Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Ordeal (of the Computer-Related Variety)

Windows Vista is not an operating system. Windows Vista is more like the idea of an operating system as implemented by someone who has never actually used a computer before. The problem with Windows Vista is not that it is inherently broken. The problem is that it works just well enough to lull you into a false sense of security, and then chooses inopportune moments to fuck up as if to shout at you, "Hey, asshole! Using your computer isn't supposed to be fun! It's supposed to be frustrating! That's how you build character!"

This is old news of course. Making fun of the shittiness of Windows Vista hasn't been topical for a while. And I guess I've built a lot of character, because I'd simply gotten used to using my computer as it was, having long since forgotten what my machine was like when I first bought it.

Then, on Saturday, I bought a Zune.

Earlier last week, my faithful companion, the Creative Zen Sleek, met its demise after two years of loyal music-playing service. It was an essentially obsolete device as soon as I bought it; Creative released a version with a color screen only a month later. I saw many mp3 players come out with a bevy of features that mine was sorely lacking. But I was alright with that; mine did one thing, and it did it well. Then last week it froze, something I was quite accustomed to, but when I reset it with a safety pin as I always did the hard drive was completely wiped clean (except for "The Grand Wazoo" by Frank Zappa, which inexplicably survived). In addition, it was no longer recognized by any computer I plugged it into. I accepted the fact that after two years of dropping it, resetting it multiple times, and replacing the battery that it was no more.

This was an unexpected setback. I did not have $250 to drop on a brand new mp3 player. Thankfully, Colin came through for me and sold me his 120 gb Zune for only $75. Don't scoff, the Zune (at least the current generation) is a pretty solid device. In fact, CNET actually chose the 120gb Zune over the 120gb iPod Classic in its Prizefight review.

So anyway, I was excited about my new(ish) mp3 player. Unfortunately, it seems that asking a Microsoft product to work with another Microsoft product is too much to ask. At least, it is when one of those products is Vista. I guess even Microsoft has given up on their own operating system. Over the course of four hours, not only were four intelligent guys unable to get the Zune to work with Vista, but we nearly crippled my computer by sending it into an endless loop of installing updates and restarting. Over the course of this journey into the depths of computer hell, I became intimately reacquainted with just how terrible Vista can be.

Finally, Ben came to the conclusion that there was only one permanent solution: ditch Vista and install Windows 7. I was skeptical at first, but it was the best decision we could have made. After installing Windows 7 (which you can obtain here) and reformatting my hard drive, my computer is like new. and Windows 7 is vastly superior. Like, by leaps and bounds. They got rid of all the flashy junk which just slowed Vista down and added nothing to the experience. And it syncs up perfectly with my Zune.

It's funny, when you've been using a product for long enough, you refuse to accept that another product could be better. You blind yourself to your product's faults or, at least, its limitations. I'll give you a more specific example. A little while ago, I attempted to convince a friend that he should switch from Pandora to Slacker Radio. I grew frustrated when I was unable to convince him.

"What's wrong with Pandora?" he asked. "It works for me."

"I didn't say it doesn't work," I replied, exasperated. "But Slacker is better."

"Maybe. But Pandora is what I use."

Similarly, Vista was just what I used. I saw no reason to switch to something else because I had no real problem with Vista. But after installing Windows 7, there's no way I could go back to using Vista. Just like I could never go back to using Pandora after discovering Slacker Radio.

In short...well, Vista sucks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bonnaroo 2009 - Part 1: Thursday


That's my main reaction after coming home from the 4-day long drug/music binge that is Bonnaroo.

The largest American music festival in the festival circuit, Bonnaroo, is located in Manchester, Tennessee, a whopping 13 hour drive from Baltimore. Yet, I drove the whole way there. Bad idea. I did not drive the whole way back, for sure. Here for you now is a fairly accurate account of my times.

So, we left at about midnight on Thursday (That's Wednesday into Thursday) and we left with a cooler absolutely filled with beer and water, which was really unnecessary as we ended giving at least 50% of the beer away. I personally did not drink very much there. This drive was so very long, and very spooky. The whole way until about 10am was very foggy. About two hours into the drive brought on the spookiest thing I have seen in some time. As a born Catholic, religious symbols highlighted in fields typically don't faze me, but in Virginia, we drove past something that was terrifying. Absolutely horrifying, in fact. The fog was thick around three humongous, skeletal crosses that were in the middle of an otherwise empty clearing. A bright beam of light illuminated the middle cross, reminding me of the scene in The Lord of the Rings when the green light shoots up in the air, signalling the return of the Witchking. Totally scary. So afterwards, we get to a Huddle House around 7:30 for breakfast, which rocked, since we could smoke cigarettes inside, which I did, for novelty's sake.

We got to Manchester, TN at about 12:15 Central Time. For some reason we had to drive down I-81 through Georgia for a few miles. Georgia police are terrifying, they were jacking people left and right. The 10 miles before Manchester are kinda nuts as well, with the police picking off all sorts of people, it's enough to drive a man crazy. Getting through the line into Roo took THREE HOURS. That was the worst, we were all exhausted from the drive down and still had to keep waiting. Once we got in, the Bonnaroo security guys ask if you have glass bottles, or drugs, or anything bad, and we did not. Except for some glowsticks. They found the glowsticks, said "Oooh, glowsticks" and threw them back into the car. We had made it.

We got to our campsite, about a seven-minute walk from Centeroo, which is where the stages and tents are located. We set up camp and didn't really do too much, other than trying to find "Shake Down Street" which is where the drugs are sold and all that nonsense. The first guy I saw was a huge black guy, walking down the street saying "Shrooms and Opium. Shrooms and opium." That was how you found drugs. It was really an interesting phenomena, especially because no one cared. I sparked my first spliff of Bonnaroo and waited around the campsite for night to fall, which it did, with the company of a monsoon, and the first night of Bonnaroo was cold and wet, which worried us, but luckily was never repeated.

So ended Thursday of Bonnaroo. Stay tuned for the Friday through Monday report.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yet More of My Poetry

You know you love it, yo.


When I was young I fought for the wrong side.
Now all I've left is my wounded pride.
But I'm trying hard to put aside
The indiscretions of my youth.

But the demons of my past,
Their wings outstretched,
Their grasp spreading like a plague,
They know me well.

They know that I'm afraid to look ahead
When every face that comes my way
Might be the face I dread.

Can't look ahead, can't look back.

And so my gaze is fixed upon the ground.
And though my ears attune to the slightest of sounds,
The cackle of madmen swinging their shackles
As thunder crashes and lightning crackles
Makes it impossible for me to hear
More than my heart beating faster in fear.

Can't look ahead, can't look back.

The path is cracked and broken.
Where I tread
My footsteps fill so quickly
It's as if I was never there.

Can't look ahead, can't look back.

When I was a child they told me
"Son you can be just what you want to be."
Then they sent me packing
And shipped me off to sea.

Can't look ahead, can't look back.

When I was young, I fought for the wrong side.
If dad found out, he'd surely tan my hide.
I don't want to know what he whispered while he cried.
I don't want to know what he said before he died.

Another hole in my shoe, another knot in my back.
Another broken promise, just throw it on the stack.
Another shanty town and another hermit's shack.
Can't look ahead, can't look back.


We made beautiful music together
But we forgot to hit record.
Now the song is incomplete.
We try to piece it back together
As fragments fall about our feet.

Searching for a melody,
Reaching for a refrain,
We're hopeless without harmony.
Will we ever sing that song again?

Weren't you the one who said
There's a symphony in your head?
I want to hear it too.

Searching for a melody,
Reaching for a refrain,
We're hopeless without harmony.
Will we ever sing that song again?

Sounds familiar, no that's not it.
Close I guess, but it sounds like shit.
I bet you're lying, you don't know
Any more than I do how it goes.

Once I knew it note for note
And my fingers freely formed each chord.
The greatest song we ever wrote
Will never be restored.

Searching for a melody,
Reaching for a refrain,
We're hopeless without harmony.
Will we ever sing that song again?

What was that I heard you humming?
What's that rhythm I hear you strumming?
Could it be - no, something's wrong.
Same progression, different song.

We made beautiful music together
But we forgot to write it down.
All across the floor tattered pages are strewn
As I try to recreate it.
But even my own voice sounds out of tune.


Once I said, "I believe in love."
But love it don't believe in me.

I recall
Growing old
As something I would never have to do.
But now with all my years behind me,
The only thing that's left beside me
The only constant in my life is you.
But when I hear your voice each morning
Calling like an early warning
Another day, spent in misery.

Once I said, "I believe in love."
But love it don't believe in me.

I look back
And can't determine
How I ever ended up this way.
How did we end up together
When every day brings stormy weather?
The ship is sinking faster every day.
And though I try to bail it out,
Every time I hear you shout
I might just throw myself into the sea.

Once I said, "I believe in love."
But love it don't believe in me.

Turn on the television.
Shut your mouth, go back to knittin
I don't give a damn about your quilt.
Though I may seem the aggressor
Don't label me the oppressor.
I don't feel a single ounce of guilt.

You're an evil harpy
And your tongue strikes like a snake.
Don' tell me to grin and bear it
When my sanity's at stake.
Every time you waste your breath
I pray for sweet release of death
To hurry up and come and set me free.

Once I said, "I believe in love."
But love it don't believe in me.

I am old
And you're a bitch,
Not that doe-eyed girl that I once met
What seems like ages long ago.
Must have been blinded by the afterglow.
Now I'm left with nothing but regret.
And though you tell me I'm senile
You're very sight fills me with bile.
Don't tell me I'm simply crotchety.

Once I said, "I believe in love."
But love it don't believe in me.

We vowed by only death we'd part.
Why can't I still the beating of my heart?
I know there's some who'd disagree.

Though once I said, "I believe in love."
I'm now quite certain
Love it don't believe in me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Spectacular Concert

Tonight I had the pleasure of seeing what will now go down as my second favorite concert ever (nothing has yet to top seeing Rush at Nissan Pavilion). Not only were The Decemberists even better live than I had expected, but I discovered a new artist to immediately add to my ever-expanding collection, Andrew Bird.

The concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia opened with a guy I was unfamiliar with, Robyn Hitchcock. Honestly...although he's apparently been around since the 70s, I wasn't too thrilled with him. He basically sounded like if John Lennon decided to start a punk band whose lyrics bordered on the surreal. All I remember about his music at this point was angular guitar noises. His vocals were not fantastic. At one point, Colin Meloy came out to provide some tambourine and back up vocals. The two of them were not in harmony at all. However, I consider this opening performance a minor speedbump at best. What came next more than made up for the eccentricities of an old, quirky British man.

I had never heard Andrew Bird before tonight. He was amazing. If I had to describe him, I would say imagine Thom Yorke if he was a top-notch whistler and a classically-trained violin player. His music reminded me at times of The Verve, but overall his style is very distinctive and unique. He combines jazz and classical music with those kind of free-flowing, cascading sonic backdrops typical of post-rock bands like Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky. It's definitely the type of music I would love to just kick back and relax to, the kind of music that passes over you and carries you with it.

But, of course, the main attraction was what made this concert such an amazing experience. This was my first time seeing The Decemberists live and I wasn't sure if their extremely literate, folksy, and downright idiosyncratic brand of indie rock would translate as well on stage. Well, it did...more than I could have predicted. They kicked prodigious amounts of ass. What I didn't know before was that frontman Colin Meloy, in addition to being the singer and songwriter, really pulls his weight as a guitar player as well. They played The Hazards of Love in its entirety, without any break between songs as it was meant to be played. If you read my review of the album, you know I am a huge fan of it. Every member of the band was working overtime to fully realize the music and the narrative behind it. I have to say, after seeing it performed live, somehow the story behind The Hazards of Love actually makes some semblance of sense. Maybe it's because I was actually paying closer attention to it.

The vocal performances of Colin Meloy, Becky Stark, and especially Shara Worden were awesome. Shara Worden as The Queen was the highlight of the concert for me. Every time she came to the front, her performance was full of such power and intensity that I was literally on the edge of my seat. She would flail her arms, wave her hands in the air, and jump around the stage as her body writhed and squirmed like a serpent. I don't know if I'd say she really conveyed the image of an evil queen, but all the same she was fun to watch. Becky Stark did a great job too, but her chirpier, higher-pitched voice (still quite lovely) combined with the fact that she was swaying back in forth in a wedding dress while decked out with an excessive amount of make-up made her considerably less endearing to me than Shara Worden. Seriously, I think I might have a crush on Worden.

After the conclusion of The Hazards of Love, the band left and then returned minutes later to play what was basically a second concert consisting of some of their more well-known hits. Colin Meloy interrupted "A Cautionary Song" to narrate one of the strangest adaptations of Hamlet I have ever seen, portrayed by the other members of the band acting out in the middle of the audience on a riser. We did get to see Chris Funk and John Moen have a sloppy makeout, so bonus, I guess. A few songs later, in a completely unexpected and amazingly ballsy move, Shara Worden and Becky Stark came back out decked in snazzy white outfits to perform "Crazy On You" by Heart. Before that, Colin Meloy performed what he described as "the worst song he'd ever written" entitled "Dracula's Daughter" only to seque into one of their biggest singles, "O Valencia!" Finally, he got the crowd singing aloud in a most heartfelt way to the closing song, "Sons and Daughters."

I don't regret one penny of the money I spent to see this concert. It was emotional, triumphant, and downright fun. This cemented The Decemberists as one of my favorite bands. And now, I have to go out and acquire Andrew Bird's albums as soon as possible.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Movie Review: The Hangover

The Hangover was funny. That's basically it, pure and simple. I saw the movie tonight, and I laughed basically from beginning to end - even during the ending credits. I probably haven't laughed that hard at a movie since Beerfest. As you can clearly tell, my taste in movies is extremely high-brow.

When four dudes head to Vegas to celebrate their friend's impending nuptuals with an epic bachelor party, a sequence of increasingly improbable events leaves them waking up hungover and completely oblivious to the events that transpired the night before. The character of Stu, played by Ed Helms (Andy Bernard from The Office) is awakened by a rather indifferent chicken to a hotel room that has been, in a word, trashed. There's a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in a closet, and none of the guys - Stu, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), or Phil (Bradley Cooper) - have any idea how they got there. Worse yet, the bachelor himself, Doug (Justin Bartha), is missing without a trace. The trio sets out to piece together the scattered fragments of their wild, alcohol and roofie-induced evening and figure out just what the hell happened.

The movie is offensive, crude, irreverent, and hilarious. The plot is extremely similar to that of Dude, Where's My Car? but...come on - who gives a shit about Dude, Where's My Car? That movie was a piece of shit. This movie, on the other hand, was inspired comedy. Even the ending credits were awesome. The photographs that more or less fill in the details are as funny as anything that actually happened during the course of the film. I did wish they had explained where the chicken had come from - while you don't see any chicken in the pictures, you do see some cock. See what I did there?

I think the character of Alan, a socially-inept man-child, stole the show. This was actually my first experience with comedian Zach Galifianakis and I have to say - he was delightful. Everything he did and everything he said was guaranteed to make me burst out laughing. Clearly I have been missing out here.

The movie went for laughs at every opportunity no matter how cheap or juvenile they were. There were plenty of unanswered questions even with the photo slideshow at the end. For example, just how did they manage to steal that cop car? How did they find out where Mike Tyson lived and how did they get into his house? These questions alone guarantee to me that the DVD is unquestionably going to be a worthwhile purchase. I can't wait to add it to my collection, but before that I'll definitely be seeing it in theatres at least once more.

For once, I have to say that Roger Ebert summed it up best: "Now this is what I'm talkin' about. The Hangover is a funny movie, flat out, all the way through. Its setup is funny. Every situation is funny. Most of the dialogue is funny almost line by line."