(In which the author receives an anonymous gift.)

Posted by Job O Brother, February 21, 2011 04:38pm | Post a Comment

Don't you hate it when you're stuck sitting on a plane next to someone with thick ankles?

The other day I was busily preparing my usual breakfast – a small bowl of nonfat cottage cheese with a few cucumber slices, a cup of black coffee, and a rice cake, all deep fried and smothered in butterscotch gravy – when a knock came on the front door. Imagine my surprise when I opened it and found no one there, some eight hours later. What was there was a small package, neatly wrapped in what looked like paper (though this is merely speculation on my part).

Strange packages from persons unknown should always be regarded with suspicion, but as I am a curious person by nature (my great-great-grandfather was a cat) I couldn’t help but open it, which proved to be a long and arduous task as I opted to use only my tongue, rather than the more versatile and saliva-free hands I keep at the end of my arms.

Inside the package was a cassette tape, painted a variety of colors, but without any linguistic explanation as to its purpose or content. I assumed it was a gift from one of my fans, but then I remembered they were without capacity for thought, incapable of free will and basically only good for circulating air. No, this cassette tape was almost certainly from a human, probably a living one, and almost certainly residing somewhere on this planet!

Having thus solved this riddle to my satisfaction, I sought out mechanisms necessary to enjoy the cassette. I decided to use my old boom-box (that’s 1990’s for “ghetto blaster”), which gets far better sound than my washing machine (though does nothing for butterscotch gravy stains).

Continue reading...

(In which we mix up something good.)

Posted by Job O Brother, August 10, 2009 08:28pm | Post a Comment


Today I’ve been doing one of my favorite things: making a mix-tape. Of course, I’m not using any tape in this process, but somehow saying “mix cd” feels awkward. Much like saying “dump Coke” and “poop shoulder” – those are also awkward to say.

Anyway, crafting a playlist for a pal is one of my great joys. I don’t have much free time these days, what with my stupid ol’ grown-up lifestyle, but I used to make mix-tapes for people at the drop of a hat. The most casual of relationships could be an excuse.

“What are you doing, Job?”

“Making a mix-tape.”

“For who?”

“A guy from the bakery.”

“What guy?”

“…The baker.”

“Oh. You’re friends with the baker? The old dude? Isn’t he, like, half deaf?”

“Is he? I dunno. I only just met him yesterday. Well, I mean, I saw him. Baking... things. I didn’t really talk to him. But there was music playing in his bakery – some Sarah Vaughn – so I thought I’d make him a mix of cool jazz and vocalists and maybe even throw in some early French cabaret…”

And so it goes.

A good mix-tape isn’t just an assortment of rad songs, though they’re the meat of it. I’m of the opinion that truly neat-o mixes are bound together by little, sonic amuse-bouches; snippets of odd, silly, or even spooky clips. A line from a movie, an excerpted musical flourish, an individual sound effect even – all these things work.

Also – and I’m starting to wish I had instructed you in the beginning of this blog to imagine these words being said by Julia Child, because I love the idea of her giving insights into making mix-tapes… Tell you what, from now on, just imagine her voice as you read, okay?


Anyhow, one thing I like to include in mix-tapes are novelty songs. By this I mean songs that I don’t necessarily think the listener will love, per se, but marvel at. They might be horrid tunes, or hilarious ones, or maybe just something designed to confound the listener. My dear friend Carrie, for instance, has received many mix-tapes from me, and I always include at least one song from a musician I know she thinks she hates, all in my devoted* attempt to get her to open her heart to the artist.

What follows now is a compilation of tunes or acts that I’ve used in mix-tapes, not for their catchiness, intelligence or beauty, but simply because they add a certain je ne sais quoi. (That’s French for total, home-style radness.)


The Glass Is Half Wack: The Wackness (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 5, 2008 08:42pm | Post a Comment

Wackness is about white teens in the first half of the 90s who say stuff like, "You only see the wackness; I see the dopeness." They're in their 30s now, so the nostalgia is ripe. It was the period when the classical tradition in rap was giving way to the method acting mumbling of gangster wannabes selling the “real” to undergraduates. In a nod to Vincent Price famously referring to the method actors as "the mumblers," either Big Daddy Kane or Chuck D once lamented the fact that so many of the contemporary MCs gargled into the microphone. Anyhow, the film's soundtrack reminded me of why I started to hate commercial rap (not that I needed the reminding). Each line Big E wheezes brings him one step closer to a cardiac arrest and me to the door.  But, in trying to see the dopeness -- this movie wasn't Hancock, after all -- I soldiered on. I will draw the line at Sundance films set in a Lilith Fair concert.

So, the story: Luke (Josh Peck) is a pot dealer who’s just graduated from high school in the first year of Giuliani’s Manhattan. This is one of those introspective comedies (à la Little Miss Sunshine) that dominate Landmark’s arthouse chain, so Luke’s one and only friend is his psychiatrist, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley, supposedly a Brooklyn Jew, but looking like Cheech Marin circa Up In Smoke with an accent that slips into British, Indian caricature and Classic Hollywood Nazi). Luke trades the doc dope for counseling. Luke’s problems are that no one is his friend outside of wanting drugs from him and he can’t get laid. One such “friend” is the hip hop Asian character who functions as the foil for Luke’s romantic interest in Squires’ step-daughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). Another is nuevo hippie chick Union (Mary-Kate Olsen, the same twin – I checked – who plays the same character on Weeds).

As with Little Miss Sunshine, Charlie Bartlett and Juno, it turns out that adults have a lot to learn from kids. Doc Squires no longer loves his wife (Famke Janssen, who spends the entire film smoking and wearing a big floppy hat) and he doesn’t really have anyone to talk to either, except for his patients. Luke comes into his life at the right time. Squires self-medicates while telling Luke to face up to his life. The rest of the film involves both characters learning to live life as it comes, appreciate the dope, while living with the wack. Luke gets a chance with Stephanie, but blows it by saying he loves her. The Doc fucks up his friendship with Luke by suggesting a drug dealer isn’t good enough for his stepdaugher. The Doc wants a divorce but he’s afraid to go through with it. There’s a botched suicide attempt. The two friends make up by exchanging mixtapes (Luke likes Mott the Hoople and Squires even quotes Big E!) and Luke teaches Squires how to deal drugs. They both conclude that women are a necessary evil, and that which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger (as was said by Friedrich Nietzsche and later confirmed by Hank Williams).

The exchange of mixtapes here is supposed to be a return to earnestness and a rejection of the irony that took hold of the popular arts in the 90s as the antifoundationalism of postmodernism seeped into mass consciousness. When all words only obtain meaning by deferring to other words, ad infinitum, and meaning is fundamentally linguistic (so the story went), is it possible to say what we mean? Is it even important to try? Luke makes a genuine attempt to give part of himself to Squires and his stepdaughter by passing along tapes of his favorite rap tunes. The metaphor is made literal when Luke continually calls Stephanie, reaffirming into her answering machine that he meant what he said, fighting the temptation to turn ironic. Dare to believe in your pop culture by sampling it to say what you genuinely want to say. As a re-recordable tabula rasa, the blank cassette becomes a perfect metaphor for the film's attempt to re-create the nostalgic glow of previous teen films by sampling their clichés, while recording over these previous efforts. But the quality gets a little more degraded with each new recording.

The problem is that film isn’t a return to any authentic human connection, but to the everyone-stand-and-applaud-the-outcast teen comedies of the 80s. Andrew McCarthy might’ve been earnest in choosing Molly Ringwald, but there was nothing honest about it. It was meant to make us feel good by playing into our paradoxical desires to be like the popular kids, but on our own terms. Wackness tries to recapture the earnestness of John Hughes’ wish-fulfilling fantasies for the ironic generation by following a downtrodden Duckie-like character, giving him the chance to sleep with the popular girl, as if that’s somehow more real.  It’s supposed to be more authentic because the relationship doesn’t last, so the target audience can keep whatever cynicism it learned from a decade-plus of ironic detachment while enjoying the myths of the previous decades the way those audiences supposedly did. Like American Graffiti, Easy Rider, Valley Girl et al., the fantasy feels more ethnographic. The further you get away from the actual times depicted, ironically, the more detached you are.