Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Smithereens

Earlier this week I was reading the Village Voice when I noticed The Smithereens would be playing BB King's on Friday night. I was kind of surprised to see them listed because I had no idea they were still playing together.

The Smithereens were one of the "cool" alternative bands I got into during my college years. As far as I could tell, they never moved too far out of the college-alternative genre and into the mainstream. No one I know except people from my early 20s has ever heard of them. So, I decided to go to this concert, not so much because I was that excited to see them, but more because I was dying to see what kind of crowd would show up for this. I figured it would probably be a lot of late 30s - early 40s crowd, and a lot of guys screaming "fuck yeah, the Smithereens, you guys are AWESOME!!!"

I did go last night, and I was not disappointed on any level. At first when my friend Oddrun & I entered the room, we discovered it was cabaret-style seating, where you sit at a table and order food & drink ($10 min. per person) while you listen to the concert. This seemed to be a strange way to hear rock music. I think the last time I saw the Smithereens was in 1988 at First Avenue in Minneapolis - you know, the kind of real joint where you stand around drinking beer in front of a stage.

But if you think about it, cabaret style seating for rock concerts is actually entirely appropriate for this kind of crowd. We're busy busting our butts all week selling insurance, working in law firms, slaving away as CPAs and whatnot. You need a place to rest your weary ass while you enjoy some good tunage from your youth. I kind of got into the scene.

We were seated at a table with these guys in their mid forties with graying hair, paunch bellies and accompanied by similarly aged female companions with cheap dye jobs and leather pants. The rest of the room was fairly similar. A lot of people looked like they were eager to have a few hours of fun but-not-for-too-long-because-I have-to-get-home-to-pay-the-sitter kind of thing. A lot of bleary-eyed tired from the work-week faces. Totally understandable, if you ask me.

The opening band sucked ass. Oddrun was just looking at me as if to say "what the hell are we doing here? This sucks ass." I shrugged and reminded her that we were there as part of a sociological study.

The sucky band ended after far too long, and then after about 20 minutes the Smithereens walked out on stage, rather casually, and picked up their instruments. No big hoopla or fanfare of any sort. The first thing I noticed is that their lead singer, Pat Dinizio, has BALLOOOOOOONED. I'm talking an Orson Wellian kind of roundness. The rest of the band looked pretty much the same, but about 20 years older. The bassist still does this really gay two-feet jumping in the air kind of thing when he plays, which I always thought was amusing. Lead guitarist Jimmy Babjak is still kind of a Baldwin - just want to give him a hug whenever you see him.

Then they started playing. Opened with "Spellbound" which is kind of a slow ballad. It sounded great, which kind of surprised me because I thought that if these guys haven't been playing together regularly for 20 odd years, they must be rusty. Not so. They sound like they've never quit playing. I was also pleasantly surprised to notice that this band that I thought was so "cool" in my youth actually consists of four very excellent musicians. I've had that experience where I listen, as an adult, to some group I liked when I was young - and notice, as an adult, that they really kind of suck. I saw the Go-Go's a few times when they reunited and was sad to note that they are terrible performers. While I will be forever devoted to Belinda Carlisle (seeing as how we're psychically linked, which I'll blog about later) the woman can't sing for shit. Off key, terrible.

Not so with Pat Dinizio. His intonation was right on the money throughout every single song. He was always the one member of the band who kind of annoyed me for some reason. It always seemed to me that he thought he was just too cool in a beatnick sort of way. But after his performance last night, I have newfound respect & admiration for the guy. He really loves his music, and it shows. Jimmy's guitar playing was also amazing. In short, these guys WERE awesome.

I remembered the lyrics to every single song they played, which kind of amazed me because I haven't listened to these guys in years. After about 30 minutes I decided to screw the cabaret style seating arrangement and I stood up and started yelling "BLOOD AND ROSES!!! BLOOD AND ROSES!!!" My table companions got very excited and started whooping & hollering right along with me (apparently it was their favorite song too.) By the end of the concert, I had become the very object of my sociological study - the almost-fortysomething with graying hair and paunch belly screaming "Fuck yeah, the Smithereens, you guys are AWESOME!!!!!!!" Oddrun laughed and danced next to her chair.

It was a really great night. While it would be nice if there were some twentysomethings around today who had a chance to know and appreciate the Smithereens, it was kind of fun to rock to them with this fortysomething crowd. I felt a mild sense of connection and bonding as I stood surrounded by all these guys who probably would've tried to beat me up if they'd known me in high school.

And the best part- I was home in bed with my cat by 11:45! Rock on man!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Guest Blogger: E.M. Stover

Since I don't want anyone to accuse me of being all hoggish with Coaster Punchman's World, I'm welcoming the occasional guest blogger to offer his or her finest anecdotes and noteworthy tales for weblification here. I feel it's very important that Coaster Punchman's World be seen as a warm, friendly and welcoming webspace.

With that, I would like to introduce to my loyal readers my good high school friend, Beth Stover, associate professor of English at the State University of New York, Buffalo, as she blogs about her young daughter's first bout with writer's block.

Take it away, Beth!


There is nothing sadder than an eight year old child with writer's block, and I think it is especially ironic when it is my own. I am, after all, a writing teacher with a whole artillery of strategies meant to head it off before it begins. But there was Rebecca this morning, 15 minutes of tears and at least 15 wadded balls of wet tissue, because she didn't have a dream, or no dream she cared to write six to eight sentences about.

At first she dreamt for no more writing-- a very meta-whatever approach, but this yielded but two sentences, and five minutes of staring at a blank page before total despair set in. "Well," I say, "why don't you write about why you don't like writing?" Tears and tears, and she doesn't know why. More suggestions on my part: "Is it because it's hard to write the letters?"

The other day she asked how I could write so fast, meaning the physical act of forming letters and words. "Maybe it's spelling." She refuses to mis-spell, which can really slow down the process.

So now we have major tears. "I don't know why." I handle this by hugging her, and I wonder if this would be a good approach with my students. "You're having a hard time with this paper? Here, let me give you a hug."

Let's brainstorm!!! So I suggest ending war, feeding hungry children ("Why don't they plant food?"), keeping the world clean. But nothing's happening, just more tears, and we have to leave for school in 15 minutes. "Okay, just write something, write whatever you think."

Now I'm writing a note to her teacher--about 45 minutes have passed since she sat down to write, after she went through the rituals of procrastination which all good writers are familiar with. I'm having visions of a permanently writing-disabled person; I'm thinking of my students who can barely manage a three-sentence paragraph, not because they're not smart, but because they can't develop; I'm imagining Rebecca in college staring at a blank screen; I'm imagining all the psycho-somatic reasons why she can't just spit out 8 sentences and be done with it: Does she not want to commit to a dream and be held accountable for it? Is she worried it won't be good enough? Is she worried her dream won't be original enough? Is she worried that if she starts with two or three sentences and can't come up with anything else, the whole endeavor will be for naught?

I turn and tell her we have five minutes, and if she doesn't get it done, she doesn't get it done. I begin looking for my sunglasses.

When I come back to the kitchen, she's writing and asking me how to spell "chocolate" and "patients." She dreams that it would rain chocolate and candy so children could eat them all the time even though their dentists and parents might not like it. She spits it all out in under 10 minutes, she's happy because it's not serious(?). It's witty and not your standard Miss-America-I-Have-A-Dream fare; suffers a little in execution, but who cares, it's done, the crisis has passed--for now. But I think to myself, is this what kind of writer she's going to be? How awful for her, a prisoner to writer's block until the last possible moment? And if it's bad now, what will it be like in the future? If she can't spit out a paragraph, how will she write a paper?

I can't help it, but I do want my daughter to be a good writer, or at least take some pleasure in the process. At some point during my pregnancy I was worried about having a girl who wanted to be a cheerleader; I can't help but think this is 100 times worse.


No Beth, it would definitely be worse to have a cheerleader. And your story reminds me vaguely of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. It turns out Rose was the editor responsible for crafting the "Little House" series into the enjoyable reads that they are. She took Laura's rough-and-tumble, stilted sketches of pioneer life and breathed life and language into them. And (unlike you of course) apparently Laura was a real bitch to her the whole time Rose was making her mother famous.

Maybe you and Rebecca will have a similarly meaningful relationship, but in a much more positive way.

Monday, January 10, 2005

One-Line Poem: Jon's Grandma

She rocked in her chair and avoided all communication except to repeat that somebody hurt the baby.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

I'm a secret-eating-listener

If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know about my deep love for the CMTVM genre. But here’s way #2 that I’m a freak: I have this weird fetish where I like to listen to people eat. But not just ordinary eating. I like to listen to people eat when they are trying to pretend they are not eating. Like when they are sneaking bites of food while talking on the phone with me. Or when they’re eating somewhere they’re not supposed to be eating, while trying to be quiet about it. In short, I'm a secret-eating-listener.

When I was in college, students used to sneak food into the library all the time. They would squirrel themselves away in their little study carrels, thinking they were going to be able to munch away privately. Not so, as long as I was around. It’s not like I would seek it out, but as soon as someone would set him or herself up with a bag of chips or a sandwich in a neighboring carrel, I was theirs for the duration. Whatever else I was working on would just have to wait until “lunch” was over. I probably wasted an entire month’s worth of study time over the course of my college career with my secret-eating-listening.

I should note that while the word “fetish” has a sexual connotation, my fascination with secret-eating-listening is distinctly non-sexual. I don’t know quite how to define it, but secret eating stimulates some kind of positive energy within me, like the warm fuzzies some of us get when a cat is purring. One time I was on a hour-long business call where the person on the other end of the phone was trying to pretend he wasn’t eating. I was absolutely week-kneed. Had to keep asking him to repeat himself. Another time when I was working phone tech support, this woman I was helping was quietly sucking on cough drop for about 20 minutes, and it made me positively dizzy.

For those of you who know me, I should also note that obvious eating doesn’t do the same trick for me. I told George about this little fascination of mine when we were first dating long-distance, and after that he was always trying to titillate me by eating whenever we were on the phone. It didn’t work, because I could tell he was trying. It has to be bona-fide secret eating to get my fancy.

I wonder if I’ll upset anyone with this news. I once worked in an office where there was this secretary who had a fascination with watching people eat. If you worked there any length of time, you were warned to look out for her in the lunchroom because at some point everyone would catch her sneaking a peek. One time she was sitting next to me, and halfway through lunch I realized she’d been enjoying my three-bean salad right along with me for at least half an hour. Her staring was kind of cute, but I made her stop nonetheless.

So if you are reading this, consider yourself on notice. And if you ever think you’re fooling me while you’re quietly munching on that power bar or swallowing tiny spoonfuls of yogurt while you’re on the phone with me, think again. But if you’re lucky and you convince me that your eating is secret, don’t be surprised if I figure out a way to extend the call an extra 20 minutes or so.

One-Line Poem: Don't Sing Mama

Next time you make me the center of attention, I want to hear about it in advance.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Beauty of the CMTVM

My friend Regular Tim recently sent Mindy June and me a link to a website that discusses and displays the bodily blemishes of various celebrities, e.g. Leo DeCaprio's facial chicken pox scars and that sort of thing.

While I thought it was a perfectly natural website link to forward to one's friends, Mindy June took it upon herself to ask Tim where he'd come across this jewel. His reply? He'd simply run across it by accident while he was searching for a list of tv actresses that have appeared in the most made-for-tv-movies. Again, a perfectly normal Internet query, if you ask me.

Tim's quest reminded me that I need to start blogging more about my fascination with the CMTVM (cheesy-made-for-tv-movie.) My preferred flavor of CMTVM plays on Lifetime Television for Women and features an abused woman who finally snaps & blows her filthy stinking husband's head off or burns him alive. (see "The Burning Bed" or "Extremities" - both starring Farrah Fawcett.)

Another good one has Josie Bisset (of "Melrose Place" fame) unknowingly married to a serial rapist. But I gotta tell ya - the sine qua non of CMTVM's would have to be "A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story" starring Meredith Baxter. This CMTVM, along with its sequel, "Her Final Fury," was so unabashedly fabulous that it founded a whole new genre of CMTVM in my mind: the CMTVMMB (cheesy-made-for-tv-movie starring Meredith Baxter.)

Meredith Baxter rocks my world. Something about watching Elise Keaton act like a total crazy bitch for two hours before finally blowing away her ex-husband and his boneheaded fiancee in their sleep just made my day. And then the call she made from the phone booth to her friend right after it happened - "I finally did it, I killed the bastard...." I'd never seen anything like it. Outstanding.

I think a close second would have to be that Mary Tyler Moore vehicle "Like Mother Like Son" where she plays this crazy bitch mother who teaches her sons to shoplift as young boys, and then eventually teams up with one of them to kill Edith Bunker in order to take title to her apartment building. Included are several great scenes where Mary displays some revolting incestuous tendencies toward her boy. If you ask me, all Mary has to do is participate in a few more of those gems for me to create a new category in her honor: the CMTVMMTM.

It's always the fomer sitcom adorable-stable-mother-type actresses who make the best CMTVM's. See Elizabeth Montgomery in "Sins of the Mother" where she plays this quasi-sadistic crazy ass bitch mother who turns her son into a serial rapist. I think that one had some incest themes as well.

Not that I approve of any of this. Trust me, I am plenty filthy in my own right, but I do not in any way condone serial rape or incest. But that's what is so great about watching these tv uber-mommies just lose it and go all the way to the dark side. Maybe I should explore this fascination of mine in therapy. Nah, I don't really want to ruin it. It's just too much damn fun.

One of the best things that has ever happened to me was when I was in St. Paul, Minnesota recently. I went out for dinner with my friend Kapooch and her husband, Special Tim. I've been coming out of the closet recently about my CMTVM fetish, and I decided to share this news with Kapooch & Special Tim.

Little did I know that Kapooch, who is married to a real GUY's guy, is also married to her very own CMTVM fetishist. That's right: Special Tim watches Lifetime!

My favorite part of the whole evening was learning that he and Kapooch got so hooked by a certain CMTVM one day that they refused to answer the doorbell when their friends showed up to watch the final game of the World Series. Just couldn't get up out of their chairs because some crazy ass bitch was busy gunning down an entire convenience store while her daughter binged & purged in the backseat of the family SUV or something like that. Just couldn't do it. Had to keep watching. I love my friends.

I should note that while I'm becoming more open about my CMTVM fetish, an openness that is only more strongly encouraged by the deliberate self-outing of Special Tim, I am nevertheless still afraid to get TIVO for fear of what that little machine might say about me. I'd probably watch TV for a week, and then TIVO would start suggesting some Danielle Steele miniseries for me. Can't have that. I don't know if TIVO is sophisticated enough to differentiate between a truly great CMTVM and some schmaltzy love story that could possibly induce self-mutilation on the part of the viewer. Then again, maybe that in itself could be the subject of a new kind of CMTVM.

I want Mindy June to quit her fancy London job, come back to the states and start producing some fine CMTVM's with me. I hear Patty Duke & Shannen Doherty may be looking for work, and I have just the vehicle for them churning in my brain.