Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Teenage Mutant Bastard Franchise Alien Turtle Whores

With people dying all over the world and evil running amok, pop culture seems like the least worthy thing to be railing against right now, but let's face it, there's a million things a day that make me hilariously and unhealthily furious. The following article is simply the straw that broke the camel's back (the camel here being a metaphor for my apathy while sitting on the couch and not writing this blog).


So if you haven't heard already, Michael Bay and some other crap-ass director of bad movies are working together to bastardize all of our fond childhood memories of the Ninja Turtles into some sure-to-be-unwatchable new film that will inexplicably gross $300,000,000 in 2013. From the soulless voids of flashing lights and loud noises that make up what should be the creative centers of their brains, they've made the decision to make the Turtles actually aliens.

That's right. Aliens.

I'm going to try to touch only briefly on why this is stupid from a creative perspective before I move onto my main point, as I'm sure the internets at large will be abuzz with the collective outrage of a generation, but lets see how it goes.

First of all, the turtles are four things: Teenage, Mutants, Ninjas, and Turtles. Everything they are is already in their name. If they were actually aliens, or had ever been meant to be aliens, I feel like that would be a pretty fuckin important thing to leave out of a title that's already absurdly long and descriptive. Secondly, turtles are pretty Earth-specific. If they were from another planet, they wouldn't really be turtles, would they? They'd be turtle-like aliens, and the likelihood of all four of them also being genetic mutations of their proper, extraterrestrial turtlesque species seems infantesmal at best. At that point, you'd have to call them something like "Teenage Alien Turtle-Like Ninjas". I mean, that is if you were in any way trying to actually give a proper title to an idea and not just using name recognition to guarantee your profitability while eye-fucking the audience with hours of predictable fight scenes, explosions, and one-liners.

But fanboy bitching aside, seriously, you had us already. Its the Ninja Turtles. They had to do absolutely nothing except to tell the same story over again twenty years later and everyone would have been happy. Let's face it, by the time I was watching the Turtles, they had already long since been wholly corporatized by the franchise goons. The pizza-loving dudebros of the cartoon show who went around chopping up a somehow affordable army of human-shaped robots were a far cry from the comparatively brutal crimefighters of the comic books who drank beer and killed gangbangers. I'm not even asking for some kind of artistic purity here, I'm just asking why you would mess with a guaranteed formlua. In the years between when the cartoon show aired and when everyone decided to save $7 by not seeing the third movie, the Turtles sold us comics, action figures, movie tickets, video tapes, school supplies, halloween costumes, video games, t-shirts, pajamas, novels, backpacks, shoes, party supplies, sleeping bags, and Vanilla Ice and KRS-1 singles. They made us want to eat pizza, join Karate, and skateboard. Every stick that fell on the ground was a bo staff until you broke it into a sword, and then finally, a sai. Then, if you had a rubber band, it became nunchucks. The mere fact that I feel a palpable sense of betrayal at the idea of someone turning the Turtles into aliens speaks to the incredible success with which they have ingrained me with brand loyalty.

All of which begs the question, why fuck with it? The groundwork is already laid. There's a legion of fans out here with a near-genetic loyalty to the Ninja Turtles franchise, just waiting to take themselves and now probably their kids to the movies, just to catch a familliar whiff of what was once so awesome. They could just do the same exact thing: Splinter, Shredder, April, ooze, and bam, it all pays off. Sure, Raphael can make a wisecrack about Jersey Shore or something, and Donatello can have a 4G Ipad instead of a collection of radio transistors, but just once, give the fans what they want. After all, its not like Michael Bay and his million dollar cronies have any artistic stake in the story. But of course, that's not what we'll get. Instead, prepare for a 3D, computer generated "action-packed thrill ride" that takes all of our childhood memories and bends them over a table in a metaphorical hillbilly rape-shack, just like GI Joe and the Transformers. I still haven't seen any of those movies, by the way. I can't bear the thought that I might get hit by a car and die knowing that the last movie I watched was Revenge of the Fallen.

There is hope, however. I recently heard that George Lucas was going to quit making movies because he was tired of all the "fanboy bitching". I'm assuming that term is washed-up, out-of-touch, lucky to have gotten unspeakably rich in the first place director-speak for "public opinion". But the point is, it seems to have worked. It may be too late to stop Michael Bay and his apprentice from turning the Ninja Turtles into some kind of nonsensical explosion aliens. In fact, they might not even know what the fuck a Ninja Turtle is in the first place. I assume that the first thing they do when the studio acquires new production rights is rev up the pyro trucks long before any scripts are written. However, it might be possible, with enough fanboy bitching, to make them quit making movies before they seek and destroy every fond memory we have, even though I think the only 80's cartoons that have managed to stay under the radar are the gay ones like the Snorks, David The Gnome, and Carebears.

To that end, sign this petiton that Jimmy Viola made: Turtles! It may be a small start, but lets get the ball rolling to send those assholes back to their mansions to sleep on piles of money with many beautiful women as the jokes of the movie industry!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Music History (As According To Stuff I Remember) Part I: The Band That Singlehandedly Destroyed Rock Music

Disclaimer: This article is based on stuff I remember and is not checked for factual accuracy. That said, everything is probably true anyway.

I believe the year was either 1995 or 96, putting me either in 8th or 9th grade. Back then, MTV still had programming that included these little four to five minute curiosities known as "music videos". The tide was beginning to turn away from these, but at the time I could still come home from school and bask in what was truly a unique and innovative era of rock music. I remember a regular rotation of Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Rage, and all the seminal bands of the day alongside the industry giants like Aerosmith and the Stones, coexisting peacefully in spite of reality shows that nobody I knew cared about, like "The Real World". Bands were cool, music was exciting, and all was well for my 14 year old self.

Then, one song, one song came along and irreversibly changed the face of rock music forever, bathing the channel that had made me and so many others love music in a sea of limp-dicked weenie ballads for the rest of the short-lived life of the music video. People always talk about how "Smells Like Teen Spirit" popped the Glam-Metal bubble, a concept that has been endlessly rehashed and remembered on VH1 for three times as long as Nirvana was actually recording music. But nobody talks about how a mere 4 years later, this band came along and destroyed everything novel and meaningful that was going on in music thanks to the Seattle and alternative bands. Who was this band, you ask?

What? Who the Hell are these guys? I'll tell you, God damnit! They're called The Verve Pipe, and I clearly remember the specific moment they destroyed rock. I was watching the Jenny McCarthy show for some reason. She always had a musical guest on at the end of the show while she rolled around in her pajamas on some corny retro 60's studio set. After twenty minutes of trying to be funny (immunizations make your kids autistic, Hut Hut!), she introduced the debut performance of the hot new band, The Verve Pipe, with their breakout hit "The Freshmen". I can clearly remember wondering for the next three minutes when the song was actually going to start. This boring, washy, clean guitar wusfest had to just be the intro, right? The weepy, uninspired lyrics just had to be a buildup to an actual song. I mean, these guys were on TV, where the hell was the rock?  As it turns out, nowhere. When the band stopped playing and the audience cheered (more out of excitement at being part of an audience rather than at anything they'd heard, I'm sure), I realized that that had been the whole song. Ha! Nice try at being relevant, Jenny. The Verve Pipe were a bunch of boring losers, their hit song was about as exciting as an afternoon nap, and that's the last I would have to hear about that.

Wrong again, Lou.

So the next day, while returning to my usual routine of watching music videos all day because I was in 8th grade, imagine my surprise when I saw the video for "The Freshmen" sandwiched in between two definitely superior songs. It had the same grainy, low lit texture as the alternative videos of the day, but, as with the live performance, it was ultimately boring and meaningless. "How the hell did this song get into the rotation?" I paraphrased to myself, "I thought I'd never have to hear this crap again! What gives?" Well, imagine my further surprise when this song absolutely exploded. MTV was playing the video all day long. I'm convinced that Y100 had the song on repeat at the station. I was sure it was a fluke. "The Freshmen" was garbage. I mean, I practically was a freshman and this song had absolutely no appeal to me. These guys were going to burn out, and rock could continue as normal.

Well, I was right on one count at least. The Verve Pipe did turn out to be a one hit wonder, but the absurd over saturation of that song opened the door for a seemingly unending stream of wiener bands who couldn't have found the overdrive channel on their amps if it was directly under a picture of the girlfriend they were always pining over. In the next couple of years I was bombarded with one bittersweet, toddler-friendly pop ballad after another. Next out of the gate were the bands that would become the leaders of the wus-rock movement: Matchbox 20, Fuel, and Third Eye Blind, with safe, radio-friendly bubblegum pop tunes like "3 AM", "Semi-Charmed Life", and whatever fuckin Fuel song everyone liked at the time. After all of these singles broke, the floodgates were open for forgettable bands with hummable choruses to absolutely dominate life on earth: Dishwalla's "Counting Blue Cars", Fastball's "The Way", Eagle Eye Cherry's "Stay Tonight", whoever sings "Closing Time", Smashmouth's "Walking on the Sun", Savage Garden, The New Radicals, and a host of other copycat bands who plugged in the guitar just long enough to have their albums filed in the "Rock" section in the record stores. In my mind, nothing could be farther from the spirit of rock and roll. There was no local scene that spawned this explosion. Nobody talks about the "Wisconsin Wus-Rock Movement" or anything like that. I believe that these bands were handpicked by labels to be a safe and consumer-friendly alternative to, well, Alternative.

To make matters worse, all the good bands were breaking up and dying. Kurt Cobain died, along with Layne Stanley. Soundgarden split up (conveniently the day before I wore my brand new Down On The Upside shirt to school, unknowingly), and the Smashing Pumpkins soon followed. No comparable bands were coming up, at least in the popular music sphere, to replace them. A few funny things happened too. For example, the proto-hipster Beck, who had been a small fry in the alternative market suddenly seemed like a genius in comparison the rest of the wus-rockers. His quirky, retro, boring songs became huge hits with their forced, too cool for school nonsense lyrics and funny noises going on in the background. Some bands that had potential to be cool, like Filter, suddenly jumped ship and pandered to the wussery of the new market, revealing themselves as the copycats they were. It seemed as if there was no end in sight. Day after day I would continue to come home and watch MTV only to find an ever increasing slew of reality shows encroaching on an ever worsening variety of music videos. The only respite from this and spark of originality came in the form of Marylin Manson, and let's face it, I really, really didn't want to become a Manson fan.

Popular music has never really recovered from this era of weepy not-rock. Once the labels realized that the public still loved music even though it was completely stripped of any originality, personality, or creativity, they knew they could pretty much sell us anything. For evidence of this, look no further than at the biggest rock band names of the past decade: Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Staind, and Nickleback. What they all have in common, besides not being able to spell the words in their own names, is that they've all sold a million billion records despite the fact that pretty much nobody I've ever met in my entire life would listen to any of them with a ten foot listening cone if you pointed a gun at their mothers. So how can this be??

Popular rock music has been on a steady decline for the past 15 or so years, and it was The Verve Pipe who pushed it down the hill. From the first time that they lazily feathered their guitar strings on The Jenny McCarthy show, their "we're just not trying that hard" attitude crept its way into the airwaves, letting every band thereafter know that it was ok to not push any boundaries, ok to not play any hard parts, and ok to have your press photo look like an IT staff meeting outside of a Starbucks. Perhaps that's not completely fair. Perhaps any one of those predictable singles I mentioned above could have lit the spark that fueled the entire inferno of boredom if "The Freshmen" had never been written. However, that's not how it went down, at least according to my memory. And if there's one thing I can trust myself to remember with nearly superhuman clarity, its being disappointed.