Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Detroit, Day 2
Today there was a press conference about FieldTurf. I'm going to repeat that now, this time in capital letters so you will understand how outrageous this is... TODAY THERE WAS A PRESS CONFERENCE ABOUT FIELDTURF.

Apparently this is the first time a Super Bowl will be played upon this particular kind of fake sod.

Anyway. Never mind that there was A PRESS CONFERENCE ABOUT FIELDTURF. Heck, never mind that about a dozen journalists actually showed up to genuinely cover this thing. The best part was this: When the FieldTurf people were done explaining their plans for a world in which all non-paved surfaces are covered in synthetic grass, a serious looking young man with a notepad actually asked, with a straight-face and seemingly very serious intent: "Before this Super Bowl, what would you say was the greatest moment in the history of Field Turf?"

Then he put his hand to his chin and nodded as the FieldTurf people answered.

That's it. Journalism had a good run, but it's clearly been exhausted. There are no more questions to be asked. Let's tear it up and start over again.


Pittsburgh defensive back Troy Polamalu on the violent nature of football: "I don't view football in that way - as a violent, barbaric sport. To me, it's a very spiritual sport, especially for a man and the challenges a man faces within the game of football: the fear of failure, the fear of gaining too big an ego, of making a mistake and everybody criticizing you. I think other than the barbaric nature of the sport, with with whatever you call it, there are a lot of challenges a man faces within the sport."

That's profound. But it's even more profound coming from a man with a ponytail.


Shortly after every press scrum, the NFL distributes a transcript (at least in the Nixon government sense) of the conversation with little explanations of the context. My favourite so far:

Assistant Athletic Trainer Ariko Iso
(on being the only female athletic trainer in the NFL) "Yes."


At one point I found myself in a scrum, standing uncomfortably close to "journalist" Tom Arnold. Hands down the highlight of my sportswriting career to date.


Fearing the long-term effects of a Pepsi-based diet, I just went to a nearby McDonald's and asked for milk with my burgers and fries. Said milk comes in a small plastic bottle emblazoned with a picture of a smiling Ronald McDonald surfing a wave of the beverage. Hands down the highlight of my short-lived career as an adult male.


Returned from the gala media party at Detroit's Fox Theatre. In the lobby there were banners bearing the pictures of Super Bowl media legends. I'm not making this up. In fact, I'd like to see this catch on with America's youth. More kids need to be covering the bedroom walls with life-size pictures of Chris Mortensen. Somehow this would make the world a better place.

My second suggestion for improving Western civilization: A new rule. From now on, no sportswriter will be allowed within earshot of any music that might encourage any kind of physical movement that might be considered "dancing." I'm serious. So very serious about this. This needs to be written into the Patriot Act or something.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Detroit: Day 1
(All week, I'm in Detroit for the Super Bowl. This is either a) the first of, well, one entry about my adventures or b) the first of daily updates on my adventures. Depends on how much time I have and/or how little sleep I opt for. Anyway. On with the show.)

My completely non-existent, but still weird, relationship with Chuck Klosterman continues. I do not seek him out and yet everytime I leave the Greater Toronto Area on business, there he is. This time he found me in the Super Bowl media centre. He has a beard now.

Oh, and he's probably just here because he's blogging now. At least for a week.

Otherwise, I hear Kid Rock might be in town. Needless to say, I'm so excited I can hardly sit still.

More later.


Hey! I'm in Detroit! And Jack White is from Detroit!

So here's some new music from Jack's new band, The Raconteurs or the Rancouteurs or the Haute Cooters or whatever. Destined to, one way or the other, finally shut up those people who agonize over what Jack would be like with a "real" band. Or so we can only hope.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Is Avril Lavigne The New Kate Moss?
Hey, they asked, not us.

(Follow-up question: Does that make Deryck Whibley our Pete Doherty? Discuss.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Subtlety, Thy Name Is...
Kanye West.

Now before we get all biblical about it, let's not forget that this has been done. (Video link here.)

You can hate him now. But he most likely won't stop now.

Update. I wouldn't want to make this stuff up even if I could.

"The new issue of Rolling Stone dropped today featuring Hip-Hop mega star Kanye West.  The music industry is buzzing regarding the cover, which features West adorning a crown of thorns and bloody gashes to depict himself as Jesus Christ.

"'Kanye is a mastermind at creating controversy through not only his music but his social and personal commentary,' explains Blue Williams, CEO of Family Tree Entertainment and long-time manager of Outkast and Nick Cannon.  'Nearly everyone in America knows who Kanye West is and his album sales speak to this fact.  The important question remains whether or not Corporate America will become afraid of aligning their Company with Kanye and hurt him in the wallet.'

"Kanye West was at the center of a major controversy just a few months ago when he verbally attacked President Bush on national television regarding the treatment of African-Americans during the Hurricane Katrina crisis.  What impact will this latest incident have on his endorsement deals and relationship with corporate America?

"To set up an interview with Blue Williams regarding this controversial topic please contact ----- ------ @ XXX-XXX-XXXX xXXX"

Update II. And here come the Catholics...

"This kind of thing has become commonplace," Donohue told us, recalling a crucifixion gambit pulled by People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals. "It's one thing to rip off Catholic iconography. It's quite another to exploit a poor soul like Kanye West. Anyone who is this morally and mentally challenged deserves our sympathy not our derision."

Heh. Mentally challenged.

Update III. Hold on. Other Catholics say Kanye was duped.

"If it is true that West is a morally confused black young man, it is also true that Rolling Stone is staffed by morally challenged white veterans: they are to West what white boxing agents in the 20th century were to black boxers—rip-off artists. It is not for nothing that West poses as a Christ-like figure on a magazine geared to whites."

Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially no longer playing around.

Update IV. HipHopMusicDotCom with insight in essay form.
The Other 1.1 Percent
Aren't these results infinitely more interesting?

Independent 77,438
Christian Heritage Party 28,263
Progressive Canadian Party 14,441
Marijuana Party 9,259
Marxist-Leninist Party 9,249
Canadian Action 6,185
No Affiliation 5,205
Communist Party 3,127
Libertarian Party 2,995
First Peoples National Party 1,340
Western Block Party 1,094
Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party 72

By the way, during Mike Duffy's live hit from the NDP celebration a bit ago on CTV, you could clearly hear Weezer's Say It Ain't So playing in the background. An odd choice for a pseudo-victory party, no?

Perhaps Melissa Auf der Maur was DJing.

Bonus snark. Do you suppose the Canadian Recording Industry Association made sure to include a money back guarantee with that fundraiser? Cause they might want to look into that now. (Full disclosure: This is my riding. And, yes, it was the most satisfying ballot I've ever cast.)

Furthermore. 52.5% of voters in Pickering-Scarborough East agree: Gangsta rap sucks.

Update III. More Melissa at Matt Good's blog. And apparently she's got her own blog too. When you think about it, we should probably be listening to her. She, more than most, knows what it's like to live under a fascist regime - what with her tenure in the Smashing Pumpkins and all.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Deep And Meaningful Thoughts About Politics In The First Decade Of The 21st Century
"As several essayists have observed in recent days, the Frey case exemplifies a diseased attitude toward truth in American society, which is visible all across the cultural spectrum and goes straight to the top."
-Alex Ross

Indeed. And that is why the next great North American politician will have more in common with Ashlee Simpson than John F. Kennedy.

(More on this in the next 24 hours or so.)

I want desperately to believe in Barack Obama. (Heck, I want desperately to believe in Jack Layton.) Remember him? He was, and may still be, the most perfectest politician ever. Smart, handsome, principled, moderate, equally red and blue, with the ability to deliver a decent speech. Essentially the opposite of most every other political leader

But I know very well that somewhere between now and 2012, he's going to let me down. Something will come out. He'll contradict himself. He'll disclose a brief flirtation with communism. Or Maroon 5. Someone will find an improperly completed tax return, the body of a missing hobo or a sex tape. It's going to happen. Deep down, we all know it.

This isn't because we're more cynical than we were, say, 40 years ago. As I've said before, it's because we know more. We're smarter than that. We haven't lowered our expectations; we've just become more realistic. So you can't tell us that the government isn't wasting our money on hotel porn or secretly listening in on our phone sex. And don't even start trying to tell us that Tom and Katie are in love. We're not idiots.

All the same, we still would like something to believe in. Or at least something that doesn't make us feel we're being lied to. At least completely.

Joe Simpson, the worst father in the history of procreation but one of pop music's five greatest evil geniuses (the others, in no specific order: Phil Spector, Lou Pearlman, Michael Jackson's Dad and Paul McCartney), understands this. And so he did unleash upon the world his daughters.

Now, it's very cool to dislike the Simpsons girls right now. I get that. I'm not even going to try and refute it (though Ashlee is, generally, under-rated). All things considered, they're pretty annoying as individuals and borderline offensive when put together. Joe's creations are not perfect. But that's not the point. Well, actually, it is the point. It's exactly the point (I just blew my stoner friend's mind with that one.)

Here is what Joe did: Through the affordable magic of reality television, he destroyed whatever notion of mystery was left in pop music. Accomplishing what tabloid entertainment probably would have done eventually; he created celebrities with no claim to privacy (if not literally, then at least by all appearances). Everyone already knew that pop music was a messy, ridiculous, morally bankrupt operation. And here there were no illusions of anything different. Think your pop stars are manufactured? Artificial? Imaginary characters more fiction than truth? Well, guess what? You were right. Jessica wasn't really perfect, wholesome and virginal. She burped, bitched and had sexual intercourse with something called a Nick Lachey (and you just know that if MTV had allowed it, Joe would have been willing to show this).

And a lot of people - though not you, of course - loved it. Why? Because, for once, nobody felt like they were being lied to. Sure there was the voyeurism and the chance to see a celebrity in intimate settings making an idiot of herself. And, yes, she does have rather large breasts. But, most important, it was real. Or at least seemed that way.

(Even those who despise her must concede one thing: If not for Joe Simpson's efforts, you would have no idea who Jessica Simpson is. Perhaps he has created a monster. But he did so from some spare hair extensions and vocal chords he found at the pop star scrap yard. He made something out of nothing, all the more so with Ashlee. And that is an accomplishment of some note.)

The Joe Simpson Way has also single-handedly sustained pop music, in the bubblegum sense, over the last three years. Hip-hop is far and away the dominant genre. And rock has made the greatest gains. But the stars we still spend most of our time talking about are Britney, Lindsay and Hilary. Why? Because they live their public lives by the standards of reality television - every pimple, display of affection and nipple made available for public consumption. There is little about their apparent lives that one couldn't learn from the tabloids or blogs. And that has nothing to do with a new golden age of investigative journalism.

Now, I can't claim to have polled the Canadian people on this (so far as I can tell I'm the only person in this country who isn't a pollster), but I'd wager that about the same percentage of people that believe Britney Spears can really sing believe that Prime Minister Stephen Harper (or PM Martin, PM Layton, etc) will do even half of what he has promised over the past two months.

This is cynical. But it's also fair. Recent history seems to tell us as much. And when one begins to consider the political and practical obstacles that confront your average national leader, it is probably foolish to expect much more than half of what is promised. (Same with Brit - I mean, come on you guys, she can't be actually singing in concert when she's got all that dancing and writhing to do.)

It's like a typical weekend at my house (This could go very wrong -Ed.). I can legitimately identify a dozen or so things I need to do around the place at the start of every weekend. And I always convince myself that I'm going to get them all done. But there is a television here. And a computer. Not to mention pesky lobbyists (or "friends") trying to tempt me with promises of concert tickets. I know full well from the start that I'll be lucky to get half of my To Do list done. But I still tell myself at the start of every weekend that this time will be different.

Going forward, I have two options: I can continue lying to myself and continue to come up short under the mistaken idea that by hoping to accomplish 12 things, I will generally guarantee I get to five or six of them - the whole "Reaching for the moon" theory your dippy grade school teacher kept telling you about. The danger being that in never quite accomplishing what I set out to do I will slip into a prolonged and deep depression, eventually giving up and turning to a life of petty crime.

Or I could get real with myself. Accept that if it's 1pm on a Sunday afternoon, I'm probably still in bed. And understand that this does not automatically make me a bad person.

I'm convinced this is the Next Way for Western democracy.

There are those who would suggest that the current distaste for politics has everything to do with the quality, or complete lack thereof, of recent candidates. That if Abraham Lincoln came back, we'd see true greatness and rediscover faith in the pursuit of public office.

This is, of course, completely batshit insane. If Abraham Lincoln came back today, we would destroy him. There would be blogs devoted to mocking his beard. His stovepipe hat would be seen as a sign he was out of touch with today's youth. The Toronto Sun would start calling him Longface Lincoln. After a week, he'd make a tearful announcement that he was dropping out and going back to being dead and revered.

So, no, it's not Paul Martin's fault (so far as I can tell this is the only remotely negative thing going on in Canada that he cannot be blamed for). We just have the capacity to know more now. That knowingness, coupled with the multitude of modern distractions (TV, Internet, iPod, MuchMusic VJ Leah), means that collective inspiration is by now a quaint concept.

In fact, it could be argued that the closest we come nowadays to that sort of uniting interest is the general fascination that follows the likes of Jessica Simpson. Which brings me to my point (oh, like you've got anything better to do today than read a 7,000 blog entry).

Politics needs Joe Simpson. In fact, it might be the only way to save democracy in North America - the only force that stands between meaningful governance and a meaningless fraud (like, say, FM radio). Only Joe Simpson - or at least someone thinking like Joe Simpson - could give us a JFK for the 21st Century.

Essentially, the next great politician will be promoted the same way Joe promoted Jessica and Ashlee. There will be, seemingly, no illusions. He or she will admit that mistakes will be made and that, like every other reasonable person on the planet, they will sometimes hire friends to do important jobs because, well, those are the people they like, know and trust. They will not have to practice their smile if they don't generally smile all that much (Can you believe we spent the last two months debating, in part, Stephen Harper's ability to form a reasonable smile? Doesn't that make us idiots?).

The photo op won't die, but it won't be managed to smooth over the bumps, it will be managed to highlight the bumps. Brutal honesty, or at least the appearance of brutal honesty, will be paramount. If conservative, the politician will admit not being a fan of abortion, but having no interest, much like every other reasonable person on the planet, in bogging down the business of the nation for four years debating it. The liberal will maintain a belief in strong public health care, but acknowledge that, well, yeah, if they really needed a new hip they'd go to Buffalo too. If a member of the Liberal party, the politician will openly wonder what the hell he stands for.

Access - or at least the appearance of access - will be key. Journalists won't just travel with campaigns, they will be embedded, allowed to watch as policy as formed, speeches are written, another round of expense-account beers are ordered. They won't show everything, but they'll show enough. And if reporters begin to bristle, or reject the new way entirely, candidates will simply starting producing their own shows. (Not enough is made of this. Obviously George W. Bush has been roundly criticized for his manufactured town hall meetings and the like, but propaganda as news is a much wider issue. In sports, for instance, both the Maple Leafs and Raptors have their own digital TV channels. In a few years the only way to see either of them will be to subscribe to their in-house networks. Meanwhile, entertainment "news" programs are regularly used by the networks to promote their own shows.)

Essentially, the goal will go from presenting a convenient ideal to presenting what at least seems to be a reality. This is an important distinction. Jessica was first promoted as an ideal, but failed. She succeeded when she proved her reality, namely by failing to understand the origins of tuna. This still hypothetical politician will have to do likewise, not necessarily by failing or making an idiot of themselves, but perhaps simply by contradicting what the politician is supposed to be about in the theatre of the absurd that currently passes for politics. This will disappoint those who enjoy being lied to (namely, intellectuals), but it will revive politics as a meaningful subject.

In effect, taking politics less seriously will help people take politics seriously again. Politicians will still be subject to scorn. But in seeing their suspicions confirmed, the average voter will also find reason to believe in some of the other things the politician has to say - ie., if he's willing to be honest about the patronage, maybe he's telling the truth when he says he's going to increase military spending and teach my kid to read good.

Politics won't change entirely. It'll just stop pretending to be one thing and start pretending to be something else entirely.

Like I said, I want to believe in Barack Obama. But how is that possible so long as he's billed as perfect.

(The alternative is this: Voter interest will continue to sag as successive leaders prove themselves hollow and unable to maintain the images they have built for themselves during the campaign. Eventually, elected officials will cease to be of any interest and we will quietly, peacefully be annexed by the United States, itself having lost so much faith in democracy that it is, by then, ruled by an altogether banal dictator. The choice is yours Canada.)

(Think about just this: How much better would Paul, Stephen and Jack be if they didn't have to live like they were without human error or frailty? As it is now, can you even imagine a more uncomfortable group of men? (Well, all right, one scenario comes to mind: Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney at a private screening of Brokeback Mountain.) How is that inspiring? Does anyone really find them genuine and human? How does this strengthen democracy?)
Pape (All Love) Sow Update
Our guy Pape was recently recalled from Arkansas of the NBDL and is now well on his way to dominating the NBA. Tonight, against the Lakers, he played ten minutes, putting up four points, three rebounds and a career-high two blocks.

In response, Kobe Bryant scored 81 points.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

'I Say Fuck, You Say You' or 'You're Screaming For Yourselves'
With any luck, Liss will be by later with a report from the after-show party, but first... several issues raised by tonight's Broken Social Scene show.

1. TSN's Jay Onrait was about the biggest celebrity on hand. Somehow this makes me like both Onrait and Broken Social Scene more.

2. Ohad Benchetrit's addition to the team. It's nice to see BSS add some muscle in the physical sense. Ohad looks like he could probably bench-press Evan Cranley (in fact, I'd like to see this added to the set, please). Every group of friends needs that guy - the dude who can step in and sort things out when you're at the bar and somebody's had one or seven too many. Very necessary for breaking-up internal squabbles and scaring off outside threats. All due respect to BSS - somehow I imagine Brendan Canning could be an under-rated threat, one of those guys who snaps and kills you with your own arm or something - but they needed an enforcer.

3. Andrew Whiteman's slow evolution into Eddie Van Halen. People aren't paying enough attention to this. It's going to happen. Don't say I didn't warn you. (In the middle of Almost Crimes he broke into something really familiar? What was that? I want to believe it was the Magnum PI theme.)

4. The fact that Julie Penner is due some love. While everybody's going back and forth on Feist, Amy and Emily, Julie is the fourth seed slowly closing on them, perfectly positioned to steal the title in the final moments. The curls and violin convinced me of that tonight. She's like the NDP. If the NDP had a hope in hell. (Don't ask me what that makes the other three).

5. The 47-minute version of It's All Gonna Break. I'm pretty sure I zoned out for about a half hour on their traditional closer and when I came to they were still going. And only on the second climax. Thinking about it now, I realize that I could have left when they started, got in a cab and been home in bed before they finished. And I don't live anywhere near the venue. Anyway. The reason I bring this up is that I can't think of another song, television episode, book, movie, etc. that is already great, but that would get even that much better for every second you added to it. I mean, It's All Gonna Break is great at 11 minutes. But at 15 minutes it's 36% better than that, at half an hour it's a whopping 273% better and so on (Is the math right there?). Obviously almost all comparisons are hypothetical - though director's cuts are pretty standard now, aren't they? - but I can't name anything I currently consider genius that I know would be guaranteed to get even better the longer it got. Though the idea of a seven-hour version of Anchorman is somewhat intriguing.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Let Us Now Agonize
Eye music critics poll, with bonus commentary.

Can somebody walk me through why Gwen Stefani doesn't get the indie love that Kelly Clarkson gets? Is it something Gwen said? Is it Gavin?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rock On

As mentioned previously, I'm voting NDP, but if you're looking for an excuse to go Conservative, please note that Stephen Harper's left hand would seem to indicate a hidden predilection for the rock n roll. Or Satan. Either/or.

(Yes, I know this photo, from the front page of The Globe and Mail, is at least a week old now. Got distracted, forgot to mention it. Apologies if you and your friends have already blogged this to death.)
'I don't, know why/ Y'all can't see that/ Y'all, cats, can't touch me'
The tide is turning... Jacko cleared on charges of inappropriate relationship with giraffe. Inevitable comeback continues.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

If Only 14-Year-Olds Could Vote
Jack Layton, a man who would like to be the next prime minister of Canada (no really), was on MuchMusic's MuchOnDemand (when did it become cool to run the words together like that?) this evening. I'm not sure which was the best part - when he and VJ Leah raced on stationary bikes and Jack proved somewhat disturbingly competitive or when Much gave him a minute to stare into the camera and tell viewers why they should put down the PSP and vote for him, like, you know, whatever.

Ultimately it was probably just the fact alone that Jack Layton and Leah were forced to co-exist for 10 minutes that was most remarkable. All thanks to the magic of television. Well, the magic of television and the shamelessness of politics. Thank god for both.
Avril Lavigne 'Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman' Watch
Guess who gets to help tell Canada's story at the Olympics? Go on, guess.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Idiot Kicker
Shakira, the most perfectest pop star ever, sits 36th on the Billboard charts.

Peyton Manning, the most perfectest quarterback this century, now 3-6 in the playoffs.

Just saying.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Late Notice
I have an extra ticket to the We Are Scientists show this evening at the Horseshoe. Holler if you want it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

And The Band Played On
From Tyrone's campaign soundtrack:

I've heard in the background of a few Liberal rallies the classic U2 song "Where the Streets Have No Name." It seems like someone in the Liberal party has shrugged off Bono's rebuke the last time he was in Ottawa. While U2's optimistic song about a heavenly utopia might stir the hearts of Liberal faithful, a more accurate U2 song to describe their campaign at this point would be "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." The Liberals haven't yet hit a high gear, and need to find something to attack the Conservatives with if they plan on turning their sagging numbers around.

Other suggestions for Paul Martin's iPod from U2's catalogue...

Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of
With Or Without You
Love is Blindness
Love Rescue Me
Drowning Man
Running To Stand Still
Last Night On Earth
Out Of Control
Wake Up Dead Man
The Wanderer
So Cruel
I Fall Down
Is That All?
This Was Not Part Of The Plan
More charges for Michael.

"It is alleged that my client was present at Michael Jackson's residences and other places from the age of two to 14 and was molested many times over the course of those years," said Michael Mattern, a lawyer for the man.

"There is also an allegation that my client came up with song ideas, lyrics and melodies which were used by Mr Jackson in his records and made an awful lot of money."

... The complaint says his client was "subjected to unnecessary cosmetic surgery procedures".

"I have got photos of my client with these red lips just like you see on Mr Jackson and a big old cleft on his chin which he didn't have previously," Mr Mattern said.

Early candidate for Jacko-Related Allegation Of The Year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

We Have A Winner
This just in from the Pop (all love) Decision Desk, according to our projections, with exactly 0% of the polls reporting, there is already a clear and decisive winner in the race to be 2006's single of the year. If our experts are correct, we are about to see a resounding victory for Hilary Duff.

That prediction is based primarily on the following two paragraphs from a recent Calgary Sun interview:

"Musically, the next thing we can expect from the Duff camp is a cover of Madonna's Material Girl she's recording with her sister, Haylie, for the soundtrack to the film Material Girls, starring the pair, which will be released sometime later this year.

"'Timbaland is producing that -- which is really cool,' she says of the song."

For the viewers at home, let's walk through the math:

Hilary Madden + Maxim cover girl Haylie + Apple Paltrow's favourite singer + Timbaland = Money in the bank.

I may have to adjust the Michael Jackson comeback plan to accomodate for this.
And Then Everything Changed
Avril plays dress-up. I have no idea who will be our prime minister a few weeks from now, but I'm reasonably sure of this: 2006 is going to be an amazing year in the history of Avril. Maybe not this amazing. But close.

This is about to get heavy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

We Can Rebuild Him. We Have The Technology.
In this spirit of a kindler, gentler 2006 (or at least a slight less demoralizing year than the last one), I was trying to think of something that could unite us all. Or at least distract us for a couple weeks.

First, I thought maybe we could all join together and vote the NDP into power. I chuckled at the thought. And then began outright laughing. A lot. For awhile. In fact, I laughed so hard and for so long I blacked out.

I think I was unconscious for a couple hours. But when I came to, I had it. The answer. It had appeared to me in a particularly long and detailed vision - a premonition of the greatest pop culture happening of our time... (No, not the inevitable Duff/Madden reality series)... The Return of Michael Jackson.

Seriously. Stop laughing.

Now, this is not to be confused with a sudden shift in the public's attitude toward the current Michael Jackson. I think we can all agree that the Jacko of today is a freak weirdo, one who should be shunned from society for the greater good. At the very least he should be restricted to some small Eastern European nation we don't pay all that much attention to. Let's say Slovenia.

What I'm talking about is very different - a Michael Jackson that is okay to like, support and even cheer in the company of reasonable-minded adults. I think we need this right now. Pop music needs this. Hell, the world needs this. We need a hero, or at least an idol. A singular being - an icon for all times - that we can rally around and obsess over. Something other than whichever anorexic 18-year-old we're all blogging about this week.

Right now, we have no one. Britney's making babies. Madonna's a bore. Eminem's sitting at home getting fat. Mariah Carey is overshadowed by her own cleavage. Tatu simply shone too brightly too fast. Meanwhile, the real world's problems have never been more complex and pop stars have exhausted almost every conceivable avenue of attention-getting. We're just not that shocked anymore and, anyway, there's too much to pay attention to. As a result, we don't just need an Elvis-level distraction. Not even another Beatles will do. We need something bigger than both of them. Combined.

As the individual experience begins to overtake a sense of community on even the most basic level, we need something capable of bringing us together.

I believe this so strongly that I'm going to go ahead right now and defer to recent comments from Bob Saget (yeah, that's right) in an interview with Esquire:

"Oil is sixty dollars a barrel. There are terrorists everywhere. We have a catastrophe in our world every ten minutes. I don't know how anybody's getting through anything. Right now, people just need to be entertained."

Indeed. And that's why...

We. Need. Michael. Simply put: No one else - with the possible exceptions of Robbie Williams and Vladimir Putin - carries the sort of vaguely dangerous charisma capable of this task.

The problem: how on earth would this ever actually happen? I mean, really. Pop stars of yore are revived all the time. But Michael Jackson? With the plastic surgery and the alleged skin disease and the unhealthy interest in small children and the scene in that Martin Bashir documentary when he climbed the tree? The general public will tolerate a lot (gangsta rap, FM radio DJs, professional boxing, Wolf Blitzer). But this? This would be just about the single most unlikely public image reconstruction project in the history of modern civilization. In fact, let's just go ahead and capitalize that, The Single Most Unlikely Public Image Reconstruction Project In The History Of Modern Civilization. Probably impossible.

Except... maybe not. I think this could be done. In fact, I've convinced myself it's entirely possible. So much so that I've gone ahead and drawn up an 8-point plan to illustrate how it might be done. (Remember how massive and huge and rich we all made the Arcade Fire? Well, just imagine what we could this time.)

This one's for you Michael. No need to thank me. No really, please keep your distance.

1) Get shot.
This is horrible. And I'm going to feel really bad about writing this. So maybe a disclaimer to start: Almost everything involving guns in the real world is bad. One person shooting another is just about the worst thing our species can do. I think we're all pretty much agreed on that one.

But we have to separate the real world from the separate planetoid occupied by pop stars. It's a whole different set of rules. Getting shot in that world almost always works out to your advantage. (Even/especially if you're dead.) Case in point, Obie Trice. How many of us had given him a thought in the past 12 months until he got shot the other day? Now he's got a bullet lodged in his skull and a great angle for his next record. Voila, he matters again.

And that's why Michael Jackson needs to engineer his own injury. It needn't be anything serious. A flesh wound around the knee would probably do. Just enough to establish that someone went out of their way to hurt him. Instantly his name is back in the news, without the baggage of he himself doing something insane and with the added bonus of public sympathy. Michael Jackson may freak you out, but no one wants to see him get shot. No one wants to see anyone get shot. I mean it. Anyway. Let's move on...

2) Infiltrate the mixtape circuit.
I can't speak to this personally, but, so far as I've heard, all the most interesting and influential music is sold on New York street corners, listened to solely by those people who always seem to know stuff before you do. It's like the Internet. Only with real people. Clearly, Michael has to start here.

Now, obviously, no one's going to take an attempt at rap from Michael very seriously. But, there's no reason you couldn't slip a few guys like 50 Cent or Young Jeezy a few bucks to sample some of your stuff on their next tape. Maybe even try and get Ludacris or somebody to release a whole concept mixtape of them rapping solely over some of the stuff you released in the 80s. Get Danger Mouse involved somehow. Just do it quietly without any claims of involvement (In fact, throughout this entire process you should be keeping very, very quiet. Like it's wabbit-hunting season. Don't say a word. Don't appear in public. Don't let any of your handlers leak anything to Us Weekly. Even when you get shot. A press release will suffice. Seeking attention has gotten you into this mess. Invisibility is the answer now.)

It's not exactly a collaboration, so nobody has to feel like their rep is at stake associating with you. And you get people remembering what got you famous in the first place - the music.

3) Cut a one-off single with Missy Elliott and Timbaland
You need to start small and let the public slowly readjust to you, the pop star who's freaky, but not dangerously freaky. So scrap that crazy-ass charity single for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Pop music is full of crazy-ass ideas. But I don't know that anything can compete with that.

Instead, invite Missy and Timbaland to Neverland. Better yet, get out of the house and meet them at their place. Then do whatever the hell they say. If they're smart, they'll just have you sing the hook to something amazing. Nothing too overbearing, but enough that people will know you're there. Of all the people you could associate with, Missy's fairly untouchable. No priors. No sordid allegations. Pretty close to universally adored. Plus she could fill up the rest of the track so you don't have to.

Remember, this is all about baby steps. Release the track quietly to radio. No video, no big announcements, no press conferences, not even a press release. Just let people start playing it. They will because it's Missy Elliott and Michael Jackson. The curiosity factor will be even greater than if Ashlee Simpson announced she was training to become a jello wrestler.

4) Start negotiating with Jay-Z and Def Jam
Again, keep quiet. Let the single circulate. Let Justin Timberlake and Usher and the rest start making public comments about maybe collaborating with you in the future. Let the media speculate about a comeback.

Just stay low. Then give Jay-Z a call, see what Def Jam has to offer. Jay-Z is an ambitious man, who probably knows a chance at history when he sees one. Plus he has a fine tailor. Try and get a one album deal with a label option for a second. Nothing audacious. It has to look like you want to prove yourself again.

Jay-Z is as close to a golden ticket as you're going to find at this point. If he and Beyonce are onside, you have to think anybody else who has any desire to be cool will follow suit. He needn't be in charge of your every move (though, come to think of it, I probably should have made Step 1: Dump anyone and everyone you've associated with over the last 15 years), but he could likely teach you a thing or two about selling records and making a success of yourself. Once things with Def Jam get close, let enough info slip that the rumours start going around. Get people talking about something specific. But, again, you yourself need to KEEP QUIET.

5) Pull a Jordan.
When the second-most famous MJ in the world decided to come back (the first time), he sent out a statement that said simply, "I'm back." Genius. It was like he was trying to write the movie of his life (starring Damon Wayans as Toni Kukoc) before he was even done living. Arguably one of the coolest moments of the 20th century - dramatic, poignant and succinct all at the same time.

He didn't need to say anything more. He had to get back on the court and prove he could still play. Don't talk about, just do it (Nike, you owe me for that one). Same idea here. Put that statement out there and the next day you're on the front page of every newspaper in the English speaking world (and half of the papers in the non-English speaking world).

The masses are clamouring. You're actually kind of cool again. And everybody's waiting to see what you do next.

6) Make the record.
This is the hard part. The really hard part. Because your comeback record can't stink. Jordan didn't win a championship when he came back, but he proved he could have - dropping 55 on the Knicks and so forth. You don't have to make the album of your life. But it has to be close. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this (Read: About 25 minutes. While watching sports highlights) and here's how I think it has to go...

First, keep the guest stars to a minimum. More than, say, three cameos and it'll feel like a benefit record put on by a bunch of admirers who "respect" (Read: "feel sorry for") you. For the first time in this whole process you have to be large and in charge. Let the kids get their Grammy nominations some other way. Right now, I'd go with Kanye, Prince and Bubba Sparxxx. But that's just me.

Now, when it comes to deciding on a producer, you have a couple options. You could make like Jay-Z on the Black Album and assemble a murderer's row of the best producers available - Kanye, Timbaland, Dr. Dre, Neptunes, Just Blaze and so on. Or - and I think I might prefer this one - you could just call Rick Rubin.

The 21st Century version of Rick Rubin is music's Phil Jackson, right down to the facial hair. He picks artists that have already shown greatness and makes them champions. Cash, Jay-Z, Neil Diamond and now, uh, the Dixie Chicks. But this would be his masterpiece. Could Rick Rubin save Michael Jackson? That's a hypothetical for the ages.

In any event, you're going to have to write some songs. You need to go back to the days before you were completely nuts. When your music was fun. Not disturbingly self-obsessed. But you do need to write a few mandatory confessionals. You can't escape that - it's basically rule one of the modern comeback record. You have to write the "Sorry I fucked up and killed that hobo" song. But here's the thing, you can't incriminate yourself.

You escaped the California justice system once. Hey, everybody gets a freebie (meanwhile, back at the ranch, O.J. and Rodney King's arresting officers continue their hunt for the real killer...). But let's not tempt fate. You have to admit wrongs, even disown your previous self (lots of lyrics like, "I was lost" or "Looking back now, I don't recognize myself"... ask Chris Martin, he'll help). But you can't exactly say what it is you did or did not do that you now regret but do not claim responsibility for.

Bill Clinton didn't go before the American public and specifically apologize for degrading a cigar like that. He just expressed regret. That's all we need here. Everyone will fill in the blank with whatever crazy shit they think you did. Though, somehow, I'm sure you actually managed crazier.

7) Say it with me, "Oprah, Jacko... Jacko, Oprah"
Anyway. If done right, here's what happens when that record comes out: The vast majority of critics hail it as a return to form, your best record since whenever, a resounding claim to the throne you once abandoned and so forth. With a couple decent singles it sells about 10 million copies. You win about a dozen Grammys. The bandwagon is at capacity. Everyone loves you. And everything you ever did during those dark years?... well, hey, forget about it... that's in the past, everyone gets a second chance, this is America and whatnot.

Now, you could bask in your glory. You could take all that goodwill back with you to Neverland and get your weird on again. Or you could seal this deal with one word... Oprah. We can sit around and debate whether or not the image and values and consumerism she advances are healthy for the 21st Century female until we're all tired and delirious and ready to vote for the NDP. Or we can just accept that she's just about the second most influential person in the Western world (first place: Paul Tagliabue). You win with her, you're a winner for life. You act like a runaway idiot on her couch, you're an idiot for life (see Cruise, Tom).

So get your ass on her coach. Be strong. Be funny. But cry a bit. Let her console you on national television. Make all those women in the audience get a little choked up and let out those barely muted gasps of sympathy. Let her finish the show with a line like, "Well, wherever you've been, whoever you were, you're back now Michael. And we're so happy to have you. God bless America."

Dude. It'll be over. You'll be ready to run for president the next day. The biggest audience in the history of television will have just seen Oprah hail you as a conquering hero - a righteous symbol of man's ability to rise above humanity's inherent imperfections, accept his wrongs and create a better world for himself and others.

If you've ever wanted to publish a novel, now's the time.

7b) Alright. You've got Jay-Z, Beyonce, Missy, Oprah and you got shot. Hmm. As I think about this, I suppose you should do something to appease any of the white people who are still holding out. I know, how about something involving Ben Stiller? Maybe you could cameo in the next Stiller-Wilson-Vaughn-Ferrell comedy, a buddy flick about four guys, one of whom is a chronic farter (Ferrell), who decide to run a scam at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Only none of them know how to play poker. Hilarity ensues. You could play a transvestite

8) Finally, in case I haven't said it enough, ixnay the razycay.
I'll give you an example: Britney Spears. Deep down we all knew, whether we admitted it to ourselves or not, that all-along she was just a free-living redneck. But we enjoyed the fantasy. All the more so with that unspoken knowledge - it made the virginal stripper thing that much more exciting.

Ultimately, we like to be lied to. Seriously. Piss on our heads, tell us it's raining. Ask R. Kelly (oh, snap). We know you're lying, but that only adds to the ironic fun.

The thing is, Mike, you stopped pretending. You stood on that balcony and you dangled a kid that you call Blanket, who may or may not have actually been produced by your sperm or simply grown in the stomach of a woman, who may have been your wife even though you may or may not have had sex with her in the bedroom of your theme-park estate, which just so happens to include various animals, rides and a secret room where you keep pictures of Macaulay Culkin. And, well, that sort of ruined it for us. Then you were just weird. And now Britney's just a pro-creating pimple.

The only way Brit's Cheetos Era ever proves worth it is if she too launches some sort of redemptive comeback. It'll probably happen. But you were so much bigger than her and the hole you dug so much deeper (and filled with so much more freaky shit). In fact, no one of your stature has ever dug a hole so deep. And so the pay off will be so much more affirming. But when you get out of it - and you will - you have to give up the public displays of insanity.

Deep down, we'll all know you're still doing weird stuff. You know, water balloon fights with Elizabeth Taylor, etc. And we'll still talk about how we're sure you're doing it. But you can't flaunt it. Because then we're just embarrassed to talk about you in mixed company. And the next thing you know you're up in a tree trying to explain to the world why you like to think of yourself as Peter Pan.

That's just messed up. And we've got enough of that already.

(I think I'm allowed to make fun of the NDP because a) I have a friend who works for the party and b) I'm actually, for the first time in my life, about to vote for them. It's crazy. In fact, I think I'm making this public, so that I can begin to deal openly with this idea. If I had any conservative friends, they would be so pissed with me right now. More on this later.)

(Tomorrow: My four-point plan for world peace/diet soda that actually tastes like real soda.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

So Much For That Idea
Doesn't this pretty much guarantee the next Coldplay is going to suck?

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

We're All Ads Now (And Other Things That Were Probably Foretold In Radiohead Songs)
You know that 'Hand in My Pocket' jingle you're singing to yourself right now because I just mentioned it? Jim Guthrie wrote it. Yeah, that Jim Guthrie. And the full track is here.

Monday, January 2, 2006

Brought To You By The Michigan Of Aviation And Technology, Aquafina and McDonald's. No Really.
Remember how I mentioned the rock station in Windsor, the one I grew up listening to, was counting down the 89 most important tracks of 2005? No? Well here it is anyway. I love that what basically started as "stuff that sounds like it was probably made in Seattle" now looks something like this:

1. The Killers - Mr. Brightside
2. Green Day - Wake Me Up When September Ends
3. Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.
4. My Chemical Romance - Helena
5. Nine Inch Nails - The Hand That Feeds
6. Hot Hot Heat - Middle Of Nowhere
7. Foo Fighters - Best Of You
8. Finger Eleven - Thousand Mile Wish
9. Weezer - Beverly Hills
10. Audioslave - Be Yourself
11. Jimmy Eat World - Work
12. Tegan And Sara - Walking With A Ghost
13. Fall Out Boy - Sugar, We're Going Down
14. Beck - E Pro
15. Sum 41 - Pieces
16. Coldplay - Speed Of Sound
17. Our Lady Peace - Where Are You
18. Green Day - Holiday
19. System Of A Down - B.Y.O.B.
20. The Used - All That I've Got
21. Nickelback - Photograph
22. The Killers - Smile Like You Mean It
23. Unwritten Law - Save Me
24. Default - Count On Me
25. The White Stripes - Blue Orchid
26. Breaking Benjamin - Sooner Or Later
27. Death Cab For Cutie - Soul Meets Body
28. Papa Roach - Scars
29. Rise Against - Swing Life Away
30. Hot Hot Heat - Goodnight, Goodnight
31. Theory Of A Deadman - No Surprise
32. The Mars Volta - The Widow
33. Z-Trip - Walking Dead
34. U2 - All Because Of You
35. Audioslave - Doesn't Remind Me
36. Social Code - Perfect Grave
37. 311 - Don't Tread On Me
38. Jack Johnson - Sitting, Waiting, Wishing
39. Nine Inch Nails - Only
40. Foo Fighters - DOA
41. Theory Of A Deadman - Hello Lonely
42. Garbage - Why Do You Love Me
43. Franz Ferdinand - Do You Want To
44. Staind - Right Here
45. Coheed And Cambria - Welcome Home
46. Beck - Girl
47. The Strokes - Juice Box
48. Mudvayne - Happy
49. Depeche Mode - Precious
50. System Of A Down - Hypnotized
51. Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #3
52. Weezer - We Are All On Drugs
53. 3 Doors Down - Let Me Go
54. Oasis - Lyla
55. My Chemical Romance - The Ghost Of You
56. The White Stripes - My Doorbell
57. The Killers - All These Things That I've Done
58. U2 - Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
59. Him - Wings Of A Butterfly
60. Thousand Foot Krutch - Move
61. Korn - Twisted Transistor
62. Louis XIV - Finding Out True Love Is Blind
63. Fall Out Boy - Dance, Dance
64. A Perfect Circle - Passive
65. Muse - Hysteria
66. K-Os - Crucial
67. Coldplay - Fix You
68. Taking Back Sunday - This Photograph Is Proof
69. Head Automatica - Beating Heart Baby
70. Bright Eyes - Easy/Lucky/Free
71. Trust Company - Stronger
72. Mobile - Montreal Calling
73. U2 - City Of Blinding Lights
74. The Bravery - An Honest Mistake
75. Stars - Ageless Beauty
76. Transplants - Gangsters And Thugs
77. Taproot - Calling
78. Avenged Sevenfold - Bat Country
79. Interpol - Evil
80. Trapt - Stand Up
81. Nine Inch Nails - Every Day Is Exactly The Same
82. FInch - Bitemarks And Bloodstains
83. Elephant - Misfit
84. O.A.R. - Love And Memories
85. Queens Of The Stone Age - Little Sister
86. Incubus - Make A Move
87. Gorillaz - Dare
88. Doves - Black And White Town
89. Dredg - Bug Eyes

No Smashing Pumpkins, but somehow we still get 311, Garbage and three (3!) Nine Inch Nails songs. Plus about 16 tracks from U2.

I'm strangely happy to see the Hot Hot Heat content (they don't generally get their due), but are you honestly going to tell me there's anyone in the entire world who enjoys listening to both Arcade Fire and Papa Roach? Or Nickelback and Death Cab for Cutie? Who are these people? Are they just way more open-minded than basically anyone I've ever known?

P.S. k-os? Really? On that list?

(All right. No more italics. Promise.)

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