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.

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:

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.

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

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.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Disappointing Adventures of Leather Boy

My go-to in any discussion of awful superhero characters had always been Cocaine, a DC character who hails from Colombia and whose powers all stem from cocaine and whose name seems pretty obvious now that you know his backstory. And I stand by his suckiness, but I think we’ve got a solid Plan B: the Marvel character Leather Boy.

Leather Boy (real name, tragically: Gene Lorrene) applies for membership to the Great Lakes Avengers — a Milwaukee-based spin-off to the Avengers, which itself kind of sounds like a joke. He’s rejected, however, because he lacks any superpowers. You see, he’s not Leather Boy so much as a leather boy, ball gag and all, and he only applies because he mistakes the Great Lakes Avengers for an S&M fetish group. (An easy mistake to make, given the language that would go into such a classified ad, no?)

Leather Boy comes back years later, however, still smarting over the fact that he wasn’t allowed into the group in spite of everything I just relayed to you in the previous paragraph. Now wearing a leather fetish version of Doctor Doom’s costume, Leather Boy unleashes his rage on Monkey Joe — who, weirdly, is not a monkey but a squirrel who happens to be the sidekick of Squirrel Girl, whom Leather Boy felt didn’t deserve membership for reasons that should be fairly obvious. He kills Monkey Joe.

In the end, he is apprehended by Big Bertha, who sits on him. Bertha, by the way, has the superpower to increase her weight dramatically, though she can only return to her regular size by making herself throw up.

“In spite of all this, I still love comic books.” — me, reminding myself.

Superheroes, previously:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wallpaper for the Adventurous

No, I’m not going to make a habit of posting vintage wallpaper on this blog. I’m sure there’s already a blog for that. But I will post this: wallpaper I stumbled onto last summer. It dates back at least to the ’60s, and it represents everything that I think being a boy meant back then.

Do as you will with it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

With “It” Being a Lusty, Snaggletoothed Trashmouth

And then I realized that Amy Sedaris as Hurshe Heartshe on The Heart, She Holler looks more or less like a real-life, human version of Lil from Squidbillies, sloppy lines and all. I can’t tell if it’s a result of Adult Swim cross-promotion or just that there’s a certain aesthetic for that sloppy truckstop waitress who clearly puts a great deal of effort into looking like a slopcrundle.

Points for Lil, however: the Hedwig-esque hairdo.

Who Wore It Better? — previously:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How Super Mario 3D World Will Let You Kill God

Back in September, I wrote here about how I’m excited for a new Mario game in a way that I haven’t been since I was a kid. This week, Nintendo surprised fans with an additional reason to await Super Mario 3D World: an unlockable fifth character, Rosalina.

Okay, so you’re all, “Hey, I played the hell out of Mario Kart 64 and I don’t remember no Rosalina in there.” To which I’d explain that Rosalina is a relatively new addition to the series, having debuted in 2007 in Super Mario Galaxy. She’s subsequently showed up in the Mario Kart games as another Princess Peach-like alternative to Princess Peach. If Peach is Barbie and Daisy is Midge, Rosalina is the cosmic-powered, space princess version of Barbie that would never exist in the Barbie universe because it doesn’t get that weird. And you’d be all “Okay, yeah, whatever, I actually have to be somewhere else right now…?”

rosalina playable

What’s notable about Super Mario 3D World is that it’s part of the “main” Mario series — that is, not a tennis game and not an RPG — and it has Peach as a playable character for the first time since Super Mario Bros. 2 was released in 1988. But by adding Rosalina to the roster of playable characters, Nintendo has done something interesting: Peach is no longer the girl but just a girl — one of the female characters you can play as, not the only choice. This has never happened before in the history of Mario games — the hop-and-bop, grab-the-coin games where you save a princess at the end only this time you’re not saving the princess because for once she’s on the other side of the jail cell door.

But that’s not all.

In making Rosalina playable, Nintendo has allowed you to play as God, more or less. As it’s explained by the Game Overthinker, the Galaxy games explain that Rosalina is Lady Galactus, Creator of Worlds, whose job is creating, nurturing and controlling the galaxy. Basically, she’s responsible for all existence everywhere. So what is a seemingly omnipotent cosmic mother giantess doing hopping and bopping and coin-grabbing? Couldn’t she just blink the bad guys out of existence? I can only guess that she’s slumming it — seeing how the normal live, like a certain monarch who thought it would be a lark to play peasant. It doesn’t have to make sense. She’s God. She gets to do what she wants.

Funny side-affect of this, however: If you play as Rosalina and play badly, you get to kill God. That’s deep. Have fun with that, kids!

BTW, the game also includes a uniquely Luigi-centric version of the arcade game Mario Bros. It’s Luigi vs. Luigi.


If we’re considering names for the palette swapped, alternate Luigi, can I suggest 2uigi?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lena (the) Hyena

Like most children of the 80s, I was emotionally scarred by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. And yeah, I don’t know what the creators were thinking with the whole Judge Doom reveal at the end either, aside from possibly fulfilling their part of some sort of dark pact with the American nightlight industry. It truly was a messed-up thing to unleash upon our young psyches. But as horrifying as Judge Doom was, it’s not the scene that haunted me. Now this may be one of those moments where I’m revealing more than I realize, but the scene that actually gave me nightmares starred a different scary toon: Lena Hyena.

If you don’t remember, Lena shows up in a scene in which Eddie is trekking through Toon Town in search of Jessica Rabbit. Eddie thinks he’s found her, but the sexy silhouette proves misleading: He’s actually just found Lena, a hag-faced anti-Jessica who reacts to Eddie’s presence with an unbridled lady lust not often seen in children’s cartoons. Eddie, of course, wants no part of her — really, no part — but Lena pursues him anyway. Something about her lusty, pop-eyed wild takes bothered me to the point that I had dreams about her chasing me down, making kissy-faces and showing me her weird lady underwear. Ahem.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Oh, the Horrors of Etymology

In the same way that kicking over a rock allows you to see what squiggly, slimy things may be hiding beneath it, tracking down the etymology of words so often takes you into weird parts of history that you may never see otherwise. For example, today I looked up the etymology of the word barber. It goes back to the Latin barba, “beard,” it turns out, but the entry also offers this grim look into early healthcare: “Originally also regular practitioners of surgery, they were restricted to haircutting and dentistry under Henry VIII.”

isaac koedijck, “barber-surgeon tending a peasant’s foot,” via wikimedia
And I even knew that already, but seeing it laid out like that — plainly, matter-of-factly, as if it were no big deal that the same guy who cuts your hair should also cut your skin and dig teeth out of your gums — gave me a shiver. “Yeah, you’re your problem here is that you have too much blood. Here, sit down. This will take a while, because I will have to cut you open a lot.”

“It Gives Me the Scary Creeps” — The Bold Experiment in Confusion That Is The Visitor

Last week, I watched a Cinefamily screening of The Visitor, a 1979 film-like thing that stars John Huston, Shelley Winters, Glen Ford, Sam Peckinpah and the original Django for no reason that I can tell. It’s a good cast, yes, but the film itself is the kind of mess that results when the director gets fired and then the producer is threatened at gunpoint to not only hire the director back but also give him carte blanche to complete the film in whatever fashion his whackadoodle brain chooses. (That’s the story related to the audience at the beginning of the screening, allegedly shared by the original screenwriter.) At the time The Visitor hit American cinemas, critics accused it of ripping off both The Omen and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but I can’t imagine director Michael J. Paradise saw either of these films nor any other film ever, because this thing defies description — and not in a good way.

Check out the Drafthouse Films trailer:

And here’s a fan-made trailer:

Both prepare you for the kind of surreal, flashy Italian horror movie that I usually go nuts for, but what the trailers don’t tell you is that The Visitor is kind of a piece of shit. After the first half-hour, the visuals can no longer make up for a plot that herka-jerks from a confusing beginning to confusing ending. You wonder what’s going on, then you stop wondering, and then you’re just sitting there, watching characters act without explanation or any clear motive. I stopped caring how weird it got — and yeah, I’m surprised that I just typed that too — because the film’s weirdness never outmatched its suckiness.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

With “It” Being Eyes That Have Seen It All

Should Bjork ever locate the mythical Ice Crystals of Jólasveinn and achieve full use of her snow elf powers, she’d surely master the art of shapeshifting. And were she to transform into an animal that conveyed her full Bjorkiness, that animal would surely be the gerenuk, the African gazelle known for standing on its hind legs and appearing magical. Why, you may ask, would the single most famous Icelander become a animal that inhabits the dry scrub of East Africa? Because of this:

The smirk. The dark eyes. The glint suggesting that both are actually trickster spirits masquerading as earth creatures. Actually, I’m not sure that gerenuk isn’t already Bjork in disguise.

By the way, if you haven’t heard the album Bjork recorded when she was eleven years old, you’re missing out. A sample:

Who Wore It Better? — previously:

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Considerably North of the Tiki Room

This is the wallpaper in the former Fred Harvey Restaurant at L.A.’s Union Station. There’s nothing in particular I can say to convince you why it’s nice to look at, but maybe if you just look at it, you’ll see the appeal yourself. Click for the larger version if you must.

Because parrots.