thelastthingyouneed asked: Who is that Usher?
Yes. It was Usher.
Yes. It was Usher.
“Talent” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and for that reason I think it sometimes loses its meaning. Everyone thinks their kid is “talented,” even when he or she may be staggeringly untalented (“Billy is an amazingly talented nose-picker for a 6-year-old. He picks his nose at an eighth grade level.”)
So when you are confronted by true talent, it can be staggering. For me, creative talent always knocks me out.
Dance choreography, for example, always impresses me. I can’t always tell if the choreography is any good, but while I watch professionals performing dance routines, I just sit and marvel that someone actually thought that up. I think about how a person actually sat down and said, “Well, let’s start with this leg and foot movement, while doing this with the arms and this with the head, then let’s do this…” Because I have no capacity for that kind of thinking, it amazes me. How did they decide what movements to do and when? How did they know the combination of one move to another worked? I have no idea.
I’ve been reading Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, and so much of his songwriting collaboration with Mick Jagger is staggering because of how easy it was for them at times to crank out one great song after another. Recording - well, that was often another problem.
But it blew me away when Keith recounted the writing and recording of “Happy” for Exile on Main Street. When Keith woke up one morning in France, the song did not exist. (This is assuming Keith wasn’t in the middle of a drug-induced bender that kept him from going to sleep for nine straight days.) At noon that day, the song still did not exist. By 4 p.m., the song had been written, cut and done.
The song became a modest hit for the Stones and will exist as long as humans consume music - and Keith’s talent created it in four hours’ time. The music, lyrics, arrangement and recording, all in four hours. That’s unfathomable to me.
Today I watched the HBO special “Talking Funny,” which is a roundtable discussion with Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock, and Louis CK - four of the most talented standup comedians on the planet.
This was another education in talent - these guys start with a blank slate and create an act out of nothing, like a composer writing a concerto.
But in the special, they demonstrated just how much thought and work goes into turning their talent into something tangible. The months of writing, performing, rewriting, honing material - I guess not unlike the years of work Keith Richards put in learning to play the guitar, practicing, performing, then improving his ability to write songs by, well, writing songs.
What was also fascinating was that even though all four guys are supremely talented, they all have different approaches to what they do, in terms of preparation and performance. Their disagreements on comedy philosophy were as interesting as anything on the show - and really, their different philosophies are rooted in how they use their talent.
But whether we’re talking about Keith Richards, Jerry Seinfeld or any successful creative person, we certainly must acknowledge that hard work is always a factor in their success - but they wouldn’t be there without their unique talent.
As they discuss in the special, anyone can tell jokes, just like anyone can play football in the backyard. But watching people play football in the backyard isn’t like watching the Super Bowl. The players in the Super Bowl - just like the comedians on “Talking Funny” - have real talent.
The guys in the backyard? Well, they’re just guys.
On my flight back to LA from New York yesterday, I found one of the flight attendants to be very attractive. And this got me thinking: how does one go about getting the number of a flight attendant?
I determined that there are several obstacles in the way of achieving this task. They are:
1. It’s difficult to speak privately and for any significant length of time with a flight attendant.
2. What do you talk about? Peanuts? Why Europeans don’t like ice in their soft drinks?
3. They must get hit on all the time.
4. They’re working, you’re not.
There are probably others as well, but the one I fixated on was #3. Attractive flight attendants must get hit on almost constantly, which I can only imagine is incredibly annoying. (Maybe that’s why there are fewer attractive flight attendants than Hollywood would have us believe.)
So not only is it difficult to get a few minutes to chat up a flight attendant, you’re also up against a small army of obnoxious guys who ruin everything for the more normal guys. I can imagine that when most guys start talking, most flight attendants just roll their eyes in their minds (they can’t actually roll their eyes, because the guys are customers).
Needless to say, I spent a lot more time thinking about the obstacles that exist to picking up a flight attendant than I did actually trying to talk to this particular flight attendant. (In fact, I didn’t say much more than “Coke, please?”) And ultimately, I decided that it was an impossible task and buried my head in my iPad.
But less than 24 hours later, I found myself sitting next to Aaron Cooley, a friend from college who is married to a flight attendant. And, yes, he had met his wife while he was a passenger on a flight. Here’s how he did it:
Seeing that the flight attendant was alone in the galley next to the bathroom, he headed to the back of the plane as if he had to use the facilities. He came upon the flight attendant as she was eating. He had previously done some low-level flirting when she was serving drinks, and he continued that line of discussion when he reached the galley.
He managed to engage her in a conversation that lasted for 20 minutes, until the captain came over the PA to announce that they were beginning their initial descent.
“The captain wants me to sit down, so I guess I have to go,” he said. They wrapped up the conversation so he started to head back towards his seat without asking for her number, and that’s when the miracle happened - she stopped him and voluntarily gave him her email address. He didn’t even have to ask!
As it turned out, she was tired of having guys chat her up and then not ask for her info. So this time, she took the initiative, and the rest, as they say, is history.
So, sports fans, it can be done. All it takes is a little moxie, good timing, something to talk about, a receptive audience, and the stones to ask for her number or email address (or maybe you can get lucky like Cooley and not even have to ask).
Tonight Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins threw the first no-hitter of the 2011 baseball season. For the uninitiated, that means that Liriano pitched nine innings without giving up a single hit to lead his team to victory.
It’s a pretty rare thing - there have only been 270 no-hitters since 1876 (I’ve also seen the 248 and 269 as the numbers - take your pick). But every current team except for three has had a no-hitter: the Washington Nationals (which had four before the team moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005); the San Diego Padres (founded in 1969); and the New York Mets (founded in 1962).
I’ve said before that the only thing I want out of life is to see a Mets pitcher throw a no-hitter. It’s only a slight exaggeration.
Since the Mets came into existence at the start of the 1962 season, there have been 127 no-hitters in major league baseball. The Mets have been on the receiving end of six of them.
By my unofficial count, 10 pitchers who played for the Mets have thrown no-hitters for other teams. One of those pitchers, Nolan Ryan, came to the big leagues with the Mets and went on to throw a record seven no-hitters - all after the Mets traded him in 1971 (he’s in the Hall of Fame now).
The most galling pitching performances by ex-Mets? Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter in 1996 and David Cone’s perfect game in 1999. Why so galling? Because they were for the Yankees.
Why the Mets have never had one is a combination of futility, bad luck, and perhaps the use of the wrong kinds of illegal drugs (Pittsburgh’s Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter in 1970 while tripping on acid).
There have been plenty of close calls, most famously Tom Seaver’s perfect game bid in 1969 that was broken up in the ninth inning. (Seaver threw five one-hitters for the Mets; he had his one and only no-hitter after the Mets traded him to the Cincinnati Reds.)
The Mets have had 25 complete-game one-hitters, including two last season. I’ve been in attendance for one of them myself (Shawn Estes in 2002).
This is the Mets’ 50th season, and for most of their history, their strength has been pitching - and they’ve almost always played in stadiums that are favorable to pitchers.
So why my obsession with seeing the Mets finally break the streak? Because the fact that they haven’t had one makes no sense. It just makes no sense.
But then again, there’s often no explaining how or why some pitchers throw no-hitters in the first place. Don Larsen of the Yankees, who tossed the only no-hitter in World Series history (it was, in fact, a perfect game), lost more games than he won in his 14-year career. Someone named Bud Smith, who won seven games in his career, threw a no-hitter for the Cardinals in 2001.
Yet Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, three of the best pitchers of the past generation, never threw one (Martinez had a perfect game broken up in the 10th inning in 1995).
Which brings us back to Francisco Liriano, who joined the history books tonight for the Twins. He entered the game with a 9.13 earned run average (which is horrible) this season and had never thrown a complete game in his career. His performance tonight was totally unexpected.
So who knows what tomorrow will bring for the Mets. Maybe Chris Capuano (ERA: 6.04) will do what no Mets pitcher has done before. But don’t bet on it.
I’ve got a little more than 24 hours left on this New York trip, and I’m going to remember it for several reasons. Most of them are personal, but one of them is global: learning of the killing of Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs in Pakistan.
It felt fitting for me to be in New York when this news broke. I was less than three months into my first job out of college, working for NBC Olympics, on September 11, 2001. I arrived at my office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to find the TV on with something going on at the World Trade Center. There seemed to be a hole in one of the buildings. Soon, there was a second hole.
That brought the opening of yet another hole - a gaping one in our collective psyche.
In short order, Osama bin Laden captured our attention as the man who had masterminded the attacks, the personification of evil, our #1 enemy. We projected all of our anger onto him, demanded his blood.
But like so much else in this country, when weeks, then months, then years went by, bin Laden became a national joke. How else could we cope with the shame that this man, who had organized such an unthinkable crime against a country as powerful as the United States, could elude us?
Eventually, the late-night comedy jokes stopped and most of us stopped thinking about him altogether.
At the time of 9/11, I was dating a girl who had moved to Chicago, and I had a hard time articulating to her what it was like to be in New York City during that period. When I told her that I would probably think of 9/11 every day for the rest of my life, she couldn’t understand that - because in many ways, the rest of the country began moving on soon after the attacks.
It’s been almost 10 years since 9/11, and I still think about it every day. But I don’t think about Osama bin Laden very much anymore. I can’t tell you the last time I thought about him before last night.
And for that reason, I was surprised to see the mass gatherings on college campuses across the country last night. At first, I thought, “Well, these are college kids who would take any pretext to party.”
But then I realized something else - that these kids, who were in elementary school, had to process 9/11 as children. We were all scarred by what happened that day, but perhaps those most scarred - outside of those who lost loved ones - were those kids.
As I wrote about a week ago when I visited the New England Holocaust Museum in Boston, kids are totally unprepared to learn about pure evil, to understand such hatred. And 9/11, through the visage of Osama bin Laden, taught them about these unexplainable truths.
So that personification of evil is now dead. It’s not going to bring back the lives lost on 9/11. It doesn’t mean terrorism has been eliminated. And it doesn’t mean “the world is a safer place.”
But the symbol of a horrible and terrifying era is finally gone.
After several months of listening to them infrequently, I’ve been obsessive about The Hold Steady again during the past week or so - if you follow me on Twitter (@dfleschner), you’ve probably seen some tweets that don’t make much sense unless you’re a fan of the band.
I was listening to them yesterday on the train back to New York from New Jersey and came upon the song “Chill Out Tent.” It’s the 10th track on the album Boys and Girls in America (2006). And while I would never argue that it’s the band’s best song or my favorite of their songs, I think it’s one of their most interesting and worthy of further discussion.
The song’s narrative focuses on two strangers who go to a music festival in western Massachusetts, get high, end up in the festival’s infirmary (the “chill out tent”), hook up, and then never see each other again. Here’s why the song is interesting and what I appreciate about it:
What separates this song from every other Hold Steady song - and just about every pop song I can think of - is its narrative structure. The story is told from three points of view: the narrator (performed by lead singer Craig Finn), who gives background information and tells the main parts of the story; the girl (performed by Elizabeth Elmore of The Reputation); and the guy (performed by Dave Pimer of Soul Asylum).
I’ve always appreciated that the story is told from three different perspectives. The details of the story aren’t terribly different from many other Hold Steady songs, but in no other case are the characters given their own voices. I’ve always thought that was cool.
To a lesser degree, I also like that the girl’s lyrics and the guy’s lyrics are parallel to each other. For example:
He was kinda cute, we kinda kicked it in the chill out tent
And I never saw that boy again
She was pretty cool, we kinda kicked it in the chill out tent
And I never saw that girl again
There are other examples of this as well. Doing that would make it very easy for the song to feel formulaic, but because of the three-voice structure, using this parallel construction helps keep the song orderly. Lyrics
There are other examples of this as well. Doing that would make it very easy for the song to feel formulaic, but because of the three-voice structure, using this parallel construction helps keep the song orderly.
He was rough around the edges
He’d been to school but never finished
He’d been to jail but never prison
And later, Finn gives more information about the guy in his unique style:
He quoted her some poetry, he’s Tennyson in denim and sheepskin
He looked a lot like Izzy Stradlin
The section where the guy and girl hook up is evocative of what that awkward, sweaty, strange and exhilarating experience must have felt (and tasted) like:
They started kissing when the nurses took off their IVs
It was kinda sexy, but it was kinda creepy
Their mouths were fizzy with the cherry cola
They had the privacy of bedsheets
And all the other kids were mostly in comas
I also really like cherry cola (though I’m not sure how I would feel about a cherry cola kiss - especially with the lingering taste of oranges and cigarettes from earlier in the song).
You can always count on Craig Finn to include references/details you don’t ordinarily hear in pop songs - which gives his lyrics an extra layer of texture. This song isn’t loaded with them, but there are some good ones.
The girl didn’t just drive down from “college” or “school,” she drove down from “Bowdoin.” Ever hear a song that mentions Bowdoin? Me neither.
The girl isn’t trying to light a “cigarette,” she’s trying to light a “Parliament.”
The guy is “Tennyson in denim and sheepskin.”
And my favorite - the guy “looked a lot like Izzy Stradlin.” My initial reaction to hearing this was, “I like any song that includes a reference to Izzy Stradlin.” (Izzy Stradlin was the rhythm guitarist in Guns N’ Roses until 1991.)
The romantic in me hopes that Finn writes a sequel where these two find each other again. I don’t have high expectations for what their reunion would be like. They could share a laugh about it and then go their separate ways. But it would be even better if they were to find each other years later and remain together.
And I wouldn’t put it past Finn to write a sequel - he’s got a set of characters that he wrote about over the band’s first four albums (not so much on album #5). So I can legitimately hope that somewhere down the line we’ll hear more about the guy and the girl who got together on a summer day in the chill out tent.
When it comes to the Royal Wedding, the media has pulled off a remarkable coup. By over-saturating the airwaves with coverage of the “Wedding of the Century” (which, as my mother pointed out to me, might be a little premature considering we’re in the 11th year of the century), the media has made a vast number of people in this country hate the Royal Wedding - and those people can’t stop talking about how much they hate it.
Think about it - compare the amount of actual Royal Wedding coverage you’ve seen with the frequency that someone has said to you, “Am I the only one who doesn’t care about this Royal Wedding stuff?”
If you’re like me, you’ve spent more time hearing about how “no one” actually cares about the wedding.
And that is the genius of the media coverage - because, really, why should we care about these people? They’re not terribly interesting, they’re from another country, and they have absolutely nothing to do with any of our lives.
Yet by breathlessly covering the event, the media has sucked in not only those who enjoy celebrity and royals coverage, but also the rest of us - who apparently enjoy talking about how much we don’t care about the wedding.
Which, of course, begs the question - why don’t the non-royal watchers just ignore the wedding altogether? Why even bother uttering the words, “Am I the only one…”? Why not talk about the new album you downloaded or the vacation you’re taking or your desire to have President Obama release his elementary school grades? (The last one was in case Donald Trump is reading this.)
The answer is obvious: we talk about what the media wants us to. And even though network news ratings are not as high as they used to be, thanks to technology, the media is omnipresent in our lives like never before. It’s possible to be out of media earshot, but in modern American culture, you have to try really hard to make that happen.
Here’s my dirty little secret. I watched the news last night and saw footage of the final preparations and rehearsals going on in London. And I thought it was all kind of cool - you don’t see traditions and pomp like that much these days.
Will I get up to watch live Royal Wedding coverage at 4 a.m. tomorrow? Of course not (sorry to my former Today Show colleagues). But I’ll be happy to watch a recap of it later in the day - no matter what, it’s a big event.
And whether or not they care, one thing’s for sure: everyone’s talking about it. Well done, media. Well done.
The thing I keep thinking about today is this - I was walking out of an office building today when I bumped into a high school classmate of mine. We had some classes in common, and we were friendly but I wouldn’t say we were friends. What is interesting to me is that, although we graduated 14 years ago, and it’s been at least several years since she has even crossed my mind, I recognized her right away and remembered her first and last name. (I’m not sure she would have recognized me but once I said her name, she remembered mine.)
That might not seem particularly noteworthy. But I can’t seem to remember the names of restaurants or bars well anymore, and I seem to forget things that I’ve said or done more than ever. So the fact that I instantly remembered her name was interesting to me.
Score a point for my memory. I wish I understood why I can remember certain things and not others. I guess I could read a book about it, but I’d probably just forget.
I made a pilgrimage today. After a lovely stroll through Central Park, I headed (way) east to visit the first apartment building I lived in after moving to New York City in 2001. I arrived there just after turning 22 and stayed until age 25.
Though I still lived in New York for another six years after moving out, I rarely had reason to return, even just to visit. So it had been several years since I had walked that block.
My immediate reaction upon returning was that very little on the block had changed. My building - and the ones around it - looked the same; no surprise since they were built around 1903. The block smelled the same, too.
Once I approached the front door, the memories started flooding back. I explored New York from there, discovered what it meant to be an independent adult there, learned the definition of “postage stamp apartment” there.
Relationships were born and died there. With assorted family members, I built IKEA furniture for the first time there. I had bugs there (for one night) and a mouse there (for one night as well).
After being evacuated from 30 Rock, I watched the second World Trade Center tower collapse on TV there.
I once got locked out there (it’s a long story). I had a landline there (212 734-5253). I frequently slept late there.
I didn’t have a couch there (not enough room).
I wrote a book there, shot a short film there. I wasted time there.
I laughed a lot there. Sometimes I cried there. I was always thinking there.
I lived there.
From today’s New York Times:
Now, after a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs, Dr. DeWall and other psychologists report finding what they were looking for: a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words “I” and “me” appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and the expression of positive emotions…
Their song-lyrics analysis shows a decline in words related to social connections and positive emotions (like “love” or “sweet”) and an increase in words related to anger and antisocial behavior (like “hate” or “kill”).
I am outraged. I mean, is this “scientific study” a joke or what? I was reading the article, and I learned that these psychologists examined the lyrics of hit songs from 1980-2007 and determined that I’m getting more narcissistic and angrier.
I’m so pissed.
I wish these psychologists would look at this from my perspective. I like songs that use “I” and “me” in the lyrics because I can relate to the characters better. I enjoy listening to songs where I can put myself in the singer’s shoes. I just feel better knowing that I am the singer and the singer is me. I am the song.
I am music.
I also prefer songs that use words like “hate” and “kill” because music is supposed to be an expression of my emotions. I can’t stand it when people like these scientists try to censor me. I get so angry when people don’t listen to me. I have very important things to say all the time.
I hate this study.
I want to kill these psychologists.