The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free

The concept album. Such an ugly idea, conjuring images of Styx, Dreamtheater, Rush, and other shameful bits of Canadian “culture” (I’m not sure if Sty is from Canada, but they might as well be). Sure, Pink Floyd succeeded admirably with The Wall, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here (if you’d consider that an official concept album), and The Final Cut, though Momentary Lapse of Reason didn’t exactly succeed so much (at all) with the whole high-brow nature of the concept album. Unfortunately, this whole high-brow image (which is more accurately described as pretentiousness, not simple high-brow-ed-ness) serves only to make “concept album” a dirty word. The Beatles weren’t exactly pretentious with Sergeant Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band, though it does have its moments of stylistic experimentation bordering on above-mentioned pretentiousness (John: Yoko says it needs more sitar! Paul: I hate you.), but it worked. Each song brought a lot to the table and none were just musical masturbation in the studio. But can there be a straight-forward concept album if The Beatles’ template practically necessitated some obtuseness? Is it even a concept album anymore? What if it maintains that common theme and thread through each song but its depth is in the straightforwardness of the lyrics? The best album of 2004 was a concept album. In fact, the best two albums of 2004 were concept albums.

The Best Album of 2004
The Best Album of 2004

Though it doesn’t deal with themes such as alienation (OK Computer), living in a consumer-driven society (the last two Pink Floyd albums), and the eternal lightness of being (Hit Me Baby One More Time), A Grand Don’t Come for Free tells the entire story of a night of a recreational drug-using 20-something who begins his big evening out by unfortunately losing 1,000 pounds. It’s not particularly profound, but it’s very British, as The Streets (Mike Skinner), who can lazily be called “Britain’s” Eminem, talks of “birds, holiday, football (when he means soccer)” in the re-telling of his story. All things considered, and for the sake of internal consistency, I’ll remind everyone that I (still) get very little out of words and lyrics in songs. I might know them from frequent listening, but 9 times out of 10, I wouldn’t be able to actually say what a song is about. That said, the significance of A Grand Don’t Come for Free doesn’t stem from its lyrics (or its standing as a concept album due to those lyrics).

The quality of rap music is usually described in two parts: the music and the actual rapping (as much as I hate to say it…… the “beat” and the “flow”). I’m not sure what makes either good or bad, but I can listen to a Jay-Z song and tell that he’s good at rapping, and almost anyone can recognize that the appeal of Hey Ya! is sourced [it’s a hip-hop pun!] back to the musical half (the beat). Granted, lots of people also liked the part about shaking it like a Polaroid picture, but I digress. The Streets (well, Mike Skinner) frequently showcases his wordplay skills (simultaneously completely similar while completely dissimilar to Eminem) and sets this wordplay against music that is almost completely unlike any other rap music in the US. Maybe this is where the appeal lies. I won’t go so far as to say that all rap music sounds the same, but much of it does sound like it was generated with the same “toolkit” or template. Likewise, among popular rap songs, there really aren’t too many topics: “honeys” and “hoes” (obviously, both are synonyms for women…the label simple implies how the guy plans on arranging procreation). Now, for those of you that might be jumping up and down about the myriad topics explored in US rap music, or how there are lots of rap groups that make music that doesn’t sound anything like the MTV-popular(ized) rappers. Yes, there are lots of those groups, but how often do you hear Jurassic 5 blasted out of a car stereo? Nothing against Jurassic 5, The Roots and other groups favored by underground hip-hop apologists, but it’s not mainstream rap. Now, The Streets does mention women (the above-mentioned “birds”) but in decidedly less vulgar terms than any hairmetal band. Though The Streets offers a different take on the concept of rap, one that addresses different issues, different situations, it expands what would normally be considered rap’s limits. These aren’t limits of vulgarity, but similar to Kanye West writing lyrics about un-rap-like concepts of spirituality (in Jesus Walks), A Grand Don’t Come for Free turns the mundane into entertainment in “Blinded by the Lights” as he takes a hit of ecstasy, worries it was a dud, wonders why his friends haven’t returned his text messages, then suddenly is lost in the sweat and jitters of the ecstasy. It’s not profound, but what other artist would be able to make these topics interesting? Sure, there are songs about girls (“Fit But You Know It” – about girls who are dangerously aware of their attractiveness to the point of looking ridiculous and “Dry Your Eyes” – a not inaccurate discussion of how things usually end) but there are also songs about being addicted to soccer gambling, bums who won’t leave your house and on and on.


The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free receives 5 stars as even in a year of well-regarded releases (especially Green Day’s American Idiot, another concept album) it did more. Simultaneously turning not particularly interesting topics into interesting music is quite the feat, especially if it manages to avoid pretentiousness. (Sorry, but the 50’s-esque rock’n’roll break in “Homecoming” on American Idiot is a bit too much.) Musically, it’s an all new soundscape (ooh). Highlights: track 1 (“It was Supposed to be So Easy”), the hidden track after #11, “Empty Cans” (when listening to the album, you can decide how symbolic that title is), and #4, “Blinded by the Lights”, all among a particularly solid collection of songs.

grilled cheese

\"I\'ll Even the Virgin Mary Love grilled cheese!!!\"
Even the Virgin Mary Loves Grilled Cheese!”

It’s like someone knew exactly what I wanted. They took the two greatest food inventions in history: sandwiches, and frying things, and put them together. And added cheese. Wonderful. Here’s a simple delicious sandwich you can cook in five minutes, and it eats like a meal. Enjoy it with any kind of soup and you’re good to go. It’s got a golden-brown, crisp outside and a gooey inside that complement each other very nicely. And. it’s. fried. What more can you ask for? Maybe if you batter dipped it and deep fried it. Deee-lish.


The grilled cheese sandwich gets 4.5 stars because most of the time it’s made with the disgustingly awful KRAFT cheese food product, and not something like meunster, cheddar, jack, mozzerella, or provalone. Oh, man. This makes me hungry.

Using “Forrest Gump” as a Verb

So I was reading USA Today the other day. Yeah, I know, it’s the best newspaper in the history of ever, and it’s seemingly also the official newspaper of travelling, being that most of its readership statistics stem from the fact that hotels usually give it away to hordes of travellers each morning.

\"I\'ll Forrest Gump you, you crazy hippy!\"
“I’ll Forrest Gump you, you crazy hippy!”

In Robert Bianco’s (TV’s Robert Ebert) review of an upcoming episode of HBO’s Rome, talking of the historical revisionism at/for the expense of entertainment, he says that “… Vorenus and Pullo Forrest Gump their way through ancient history.” That’s some genius wordsmithing right there. I actually caught the episode in question (the whole travelling thing and hotel’s usually having HBO), and it was dull to say the least, for whatever that’d be worth. I doubt that “Forrest Gump” becoming anything other than a popular movie will ever happen [a verb, baseball team, or restaurant…..oh wait], but let’s give USA Today credit where credit is due.


Using “Forrest Gump” as a verb receives 5 stars due to journalists lowering the bar and creating new words based on pop culture as opposed to investing in a thesaurus and picking one of the many that people should know but probably don’t. Just kidding. Go USA Today!

The Colbert Report

An immediate reaction upon watching an episode: Har-Har.

One TV executive to another: You know what? It seems like everyone likes The Daily Show. It gets all sorts of main stream press, especially about its lampooning of regular news shows. Let’s make a show that is just that. Kuh-Ching! [high-five]

Inspired by The Daily Show or simply following its template?
Inspired by The Daily Show or simply following its template?

Sounds like a good idea. Take Steve Colbert, probably The Daily Show’s best current news-anchor-parodizer (after Steve Carrell left) and give him his own show. Unfortunately, being that his gimmick (the whole fake newscaster thing) is just that, a gimmick, it means that it gets old and he’s stuck with a one dimensional show. During his interview with Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria on October 19, you could actually pick out the moment when Colbert struggled to decide whether to continue with “gimmick-based” questions (“So why should anyone care about the world?”) or turn towards a more serious, John Stewart-esque, seriousness-through-humor style. Walking this fence is the reason that the show will fail. Interviewing guests who are not comedians (Zakaria, as a prime example) only leads to more awkwardness. By now, everyone is familiar with The Daily Show style of news, and interviewees know not to give serious answers to the ridiculous questions. Unfortunately, these guests often aren’t particularly funny. Colbert is plenty funny though it’s undecided whether he’s a one joke pony (Strangers with Candy fans, chime in).


The Colbert Report receives 2 stars due to the obvious (upon viewing) cashing in on The Daily Show’s success. It has its moments, but stretching what would normally be 4-6 minute segments on The Daily Show to half-hour length makes those moments exceedingly fleeting. The show does deserve credit for its title (“Report” is pronounced as “Rapport”), and it moves faster than Keith Olberman’s (relatively) similar show on MSNBC. Unfortunately for Colbert, the talking heads of political news and commentary have already become parodies of themselves. Bill O’Reilly’s “talking points” section is so far over the top that if I want to laugh at it, I can simply watch that, not Colbert’s spin on it. Likewise, Michael Moore’s fame and/or notoriety have also moved toward self-parody. The “ambush interview” doesn’t need to be parodied when the original inspiration is as ridiculous as it is. Of course, the show gains points for attempting to start a joke-feud with gun control advocate, James Brady.

Monicaann F. Spade’s Letter to the editor of the Morning Call

Even USA Today wouldn't have letters to the editor this bad.
Even USA Today wouldn’t have letters to the editor this bad.

I know what you’re going to think” that I have some ridiculous obsession with the dictionary. That I spend all my nights thinking about the new word I’m going to learn the next day, and that I have a huge wall-hanging devoted to Webster and Roget. Well I don’t. This entry is entirely coincidental, and should be noted as such.

Some days you wake up and look to the newspaper to find highly (by “highly”, I mean “moderately”) intelligent and informative discussion on world issues. Today, that was not the case. I enjoy reading the letters to the editor, just to see what some idiot is complaining about this time. The thing about letters to the editor that interests me the most is that, in order to actually get a letter published, you have to be so offended by something that you’d actually take the time to sit down and write a whole, long diatribe and then actually send it in to the newspaper. The length of time that this takes is usually what weeds out the people who are just kinda annoyed, from those who are genuine activists. I mean, I think it would usually be a two-day operation, and by the second day, you’d re-read it, say “This isn’t worth complaining about”, rip up the paper, and throw it away. Again, today, that was not the case.

What follows may indeed be the stupidest letter to the editor I’ve EVER read. And I mean EVER. The letter in question refers to an article on the front page (of which the merits will be discussed later) of the Allentown Morning Call’s October 5th edition. The article was in regards to what I’m sure is the gala event of the lexicographical calendar” the unveiling of this year’s new Webster’s Dictionary words. I imagine it to be like a car show, where they lift the sheet off of a big sign with the word on it, and everyone in the audience OOHs and AHHHs. Anyway, seeing as how it’s the dictionary, and it has just about every word imaginable, it’s getting harder to find new words to put in every year. This year, one of the “words” is… I’m not kidding, “Bikini wax”. I guess this is justified, as this phrase has an entirely (by “entirely”, I mean “somewhat”) different meaning than just the sum of the two words.

You wouldn’t think that someone would be offended by a dictionary. But someone was. Monicaann F. Spade of Allentown was bold enough to write the following letter.

“Regarding the Oct. 5 article “Check Latest Dictionary”: Did they have to put in “Bikini wax?” Isn’t anything private anymore? What happened to good, clean dictionary words?”

I’m not exactly sure what Dictionary this person is reading (perhaps the “My First Dictionary”), but in mine, I can find at least ten examples of words that you couldn’t even say on FX at eleven at night. “Good, clean, dictionary words”. Does this man/woman not understand that the purpose of the dictionary isn’t to be selective in what words are chosen to be in it? It’s a damn dictionary. Its job is to include every word and abbreviated phrase in the language so that someone knows what it is.

Imagine you’re a woman and you come from France or somewhere like that. You don’t know English, and you make new friends who decide that before your big trip to Laguna Beach or wherever, you all should go for a bikini wax. Having no idea what they’re saying, and possibly (going solely on the stereotypes here) being against bikini waxes, you go to look it up in the dictionary, except it’s not there. You see bikini: swimsuit, and wax: (probably a scientific description of the makeup of wax). You think “oh, I’m getting a new swimsuit made out of this wonderful waterproof material”. You’re screwed.

Three questions about this person cross my mind. 1) Why would you take offense to this, or even care, especially after the newspaper printed, in gruesome detail, the crimes committed by 22 ex-ministers against children; the article that totally ruined my morning and week for that matter? 2) Why would you feel the actual need to write a letter to a newspaper that can do nothing about the Dictionary’s policies (maybe hoping to spark a protest of something incredibly stupid?), and 3) Why would you ignore the more important issue of “Why the hell is this article on the front page anyway, instead of a more important story which was probably buried in the back of the section?”

Anyway, I think you get my point.


This letter to the editor receives 1 star as it was the most dumb and unwarranted complaint I’ve ever read in the paper, but it provided me with five minutes of laughter and fifteen minutes worth of review fodder.

Soft Shell Crabs

soft shell crab
Soft shell crabs earn a .5 out of 5 stars due to the fact that when one eats a soft shell crab, he (or she) is no longer of the realm of man…he becomes an animal. Let’s see: take one whole crab, steam it, eat it. Notice, there’s no preparation or “removing of the entrails.” It makes me think that people would eat whole cows if their mouths were big enough. The .5 comes from any character one might build while eating all of a sea creature that is widely considered the ocean’s garbage man.


The Dictionary

Sean Connery suggests reading, but not the dictionary
Sean Connery suggests reading, but not the dictionary.

Finally done. I was told last year, that if i really wanted a challenging book to read that I should pick up this new book called “Dictionary” by Webster. Man, were they right. This book took me five months to finish, and I still don’t get it. It’s like the author decided to take a bunch of big words, and write a giant, avant garde poem about each one, e.e. cummings style. The typeset is all not formal, with two columns down each page, making the reader look all the way down and then back down a second time.

The nearest I can tell, it’s the story of Adj. and his on-again, off-again lover Adv. in a coming of age story that involves all kinds of science related terms that are ten letters or more, “the act of” doing things, and having the reader turn to other pages to “see” other words. This “choose your own adventure” style storytelling may have flown ten years ago, but now it’s just tedious. I haven’t been this annoyed trying to read a book since “House of Leaves”.

To make matters worse, it seems this format has recently been copied by authors such as Roget, and Oxford, going as far as even naming the book the same. I’m sure a lawsuit is impending.

One other note. After the great (and completely dumbfounding) success of this book, the author decided to continue the story in a sequel entitled “Thesaurus”, which I assume involves the two scientists, going back to the age of dinosaurs, in yet another completely incoherent writing style.


The Dictionary receieves 1 star, as it has a completely incoherent story and writing style, much in the same vein as Jane Eyre, or The Scarlett Letter. I’ve also deducted points for the pompousness required to write a sequel.

We’re at it again?

Our website

So I hear we’re starting another project. Wonderful. A wesite is always something I’ve wanted to see if I could help keep afloat, and as I have nothing really better to do in my spare time lately, and I’ve been feeling rather judgmental, I think it’s worth a try. Reviewing things seems to be a nice concept, and allowing it to be an incredibly broad range of things to review is perfectly wonderful, giving me the freedom to review everything from “getting orange oil on your hands when you peel an orange”, to the atrocity that are UGZ boots, which might I add, doesn’t stand for anything, nor is it spelled remotely correct (the correct spellling would be “Ughs”, as in many grunting sounds made by the idiots who wear them while attempting to communicate with people on the streets of L.A…. which is another valid point: why wear HUGE furry, hideously colored suede boots that get dirty very quickly and are supposed to keep you warm, in the WARMEST AND DIRTIEST city west of the Mississippi river?…. where was I?) Oh yes. This website.
It would be nice to think that many people would enjoy reading the rantings and ravings of a few individuals who consider themselves to be a lot funnier than they probably are, and who value their opinions over anyone else’s. I don’t however think that this may be the case. My fear going in to this is that it will end up much like “The Onion”, coming up with continuously funny headlines and topics that follow the same formula, and have articles that drag on past their welcome. My hope for us is that if nobody else reads it, that it will at least keep us entertained, and provide many inside jokes for years to come. My far-reaching hope would be that it wouldn’t get old and that it would catch on with a hipster college student who would then pass it on, or possibly post our link on his facebook account so that all 551 of his friends (most of whom aren’t really his friends, but minor acquantances who are too passive to reject him, even though they think he’s quite the creep) can see it, visit us, and pass us on to their more probable list of 37 friends. Realistically, though, I think reviews of things are too focused of a topic to create a website about that would hopefully last more than 2 months. Hopefully by that time we’ll be able to expand the website into other areas such as eating and sleeping, which we’re quite good at.


The concept of this website gets 3.5 stars out of 5, as it is an incredibly wonderful way to give us something to do and tell you how to live your lives in the process. It has the potential to provide hours of entertainment for readers, and shape their lives for years to come. However, the downside is that it could get old real soon, and provide us with nothing but an excuse not to get real jobs.


Game 4 2005 NLDS (Astros – Braves)

I like baseball. In fact, I like baseball a whole lot. Granted, my more “devoted” activities for the sport [playing “competitively,” collecting baseball cards, having a favorite player, mailing cards to teams/players for autographs, and so on] have long since lapsed [what with turning 11 and all], but I still watch a fair share of games on TV (especially during the August/September/October playoff races, then playoffs themselves) and attend games as I can.

sleepy cat
game 4 makes kitty sleepy

The concept of a super-long extra innings game is intriguing, implying that the two teams are so evenly matched that the only solution to their baseball dilemma is more baseball. As those following the playoffs are aware, there was one of those “super-long” extra innings games this past weekend between the Astros and Braves. That’s fine and dandy (18 innings…..whoo, a lot of baseball), but as soon as the game ended, it somehow became a classic, and in the press conference following the game Astros manager, Phil Garner, couldn’t help but claim it was potentially the best game ever as reporters lobbed questions at him, probably attempting to generate a sound bite about its standing as the best game ever.

Rubbish. And that’s why this review exists. Would one of the best games ever more-or-less implode after the 9th inning? Would there be no runs scored and practically no drama (scoring then re-tying, bases loaded with less than two outs, fan interference, crazy plays, etc., etc.) between innings 9 and 18 in this best game ever? 5 hours and 50 minutes is a lot of baseball, and baseball, all things considered easily becomes quite boring. I’d hate to think that one of the best games ever would’ve been that boring and uneventful until one swing in the bottom of the 18th. A greatest game ever would have a team scoring one (or more) runs in the top of an extra-inning, then the home team being forced, then succeeding, to match that. There was none of that. It’s only significance (other than the length) was Roger Clemens pitching in relief, reminiscent of the Yankees-Diamondbacks World Series when Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling combined for the win, something that would never happen in regular-season baseball. Roger Clemens pitching in relief is something significant, but it’s not like when a team runs out of pitchers and puts an outfielder on the pitching mound, potentially turning the game into a home run derby. That’d be the best game ever.

Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS receives 1.5 stars for being grossly over-rated, quickly forgotten, and rather unremarkable in any category other than length. Besides, as of now, the blown call from game 2 of Angels-White Sox is the story to beat for the season.


What the Heck are We up to Now?

So, one day I was thinking. I’ve been accused of being very opinionated, and I’ve decided that I’m hilarious, so combining those two, I said to myself, “Why not provide a more permanent forum for expressing my views beyond the ‘forum’ created when in a personal, social setting?” Of course, this “personal, social forum” is actually just fancy-talk for “me sitting around complaining,” but still doesn’t it look that much more official when displayed on a computer monitor? With all that talk of “social,” “forum,” etc. you may think I’ve devolved into some a sort of “the internet is opening all sorts of new avenues of communication, and it’s awesome!” person, but don’t worry, I’m sure that this site is just part of the on-going “blog boom” reminiscent of the personal homepage boom of the late 90’s. [In full disclosure, I had a personal homepage back then, but for some reason the Internet Archive didn’t consider it worth inclusion.] [In fuller disclosure, the comparison between the popularity of blogs now and homepages in the late 90’s was made by someone else in some print or internet article, but I can’t track it down, and the closest I (well, that Google…) can find is someone copying that section of the article in the comments of a semi-academic discussion on the state of blogs.

Keeping in mind the “boom” aspects mentioned above, this little endeavor has a decent chance of petering out before too long, but there’s nothing wrong with trying for a little while.

The look of this page will probably be changing in the very near future as we figure out a better template (though this default one is nice, if not overused) for our purposes.

There are a few technical hurdles to be overcome for this project, but I won’t leave those here. Josh Shafer [how do you spell your last name?], Brian Newhard, MJ, Kurt, Andy, and Justin [the last three of you of the Northwestern Variety], I’m looking in your direction.

More to come, including reviews of: people who value their opinions too much, electricity, Columbus Day, sandwiches, Adam’s Smug Sense of Self-Worth (ok, that’s more of a Family Guy joke than a topic for a review), Arby’s, the Dell 2005FPW monitor, scissors, Verizon Online DSL, The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free and many, many more*.

*note, the promise of “many more” is very conditional, based on whether not the whole thing “gets old” and whether it keeps our attention.