Monday, August 17, 2009

I hate the radio

My problem today is an old one: that of the terrible feeling that the radio gives me. This is both an attack on corporate takeover and consolidation of the airwaves, and the frustration of loving music and being in the car a lot—a scenario which should provide a more-than-fortunate scenario to take advantage of unfortunate driving circumstances—and being forced into a delirious anger caused by constant playings of MGMT.

It should be noted that I am not the only person that hates the radio, and this is something that goes back to living in Cleveland, but out here, given my schedule of spending close to 90 minutes in my car each day and my Ipod being stolen, it has reached a terminal boiling point and now needs to be discussed.

So, without any further disclaimers or qualifiers I give you my beef with LA radio.

When I first moved out to LA, I was impressed with the quality of radio. For one, KROQ was one of the most influential, if not famous, radio stations in the country for the past twenty years. We also had Indie 103.1, a smaller but (so I thought) popular station free of the corporate routines and playlists that have driven me crazy in the past. My favorite thing about Indie wasn't the fact that I heard newer bands like SIlversun Pickups and Cold War Kids months before they hit national airwaves, but that they played older songs, from say the 1990s, and late 80s that I loved too. It wasn't about being obscure, elitist, or chic, it was about being rad. On top of these, we had (and have) KCRW, an NPR affiliate known for having incredible music collections and the uber-intellectual/influential Morning Becomes Eclectic known for breaking now-popular bands like the Shins.

To me, coming from the dull and repetitive Cleveland scene, this was nirvana. Then, in the past year, several things have happened.

For 1, 98.7 a contemporary music station changed formats to an edgier, younger format calling their listeners Rock-a-Holics and playing tired and repetitive playlists that I was sick of before they started.

2. KROQ, feeling the heat from 98.7's TERRIBLE sound, began to try to compete with the 16-22 year old brain-dead demo and started playing bands with "The" before their name, but no "s" at the end. (The Bravery, The Fray, The Airborne Toxic Event)

3. Maybe I'm wrong, but it feels as though KCRW has dipped into more obscure, trip-hoppy, anti-commercial elitism as opposed to just playing shit that SOUNDS good.

4. The coup-de-grace, Indie 103.1, citing poor ratings and beleaguered listeners closed their doors and turned mariachi.

These things all happened at a similar time which happened to co-incide with my IPod getting stolen, 97.1 FMTalk going off the air, and the midday crew on AM 570 KLAC's midday show getting an unneeded and disappointing makeover making my drive time a figurative funeral procession through the palm-tree lined streets that seem to directly contradict the shit being played on the radio.

Here's the thing: 98.7 is the devil. I mean that. They are the fucking devil. For 12 months, they played Kings of Leon's Sex on Fire every hour. I couldn't get into the car without hearing that song. Do you know what that does to me!?

Now, an album that I loved is trash to me because I associate it with screaming and pounding the steering wheel waiting for the 98.7 DJ's to stab themselves with a fictional turntable needle. It makes driving unbearable, and it makes the band super-popular with the high-school crowd that now ruins every KoL show by taking their parents money and buying tickets in front of me at the Nokia Theatre or the Forum when they should be playing the fucking Fonda. Then, when I do get to see KoL, they play al new songs, and only one song from their first album. Also, I am NOT, that guy, the guy that bitches about how he liked Snow Patrol back when they were still a real band, no, I'm the guy that called Only by the Night the best album of 2008.

Now I hear MGMT's Kids, a song that came out over two years ago, and by my cout, probably the 6th best song on an OK album 15 times a day. The latest Silversun Pickups CD, a CD I actually LIKE, and by a band that three years ago REPRESENTED the triumph of indie music, has been exploited and destroyed after 98.7 LITERALLY began playing Panic Room every other hour.

Just to play catch up, KROQ has followed suit.

The only bright spot in this mess has been the emergence of 100.3 The Sound who plays just about anything they want, as long as it's not the best song on a particular album. About 1 in 6 songs is actually really good, compared to about 1 in 15 on the other stations.

What are these stations doing. I ask only this of you, radio:


We are not as dumb and short-sighted as your market research may argue. We are not Midwest sheep that listen to what is played for us. We sell out three nights at the Wiltern for Wilco. We sell out the Greek for My Morning Jacket. We support the biggest record store in the country, and I can promise you, it's not with Killers CDs and Coldplay. We are BRIGHT people. That doesn't mean that you don't need to appeal to a larger audience by playing hits. I'm not asking for ELO album sides or playing unreleased Frank Zappa. That last Kings of Leon CD was dope, but there are eleven songs on it. Play them all, and not so much! Play stuff from the 90s and early 2000s that we haven't already heard 200 times. If we liked the first Strokes album, chances are we'll like to hear Someday just as much as Last Night. And I know I was young, but I could SWEAR the Smashing Pumpkins had more than four songs.

Please radio, I'm begging you. I don't want to buy a new IPod before I buy a new bike. We're better than this and you could be too.

Now, I will sign off and go see the Flaming Lips at the Greek – a band I've never heard on LA radio, yet somehow they sell 6000 tickets for 50 a pop on a Monday night. Must just be another cult phenomenon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Funny People Review

Funny People
The Review
(Spoiler Alert)

I saw Funny People last night and I loved it. After reading a few reviews after seeing it, I've noticed it's quite a polarizing film. And not the typical generational polarization with the square older population not getting the humor of the edgy youth. No, either you got this film as a whole, or you didn't. It wasn't about understanding the humor, or being offended by the production quality. Critics say it ran too long, it made a point that wasn't there, or even that it was poorly directed. First I will say what I liked about this movie, and then I will address the overarching theme argument that several critics have used to attack the film.

First off, there is the Larry David-esque blurry line between fiction and reality. I'm sorry, before I start crediting David with this, allow me to honor the true originator of this type of comedy, Gary Shandling. Anyway, like Larry Sanders or the fictional Larry David, Adam Sandler's George Simmons was playing the part of a fictional Adam Sandler. From the campy, but wildly successful feature list, to the juvenile but original brand of humor, Simmons was playing Sandler. Throwing in old clips of Sandler doing prank calls, stand-up, even an old spot on Conan (obviously as Adam Sandler), blurred this line even more and made for an incredibly unique character. It was as if we knew the character's background without any development. Added to which, we (the audience) immediately felt somewhat of a personal connection to Simmons, not because of any creative and effective writing of the character, but because we grew up watching him. Sandler has always been a part of our lives, hence Simmons was. And Apatow pulled this off BRILLIANTLY, by interweaving the aforementioned early Sandler stuff in with fictional but mildly familiar films that Simmons had created.

On top of this, was the beautifully drawn out world of showbusiness. The comedians being themselves, the backstage stuff, the celebrity cameos which felt less forced than any I can remember—these things were executed brilliantly. Ray Romano, Paul Reiser, Eminem, and Andy Dick were playing themselves, interacting with a fictional character. The stand-up stuff was pulled off just as brilliantly as tension, nerves, and a silly subculture was presented as accurately as I've seen before. I loved this.

Then there's the stuff that maybe I like because I live in LA. There are certain things—Entourage, Californication, Shop Girl, 500 Days of Summer—that I'm not sure I would love so much if I lived in Ohio. I DON'T know…maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't. But this movie was chock-full of that stuff. The guys' apartment at Larchmont and Melrose. Their relationship. Jason Shwartzman's half-success on his show was perfect. We all know these people—we all deal with them—they're not bad guys, they're just EXACTLY like that. Then there's the recognizable places like The WeHo Palm, Runyon Canyon, and Malibu that I feel some love for because I've been there. This isn't that first movie to get being mid- to late 20s in LA right, but it was one of the best. All of the younger characters—Shwartzman, Rogen, Hill, the girl, even the people at Thanksgiving—were reminiscent of people we know. Loved it.

The soundtrack was perfect. James Taylor, John Lennon, and then, during the resolution, while Rogen and his love interest sit on top of a peak in the Eastern Santa Monicas listening to Wilco's Jesus Etc., I just about lost it. Probably my favorite song ever being played over one of my favorite hidden secrets about living in LA. I couldn't imagine a scene more powerful…to me.

OK, now the themes. To me, and maybe I'm wrong, this movie showed how the late-twenties struggling comedian's romance with fame and success is much closer, but also much less desirable than he might know. I'm not talking about the "I don't have any friends," or "no woman ever really loves me," themes that are illustrated, and necessary. I'm referring more to the idea of what success actually means. At the beginning of the film, Rogen asks Sandler to help HIM write. Sandler lets him know that that's not how this relationship works. The payer does not do the writing.

But throughout the movie we learn how close these two characters (both representing larger clumps of people) actually are. Sandler (or Simmons) the ultra-celebrity gets terminally ill. The aura of invincibility is shed moments after the opening titles. They work the same tours, clubs, and crowds. Rogen's ability to converse with the older, successful celebrity crowd shows that the fame that they all have in common is not the only thing that can bind these people together. Simmons, despite hordes of money and women, is ultimately rejected by his true love and is more affected by that, then he was of the news that he would die. This rejection, played against Rogen's triumph to the tune of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shows the dichotomy of the two characters again.

If Apatow is trying to make a statement in this film, it was, at least to me, that celebrity is merely one measure of success. To me, the final scene, in which Simmons visits Rogen at the deli in which is working to give him jokes that he in fact wrote for him, is poignant in that it shows that Simmons views the two as equals, despite his giant Malibu house and Rogen's deli job alongside an awesome ex-con played by the RZA.

Sure, the third act ran long, the overdeveloping of both Leslie Mann and Eric Bana's characters killed a lot of the momentum, and the overarching themes may have been lost amongst the conflict/resolution of other smaller themes, but stepping back—I think Apatow did a great job with an incredibly original and unique approach to celebrity.
I'll like any post-modern attacks on reality, so I am an easy target, but Funny People had me cracking up and thinking about life in LA as something more than it probably is. But at the end of the day, I think that's the point of this film.