Monday, January 31, 2011

Playlists: My Art Form

Whenever I go on a road trip any more, I usually try to make a playlist.  The playlist is my favorite medium to work in, I think, because it is all about arranging and compiling, which I feel is my calling in life to do, possibly as an editor.  The playlists themselves are often themed, such as the one I made about the Suburbs, or the one I made to try to capture Alternative music. (Then I realized that all music these days is alternative to someone.)  Admittedly, many of the playlists I make just end up being vehicles for the most recent song I bought from iTunes to be transferred to a CD.
But I fear that I have limited myself too much with such an old-fashioned type of media.  The practical reason is for whenever I might be in a car with only a CD player and no way to plug in my iPod, or anywhere else I know I’m going that only has a CD player.  Sometimes I would rather just listen to one CD rather than plug in my iPod, which might just keep playing forever.  CDs, however, are only 80 minutes, and I have debated with other playlist-making friends of mine whether or not it’s worth it to try to fill up the whole disc.  I usually do, but as Tom K points out, you usually get sick of the playlist after about forty-five minutes.
            To counter-act this inevitability, I have tried a couple different approaches.  The first method I used recently was to actually make a playlist that was about forty-five.  This one was good, but the next one I made couldn’t be pared down that far.  So I essentially have three “bonus tracks”.  It has a main section with the thirteen or so songs I think best encompass the spirit of the thing, and then three songs which are not essential listening to get the message of the playlist.  But I can, of course listen to them if I’m still feeling strongly about them. 
I already have “power positions” lined up when I make any playlist.  Spots number five and number twelve or thirteen (depending on the length of the set) are reserved for songs that I like and are probably in the top three on the CD.  Number one should be pretty good, but not too good, as it might overshadow the rest of the album.  Sometimes I’ve even split them in half so I have to have a pretty good song at about nine or ten, where I might be able to continue it, if I’m not able to get through it all in one car trip.  Other times I’ll have an intro song to the first song, and the second song is then the real first song.  And lately, more often than not, the longest song has to be at the end.  And it usually has to be a classic rock song.  Don’t ask me- that’s just how it’s always been done.
But nonetheless, these are all part of my current, very strict interpretation of a playlist, as it pertains to CD compatibility.  I’ve had to train myself recently to think outside the box, especially when it comes to playlists that are never going to leave my iPod.  Recently I put together  a Christmas playlist, which was about twenty songs, and I didn’t care which order they were played in.  They were all good, so none deserved any better or worse spots.  With making larger playlists, though, I would start to feel cramped and not free to use any songs more than once on playlists, several of which I may feel a song is suitable for. (Even with my CD-length PLs, I probably have “Rockin’ the Suburbs” by Ben Folds on about five of them.)  I think I could deal with a playlist as long as thirty songs and as few as eight to ten.  As long as I got to control the volume in the car.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Killing My Brain Cells

Do I watch way too much TV?  Absolutely not.  Do I spend way too much time thinking about watching TV?  Maybe.  But I’ve tried to compartmentalize my watching and thinking about it to the point where I’m only thinking about things like my blog, and what I can write about TV on it at work, and doing the actual watching of TV at home, while not thinking about writing about it.
I’ve also tried to compartmentalize what channels I watch and when.  NBC: Thursdays and Mondays.  Fox: Sometimes Tuesdays for “Raising Hope”, but mostly I can catch their shows on Hulu.  ABC: Also Monday night because that’s when “Castle” is on, but overall not quite as much since “Lost” finished and I realized I’m a dude and stopped watching “Desperate Housewives.” CBS: Sometimes on Monday night when I watch “How I Met Your Mother”, but I try not to admit in public that I watch that network.  And anything else I need to watch can mostly be found on Hulu or Netflix instant streaming.
I’ve been trying to be more selective lately about what it is I watch and why.  First reason: hot chicks.  Then there come the other things about plot, theme, and dialogue- all those things I went and got that liberal arts education for.  But I want to spell out exactly what it is I’m watching for and why.
Concept is the first thing that grabs me about a show.  If I like the concept, I’m going to tune in.  Heck, Heroes kept me interested for three seasons with its concept plus Hayden Pennetierre.  A show can survive with a really good concept, even if it has little else.  I was grabbed by the concept of a show like “Firefly”, because the concepts of a Western and a Space Adventure are each so good that there’s no way they can go wrong when put together.  Fortunately it also had a little sex, some good dialogue and interesting relationships.
Dialogue is the next thing that grabs me in a show.  If it feels forced, there’s no way anyone can be expected to stick around.  This new show “The Cape” has dialogue that is just good enough to keep me interested, but the only actor who’s very good is Summer Glau, and so its writers are having to work double-time to make everyone else look good.  “Dollhouse”, another cancelled Fox show from the mind of Joss Whedon, is on Netflix (both seasons), and it is staying in my instant queue because of the good dialogue, which is feeding the plot, despite having relationships that feel forced.
Plot itself is a very secondary thing I look for in TV shows, especially in the half-hour variety, because what is more important are the relationships.  A really old show called “Gunsmoke” probably had the best relationship in a show ever, that of Sheriff Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty.  Are they a couple? No one knows, but the implications are there, and they were able to go over twenty seasons, in large part fueled by those two.  But more and more people are digging the bro-love dynamic, as seen on shows like Scrubs, or currently in “Cougartown”.  (Oh yea, Wednesdays on ABC- another night I might be watching that network.)
When I roomed with my buddy Ry Ry at college, we would often get movies from the library, with me deferring to his discretion as to what we should watch.  (The guy owned 300ish movies.)  But he nevertheless asked what I was looking for.  I said three things: Plot, Comedy and Boobs.  Those things are great for movies, but TV shows need a little something else.  Usually that something else is a little Sexual Tension.
Finally, I have to commend NBC for sticking so much comedy on Thursday.  At least three of those six shows have reasonable followings, and two could survive on the coattails of another.  But you can’t keep it up.  At some point The Office is just going to go away and 30Rock is going to take the 9/8c time slot, right?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to Just Enjoy It

My sports following growing up has admittedly been affected by the sports beloved of the place I grew up.  I was, for example, raised on the Twins and Kirby because they were coming to the height of their powers at that time.  The games were on ‘CCO until about 1995, so in following them, I was really affected by how much I could see them on TV.  But I could always watch football on TV, so that became the sport I watched most from about 1995 until the year 2000.  And yet I still went to way more baseball games, because they were actually affordable.  With this long history of religiously following at least a couple sports teams from my area, I have come to several conclusions that can be made about all following all kinds of sports.  And so I offer my Guide to Following Your Favorite Team.
Have a Connection to The Team: When it comes to picking a favorite team, you need some regional or familial connection to the team you’ve chosen.  I would argue that the opportunity for you to see one home game every year has to be there in order to justify choosing a team outside the closest major metro area. That, or something else from your childhood, such as hearing them on the radio, or a beloved family member who rooted for them.  I recently ran into some dude who claimed he was a New England Patriots fan because he liked Tom Brady.  The problem is, Nobody Likes Tom Brady (outside of New England).  Don’t be that guy- the Bandwagon Jumper.  If you have to be a bandwagon jumper, the only acceptable way is if it’s a team from your area (that assumedly just became good), and you don’t already have a favorite team in that sport.
Know when to Cheer or Jeer: Each sport has a pattern of when to get excited, or nervous or start booing.  I would recommend never booing, as long as the players on your team appear to be trying their best.  If it’s the other team, of course, it’s all fair game.  But various environments get more amped at different moments.  There’s very little more fun, as I’ve recently found out, than sitting in the student section at a D1 college basketball game.  While the sport is usually so drawn out that the crowd can’t get that intense, college has few enough games that the kids get psyched for every game.  Especially every free throw, opposing, or the home team.  But you have to earn sitting in the good seats- I’m talking to you, People In Front of Us at the Gophers Game who Seemed to Think it was Just a Social Event- otherwise you’re just ruining it for those who are really in to it.
Get the Appropriate Team Apparel: I’ve recently noticed that every sport has its own signature apparel. For baseball, the caps.  Association football has scarves.  In basketball and hockey, it might be the jerseys, although hockey also has those knit hats that all hockey fans love, too.  And for American football, the signature piece of apparel appears to be unique for each team.  For my Packers, anything in the shape of a yellow cheese wedge made of foam.  The Vikings have the Olga helmets.  And there’s also just being nuts like Raiders fans.
Avoid Stressing Out: I’ve been preaching to people recently that the reason you watch sports and follow a favorite team is for the agony they bring you (see a previous blog of mine, titled “Sports Agony”).  The more agony one accrues, the greater the payoff when you win it all.  That’s part of why I hope the Vikings never win it all, because I could never feel the same joy they would.  But in each sport, there’s such a build-up to the end of the game that you have to treat each one differently when cheering for it.  There’s no reason to scream at each batter in every inning of every baseball game: It’s a long game, a long season, and ballplayers fail more than they succeed.  In hockey or association football, you kind of just keep cheering for your team to do well, until something finally goes their way.  In American football, though, it seems like you can actually influence the outcome by screaming more or less at the TV.  It also helps to have something to throw.  But for all sports, there seems to be a point when you can relax.  In baseball, when the tying runs aren’t on base or at the plate.  In hockey or football, it’s when you’re up or down by more than one score.  It relieves the possibility of a quick shift of paradigm in the game.  Or just being behind in a game.  I think we can all agree- that’s definitely the easiest.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Future of Music

There is no such thing as country music.  Thinking about that today when I was listening to my Pandora Contemporary Folk Radio.  Contemporary Folk was the genre, and I was listening to Pandora.  Folk encompasses a lot, but a good portion of it just seems to be Country songs that were less successful.  What offends me about that a little is that I don’t consider myself a fan of country.  I like songs that are folksy, but mostly rock (in verb form here).
There must be such thing as country singers, though, right?  I would have to agree, but that being said, none of them sing country music.  Sure there are Country stations, too.  But now that I’ve thought about what it was that bugs me about country music, it’s that it really has no identity as a genre.  Pop music, admittedly, does not even seem to have one identity, either, but it is what it is because it’s what’s the most popular: hence the name.  Country singers can be from any number of different genres, (but mostly rock or pop, I would say) except that they have a Southern accent and wear cowboy hats.  And blue jeans with holes. Obviously what they sing about follows the type of people they are.
In fact the only things that separate from Rascal Flatts from Kings of Leon are the beards and the attitudes.  I saw a billboard of them recently, and they don’t even wear cowboy hats.  So they are a rock group that sings specifically to white people from the South and the rural Midwest.  Think: SEC Country plus Big XII Country.  Which apparently no longer includes Nebraska.  It’s a good thing Taylor Swift got out of this genre while she could.  Now she does what my sister calls Weird Pop.  Basically, she just got herself a better marketing team.  Props.
And it’s not just Country that I have a problem with either. There just doesn’t seem to be anything called Rock anymore.  It’s all alternative.  All of it.  Anyone who plays anything that you could consider, in past days, Rock and Roll, is now alt rock.  With Lowercases.  My problem with this is the phraseology makes it sound more fringe than it actually is.  The Foo Fighters will call themselves Alt Rock, but they are very much mainstream.  Genres in and of themselves are just over-rated.  You shouldn’t have to proclaim what genre you are in order to have your fans like you.  It not only puts the artists into a box, but same for the people themselves.  I remember when I first heard about people calling themselves Emo as a characteristic.  That’s the genre of their life.  Of course, when your life has a genre, you have to be true to that genre.  Like if you’re Country. 
My boy Mason Jennings has released about eight albums, and I think five different genres appear next to those on iTunes.  That’s because he doesn’t have a genre and neither do I.  Basically, I go on Pandora and type in the artist I like and then they give me a bunch of songs I would probably like.  Pandora is going to save the world from the restrictions of genres.  I know, you can choose by genre, too, but each one is broken down so thoroughly that you can pick the one or two you like and then Quick-mix them.  Or you just choose a band that is so unique that pretty much the only songs Pandora can find which are like them are songs by them.  The band? Carbon Leaf.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Let's Get the Ending Right

When I said that there is nothing wrong with Football in a previous blog-post, I may have been exaggerating just a little bit.  There seem to be a couple things wrong, at least so far as we can see, going in to the postseason.
One of them may not be, in this reporter’s opinion, the Seahawks making the playoffs at below .500.  If the NFL maintains that six out of the sixteen games played every year are going to be played among your 1/8 of the league, then those games should really count.  My point is that Seattle really did make them count.  Every sport rewards the division winners, too.  Baseball only has one wild card in each league.  And the NBA has started to say that the other division winner in a conference cannot be any lower than the three-seed.  There has got to be some reward for winning within the configuration you’ve been set up in.  Even in my favorite sport to play, Ultimate, the tournaments have play set up so that the winner in each “pool” automatically advances to the next round.  (Well, usually.)  So that makes the football season like one long tournament, in a sense.  I don’t feel sorry for the Giants, a 10-6 team who didn’t make the playoffs, either.  If they had won any of the games in weeks 14-16, they would be in.  (And we all know they should have beaten the Eagles in week 15.)  Any of the teams that have a better record than the Seahawks would have made the playoffs if they’d played better within the division. (Except the Raiders, apparently, who forgot there was any football to be played outside it.)  But none of these are the real problem with the playoffs.  The problem is people failing to recognize this reasoning. If there’s going to be regional alignment, teams are always going to play down to or up to the teams they play most often.
Having covered the topic of people’s perceptions of the playoffs, let’s now find one that needed fixing and actually got it.  I’m referring of course to the overtime situation.  Personally, I couldn’t have been more psyched up when I heard about the new overtime rules in the postseason.  Despite my dislike of the Vikings, it did seem disappointing to me that Favre couldn’t have had one more opportunity to throw an inter- I mean, game-winning touchdown to send the Vikings to the Super Bowl.  (Where they would have inevitably choked.)  But to be fair, I think that the NFL should consider putting this rule in for the whole season.  For those living under a football-shaped rock for the last year, the new rules are as follows.  A first-possession field goal cannot win the game.  Any touchdown automatically wins the game.  The combinations in the decisions this could lead to are intriguing.  Many of the coaches were opposed to these new rules, because it would force them to consider a whole new set of strategies.  I think their thinking is flawed for a couple reasons.  The situation these rules set up aren’t that different to a second-to-last possession in a tied game at the end of regulation. Secondly, new rules are always going to be tough to adjust to, as were the ones in the past (the forward pass, maybe?).  But they will deal with it, and the next generation of coaches will just grow up with it.
I’ve been thinking about this recently, and I feel as though the NFL is going to be wreaking havoc in ways unbeknownst to them, due to some unfortunate scheduling.  As of the last few years, it has begun to schedule the Super Bowl in February.  As long as the Super Bowl hasn’t been played yet, many are still on their holiday season clocks as far as school, church, food, sleep and the rest, and quite honestly, than it itself would be enough to wear people out.  The problem I’ve come upon is that, due to some fans’ fanaticism, many are bound to make crucial life decisions after their team has won the Super Bowl.  But a wise teacher of mine from high school, Mr. Tom Cody, once taught me that you should never make any major life decisions during this month.  There is some very sound reasoning for this.  You are smack dab in the middle of winter, school or work or whatever it is are probably dragging along by now, your emotions are all mixed up because of this and you’re probably coming down from the high of the holiday season.  So I don’t know if you’ll be able to measure it quantitatively, but I would guess that there might be an uptick in poor life decisions after this year’s big game.  But I suppose that happens every year.
Enjoy the rest of your holiday (read: Super Bowl and NFL playoffs) season.