The Nitty Gritty

But more than all of those I am an entertainer. I carry around a ukulele with me for the same reason a gangster carries a gun; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Stage or sidewalk, Your Pal Pete shows are just where they happen.
Currently, I'm working on a musical, RagnaPOP(or she's got the bomb), set to premiere at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. I'm also working on music, comedy, and musical comedy; for kids and/or adults.
The fruit of these projects will be available on this site, so check back regularly!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reasons Guitar Hero is better than really playing guitar.

I've been playing guitar for 22 years and playing with other people in bands almost that long, but this means nothing when I strap on the guitar controller for the wildly popular Guitar Hero videogames. The first song I played was "You Really Got Me", which I know on the regular guitar; I tried to do what the game required to truly "ROCK OUT!", but my finger muscle memory moved my fingers to a G to A riff instead of red button to green button. This resulted in strangled strings, almost instantaneous booing from the audience and disapproving head shakes from my bandmates. Brutal. Affectations like pointing the guitar skyward and hitting the whammy bar are ways to earn points in the game; with the real guitar playing it just makes you look like a member of Ratt or knock your guitar out of tune(respectively).

I don't have any problem with Guitar Hero as a musician, although I'm sure that some do; it's easy to imagine a nation of 9-year olds kicking the asses of their "real" guitar playing relatives. It's based on guitar playing like any "fact-based" movie that's "Based on a true story"; The good stuff has been tarted up to the point of being almost unrecognizable and the boring stuff has been eliminated. Trust me, being a musician has A LOT of boring stuff; The onscreen avatars in the game even reflect this, throwing and spinning their guitars more than actually strumming them.
Anyway, on with the list:
1.Practice, Practice, Practice. In GH there is none, thankfully. There is the practicing of the instrument itself, with me there in the writing of the song as well; then there is the practicing with other people, which is it's own kind of nightmare. When a band really gels, there is nothing like it, but if things aren't going well it's almost like an amplified bout of constipation that lasts 2-3 hours.
2. Logistics of the gigs. Loading in gear, loading out gear, getting the shit there, getting YOU there; I could tell countless horror stories about all of those things, not to mention what to do if your shit doesn't work or gets stolen in the process. In GH, you just fire up the 'ol console. Another advantage: you can use your intoxicant of choice without arguing who's going to drive home.
3. You don't have to listen to other bands. One of the most unfortunate things about bands is that there are more cool ones than good ones. My aversion to lying once led me to say to a band, "You guys travel light!"
4. Built-in audience. I spent a lot of my time when I played in a band promoting; getting shows, printing and distributing fliers and networking at every opportunity. This let to many people recognizing my band's name, but not to people actually going to our shows. GH audiences are always stacked, packed, and racked (as my nightclub promoter boss used to say). The is a price to be paid for their availablity though; thank God I never played for an audience as expecting of perfection as in this videogame, I would have booed off many a stage.

5. The money. As in, there is none. At least with Guitar Hero, you aren't expecting to get any.
Rush-guitar hero style:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's Official, They Think We're Idiots!

I saw this on Keith Olbermann last night and thought I might have dreamed it, but no!

The GOP treats us who pay attention to the news like the boyfriend getting caught cheating and then saying, "It wasn't me!" Unfortunately, too many of us have been too in love to look beyond the obvious lies and insults to our intelligence. Congress pushed for the vote to war? I believe Karl Rove is the only person with balls big enough to even say that out loud.

I wonder what his book is going to be called since Lies (and the Lying Lairs That Tell Them) has been taken.
My suggestion?:Cracker, Please!

Texas Never Whispers

As you may or may not know I'm back in DC after a sojourn to Iowa and Austin, Texas (to finish my first book Surviving Retail). I thought I would share some Texas observations with my loyal readers.

1. Texas is BIG. No, really. It's big like the Grand Canyon is big, no description of it's vastness can prepare you to experience it first hand. You get a bit spoiled living in the Northwest, and DC in specific, where a two hour drive can get you to the mountains, the beach, Norfolk, Philadelphia and back and forth from Baltimore. A two-hour drive from Austin gets you... an hour from Dallas. It's hard to not notice how many of the flights at the Austin airport go to cities that are still in Texas.

2. Texans love Texas, it's almost like Texas is it's own country.Drive down any residential street and there are almost as many Texas state flags as their were American flags after 9/11. I think that Texas would be the best state in the union to have Alzheimer's in, you would at least know what state you were in at all times; everything mentions Texas from beer cans to the national commercials("Ford, Texas tough", "Dairy Queen, that's what I like about Texas!").

3. They are INSANE about football! They televise high school games, ferchristsakes! If you flew in to Austin not knowing a thing about The University of Texas Longhorns, you'd probably figure out by the writing on the t-shirts you'd see that the local college football enjoys a healthy amount of support. Soon after you'd realize that the Longhorn head logo that IS FUCKING EVERYWHERE also was a show of support for the 'Horns and you might become a little concerned. At some point it would come to you that burnt orange- this:

is their official color and you realize you're in the non-UT supporting minority. The color is so identified with it (legend has it that that was the only color uniform available when the UT football program started) that often shirts are just burnt orange with no writing or logos at all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Movies that should never be remade (but if they did)

Hollywood had made no secret of their longtime creative bankruptcy, updating old properties- some that weren’t all that popular to begin with (the Wicker Man?). Nothing seems to be sacred these days from the long knives of revisionist cinema. Since disapproving Internet flames do no actual damage; nothing can stop the ill-advised remakes. Nobody ever listens to me, much less Hollywood types, but this is what I think should NEVER be remade. But if they did….

Blade Runner- Few Science fiction anything from that era have aged as well as Blade Runner, funny considering that it didn’t take place that far into the future. I think it worked so well because the Sci-Fi elements were necessary to serve the story, not stuck on instead of a story. You could create the right sets, have the right story and miss almost everything that makes that movie great: The grimly claustrophobic feel, Rudger Hauer, and Harrison Ford. It still feels futuristic as well, something that the Star Wars movies cannot claim.
But If they did they would probably cast:
Decker (Harrison Ford)-Dane Cook. He wouldn’t be the first choice-that would be Jake Gyllenhaal , he’s just the first one that would say yes.
Roy Batty (Rudger Hauer)- Vin Diesel. He actually would be the first choice when a joke at the development meeting for the project gets taken seriously.

Annie Hall- I think this one, like the Godfather movies, are un-remakeable until at least everyone who would object to it would be dead. It’s absolutely the perfect romantic comedy right down to the ending, where they don’t end up together. I was going to stay Spoiler Alert, but if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you deserve to be spoiled.
But if they did they’d probably cast…

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen)- Zach Braff, he’d be perfect! Not as nebbish (close) but much cuter, which is much more important these days than when the original was made.

Annie Hall (Diane Keaton)- Oh, Anne Hathaway, why not? She’d look great in that tie and vest ensemble that Diane rocked with a vengeance!

Apocalypse Now- Arguably the most accidentally great movie ever made, if you don’t agree I suggest you see the documentary Heart of Darkness. It has all the makings of a total disaster: One of the stars (Martin Sheen) has a serious heart attack at the beginning of shooting, almost constant rewriting, filming in a police state (the Philippines), the general insanity of Marlon Brando. Add to that the nagging doubts about the abilities of Francis Ford Coppola, most notably from Coppola himself, who is convinced that he’s making the worst movie of all time. Out of all this, he actually made one of the best films of all time; my Vietnam Vet uncle Steve said that it certainly captures the isolation and dehumanization better than he’s ever seen in a movie.

Possible cast:
Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando)- Nicholas Cage or Val Kilmer. Cage seems to be on the very short list when they want someone to play crazy who is actually crazy, now that Nick Nolte is too old. I read a story about Val Kilmer that made me think he might do a good job if only because he seems to be as focused in his insanity as Brando. Whouldn't you like to see the slap-fight that those two would have over this role?
Willard (Martin Sheen)-Christian Bale. All kidding aside, he would be awesome in this. It still shouldn’t be remade, though. Seriously. Don’t do it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The HD Dilemma

As I have posted before, the future ain't what it used to be. All the "futuristic"-sounding new wave music from the 80s doesn't sound like 2007, it sounds like 1984. One of what makes old science fiction so unintentionally hilarious is this future world of 2000 still use technology that was made obsolete seconds after filming, like tape reel mainframe computers and dot matrix printers. I watched some episodes of the old school "Battlestar Galactica" and on one, the crew of the Galactica discover a spaceship that contained some humans in suspended animation. They surmised that the only thing they could figure out about them was that they were obviously far more technologically advanced. I was going to have to take their word for it; after 25 years of my slow-building cynicism, if you've seen one set spray-painted silver, you've seen them all. The only thing that they seem to have was Disco rope light technology. Don't think this has stopped because we have all these wonderful gadgets that make our lives that much sweeter, even something as recent and forward thinking as The Matrix is starting to show it's age.

The thing that I always notice now are the displays; from the painted screens of "Star Trek" to the monochromatic picture tube displays of almost every sci-fi movie from the late 70s-early 80s, it crushes the "illusion" of the future that made it so easy for me to get lost in when I was younger. It doesn't help that one of the most enduring elements of old sci-fi is that font that everyone used that made it seem like everything in the future was going to be written out using pocket calculators. Like this:

Even though it could have been easily done, George Lucas didn't screw with the starship displays when he redid the original Star Wars trilogy and that, to me, clashed jarringly with the stuff that he did digitally "enhance".

This, believe it or not, leads me to HD TV. I had my first real taste of big screen HD this Sunday when I went to a friends house to watch football. It was like the first time I saw color TV, it made me see familiar things in a whole new way. The most striking thing was the contrast between programing made in HD and things that aren't. I realize that they don't make Plasma TVs to make the old way of broadcasting look good, but the HD stuff looked positively three dimensional, nearly to the point of distraction. You get caught up with watching the blades of astro-turf and not all the beefy football dudes falling all over it.

But, as you might have heard, not every one is excited about High-Definition. The Porn industry has never met a technological advance that it couldn't ride to a multi-million dollar bonanza-from VCRs to the internet and almost everything in between, but HD is another story. Every stretch mark and ingrown hair is now in clear and unflattering focus in High-Def. From what I saw from my football-filled Sunday, is that may be good that they're showing some restrain in that area. But, they're far from the only objectors, and it was obvious to me why people in front of the camera would be concerned. The amount of make-up shellacking that everyone from Beyonce to Terry Bradshaw is subjected to is really obvious in this format. Beyonce has the advantage of being a beautiful woman, but Terry looks like a pink-frosted face on Mount Rushmore.

HD is real (or more real) and TVs and movies are not about the real. As anyone who has worked on a movie or TV set can tell you, if you don't see it in the shot, it probably doesn't exist. With the ease and wide spread use of digital effects, seeing it doesn't make it real; be it a Transformer to the dead celebrities that dance with stuff that didn't exist while they were alive. But clogged pores pose a bigger challenge to maintaining the illusion of perfection that make regular people feel bad about themselves.

But now we as viewers have made it clear want the HD, we want the real. It's just a little more real than Hollywood has learned to cover quite yet; it might just take an extra layer of shellac to get us there.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fun Facts About Islam

The problem I often have with these “Fun Facts” posts is I’m not sure whether people already know the things I talk about. However seeing other people’s “Fun Facts” that I thought everyone knew made me realize that I shouldn’t worry about it too much. Still I hope I’m not wasting anyone’s time.

1.One of the biggest misconceptions people have about Muslims is that they always refer to God as Allah, but they only do this if they’re speaking Arabic (or one of the other Middle Eastern languages). If they’re speaking English, they say God. Using Allah outside of that context suggests that the Muslim God is different than the Christian God; they all worship the “God of Abraham”.
2.Jesus is an important figure in Islam (as is Moses), but he has seen as a prophet, not as the Son of God. This is why many Muslims consider Christianity a polytheistic religion.
3.Islam was created as a return to the true word of God after what was seen as the subverting influence of Man on the Christian and Jewish religions. This is part of the reason why many fundamentalist Muslims take such a literal and dogmatic approach to the writings of the Koran.
4.Even though there are Muslim clerics, no one is considered closer to God than anyone else; anyone worshiping at a Mosque can lead prayers.
5.Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s ”, which many (myself included) see as a call for a separation of church and state, while the Koran specifically forbids it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Adventures in Daytime TV

In the process of writing and finishing Surviving Retail (it's getting copy edited right now), I've been watching an embarrassing amount of daytime TV. The qualifier "embarrassing" is a bit varied amongst people I know, most think that anymore than what peeks out when switching channels is officially too much; I watch A LOT more than that. Like all the "fourth meal" ads on at Stoner o' clock or the super late night phone sex ads, the commercials seem to be reading the collective mind of its audience. The ads are almost all career colleges, with the occasional fast food ad sprinkled in. I seriously considered a career in HVAC or Nursing, but instead it drove me to start watching from behind my computer writing, so when they guy on the commercial says, "You're sitting there on the couch..." he'd be wrong. They try to seal the deal by showing happy ex-graduates and have them say things like, "If I can do it, you can too!" which -in my experience -is the most untrue cliché since "The customer is always right". Let me break them down:

1. The Greg Behrendt Show- Sadly, this show has been canceled. It was a good show and far and away the least soul-stealing to watch. I guess being part of the solution does not make for compelling daytime TV. It shouldn't have worked as well as it did; an aging faux hipster dude who became famous writing He's Just Not That Into You . That makes him qualified to be Captain Obvious, commander of the S.S. No Shit, not a daytime talk show host.

But, neo-mullet and wallet chain notwithstanding, I've always thought he was a talented stand-up comedian and he had more than enough charisma to make it work. In many ways, Greg's was the anti-Springer show actually trying to solve people's problems instead of televising them after they've festered into hair-pulling fury. He still worked in the obvious, but I've learned-from body odor to the truth- what should be apparent to you is often much clearer to everyone else. When a woman comes on with an emotionally distant boyfriend, he'll say, "Break up with him, you're an awesome woman, don't you think you can do better? I do." He may not give away stuff like some of the other talk show hosts, but he will somehow get back the ring that a girl's scrub boyfriend stole from her that was a keepsake from her dead mother.

2. The Maury Povich show- I got used to Maury's disingenuous concern for people when he was host of tabloid show A Current Affair when he would come out of some muck-raking celebrity story saying, "Leave them alone!" like he wasn't responsible for any of it.

It's nice that he occasionally helps people (not without a certain amount of exploitation), but he has far more shows about cheating. Sometimes cheaters are exposed by massively flunking lie detector tests that nearly every one is convinced they've passed. I've watched quite a few of these shows and only a fraction have ever passed and almost all of them have been women-who only make up about 10 percent of the people tested.

They precede the test results with a look at the relationship in question; The boyfriend treats them like shit, disappears for days, gets caught in bed nude with another woman and says that they were "talking" and- on one recent show- prostituted himself. It makes you wonder why they're waiting for the test results to decide whether to end the relationship. Unfortunately, as the show updates illustrate, even the fact that their boyfriend has kids that they didn't tell them about or that he slept with her sister end up to not be the dealbreakers you'd expect then to be.

Then there's the DNA testing shows; lie detectors can be inaccurate, but DNA is not. Sometimes the paternity comes into a question because of cheating, a truth that the "father" finds out about the same time the studio audience does. Sometimes it's as many as 3 different men being tested for one child; one woman even had 12 men tested in a (thus far) futile attempt to find the father. More often, it's two people who might have been in love- or in lust- at one time but are now on national television saying the most horrendous things about each other. The men especially look bad, using excuses that don't even make the most basic biological sense: they only had sex once, the baby doesn't have his birthmark, he only has one testicle. They also claim that the woman slept with dozens of other possible fathers, even if they were in a relationship at the time of conception.

But all of the insults and innuendo mean nothing when the results finally come out. Regardless of what story either party is sticking to, nothing guarantees any result. A woman can say that she's "a thousand percent" sure the man is the father and be wrong; the man can claim he never even slept with the woman and be the father. After the results, the party that was right gloats in a way that suggests that they are every bit as classy as you may have thought, while the wrong one runs backstage; so many people have run back there it's almost as well appointed as the front. But once in a while the right person will stop gloating and will reach out to the other person in surprisingly tender ways, but you can't predict or expect that outcome either.

The thing that brings it all home for me is when they show the child whose paternity is in question grinning sweetly backstage. Unfortunately, like the lie detector tests, regardless of the results, it's already obvious that a lot of these kids are screwed.

The Jerry Springer show- In the past, I may have lingered on this show only to flip past after a couple minutes, but not in a very long time. Since it's been out of my attention, it has morphed into a show where the slightest sliver of civility it may have had got destroyed when two sweaty redneck brothers (who don't have a full set of teeth between them) crushed it as they fought over the meth addicted prostitute that one of them is married to.

Instead of trying to buck the perception of being the trashiest of the trashy, The Springer show seems to have taken that as a challenge; they have the technology, they can go lower, sleazier, and they can go MUCH trashier.

They've been showing some older episodes which lets me know that my memory serves me correctly. Fights used to break out occasionally, usually after someone does something to instigate it; now, when anyone comes out, they're swinging. Sometimes even people from the studio audience get in on the fisticuffs. The only rules are women and men can't hit each other and no cursing, although the former is probably because the resulting beeping would be mighty distracting to the viewer at home. Instead of the occasional boob flash from a shame deficient female guest, audience members are more than happy to lift up their shirts for "Jerry Beads"; I saw a mother and daughter team do it yesterday. There may have been some constructive comments from the audience in the past directed at the guests, but if someone dared do that now, they get shouted down by everyone else in the crowd with a chant of "Go To Oprah!"

Ah yes, the chants: there's "Jerry, Jerry" of course, but there's a guy whose job on the show seems to be starting chants. This is based on a pretty strong assumption; all chants begins with one guy with the same voice yelling, "We Love Whores!" ,"You Are Gay!" or "Get On The Pole!" whatever the situation requires. Did I forget to mention the stripper pole? The great thing about the pole is that it's an equal opportunity pole; men, women, cute, or nasty, all are free to shake their respective moneymakers.

Some of my favorite episodes feature the Reverend Schnor, a boozy "Man of the Cloth" who- God help me- performs the occasional wedding during the show, usually after the bride and/or groom had their clothes torn off by brawling with someone who decided not to "forever hold their peace". Getting married on the Springer is the ultimate prenuptial agreement, you're agreeing before you get hitched that there is no fuckin' way this is going to work out.

The pole and the good Rev. may have been there for a while, but there is a feature to the show that I know is brand new: Kenny. He seems to have no body at all from the waist down; he just randomly walks across the stage on his hands or crawls up a ladder to look over the show from a catwalk over the stage. Other than handing Jerry an envelope once, I have literally not seen him do anything else.

But hey, what do I expect? It's THE FREAKING JERRY SPRINGER SHOW! I once saw a little person with a baby fetish in a diaper and bonnet who wouldn't stop screaming, "Stop making fun of me!" Dude, if you want understanding, go to Oprah. It's kinda like Britney forgetting to wear undies after the first time the world saw her va-jay-jay; you'll only get sympathy if you don't know any better. And Jerry's been doing this for a long time.

Pete's final thoughts: As much as I don't believe in the concept of the "Guilty Pleasure", these shows could never be anything but. I guess we all need to be falsely superior to someone, and after an afternoon of these kind of shows, I feel like Donald Trump. But with better hair.

Take care of yourselves, and each other.