04.27.09 – Monday

Word: somnolent [som-nuh-luhnt] adj. 1. sleepy; drowsy 2. tending to cause sleep: For him, the opera was a somnolent experience.

Birthday: Mary Wollstonecraft (1759), Samuel F.B. Morse (1791), Ulysses S. Grant (1822), Jack Klugman (1922), Casey Kasem (1932), August Wilson (1945), Frank William Abagnale Jr. (1948), Kate Pierson (1948), Ace Frehley (1951), Sheena Easton (1959)

Occurence: 1810Beethoven composes Für Elise.

Standpoint: Over this past weekend, I walked into a bar. That’s not the intro to a joke. But the end result was funny. I had unsuspectingly entered the sometimes-strange, occasionally-uncomfortable but always-entertaining world of karaoke.

If you’re between the age of 21 and 120, you’ve inevitably experienced this Japanese form of entertainment. Admit it. Whether an active participant or an amused onlooker, you’ve attended – on purpose or by accident – what Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy called “a karaoke jam.” If you’ve never been, you are either (a) living in some cave on a very high mountain or (b) overly concerned with maintaining your “too-cool-for-karaoke” status. (If you fall into one of those two categories, I congratulate you, albeit for very different reasons.)

In any case, if you’re one of the billions who have actually witnessed it live, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed what I have. No matter where or in what kind of place it takes place, watching karaoke will always brings out the following types of individuals:

  • “The Trailblazer” – This person gets up to sing first because he or she is either (a) dared by friends to do it, or (b) the self-desrcibed “life of the party.” Most likely, the rendition is not awful but “The Ham” is in no danger of being hounded by record label executives. Probable Song Selection: Something by Madonna or Journey.
  • “The Pro” – For the first few songs, you’ll most likely witness this person, sitting with a small group of friends (if any), and stoically analyzing the participants like Simon Cowell. When his or her name is called to step up to microphone, “The Pro” will rise with limited fanfare, walk confidently towards the front and belt out the lyrics. The performance is much better than what been offered so far and most in attendance will turn to a friend and give a look that says, “Hey, this ain’t so bad.” At the end of the song, he or she receives a loud cheer while walking unassumingly back to his or her chair. Probable song selection: Something by Celine Dion or Billy Joel. [Note: Inescapably, “The Pro” will become less and less appreciated over the course of the night due to everyone getting drunker and realizing they have more fun when people suck. After many drinks, “The Pro” is more commonly referred to as “that fucking showoff who keeps singing the sappy songs.”]
  • “The Badass” – Usually a male, this character brings a certain machismo to the mic. His attitude is a mixture of “I’m the greatest,” and “Karaoke is for douchebags.” The beers and shots have gotten the better of him, and he’s decided to show the crowd how it’s done. The song completed, he’ll usually shove the microphone back at the DJ or simply drop it on the ground before strutting off the stage. Shooting the middle finger to all gathered is optional but not a requirement for “The Badass.” Probable Song Selection: Metallica or Guns ‘N’ Roses. Maybe Poison.
  • “The Giggler” – Opposite of “The Badass,” this is commonly a woman or, more accurately, a group of women who’ve collectively gathered the nerve to take the stage after a very long conversation in which, “I’ll go up there if you do,” is uttered close to 900 times. The ladies will take the stage with the best intentions but only two of them will actually sing the song. The other three will look out at the crowd and laugh with hands over their faces. For both the participants and observers, the performance can’t end soon enough. Probable Song Selection: Britney Spears or Cyndi Lauper.
  • “The Longshot” – During the course of the night, there is always a dark horse. Someone who gets up and sings dreadfully but possesses a certain characteristic like being older than everyone else or being cute in a non-traditional way. The crowd will rally around  and spur him or her on. This is unique to karaoke because it’s the only time someone can do something worse than everyone else and get the loudest round of applause. For one night, “The Longshot” is the most popular person in the place.  Our common love of the underdog combined with our penchant for overindulging in booze makes this possible. Probably Song Selection: Frank Sinatra or Neil Diamond.
  • “The Almost” – Wastes the entire night by going back and forth on whether to get up and sing and will annoy practically everyone by polling them on if he or she should, “just get up there and do it.” Never getting the needed encouragement due to the fact that no one really gives a shit, his or her attention will be turned toward becoming the drunkest person in bar (who didn’t sing).

The one undeniable fact about karaoke is that its huge popularity is owed directly to massive consumption of alcoholic beverages. Without booze, karaoke doesn’t exist.

Quotation: Life is something that happens when you can’t go to sleep. Fran Lebowitz

Tune: On every mix CD I’ve made in the past 5 years, Pinback‘s “Fortress” has eventually made it on to each one of them.

Gallimaufry: Britain’s Got Talent‘s Susan Boyle getting a makeover or Simon Cowell’s response to it? It was a dead heat in the battle of news items I couldn’t care less about…Lollapalooza announced its 2009 lineup. Along with the obvious acts (Depeche Mode, Beastie Boys, Jane’s Addiction), some of the chosen (Band of Horses, The Manchester Orchestra, Bon Iver, Andrew Bird) make me feel like the organizers are purposely trying to get me in Chicago this August 7-9…Only in this day and age can something like a cruise ship fighting off a bunch of Somali pirates be spun as a negative against the good guys.

Incoming: As I wrote last week, I moved this weekend. I’m a little behind in terms of being organized for this week’s posts. Stay tuned for more details.

04.15.09 – Wednesday

Word: claque [klak] n. 1. a group of persons hired to applaud an act or performer 2. a group of sycophants

Birthday: Leonardo da Vinci (1453), Henry James (1843), Bessie Smith (1894), Roy Clark (1933), Emma Thompson (1959), Linda Perry (1965), Samantha Fox (1966), Seth Rogen (1982)

Occurence: 1755Samuel Johnson‘s A Dictionary of the English Langauge is published in London.

Standpoint: Recently, I found StumbleUpon (or “SU“). I’d seen the SU icon on various sites, so I wanted to find out what it was all about. I signed up for a free account. Touting itself as “the best way to discover things you like on the web,” StumbleUpon is both (a) a very unique way to explore the internet, and (b) an incredibly simple way to waste three hours of your life. After signing up and completing my profile, I was asked to pick my favorite “Topics.” There’s a bunch to choose from. After clicking everything that interested me, and installing the SU toolbar on my internet browser, I was ready to “Start Stumbling.”

Below is a list of the first ten web sites I “stumbled upon.”

1. Things People Said: Courtroom Quotations – A site that finds funny or embarrassing statements made during courtroom trials. This was a good way to start it off. Some of the quotations were pretty entertaining. (Example: A lawyer asks the question, “How far apart were the vehicles at the time of the collision?”) Grade: B+
2. Bibliomania: Free Online Literature and Study Guides – Sites like this seem to come up frequently on SU. Probably pretty handy for high school and college students but just because I picked “Literature” as one of my Topics doesn’t mean I want to read David Copperfield online. Grade: C-
3. Viralnerd.com Random Photo – A three-panel cartoon of The Mario Brothers applying for a job to rescue a captured princess. They get the job when they write the word “Super” above the words “Mario Bros.” on their business card. I don’t know. I’m not buying it. Grade: D
4. Bookstove.com: Why I Hate Twilight – A 95-item list of “reasons why you shouldn’t read Twilight posted by a Bookstove.com user. I’ve never read the book. Or seen the movie. I can’t hold that against this particular site. I suspect that if you know anything about Twilight, the list is meaningful. The page took, what I thought to be, an inordinate amount of time to load. Grade: B+
5. Word Perhect – Confusing. I was asked three different questions with multiple options, none of which made sense. After I did what it asked, a word-processing template came up with my results in the text area. This might be useful to someone, somewhere. But I don’t see how. Grade: F
6. TimeTicker and the Time Tickers – This would be an awful name for a musical act, but as a web site, it’s kind of cool. It allows you to find the time anywhere in the world. I found it useful because it allowed me to finally figure out how to correctly set the time on my WordPress profile. Only problem was an annoying pop-up. Grade: A-
7. Authspot.com: Whispers Softly – A poem named “Whispers Softly” by someone calling themselves FJ McCarthy. Not a huge poetry fan, but I know a good poem when I read one. Good job, FJ. Grade: A
8. Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines – Tons of information here. I really like this site. I added it to my RSS feed. Grade: A+
9. CatStuff: Cat Facts and Trivia – A list of facts, some historical trivia and diet tips. All for cats. Dog people probably won’t like this site. Grade: B
10. Random Photograph from NationalGeographic.com – Beautiful aerial shot of Chicago at night. This happens a lot on SU. Random photography is a good way to kill time. But not very useful. Unless you’re from Chicago and want a kickass background for your laptop. Grade: C+

All of that took me about 10 minutes. What did I get out of the StumbleUpon experience? Well, I did find some useful information (see Truthdig and TimeTicker). I found some completely useless junk (see Word Perhect and Viralnerd’s Random Photo). And I found some cool stuff to read and look at (see Things People Said: Courtroom Quotations and CatStuff). 

The only negative issue I encountered during my “stumbling” was that my computer slowed down significantly while using the toolbar. Overall, though, I’m happy with how it all turned out. I’ll use it again. 

Quotation: How would you like a job where, every time you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?Jacques Plante, former NHL goaltender

Tune: I heard “Call and Response” by Or, the Whale a short time after the Hurricane Katrina disaster. I think it’s a great thing when a song can convey how an entire group of people is feeling. Bonus: Or, the Whale looks like it rocks in concert.

Gallimaufry: Recently, Jamie Foxx slammed Miley Cyrus during his radio show after he learned that the teenage superstar said she was “going to ruin” the band Radiohead after they refused to meet with her at the Grammy’s. In an attempt to demonstrate how insignificant he thought she was, Foxx advised Cyrus, who was not present, to “make a sex tape” and “do some heroin.” Probably out of line. Last night, Foxx publicly apologized to Cyrus on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Fair enough. Now, where’s Cyrus’ apology to Radiohead?…For all you bloggers out there wondering if frequent posting will increase your traffic, read “Blog Post Frequency Results” from Life of Justin: The Blog of a Digital NomadNewt Gingrich eyeing a possible run at the Presidency in 2012? I like it. President Obama won’t even have to campaign to get another four years. Thanks, Newt.

Incoming: TomorrowAnnoying Sayings and Misused Words. Friday3 Things To Do in Philadelphia When You’re Dead and 5 People I Wish Would Move To Another Planet. And for those of you who have been giving me One-Word Movie Title suggestions on Twitter and Facebook, fear not. Monday’s post will reveal the results of that data.

Lastly: Let’s Go Flyers!