Friday, January 30, 2009

American Idol: A Rose by Any Other Name

Who's got my molly?

Seriously, can we get to Hollywood Week already?

FOX must have been thinking the same thing, as this week, the torture of auditions finally finished up. We got three episodes this week as the judging quartet of Simon, Paula, Randy, and Kara hit up Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, New York, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Everyone from High School Musical 3 extras, to aspiring nudists, to an actual Osmond family member showed up in the hopes of grabbing their golden ticket. That and an abundance of orphans, teen mothers, and disease survivors to tug at your fragile heartstrings. Here's who I think we'll be hearing from again:

Change100's Top 5 Idols to Watch: Audition Week 3 (Salt Lake/Jacksonville/NYC/San Juan)

5. Jasmine Murray. I wasn't exactly blown away by her rendition of the dreadful tune "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie, but I know something commercial when I see it. Meet the new black Disney girl, America. If 16-year old Jasmine doesn't survive the American Idol Top 12 this season, she'll be signing a deal to star in the new series The Magicians of MLK Boulevard or something of that ilk.

4. Rose Flack. Who doesn't love a 17-year old hippie orphan from Idaho? Adorable little Rose is sure to become Coventry's new favorite Idol contestant. Though she stepped into the audition room shoeless, her dirt-caked feet straight out of the lot of a String Cheese show, Simon thought she looked marvelous and her soulful rendition of Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" made me think she could be an edgier, less squeaky-clean version of last year's fifth-place finisher, Brooke White. And, if we don't see you on Idol, Rose-- see you on Phish tour! We'll save you some pharmies!

3. Jorge Nunez. A tenor with gorgeous natural technique, he bowled over the judges with a version of "My Way" en espanol. Nunez has the potential to be hugely commercial and has a confidence about him that I really haven't seen too much this season. Now here's someone who can go to town during Gloria Estefan week!

2. Megan Corkery. Little Megan is only 23, already getting divorced, and the mother of a 2-year old son. When she announced she was singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" I braced myself for a horror show, but instead was introduced to a standout jazz voice, complete with a crackling scat. I don't know how it will be for her to handle some of the big pop ballads that come with the AI territory, but I'm truly excited to see her do more. Gotta root for a talented Mormon mom getting out of a bad marriage!

1. Jackie Tohn. Jackie is a veteran who has been playing gigs for 10 years and you can tell it immediately from the ease she had about her when she walked into the room. She has rare combination of infectous energy and a gritty, smoky voice that reveals both depth and gravitas. I hope she's heard of a little band called Grace Potter & the Nocturnals because those are some perfect songs for her.

Hollywood Week finally kicks off on Tuesday night, where our 160-or-so hopefuls will be whittled down to only a few dozen. Let's get rrrrrrrreadddy for rejectionnnnnnn!!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The New Hollywood

People ask me all the time "Change, the poker industry is dying-- why don't you go back to Hollywood?"

I usually give a clumsy answer about how feature development jobs have completely dried up, how many of my peers who lost their gigs during last year's writer's strike are still unemployed, and how online content is rapidly contributing to the decline in television viewership and box office revenue, making studios and production companies loathe to hire people like me to expensively develop new projects.

800 people got laid off at Warner Bros. last week. NBC Universal recently axed 10% of their workforce. Assistants at many top agencies have seen their health insurance disappear and their salaries reduced essentially to minimum wage. Even industry stalwarts, like Variety writer Anne Thompson have been given pink slips in recent days.

Sharon Waxman's piece Hey Hollywood, welcome to your future answers this question quite eloquently and in more detail than my weed-addled brain could manage. Waxman, at one time, was a senior columnist on the film industry for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times-- you know, before print journalism started dying along with the rest of the economy. I suggest you check it out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When One Window Closes...

My reasons for arriving at LAX three and a half hours before my flight to Dallas were two-fold. (1) I wanted to get on standby for one of the two hourly departures that were scheduled to go off before mine, and (2) Pauly wanted to watch the NFL playoffs. I had noticed a few days prior that I had an extremely narrow window between the first leg from LAX to DFW and the second, longer, far more important leg from DFW to Santiago, Chile. I didn't even know how the PokerStars travel guy was able to book an international flight with a 40 minute connection window. Thus, I gave myself plenty of time to try and rectify the situation.

I stared at the visible dark roots on the ticket agent's platinum blonde hair as she retrieved my itinerary.

"Oh... you have an international ticket. I'm sorry hun, we can't change that on the same day."

"But you see my problem, right? I have only 40 minutes to get on my flight to Chile. You know how huge that Dallas airport is."

"I do... well, I can put you right in the front of the plane so you can run once it lands?"

"Seriously, there's no possibility of letting me go standby on the 1:40? Or the 2:25?"

"I'm sorry, no. It's federal law. How about seat 7B?"

Ergo, due to this federal law I'd never heard of before, I waited out the three hours before I could board in the back of the Terminal 4 Chili's Too. I ate a mediocre salad and played two SNGs on PokerStars as the noise from the NFL games drifted in from the bar area. I won one, took second in the other.

Finally, it was time to board. I avoided the clusterfuck line and slipped on as the final boarding call went out. As I strapped myself into 7B next to a woman who looked like my elementary school librarian, I reached up to crank the A/C. It wasn't working. I turned around and half the plane was fanning themselves with their boarding passes. Then, I heard a loud grinding sound from the belly of the plane. Something wasn't right. I checked the clock on my iPod. 3:25. We should have been pulling back from the gate by now.

"Attention passengers, this is your captain speaking..."

Well, that's never a good sign.

Evidently, the device which pumps pressurized air into the engines in order to start them was broken. They were bringing over another one from a different gate. In the captain's current estimation it would be a 15 minute delay.

Well, his current estimation was dead fucking wrong.

They brought over the new air thingy. The new air thingy didn't work. Then they had to tie the two air thingys together to see if both of them together could produce enough air get the engine started. That worked, but the entire process took over an hour. We pulled back from the gate at 4:30. Our new estimated arrival time was at 9:00 p.m.

My flight to Santiago was scheduled to leave at 9:10.

And so began a mad series of calls and texts to Pauly to see if there was any other way I could get on a plane to Santiago tonight. There was a flight out of Miami at 11:30 but I had no possibility of making that. Everything on other airlines was leaving at the same time or would have already left by the time I landed in Dallas. I popped half a Xanax as we took off and tried my best not to freak out.

About an hour before we were scheduled to land, I tried to flag down a passing flight attendant to see if he had any news on our time of arrival.

"I'm sorry, I have to take care of something else right now" he said as he brushed past me and headed toward the rear of the plane.


Ten minutes later, I rang my call button. A tall redhead emerged from the first class cabin.

"Hi. I'm in a situation where I have an extremely tight international connection. Do you have any information on the status of Flight XYZ to Santiago?"

"No, I don't have any information for you."

"Could you please try and check on it for me? Even if you could tell me what gate it's leaving from so I can plan my running route through the terminal?"

"Everyone else is in the same situation, ma'am. They can probably re-route you through Miami or New York."

"Well, not exactly," I said as calmly as possible, trying to keep my cool. "This is the last flight to South America on any airline tonight."

"I'm sorry, I can't help you."


Thirty seconds later, the redhead was back in first class, offering warm raisin cookies with cool glasses of milk to her passengers. I sat there steaming, imagining that if I were seated on the other side of that curtain, I'd be getting a bit more than the brush-off.

We touched down in Dallas at 9:00. I was off the plane and sprinting from the C gates to the D gates by 9:05. As I ran, I imagined that if there were federal laws prohibiting me from changing the domestic portion of an international ticket, there were probably federal laws barring a red-faced, sweaty passenger from boarding an international flight only seconds before departure.

That wouldn't matter, though. By the time I found gate D-29, the plane was on the runway. The crabby gate agent told me to go to the ticketing counter to re-book and make hotel arrangements.

(This is the point in the story where your heroine truly understands her fate. Tears well up in her eyes as she realizes that more likely than not, she's going to be stuck here for the next 24 hours, have to cough up money for a hotel room, and miss the first day of her assignment. The Xanax has definitely worn off.)

I stood hunched over the ticket counter as the rotund gentleman pecked away at the keyboard. Suddenly, his eyes went wide and he dashed away from his station to dial a phone.

"Ma'am if you'll gather your things and follow me please. Go back through security as quickly as possible and meet me at Gate D-23. The Santiago flight has returned to the gate."


"The aircraft got a flat tire and has returned to the gate. Please, we don't have much time."

He ran ahead while I broke everything down for security in record time. Shoes. Hoodie. Laptop. I took off for D-23, still wearing only socks. Once I arrived there, my new hero, fat ticket guy, not only got me on the plane, but got me an aisle seat next to an unoccupied window seat.

My smile was as wide as Texas itself as I triumphantly marched down the plane and collapsed into seat 24B. A white-haired man with military tattoos on his arms sat across the aisle from me.

"Wow, did you get lucky!" he replied after I hastily told him my story.

"Yeah. Sucked out on the river BIG TIME," I answered.

24 hours later, I was reporting Day 1 of the LAPT Vina del Mar. I had arrived safely in Chile, though my luggage was still stuck in Dallas. And there he was, the man with the military tattoos, wearing a media badge. He was one of the camera operators for 441 Productions, the company who films poker tournaments for ESPN.

"It's you! You're the one who almost missed the flight!"

"You know, I knew you were a poker guy when I saw your reaction to me telling the whole airplane about how I sucked out on the river!"

"I'm Joe," he said, offering his hand.

"Change," I replied. "I'm glad we made it, Joe."

Monday, January 26, 2009

American Idol: Enter the Ringer

Season 8 contestant Joanna Pacitti, no stranger to the red carpet

Last season, we came to discover that Irish lassie Carly Smithson once had a recording contract. So did Kristy Lee Cook, as a teen. And so did Aussie rocker Michael Johns. None of this was really mentioned upfront, and one could argue that especially in the case of Smithson, that the Idol producers did all they could to hide their "amateur" contestant's professional background.

So this year, when a young woman who has starred in a Broadway show, recorded an album on a major label, had that record debut on the Billboard charts at #31, and contributed songs to half a dozen major motion picture soundracks decides that her career has floundered so badly that her best option is to audition for American Idol, it begs a very important question.

When it comes to the ringers, where do you draw the line?

Well let me tell you this. I had actually heard of Joanna Pacitti before she got her golden ticket to Hollywood. Yes, me, the same girl who had yet to hear a Jonas Brothers song before two days ago when I was sitting in an airport in Santiago, Chile of all places. I remembered Pacitti from when she went by the singular name Joanna, and performed at a New York City rally for then-Presidential candidate Howard Dean in the summer of 2003. A couple of years before that, she had a song on the Legally Blonde soundtrack. OK, if that was it, I could probably forgive Idol for letting a not-even one hit wonder have a shot at the show. But that wasn't even close to the totality of Pacitti's showbiz experience.

In 1996, Pacitti earned the title role in the 20th-anniversary Broadway produciton of Annie. She went on a pre-Broadway tour and got mostly positive reviews over the course of her 106 performances. Then, only a few weeks before the New York opening, she got bronchitis and had to sit out a few shows. One of the little orphan girls from the chorus learned her part and the producers liked her so much better in the role that they decided to fire 12-year old Joanna. So, her parents turned around and sued the producers for $50 million and told their story to any media outlet that would listen. Here's Joanna on the Barbara Walters-hosted Turning Point. Proceed with caution... I take no responsibility for the gagging this clip may induce:

Four years (and, I imagine, a significant amount of therapy) later, 16-year old Joanna moved out to L.A. by herself to pursue a music career and was signed to A&M Records by producer Ron Fair, who discovered Christina Aguilera among others. She got the aforementioned song on the Legally Blonde soundtrack and over the next five years became a veritable tween movie soundtrack staple, contributing songs to Cadet Kelly, First Daughter, Nancy Drew and Bratz. Pacitti released her debut album This Crazy Life in the summer of 2006 and it debuted on the Billboard charts at #31. The album quickly tanked, though and a year later, her label dropped her. She then started dating some dude from Dancing with the Stars and has appeared in the odd tabloid item as recently as last year.

Ah, another teen starlet that almost was. The L.A. basin is littered with them. Some, like Jodie Sweetin, become meth-heads. Others, like Family Matters' Jaimee Foxworth, end up in Chatsworth doing porn under the stage name "Crave." And now, the Joanna Pacittis of the world are finding that their last best career option may be getting in line with 10,000 of America's finest freaks to audition for Idol's judging quartet.

But, seriously-- where do you draw the line? Number of albums sold? The size of the audiences they've been paid to play to? I mean, 30 seconds of Google research will tell you that Joanna once opened for Sheryl Crow for Christ's sake.

This is not to deny Pacitti's talent. She has a helluva voice that I'm guessing is probably a lot better than the teenybopper drivel she once recorded. I'd love to hear her shred some Pat Benatar or Heart tunes on a weekly basis. And after a decade of post-college life in and around the entertainment business, I understand the sheer amount of mindfucks and rejection she has had to deal with in her short life.

But does she belong in this competition? No. This is a girl who has had a more than decade-long career in the industry who has fallen on hard times in the last year. She had her shot. American Idol is about finding someone who hasn't.

OK, enough about Joanna. At least the controversy surrounding her added something interesting to the show this week. Because lemme tell you, the talent this week was thin. These two episodes were full of freakshows and train wrecks interspersed with very few palatable auditions. Nevertheless, here are my top 5 picks from this week.

Change100's Top 5 Idols to Watch: Audition Week 2 (San Francisco/Louisville)

5. Adam Lambert Here's another borderline ringer-- this kid has already been on Broadway in Wicked! Lambert has a brilliant tenor, though and a commercial David Cook-esque look, and could be Top 12 material if he tones down the music theatre phrasing and affectation.

4. Matt Giraud A dueling piano player from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Giraud could be this year's R&B white boy a la previous contestants Elliot Yamin and Blake Lewis.

3. Kai Kalama *SOB STORY ALERT* This struggling musician cares for his ailing mother during the day and plays gigs at night (sniff). Loving the thick, soulful voice, but Kara and Simon are dead-on when they say he has to work on his charisma.

2. Alexis Grace Wow, they do get started young in the South. 21-year old Grace is already a mother of a 2-year old boy, lives in Memphis, and has a husband who is away at military school. But man did she impress with Aretha Franklin's "Dr. Feelgood" exploding out of her lungs like a freight train. She, too has an incredibly commercial look (though is in dire need of some clothes NOT purchased at Wal-Mart) and could likely sing across a variety of genres.

1. Leneshe Young *SOB STORY ALERT* 18-year old Leneshe was raised in and out of homeless shelters by a single mom . She is also possibly the only contestant in Idol history who successfully sang an original song. She's got spunk, a huge voice, is a decent songwriter and is a rags-to-riches story waiting to happen. Welcome to the Top 12, Leneshe.

Two weeks in and I'm already anxious to get to Hollywood. This Tuesday and Wednesday's shows will bring us more audition footage from Jacksonville (where Ryan Seacrest apparently drives a golf cart into a swamp) and to Salt Lake City where the Idol crew goes in search of more Twinkie Mormons in the hometown of David Archuleta. Until then!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

American Idol, Year Eight

He didn't make it, but he does have his own cheerleaders

"Does this shit matter anymore?"

This is the question that ran across my brain like a ticker tape as I watched the Golden Globe Awards last Sunday night. I used to eat up awards season like a decadent slice of cake. Watching the stars prance down a red carpet dressed in the world's most expensive designer finery actually got me off at one point in time. At work, pageants like this were seen as the ultimate reward for a D-girl's years of underpaid office toiling. This was supposed to be the dream, man.

Watching the Globes this year, I felt much like I did when I returned to work on September 12, 2001. The world was in such crisis that none of this mattered anymore. How could I possibly care about feeding the Big Man's boundless ego, working toward making films that would get him those kind of nominations and further feeding that ego in the process? When the world is falling to pieces around us, was entertainment even relevant anymore?

Entertainment has always been a distraction from crises. The most successful film in history, Gone With the Wind came out at the dawn of World War II. And in the aftermath of 9/11, reality TV boomed, broad comedies ruled at the box office, and on the FOX network, a little singing contest debuted in June 2002 as a replacement series in the ratings-dead summer season. Eight seasons later, it's still a ratings behemoth.

Oooooh whoa oooooh whoa!! American Idol is back, and just in time to ease the pain of worldwide financial crisis! Save us, Simon Cowell. Help us forget the pain of opening up those credit card bills with 29% juice and notcies of our falling 401(k) balances. Give us a pithy quip. Make fun of people whose lack of talent and utter cluelessness makes them deserve it. Let us say to each other, "Thank God we're not like them!"

But here's the thing. I love American Idol. I love it for exactly what it is-- highly addictive fluff that is the ultimate distraction and does so unapologetically. Idol is crystal meth for anyone who ever starred in their high school musical or sang a solo in church, or brought down the house on karaoke night and ever dared to dream of a life of stardom. Even for just a minute, before coming back to earth. Performer or not, tone-deaf or pitch-perfect, there's something of that in all of us. And that's what keeps the American Idol train running season after season. I mean, let's face it. Idol isn't about the end result anymore. We all know that the winner will release their album maybe six months or a year later before losing their recording contract and beginning the slow fade into oblivion. But now, in the eighth year of the show, the real story and the real entertainment is found on the journey. In journalism, they call it a process story, and Idol is one long, juicy page-turner of a six-month process story.

Pass the cake.

Supposedly, there will be fewer "audition" episodes this year though this week featured performers from only the first two of the eight cities where auditions were held this fall. Tuesday's episode took us to Phoenix while Wednesday night's installment featured Kansas City, which no doubt earned its spot on the audition tour by virtue of producing last year's winner, David Cook. We were also introduced to the new judge, "superstar hitmaker" Kara DioGuardi, who thus far appears to be an intelligent, measured voice on the panel.

In the audition room there were, of course, great surprises and total horror shows. People cried, people stomped, people's relatives quaked with excitement as their loved ones came through the door with golden tickets. Here's who impressed me:

Change100's Top 5 Idols to Watch: Audition Week 1 (Phoenix/Kansas City)

5. Jessica Furney. The redhead from Kansas who lives with her mostly deaf 93-year old grandmother, Furney has a sick voice, but will sadly have to undergo a serious makeover if she wants to make the Top 12. Will a bunch of Idol flackers give her a trendy haircut, strip her of the geek glasses and "suggest" she hit the gym? I don't care what she does, I just want to hear her sing some more.

4. Stevie Wright. Named after Stevie Nicks (and she makes sure to let us know that several times), Wright lived up to her name with her rendition of Etta James' "At Last." Not only did she have the balls to take on a song that difficult, but she slayed it and did so effortlessly.

3. Emily Wynne-Hughes. Wynne-Hughes showed up at the audition with tragic platinum hair streaked with pink and yellow dye but sang the hell out of "Barracuda" to earn her ticket to Hollywood. Now that's a song with a 10 on the difficulty level and she nailed it to the wall.

2. Danny Gokey. Gokey and his best friend Jamal Rogers auditioned for the show together and both got through to Hollywood. A music teacher from Wisconsin, he lost his wife only four weeks before the audition. Seriously, I don't know how he fucking got out of bed let alone traveled hundreds of miles to try out for Idol given those circumstances. Gokey, though, has this throaty, soulful quality to his voice that could adapt across a wide song catalog. I'm not only rooting for him but predict him to go deep.

1. Lil Rounds. Yeah, that's her real name and she's lovin' it. Blessed with the vocal chops of a young Aretha, Rounds' home was recently ravaged by a tornado, forcing her to move her family into Memphis' version of the Redneck Riviera. With the combination of a tragic background story and the talent to potentially lift herself up from it, Rounds is easily the early front-runner.

Honorable Mentions: Deanna Brown (think Grace Slick meets Janis Joplin), Scott MacIntyre (blind dude who tore up Billy Joel's "And So It Goes"), and Von Smith (who did a totally overwrought rendition of "Over the Rainbow" but has one helluva instrument).

Next week will take us to Louisville and Salt Lake City (home of David Archuleta, a Mormon, and lots of other Mormons) before heading to Jacksonville, Puerto Rico, New York City, and San Francisco.

Agree/disagree with my favorites? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Push Start

"Remember how good you felt afterward the last time," I said to myself as I tied the laces of my running shoes. I sifted through the detritus of my desk in search of a ponytail holder.

"It really wasn't that bad."

"It's only an hour."

"You even made that new mix to listen to."

These are the things I say to myself to talk my way out the door and into the car. With the amount of convincing I take, you'd think I was going to chemotherapy, not the gym. And it's not even one of those depressing, windowless corporate gyms. This one is in a big airy loft in West Hollywood. I'm one of those people, though, whose first instinct upon waking up is to go right back to sleep for another hour. So just getting myself to the point where I back out of the driveway is a bit of a process. My first instinct is not to move.

I park and feed the meter the six quarters it requires to park on the street for ninety minutes. I start walking up the flight of stairs to the loft and, halfway up, realize I left my water bottle in the car. I growl and retrieve it. Up the stairs again.

I talk myself out of the locker room. I put a good song on my iPod. I turn on my heart rate monitor and get on the treadmill. I push "Start." One foot in front of the other.

Ten minutes later I'm talking myself into staying on the treadmill. Then I run that three-minute sprint. My heart races. My face turns purple. A maniacal Stanton Moore drum solo throbs in my ears and pushes me along. When it's over, I walk again, and it's easier now. It gets easier every time. I remind myself to use this moment in the dialogue that will no doubt again take place tomorrow morning.

I recently unfroze a gym membership I'd acquired and used last spring, before the World Series of Poker. I froze it when I left for Las Vegas and with the summer and fall spent in a new location every few weeks or so, I'd let it stay that way. Life on the road is not exactly healthy and with the prospect of spending the bulk of the next 2-3 months at home (interrupted by only two week-long trips) I decided to let it thaw out. To accomplish the things I want to this year it's going to take a lot more energy than I was clocking at in December. I'm not getting any younger, or any thinner either. Time to move.

It's unbelievable the amount of weight-loss crap that corporate America throws at us at this time of year. During the day, I often keep something like CNN, the Food Network, or Discovery Channel on a low boil while I work. You can't go more than two or three commercials in a row without being sold something diet-related. Bowflex. Bally Total Fitness. Nutri-System. Hydroxycut. Even some pill Wynonna Judd is pitching. Then there are the TV shows, like the Biggest Loser and the string of knock-offs it has inspired. Get 'em all while their New Year's Resolutions are still hot.

And of course, the next ad is for the Sourdough Steak Melt at Jack in the Box. Nom nom nom nom nom...

Truth is, I can always eat healthy when I put my mind to it and prepare accordingly. 30-odd years in the fitness capital of America and a few thousand dollars sunk into personal trainers in my early twenties have taught me how to shop for the right ingredients and cook them in a healthy manner. I have a lot of recipes up my sleeve and I actually love seeking new ones out. Even my veggiephobic boyfriend can vouch for the jerk-rubbed chicken and the cajun salmon I can turn out on a Foreman Grill (he never tastes the asparagus, though).

Exercise, though. That's a whole other ball of yarn.

The last time I worked out really regularly (and by that I mean like 4-5 times a week) I was 23 years old and adjusting to my 70-hour work week. I also had a fellow D-girl who I hit the gym with every morning at 6:30, before we both went to work. I'd blow through the L.A. Times and 50 pages of bad screenwriting and the hour on the elliptical would be up. I'd actually be awake and present when I got to my desk, not still trying to blow last night's smoke out of my noggin. After a few months, it was a routine; it was just what I did every day and the responsibility we held to one another to show up those dark mornings definitely helped me keep at it. It was also utterly necessary to keep me energized for those 14 hour days. I would never really enjoy the exercise, but at least I'd trained myself to keep going. Because the more I did it, the easier it got.

Only a week in and history is already repeating itself. Each day I go a little longer, a little faster. Each day it's a few less minutes spent trying to rip off the proverbial band-aid and get out the door. Each day I have a little more pep in my step, more lilt in my voice.

And each day, I see an unexpected person while I'm getting on that treadmill. On Tuesday it was a cast member of Grey's Anatomy. Today, it was a guy Showcase and I went to school with, who is now writing for a popular tween girls' show on the Disney Channel. Oh, and some guy wearing a T-shirt for a band called "Panda Kunts."

Who will it be tomorrow? And will I be there to find out?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Truckin' Welcomes 2009

This afternoon I contemplate the following paradox: Why is it that when one engages in exercise does one acquire more energy than when one spends more time in various relaxing positions (i.e. seated, cross-legged, and vaguely lounging) for most of one's day? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

(Indeed, this is how my warped little brain works)

While contemplating this, or your own paradox, check out the January edition of Truckin', which includes Andrew Moxon's debut, a love story Joe Speaker-style, and some vintage Pauly/Otis hijinks at the hooker bar.

January 2009, Vol. 8, Issue 1

Welcome back to the first issue of the new year.

1. The Mollification the Foul Temptresses by Paul McGuire
The hookers at the Rio were a combination of famished vultures and parched vampires ready to pick apart any carcass. Any john. Any drunk. Anybody in their path. They were evil personified.... More

2. The Orchard by Joe Speaker
I reach for her hand, probing, touching it delicately. We don't form a fist when we come together, nothing like the taut intertwine of fingers you see lovers form, those Gordian knots, unwieldy like a stone fortress. Our fingers hang off each other's loosely, three of mine, two of hers, vice-versa, and they dangle. Spider webs in the wind. Tenuous connection... More

3. Hector by David Peterson
I remember clearly when the cops came and took Hector's mom away. He seemed rather nonplussed by the whole thing as we stood on the curb watching a bedraggled and wild-eyed woman being escorted from her home in cut-off jeans, a loose-fitting white tank top and handcuffs... More

4. Flight #22 to Denial by Sean A. Donahue
Her eyes were black as the night. Her black hair cascaded near her high cheekbones and tanned complexion. Her body wasn't made for sin but for pleasure, and the glasses she wore on her head framed her face perfectly. The only thing that didn't make sense was that it was raining over her head... More

5. Running it Twice by Andrew Moxon
There are, however, certain points of opportunity. Soft places in time, when the cockpit door comes open and we second-timers can take over. That's when things can change. Sometimes, every so often, we walk through that door and start flipping the switches... More

Saturday, January 03, 2009

My Morning Jacket at Madison Square Garden, New Year's Eve 2008

I wore my cape to the show. Despite the frigid, fourteen-degree night, I brought it along, its silky sequined fabric rolled up and tucked inside my purse. I bought the cape at a vintage shop in San Francisco when I was up there for the Outside Lands Festival in August and ever since, it had been calling to me from the closet, begging for a proper venue to make its debut. When My Morning Jacket put out a message to their fans encouraging them to go all-out and dress in their New Years finest for the show, I immediately discarded all thoughts of ball gowns, little black dresses and rhinestone jewelry for the cape. If there ever was a proper place for the cape's coming-out party, it was at the MMJ New Year's Show at Madison Square Garden.

Buried in layers of fleece and wool topped with scarves and hats we shuffled off the subway and made our way up five stories from Penn Station. Though Pauly was flooded with memories of Knicks and Rangers games, Phish shows and countless other concerts, it was my first time inside the Garden despite having passed underneath it countless times in a train car. We breezed through security, the deck of New York Yankees playing cards inside my bag earning a good-natured quip from the guard who searched me.

"If this was a Phish show they'd have totally searched us!" said the man with the graying hair.

He was one half of a fiftyish couple who rode with us on the escalators up toward our section. His wife was petite and red-haired and they ended up having the seats directly in front of us. Pauly chatted them up, discovering that they had gone to the String Cheese Incident show on New Year's Eve 2006 while we were down the street at the Fillmore seeing My Morning Jacket. Now they were getting their shot at a MMJ NYE. I donned my cape and we drank Heinekens as we waited for the lights to dim.

My Morning Jacket, 12/31/08 Madison Square Garden

Set I:

Move On Up* (Curtis Mayfield)
Evil Urges*
Off the Record
The Way that He Sings> Thank You Too
I'm Amazed
Golden **
You're All I Need to Get By *** (Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell)
Express Yourself* (Charles Wright)
What a Wonderful Man
Lay Low
Phone Went West
Look at You****
Smokin from Shootin>Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2
Run Thru
The Wanderer (Dion)

Set II:

New Year's Countdown
Celebration* (Kool & the Gang)
Get Down on It* (Kool & the Gang)
Wordless Chorus
Highly Suspicious
Islands in the Stream*** (Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton)
Bring it On Home to Me* (Sam Cooke)
Cold Sweat* (James Brown)
One Big Holiday

*= with the NYE horns
**= with Will Johnson on pedal steel
***= with Nicole Atkins on vocals
****= Jim James solo acoustic

I always say everything is better with a horn section and this was no exception. I was pumped to see the return of the NYE horns that had added another layer of funk and finesse to MMJ's epic 2006 New Year's show at the Fillmore. After Ella Fitzgerald's version of What are You Doing New Year's Eve played over the loudspeakers, the boys launched into a high-energy opener-- Curtis Mayfield's Move on Up. The title track from their latest album, Evil Urges was next, also with horns (and, as we later discovered, was broadcast on the CNN New Year's Special with Anderson Cooper). Off the Record ended in a trippy extended jam -- that's when we first spotted a gray-haired, ponytailed hippie spinning through the aisles on what must have been a fairly intense acid trip. The rest of the first set was a well-thought-out mix of MMJ tunes new and old. The highlights for me were I'm Amazed, Run Thru, Dancefloors and Dondante-- when Pauly came back from a piss break holding two glasses of champagne topped with strawberries. Do I have a thoughtful boyfriend or what?

After a quick setbreak, the countdown to the new year began. MMJ returned to the stage dressed in white tuxedos with top hats and played Kool & the Gang's Celebration as hundreds of white balloons and thousands of pieces of silver confetti rained on the crowd. I can't think of a more magical way to ring in 2009 than in the greatest city in the world, with the one I love the most in the world, with one of our favorite bands adding the soundtrack.

Pauly got the whole thing on camera:

The second half of the show was compact and cover-heavy.Rather than the 80’s pop tunes that they tried on at the Fillmore after the year rolled over from ’06 to ’07 (George Michael’s Careless Whisper, Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long ) MMJ went for Motown, soul, and 70’s funk during the first minutes of ’09, covering Kool & the Gang, Sam Cooke and James Brown. Nicole Atkins took lead vocals on two tunes, and utterly shredded the high harmonies with Jim James on You’re All I Need to Get By and Islands in the Stream. One Big Holiday, formerly a favorite opener for the Jacket, closed the show this time, with an explosive, energetic treatment, James whipping his hair maniacally as he tore into his Flying V.

Pauly preferred the ’06 setlist but for me it was a toss-up. As for the venues, MSG certainly turned up the spectacle, but the intimacy of the Fillmore was missed by both of us.

Pauly's video of the closer, One Big Holiday, is already up on Coventry. For a peek at the Jim James/Nicole Atkins duet on You're All I Need to Get By, check it out below: