Friday, May 8, 2009

This, That, and the Other

My last post was March 30th, which means for the first time since I started this thing in 2007 I've gone a whole month without posting. Sorry, but as Luther says to the parking garage attendant in 48 Hours, "I've been BUSY!!"*

* That line is not funny, creative, or even relevant to the plot; but the actor says it with such freaky vehemence it has become an oft-repeated crack among my friends.

Actually, I haven't been that much busier than usual, but I finally got talked into joining Facebook and Twitter and have wasted valuable time there that I should have spent in self-indulgent twaddle here.

I do have a piece coming out in the May 18th issue of Nation's Restaurant News, where I work in my non-FreeTime. I'll link to that in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, a few things I've been thinking about lately...

Divisional Mirrors

Has anybody else noticed that the AL East and the NL East are built exactly the same? Each division has:

  • A New York team in a new stadium that buys up the most expensive free agents and crashes when the leaves turn (Mets and Yanks)
  • A recently crowned World Champion from a city that was a big deal during the American Revolution (Phillies and Red Sox)
  • An underpaid Florida team with lots of nice young talent and an apathetic fan base (Marlins and Rays)
  • A crappy doormat team located near our nation’s capital (Nationals and Orioles)
  • A team from a mid-size city that won multiple titles in the 90’s but has struggled recently (Braves and Blue Jays)

Okay, the last one is a bit of a reach, but the others are kind of interesting, no? Yeah, you're right, it's not that interesting. Let's try something else...

Cultural Observations: Towards a Theory of Snobbery

A few years back I read an article in the NY Times that got my attention. (I’ve googled and yahooed away for this thing but can’t find it) The basic idea was this: professional musicians are less snobby about music than music fans. Music fans get all hung up on genres and cool factors, whereas for musicians it’s all about the music. Supremely cool musicians are sometimes fans of supposedly square ones. Miles Davis dug Bing Crosby. Robbie Robertson and the Band saw genius in the perfectly crafted pop songs of Neil Diamond, whereas their own fans couldn’t see past the sequins and clunky lyrics (“I am a chair?”)

A friend of mine is a professional musician and I asked him if he agreed with this. Here is his response:

Musicians, at least the ones I know and work with, like stuff that is interesting regardless of niche. The folks I know in the Berkeley Symphony still rave about the Metallica collaboration a few years back, and the Zappa works in the 90s. My best gig two years back was playing with the Santa Rosa Symphony behind Beatlemania. The chills I got playing the car horn while 4 Beatle lookalikes sang Penny Lane in front of me. What a day.

One exception--none of us like gangsta rap. No artistry or musicality.

One surprise--classical musicians and jazz musicians will rave on and on about Primus

I see something similar in the restaurant business. Foodies are deeply snobby towards chain restaurants whereas actual culinary professionals are often impressed by the work of chains. They know, in a way that mere foodies never could, that rolling out a good-tasting, low-cost, consistent dish in hundreds or even thousands of locations takes impressive culinary ability.

More importantly, they focus on the food itself, and not the idea of what the food is supposed to represent.

Does this apply in other arts? I suspect so - critics and cinephiles may mock big-budget movies, but I wonder if people in the movie business understand that the talent of, say, James Cameron is rarer than the talent of Alexander Payne.

Literature is an exception. I suspect the museum arts like painting and sculpture are too, but am getting well outside my comfort level here.

I'm still working on this theory (hence the "Towards" in the title) but wanted to get the conversation started.

Reading Recommendations

  • Portfolio magazine folded last week, two years and $100m after Conde Nast launched it. Portfolio had its moments, and one of those was this excellent piece by Michael Lewis about the end of Wall Street. It's worth printing out, getting a comfy seat, and reading.
  • When Patrick O'Brian died a few years ago, devoted fans of his Aubrey/Maturin series (the basis for the Russell Crowe film Master and Commander) went into mourning. If you're one of those, I'd like to recommend James Nelson's "Revolution at Sea" trilogy. Yes, Nelson is a bit of a copycat, but he knows his seamanship, and since its the American revolution rather than the Napoleanic wars, it has the advantage of writing about people, places and battles I'm more aware of. O'Brian blurbed his first book, too.
  • Also worth checking out is Christopher Buckley's blog on the Daily Beast. Buckley is the son of conservative icon William Buckley who shocked the conservative establishment with his endorsement of Obama. Anyway, his writing fills me with despair - I know I'll never be that good. But I read him anyway...

The Next Lines Flick

Like many males of my generation I have millions of movie lines in my head, many of them from flicks that starred SNL alumni. Animal House, Caddyshack, Fletch, Stripes, The Blues Brothers - my friends and I can spend hours together conversing in nothing but movie lines.

A handful of movies from the last decade have made it into this pantheon as well. The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, and pretty much the entire Will Ferrell catalogue.

There is a trailer out now for a movie called The Hangover.  The producers have either put every single funny moment in the trailer, or its going to be one of the funniest guy flicks ever made.

One reason to hope that the movie will live up to its trailer's promise: the trailer leaves open the mystery of what actually happened the night before. If the filmmakers deliver there, we may have a comedy classic on our hands.

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