Sunday, August 31, 2008

Note From My Doctor

Dear Back of the Cereal Box readers,

Drew is unable to blog because he was bitten by a yeti. He will blog again when the yeti bite heals. It should not be long. If you see a yeti, run, because its bite may make you reluctant to blog.

Sincerely,
Dr. Norman P. Mufflepuff, M.D.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Forgotten Jar Pixies

Anyone that actually played through the first Super Mario Bros. all the way to the end of level 8-4 should remember the game’s ending: a generic thank you from a pixelated mess that is supposed to be Princess Peach followed by Mario’s inexplicable reappearance back at the beginning of level 1-1. Only now the game’s levels were populated with the hard-to-kill beetle enemies. Beetle World, my brother and I called it.

Super Mario Bros. 2 offers something a little more cinematic.

When Mario — or, as the case may be, Luigi, Peach or Toad — does in the game’s final boss, Wart, by tossing a sufficient number of vegetables into his mouth, he dies, causing to materialize a door that leads to a plugged-up vase. Mario — or, again, whoever — pulls the plug and out spring eight strange-looking fairies whom the game hasn’t previously mentioned in any way. They don’t introduce themselves, but celebrate their liberation from their cruel amphibian captor and push his corpse crowd surfer-style into oblivion. (Yes, the game is strange.)


Then, of course, Mario wakes up, revealing the whole of Super Mario Bros. 2 to be a dream. As he snoozes away, the “cast” scrolls by — again, very cinematically, even more so than many games since. Included in the list of characters — in the list of enemy characters, no less — is the mysterious fairy. Its apparent name: Subcon — a fairly lame play on the word subconscious. Which is especially strange, since the name of the place in which Super Mario Bros. 2 takes place — per the game’s instruction manual and its intro screen as well — is also Subcon.

See for yourself:











images courtesy of the video game museum

The obvious conclusion would be that the little characters are, in fact, called “Subcon,” and the fact that they share their name with the place they live in is either a happy coincidence or some great symbolic association. (They are their country. Like America Ferrera or something.) As any keen-eyed person who has ever played Super Mario Bros. 2 through knows, however, the end credits are chock-full of typos. Birdo is “Ostro.” Clawgrip, the rock-throwing crab boss, is “Clawglip.” And so forth. So perhaps the Subcon fairies’ names are screw-ups as well. “Ostro” and “Clawglip” have been fixed down the line in various Super Mario Bros. 2 remakes, however, and the “Subcon” name has remained.

So who or what the hell are these things?

As far as I know, they’re just as mysterious in the game’s original version, Doki Doki Panic. (If they’re better explained and you know this and you’re reading this now, by all means please tell me.) And while a lot of that which populates Super Mario Bros. 2 was eventually pulled into the stable of regular Mario game elements, these little weirdos never showed up again.

I guess we’ll never know. Unless we’ve played through Doki Doki Panic and know the secret, in which case you probably do know and should tell me pronto.

EDIT: Just found the Doki Doki Panic ending on YouTube. Cleared up nothing.

Except that the Arabian family owns a pet monkey.
THANKS A MILLION. PUSH START TO REPLAY.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

For Love

An especially wonderful selection from the Onion A.V. Club’s guide to getting a tattoo. It involves Carson Daly and Jennifer Love Hewitt, yet still manages to be worth the time it takes to read. Strange, no?
“When I went on Carson Daly’s show, he showed me a tattoo on his ankle that used to say ‘love,’ for Jennifer Love Hewitt. His next girlfriend wanted him to get rid of it, of course. Now, you’d think that it would be the easiest tattoo to change. It could be “I love mom,” “I love meatballs”—you could really make it anything. So he goes to his regular tattoo guy in L.A., and he tells him, ‘Do whatever you want.’ He’d taken some tequila shots, so he was totally relaxed and trusting this guy. So he’s lying there on his side, reading a magazine, talking to people, not really paying attention to what his guy is doing. Finally it’s done, and he gets up to look at it, and it’s a fucking Swiss Army knife—but instead of a blade, it has a crab claw sticking out of it. I mean, what the fuck? That’s what happens. The only name you can get is your mom’s. And also, definitely don’t trust your tattoo artist to just do whatever he wants.”
The narrator of this little anecdote, by the way, is Aviva Yael, co-author of No Regrets: The Best, Worst, & Most #$%*ing Ridiculous Tattoos Ever.

Love Me Like a Loaded Gun

Hello.

Blogger introduced a new feature: Following, or the act of declaring yourself a fan of a given blog. (Read all about it.) I think it sounds neat, but the number of people currently following my blog is happens to bear a resemblance to a big, fat goose egg. See for yourself, on the Following widget in the left sidebar.

Do you think, maybe, we could change this, fellow Blogger bloggers?

It would be good for my self esteem.

Crazy Eyes Margo

The blog. The search hits. The madness.

Notes below.
  1. I presume you speak of the barista with purple hair pulled into ox horns and the Spongebob tattoo. Mystical indeed.
  2. Surely not my apple pie taste. Surely someone else's, right?
  3. I wouldn't know where to begin helping you.
  4. Number one hit!
  5. Lyrics check: It's actually "If I were you, I'd take a permanent vacation." When did your boyfriend get back into town, anyway?
  6. Number one hit!
  7. Either sad or just disturbing, depending on your perspective.
  8. Weirdly, my blog shows up on the first page for this. This surprises me.
  9. Number one hit!
  10. For God's sake, stop reading my blog and go see a doctor.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

High Art, Local News — Part Two

A headline I just wrote:

Fence to Deter Pooping in Creek, City Hopes

Where was that grad school application, again?

The Pop Murder Mishmash Contest

If you know me, you’d probably not be surprised to hear that I know little of Marilyn Manson. (Or maybe not. I don’t know, know that I think about it. Do I seem like somebody who listened to Marilyn Manson in high school?) Like most of the population, the most exposure I ever got from him was that one song he did for the Matrix soundtrack.

However, even someone with a superficial awareness of Marilyn Manson may know how he got his name: by combining the first name of a pop icon (Marilyn Monroe) with the last name of a notorious counterculture personality (Charles Manson). Last month, a blog I enjoy — Yesterday’s Faces Today, a LiveJournal community blog that specializes in showing how well or how badly the stars of the 80s and 90s have aged — featured an up-to-date photo for Jeordie White, who, it turns out, performed in Manson’s band under the stage name “Twiggy Ramirez.” Like Manson’s name, it draws from a pop high and a criminal low: the model Twiggy and Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker. Has a ring to it, I guess.

I ended up on Wikipedia looking into who else appeared in Manson’s band under a similarly patterned stage name, just to see whose was clever and whose wasn’t. My results:
  • Ginger Fish: a drummer, who apparently has also performed with Paul Anka and Barry Manilow. His name combines Ginger Rogers with Albert Fish, a particularly vile serial killer. He’s not as well known as others, but what this name lacks in infamy in makes up for with the fact that “Ginger Fish” sounds like some sort of candy. Which, given the context, is just wrong. My grade: A– for making me feel uncomfortable.
  • Madonna Wayne Gacy, a keyboardist. The sources of the name are too obvious, and something irks me about using the first name of a personality who lacks a last name. My grade: D. Please don’t murder or sing to me, Madonna Wayne Gacy.
  • Daisy Berkowitz, a guitarist. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about this one. It seems somehow seems like cheating to pick the first name of a fictional character, Daisy Duke from The Dukes of Hazard, rather than a real-life icon. On the other hand, “Daisy” slides just as well into “Berkowitz” as “David” does. If “Daisy Berkowitz” didn’t sound like the name of some irritating, unfortunate girl with coke bottle glasses that sat at the back of my freshman English class, I’d call it even. My grade: C–.
  • Gidget Gein: a bassist. I give points for alliteration even more for making a bunch of goth kids aware of who Gidget was. My grade: B+.
  • Olivia Newtown Bundy, a bassist. Not bad, I guess, though I wonder if Olivia Newton John really deserves to be on the same list as the rest of referenced pop icons. Ted Bundy certainly belongs on the list of serial killers, though. My grade: B, possibly because “Olivia Newton Bundy” calls to mind more some obscure Married… With Children character than the contrast the band members seem to be going for.
  • Zsa Zsa Speck, another keyboardist. I’m so-so on this one. Most people don’t know who Richard Speck is, I’d wager. And was Zsa Zsa Gabor ever such a big deal? Nonetheless, “Zsa Zsa Speck” kind of sounds like a character from a Tom Robbins novel, so I have to like that. My grade: C.
  • The absolute winner of this pop-murder-mishmash contest has to be Sara Lee Lucas. Again, I’m troubled somewhat by the use of a fictional pop reference — cooking mascot Sara Lee — but the idea to blend it into Henry Lee Lucas just works too well, what with their shared middle name. My grade: A–, only because I don’t feel like the grade of grader who gives out A’s too easily.
Hurray for themed names, even when they are halfway themed around serial killers.

Names, recently, here on this blog:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When Andy Samberg and Kenan Thompson Won't Suffice

If both Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph are no longer on Saturday Night Live, then who will make fun of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama?

Dogs and Gossip

While I’ve only seen two episodes of Gossip Girl and while I have only a superficial awareness of Tinsley Mortimer, I appreciate a good rip against a public figure when I hear one. Take, for example, Gawker’s treatment of the socialite, handbag designer and general target of ridicule. They drop the news that she will be making a guest appearance on Gossip Girl — which, by the way, features the talent of Kristen Bell and which for that reason alone has value. Given the character of the show as I understand it, Mortimer is a perfect fit. Then they promise an exclusive clip of the show featuring her.

This is what they show:



This delights me for several reasons. First: everything about it. I don’t know why anyone would have thought to make such a movie, but I’m eternally grateful that they did. Secondly, I can’t help but imagine Mortimer — who doubtlessly is aware of the blogs that mock her as the characters on Gossip Gir are of the online piddlings that drive the plot of the show — idly checking up on what the blogosphere has to say about her today. She’d see this, but not being the kind of person who gets jokes, and just sit in a state of total bewilderment. “Why do they say I’m dogs? Who are these dogs? Why do they say I’m dogs?!”

Amazing.

The clip, by the way, comes from something called The Dogway Melody, which we should doubtlessly all watch in its entirety at some point in our lives.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Amsterdam Breakfast

It’s nice to have relatives from out-of-the-country come and stay. It’s nicer when they say things adorably foreign. I nearly thought the Swiss Cousin Lorenzo would complete his entire stay without making any such slip-up, likely as a result of the fact that he’s been studying English in San Francisco all summer and now consequently speaks quite well, but this morning at IHOP he referred to the shredded, pan-friend potato bits on his plate as “hash brownies.” No no, Swiss Cousin Lorenzo, in the United States we don’t eat hash brownies for breakfast.

The difference between hash brownies and hash browns was explained.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Do You Not Hear the Thunder?

Men at Work’s 1981 hit “Down Under,” translated into a prose narrative.
Traveling in an old van on a trail frequented by unwashed youths, I had a hangover. I encountered a strange woman who made me nervous, but I nonetheless went with her back to her home. Though I’d rather gloss over the subject, we had sexual intercourse. The next morning, while eating, she finally realized I was Australian and asked me about it.

“Are you from Australia, where the women are always pregnant and men are habitual thieves? Do you not hear thunder?” she asked. “You’d better run, better take cover.” She presumably was referring to the thunder when she suggested that I take cover.

Then, another time, I was buying bread from a man in Brussels. He was in rather good shape. I asked him if he spoke the Australian dialect of English in which words like “combie” and “chunder” are understood. Then he gave me a sandwich smeared with yeast paste. Then he began speaking.

“I’m from Australia, where people drink a lot of beer and male inhabitants vomit, presumably as a result of plentiful beer,” he said. “Do you not hear thunder? You’d better run, better take cover.” Again, presumably he was referring to the thunder, which has apparently followed me to Belgium.

Another time, I was in Mumbai, visiting an opium den. As a result of heavy intoxication, I was prostrate and slack-jawed. I asked the man, possibly the opium den manager, “Are you trying to tempt me because I come from a nation that seems rich and plentiful in comparison to yours?”

Then the man said to me the following: “Oh! Do you come from Australia Where the woman are always pregnant and the men are habitual thieves? Do you not hear thunder? You’d better run, better take cover.” You see, because the thunder had at this point followed me from Belgium to India.
Loses a bit, doesn’t it? And, also, who knew that the song was called just “Down Under” and not “Land Down Under”?



Apparently this will have to suffice for the second song of the week, the first of which was this better song. Back on track next week.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Roynish Clone

Wish I could remember where I found this one, but I can’t. It simply appeared mysteriously on my unsorted list of candidates for word of the week. I chose it for this post simply because we’re now at “R” and it was the first on the list to begin with this letter. It’s also the first word of the week to have strong Shakespearean association, as many definitions of it cite a line spoken to Duke Frederick in As You Like It: “My lord, the roynish clown, at whom so oft Your Grace was wont to laugh, is also missing.”
roynish (ROIN-ish) — adjective: mangy; scabby; mean; paltry; troublesome.
This tragically out-of-use word, which is sometimes also spelled roinish, probably doesn’t mean all of those things at once but can instead mean any of them in a given social situation. You have to admit, however, that one word that could potentially pack in all five slams against one’s hygiene or demeanor is pretty great, especially because it doesn’t sound like a bad word. If put in the proper context, it could sound downright regal.

The Wiktionary claims that roynish comes from the French rogneux, which in turn came from the French word rogne, meaning “scab,” “mange,” or “itch.” Through Answers.com, I found another etymology. (And, yes, I realize that comparing Wiktionary information against Answers.com information could possibly be as worthwhile a venture as comparing bus stop restroom graffiti with tenement elevator graffiti. “This one says ‘Mexico sucks balls’ while the other says ‘U.S.A. sucks cock.’ What to make of this disparity?”) According to an Answers.com affiliate called simply “Obscure Words” — which itself is rather obscure, as it’s not linked to in any way from Answers.com — roynish traces back to the French roin, “scurf”or “scab” to the Vulgar Latin ronea. My non-Vulgar Latin dictionary doesn’t have an entry for ronea and efforts to find an online Vulgar Latin dictionary resulted only in online dictionary definitions of the term “Vulgar Latin,” so I guess that path ends there.

The “Obscure Words” definition also offers the spelling roinous, which Microsoft Word AutoCorrect insists on changing to ruinous. While I’m on the subject of technical failures, a Google search for the spelling roinish offers the correction “Did you mean finish?” No, Google, I didn’t. I’m not yet that stupid.

Regardless of precisely where the term came from, I enjoy it as a wonderfully awful alternative to the overused stable of pejorative adjectives we English-speakers have to use against unpleasant people. As this blog demonstrates in the post “Thou roynish, eye-offending hedge-pig,” roynish appears as one of the mix-and-match terms in the Elizabethan Curse Generator, which surely will delight us all.

Previous words of the week:

Friday, August 22, 2008

The First Lady of Video Games

I’ve previously noted how Google searches for “world’s largest suppository” and “opalescent dragon” turned up less interesting results than I hoped for. I have a new one today, and one that I’m a little more disappointed to present: Google does not seem to have a definite answer to my query of “first female video game character.”

I’d always thought it was Ms. Pac-Man, but I’ve never been sure. Her Wikipedia page makes no mention of it, though that might be because it’s actually for the game Ms. Pac-Man and not the character herself. This blog and this video game character fan site posit that the one to hold this title is, in fact, the be-bowed female counterpart to Pac-Man. (She’s not necessarily his wife, hence the “Ms.”). However, Google also little else. (Some results posit Street Fighter II’s Chun-Li or Metroid’s Samus, though I’m sure neither is the first.) And searching for the phrase sans quotation marks turns up little else of interest. (Results range from a list of non-overly sexualized video game heroines to a profile of Chrono Trigger’s prominent tranny character Flea to, inexplicably, a rundown of various body types of male video game heartthrobs.)

image from hefnatron.com

So it is Ms. Pac-Man, right? Hopefully some other soul with nothing better to do but to Google this will now come across this page and correct me if I’m wrong.

Pac-Man, previously on Back of the Cereal Box:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Legend of Purple

Below is a YouTube video that plays the song “April” by Deep Purple. Yes, Deep Purple — the guys most familiar to me, at least, for songs like “Smoke on the Water,” “Woman From Tokyo” and the original version of “Hush.” I’d imagine most people my age haven’t heard “April,” however. It’s not even famous enough to warrant its own Wikipedia page. Those with a childhood rooted in Nintendo may wish to give a listem however, as it has numerous similarities to various themes from the original Legend of Zelda.



Frankly, I’m astounded. According to the Wikipedia page for Koji Kondo — the guy responsible for the music in most of Nintendo’s major titles, including the Super Mario Bros. theme — hasn’t necessarily admitted that “April” was a major inspiration for him when composing music for Zelda, but it’s hard to overlook the similarities.

Credit goes to NeoGAF’s “Cloudbush” thread, which I’ve written about before. Full of revelations, it is.

And for the sake of comparison, here is a clip of the actual Zelda theme. I felt a guitar version would best demonstrate the similarities. This one is played by Zack Kim, who does it by playing two guitars at once, which is pretty remarkable in an of itself.




Also, I’m going to include a different rendition as well — one of the original Zelda’s dungeon theme. Around the two-minute mark in “April,” there’s a brief part that sounds almost exactly like it, perhaps even more so than the overall song sounds like the Zelda main theme. Here is that, again played on guitar.



EDIT: Okay, while it's not ad admission of anything, Kondo mentioned in an interview with Nintendo Power magazine that he at one point played in a band that covered Deep Purple, among other things. So it at least seems possible that he could have been familiar enough with April to have had it influence his work. That's probably as close to a yes or no answer as we'll ever get.

Video games and music, previously:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Let’s Not Call Him "Blackie," Okay?

I’ve decided to answer at in full post form a question left by a commenter sometime back regarding an old Mario game. For better or worse, I seem to be good at answering these types of things, so as long as people are willing to ask about them, I’m willing to write.

The comment-question — or commestion, if you will — reads as follows:
Hi. I found your blog looking for this, and I figure you might know. I can remember playing this game at my cousin's house when I was a kid. It wasn't a Super Mario game, but I think Mario was in it. I don't think Mario was even in the name. I can't remember what it was called. I looked at lists of old Nintendos and didn't see it. It wasn't anything like regular Super Mario. And I think Wario was in it and would keep you from blowing stuff up. Can you tell me what this game is?
The answer: The inquisitive commenter was remembering Wrecking Crew, a game that most people should have trouble remembering on grounds that it’s actually not all that fun. Just hard. (In fact, ScrewAttack rated it the eighth worst Mario game ever.) I’d imagine the fact that it doesn’t have Mario’s name in the title hard to pick out, as nowadays most game’s featuring the company’s mustachioed mascot also feature his name in some manner. (Mario plays tennis? Mario Tennis. Mario plays golf? Mario Golf. Should Mario ever take up lacrosse, I’d wager the game will be called Mario Lacrosse.)

The title isn’t the only thing that might make Wrecking Crew hard to remember. The game itself plays little like what people today associate with Mario — you must break things with a hammer and cannot even jump to further this goal. Mario bounced his way through Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., always with cheerful boingy sound effects. Not so here. Unless Mario is climbing a ladder, he’s basically nailed to the floor.


image from virtualfools.com

Even worse: Mario can’t even use the hammer he carries to fight off the various enemies he encounters: anthromorphosized wrenches, anthromorphosized eggplants, finally, the subject of this post. The last of these happens to be the subject of this post. It’s not Wario, but an early, pixelated 8-bit version guy who happens to look a lot like Wario: yellow costume, pointy evil facial hair, and a general Mario-like appearance coupled with a total disregard for whatever goal Mario is trying to accomplish.

not the wario

This is where I overthink things.

Among the types who have reason or interest to track such mostly meaningless matters, it’s suspected that this non-Wario — named “Foreman Spike” in North America and, unfortunately, “Blackie” in Japan — served as a sort of proto-Wario, or at least the series’ first-ever human antagonist and kinda-sorta anti-Mario before the real thing arrived years later. Though Nintendo saw fit to limit Spike’s subsequent appearances, he did show up again in a remake of Wrecking Crew: the title Wrecking Crew ’98, which came out in Japan only, for the Satellaview, a modem add-on for the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo. (It allowed people to download games via a satellite radio station, daily, between 4 and 7 p.m. So, basically, it was the Flinstones car version of what we have now.) Anyway, by 1998, Wario had become popular and Nintendo seemed to restyle Spike in Wario’s image. Oh, and also in the image of a gay leather daddy. Oh that Nintendo!

spike: gayest nintendo character until captain rainbow

Spike appeared just once more — again in a game that never made it to the U.S. For whatever reason, he drove the vehicle that picks up balls in Mobile Golf. And for this last appearance, Nintendo reverted Spike back to his old image — less like Wario, less gay, and without the big red nose. And, also, he drove the ball picker-upper for no apparent reason.


Weirdly, Nintendo brings up Spike again in strange ways. In Mario Kart DS, for example, that same stupid ball picker-upper appeared as one of the vehicles used by Wario’s cohort, Waluigi.


People like me can only assume such callbacks are intentional and a means to pull strange old bits of Nintendo nostalgia to the forefront again. I appreciate it, anyway.

While I’m on the subject of Spike and his three different looks over the years, I think I’ll mention a certain design trend that Nintendo likes to perpetuate with Wario and Wario-related characters: drunkard’s noses, or at least what a U.S.-raised guy like me has come to recognize as the cartoony indicator of someone who enjoys the sauce a little too much. Wario has one. Always has. Waluigi, who was clearly designed in Wario’s image, has one too. And the Wrecking Crew ’98 version of Spike got one too. Later in Wario’s video game career, he’d have the WarioWare series, which introduced more people with red, inflamed-looking honkers.

left to right: jimmy, dr. crygor, and master mantis

Possibly red noses mean something different in Japan to what they mean here, but nonetheless I enjoy the thought of Nintendo putting forth a game populated by alcoholics. And it would appear that the trend applies only to male characters. The closest a search for WarioWare characters with nose issues that I could find was the woman I like to call “Miss Sniffles” — the distraught, sweater-clad, city-dwelling blonde from the oft-used microgame involving snipping her snot string.

dual-screen action joined into one mucousy mess

End note: I, at least, enjoyed this. Perhaps I shall write more about obscure Mario characters. Perhaps I shall suffer horrible indignation as a result of putting my name on this. Time will tell.

EDIT: A commenter offered a theory on Spike’s Japanese name. Given the game’s demolition theme, it seems plausible, at least that the Romanji representing his Japanese name could have actually meant Breaky rather than Blackie. I’ll support it, especially since the character is depicted more often than not as not wearing black. Thank you, anonymous commenter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Panic Gracefully, Panic Regally

Through Scrubbles, I ended up this morning at First Class to Hell, a blog written by two women who have been friends since childhood. They tell good stories, these two, but perhaps one of the best is one's (Parker's) account of being an extra in the Michael Caine bee terror movie The Swarm. Well worth a read. Parker ends her recollection of the experience with a clip of the performance of Olivia DeHavilland as an elementary school principal trying to keep her shit together as fuzzy honey-bearing arbiters of death pick off her charges one by one. Parker says DeHavilland deserved an Oscar. What do you think?



What the hell is that noise she makes at the end of the film? Is that supposed to be acting, in the classy old-time showbusiness sense of the word?

I may have to see this film. Netflix!

Earl Sneed Sinclair

Until today, Sinclair Oil was a petroleum company of which I was wholly unaware. Its logo looks like this:


How much do we all want to bet that Sinclair Oil was the inspiration for the surname of the central family on the very self-aware sitcom Dinosaurs, whose patriarch is referenced in the title of this post. I'd like to think that this was the case, especially because all of the Dinosaurs characters died in the shows finale, thus making them all prime candidates to be petroleum products today.

Also, since the subject has already been brought up, did you all realize that Jessica Walter of Arrested Development fame and soon to be of neo-90210 ignominy was the voice of the matriarch on Dinosaurs? Just try to imagine what Lucille Bluth would sound like angrily saying "Earl Sneed Sinclair" and you'll get it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why Don't You Come and Play Here?

In light of the lack of any more Maria Bamford Show to post here, I’ve been pondering what sort of series I could dedicate Sundays to. Words already get Saturdays. And video games get at least one of the weekdays, easily. What for Sundays, then? After some thought, I realized I don’t write enough about music here, so now I’m giving this a shot. Starting today — which, yes, is a Monday, but bear with me, because this is new — I’ll be writing each Sunday about one song that I think is good. I’ll give my thoughts on its merits, its lyrics, its music video, and then tell you all how you can download it, if you so choose. I’ll try to offer a range of sonic delights — old stuff, new stuff — but on the whole I’ll focus on stuff the average Cereal Box reader doesn’t already have jammed into his or her ears like so many forceful Q-Tips.

So here goes nothing.

Truth be told, I might not have picked She & Him’s “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” as the song to launch this series had it not been for its phenomenally strange video. I hope this doesn’t jinx the whole series and somehow predestine me to pick songs that are notable more for their music videos than anything else. I’m fairly optimistic this won’t be the case, however, because “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” had become my stand-out favorite from She & Him’s Volume One since I first heard them at Noise Pop earlier this year. I just didn’t know what the song was called back then.

In short, this song, to me, represents the perfect cross of indie pop with the type of old-fashioned country with which I’ve recently become enamored. The country influence isn’t all that profound, I suppose, and maybe it lies more in the background singers than anything else. (I’ll say it right here: This song utilizes background singers better than most songs I’ve heard in ten years.) Perhaps the country associations I’ve made result from the fact that the song’s opening lines — “Why do you let me stay here / All by myself? Why don’t you come and play here? / I’m just sitting on the shelf” — remind me on some level of the song the cowgirl character sang in Toy Story 2, which, I’m not ashamed to admit, moved me more than a song sung by a computer-animated action figure should have. The songs do bear a thematic resemblance, what with them both using unused toys as a metaphor for the end of love. Thankfully, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” is actually good, and is nether schmaltzy not sung by Sarah McLachlan.

Have a glance over the lyrics for this (good) song and see for yourself.
Why do you let me stay here
All by myself?
Why don’t you come and play here?
I’m just sitting on the shelf
Why don’t you sit right down and stay a while?
We like the same things and I like your style
It’s not a secret
Why do you keep it?
I’m just sitting on the shelf
I gotta get you presents,
Let’s make it known
I think you’re just so pleasant
I would like you for my own
Why don’t you sit right down and make me smile?
You make me feel like I am just a child
Why do you edit?
Just give me credit
I’m just sitting on the shelf
Nothing profound, really, but rather tight for a pop song, especially when you actually hear Zooey Deschanel belt it out.

As I said earlier, the song has received a bit of attention as a result from it’s surreal and slightly disturbing video. I don’t actually feel the video matches the tone of the song all that well, but as far as being something to watch while listing to the pretty words, it’s not so bad. It’s certainly more violent than the Toy Story imagery I had in my head and more populated with ghosts, but, on the other hand, Zooey dresses up like a cowgirl in it, so I actually have to wonder if the unused-toy-as-discarded-lover things was as intentional reference.

Here’s the video, which is worth the 150 seconds it takes to play through.



Bonus points: It gives M. Ward more to do than just lurking in the background, being less centrally wonderful, as seems to be his duty in She & Him performances. And you really have to enjoy those background singers at the end, getting more out of repeated nonsense syllables than their ilk usually are allowed. (Admission, however: For all I know, those singers could very well just be Zooey Deschanel, digitally multiplied, as if by magic.)

I’d say “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” is one of the better tracks to hit this year, and I’ve yet to tire of it. If my recommendations or the above video are motivation at all, I encourage you to download the track yourself, which you can either do through iTunes or, better yet, through the Amazon.com MP3 store.

Enjoy! And do check in on Sunday for another song I dare to say is fit for your ears.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Soda Popinski

At long last, another record of strange ways people have been finding my blog lately. I haven't posted one of these in a while simply because people started the highly unpleasant habit of arriving here through rather boring means. Stop it!
  1. The number one hit, through no fault of my own, I swear. Also, that search term could mean a lot of things, depending on how you parse it.
  2. A number one hit I can be a lot prouder of.
  3. See a doctor, sir.
  4. A duet that never happened but perhaps should have. Also, number one hit.
  5. Another number hit, surprisingly.
  6. You need to reevaluate your map skills.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Neither Quicksilver Not Quick-Solving

Another break from alphabetical order, I’m afraid, but one I liked too much to pass up. And when I say “liked too much,” I of course mean “wrote all of before I realized that I’d just done a “Q” word last week. In any case, this week’s word, which is largely notable only for its more popular, truncated form.
quacksalver (KWAK-sal-ver) — noun: an ignorant pretender to medical skills.
Obviously, this obsolete word gave us quack, which, when not referring to ducks, means basically what quacksalver meant. Before today, I’d never thought about the strangeness of using a term associated with waterfowl to call out a fraudulent doctor. Turns out the two are actually related. As Peter Bowler relates in The Superior Person’s Book of Words, the longer form of the word comes to us from the act of people chattering boastfully, or quacking, about his pseudo-medicinal wares, which could have likely included salves. As doctors today might well take offense to the term quack, Bowler recommends always using quacksalver, as it may “pass unchallenged in a roomful of doctors, who will probably assume that you are speaking of domestic silver.” Bowler doesn’t, however, explain why the word became truncated the way it did nor why the verb quack — which the American Heritage Dictionary claims came ultimately from imitation of the noise a duck makes — came to mean “boastful chattering.”

Wanting more background on this, I looked up quacksalver itself at the AHD and found something more: The word, which this dictionary defines more strictly — “a quack or charlatan,” implying that you could use it for any sort of faker — comes from obsolete Dutch. The first part was derived either from the Middle Dutch quacken, “to boast,” or quac-, “unguent.” (I’ll admit I had to look up unguent. It means “salve.”) The second part comes from the Middle Dutch salven, “to salve.”

Odd that there’s the disparity with the first part, and that the world could either mean “boast” or “salve,” especially since the latter would make quacksalver mean “salve salver.” Or something. The altogether generic-sounding encyclopedia.com notes that the Dutch word is now spelled kwakzalver, which I think is infinitely more fun to spell and look at. So good call on that one, Dutch-speakers.

Encyclopedia Drew and the Phantom Skull

A happy Venture Bros.-esque coincidence involving a table candle and a wine glass at Ca'Dario last night. Nothing accompanies fine Italian food better than the reminder that you are, in fact, going to die.

skull_glass

Cred to Noam and his Noamphone.

Previous Encyclopedia Drew adventures:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Active or Just Popular?

There’s basically no time when accidentally typing “bustiest” when you mean “busiest” doesn’t result in hilarity, is there?

Shrine of the Sea Monkey

Things I saw and decided to capture with the picture box machine in my phone.

wasps_having_sex

This, one of the many copies of Dori Carter's Beautiful Wasps Having Sex at a thrift store. The title struck me as hilarious, especially when paired with the cover image, until I realized that it probably refers not to wasps — the things that sting with rear-end venom injectors — but WASPs — the things that sting with gin-sharpened cutting remarks. Note to the cover designer: Acronyms become invisible when all the other letters are also capitalized as well. Doy. For whatever reason, the Amazon page for Beautiful Wasps Having Sex says that people who bought it also bought nothing else besides X-Files merchandise. Perhaps the books WASPs actually have venom injectors?

record_player

Then there's this: a sign posted at a different thrift store. (It was a busy weekend, clearly.) I have to give the sign's author credit for being far more optimistic a person than I could ever be. Realistically, a record player sold ten years ago is probably gone for good, likely sold again to other thrift stores twice over by now. And there's something wonderful in (a) publicly displaying a photo of your now twentysomething-year-old son gleefully holding a pair of oversized pajama pants, (b) having the only available photo of the thing you're looking for crop out about a third of said thing, and (c) informing the public that, despite the carelessness with which you treat your apparently treasured record players, you've somehow managed not to accidentally sell your son at a thrift store as well. Am I the only one who's never heard of an Altec Lansing record player?

miley_cyrus

And then this, which marks the first ever time I've bothered to mention Miley Cyrus on this blog. It wasn't a deliberate attempt to ignore her. I just didn't have good enough reason to bring her up until I saw this magazine, whose cover accuses her of doing the very thing that is the premise of the TV show that brought her stardom. You have to admit it's kind of funny. It's like accusing Raven-Symoné of being sassy. No, wait that's probably true. It's like accusing Cody and Dylan Sprouse of living in a hotel? Does that work?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Strange, But Not That Strange

Today I interviewed Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. I actually texted this information to some people today, not so much because I wanted to talk about it but more that today was the only day that I could have done so and not been lying.

In short, if you get this text from me tomorrow, I'm probably just trying to relive today's glory.

Shark-Bitten, Love Smitten

As noted in my now three-day-old previous post, my paper put out a shark issue. Below is my contribution, which may sound familiar to anyone who was reading my blog back in January. It’s a story about avid Cereal Box reader Tharpe-Tharpe and the shark that brought pain, carnage and ultimately monogamous love. With a human, I should add.
Shark Bite: A Love Story

This story doesn’t involve anyone who lives in Santa Barbara. You may ask why, then, it’s being printed in a Santa Barbara newspaper. The answer, simply, is that this issue is devoted to sharks and this story is good enough that you should read it anyway, because you probably don’t know anybody else for whom a shark bite resulted in a marriage proposal. Yes, this shark story is also a love story — and one with a considerably happier ending than most stories involving sharks.

Last October, my friend Megan Tharpe and her boyfriend, Aaron Finley, took a break from their lives in West Hollywood — where she works as a photographer and he as a sound engineer at the Los Angeles club Largo — to spend a few days in Maui. Typical sun-soaked Hawaiian vacation business, it was, and all organized under Aaron’s rule: “Land is for sleeping on at night, ocean is for daytime.” That came to an abrupt halt on October 29, when a dip at the Maui Four Seasons beach — a spot that Megan picked, she notes with some regret — ended with Aaron’s brief but memorable one-on-one with a tiger shark. “I swam out past where the waves were,” Aaron described, “and was floating for 10 or 15 minutes when I felt like I slammed into something. I thought I had drifted into a rock. I looked up and saw this huge gray hump. … Then I noticed my leg was bleeding.”

As sharks sometimes do, this 10- to 12-footer took a chomp out of Aaron’s leg, in what Hawai‘i-area newscasters deemed a “catch and release,” probably resulting from the fact that the shark was disappointed Aaron was not a seal or a turtle. That one bite, however, managed to cause a crescent-shaped, 10-inch gash — from his calf to above his knee — that left a significant chunk of meat hanging off his leg and his leg bone visible.

Aaron described backstroking to shore before beachgoers realized his predicament and one “Baywatched” him out of the water and carried him like a baby to a place where those concerned could examine the extent of his injuries. “Then we saw that his calf was not attached to the rest of his leg anymore,” Megan recalled. Most of the pain felt more like a broken bone, Aaron recalled, and less like the huge wound that it was. “You’d think something like that would be more devastatingly painful,” Aaron posited, “but the shark’s teeth are so sharp that it punctures the nerve, cauterizes it.” To this, Megan chimed in with, “Aaron has an amazingly high pain threshold.”

In the end, of course, Aaron survived — thus his ability to tell me his story — though his being alive entailed nerve grafts, having a vacuum suck tiny marine crustaceans out of his leg, an extra three weeks in Maui with his stitched-together leg sticking straight out in front of him immobile, and the knowledge that his bite was only an inch away from his femoral artery. (Solana Beach resident Dave Martin died from blood loss this April after a shark punctured this artery while he was swimming in the ocean by his hometown, Aaron noted, pointing out how lucky he was.) He can walk now, though he can’t move his middle and pinkie toes. “Which is pretty good, considering a shark bit me,” Aaron said.

Of course, Maui papers wrote about Aaron’s ordeal and soon Californian papers did too, including ones read by his and Megan’s families. “And that’s how we got engaged,” Megan explained. “The hospital asked who we were, so just so I had full access to Aaron, I said I was his future fiancée.” So as news of the shark bite spread to everybody back home, so too did news of the apparent bite from the marriage bug, with the latter taking a backseat to the former. Megan’s father arrived in Maui a few days later and a recovering, hospitalized Aaron asked him, “It’s a little late to be asking you this, but it’s all right if I marry your daughter, right?”

Sure, the shark attack diverted Aaron and Megan’s initial plans as a couple, maybe even accelerated them. But certainly a couple that can overcome a shark bite can cope with a slightly altered course in life. When they said that they planned to marry this October 10 at the Maui Four Seasons, I assumed it was some sick joke until Megan explained their reasoning: “When the shark attack happened, we made so many friends in Maui. … It’s our favorite place on Earth,” she said. “And it’s also cathartic. And we’re celebrating a year that Aaron isn’t dead.” Aaron said he plans to try his luck at the same beach once again, figuring the odds that he’d be bitten again are astronomical.

“Unless you’re swimming in steak-filled water,” he added. Appropriate though it might be, that particular activity is not scheduled to be part of the festivities.
As the in-print version of the article states, you can see especially graphic photos of Aaron’s shark bite. Click here and here, if you’re not bothered by a little raw flesh. And if you wish to further follow Megan and Aaron’s path to shark-born matrimony, visit her blog, Misadventures in Wedding Planning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I Am, We Are, Mario Is, They Are

As everybody knows, the internet was invented to give people a chance to argue endlessly about subjects that don’t really matter. A while back, I stumbled onto one of these.

Below is a screenshot of a beta version of Mario Kart 64. If you’ve actually played the game, you might notice that it looks different than what eventually arrived on the Nintendo 64. The character models look a little more cartoony, and Donkey Kong isn’t there. In his place is a Magikoopa — one of those wizard turtles who occasionally show up in Mario games. I found it here, and people using this message board couldn’t agree whether this character was just a generic Magikoopa or a specific one — Kamek, a character introduced as a bad guy in the game Yoshi’s Island.



I know, I know — God bless the internet. It’s like bickering over whether Greedo shot first, only without the widespread interest. That’s what I get for wandering onto message board. The argument, however, raises a point about translation differences in video games and a sense of “self-ness” that works different in other cultures than it does in mine. Essentially, a person or a creature can simultaneously be an individual and all members of its group. A little heady for something that grew out of an message board argument about Mario Kart, but it’s true.

Think about Pokémon, if you happen to have been exposed enough to it. It’s mascot is Pikachu, who is an individual character, but Pikachu is also a race of characters, who looks exactly like Pikachu and are all called Pikachu. It doesn’t jive with the American notion of celebrated individuality — “I’m the best me there is!” — but it’s nonetheless accurate.


The answer to the Mario Kart argument is that the would-be kart-driving turtle is both Kamek and a generic Magikoopa. (“Stop, you’re all right. And you’re all losers.”) Kamek is an unique character in the west, for sure, but in his home country, he’s known as Kamekku, but so are all the generic, non-talking, quickly stomped Magikoopas. In short, not everyone makes the distinction that we might here in the U.S. or in other Western cultures.

Since the above beta screenshot is the closest Kamek or any of his generic counterparts got to being playable in Mario Kart, most casual video game players probably have no idea who is, but the self-as-all concept applies to some of the better known Mario characters as well.


For example, Yoshi is Yoshi, the sticky-tongued, green dinosaur buddy who has followed Mario around since Super Mario World. But at the same time, a Yoshi is also the entire race of dinosaur characters that look just like Yoshi, except when they’re colors other than green. And even when they’re other colors, they’re still called Yoshi. It’s very strange, when you think about it.

Maybe Yoshi isn’t the best example. Take Birdo. She’s the pink dinosaur — though Yoshi can be pink sometimes, so don’t get them confused. (This is the least of the identity problems these two bipedal lizards share.) Birdo herself isn’t even always pink, however; she shows up in other games in all manner of shades and sometimes even shows up onscreen in multiples. They’re all Birdo, even if none of them happen to be the Birdo.

Likewise again with Toad. Little generic Toads showed up as far back as the original Super Mario Bros., but only with Super Mario Bros. 2 did he get the name “Toad.” They’re everywhere now, but they’re not always necessarily the Toad, except when they are. All Toads look the same, to a degree. At the very least, there’s a ton with blue vests and red mushroom spots. This last one is further complicated by the fact that latter-day Mario games now feature the old man version of Toad, Toadsworth, and a girl version of Toad, Toadette. They don’t appear in multiples, however, so it seems like they exist as are unique characters. That is, all female Toads aren’t called Toadettes and all old man Toads aren’t Toadsworths.

At least we can all rest easy knowing that there’s only one Mario — except when you’re playing something like Smash Bros. and there are multiples of him on screen, but that’s a different logical snag.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Down Where It’s Wetter

My paper is putting out a shark-themed issue this week. Yes, I realize that Shark Week was officially last week, but hey — we’re an alternative weekly, so I guess we get to have an alternative Shark Week.

In any case, I sat in on a meeting to think of cover lines for our shark issue. This process basically amounts to group stream-of-consciousness brainstorming, wherein the participants blurt out anything that comes to mind that might have some relation to the cover story at hand — appropriately themed idioms, puns, any available alliterations, pop culture references, and whatever else comes to mind. Almost instantly, I got the Little Mermaid song “Under the Sea” stuck in my head, specifically the lyrics “Darling it’s better / Down where it’s wetter / Take it from me.” My God. What a filthy, filthy collection of lyrics, even for a Disney movie with more than its share of sex joke urban legends associated with it. This chunk of the song seems especially filthy when you remember that it’s sung by Sebastian, a crab, and it seems especially strange when you remember that it’s being sung to a woman who lacks any apparent human body parts from the waist down.

Past mermaidery:
And then there’s also the odd connections between Disney’s version Little Mermaid and Mary Magdalene, which I stumbled onto while trying to find a good list of the sex-related urban legends surrounding the film. I’d previously read about Mary-related imagery associated with mermaids in general but had no idea that anyone, much less Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, had tried to make ties the between Jesus’s supposed number one lady and the Disneyfied version of mermaid who wanted legs. See here and here and here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Happy Quoll Tag to You As Well!

After a brief delay in the posting of the blogs on the website, I'm attempting a comeback. To kick off the renewed commitment to the posting of the blogs on the website, I've chosen to slip in a word-of-the-week. Just pretend this went up Saturday. What, you were expecting Maria Bamford?
qualtagh (pronounced something like KWAL-tog, I'd guess, though the internet is not forthcoming with an official pronunciation) — noun: the first person you meet after leaving your house on some special occasion. Also, the first person entering a house on New Year’s Day.
This is one of those that appears in collections of strange words and has little use otherwise. In fact, I found this word in Erin McKean's Weird and Wonderful Words and a lot of Google hits for the term reference that very book. To complicate matters somewhat, people seem not to know exactly where the word comes from to the point where anybody I saw had broken it down into etymological chunks. McKean suggests "first foot" as an apposition for the term, and I wonder if that two-word renaming might actually be a calque from Manx English into the non-Manx English that I tend to prefer. People do seem to agree that qualtagh comes from the Isle of Man. This rundown of various season-based Manx customs includes it, anyway.

McKean goes on to elaborate on the term:
The new year’s qualtagh, for luck, is supposed to be a dark-haired man. A red-headed or female qualtagh is unlucky. Other things to bring luck to the house on New Year’s Day include serving black-eyed peas, having the qualtagh bring shortbread and whiskey (sounds fine for any day of the year), and sweeping all the garbage in the house out through the front door before midnight on New Year’s Eve (so that any of the misfortune of the past year is gone, not to return).
A neat little superstition, no? Word-based social network Wordie — "like Flickr, but without the photos" — offers a little more insight. User Reesetee, whose name may or may not be an Animal Crossing reference, claims that the word at one point "referred to the custom of going in a group from door to door at Christmas or New Year, making a request for food or other gifts in the form of a song." So there's that, too, providing that Reesetee hasn't set out to pull the collective legs of all us word nerds.

Not the greatest pick, I'll admit, but interesting enough. In the end, I was a little disappointed that this all had nothing to do with quolls or tags that one might attach to said quolls. I probably should have just run with quasihemidemisemiquaver and left it at that.

Previous words of the week: