttlefish ... Congee as a Hot Foam with Pork Floss.'   The 'hot foam' was some of the best stuff I've ever eaten. Buttery, rich, amazing. And the dumplings, while they look like standard gyoza, were not dough at all, but actually made from the processed scallop and pork, respectively.

‘Scallop Dumpling with Watercress and White Fungus; Pork Dumpling with Jujube and Cuttlefish; Congee as a Hot Foam with Pork Floss.’
The ‘hot foam’ was some of the best stuff I’ve ever eaten. Buttery, rich, amazing. And the dumplings, while they look like standard gyoza, were not dough at all, but actually made from the processed scallop and pork, respectively.

MISSED PHOTO: ‘Monkfish with White Asparagus in a Roasted Spine Broth’  This was a beautifully presented soup.  The monkfish was tender, the asparagus was al dente and as wide as hearts of palm.  Refreshing.

Ice made from fresh coconut water was ground tableside ...

Ice made from fresh coconut water was ground tableside …

...to create this, probably my second-favorite dish of the night. 'Crab with Green Chili Paste and Fresh Coconut.'  Amazingly good salad.  We wanted to gnaw at the coconut itself but were lacking the hammer and nail.

…to create this, probably my second-favorite dish of the night. ‘Crab with Green Chili Paste and Fresh Coconut.’ Amazingly good salad. We wanted to gnaw at the coconut itself but were lacking the hammer and nail.

'Tiger Salad with Cold Skin Noodles and Seitan; Tingly Squab with Tarragon and Sumac; Skate Chops in the Style of Muslim Lamb'  The squab (which is just pigeon, right?) was fried lightly and utterly delicious. Another one of my favorite things of the night. The skate chop was one bite if intense flavor -- a bit heavy-handed on the paprika. And the salad was a nice, light accompaniment.

‘Tiger Salad with Cold Skin Noodles and Seitan; Tingly Squab with Tarragon and Sumac; Skate Chops in the Style of Muslim Lamb’
The squab (which is just pigeon, right?) was fried lightly and utterly delicious. Another one of my favorite things of the night. The skate chop was one bite if intense flavor — a bit heavy-handed on the paprika. And the salad was a nice, light accompaniment.

 

'Shrimp in a Duck Yolk 'Sand''  This one was most outside of my comfort zone. Duck egg hard-boiled and mixed with salt created the 'sand,' into which was nestled a cripsy shrimp-shell head and tail. And raw shrimp meat.  (At least it looked raw, but I still gobbled it up.)

‘Shrimp in a Duck Yolk ‘Sand”
This one was most outside of my comfort zone. Duck egg hard-boiled and mixed with salt created the ‘sand,’ into which was nestled a cripsy shrimp-shell head and tail. And raw shrimp meat. (At least it looked raw, but I still gobbled it up.)

'Beef and Broccoli in Liquid and Solid State'  Inspired by the familiar dish, this was a deliciously rich consomme, followed by dehydrated broccoli spheres and slabs of leathery beef brushed with chive butter. A touch better than carry-out.

‘Beef and Broccoli in Liquid and Solid State’
Inspired by the familiar dish, this was a deliciously rich consomme, followed by dehydrated broccoli spheres and slabs of leathery beef brushed with chive butter. A touch better than carry-out.

'Duck in Layers'  Let me try to remember this pyramid of flavor. There were smoked greens, fried duck egg mixed with red cabbage, walnuts, and chives , red plum jam, two dipping sauces -- hoisin and mustard -- and roasted duck meat, which was cooked perfectly, but was also the most 'ordinary' thing served.

‘Duck in Layers’
Let me try to remember this pyramid of flavor. There were smoked greens, fried duck egg mixed with red cabbage, walnuts, and chives , red plum jam, two dipping sauces — hoisin and mustard — and roasted duck meat, which was cooked perfectly, but was also the most ‘ordinary’ thing served.

MISSED PHOTO: ”Pulling Threads’ with Sweetbreads, Taro Root, and Banana’ First, we were told veal sweetbreads, and plantains (v. banana). This was like the best Sweet-and-Sour whatever you will ever have. The sweetbreads, taro, and plantains were cut into chunks and caramelized. We were instructed to dip the pieces in a citrusy glaze for six seconds, and in so doing, a crispy shell appeared around it. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

MISSED PHOTO: ‘Frozen Rice Soup with Legumes and Whipped Vinegar’ Sweet peas, puffed jasmine rice. Crunchy and slightly sweet and cool. 

'Dragon's Beard Candy with a Pressing of Honey'  At this point, we were pretty full. This was a lot of chewy sweetness.  It was accompanied by 'Black Sesame Butterfinger,' which tastes exactly like it sounds. Like a Butterfinger, but with a sesame flavor (vs. peanut)

‘Dragon’s Beard Candy with a Pressing of Honey’
At this point, we were pretty full. This was a lot of chewy sweetness. It was accompanied by ‘Black Sesame Butterfinger,’ which tastes exactly like it sounds. Like a Butterfinger, but with a sesame flavor (vs. peanut)

'Fortune...' Finally, this huge fortune cookie, which contained our menus for the evening. Clever presentation, and light almond cookie, as you would expect.

‘Fortune…’
Finally, this huge fortune cookie, which contained our menus for the evening. Clever presentation, and light almond cookie, as you would expect.

And that’s ‘it!’  A great meal that was both inventive AND delicious. And now I’m starving.  Off to fix breakfast …

A Song That Reminds You of an Event …

Task 7 on the “30” Day Music Challenge … a song that reminds you of an event.

There’s been a complete unintended hiatus from the ole Neurotic City, because I’ve been trying to think of something for this for weeks. I have rarely struggled with writer’s block more, and I’ve had some bouts, believe you me.  What constitutes an ‘event,’ really?  Does it need to be something life-altering, like a wedding … or a death?

Can it be something fleeting and trivial, such as that one time I heard Miley Cyrus’ ‘See You Again’ in an H&M in Atlanta and noted with bemusement that every world-weary hipster in the place was singing along?

Or is it those collection of songs I heard non-stop in March 2001 when recovering from the flu on my couch and glued to MTV2?  (Which, oddly enough, STILL SHOWED VIDEOS then.)  Those were, if anyone cares, Lifehouse’s ‘Hanging By a Moment,’ Nelly Furtado’s ‘I’m Like a Bird,’ and Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Movies.’

The bf said his might be something that reminded him of a concert.  I openly mocked him, saying that’s akin to writing that “Gimme Shelter” reminds me of someone, and that someone is Mick Jagger. (Unless, I guess, the mental connection is not directly linear … Foo Fighters’ ‘Everlong’ reminds me of that time I saw the Foo Fighters is different — and therefore less allowed/excusable — than Food Fighters’ ‘Everlong’ reminds me of that one time I was at an Elton John concert, because I heard it on a loop while waiting to get out of the parking lot for 50 minutes.) Whatever, I’m a jerk.

Alice CooperI do associate a handful of late-1989 songs with a particular event of sorts. I was in a play — a musical (!) version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and as became my lot in life throughout my high school musical ‘career,’ I had a super tiny role.  (This, after winning ‘Best Actress’ in the 8th grade for my star-making turn as a hillbilly infested with fleas!  But that’s a story for another day.)

ANYWAY, my super tiny role kept me firmly hidden backstage where I belonged. I gossiped with fellow ‘actors,’ drank Diet Dr. Pepper, and — when there was nothing else to do — listened to the ‘Open House Party’ broadcast on my Walkman radio.  The description of this is better JFG’d, but suffice to say it was a syndicated weekend-night radio program for immature and friendless dumb-dumbs.  During the two-week Midsummer run, I frequently heard: ‘Love Shack’ (B-52’s), ‘Poison’ (Alice Cooper), and ‘Pump Up the Jam’ (Technotronic). Hey, at least OHP had all bases covered, from New Wave to Pseudo-Metal to ‘Dance.’  So to this day, when I hear any of these, I picture my 15-year-old bespectacled self, sitting cross-legged on a dirty linoleum floor, halfway enjoying the songs that would define my sophomore year. Btw, ‘Love Shack’ is terrible.  Among the band’s worst, and such a pity that it’s also their most famous.

Thanks for letting me ramble. I hope Day 8 is a bit more cohesive.