To Fuss is Human, To Rant, Divine!!

Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Have you ever found out about an author or a musician whose work coincides with your tastes perfectly, and yet you had never heard of them before?

I had something resembling that tonight, as I downloaded and listened to my favorite podcast, Coverville

The song list for the latest podcast looked pretty decent, with (yet another) "Ring of Fire" cover, as well as covers of songs by Tom Waits and Collective Soul. Then I noticed the name next to the Tom Waits cover - Emiliana Torrini.

Now, it's not completely true that I had not heard of Ms. Torrini before; but I only knew her as the singer who sang Gollum's Song for "The Two Towers" and did a collaboration with Thievery Corporation.

Her cover of Tom Waits's "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" is exquisite. The song itself is a classic, from his Closing Time album that opened with one of my favorite songs ever, Ol' 55.

But Emiliana's voice is surprisingly soulful (she sang the rather ethereal Gollum's Song when Bjork, her fellow Icelander, had to pull out), and while she doesn't capture Tom Waits's gravelly indecisiveness, her interpretation still evokes the images of a smoky, half-empty bar. It also helps that the arrangement of the song is appropriately spartan; Emiliana is accompanied by only a piano and an acoustic guitar.

After some research, which wasn't simple, since the album, Merman (I immediately thought of Zoolander), is one that was only released in Iceland, I discovered that the rest of the album is just as good. Not only does she cover Tom Waits, but Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says."

The rest of the album is ambitious, with obvious classical and jazz influences, lush orchestration, and quite a bit of experimentation. If I had to compare her album Merman with a popular artist's work, I would say that she reminds me a bit of Norah Jones, but there's more depth to her voice and her lyrics, and the album has a significant more range that Jones's work.

In re-reading that last sentence, perhaps she's not like Norah Jones at all, but it's the most familiar sound I can place with her. Ms. Torrini is often compared to Bjork, apparently, due to their shared nationality and quirky electronica-driven sounds, but the electronica is not present at all in "Merman"

On a sidenote, I have also been deriving way too much pleasure in my contribution to a certain message board discussion. During one of the baseball rain delays recently, a Deadspin commenter decided to start a "Tower of Song" game, a list of ten songs which other commenters would then alter by removing a song and replacing it with their own. The stipulation was that the song and the artist's name could not contain the letter "e."

My entry?

"Filipino Box Spring Hog" by Tom Waits (from his album Mule Variations - the album could contain the letter "e.") I've been trying to think of a better one ("Bombs Over Baghdad" by Outkast is my second best effort), but I can't. One of the other commenters had a song by Alison Krauss and Union Station, which I definitely respect, but I still like mine better.

If you can wow me with a better song, I'll tip my hat to you.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hits and Misses

I've been watching a lot of baseball and football in the past few weeks. With the playoffs in the MLB and the NFL getting underway, there have been plenty of sporting events worth the attention. And since I've one of those cavemen who don't have a TIVO or a DV-R, I also watch all the commercials.

It seems that synergy is big this season. For example, we have the Chevrolet campaign featuring the musical stylings of John Cougar Mellencamp. There are several commercials, and Mellencamp appeared at the World Series to tout both the cars and his new album.

There are at least three permutations of the commercial; one with images of cars, assembly lines and blue collar workers, one depicting the American Dream through football, and one depicting images of national importance that define America. It's the last one I find perplexing. And if I weren't so used to commercials that insulted my intelligence, I would probably find it insulting as well.

No one I know who has seen it can explain why Chevy uses the images they did. Ostensibly, the commercial is an attempt to connect the Chevy Silverado with a sense of "American-ness." John Mellencamp sings about "our country," and the images in the commercial are synchronized with the words in the song. But the thing I don't get is how all the images form any kind of zeitgeist.

We begin with the Civil Rights movement - Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Fine. I agree that these were iconic "American" images.

Then after several shots of Chevy trucks and hard-working Americans, we go to a bunch of hippies, soldiers in Vietnam and Richard Nixon. A bit of a simplification of the times, perhaps, but these are also pretty stereotypical in terms of what people think of when they think of the late 60's / early 70's.

Then the commercial gets weird. The lyrics in the Mellencamp song invoke the geographical boundaries of the country, in and of itself a poor attempt to tap into some kind of American spirit. But the images used to represent the coasts and highlands and whatnot just make no sense to me. Not only do we get a wildfire (which incidentally, just killed several firefighters just this past week in California - you would think Chevy might pull that image from the ad in respect, but no), but also images of a flooded New Orleans and a shot of the New York skyline, post 9-11, with the twin beacons of light where the Twin Towers used to be.

All of the images in the commercial are powerful. That is undeniable. My problem is that when you put the images together, the images don't build on one another. To use physics terminology, the wave of images do not interfere contructively, but rather destructively. Constructive interference results in increased amplitudes (significance, or meaning, in this metaphor), whereas destructive interference results in the opposite.

By throwing together Rosa Parks and Hurricane Katrina and 9-11, not only do we simplify their importances to "our country," we cheapen their worth as well.

The point of the commercial, perhaps, was that like the Silverado, Americans are tough, capable of dealing with adversity and emerging stronger for the experience. This would not be unlike the competing commercials for Ford, with the tagline "Built Ford Tough", or the ones for the Toyota Tacoma, in which the vehicle in question is subjected to all manner of bizarre apocalypses, including a meteor, the Loch Ness Monster, Truck-zilla, and a vengeful ex-girlfriend.

Thus, we might be able to explain the images of New Orleans under water and the Civil Rights movement. But this isn't what is conveyed. Instead, it seems that we're supposed to get some bizarre sense of patriotism as we watch these icons spliced together, until perhaps we're not sure what being "American" means anymore. And maybe this is the ultimate truth of the commercial; that our overreliance on icons and single defining images leaves us confused, so that without any depth and context, we're left with nothing at all.

Obviously we shouldn't over-analyze advertisements. But nevertheless, I can't help but think that whoever created the campaign scrambled to cobble together as many images they could that would be recognizable, spanning a 40-odd year time period, without paying any heed to any of the meaning behind the image. The problem is that when the commercial is accepted by the public without complaint (as anything bearing an American flag is susceptible to these days, it seems), it doesn't reflect very well on "our country."

On a lighter note, the other commercials that are ubiquitous these days during sporting events are the "Man-Law" commercials made by Miller for Miller Lite. I have some problems with these as well.

I'm not going to complain about the concept of a "man-law." Actually, I think the commercials deserve some applause for the rather satirical concept of a bunch of guys in a room caucusing guidelines for their gender. I think it's only a matter of time before some ad exec lampoons it for their female-targeted product.

What I do have a problem with is the latest one, which asks whether you can put fruit in beer.

First of all, the only acceptable way to drink Monkey-Piss (aka Corona) is with a slice of lime. Not that I would drink Corona, but this is the accepted method of imbibing the not-so-potent potable.

Second, it says right on the bottle of a beer I DO like, Blue Moon, that the beer should be served with a slice of orange on a pilsner glass.

It makes sense too. As Alton Brown of Food Network fame might tell us if he did a beer episode of Good Eats, fruit goes well with beer. There are plenty of beers brewed with blackberries or blueberries or raspberries or peaches or other fruit. Magic Hat's #9 is apricot flavored. Fruit and beer are actually very synergistic.

Where this goes wrong, of course, is with "flavored malt beverages" like Smirnoff Ice or Mike's Hard Lemonade. Now these should be banned. But that's not the point of the commercial.

The point of the commercial is that there is something unmanly about fruit (perhaps I sense the slightest bit of homophobia?) that detracts from beer. Which is completely false, and anyone who knows anything about beer understands this. Personally, I think the ad exec who wrote it needs to do some research into how real beers are crafted. I suppose that no fruit is going to make Miller Lite taste like anything substantive though.

To modify the old joke, why is Miller Lite like having sex in a canoe?

Because it's fucking close to water.