Under 30

I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Friday, March 03, 2006

Does he suck?/Is he lame? results

First of all, I want to thank everybody for voting. There were 23 votes cast and more than 60 Robin-related posts. Without you and your votes, democracy doesn't work.

Hey, do you remember that scene in "Mrs. Doubtfire" when Robin Williams throws an orange at Pierce Bronson's head and calls it "a drive-by fruiting"? Well, I have just been fruited. Inexplicably, Under 30 readers voted that Robin Williams doesn't suck/isn't lame by a decisive 14-to-9 margin.

Massive sigh.

Robin voters were very passionate in their defense, claiming Mork has starred in dozens of masterpieces over the years like "Dead Poets Society," "Awakenings," "Good Will Hunting," "Dead Poets Society," "Awakenings," "Good Will Hunting" and, last but not least, "Dead Poets Society." The vote would be even more lopsided than it is if the most passionate Robin voters had remembered to say "Not suck" at the end of their posts. Live and learn.

The most impassioned Robin's supporter was unquestionably "Bryan Adams Fan," who credited Mork with rescuing him from post-divorce despair: He was so funny. And inspirational.From that point on, I made a point to see anything and everything I could related to Robin Williams. My new wife loves him too. Robin is something we share. By insinuating that Robin sucks, you're insinuating that I suck, and I don't. And neither does the man who brought me back from a serious depth of dispair.

B.A.F., I didn't insinuate anything. I said it plainly: Robin Williams sucks. As for you, well, I don't know you. At least, I don't think I do...

Look, I officially have no clue what the hell is going on. We have now done five Does he suck? elections, and I have been absolutely stunned by the results of four of them. Any minute now, dogs and cats are going to start mating. That's how dramatically you people have altered reality. I'm considering a new survey called Is Water Wet? just to see what you characters come up with.

Actually, I want the next Does he suck?/Is he lame? subject to be democracy. Because it so sucks.

Still more shameless

I reviewed the latest Neko Case (mostly liked it) and Morningwood (eh) albums for in the latest issue of Harp. Read it here and then buy the mag!

More shameless

I started doing a local music column a few weeks back called Buzzworthy. Here is the latest one. And here is a story I did about the Fox Valley's electronic music scene.

Shameless self-promotion

Today's Under 30!

I heart Robert Altman

The moment I'm looking forward to most during the Academy Awards (aside from any onscreen appearances by Scarlett Johansson and Philip Seymour Hoffman's acceptance speech) is when Robert Altman finally wins an Oscar. Sure, it's an honorary Oscar, which means the Academy thinks Altman's gonna die any minute, but at least it's something for one of the best filmmakers ever.

I'm gushing about Bob in my Check it Out column Sunday, so I'll give my remarks to a minimum until then. In the meantime, check out this tribute and this tribute.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Does he suck?/ Is he lame? update

Well, you can't accuse me of fixing these things. Under 30 blog readers have proven once again they are one quirky lot with the latest Does he suck?/Is he lame? election concerning Robin Williams. Right now, shockingly, Not suck leads Suck by a margin of 7 to 5. And to think I almost didn't include Williams because I thought his suckiness was too obvious. Yikes!

Really, the vote shouldn't even be as close as it is. At least two pro-Williams people, apparently still wiping away tears for the man's stirring performance as a wacky robot in "Bicentennial Man," were so impassioned that they forgot to vote.

My favorite was an anonymous poster who listed Robin's many attributes, including the fact that he named his daughter after "The Legend of Zelda," before ending the message with: "what have you done.. you suck."

Sorry, but I am not the one on trial here. Robin Williams is. So this post counts as a hanging chad.

But don't worry. You still have time to clarify your vote or vote for the first time. Polls are open until NOON FRIDAY.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Fetus fever -- catch it!

Fears that the fetus would catch on nationally appear to be well-founded.

From the Boston Herald: Sure, Kevin Covais, 16, of Levittown, N.Y., looks like a fetus with glasses, but with his voice, he could be the next Clay Aiken.

Skeptics will point out that the Herald story came out before mine, but this is a minor detail. What's important is that fetus fever is slowly but surely catching on.

Who wants to start makin' T-shirts?

Does he suck?/Is he lame? Robin Williams

We continue our mission of clearly defining those people, things, ideas, thoughts, actions and other nouns and verbs of questionable suckitude with one of the world’s wackiest cut-ups, Robin Williams.

Robin is a comedic legend. Many consider him one of the funniest people in America, whether he’s on stage doing stand-up or in movies like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Good Morning, Vietnam.” He also is a respected dramatic actor, winning the best supporting actor Oscar for “Good Will Hunting.”

But Robin also has stunk up the joint in some of the worst movies ever, like “Patch Adams,” “Death to Smoochy,” “Jack,” “Toys” … I can keep going if you want. And, honestly, is he REALLY that funny? Or is Robin Williams simply a master of delivering unfunny lines in a way that trick you into thinking they are funny? (See Dennis Miller.) The guy just tries way too hard to be crrrrazy. Sure, the first time he wouldn’t sit down during a talk show appearance was sort of cute. But by the 100th time, a tranquilizer dart would be much more adorable.

So, is Robin Williams a hilarious comedian who can also go serious? Or an annoying, unfunny dope? In other words, is he lame or not lame? It’s up to you, the voters. POLLS ARE OPEN UNTIL NOON FRIDAY.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

10 (or so) songs in search of soundtrack

It's always a great moment for a music geek: You're watching a movie, and all of a sudden some obscure song you love comes on and works like gangbusters in a scene. Maybe it's "Monkey Man" in "Goodfellas." Or "Head Over Heels" in "Donnie Darko." Or "Life on Mars?" in "The Life Aquatic." These moments not only make the movie better, they transform songs and sometimes give them whole new meanings. (Raise you hand, "Stuck in the Middle With You.")

Sometimes you find your own songs that you think would work great in a movie. I know I do. So I'm playing music supervisor for any director that wants to use me. Here are 10 (or so) songs in search of a soundtrack, and proposed scenes to stick them in.

The song: Spoon, "Back to the Life"
The scene: Opening credit sequence for a thriller or horror movie.
"Back to the Life" begins with this great crazy laugh, then lurches into a lo-fi shuffle with lots of weird noises coming in and out and Britt Daniel talking about this world not being meant for us both like a ghost crawling out of a grave. In short, it grabs your attention. Also, it rocks.

The song: Matt Sweeny and Bonnie "Prince"Billy, "What Are You?"
The scene: A guy driving alone at night.
Have you seen that Vincent Gallo movie, "The Brown Bunny"? The one that Roger Ebert called the worst movie in the history of the Cannes Festival? I did, and Roger Ebert is wrong. "The Brown Bunny" is not very good, but it's not the worst of anything because there are several scenes where a guy drives around and listens to sad songs on the radio. No movie that has even one scene like that can be all bad (not even "Elizabethtown," which really puts the rule to the test). This spooky little number about a drag queen spanking his girlfriend (I think) ain't Gordon Lightfoot, but it is custom-made for late night ponders behind the wheel.

The song(s): The Warlocks, "Whips of Mercy"/Richard Hawley, "Hotel Room"
The scene: A dark, sexy scene in a David Lynch movie
Whenever I think of "Mulholland Drive," which I'm pretty sure belongs on my top 10 list of the greatest movies of all-time, the scenes are always scored to "Whips of Mercy" by The Warlocks. Like the movie, it's out of focus and hypnotic, blurry and sharp, mysterious and primal. It's also hotter than Naomi Watts getting it on with Laura Haring. (OK, maybe not.) "Hotel Room" seems like it already was in a David Lynch movie, though that might be the Chris Isaak/Roy Orbison vibe. Either way, Hawley's brilliant '50s goth goes with Lynch like Frank Booth and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The song: The Who, "They Are All in Love"
The scene: The main character is suffering with romantic issues
"They Are in Love" has one of my favorite lyrics ever: "Good bye all you punks, stay young and stay high/Hand me checkbook, and I'll crawl off to die." Pete Townshend wrote that about the Sex Pistols and his own innate sense of inferiority. While there's no way Pete could have known this, because the show came out 25 years later, it also applies perfectly to"Freaks and Geeks," where some high school kid feels alone and inadequate because everyone is getting laid but him. "Freaks and Geeks" is off the air, but this song could work great in similar high school geek story.

The song: Billy Joel, "Leave a Tender Moment Alone"
The scene: A stylized dance number for a romantic comedy.
OK, this is a very specific scene, I realize. But hear me out: Let's say a guy and a girl go on a date. There are lots of wacky mishaps. The guy keeps screwing up and getting mad at himself. But the girl likes him anyway. So he drops her off, does an awkward goodbye, and starts walking away. That's when he sings this song, an already show-tuney track about romantic incompetence from some forgettable 1980s album Joel made after he married Christie Brinkley. It sounds hokey, but this could be the next great "Singin' in the Rain" style production number. Am I ever wrong about these things?

The song: Cheap Trick, "Mandocello"
The scene: A love scene between two characters where one of the characters is about to die, get kidnapped by aliens, etc.
Whenever I hear "Mandocello," a ballad so great it's even better than "The Flame," I think of heartache. Specifically, the heartache I felt the night after I broke up with the first girl I ever loved. I drove to the Eagle's Nest in Neenah to meet a friend so I could drown my sorrows, and this song was playing on my CD player. The part where Robin Zander sings, "We can go down slowly like the rest" just ripped my heart out, and I proceeded to have a hearty man-cry. Anyway, this is a great love theme for melancholy doinking. You know, the kind of love scene that makes you more sad than turned on.

The song: Sam & Dave, "When Something is Wrong with My Baby"
The scene: A slow dance that slowly turns into a love scene
You know that Cheap Trick love scene I was just talking about? Forget all that. "When Something is Wrong With My Baby" is for hot, sweaty doinking. This song is about being so connected with your lover, you actually feel the same things. And this tune, which epitomizes what my friend Mark calls GYGO (Get Your Groove On) music, will make lovers want to get connected literally. Believe me.

The song: Badfinger, "The Name of the Game"
The scene: A flashback detailing a character's life story.
This might be one of my all-time favorite songs. Pete Ham's lyric is a gentle story about the meaning of life, and his melody is as good as anything from the second side of "Abbey Road." And that means a lot. I want "Name of the Game" played at my funeral. Not because I think it says anything about my life, but because it just feels like a song that you play when somebody dies.

The song: The Kinks, "Young and Innocent Days"
The scene: The one right before the credits, where the main character reflects on everything that happened to him/her during the movie
I'm shocked Wes Anderson hasn't used "Young and Innocent Days" already, actually. He uses Kinks songs all the time, and if "Oh La La" by the Faces somehow wouldn't have been available for the end of "Rushmore," this song would have been a killer replacement. Ray Davies says in three minutes what takes the movie 90 minutes to say, and does it more powerfully. "It's too late, so late, young and innocent days." Top that, Wes.

The song: Guided by Voices, "Little Whirl"
The scene: Closing credits for a coming age of movie.
I can't understand a single word of "Little Whirl" except "so sad" and "I don't care." Maybe that's why this song sounds like a melancholy high school memory to me. "Little Whirl" is an articulate statement of intarticulate wistfulness. And the dude from "Scrubs" should have put it at the end of "Garden State."

The Worst of Steve Hyden: The 2000 state championship for the National Micro Mini Tractor Pullers Association

I like to think of this blog as a public notebook for my writing and an archive of past work. My hope is people will read it and tell me whether it's any good.

Some stuff I know isn't any good. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I am introducing a new semi-regular blog feature, "The Worst of Steve Hyden." This is my chance to highlight the comically terrible wing of my legacy. I can't wait.

The following story isn't badly written, per se. But whenever people ask what the dumbest thing I ever had to cover is, this is the story I usually mention. It's about the 2000 state championship for the National Micro Mini Tractor Pullers Association, a group dedicated to men who like to play with toy tractors and pull stuff. The assignment itself wasn't so bad; I like writing about bizarre events. But the "pullers" were, shall we say, aloof, and totally uncooperative whenever the geeky intern newspaper reporter (me) wanted to ask questions about the pulse-pounding competition. I guess I can't blame them. Mini-tractor pullers have to deal with the media all the time, so it's bound to get tiresome.

FREEDOM - The noise of tractor engines was ear-splitting Saturday afternoon at Freedom VFW Memorial Park, like a chainsaw on hyperspeed.

What do you expect? It was a tractor pull, after all. But this sound was tinnier and higher pitched than the rumble you'd expect from a raging pro stock tractor. Before the full-sized versions competed in this year's Wisconsin State Championship Truck and Tractor Pull, the National Micro Mini Tractor Pullers Association held its own competition with its miniature tractors.

They looked like toys, 1/16-inch scale models of the real thing. But there weren't any kids underneath the NMMTPA's tent. Just a lot of serious-looking men who didn't like to be bothered while playing with their tractors.

The tractor making all the noise was a black three-pound puller dragging a trailer carrying 125 pounds. It sounded like a struggle for the little guy, but as a crowd of 30 people looked on, the tractor made its way from one end of a 16-foot long table to the other. Then a tiny man named Chip climbed off the trailer and gave the audience a thumbs-up sign. OK, maybe that didn't happen.

"When you see a three-pound tractor, that's pretty impressive," said Duane Goman of Leland, Ill. Goman had 11 tractors at the pull Saturday, two of which were for sale for $150 each. One of the tractors conked out just before going on the track.

"It's really irritating because I just tore it up," he said, shaking his head.

Behind him, a five- pound super stock tractor was pulling 200 pounds, another impressive feat. The NMMTPA recognizes six different classes of mini tractors, based on size. The group started in 1976 and has over 70 members in 12 states and Canada. Pulling competitions are held around the country at fairs, antique machinery shows and truck shows. Pullers compete for points and a small money prize, usually a percentage of entry fees.

"You aren't going to make a lot of money with this hobby," said Goman, NMMTPA's state representative for Illinois. "If you're lucky, you'll break even."

The points determine the state award winners and qualifiers for the annual "Super Pull," sort of a Super Bowl for teeny tiny tractors and their owners.

No one seemed too wrapped in the competition Saturday.

"I ain't doin' worth a damn," laughed Clyde Gilbert of Bellflower, Mo. He had four tractors at the pull and his favorite puller didn't do well.

"It let me down today," he said.

The number one priority for the 19 competitors seemed to be fun, and meeting up with friends

"The people here are really helpful," said Dean Furman of Belvidere, Ill. "You see them once a month and get caught up on things. "I'm not here for the winning because I don't do that." -

A long distance dedication to the fetus-looking kid on "American Idol"

I just received this e-mail re: my latest Check It Out column.

I feel the need to bloviate about your article "Check It Out" in the Sunday paper.

Did someone die and you thought you were put in charge of judging people by their physical appearance? Have you looked in the mirror at yours lately? What image do you see?

To write: "My favorite was the fetus-looking kid..........." My questions to you are these: What gives you the right to judge someone's physical appearance and make a judgement like that? Much less make it in the media? What if that phrase would be picked up in the national media? Do you have any concept or even care how much damage that could do to that young man?

I sincerely hope you will re-think making that kind of a statement in the future!

Fetus-looking kid, I apologize if my off-hand remark offended you. I didn't mean "fetus-looking kid" in a bad way necessarily. I was merely trying to illustrate that you look awfully young for your age, which I believe is 11. And, by the way, I happen to think fetuses are beautiful. Or at least cute.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A valentine to VH1

Slate has a good tribute to the network I love to hate to love.

This passage, in particular, stands out, because it reminds me that I am not special, but merely an easily categorized member of a demographic:

VH1's ideal viewer, like ESPN's, is a male in his late 20s nursing a pop hangover, and the comedians are his spiritual gurus. To further the "just us guys" aesthetic, VH1 gives its shows (which can cost a fortune to produce because of rights fees) a kind of low-fi authenticity that contrasts with MTV's slicker productions. "Part of the VH1 approach is having it look tossed off, when in fact it isn't," says Hirschorn.

Tossed off? You mean like this blog? Because really, in fact it IS.

More Shameless

I saw the musical "Rent" this weekend and haaaaaaaated it. But instead of taking my anger out in the review a la Korn, I was relatively restrained.

Shameless self-promotion

Here's is the latest Check it Out. Viva l'American Idol!