I’d Rather Let The House Burn Down And Sit Here In My Own Filth

February 5, 2011

As a kid, I wasted a lot of time hanging with an odd schoolmate whose mother taught bellydancing and father looked like Mike Brady mostly for the opportunity to play Pong.

I must have been ten or so and already blowing the little coin I had at that age on pinball and air hockey at the bowling alley, but Pong had all my friends boggle-eyed and hooked.

A cursor batted back and forth between two other cursors on the television screen in the den at Tony’s house had the same effect on us as that monolith had on the monkeys at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

We were all twelve or thirteen when the first wave of major arcade games – Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man – began to arrive and. like certain songs or albums, each of them would help define a period of months.

We all eventually had an Atari system at home and even a town as small as ours had an arcade that was a social hub for junior high and high school kids.

It all kind of ended for me in ’83 or so, around the time when we got our driver’s licenses. Cable and home video were also becoming available, so there were more options for entertainment.

And music had become my dominant interest.

By college, video games seemed like something from another era (even if it had only been five years since Pac-Man had become the Jaws of video games)

There was a brutal stretch of winter in February of ’89 when three housemates and I surrendered, embraced the weather-induced malaise and vowed to not leave the house unless no option existed to blow off work or class.

Instead, we hunkered down, ordered a lot of pizza and played computer baseball ’round the clock. Each of us had two teams and we played much of an entire season before March arrived.

One of my last brushes with videogames happened about a decade ago, coinciding with my first office gig. Though it was a relatively casual job, it was still a disorienting experience and I remembered what an escape videogames had once provided.

So, I snagged a copy of The Sims, “a simulation of the daily activities of one or more virtual persons (“Sims”) in a suburban household near SimCity.”

For a week or so, I was enthralled with the game as I attempted to maximize the happiness of my avatars. I was spending a lot the time when I wasn’t working sending my onscreen Sim to work so that it could acquire a home, pay bills, and buy stuff.

It quickly became exhausting.

I was spending my free time doing the very things in a virtual world – working, paying bills, cooking, taking out the trash – that I found mundane and unappealing in the real world.

Soon, the entertainment value of the game was simply when something went awry – the Rain Man-like behavior of my Sim when something caught fire or the Pig Pen-esque cloud that would develop when I’d neglect to have a character shower.

It was then that I realized that I had enough trouble being a human being in real life and, if I was going to escape from that world, I’d rather be blasting space rocks or eating a maze of dots.

Here are four songs which address the idea of being human…

White Zombie – More Human Than Human
from Astro Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction And Other Synthetic Delusions Of The Electric Head

Science fiction fans recognize the title of White Zombie’s best-known song as the motto of the Tyrell Corporation from the classic flick Blade Runner. I’ve always found the supercharged track to be the sonic equivilant of a shot of adrenalin to the heart.

I met Rob Zombie at a record store where I worked and he seemed like a good guy – very polite, very soft spoken.

Michael Jackson – Human Nature
from Thriller

You only get to discover fire once, but, apparently, Jackson was obsessed with trying to recapture the unparalleled success of Thriller for the rest of his life.

Personally, I always thought that the lush, dreamy Human Nature, despite being a massive hit in the late summer of 1983, was the most underrated song on the album.

Rick Springfield – Human Touch
from Living In Oz

Even in 1983 – which, technologically speaking, now seems as advanced as 1883 – Rick Springfield was lamenting the disconnect between man and machine in Human Touch.

At the time, I was unaware that actors weren’t supposed to sing (and, usually, with good reason). Of course, I doubt that I was aware that Rick Springfield was a soap opera star aside from a DJ or Casey Kasem mentioning it.

But Springfield had a string of hits in the early ’80s that were undeniably catchy and still sound pretty good all of these years later.

Björk – Human Behaviour
from Debut

I find Iceland’s finest export to be utterly charming and completely fascinating while, at the same time, being respectfully terrified of the former Sugarcube.

It was impossible not to be drawn in by Human Behaviour‘s strking video, but the hypnotic song – which contains a sample of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Go Down Dying – is as equally arresting.

“If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready be ready to get confused.”

Yeah, that pretty much sums it all up.

Ichiro Meets Buckethead

July 19, 2009

Although my interest in baseball has waned considerably over the past two decades, one player who has intrigued me is Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

First of all, he’s from Japan, and the Japanese contributed mightily to my childhood. Hell, in the ‘80s, we were told of how they would soon be our overlords and annex the US, replacing all workers with robotos.

(and everything would be adorned with those cool rising sun logos)

There have also been articles detailing that, in addition to being a spectacular hitter, a speed merchant, and possessing a cannon for an arm, Ichiro is rather eccentric (and not unlike Mr. Roboto).

How eccentric is debatable as his interviews are conducted through an interpreter although he is, apparently, fluent enough in English to annually give a pre-game speech to his All-Star teammates that supposedly contains every profanity known to man.

His eccentric ways were recounted last week in an odd encounter with Ichiro which fellow All-Star Jason Bay blogged about.

Paloma was patiently listening to my astounding tales of Ichiro when I expressed that I would watch a reality show featuring him.

She suggested, in a stroke of genius, he be paired with Buckethead. The mere thought of it had me ready to pop popcorn anticipating a show which doesn’t exist, yet, if there’s any cosmic justice, should.

Buckethead, for the uninitiated, is a tall, lanky guitar wizard who performs wearing a mask and Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head. Briefly a member of Guns ‘N Roses, he gives rare interviews using a puppet, claims to have been raised in a chicken coop, and has worked with an array of acts including Bootsy Collins, Iggy Pop, and John Zorn.

Ozzy Osbourne tried to recruit for his band, but he was troubled by Buckethead’s refusal to remove his mask.

The union of Ichiro and Buckethead would seem to hold incalculable comedic value.

I don’t want the “reality” that is currently being offered to me by housewives in New Jersey, MTV, or Denise Richards.

No, the reality of a Japanese baseball superstar and a bucket-wearing guitar maestro – living as roommates, arguing over who left dirty dishes in the sink through an interpreter and a puppet – is a reality which I could enthusiastically embrace.

Buckethead – The Homing Beacon

I haven’t heard a lot of Buckethead’s music, although it is quite obvious from what I have heard – and to paraphrase Ozzy’s assessment – as a guitarist, he’s a motherf**ker.

The Homing Beacon is a song he’s written in tribute to Michael Jackson and available on his website, Bucketheadland.

The song is sad and sweet and hardly as frenetic as his music which I had heard.

Cibo Matto – Know Your Chicken
from Viva! La Woman

The Japanese duo Cibo Matto was brought to prominence in the ‘90s by their association with the Beastie Boys and if the Beastie Boys were two Japanese women rather than three American men, and if they sang mostly about food, then they would be Cibo Matto.

Actually, Cibo Matto might be well cast as the neighbors to Ichiro and Buckethead.

White Zombie – El Phantasmo And The Chicken Run Blast-O-Rama
from Astro Creep: 2000

Apparently, Buckethead, like Rob Zombie, is a fan of slasher movies and his masked persona was inspired by Michael Myers from the Halloween movies.

Unlike Michael Myers, I’ve read that musicians such as Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea describe Buckethead as a shy, sweet person.

Perhaps Rob Zombie could be cast as the landlord – kind of a tattooed, dreadlocked Mr. Roper.

Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test

July 8, 2008

Some, to paraphrase Kramer, serve their dark master, the cocoa bean, but it is the salty snacks that I crave, particularly in the form of a cracker. Having had a reaction due to the ingestion of a certain plant-based substance, I once rampaged my way through several boxes of crackers, leading my housemates to dub me “Cracker Vacuum” (it was later translated into Chinese as the far more sonically palatable Bin Gone Kon).

Munchies-inspired nicknames aside, crackers are delightful and the addition of cheese was a great moment in humankind. My enjoyment of this combination has been tempered of late by my concern that – based on knowledge gleaned from numerous viewings of Blade Runner – I’m a replicant.

When I first saw Blade Runner, it was as on VHS a couple years after its theatrical release. I’m certain it didn’t get screened at our smalltown theater and I’m surprised my friends and I found it at our local video rental joint.

It bored me.

I certainly found it to be breathtakingly grim and it’s still visually stunning twenty-five years later, but I didn’t truly ponder the ramifications of the concepts at the time. When I did, the questions the film raised about consciousness and humanity were mind-bending.

[Did they have crackers in Blade Runner? I know that there were noodles (which are another wondrous foodstuff).]

Now, throughout the film, Gaff leaves origami animals for Harrison Ford’s character Deckard and these items – combined with the unicorn footage added for the director’s cut – strengthens the argument that Deckard himself is a replicant. The unicorn memory is one programmed into all replicants who are unaware that they are synthetic creatures.

My earliest memory of eating cheese and crackers was when I was four or five and it’s vivid. On a family vacation, I was allowed to stay up quite late with my uncle; we watched a movie about cartoon cats in Paris and ate cheese and crackers.

Unfortunately, when I reconsider the event, I fear it couldn’t have happened. The movie had to have been The Aristocats (is there another “cartoon cats in Paris” flick?), but this was years before VCRs and cable television. Would they have shown such a movie on network television following the late news?

More suspicious is the conflict between my memory and my uncle’s life rhythm. It was remarkably consistent as I recall – on the river fishing at dawn, an afternoon draining bottles of Iron City at the Moose Lodge, and asleep in his recliner shortly after dinner. I don’t remember ever seeing the man awake after dark let alone eating cheese and crackers.

And so, I have to wonder at the possibility that this memory is my “unicorn sequence.” Maybe lots of people have such a memory.

Maybe Edward James Olmos is someday going to leave a foil, origami Triscuit at my doorstep. Or maybe a Ritz.

Vangelis – Blade Runner (End Title)
Vangelis really captured the vibe of the movie with his score. My friend Chris, who had prompted our friends and me to rent Blade Runner, played the album into the ground.

White Zombie – More Human Than Human
The motto of the Tyrell Corporation set to music. I met Rob Zombie at a record store where I worked and he seemed like a good guy – very polite, very soft spoken.

Cracker – This Is Cracker Soul
I loved Cracker’s debut which included This Is Cracker Soul, but David Lowery was rude to Paloma once and it’s dulled my enthusiasm for Cracker’s music ever since.

Kenickie – Robot Song
I remember Kenickie being “the next big thing” for about ten minutes in the mid-90s. Coming across this track to post, I’m thinking I might have to go back and check out the rest of their debut, At The Club.