(What’s So Funny About) Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and ESL Anyway?

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, around the time Armed Forces came out in the U.S. I experienced one of those strange moments yesterday that I imagine is not uncommon to many American expats living in Viet Nam – well, the more thoughtful among us, anyway. It was one of those moments when you are suddenly reminded that just a few generations ago the United States and Viet Nam were embroiled in a bloody conflict as ideologically opposed foes.

So who would have thought when the last helicopter left Sai Gon in 1975, with communist tanks rumbling through the streets not far away, that 37 years later – just a few generations – I would not only be teaching English to Vietnamese students in Sai Gon, but would be using Elvis Costello’s cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?” as part of a listening exercise? Granted, it’s not Country Joe Mcdonald’s “Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” and not even a protest song, per se, but rather an existential paean to the lost ideals of the 1960s in the wake of the more cynical 1970s.

While certainly not impossible, I nevertheless didn’t try to explain to my students the context in which Lowe wrote his song without mentioning the America War (that’s how the Vietnamese refer to what we call in America the Vietnam War, naturally). The thing is – the thing that many of my country folk don’t realize – that for Vietnamese students, just like their American counterparts now, that war is a matter of history (and judging from my teenage students reactions, of only mild interest at best).

It is the stuff of dusty museums and history books and documentaries. Three quarters of Viet Nam’s population was born after the war, and here in Sai Gon – officially named Ho Chi Minh City in the wake of the Communist victory – foreigners are not uncommon and there are many of us Americans among them. The infamous tunnels the North Vietnamese used to such advantage are now popular tourist attractions, and one has to make it a point and look far and wide to find reminders of the war. Heck we’re even military allies now, our navies having gone on joint maneuvers in the South China Sea (given its history, one can hardly blame Viet Nam if even a hint of a Chinese expansionist policy make it nervous).

Having been born at the end of 1968, I only know the Vietnamese-American war as something from the television news reports of my childhood. But then I grew up with the aftermath and what it did to the American cultural zeitgeist. So while I could appreciate the irony of helping Vietnamese teenagers in Sai Gon practice their English listening skills by using “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding,” I’m pretty sure it was lost on everyone else in the room.

Incidentally, just in case you were wondering: this song is actually part of the intermediate/advanced curriculum for this particular class that I’m teaching. Like many English as a second language (ESL) texts, the book we use has reading, writing, listening and grammar lessons that are centered around a particular topic in each chapter, relating each lesson and exercise back to the ones before it. This particular chapter happened to be about war and peace; the reading text that opened the chapter was about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and the eponymous Peace Prize – Alfred having been appalled at how his invention had been put to use on the battlefields of World War I.

Musician, singer, songwriter and producer Nick Lowe (copyright, I assume, by the photogapher, Dan Burn-Forti)But then my school does permit us to use outside resources at our own discretion, so I could spring Country Joe on them if I wanted to. But somehow I don’t think it would interest them anymore than Elvis Costello’s Nick Lowe cover did. Keep in mind, these are teenagers who are reasonably well off (by Vietnamese standards and increasingly by American standards as well) who have never known war. When I asked what the students thought of the song after listening to it initially, one of the brighter girls in the class shook her head and said “It’s not K-pop!

No child, that is pub rock via punk, that. But then I suppose Nick Lowe has always been a pop-music bridesmaid and never a bride. That’s Mr. Lowe over there on the left, by the way. Below, thanks to the magic of VCRs, nostalgia and AV nerds, is the original video for Elvis Costello and the Attractions cover of the aforementioned tune.

Entropy and Douchebaggery

Becoming a Douchebag:
the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics

David Byrne may ask himself: Where did CBGB's go?The older I get the more it seems that the laws of thermodynamics permeate not just physics, but everyday life. It brings to mind all manner of clichés: nothing ever stays the same. The only constant is change. We’re born dieing.

Leave your home for a year or so, and you’ll see what I mean, if you don’t already. You can’t go home again.

We could also say that the entropy of an isolated macroscopic system never decreases – that is, if we want to get technical (and we love to get technical — but here’s a good layman’s explanation of the laws of the thermodynamics, since you probably don’t know my high-school physics teacher Mr. Himebaugh). Or, we could elucidate this principal as one of my favorite observational writers of modern times, Bike Snob NYC, has done today on his blog:

It is a rule of physics that all things tend towards douchery, and CBGB is a good example of this. Simply put, things do no not stay cheap and interesting forever. You can call it selling out, or gentrification, or Disneyfication, but if enough people like something eventually someone’s going to be willing to pay a premium for it, and it will finally reach a point at which the people who made it interesting in the first place will no longer be able to afford it and only the shell will remain. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just the Physics of Douchery. Hence CBGB being unable to afford its rent, and instead of playing host to a bunch of actual dirtbags paying small amounts of money to be entertained, its shell is now home to douchebags paying large amounts of money to look like dirtbags.

CBGB was, of course, one of the seminal New York punk clubs back in the 1970s; it is now apparently a John Varvatos clothing boutique. I don’t know who that is, but that’s not surprising. Nor is it surprising that the club that spawned a million street kids and even more wannabe suburban kids bearing “omfug” across their chests now sells even more ridiculous items of clothing to more ridiculous people.

You’ll have to read the Bike Snob’s entire post to learn what this has to do with bicycling, although no doubt cycling nerds and/or geeks of a certain age will be able to connect the dots from CBGB to David Byrne to bicycling.

And you may ask yourself? Who are these hipsters in the bar?But this phenomena is true of everything. As countless others have observed throughout the millennia, entropy spares no one or no thing; consequently neither does douchbaggery. Leave for a year, return and various species of bro infiltrate your video games. Your favorite bars close or become filled with hipster douchebags or these same bros and the next thing you know you’re wearing a (possibly) over-sized suit and bowtie and declaiming to yourself “This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful house. Oh my God (omfug?) What have I done?”

Another case in point: Neil Diamond, as relayed by National Public Radio. It seems the same man that gave us so many vomit-worthy 70’s soft-rock staples such as “Song Sung Blue” and “Sweet Caroline,” not to mention face-palming mysteries such as “Coming to America” and “Heartlight” in the 1980s, was at a small label called Bang Records (actually a subsidiary of Atlantic) for a few years in the late 60’s where he penned a number of hits for other artists, such as … wait for it … “I’m a Believer” and “Red, Red, Wine.”

Wait, what?

Neil Diamond, before the sequins, chest hair, heartlights, and panties thrown by women that should know better. Or is that Tom Jones?I, did not know this. Now I’m not saying Neil Diamond is a douchebag; in fact as pop music icons go he seems more likely to be the opposite (but I have to say, and think I made it clear above, that I don’t care for his music but am nevertheless curious to hear this early stuff). Rather, I’m wondering how we get from the angry young man of the 60’s (as portrayed on the cover of this Bang Records compilation) to the sequined-wearing, chest-hair baring/bearing, oft flag-draped pop icon of his later years?

Or for that matter, how did we get from hip, svelte Elvis to the sequined-wearing, chest-hair baring/bearing, oft scarf-draped pop icon of his later years?

How do we get from CBGB to John Varvatos? How did we get to David Byrne without Talking Heads? How did we get from art rock and punk to world music?

No-longer-angry-young-Neil, contemplating touching you, touching me ... in sequins. Or really, not so much how – the laws of thermodynamics tell us how, after all, but rather, why? Science gives us the how, but never supplies the why. It tells us how but not why the universe is structured thus? Why Blue Rock Tavern is closed while douchebag central down the street remains open? That the CBGBs of the world will always end up being John Varvatos boutiques, in the end?

Of course some turn to philosophy to answer why; others drugs. Or some flavor of art. But then I think none of those things ever satisfactorily answers this most fundamental of questions; if it did we would no longer have need of them.

Of course I suppose I might as well ask how did this kid get from this:

Beam me up, Scotty: Jeff Chappell in the third grade.

To this:

Jeff Chappell sporting a mohawk, facial piercings and warrior-like grimace.

To this?

Jeff Chappell gives you the dreaded middle-aged librarian stare.

And I suppose I might as well ponder why I feel compelled to ask questions for which I know one will not likely ever find a satisfactory nature, given the fact that this answer has remained illusive and elusive ever since human kind grew enough of a frontal lobe to ponder such things. Which perhaps makes me the biggest douchebag of all, in some respects, along with everyone else that spends too much time shoe/navel gazing.

And perhaps that is the fourth law of thermodynamics.

Same as it ever was. At least I’m not wearing sequins and I still have no idea who the hell John Varvatos is – well, I didn’t until today. Shit.

Well played entropy. Well played.

Postscript. Can you believe MTV ever played a video such as this? Some low-budget, art-rock video from some post-punk band most people had never heard of before? Ah, the good olde days, back when MTV was actually young and sorta hip.

Then entropy happened and the so-called Real World — the music channel’s first sequined shirt. And you may ask yourself: well, where did my music television go?

Dear Powers-that-Be, Re: Ari Up …

The SlitsI just found out that Ari Up died on Oct. 20 from cancer. Like most of the early, first-wave of punk bands from the U.K. and the U.S., I was really too young to appreciate them until after the fact. At the end 1977 I had just turned 9, after all. Indeed, I didn’t learn of The Slits until I’d gotten hooked on L7 at the end of the 1980s. The Slits were one of those bands that made me wish I had been born a decade earlier, though.

So I don’t understand how it is that Ari Up dies at age 48 when every member of the Go-Gos is *still* alive. WTF God!? Huh? Okay, I don’t wish death on anyone really. But it really, really seems unfair when awful bands like the Go-Gos got all of the critical acclaim and attention, while bands like The Slits were largely unknown.

You can pick any one of my fellow Gen Xers and I can guarantee you that 90 percent or better will know who Belinda Carlisle is, but I bet less than a third will have even heard of The Slits, much less be familiar with their music and the band’s frontwoman, Ari Up. Ain’t right. … Just … ain’t right. …

On the Road at 3 a.m. with Bobby and Beth

I heart Beth Orton.What is it about the open road at night — nothing but moon and starlight, the hum of tires on lonely asphalt, and the occasional snippet of summer insect song through an open window as I drive along — that soothes my restless soul?

What is it about the humid, warm wind rushing through my hair and over my face as the soft, silky voice of a British siren whispers in my ear through the windy din, that brings peace to my restless heart?

Even with no particular place to go, and the knowledge that I’ll have to turn around and point myself towards “home” eventually, well before the dawn comes — what is it about this suspended, sublime moment of sound and motion that brings solace?

Is motion, even with no destination, a balm for restlessness? Does it hearken back to the comfort of floating in the dark, warm comfort of the womb? Or is there some primordial memory imprinted in my deoxyribonucleic acids that recalls what it was like to constantly be on the move, a nomad whose very life depended on movement? Or does it hearken to something even farther back, some distant recollection etched in the molecules and atoms of my being: that of constantly cruising through dim, newly-formed seas from birth until death, the wind of the highway standing in for the flow of salt water over my bony, smooth flesh?

What is in me, that the only times I seem to feel truly at peace, the only time that I feel truly at home — at peace with myself and the world — is when I’m headed away from it? It hasn’t mattered where home has been, or who might be waiting there — doesn’t matter which side of the continent, rural or urban – it’s always been this way. What is in me that always seems compelled to see what’s over the next hill, or the next horizon — that is sometimes compelled to just leave at a moment’s notice? That only feels content on a bicycle, car, or plane that’s pointed away from where I’ve been?

These are thoughts that flit through my mind as Beth Orton croons to me of love, death, and loss at 3:30 a.m. on a random highway headed west. Central Reservation has to be one of the best road albums ever, but then it’s very name speaks of the road. I eventually stop at a Waffle House in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana, to get something to eat, and there were two gentlemen in there having breakfast before beginning their respective work days. One was a public school janitor; I couldn’t suss out what the other guy did.

I couldn’t help but think that here were to guys, probably with houses and the corresponding mortgages, families, and responsibilities. They couldn’t decide to take off and hit the road on the wrong side of midnight on a weekday, just because they felt like it; just because it felt good to be moving. And here I was, a guy more or less the same age as these two, only marginally employed thanks to the current economy, with no healthcare — but no bills or other responsibilities, who could just take off at a whim.

And I think how I wouldn’t trade places with either of these two guys, how I feel sorry for them, although they don’t seem like they were sorry for themselves (but then who knows what lurks behind their eyes).


Now, the magic spell of the road is broken as I point the Subaru back toward home (there’s that strange word again). Now my mind races ahead of the car, the voodoo charm of motion having warn off — scattered, smothered, and covered by a chance encounter at a highway restaurant. Now I think of my father, and how sometimes, when I was a kid, seemingly at random (but almost always on a weekend), he would ask if I wanted to go for a car ride — no destination, no particular reason; he just felt like driving. This most often took place when I was a child, but sometimes it would happen even after I had grown into an adult, on up to the months before he died.

Did he feel that restlessness? Did I inherit it from him? Did he ever find himself hurtling down some isolated highway in the small hours before sunrise, the warm, somewhat sultry voice of a woman he’s never met his only companion, and find a brief enlightenment? Did he regret choices that kept him from being unfettered, from being able to take to the road whenever he wished? Did he miss the freedom of his postwar, post-collegiate self, the gleaming red Studebaker taking him whither he will? I recall his stories of those seemingly idyllic days, and I wonder.

Or does it come from my mother? She of the Northern Irish and Scottish blood, the blood of poets, blood that waxes and wanes across centuries, sometimes in thrall, sometimes free — bending but never breaking, sometimes turning the other cheek, sometimes gladly turning to fight (blood that now flows in my veins)? A depression-era child that watched cancer claim her father only a few short years after she was born, did she ever find that the familial ties that brought comfort then only brought chafing and constraints later in life? Mother that kept a copy of Rand’s The Fountainhead buried on her bookshelf amidst family photos, myriad self help books, bibles and dusty old encyclopedias — a copy that she quietly replaced after I took it home to the Great White North to finish reading, having discovered it on my first Christmas home after college.

There was more to her than I ever knew.

Am I more like them than I ever realized? Is my instinctive fear of life’s metaphorical anchors and chains inherited? Did they feel restless in the small hours of the night? What recourse did they have if they did? They were always there when I awoke as a child — was I a tie that binded them?

Sometimes I rue having been an accident, a gynecologist’s miscalculation, having been born so late in their lives. It seems like I barely got to an age — and if there is any blame to bear for this, it lies with me — where I could appreciate my parents as fellow adults, as distinct human beings — and as friends — before age, infirmity, and death claimed them. On one hand, I’m almost ashamed to say that in one sense I feel free now that my father is gone; there is nothing keeping me here now and I’m truly free to wander whither I will (if I only I had that sweet Studebaker). On the other, I’d pay anything — oh, I’d pay dearly and gladly — for more time with both of them, even just a precious hour or two.

I heart Robert Frost, too. Of course there is no one to ask, now, about these existential 3 a.m. questions  — no one to ask when I wander in the dark, why I wander in the dark. Why I only feel at peace when I do. Why it is only motion that ever drives away the vague angst that settled in my gut in my teenage years — as it seemingly does for everyone — and never left me.

But then, does it even matter? Should it matter? Perhaps, sometimes, it is best not to wonder why we wander, why we travel through the woods on a snowy evening, or whether we will be seen by the land owner. Rather, we should simply revel in woods that “are lovely, dark, and deep,” living in that moment, not worrying about the promises to keep and the miles to go before we sleep — there is time enough for that in the still, sterile light of day.

Ole Bobby Frost, he knew a thing or two about angst, restlessness and 3 a.m. There must have been some Irish or Scotts in the woodpile somewhere in his family history, I’ll wager.

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

The Disc Doctor Has Left the Building

And this mortal coil.

Watching all of the fuss over Michael Jackson the past few days, marveling over all of the people mourning his death, holding vigil at his star on Hollywood Boulevard, or wherever those things are kept, I couldn’t help but feel angry. Why are these people crying and carrying on over someone they have never met in real life? Okay, fine, you enjoyed his music, but you didn’t know him, so how can you truly mourn him? Are your emotions that cheap?

I can’t help but think that the multitudes of fans we see on video carrying on over Michael Jackson in the streets of cities all around the world are ones that have never lost someone truly close to them – never had someone they dearly loved taken from them – and that they are fools, one and all. With their crocodile tears they mock everyone past and present that has watched someone they truly know and love die.

Michael Riley

But such is life. For the first time in some months, I dreamed of my father, the other night. I guess Michael Jackson’s death is big news even in the realm of the dead; the ghosts are stirring and agitated.

As if to drive all this home, I learned Friday that my friend Michael Riley had died the day before. I feel compelled to memorialize him here in my own words, because that.s really all I can offer at this point, I suppose. It’s ironic, because I haven’t felt much like writing lately, either creatively, or blogging, or professionally. In fact, as of late, blogging just seems silly. But other than knocking back some beer with some mutual friends and reminiscing, I have nothing else to offer him.

I talked with his closest friend earlier today, and she said something that struck me. She was saddened most by the fact that Michael never struck it big as a DJ, in spite of having the chops and the respect of many people in the radio and music business. That is a sad aspect of Michael Riley’s life, and yet I can’t help but contrast his death with that of Michael Jackson. The only tears shed for Michael Riley will be genuine, and while he may never have got the fame and recognition he deserved, my Michael seems to have largely lived life on his own terms, which seems more than we can say for Jackson. Furthermore, while the music of Michael Jackson, whose fans are legion, touched millions (musical pablum that is; sorry, just have to be honest); I’ll wager that Michael Riley touched more people’s lives in a meaningful way, in ways that someone who lived in the rarefied air of pop superstardom never could.

The Mekon

Just ask the Mekons and many other bands from outside the United States who probably wouldn’t have a fan base here in the Midwest if it weren’t for the efforts of the Disc Doctor – bands you’ve probably never heard of, who made music because they love to do it, because it was their calling – not to feed the hungry maw of the undiscerning masses, lining their pockets and those of their sycophants along the way. The Disc Doctor, as he was known when he spun records, was a bit of a legend around Cincinnati, at least in certain musical circles – circles that actually spread well beyond Cincy, actually.

I only got to know Michael in the last few years of his life, long after he had left the airwaves, but my life has been the richer for it. He used to work at the coffee shop where I frequently hang out at, since moving back to my old hometown. I don’t remember how we eventually got to know one another; I imagine one day I was trying to find out what obscure music was playing in Sitwells, and the inevitable answer that anyone would give was “ask Michael.” At some point Michael determined that I was not just another ignorant hipster douche bag hanging out in an indie coffee shop, and he started bringing me music, giving me homemade compilations that span just about every musical genre you could think of. Aside from his friendship, he turned me onto a lot of music I would not otherwise have discovered, and for that, I will always be grateful. And I am just one of many with similar stories.

I can’t claim that we were super close friends, but we were close enough that we would take road trips to see bands. We were close enough that I happily volunteered to help him move when he needed it, because I knew he couldn’t manage it himself. I only asked that he let me come over some time and let me comb the extensive music collection that wasn’t on CD and let me rip whatever my heart desired. I think he got a kick out of the fact that in spite of our age difference I shared many of his musical predilections. As he used to tell me, “I don’t know about these other kids (anyone 10 or more years younger than him was a kid) but you get it. You know what’s good.”

Of course, I never got around to actually doing that. And now it’s too late. As I wrote this, the last song he played as a radio DJ came to an end. It seemed only fitting today, when I confirmed beyond rumor that he had died, that I listen to a copy of his last radio show that he had given me a couple years back. The last song on it is Sun Ra’s Nuclear War. The lyrics are rather spooky, given the circumstances:

If they push that button
You can kiss yo’ ass goodbye

What you gonna do without yo’ ass?

Indeed, Michael Riley, what are we gonna do? Who else could choose songs from the likes of Muddy Waters, The Stones, Dylan, and Hendrix and mix them up with Alpha & Omega, The Mekons, Patti Smith, Carol King and Bette Midler into one radio show and make it work? You will be sorely missed my friend, and like others that are gone from my life, the world becomes a slightly more dreary place without you in it. I’ll try and take comfort in the fact that our paths crossed for a time; I’m a better man for having known you.

You know, Michael hit just about every genre of pop music you could think of during his final show, including punk – that was the Disc Doctor. While many of the choices were pointed commentary on the politics that led to his leaving his radio station, and the fact that he was leaving the air, they are also eerily poignant in the wake of his death. Among those songs is one from country artist Matraca Berg, River of No Return:

All aboard
The ship is waiting
All aboard, you know I’ve finally learned
That I don’t need no farewell party
I’m just gonna watch my bridges burn

Cause I’m going down the river of no return

Well, I let it go
Yeah, I cried myself an ocean
Now I’m gonna, gonna pack up my dreams and sail away
And my destination is none of your concern

Cause I’m going down, down the river of no return
I’m going down, down the river of no return

A misty grey morning covered for me
As I left, I left you there sleeping
All tangled up in your dreams
And this morning I woke up
And I knew I was free
You may shed a teardrop
But, oh baby, it won’t be for me

So all aboard
The ship is waiting
All aboard, yeah, my ship has finally come in
And I don’t need no farewell party
Just gonna watch those bridges burn

Down, down the river
All the way down, down the river of no return

Goodbye, my friend.

It’s a Small World and it Smells Bad

So, I hopped in the car to drive to the polling place — not that I think my vote really means anything, to be cynically honest, since I didn’t vote for either mainstream presidential candidate, but there were some local and state issues I felt I should [tag]vote[/tag] on. Plus I didn’t want to give up my right to bitch for the next four years or until I establish permanent residence elsewhere (hopefully the latter will occur soonest).

So anyway, I get in the car, turn on the ignition, and what comes blaring out of the CD deck? The song Vision Thing, by Sisters of Mercy. A purely unintentional but nevertheless ironic coincidence. “Things are gonna change; I can feel it.”

And yes, for the record I voted my conscience, which is a shade of [tag]green[/tag] this year. Yes, I voted Green. Run, Cynthia, run. Aside from everything else that is wrong with these two and this [tag]election[/tag], above all else I still can’t believe that whichever wins the presidency, America will have voted in a president that voted in the Senate to abridge our civil rights, putting their stamp of approval on a system of domestic spying with no checks or balances. And they both supported the bailout, too … damn, I’ll be glad when my people come back for me and take me back to my home planet.

Blue Pill, Slight Return

So a freind asked the other day if I could live with the revised [tag] bailout[/tag]. The “sweeteners,” as the press has dubbed the new provisions that the Senate is using to goad the House into approving it are an improvement, but it’s basically lipstick on a pig — *cough *cough — Sarah Palin — *cough *cough.

And on the other hand, it’s even worse — as it puts the government even more in debt. It’s not even borrowing Peter to pay Paul; it’s asking permission to get more in debt (with tax cuts) to buy debt. And this makes sense how? I’m still pig-biting mad.

But all is right with the world — even as it burns — because The Fabulous Stains has been reissued on DVD by Rhino. Hellz yeah!

I loved [tag]The Fabulous Stains[/tag] when I first saw it as a kid; the USA cable station used to run it about every three hours, I think, back in the mid ’80s. I’ll be curious to see if it has stood the test of time and is as cool as it was to the angry-young-man teenager that I was in the process of becoming in the craptacular [tag]1980s[/tag] (as opposed to the angry-middle-aged-man I am today). OK, there were a few good things to come out of the 80s — the Cure’s best albums, Joy Division, death metal, Siouxsie, personal computers, this movie — but not much.

P.S. Turns out there’s some serious pork in the bailout bill. Not like it’s a surprise, but geez. Just when you thought Congress couldn’t get any more pathetic than it already is. …

Every pop song should be 2:42?

Saw this on Boing Boing; Boing Boing got it here. Seems the perfect length for a pop song is 2 minutes, 42 seconds.

Personally, I think every pop song should be (Front) 2:42 in length, but that’s just me. Damn, there I go dating myself again. I’m sure [tag]Front 242[/tag] never recorded a song that was just 2:42 in length. …

In Defense of Britney—no, Really

Not a topic I would have anticipated resuming this blog with, [tag]Britney Spears[/tag], but then how more topical and timely can I be? And surely more interesting to potential readers than some inane introspective on why I haven’t blogged in so long.

For the record, I don’t care for Britney Spears. Never did like her music—most popular music at best doesn’t annoy me; Britney’s music was just so much background noise to me, and that’s about all I can say. That “I Did It Again” song didn’t make me want to kick a small dog.

Oh sure, she was attractive as a generic example of mainstream [tag]pulchritude[/tag], I suppose—I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crackers, if it came down to that—provided I wasn’t involved with someone else at the time. That doesn’t really make sense, does it? You get the idea.

And I can think of a dozen examples off the top of my head from [tag]popular culture[/tag] that I find much more attractive, that I would crawl over a dozen Britneys to get to—expand the list to musicians in obscure bands and the list would grow exponentially. Add Southeast Asia and the list becomes immensurate.

In short, she has always been just another disposable [tag]pop music[/tag] icon to me; nothing particularly more or less special than those that came before her, or those that have come after. Christina/Lindsey/Jessica whatever-their-names-are.

So it may be surprising for me to address all of her detractors following her apparently lackluster performance on MTV’s video music award show, and for me to say: fuck you.

At the end of the day, Britney puts her pants on one leg at a time; if she eats too much fiber, I’m sure she farts. So she’s in her mid 20s, probably finally getting a sense of who she is, not what everyone else in her life thinks she should be, divorced the cretin father of her children, told her mom to go to hell—probably something she should have done when she was 15, not 25 with children and a career—but better late than never. And now she’s wondering wtf do I do now? She hasn’t known any other life but showbiz since she was a kid.

In other words, she goes through the same crap that everyone else goes through. The only difference is everyone knows about it, and in a typical aspect of our celebrity culture, we all slag her for it, because it makes us feel superior. We all love it when [tag]celebrities[/tag] screw up—it makes us feel good about ourselves.

I’m no different. The thing is, once you realize this, it all just becomes sort of sad.

I had to laugh when I overheard people at the coffee shop I hang out at talk about how Britney was fat—once I got over the surprise that there was still an MTV video awards show, or that there is still an MTV, for that matter. I of course looked up the pictures from the awards show, and of course it proved ironic. The girl doing the slagging was considerably more overweight than Britney, who still has a figure that most American women would give their eye-teeth to have. And this girl’s male companion, well, dude, you would be impossibly lucky to score someone with Britney’s bod, paunch and all.

The fact of the matter is, while not the taught, tight jail-bait bod she once had, she looked in better shape than 90 percent of the American population.

So her heart wasn’t in the performance—I can’t help but think that maybe she was thinking: “Jesus, I’m doing the same crap I’ve always done for some lame entertainment industry circle jerk that long ago ceased to be relevant, if it ever was. This is so effing lame.”

Back when she shaved her head, I cheered her on; maybe the shaving of her head was the first bite of the hand that feeds her money and us meaningless celebrity pablum. Maybe she looked like she was going through the motions on MTV because she was—because maybe at 25 or however old she is now, she’s finally growing up.

Or not. Maybe she was just still strung out on whatever booze and drugs are popular on Sunset Strip these days. Maybe she is a complete pop bimbo who doesn’t know what to do now that her 15 minutes of fame are gone.

It doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other. But to all those who want to ridicule her, give her and yourselves a break; that’s pretty damn pathetic. Unless Britney Spears has somehow personally injured you, there’s no amusement in self destruction.

Say It Ain’t So, Joan …

… cuz you could do better than this.

True, for [tag]Carmen Electra[/tag], [tag]Joan Jett[/tag] is a step up from [tag]Dave Navarro[/tag]. But, Joan, c’mon on … you’re a legend. I’ve seen you play live, and — I know you don’t give a damn — it’s a deserved reputation (pun intended). You effin’ rock, plain and simple. Plus you are so totally hot. You can do better. Really.