February 22, 2010

I Am The World

So, my obsession with the "We Are the World" remake is finally waning. While I spent a good 24 hours attempting to distinguish who's who on the track after purchasing it on iTunes (my first charitable donation of the year) - and before I watched the star-studded video - a few thoughts popped into my head:

1. Justin Bieber shouldn't have opened the song. I'm sure Lionel Ritchie & Co thought it was good idea to immediately hook in the 15-year-old girls with this tease, but it just wasn't the proper note on which to start such an epic number. It's like asking Abigail Breslin to read the opening to War and Peace.

2. Upon her return to the recording studio after several years, I could sense Barbra Streisand's frustration over her unmet expectations: "You expect me to sing less than 20 words? I could belch out the lyrics to 'Hello Dolly,' and it would be better produced."

3. Enrique Iglesias? Still can't sing.

4. The filter placed on Janet Jackson's vocal made her come off as some Xanax-dazed ghost. It was like the audio equivalent of Cybil Shepherd's soft lighting in any given scene on Moonlighting.

5. Pink could have sung the entire thing for all I care. The woman has never sounded better.

6. Note to Jamie Foxx: Congrats on the Oscar and all, but Ray was nearly 5 years ago. Did you not get the memo?

7. Wyclef Jean: Fail. Twice.

8. Kanye West seemed like easy listening after tolerating that hip-hop portion conducted by Mr. I-Sold-Out-the-Black-Eyed-Peas will.i.am.

9. Notably absent vocals (or perhaps my ears have failed me): Faith Evans, Harry Connick Jr., Jason Mraz, et al. And Tina Turner, where you at?

10. It seems to me that Celine Dion was singing an entirely different song. Either that, or she totally dominated and made that song her bitch.

11. One country star showcased out of the whole bunch? Really? Carrie Underwood's handlers must be piiiiiiissed.

12. Miley Cyrus actually didn't suck. And on that note, notice how none of the Jonas Brothers were featured.

Believe or not, I actually dug the new song. RedOne did an admirable job composing the new rendition, and it provided a heavy dose of childhood flashbacks for me. I remember my mom constantly playing the original "We Are the World" on a vinyl record (kids, Wikipedia that term) when I was in kindergarten. Back then the music had put a spell on me. Listening to all of those voices, a choir of celebs, seemed like magic, as if the world really was singing. Every time it played I imagined the world - the actual planet Earth - shining brighter, becoming a happier place, improving. I would take in the melodies, bob my head to the subtle rhythm and then proceed to focus on racing my Hot Wheels across the kitchen floor. Now, in 2010, it's a small miracle if those feelings last until the next traffic light while I'm racing my Ford down Westwood Boulevard.

If you're still jonesing to make a donation, go to world25.org.

And in case you missed it:

February 17, 2010

The Saturday Evening Ghost

I remember when Natalie and Tootie had a double wedding. I remember when Blanche was accused of stabbing a lover to death during a murder-mystery weekend. I remember Harry Weston's unconditional love for Dreyfus. I remember Sandra always trying to pull Mary into some neighborhood scheme.

I remember Saturday nights in a way no one born after 1990 can remember. From the mid-80s to the early 90s, I, along with millions of others, actually stayed home on Saturday nights and fell in love with the aforementioned characters. The Facts of Life. The Golden Girls. Amen. 227. Empty Nest. The short-lived Nurses (anyone?). Even Mad About You got its start on this comedy block.

Then, naturally, came the revolving door of 10pm dramas. First there was Hunter, then Sisters, then The Pretender (a Mom favorite). And of course, Profiler (poor Jamie Luner jumped off Melrose to land on another sinking ship). I never stayed up to watch a full episode of either of these shows. My normal routine would consist of catching the theme song to Hunter or the opening steambath conversations on Sisters and then heading off to bed (Saturday Night Live didn't land on my schedule until I was 12 or 13).

Later on, I'd stay up when Winnetka Road premiered, an easily forgotten Aaron Spelling sudser about the dramas in a Midwestern burb...co-starring Ed Begley Jr.. Needless to say, snooze.

Why did so many of us stay home on the busiest night of the weekend? I don't think it was an age thing, although my social calendar was rarely full between the ages of 8 and 14. Did people actually go out without the comforting reassurances of a DVR? Sure, there were VCRs, but ratings back then amounted to actual, watch-it-now audiences. If so many people stayed home to hear Rose Nylund tell another St. Olaf story, who was out at the bars, the nightclubs, the restaurants, the multiplexes?

What happened since then? Lots of things actually, probably enough to fill an entire thesis paper on The Evolution of Television Programming - more than I could fit here in this little post. The Saturday night television landscape, as we all know, is a ghost town now. It's where networks regurgitate last week's episodes, air broadcast premieres of movies no one cares about, and send struggling reality shows to die. Is there nothing that can be developed to appeal to a Saturday night crowd that stays home during primetime hours? Are we a couch potato nation so distracted by cable and the Internet (and everything else) that launching an original scripted series on Saturday night would be considered a ginormous risk, a near death sentence? The odds are heavily against any new show that dares to be slotted here.

I feel sorry for the Saturday night timeslots. They're endangered, neglected, and they need our support. I truly believe we've all become conditioned to think certain nights of TV require certain kinds of programming. And that's what it is really. Programming. Shows aren't programmed; we are. It's as if we've become programmed to believe that Thursday nights are meant for "quality" dramas. Wednesdays are meant for comedies. Tuesdays belong to a mediocre mix. Mondays are for reality, forcing us to look at our own lives and be thankful they're not as pathetic as every narcissist who competes for a rose, gets into a bar brawl or has sex in a hot tub. And Sundays are for comfort-food viewing, shows that help us ease back into the much dreaded work week. As for Fridays? That's another night gradually going the Saturday night route...Where the sitcoms at? And c'mon, do you know anyone who still watches The Ghost Whisperer or Numb3rs? And yes, I just numerically wrote out the name of that show.

But maybe we're not programmed at all. With viewers gaining more control over how and when they watch their favorite shows, networks execs might as well slot their programs with a blindfold for all we care. If it's good, we're going to watch. On our iPods. On Hulu. On DVD...We're ultimately the ones in control. Right?


February 11, 2010

Tokyo Nobody

When you think of Tokyo, images of neon signs, bicycling commuters and crowded streets may come to mind, bringing up an urge to rent Lost in Translation. I haven't visited Japan's capital in over 5 years, but I do remember that it's roughly the size of 4 Manhattans squished together - with opposite-side driving. Pretty intense.

Tokyo Nobody is a book exhibiting the work of Japanese photographer Masataka Nakano. All of his photos are taken in and around Tokyo, the key point being that not one person can be seen in any of them. It's definitely an interesting sight to see some major areas of the world's largest metropolis in such an unusual and eerie state. There's one shot of a carless highway running through a downtown sector that would look great above my living room couch. Just saying.

Random Thought of the Week #13

I'm kinda jonesing for a mini Felicity marathon. I don't know if it's the reruns of old WB shows that play on TNT at the gym every morning, but I've developed a longing to revisit that whispered dialogue, that acoustic soundtrack and one of my all-time favorite television ensembles.

February 05, 2010

Friday Night Gaga

Friday night I saw Lady's Gaga's breasts.

It wasn't just a flash of boobage glimpsed during a quick wardrobe change. It was more like a lingering observation made from a darkened jail cell, staring at a video monitor while standing behind her proud parents...and her grandmother.

While this may come off as some bizarre vision dreamed up as a result of a toxic combo of vodka Red Bulls and too much dancing at The Factory, it was an actual moment I shared with Mama and Papa Gaga (and a production crew of 20) in an abandoned prison on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. I was on the set of her latest music video, "Telephone," the second high-energy single from the wildly entertaining album, The Fame Monster. The scene in question took place a few yards from where we sat. Gaga donned a black-and-white-striped prison gown complete with amplified shoulder pads and a slit down the middle, exposing her pale torso underneath (what would you expect from the woman who once wore a Kermit the Frog frock and rotating metallic rings on her head?). She had just been escorted by two surly-looking female prison guards, one of whom had played Miss Man in the first Scary Movie. As soon as she was placed in her cell, the dress came off, and the director rehearsed some shots with her arms draped outside the bars, her nipples covered with small pieces of what appeared to be black tape. They weren't pasties as I had texted to several friends while I stood next to the executive producer and asked myself, "Am I really here?"

The music video, directed by Jonas Ackerlund, happens to be a continuation of the video for "Paparazzi" (also directed by Ackerlund) in which Gaga poisons her abusive lover. In "Telephone," we find Gaga in a women's prison after committing her crime of passion. From the costumes and choreography I managed to catch in the two hours I spent on set, this thing aims to be Chicago on acid. With more tattoos. And nude shower scenes. And a whole lot of girl-on-girl action. And did I mention Beyonce shows up to rescue our pop diva? In a Hummer?

After exiting the 110 Freeway and navigating my car through the pothole-riddled backstreets of Godknowswhere, I arrived at the Lincoln Heights Jail, parking my car in a very dark lot one block away from the lights and production trailers. A security guard tapped on my window. "You here for shoot?" His mumbled question was weighed down by an accent I couldn't pinpoint. He must have seen the callsheet and map in my hand as I tried to get a sense of my surroundings. I nodded.

"See the big light? Go to the light," he told me.

I took it as his best impression of St. Peter greeting me at the Gates of Heaven. And heaven this almost was, in a weird and warped way. I made my way past a field of trash and under some train tracks to come across another security dude who looked as if he had been sitting there for an eternity.

"Are you supposed to be here?" he asked.

I told him I was and gave him the name of the production supervisor I was supposed to meet. I'm sure I could have said I was there to clip off some platinum locks of Gaga's hair and sell them on eBay, and he still would have let me in. I walked past several racks of costumes (more prison outfits), a large trailer housing backup dancers (hey look, it's Mark from So You Think You Can Dance) and a tent covering tables of processed snacks and uneaten fruit and veggie platters. Another security guard to my left. A woman with a clipboard and walkie to my right.

It was like a sleepaway campground for the glittered and garish.

I was soon guided into the main building. I walked up a flight of stairs to the second floor, following a line of cables which led me down a corridor of corroded gates and cracked walls. If any location scouts were in need of a setting for Paranormal Activity 2, they could include this place on their lists. The end of the hall was a hubbub of activity, full of crew members and extras, most of whom were standing around and trying to catch a glimpse of the scene that was unfolding. Gaga was prepping for the opening shot of the song, standing at a pay phone, wearing a black leather jacket covered in studs and spikes. Her hair was rolled up with Diet Coke cans. And naturally, she was pantsless.

"Action! Playback!"

The opening chimes of the song trickled out of a speaker. Hello, hello, baby you called, I can't hear a thing. I have got no service in the club you see, see... Then the bassline kicks in. She throws the phone down. Sorry I cannot hear you, I'm kinda busy...k-kinda busy... Bump and grind. Turns away. Walks off with a shake of the ass. "Cut!" The crew cheers. It's an excellent take. The "security guards" are all smiles, admiring the spunk of this 5-foot-2 girl from New York we've all gathered here for tonight.

A PA started to hand out bottled water. Apparently this was going to be a long night (call time had been 8 in the morning). I gladly accepted one and inched my way closer to the video village that was stationed past the cell in which Gaga and her mohawked cellmates patiently waited for the next take. Soon Gaga's glam squad rushed in; touch-ups were needed. An assistant wrapped her up in a blanket, because dank, dark prison in January = not so comfy.

But back to that boob shot...

Who knows if it will make the cut? I'm sure there will be an "unrated" version available to a select few once the video is released (sometime at the end of this month). After offering a few poses for the camera, Gaga came back to the monitors, covered up with a jacket, and walked into the arms of a tall, frat-looking dude - her boyfriend apparently. Mom and Dad offered a few mumbled words to their daughter. For some reason I didn't care to eavesdrop, but I did notice the interaction between the family members. Suddenly Gaga wasn't Gaga for those brief minutes. She was Stefani Germanotta, a little girl covered in makeup and hair extensions, huddled up next to her loved ones, a support system that's clearly kept her grounded during these last 18 months of insanity. I felt as if I were on assignment for Rolling Stone, placed there to observe a side of a superstar only few have been privileged to see. One minute she's vamping it up with Amazonian biker chicks, the next she's hugging a father who can't stay too long because Grandma wants to take advantage of the senior discount at the nearby Denny's. To her family, Gaga is their little girl who gets to run wild with the vivid imagination she had always had as a child, taking the game of Pretend to the extreme, making a living by doing so, and undoubtedly inspiring millions to turn their own ideas and dreams into a reality. I think it's pretty safe to say we're only witnessing the infancy of a true megastar.

I tapped the shoulder of my contact, saying I had to get going and miss out on the upcoming choreographed routine. Two birthday parties remained on my Friday night to-do list, and I had a timetable to follow. I thanked my contact for the opportunity, grabbed a coffee at the kraft service table on the way out and retraced my steps back to the car.

I couldn't help but whistle the chorus repeatedly to myself I as I went.

Leaving my head and my heart on a dance floor...somewhere,


February 02, 2010

Today is a Good Day

The man to the left, illustrated so colorfully on his latest piece of work, which comes out today, is one of my favorite musicians of all-time. I've waited a long time for this album to come out, his first collection of artist collaborations in nearly seven years (2006's This Binary Universe didn't really count as it was more of an experiment in ambient orchestrations). BT (a.k.a. Brian Transeau) is one of maybe four artists whose albums I'll buy regardless of reviews - on an actual CD.

In addition to this smile-inducing release, today is also the day Oscar nominations are announced. It's the gunshot that kicks off a race meticulously observed by anyone and everyone in this town.

And if that wasn't enough, tonight marks the final season premiere of Lost, a show that will go down in history as one of the best and most influential dramas to grace the small screen.

I may need to be pinched.


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