by Justin Eisenstadt
[Note: the opinions here do not necessarily represent those of CastWave Studios.]
It is of no concern to me whether you believe me or agree with me. The fact is, I have a compulsion to share my ideas because doing so liberates me from the burden of my own thoughts; if I do not share them, then they take up space in my head and weigh me down. Respect my opinions as I respect yours.
I set out to write a fantasy novel about rock and roll and have discovered that I am instead writing a novel about faith and religion. In a previous essay, "On Failure and Safety Nets," I explained why I do not believe in God. I have concluded that my religious beliefs can be summarized as such: I am an atheist who has faith.
Faith is believing in something without proof that it exists. Madness is believing in something in spite of proof that it does not exist. Many people seem to struggle with the distinction between proof and the absence of proof, so I will say this: the absence of proof proves nothing.
We can all (hopefully) agree that extremists are dangerous regardless of what side they are on. Extremism is not limited merely to those of the religious persuasion. Believing that there is a rational explanation for everything is, simply, irrational. I believe that there are, and always will be, things we cannot explain: the purpose of existence, the nature of consciousness, and what happens when we die, just to name a few. That is what I have faith in. I have faith in the unknown. Therefore, there is nothing irrational about believing in God because, ultimately, it doesn't even matter.
What matters in this world are actions, not beliefs. Being a (insert religion here) does not automatically make you a good person. That seems fairly obvious, right? I'm not saying anything that everyone does not already know here. If your faith causes you to do good and righteous things, then you are a good and righteous, then you are a good and righteous person. If your faith causes you to do hateful things, then you are a hateful person. Nothing written in any book can make you otherwise.
And to those who would argue for moral relativism, allow me to state tenet number two of my personal faith: every sane person has an inherent ability to distinguish right from wrong. Unless you are a sociopath or suffer from some kind of mental illness, you know, deep down, whether your actions are just or unjust (relative, of course, to the values and mores of the culture in which you live). Social, institutional, and cultural implications inside, what allows us to distinguish right from wrong comes not from any explicit code of ethics but from that innate human phenomenon known as empathy (not that other animals don't possess empathy as well). Empathy allows us to detect when another living thing is experiencing pain, and whether or not we are the cause of that pain. Don't look to God to tell you right from wrong. Look inside. Trust your instincts; you know them to be true.
God is simply an idea, but ideas have incredible power - the power to make and unmake the universe, in fact. So when you say you believe in God, you are really saying you believe in the idea of God - and that is equally valid. Of course, ideas are like assholes; everyone has them and most of them stink. Still, one of the greatest things about being human is having ideas and getting to defend them. Just remember that actions speak louder than words.
[There will most likely be a part two to this, to be posted sometime in the not too distant future.]
Pictured above: Assholes.
by Justin Eisenstadt
Now, I know that movie reviewing is really Colin and Sean's joint, but my little brother Adam dragged me to see this movie (by offering to pay for me) and I find myself compelled to offer some thoughts about a film that, while not the worst thing I've ever seen, does represent everything that's wrong with comedy today. And by that, I'm referring to Seth Macfarlane.
Unless your utterly pretentious claim of not owning a television is actually true, then you already know that Seth Macfarlane is the hugely successful writer, comedian, voice actor, and a number of other words that end in "-er" who is responsible for the show Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show. And I assure you that I fully intended to use the singular term, "show."
Ted is a movie about a boy named John Bennett who makes a magical Christmas wish that brings his stuffed bear to life. The two vow to remain best friends forever and 27 years later, John is now a directionless tool and Ted is an obnoxious, racist asshole. John has inexplicably managed to gain the love and devotion of Lori Collins, played by Mila Kunis. However, John's immaturity and Ted's insufferable antics are putting a real strain on John and Lori's relationship. How will John be able to choose between his loudmouthed pothead bear and his incredibly attractive, funny, and intelligent girlfriend who makes more money than him and constantly puts up with his bullshit?
Alright, now that I've deconstructed the incredibly complex plot of this film, allow me to explain why, in spite of its huge box office success and bewilderingly positive public and critical reception, this movie is just plain shitty and quite possibly heralds the decline of comedy in cinema as we know it. Now, I don't actually believe that statement, but I do find it quite troubling that so many people enjoy this movie.
I understand of course that humor is completely subjective. So when I tell you that I only laughed at about five lines in the entire two hours of running time, I realize that's not going to be all that helpful to you as a reader and potential viewer. The thing that's troubling to me is why it fails not only as a comedy, but simply as a film.
At the end of the day, what brings this movie down is the same thing that caused Family Guy to go from a novel and humorous show to one that is tired, grating, and at times nearly un-watchable. Seth Macfarlane has become so successful that he no longer has anyone to tell him when his ideas are bad. He has no editor. Or, he simply refuses to listen to anyone. If you cut about 20 to 30 minutes off this movie, it would be at least decent - not great, but decent. As it stands, it's just full of line after line of jokes that are stupid, painfully obvious, or just downright offensive. I'm convinced that Seth put literally every single joke that popped into his brain into the script and refused to cut a single one.
Seth Macfarlane's idea of humor is pointing at a cute, anthropomorphic character and saying, "Hey look, guys, this thing that shouldn't be talking is making a bunch of pop culture references and saying inappropriate things. Isn't that outrageous?" Let me ask you, if you had a friend and he suddenly made a racist statement about black people or Jewish people, you'd probably just let it slide, right? He probably just didn't realize that wasn't funny. And he did the same thing two or three more times, well he's probably just very slow at picking up on things. But if he continued to make unfunny racist jokes, you'd probably sit him down and say, "Look, Steve, we think you might have some serious issues that need resolving."
Seth Macfarlane apparently does not have any friends that are willing to do this. Look, I'm a really laid-back guy and I don't get offended when someone makes some crack about Jewish people. But the sheer number of times that Seth Macfarlane continues to "poke fun" at the Jewish people in the entertainment he creates is getting even me concerned. There's a scene in this movie where Ted and John, drunk at a party (and by the way that party scene was about three times longer than it needed to be), are discussing their idea to open an Italian restaurant.
Ted says emphatically, "Hey, I've got an idea! Let's make the restaurant inclusive. Like, if a Jewish person comes, we won't say anything, we'll just let him in!" John, taken aback, replies, "Why would you even say that?" Ted says, "We don't say it, that's the point."
"Why would you even bring it up?" "We don't bring it up, we just let him in." Marc pauses, and says, "Um, ok, right, so Jewish people are allowed in." Ted affirms, "Yes. But no Mexicans."
I realize I've already broken my promise of keeping this review brief, so I'll end on this note. Seth Macfarlane is a funny guy. Really, in spite of all I've said, I do think he's a funny guy. Clearly has some issues to resolve, just like our friend Steve, but a clever and witty comedian nonetheless. However, he's a shitty writer. He can't tell a proper story, so he pads it out with extraneous dialogue and Family Guy-style cutaway gags. And the fact that the American public seems generally okay with this offends me far more than any racial slur that Ted spouts off in this movie. As someone who aspires to a career in writing fiction, let me leave Seth with this message that he will never read: no amount of pop culture references can make up for bad storytelling. If you just want to tell jokes, do stand-up. Film is for telling stories.
by Justin Eisenstadt
[A few notes: This post is of a much more personal nature and the opinions stated here do not necessarily represent those of CastWave Studios. Public Allies is an Americorps program that provides young adults with full-time non-profit apprenticeships and rigorous leadership training. It's a great program and I urge you to learn more about it here.]
I no longer fear failure. We’re old friends, failure and me. I experience it day after day, month after month, year after year. This may come as a surprise to those who assume I have my shit together, that I am deserving of praise for the things I have accomplished: college graduate, straight-A student, Eagle Scout, respected by my friends and peers. But if I get to decide what constitutes success for me, then I should also get to decide what constitutes failure, and in spite of whatever accolades I may have garnered, believe me when I say this – I am, or more accurately, have been a failure. Here’s the thing, though - defeat is permanent, but failure is only temporary. Failure is an action, but defeat is a state of being –and we are only defeated when we admit defeat.
So why am I a failure? Because day after day, month after month, year after year, I have failed to be the thing that I know, deep down, that I am meant to be: a writer. I have wanted to be the next Stephen King since I first learned who Stephen King was, and yet, almost 20 years later, I have yet to finish even a single novel. I’ve started and abandoned many, and dreamed up countless more, but I’ve never finished a single one.
People like my dad and my brothers always ask me, “What happens if you fail?” No one ever asks me, “What happens if you succeed?” This fear of failure, coupled with the idea that I need to be “realistic,” has driven me to do many things that have moved me further away from goal rather than closer to it. It drove me to major in Mechanical Engineering, then it drove me to major in Computer Science, and – sad to say it – it is what drove me to do Public Allies. I think that in spite of whatever reasons I gave about social justice and helping the community I may have initially given, the real reason I joined was because even a nebulous notion of “working for a non-profit” seemed like a more reasonable life plan than being a writer.
Well, I’m done being reasonable and I’m done being realistic. It’s time for me to admit that writing is more than just a hobby, it is my career, and it is the only career that I will ever be happy doing. I’m sure that, phrased like that, that statement becomes immediately obvious and straightforward, but you have no idea how long it’s taken for me, thickheaded as I am, to finally appreciate a fact that millions of people before me have already realized – that your day job and your career are not the same thing, that in fact they may have absolutely nothing to do with one another. And that’s totally okay.
I am not “destined” for anything. I decide my life’s purpose, not society or fate or the intractable whims of an invisible deity who expects me to live in service of him. I have no personal lord and savior, and I have no interest in preserving the status quo. The truth is that there is no status quo. The only constant is change, and you can either embrace it or resist it. Or, you can take the third option – you can cause it.
Ten months in Public Allies have exposed my strengths and failures in a way that four years in college did not. I lack the organizational skills and time management skills, not to mention the selfless devotion to the community, necessary to ever achieve anything more than “adequacy” as a non-profit leader. I might become an above average leader, but I will never excel in this field for the same reason that I will never be a good father – frankly, I’m just too self-centered. That is not to say that I don’t care about others; to the contrary, I have a deep and unshakeable faith that there is good in humanity, that even in the darkest corners of the world, hope takes root and stubbornly fight to break through into the light.
I am an observer, standing at the edges on the outside looking in. I often call myself insightful, as do others. Break apart the word insight and look at it literally: “in” and “sight.” To find truth, we gaze within ourselves. We internalize external stimuli and filter them trough that fleshy supercomputer known as the brain in order to distill meaning. This, to me, is the true magic. This is why I do not believe in God, although I certainly do not begrudge anyone their personal beliefs. But allow me to explain what I mean. To look at a world that was created specifically for us by some all-powerful being and call it beautiful is not to appreciate it but simply to state the obvious. But to see beauty in a universe that is chaotic and random, to find meaning in a world that is inherently meaningless – that is what it means to truly appreciate life. We hear a sequence of pitches and rhythms and our brains call it music; we see a bunch of multihued splotches on a canvas and our brains call it artwork. We don’t just perceive patterns; we create them.
Writing is a lot like an iceberg – even though the written word on the page is all we see, it’s only 10% of the process; the other 90% of the process takes place under the surface. The same thing applies to people. I’m a quiet guy, and I tend only to speak when I feel I have something worth saying, but as you might gues, there’s a lot going on inside my head. Often, there’s far too much, in fact. One benefit of Public Allies is that I have gotten better at sharing my ideas and am more focused about my goals.
So what are my goals? Allow me to lay them out: finish a rough draft of my novel by the end of this year. Have a completed final draft by the end of next year. Hopefully, find someone to publish it by the end of 2014. Headline a show for 100 or more people within the next six months. Record my first album by the end of next year. Make CastWave Studios a legitimate business within the next two years. Move to Seattle and become completely independent within the next five years.
Those are unrealistic goals, perhaps, but not unattainable. And what separates me from all the thousands of other people who also want to be published authors, recording musicians, or podcasters with hundreds of thousands of subscribers? Nothing really. I’m sure they all want it just as hard as me. I’m sure most of them are just as talented. The only thing that will separate me in the end is the outcome; I will either succeed or I will die trying. The third option, giving up and relying on my “safety net,” is no real option at all. I will close with this thought: safety nets are dangerous. If you spend your whole life building a safety net, you never actually do the thing you want to do. I’m shredding the safety net. I’m not afraid to fall.
by Justin Eisenstadt
As most people know by now, I am a huge fan of the progressive rock music from the late 1960s through mid-1970s. If the term "progressive rock" (or "prog rock" as I will refer to it henceforth) seems weird and scary to you, then you need to: 1) calm down, because those are just words and words cannot actually hurt you, and 2) click this link and read about this genre at ProgArchives.com, which contains far more information than any reasonable person could ever possibly use. You'll also find reviews, previews, an extremely active forum, and their Top 100 Prog Albums of All Time (and I'm quite proud to say that Close to the Edge by Yes is the #1 album on that list). This site is a great resource if you're looking to dive into the world of 20-minute songs, overly zealous use of keyboards, and complex lyrics about sci-fi and fantasy.
King Crimson, founded in 1968 by Robert Fripp (who has been described by music writer and critic David Kamp as a "Tiny British guitar god of nutty-professor mien") could arguably be credited with inventing the genre of progressive rock practically overnight with their incredibly influential 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King. However, that's not the album I'm going to review today.
No, the album I want to talk about today is their 1981 album Discipline, released after a seven-year hiatus. It combined 80s the new-age sound with the dark and heavy sounds of the 70s. King Crimson has undergone numerous lineup changes throughout their decades-long career and has constantly redefined their sound, but Discipline represented a far greater paradigm shift than any KC album released before or since. The band's previous album, Red (1974), was a magnificent accomplishment considering the band was down to just three members and Fripp, by his own admission, had completely lost his damn mind and genuinely believed that the world was coming to an end. I highly recommend that album as well, and just as a taste I'll throw in a track from Red entitled "Starless," not only the best song on that album but one of the best songs King Crimson ever recorded.
Two months prior to the release of Red, Robert Fripp declared that King Crimson had "ceased to exist" and was "completely over for ever and ever."
In 1981, Fripp formed a quartet consisting of himself, Bill Bruford (the longtime drummer for both King Crimson and Yes, as well as many other excellent prog bands), bass player Tony Levin (a session musician who has played on 500 albums, and who Sean would know best as the bass player in Liquid Tension Experiment), and singer and guitarist Adrian Belew. Fun fact: this was Robert Fripp's first time ever being in a band with another guitar player. Fripp called this quartet Discipline. Within six months of forming, the group decided to resurrect the King Crimson name.
Now Adrian Belew is a very interesting guy. He has an incredibly unorthodox approach to guitar playing, and is capable of coaxing sounds out of his six-string that sound more like animals and machinery than a musical instrument. In addition, his singing voice sounds eerily similar to that of David Byrne, frontman for the Talking Heads. What's especially interesting about that is that Adrian Belew actually toured extensively with the Talking Heads. Listen to the first track off Discipline, "Elephant Talk," which demonstrates Belew's Talking Heads vocals and his ability to make a guitar sound like an elephant.
Holy crap, that was weird, right? BICKER. BICKER. BICKER. Well, we're just getting started. Yep, this album is the musical equivalent of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster - it's like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick. But it's not quite Animal Collective or Sleepytime Gorilla Museum weird - unlike those bands, this is still oddly enjoyable. The songs on this album don't really have traditional verses, traditional choruses, or, well...traditional anything. I believe that much of this album's brilliance stems from Robert Fripp, the mad scientist, finally learning to release some control and let the talents of his fellow musicians shine through. Perhaps that's why this album is widely considered by fans to be the band's greatest album after In the Court...
The other star of this show next to Belew is Tony Levin. On this album, Levin introduced the band to an instrument called the Chapman Stick, a ten-stringed bass-like instrument invented in the 1970s that is played purely through two-handed tapping. "Elephant Talk" was led primarily by the Chapman Stick, playing a sort of Go-Go style bass line. Now turn up the volume and listen to track two, "Frame by Frame," which sounds like being in the middle of a factory that's churning out creepy rock and roll. Welcome to the machine.
Now, I'm not going to go through every single song on the album, but there are two more songs that I feel it is imperative that you listen to. Both feature some truly breathtaking weirdness from Adrian Belew. The first is called "Indiscipline," and even I have to admit that this song is downright terrifying. Apparently, the lyrics of the song are based on a letter that Belew received from his then-current wife, Margaret Belew, about a sculpture that she had constructed. And I sort of wish I hadn't told you that, because the lyrics are far scarier when you don't have any clue what "it" is. The other song is track five, "Thela Hun Ginjeet," which is, of course, an anagram of the phrase "heat in the jungle." In the middle of the song, there is a voice recording of Adrian Belew talking about a run-in with a group of London Rastafarians and the police. Belew was unaware that he was being recorded while telling this story and had no idea that the recording was going to be used on the album. He wasn't exactly thrilled about that, but he was a good sport and went with it.
So that's King Crimson's Discipline. If ever there was an album to be enjoyed under the influence of mind-altering substances, this would be it. What's even stranger than the album itself is the fact that it was actually pretty popular when it was released, especially among die-hard King Crimson fans. In fact, the new sound was such a hit that Adrian Belew has fronted the group ever since, taking his place in the hallowed ranks of King Crimson singers including Gordon Haskell, John Wetton, and my favorite, Greg Lake. And if you have any nightmares (or even just really cool dreams) after listening to these songs, just leave a comment below and perhaps I'll consider adding a disclaimer next time.
by Justin Eisenstadt
Astute observers may notice that I only review albums on Justin's Jukebox that I actually like. As such, I don't consider Justin's Jukebox so much of a "music review" podcast as I do a "music recommendation" podcast. After all, you wouldn't put songs on a jukebox that you did not actually want to hear!
There are albums that I really like, there are albums that I love, and then there are albums that I could not possibly imagine living without. Plastic Beach, the third studio album by the virtual band that made virtual bands popular, Gorillaz, falls into all three of those categories. It was released in 2010, and I am fully aware that the fourth Gorillaz album, The Fall, was released last year, but neither that album nor the group's first two albums latched onto my soul with such tenacity in the way that Plastic Beach did. Two years after its release, I still listen to this album constantly.
I received a promotional copy of this album about a month before it was released when I was an intern at 98 Rock. It's ironic that an album I now treasure so dearly, an album that has claimed a slot in my illustrious Top 5 Favorite Albums list, was one that I did not have to pay for and in fact was not even on my radar. Up until that point, I considered myself only a casual Gorillaz fan at best. Because I did not watch their music videos nor go to any of their shows, I was (and still am) missing out on a good 50% of the intended Gorillaz experience.
I was not immediately hooked upon first listen, but after repeated listens this album will sink its hooks deeper and deeper into your subconscious, reeling you in. There is so much variety here, so many ideas jammed into one package, that you will continue to discover new elements that previously escaped your attention. The number of cameo appearances here is staggering: Snoop Dogg, Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals, Mos Def, Lou Reed (the principle songwriter of The Velvet Underground best known for the gender-bending "Walk on the Wild Side"), veteran R&B singer Bobby Womack, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash, Mark E. Smith, Bashy, Kano, Little Dragon, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and my personal favorite, hippy-dippy hip hop trio De La Soul. You may remember that De La Soul won a Grammy for their collaboration with Gorillaz on the song "Feel Good Inc." I've loved De La Soul ever since my buddy Tim introduced me to their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising and particularly the track "Tread Water," a song which my girlfriend Lena finds terrifying (this will be a common theme during this review).
Speaking of common themes, let me give my interpretation of what this eclectic collection of hip-hop, art rock, funk, electronic, and orchestral music is all about. In both a figurative and literal sense, this album is about garbage. Damon Albarn, the creative genius behind the Gorillaz and the producer, composer, and maestro of this album, was inspired when he compared two landfills that he visited, one in Mali and one outside London, and compared the way that two countries dealt with garbage. In a more abstract sense, this album is also about the detritus of pop culture that accumulates in the collective consciousness, the bits and pieces which wash up on our shores and get recycled and rehashed and remade. There is a deep, biting, and even melancholic criticism of consumer capitalism in the guise of songs about microwave breakfasts ("Superfast Jellyfish"), fast cars ("Stylo"), and game shows ("Sweepstakes").
This is a truly post-modern album (and God help me for the shit-storm the use of that term is going to unleash); it is a pastiche of styles, references, and even artists. Compare the mash-up of Arabic rhythms and odd Reggae-style rapping of "White Flag" with deceptively simple keyboards and Lou Reed's deadpan vocals on "Some Kind of Nature."
The two tracks which really define this album are "Superfast Jellyfish" and "Stylo." This first one is a bizarre hip-hop collaboration between Damon Albarn, Gruff Rhys, and De La Soul which features samples from a 1986 commercial for Swanson's microwave "Great Start Breakfasts." I love it, but Lena finds it utterly terrifying (probably because of the repeated references to King Neptune and his water-breathers and "dying like rabbits"). "Stylo" opens with a pounding electro-funk beat that serves to highlight Mos Def's deft and understated rhymes and a an unforgettably commanding Bobby Womack, who, at 68 years old, is kicking serious ass.
Before I wrap things up, I just want to highlight one more song that is a must-listen that might get passed over coming as it does as the penultimate song on the album. "Cloud of Unknowing" is basically just a synth and Bobby Womack, whose soaring, slightly gravelly singing serves to expose the emotional core of this album. After all the snark and satire, this song is refreshingly sincere and optimistic. Make sure you stick it out and get to this song. You can skip the last one if you want to.
by Colin Caccamise
This movie is awesome, I could spout nothing but praise for this film for years, but let's get to the point. We saw this film in low-fi old fashioned 2-D, but after seeing this film, I'd be willing to break a cardinal rule and pay money to enjoy this film in 3-D. From start to finish, Joss Whedon was able to weave the last 5 years worth of comic book films into one great piece of cinematic glory. That is truly the genius of this film, it proves that comic book films can be done, but also done well.
Let's start with acting, Robert Downey Jr. returns as everyone's favorite sardonic billionaire playboy turned superhero, Tony Stark/Iron Man. His cutting wit and sarcasm blends in with the cynicism his character is showing to the world and the team in which he's asked to take part in. Stark, throughout the film continuously proves that he is hero they need him to be, willing to sacrifice himself for the people, thus furthering his character development from the Iron Man.
Next, we have Chris Evans continuing on from the last Marvel film, Captain America: The First Avenger. His portrayal of Steve Rogers is interesting as he finds himself as a soldier out of his own time, becoming more and more conflicted with his superiors and their directions. He and Stark comes to conflict as Stark feels that S.H.I.E.L.D shouldn't be trusted at face value whereas Evans feels they can trust them as their goals are the same. Their confliction is one of the underlying points of the films, a tension that exists through three-quarters of the film.
Mark Ruffalo was the true shock of the film, his portrayal of a tormented Dr. Bruce Banner in hiding, was phenomenal. It was great as physically, Ruffalo was lanky and scrawny and nerdy, all the things that we feel Bruce Banner should be. This film also for the first time goes into the torment that Banner feels and how he tries to deal with it, admitting that he once attempted suicide but became the Hulk as a byproduct, saying the monster inside him wouldn't let him die. It should be said that the Hulk tears shit up in this film. Ruffalo has supposedly has been signed on as Banner for six more films. Solid performances by Jeremy Renner as Haweye (a villain for almost two thirds of the film) and Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, whose performance is leagues ahead of the lackluster performance she dropped in Iron Man 2.
The unsung hero of this film is writer/director Joss Whedon of Buffy/Firefly/Serenity/Dollhouse fame, to nerds there is so little this man can do wrong. Going into this film, I was really skeptical of this film as the usual combination of high profile actors and writer-director with such a large fan following (examples of such films are Ocean's Twelve and New Year's Eve) fall flat or spread themselves too thin and implode as a result. This blend of humor and action are trademark of Whedon's work, this in my opinion is a capstone to Marvel's effort to create this new film continuity.
I am reminded of the 1980 victory of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team in Lake Placid, what's the comparision you may ask? The comparison I can make is that this film is the "Miracle" of this generation of nerds, the inextricable marriage of acting, writing and directing that only comes around once in a decade or two to make something beautiful. This film proves that comic book films can work.
SEE THIS FILM.
5 out of 5 stars