Sucks to be Saddam

I’m glad that Saddam Hussein has been captured at last, and I hope justice – such justice as there can be – is next. But Pepper isn’t a political place, and let’s keep it that way.

But I’m thinking we put him back in the spider hole, add Paris Hilton and Liza Minelli, and wire the place with cameras. Now there’s a reality show.

Posted in General Musings |

The Ravening Geek, Revealed

Geek LoveWe’ve had several geek sightings lately hereabouts (me! me! me!). Since it’s 30 degrees out there and the East Village feels rather remote at this hour, it seems the perfect time to post this. Down here it’s warm, and everything floats. Well, maybe not that, but I’ve got a bottle of Rogue Shakespeare Stout that beckons from the fridge, and that will do. If you don’t know your Rogues, I recommend that you delve. My favorite is their Dead Guy Ale, but that’s just me.

March, 2002. I’m browsing some PC gaming site and in and among the tips and cheats and screenshots I find a poll for players of Role Playing Games. Not the kind of role playing the large beardy sticky guy bugged me about one night years back in a Brooklyn Heights bar, since closed. I mean the simple kind, with Dungeons and Dragons manuals, percentile dice, and no bodily fluids. The burning topic, with responses:

Be honest. If Britney Spears walked up to you and said, “Hi!” what spell would you cast?

  • Charm Person – 40%
  • Suggestion – 18%
  • Otto’s Irresistable [sic] Dance – 11%
  • Age Creature – 9%
  • Abi-Dhalzim’s Horrid Wilting – 6%
  • Expeditious Retreat – 4%
  • Symbol of Pain – 4%
  • Flame Blade – 3%
  • Burning Hands – 3%
  • Change Self – 2%

I love the “be honest” part. “No dude, really. I mean, like if Britney just actually walked in, what spell would you cast? Come on, man, be serious.”

The heart-Geek logo is just one among a forest of clever nifty t-shirts at Think Geek, by the way. It roxØrs. I want this one! Google shrugs and can’t find the original site with that poll, which is just as well. You don’t want to be watching the mating rituals. ‘Tis beyond mortal ken.

Posted in General Musings |

Poppa’s Got a Brand New Baggins

Isengard and Barad-Dûr, that's 2 all rightBed was looking mighty good when I hauled out of the cave yesterday and grumbled off to the morning showing of the newly-lengthened rooty-tooty extra-long (Improved! And with Extra Length!) limited theatrical re-release of The Two Towers, the refaced 2002 installment of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (formerly known as J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy).

How sweetly the next 3 hours and 42 minutes might be spent consorting with Mattress and Pillow, tilting after buxom blonde stage managers in warm blonde dreams! Last week’s three-hour tour with the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring, a watery bloaty experience perked up occasionally when joyously impure thoughts about Liv Tyler sailed into harbor, didn’t bode well for The Two Towers. I loved Fellowship when it came out (not so the second time), and didn’t much care for this movie the first time through – frankly, who did? But I’m this kind of person: I generally finish books I don’t much like, I saw Alien3, you know. I’m a dope.

So it’s 11:00 a.m. and I don’t even bother trying for coffee this time around. Here I am, here we are, and if worst comes to worst, I figure, it’ll make a funny story for you Pepper People. The thing starts right on time, which is sort of unfair for a 222-minute flick at 11:00 a.m. when every other picture in town runs a 20-minute floor show for Coke, guns, tits and mayhem before the feature. I miss the first 30 seconds or so, and arrive in the recap as the Balrog faces off with Gandalf. Doom, doom, drums in the deep.

Fellowship was a terrific movie when it first came out, and stretching it by a pointless half hour made it damp and floppy. If it ain’t broke, fix it ’til it is. Towers, though, was a shallow skipping skim that raced to join its rivers in time for the closing credits. A picture, in other words, that might be wanting more of itself.

With its spine hewn back in, this movie is the best commercial film I have seen in years. Glorious in scope and thrilling with narrative that has become rushing and relentless instead of 2 fast and 2 furious, The Two Towers works on so many levels that I forgive it its small trespasses (can someone please explain why it was necessary for us to see Gandalf the White’s shoes, which look suspiciously like they came from Capezio? No, I didn’t think so).

This is the version you’ll find on DVD, and it’s the one you should watch. J.R.R. would be proud, after he finished yelling about the plot (elves at Helm’s Deep, hoom hoom, hmmph).

Lord of the Links: Nothing quite so fun as poking fun. Lords of the Rhymes do irreverent hobbit hip-hop, which fills a niche I guess; Molly J. Ringwraith wrote this brilliant Ten-Minute Two Towers script, which will make you howl if you’ve seen the film, and howl even more if you’ve read the book (if that link dies, it’s also available on the Live Journal site); and our blog buddy PZ Myers of Pharyngula posted a slightly-premature list of Things To Do While Watching Return of the King, via Father Dan and his friends from New Zealand, which should be kept in mind next week at the theatre. Especially these two favorite ones:

  • Finish off every one of Elrond’s lines with “Mr. Anderson.”
  • Stand up halfway through the movie and yell loudly, “Wait … where the hell is Harry Potter?”
Posted in About Last Night |

Vote Early and Often

Click MeI keep meaning to mention that we’re nominated in the 2003 Weblog Awards hosted at the Wizbang blog. If you like what you read here, please go vote for Pepper of the Earth over there. There’s no registration, just click and vote. We’re in the Crawly Amphibians category, which is a long story. You can vote once every 12 hours and I keep forgetting to do it more than once every couple of days. What am I, Reese Witherspoon or something? We’re not last in our category, but we are close.

Now I think of it, it would be fun to be Reese Witherspoon. But that’s not important right now. Voting closes on the 14th.

Posted in General Musings |

Ethan’s Last Stand

… make that Ethan Lipton‘s last “Calls the Shots” showcase at Low. Ariana, the booker at Low, is moving onward and who knows what the new flavor of the space will be; Ethan is having his last taste tonight, with molto guests including James Urbaniak and Nina Hellman with Sporadica, Gabriella Barnstone of Uber Dance Theater, Elizabeth Ziff from the band Betty and the Off-Broadway hit Betty Rules, Joseph P. Silovsky’s Miniature theater, and of course, Ethan his very own self, with Mike Stumm on ukelele (special appearance by Gary Wilmes), and Eben Levy and Dan Freeman on more pedestrian instruments. It’s a whole variety show.

Low has been a great place, and I hope it stays fun. Meantime, you should join us tonight for the party. Starts around 9:00 p.m., and admission is free. Drinks are good. Clocks are big, machines are heavy. Pinkerton does not return. A frog is dissected.

Posted in General Musings |

If the Chouffe Fits

In that curious way life has of sticking its head into the room while you’re busy with something else, I’m slowly coming to realize that the play is done and that – wheee! – I have time again. The last two months I’ve had four days a week at least already spoken for. This will be fun. For now, though, lots of naps. That’s what I’m getting from the insistent weather. “Butt in bed,” it says to me. Right?

Last night I groomed my inner geek and went over to a friend’s place to watch the first part of the new “Battlestar Galactica” miniseries. (My inner geek gets a fair amount of grooming, I just try not to dwell on it too much.) I see four or five TV shows a year, since I haven’t got a set of my own, and I appreciate them endlessly. This was a fun one. I should note that I had never, to my knowledge, seen an episode of “Battlestar Galactica” before, not a new one, not an old one. My inner geek must have been having a prolonged nap while that was going on.

Terrible - It's GreatOur small gathering was a birds-of-a-feather event, and while Edward James Olmos as the newest Adama added his Bruce Boxleitner gravitas to the legend, we tasted our way through a wonderful scatter of beers. I contributed a stiff Unibroue Terrible (say this in a French accent for best effect), a tart and elusive abbey ale; Billy brought an aged Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada and an estimable Brooklyn Brewery Monster Ale barleywine from 2000. Monster is always delicious after it has a couple of years to belly back and relax a bit, and it’s a potent little devil, which is why it comes in those handy small bottles. Marc had a bottle of honey-toned Chimay yeast homebrew that was also delicious.

The grand surprise (you can say this in a French accent to good effect, as well), though, was Marc’s big bottle of, well, we’re not exactly sure what it was. It was from Brasserie d’Achouffe, brewers of the esteemed La Chouffe and McChouffe beers; we do know that. It was from 1994 and it was corked (Chouffe stopped using corks years ago). We think it was a precursor of the N’Ice Chouffe dark winter beer (10% ABV). The bottle was in Flemish or something similar, and it defied our good-natured attempts to figure out what was going on in there.

The beer was well past its prime, beyond the fragile and exquisite candi sugar stage and into a rich, malty state of nihilism: all through the mouth hints of wonderful flavors flirted and darted but never landed solidly on the tongue, and at the center was an emptiness that was liquid, suggestive, and grandly absent. Curiously, it was an immensely satisfying experience, brimming with a sense of – apologies to Mr. Croce – Time in a Bottle.

Posted in About Last Night |

The Snow And The Chicken Man

with apologies to The Chicken and the Snowman

December 5th, and it’s snowing as though it was February 5th. I’m going to hate this winter as much as I hated the last one. It’s 8:30 p.m. and Seth and I are on our way to the Knitting Factory. For those who haven’t met him yet, Seth is the third wheel on the Home Office Records tricycle, the one who hasn’t blogged so far, the one who has to get up early every morning and can’t go to late shows, but this time, with doors at 8 and the show at 9, we figure it will be OK to catch Those Legendary Shackshakers (yes, those — not the other, lesser ones…) and Los Straitjackets with The World Famous Pontani Sisters (yes, the world famous ones — the others aren’t famous enough yet…).

The doors aren’t open yet. “It’s because of the snow” the minions claim. Nine o’clock comes and goes. “Five more minutes” becomes, five minutes later, “another ten minutes”, then soon it’s “in twelve minutes, give or take”. We give, they take. We give more, they take more. Seth is falling asleep on his feet. J.D., the Shackshakers’ singer is setting up his merchandise table display, including rather incongruous bright-colored knit wool hats with bowties on the front.

We descend toward the Old Office, where bleeps and bloops emerge from a laptop over which a lone Daevid Allen-like figure looms in the darkness. We while away the minutes in the bowels of the Knit, until finally there’s some movement in the stairs. The Shackshakers are taking the stage.

Which came first, the chicken or the chicken mythos?

Colonel J.D.Colonel J.D. (he’s from Kentucky), right, looks and struts like an aggressive rooster, even tonight when he’s slowly losing a mighty battle with what I hope is not the dread flu (I shook his hand earlier in the evening…). As if that were not enough, he has to contend with the fact that half his band is missing in action somewhere behind the snow front, and Straitjackets Eddie and Jimmy are filling in on guitar and drums respectively, after one hasty rehearsal. No matter; the two bands have been touring together for a while, and swamp blues boogie is a valuable Southern common denominator. The heavy bass line booms like a Canned Heat road movie soundtrack, J.D.’s harmonica wails and ruts in answer to the guitar, when it’s not spending quality time up in the air, tossed and juggled with an increasingly shaky aim. Amid Shackshaker originals, they also cover Slim Harpo’s Hip Shake (“no, it’s not Radar Love“), Sonny Boy Williamson’s Help Me (variously described as the prototype or a copy of the better known Green Onions by Booker T. and the MG’s), Louis Jordan’s Caldonia and George Jones’s Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms.

J.D. does not like his vocal microphone; repeatedly, he pulls it aside, on occasion even slaps it down with a swift backhand, and sings into his hand-held harmonica mike to a weird, surely not coincidental, gallinaceous squawk. He puffs and strains his head forward … and plucks at the sinewy cords at the side of his scrawny neck. A feverish, rambling tale of wedding night pecking that would make Tammy Faye Starlite blush, and they’re done. Seth is still awake…

Los Straitjackets still indulge …una música festiva!… in cheesy, recorded pre-show announcement and cheesy comments in Spanish …y también…during the show, without ever cracking a smile while they churn out Christmas song after Christmas song, while their …con las hermanas famosas… new co-conspirators the Pontani Sisters go-go and can-can in a variety of Santa Clausy outfits. “Subtle” is not the word I’m looking for. This is a band who meld victoriously the sartorial splendor of (the original) Star Trek with the understatement of Mexican wrestling masks …la cancíon… and the delicate hues of silver plated DiPinto guitars into a winning surf instrumental band. They do the chicken song, they do the inevitable drum solo, they do Frosty, the Pontanis open their present packages …las maravillas enmascaradas… to display a variety of Straitjackets and Pontani merchandise, and they polish things …muchissima… off with Telstar.

It’s still snowing and Seth heads off to Brooklyn in a cab, while I make my way to the E train to Queens. ¡Arriba!

Posted in About Last Night |

A Little Touch of Alanis in the Night

In the middle of John Carpenter’s They Live, which was on TV in the bar tonight, I caught a commercial for Oxycontin. In this commercial, a lonely frowny cartoony guy takes a happy pill, and then he can hang out with the other cooler groovy smiley cartoony guys. I didn’t even have to wear sunglasses to watch the ad.

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

Hillary Rosen, ex-head of the RIAA, at a press conference (oops, maybe not)Revisitation: Given the late hour of the hour, and the not ungenerous application of Dogfish Head‘s miraculous World Wide Stout, which was dangerously on tap at d.b.a., I assumed that the whole World Wide would have seen John Carpenter’s 1988 low-budget paranoid alien pulp fantasy, They Live. Not so. By the light of day (and snow), I realize that it’s one of the most obscure of Carpenter’s pictures. It’s a goodie, though.

Basically, it concerns Nada, a regular-guy construction worker type who just happens to be Rowdy Roddy Piper. After a few random encounters with cops and helicopters and a ranting pirate TV program that keeps trying to break in on the airwaves, Roddy discovers that the world is actually run by aliens who use the media to pump out messages that keep the public subliminally in line. He finds a pair of special underground sunglasses which reveal that books, TV, billboards, and magazines are all filled with big black letters on a white background, spelling out messages like SLEEP and CONFORM and OBEY and MARRY AND PROCREATE. Thus the Oxycontin commercial was a little, well, a little too a propos.

All this back in 1988, when they hadn’t even invented Clear Channel yet.

Posted in General Musings |

Farce of Hobbit

Stop - in the Name of FrodoI can tell you this much: 3 hours and 28 minutes of enhanced and expanded storytelling in the limited theatrical re-release of The Fellowship of the Ring is plenty minutes too many. Apart from the odd glimpse of the occasional unfamiliar CGI location (“Oooooh”) which might or might not have appeared in the original version, the extra 30 minutes consist entirely of various characters staring soulfully off into the great distance, sometimes with tears in their eyes, often with dirt on their faces. New Zealand swoons around them. The music simpers. It’s downright painful.

Fellowship earned a lot of good will when it first came out by being competent and coherent. We’ll put up with a lot when you’re compressing hundreds of pages into a few hours at 24 FPS for us, with brownie points for not being insulting or just plain dumb.

All that good will is in jeopardy now. With long bouts of seasick camera, cloying characterizations, and leaden and fraught-with-import whispered deadpan acting, this “special” version is in theatres, in theory, for only about five days. This is a good thing, since you can pretty easily avoid it. I’m worried now that “The Two Towers” was an accurate read of the level these films are on, rather than charitably being that middle boring bit of the trilogy. We’ll find out in a couple of weeks, but with a cleaner insight into Part One, my expectations for Part Three have dipped pretty low.

The enhanced cut of “The Two Towers” will be out next week. It promises an excruciating 43 minutes’ worth of new footage. Yes, of course I’ll be there. I’m thick like that. One last question, though, unchanged from my first viewing: what on earth was Cate Blanchett thinking when she did that absurd job as Galadriel?

Of course it could be worse. The DVD box set of the Alien quadrilogy contains an intimidating 45 hours of new material. I’m tempted to go kill someone hateful, so I can watch the 9-disc set while doing federal time. But then I think I’d have to gouge my eyes out with a spork over prison cafeteria food, and it just gets ugly.

I went in to the new Loews E-Walk theatre on the north side of 42nd Street (note to manager: if you are going to have a Starbucks in your lobby, and if you are going to have 15 signs saying that no Starbucks products can be brought into the theatre, then YOU MUST HAVE COFFEE READY at 11:00 a.m. when the movie starts, and “Oh sorry they didn’t make it yet” is not an acceptable answer) with snow swirling down outside. Two hundred and eight fairly excruciating minutes later the city was staggering under heavy accumulation and visibility was down to nothing.

I headed off to Ninth Avenue in search of Chinese food. At the corner of 46th and 8th my feet shot up, my head shot down, bright white light exploded behind my eyes, and a loud crunch eclipsed the traffic noise. I was suddenly on my back with a frightened young couple leaning over me, asking if I could get up. My glasses were over there –> and my feet were over there <– and by the time I got all the pieces of me in place and vertical I was mush.

It’s interesting how scattered and yet mundane your thoughts are when you’re lying on your back on the sidewalk wondering if this is going to be big trouble. The main thing I was realizing was that I don’t recall ever falling down in my entire adult life. First time for everything. But apparently I’m not dead yet.

Posted in About Last Night |

The View From My Window


Posted in General Musings |