Friday, May 16, 2008

The Anniversary Party Begins

I've always had trouble remembering anniversaries, but this week from the Today Show to NPR one in particular has been garnering a lot of attention; the twentieth anniversary of The New Kids on the Block's "Hanging Tough." This album was a seminal event in the modern cute-boy-band era. Their sugar sweet pop songs crooned on every radio station, and their faces plastered the covers of grocery store magazines for years afterwards. Now they're back, and reunited for a stadium tour.

For me the New Kids on the Block (or simply NKOTB as my wife and sister continue to refer to them) symbolize the music of the 80s. I remember Top 40 charts chocked full of Phil Collins, Wilson Phillips, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, and other bands with sappy love songs and bouncy ballads. It seemed that all the music I heard while growing up wasn't produced by artists, but was music produced in much the same manner as Diet Pepsi: cute boys and girls, flashy ads, simple lyrics, and engineered for the widest audience possible.

Now that I'm older though, I believe this is unfair. Every era has its share of empty pop songs, and surely the 80s (a time when I was admittedly too young to have much perspective) had music that was challenging, engaging, and worthwhile. I decided to investigate if there were any albums that were truly worth revisiting from the year 1988, and this is what I found. The following are eleven albums which deserve a twenty-year anniversary celebration more than "Hanging Tough."

1. Sonic Youth- Daydream Nation
"Teenage Riot" alone has more value than any Joey solo.

2. Living Colour- Vivid
"Cult of Personality" is harder than Donnie.

3. Pixies- Surfer Rosa
"Gigantic" is a much better stadium rock song than "Hanging Tough."

4. N.W.A.- Straight Outta Compton
Though this album was a favorite of all the white kids in Raiders hats who beat me up, I still had rather hear it than "Please Don't Go Girl."

5. Public Enemy- It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Elijah Muhammed is a much better spiritual leader than Maurice Starr.

6. Metallica- And Justice for All
Though they have since cut their hair, they never danced in sync to please nine-year-old

7. Tracy Chapman- Tracy Chapman
Cuter than Jordan.

8. Leonard Cohen- I'm Your Man
More brooding and quiet than Johnathan, and he's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

9. Slick Rick- The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
Dirtier than the Kids are clean with a better beat.

10. Jane's Addiction- Nothing's Shocking
Twenty years later their members have never been on The Surreal Life or Dancing With the Stars.

11. R.E.M.- Green
If you want a vacant song that is dorky enough to be fun I'll take "Stand" over any New Kids song. In retrospect I wonder though when college rock became alternative rock, and also when the line dissolved.

So I guess 1988 wasn't the terrible year for music I remember it as. For every band I heard on the radio there was another who didn't get nearly as much airplay on my local Top 40 station, and I encourage all those who are considering going to a stadium to see NKOTB to instead listen to an old album by The Sugar Cubes. Then again some people like to revisit their childhood. As I look up from my computer I know that all my G.I. Joe's are in a box twenty feet away, waiting to spring back to life.

Bouncing Baby Bourbon

Months ago I began my political career in the most modest and appropriate fashion I could find. I wanted a position with no real responsibilities; one with a title, but no work as I find myself faced with a new stack of papers on my desk each day. Becoming the president of anything was out of the question since I had no interest in accountability or becoming a figure-head. Likewise was true for positions such as vice-president, mayor, councilman, secretary, et cetera. I searched for a position with a humble title, and nothing else to speak of. My first choice of Kentucky Colonel since I hoped to join the ranks of Colonel Sanders, Hunter S. Thompson, and Johnny Depp, but my inquiries led only to a deadend so I moved on to the next best thing. I became an ambassador, not for a small island nation mind you, or some hamlet buried in Eastern Europe, but an ambassador for something a little closer to home. I became an ambassador for Maker's Mark Straight Kentucky Whisky.

My appointment as an ambassador for was simple. I filled in a form on their homepage, and was told that soon a barrel of straight Kentucky whisky would be engraved with my name. Months passed. There were no press conferences to attend, nor passports to sign. I had a title I believed in and my days clear to pursue my own interests.

This week I received my first official correspondence from the folks back home in the mail. Inside the packet was the birth certificate for my barrel bearing the official seal of my charge which stated that Maker's Mark Barrel 795403 was dedicated in my honor in recognition of my "loyalty, outstanding dedication, in-depth knowledge and services as an honorable Maker's Mark Ambassador." I was glad to see that my long months of service had not gone unnoticed.

Of course the birth certificate came with a status report. My barrel is made of "Charred American White Oak," and houses "Around 50 Gallons" of fine Kentucky bourbon in my honor. I was informed that its contents were "Well-rounded with a distinct character" which affirmed my belief that those I represent are certainly not simple or lacking in character. If they were less distinct I would find it much harder to fulfill my duties.

Lastly, my packet contained business cards should I need to get fast-track through customs, or get out of any misdemeanors while conducting my official duties. After all, what good is a title if it doesn't come with a business card?

Things back home are going well. My barrel waits to settle in for a long seven year rest while I sit in another state attending the duties I have been assigned: enjoying a drink in the evening, and thinking about those I miss on the other side of the Ohio river.