Guilty Pleasures and Irrational Aversions – Round 3

I’m not sure if this is truly a guilty pleasure; even though I’m still feeling guilty, the pleasure is long gone.

The kid finally fell asleep. We were winding down from a long day, lying in bed, watching TV for lack of a better term.

Janice has generously ceded the remote control to yours truly, mainly because she doesn’t really care about TV. However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mindless entertainment from time to time.

guilty3-Axn(3)Our cable subscription includes about two-dozen channels that I routinely surf, one of which happens to be AXN.

guilty3-wipeoutFirst of all, AXN Asia carries several of my favorite programs, notably Wipeout! and The Blacklist.

While the commentary on Wipeout! can be hit or miss, the spills and thrills more than makeup for bad puns; and it’s the only “game” show I’m the slightest bit interested in.

guilty3-the_blacklist_2_-_marquee_newThe Blacklist has two things going for it: James Spader and labyrinthine plot lines. Is the backstory even vaguely plausible? No. But I’ll watch anything with James Spader, one of my all-time favorite actors in any genre.

Anyway, this kind of explains why I clicked over to AXN, but doesn’t really explain why we were camped out on The Voice, which is not the worst program of its ilk, but there isn’t really a “best” American Idol-type show. Line ‘em up and they’re pretty much all the same; contrived and forced, the unsavory, pushy salesmen of product, directed by marketing sharks of disposable waste.

Regardless, there are at least three reasons I’ll watch The Voice for five minutes or so.

Number one: The plastic surgery disaster formerly known as Gwen Stefani.

guilty3-slide-gwen-stefaniNumber two: Pharrell’s hat. He’s going to be wearing a hat, and I’m subconsciously keeping score.

Number three: Begrudgingly, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton each get half a reason for not being Simon Cowell, perhaps the most insufferable chap on television this side of Fox News.

Adam Levine is a social terrorist on par with any formidable character from an episode of Batman (original 1960s TV series), no more, no less. Clearly a talented cat, I don’t enjoy his music.

Blake Shelton is negligible. He’s the rye bread of rate-a-dummy talent shows.

liver-sausage_3_I never think to ask for rye bread unless I’m ordering a sandwich. I’d never heard of Shelton until he appeared on the program, but that’s no surprise. But cowboy hats are only funny if you’re being ironic. Personally, I dig rye bread. It’s the slice of choice if I’m talking about lebewurst (liver sausage).

Jesus, 434 words and we’re only halfway there.

So we’re watching The Voice and Janice says to me, as she often does, vaguely amused, “Why are we watching this?”

Simultaneously, the program cuts to Adam Levine in the studio with some kid who’s singing “God Only Knows”.

As in, The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” from Pet Sounds (1966).

PetHe can’t do that!” I huffed.

Janice rolled over, “Do what?”

“He can’t sing that song.”

“Why not? It sounds like he is [singing].” Confused silence. “I thought you like that song.”

“That’s part of the reason why he can’t sing it. It’s sacred.”

“Sacred?” suspiciously.

“Sacred. It is. Nobody can sing that song. There were two people who could sing that song, but now only one person on Earth can sing that song.”

Long pause. “OK.”

guilty3-my_way_sid_viciousThere are a handful of sacred songs in the repertoire of popular music. Take for instance “My Way”. Both of the cats who can sing that song – Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious – are dead. Therefore, anybody else is committing an egregious act of profanity. According to urban legend in the Philippines, doing a videoke version of “My Way” will get you shot.

Despite its hokey hippy sentiment, John Lennon’s “Imagine” is also untouchable. Off-limits. Not only do I not want to hear a cover version, I’m pretty much saturated with the original. Retire this song, people. Let it go, let it go, turn your back and slam the door…

Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Freebird”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”…

guilty3-pharrel-hatOn a contemporary level, there are songs idiosyncratic to certain artists that I consider off-limits. Nobody should be doing a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. After Jeff Buckley, it’s hands-off “Hallelujah”.

The list could and should go on, but at the very top is The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”.

Let’s not get into semantics and philosophy about the “best” or “sacred”. In my book, “God Only Knows” is the most beautiful, perfect, transcendent song in the last 50 years of popular music. While it may not be my favorite song of all-time – the older I get the more I think it’s silly to have just one favorite song – it is the best song of all-time.

The thing is I’m not always in the mood for goosebumps and crocodile tears; generally speaking, I’m interested in toe-tappers.

Above all, “God Only Knows” is not a song to be taken lightly. It’s a song you can sing along to, but not on The Voice, unless you’re Brian Wilson.

So now I’m transfixed on the screen. The kid in question, Matt McAndrew, is being coached by the abovementioned Adam Levine, and at about the :30 point, I’m ready to launch myself into the TV screen and throttle the both of them.

I continued to prattle on. Janice was vaguely amused.

“I can’t watch this.”

“Change the channel.”

“But I have to watch this.”

“Well?”

And so we watched Matt McAndrew sing a perfectly lovely rendition of “God Only Knows”, as seen below.

Matt McAndrew – God Only Knows

When it was over I said, “You know, it wasn’t that bad. He did a really nice job.”

I’m still feeling guilty. But at the same time, I never want to see that shit again. Ever.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

The Black Keys

guilty3-watermelonindexTo this day, I have never knowingly eaten watermelon. And I’ve got nothing against watermelon in general. Everybody seems to enjoy it. As a kid, I was envious when all the other kids were running around with cool chunks of watermelon, pink juice all over their hands and faces, especially during the summer.

The sight and smell of watermelon was one of several signposts of the average Midwestern summer afternoon. The wide expanse of freshly cut grass and lush green carpets of lawn. Flies buzzing, crickets whirring. Picnic tables and swimming pools. Water balloons and flip-flops. Hot dogs roasting over charcoal. And then, my older sister sneaking up from behind and smashing a slice of watermelon in my face, just for kicks.

Jolly Rancher’s watermelon hard candy doesn’t bother me. Both Hubba-Bubba and Bubble-Yum chewing gum had tasty watermelon flavors.

If I see a cut watermelon from across the room, it sparks a certain amount of panic – I’ll scout the perimeter for an exit of some sort – the visual impact is really more about avoidance and fear. Otherwise, if it gets close enough to actually smell the fruit—the inside, the pink flesh—then it’s over. Sometimes it’s just a little bit of puke in the back of my throat. Most times I’ll sneeze really hard three times in succession, and get overwhelmed with a sense of nausea. Funny, heroin had the same effect.

guilty3-blackkeysEvery now and then, someone in the crew bought a round of watermelon shots, and I’d do it out of respect and etiquette, but I always wound up puking that shit up.

For my son’s second birthday, we hosted a pool party, and of course, two guests brought whole watermelon. At some point in the affair, Janice turned to me and said, “Somebody needs to take these [watermelons] upstairs, and chop ‘em up,” so the crowd could ostensibly eat ‘em.

“I got it.”

“Are you sure?”

Janice was well aware of my aversion to watermelon, but it was one of those moments: facing one of your greatest fears or aversions, head on. I thought, “OK. I’m going to chop these fuckers into slices so everyone can continue to enjoy the party.”

For the record, I didn’t actually puke during the process, but it was touch-and-go for a while there. In the end, everybody enjoyed the watermelon.

The Black Keys are the watermelon of rock music.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Pissed Jeans – False Jesii Part 2

I’m gonna be honest with you, kids. When Jesus Lizard was in their prime (early to mid-90s), I was not a fan. Not at all. Saw them at Lounge Ax in Chicago and I thought they were meh. But then again, I wasn’t a fan of the Melvins, Tad, Mudhoney or Nirvana. I didn’t even really like Naked Raygun, for godsakes. Anyway, maybe ten years later, I came around to having at least an appreciation for Jesus Lizard.

Pissed Jeans is the first band I’ve seen who’ve successfully taken the next step forward in post-hardcore. This is the first of their jams I ever heard, so it’s got sentimental value.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

Frank Sinatra

RossEllisPDF-Sized&Ready.inddSpeaking of Sinatra, violence is not cool and I do not endorse shooting people, let alone because of a song made popular by this guy. However, if it were up to me, I’d wipe Sinatra’s entire oeuvre from the annals of popular music and film. And I think I’d be doing everyone a great favor.

First of all, Frank Sinatra hated rock n’ roll, which he said was “sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous goons. It manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.[38]

Think about it. Couldn’t you live without his versions of “Luck Be a Lady” or “I’ve Got You (Under My Skin)”? I know I could.

Whatever. Most of all, Sinatra was the anti-thesis of rock n’ roll. My world is a better place without him.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Tool – The Pot

True story: I hated Tool until I moved to Taiwan in 2008.

10,000 Days (2006) is Rush meets the Cure, done well. And it makes excellent housecleaning music. Do not put on a random Tool record and wait for something to happen, cuz you might be sitting there for a while. “The Pot” is one of the few songs that gets off to reasonably fast start.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

Cocaine – the song and the drug

The other night I was in a taxi headed down Makati Avenue toward Greenbelt Mall, a shopping and entertainment complex in the Central Business District.

guilty3-makatiaveThe driver was listening to one of three “classic rock” stations in Metro Manila, DWLA Retro 105.9 FM, which is coincidentally the same FM frequency as the classic rock station I grew up listening to in Chicago, WCKG, former home of the progtastic radio show, Bob and Ron’s Record Club. BSM hosts Bob and Ron’s Record Club Radio Archive, where you can listen to episodes from their WCKG days.

This particular taxi ride was a bit of an anomaly. At least 50% of Metro Manila taxi radios are tuned adult contemporary stations, and worse, the other 49% are tuned to talk radio. Thank God I only understand about .01% of what they’re saying. Finally, there’s a scant minority of drivers who pipe original Philippine music into the ride via iPod, CD or MP3.

Anyway, DWLA Retro 105.9 FM – like most radio stations – has particular programming slots, and popping into the taxi I happened to catch the mid-section of a slot called “High on the 70s”, which leaves little to the imagination.

We had just wrapped up the fade out of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” when the DJ introduced a personal nugget of musical kryptonite: Eric Clapton’s studio version of “Cocaine”.

guilty3-eric-clapton-cocaine-rso-4Listen, I want to get this straight. I like both Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. However, if I’m in the mood to hear blues, I’m going to the source. Why do I need these guys when John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Lightnin’ Hopkins are at my fingertips?

When I was nine years old my favorite song was Foghat’s version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You”. I didn’t know any better. Now I do.

The early British blues movement was completely lost on me at the time of initial exposure. Paul Butterfield, the Yardbirds, and Eric Burdon didn’t sound like the Monkees, so turn that shit off. A couple of years passed and I began to appreciate the second generation of Brit blues like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

EVHEven though every guitar player in his right mind cites Eric Clapton as an influence, yours truly can beg to differ. And again, I dig some of his music; in fact, he’s one of my favorite rock vocalists, and I savor the irony; Clapton’s biggest insecurity was his singing voice. However, his guitar prowess never really wowed me. It was underwhelming. He had a few great jams (“Layla”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses”) and he had stinkers like this “Cocaine” jam plus “Tears in Heaven” and “It’s in the Way the You Use Itet al.

On the other hand, my guitar hero Eddie Van Halen was profoundly influenced by Clapton. Thus, Clapton was not a conscious influence  except in the negative. And it’s always helpful to know what you don’t want to do.

guilty3-howlin-wolfMeanwhile, Stevie Ray Vaughn could play, man. No denying that. Hop on over to YouTube and see some serious guitar wrangling. Dude was phenomenal. But if I want to hear an incredible version of “Little Wing”, there are at least three versions by the original artist, Jimi Hendrix, which even prior to the Internet Age, I could access at will.

You know how you’re driving in your car, listening to the radio, and some song comes on that triggers an instinct to change the station? Like, ASAP? Both Clapton and SRV are station-changers for me. Because both have such a distinctive sound, it only takes one bar to identify the jam. Off we go.

It’s not so much that the track is Clapton at his most flaccid, it’s that it reminds me of cocaine itself, which despite plenty of familiarity with the substance, was never my thing. I dunno why except I don’t like the way it makes me feel.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Long before I met my wife, I heard the stories of debauchery coming from Pattaya, Thailand, so I decided to pop down and check it out. I wanted to see it for myself.

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived in town and I’d fallen into a pensive mood. The previous night in Bangkok was unhinged. Following the bumpiest three-hour bus ride of my traveling career, sleep deprived and roasted from adrenaline, I literally stumbled into a low-ball hotel on the main drag, and tried to take a nap. Normally, I would have had things planned out in advance, but this was a special situation.

56_beaverNevertheless, between the ambient noise and a restless mind, I couldn’t fall asleep. And I knew the only thing to do was start drinking.

Many of the low-ball hotels in Pattaya have their own bars on the main floor, and this one was situated on a busy stretch of Pattayasaisong Road. After a quick and cold shower, I went down and had a few beers, sitting at a table that was a few feet from the sidewalk scene.

It was typical Thailand, or rather sex tourism destination bullshit. Pot-belied, greasy geezers with barely legal women, walking down the street hand-in-hand like, “Oh, us? We’re just a regular couple out for an afternoon stroll.”

The bottom line is unless you’re there to partake in the local trade, which I wasn’t, places like Pattaya can get real depressing, real fast.

Over the course of an hour I was approached by half a dozen bar girls, and so on and so forth. A couple of girls gave it their best shot, but then they seemed to get the hint.

I went off to walking in no particular direction, exploring the vicinity and cruising along the beachfront, stopping at several main hotspots, for instance, the infamous Walking Street. The next three hours were redundant except for buying an eighth of low quality weed for $30US from a hustler on Beach Road.

It was well past sundown when I headed back to the low-ball hotel and posted up in the bar for a nightcap.

The sound system was playing current rock music, and I was feeling just a little less morose.

55_wrongAfter a while, one of the bar girls came over and started giving me the business. She was exceedingly persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally noticing my distress, the mamasan came over and the bar girl scampered away.

Mamasan quizzically, “You don’t want girl?”

Me, weary yet emphatic, “No girl, thank you.”

I ordered one last beer and paid my tab. The girl was back out on the sidewalk, and every now and then she would look back at me with the most disappointed look.

Just then an unfamiliar song came over the sound system. It was rock music I had never heard.

If ever a record had the opportunity to capture my attention, it had to have been this moment. I didn’t know what this guy was singing about, but it moved me. All of a sudden, I heard myself asking, “What are you doing in this snakepit? Good Lord, man. This is not where you want to be.”

Pounding the remnants of my beer, I went upstairs, collected my things, and checked out of the low-ball joint and into a nice place around the corner, where I was up on the tenth floor or whatever, slightly removed from reality.

The next four days were spent lounging at the rooftop pool-slash-bar, working on my tan, and smoking fat joints. Caught up on my sleep, watched some TV, and took half-hour showers. The joint had fabulous water pressure.

As far as I recall, I did not have a conversation with anyone except the service staff, and by day three we were communicating with hand signals and facial gestures. The only time I left the hotel was to dine at a Bavarian restaurant down the street.

Kings of Leon – Use Somebody

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