Archive forJune, 2005


    My summer kicked off with Beach Week ‘05. A few observations, after iPodding all day and clubbing all night.

Spending a week at a beach house, with folks who are almost invariably younger than me, is an interesting anthropological exercise. (Sometimes, as my wife notes, the fellow beachgoers are literally half my age.)

Anyway, after a week in cheese-tastic Ocean City, Md., where I had nothing much to do except drink, lie out tanning, listen to my iPod, watch movies and go dancing, I came to a few conclusions.

The iPod revolution has made music geeks like me obsolete. This was my second time in Ocean City with this lovable, fun-loving crowd. When Emily and I were last there, in June 2002, I was the only beachgoer with an iPod (then an eight-month-old technology), and I was the de facto DJ, providing music for the folks hanging out in the condo all week. Three years later, they didn’t need my self-righteous rock-critic ass anymore. There were at least six iPods in the house besides mine – two Shuffles, two minis, two full-size. And despite my having the biggest ‘Pod (a 60-gig Photo, about half-full), no one asked me for music until the week was more than half-over. If I sound like I’m complaining, I’m not. Brian, who was there for the first three-plus days, piped an excellent and diverse array of music over the living-room boombox all day, every day. And at night, Kate had all the party-hard, getting-trashed music one could wish for. (Okay, I coulda done with a smidge less Bon Jovi, but that’s just carping.)

Traditional reggae is now, officially, only for the very old, the very young or the very dumb. Emily and I ended up at Seacrets – believe it or not, Ocean’s City’s premier night spot – twice during the week; some of our housemates were there four times apiece. The place has several different rooms/areas, but last Saturday night we couldn’t get into the enclosed dancefloor space where they play hip-hop and club music, so we ended up watching a hard-working but forgettable reggae band in the club’s outdoor, sandy stage area. They had a gaggle of bachelorette partygoers jiggling their cleavage on command toward the front while drinking the club’s signature Pain In Da Ass cocktail (mon). But the first song we heard them performing was the deathless “One Cent, Five Cent, Ten Cent, Dollar” (insert hip-thrust here), which I instantly recalled as the ditty my parents learned in 1995 aboard a cruise ship. (You don’t want to picture my Dad teaching me the dance upon their return.) I mean…ska is okay, dancehall post–Sean Paul is credibly thuggish and reggaetón may be the hottest Latin music of the mid-aughts, but traditional reggae is as spiritually dead to me as coffeehouse folk.

The key word in “Hollaback Girl” is girl. Late in the winter, when Gwen Stefani’s cheerleader chant started climbing the charts, my coworker Amy couldn’t stop playing it on her iPod, explaining that she and her sister had adopted it as their theme song for the “B-A-N-A-N-A-S” chant in the middle. I thought this was a cute story between close siblings, but three months later, I’m convinced that herein lies the key to “Hollaback”’s success: it’s like catnip to young women. Seriously – we were at a different Ocean City club on Friday, and when the DJ threw it on, the guys in the place either ignored it or sort of bopped lazily, while every girl in the place went apeshit. I mean, I like “Hollaback Girl,” and I’m happy for Gwen that after two middling solo singles, she put out a bona fide smash. Its genius is its simplicity, not to mention its charming cheapness; Stefani picked up from Dr. Dre the trick of making low-rent synth hooks feel like a wall of sound. But really, “Hollaback” is still topping Billboard charts and booming from cars coast to coast because, I have decided, it is designed to chemically flood women’s pleasure centers and make the men they’re with irrelevant. The shit is indeed bananas.

Amerie’s “1 Thing” should have been a summer single. My favorite hip-hop song of the year so far is even older now than “Hollaback,” but I heard three different club DJs play it during beach week, and God bless ‘em. Half a year after it debuted in a Will Smith movie, I haven’t tired of “1 Thing” at all. In fact, Amerie’s girly yelp only improves when it’s booming from a massive soundsystem. Confined in the cold months to your white earbuds, the song sounds jumpy, caffeinated, a bit shrill. But emanating from boomboxes, beaches and bootymobiles, “1 Thing” is liberated and kinetic. It makes you want to dance with abandon. Gosh…sorry, I think I just connected with my inner underage girl for a second there.

Covers bands have a tough job. I know, duh. We saw two bands during the week whose stock in trade is other, platinum-selling bands’ songs, and while neither one blew me away, I found myself respecting them for the tiresome task they’re handed: filling three backbreaking sets with faithfully recreated radio hits. Hits that, as the years go by, have less to do with live chops and more to do with ProTools. Neither Lima Bean Riot nor Mr. Geenjeans attempted full-on, hardcore hip-hop, but LBR did throw sloppy-but-admirable renditions of “Let Me Clear My Throat” and “Hey Ya!” During Beach Week ‘02, we suffered through a Seacrets covers band focused exclusively on what I call Volvo Rock (Nickelback, Fuel, Tonic – angry white-boy bands beloved by soccer moms), but our Beach Week ‘05 bands seemed to realize that post-Cobain schlock rock was too limiting a genre. Oh, and by the way? Forget Coldplay: the biggest band in America right now, if covers frequency and crowd reaction are any indication, is the Killers.

Chris Martin screwed the pooch: X&Y is Coldplay’s Rattle & Hum. A couple of nights into the week, we were motoring down Coastal Highway on our way to a restaurant, and Matt asked, “Dude, what track should I put on from the new Coldplay CD?” And I was stumped. Even after listening to X&Y three or four times on my iPod, I couldn’t name more than two, maybe three standout songs (”Speed of Sound,” “Fix You,” “Talk” – and I have a hard time remembering that last one). And none of them is better than anything on A Rush of Blood to the Head. Unlike the Times’s Jon Pareles, I’m no Coldplay hater; after all, I named Rush of Blood my second-favorite album of 2002, and I stand by that. But Chris Martin seems to have reacted to his band’s Joshua Tree like Bono ‘88: with his very own Rattle & Hum, a self-conscious, overwrought epic. Actually, that’s an insult to U2, since R&H had at least two great songs on it (”Desire,” “All I Want Is You”), and Coldplay’s latest isn’t even that memorable. X&Y isn’t an unmitigated disaster, and I remain hopeful that the Madison Square Garden show I’m attending with and this fall will wake some of the songs up for me. But all I can say is, we listened to X&Y in the car for half a song before Brian and Kate told us to dump it, and we sure didn’t fight them on it.

Jack White dodged the jinx: Get Behind Me Satan is the White Stripes’ White Album. With 740,000 copies sold in week one, Coldplay got all the headlines, but the White Stripes’ simultaneously released CD was the real winner of the week and my most-played album on vacation, the headphone masterpiece of 2005. There are so many reasons this album could’ve, and should’ve, sucked: the lack of a monster radio song, the weird instrumentation (um…marimba?), Jack’s growing celebrity, Meg’s ever-sloppy drumming. Instead, it’s their White Album, complete with its own “Sexy Sadie” (Lennon’s Maharishi kiss-off becomes White’s Zellweger kiss-off, “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”). Jack answers the haters, the complaints of every-song-sounds-the-same, with his most whacked-out assortment of songs ever – where’d he get the idea to do McCartneyesque piano boogie-woogie on “My Doorbell”? And he still shreds on guitar when necessary. It’s not much of a beach album, but I played it to death anyway, my little dark refuge while I baked.

Whatever their shortcomings and suckitude, modern movie theaters are a good thing. We saw Batman Begins at a local theater on Thursday, and it was very ghetto – the theater, not the movie (which wasn’t ghetto at all, but occasionally badass). We’re all so sick of overpriced megaplexes and inept projectionists and “The 2wenty” that it might seem charming to go back to a pre-’90s theater. But oh, how spoiled we’ve become: no raked seats, no cupholders, no credit-card ticketing machines, and a sound system so feeble, when it started raining outside we all actually thought, Wow, maybe they finally turned on the surround speakers. Mind you, if one could turn the clock way back to the giant, single-screen movie palaces of the 1940s and ’50s, that’d be swell. But since that’s not gonna happen, the ghetto Ocean City theater experience helped me develop a newfound appreciation for those Loews and AMC bastards. Maybe late–20th Century theaters were just the shittiest of all. Of course, in the ’70s and ’80s we didn’t have to contend with cell phones, loud talkers and crappy 21st Century movies…

The Life Aquatic, like all Wes Anderson films, gets better at home. Our awesome, enormous beach condo was tricked out with multiple DVD players, and we watched quite a few movies. Emily had us watch her favorite sea-themed flick, Pirates of the Caribbean; and I brought along a Netflixed The Live Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which proved equally thematically appropriate. As I sort of predicted after seeing it and being disappointed last January, Zissou definitely improves, Royal Tenenbaums–style, when you’re able to watch it privately and focus on the dialogue in tandem with Anderson’s predictably stunning visuals. This is what I don’t get about Anderson’s films lately: his carefully arranged scenes demand a big, theater-size screen, but his stories and dialogue demand a living room. (Only Rushmore worked equally well in a theater and at home.) Maybe Anderson is restyling himself into the first true director of the Plasma-Screen Home Theater era.

Dave Chappelle never stops being funny. Yyyyyeah! Oooooowwwwhut?! Yeah! Whut? WHUT? OOOOWHUTT??!! Oh-KAAAY!!!!

No, seriously – all week, we did that shit. And it always made us laugh.

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