Under 30

I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Friday, June 02, 2006

Shameless self-promotion

Today's Under 30 column, like Wu-Tang, is the for the children.

Even Satan is a sell out

June 6, 2006 comes up next week, and the world's great marketing minds are rushing to take advantage of the most Satanic day calendar.

It's the day 20th Century Fox picked to release its remake of the 1976 satanic horror flick The Omen, about a demonic boy Damien born with a 666 birthmark. Promos warn: "6+6+06 HEED THE OMEN."

Studio executives saw the potential early in script development, says Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Tom Rothman.

"Suddenly the movie became cooler," he says. "We were being spoken to."

When Hollywood studios plot for years to release movies on a "cool" day that just happens to have a date of dubious significance, it's no wonder why movies have tanked at the box office for the past two years. The Devil clearly is severing his ties with these people. Wouldn't you after being embarrassed like this?

Even bonafide Satanists are screwing up the big day.

Also on Tuesday, thrash-metal band Slayer will release Eternal Pyre, a five-tune EP, through teen store Hot Topic. It seems like a hex was put on their more elaborate plans for the day: The plans to release the full album were thwarted when they couldn't secure studio time, and the scheduled launch on Tuesday of their "Unholy Alliance" tour was thwarted by a band member's unexpected gallbladder surgery.

Disturbingly dark death metal group Deicide, led by a Satanist front man, will mark the day with two new songs on iTunes from its upcoming album The Stench of Redemption. It, too, had a devil of a time trying to get the whole album out on the day.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but in the end it didn't work out," says Zeena Koda, a spokeswoman for its label, Earache.

That's right, kids. 6/6/06 is a day so evil, only gallbladder surgery can thwart it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

10 reasons why Elvis Costello deserves to sell as many tickets as Carrie Underwood

Living in the Fox Valley, you get used to not seeing certain artists play around here. By certain artists, I mean anyone who isn’t country, classic rock or heavy metal.

If somebody like, say, Elvis Costello is on tour, you pray he hits Milwaukee or Madison and that you can convince enough friends to carpool down south.

Chances are you already know where I’m going with this. Elvis Costello has a show Saturday with New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint at Oneida Casino in Green Bay. Sure, you still have to drive a half hour from Appleton to get there, but this is as close to “our backyard” as we likely are going to get.

Costello is one of the best and most important rock performers to play northeast Wisconsin in a number of years. So, of course, his concert isn’t sold out yet. Tickets moved much quicker for “American Idol” country star Carrie Underwood, who was born the same year Costello released his eighth album.

Is it possible the Fox Valley masses don’t know who this man is? Not likely, but they may not know how great he is when the man can’t even get one song played on local rock radio between regular rounds of Styx and Nickelback. With that in mind, here are 10 Elvis Costello songs to download and, hopefully, blow your mind.

“Alison”: An obvious choice, but it’s still my favorite Costello song. With the possible exception of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” no other song sounds as deceptively sweet. If you think it’s just a simple love song, imagine Elvis singing to his old flame while gazing from a long-range riflescope. “My aim is true …”

“Imagination is a Powerful Deceiver”: This “pre-professional recording” tacked on to the Rykodisc version of “My Aim is True” is a little stunner written by Costello when he was in his teens. It puts your high school journal to shame.

“No Action”: Costello’s potent “angry nerd” persona summed up in a furious minute and 59 seconds. “Every time I phone you I just want to put you down.”

“Green Shirt”: The best pop song ever written about being tortured by fascists and/or a girl who won’t go past first base. Of the dozens of Costello one-liners burned in my brain, this song boasts one of the best: “Better send a begging letter to the big investigation/Who put these fingerprints on my imagination?”

“High Fidelity”: This catchy ode to cheating lent its title to Nick Hornby’s book about rock geeks working really hard at not growing up. You know, the very people most likely to love Elvis Costello.

“Motel Matches”: Elvis was known as a new wave wunderkind in his early days, but underneath the skinny ties he always was a classic songwriter. This country weepie from the soul-obsessed “Get Happy!!” (my personal favorite Elvis album) is Exhibit A.

“Boy With a Problem”: It was a highlight of the lush “Imperial Bedroom” from 1982, but I prefer the demo found on the expanded edition of “Trust.” If Bruce Springsteen was what most men wanted to be back then, Elvis Costello was what most men were: weak, bitter and remorseful.

“I Hope You’re Happy Now”: If you take the title at face value, you never knew Elvis at all. This poison valentine from 1986’s “Blood and Chocolate” is a rocking “you know what” to a philandering ex.

“Kinder Murder”: After years of underwhelming albums, Elvis took a cue from Nirvana and roared back with the Attractions in 1994 with the terrific “Brutal Youth” album. Who else could write a song called “Kinder Murder” and make sense of it?

“Complicated Shadows”: Costello wrote this for Johnny Cash, but even the Man in Black would have trouble matching the malevolence Elvis musters on his own version from 1996’s “All This Useless Beauty.” The title sums up his career so succinctly one biographer put it on the cover of his Elvis Costello book.

iPod journal for May 2006

A few years ago I started making mix CDs of songs I was listening to a lot during a particular month. It was an idea I stole from Cameron Crowe, who kept monthly mix tapes as a sort of musical journal. I like it because music is my best memory jogger, and I can listen to a disc I made in Sept. 2003 and remember exactly what I was doing that month.

Here is my iPod journal for May 2006

1. The Black Keys, "Have Mercy on Me"
2. Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins, "Rise Up With Fists!!"
3. Neil Young, "After the Garden"
4. Kings of Leon, "The Bucket"
5. The Secret Machines, "Alone, Jealous and Stoned"
6. The Wandering Sons, "In the Spring"
7. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"
8. The Raconteurs, "Steady, As She Goes" (Acoustic iTunes version)
9. The Beatles, "Mother Nature's Son"
10. Van Hunt, "suspicion (She Knows Me Too Well)"
11, Wolfmother, "Apple Tree"
12. John Lennon, "Jealous Guy"
13. Golden Smog, "Cure for This"
14. Fiona Apple, "Extraordinary Machine"
15. The Allman Brothers, "Midnight Rider"
16. Nirvana, "Lithium"
17. John Mellencamp, "Again Tonight"
18. John Vanderslice, "Up Above the Sea"
19. The Beach Boys, "Papa Oom-Mow-Mow"
20. Queens of the Stone Age, "You Would Know"
21. The Grateful Dead, "Row Jimmy"
22. Spoon, "No You're Not"
23. Brian Jonestown Massacre, "Swallowtail"
24. The Righteous Brothers, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"
25. The Charlatans UK, "The Blonde Waltz"
26. U2, "Heartland"
27. The Romantics, "When I Look In Your Eyes"
28. Ryan Adams, "This House is Not For Sale"
29. Bruce Springsteen, "O Mary Don't You Weep"
30. Sam Roberts, "With a Bullet"

Top of the Pops: Chamillionaire

Every week I will write about a hit song on the Billboard pop charts in order to take the pulse of the American music-listening populace. This week it's the No. 1 song in the country, "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire.

You had me at Chamillionaire, Chamillionaire. How did no other rapper think of calling himself Chamillionaire before Chamillionaire? You got your bling, your girls, your Cristal, and it's cool and all. But this guy is so rich, so unbelievably pimpin', that the U.S. Treasury invented a new dollar designation to count all the green. Deal with that, playas. Sure, "Ridin' is Chamillionaire's biggest hit so far, thus making it unlikely that Chamillionaire had a chamillion dollars when he recorded it. But pop music is all about saying you are something you're not, and then becoming that thing when everybody believes you.

Pop music also is about making you love behavior you would hate in real life. "Ridin'" embodies this sacred ideal. Chamillionaire is cruising around with the radio blasting, his windows tinted, and a hot chick over by "the PlayStation controlla." The cops know Chamillionaire is out there and they want to catch him riding dirty, which shouldn't be a problem because he has warrants in every town except Houston. Only thing is, Houston is his town. How is that possible? Who cares? Tough luck, officers!

Arrogant jerkdom doesn't get much more likeable than "Ridin.'" Scores of jackasses will cruise around blasting this song at full volume this summer, the bass so loud it will turn even the most ardent turn-it-up people among us into grumpy codgers. Don't hate these people because they have Chamillionaire on the brain. They don't have pay-off money in the glove compartment or Krayzie Bone in the verse, but at leats they can swing to a bumpin' stereo.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

RIP Suck/Lame

The media is carrying on about Katie Couric leaving "The Today Show," but what the people are really missing today is another "Suck/Lame" poll. Or are they? Blog readers were nearly unianimous in their sucky feelings for "Suck/Lame." Since I happen to agree with them, the ol' poll is six feet under.

I gotta admit I was relieved when y'all decided Suck/Lame sucked. Frankly, I was sick of doing it, a fact that seemed abundantly clear to at least some of you who felt that my lack of updates and comments led directly to the demise of Under 30 Blog's greatest institution. I agree and disagree with that. Yeah, if I had shown more interest, "Suck/Lame" likely could have sustained itself better. But my indifference grew when people stopped leaving funny and/or crazy comments. Any relationship is a two/way street, peeps.

But enough with the pointing fingers. As Bruce said, we sure had us some fun, didn't we? Trashing Nick Lachey, inexplicably defending Dashboard Confessional, engaging in a brutal face-off over Kanye West. The kids will be reading about our early elections in the history books. It was good to kill it before the legacy was sullied.

RIP, "S/L."

The worst of Steven Hyden: The 1999 Wisconsin State Truck Driving Championship

It ain't easy getting into newspapers. The competition for good jobs is fierce, the hours are long, the "Atta boys!" are in short supply. But the hardest part of getting into newspapers are the stories you get stuck doing as an intern.

By definition, interns do the stories nobody else wants to do. So instead of giving young journalists a fun experience that gets them hooked early, a newspaper is run more like a boot camp where the trainees pray something better will come along eventually. (Instead of writing the Strawbery Fest story, I will assign the Strawberry Fest story!)

Whenever people ask me, "Steve, what's the lameest thing you ever had to cover as an intern?" I say either the 2000 state championship for the National Micro Mini Tractor Pullers Association or the 1999 Wisconsin State Truck Driving Championship.

You might think the latter might be something cool like a race or a "Mad Max" style game of chicken. But the 1999 Wisconsin State Truck Driving Championship consisted of about 100 trucks moving through an "obstacle" course one at a time and attempting to pull up or back into a series of dotted yellow lines without crossing them. It was six hours of "BEEP, BEEP, BEEP." Yep, that's pulse-pounding excitement.

More strangely, there were about 50 people watching this thing, sitting in lawn chairs and sipping beer. "That's right Earl, you show that dotted yellow line who's boss."

My fondest memory of covering this story was hanging out with Carl Riemer, two-time truck-driving champ. Carl agreed to talk to me before his run through the course, and he allowed a photographer to shoot him while driving. He ended up regretting it. Apparently having a shooter snapping pics in his lap made him nervous, and he ended up placing 63rd (or something like that). Sorry about that, Carl.

Here's the story, which ran in The P-C on June 27, 1999:

Carl Riemer of Green Bay readied to hop aboard his rig at the Wisconsin State Truck Driving Championships on Saturday, he exuded the cool confidence of someone who has done this many times before.

Riemer has competed at the championships, held at Fox Valley Technical College, every year since 1993. In that time, he's won the state competition twice and gone to nationals.

"In the beginning, you're excited," he said. "As years go on, you get more relaxed. "When you're driving, you're just thinking 'Score,' and getting yourself set up for the next problem."

Riemer was one of 112 contestants at the competition, which has been held at Fox Valley Tech for the past 10 years, said championship chairman Ed Schoning. "They're very accommodating," Schoning said. "All the tools you need are available. It takes a lot of work and effort."

The trucking championships have been around since the early 1960s. The scoring system rewards precision driving and common knowledge of trucking. Schoning said the event was started to promote safety among truckers. All competitors have to be accident-free at least 12 months prior to the competition, which consists of three parts for eight different classes of trucks.

If anybody is still reading this, feel free to bail. I won't be offended. This story is boooring. Still here? OK, you asked for it.

The first part is a 40-question written test the contestants took on Friday after they registered. The test includes questions on the trucking industry, safe driving rules, first aid, and fire fighting. The second part is a pre-trip inspection the drivers undergo before they drive. The third part is the course. Drivers are allowed 10 minutes to make it around six problems laid out on the track.

As they twist and turn their behemoths around the course, they have to either pull up or back up to a striped line at each problem.

In order to get the full 50 points for each problem, they must stop their truck a mere six inches from the line. Every three inches off knocks off five points. While the drivers took a walk through the course Friday night, they are not allowed to watch as others go through while their class is competing. Navigating your way through the course successfully with a large rig is no easy task, Schoning said.

"It's not like a car where you can just look out the window," he said. "If you know what you're doing and you take your time, you can do it."

Dale Rouse of Bonduel waited for his chance to show that he could do it as he watched the Three Axle Van class compete. "It's difficult," he said of the course. "It's designed by truck drivers who know what a truck can do and not do. "This tests things that you use every day without realizing it."

Rouse said the emphasis on safety is good for the image of truckers. "We have a bad reputation out there," he said. "Most drivers are good but there's some people who shouldn't be on the road. This shows the public we try to it safety."

As Riemer made his way to the end of the course, he pulled over a bit to far at the final stop.

Climbing out of this truck, his good natured smile couldn't totally conceal his disappointment. "I should have done better," he said. "When you get into the competition, you beat yourself up for not doing better." Still, Riemer knows he's been here before and will probably be again.

"Some days you're on, some days you're off," he said. "It was fun. You have to be open-minded and know you did your best."

Words to live by, Carl. Words to live by.

This is why my friend Dave calls him "Deucenport"

The Seattle Times did an entertaining story on the top 20 dumbest crimes committed by college athletes.

It's a funny piece, but as my idols at Deadspin pointed out, the Seattle Times reporter failed to mentioned one of the greatest dumb dumb jock capers ever: Najeh Davenport's dump.

For the uninitated, I'll let them explain.

While not technically an incident that took place in a bathroom, one of the most famous excretory mishaps is worthy of much note. In 2002, Green Bay Packers running back Najeh Davenport, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, snuck into a woman's dorm room at the University of Miami and defecated in her closet. The woman said she had never met Davenport and was as dumbfounded as anyone. Davenport ultimately pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to community service.

To this day, Davenport denies the charges and claims innocence. "Where's the evidence? Where's the manure?'' Davenport said. "I know I didn't do it—I just wanted to get it over with." The prosecutor in the case noted that "charges would have not been filed if there were no evidence," though he admitted that the excrement was not preserved because poo cannot not yield DNA samples and therefore would have been "useless."

To paraphrase "Spinal Tap," you can dust for poo.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bar, liquor store, wildlife display

OK, I admit it: Last week was WEAK at Under 30 blog. My post work was pure Paul Mokeski. I apologize. It was a busy time with the holiday and all and blah blah blah.

Anyway, I promise to do better this week. I've got a bunch of stuff in the works: A new "Worst of Steven Hyden" involving a truck driving competition from 1999; new features like "No, No Joke, I Really Like This" and "Wacky Random Top 5"; and a proper eulogy for the departed Suck/Lame, which got a (surprising but welcome) unanimous heave-ho from the readers.

In the meantime, I want to take this opportunity to give some free pub to a bar I visited this weekend, Sach's Rendezvous. Some random facts about Sach's: It is located on State 139 about 10 minutes shy of the U.P. It is shaped like an octagon. There are approximately 256 dead animal carcasses inside. On the jukebox you will find plenty of oldies, Merle Haggard and Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River," which I am almost positive has never been played.

Best of all, on the sign out front it says "Sach's Rendezvous: Bar, Liquor Store, Wildlife Display," which pretty much covers all the bases for an entertainment venue if you think about it.

While at Sach's I learned three things: (1) People up north really, really like it when you cue up "Hang On Sloopy" on the jukebox; (2) Any woman from up north would definitely kick my butt in a fight; (3) Sach, the unseen proprietor of Sach's Rendezvous, is as "ornery as ever," according to the bartender.

When writing this post, I learned something else: When you punch "taxidermy beer" into Google, this is is the first image that comes up. Nope, I don't know what it is, neither.

Shameless self-promotion

I've got three reviews in the latest issue of Harp magazine: Eagles of Death Metal (yes!), Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (not really!), and National Eye (yes!).

P.S. I just got back to the office (reviewing "Riverdance" tonight, too bad I'm not Irish or Rosie O'Donnell!), but I promise to have something up about the status of "Suck/Lame," which really shouldn't be a mystery to anybody anyway.