My Love Affair with BBC America

Okay, so the wife and I are basically addicted to BBC America.

I’ve been an Anglophile for quite a long time. I’ve always loved Britain as a country, and had the usual Monty Python obsession that most teenagers had (I mean, seriously, who didn’t watch Holy Grail like a million times in high school? We even managed to watch it on a church youth group trip once), but it’s definitely expanded beyond that.

Now that we have FiOS (or however the hell it’s supposed to be capitalized), we’ve been watching a lot of programs on BBC America (it was one of the reasons we switched over in the first place). There’s Doctor Who, of course, but what Anglophile geek of a certain age doesn’t watch that? I’ve also gotten into Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. I know he’s done some American shows as well, but he always seemed to asshole-ish in those, while here he seems hard-assed but fair (and honestly, a lot of these restaurants were pretty bad). The wife’s really into You Are What You Eat, though I can’t really abide by the show because the nutritionist who helps the people on the show just rubs me the wrong way.

The show I’ve really grown fond of, though, is How Clean Is Your House?, a clever reality show about…well, housecleaning. I’ve never been a big fan of cleaning, but this show has done two things for me: 1) helped me realize that cleaning regularly makes things so much easier to deal with, and 2) holy crap, even at my worst my place was never that bad. There are people who haven’t cleaned their houses in a decade or more. On every episode, the two women (Kim and Aggie) who help these folks clean up return to the home two weeks after the thorough deep cleaning to check up. Never once has the place fallen back into disrepair and disarray. There’ve been a couple where a room might have gotten a little cluttered, but there’s definitely a change in the way people do things in their homes. It’s rather heartening, really.

I’m also becoming a fan of Top Gear, which is ostensibly a car show but is really just a show about guys behaving in goofy ways with fast, fast cars. I can get behind that. I’m also looking forward to The In-Betweeners, which has been touted as “Superbad with an English accent.” We’ve got a couple of episodes on the DVR, so we’ll see how that goes.

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On Guitar Prices, or WTF?

My brother and I were having a conversation the other day about musical instruments; specifically, about the rising cost of electric guitars and how we were pretty damn confused by it.

“They haven’t really changed the methods or the materials they use to make a Fender Telecaster in 15, 20 years,” he said. “So the guitar I’ve got is essentially the same one they’re putting out now, but mine cost half as much.”

And it’s true. A Made in Mexico (MIM) Telecaster used to go for around $250 or so in the mid- to late-90s. Today, it goes for $500. A used Tele from the mid-90s will go for $400 on Craigslist, which is also pretty ridiculous. I bought a mid-90s MIM Stratocaster back last March, and it cost me around $300 (which, now that I look at it, was apparently a good deal). But now the Squiers, the cheap little brother of the Fender family, cost as much as the MIM Teles or Strats used to, and that just doesn’t seem right. In what world would someone really want to pay several hundred dollars for an entry-level, crappy little guitar like a Squier? That’s like paying several hundred dollars for someone to crap out a guitar-shaped thing for you, and it just ain’t worth it. I mean, they’re selling a freakin’ Squier for almost $400 here.

Delayed Reaction: Moxy Fruvous, Thornhill

Every so often, I feel inclined to dip back into the wellspring of the music of my childhood (or early adulthood, as the case may be) and revisit something I used to listen to until my ears fell off. The Moxy Fruvous album Thornhill is one such trip.

It all started Thursday night when one of the songs off the album, “My Poor Generation,” came up on shuffle on the ol’ iPod. I thought to myself, “Man, haven’t heard this song in ages! Why don’t I listen to these guys more?” ‘Cause seriously, there was a period of about three or four years there (in college and into grad school) where I listened to them constantly. My computer was full of illegally-downloaded tunes by the Canadian quartet, I had their website bookmarked, and I was deeply disappointed that they went on “indefinite hiatus” around the same time I really got into them. It was like the cosmos was laughing at me.

Thornhill is one of those “mature” records that arists sometimes make. Moxy Fruvous was always a little goofy and silly, what with writing songs about European monarchs on the lam and bandit fish and all. But Thornhill was a fairly serious, adult affair: sure, there were still jokes, but they weren’t the focus of the songs. Rather, the melodies, the harmonies, and the personal stories were front and center. And these guys can sing and write a lovely pop song, lemme tell you. The album is chock-full of perfectly-balanced pop songs with clever lyrics, layered vocal harmonies, and a folky, jangly sound that I could just listen to for days on end.

Do I love this album as much now as I did back then? I dunno. It’s aged well, I know that. Some of the songs rely too much on their clever wordplay to try to get them through (“Hate Letter” in particular), and a couple of songs really drag down the back half of the record (“Independence Day” and “Downsizing,” the two most doggedly serious songs on the record, spring readily to mind here), but most of the album is still great. Well over half of the tracks on the album have a five star rating on my iPod, so that speaks pretty clearly to how much I still enjoy this music.

You want comics? I got yer comics right here!

Another week, another batch of comics! Small set this week, but let’s jump in, shall we?

Joe the Barbarian #1: A rather slow, sedated start to a comic from a writer who usually jumps headlong into the action from panel 1, but with art this beautiful, who am I to complain? And the fact that it looks to be such an interesting story (diabetic kid goes into hypoglycemic shock and has to make it to some food before he, y’know, dies, and oh he happens to be hallucinating something fierce on the way) is gonna go a long way to helping me feel good about picking up this 8-issue miniseries. Plus, hey, first issue was only $1. Thank you, Vertigo!

Incredible Hercules #140: The Assault on New Olympus continues with some nice twists, great moments between Herc and Amadeus Cho, and the as-usual awesome sound effects. This series is consistently awesome and you should all be reading it, even if it is slated for cancellation in the very near future.

Also picked up the latest Captain America trade, Road to Reborn. Brubaker writes a very compelling Cap, and I’m half-tempted to start following this one in single issues instead of just trades (probably not, though. It’s one of those stories that just reads better in large chunks).

Comics Ahoy!

Another week, another collection of sequential art storytelling magazines! Get ready, it’s comics time!

Secret Six #17: Picking up where last week’s Suicide Squad #67 left off, we basically get a great big fight scene. Or a series of fight scenes. But very nice fight scenes, and with plenty of clever dialogue and some great character moments. I swear, Gail Simone could be writing a comic book about paint drying and I’d still read it.

Invincible Iron Man #22: Matt Fraction not only writes an awesome Iron Man, but he’s got the voice and character of Doctor Strange down perfect, too. Will someone get this man writing a Strange ongoing now, please? I mean, sure, he’s already doing Iron Man, X-Men, and (if I’m not mistaken) about to take on Thor as well, but surely he’s got enough time to do another title, right?

Batman: The Widening Gyre #4: This feels an awful lot like a middle of the miniseries issue, which is exactly what it is. Kevin Smith does a decent job with the characterization and the different relationships he’s juggling in this book, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a conflict in the story to really drive the plot. There’s just two issues left, so I’ll just follow it through to the end, but I can’t help wishing there was something more happening.

Kicking Television

So, what with a move and having to wait for the Verizon people to come set up the cable at the new place, the wife and I basically went a couple of weeks without watching any TV. Now that everything’s up and running again, we’ve got the DVR recording all sorts of interesting stuff for us. Let’s see what’s on!

Turns out we’re kind of addicted to BBC America. Granted, this is largely because of Doctor Who. I was pleased with the first part of the two-part Tenth Doctor finale, The End of TIme, but felt rather let down by the second part. Honestly, the last twenty minutes especially felt rather unnecessary (especially since all of those characters had already received perfectly good send-offs in earlier seasons, like, y’know, season 4). But honestly, I find it kinda hard to blame Russell T. Davies and David Tenant for doing a little victory lap like that.

But even beyond Doctor Who, there’s some fun stuff on BBC America. We’re rather addicted to a show called How Clean is Your House? It’s basically a couple of British women going to visit people whose homes are incredibly filthy and helping the folks get their act together. They come back a couple of weeks later to check up again, and we’ve yet to catch an episode where the people didn’t maintain the cleanliness, which is heartening.

We’ve also been watching lots of stuff on Discovery (Mythbusters!), and the wife seems to be infatuated with Animal Planet. And Food Network. Now that I think about it, maybe letting her program the DVR wasn’t the best idea.

Slightly-Belated Comics!

So yeah, Wednesday was new comics day, so here’s my (rather meager) haul:

Doom Patrol #6: A pretty cool way to reconcile the numerous reboots, revisions, and reimaginings of a character (The Negative Man) that’s been around since the ’60s. Giffen does a good job of tying everything together and making it seem at least semi-coherent, and the almost complete lack of dialogue actually works pretty well. And the Metal Men co-feature is, as always, fantastic. I’m really sad the co-feature won’t be around for much longer.

Suicide Squad #67: The first of a two-part Blackest Night tie-in with Secret Six, this issue hits all the right notes and doesn’t feel like a cash-grab event tie-in. It helps that John Ostrander and Gail Simone do such a fantastic job with the writing and that Calafiore’s art fits perfectly with the story, and that the Suicide Squad has done in so many characters over the years and thus has a rather sizable collection of characters to resurrect as Black Lanterns. Can’t wait to follow this up next week with the next issue of Secret Six.

Also picked up the trade of Frank Miller’s Daredevil story Born Again, one of the best Daredevil stories ever. Really looking forward to readin that this weekend.

The Top 25 Most-Played Songs for 2009

I always reset the play count on all the songs in iTunes at the beginning of a new year, but first I like to look back at the songs that received the most play over the course of the year. Here they are, along with the final play count for 2009.

1. The Replacements, “Alex Chilton” – 38
2. Steve Earle, “More Than I Can Do” – 37
3. The Gaslight Anthem, “Say I Won’t (Recognize)” – 36
4. Jakob Dylan, “Will It Grow” – 33
5. A.C. Newman, “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer” – 32
6. The Gaslight Anthem, “Senor and the Queen” – 32
7. Daniel Lanois, “Where Will I Be” – 31
8. Elvis Costello, “Pump It Up” – 29
9. The National, “So Far Around the Bend” – 29
10. Bon Iver, “Skinny Love” – 28
11. Neko Case, “People Got a Lotta Nerve” – 28
12. Death Cab for Cutie, “The Sound of Settling” – 26
13. Statler Brothers, “Flowers on the Wall” – 26
14. Creedence Clearwater Revival, ” Wrote a Song For Everyone” – 25
15. The Grass Roots, “Temptation Eyes (Original)” – 25
16. Modest Mouse, “Satellite Skin” – 25
17. Band of Horses, “The General Specific” – 24
18. The Submarines, “You Me and the Bourgeoisie” – 23
19. Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” – 22
20. A.C. Newman, “Take On Me” – 21
21. Bruce Springsteen, “All the Way Home” – 21
22. Michael Andrews & Gary Jules, “Mad World” – 21
23. Bellamy Brothers, “Let Your Love Flow” – 20
24. Bon Iver, “Blood Bank” – 20
25. The Envy Corps, “Story Problem” – 20

The Strangest Damn Dream…

I had the weirdest dream. First, that’s odd because I rarely remember my dreams.

I dreamt I was at school teaching, except it wasn’t the school where I work now, it was the school I taught at last year. But the students were from my current school. And the building was the building that my elementary and middle school was in. I had taken a PE class out for a walk first period(which isn’t when I have PE), and was so late getting back to class that I missed half of 2nd period. One of my students from that class was in the principal’s office but also sitting in the classroom. And to top it off, one of my coworkers from the old school was a student in my class.

I dunno if the lack of sleep or something I ate at the New Year’s party last night just didn’t agree with me, but that dream was weird as hell.