Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

January 24, 2016

What I did on my holidays – Summer 2015-16

I’ve been having one of those summer holidays that I will probably look back on in the future and think “That went well”.

Well, no I won’t, because I have a terrible memory for dates and what-happened-when. But in theory I could look back on it with something approaching a sense of accomplishment. I’m pretty happy with some of these highlights:

House renovations – We’ve now owned our fixer-upper house for over ten years. We’re still fixing it up, and in the forthcoming years\ we will be replacing all the flooring and at least one of the bathrooms. By comparison, painting a few patches of the vast unrenovated expanse of our external walls is a trivial enterprise. But it still feels good to have just about finished painting all of the parts of the house which are visible from the street. At least the place appears to casual passers-by to be occupied , and not at all like a drug den impounded by the cops and forgotten in an administrative bungle.

Bass guitar – My Xmas gift to myself was to buy a copy of the PC game Rocksmith 2014, which is a guitar tutorial program dressed up as a game. You jack a real electric guitar (or in my case my buddy Simon’s old bass guitar) into the computer to learn basic techniques, whole songs and tricky passages. So far I am reasonably accomplished at playing Def Leppard’s genuinely awful “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (no link provided). I’m working hard to beat that by mastering some song that would constitute an accomplishment to be proud of, like “Every Breath You Take” by The Police.

After about five weeks of fairly solid practice, I can report that I am (a) getting better but by no means good and (b) developing tough callouses on the fingers where before I had numbness and/or pain. Rock and roll stardom awaits! (as soon as I beat the tutorial on doing slide notes up and down the neck of the guitar. Those are hard). Anyway, Rocksmith gets my recommendation as well. Short of paying for lessons, it really does seem to be a very effective way to learn how to play guitar.

Songwriting – Continuing on the musical theme, I wrote some song lyrics for the first time in ages these holidays. It’s something I do on and off, just for something different. My lyrics tend to languish undeveloped unless I can convince Evan (my songwriting buddy and about the only personal I know with any real music skills) to work out an arrangement for them. This year I plan to take advantage of my slowly-growing mastery of bass and ukulele to teach myself basic song-writing. Don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict a YouTube channel on anyone – I still have both a terrible voice and prohibitive performance anxiety – but I’m a step closer to my goal of being able to write a whole song, not just the words.

Flash fiction – I wrote something! And finished it! I’m working on the Conflux 12 organising committee again this year. As part of the promotion for the con, the Chair will be sending out publicity in the not-too-distant future. I’ve written a story with my take on this year’s theme “Red Fire Monkey”, which will appear as part of the publicity report. For posterity’s sake, I will note that the story is a rare instance of me writing straight science fiction.

Holidays in the Hunter – Our family holiday this year included a bunch of families, staying at the delightful Lovedale Cottages in the Hunter Valley. Fifteen of us, including five kids and a three-month-old baby, snuggled up together in warm, cosy cottages as the Hunter was hammered with five days of torrential downpours that threatened to leave us trapped by rising flood waters. Fortunately the pool was indoors and heated, and in reality most of the really heavy rain was well away from us. Still, it was a bit of a wet holiday. I can recommend the Lovedale Cottages though – they have a tennis court, the aforementioned indoor pool, a golf course (!) and are very comfortably appointed in a distinctly rustic style. Especially great for big group holidays.

Granola! – Every time we travel, we inevitably end up eating breakfast at cafes once in a while. And when we do, I will automatically order one of two things (aside from coffee, which obviously goes without saying). Either I will get the eggs benedict, – because you can always judge the quality of a cafe by their attention to detail in hollandaise sauce and also because I love eggs benedict – or, if I feel as though I have been eating nothing but garbage over the course of the holiday I will pretend to be virtuous by ordering a granola with yoghurt and possibly some fruit or berries. It’s embarrassing really, but I excuse myself because neither is a meal I would make at home.

Which got me thinking, why not? And so I did the minimum possible research to discover that, in fact, granola is dreadfully simple to make. So I now have a personalised granola recipe, cobbled together from fifteen or so granola recipes I found on the internet. (This article in the Guardian about finding the perfect granola was the primary source – the beaten egg white trick seems to be the killer ingredient, although it does make my granola non-vegan, so your mileage may vary).Incidentally, my search for ingredients has taken me into a number of “natural foods” stores. If you see me in one, don’t worry: I don’t need a paleo intervention. I just need to be directed to the barley.

Anyway, the point being granola is delicious. Don’t skimp on the almonds and hazlenuts.

December 7, 2015

The building of habits

I write best when I write frequently.  I’ve figured that much out about my process [1].

The last few months writing have been like extracting hen’s teeth from an angry wolverine – painful and pointless. I’ve committed maybe a couple of thousand words of new text to paper in about four months. It’s been my longest fallow period since I started taking writing seriously again. (Not, I might add, my longest fallow period ever, for which see the years 1990 to 2002 or so). Certainly it was flat compared to the preceding 18 months though.

The difference was, I let myself have days off from writing – days that turned into weeks and months and would probably have lapsed into years if I didn’t do something. And luckily something came along that helped: a few weeks ago I read this article by Mary Robinette Kowal linking writer’s block to depression. Go read it, it’s a good article.

Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t and don’t think I was suffering from depression. I am pretty sure I know what that feels like, thanks to several years of undiagnosed sleep apnoea and a sleep debt that could have put a fair-sized dent in a herd of elephants. Maybe I was a clinical case and maybe I wasn’t, but I got a clear enough glimpse of the real thing to know its general shape. But the article did give me a none-too-gentle slap across the face, woke me up and made me ask myself: “Is there something wrong?”

Even though I wasn’t writing much if at all, the idea that I had writer’s block never quite occurred to me until I read the article. And yet MKR’s list of typical expressions of writer’s block – the tiredness, the procrastination, the busywork and the general faffing about – were a straight checklist of all the avoidance behaviours I’ve been steadily accumulating since I stopped writing. That was back around the start of August.

I realised the obvious at once, which is that I had lost all momentum. I need momentum as a writer. I need to feel like I’m building steadily, getting faster and sharper and…you get the idea. When I don’t have that momentum, the gravity’s a killer. When I have to pick myself up and get going after coming to a dead stop, I feel like Jon Snow at the foot of the Wall, wondering how in the hell I’m going to get over the top, knowing there’s an army of ice zombies at my back.

I may have carried that analogy too far. Or maybe not far enough. It’s more like I’m the ice zombie, but in that case I’m not sure how to work the Wall into this and anyway never mind that right now.

MKR’s article also included several elements of what I hope will be the solution to freezing up mid-shamble (Stop that!)

First – Mary’s article mentions Habitica, a very basic roleplaying web app that effectively gamifies habit-building behaviour. Down at its core, Habitica’s core gameplay is building checklists and then ticking things off. Boring and artificial as that sounds – and is! – it’s an idea that works very well for me. I’m someone that responds strongly to making lists of things to do and then methodically ticking them off. To put it another way, an unfinished list of even trivial importance is a source of anxiety to me. So a game that rewards me for checking stuff off and sits there glowing judgmentally redly when I don’t is an embarrassingly effective brain hacking tool.

As a bonus, slavish adherence to checklists also encourages me to make sure I get all the other work around the house done as fast as possible.

Second – I’m back to exercising. I have a fairly light workout routine that mostly works the abdominal core. It only takes a few minutes and I can easily do it a couple of times a day. Supplemented with walks of thirty-plus minutes, which I manage a few times a week, I have a decent basis for at least building a bit of strength and endurance, if not necessarily shedding the winter kilos. It’s a tone-up, not a crash course in muscle building and cardio bullshit. Keeping it tight.

Third – At my height, I was writing 750 or more words per day. When I stopped, that dropped to not much more than a couple of hundred words on the few days I could manage anything at all. In the months when I was blocked, I would berate myself for not coming even close to what I knew to be an achievable target. But what I’d forgotten is that it took me months of gradually acceleration to get to that pace. It was deeply unrealistic of me to expect that I could just tool up to top speed without starting in first gear again. I’d stall, and be surprised and disappointed in myself, instead of acknowledging that stalling is the only outcome I should have expected.

So I’m giving myself a break – 100 words a day. I know that as I ease myself back into the habit of daily writing, I’ll start cranking out more. But I’ll start with the consistency, because I know that it works for me.

Fourth – I’m playing musical instruments. I have access to ukuleles and a bass guitar. I’m teaching myself how to play them using fingering charts and Youtube videos. It’s surprisingly fulfilling, even if my fingers hurt very much at the moment.

So that’s me. That’s my summer planned out. I’m getting my words back, I’m going to finish this damn first draft of the novel, and I’m going to replenish my short story stocks. And I’m going to be able to play along to the Gorillaz’ “Feelgood Inc”, even if it costs me a finger or two.

 

[1] I promise not to describe it as a process again, at least not until I finish my MFA and the lobotomy bandages have been removed.

July 13, 2015

Progress report – Bad ideas abound

In retrospect I should have realised that aiming to finish my novel in July would be a terrible idea. That’s the time of the year when I have to manage my abnormally complex tax affairs. Work’s never busier than around the end of financial year. There’s school holidays. I’m the treasurer of a club with non-trivial membership and assets. And – oh shit, I completely forgot that the Ashes are being played in the UK at relatively viewable times of the evening.

Thinking about that now, and making the observation – obvious with hindsight – that I tend to approach complex jobs (like writing a novel) with a foot-dragging air of desperate procrastination, I probably could have planned this better. As I should have expected, I’ve left myself with a fifteen to twenty-thousand word sprint to complete in the next two-and-change weeks.

That would be challenging enough, but on top of that the process of writing the novel has (also predictably) caused me to depart from my original outline in fairly significant ways. So now instead of racing towards the finish line on a well-mapped track with safety rails, I’m rallying about in the dark with dodgy headlights and a drunk navigator. I could still cross the finish line on time, but it’s difficult to see how it might happen on purpose.

Still, it is do-able, and I have something that at least resembles a plan. I will allocate at least part of every day – typically lunchtimes – to rebuilding the outline. That will help to make sure that when I sit down to write each session, I won’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what the  scene will be about etc. And because the act of writing invariably steers me off-course with respect to the outline, I need to make sure that the re-outlining process occurs as regularly (or almost so) as the writing sessions themselves.

Currently I am writing at a rate of about 5000 words a week (on the novel). To get to where I want to be that number will have to rise to about 8000 a week.

I can do that.

 

In other news

I am currently reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty for a couple of reasons: one, because the library sent me a recommendation to do so; two, because I know enough about economics to know what an economic illiterate I am and I do like to have a better grasp of why the world works as it does; and three, because I have let my non-fiction reading skills atrophy over the last few years and this looks like a serious workout in that respect. So far I am following it pretty well – Piketty takes the time to explain his terms and then remind the reader what they meant, but otherwise does not refrain from diving into fairly complex matters. It also helps that I am at least passingly familiar with the last three hundred years of European history, so I understand the basic context that he is examining. I’ll get back with a proper book report after I’m finished.

I know eight chords on the tenor ukelele now. Not all of them are single-finger chords. (Two of them are). While I can feel myself making good progress, I haven’t advanced to the point of trying to work out how to play an actual song yet. STILL I am being a musician again for the first time in more than ten years. Assuming it continues to feel good, at some point I will promote myself to learning to play the bass guitar (ie an instrument that does not sound terrible to play).

I devoted four late nights to the cricketing debacle in Cardiff last week (and would have thrown last night’s sleep into the mix as well had the Australian capitulation not be so complete). Even though the prospects are grim of a reversal of fortunes for the Lord’s Test starting on Thursday, I will be doing to same again this week. I fear that if even the lumbering doldrums displayed by the likes of Watson and Haddin cannot break my addiction to watching cricket, then my condition must be both acute and incurable.

November 12, 2014

NotNaNo Day 12 – MGMT

Most of my writing time today was taken up with other office and job hunting work, but I got a decent (if short) stint in first thing in the morning. Today I pressed ahead with Third Violin, which is coming together nicely, and finished off a scene from Serpentine Precipice. I hope I’ll finish Violin by the end of the weekend, or if not then early next week. I also critiqued a few stories and have a couple more on my plate to get to.

The only point of differentiation for today was that I tested out some new writing music. By and large I can’t listen to anything with lyrics in it while I’m writing, because I get distracted by the lyrics. Movie soundtracks are also difficult, because what I thought about the movie bleeds into the writing. But on my pal Evan’s long-ago recommendation, I tried out a couple of MGMT albums. Turns out that easy-listening electronica with vaguely etheral singing is right up my alley. So I will be picking up their remaining works in due course, and in the meantime playing the hell out of Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations.

Tally: 580

Total word count for the month: 6980

That’s the problem with taking an interest in drama. It’s addictive.

September 9, 2014

Bass lines

Filed under: musical challenge — Tags: , — lexifab @ 12:18 am

I got dragged into a YouTube rabbit hole today, thanks to a random tweet about the drummer from Oasis.

(The following has nothing whatsoever to do with Oasis, so do feel free to read on).

Due to one click and another, I started listening to recordings of popular music with a single instrument isolated. Just the drums, just the keyboards and – eventually – just the bass.

One track in particular impressed me with its unexpected virtuosity – Duran Duran’s John Taylor on bass for ‘Rio’. Check this out:

I’ve never particularly thought of ‘Rio’ as one of the Duranies’ more complicated pieces so it came as a bit of a shock that there’s so much going on, hidden away in the background. All the flash and glitter of the warbling vocals, guitar stings and obligatory 80’s saxophones provide impenetrable cover for what is a pretty complex bass part. Drums too, probably, but let’s not get sidetracked.

Once I started listening to these isolated bass parts, I realised I’ve been unconsciously maligning the bass as ‘the easy instrument’ for more or less ever. As long as you can keep time and remember when to change key on your four-note sequence, you’re gold, or so I imagined. Then I listened to Bootsy Collins doing slap bass (or John Entwhistle from The Who, or John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, or Flea, or Sting, or McCartney or a million other people I’ve never heard of because they’re the bass player) and it slowly occurred to me that maybe there might be a bit more to it than that.

At this point certain friends of mine who may have played bass for decades will likely roll their eyes and wonder why it’s taken me so long to figure this out. In my defense, my hearing’s probably not as good as it should be in the lower ranges, so I often find it very difficult to pick a bass line out of an arrangement.

So it’s become clear to me that the bass line is the glue that holds a whole song together. Bass isn’t flashy. In a typical band, the bass players doesn’t get as much attention as the lead guitarist or vocalist (although at least they get to stand in front of the drummer, so they have that in their favour). They just hang back, downstage, doing their thing and getting the job done without too much fuss.

I think I might have finally discovered my spirit instrument.

May 21, 2014

Every Bond Theme Ever

Filed under: geekery,musical challenge — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 3:43 pm

Prompted by a series of random Twitter comments from Chris Sims of the War Rocket Ajax podcast, and a lack of anything better to do of a Wednesday afternoon at my dead-man-walking job, I decided to rank the theme songs from every James Bond film (except the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) in objective, indisputable order. You’re welcome.

(I give all due credit to Sims and his podcast partner Matt D. Wilson, who are conducting a year-long project to rank superhero comic stories, which is a lot harder than this has been)

I will take questions in the comments section.

 

Every Bond Theme Ever

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Instrumental (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney (Live and Let Die)

A View to a Kill – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill)

You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (Casino Royale)

You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice)

Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever)

The World is Not Enough – Garbage (The World is Not Enough)

Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger)

GoldenEye – Tina Turner (Goldeneye)

Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall)

All Time High – Rita Coolidge (Octopussy)

Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Surrender – k.d. lang (Tomorrow Never Dies)

From Russian With Love – Matt Monroe (From Russia With Love)

The Living Daylights – A-ha (The Living Daylights)

For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only)

Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (Moonraker)

We Have All the Time in the World – Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

The Man With the Golden Gun – Lulu (The Man with the Golden Gun)

Thunderball – Tom Jones (Thunderball)

Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies)

Underneath The Mango Tree – Diana Coupland/Monty Norman (Doctor No)

Licence to Kill – Gladys Knight (Licence to Kill)

Another Way to Die – Jack White and Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace)

Die Another Day – Madonna (Die Another Day)

 

Not ranked:

James Bond Theme – Monty Norman (All of them) – disqualified on grounds of ubiquity and essentiality

If There Was a Man – Chrissie Hynde (The Living Daylights) – unranked because I just cannot remember it at all, but if it’s Chrissie Hynde then it will for sure be at or near the top ten mark.

November 19, 2013

TMoRP Day 20 – Alpocalypse by Weird Al Yankovic

Despite the fact that I can never type his name right on the first attempt, I’m a lifelong fan of Weird Al Yankovic. So’s my buddy Ev (who bought me my first album ‘Weird Al Yankovic in 3D’ for my thirteenth birthday, and thus ruined me for popular music for life). I recently picked up a copy of Al’s thirteeth studio album Alpocalypse for Ev, and, as is our mutual habit, I wrote a track by track review to send along with it.

Now, I have to say this doesn’t really qualify as relentlessly positive, because not every track did much for me. But! My adoration for the works of WAY remain undiminished, despite the passage of decades of fandom (and the awfulness of parts of his mid-nineties output).

Yay for Weird Al! Yay for musicians you like, even if everybody else has formed the (demonstrably false) impression that they are rubbish. (Because hey, Duran Duran put out an album a year or two ago as well, and it was good, dammit!)

(more…)

February 4, 2012

Dare to be Stupid

Filed under: geekery,musical challenge,the interweb she provides,trolling — lexifab @ 1:36 am

These days when I delve into the pages of that venerable commentator on American music and culture, Rolling Stone Magazine, it’s invariably for the political analysis, which is a bit like claiming to only read Playboy for the articles. Nevertheless there are rare occasions when it manages to pierce the rigid carapace of indifference to music I’ve built up over a couple of decades or so of inattention. There is one musician out there about whom I continue to Have Strong Opinions.

I’m speaking, of course, of my hero and spirit guide, Albert Matthew ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, the undisputed comedy folk-rock piano-accordianist champion of all time. To celebrate the release of his landmark intermittently-outstanding 13th studio album AlpocalypseRolling Stone recently ran a reader’s poll to ascertain once and for all which songs – from a catalogue spanning more than a hundred songs over more than 30 years – are his top ten best songs.

Unsurprisingly, they mostly got it wrong. If I may smugly namecheck a Weird Al song in order to score a cheap internet-point, ‘Close but No Cigar’, people.

Oh sure, they managed to display the odd patch of good taste and common sense amongst their so-called “best of” picks. So why of why did they have to go and despoil a perfectly good list by rounding it out with the bland, the obvious and the tediously popular? See, this is why crowdsourcing is going to ruin culture.

You know what it means when there’s someone wrong on the internet, right? I’m gonna have to school them ignoramuses, track by track. Listen up.

Number 10: One More Minute. Okay, look, tens-of-thousands-of-RollingStone-readers. Here’s where you went wrong right off the bat. Al’s doo-wop ballad lamenting the breakdown of a relationship is NOT the tenth-best thing he ever wrote. It’s THE best. Come on, people. Now, there are going to be people who argue that this is not Al’s best song, nor even a good one. What can I say? There are people who will argue that the sun’s not coming up tomorrow if someone else asserts it on the internet. Those people are unaware of – or conveniently forgetting – that ‘One More Minute’ selflessly contributes one of modern culture’s finest entendres – I’m stranded all alone at the gas station of love/And I have to use the self-service pumps – and that this is the least of its comedic achievements. I will say no more. If this song cannot find a place in your top five, your education is sadly incomplete.

Number 9: All About the Pentiums. Oh. My. Meh! This is just ridiculous. There are times when Al can effortlessly demonstrate what it takes to be at the top of the parody game. This inexplicable hit is not one of those times. First rule of sound-alike novelty songs: start with a good song. Puff Daddy’s inferior doggerel about the shallow pursuit of the appearance of wealth may have been rather popular in 1997. Is it still a respected classic of the hip-hop genre? I haven’t heard it on my shitty local FM golden oldies station recently! Getting back to Al, there’s certainly good material here – making fun of nerds and being a nerd is a rich vein to mine, and not particularly one I have a problem with. There’s some good jokes – What kind of chip you got in there, a Dorito? and You’re just about as useless as jpegs to Helen Keller – but the rapping’s sketchy and the jokes are scattershot and fail to build to anything. Everything weak about this song he got right ten times over with ‘White and Nerdy’.

Number 8: Smells Like Nirvana. This is more like it. Starting from a strong base – the so-called anthem for an entire generation – and working from a good premise – nobody understands any of the words of the so-called anthem of a generation – Al turned Nirvana’s crashy slacker masterpiece around on itself. It’s hard to bargle nardle zous/With all these marbles in my mouth. Al’s (insane, contrarian) critics often make the claim that all his songs are about food, but really only a handful are. It’s just that these happened to have included two of his biggest hits, ‘Eat It’ and ‘Fat’. (Kurt Cobain famously almost declined his permission for the parody because he thought it would be about food). This, arguably his best parody, aims a little higher, making fun of the original song and its performers, with outstanding success. The recent ‘Perform this Way’, sending up the fact that Lady Gaga is a dead-set loon, succeeds at this as well, though not so sublimely. The ‘Nirvana’ lyrics are perfect – Well we don’t sound like Madonna/Here we are now, we’re Nirvana/Sing distinctly, we don’t wanna – the instrumentation is a precise recreation of the drums-and-feedback Nirvana sound and the shot-for-shot video clip manages to ridicule and laud the original at the same time. This is a great song about a great song that sounds just like it. Meta.

Number 7: Dare to Be Stupid. Nearly everybody knows that Weird Al Yankovic is famous for comically substituting his own lyrics to a well-known piece of music. This other thing he does is to parody a famous band’s signature sound, producing a song that is likely to be indistinguishable from the rest of that band’s output (except those bands that are unlikely to be singing jokes about food, the internet or being a terrible relationship partner). ‘Dare to be Stupid’ is a sharp imitation of Devo at the height of their fame (i.e. post-‘Whip It’) and stylistically it sticks the landing. But the joke – bad advice offered to stupid people – wears out fast. There are many better examples of Al’s style-parodies. He’s done at least  of them (three on the latest album). The best include ‘Dog Eat Dog’ – which would be one of my favourite Talking Heads songs if they had anything to do with it – ‘Germs’ (Nine Inch Nails, as if Trent Reznor hadn’t passed the point some years ago of self-parody), and ‘Everything You Know is Wrong’, which really could be a They Might Be Giants song. He’s even done two songs in the style of the Beach Boys – ‘Trigger Happy’ apes their early surfboards-and-hotrods style and ‘Pancreas’ is a lost track from Pet Sounds. Here’s what I think – it’s the cheesy direct-to-comedy parodies that attracts Al’s wider audience, but it’s the style parodies that the fans come back for.

Number 6: Yoda. A contender for top three, without a doubt. Al’s first foray into Star Wars filk-singing was to convert ‘Lola’, The Kinks’ classic song about picking up a transsexual in a bar, into a recap of Luke Skywalker’s Dagobah training montage. Sure, it was dated almost the minute came out, but it still holds up (possibly because it calls back to the one inarguably good movie in the entire Star Wars series). Al’s been finishing his shows with this song one and off for 25 years. That’s because it’s great. And because everyone loves chanting the Yo-yo-yo-yo-Yoda bit.

Number 5: The Saga Begins. Oof. First up, it’s a terrible name, yes, but it would have been more terrible to try to cram one of George Lucas’ awful planet names (Coruscant or Tattooine would have been the contenders, I guess) into a joke renaming of ‘American Pie’. Forget that, though, because by Al’s standards this is a pretty ordinary parody. Considering the Maclean song is one of the most recognisable dirges in American music, many of Al’s lyrics don’t match up with the scanning of the original. Worse, it’s just a retelling of The Phantom Menace, which is bad because it’s a retelling of The Phantom Menace, a story we could really have done without being told even once. TSB does score points for its great final verse, which sums up in four lines what it takes George Lucas nearly an hour to depict onscreen – And in the end some Gunguns died/Some ships blew up and some pilots fried/A lot of folks were croakin’/The battle droids were broken. Lucas could wish he still had that kind of storytelling economy. It perhaps deserves some admiration too for being released just after the movie premiered – Al wrote it solely on the basis of what he could pick up from preview trailers, internet spoilers and sheer guesswork. But there’s no need for more than one Star Wars-related song on the list of any right-thing Al fan. ‘Saga’ falls well short of ‘Yoda’.

Number 4: Eat It. Here’s what I think happened with the Rolling Stone survey. I think it’s just faintly possible that the vast majority of people who responded to it had never listened to a Weird Al album at all! I know, right? They remember seeing this on TV back in 1984 and thought “Yeah, that was funny I’ll vote for that.” Because…durrr.

‘Eat it’ is the crass and obvious choice of the ill-educated oik who thinks parody songs need to be about food and contain belching sound effects. On an unrelated observation, ‘Eat It’ was number one on the Australian music charts and nowhere else in the world. Let me tell you – not only is this not the fourth best Weird Al song, it’s not even the best song on the ‘Eat It’ album (‘Midnight Star’ is). Hell, it’s not even the fourth best parody song on the album: ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘Theme from Rocky XIII’, ‘King of Suede’  and ‘I Lost on Jeopardy’ are all flat-out better, funnier songs. Go to hell, ‘Eat It’.

Number 3: Albuquerque. Then again, there’s this – an insane, 11-minute rambling anecdote about starting a new life in New Mexico, boxes of weasels and…hell, I duno. It’s weird. Go listen to it. I’ll give the Rolling Stone readers this much, when they’re trolling an online survey, they really commit to the gag.

Number 2: White and Nerdy. Good parody, sharp lyrics, and surprisingly adroit rapping. ‘White and Nerdy’ is basically a reprise of the ‘All About the Pentiums’ joke, but with more serious commitment to the dorkiness, which is what makes it funny. I wouldn’t necessarily have it in my top ten, but it deserves a special mention for being the flagship song on the return-to-form Straight Outta Lynwood album, which broke the curse of the 90’s (during which Al’s popularity was in a bit of a slump, by which I mean not even hardcore nerds like me would listen to him).

…which brings us to

Number 1: Amish Paradise. You’re kidding me, right? This is one of those Oscars-envelope-mixup things, right, where the award for Best Song got mixed up with the award for Most Adequate Reinterpretation of Some Garbage Coolio Ripped Off from Stevie Wonder? Is that what this is? I mean, I guess ‘Amish Paradise’ is funny, but it’s not that funny.

I would have accepted an out-there selection like ‘Christmas at Ground Zero’ or ‘Bob’ or ‘Hardware Store’. If one of the slightly-less-popular parodies like ‘Living with a Hernia’ or ‘Like a Surgeon’ had gotten over the line, I would have nodded with no more than one eyebrow raised. If you’d randomly picked one of the medley polkas – a joke that started out funny, got less and less funny with each successive album, until it finally came around full circle and became funny again – I could have gotten behind that. This, though? This toothless poke at all the obvious jokes that anyone would think of five minutes after watching Witness?

That hurts, Rolling Stone Magazine readers. It’s like you’re not taking this seriously at all.

 

June 4, 2008

On musical theatre

Filed under: musical challenge — lexifab @ 4:15 pm

I would scarcely have believe that a musical about Australian politics would be amusing at all, let along really freaking hilarious, but Keating: The Musical rarely misses a beat. No doubt it helps to have some recollection of the events loosely depicted therein, but in terms of the quality of the songs and the show – which are top class – prior knowledge is just a bonus, not a requirement.

Mild spoilers (can you spoil fictionalised versions of actual historical events? Dunno, but I won’t take any chances) after the cut. (more…)

March 3, 2008

Sometimes it’s a good life. Sometimes not.

Filed under: fitter/happier,musical challenge,news of the day — lexifab @ 1:35 pm

Once when I was a lot younger, I wrote a catchy novelty song parodying the search for purpose in an essentially meaningless universe. For reasons which will remain largely obscure to anyone else, I still think it’s about the funniest thing I’ve ever written. This recent rendition at a small cabaret in Brisbane by Evan and his comedian friend Liz Stitch is, I’m happy to assert, probably the best performance ever of “The Chorus Rhymes with Fire”, even if Liz doesn’t know what cachinnate means (and why would she?). It gets a laugh exactly where it’s supposed to, and I really couldn’t ask anything more.

The last couple of weeks have been a bit bleak outside the immediate circle of family and friends. This following bit is an unpleasant contrast to the previous, and one I would certainly have preferred to avoid. I’ll understand if you skip it.

(more…)

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