Monday, February 27, 2006

Channel Surfing

Big news – Guns ‘N’ Roses are coming back! Honestly, I’m excited about this. Haven’t really been a fan of the music in good few years, but I remember seeing them in 1992 at Slane Castle and… honestly, I can’t even describe the experience. Of course I was fourteen at the time and simply being allowed to go to a concert of that size. This time I’ll be twice as old! That’s actually frightening me a little. For the record, support back then was from Faith No More, Soundgarden and My Little Funhouse, this time it’s from (wait for it)… Motley Crüe! If only I still had my denim jacket from back then. Probably wouldn’t be married, though.

Incidentally, my wife - who’s home right now – is learning the hard way what happens when you live with a writer. I don’t know what she was expecting. Maybe noisy ‘Amadeus’ like creativity or something. Instead she found that I go into my office, close the door and turn on my iPod and type away. Occasionally she’ll hear that I’ve picked up my harmonica and started butchering the opening to ‘Thunder Road’ while I try to think of a synonym or I’ll be on the phone to an editor wondering where my cheque is. Maybe once in a while I’ll wander down to the kitchen, because my brain needs tea.

Unrelated note: I hate people who skip queues, but can we make it a rule that if you’re in Starbucks and there’s a group of girls in front of you debating pastries – "Well, I want the apricot danish but then I’d have to have the no-fat sugar-free vanilla latte, so if I have the skinny peach and raspberry muffin I can have the hazelnut mocha with whip" – and all you want is your coffee, it’s okay to slip past them, right? Right?

A quick rant to close things off today – what the heck has happened to late night TV? (Yup, we’re dealing with the heavy stuff.) Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the gradual disappearance of pretty much everything I watch at night. Let me explain. My wife is normally asleep at about 11.30. I’m still awake until at least 1. Doesn’t matter how early I got up that morning, or how early I have to be up the next, it’s just the way I’m wired. Anyway, up until a couple of weeks ago, I could almost always be guaranteed a ‘Scrubs’ on Sky One or a ‘Family Guy’ double on FX. More than enough to keep me happy. These are my go-to shows. Now somehow these have gone. Even ‘QI’ has disappeared. I think I’m going to start a letter writing campaign on this.

I spent two weeks in the U.S. on my honeymoon last November and – apart from standing in a bar with a New York vs. Pittsburgh game on and arguing with a bunch of Ranger fans over the merits of Lundqvist versus Fleury and the correct pronunciation of ‘Recchi’ (and if I ever get divorced you can be sure that story will come up) – the TV highlight was on the Cartoon Network, and it was called ‘Adult Swim’.

(Yes, there were many actual highlights – seeing Springsteen in Atlantic City, hanging out with friends in a dive bar in San Diego, the Christmas lights on Michigan Avenue from the top of the Hancock Building – I could go on for a long, long time. But we’re on a TV rant here. Bear with me.)

‘Adult Swim’ is something we definitely need over here. For those of you in the UK or Ireland, you can check the late night listings for the Cartoon Network and see ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’, ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ and something called ‘The Cramp Twins’. I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone who’s awake at that time and isn’t incredibly stoned would want to watch that stuff. If we had ‘Adult Swim’ we could watch – for example – ‘Family Guy’, ‘Futurama’ and ‘The Boondocks’.

In case you’ve never seen or heard of it by the way, someone definitely needs to import ‘The Boondocks’ for UK television. It’s fantastically offensive – by now the world should be inured to foul-mouthed little animated kids after South Park, but the kids in this show… I mean, wow. I can’t even describe them. And the grandfather character should be on Viagra commercials. Of course, it’s taken us until now to get the ‘Dave Chappelle Show’, so we may have to wait a while. Maybe there’s a DVD available or something.

At the moment – or at least until NASN start showing hockey again or drop their obsession with Western Conference NBA games (which don’t start until 2a.m.), I can watch ‘Playmakers’ or college hoops. As good as ‘Playmakers’ was, it may well have been the most unpleasant show there is. I can’t think of a single other show that left me feeling that bad inside after every episode. Not something you want to see as you’re drifting off to sleep. And as I can barely follow college hoops during the tourney in March, the regular season has no chance.

There is an abundance of prime-time shows I enjoy at the moment – ‘24’, ‘The West Wing’, ‘Smallville’, ‘Bones’, ‘My Name Is Earl’ and the massively under-rated ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’ – which, by the way, you have to admire for featuring anti-abortion rallies and teenagers with drinking problems in two very, very funny storylines. Unfortunately, in that crucial Midnight to 1am timeslot, there’s just not enough good stuff.

You wouldn’t expect a guy who watched a documentary on how peanut butter is made to be all that fussy, but there you go.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Live from The Living Room

Welcome to a special live edition of Another Cup Of Coffee! We're joined by an increasingly cold (actually by now undrinkable, since I made it ninety minutes ago) mug of Nescafé Alta Rica and my cat, LeBron, who seems in a particularly foul mood this evening.

What do I mean by live? Well, whereas normally when I write this, it's 10am, and I put everything down in Word before I copy and paste into the 'post' window. Though it may not seem it - I take my time over the posts - within reason, anyway, normally it takes me about two hours (allowing for interruptions, looking things up etc.). Today, I'm writing this in directly, and at the same time reading Bill Simmons interview with NBA Commish David Stern on, creating some new playlists for my iPod and waiting for 'My Name Is Earl' to start. Don't ever tell me only girls can multitask.

One or two people have been wondering about the lack of any posts so far this week (including the increasingly overdue Mario tribute). Basically, it's because I've (finally!) been working. I'm sub-editing for a local newspaper. I don't know how long it's going to last - I'm only doing holiday/sick leave cover, and I'm day-to-day from tomorrow on. As soon as I have some sort of routine going here, I'll be back to normal.

One thing I've been wondering about lately - whatever became of the guy from the 80s band The Housemartins who didn't join The Beautiful South and wasn't Fatboy Slim? Well, thanks to the astonishing powers of Google and Wikipedia, I found that he writes childrens books and TV Shows. Those of you expecting a point to this are about to be sorely disappointed...

Actually, I haven't got much of anything done this week. Some of you may have noticed it was Valentine's Day on Tuesday. Never really been hugely bothered about it as a holiday, even just a Hallmark one. Of course, this is the first year I've been married for it, and I'd planned on cooking a nice romantic meal - you know the drill. What did we end up doing? Chinese takeout and a tape of Sunday's '24'. Good times.

Talking of '24', that may be the most times I've said 'Oh My F***ing God!' in a single hour of TV. I'm not going to give any spoilers - '24' and 'Alias' may be the two shows that can really be ruined by them, and there maybe someone out there who hasn't seen it yet - but really. OMFG.

As money's running relatively short lately, it's natural that bookshops, record shops and of course are positively overflowing with stuff that I want. You know, more so than usual. I know I've got Season 3 of 'Scrubs' and Season 1 of 'Huff' on their way to me soon (pre-ordered a long, long time ago), so that's something. This is probably a good spot to remind people I've got a birthday coming up. Maybe I should put a wishlist in the sidebar or something.

I still have yet to meet my new neighbour, Cian, who I mentioned in my last post. My wife met him on Saturday and is infatuated. In related news, I've locked myself in the spare bedroom.


Anyway, the reason I haven't met him is that I've spent the last four days trying to shake off a cold (I don't think Jamie and Clare would appreciate me sneezing on their progeny). I really, really hate colds, because I have almost never had one bad enough to take time off school or work. It's always been just that one stage better so that I'd feel guilty if I stayed on the couch in my bathrobe watching 'Two And A Half Men' reruns instead of sucking it up and working while feeling like I'm being smothered with a damp pillow.

Anyway, It's getting late in the day (and 'Earl') is about to start so until next time...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Superblog Sunday (Okay, Wednesday...)

It’s been much longer than I intended since I last posted something, so today I’m going to let it all blurt out in one big post. We’ll have some serious stuff, some music and book recommendations and we’ll mention some of the TV I’ve been watching lately. Some of you will get bored, and not stick around for the end of this. The rest of you may get the urge to use the word ‘Blogstravaganza’ to describe today’s post. My advice – don’t. People will look at you funny.

Today’s iPod list is to your right, though at the moment I’m listening to the eponymous album by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and ‘Come On, Feel The Illinoise!’ by Sufjan Stevens. I guess I need some bizarre experimental rock to balance out the Fall Out Boy records. I’m still not sure about ‘Clap Your Hands…’ (some great songs, but a little too Talking Heads-ish) but ‘Illinoise’ is truly a terrific album.

I’m pretty annoyed with my laptop right now. I was two paragraphs further along with this when it lost power – and now it won’t boot-up so long as the battery is still attached –regardless of whether or not the power is plugged in.

Some late breaking news arrived while I was trying to get this back, though: welcome to the world, baby Cian, who was born today to my friends and neighbours, Jamie and Clare. All three doing just fine, from what I’ve been told. Congratulations and much love to the proud parents.

Anyway – on with the show. I tend to listen to albums over and over until I’m sick of all but maybe three songs (yes, we’re back on the first topic – try to keep up). I tend not to judge an album by the length of time it takes me to become sick of a given number of songs, or of how many songs are left on an album that I don’t become sick of – if I did, I probably wouldn’t like very much at all, as I think the only albums I listen to all the way through any more are ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Nebraska’. I also find that the ‘classic’ albums aren’t the ones I listen to most – I’d list ‘Pet Sounds’ as one of my all time favourites, but I can’t remember listening to it in the past six months (or even a year) but I’ve lost count of the number of plays Snow Patrol’s ‘Final Straw’ or The Killers’ ‘Hot Fuss’ or Dashboard Confessional’s ‘A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’ have had, both before and after I got the iPod. Like I said though – not all the way through.

On a more serious note for a minute, I just wanted to throw in my two cents on the controversy over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper, and were subsequently reprinted by French, German and Italian newspapers. Two points before I go on:

  • Initially, I had no intention of writing about this. I promised myself when I started this that I was going to stick to music, TV, movies, sports and lighthearted complaints about the foibles of my everyday life. I feel strongly enough about this to ditch the section that I had tentatively entitled ‘Why does my cat hate it when I play the harmonica?’
  • Every time I start to write about this, something happens and I have to change it. This is my fifth or so attempt to put something into words on the subject. I have Sky News on in the background, so if anything changes between the time I post this and the time anyone reads it, well, just know that I tried to stay current.

In case this is new to you by the way, the controversy revolves around a number of cartoons, the most inflammatory of which depicts The Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb. Bad enough on it’s own – especially when most of what we would called the civilised West is arguing that we have nothing against Islam per se, and we realise the whole ‘suicide bomb’ thing is a perversion of the true, peaceful nature of Islam. Unfortunately though, Islam strictly prohibits any depiction of Mohammed, flattering or otherwise.

As a journalist (or close enough) I believe firmly in the Freedom Of The Press. I believe that as soon as it is restricted by government or a church, we’re all in trouble. With this in mind, we should remember that not all newsmen, bloggers or columnists have such rights. Maybe we should start thinking of it as a privilege. On RTE 2FM’s The Gerry Ryan Show recently a caller hailed the European press for the publication of the cartoons, stating that ‘Freedom of speech should be absolute’. He went on to defend his right to publicly deride ‘Travellers, Blacks, Gays, Jews and Muslims’, should the urge take him. I would hate to think that this kind of thinking is what passes for freedom of speech these days.

Freedom of The Press (and indeed of speech in general) can not be abused for personal vendettas, or when the purpose is solely to offend. The paper that originally published the cartoon I’m sure had a point to make, but it could have made it without committing the sort of blasphemy that is today leading to rioting and murder. If they didn’t realise it was blasphemy, then I question the research that was done. If they realised that this was blasphemy, and that it would cause such offence, and published anyway – that leaves more questions.

The Danish government has responded, I think, perfectly when it demanded, received and welcomed an apology from the newspaper for the offending cartoon, but resisted pressure to impose sanctions upon the publisher. Muslims have a right to be outraged right now – I don’t agree that anyone has a right to burn buildings or take lives in retaliation – but what we need, as always, is peace and understanding.

Okay, Miss World speech over. Back to my regularly scheduled shallow self…

I don’t know if anyone caught ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’ on Bravo (or FX if you’re in the US). I happened across the first episode on Monday night and immediately afterwards added it to my SkyTV Personal Planner, even giving it ‘Series Link’ and ‘Autoview’ status. It’s one of those post-watershed, edgy-because-it-has-swearing-in-it sitcoms, which means it almost certainly won’t last; which is a shame because it’s very, very, good. It’s about three guys who own an Irish bar in Philadelphia and, despite depending on one or two clichés, is still really well written and good for many a laugh. Check it out if you can.

My wife went to France with her mom and sister for the weekend, leaving me to look after the cat and the fish (LeBron and Lenny & Carl, respectively). It did mean that I could watch ‘Hockey Night In Canada’ and The Superbowl without hearing the words "What time did you say this would be over?" As my buddies were out of town too, I took the opportunity to go to a movie on my own, something I haven’t really done since college (it was a Tuesday afternoon ritual, I really should have been in screenwriting class... good times...). Anyway, one €8.50 ticket, a bag of jelly snakes and a medium Coke later and I’m enjoying ‘Derailed’. I hadn’t read the book and the review line on the poster said it was "The Best Thriller In Years", so I was an easy mark, in retrospect.

And actually, it was pretty good. You can kind of see a lot of the twists coming fairly early on, but there’s enough ‘Holy Crap, Did That Really Just Happen?’ moments to keep me entertained for two hours. Plus the film marked the triumphant return of Hot Jennifer Aniston, who hadn’t been seen since ‘She’s The One’ (and let’s face it, we were all getting sick of Skinny Jennifer Aniston), so that’s always a good thing. All in all, it’s worth the price of a ticket, though I doubt I’ll be buying the DVD.

When I mentioned Aurelie Sheehan’s book ‘The Anxiety of Everyday Objects’ last week, I forget to give a mention to another of my favourite books, which it reminded me of, and that’s ‘Slabrat’ by Ted Heller. Not so much about a secretary as a weasely editor with a ‘Vanity Fair’ type magazine trying to scam his way to the top. It’s vicious, it’s scathing and it’s very, very funny and if you come across it, it’s well worth a look. I’m told that ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ is

similarly brilliant, but I haven’t read it yet. Though the movie *is* on it’s way…

And finally, remember that Canadian amateur hockey team that filed for the right to play for the Stanley Cup? Well, it turns out that the Ontario Superior Court reached their decision earlier this week. Apparently the trustees of the Cup "can, but are not obligated to" award the cup to a non-NHL team in years the league doesn’t operate. In addition, the NHL is to donate $100,000 to leagues for women and underprivileged children over the next five years. I can’t see them awarding it retrospectively for 2004/05, but I have to be honest – the prospect of the Stanley Cup finals being played between teams from South Porcupine, Ontario and Buffalo Narrows, Saskatchewan (yes, those are actual places) makes me downright giddy.

That’s it for today – those of you awaiting the Mario piece will have to sit tight a day or two longer, unless you relish the though of 4,000 words of incoherent babbling and ass-kissing.

Until next time…

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Welcome to February

Well, another day – and indeed another month, and it’s the return of the iPod Top Ten. I kind of liked having the themed list, and I might do that again some time, but to be honest I tend to over-think these things and it would take me a couple of hours to revise the track list again and again. And I like the randomness of the current way.

Anyway, here’s just a couple of quick mentions while I a) finish off the Mario piece (which should be up by the weekend) and b) continue to try and figure out a way of getting paid for this nonsense. have sent author and occasional columnist (or regular columnist if you read Esquire or Spin) Chuck Klosterman to the Superbowl in Detroit, and for this week he’s posting a blog from there. It’s entertaining stuff – if you like Chuck you probably already know about his books. If you don’t know them already, I recommend ‘Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs’. Good times.

Talking of which, I’m reading Aurelie Sheehan’s book ‘The Anxiety of Everyday Objects’ at the moment. It’s about a secretary who’s trying to make a movie and sort out her romantic life (she describes herself as a ‘non-filmmaking filmmaker’). It’s really sparsely written, but really poetic too. Once again, I recommend it. Incidentally, I apologise to Ms. Sheehan if I just completely missed the point of the book. I still like it, though.

Actually, the sparse writing style kind of reminds me of a character in a different book I read a year or two ago (I think the book was called ‘The Third Person’ but I’m not entirely sure) – he could write just a line or two that was so filled with emotion that it immediately caused the reader to be entirely elated or so depressed that they would want to kill themselves on the spot. Similarly, a friend of mine was told by someone to read a Paolo Coehlo book because it was so good that person knew someone who’d killed themselves as a result. I’m not entirely sure that was a compliment. By the way, I bought a Dashboard Confessional album simply based on a review (I’d never heard the songs) that attributed the same emotive power to the lyrics. I’m a sucker for good marketing sometimes.

One of the other effects of reading ‘The Anxiety Of Everyday Objects’ is that I now want to go back to New York. I was there last November for the first time and loved the place, and a lot of what I’m reading and seeing on TV lately is set there. It’s made me realise I didn’t see half as much of the place as I would have liked to.

Anyway, that’s about it for today. Be back in the next few days with more.