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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: March 1-March 7, 2004

Sunday, March 7, 2004:

Before the Mike Doughty concert last night, Jon and I met up with Jess and Tim at the bar beneath the Magic Stick. For those who don't live in metro Detroit, there's a surprisingly hip, blocklong complex on Woodward Avenue called the Majestic Theater Center. The Doughty show was at the Majestic Theater, a club at the end of the block, while Jess and Tim were inexplicably going to see The Walkmen at the Magic Stick, which is the club where Jack White beat up that guy from the Von Bondies a couple months ago. There's also a neat little cafe, a bowling alley, an art gallery, and some other cool stuff in that strip. So the four of us met up before our respective shows to have drinks and chat.

If 90 minutes of the Walkmen's particular brand of nugatory, hookless meandering can rightly be called a "show," that is. Anyway.

I purchased a bottle of Rolling Rock, but Tim pointed out that the bar also served bottles of a local beer called Ghettoblaster. Here's what their logo looks like:

Needless to say, it became imperative that both Tim and I purchase Ghettoblasters. Jon graciously agreed to drink my already-open Rolling Rock so that I could partake of the Ghetto goodness. And it was both ghetto and good! The label warned that there may be sediment present in the brew. There wasn't, but I appreciated the heads-up. I kept the label.

Much fun banter ensued until Jon and I had to head down to the Majestic because Doughty was actually the opener (Galactic was headlining) and we didn't want to miss him. I know little about Galactic's fanbase, but there was an inordinate number of hippies at the show, which did not sit well with me. (See my entry of last August 24 for the roots of my hippie hatred.) I'm guessing Galactic is seen as something of a jam band, perhaps with a small crossover of whimsical P-Funk fans, judging from the girl I saw in a dragon costume. Lots of guys with dreads, lots of tocques.

We didn't have to wait long before Doughty ambled out on-stage in a really spiffy sportcoat. Someone in the crowd yelled, "Why are you so dressed up?"

"Dressed up?" Mike said. "Man, this isn't dressed up! You kids today, with your dungarees..." and he then played a great version of "Grey Ghost." Hardcore Doughty fans will be interested to know that the fake words he uses in the song's bridge on Smofe + Smang have been replaced by actual words, though I suspect he wrote them by choosing whichever words were the closest phonetic match to the fake ones. (The best new line was something to the effect of, "Framed like a strange Bob Balaban.")

Though he played a truncated set, being the opening act and all, Mike crammed enough songs and entertainment into 45 minutes for a full night. With the exception of a few songs on which he was joined by a drummer, all the songs were performed in his typical solo-guitar small-rock style. This worked wonders for a surprise rendition of "Never Gonna Come Back Down," his collaboration with BT, and maintained the expected intimacy on personal tracks like "Sunkeneyed Girl" and "Thank You, Lord, for Sending Me the F Train."

Jon and I decided that Mike looks like a cross between Phil Collins and David Gray, though possessing all the talent that God neglected to give those two.

There wasn't much time for Doughty stage banter during the set, but he got a laugh out of me when he closed by saying, "I'm Mike Doughty! I used to be the guy in Soul Coughing! Now I'm just some guy!"

After his set, Doughty wandered over to the merchandise table to sign things. I was initially going to have him sign my Ghettoblaster label, but at the last second, I decided to purchase another copy of the Rockity Roll EP, because I want to support the guy, and I can give my other copy to Caitlin or something. So long as he eventually buys a copy of The Airbag's Lipstick Kiss, I'm happy. (By which I mean "slightly less unhappy.") Anyway, I asked for a Rockity Roll, and Mike pulled out a pre-signed copy and was preparing to personalize it, when he said, "You know what? This signature is smudged. I'm just going to sign it again, okay?"

"Okay!" I said.

"Dude made me sign a bunch of these last night," Mike said as he scrawled, "MDOUGHTY" across the disc label.

"Heh. Thanks!" I said. "That was a great show!"

"Thanks a lot, man!" Mike said, handing me the CD and shaking my hand.

"YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" my brain said.

Jon also bought hisself a new Rockity Roll, and we then decided to leave before Galactic came on. As Jon pointed out, the hippies had all migrated toward the stage by that point, leaving no standing room where we'd be able to see anything except the flailing limbs of hippies. Plus, after having heard and met one of our musical heroes, Galactic's set couldn't help but be a little anti-climagalactic. And also, we're old and can't stay up all night like the youngsters do. That's all I have to report, I think. I'm tired.

CURRENT MUSIC: Chill Out by The KLF.
CURRENT MOOD:
Unsure.
CURRENT CRUSH: Angie Mentink.
TIME: 1:14 PM.

Doot? | |

Friday, March 5, 2004:

A correction from my previous entry: Until yesterday, the last time I passed out was in summer of 2002, in Mark Prindle's bathroom. However, that was directly related to a ridiculous number of margarita drinks and bottles of some sort of Captain Morgan product. And I didn't really learn any lessons from the incident, except that if you're unconscious, your friends will find it amusing to let Henry the Puppy eat dog treats right out of your mouth.

I should also add a qualification to yesterday's entry. I apparently don't hate every second of my life, because today was a pretty great day. When I arrived at work, the power was out in about half the store. Apparently, some transformer had exploded in the area, and so little blotches of powerlessness dotted the grid throughout Shelby Twp, Utica, and Sterling Heights. The receiving room lights remained on, but our scanning guns had died, which meant Jon and I couldn't do much of anything about the couple hundred boxes we received today.

After about 20 minutes of sitting around, staring out the open receiving room door and waiting for something to happen, I decided to go hang out outside. It was a very nice day of the sort we almost never have in metro Detroit, especially in March. 65 degrees, mostly sunny, and lots of wind; it felt like spring. It was really magical for some reason I can't quite explain, and at first I was just standing in the lot behind our building where the delivery trucks park, feeling the wind push me back and forth, but I felt so strangely free out there that I soon felt compelled to just run around. For about an hour, in fact, I stood out back and ran, skipped, danced, twirled, stomped, jumped, and just merrily interacted with the wind. I was giggling the whole time, and I would probably have looked like a socially underdeveloped Nell character if anyone had seen me, but for the first time in years, I felt a true and all-consuming sense of childlike joy. It was unbelievable.

It's not that I felt I was "getting in touch with nature" or anything. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was in the middle of this big, sprawling wad of concrete and brick, next to a barren, muddy field where all the trees have been cut down to make room for a subdivision that hasn't yet been built, and the line between the two is marked only by a row of electrical lines, some of which had fallen down in the night. Ugly, ugly surroundings. But the way the natural world was interacting today with the dead, commercial setting just made for such a beautiful mess, full of such perfect decay, that I felt like the last kid in the world. I saw flocks of Doritos wrappers sailing majestically through the air. I chased a styrofoam peanut as it blew along the service drive like a butterfly, trying to leap and stomp on it before it got away.

I can honestly say that it's the best feeling I've ever felt in my entire life. I felt like I was full of blue sky and golden light, and I wanted to feel that way forever. It felt like a jungle remix of "Noble Experiment" by Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. A giddy eulogy. Watching the giant skull in the clouds shoot a mischievous wink my way.

Erica showed up at noon, and she joined me outside, where we had a race down the service drive to Circuit City. I told her that this was the best I'd ever felt, and she asked, "Are you drunk?"

By the time we reached Circuit City, we were both thoroughly winded because neither of us is used to running. So we slowly walked back to the store, looking for treasures in the alley as we tried to catch our breath. We saw a real-life tumbleweed, which was odd, and a soggy Ziploc bag full of potato chips. That probably would've made me really sad under normal circumstances, but I was too invigorated at the moment to care.

The fire department showed up soon afterward, because the receiving room had started to fill up with a sickeningly sweet chemical smell. The firemen had been by earlier, just to check if we had power, because they were trying to determine the source of the outage. Luckily, they cheerfully overlooked the fact that our receiving room is basically a maze of fire hazards. On this second visit, the three guys were very chatty and friendly. One of them was armed with a handheld thermal camera, to look for hot spots within the walls that might indicate a circuit fire or whatever. He cheerfully let me look at some things through it, and showed me how it works, which was awfully cool, I must say.

They couldn't locate the source of the smell, but the lieutenant speculated that it was the smell of melting equipment, and suggested we unplug our computers and printer and everything, before taking off. (I called Erica later in the afternoon, and she told me that the store had been evacuated after I left, because Jon saw smoke. "So we were all just sitting out front, and there were so many gawkers it was hilarious," she told me.)

After that, Jon and I got pretty bored, so he suggested we take a walk out into the actual store, where our coworkers were busying themselves straightening displays and whatnot. The store had been closed to customers since 11:30 or so, and Janet had taped several "Sorry, we're closed" notices to the front doors. "I've been doing a sociological experiment," she said. "I've been watching to see what sort of people come up to the doors, read the note, and then yank on the doors anyway. Like is it men? Is it women? How old are they? Will they peer inside the store to see what's going on? Will they try just one door, or will they try both? Or, like that one guy, will they yank on one door, yank on the other, and then yank on the first one again? It's really interesting."

So as Janet went to spray Lysol on the easy chairs that Barnes & Noble provides for customers to urinate on and sleep in, I stood directly in front of the doors and watched in amusement as irate customers kept approaching the door and turning away when they noticed the signs. Or not. The most satisfying moment was when several carfuls of smug corporate yuppies on their lunch break (all carrying cupfuls of coffee from some other establishment, which they aren't supposed to bring into the store anyway) came up to the door. They read the signs in dismay, and then the alpha male got a hilariously overconfident look on his face, meant to say, "I've got an ace up my sleeve," and then yanked on the door with all his might, only to appear perplexed when the door failed to bow to his will, remaining locked. He and his sidekick then cupped their hands to their faces and started peering through the window, where I was standing and smirking at them. They gave me a what-the-hell? shrug, and I stared them down until they grimaced and left. It did my soul good. Annie then asked me to please not do that anymore.

(A couple minutes later, a soccer mom and her two kids approached the door, and she indignantly read the sign and mouthed, "That's just great" to herself as her brats yanked the handles over and over. Erica narrated, "Oh no! It's such a beautiful day, what are we going to do if we can't spend the whole afternoon in Barnes & Noble? We certainly don't want to spend any time outside, enjoying the first nice weather we've had in six months! This is so inconvenient!")

So yeah, awesome day. Of course, I'm now thoroughly exhausted and my legs will probably be too sore for me to even get out of bed tomorrow morning, because I haven't engaged in this much activity since the daily forced runs in 12th grade gym class. And we still live in a world where the Bush administration has no qualms about airing advertisements that depict a 700-foot tall Dubya with angel wings, effortlessly swatting planes away from the World Trade Center. But one good day is better'n none, I guess.

CURRENT MUSIC: Up on the Sun by the Meat Puppets.
CURRENT MOOD:
Annoyed that the Television Without Pity servers are being so temperamental, but otherwise fine.
...AND SPEAKING OF SURVIVOR:
One of the most troubling things about the way Sue's exit was handled last night was that Mark Burnett & Co. actually went to the trouble of getting clearance to air Big Tom and Rob's impromptu- and unbelievably tasteless- version of "Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead!" And you don't even care.
TIME:
8:22 PM.

Doot? | |

Thursday, March 4, 2004:

I passed out for a couple minutes earlier. It's probably due to some combination of Benedryl, my newly increased Lexapro dosage, no food today, and the fact that Erica accidentally made me a White Chocolate Mocha with six shots of espresso (instead of my usual four) earlier. After lying on the couch for a bit, I drank some Cranapple juice and felt better once my blood sugar got... well, altered in whatever way juice alters it. Increases it, I assume. I don't know; I just remembered that trick from the last time I passed out, a few years ago. I was at the duplex that Jen and Anne shared, and was watching Conan O'Brien as Jen slept in the other room. Anne returned home from seeing Hannibal, and as she told me about it, I fell unconscious onto the couch for some reason, and when I came to, she handed me a glass of juice to fix things. That's a nice memory.

Why do people have kids? Ever? I'm serious. I started thinking about this while writing to Adrienne the other night, and it's been eating at me ever since. What logical reason is there to have kids? I can't think of a single one, and neither could Jon or anyone else we work with.

Before I get into this, though, I should make it clear that I'm not saying it's morally wrong or irresponsible to have kids. Some of my friends have kids, and I'm sure they thought things through beforehand, and they're great parents to boot. But I can't think of a justification for it. It seems like such a bizarrely unmotivated act, no matter how many people do it.

For example, I asked my mom why she'd had me, and she said, "Because your dad and I loved each other and thought it would enrich our lives."

ME: "Isn't that kind of selfish?"

MOM: "Yes. It is. But that's just... the way it is. We care about each other and we knew we'd do everything we ever could for you, and I've always known- as far back as I can remember- that I wanted to have kids. And I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think your dad would be a good father, or if we hadn't been able to afford it, but it just felt right. And you know, if I'd known that the world was going to go the way it's gone in the last 23 years, or if I'd known that you'd feel the way you feel about your life [i.e., hating every second of it], I would never have had you."

ME: "Well, I'm not mad or anything. At you, anyway. It's too late, and I'm here. No use being mad at you guys about that. But why would you want kids?"

MOM: "Just to have someone there to love, I guess... That's it."

ME: "That's illogical, though. Because you're making a person who's going to have to struggle through life and pain, and who's going to just die eventually. What's the point?"

MOM: [Long pause.] "Honey, just try not to think about it."

I can usually rely on my mom to have a good, thoughtful answer for things like this, so now I'm thoroughly baffled. At work, Anne L, who's a mother of two, said that she had kids just because she wanted them, but couldn't give an explanation as to why. Finally, she admitted that she hadn't really thought about it; that she just felt like she wanted to have one. Sandy (childless) said having children is an inherently selfish act, because people are usually trying to fill some void in their lives, or live vicariously through the kids or something. And Jon offered that most people are just taught that it's what you do in our society: you get married and you have kids, just because. That's the social convention. Which I'll grant, but why is it? I know we've all got a sex drive and a lot of people have an instinctual desire to have kids just because that's the way we, as humans, are wired, in order to keep the species alive. However, there are too many people in the world as it is, so why add to that, even if refraining is going against a basic drive? It's not a logical urge at this point.

Why else? I know some religious denominations teach that it's a married couple's duty to procreate because the Bible says, "Be fruitful and multiply" in a context that's frequently misinterpreted as a command. But even if you believe it's a commandment, that's flawed, because if you believe that God already knows what's going to happen in the world, and all things work according to His will, then if you choose not to have kids, you must not be meant to have kids, right? (And then we get into a discussion of free will vs. predeterminism that I don't wish to explore here.) So that's out.

Because you think it would be fun? Or (crimony) because you like kids? That's really short-sighted, because kids grow up. Doesn't matter how much other people's kids gravitate toward you, or how much you enjoy babysitting your neighbors' toddlers; the fact is, one day, you will no longer be responsible for an easily-monitored three-year-old. You will be responsible for a 42-year-old divorcee who drinks himself to sleep every night at his job as a graveyard shift security guard.

Basically, I'm not sure if anyone really thinks through the fact that when they have kids, they're not just putting together a little version of themselves; a computer simulation of what it might be like to morph you with your partner. They're creating a whole new human being, who is going to have problems, who is going to have pain, who is going to have to toil and suffer through life until he inevitably dies someday. I suppose if you're more optimistic about the world than I am, you could make an argument for "the gift of life." That is, if you truly love it on Earth, and think this is a great place full of nice people and fun and beauty, I could understand wanting to make someone new to share in that. At least your motives are generous there. The bottom line, though, is that it strikes me as being tremendously unfair to place the responsibility and burden of life upon a creature who had no say in the matter. You're forced to be born, and you're forced to trudge through this life until you die (which is really the only meaningful choice you can make around here: whether you want to cut out early or stick around until your number comes up for some other reason that's as out of your control as everything else).

I'm not sure how well I'm articulating this, but think about it. Again, there's nothing wrong with being a parent. I love my parents, and I feel very lucky to have them. And I know lots of people who either have great parents or who are great parents themselves. It's a nice support system to have. And the rationale behind having a kid becomes moot once the kid is here anyway. It doesn't matter whether the critter was a drunken accident or whether you just thought it would be cute to have a baby around the house or whether you thought it would lend your own life some meaning, or any of a million other reasons; there's now another life going on thanks to you. And the person you made might love it here, or might hate it, and which of those two results occurs might not even be in your control as a parent.

But why? Can someone give an answer that will satisfy me? Life has seemed mind-bogglingly pointless to me for awhile now, and I think I've finally traced it back to the fact that my very creation was to serve as a novelty to my parents instead out of any consideration for what I might have to go through. (Again, not that I resent them for it. Though I did ask my mom to pay me punitive damages for birthing me.) So maybe if I can figure out some justification for having kids, I'll have a foundation to build on as far as understanding and perhaps appreciating the purpose of the rest of my life. I've already made the decision that, as long as I'm here, I'd like to try to make other people's lives happier in any way I can, because we're all in the same boat and it gives me pleasure to be useful to others. However, that doesn't change my gnawing suspicion that it's all ultimately futile. Thoughts?

CURRENT MUSIC: Farther Along: The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers.
CURRENT MOOD:
Disenchanted.
CURRENT AMOUNT OF MONEY IN MY WALLET: $19.
TIME:
6:46 PM.

Doot? | |

Monday, March 1, 2004:

That was the single most disappointing Academy Awards I've ever watched. Not just because Lord of the Rings went home with everything (and yes, I know the name of the movie is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, but let's not kid ourselves: the Academy was rewarding the whole trilogy last night for some reason, not just the one film), but it was all so predictable and dull that I started wishing they'd performed the entire ceremony before it was aired, and the whole thing could've been edited down to a half hour special of the important bits. Or maybe a two-minute segment on the nightly news where James Earl Jones reads all the winners aloud. Or, hell, just a list of winners that crawls along the bottom of the screen, beneath a screen-saver style montage of pictures of Amy Wynn Pastor. However, the fact that nothing useful happened didn't stop me from taking notes throughout the entire telecast, so here's my second annual Minute-by-Minute Oscar Journal. (The first annual one was published in No Ripcord, and you can read it here if you so desire.) And no, I didn't actually see Return of the King- or The Two Towers, for that matter- but I did see Following the Ring Around or whatever the first one was called, and it bored me to tears, so I feel confident judging the entire trilogy from that one film, because I could not possibly have cared any less about the story, characters, mythology, blahbitty blah, and don't see how an additional six hours of the same crap would've improved my opinion of any of the above. Alright, here goes:

7:58 PM: ABC's Oscar pre-show begins with some spit-shined, sub-Ryan Seacrest host sitting next to a visibly terrified Keisha Castle-Hughes and her mom in a limo. I think the clock on my VCR must be slow.

7:59: After Keisha gets out of her limo, looking as though she seriously wants to climb inside her mother's abundant cleavage and hide, an embarrassing "garage-rock" Countdown to Oscars theme song plays.

8:00: My fourth or fifth annual "Poor Chris Connelly" sigh escapes my lips as the erstwhile VJ interviews a surprisingly inarticulate Tim Robbins. (CHRIS: "So, Tim, how has being a director changed the experience of acting for you?" TIM: "Well, it's made me arrive at the set on-time, because I've realized that any minute you lose is a minute... you... lose from... your performance.")

8:01: Scarlett Johansson appears! Yay! Whoever convinced her to doll herself up like Charlize Theron should be shot, though. She's so naturally beautiful the way she is; why mess with that?

8:02: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith cuddle smarmily on the red carpet. Jada looks really old, and frankly, I think she resembles Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which is creepy.

8:11: Catherine Zeta-Jones brays like a donkey when she speaks.

8:16: Angelina Jolie's left arm looks messed up beneath the tattoo. Is that where her "Billy Bob" tattoo used to be before it was removed? She's pretty buff, but that arm looks clumpy and spongy. The Ryan Seacrest guy is apparently named Billy Bush. Good Lord...

8:30: Billy Bush, leave Sofia Coppola alone! She would obviously rather be talking to anyone but you! But awww- he escorts Keisha to meet Johnny Depp, who is really sweet to her. Alright, that was a cute moment.

8:32: The ceremony is kicked off by Sean Connery, whose accent and overly theatrical delivery always crack me up. Billy Crystal, not so much. Here's his traditional Billy-inserts-himself-into-footage-from-the-nominated-films montage, and as always, it's really strained. Pete Rose jokes = not funny. Sammy Davis Jr. jokes = good grief, not funny. Michael Moore does a cameo in a clip from LOTR, and I bet a bunch of pimply-faced D&D players at home are thinking, "Wow, Peter Jackson sure has prettied himself up for the ceremony!" I will admit to laughing at an especially mean gag in which Crystal puts himself in the kidnappers' car from Mystic River and says, "Hey, this isn't the way to the Oscars," but that's it.

8:38: Here comes the opening monologue, complete with that damn "Oscar medley" he always does. Marcia Gay Harden is really pregnant. I guess she had to find something to keep herself amused on the set of Welcome to Mooseport. I predicted two Janet Jackson boob jokes in the monologue, but there's only one. And three Pete Rose jokes already? Huh? Why? Billy Crystal is not an attractive man, I just realized.

8:49: Catherine Zeta presents the award for Best Supporting Actor. Didn't see The Last Samurai, but I suspect Ken Watanabe was nominated because playing against Tom Cruise can make anyone seem like an Oscar-caliber actor. Tim Robbins wins for Mystic River. Alright. Benicio Del Toro deserved it for his pained work in 21 Grams, but I'll pretend that this is just Tim's belated award for The Hudsucker Proxy. He has a peace symbol on his lapel, and his acceptance speech contains a nice "Stop the cycle of violence" message that is still much less inflammatory than I'd expected from such a notoriously outspoken guy. Perhaps Laura Ingraham's book touched his heart.

8:55: The announcer promises forthcoming appearances from "Oscar winners Robin Williams and Angelina Jolie," which, even after several years to come to terms with things, still strikes me as a ridiculous phrase on several levels.

9:01: Angelina and her bionic arm present the award for Best Art Direction to LOTR. In a movie like that, how can you tell what falls under "art and set direction" and what's CGI? [As I'll discover as the show rolls merrily off the tracks in the coming hours, such concerns really don't matter tonight, as these people probably would've given Liv Fucking Tyler an award if they'd had the option.]

9:03: There's the long-awaited second Janet boob joke! Robin Williams presents the Best Animated Feature award to Finding Nemo. Hooray! I still haven't seen The Triplets of Belleville, and I hear it's fantastic (I hear quite the opposite about Brother Bear), but Pixar can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. Andrew Stanton gives a nice, sincere speech in which he relates a cute anecdote about having fallen in love with his wife back in middle school. I love Nemo.

9:13: Waxy and squinty as ever, Renee Zellweger gives LOTR the Oscar for Best Costume Design. The guy accepting the award... relates an anecdote about having fallen in love with his wife... er, back in middle school. Hmm. Well, that does support my theories about the underlying creativity of the LOTR team.

9:18: Nicolas Cage drones on and on about Master and Commander. When did he get so dull? Remember when his line readings used to be cool and off-kilter? Even stupid lines like "What in the name of Zeus's butthole are you doing?" from The Rock? Bah.

9:19: Chris Cooper presents the award for Best Supporting Actress. Of course, let's give the award to Zellweger for Cold Mountain. Because, you know, she's America's Sweetheart and yet she doesn't have an Oscar yet, so let's keep nominating her for everything she does until she wins something. After all, it worked for Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, winning awards for mediocre roles. (Hasn't yet worked for Tom Cruise, oddly.) And now we can check off Renee, put her aside, and focus on getting a trophy for Cameron Diaz!

9:25: The orchestra inexplicably plays "Hail to the Chief" as Tom Hanks walks out on stage. He looks completely befuddled and says, "Yeah... that's a snappy tune." Hee! He then introduces a posthumous tribute to Bob Hope: More Than a Century of Unfunniness.

9:32: After some mildly amusing schtick from Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller, they present the award for Best Live Action Short Film. Where does one go to see these short films? Just wondering. Two Soldiers wins, and in a Micro Machines commercial-paced acceptance speech, the filmmaker thanks Academy Awards director Joe Roth "for the ten-second grace period on the speech time limit." Funny. And some ClayMation thing called Harvie Krumpet wins for Best Animated Short. The co-director of that one thanks his "beautiful boyfriend," which makes me happy in that it surely pissed off FRCAction and all those other homophobic bastards pressing for the Federal Marriage Amendment.

9:39: Liv Tyler wanders out, wearing non-prescription cat's-eye glasses that aren't fooling anyone into thinking she looks smart. She introduces Alison Krauss and Sting performing "You Will be My Ain True Love"- a Best Original Song nominee- from Cold Mountain. As much as Sting bothers me, this song has a really haunting melody. Sting's harmony vocals are horribly arranged, and the violin threatens to shatter the simmering beauty of the tune, but Krauss's powerful voice keeps it all in control, and it's a nice tune.

9:43: Liv introduces Alison performing "Scarlet Tide" from Cold Mountain with Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett. It's nice to see Elvis up there on-stage, lookin' around, but the song is stultifying.

9:47: After Liv introduced the first two songs, she took off her fake glasses and set them on the podium, so that when she wandered back out to introduce the next song, she could put them back on her face to draw attention to them and her newfound "smartiness." It reminds me of that one Mr. Show sketch where John Ennis was the host of The Bible Machine, and in every shot, his glasses had been reset on his nose so he could dramatically whip them off again as he spoke. Anyway, after putting the stupid things on again, Liv forces us to sit through Annie Lennox performing a tedious, shapeless saltine of a song from LOTR. At this point, Lennox not only sounds but looks like a female David Bowie.

9:56: Janet boob joke #3.

9:58: Holding hands smugly, Will Smith and Friend present the Best Visual Effects award. LOTFR wins again, though I'll concede that they deserve it here. One of the effects guys is named Alex Funke, which reminds me that I missed Arrested Development tonight because I chose to watch the We Love Peter Jackson Awards. This also reminds me of a fun LOTR anecdote that I heard a few years ago when Jen and I went out to dinner with one of the visual effects supervisors from The Matrix: Matrix Guy had a buddy who was working on the computer graphics for the LOTR films, and apparently one or more of the films contains some gigantic battle scene between elves and orcs or something. (Don't correct me; I don't care. Let's assume it's elves and orcs.) Rather than animating every single elf and orc by hand, however, which would take years, the CGI team came up with a program to simulate the battle. They'd run the battle simulation a bunch of times, isolating portions of the simulation that came out looking really good, and then they'd chop all those bits together and have one big, great battle scene.

Now, in order for the battle to look realistic, the CGI guys programmed fighting styles into the warriors. The elves were supposed to be less physically intimidating than the orcs, but much smarter fighters, so they were programmed to be nimble and strategic. The orcs, on the other hand, were basically nothing but brute force, which I guess is the way Tolkien had described the characters. (Again, don't care.) So they spent a long time programming this battle simulation, and finally the visual effects team was ready to run it, just to see what would happen... and the first time they ran it, the elves were so smart that they immediately surrounded all the orcs, moved in on them, and killed them all in about ten seconds. And so the entire simulation needed to be reprogrammed. I dunno; it made me laugh really hard the way Matrix Guy described it. But anyway.

10:01: For the second year running, Jennifer Garner gets an utterly thankless job. Ha! This time, she had to host the ceremony for the scientific and technical awards, which was held two weeks ago. They show a few brief clips of it, and I feel really bad for not caring. Kind of like with that family that went missing on Valentine's Day.

10:04: Jim Carrey gives Blake Edwards the lifetime achievement award. Blah. Yeah, A Shot in the Dark was great and I'm sure he did some other good stuff, but I repeat: Blah. Sean Connery is sitting in the audience next to Scarlett Johansson. If I were her, I'd be sitting there paralyzed with fear.

10:16: A commercial for 20/20 dares me not to make the obvious joke by describing Rosie O'Donnell's wife as "the woman behind the woman."

10:17: Bill Murray introduces a clip of Lost in Translation, and mists up a bit while he does so. Despite a really funny joke about having wanted to quit the production after four days, this film obviously means a lot to him.

10:19: It's Scarlett again! She seems to be having a good time as she says, "You may not know this, but I have been wearing makeup for 35 years!" It's a joke just incomprehensible enough that it makes me think she'd be a lot of fun to hang out with. She's giving out the award for Best Makeup. LOTFR wins again. Co-winner Richard Taylor looks like the love child of a lesbian Elvis impersonator and ex-Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

10:22: The brain trust of John Travolta and Sandra Bullock introduces the award for Sound Mixing, which is naturally given to LOTFR. The winners thank everyone in New Zealand, which makes me happy that Neil Finn finally got recognized. And then Travullock gives the award for Sound Editing to the team from Master and Commander, who truly deserves it. Maybe I'm just a sucker for the sound of rope being pulled taut, but I thought that film had perhaps the best sound I'd ever heard.

10:28: Billy Crystal says, "It's official: there is no one left in New Zealand to thank," which gets a giggle out of me. Then Julia Roberts gives a posthumous tribute to Katherine Hepburn, which also gets a giggle out of me, because I keep thinking of Rachael's idea to build K-Hepbot 3000. Okay, time for another award that someone cares about. Seriously.

10:38: Here's Oprah. Why? She's trying to look regal. She talks up Mystic River, which was not one of her sacred Book Club books, but it seems like she's trying to retroactively take credit for its popularity. A pan to the Mystic River gang in the audience reveals a seat filler sitting nervously in Sean Penn's seat.

10:40: Diane Lane and John Cusack give the award for Best Documentary Short to something called Chernobyl Heart. Here's what my notes say: "Sweet acceptance speech TOO LONG!"

10:43: Naomi Watts and Alec Baldwin present the award for Best Documentary Feature to The Fog of War. I wanted to see that, dammit, but I missed my chance. Director Errol Morris reminds me of Earl's gangly friend from the construction site on Dinosaurs, with the nebbishy energy of a Frasier writer. Don't get me wrong: I have immense respect for the guy. That's just not how I expected him to come across. He gets quite a bit of applause with the most overt political statement of the evening. After thanking documentary subject Robert McNamara, Morris responded to the shock of the audience by saying, "40 years ago, this nation went down a rabbit hole in Vietnam and millions died. I fear we're going down a rabbit hole once again, and if people can stop and reflect on the ideas presented in this movie, perhaps I've done some damn good here!"

10:47: Billy Crystal introduces the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who stammers his way through some jibba-jabba about Gregory Peck before introducing this year's Death Reel, in which lots of the important cinema-related people who died last year are remembered via an applause-o-meter. I didn't know that Michael Jeter died. How fucked up is it that Nazi propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl gets more applause than Stan Brakhage?

10:57: Sting and Phil Collins come out on stage together. Cripe, where's Steve Perry? Best Score goes to Howard Shore for LOTFR. Kevin Shields wasn't even nominated for his atmospheric work in Lost in Translation. And yes, I love My Bloody Valentine, but no, that's not why I brought that up. Or maybe it is. Kevin Shields!

11:01: My energy is rapidly waning. Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore- whatever. Editing. LOTFR. Gah.

11:04: Jamie Lee Curtis appears, and she's introducing the remaining two Best Original Song nominees. She's understandably enthusiastic about A Mighty Wind, so I won't make a hermaphrodite joke here. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara perform the gorgeous "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" as their characters Mitch & Mickey, and their kiss at the end is every bit as exuberant and moving here as it was in the film. Yay! Then there's a great, lively performance of "Belleville Rendez-vous" from The Triplets of Belleville performed by Benoit Charest and a really great, jazzy, sexy vocalist named Bettie(?). It's an awesome Latin/swing/whatever song that made me smile and which I simply must download whenever I get a spare moment.

11:15: Will Ferrell and Jack Black perform an entertaining number based on the music that the Academy's orchestra plays whenever someone's acceptance speech has gone on too long. It incorporates both a reference to Del Taco and the word lolligagging, so I can't complain. I can, however, complain that they bestow the award for Best Original Song on that Annie Lennox piece of crap. Fuck that noise! Does anyone actually like that song, or has the Academy actually gotten so thoroughly spineless that they voted a straight-party ticket for LOTFR? "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," in addition to being smart and pretty, was actually a major plot point in its film! "Belleville Rendez-vous" was instantly addictive and fun! Even "My Ain True Love" was very well-written, if you feel you have to throw a bone to Sting. But "Into the West"?! You people make me sick. I know that only maybe one in five songs that wins Best Original Song is memorable in any way, but you can't tell me that of the five nominees, this was anyone's true preference. This is such transparent electioneering that it makes me want to turn off the TV right now.

11:16: I gently whisper to my TV that I didn't really mean it.

11:21: Charlize. Best Foreign Film. The Barbarian Invasions.

11:24: Uma and Jude. Cinematography. It's criminal that Lost in Translation wasn't nominated for its hypnotic Tokyo nightscapes, but Master and Commander wins, which I'm fine with.

11:30: Francis Ford and Sofia Coppola present Best Adapted Screenplay amid a flurry of ill-advised Godfather jokes. Although I haven't yet watched Godfather III, I suspect that all the negative words that were spent on Sofia's performance were accurate, because man, she can't even read a Tele-Prompter convincingly. Now, granted, this isn't a particularly strong category this year, but LOTFR again?! You know, even if you liked those movies for some reason I cannot understand as I enjoy films that prize meaning (or at least entertainment value) over slavish adherence to a dull and overwrought fantasy plot, you have to admit that Return of the King was not the only good movie released this year. Why wouldn't you want to spread the accolades around even a little bit? I don't think anyone has argued that the screenplay was the anchor of the LOTFR trilogy; that it was Peter Jackson's shining moment. No. Except in the case of total fanboys, you don't hear anyone going on and on about the "sparkling dialogue" in those films. So even if you're going to stuff the biggest awards into Jackson's gaping maw, why not designate a category like this to recognize truly artful writing in another film, like Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman's clever meta-script for American Splendor? Or even Brian Helgeland's crowd-pleasing distillation of Mystic River, which is flawed but with lots of juicy moments? This kind of monopolization of the Oscars, though admittedly not that important in the scheme of things, just seems wrong to me. Even if it were Lost in Translation or Finding Nemo taking home buttloads of statues, I'd say they should spread it out a little.

11:34: Tobey Maguire gamely talks up Seabiscuit as if it has a prayer of winning Best Picture.

11:35: Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon give Sofia her much-deserved Best Original Screenplay trophy. I love her. She forgets to thank Scarlett, but I love her anyway.

11:42: What would an awards show be without Tom Cruise? A cut-away to Oprah reveals that she is happy about his appearance on stage in front of her. I sort of imagine she has him flown into the Harpo Ranch a couple times a year, just on a whim, to dance for her, because she can. Tom's giving out the Best Director award, and from this point of view, it doesn't appear as though the ol' clear braces worked for his teeth. After a perfunctory reading of the other nominees, Peter Jackson waddles up to the podium looking like a mad scientist version of King Ralph to get another award for his movie about elves and jewelry. Yes, the director of The Frighteners has quite a vision, alright.

11:46: Adrian Brody appears to introduce a bunch of Best Actress clips in which everyone is crying. Charlize Theron is proclaimed the best crier for her role in Monster, which I guess is alright with me. I would've preferred Naomi Watts win, but Aileen Wuornos, the serial killer Theron played, is from Troy, so I can feel some hometown pride now. Anyway, Theron thanks a long succession of corporate studio rodents.

11:58: Nicole Kidman appears, and for some reason, I imagine how funny it would be if she was on the arm of Jocko, the old Aussie pitchman for Energizer who used to yell "Oy!" all the time, and I erupt into a fit of laughter. Sean Penn wins Best Actor for Mystic River, and Bill Murray looks thoroughly heartbroken. As am I. You know, I could grit my teeth and make the tendons in my neck pop out as I speak and give pretty much the same performance that Penn gave in Mystic River. Where's the beauty in that role? Where's the subtlety? I respect Sean Penn a lot, and I don't feel quite so disgusted by this turn of events when I pretend that he won for 21 Grams instead, but Bill Murray was so wonderful. His performance was probably too subtle for a lot of voters, but he brings such a real, yearning sadness to his part that he makes his connection with Scarlett thoroughly revelatory when it comes. Penn endears himself to me by starting his acceptance speech by saying, "If there's one thing that actors know- other than that there weren't any WMDs..." but this is so unjust it hurts. In a reaction shot of Murray, you can tell he's thinking that this was his one chance for an Oscar, not to mention how obviously proud he was of this role and film, and oh it's so sad I have to move on...

12:05: Steven Spielberg shows up so he can give LOTFR the award for Best Picture and pass on the torch of Overrated Hack Auteur. I flip off the TV in disappointment and anger as soon as he says, "It's a clean sweep!"

CURRENT MUSIC: Lost Planets & Phantom Voices by Tobin Sprout.
CURRENT MOOD:
Still kinda angry.
WHOOPS: I forgot to pick up my meds at Rite-Aid today.
TIME:
6:43 PM.

Doot? | |

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