In appreciation of macaroni and cheese.

August 31, 2008

It is true that macaroni and cheese will not stop a pancreatic tumor from metastasizing. It cannot save a marriage rendered asunder by infidelity. Eat as much as you want — your adult children will continue to regard you with quiet contempt.

Yet in spite of its flesh-tone hue and health-threatening starchiness, the dish has an undeniably salutary effect on the soul.

Macaroni, regarded by many as the Ford Escort of pastas, provides the base. Processed cheese, the flavor. Together with a little table salt and pepper, these rather bland ingredients combine to create a heroically delicious dish that even the most inept culinary artist must struggle to ruin.

Even the off-brand, boxed version of mac ‘n cheese provides deep satisfaction. And when a particularly gifted American cook brings his or her own flair to the dish, the possibilities are mind-bending. Take, for example, my girlfriend’s mother’s mac ‘n cheese: Boil a couple of pounds of macaroni in a large steel pot. Saturate it in Velveeta. Don’t stop there, though: Throw in a couple of dozen of chunks of cheddar cheese, and then layer the top with a shredded version of the same. Bake it over an open fire, outdoors. Finally, serve — and warn your dinner companions to shield their dishes from the forthcoming tears of gratitude.


Stuff White People Like: “Stuff White People Like.”

August 27, 2008

“Stuff White People Like” blogger Christian Lander has parlayed a sorta-funny lark into a money-making book deal. How long before he makes like Dave Chappelle and runs off guilt-ridden to Western Europe?
White people love Europe.

The Mr. T Experience: From punk to published.

August 14, 2008

I bought my first Mr. T Experience CD in the used bin of a long-defunct music store called One Music in Muncie, Indiana. The place was run and owned by an incredibly nice hippie dude with Allman Brothers hair and a soothingly soft voice, which at the time I chalked up to what I assumed was his access to high-quality mellowing dope. I ran into the fellow — his name was Jim, I think — when I was a college student at Ball State University student working as a “waiter” at the Sirloin Stockade steakhouse in Muncie. He told me he was going into the ministry, and I was forced to re-examine why he had such an admirably kind disposition.

Anyway, his record store was incredible, and Muncie hasn’t seen the likes of it since One Music closed it doors well over a decade ago. And it was thanks to him that I was introduced to the surprisingly agile mind of Dr. Frank, the lead singer of the Mr. T Experience, whose CD I bought solely on the strength of the band’s funny-as-hell (to my 19-year-old brain) name. That started the beginning of a love affair that would continue for a good five years, until I outgrew snotty Berkeley slacker-punk.

The Mr. T Experience were contemporaries of Green Day, and in my mind, better than them. But Dr. Frank lacked the vocals for a hit single, and his band — clever, rollicking, often hilarious — floundered in obscurity until, I assume, they broke up. To be honest, I stopped thinking about them years ago until recently a wild hair drove me to do a Google search on “Dr. Frank.”

To my surprise, although it’s really not that surprising at all, Dr. Frank — Frank Portman, it turns out — has become a pretty-good-selling author of juvenile literature. I haven’t read “King Dork” yet, but I plan to. And if you have a teenage kid battling awkward self-consciousness and insecurity, you should probably buy it, too.

Rock critic, crack thy thesaurus: The Walkmen return.

August 14, 2008

“Brooding” is in the top ten, if not top five, of the list of words overused by rock critics.

Some others:


On that note, few bands make moody, angular, elliptical rock quite as well as the Walkmen, who have a new album, “You & Me,” coming out. Buy it early for only $5 while giving money to charity. Go here.

It sounds good. Much better than the actually quite decent but strangely forgettable “A Hundred Miles Off.” Maybe even as good as 2004’s “Bows and Arrows” — one of the best albums of the decade so far.

Listen to the fine first track, “Donde Esta la Playa”:

Popmatters, Redux.

August 11, 2008

I was first published (excepting a contribution to a nonprofit, locally published book of poetry and fiction) in 2003 on Popmatters, a “cultural criticism” Web site devoted to music, movies, film, books, etc. They’ve got a great racket going over there, because as far as I can tell, all of their writers contribute free of charge. Perhaps some of the longer-standing ones get paid. Anyway, it’s beside the point. I stopped contributing to Popmatters back in 2005, shortly after I began working as a reporter for a newsweekly in Indianapolis. Since quitting that job, however, I’ve been itching to write about music again. So I e-mailed Popmatters, and they were all like, “Hey, Matt, we’d love to have you back,” and I was like, “Cool.”

My first CD review (which I plan to write exclusively this time around — no concert reviews or interviews like before) was published a couple of days ago. It was of Darker My Love’s “2.” Read it here. And watch the so-far-mediocre-but-not-without-promise band’s new video here:

Cheap Trick conversation spurs uncomfortable Journey thoughts.

August 8, 2008

Earlier today, a gentleman who shares office space with the company I work for walked up to my desk, where I have a couple of albums prominently displayed, including Cheap Trick’s “Heaven Tonight.” He asked me if I was actually a Cheap Trick fan, or if I just liked to collect cool-looking records.

After spending a few seconds trying to reconcile his use of “cool-looking” in reference to this really pretty gay-looking album cover, I said “I love Cheap Trick.” Then, fearing he might be some kind of Cheap Trick fanatic interested in some really deep Cheap Trick talk that my limited Cheap Trick knowledge would prohibit me from contributing to in any real meaningful way, I added, “I’m not a completist or anything. I love ‘Surrender.'”

He smiled and told me Cheap Trick was coming to Verizon Wireless Music Center this fall with Heart and Journey. And for longer and with more seriousness than I am really comfortable admitting, I considered it.

I would jump at the chance to see just Cheap Trick. If Cheap Trick headlined a club tour, I’d be there with my “Heaven Tonight” album in hand, hoping Robin Zander or Bun E. Carlos would sign it after the show. But they’re just the opener at this geriatric-fest.

I enjoy Heart, but not post-hot-Ann-Wilson Heart. Not that her declining hotness had anything to do with the band’s decline. Then again, maybe it did. Their music began to descend into overproduced, soft rock shitiness right around the time she began her climb to Carny Wilson-like physical proportions. Anyway, I digress.

My feelings about Journey are more complex. One of my first favorite songs was the propulsive “Wheel In The Sky,” a stadium rocker about how Steve Perry is running on a “dusty road,” and later finds himself “stranded in sleet and rain” trying to get home to his girl, who, he worries, might give up on him. Interestingly, the lyrics were written by Journey bassist Ross Valory’s wife.

“Wheel In the Sky,” though not a power ballad, contained elements of the raw emotion and soaring vibrato vocals that would later prove devastatingly affecting on the band’s biggest hit, “Open Arms.” Perhaps the most well-known and most celebrated power ballad of all time, “Open Arms” helped pave the way for hit-hungry hair metal bands in the mid-to-late ’80s. Which, of course, is too bad.

Still, I like a lot of Journey songs, and I even quite enjoy the Steve Perry single “Foolish Heart,” which too often gets overlooked thanks to the pop culture ubiquity of the soul-offending “Oh, Sherry.”

Even if you’re among the legions of people who think of Journey as a laughing stock, you can’t dispute their technical prowess or huge hit-crafting chops. And when “The Sopranos” used “Don’t Stop Believin'”, Journey even recaptured (OK, captured) some hipster cred.

It took me awhile to own up to it, but I’m no longer ashamed of liking Journey or any of their lesser known late ’70s contemporaries like Ambrosia, Firefall, Toto or Poco. But after reading this interview (you’ll have to scroll down a bit) with former singer Steve Perry, I find it hard to hear their music without feeling sorry for the sad little fellow.

“Gossip Girl” opponents don’t know how good they have it.

August 5, 2008

To the sanctimonious folks who have so stridently come out against the new “Gossip Girl” ad campaign (and who have unwittingly contributed so generously to its success): Hey, at least it ain’t this: