Britney Spears

This morning, I was watching VH1 and I saw the video for Britney Spears’s cover of “My Perogative.” The video is ungodly dark and it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s going on in the video, except that you can clearly see that she’s doing it with conviction. However, one of the things you can see is that she drives a car into a pool and then starts dancing on it.

Yes, she drives a car into a pool. It’s so weird that you almost don’t mind the rest of the video being so impossible to see, because you’re busy trying to imagine what would possess someone to launch their car into a pool.

And, apparently, VH1 was thinking the same thing because the very next video was that Maroon 5 song where the scrawny guy with no nose makes out with the mother and daughter, which just happens to open with him staring into a pool as if he too is pondering why Britney Spears would sink a perfectly good car.

In which I explain the problem with Country Music

There’s this idea floating around that the problem with country music is that it is somehow less “country” than it used to be, that it’s tainted by the Shanias and Faiths and Kenny Chesney/Uncle Kracker duets, that the problem with country music is Nashville. Living in my unnamed city, I can tell you that this argument is stated over and over again in every honky tonk and beer joint as if it’s the gospel truth.

I’m not going to go into a long diatribe about what utter crap this line of reasoning is; Richard Peterson has done an excellent job spelling it out in his book Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity. For those of you who aren’t going to run right out and buy it, basically he argues that the tension between “real” country music and “produced” country music has been with us as long as recorded country music has existed.

Think he’s wrong? Take a listen to Hank and Patsy one more time. What makes Patsy Cline “country”? Now, of course, she’s considered part of the “authentic” country music sound, but could her music sound any more different than Hank’s?

For whatever reason, country music thrives on the creative tension between “true” country and “popular” country (ah, popular, isn’t that word the ugly truth? All this “non-country” country music sells or it wouldn’t get made.) and it seems to purposefully recreate the cycles that lead us from Rhinestone Cowboys to Outlaws to Hat Acts to to Faith, Shania, and the rest of the pop princesses to Gretchen Wilson.

Even the larger roots music scene seems to understand the creative power in this dichotomy. But, instead of setting themselves up in opposition to “popular” country, they’ve set themselves up against “Nashville.”

But, let me tell you, they all come to Nashville; they all want to make it here, er, there.

It’s really interesting to watch it play out over and over again. It’s like there are a few set stories and everyone is trying to figure out what part they will play in which narrative, as if reenacting the same story that brought their idols to fame will also bring them to fame.

All this is kind of beside the point: here’s what’s wrong with Country Music, and I’d guess the rest of the music industry: They think that if one is good, a dozen is better. If there’s one guy in a cowboy hat in the early 90s, why not have every guy wear a cowboy hat? If Faith and Shania can have huge cross-over success, why can’t we get Martina and Leanne and the rest of them on the pop charts? If folks like the Dixie Chicks, how much will they love SheDaisy?

You can even see it starting to happen with this crop of young, blunt, women. No, they all aren’t as blunt as Gretchen Wilson, but I can’t remember ever hearing so much talk about being down to one’s last rag and sex being good but not right. And let’s not talk about all the boys with terrible hair. Warren Brothers, you want to know why you’re not quite famous? Because people think they’re helping you when they buy Rascal Flatts’ album. Dirks Bentley, Billy Currington’s stealing your career and your shot with Shania Twain.

Also, let’s talk about file sharing. To hear industry folks tell it, you’d think file sharing was single-handedly ruining the music industry. I’m not convinced that’s true, but let’s assume it is. Who’s to blame for music fans thinking that they’re not hurting anyone by downloading music?

Who’s either showing off their multi-million dollar houses (in which case, if they have that much money, what’s it hurting if I download music) every chance they get, either on TV or by being a happy stop on the Tour of the Stars’ Homes, or bitching about how the record company has screwed them out of their money (in which case, I’m not hurting the artist; I’m helping stick it to the industry who’s done him wrong)?

And I really think it’s the second half of this equation that is a problem for the record industry. Fans believe that artists are getting screwed by record companies. If so, and if the fan likes the artist, isn’t the fan morally obligated to help screw the record company right back?

To put it another way, if fans know that artists don’t make any money from records–that most of their money comes from merchandise and other subsidiary rights deals–they don’t necessarily feel like they have to buy albums to show their support for artists.

The other problem the industry has, I think, is ProTools. It’s an open secret in Nashville that a lot of famous folks don’t sound in person how they sound in the studio. You know why Martina McBride gets standing ovations at awards shows? Because that girl can really sing.

When the Nashville Scene did its story about ProTools, it claimed that Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Sarah Evens all use it to fix pitch problems.

Okay, I can understand that not everyone has the patience or talent to cut a perfect record. But why should I feel bad about “stealing” music that’s performed, in the end, by a computer? How does it hurt the computer program that takes the raw performance and turns it into something listenable if I download that performance onto another computer? Manipulatable data is manipulatable data. Just because I manipulate it in a way you don’t like doesn’t necessarily give you a right to bitch.

Art produced by computer consumed by computer. It sounds okay to me.

The Dog

My dog is not the most well-behaved dog on the planet. In fact, on a scale of Cujo to Lassie, she’s probably more likely to cause you to run screaming to your car than she is to help poor Timmy out of a well. And she’s not fond of children or other dogs (hmm, wasn’t it W.C. Fields who said not to work with children or animals? Maybe my dog is W.C. Fields… That would explain why she’s always smoking cigars.) and she jumps on everyone who comes over, repeatedly, and almost always knocks all our male visitors squarely in the groin. And, most annoyingly of all (for me anyway; it’s not like I’m getting knocked in the groin, after all), she will not stop barking at our neighbor-dog, Zeus.

Never mind that Zeus is the least ferocious dog ever. Never mind that he walks by our place at least six times a day. No, if Zeus is outside, my dog must bark and bark and bark as if we’re being attacked by killer alien bees.

But what would happen if Mrs. Wigglebottom (yes, even the dog has a pseudonym) and Zeus ever met up face to face?

Let us cast our attention back in time to an incident with the Crazy Christian Neighbor. . .

The Crazy Christian Neighbor is one of a large number of people who live in a small house at the top of the hill. They seem like they’d be a nice family. The dad drives a truck. The mom has a nice garden. They all work together to put new shingles on their house. They have a couple of cats for whom they’ve built an outdoor fenced-in playground, which, at first I thought was really strange, but now I think is brilliant, because the fenced-in playground has an opening in the bottom that is large enough for cat comings and goings, but too small for any other animals to enter. So, if any of the neighborhood dogs starts to chase the cats, the cats have a safe retreat.

And they have their religious beliefs, which, in part, consist of putting the ten commandments in their front yard whenever something troubling happens in the neighborhood, like a raucous party or Satanic orgy. But in general, they seem fine. . .

except for the kid. First of all, he has this small terrier mix that he ties to a rope and walks up and down our dead end, even though there’s a lot more grass in the other direction. Second, as he walks the dog, he does kung-fu moves. Worse than that, he’s utterly unfriendly. Even as he walks his yippy, bouncy dog on a frayed rope down our dead-end, frightening the cats and giving Mrs. Wigglebottom and Zeus rare moments of common purpose–barking in unison at the dog–even if we’re sitting outside or playing basketball, he never waves, never says hello, nothing.

So, one day, as Mrs. Wigglebottom and I are coming back from our morning walk, she manages to tangle herself in a large many-limbed tree branch. She and her leash are completely entwined with the branch and the branch is so big that there’s no way she can get in the house with it strapped to her. I have no choice but to unhook her from her leash at the front door so that I can untangle her.

Well, of course, at that very moment, the crazy kid and his dog come down the street for their morning constitutional. Mrs. Wigglebottom, of course, now that she’s off-leash takes off running at full speed towards the kid. I, leash in one hand, large tree branch in the other, start screaming, “No, stop right there! Stop, stop, god damn it, come back here.” To which Mrs. Wigglebottom responds, “I don’t speak English, fool! I only know three words and they are ‘eat that’ and ‘car.'” I say, “God damn it, dog, I know you know the word, ‘wait,'” but by then she’s already at the kid.

But what happens? He’s paused in mid kung-fu chop, paralyzed with fear. His dog, for the first time in its life is neither yapping nor jumping, and both dogs are, of course, sniffing each other’s butts. I run over there apologizing profusely, explaining that she’s harmless, and apologizing some more.

Y’all, you know what he said to me? I swear, he said, “Mrghejbhlblgh.” Yes. “Mrghejbhlblgh.” I even said, “excuse me?” and he said, “mrghejbhlblgh” again.

I’m almost positive that it wasn’t a word in any Earth language. I think he was just muttering something at me to get me to go away! I didn’t know, and I still don’t, if I should be offended that he didn’t have the decency to talk to me in actual Earth words, of if I’m stunned by his brilliance and, tomorrow, when I’m in my staff meeting and asked whether the project that is supposed to be done next September can’t be moved up to April or May, I’m going to adopt the strategy of speaking in mumble-speak and look confused when my co-workers act like they can’t understand me.

You can take the Girl out of the Midwest…

So, last night I went to an engagement party for one of my co-workers and her fiance. Before reading any further, it might be helpful to you to take this brief quiz.

A. You are invited to a co-worker’s engagement party. You

  1. Decide not to go, even though you’ve RSVP’d that you will be there because you’ll be damned if you’re ever going to play that stupid “pass the toilet paper through your legs and over your shoulder” game. As far as you’re concerned, toilet paper belongs in trees and in bathrooms and not wrapped around you and your co-worker’s fiance. Then you feel guilty for assuming the party will be stupid and go anyway.
  2. Look forward to it eagerly because the food will be great and the conversation will be scintilating.
  3. Give the appearance that you’re not going, but when you get there, become the life of the party.

B. The invitation to the engagement party says the event is at 6 p.m. That means

  1. You should be there by 6, and the window for your arrival is between 5:40 and 6:00.
  2. You should not arrive until 6, and the window for your arrival is between 6:00 and 6:20.
  3. You should leave your house between 6 and 6:15, even if you live forty minutes away.

C. Appropriate party chat includes

  1. Any jokes that start “A Methodist minister, a Catholic Priest, and an Assembly of God pastor…”, “A Priest, a Minister, and a Rabbi…”, or “A Baptist gets shipwrecked…”
  2. The wonderful food, the beautiful home, and how long one’s been married.
  3. How ludicrous it is that George Bush is going to get elected to another four years when clearly he is evil and stupid personified and is leading us to Hell.

D. You leave when

  1. It gets dark, or as soon after it gets dark as you can, unless you are planning to stay until dawn, in which case, bring on the booze!
  2. Only once you’re certain that staying any longer would be rude.
  3. Late into the night.

If you answered “1” to all of these questions, you are most certainly from the midwest. If you answered “2” to all of these questions, you are a Southerner, and if you answered “3,” you are from someplace out East.

So, you can imagine that trying to plan any party that brings those three different cultures together is difficult. I arrived at ten til, figuring that would put me squarely in the middle of guest arrival. No, I was the first person there.

The second person there? My co-worker from Indiana, whose husband had made her stop to get coffee, lest they be there at twenty til.

It was a nice party and there were no corny games. I left before nine, because the good looking neighbor had come over earlier to say that he didn’t have any evening plans, and I told him I’d bring over some beer if I got home early enough.

However, as the Professor and Miss J. can attest, if I’m home on my couch at 9 o’clock, I’m probably in bed by 9:30. Plus, we only had one beer. And one is not some.

Friday Afternoon…

So, this afternoon, a couple of us played hooky from work and went to see Jackie Greene perform. He’s this wee slip of a kid who sings and plays guitar. He’s very good. And he played at this awesome cafe that looks like it might have been an old drug store or something at one point. It’s got a bar as you walk in and then tall cabinets with glass display counters on the floor.

My least favorite thing about anonymous small city in a much-maligned part of the country is that there’s enough pre-1865 crap around to make you wonder why they complained so much about being occupied (kidding!) and more than enough post-1945 crap around to make you sick. But we’re missing about 60 years worth of interesting architecture.

This place, though, feels and smells old and like the kind of place I’d want to live near if I didn’t live at the end of a street populated by strange, yet charming folks, and could afford the overpriced priviledge of living in one of the city’s hip neighborhoods.

When the Divine Ms. B used to live in Memphis, it was my favorite thing to go visit her. She lived in a big old house from the era missing from my city with ten or twelve other artists and actors. These were the kind of folks who seemed like they’d done everythingimagnable two or three times.

I, on the other hand, do things I’ve done a million times so awkwardly you’d think I’d just learned how to operate my body yesterday.

So, after we’d spent an evening drinking and carousing and such, we all stumble off to bed. Being it’s my first night in a strange place, I’m kind of only half sleeping, half listening for crazed intruders, or whatever. Late in the night, I feel a hand on my butt. Pat, pat. I lay there very still, trying to imagine why someone would be patting my butt.

Of course, I drew the only logical conclusion: everyone in the house must switch partners at some point in the night, and now I was being summoned to head on down the hall.

I shut my eyes as tight as I could and tried to think of how I could politely explain to Ms. B’s friends and housemates that, as much as I liked them, I could not up and take on a total stranger at three in the morning.

Pat, pat again.

Now, I was in big trouble. They were being persistant. But also, I was secretly flattered. Maybe someone in the house has specifically requested me.

Pat, pat, one last time. Well, damn it. A girl’s got to take on an adventure now and then, so I sit up, still not sure if I’m going to switch rooms or not and there, at the end of the bed, is Ms. B’s cat, who had, all this time, been the one patting my ass.

Where was I going with this? I’m not sure. Anyway, I wish I still knew folks in Memphis and I wish I could go there often and hang out in old buildings.


My TV Boyfriend

I love Dan Abrams.

I love Dan Abrams because he’s smart and good looking and always makes things I care so little about–Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant–sound like interesting and important matters. I also like he because so few people watch MSNBC that, when I get home from work, slip out of my shoes and onto the couch and turn the TV on, he practically says “Hello, Aunt B. I hope you had a good day at work. Thanks for joining us.” I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a gift basket at the Holidays.

(Just as a side note, dear Miss J., remember the good old days when buying all your books for school from Amazon would insure you’d get a nice mug from them at Christmas?)

I watch a lot of TV news. A lot. I spend my mornings with Robin and Kendis and the gang on Headline News. I come home from work to the aforementioned Dan. At six, I’m watching Jon Stewart and flipping back and forth to Chris Matthews. At seven, I’m watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann. I’m quite possibly the only person in America that watches this much MSNBC.

And, after watching this much MSNBC, I must say that I think the reason their evening lineup is so enticing is because, if you throw a little John Stewart in there, it’s like Boy Band News. You’ve got Dan, the smart one you could bring home to mom; Chris Matthews, the cutey-pie; Jon Stewart, the wise-ass; Keith, the older one; and Joe Scarborough, the scary one.

Literal Boy Band News would be so awesome, especially if there was syncronized dancing. . .

"I have to use self-promotion to promote myself."

On Thursdays, the Butcher and I go out to lunch. Sometimes, he brings his friend, the Redheaded Kid. I love the Redheaded Kid. You can’t not love a person who tries to convince you that he’s a giant and then, when confronted with the fact that he’s not really that much taller than you, looks at you, raises his eyebrows in a conspiratorial manner and says “A baby giant.”

Today, at lunch, I was hoping to discuss my brilliant plan in which anyone buying maxi pads would receive $1 off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, but, sadly, an opportunity never presented itself. Instead, we ended up talking about whether the waitress at our trendy, yet PBR-y bar/restaurant, gave the Redheaded Kid two straws in his Dr Pepper because she a. needed a way to differentiate between the two Diet Cokes and the Dr Pepper or b. could clearly see that the Redheaded Kid was weird and thus needed two straws.

Then, we started talking about what we’d like to happen to us after we die. The Butcher wants to be put in a boat and set on fire and pushed out to sea. I want to not be embalmed so that I explode and rattle around in the coffin and freak out the teenagers who are creeping around the cemetery after dark. But the Redheaded Kid wants to be buried standing up, so that, and I quote “When the Lord comes back and raises us all up, I’ll already be standing and I won’t have to waste the energy.”

My First Post

So, as hinted at, I’ve decided to join the world of blogging. This should aid me in my pursuit of the ultimate American Hobby: Driving Around and Looking at Things. I’ve spent much of my life driving around looking at things–ditches, corn fields, large piles of salt, Robert Johnson’s graves, replicas of the Eiffel tower, etc.–but before now, I’ve never had a forum in which to share the interesting things I see.

Because my job involves presenting a professional persona to the world, I’ll be as vague as possible about what I do, where I do it, and who I do it with. Because my friends are also pretending to be responsible adults, I assume you will also want relative anonymity. So, I’ll probably refer to folks by their professions or their outstanding features. If anyone objects to that, let me know.

I live in a small city in a much-maligned part of the U.S, in a duplex that resembles a box of crackers. In front of me is the interstate, in back, train tracks. Needless to say, it’s not quiet (or classy!).

On the other side of our north wall are The Cute Guy and The Guy who Gets Laid. I don’t know if The Cute Guy also gets laid or not. Once, when the Professor and I were sitting around getting drunk, I invited the cute guy over to have some dessert so I could get him drunk and take advantage of him.

That didn’t really work out.

My brother, The Butcher, lives with me. He’s managed to meet everyone in town, so, if you live here, you probably already know him. He’s the guy who owns 15 Phish shirts and picks political fights with strangers.

We have two cats and a dog. The are mostly unremarkable now that the small cat’s ass hair is growing back. They spend a lot of time sleeping on the couch and sniffing each other. Back when the small cat was bald from the middle of her to her tail, at least she scared the neighbors. Now, they’re not really good for anything. The cats are antisocial and the dog is all elbows and toenails.

So, come to our house and get clawed, scraped up and bruised.