Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Who Is the Man Who Puts Waves on the Sand?

Last night I posted about ten songs released in 2013 that I liked. However, I think it’s a more accurate measure of my tastes — and my year — to list off ten tracks that I discovered in 2013 that did not come out this year.

Enjoy, I hope.

“I Want Someone to Love,” by Vic Trick

You can’t ignore how big a debt it owes to “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but I enjoy how it veers off after the familiar-sounding intro. It’s almost wrong. Also, for me it’s a plus that I can’t understand half of what he says. He probably couldn’t either. “I like cigarette tonight [indecipherable] towards the stars.” That’s songwriting people..

“It Came in the Night,” by A Raincoat

A fantastic, mid-70s rock track that has been mostly lost in the pop culture shuffle, this song is one I suggest should be the official theme of Halloween.

“Storm Keeper,” by Culture Club

I’d either never heard it or never noticed it until this year. More pop songs should have flutes, I say.

“Army Dreamers,” by Kate Bush

An admission: Before this year, I actually never bothered with Kate Bush. Her videos always looked nuts, and she just seemed like a lot to deal with, even if she was adored by a good number of friends whose taste in music I respected. This year, I decided to figure out what her deal is. I still don’t know, aside from her being nuts — have you seen her videos? — but now I’ve gone through her entire catalogue, and I can see what everyone else always did. “Army Dreamers” is my favorite track, even though it’s perhaps the least Kate Bushy of her hits. I’m down with any songwriter who writes in triple time and narrates from the perspective of a character who is clearly different from her real-life persona.

“(Hey There) Big Bad Wolf,” by The Sham-ettes

I have written before about how happy I am that this song exists. There should be more songs written in response to pop standards. 

“Happy Station,” by Fun Fun

Because they sing the way Heidi Klum talks. And they dance like alcohol poisoning. That is all.

“Hollywood Cemetery Songs,” by Father John Misty

I know, I know; it’s only a year old. But I missed this song when it hit back in 2012. And I’m recommending it now because it makes me remember when I was in the seventh grade and first discovered this thing called alt rock.

“Right on Target,” by Paul Parker

Bonus because (a) Paul Parker looks like your friend’s hot dad and (b) “right on target” is most likely a reference to an anus.

“Le mannequin,” by Annie Philippe

Every few years, I apparently go through a ye-ye period. This year’s winner happens to be a narrative by a department store mannequin. Despite the rather limited narrator, the song suggests rather emphatic dancing gestures. Out in a field. In the sunshine.

“Oscillate Wildly,” by The Smiths

I learned this year that this was once the music that KCET played on-air when it advertised the night’s line up of programming. I work for KCET now. This made me happy, even if we lack anything on-air that’s half as cool as this. Unrelated but nonetheless relevant: I still say the girl on the album cover is a time-traveling Kristen Schaal.

Honorable mentions: Seriously, it’s just “Crazy Night” by Dorine Hollier. If you haven’t yet watched, please do; you’ll never see an Italian woman bop around onstage in quite so entertaining a fashion. And you can’t lose, 2013 or 2014 or otherwise, with lyrics like “Seems like the moon / Has grown a nose / Dance like a loon / A million shows.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

Alone on a Stage / In the Reflective Age

I’m not doing this to assert any authority in the music sphere. I’m just telling you what worked for me this last year, in hopes that my ability to keep your interest means with my writing you’re also down with my ideas on non-sucky music. Here, with no hifalutin airs whatsoever, are my favorite songs of 2013.

“My Number,” by Foals

I actually discovered this one only recently, but it’s still my most-played track of the year. It makes me want to dance. Like a drunk Muppet.

“You’re Not the One,” by Sky Ferreira

People who know me well might be surprised to see an out-and-out pop song rank so highly on this list. I am too, honestly. I’ve had a difficult relationship with Top 40-style music since the 90s, but this song fucking works. My love may stem from the fact that Ferreria is channeling Cyndi Lauper and non-shitty-era Madonna, but to say that’s almost unfair to Ferreria, because she’s ultimately doing her own thing. If this is what pop music was all the time, I would listen to pop music.

“Tell Me What Ya Here For,” by Fitz & the Tantrums

As someone especially sharp put it, “I am here for that amazing looped flute sample.” I enjoyed every track on this bands sophomore album, but this track narrowly beats out “The Walker” and “Out of My League.”

“Reflektor,” by Arcade Fire

Maybe not that surprising, since it was the new album’s lead track, but I never got tired of listening to it. I’m a sucker for a danceable track that skews dark and weird, and all the associated Phantom Zone imagery just ties it all together nicely.

“Hurricane” by MS MR

No, I’m still not sure how to pronounce the band’s name. Yes, the video reads like a CW musical take on the X-Men, but I’m all for dark, creepy pop.

“Dissolve Me” by Alt-J

I mean, I was as disappointed as anybody when I found out this group was just four white guys. Just based on the lead singer’s voice, I was hoping they’d be, like, space aliens or something. Still, the fact that they made an album that sounds like space aliens counts for something. This track grabbed me the most.

“Jenny” by Studio Killers

Unusually direct subject matter + accordion + imaginary band a la Gorillaz = an equation I can’t compute, but just trust me when I tell you that you’ll be humming this if you just give it a chance.

“Evil Friends,” by Portugal. The Man

“I can’t even be your friend.” After the creepy intro, it picks up around the 1:12 mark, and then truly blossoms at the 2:13 mark.

“Pyramids,” by Man Man

It’s Modest Mouse. It’s Soul Coughing. It’s a dance party for me and maybe no one else, but it’s maybe the best track from a rock album I enjoyed thoroughly, and it’s all too rare that I enjoy an album through and through.

“Entertainment,” by Phoenix

That opening riff gets me every time — and makes me forget that I ever got to a point where “Lisztomania” made me want to make Phoenix go away.

Honorable mentions: “Bullet Train,” by Gardens & Villa; “Take Me Over,” by Cut Copy; “Cut Copy Me,” by Petula Clark (who, yes, is still alive and still recording); “A Tooth for an Eye,” by Knife; “Needle,” by Born Ruffians; and “Together/Never,” by Oberfohher

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Icicle Houses

I don’t know why a song called “Bamboo Houses” would make me think of Christmas, but somehow this 1982 track by David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto puts there. But it’s not the well-lit, tinsel-wrapped take on Christmas. No, it’s the first hour of Christmas Day, just after midnight, when it’s dark and cold but still so much more interesting than this time of day most other nights of the year. There’s electricity, even if you’re an adult.

All this from houses made of bamboo.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Christmas Cat That Eats People

I like to think about how I’d explain the difference between Santa Claus and Jesus to an objective third party — say, a space alien or maybe someone for whom geographic location or economic circumstance had rendered December no more special than any other dreary, wind-blown month. My best effort: “They both come on Christmas, only one is an old magic man who brings children presents that have clearly been purchased in stores, and the other is a baby who actually received gifts, even if he wasn’t actually born on December 25. And the old man isn’t real, because adults don’t believe in magic, but they do believe in Jesus, because he was executed but then then he got better. Oh, also people who really like one traditionally aren’t so crazy about the other, though Jesus would clearly win in a fight.” This isn’t a knock against Santa Claus or Baby Jesus; I actually find it comforting how any belief system — religious or otherwise — begins to seem crazy when you write it out on paper.

(via flickr user gothomr // cc license)
And it’s for that reason that I can make fun of the Yule Cat without necessarily picking on the Icelandic people. From Wikipedia:
The Yule Cat (Icelandic: Jólakötturinn or Jólaköttur) is a monster from Icelandic folklore, a huge and vicious cat said to lurk about the snowy countryside during Christmastime and eat people who have not received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve.
Because little orphans shivering in the bitter cold of Reykjavik in December don’t have enough to worry about. It’s not all as “punish the poors” as it sounds, though it still basically is. From this site:
It may sound strange that the deprived ones will also become the sacrifices, but this tradition is based on the fact that every effort was made to finish all work with the autumn wool before yule. The reward for those who took part in the work was a new piece of clothing. Those who were lazy received nothing. Thus the Yule Cat was used as an incentive to get people to work harder.
So see? It’s not a grim story about injury being added atop the insult already borne by the Icelandic underprivileged. It’s a capitalistic fable about the virtues of working hard for your employer. Merry Christmas, you lazy employees!

painting by stephan wagemann, via his blog
The Wikipedia page for Yule Cat also recommends the related page on troll cats, which are explained as follows: “Either in the shape of a cat or a ball, troll cats sucked milk from cows and spat it out in the witches' milk pails, and went into homes to lick up cream. Related creatures are milk hares and milk rabbits.”

It’s the season to believe in something.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Happiest Arabian Family in Video Game-dom

Meet Imajin and his family.

You’re going to see a lot of them in this post.

I recently did something I’d only done once before in my life: sent away for a Japanese video game. Last time was years ago, and I did it to play a sequel to a beloved game that never made it outside Japan. This time, however, I bought a video game cartridge that I’ll probably never play.

It’s Doki Doki Panic, the game that became Super Mario Bros. 2, meaning that it’s for the Japanese version of the NES and that I therefore have no system to plug it into. I’m actually not sure why I even bought it, other than to possess a thing that always seemed out-of-reach. I can say this much, though: Flipping through the instruction manual makes for a very “red universe-blue universe” moment, because it means seeing familiar elements in a context that feels inherently wrong. It’s like someone mucked with the timeline and re-wrote history.

Here, you can play along too.

The official box art, for example, features the heroes, a jolly Arabian family, fighting the big bad and his monsters. It should look familiar even if you’d never heard of Doki Doki Panic, first because the big bad, Mamu, became Wart for the game’s transformation into Super Mario Bros. 2 and second because the box art for the Super Mario version of the game re-creates this scene, almost pose for pose.(Note, though, the latter is the artwork for Super Mario USA, the version of the American take on the game that Nintendo eventually released in Japan. The American box art for Super Mario Bros. 2 looks different, of course.)

Unsure what’s going on here, exactly, but I’ll say this much: My childhood could have benefitted from more anthropomorphic video game cartridges giving me instructions.

Something else I could have benefitted from in my childhood? Video games that devoted four pages of the instruction manual to storylines. It’s pretty clear that Mamu is trying to get a taste of those delicious winged moppets that Arabian culture is so famous for. I know what’s going on, more or less, and I know that the storybook motif explains why the final world is missing a level — I’ll bet it’s the ripped page in the bottom corner of page 8 — but if anyone can provide a word-for-word translation, I’d be eternally grateful.

I like how they show you the Bad Dream Machine right there in the manual, on the bottom of page 6, so as to prevent the “What the hell is that supposed be?” reaction I had when I got to the last room of the game back in the day.

I’ve mentioned before here that the pet monkey is not playable in the game, and I will point out a second time how that seems like a terrible oversight on Nintendo’s part. That said, they have dressed the monkey well.

Hit the jump for more.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Next Time on American Horror Story

I have to admit that I’m keen enough on this season of American Horror Story that I’m disappointed there won’t be a new episode on tonight. I want to know what happens next, more so than I have for any show I’ve watched in a while. So for a lack of any other options, I just wrote my own. It’s terrible, though I could imagine ninety percent of what I wrote in it actually happening in any given season of American Horror Story.

Yes, Delphine. It’s all lies. I hope it makes you make this face:


The scene opens precisely where last week’s episode left off: Voodoo queen MARIE LAVEAU (Angela Basset) entering Miss Robichaux’s Academy, seeking the help of FIONA GOODE (Jessica Lange) and her coven only after the mass slayings of Team Voodoo left her with no other options. FIONA beckons MARIE in, and MARIE strides into the center of the foyer.
(glancing at the décorWhite walls, white carpets, white upholstery, I see. I guess Marie Laveau should not be surprised. 
It lacks the earthiness of Cornrow City, I suppose, but in my defense, I had never been to your neighborhood when I decorated this place. Now, let’s talk turkey, Proud Mary. The way I see it, you’re all alone, and you don’t have any time to waste critiquing my home. 
That is where you’re wrong, white devil. Marie Laveau has one more trick up her sleeve, you best believe!
FIONA cocks her eyebrow. Just then the front door slams open, and in walks special guest star Alfre Woodard in a headwrap and a plain brown dress.
May I introduce you to…. HARRIET TUBMAN? 
Oh, just what we need: Someone else stinking up these walls with the very particular odor off… AMERICAN HISTORY
You hold your tongue, Zbornak. You see, Ms. Tubman did not survive to present day as a result of my voodoo magics. No, she stands before you as a result of… SCIENCE!
Thunder crashes. In a close-up, FIONA cocks her eyebrow. Just then, a panel on HARRIERT TUBMAN’s chest pops open to reveal blinking lights and circuits.
Bleep blorp! Bleep blorp! Destroy all honkies! Destroy all honkies!
FIONA gasps. Just then, NAN runs into the living room.
Fiona! Fiona! I’m subverting narrative tropes by articulating my sexuality! 
Target identified: caucasian moppet. Must kill without mercy.
HARRIET TUBMAN’s head hinges back, and a rocket launcher emerges from her neck. It fires, and NAN is incinerated on the spot.
Shit. Where’s that swamp witch? (yelling offscreen) Misty! Oh, Misty Day! Get your magic mud ready, because this one is going to be a real fucking jigsaw puzzle!
A mud-spattered, barefoot, overall-clad MISTY DAY enters carrying a bucket of mud.
Y’know, I can do other things aside from use my miracle mud to bring dead people back to life. 
Oh, just do the mud thing, Hucklberry Quim.
MISTY begrudgingly pours mud on the small charcoal pile that was once NAN. ROBO-TUBMAN, meanwhile, flies about the room using her hoverpack.
That was quite the trick, Ms. Laveau. But surely you would have expected us to use the power of resurgence to shore up our numbers as well. May I introduce the whitest, most evil witch-bitches in history?
Doors fly open to reveal the new witches, one by one. First, out steps Shirley Jones in colonial get-up.
Look out, 2013! It’s evil Betsy Ross! Grr!
Next it’s Shelley Long wearing a sensible pantsuit.
I’m former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, and I was a witch the whole time, it turns out. (She winks.)
The third door opens to reveal Hilary Duff, dressed to the 1930s fashion. She does not speak, but simply clutches her abdomen.
Go on, girly. Tell them that you’re Bonnie Parker. 
My… Ugh, my bullet holes really hurt. I don’t think you brought me back right. Should my bullet holes still hurt? 
Oh, for God’s sakes.

I’m just going to sit down for a bit. Let me rest up and I can be a witch.
Up-and-coming witch ZOE races into the room.
Everyone, I had a new terrible idea that we should all do! What if we all ate poison?
MARIE and FIONA clearly hate the idea.
No, no! Hear me out: If we all eat the poison now, the witch-hunters won’t be able to kills us. It’s the perfect surprise plan.
FIONA cocks her eyebrow.
Of all the stupidest… 
It’s a bad idea, isn’t it? Oh no! I already ate the poison. 
Why would you think that would be a good idea? 
Madison said it made sense! 
She’s mean when she’s sober. Was she drunk when she encouraged you to take the poison? 
Cut to MADISON in a separate room, dead, again, just this time from alcohol poisoning.
It’s hard to tell when she’s sober. 
Everyone! Everyone, hush! Quit you’re fussin’ and fightin’ for a moment. I can feel somethin’ powerful comin’ our way. I sense it from my dirty swamp feet to the nape of my red neck. I’d sound more urgent if I weren’t so folksy. 
What you feel, Bayou Billy? 
It’s her! She’s coming? 
Who, girl? Speak! 
(Running into the room) Oh, I feel it too! Yeah, it’s her alright. Um, her. I knew she was coming. (Looking around desperately) Someone acknowledge my worth as a person, please. 
Please, Delia, do not interrupt the one who is the obvious heir to my power. Now Misty, you’d better not be talking about Stevie Nicks again. 
(Pointing directly into the camera) No, it’s her!
Roseanne, draped in purple and scarlet straight out of the Book of Revelations, lands her flying convertible in the front yard of Miss Robichaux’s. The car has the license plate “ANTI666.” She steps out and ambles to the front door.
Yeah, yeah — it’s me, the Whore of Babylon or whatever. I’m here to wrap stuff up, I guess. (Looking around the room) Wow, would it kill you broads to get a Y chromosome in here? 
It’s The Ultimate! The culmination of all witchery! Why have you come to us now, Your Grace? 
I’m a diva ex machine, I guess you could say. (Checking her notes) Oh, and apparently we’re having another big musical number this season. One! Two! Three! Four!
The entire cast snaps into a well-choreographed performance of “We Are Family,” save for ZOE, who has succumbed to the poison. The song ends with Miss Robichaux’s Academy spontaneously collapsing on top of the entire cast, killing everyone in a spectacular metaphor about the American family or possibly New Orleans. The camera pans over to the disembodied head of DELPHINE LALAURIE, sitting on a tuft of grass. It has managed to outlast everyone else.
Only I remain to tell this tale of witchery and womanhood. I have learned valuable lessons about how my fellow women are just that, regardless of the color of their skin. But who would listen to a tale told by a two hundred-year-old head without a body? Alas, no one shall, for a hungry-looking Rottweiler is headed my way.
The Rottweiler grabs Delphine’s head by a lock of hair and drags her away.
Oh, will these indignities ever end? Will I ever die?
As Delphine’s plaintive cries fade, a voiceover by Cicely Tyson begins: “Yes, Delphine did eventually die somewhere. Why shouldn’t she? Tune in next week, when we fill out the rest of this season’s remaining episodes with an unrelated subplot about, oh, let’s say Connie Britton, Zachary Quinto and maybe aliens or something. Or Bigfoot? Yeah, let’s do Bigfoot.”


Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Original Fox Confessor

Never having bought a physical copy, I’d only seen the cover art for Neko Case’s 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood all squinched and shrunken in my iPhone screen. When I finally saw a high-res version a few days ago, I was pleased to learn that no, that isn’t a misshapen but monolithic bouffant the girl is sporting: It’s just the shadowy landscape behind her. Roll your chair back and make your eyes go blurry if you can’t see how I could have mistaken that shape for a Selma Bouvier-style ’do.

This seemed relevant at the moment — a phrase I find myself saying more and more often these days — and so I posted it on Facebook. My friend Bri asked me what the hell that album title was referring to. I had no idea, I realized. I looked. Here’s what I found out.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Just Dripping With Creativity

Today I learned the subtext of the word seminal. It’s semen. Yep, just like it sounds.

Years spent around the endless praise of arts journalists may have warped my thinking, but I feel like when people use the word today, they’re most often using it in the context of creativity — a seminal book is one so original that it prompts the existence of later works. But even that use — planting a metaphorical seed — goes back to the primary definition listed in Merriam-Webster: “of, relating to or consisting of seed or semen,” as in seminal vesicles. Etymonline says that the generative sense of the word has been in use since at least the 1630s.

So remember: The next time someone refers to a book or album or film or artwork as being seminal, you’re not only allowed but encouraged to ask whether this thing is generative or just covered in semen. If someone objects, just explain, “Hey, there’s thing called etymology, you clod.”

While we’re on the subject, is there any way that Donna Summer’s seminal 1980 dance track “Hot Stuff” is also the other kind of seminal as well? If you haven’t listened to it recently, do so, give the lyrics a once-over and then ask yourself just what kind of hot stuff she’s looking for.

Suggested topic of conversation for dinner parties: “Hey, can anyone guess why the disco anthem ‘Hot Stuff’ is doubly seminal?”

Words that are surprisingly sexual, previously:

Friday, December 13, 2013

Jingle Your Bells

Finally, the Christian, Caucasian, heterosexual Christmas we all deserve.

christmas tree lane. altadena. 1953.
Jokes aside, this photo stirs my Christmas spirit in ways few similar displays could. (Via the USC archives, via this column.)

EDIT: Whoa. And now Google Plus has just informed me that it did this... on its own?

They called it “auto awesome.” Is this, at long last, what Google Plus is for — adding snow gifs to old photos? Here is the notification I got:

No other explanation was provided.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

America’s Most Regal Actress

And then I realized that Regina King’s name literally means “queen king.” And that’s fitting, because spending your adolescence in the presence of Jackee and then emerging as the toughest, nailsiest, tough-as-nails cop on Southland means you get to own your regal status.

Oh, and extra cool points for voicing both Huey and Riley on Boondocks, which I didn’t know about until right now.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

King Koopa's Kool Kartoon Klub for Kkids!

One of the things about The Simpsons that has always seemed anachronistic to me is Krusty the Clown. Bart and Lisa being kids born in the early 80s, they shouldn't be watching a live-action Bozo the Clown type, and it's all the more so now that Bart and Lisa are kids born in the early 2000s. I didn't grow up watching any Bozo facsimile every weekday afternoon. My cartoons just introduced themselves. In fact, I think I wouldn't have liked a non-animated presence in these children's programming blocks. (No, shut up -- it's perfectly normal and healthy for children to relate more to anthropomorphic cartoons than it is to other humans.) But apparently this wasn't the case for all kids my age, and some of us actually had regional kids shows.

via retrojunk
Like the ones who got King Koopa's Kool Kartoons.

Yep, King Koopa -- that is, not Bowser but his hairless DIC-universe alterego -- hosted a half-hour live show as a spin-off to The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, which also featured live action intros to the cartoons. But while Super Show had Captain Lou Albano (R.I.P.) and Danny Wells (R.I.P.) introducing licensed Nintendo-themed cartoons, Kool Kartoons had Koopa (Cobra Commander voice actor Chris Latta, also R.I.P.) pushing public domain animated shorts, which must have seemed neither kool nor cool by comparison. According to Wikipedia, the show aired only during the 1989 holiday season in the greater Los Angeles area on KTTV Fox 11, though that was enough to earn it a local Emmy nomination. (I hope the nom was for excellence in terrorizing sensitive children via grotesque masks)

Apparently the kids in the audience got to take the T-shirts home with them, but they had to turn in the Koopa Troopa helmets after taping completed, which makes me wonder if any of them are still floating around in L.A. A Google search, alas, has turned up nothing. I'd imagine that most thrift stores that actually had these weird, flesh-colored turtle helmets sitting around wouldn't even know what the hell they were supposed to be.

 At least one kid from Whittier got a Power Glove out of it, though. That's something.

I mean, someone should have gotten something out of this -- you know, aside from nightmares about a real-life malformed Koopa forcing you to watch public domain cartoons.

Discussion question: Should 1989 be far enough along, culturally speaking, that people should know that switching out the letter "C" for the letter "K," especially in alliteration, has some nasty associations?

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Fireballs of Our Youth

It’s 1993 in a Pizza Hut arcade. I’m decked out in the most stylish Gecko Hawaii tee that Mervyn’s had to offer, and I’m standing in front of a Street Fighter II cabinet. I’m not playing. I either have no quarters or have already spent my allotted quarters, so I’m watching an older kid play. He’s fighting as Ken — the banana blond, He-Man-looking of the game’s two main characters, if you’re unfamiliar, and a practitioner of a martial art that involves throwing fireballs. Each time he shoots one off, Ken announces it by yelling the name of the move. (In a real-life fight, I realize now, this would reduce the likelihood of taking your opponent by surprise.) Curiously, the kid playing the game does this as well: Whether as a result of a nervous tic or rampant fanboy-ism, but he also announces the move every time he performs it. Only he doesn’t say it right. Instead of “Hadouken,” the proper name for the fireball, he says “All you can,” which is what it kind of sounds like, given the crude voice samples available back in 1993 and the context of a noisy arcade.

I put up with this until I could take no more.

— All you can! All you can!

— You know, that’s not what it’s called.

— What? All you can! All you can!

— When he shoots the fireball, he’s not saying “All you can.”

— Yes he is, stupid.

— No, he’s saying “Hadouken.”

— “Ha-doo-kan”? What does that even mean?

— It’s the name of the move.

— Who told you that?

— Nintendo Power.

— Well, it’s wrong. He’s says “All you can” because he’s saying “This is what I can do.”

— No, that’s wrong. If you listen on the home version, you can totally hear it.

— Why would he be saying some dumb made-up word?

— It’s not made-up.

— Yes it is. All you can! 

— No, it’s Japanese.

— Okay, now I know you’re stupid. Ken wouldn’t be speaking Japanese.

— Why not?

— Because, stupid: Ken is American. Why would an American person be speaking Japanese?

— Because this game is from Japan.

— Then why are there white people in it? Why aren’t all the characters Japanese?

— Because they wanted people all over the world to play it.

— And you think they brought this game to America and didn’t realize that they had the American character speaking crazy Japanese language?

— Yes.

— No, that’s probably against the law. You can have people speaking a language people don’t understand. How would you know what they’re saying?

— I don’t think that’s against the law.

— I’m going to ask my dad.

At this point, the older kid has lost — apparently yelling your special move names doesn’t help you win simulated fights, either — but on his way out into the pizza-consuming area of this establishment, he taps on the shoulder of another gamer at another machine and then gestures at me: “Hey, this stupid kid right here thinks that the people who own this place went to Japan Asia to buy their Street Fighter game, and then they didn’t even get the one that was for speaking American.” And he laughs and walks away.

(While I’m taking wild stabs at what we had, two key phrases are actual, verbatim quotes that have stuck in my head all these years — “Japan Asia,” in the style of “London, England,” as if Japan were the capital of Asia, as well as that classic shorthand for ignorance, “speaking American.”)

Daniel Stern voiceover: I didn’t realize it at the time, but that exchange actually foreshadowed a great many similar ones I’d have later in life, often with people in positions of power and who I sadly cannot just leave in the arcade while I enjoy my pizza. And that, maybe, is the saddest part of all.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

At Last, the Sexualized Fungus You’ve Been Waiting For

You know that line in “Landslide” where Stevie Nicks says that she saw her reflection in the snow-covered hills? This is kind of like that.

mushroom penis
This because I’ve been a little pressed for time lately, so this is all I can offer you at the moment: mushrooms shaped remarkably like penises. It’s not much, but isn’t it also everything?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Not-So-Hidden Mickey

In line at the liquor store, I noticed the girl next to me looking down into my shopping bag. I looked too. This is what we both saw:

I looked up. So did she. Our eyes met. I said to her, as flatly as possible, “It is a Christmas present for Mother.” I didn’t break eye contact. She did.

And that, young lady, is why we shouldn’t be nosy.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Cover Art for My Forthcoming Adult Contemporary Album

This is what I look like:

By which I mean that I’m constantly perched on a wall, H. Dumpty-style, and constantly enshrouded by the gentle colors of a warm desert dusk whose arrival turns everything beneath it into silhouettes and then into barely nothing at all, and also I constantly have eyebrows or at least have had them so far and do not intend to remove them.

This is all for today.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Duck Amuck

If you’re more or less the same age as I am, you probably grew up on a generous diet of Warner Bros. cartoons and their prolific third wall-breaking. Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Histeria! and Freakazoid! all went as meta as they could, considering their target demographic and that group’s still-forming brains, but it’s important to appreciate how far back this tradition goes in Warner Bros. animation. The short “Duck Amuck” demonstrates that the trend of breaking through frames of reference and just generally having fun working within and escaping out of animation.

Please watch it in its entirety:

I enjoy how it’s funny while menacing and also as surreal as hell — or, in short, everything a cartoon should be. What a fun break from the work-a-day misery of a Monday immediately before a holiday weekend, no?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I Don’t Have a Pleasant Speaking Voice...

But that didn’t stop me from responding “Yeah, why the hell not?” to a request to guest on a podcast. Now, instead of just reading my words on a screen and imagining how garbled and nasal my voice sounds, you can find out for sure!

Click here to listen if your idea of a good time is hearing me and two other guys go on and on about subjects including but not limited to old video game commercials, bitcoins, the perversions of Reddit, hyena women, bull men and why American Horror Story is like fantasy football.

Also, while we’re on the subject of status updates, I’ll point out that I’ve started a Facebook page for Back of the Cereal Box — you know, because that’s where all the hip, young kids are nowadays. I realize this should have happened years ago, but I’m doing it now just to limit the amount of times I push my blog content on people who know me but maybe don’t find my nerdish leanings all that endearing. If you’d rather see Back of the Cereal Box content in your Facebook feed, just like my page to follow along.

This will be all.

King Dong

Did you know that Jessica Lange made her movie debut in the 1978 remake of King Kong? I think that makes for an appropriate beginning for an actress who is now muttering about retirement as she’s found success once again in genre work with American Horror Story. However, to me, that will never be the most notable thing about this version of King Kong. No, it it will be how much these film still makes King Kong’s finger look like a giant black penis pointing directly at Lange’s lady parts.

It’s. Just. So. Hard. Not. To. See.

I know there’s a great deal of academic discussion about King Kong and its underlying themes of racism and colonialism, and I’d imagine that a few people have tried to unpack the sexual imagery of King Kong in general or this scene in particular, but a Google search turned up nothing but people conjecturing about how big King Kong’s penis would be, and I decided that I hated the internet and closed that tab.

Coming in a distant third as far as notable things about this version of King Kong is the fact that Lange’s character is named Dwan. Not Dwayne. Dwan. An attractive would-be actress character named Dwan. It’s been forever since I’ve seen this movie. Do they explain that name? Did they think “Dawn” was already taken?

Dwan aside, it’s really hard to get past that giant King Kong penis finger. That, I suppose, may be the point.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Taking a Page from Super Mario Bros. 2

I write about Super Mario Bros. 2 a lot, I realize, especially considering that the game is now twenty-five years old. I suppose that results from the combination of it being especially surreal, even by Super Mario standards, and me having encountered it at the perfect age to be asking “Hey, why is that?” I actually still ask “Why is that?” fairly often. One of the things that had always bugged me about the game is its level structure. Super Mario Bros. makes sense: four sets of levels each composing a world, and eight world altogether. It’s all tidy and even. Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t so easy: It has seven worlds, but an irregular number of stages.

The first world has three levels.

The desert world has three.

The ice world has three.

But the last world — the one on the clouds — only has two.

Granted they’re longer than most other levels, and harder too, but it should probably surprise most first-time players that it’s the second level that ends with a fight against the biggest of the big bads. There is no surprise third level.

“Hey, why is that?”

The answer, apparently, lies in the source material: Doki Doki Panic, the Japanese NES game that was remade into the American sequel we call Super Mario Bros. 2. In Doki Doki Panic, the four heroes are an Arabian family trying to rescue two children, Piki and Poki, who were sucked into a magical storybook. Also, there’s a pet monkey, but the monkey doesn’t get to do anything, which anyone can tell you is a lost opportunity on Nintendo’s part.

Watch the dramatic kidnapping (plus listen to a weirdly off-key version of a tune that should be familiar to anyone who beat Super Mario Bros. 2).

It doesn’t show it in the intro, but the storybook motif explains the missing final level, at least according to this page: In the scuffle, the final page of the book accidentally gets destroyed. Yep, the final level is missing because the ending of the book got removed. You, the player, has to go through the game and beat the big bad, essentially re-writing the lost ending.

Weird, right? And possibly a little meta? Especially when you look back on those stage intro screens I posted above and you realize that they retain that “page of a book” motif? They literally look like stacks of paper.

I’m assuming this backstory comes from the instruction booklet, which I (a) don’t have aside from this snippet and (b) couldn’t read anyway because it’s in Japanese. Can anyone with such access and a functional understanding of Japanese verify? The Mario Wiki, being a wiki made by and for crazed fans, isn’t so hot with the documentation and citation.

Previous times Super Mario Bros. 2 made me question things:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Another Twenty Free Movie Titles

To start out this follow-up to “Twenty Free Movie Titles” and “Twenty More Free Movie Titles,” I’d like to express my great disappointment that the title I wanted to kick this list off turned out to be a real movie. Yes, they actually made a movie called I Dismember Mama, and while it’s not a more horrific re-telling of I Remember Mama (mine was), it did beat me to the punch with that title.

Here are the other nineteen, plus one I just made up on the spot to replace I Dismember Mama.

It’s a Two-Way Street... of Terror

Vlad the Impala

Broken English & Shattered Femurs

One Long Splapfight

The Disappointing Adventures of Lazy Susan


Midwife Crisis

The Wrath of Connie Sellecca

They Cried “Hogwash!”

Not Until My Farts Get Better 
(Working title: Doctor’s Orders)

The Revenge of Mister Meter Maid



Uh Oh! No More Grandmas!

Auntie Christ

Stab Until There’s Nothing Left!

Huggy the Misunderstood Snake

Hats Dropping, Pants Popping

Duck Duck DEATH!

The Adventures of Bi-dra, the Bisexual Hyrda

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Music They Play in Hell

To say that popular music has changed over the last century is only profound on the level of “Most humans have two elbows” and “That fat dog is fat.” But even knowing that, it can still feel jarring to hear a chart-topper from some past decade and then to realize just how much mainstream tastes have shifted. Even the biggest proponent of “Well, it was a different time and place” and “You have to consider the context” must sometimes stop in his tracks and let loose with a “Holy shit, people listened to this?”

I first heard “If I Knew You Were Coming” back when I was a little kid and my brother received a series of vintage sports bloopers tapes for Christmas. Every goddamn one of them used the song, and even as kids we could tell that the song sucked. It became a game: racing for the remote to fast-forward through the sequence just so we could hear as little of the song as possible. Here (hear), listen why:

This version, sung by Eileen Barton, hit number one on the Billboard charts back in 1950. Today, I can’t imagine another use for this song other than something you’d try hard not to hear.

Pressing questions:
  • Was this a song that dumb teenagers made popular, much to the annoyance of grown-ups who could tell that it was actually annoying? Or was it an actual mainstream hit?
  • Is this something people danced to? If so, how did they dance to this — just bobbing around on their heels with a big dumb grin on their face that says “No, this is fun”?
  • Did people actually play this song when guests arrived? Was it like the “Happy Birthday” song of having friends over?
  • Is it awkward that she talks about how she would have hired a band when she clearly is being backed by band?
  • Is the lyric “I don’t know where you came from / Because I don’t know where you’ve been” more or less stupid than Billy Corgan’s “What I choose is my choice”?
  • Does she sound like Tress MacNeille to anyone else but me? Or does she just sound like Lindsey Naegle?
  • The subtext is that the cake would have been poisoned, right?

“Hotchadoo, hotchadoo, hotchadoo.” [Dances off stage.]

EDIT: The sexual implications of “If I knew you were coming” and spreading mats have just been brought to my attention. Ew.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Long Tongue of the Etymologist (or — A Collection of Unrelated Trivia Bits)

Occasionally, I come across a bit of information that’s not exactly tweetable, not exactly bloggable. Such info-nuggets get dropped into the cyber-junk folder that is my Google doc that I titled “whatever maybe????” No, really — that’s what I call it. 

These are their stories. Well, no, here are two anteaters first. (Anteaters are unrelated to trivia but still.)

via me; see a larger version
If I had to guess the origin of the word skosh, “a little bit,” I’d say Yiddish, just based on the sound. I’d be wrong, because it comes from Japanese. Yay, wars!

Maleficent’s horned headdress is apparently called an atora, though the internet doesn’t seem to be clear on why it’s called that. It could have something to do with the fact that a British brand of shredded beef once used that name, adapted from the Spanish word toro, “bull.”

ol’ bullhead
Cyndi Lauper wrote “Time After Time” after seeing the movie of the same name, and I think that is neat.

If you’ve ever wondered why west-of-the-Mississippi radio and TV station call letters start with “K” while their east-of-the-Mississippi counterparts start with “W,” know two things: That’s not exactly how it works, boundary-wise, and although we know who assigned those letters, we have no idea why they got picked over any other letter.

When Ricky Ricardo sang about Babalu, he was actually singing about Babalu Aye, an African god of earth, infectious disease and healing. No, really.

Eagleheart was right, more or less: bezoars are actually things that exist. Protip: Don’t do a Google image search for them.

Why use the word twin when you could use the synonym twyndyllyng instead? It is allegedly the longest English word without a vowel, though any sane person can see why that is not true.

There is a crab whose scientific name is Graspus graspus, which alone is pretty good, but even better is the fact that its common English name is Sally Lightfoot, which sounds like someone your mom was friends with in the 70s.

Just based on how it sounds, you might guess that narwhal means “northern whale,” etymologically speaking. Nope. It acuially means “corpse whale.”

In similarly horrible realizations, the word mastodon means exactly what the etymologically-inclined might guess it means: “breast-tooth” — “so called from the nipple-like projections on the crowns of the extinct mammal’s fossil molars.”

the crab called sally lightfoot, via
The bassoon is known in Italy as the fagotto… obviously.

Aguascalientes — literally “hot waters” — is one of the states that comprise the E.E.U.U., or the United States of Mexico. This state name uses agua, which comes from the Latin word for water, aqua. Weirdly, the word for people from this state is hidrocálido, which uses a form of the Greek root for water, hydro. No one knowledgeable about Mexican culture or language has yet been able to explain to be why this is the case.

We’re not sure, but Bugs Bunny may be the reason that nimrod became an insult.

The French word for “werewolf” is loup-garou, which awkwardly translates as “wolf-manwolf.”

Though I guessed many, many posts ago that the Mega Man robo-dog Rush might have been named for the prog rock band of the same name, that is apparently not the case. Mega Man’s creator, Keiji Inafune, explained a few months back that the name results from an old Capcom game, Rush & Crash, plus the fact that the Japanese pronunciation of rush, “rasshu,” sounds a lot like the Japanese pronunciation of Lassie, “rasshi.”

This is all. Please enjoy! Link dumps, previously:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Batman: Knight of Varying Color

Don’t let Christopher Nolan mislead you: There’s room for everyone in Gotham, where you like to think of Batman as that menacing gargoyle, perched atop a roof and silhouetted by a flash of lightning, or as Adam West, blue-suited and smirking and surrounding by pop art onomatopoeia. As proof of this, please examine these two takes on Batmania — completely unlike each other but both valid takes on the subject matter.

Batman: The Hypercolor Knight

This one comes from Teen Titans Go!, Cartoon Network’s spin-off to the original Teen Titans series that skews kiddier but doesn’t quite veer into the nursery, Muppet Babies-style. Last week, Robin returned to the Batcave, and Dan Hipp’s art direction showed how awesome it can look with some color to it.

teen titans go batcave dan hipp
click for a larger, more spectacular version
There’s not a single, uncharged black in the entire room, aside from Robin. That may be telling.

Batman: The Monochrome Knight

And then there’s this: “Silent Knight, Unholy Knight,” the second installment of the Batman: Black & White series. It re-imagines Batman as a silent film, complete with title cards.

Silent Knight, Unholy Knight -- Batman: Black & White

Silent Knight, Unholy Knight -- Batman: Black & White

Silent Knight, Unholy Knight -- Batman: Black & White

Just don’t put nipples on the Batsuit.