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.

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03.25.09 – Wednesday

Whereabouts: Philadelphia, PA

Word: idiom [id-ee-uhm] noun 1. an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as kick the bucket or hang one’s head, or from the general grammatical rules of a language, as the table round for the round table, and that is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics  2. a language, dialect, or style of speaking peculiar to a people  3. a construction or expression of one language whose parts correspond to elements in another language but whose total structure or meaning is not matched in the same way in another language  4. the peculiar character or genius of a language  5. a distinct style or character, in music, art, etc.: the idiom of Bach

Birthday: Catherine of Siena (1347), Jack Ruby (1911), Howard Cosell (1918), Flannery O’Connor (1925), Jim Lovell (1928), Gloria Steinem (1934), Anita Bryant (1940), Aretha Franklin (1942), Elton John (1947), James McDaniel (1958), Haywood Nelson (1960), Sarah Jessica Parker (1965), Jeff Healey (1966), Doug Stanhope (1967)

Occurrence: 1969John Lennon and Yoko Ono stage their first Bed-In for Peace in the Hilton Amsterdam. People made statements like this often back then. I guess it made sense in those days but, nowadays, I don’t see anyone caring if Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were to do something similar.

Standpoint: Last night, a guy who didn’t want his picture taken threatened me. My good friend, Suzi Simon, asked me to bring my camera to The Chestnut Grill to commemorate its first Karaoke Night. As I’m known to do, I took many pictures of the crowd. I then sat down with my roommate Kate to have a Miller Lite and some wings. A guy tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, can I have a word with you, buddy?” I turned around. “Sure, what’s up?” “Do you wanna sell that camera?” “Nah, it’s not for sale.” “All right, well, if you’re not selling it, I suggest you stop takin’ pictures of me.” “Oh. I’m not taking pictures of just you. I’m taking pictures of the whole crowd.” “Well, you had better stop. I don’t wanna be in no more pictures.” “OK, well, I’m more taking pictures of the people singing. You might’ve been in a couple but again, I’m not taking them specifically of you.” “Just stop takin’ fuckin’ pictures of me, got it?” “Sure.” He walked away and up to his friends who proceeded to stare at Kate and me. Pretty uncomfortable moment. Why am I telling you this story? Because I can’t stand douchebags. They should just stay home. I’m not sure if the dude was out cheating on his wife, or wanted by the law, or whatever. Later, I was talking to one of his buddies who told me that the guy just didn’t want his pictures on the internet. I assured him that would never happen. I created a Facebook album of Suzi’s Karaoke Night. Did I include a picture of Mr. Do-You-Wanna-Sell-That-Camera? You bet. By the way, Suzi’s event was a success. Everyone had a blast.

Quotation: Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heartTecumseh

Digit: 1200 – That’s the number of peanuts it takes to make one 28-ounce jar of peanut butter.

Tune: A great band from the 1990s that nobody but me and my friends seemed to be paying attention to was The Connells. “74-75” is one of the band’s best songs.

Link: The Daily Swarm – Music news site that covers just about every aspect and genre you can conjure.

Gallimaufry: Too funny. Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, has won a NASA contest to have a new room named after him in the international space station. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) said Colbert “won it fair and square – even his campaign was a bit over the top.” Predictably, NASA is reserving the right to name the room whatever the hell it wants to…Don’t read this article in the L.A. Times if you ever want to enjoy a hamburger again…In a post a few weeks back, I mentioned Jonathan Krohn, the nation’s youngest political pundit. Now, read about 12-year old David Fishman, the nation’s youngest food critic.

03.24.09 – Tuesday

Whereabouts: Philadelphia, PA

Word: ubiquitous [yoo-bik-wi-tuhs] adj. existing or being everywhere, especially at the same time; omnipresent

Birthday: Harry Houdini (1874), Ub Iwerks (1901), Thomas Dewey (1902), Clyde Barrow (1909), Joseph Barbera (1911), Gorgeous George (1915), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919), Norman Fell (1924), Steve McQueen (1930), Bob Mackie (1940), Nick Lowe (1949), Tommy Hilfiger (1951), Robert Carradine (1954), Kelly LeBrock (1960), Star Jones Reynolds (1962), Annabella Sciorra (1964), The Undertaker (1965), Lara Flynn Boyle (1970), Megyn Price (1972), Alyson Hannigan (1974), Peyton Manning (1976)

Occurrence: 1958Elvis Presley gets inducted into the army. I still think it’s strange that this happened. I know The King was drafted but do you think any celebrity today would actually do this at the height of their career? I tend to think no.

Standpoint: Last Friday, March 20th, was the first day of Spring. Around Philadelphia, it was cold outside. And this perplexed many people who, I guess, had it marked down on their calendar as the day to dust-off the flip-flops and shorts. “What the hell? I thought its Spring.” “It’s not that warm out. Winter is supposed to be over.” “I was all psyched to wear my new sandals today but it’s too cold and I had to wear my regular shoes.” This is just a mere sampling of comments I overheard last Friday. Apparently, many individuals were disappointed by the weather’s refusal to cooperate with their desire to “finally drive to work with the windows down.” In this Age of Entitlement, we even expect Mother Nature to do what we think is “right” and “totally fair.”

Quotation: Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters. Neil Gaiman

Digit: 13 – Number of cities and towns in the USA named Philadelphia. Besides the one in Pennsylvania there is one each in Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico and New York. There are two each in Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Tune: When I was younger and out in social situations, I often thought of “Halloween” by matt pond PA. Take a listen and you might know what I mean.

Link: Phinally Philly – An absolutely spectacular blog about Philadelphia sports.

Gallimaufry: Paul Berry, CTO of the Huffington Post, offers his opinion of the Facebook redesign that everyone (including me) has been deliberating to the point of exhaustion. A little bit of a different take…Kids can be cruel. Read all about one family who has launched a national campaign to educate high school students about “sexting”…In India, Tata Motors has announced that their Nano, the world’s cheapest car, will hit roads in July. It’s small and only costs 100,000 rupee ($1980)…Tonight, if you’re gonna be near the Chestnut Hill area in Philadelphia PA, make sure to stop by The Chestnut Grill for its first Karaoke Night run by my good friend Suzi Simon. Starts at 9pm. Plus, I’ll be there so that should be enough reason for you to come out.