"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ding Dong

I've been trying very hard all day to take the high road and not to gloat, cheer or pile-on. It should always be a sad occasion when someone dies, but in the case of Jerry Falwell I'll make an exception. I'll also admit to having cracked a smile when they hung Saddam and when I heard Nixon and Reagan had finally croaked. Evil crap-sacks, each and every one. The ad is from Hustler --Jerry famously sued them and lost. He is the bastard who got the burgeoning fundementalist Christian movement tied in with the Republican party with his Moral Majority (all together now: "it was neither") movement starting in 1979. He got St. Ronnie of Raygun elected, he got Bush senior elected, he had a lot to do with getting Clinton impeached by the House of Representatives (though not as much as Clinton did, let's be fair). Without him there would be no politically active fundementalist movement -- no Ralph Reed, no James Dobson, probably no abortion clinic bombers either. He blamed 9/11 on homosexuals, the ACLU, abortion-providers and People for the American Way. He was a hate-spewing homophobic, racist, sexist bigot and if there is a hell, he is smoking a turd in it right now. And I for one, am glad.
That's right blogging Tories, CNN and conservatard everywhere, my name is Rev.Paperboy and I'm an angry, intolerant, godless, anti-Christian, liberal blogger. SFW?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Barley Sammich
Inspired by a pair of blog posts, I must weigh in on the subject of Budweiser, beer and breakfast drinking. Please note the large brightly colored comma separating Budweiser from beer, as I would hate to have anyone confuse the two.

Let me first address the attempt by Crooked Timber's Daniel Davies to defend Budweiser and even to sing its praises. I don't hate Bud because it is an American mass market beer -- though that would be reason enough. As any good Canadian beer drinking hoser knows, American mass market beers are like making love in a canoe, that is to say, it is fucking close to water. There are many fine American beers (Anchor Steam anything for example) but Bud isn't one of them. I don't hate it because it and tap water are the only two things you can get to drink almost anywhere in the civilized world ( I don't see that there is much difference between the two). I don't hate it because it's made with rice -- I'm enjoying a rice-based Kirin as I write this. It isn't any of those other reasons either -- I agree that micro brews are often overrated and beer snobbery is as pretentious as wine snobbery, but also admit it exists for a very good reason - because there are some very good obscure small beers and some really crappy mass market ones. I don't care about Budvar's claim on the name or whether it is "for poufs" -- though if we are dealing in stereotypes, I'd argue that "poufs" are supposed to have better taste than to be caught drinking Budweiser.

I hate Budweiser because it is lousy beer. I'd say it tastes like crap, but the flavor isn't strong enough to even say that. It's the weak instant coffee of beers -- a horribly bland vaguely beer-like beverage with a hint of crap. Cold Bud and warm Coors Light are what is on tap in Hell.

"Snap, crakle and burp -- the breakfast of ex-champions"
--Hawkeye Pierce, pouring beer on his corn-flakes

As to the esteemed Mr. Noon's post over at LGM on beer as a breakfast beverage and breakfast drinking in general (go read the post and the many many comments), for a cool spring morning, Guiness or a good coffee stout would be breakfast on their own - the venerable oatmeal sammich. I agree with the points made in the comments about Irish whisky and coffee, but then I think a healthy measure of Bushmills is good for just about anything, except maybe driving, surgery or operating chainsaws.

Before going further let me say that I do not condone or encourage breakfast drinking, nor do I regularly participate in it. Drinking in the morning will not make you Hunter Thompson or Charles Bukowski -- neither of whom you'd want to share a house with no matter how well they might have written. But on the occasional lazy weekend morning, when breakfast is served at the crack of noon, an eye-opener is not a criminal offense. Certainly some cocktails are designed with breakfast in mind -- like the Mimosa or the Bloody Mary.

The beer and tomato juice cocktail -- I've heard it called a Canadian Sunset -- is another morning type drink for those who like tomato juice ( I hate it) and I've actually seen it served as a Red Eye with a raw egg and hefty shot of tobasco as a hangover cure. I think the theory on this was "Whatever doesn't kill you, make you stronger."

Personally, I find Guinness a bit heavy to add to a actual full fry-up breakfast, but if you're just having a bagel or toast or a bacon sandwich, it goes down a treat. The Budweiser fan is right about one thing, lighter rice-based lagers do make better breakfast beers.

Tokyo in summer is as close to Hell as I'd like to get; humidity of 80 to 90 percent and temperatures in the high 30s to low 40s (over 90 F for you non-metric types), often you wake up in the morning drained of all bodily fluids, feeling like you've just run a marathon through the Sahara. The tap water is blood warm in July and August and you forgot to make ice last night. Your wife is drinking the last of the iced coffee you put in the fridge yesterday. You stagger to the fridge and all you can find is milk - which will curdle in your stomach and make the pasty texture in your mouth even worse - some kind of evil, sweet yogurt and fruit juice concoction the kids drink, a diet cola guaranteed to eat a hole in your guts if the medicinal aftertaste of the aspartamine doesn't kill you first, and a frosty can of Sapporo. It's a working day, but you don't have to be in until 11 and you're not driving anyways. I ask the court -- is it a crime to pop the top on a can of suds or is it better to die of dehydration?

When doing the full Hunter Thompson breakfast, I tend to favor a lighter lager or pilsner, preferably ice cold, and a few shots of amber rum, Cuban if possible. The rum goes especially well with any citrus or tropical fruit.

The ultimate Canadian breakfast is, of course, a back-bacon sandwich and a cold Sleeman's Cream Ale or, if you can find it, a Big Rock Brewery Traditional Ale or Grasshopper Wheat Beer.

Over here in Japan, beer in the morning is not so rare, especially among the salaryman set , though many prefer a morning pick-me-up of chu-hi, a concoction of soda water, shochu (distilled liquor made from rice or sweet potatoes that runs the gamut from nice, vodka-like pricey hooch to industrial solvent) and usually some kind of citrus flavor, that come in at about 6 or 7 percent alcohol by volume -- imagine a weak vodka-and-soda with lime. Not bad if you are hungover, but the sho-chu is usually closer to industrial quality and tends to be hangover-inducing in the long run.

I've seen I've seen guys quaffing on the train platform at 9 am and I've seen quart bottles of beer set out as part of the breakfast buffet at hot spring resorts. Get on a bullet train here at any time of the day and people are drinking before the train leaves the station, no matter what time it is.

Japan is also awash in some low-priced, nasty-tasting imitation beer-like substances called happoshu and "third category beer-like drinks" the latter of which are like drinking soda water and grain alcohol with some hops flavoring.

Shandies are also nice - I prefer the beer-and-ginger ale style one to the beer-and-lemonade one. Some girls I knew in college taught me a variation that adds a double shot of iced vodka to the pint of beer and lemonade called a strip-and-go-naked, but that's a whole other post.

Faking it
(the edited review of this ran in The Daily Yomiuri on Sunday, this is the longer original draft)

The illusion of keeping it real

Faking it—The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music

By Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor

Norton, 375 Pages, $25.95

By Kevin Wood

Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

All performance is, by its very nature, artifice, so why are music fans so obsessed with “keeping it real?” Why is it that raw authenticity is valued above artful contrivance in music? What makes one performer real and another a fake?

These are not idle questions for Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor, authors of Faking It – The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. Rather they are central to their book’s thesis, which seems to be that full representational, cultural and personal authenticity in music is an ideal rather than an achievable goal and may not even be such a laudable end in itself. The obsession with authenticity, they argue, “has limited the kinds of music that musicians aspire to make and that critic and listeners appreciate.” The authors seem to come to the conclusion that authenticity is highly overrated as a yardstick of musical talent or quality, which may be true, but it is their examination of the notion of authenticity in a variety of popular genres that is likely to spark arguments wherever music obsessives gather.

In making their case, Barker, a former musician, and Taylor, an author and editor, start with a shared chapter comparing Kurt Cobain and Leadbelly and the notion of selling out or faking it and then move chronologically with Taylor authoring early chapters on racial segregation in southern music, Jimmie Rodgers, Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and Neil Young’s “Tonight’s The Night”, while Barker tackles the Monkees and the Archies, Disco and Punk. A pair of co-authored closing chapters take snobby potshots at Ry Cooder and the entire genre of World Music, accusing them of trading on notions of authenticity while being inauthentic, and sing the praises of Moby and KLF for their ability to toy with the whole idea of authenticity.

Part of the problem with Faking It seems to be that the authors never really nail down a clear definition of authenticity in music beyond some fairly obvious comparisons between Ozzy Osbourne’s “Iron Man” (inauthentic) and Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (authentic) in the introduction. It seems to be like pornography, they can’t describe it exactly, but they know it when they see it. c

The opening chapter is something of a microcosm of the book as a whole. It compares and contrasts Cobain and Leadbelly, noting that Cobain’ s last public performance was of a Leadbelly song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and makes the argument that Cobain was obsessed with authenticity and was authentic, while Leadbelly was uninterested in the concept and was presented in an inauthentic, even racist manner. Some of the chapter is consumed by trashing the reputation of early musicologist John Lomax for promoting Leadbelly as an unsophisticated primitive and speculating, not without some merit, on the correctness of the racial politcs of Lomax and his era. Interesting points about the notion of primitivism are raised, but as happens again and again in the book, salient points made are later undercut by logical overreaches and statements that, taken at face value, are just plain laughable – such as the notion that the failure of other grunge musicians to kill themselves like Cobain did, robbed the genre of its “essential gravity” or that fans insistence on authenticity, not his own drug addiction and manic depression killed Cobain.

“It’s too simplistic to say that it is our fault, but deep down we wonder: if we had not encouraged them—if we had thought less of “authenticity” and more simply of good music—might they have survived?”

Faking It is the kind of book where you might read nodding in agreement for pages as the authors build a carefully constructed proof of a theory and then blow their accumulated credibility by describing Donna Summer as “a brilliant musical innovator” or suggesting that the contribution of the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith to the evolution of Country Rock was somehow on par with Gram Parsons’. Barker’s efforts to draw parallels between Nesmith and John Lennon also become more than a little labored—the two aren’t in the same ballpark, they aren’t even in the same sport. Lennon was a brilliant songwriter and musician, Nesmith, despite his ambitions to do likewise, merely played one on TV.

And don’t even get me started on the chapters on John Lydon, Donna Summer and Ry Cooder. I’m not a violent person by any means, but a discussion over a sufficient number of drinks between the authors and myself would likely end with us circling each other in the parking lot with mayhem in our hearts—we are the people Nick Hornby was writing about in High Fidelity. This is very much a book for music geeks, and I mean that in the best way.

For all its many faults, Faking It is worth reading and does have some valuable things to say about the notion of authenticity and its importance in pop music. Like any argument among obsessives, there is plenty of opinion masquerading as fact and hyperbole presented as considered positions, but it is an interesting argument.