Friday, June 22, 2012

Where To See Me In July (And August)

Sunday, July 8th, The Olivers will be performing in the Ice House Main Room as part of Bobbie Oliver's Sunday Best.  9:00 pm.

Thursday, July 12th, Ice House Stage 2, I'll be performing 10 minutes of standup in the Thursday Night Laffs show.  8:30 pm.

Sunday, July 22nd, I'll be performing improv and/or sketches with The Chaotiques in another Sunday Best show.  Ice House Main Room, 9:00 pm.

Tuesday, August 7th, 8:00 pm, I'll be performing stand up in the Flappers Main Room as part of Too Funny Tuesdays.

Other StandUp Productions shows that I won't be performing in: Sunday Best on July 1st, Too Funny Tuesdays on July 3rd and July 24th.  I'll also be running the open mic at Dave's Chillin' and Grillin' in Eagle Rock on Wednesday, July 11th and 25th, and August 8th and 22nd.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday Rant: Who is Responsible for Unions Getting Fucked?

Bill Maher has a recurring feature on his show this season called "dispatches from the bubble," wherein he spoofs the Fox News information bubble that Republicans live in. But clearly, there is a liberal bubble as well. There are things that liberals are completely deluded about. One is the relative popularity of unions among the American population.

 To recap, Wisconsin Governnor Scott Walker survived his recall, after having signed a bill that, among other things, sharply curtailed public sector workers' rights to collectively bargain.  And let me say up front, I think the guy's an asshole, and that that's a terrible thing to fucking do.  But he scored a win, no doubt, in the swing state of Wisconsin, and it's probably going to be repeated throughout the country.  At the very least, I'd say that public sector unions are headed for the shit throughout the red states.  But what's strange to me is that, if my Facebook feed is to be believed, nobody on the Left in America seemed to have any clue that this was coming.  So you get a lot of talk about super pacs, and voter suppression, and an attempt to rob Democrats of their chief funding source, but you don't hear a word about all the work unions have done over the years to make themselves incredibly unpopular among the public.

Chief among them are the teachers' unions, which have been a nuisance in this country for decades.  I became aware of it in the early 90's--let's call it 1992, although it might have been a little later--from a Newsweek (or maybe Time) article.  Keep in mind that that was approximately the time when I began paying attention to politics whatsoever, so the problem probably goes back much further than that, but let's say it doesn't.  20 years is a long fucking time to not get your shit together.  The teachers unions (which are the public face of public sector unions, they're what everyone thinks of when they think of this issue) have been an obstacle to every attempt to reform schools, whether it's through merit pay, charter schools, vouchers, parental triggers, or any other idea short of hiring more teachers and paying them more (not that those are bad ideas) (and not that the other ideas are necessarily the solutions to our problems, but that's a whole other post--suffice to say that we can't begin to know what works if we never try anything).  Worse, they make it impossible to get rid of bad teachers.  You probably saw the L.A. Weekly piece from a few years ago entitled Dance of the Lemons, which pointed out how few teachers ever get fired, because, no matter how egregious their offenses, the unions will spend a practically infinite amount of resources defending the teachers.  So instead, the district treats the teachers like the Catholic Church treats pedophile priests, shuffling them around to different schools, or occassionally paying them off to the tune of $50,000 or more just to get rid of them.  Or perhaps you've heard the This American Life episode about the NYC school district's "rubber room," where teachers under investigation report to do nothing all day and receive a paycheck.  These things do not tend to make unions particularly popular among the general public.  And it's not like this is some big secret.  I'm sure there are many ways the unions could have addressed these problems over the last 20 years.  At some point, they have to take some of the blame for their own coming demise.

I wonder if it was even possible for them to change.  I've long thought that the problem with unions was the same as the problem with corporations.  Corporations (as described in the great documentary, The Corporation), are amoral entities.  There is no one at a corporation who can make a moral decision.  They are driven only by profit and growth.  Similarly, I don't think unions have much of a collective conscience either.  Their only drive is to fight for the benefits of the workers.  Which is a good thing!  I'm glad I've got one looking out for my benefit!  But come on...

Also, consider this: the liberal position is that the government can actually function for the public  good.  The right wing position is that it never can.  If there are situations where unions are fighting against making government programs work for the public good, then a stance that backs the unions 100% of the time over their public employer is antithetical to the liberal position, as demonstrated by some of the examples above.  In other words, if you believe public institutions can benefit the public, then you have a vested interest in making public institutions work for the public, rather than having the unions call the shots.  Now, in many cases, as I'm sure many on the left would argue, who knows how to make the institutions functional better than the employees providing the services?  TRUE!  In the case of teachers, since they are the example we're using, more latitude in the classroom is a practical goal to work toward.  What I question is the idea that teachers unions are really fighting for that.  In fact, if they are, they're completely incompetent at it, as teachers seem to have less latitude in the classroom all the time.  But I don't fool myself into believing that fighting for a pension program that my state simply can't afford, or fighting to keep the worst teachers in the classroom, is fighting for The Children.  Please.  Again, it's not that I'm questioning the right of any worker to collectively bargain with their employer.  But it should be pretty clear why these unions aren't enjoying the popularity that many on the left seem to think they do.

And I say this as a public employee who is currently staring down the barrell of ten weeks of unemployment due to budget cuts.  I sure as fuck ain't happy about that.  But at some point, you have to ask what the hell you can do.  If there ain't no money, their ain't no money.  And really, if you look at the bill Scott Walker signed, a lot of the changes were reasonable things that you could expect to happen to public sector employees during a recession.  I still think it's some low-down shit to try to strip employees of collective bargaining rights, and it bugs me that the majority in Wisconsin don't agree, but I can totally see why people would be pissed off at unions now.

Bonus reading from some people who can actually write intelligently on this subject: Conor Friedersdorf and Wil Wilkinson.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Introducing: The Olivers!

Here it is, folks! The premier of The Olivers soon-to-be-famous, neo-vaudevillian double act! It's sort of like the NC-17 version of George and Gracie. We taped this two nights in a row, and I think we were actually a little better the second night (I had some volume issues the first night), but I ended up using the first one because the crowd was so much more responsive, it just made for a better tape. While we're at it, here's my latest solo stand up material. I'm not sure if this is really the laugh-out-loud funniest stuff I've done, but I like it. I'm especially proud of the bit about how much school sucks. Also included: bits on white chocolate and psychedelic mushrooms. Unrelated personal note: Well, it looks like I'm unemployed for the summer. Budget cuts and whatnot. Ten weeks without work. So if you need your lawn mowed or something, hit me up. Beyond that, this will hopefully give me a little more time to spend on this blog. So hopefully, I will be posting some interesting stuff over the summer. Or maybe just more of the self-involved bullshit I always post.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Adam Yauch and Mortality

Under different circumstances, I would have written this and never hit "Publish." But since I haven't posted anything in weeks, here it is.

 I cried when I read the news that Adam Yauch had died.  Which is strange, to say the least.  Maybe I was in a heightened emotional state which made me more susceptible.  I had watched my dad die six months earlier, and my eldest dog a few months after that.

I've only cried at a celebrity death once before, when Charles Schulz died.  Schultz, and his work, were one of the most important influences on my life from the earliest age (there was a collection of hardback Peanuts books in my bedroom when I was far too young to read them, probably a gift from some relative given upon my birth), something I didn't realize, or at least hadn't really thought about for a long, long time, until I heard the news that he had died.  I can't remember whether I actually teared up when Joey Ramone died, but I know I felt like it.  Maybe Joey prepared me for the deaths of Johnny and Dee Dee the following year, and Lux Interior a decade later.  I know I didn't cry when Cobain died (wasn't really that huge a Nirvana fan), but it shook me up.  It was so unexpected, it punched the air out of me.  The only other celebrity death I remember being affected by in any way was John Belushi, and that was in a selfish way: I was disappointed that there would be no more John Belushi movies.  A year later, I kept thinking "Man, when is John Belushi going to make another movie?"  Then I would remember: "Oh yeah, NEVER."  Well, I was still in middle school, you have to give me a break on that.

I can think of several reasons why Adam's death is different.  The Beastie Boys are, of course, my favorite band.  Unlike many of the bands I've loved in the past, I never really get tired of listening to them.  What do they represent to me?  The process of growing up.  I feel about the Beasties the way I imagine a lot of baby boomers feel about the Beatles, in that they were making music that was exactly what I was looking for at several different stages in my life.  Not only did I watch them evolve, but their evolution paralleled my own.  When I was 16, even though I never heard their music, they were pretty much where I was: smart-ass teenagers having a blast playing in a shitty punk rock band.  When Licensed to Ill came out, shortly after I dropped out of high school, they were obnoxious drunks blasting heavy metal and rap (the latter I was just beginning to appreciate).  When I was in college, they were still a little obnoxious, but more clever and laid back, psychedelic party boys soaking their brains in weed and acid.  By the early 90's, they were trying to get to work creating something new, fusing all their separate interests.  As I was becoming interested in Budhism, I discovered that they were right there with me.  On 1997's Hello Nasty, as I was fast approaching 30, they seemed to be looking back at their career, at all their past "selves," trying to figure out how to make it all work (that was my interpretation, any way).  And a decade plus later, on Hot Sauce Committee, they managed to forge a fragile fusion of it all.  I can look at the way they treated their Licensed to Ill material over the years, and see a parallel to the way I think about some of the stupid shit I did when I was a teenager: at one point they were so embarrassed by what dicks they were that they refused to perform those songs.  Later, they seemed to accept that this was simply a part of their lives that they couldn't deny.  When they played License songs in the late 90's through the 00's, they seemed to be saying "this isn't who we are now, but hey, remember what dicks we were?"  You can look at their photos and videos through the years and see them growing up before your eyes.  Look at the "Holy Snappers" video, or the photos on the first pages of the booklet that comes with the Sounds of Science anthology, and you see these high school kids.  Then look at the grey-haired dudes in Awesome: I Fucking Shot That!.  You see the process of growing up.  Which I guess is what the Beastie Boys represent to me, and why they are so near to my heart.

Which brings me to Adam's death.  Adam is only three or four years older than I am (he's the oldest--Horovitz is less than two years older than me).  And his death wasn't suicide, or drug-related, or a car crash.  He died of natural causes.  Adam's death is the final step in a process that's been happening to me over the last few years: a realization that, some day, I'm going to die.  That's always been true, and I've always known it, but it's not a vague, abstract idea anymore.  I'm 44 years old.  Not that that's very old.  If all goes well, I should live another 40 years.  If I'm lucky, I might even live another 60 or more.  But I', even as I'm typing this, I'm realizing how literal the phrase "over the hill" is.  I can see my death from this side of the hill.  Is that what "the valley of death" means?

Anyway, I don't feel that selfish deprivation that I felt over Belushi in regards to the Beastie Boys.  I feel like, with Hot Sauce, they finished their journey, in a way.  Or completed something they had been working on for 25 or 30 years, creating a complete, seamless fusion of all their parts: rap, punk, funk jams, and heavy metal.  But I do feel some regret that we won't live to see Yauch fulfill his potential as a filmmaker.  Last weekend, we went to the Silent Theater to see a tribute to Yauch.  They showed all the videos he had directed, including the long-from Fight For Your Right, Revisited, and the concert film Awesome: I Fuckin' Shot That! (one of two documentary features he had directed).  I believe he would eventually have made an impressive feature film.  Watching Awesome, where he gave 50 digital cameras to audience members and told them to film the show, then edited it all together, you see the work of a guy with a sharp eye and incredible patience.  Think about watching the whole concert at least 50 times, each time keeping an eye out for little moments: a girl imitating Mike D's dance moves, Ben Stiller standing in the audience rapping along to "Sure Shot," all these little moments.  I really wish I could see the film(s) he would eventually have created.

Reading the Rolling Stone retrospective on the man, nobody around him believed he was going to die, and they all believe he thought he was going to pull through.  I don't know the guy, and I don't really know shit about him, but I feel like he knew, and he had made some piece with it.  My evidence?  "Too Many Rappers."  The song was released as a single months before the album came out.  When Hot Sauce finally dropped, the version on the album had been doctored up with some cool guitar effects, and Yauch had recorded a different verse for the opening stanza.  I couldn't figure out why at the time: the new verse was good, but the old one had been tighter and, I thought, better.  But, in retrospect, look at the verse he discarded:

I been in the game since before you were born
I might still be MCing even after your gone
Strange thought, I know, but my skills still grow
The 80's, the 90's, 2000's and so
On and on, until the break of dawn, to the year 3000 and beyond
Stay up all night when I MC
And never die, cuz death is the cousin of sleep

So maybe this is what I ultimately get out of my Beastie Boys fandom: an acceptance of my own mortality.  Making peace with the fact that, some day, I'm going to die.  At a younger age, it seemed impossible to make peace with, but now...well, I'm not quite there, but I can imagine getting there.

I did this mostly for myself, but if you're interested, I made a two-part mix of my favorite Beastie Boys songs and uploaded it to Mediafire.  It's missing many of the big hits (and Bobbie will be annoyed that it doesn't have her favorite, "She's Crafty"), but it does have some cool semi-obscure things on it.

Part 1

Slow and Low/SHAKE YO RUMP-AH!!!!/The Move/Sure Shot/Tough Guy/The New Style/Funky Boss/Make Some Noise!/Slowride/Stop That Train/3 the Hard Way/Sabrosa/Egg Man/Root Down/Pass the Mic/SQUAT! (De La Soul w/Mike D and Ad Rock)/Get It Together (A.B.A. Remix w/Q-Tip)/Time to Get Ill (Live w/Doug E. Fresh)/5-Piece Chicken Dinner/Too Many Rappers (w/Nas)/Ch-Check It Out/3-Minute Rule/The Negotiation Limerick File/Ricky's Theme (Live)/To All the Girls (Outro)

Part 2
The Biz vs. The Nuge/Beastie Boys/Rhymin' and Stealin'/Shadrach/Trippel Trouble/The Blue Nun/Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win (w/Solange)/20 Questions (w/Miho Hatori)/The Sound of Science/Eugene's Lament (w/Eugene Cole)/And Me/Funky Donkey/Soba Violence/Dub the Mic/Something's Got to Give/The Gala Event/Car Thief/Hold It Now, Hit It!/Oh, Word?/So Watcha Want?/Alive/And What You Give is What You Get/Crawlspace/Body Movin' (Fatboy Slim Remix)/Intergalactic/Transformations

Addendum to the addendum:
My mix is actually incredibly lame compared to this one by DJ Cutler.  Fucking amazing mix of Beastie songs and their sample sources.