Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Very, Very Bestest of 2009

By ROBERT SMITH

Oh, our stars: Was 2009 ever an outstanding year for, well, virtually everything! From literature to television to the Internet to film to the music world, there was a veritable buffet of delights. Never before, as we can barely recall, has the world been so enlightened, so thrilled, so entertained.
Here is the unofficial DM Refugees list of the latest and greatest in the entertainment world. We can barely get to sleep just wondering if 2010 can top these works of sheer genius!
The Book Of 2009:
How To Be Famous by Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt: Just as future generations continue to enjoy and learn from the works of Jack London and Mark Twain, these words of wisdom from this pair of TV super-dooper stars will resonate and educate for as long as upright walking mammals have eyes. The utter brilliance of this self-help tome only belies the grace and elegance of these mega-ultra-power stars: They manage to tell you everything they know in only 144 pages of rather large type. It was a banner year for these fun-loving reality show super celebs – particularly for Montag, who somehow managed to pose nude for Playboy without actually posing nude for Playboy. Only a genius could earn huge gobs of hype without actually doing the thing that was touted in press releases for months … only to not actually do it! More, please; the world needs the comforting words of these fab entertainment giants – particularly Pratt, who has probably earned more than a million dollars without actually having a job description.
The CD Of 2010:
The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies) by Black Eyed Peas: There was mucho competition for this award, including the Bob Dylan Christmas album and brilliant new sounds by John Mayer and a host of “American Idol” refugees, but the deep lyricists and entertainers that comprise this vibrating quartet have set a high water mark for pop music for eons to come. In fact, their entire canon’s deep-seeded emotional content will keep them in the hearts and ears for music lovers for time memoriam. Who can ever forget such flashes of brilliance such as “My humps! My humps, my humps, my humps! My lovely lady lumps! In the back and in the front!”, “I like that boom boom pow/Them chicken jackin’ my style/They try copy my swagger/I’m on that next shit now” and “Imma be shakin my hips/You gon be lickin your lips/Imma be takin’ them pics/Lookin’ all fly and shit/Imma be the flyest chick (so fly).’ Even The Archies could never match such raw human insight.
The TV Program of 2009:
Jersey Shore (MTV): There was nothing sweeter during this calendar year than the fact that people from the Jersey shore were all up in arms about a reality show about the people from the Jersey shore acting exactly like people from the Jersey shore. S’miracles will happen! We hear a proposed new MTV program will be called “Catskill Mountains,” where people who don’t brush their teeth for weeks on end spend their days punishing their kids and complaining about “those city people.”
The Website Of 2009:
The Dude Falling Website: It’s simply a man falling down the side of a hill; you can watch this for hours if you so choose. Way cheaper than cable! The raw intelligence of this site made it a squeaker victory over the more highly touted GlennBeck.com and a blog featuring a bunch of fat former newspaper writers mewling over their past glories. (studenthome.nku.edu/~russelljo/flash/dudefalling.swf)

Robert Smith actually makes a living writing reviews of entertainment, and as such, should get out there and walk a lot more than he does.

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Filed under Celebrities, Current events, Entertainment, Humor, Posts by Robert Smith

Happy Birthday, Jesus! Hope You Like Crap!

by ROBERT SMITH

Yes, the headline is a steal from the days when Norm McDonald so ably manned the Weekend Update desk on “Saturday Night Live.”  He was describing a new Kenny G holiday album.

McDonald is far too sweet.

Sitting in an Arby’s choking down what was listed on a sign as a toasted submarine sandwich recently, something came on the PA system which simply was beyond astounding.  The apparent Muzak system was churning out one holiday song after another, but this particular number made this writer hork up his Chocolate Mint milk shake like a Play-Doh Fun Factory.  I have yet to identify the singer, but the R&B-inflected vocal sounded like something akin to a burlap bag full of cats.  It was only upon making the door, spewing green and brown milky goo onto the floor with each step, that I heard the words that even made me realize it was a Christmas song: “Silver Bells.” Whoever this R&B diva was, she made sure to alter the arrangement, bend every note, over-sing every line and phrase.  By the time the song was over, I wanted to seek out Anton LaVey armed with a gas can, just in case he wanted to go caroling.  But when I found out he died in 1997, it only made me all the sadder.

Christmas sucks for anyone over the age of 20 who doesn’t have children; getting involved with charities only compounds the realization that things out there are 10 times FUBAR.  Let us say this right here: There is no need for any contemporary artist to record holiday albums ever again. Bing Crosby perfected the art, followed by great efforts by Andy Williams and Burl Ives; Elvis Presley managed to get one right; even Alvin & The Chipmunks, if you were under 10, managed to delight and entertain.  But what artists such as Christina Aguilera (so beautiful, so talented, and about as soulful as a pack of Rolaids on her caterwauling and downright evil version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”) and Mariah Carey have to realize is that holiday music is meant to bring people together – and the best way to do that is to sing plaintively and simply so that everyone can join in and sing along.  Artists such as Aguilera and Kenny G only know who to flash their own egos through song, not deliver anything resembling sincerity to time-tested melodies and lyrics.

We don’t get mad at new attempts at holiday songs, though most of them in recent years (“Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” “Christmas Shoes”) are clearly pandering, lowest common denominator product; they’re the Glenn Becks of holiday music.  No, what gets us upset is that artists who have no business recording holiday music are lining up at the studio to ruin old songs that have already been perfected, mostly more than three decades ago.

Bob Dylan recently released a new album, Christmas In The Heart, and his croaked version of “Winter Wonderland” has to be heard to be believed.  REO Speedwagon released a Christmas disc this year.  Let us repeat that: REO Speedwagon.  There is an album on sale entitled American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics.  Just what we need – reminders of all that is good and holy by undignified teenagers who want to be famous at all costs.

Our Favorite Holiday CD Over: Jazz Artist Rhan Wilson

But it’s not the artists themselves who are to blame here – it’s the American public.  Instead of insisting on talented people doing outstanding work, we gobble up whatever’s fed to us, from poison fast food to bad movies and TV to horrible music.  The public is the reason there’s nothing to listen to, why radio is dead, why satellite radio is about to die, and why recording companies are taking records out of print at an alarming rate.  It’s why struggling musicians (even those with talent) can’t win in most cases; if they put out MP3s, even their most ardent “fans” will simply download the songs for free without paying for them.

As Christmas approaches, there are protesters in the streets and near-riots in shopping malls, and not about our two wars, not about health care, not about jobs and the economy. Nope – people are upset that an African-American is president; that cable companies aren’t showing the right channels in their areas; that someone showed up late in a mall to sign an autograph; that someone might not get the $200 HDTV advertised in a bait-and-switch circular.  In the air, there’s not a feeling of goodwill toward humankind; there’s only an overwhelming sense of soulnessness and desperation.

So for all you “good Americans” elbowing and shoving either other in the malls and giving each other the finger as you race to Walmart on the highways, the Christmas albums by Whitney Houston, Michael Buble, Sting, and David Archuleta are good enough for you.  May the sounds and tones caused by these monstrously ersatz sentiments bring you an all-too-clear reminder of what Christmas 2009 is really all about:

Happy birthday, Jesus.  Hope you like crap.

Robert Smith thinks The Salvation Army is awesome and that Bing Crosby made the first and last truly great Christmas album. You’d be best advised to keep your distance.

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Regrets and resolutions

by Jon Pine

It’s that time again – the year is winding down, a new one will start soon, and thoughts naturally settle on reflections of what was, mixed with hopes of what will be. As a self-employed photographer, the last couple of weeks of the year tend to be kind of a melancholy time for me. I’m often so busy I don’t really have a chance to get into the holiday spirit.

Jon Pine

So, Grinch-like, I start to hate the “c” word – Christmas. “Can I get it in time for Christmas?” is the standard question. I want to say, “Sure, you can have it in time for Christmas, if you ordered it two weeks ago when I told you to!”

But no, I bite my tongue, and I rush it, and work late, and drive the 60 miles to the lab to save a day on shipping, and scramble to get out-of-state orders to FedEx before it closes.

One year, I even had a woman tell me that I ruined Christmas because her order didn’t arrive on time. Never mind that she waited until the absolute last minute to order reprints from a portrait session that took place months before. And never mind that she lived in such a remote location that, unbeknownst to me, FedEx can’t get there overnight.

I ruined Christmas. That’s gotta be right up there with the meanest things you can say to a person. Sigh.

So forgive me if I’m not in the cheeriest of moods right now. For me, the holidays mean a lot of sucking up and tongue-biting – two things that really go against my nature. Which brings me to this little story:

A few years back, I found myself working on New Year’s Eve, shooting formal portraits of well-dressed, well-heeled couples at a tony Florida country club. Actually, I had already put in a full and busy day, so by the time I got out of there – shortly after midnight – I was tired, cranky, and most of all, hungry. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and that lack of sustenance was giving me a nasty headache.

So I stop off at Denny’s on the way home. After a short wait, I am seated at a booth. The only restaurant open at that hour, it starts filling up fast with booze-drenched New Year’s Eve revelers. And of course, Denny’s, in its infinite wisdom, only scheduled two waitresses to the night shift.

As I pore over the menu, I hear a raspy voice behind me start reading the menu aloud: “Oh look, the Heartland Scramble! Two scrambled eggs with bacon, country-fried potatoes, green peppers…”

When I say she read the menu, I mean she read the entire menu. Every. Single. Item. In that raspy voice, like fingernails on a chalkboard!

Every word – “Moons Over My Hammy…” – every syllable – “ham-and-egg-scram-bled-sand-wich… – began to radiate up my spine like small electrical charges. “Served with hashbrowns or French fries…”

A clearly frazzled waitress arrives with a glass of water, takes my order and bustles off to another table full of rowdies. The raspy reading continues: “You can build your own Grand Slam!  Pick any four items and make it your own…”

So I turn around and shoot her a glare that I hope will say, “Do you mind?” But she and her companion are oblivious. The raspy-voiced woman is 50-ish, a little disheveled, dressed in faded jeans and a black T-shirt with some sort of biker emblem on it. Her silent but patient companion is in his 30s, also kind of unkempt, wearing a raggedy gray hooded sweatshirt. A far cry from the ritzy couples in tuxedos and gowns that I had just photographed.

“Trailer trash,” I’m thinking, my mood darkening even further. My stomach growls. “Where is that damn waitress with my food!” I look around to see if there’s an empty table I can move to, but there isn’t. And still, she continues: “Two thick slices of our Fabulous French Toast…”

Seething, I turn around again, prepared to vent my spleen on the raspy-voiced woman and her rumpled companion, and then I notice. I see. I understand.

And I am ashamed.

The rumpled companion is blind. And the raspy-voiced woman is reading the menu to him.

As my eyes fill with tears, I suddenly realize that at that moment the raspy voice is perhaps the most beautiful sound in the world, and I can’t seem to get enough of it: “Three scrambled eggs with Cheddar cheese, two bacon strips, two sausage links…”

My food arrives, but I’m having troubling eating because of the lump in my throat. I make a New Year’s Resolution to be less quick to judge, less quick to anger. To continue biting my tongue.

Because I don’t want to be the guy who ruins New Year’s Eve.

© 2009 Jon Pine

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Ask Til It Hurts

by Steve Ricci


…and, so, the uvula stands guard, ever vigilant, ever pendulous, ever guttural; our silent sentinel in the throat…

“Wow! Wasn’t that fascinating? Hello, I’m program director Sedgewick Dimsdale, and welcome back to PBS. We hope you’ve been enjoying Uvula: The Heart of Darkness, part six of our ground-breaking 12-part documentary series, Upside Your Head, which explores those lesser-known, yet critical, components inside each of our heads. Personally, I’ve spent many sleepless nights wondering what that quivering little blob of flesh hanging at the back of my throat was. Now, thanks to the magic of public television, we ALL know.

“I hope you also know that, when you support the outstanding programs of PBS, you make it possible for us to continue bringing you such fine educational television offerings. And supporting PBS has never been easier. If you’ve been enjoying Upside Your Head and would like to make it part of your family’s science library, you can own it on 11 DVDs or 36 VHS cassettes for a six-month membership fee of only $875. As a special bonus, if you order with your DISCOVER card within the next 21 minutes, we will include this limited-edition collector’s series booklet, Blemished Cretaceous. This riveting companion publication to the popular PBS documentary series narrated by Regis Philbin attempts to answer a question that has plagued paleontologists for decades: did prehistoric reptiles suffer from chronic acne?

“And, coming up later tonight, we have another compelling installment of our award-winning news magazine, Clarification, which takes a hard-hitting look at the dangerously unsanitary world of inner-city pushcart falafel vending. But it’s not just about science and news at PBS. Here to tell you about some of our superb entertainment programming is our station manager JoEllen Klauf. Take it away, JoEllen.”

“You’re exactly right, Sedgewick; the entertainment abounds on PBS this month and it’s all free, brought right into your living room each night, at no charge, with no obligation from you, and no expectation that you’ll actually have to give us anything for all this totally free stuff we are providing at no cost to you in terms of not actually having to pay anything.

“Starting next week, we are proud to debut an exhilarating and gritty new crime drama, The Lolly Crumpet Mysteries, starring Lynn Redgrave as the inscrutable Mrs. Crumpet, an elderly British detective who scoots about the English countryside in her 1956 Nash Rambler, hunting deranged serial killers with the help of her clairvoyant dachshund, Cornelia.”

“I don’t want to interrupt, JoEllen, but I thought our viewers might like to know that the Lolly Crumpet Mysteries recently received a United Kingdom Bronze Telly Award nomination for best landscaping in a limited-run mini-series.”

“That’s exactly right, Sedgewick. Just another indication of the quality programming available here on PBS. And, speaking of quality programming, following Mrs. Crumpet is another fine episode of our popular live concert series, Unsung Maestros, featuring a never-before-seen musical salute to the Treaty of Ghent by Umbombo Mbwatu, legendary master of the Ugandan tongue flute. But the musical pièce de résistance this month is our exclusive premier of Ken Burns’s latest nine-part epic documentary, Kazoo: An American Instrument. In honor of this historic film event, we are offering our members an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime offer: free with your two-year renewal fee of only $3,500, you will receive this 14-kt gold-plated kazoo personally signed by Mr. Burns and complete with a certificate of authenticity. Please allow 12 to 18 weeks for mailing.

“But wait, there’s more!

“New and renewing members will also receive a complimentary subscription to our monthly programming guide, What Else is On? which tells you pretty much everything you can already find in any newspaper’s weekly TV supplement but with slightly larger type. I don’t know, Sedgewick, how can you beat that?”

“Boy, I don’t think you can JoEllen. Okay, our time is nearly up and I know how anxious you are to find out more about your head parts, so we are going to return you now to part seven of Upside Your Head, The Frenulum: Hold Your Tongue. But before we do, let me remind you once again how important your support is to maintaining the kind of quality and value you’ve come to expect from PBS.

“Pledge today. Learn tomorrow. Okay, now back to our show…”

… Presentation of Upside Your Head is made possible through the generous support of viewers willing to endure the 25 minutes of obsequious groveling needed to pay for each hour of PBS programming.

© 2009 Steve Ricci

Steve Ricci is a writer, editor, and photographer with no discernible middle name.

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Filed under Current events, Entertainment, Humor, Posts by Steve Ricci, Public Television, Television

Deep freeze hits Florida. Sort of.

by Jon Pine

Okay, so it’s been kinda miserable and rainy today in Vero Beach, Florida. I have an outdoor photo shoot scheduled for tomorrow, so I decide to hop on to the Weather Channel Web site and see what the forecast holds. I punch in our ZIP code and then click on the “Hour-by-Hour” button and this is what I see:

Brrrrrr!

Yikes! 43 degrees at 4 p.m. dropping to BELOW ZERO between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.! But – whew! – it’ll heat back up to almost 70 degrees again by 10 o’clock. That’s a relief!

But what does the Weather Channel know that I don’t? That the sun will be “switched off” for most of the evening? Or maybe Batman’s campy nemesis, Mr. Freeze, will aim his freeze ray at the Sunshine State?

As I hastily rummage through my closet looking for a sweater, some boots and my winter coat, it comes to me. The source of this deep, numbing chill, the cause of this frigid aura that grips Florida tonight: It’s coming from Tiger Woods’ bedroom in Orlando!

Tiger’s not in there – oh no. But his wife, Elin Nordegren, is. And it’ll be a cold day in, well… you know where before the world’s greatest golfer will be allowed back in.

© 2009 by Jon Pine

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Consumer Update: It’s Broken

by Robert Smith

After one of the happiest periods I can recall, it must be reported: The dream is no more. The amazingly beautiful art piece/clock/ceramic wonder that I purchased at Family Dollar for $3.88 a couple of months back no longer works (please check our archives for the three articles by both myself and Jon Pine). As I look at my watch, it’s 1:55 pm; as I look at the clock, it’s 2:33 whatever. The sweep second hand goes round and round, taunting me like a strip club dancer wanting a fiver; my happiness gets thwarted by the second.

The last days

How could this be? How could, after that moment of pure joy upon purchasing this gorgeous and rare quasi-heirloom, could something of such obvious quality and beauty simply cease working so quickly? I still hear the whap, whap, whap of its sweep hand, sounding as if it is intentionally spanking me for being so, well, crazy about it. As I write these words, my hand is leaving my penny pen to take the AA Walgreens battery out of the frickin’ thing before I dump it in the waste bin.

We surely hope you realized the satire during this series of articles, but allow us to vent our true feelings here: Nobody should be caught dead with one of these monstrosities. During the continued Walmartization of our country, people continue to buy what’s cheap instead of what’s safe, trustworthy, and effective, and that’s a troubling thing. The influx of crappy imported goods isn’t the problem. What’s so incredibly sad is that people actually buy this stuff, and as the proliferation of dollar and discount stores proves, people are consuming poor quality Chinese merchandise by the pallet load.
Enough is enough. As a community, we have to think about what we buy and who we buy from, and the ripple effect it causes on our neighbors and our economy.

Recently, there was a television financial news report on D’Addario Guitar Strings, based in Long Island, New York. Many other companies in its field have long sourced out the work on such products to other countries; D’Addario refuses to. The products are of exceptionally high quality, and continue to be amongst the best-selling guitar and bass strings in the world as no higher a cost than any other brand.

David Mermelstein, the CEO of Croton, a New Jersey-based company that’s been selling timepieces for more than 130 years, recently wrote this about his employees on the WatchGeeks.net website following a holiday sale at his workplace: “I know it was Thanksgiving weekend and they would have loved to spend time with their families, but loyal as they are, they were here to put on a great show. I am blessed to have a staff as I have.” Even cursory glances at the website, where watch aficionados gather to discuss new products, have proven that Mermelstein’s company consistently does all it can to rectify customer problems even as other, more highly publicized watch companies fail to do so time and again.

According to many sources, from 90 to 97 percent of all clothing and shoes are now manufactured outside the United States, even though the brand names are highly recognized U.S. companies. However, New Balance athletic shoes continue to produce a line of high quality sneakers and footwear, all either made or assembled in this country (though the company, forced by competition, also offers imported footwear as well).
Red Wing shoes – durable and tough boots and footwear – continue to be made in Red Wing, Minnesota, where they have been in business for only about 150 years.

These companies, and others like them, continue to prove the old adage: Produce something of quality and earn a customer for life. It’s high time that, as a nation, we protect our personal incomes and buoy our economy by trading with each other, and all the while insist on the best from each other. Americans have never shown a limited capacity for innovation and hard work – or for caring about one another.
However, since the late 1950s, we’ve been lulled by advertising into a “do what’s easy” complacency, and we’ve fallen for every line of guff that’s been spewed in our direction. Instead of eating home baked cakes and pies, we choke down Twinkies and Uncrustables frozen peanut butter sandwiches. Instead of consuming healthy, real bread, we scarf down commercially made loaves with as many as 47 ingredients and preservatives on the label – on bread. We buy cheap, pressboard furniture in dollar and liquidation stores. We eat frozen, reheated meat in fast food restaurants. We just do what’s quick and easy, because, you know, “I got a wife and kids to support.”
So, to whoever out there has that attitude, I deliver this holiday greeting: Go to blazes. Instead of joining the line at the dollar store to save four cents on a pair of Chinese-made socks, think before you buy, guy. And remember that for every such purchase, there’s likely one more schmoe on the unemployment line during the supposed most wonderful time of the year.

Robert Smith recently made a huge mistake in his personal life, and he’s hell bent on getting it out of his system, probably at your expense. We say let him sit at the end of the bar by himself.

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