Monthly Archives: February 2011

Evan’s list of a top 5 music albums

It has been a while since I did a blog thing that is a list of stuff that I like or fits well into list form. So how about this. Evan’s top 5 albums as of this current moment of me writing thing. I guess there are in some sort of order, though I’m not sure what it is. The order that came to mind first? That sounds about right. So anyways, I guess this is just stuff about me, Evan. I guess the comment sections is for critiques, criticisms, compliments, or whatever. Usually Russian spam.

1. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, by The Flaming Lips

Much like the robots, this album makes me feel feelings. The opening salvo of Fight Test is like an anthem for we slackers who, after trying for so long and working so hard, decided to play it cool and stop caring as much, only to realize that if you want things in life, one actually has to fight for them.

But do the things we care for even matter? Where do these deep emotions come from? But for a switch in a brain, do we hate instead of love? Why do we do anything? What is the difference between legitimately feeling a way and having a hypnotist trick result in the same feeling. And how do The Flaming Lips make that awesome woo-ing ghost singing sound? Alas the concerns of the modern human experience.

Also, girls who fight robots with karate.

I first heard the Flaming Lips, at least recognizing who it was, when I saw them live at Houston Free Press SummerFest. Giant hands with lasers and human size hamster balls and everyone singing along to Do You Realize??

Admittedly, Do You Realize?? could stand to be about 2-5x longer, but I assume that live versions take care of that. And speaking of live versions…

2. If You’re Feeling Sinister (Live), by Belle and Sebastian

I first heard of Belle and Sebastian when a weird fey-sexual guy in high school asked me if I had ever heard of them, and thus I downloaded This Is Just A Modern Rock Song, and it was fantastic. My appreciation of the band has peaked with the live version of If You’re Feeling Sinister.

Apparently Belle and Sebastian didn’t like the original production of If You’re Feeling Sinister, and that is somewhat understandable. Some of the songs fall a little flat, especially in comparison to the live versions. Notably, Me and the Major. Admittedly, the namesake song If You’re Feeling Sinister is a bit better on the original album, but the rest of the live version is distinctly superior. The wavering live voice of the bedroom confessions unveils poetic stories about the follies of youth and love. I could listen to a never ending repeat of Stars of Track and Field, and I’m still not entirely sure what is it about.


3. Abbey Road, by The Beatles

Without realizing it, I’ve rated every song on Abbey Road five stars in iTunes. The buildup of the lovely and somewhat whimsical late Beatles staples from side one transition through the song version of a transdimensional worm hole that is I Want You (She’s So Heavy). The terrifying, soul shredding reverb at the end destroys this world, only to wakening to life reborn in some magical fantasy world with Here Comes The Sun. The narrative of the second half is like a drug that creates a personal internal stormswell, resonating with whatever frequency is late night, early adulthood malaise, causing it to explode in an emotional fireworks of 100 million screaming teen girls distilled through a few short years of artistic development that made the Beatles the greatest band of all time. Plus, they added Her Majesty at the end to show that they weren’t taking it all too seriously.

(Also this album has emotional relatioship connotations for me comma Evan).

4. Here Come The Warm Jets, by Brian Eno

This, you call music? Absolutely yes. The focus point between early Roxy Music and later David Bowie, this was Eno’s grand accomplishment. (Anyone who says Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) is a joker). Some of Eno’s avant garde musical stylings, including instruments like the “snake guitar”, “simplistic piano” and “electric larynx,” may land like a punch in the ear, but one cannot deny that they actually have an impact. Which is more than I can so for a vast majority of music in existence. Much like Abbey Road, the second half is a more of a soothing lullaby to the danceable first half, but with the garish Blank Frank interrupting On Some Faraway Beach and Dead Finks Don’t Talk, no one is going to fall asleep to this.

Plus, it was referenced in The Venture Brothers.

5. Songs I Wrote About Girls and Flotsam and Toejam, by The Mathletes

This may be a bit of a cheat, considering it is a dual album with a total of about 50 songs, but it is a proper basis of Mathletes songs. The transitions in Songs I Wrote About Girls are so subtle is it as if it is just one long song rather than individual tracks. I guess the underlying message is that guys who can’t sing can still write songs and then sing them and record them and then put them on a CD and they’ll be good because the songs are honest even if at times cliche. Because things become cliche because they are so ubiquitous. What may seem like great personal revelations or discoveries are always prone to the cry of “We all feel like that all the time and you don’t see us gassing on about it!”

Well, Joe Mathlete doesn’t hesitate to gas on about it, and I like how the gas sounds. And coming from another Houstonian, it sounds all the more real.

Other albums about which I should have written:

2112, by Rush

The Yes Album, by Yes

Funeral, by Arcade Fire

Bang Bang Rock & Roll, by Art Brut

Flood, by They Might Be Giants

Changes, by David Bowie (I am such a poser)

Stop Making Sense, by The Talking Heads

 

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Cleveland Sewall, and a Backpage shoutout from the Rice University historian

In the buildup to Rice University’s centennial, the wonderful historian Melissa Kean is keeping a blog about the history of that dear university. The other week, she dedicated a short entry to my own personal favorite character of Rice history: Cleveland Sewall

*cue the Cleveland Sewall theme song*

Cleveland Sewall has young bachelor friends.

Cleveland Sewall, not the marrying kind.

Its 1927, and what do you say?

He’s on the Rice board and he’s a really big donor!

Now, Kean could only find two images of the dear Mr. Sewall. First, this entry in the 1912 Makers of Houston:

I say!

However, most people who know about Cleveland know him from his portrait in his namesake Sewall Hall. And what a portrait it is.

 

Yip yip yip yip yip! Quiet, Muffy! Captain Baker is going to tell us about his time in the navy.

With a rainbow suit, yippy dog, perfect glasses and keen smirk, it is easy to see how this otherwise ignored character can become such a fantastic focus for the student body.

Indeed, as Kean points out, he has been quite the subject of a few Backpages:

Something about the combination of the striped jacket and the little dog seems to call out for Backpage hilarity for some reason.

And certainly, there were Backpages. Like the time I called for him to be elected Homecoming Queen. (pdf: Cleveland Sewall backpage)

But that is not all. Sewall was also featured in some great Dan cartoons. I think these really established the character of Cleveland Sewall beyondthe mere inside jokes we had about Sewall:

 

I think this was the first drawing of Cleveland Sewall

 

 

 

Those old-timey bikes with the big wheel in front is always hilarious

 

Even beyond the Thresher cartoons, Cleveland Sewall had developed further as a character beyond his mere historical existence. Back in junior or senior year, I wrote an outline for a Rice musical. Each scene would be a different decade of the history of Rice. For the 1920s, it would be a musical confrontation between Cleveland Sewall and James Baker.

I hadn’t read that thing in a while, so reading it now to find the Cleveland Sewall sketch has reminded me how utterly awful the end result was. Oh god, that thing I wrote was terrible. It is just a bunch of really bad gay jokes. Maybe I thought it was funny in my head at the time, but now… weeow! No.

Anyways, here it is:

[Scene 2. 1927, Rice board room]

James Baker: Big, imposing stuckup man.

Benjamin Botts Rice: Young, naïve.

Emanuel Raphael: Here

Cleveland Sewall: Paul Lynde. He wears a rainbow suit, see his picture in sewall hall.

Muffy: Sewall’s little white dog.

Baker: Welcome gentlemen to the meeting of the rice institute board of trustees. I am Captain James Baker. And I am very glad to announce that several local philanthropists have pledged $1200 to found a scholarship for our architecture students to travel to Europe. Yes, I know it’s a lot. Now let’s call role. Baker, heh, here. Benjamin Botts Rice.

Rice: Here

Baker: Emanuel Raphael

Raphel: Ahem, here

Baker: and the rest

Rest: here

Baker: And, the man who is making this all possible, William Cleveland Sewall. …. Cleveland Sewell…. [frustrated] Is Cleveland here!

Sewall: Well, if you’re going to take that kind of tone, I don’t know why I come to these meeting at all.

[song! Cleveland Sewall, has young bachelor friends. Cleveland Sewall, not the marrying kind. Its 1927 and what do you say? He’s on the Rice board and he’s really really [

sewall breaks in: Shut up!]

Baker: Ahem, yes. Now I want to thank you very much for giving this money.

Sewall: Of course Jimmy Boy! Anything to help out this university and its wonderful young boys.

Muffy: yip yip yip

Sewall: quiet muffy.

Baker: Cleveland, do you have to bring that dog with you?

Sewall: you mean my muffy? I don’t know. Do you have to bring that kind attitude with you? Maybe I don’t want to give Rice my money…. I’m sorry I don’t mean that. Why do I say such hurtful things…. I’m sorry, what were we walking about.

Baker: [increasingly frustrated] Ahem, your scholarship, Cleveland. Where should these young students travel.

Sewall: Well I remember when I was young, I spent some time in paire. Let’s just say I loved exploring the Eiffel tower. So big and hard, it really had an effect on me.

Rice: What about exploring the arc de triumph?

Sewall: No!

Muffy: Yip yip yip

Sewall: Yes muffy. Daddy only liked the Eiffel tower, not the smelly arc de triumph like that stupid Rice boy wants.

Baker: Yes, Paris would be a great idea. I would also recommend going to Rome

Sewall: Oooh! Nothing like those muscly roman gods to help our young rice boys.

Raphel: Ahem, are we sure Rome is OK? I mean, I don’t know…

Baker: Now Emanuel, I have 20/20 hindsight on rome.

[Sewall giggles]

Baker: And we certainly can’t turn our rears to those great men of civilization.

Sewall: Well maybe you can’t.

Baker: I know that the streets of Rome can be intimidating, but our students must suck it up and take it like men

sewall: I agree

Baker: No ifs ands or buts

Sewall: That’s the kind of talk I like

Baker: Besides, it is certainly better than gay Parie.

[Everyone looks at Sewall]

Sewall: … What?

Baker: Now what sort of students do we want receiving this scholarship.

Sewall: I say we give it to strapping young men. Of course I would have to interview them personally.

Muffy: yip yip yip

Sewall: Yes Muffy. Here is a snackypoo.

Baker: Well Cleveland, it takes a sort of personal strength and perseverance to travel abroad.

Sewall: Oh I don’t know, I’ve traveled as a broad with only my mothers dress and some powder make up, and let’s just say that I made some sailor boys raise there masts. Toot toot.

Muffy: yip yip yip

Sewall: Yes muffy, you’re such a bitch.

[begin rising in clamor, with two men arguing and muffy getting louder]

Baker: Now see here Cleveland! The Navy has a proud tradition of turning boys into men.

Sewall: And so do I!

Muffy: yip yip yip

Baker: I will not have you drag the name of the U.S. navy into the mud

Sewall: Ooh, sounds kinky. Do the young Rice boys do that and can I watch?

Baker: I am a captain in the naval forces. I have defeated threats and pirates on the seven seas.

Muffy: yip yip yip

Sewall: Well some people think I’m a kind of pirate. But I hope you don’t fire your big manly cannon at me.

Baker: You may think this is a joke Cleveland. But I assure you, climbing a ship’s mast is one of the most dangerous things a man can ever do.

Sewall: Well, I guess I’ll just have to make our boys face that danger head first

Baker: You do not know the danger making port in an unfamiliar territory

Sewall: Oh, I don’t know. I’ve had lots of fun dropping anchor in the south seas. Especially the massage parlors.

Baker: Cleveland Sewall, if you will not be quiet and I’m going to have to ask you to leave.

Muffy yip yip yip

Sewall: SHUT UP MUFFY!

[all silent]

Baker: Cleveland, what is your problem. Something is wrong without you. Why can you not take these matters seriously.

Sewall: You’re right. Something is wrong with me.

Ever since I was a little boy

I knew something was a askew

All my friends would  play and fight

But I was not like them or you

They would mope and be all sad

Try to be just like their dad

But my mother she would always say

Don’t be mad, be happy, be gay!

Ready girls?

Gayer than springtime in gay ol parie

[yes he’s so gay]

Gayer than all of those good broadway shows

[oh don’t you know]

Gayer than crème brule served up on doiles

[oh yes he’s gay]

Gayer than anyone you ever did know

[muffy: yip yip!]

Raphel: So did you take her advice?

Sewall: Did I taker her advice?! Listen to the fucking song!

So I got my best suit and I went on the town

[all over town]

Tried to trun those young boys frowns upsidedown

[he made them smile]

It was the best night that I ever had

[oh tons of fun]

Must have fun gay fun with every young lad

Sewall: But I wasn’t done there, oh no! I had to travel the world and teach everyone how to have a gay time.

Traveled the south seas with strapping young men

[oh such young men]

Stroked the highest peak of Himalayas

[they were so big]

Went to all the Turkish bathouses then

[what did you do?]

I turned around and I did it again!

He taught men around the world to be gay

Not to frown, but to brighten their day

Kings, royalty and presidents

Here are some now, I present

King franz: gay

Lord Raulf: Faygela

Ambassador Tojo: Gayasan

Warrior Kugo: [clickclickclic, with lip wrist]

Everybody now!

Gayer than unicorns riding rainbows

Gayer than snapping and responding with sass

Gayer than wide stances in airport bathrooms

Gayer than taking it all up your ..

Sewall: Little miss muffet, sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey

Along came a spider, sat down beside her, and told miss muffet I’m gay!

Sewall: So you see, Jimmy boy, that’s why I am how I am. Do you understand now?

Baker: I, I think I understand now Cleveland. I you know what? I’m sick and tired of being so uptight and angry all the time, like I have some stick up my ass. Do you think you could teach me how to be gay?

Sewal: Oh James, I thought you would never ask.

[embrace]

Baker: But Cleveland, is there anything that makes you not feel gay?

[butler walks in]

Butler: Mr. Sewall, your wife is on the phone

Sewall: Oh that old bag!

[closing music]

Anyways, that was pretty terrible and I don’t know what possessed me to write it at the time. But that is everything I can find, and is probably in existence, about Cleveland Sewall. And most of it is made up.

Did David Brooks preview his Rice University commencement speech?

New York Times columnist David Brooks is slated to be the 2011 Rice University Commencement Speaker. My own take on David Brooks is mixed. As Kyle Derr once argued, he is the only person on the New York Times opinion page who gives proper respect to the humanities. And as the saying goes: “This nation was founded by Humanists, and it will be saved by Humanists.” Then again, I think that saying may be more historically accurate if you replace the word “Humanists” with “lawyers.”

On the other hand, Brooks’ respect for the humanities often treads into the Clouds, looking upon the nation from his east-coast abode, thinking that because he once spent a week in the Red State that he knows all about how the world works, with his punditry being nothing more than bad standup: “You ever notice how Red States are like this, but Blue States are like this? And what’s the deal with public schools?”

And for a Member of the Tribe, he is far to quick to defend and support the Christian interests that threaten the Jewish community.

Indeed, it should be no surprise that I have already mocked him here, not just because he is often an awful columnist, but because he is Rice’s commencement speaker for this year. So it seems a bit odd that, as a commencement speaker, he ended his column yesterday with a jab at college commencement speakers.

In his column, Brooks discussed “The Great Stagnation,” an e-book by tyler Cowen, regretting our current American way of life in which we have massive quality of life gains that do not necessarily tie to economic gain or national growth. In describing the modern man, Brooks said:

“He loves Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and his iPhone apps. But many of these things are produced outside the conventional monetized economy. Most of the products are produced by people working for free. They cost nothing to consume.

They don’t even create many jobs. As Cowen notes in his book, the automobile industry produced millions of jobs, but Facebook employs about 2,000, Twitter 300 and eBay about 17,000. It takes only 14,000 employees to make and sell iPods, but that device also eliminates jobs for those people who make and distribute CDs, potentially leading to net job losses.

In other words, as Cowen makes clear, many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity.

Jared’s other priorities also produce high quality-of-life gains without huge material and productivity improvements. He practically defines himself by what university he went to. Universities now have nicer dorms, gyms and dining facilities. These improvements have not led to huge increases in educational output.”

By this new standard, people focus more on their happiness and contentment with life, rather than goals of economic growth, competition and victory. In his closing jab, Brooks remarked:

“During these years, commencement speakers have urged students to seek meaning and not money. Many people, it turns out, were listening.”

So what, exactly, are commencement speakers supposed to say?

“Work hard and make money”

“Work like a drone and then die”

“Beat the fuck out of those Chinese”

etc…?

Brooks has given commencement speeches in the past. As far as I can tell, his message seems to have two parts. First, mocking what he sees as the foibles of liberal America. For example, in his 2007 commencement speech at Wake Forest University, Brooks wasted no time before entering one of his traditional stand-up routines about Volvos.

“They come up to the elementary schools driving Audis, Saabs and Volvos, because in certain corners it’s socially acceptable to have a luxury car so long as it comes from a country hostile to U.S. foreign policy.”

Lol David! Well, Audis are German, Volvos are Swedish, and Saab Automobile was owned by American company General Motors from 1989 until 2010. I’m not sure how Germany and Sweden are hostile to U.S. foreign policy, but maybe that was one of those anti-Europe jokes that were so popular in dictating U.S. foreign policy in the Bush years. And Saab doesn’t even belong on the list!

But yes, Brooks gave students a real knee-slapper before going on to a real message that they certainly would appreciate and use in their graduate lives: wacky names of organic foods!

“Whole Foods is one of these progressive grocery stores where all the cashiers look like they’re on loan from Amnesty International.

Actually, my favorite section is the snack food section. They couldn’t just have pretzels or potato chips—that would be vulgar. So they have these seaweed-based snacks like we get in my house, Veggie Booty With Kale. It’s for kids who come home from school and shout, “Mom, I want a snack that will help prevent colon-rectal cancer!”

Then as their children get older, the enlightened parents buy them Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, the Ice Cream with its own environmental policy. I once suggested that Ben and Jerry’s should make a pacifist toothpaste. Doesn’t kill germs. Just asks them to leave.”

More classic David Brooks stand-up! Next stop, the Live from the Apollo!

For part two, Brooks talked about how GPAs don’t matter.

“From here on out the skills you need to succeed will change. The average collegiate GPA for a self-made millionaire is 2.7. You know all those morons who sat in the back of the classrooms goofing off? In a few years you’re going to have a new name for them: Boss.”

He made the exact same joke in his commencement speech at Occidental as well:

“The average self-made millionaire in this country had a collegiate GPA of 2.75. These entrepreneurs may not be scholars, but they have the ability to perceive emerging patterns, to understand what they are good at and to work phenomenally hard to hone their capacities.

You don’t find the best lawyers or politicians or teachers with an IQ test. You find the future superstars in these fields by asking the following question: Who is friends with who in this room?”

Indeed, at Occidental, Brooks followed his patented commencement pattern, starting with ever so funny jokes about liberalism.

“You should know that I grew up as a staunch liberal. I grew up near Greenwich Village in Manhattan, and in 1965 my parents who were somewhat left took me to a Be-In in Central Park, where hippies would go just to be. As part of their being, they set a garbage can on fire and threw their wallets into it to demonstrate their liberation from money and material things. I was five and I saw a five-dollar bill on fire in the garbage can, so I ran up to it, grabbed the money, and ran away. That was sort of my first step over to the right.

I participated in the revolution of the 1960s by writing nasty things about Julie Nixon, the president’s daughter, on the chalkboard in fourth grade, and I was paddled for that. In high school I volunteered for many Democratic candidates, I had a big Hubert Humphrey poster on my wall with the caption. “Some talk change, others cause it,” because even then I knew I wanted to become the kind of person who only talks change.”

Oh man, great stuff there. The ’60s. Wacky! At least it was better than his attempts at relating to contemporary culture, with jokes about how: “I watched an entire season of “Jersey Shore,” and I have to say The Situation changed my life.”

With on point observations like that, he could write for Leno.

But the most telling is at the end of the his Occidental commencement speech, where he get to the, you know, point. He basically espoused the base idea of the historical Conservative movement, which really isn’t a bad thing. Basically, the world is far too complex to be able to understand, so we must change slowly, relying on traditions that work, and realize that rationality cannot fix everything. In a supreme oversimplification, he boils it down to the French Revolution vs. Scottish Enlightenment. However, the baby in the cake is his penultimate statement:

“I do hope you use your odyssey years to educate your emotions through travel, art, love and the occasional misbegotten hookup, and I hope that you do it by chasing deep pleasure, by finding something that deeply pleases you and chasing it wherever it leads.”

Really? Chase deep pleasure? Educate your emotions? I dunno, David Brooks 2010, I don’t think that David Brooks 2011 would agree with that.

I know that people learn and change their view about the world (ex: My first Thresher column vs. A Thresher column as an alumnus, notably part 6) but a one year turnaround is pretty big. And admittedly, Brooks’ speech at Occidental was probably largely in reaction to the school’s reputation of having an incredibly liberal student body. So maybe Brooks should tailor his speech to Rice.

First, no stupid liberal jokes or comments on the bohemian bourgeoisie. Rice is in Houston, Texas, a barely blue haze in a red state. Rice’s activism is usually expressed through Engineers Without Borders. Students are just as likely to go to Fiesta as Whole Foods. Cliche jokes about a liberal campus are ignorant at best and insulting at worst. Brooks’ columns may not be known for deep research, but at least chat with some students first.

Second, shut up about the 2.7 GPA stat. Because really? Really? After 21 years of struggling and striving to get the top grades, top SAT score, top extracurriculars, the last thing you want to hear is about how you shouldn’t have worked hard for good grades. Because you know what, you do need those good grades. A 2.7 in high school won’t get you into Rice. A 2.7 at Rice won’t get you into a good law school, or help with a good job. I don’t know where all these millionaire lawyers with 2.7 gpa are coming from. Maybe Brooks could actually cite that study.

So let Brooks answer this: How many of the 2.7 gpa bosses went to an Ivy League or have family connections. He said self-made millionaires, but I’d like to see the evidence to back it. Because for some folks, it is easy to get through life without the stats to prove prowess. But for the rest of the world, you need something besides a family name and wealthy contacts to pump for seed money. You need a resume. You need grades. You need to be impressive. And a 2.7 simply isn’t impressive.

Finally, just what is it that students should do? In 2010 Brooks said that students should “educate [their] emotions” and “chas[e] deep pleasure, by finding something that deeply pleases [them] and chasing it wherever it leads.” Then in 2011 he mocked the idea of commencement speakers telling students to “seek meaning and not money.”

So which is it: pleasure or pecuniary?

David Brooks should spend his time at Rice discussing that. He should address the real struggle of being taught, and required, to get good grades and do well on standardized tests to get somewhere in life, only to be told upon the seeming pinnacle of grade point achievement that all of it was pretty worthless if you’re an awkward nerd who can’t talk to people. And at Rice, that is an awfully large portion of the population.

After all, not all of us get lucky breaks after writing satirical works about conservative leaders. As for me, I just get asked to forward an original so they can frame it.

Cigarettes are not magic, comma, don’t mess with Texas.

I wrote a column. The style reminds me a lot of my later work on the Thresher, where I had a point, but only through a layer of jokes or metaphors. I didn’t know what I was going to write for this issue, and then suddenly the topic came to me after the first day of the semester and I saw overflowing ash trays and cigarette butts all over the sidewalk in front of Cardozo. Honestly, majority of the time writing this column was spent trying to determine the perfect band to fit the tableau of a high school, weeknight concert. Some people recommended the Strokes, but I thought it was a bit too mainstream. Joy Division was too old. Republica, I think, was a good choice and also a subtle Venture Brothers reference.

Once I got through there, the rest flowed pretty well. The cigarette fairy part is stolen from Brett and Dan, though I think any jokes coming from 251 are officially joint works under WIPO. Honestly, this is a column I have been wanting to write since junior year at Rice, when we would mock the girls and their gay friend who smoked cigarettes outside the Hanszen servery, and then just throw their butts on the ground.

And the part about cigarettes as some Antionettian opulence is stolen directly from an IM conversation with Sara Franco.

Originally, the column had a different ending, but I wanted something punchier, and was reminded of an old commercial titled “Jimmy,” about a kid who just goes around collecting old cigarette butts. And it is nice to remember that Don’t Mess With Texas is an anti-littering campaign. Now only if fracking, or pollution, were considered littering.

Anyways, my column from this month’s Cardozo Jurist: Cigarettes are not magic, don’t mess with Texas. (pdf: Mintz cigarette texas column)

Another Evan Mintz column for the cardozo jurist, this time about littering