Jul 29, 2007

(Bad) Health Care for All

It was White Guy Day on "Here and Now" this week, with interviews featuring congressmen Ron Kind and Paul Ryan, UW President Kevin Reilly, Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Shawn Johnson, and me - coming it to blow the show at the end, Brewer-style. Kidding aside, I thought the interviews were really good - and this show might be the best place in Wisconsin to get actual extended news about state political events. To see this week's full show, click here.

To see what happens when married guys attempt to dress themselves, you can watch my commentary below. Talkin' a little universal health care.

Also, I forgot to post my friend Jamie Kuhn's commentary last week, also about the budget. Here it is:

Jul 27, 2007

For Those About to Pretend to Rock

When news became available that Guns n’ Roses tribute band Paradise City was playing the Club Tavern on Thursday night, word spread between my friends like wildfire. On Halloween of 2003, another tribute band named Mr. Brownstone played Luther’s Blues in Madison, and it went down as one of the more epic nights in Madison music history (meaning my friends all got really drunk and craziness ensued). They actually went on to see Mr. Brownstone two more times before, sadly, the band broke up. (I blame Yoko.)

So it was exciting news that Paradise City was coming to town – and with a Bon Jovi tribute band as the opener, to boot. My friend Jay, an off the charts GnR fan, dusted off his sleeveless “Appetite for Destruction” shirt and rallied everyone in the Capitol to attend. After all, the Paradise City website proclaims they’re the “nation’s #1 Guns n’ Roses tribute.” As if there were some objective standard by which tribute bands are measured – like somehow, if your fake Slash’s top hat isn’t big enough, you get bumped to #3.

A while ago, I had read Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” which contains an amusing chapter documenting life on the road with a Guns n’ Roses tribute band. It talks about how shallow of a life these bands lead by driving around the country in a van pretending to be someone else. But tribute bands quickly learned that people are more willing to pay $10 to go see songs they already know by fake celebrities than $5 to see original songs by real beginning bands. Before the show, I went back and looked that chapter up, and lo and behold, the band in the book was called Paradise City. So that added even more excitement for me, given that I thought I knew a little bit about these guys.

I got to the bar at about seven o’clock, as the band was warming up. And they were taking themselves deadly seriously – no note or verse went unchecked. It was like they were warming up to play the Grammys or something. But then I realized an important fact for the night – while we were led to believe that there would be an opening band, it appeared that the Bon Jovi and GnR tribute bands were the same band! That’s right, they would come out dressed as one band, then go back to the dressing room, change, and come out as the other. It’s brilliant – you get paid for two shows.

As show time neared, it became evident that the crowd consisted entirely of people who hang out at the Club Tavern anyway. Everyone knew each other, and we were clearly interlopers. It didn’t seem like the explosive entertainment potential of Paradise City had really brought anyone out other than me and my friends. The women there made sure every tattoo they invested their hard earned infant formula money in was visible. Clearly, shoulder tattoos outnumbered college degrees by at least three to one. There was a fast-spreading rumor that a boob may have escaped the shirt of one scantily clad woman while she was dancing, but upon further investigation, the rumor was never substantiated.

The band eventually came out, and to everyone’s surprise, they started as Guns n’ Roses. This chapped my friend Jay’s ass. He pointed out that on no planet in the universe would Guns n’ Roses be opening for Bon Jovi. So there was one strike against Paradise City right there. I also noticed that there’s no way these guys were the same guys in Klosterman’s book. In the book, the band took pride in not wearing wigs and living the whole GnR lifestyle (except on about $10 a day). These guys were wearing wigs and playing Bon Jovi songs. I’m guessing there’s probably a dozen bands out there called “Paradise City” that move around under the radar playing shows, rocking dentally-challenged bars from coast to coast.

About 20 minutes in to the show, someone noticed that “Slash” was holding a cigarette in the same hand he was picking his guitar with. Jay leaned over to me and said, “see, that’s how you get to be America’s number one GnR tribute band.” Point well taken. In the interest of accuracy, he wondered if a Def Leppard tribute band could ever make it to number one without a drummer with one arm.

Later on, it was observed that the fake “Izzy” kept his cigarette in the fret board of his guitar when not smoking it. My friend Dave pointed out that that right there is an argument against smoking bans – just so guitarists can do cool stuff while smoking in bars.

After finishing up with their rendition of “Paradise City,” the band took a break to go become Bon Jovi. When they came out and started playing, it was determined that the lead singer was a much better Jon Bon Jovi than he was an Axl Rose. At one point, fully in character, “Jon Bon Jovi” told everyone to clap for the opening band. Who, of course, was them. Dead serious.

In the middle of the set, the singer yelled out “HOW YOU DOIN’ MADISON!!!” At that point, a reserved young man walked over to the stage and told “Jon” that we were actually in Middleton. There was an extended awkward pause, then “Jon” picked up the microphone and screeched “MIDDLETON!!!!!!”

I am not a Bon Jovi fan, and the only songs I know of theirs are from “Slippery When Wet.” So I kind of mingled and observed the crowd. There was one woman who we pegged at 99% as a former stripper, as her dancing alone probably gave everyone in the bar an STD. You just know this woman has served as a human trampoline for the men of Middleton, where everyone gets a turn. Kind of sad, really.

Earlier in the night, I had told Jay that I was going to be on “Here and Now” today talking about universal health care. When “Bad Medicine” came on, he told me I should just go on TV and do an a capella rendition of that song, and that all the viewers would understand the point. And I think he’s right.

“Bon Jovi” finished of the set with “Livin’ on a Prayer,” then left the stage to chants of “one more song!” Ignoring the convincing argument put forward by the two chanters, they ducked back into their dressing room. Many bar patrons left. But then, about five minutes later, they emerged and headed to the bar. Jay went over to “Jon/Axl” to plead for another song. When he began talking to the singer, the guy just turned his back on Jay and walked away. I mean, how awesome is it to get completely blown off by some crappy celebrity impersonator? I almost burst my spleen laughing so hard.

But then, the band took the stage again. It appeared that he may have just ignored Jay because he didn’t want to spoil the “surprise.” But when they got back up there, they weren’t in their costumes – nobody really knew what to make of them. They just became some kind of amalgam of ‘80s bands, playing songs ranging from Skynrd to Ratt. They finished off their 6 song encore by once again playing “Welcome to the Jungle,” to the delight of everyone.

The lesson here is, that one person can do anything if they put their mind to it. Under adverse conditions, Jay put his mind to having that band play an encore, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t make it happen. Goes to show that the strength and determination do pay off. Imagine what would happen if he set out to end world hunger.

Our night having climaxed, we all headed home at 1:00 AM, our hunger for faux-rock satisfied. The real world intruded in my life at 6 AM, when my daughter woke me up by poking me in the face with a stuffed frog. Somehow, rock just isn’t what it used to be.


Here's a video-phone clip of "Sweet Child O' Mine," released 20 years ago this year. The sound is terrible (you can barely hear the music), but it gives you a glimpse at the genius of Paradise City.


Discovered at the High Noon Saloon website:

Sat. October 27, The High Noon Saloon presents:
High Noon Halloween Party
Mr. Brownstone
10:00 PM / $tba cover 21 AND UP

Jul 26, 2007

That's Me, Dude

The Wisconsin State Journal asked some prominent Madisonians (and me) which Simpsons character they thought they most resembled. I picked Otto Mann, the incompetent yet content metalhead busdriver. When trying to make my pick, I was sold on these stories about Otto from his Wikipedia page:

Otto's ability and competence to drive any kind of vehicle, let alone a school bus, is highly questionable. On "The Otto Show," he tells Principal Skinner that he has a record of crashing his school bus 15 times without a single fatality. On the same episode, he was dismissed from his job when the authorities discovered that he did not hold any kind of license, or any kind of identification at all. (He stated that his identification was the fact that he wrote his name on his underwear; only to discover that he was wearing someone else's).

He once met Metallica in the episode "The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer" and exclaims, "It's Metallica! Am I on drugs?" A lizard in a stoner vision says "Yes you are, but that really is Metallica."

Jul 23, 2007

Public Access Abuse

In an age where more and more government proceedings are being aired live, episodes like this are almost inevitable:

This man is offering his support for a San Francisco city supervisor with an impromptu a cappella rendition of Madonna's "Borderline." You just know his stoned buddies are sitting at home, pointing at the TV, and laughing their asses off.

I've always wondered why more fraternities don't require their pledges to show up at state legislative hearings to testify on some random bill while wearing giant Borat-style mustaches. Now with WisconsinEye, there will be a record of it for their kids to enjoy someday. (I am not suggesting this, just wondering aloud why it doesn't happen. And I would absolutely find it funny every time.) You'd be amazed at how many serious people waste the Legislature's time at hearings - they might enjoy a little comedy from time to time.

Cracked.com also has a list of the "Most Insane Public Access Moments" in TV history. Or at least that have been caught on YouTube. Some of them are classics - but help yourself to clips such as "Goth Public Access" and "Speak Out With Ken Sander" (strong language warning).

Irregular Lovin'

My Here and Now bit on college hijinks brought up some pretty funny memories of the old days. Specifically, there was a time when I got a great deal on a new girlfriend:

At the house where I lived, there were these two giant columns in front. From my bedroom, you could climb out the window and actually slide down one of the columns for fun. In fact, this took place fairly often after we had a few drinks.

One time, when I was out of town, this cute girl climbed out my window, started to slide down the column, and let go. She fell about 15 feet and smacked the side of her head on the concrete. They rushed her to the hospital, and thankfully she lived, although she lost all hearing in her left ear.

For me, this was fantastic news - the chance to land a cute girl at a discount. This was finally the break I was looking for. It would be like finding a great pair of jeans marked "irregular" at the outlet mall - or being able to buy a Lexus with three wheels at 80% off. She had everything, except of course the ability to hear out of one ear.

So we went out a few times, but our boyfriend/girlfriend negotiations stalled. Soon, she left for school out of town, and it was over. I tried to convince her to stay, but she wouldn't listen.

I don't know if there's really a life lesson or anything here, except maybe this - maybe it's time we break the taboo of picking girls up in the emergency room.

I Heart C and M

If you have some extra time, I would highly recommend watching the series at clarkandmichael.com. I was never an Arrested Development watcher, but Michael Cera is hilarious. Very much within The Office-style of squirmy comedy - complete with awkward pauses. The episodes are only 10 minutes apiece, so you can burn through them pretty quickly.

Jul 18, 2007

Two Thumbs "Up"

I’ve been light on the blogging lately, as I have been completely engrossed in director Michael Apted’s “Up” series of documentaries. For those unaware (which was me three weeks ago), they are a series of documentaries that began in 1963, where fourteen seven year old English children were chosen to take part in a study of class in British society. From that point, the series follows the same children through the course of their lives, visiting them for a new documentary every seven years.

The series in its totality is a stunning work, especially since DVDs allow us to watch all the chapters in succession. When initially released, fans of the series had to wait seven years for the next episode – yet Netflix allowed me to literally watch people grow into adolescents, then adults, then parents, and grandparents, within the course of two weeks. It’s difficult to describe how shocking this is – you’re just not supposed to watch people grow from seven years old into retirement age before your eyes.

Although the series follows the lives of these specific individuals, the show is really more about life in general. It’s easy to pick out the traits in these people that we see in ourselves – and how much of the ebb and flow of their experiences match our own. At 14, many of them are dealing with the crippling strain of adolescence. At 21, they are full of confidence and vigor – by 35, they are mostly worried about juggling families and careers – and at 49, they all seem to be resigned to the lives they’ve led and the decisions they’ve made.

There’s also a strong theme that deals with predetermination. It really is amazing to see that when these children are interviewed at age seven, many of the same characteristics they display will carry them through their lives (Each installment ends with the Jesuit saying, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”). For instance, when Tony is interviewed as a child, he displays a short attention span, hyperactivity, and a desire to attract attention. As he moves through life, he takes on project after project, never becoming particularly good at any of them (horse back riding, golfing, soccer, acting). But his life is consistent with what you see there before you in 1963.

The whole idea thay you are who you’re going to be by age 7 horrified me. Could it be that my whole life was laid out for me based on my first seven years? Then I thought back to when I was 7, and it is entirely possible that is the case. When I was 7, my parents used to trot me out in front of house guests to do my Richard Nixon impersonation – complete with peace signs, shaking head, and “I am not a crook” speech. Comedy and conservative politics, wrapped into one. How could it be? (Video here)

For me, the star of the show is John, a snooty conservative who, throughout his life, is completely and totally unapologetic about being born into privilege and being able to attend the best schools in England. When interviewed at age 7, he can already say what his career path will be – what schools he will attend, what profession he will have. By age 14, he’s already developed theories on politics and culture that are more sophisticated than most people will ever have (although his speech defending racial discrimination is a bit sketchy). While he recognizes that he has been born into privilege, he strongly argues that it’s still up to the individual to make it happen – which the show clearly demonstrates. Rich kids sometimes go south, and poor kids can lead even more fulfilling lives.

Probably the most shocking part of the series is the 28 Up episode, which actually has a local Wisconsin flavor – even though it’s a show about British kids. I won’t give it away, but if you want a clue as to what happens, click here.

There are so many lessons to be drawn from the series, I could go on and on. It’s clear that nobody ever really gets any smarter after the age of 14. Sure, you may learn more things that you can file away in your brain, but the structure of how you think and how curious you are about the world is for the most part set.

It also makes you appreciate your life for what it is – the effect of watching all the shows in succession is to realize how fast your life goes by. One day, you’re 21, the next, you’re 28, and soon you’ll be 49 and 56. And the decisions you make today mold who you are at those later ages.

So get your hands on the series if you can – it’s one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen. You won’t be able to pull yourself away from the television – even if some of the subjects want you to throw things at it from time to time.

(Reviews of the "Up" series)

Jul 16, 2007

You Are What You Swallow

I spent Saturday night at an engagement party thrown by my wife in Milwaukee, the later details of which are somewhat hazy. But I do recall talking to a gastroenterologist from the Duke medical center, who conceded that half of her job is fishing things out of people that they either swallow or.. ummmmm... find their way into their digestive tract by "other means."

I was a little surprised at the objects she said were most often swallowed:

1. Crack pipes - as in, "oh, sh** the cops are here - what do I do with this crack pipe?" This makes it a little difficult to deny the pipe is yours - you can't really use the excuse that you grabbed someone else's esophagus on the way out the door that morning.

2. Toothbrushes - a favorite of bulemics, who use their toothbrushes to induce vomiting. Yet sometimes, they don't hold on tight enough, and down the hatch they go.

I'm sure most people are aware of the "other" objects that make their way into human digestive systems. She mentioned that just last week, she had to retrieve a 12-inch rubber.. ummmm.... "object" from a young man's rectum. Apparently, when doctors fish those things out, it goes into some kind of evidence bag - which she then put in the doctor's lounge for all the other physicians to admire. Apparently this one broke a record (among other things).

Incidentally, these people apparently are the reason we need to pass universal health care - so taxpayers can foot the bill for some dude to get a rubber phallus pulled out of his colon. Admittedly, I have been tempted to check there sometimes when I can't find the remote control.

As for the rest of the engagement party, it was great - mostly due to my wife's organization. I'm telling you - Eisenhower didn't put as much planning into invading Normandy. We got taco and enchilada fixin's from the El Rey market at 16th and National, and I can't recommend their food strongly enough. In fact, the quality of the food should be enough to exonerate the cops from raiding the place in 2002 - who wouldn't use force to get their hands on their chicken fajitas?

The general rule is this: if you purchase your food from a store where nobody speaks a word of English, there is a 100% chance it will be delicioso. Fortunately, there were plenty of leftovers, which means I will be hitting the scales at three Franklins by the end of the week.

Fortunately for me, eating El Rey steak tacos is marginally more pleasurable than putting large rubber objects in my rectum. Good news, although both can put you in an emergency room.

Jul 6, 2007

"Here and Now," July Edition

For a reason known only to them, the Here and Now show still allows me to show up and provide editorials every now and then. This week, I discussed an underappreciated group in the University of Wisconsin System - complete with a "he just said what?" moment.

Don't ask me what all the head shaking is about. I should probably try doing one of these sober every now and then.

Jul 2, 2007

Brewer All-Star Update

I'll be in and out most of this week, as relatives are in town. However, just wanted to leave you with this question posed to me by a buddy:

All the national media have this National League outfielder pegged as a no-brainer all star:

AB: 316
R: 53
2B: 23
HR: 15
RBI: 30
SB: 10
BA: .304
OBP: .352
SLG: .544

Now look at this outfielder, who hasn't been mentioned for anything:

AB: 218
R: 39
2B: 12
HR: 11
RBI: 32
SB: 16
BA: .317
OBP: .388
SLG: .532

The first outfielder is the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, while the second is Brewer Corey Hart. Not a whole lot of difference, but, of course, all-star picks are based almost solely on reputation.