Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I will concede that this blog has hit a bit of a rough patch. Aside from a handful of photos one week and an ill-conceived rant the next, I've hit a bit of a wall. I have attempted to eschew music reviews, as I am keenly aware that no one reads them and I'm trying to avoid movie reviews so I can get it all out of my system at the end of the year when I come up with some sort of hierarchy. In one of my first entries, I confessed that this blog existed more as a means for me to express opinions more articulately than I otherwise may have, and should be read as a journal more than a manifesto. I still feel that way, but I wouldn't be linking the entries if it was an entirely solitary pursuit. What I'm saying is; the blogging will be probably be sporadic, and on my terms. This entry will address luck.

I've stopped reading the Oppenheimer biography 'American Prometheus' because it was excruciatingly slow and dry, and entirely too detailed. For Oppenheimer scholars, it may be fascinating to read the minutes of every meeting he ever attended, but I couldn't take any more. Instead, I moved laterally to 'Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself", a 300-page "conversation" between Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky and the late David Foster Wallace in 1996, just as Wallace was finishing his book tour for Infinite Jest and wrestling with his sudden celebrity. While I have only read 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again', 'The Pale King', and only made a small dent in Infinite Jest, I consider myself to be a big DFW fan. I hold his Commencement speech near and dear, and am saddened when I realize his output is finite, and some day I will have no new DFW material to read.

What I have been struck by most in Lipsky's book is the humility that DFW has in the wake of the fervor that Infinite Jest produced, and how he dismisses compliments and finds the accolades "scary", in that they are only raising expectations for his next book to unreachable heights. He was a brilliant man, and one who refused to view art with one iota of pretension, instead using it as a means to tease out fundamental, universal truths. He was not one to roll his eyes at cliche, so long as it was effective and not insulting, unabashedly enjoying old country music due to the very deep material it contained, regardless of the surface subject matter. I won't get into all of his intricacies, but it gave me a profound level of respect for him on a different level than I had before. Maybe it's because I see some of myself in him when he discusses his twenties, and it scares me when I consider how his life ended. One of the most devastating passages involves Wallace explaining how incredibly lucky he is, in spite of everything, to be doing what he enjoys. While not an edgy topic, I considered the same, and decided to quantify how lucky I really am to try and visualize it a bit better. So that's what I did. Below are the odds for each of the following characteristics, provided the above is true (for the most part).

These numbers are courtesy of the most recent US Census (

Note: I am not saying any of these attributes are better than the alternatives.

US Citizen: 1 in 22
Male: 1 in 2
White: 1 in 1.5
Middle Class: 1 in 2
Non-Divorced Household: 1 in 2
High School Graduate: 1 in 1.2
Bachelor's Degree: 1 in 2.5
Master's Degree (knock on wood): 1 in 4
No Debt: 1 in 4
Full Time Job: 1 in 1 (Low unemployment rate for MS graduates)
Less than 20 minutes commute to work: 1 in 3
Healthy: 1 in 3 (guess factoring in obesity and all other fatal/chronic diseases)
Good Looking: 1 in 3
Full Head of Hair: 1 in 2
Winning Smile: 1 in 4
Well Read: 1 in 5
Charming: 1 in 3

Total: 1 in 41 million (in all seriousness, more like one in 115,000 if you ignore the frivolous things at the end)

Puts things in perspective a bit, doesn't it? And who knows how far off some of those estimations were.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The term "Legacy" is one that carries both gravity and pretension. It's something I've been chewing on a lot lately after reading Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography and tackling a Richard Feynman collection after. Now in the throes of the J. Robert Oppenheimer bio American Prometheus, the concept of legacy and what it means has become quite fascinating. Steve Jobs created revolutionary products that delivered intuitive computers for normal consumers, but was a notorious asshole who routinely berated his coworkers, swindled his friends and was often too busy/callous to spend quality time with his family. Steve Jobs often fretted about his legacy, but at the end of the day he chose to be worshiped by millions of strangers than revered in his own family.

Feynman was a different character entirely. He possessed the same ferocious curiosity of Jobs, but his curiosity was not limited to a specific discipline like computing or design. He embraced everything with the zeal that few of us can muster for even our most interesting pursuits. He planned a trip to Brazil, so he taught himself Portuguese and became immersed in the culture, picking up the drums in his spare time and soon mastering them. When he worked at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, he taught himself lock-picking and spent hours mastering the craft and learning new tricks. He was a kind and gentle and nurturing influence on his students at Cal-Tech and was equally patient and beloved by the scientific community at large. He became interested in hallucinations but was reticent to indulge in drugs, so he spent many hours in sensory deprivation chambers to satisfy these questions. He made landmark Biology observations and even became popular enough as an artist to warrant an exhibit under his pseudonym "Ofey". He had two children from a long marriage to his third wife (his first died of TB and second divorced him), and proved that genius need not be a ticket to a solitary life.

For the rest of us, does the word "legacy" even apply? Does it even matter? Some could effectively argue that concerning yourself over how you will be remembered is a pointless pursuit, and I would not disagree. But the fact of the matter is that life is an end sum game, and having a nice legacy is a validation of a life well-lived, even if your memory dissolves quickly. What's interesting is how these legacies can change over time, and how your life can be distilled into a sterile paragraph that scrubs away any complexity or dimension. Watching Boardwalk Empire, I was struck by a portrayal of a KKK member as a family man. When you have the KKK on your resume, it doesn't matter that you were a doting husband or a wonderful father or that "things were different back then", your legacy is sealed. Perhaps those who are fighting tooth and nail to defend marriage from a "liberal assault" will enjoy a similar fate in twenty years and they try to explain themselves to their grandchildren who simply dismiss them as an old bigot.

There is so much unhappiness in the world today, that most people can only cope with it by channeling it into frustration and impatience that only serves to propagate the problem. It is exceedingly difficult, but we would all be better served if we understood that everyone is struggling in some way, and that their actions are their response to this. This sentiment is better expressed in David Foster Wallace's commencement speech, but it's something I try to come back to when I am close to boiling. Perhaps legacy is an inappropriate motivator to get someone to treat others with respect, but if it gives you a moments pause before you beep your horn or spout profanity, maybe it's not such a bad thing.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hip Hop Onomatopeias

I'm not sure when rappers decided seeing their name in the credits wasn't satisfying anymore, but my best guess is sometime around 2009, or when the king of hip-hop onomatopeias himself, Gucci Mane arrived on the scene. His music was equally playful and bizarre, with a healthy dose of danger for good measure, but what kept his music fun were his hilarious sound effects that ended every verse and filled every gap in the beat. Never one for discretion, Gucci had no less than THREE sounds that he dispensed with ruthless precision. There was the declarative "BRR!" that announced his presence, in case the listener was unaware, the affirmative "S'gucci!" (an assumed contraction of "It's Gucci!") to confirm what you had already suspected, and finally, the concilliatory "Aye", a goofy shoulder-shrug to explain away everything that preceded it. These days, EVERYONE has a trademark sound effect that they sprinkle on everything they touch, a little rap fairy dust to make the song a hit. These effects range from endearing to obnoxious, but trust me, they are all completely unnecessary. For your reading pleasure, I've organized them into categories so you can identify these artists by their alter egos.
Sounds: "Huh" "Yeah" Assorted near-grunts
Example: Mr. Lover

I guess if we're splitting hairs, Shaggy might be the first one to do this with these sounds you can only make by clenching your buttcheeks (try it, you'll see) but he is neither relevant nor a rapper so I'm not about to give him credit for anything.

Sounds: Heavy breathing, strange gasps, generic "Ungh"
Example: Otis

Jay-Z has been around long enough to know when something is a passing fad (hello Autotune) or worthy of his attention, but even HOVA himself can't help but get in on the sound effect action. Jay-Z's delivery has always been breathless, like he just ran 12 blocks to deliver this verse, but in recent years he's sounded even more out of breath, and he's developed a strange "GASP!" that he drops randomly like he just woke up from a bad dream. Of course he still has his tried and true "ungh" to fall back in a pinch.

Lil Wayne
Sounds: Lighter spark, random laughter
Example: Entire "Sorry 4 The Wait" mixtape

Lil Wayne is deranged. In the best possible way. He has the most fun of any rapper, from skateboarding until 4AM after shows or spending absurd amount of money on a diamond encrusted grill to showcase his winning smile. It only makes sense that his sound effect share his sense of humor. Nearly every song he releases opens with the spark of a light and Mr. Carter taking a deep breath of "something", followed by a few unintelligible mumbles and his first verse. Inside the verses themselves, Wayne giggles and chuckles yet somehow manages to stay on the beat, and once his verses are complete, he unleashes a maniacal laugh of a mental patient. It would be troubling if it weren't so fun.


Kanye West
Sound: "Eh?"
Example: Who Gon Stop Me?

Since Kanye emerged from the Taylor Swift controversy, he has had a swagger that is unmatched in hip-hop, which is saying something. He has always had an edge to him, but on Watch the Throne, he ends almost every verse with an "Eh?", sounding a lot like the meow of a confused cat, but also like something Maximus would say.

Rick Ross
Sound: The bark of an obese dog
Example: John

Rick Ross is a big guy, I don't think anyone will argue that, but he doesn't need to make it THAT easy. His trademark is a bark. The deep, hearty woof of a morbidly obese dog waiting for his dinner. Perhaps this is an apt sound for Ross, since he just spent a music video in a wheelchair and had two strokes on a flight, but to my ears it is a cry for help. That doesn't mean I'm not terrified of him.


Pusha T
Sound: "Yeccghh"
Example: Any song from the past two years

Pusha T is half of Clipse. Maybe that doesn't mean anything to you, but it does to me. It mostly means he doesn't need to prove anything to anyone. Especially with something as annoying as his sound effect of choice, an obnoxious "YECCGHH" that is distracting. No one wants to visualize someone retching over a toilet in the middle of a song. He's been hanging out with Kanye lately, so maybe he put him up to it, but he needs to stay strong and stick to rapping.

Sound: "He-heh!"
Example: It's Good

I had a hard time spelling out Jadakiss' phrase, not because I couldn't remember it but because it is so obnoxious I can't bring myself to listen to it and figure out exactly how to spell it phonetically. Imagine if the Wicked Witch of the West sucked on a helium balloon and then was tickled. That's pretty much what you can expect. I've never been a fan of Jadakiss, and his recent output has not endeared him any further, with his  raspy cackle and moronic verses. Rappers don't retire (See Jay-Z), but Jadakiss should make an exception and hang it up.