Monday, August 31, 2009

Recap of ‘Mad Men’ recaps


Mad Men is awesome, no doubt. And deserving of every scrap of Internet fandom. But I’m overwhelmed and a bit puzzled by the flood of Monday-morning recaps. Why do we need so many? Do they really contribute much? (And is there any audience for a plot synopsis except for people who already know the plot?)

So as a service to you, Kind Reader, I offer a review of today’s Mad Men recaps, so you don’t have to read them all yourself. With the time you save, you can actually watch the show again.

1. ArtsBeat. After a suggestion I don’t quite follow — that Mad Men might be “slowly turning into The Sopranos” — comes a straightforward (if fancifully titled) breakdown of the major plotlines: the creatives getting high in the office (“Cheech & Chong”); Sally Draper’s thieving (“Davey and Goliath” ); and Roger and Jane Sterling’s party (“Untitled Woody Allen Fall Project”). Strangely, however, Dave Itzkoff “didn’t even have time to discuss the other awkward party of the week, at Joan Holloway’s apartment.” Nerd points for pinning down Peggy’s new secretary and raising, in the comments, the interesting possibility that “Connie,” the man Don met at the country club, might be Conrad Hilton, Paris’s great-grandfather. 531 words.

  • Name for Dr. Greg Harris: None.

2. Television Without Pity. I’ve enjoyed this site’s snarky recaps of other shows, which often give characters Maureen Dowd-like pet names. This one, by a user named Couch Baron, plays it straight, yet drops the ball by omitting significant details, like the fact that Joan entertains her guests on an accordion. (The physical symbolism of her embracing this constrictive machine should count for something, as should the fact that she sings a cutesy French song in a girlish voice.) Also, the timeline is odd: Why begin the recap with Sally’s crime when the casting call for faux Ann-Margaret Ann-Margret came first? 544 words.

  • Name for Dr. Greg Harris: Greg.

3. Gawker. Cool Web functionality: In addition to the long text synopses, there are five embedded videos of key scenelets. Also, a smart move by Brian Moylan to break down the episode by theme (racism, fashion, social interactions, drugs) rather than by discrete plotline. As with many of these summaries, though, I thought it was a little heavy on pseudo-critical one-liners (“If anything, Mad Men shows us that the idyllic lifestyle is merely a mirage, and intruders and interlopers lurk behind every highball”) and light on actual plot. No recap I’ve read, for example, even mentioned what idea Peggy and the pot boys came up with for their Bacardi campaign. Why? 1,236 words.

  • Egregious errors: One of these two spellings of Peggy Olson is wrong: “Let’s just hope that ‘My name is Peggy Olsen and I want to smoke marijuana’ isn’t the precursor to ‘My name is Peggy Olson, and I’m a drug addict.’ ” Also, if you post videos it’s doubly important to get the quotes right.
  • Name for Dr. Greg Harris: Doctor Rapist.

4. New York magazine. A long, chewy one by Emily Nussbaum. Plot summary looks pretty thorough, although if I didn’t happen to enjoy Nussbaum’s arch, zinger-licious style I think it would be tough to digest the whole thing. When her lines work, they’re great: “The only thing worse than marrying your rapist is marrying your loser rapist.” But when they don’t, they simply don’t compute: “Peggy seems to believe she is living in the future, one in which women won’t have to tiptoe, or be slotted as a Betty, a Joan, or a Peggy 1.0. (Although they might be a Samantha, a Miranda, a Carrie, or a Charlotte.)” Huh? Also, weird and unnecessary organizational scheme (“The Pitch,” “The Campaign,” “Early Results”). 1,151 words.

  • Name for Dr. Greg Harris: Dr. Greg Rape.

5. Entertainment Weekly. Even longer, but not nearly as chewy. Karen Valby is finely tuned to the female characters, commenting sympathetically on Joan’s humiliations, Sally’s need for attention, and Betty’s twitchiness. Not quite as insightful about the men, and while this recap as a whole is reasonably thorough, the writing gets a bit overripe. (“It was an evening of warring impulses, people either grasping at outdated traditions or finding freedom in experimentation.”) Worst of all, though, are the conspicuous editing lapses, inexplicable for a Time Warner publication. 1,679 words.

  • Egregious errors: “Black face,” “sayanora,” “to the manor born.”
  • Name for Dr. Greg Harris: Greg.

6. TV Guide. A whopper. Light on analysis, but after reading so many style-over-substance armchair critiques I’m glad to find a synopsis that really is a synopsis, even if it is nearly as long as the script itself. Which raises one point: The writer, Adam Bryant, posted this at 11:18 p.m. on Sunday, and this is way too long and too polished to have been written in 18 minutes — clearly it was done ahead of time with a screener, and published after the show ended to look like a blog post, or at least to avoid spoilage. Fair? Not sure, but clearly Dave Itzkoff had about 16 other deadlines to deal with while he was recapping. 1,813 words.

  • Name for Dr. Greg Harris: Greg.

7. Starpulse. A creative one: This was written in Peggy’s voice, as she revels in her newfound feeling of liberation and surveys the weirdness around her. (“If I wasn’t in the office I would have been stuck at Roger Sterling’s Derby Day party. I had no idea minstrel shows were still acceptable; I thought this was 1963.”) Insufficient as a plot summary, of course, but an entertaining read, and also a glimpse into the way the characters are being read by viewers. Last week the writer here, Mike Ryan, did his recap in the voice of Paul Kinsey, who in that episode was ridiculed as a “Communist” and, in Ryan’s summary, seethed with resentment and superiority. (This week his insult was even worse: “educated.”) 544 words.

  • Name for Dr. Greg Harris: Greg.

Black Francis on the biz: ‘The soup is soulless!’

Black Francis of the Pixies, a.k.a. Frank Black not of the Pixies, wrote Bob Lefsetz’s letter of the day today. It’s in response to a column about this article in the Sunday New York Times about Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” ad campaign, which is a very deliberate response to Apple’s popular “Get a Mac” spots.

He sez:

Subject: Re: I’m A PC

Dear Bob. Yes! I DID read the New York Times article today (even though I AM a career indie rock college drop out), and the same quotes about the “I am a PC” ad campaign jumped out at me, too. Too many lame-ass, greedy cooks in the kitchen! The soup is SOULESS! Thankfully the beat goes on…

Black Francis (The Pixies)

Hope he’s not taking any personal offense at those ads. Oh look, here’s one of them now:

Monster-about-to-chomp-babe poster of the day: ‘Island Claws’ (1980)


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Big scalpin’


My story about strange new world of ticket scalping is in the paper today.

It’s a complicated issue, and everybody has been covering it in recent months, including me. My story attempts to explore the phenomenon of the “secondary ticket market” from the point of view of the scalpers themselves, whom you don’t usually hear much about. Decide for yourself about their ingenuity and legitimacy in business.

Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Freud in the Adirondacks!

Interesting Op-Ed today by Leon Hoffman, a psychiatrist, about Freud’s only visit to America. He arrived via Hoboken 100 years ago today, which is pretty neat in itself, but it’s also intriguing that while here he hung out at the Adirondack camp of one James Jackson Putnam,“a professor of neurology at Harvard and a leader of a growing movement to professionalize psychotherapy in the United States.”

After listening to Freud at Clark [University, where Freud lectured], Putnam invited him and the other psychoanalysts who had traveled with him to the United States — Carl Jung (who also lectured and received an honorary degree at Clark) and Sandor Ferenczi — to spend a few days at the Putnam family camp in the Adirondacks, after the group visited Niagara Falls. Freud marveled at Putnam Camp, “where we had an opportunity of being acquainted with the utter wilderness of such an American landscape.” In several days of hiking and feasting, Putnam and Freud cemented a strong bond.

The article doesn’t mention the location of Putnam Camp, but it appears to be near Lake Placid.

Putnam’s great-grandson, George Prochnik, wrote a book in 2006 about this meeting, Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology, and a review provides some fun details:

Prochnik introduces him at Putnam Camp, an Adirondack hideaway where he, James and fellow Transcendentalists would gather to play whimsical games, stage Wagner sing-alongs, eat griddlecakes and commune with nature. Freud proved something of a wet blanket, disdaining the sailor outfit worn by Putnam’s teenage cousin and lagging on the group’s vigorous hikes. His private goal, of seeing a porcupine, was fulfilled in part — he found a dead one.

Freud fans: any particular significance of porcupines? (I’m reminded of a joke I heard Lou Reed tell once, in a radio interview. He said something about the way he worked on a particular project: “The way porcupines make love — carefully.”)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ninth Avenue: To all dear


Time travel propaganda posters

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart in LA* is offering a set of four prints by Amy Martin, each a message of good-citizenship propaganda from some very distant era of planetary history — traveling to a “nature park” to see dinosaurs, ice age winter wonderland, etc. They’re $20 each or $70 for all four.

Here are two:


* A.K.A. 826LA, the Los Angeles branch of 826, the nonprofit co-founded by Dave Eggers that tutors kids in writing. (New York’s branch is in Brooklyn.) The Poster District says that another time travel-themed poster sale last year raised $30,000 for 826LA.

The monsters-chomping-babes series is on vacation today. It will return on Monday.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kurt’s Guitar Hero avatar: Cardigan skank or ‘Adonis’?


Rolling Stone has a piece today on the story behind Kurt Cobain’s character in Guitar Hero 5. Getting Nirvana’s music in the game seems to have taken some wrangling with Courtney Love and Universal Publishing, but also apparently with Dave Grohl, the magazine reports.

Not surprisingly, though, it sounds as if Courtney was a particularly difficult negotiation. An Activision executive explains some of her requests, particularly on how buff the digital Kurt would be:

Naturally, Love did have some concerns. Namely, Cobain’s physique, [exec Tim] Riley reveals. “Courtney supplied us with photos and videos and knew exactly what she wanted Kurt to look like,” he says. “She picked the wardrobe and hair style, which turned out to be the ‘Teen Spirit’ look, then we went back and forth over changes — some subtle, some not so subtle.” In column B? Love’s reference to the Greek God Adonis, whose youthful good looks made the male deity an object of desire. “She certainly had a physical image in mind,” says Riley. “She wanted him to have that sort of athletic definition but not overly so.”

Was it Courtney or Dave Grohl who got the Daniel Johnston shirt in there? And does Daniel get any licensing bread from this?

Rolling Stone also has a brief video of scenes from the game’s Nirvana songs, which are “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and a live version of “Lithium.” On this clip, at least, there’s virtually no screen time for any of the rest of the band, but curiously there is another guitarist on stage, and it looks vaguely like Pat Smear. Which might be a slight anachronism: Smear joined for the In Utero tour, when Cobain didn’t look like this anymore.

Apology to a music professor

The Awl has a hilarious “Public Apology” column today by Dave Bry, about his guilt over an assignment for a History of Jazz college course 19 years ago.

Dear visiting music professor who taught History of Jazz at Connecticut College spring semester 1990:

I’m sorry for comparing Miles Davis’
Kind of Blue to Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.”

I can only imagine what your reaction was. You there, grading papers, sitting in your office, or at home in your apartment in New Haven—you were visiting from Yale. Maybe as part of a sort of exchange? A professor from my school was up there, teaching your regular students at the time? Man, you got the short end of that one, huh? I picture you reading the little blue test booklet I’d turned in, gnashing your teeth and going red in the face, then ripping the beret off your head and throwing it across the room. (You never wore a beret in class, but I assume you put you one on as soon as you got home, right?)

Elsewhere in the piece he admits that even though this first assignment was ungraded, he failed the class because he stopped going to the lectures but was “too lazy and stupid to get myself to the registrar’s office and drop the course.” He also offers this pithy statement:

Comparing Kind of Blue to “Turn the Page” is sort of like looking at “Guernica” and saying it reminds you of The Horse Whisperer. Y’know, because of the horse.

Monster-about-to-chomp-babe poster of the day: ‘Centipede!’ (2004)


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Press release(s) of the day: Grungy skies, blind denials

1. There’s no statement like a nonstatement. And there’s nothing like a nonstatement to make you wonder what is not being stated. Until I saw this, the last thing on my mind today would have been Jadakiss:

Please the official statement from Def Jam Recording Artist Jadakiss regarding the incident that took place this week.

“What happened on Saturday was an unfortunate situation but one in which I have no involvement in. Since the release of my recent album ‘The Last Kiss,’ I have been on the road touring and promoting my project. I am focused on my performance schedule and career.”

It took Google 0.18 seconds to fill me in with this. Please the official statement!

2. I’ve heard good things about Virgin America and really would have tried it. But then ...


August 26, 2009—Rock icon, Chris Cornell, holds one of the most defining voices in music history. On November 1, 2009, Cornell and Virgin America launch a unique partnership between an artist and a commercial airline. This special partnership will include in-flight programming, radio contests, performances and more.

Starting in October and running through the holidays, the entire Virgin America fleet will feature Chris Cornell music on all flights. His latest LP, Scream, has been added to the airline’s music library and select songs will be a part of a collection of music that plays as passengers are boarding. Beginning in November, passengers will also have the opportunity to experience various Chris Cornell music videos and albums throughout their flight.
So you have to listen to Chris Cornell while you’re waiting for Zone 4 to be called, and while stuck in your seat? Is there at least some “Black Hole Sun” or Temple of the Dog?

Monster-about-to-chomp-babe poster of the day: ‘Demon of Paradise’ (1987)


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Watchmen in Greek? ‘Xpm.’


Recently I was given a fantastic gift: a copy of the Watchmen trade paperback in Greek, picked up by a good friend who was there on business. I’ve been poring over it for weeks, fascinated by every detail, big and small. Not only do we get to see the ordinary word-balloon text in another alphabet — which is kind of cool in itself — but we also get Greek renderings of some particular Watchmen-isms, like Rorschach’s “Hurm”:


Interestingly, there seems to have been some re-coloration in the Greek edition. In some spots the color differs significantly from my copy, even to the extent that some figures have been shaded much differently. This scene from Chapter 5, the brilliant “Fearful Symmetry,” also confirms that Rorschach’s little signature glyph needs no translation:


It’s possible that I just have an old edition of the book, and that since I bought it — some time in the early ’90s* — it has been recolored. Warning: I have a three-year-old, bottom-of-the-line printer/scanner, and my skills on it are minimal. So the colors are not perfectly reproduced here, but they’re OK. Whatever the reason, it’s interesting that Moloch’s bathrobe goes from brown to green, and that the shading that obscured Rorschach’s mask was apparently lightened in the newer, Greek version.

Anybody have a more recent American edition for color comparison?

* It was a replacement for one lent to this guy, which came back with crayon on the cover, something that at age 14 or whatever I found inexcusable.

Harrison ‘My Wife! My Family!’ Ford

Absolutely fucking brilliant analysis of Harrison Ford films today by Jake and Jesse, with the help, apparently, of somebody on YouTube who compiled scenes from various movies showing the former intergalactic skirt-chaser fuming over his lost/kidnapped/killed/whatever wife and family, over and over and over and over.

The tipping point, our boys argue, came with The Mosquito Coast.


Read Jake’s full post here. Good work, guys.

Monster-about-to-chomp-babe poster of the day: ‘The Bermuda Depths’ (1978)


It's a giant turtle!

Also, check out that cast: Carl Weathers! Connie Sellecca! Burl Ives!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To mourn a carp


Until tonight I hadn’t gotten a chance to read this week’s Economist because on Friday, when it usually arrives, I left town for a much-needed weekend pastoral. But when I opened it up in my kitchen and flipped to my favorite section — the obituary — I saw that the eulogy this week is devoted to Benson, “England’s best-loved fish,” which died on July 29, “aged about 25.”

Benson was a carp, a female. And apparently so lovely a specimen of piscine femininity was she that the Economist rhapsodized her in its most honeyed and reverent language:

In her glory days she reminded some of Marilyn Monroe, others of Raquel Welch. She was lither than either as she cruised through the water-weed, a lazy twist of gold. Her gleaming scales, said one fan, were as perfect as if they had been painted on. Some wag had named her after a small black hole in her dorsal fin which looked, to him, like a cigarette burn. It was as beautiful and distinctive as a mole on an 18th-century belle.

Benson was a, um, full-figured fish. “At her peak weight, in 2006, she was 64 lb 2 oz.” I don’t know what that means in terms of carp BMI, but I take the magazine’s word that it was hefty. Poor Benson’s luxurious tastes may have been what ultimately did her in, as the obituary submits in its closing flourish:

She was said to have taken a bait of uncooked tiger nuts, which swelled inside her until she floated upwards. Telltale empty paper bags were found on the bank of the river. Or she may have been pregnant, with 300,000 eggs causing complications, or stressed after so much catching and releasing, those constant brushes with extinction. On the line between life and death, at Kingfisher Lake, she breathed the fatal air and did not sink again. And there she lay, like Wisdom drawn up from the deep: as golden, and as quiet.

Two years ago the Economist famously ran an obit of a parrot named Alex.

Monsters chomping: Li’l help?


I’m running fairly low on material for my award-winning* monster-chomping-babe poster series, which I’ve been running since April. Any contributions or suggestions for more would be gratefully accepted.

The parameters are simple: it should be a movie poster or other commercial graphic image showing any kind of real or mythical beast about to, well, devour some poor damsel. Extra points for bestial erotism, good taglines, Roger Corman productions, a cast of washed-up former celebrities, weird foreign languages, or any tacky juvenilia by future Hollywood big shots. Land or sea scene.

Keep chomp alive!

* Not really.

Monster-about-to-chomp-babe poster of the day, pre-‘Jaws’ special: ‘The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes’ (1955)


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My ‘Mad Men’ prediction

I was one of the 2.8 million people who watched Mad Men on Sunday night, a number that could get you canceled if you were a network TV show but in the indie-rock math of cable TV is a triumph.

I felt uncomfortable during the Season 3 premiere. The writing, acting and production design were all superb as usual, but something seemed off. It wasn’t just the apparent loss of a character, or the arrival of “life under British rule,” as Bert Cooper put it. A pendulum is changing direction, and to me the episode seemed charged with all kinds of omens.

Thus my prediction: this is the season in which Don loses his golden touch as an ad man.

PhotobucketIn the past we’ve seen him come up with campaigns that were not only clever and persuasive but also perfectly judged the zeitgeist. For example, Lucky Strike’s “It’s Toasted”: The tobacco companies were worried about the then-newish government pressure about health hazards, and the usual way to deal with this was to run an ad with a guy dressed up like a doctor and smoking a cigarette. But Don knew this only makes people think about doctors and hospitals and death. His idea sidestepped the health issue completely, reassuring people that “whatever you’re doing, it’s OK,” an insight that shrewdly captured the American bubble of complacency and comfort amid the Cold War. And it helped Lucky Strike sell lots of cancer sticks.

Now we have another client in need of an image overhaul: London Fog, a stodgy old brand that conjures “Charles Dickens and whatnot.” Don is dispatched to their cluttered, faux-old-world offices (they had a “Dieu et mon droit” on the wall) by a British man who scoffs at the company’s name. Right away our hero is taken down a peg: this is an errand we would never see in the itinerary of the old Don Draper, the guy who flies to L.A. and disappears for a few weeks with the swingers by the pool.

Don’s idea for London Fog indicates a lot about how he judges the world around him, an important skill for a guy whose daily life calls for vigilance and adaptability in order to protect a fraudulent identity. He proposes an ad in which a woman in a raincoat flashes a man on a train. In the ad he envisions — as sketched by Sal — a sexy girl (he says something about her “bare legs”) is seen from behind opening her coat, while a guy in front of he looks on as a voyeur. The psychological suggestion is that she’s nude.

It’s 1963 now, however, and Don’s read of the culture is off. He thinks that the stasis of the 1950s and early ’60s will simply go on. But of course Don’s world is on the brink of huge changes, the role of women being one of the hugest. This is the time of the pill, Betty Friedan, and the rise of “career girls” like Peggy. But the ad he’s thinking of is basically a pin-up from the 1950s (or even ’40s), with what I will confess to know was a common trope in that era: a girl’s clothes vanish in some mishap (blown away by the breeze, caught on furniture, etc.) while a lucky Joe Schmoe looks on, standing in for you, the real-life ogler.

Draper is looking backward instead of forward here because for the first time he doesn’t understand what’s coming down the pike — meaning that whatever it is, he himself is not prepared to deal with it. Frank Rich expounded brilliantly on this in his latest column, which also referenced Bruce Handy’s smart recent piece in Vanity Fair: the ’60s will be good for the Woodstock generation, but it will be bad for the Don Drapers.

Inability to change also turns up ominously in Don’s personal life. At the end of last season he rejected the swingers and came home to Betty, learning that she was pregnant again. They clasped hands in a sign of solidarity and maturity: their marriage may have problems, but we’re led to think that they’re going to try to make it work. But after a few months Don is back to screwing stewardesses, however diminished and pathetic the conquest may now be. There’s no flirtation this time; the girl simply throws herself at him. Interestingly, the experience is once again based on false identity. The stewardess thinks Don is somebody else, and while he once seized upon this opportunity to remake himself and live out his dreams, he now seems trapped. His seduction is more like a dull, repetitive job, one that he created for himself.

All this suggests that Don is not going to be in sync with the times to the degree that he has been; he may even be left behind.

Monster-about-to-chomp-babe of the day, special LP edition: Ravage, ‘The End of Tomorrow’ (2009)


(HT to Sam.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

‘Favorite Recorded Scream’


My story about “Favorite Recorded Scream,” a 12-inch vinyl compilation of 74 screams from Black Francis to Ian Gillan to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to Bjork, which were chosen via ballot by the employees of 42 Manhattan record stores, is up on the Times homepage now.

Photobucket“Favorite Recorded Scream” is a pretty great little project that I stumbled upon one day a month or two ago at Academy Records on 18th Street. On the wall behind the counter they had taped up a map of New York City record stores, which I’d never seen before, though I’ve attempted to do the same thing myself. (Lately the stores have been going out of business too fast to keep up with.) When I asked about it, they said that it was an insert in “that scream record.” Hmm? “Um, it’s this red record, can’t remember what it was called, but this guy came around to all the record stores. Can’t remember his name...”

It took a small amount of casual hunting, which I’m sure I could have done much more efficiently, but after inquiring at a few more stores where no one could quite remember that young man’s name or the title of the record, I tracked him down: LeRoy Stevens, an extremely nice 25-year-old guy in Brooklyn, who told me about his project over some Juan Valdez coffee. For the rest of the story, you’ve got to read the piece.

Buy the record soon. He made 500 copies and only has 150 or so left.

Monster-about-to-chomp-babe poster of the day: ‘Vipers’ (2008)