Sunday, March 27, 2016

Album Review: Weezer's self titled "White Album"

Weezer's tenth studio album, the self-titled "White Album" will be released April 1. This will be their fourth untitled album with a color theme, after the blue, green, and red albums. And, yes, I'm sure they know another band back in the day previously released a self-titled "White Album."

You can sort of call the white album a comeback. They released a string of critically and commercially successful albums from 1995 until 2005. Then they kept releasing albums for another decade. That hardcore group of Weezer fans didn't seem to like them as well as they used to. And they didn't catch on with the mainstream audience, with the lone exception of "Pork and Beans," their 2008 track that was one of their highest-charting singles.

Weezer seemed to realize what had happened and attempted to bring back that old feeling with their last album "Everything Will Be Alright In The End." Their first single, "Back To The Shack" even addressed those fan issues, slipping in self references to previous songs and old band members.

But, it felt forced. It was "Hey, here's an album where we say we're going back to the way things used to be. See that album title? Yeah, that's how we feel about this disk of songs."

The best way to go back to the "good old days" is to rock out like you did 20 years ago. And, that's what Weezer does on this new album. The white album will be released on April 1, and in a bit of a change from how they've done things, they released five singles before the release of the album. It's almost like they were trying to win the trust of the audience: "See? These songs are good, you can buy the whole thing."

It is a 10-track album. I have listened to all five of the released tracks so far. They're all great. Half of this album is already great. And it's the tenth album from a band that has been together over 20 years. Already, it's a success.

Weezer has always been known for making great music videos. There's a fun article on Thought Catalog looking at some of Weezer's best videos. And, if you didn't know, I wrote that article two years ago.

For their first five singles, they made videos for four of them (and actually two videos for one of the songs). What's cool about their latest video is that it references all of them. The band isn't featured in any of the videos. "Thank God For Girls" features a man awkwardly eating several pastries by himself. "King Of The World" has a man wearing a crown and cape harassing a pretty lady before being tackled by the police. "L.A. Girlz" features a kid who bears a resemblance to lead singer Rivers Cuomo dancing on the beach with a muscular, bikini-wearing lady.

The fifth single "California Kids" has Rivers walking around having flashbacks to those videos. The scene from the actual video will come up, then he will be reenacting it. It's kind of cool. My favorite song of the five, "Do You Wanna Get High" is the one they didn't release a video for. Although, the lyric video is pretty trippy. Check it out and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Below are all four videos, in the order they were released. 

Thank God For Girls

Do You Wanna Get High

King Of The World

L.A. Girlz

California Kidz

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: Inappropriate Laughter

This week's edition of the Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week is a brief snippet from Norm's great podcast interview with Larry King. It's a fun hour-long episode that you should check out. King is a great sport, dealing with Norm's off-color humor and giving him tips on how to make his show more mainstream.

With this clip, Norm asks a good question - "As an old-timey broadcaster, do you have other old-timey broadcaster friends? - and King gives a good response. Being in his 80s, King does point out that a lot of them have died. He mentions Mike Wallace - of 60 Minutes fame - as being a great friend. He tells a story about Wallace's final days, and Norm wasn't expecting something King said, so he laughs at a very insensitive time. That caused King to crack up. And it's just awkwardly hilarious all around. 

Click here to see the full interview.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Page News and Courier: Grace House feature

This article appeared in the March 10 issue of the Page News and Courier. I like it. I think it's a nice piece about something that's important. I moved here in November. I heard about this group in December. I brought it up as an idea for the "Local Life" section, which is basically just a feature section. Nothing came of it then, but at the beginning of March we were scrambling to find a feature idea and I brought it up again. And, here we are. 

Grace House, helping women live sober lives

By Chris Slater
Staff Writer

Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the Grace House residents, at their request. 

SHENANDOAH — Amy is certain that had she not been drinking, the incident with her boyfriend would not have escalated to the point where she wound up being incarcerated for more than four years. 

"We said some things back and forth to one another," Amy said. "It got to the point where he started beating up on me. It ended up with him being shot in the hand by me." 

Amy, now in her early 60s, went to prison in 2010. She refers to her story as "rags to riches."  

"I've been self employed since I was 26 years old; very successful, professionally, personal, spiritually,” Amy said. "I've always been active in my church, active in my community. I'm college educated."

She has never had anger issues in her life and knows that alcohol fueled the fight that led her to prison. 

"Every bit of this, everything is my fault — I take full responsibility, 100 percent," Amy said. "I am extremely remorseful. It breaks my heart to think that I hurt him. It doesn't bother me about going to prison; I deserved that. But the fact that I hurt somebody, that bothers me."

After getting released with only $25 to her name and the clothes on her back, Amy needed help getting her life together. The first place she tried did not work out and she ultimately spent four days living on the street before she found the Grace House. 

* * *

Grace House is a transitional living house for women coming out of incarceration and rehabilitation facilities. The idea for Grace House was in Kerry Scott's head after the death of her sister, Bonnie, in 2002. 

"She moved to Shenandoah from Massachusetts; she moved for a change,” Scott said. "Bonnie thought she might stay for a couple years, but she fell in love with the area. She bought this old house that had been condemned. She wanted to fix it up and make it into a sober house."

Addiction is something that Scott knows about firsthand, as her sister struggled throughout her life. 

"My sister was an alcoholic," Scott said. "She was in recovery for most of the time that she was in Virginia. She had been in recovery for long periods at different times of her life." 

Bonnie also struggled with mental illness, something her sister thinks would have been handled differently today. 

"She took her own life," Scott said. "Things have shifted, and I don’t think she would be that way today. She died 14 years ago and since then there is much more understood of the links between depression and the disease of addiction." 

Looking to honor her sister's memory, Scott decided to make Grace House a reality. 

"There was some resistance from the town, which I wasn’t surprised by or disappointed by," Scott said. "We're directly across from the school play yard, so there was some fear that the children would be exposed to something that people wouldn’t like." 

Noting that it took over five years from conception to opening the doors, Scott said that that time allowed her to talk to Shenandoah residents and government leaders about Grace House and understand their concerns. She said that she now has the full support of the town. 

"In 2010, the first woman came to live at Grace House," Scott said. "There have been women in recovery here ever since then."

* * *

Amy has lived at Grace House since April 26, 2015. 

"I thank God for this house," Amy said. "Kerry Scott is wonderful, having turned this house into a home for women."

Since 2010, there have been 37 women who have called Grace House their home. To live at Grace House, an applicant must be interviewed by the group's board of directors, with the seven members ultimately deciding if that person can move in. 

Sue Kite has been the president of Grace House since August. She noted that the house has strict requirements for somebody wanting to live there. 

"We don't want someone coming in who has been just off of drugs — they have to go through rehab," Kite said. "We do not take anyone who hasn’t had some kind of rehabilitation. We can't take someone just coming off of the street, trying to ween themselves off of drugs."

There have been a few instances of relapse and residents being kicked out of the house. But Kite and Scott both emphasize that the positives outweigh any negatives that have happened at Grace House. 

"Right now, we have two girls there now," Scott said. "We did have three, but one left in November. She was done with her time and has gone home. She’s doing very well."

Amy lives with her roommate, Mary, and their cat, Pumpkin. Mary, 50, has been at Grace House for more than two years, after spending two years in prison. She said that her addictions were "alcohol, pills and money."

"I don’t like talking about my crimes, because the crimes I did hurt other people — mostly my family," Mary said. "I have three children who are all adults and it hurt them, tore them apart. I have one child who still does not speak to me to this day." 

Mary sees the Grace House as an important part of the community, albeit one that little is known about. 

"There’s been love and care, and people want to help," Mary said. "I’ve loved it ever since I've been here. I have a strong feeling about Grace House and where it can go. I feel very fortunate."  
Scott said that she is happy about what her creation has done, in regards to opening up eyes about the issues of addiction. 

"We are changing the conversation in Shenandoah about alcoholism, about drug addiction," Scott said. "Ladies who come to stay at Grace House become ambassadors in the community. People see how hard they’re working, how good their efforts are, what it takes to put their lives together again, and also recognizing what they’ve lost. 

"I think there should be one of these in every single town everywhere."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Life update: Podcasts, Simpsons, Comics

I'm working on a new podcast idea. Podcasting is something that I really have a passion for and want to continue working in that medium. The last one didn't really have a set theme and would be about something serious one week, something fun the next, and it may have been hard to get an audience that way. When that's closer to becoming a thing, I'll have more to say.

* * *

I read the graphic novel "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," the 2001 sequel to the 1986 groundbreaking "The Dark Knight Returns." I wrote a review of the first one and talked about what I liked. I enjoyed how gritty it was, how it told the story of these real people, a 50-year-old Batman struggling with his mortality and a 70-year-old Commissioner Gordon being forced out of the office.

I think the reason I didn't like the sequel is because all of the things I liked about the first one are gone. It's not set in a realistic, dystopian Gotham City. A good portion of it takes place in space. Batman is barely seen. Jim Gordon is only featured in a few random sound bites.

One thing I liked about the first comic was that it showed a grim look at the 24-hour news cycle. In 1986, Frank Miller did a good job of imagining what today's cable news would look like. The issue with the sequel is that if things are going to get worse, then of course the news coverage has to as well. The problem here is that it's all taken too far and is unrealistic. In "Rises," we have rude talking heads who don't care about anything except getting their voice heard. In "Strikes Again" we have naked newscasters hyping sex and explosions.

And, of course, there's the ridiculous mid-air sex scene between Superman and Wonder Woman that results in earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes exploding, and ends with Wonder Woman immediately knowing that she's pregnant.

* * *

If you ask my neighbors to describe who I am, they'll probably say "That guy who doesn't talk to us? The one who sits in his apartment all night and watches The Simpsons?" The walls are thin. I can hear them casually talking - and sometimes yelling and having the police stop by - so I know they can hear my television. Instead of "my television" a more accurate term would be "Ashley Green's television that she didn't want to take to California with her."

It's actually for research reasons. I have the first 10 seasons of "The Simpsons" on DVD and I'm working on an ebook project about the first decade of the show. So, my constant watching of the show is actually something I need to do.

It began as a late summer blog project to rank all of the episodes of those first 10 seasons. That's around 230 episodes. I figured compiling that list would give me something to do and fill some time. Then I started thinking about other stuff I could write about.

It's loosely going to be a collection of essays looking at the cultural impact of "The Simpsons" on different areas. Religion, politics, alcoholism, homosexuality, etc... And, also that ranking list.

I was getting started on it and had to take a break on that when I got hired at the newspaper. Moving 3 1/2 hours and starting a new career really takes away a lot of your free time to rank your favorite episodes of a cartoon.

But, now I'm a little more settled into things here and have a better idea of how to manage side projects. So, that's back to being a thing I'm working on. I'll probably give a more thorough update on this project over the summer. Right now, I just have a mostly-completed ranking list and several ideas swirling in my head. 

* * *

That's all for now. Hey, while you're at it, why don't you take a look at my first ebook, "B-Sides: rarities and unreleased works, vol. 01" and maybe buy it if that's something you would be interested in.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week

This week's edition of the Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week is from an appearance on Dennis Miller's old radio show. Norm spins a tale about working on his ventriloquist act, but that his dummy is an anti-semite, and also a Holocaust denier. Norm refuses to listen to the advice of his friends on what to do with the dummy, noting that "two wrongs don't make a right." What those wrongs are, you'll have to watch the video and find out.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fourrrrr Months

I've lived in Luray, Virginia now for four months. It's so weird to think to myself sometimes "This is my life." I live in this little area and write for this newspaper about issues surrounding this area. I'm finally starting to understand those issues. Before, I would attend a meeting and come back saying "This, this, and this are important." I would be told no, then later asked "Why didn't you mention this?" Because I didn't know. But I feel like I've finally got a sense of Luray and Page County.

Locally, I'm understanding things. I'm still having trouble on a state-wide level. I covered a local Republican event for the paper and it had all of these state politicians. As I talked to each of them to get a quote, I had to ask who they were. Two of them flat-out asked if I was new to the area.

As is customary to pretty much everybody I meet, they ask where I'm from. I give my standard answer "Princeton, West Virginia. It's about 3 1/2 hours away." Both of the politicians literally said the exact same thing to me, only worded slightly differently: "That's a great area. Shame what they're doing to your coal mines."

One politician actually knew the area. He asked if I went to Concord. Then he asked about a bar in Princeton and if it wasn't still open. I told him it wasn't. He said he wasn't surprised and mentioned that one of his friends got stabbed there. I told him that I wasn't surprised.

* * *

I don't know if I miss Princeton. I miss some of the people. I miss knowing about stuff. I've been following WV House and Senate stuff lately, like a nerd. The "brunch bill" and this raw milk foolishness interests me more than anything I've seen in Virginia politics.

I am a little weirded out by Virginia's love of the Civil War and its history. Mostly because Virginia was on... ya know... uhhhh... the wrong side of the Civil War. I've seen a few Robert E. Lee statues. And a lot of confederate flags. But, I'm used to that from living in Princeton.

All of this political news and whatnot reminds me of a project I was working on before I got hired at the Page News and Courier. I'll tell the story about that in an upcoming post. Had I been in WV and had the proper help around me, I think it could have been really  cool. And, it's not really all that timely, so maybe one day down the road.

* * *

That's all for now. I'll check back in with more from Luray. Or, as the locals call it, Loo-Ray.