Peaking Lights

June 10, 2011

If you put a Super Soaker to my head, I’d have to say my album of the early summer is 936 by Peaking Lights. Eight tracks of murky, psychedelic, cooled-out dub pop that sound like they were recorded in between the wavy haze that rises from the asphalt. It’s uptempo enough if you want to move, but low key enough if you want to just spark one and drink lemonade. And made by a duo from Wisconsin of all places. Lake Michigan has beaches right?

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Hank Mobley

May 23, 2011

I had a hell of a time trying to decide which song to post – this or Dexter Gordon’s “Cheese Cake” – but ultimately I went with “Split Feelin’s” because I get the impression it’s the lesser known of the two. As of late, I’ve become increasingly enamored with these two tenor saxophonists and progenitors of bebop and hard bop, respectively. I’m neither intelligent enough nor well versed in jazz to the point of breaking down the merits of musicianship involved here, but I can say that both Gordon’s album Go and Mobley’s record Soul Station – the two records on which these songs are featured, fucking rule. Tenor sax is just so damn cool. So if a breezy afternoon on the stoop or a mellowed-out early summer party is what you’re after, cue up either of these records and turn it up.

Like many males currently in their mid-late twenties, NBA Jam was a staple of my media/entertainment intake from roughly 1993 – 1998. Let’s face it, there were few things that could so effectively nurture mutual respect and comeraderie amongt middle school males than a gentleman’s game of NBA Jam (admittedly, an illicitly gotten copy of Playboy was probably high on that list, if not the frontrunner). All smut aside, for the brief twelve minutes of cartoon basketball action crammed into each NBA Jam match up, you’d be willing to put aside all hatred of even the biggest weenie in your parochial school social circle. When it was time to Jam, you jammed. The feeling I had when I won a game by the skin of my 16-bit teeth is one that I cherish forever and fear that my future children will never get to experience, what with their iPads and Angry Birds and such. Palms sweating, heart racing, vision bleary, I often felt like I had just piloted a F-16. But when you lost, God-forbid if you lost, the lows were just as severe. You didn’t want to talk to anyone. You swore the game was fixed, all bullshit. Controllers were liable to be chucked across the room. But then you hit the reset button, cranked up the digitized funkiness of the soundtrack, entered your initials and off you went, shoving and blocking and dunking from the foul line.

My life has been pretty banal since those epic battles in my basement. Sure, college was fun and I live in New York City and yadda yadda, but I yearned for the days of Larry Johnson and Zo and hitting threes from the bottom corner (how this became universal knowledge still astounds me). So whereupon I returned home last Thanksgiving and dusted off my Sega to find, lo-and-behold, the system actually worked, I nearly lost my shit. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night. Now the system remains parked in my apartment living room. NBA Jam might as well be glued to the console, because we rarely play anything else (of course there’s the occasional trip down memory lane with Lion King, NHL 94/95/96/97, Mortal Kombat and the like, but let’s be honest, they’re like comparing Kristen Wiig to Gisele – one would be fun, but one would be really fun). So yea, you heard that right: me and my roommates, just a handful of 27 year-olds hunkering down with some Miller High Life’s, some Wheat Thins and some monster video game dunks.

All of this got me to thinking – now that we have some life experience under our belts wouldn’t it be fun to reappropriate the NBA Jam lingo that so furiously invaded our lexicon some fifteen years ago to describe situations that we, as supposed adults, now face? Of course it would. If you had to use phrases like “Tag Mode,” “Computer Assistance,” “On Fire” and “Turbo” to describe life as you now know it, to what situations would those phrases apply? For better or worse, these are my thoughts (most of them involve drinking because, as they say, you write what you know, right?):

Tag Mode: Tag Mode was a feature whereby you were able to control both players in your lineup, not just the one with possession of the basketball. Theoretically, the feature was put in place to make teams more well rounded. Rather than being forced to choose between the munchkin-sized Tim Hardaway and the hangtime-challenged Chris Mullin, Tag Mode allowed you to have the best of both worlds. It might ruffle the feathers of some purists out there, but in the end, I think it made the game more interesting. How would this apply to real life? I think the most obvious and natural application would be the “Wingman.” Sure, some Casanovas are able to roll into bars by themselves and charm the Uggs off of unsuspecting women, but in most situations, it helps to have a wingman. The wingman proves that a) you have friends and b) you’re not a one-dimensional player (by that I mean the fact that you came out with a buddy shows you have agendas other than getting laid…of course in reality this may very well not be the case, but you get my point). To put it simply, the wingman, like Tag Mode, makes you a well-rounded threat. Where you might lack in knowledge of Mad Men, your buddy can pick up the slack. What he lacks in effortless good looks, you can more than carry your weight. With the wingman, statistical categories like points, rebounds, assists, turnovers and time outs take on a whole new meaning.

Computer Assistance: With Computer Assistance turned on, every game came down to the wire. You’re up eight with 90 seconds to go? Doesn’t matter. You’ll brick a dunk or two and your opponent will start nailing threes. It’s inevitable. With Computer Assistance off, you find out who’s superior and who’s out of their league. Similarly, when you find yourself in a social situation talking, somehow, with a beautiful girl that makes you babble like an idiot, you better hope Computer Assistance is on. This means, of course, that she’s had one too many drinks. Enough to make her tipsy to the point where she’s more willing to put up with your inanity. With Computer Assistance on, you start to think you might have a shot. You build some confidence, and who knows, you might just pull off the upset. With Computer Assistance off, be careful. It could be a massacre.

On Fire: Everyone knows what it means to be “On Fire.” You hit three shots in a row and the golden basketball is bestowed upon you. Until the alotted time runs out, or the opposing team hits a bucket, you can’t miss. Hell, you’re even allowed to goaltend. It’s how you make runs that really put the game out of reach. When you’re twenty seven, being on fire means going out hard three or more nights during the workweek. It’s tough to do, but every so often, you pull a string of three epic nights in a row. The stories that result from such nights are better, because they’re unexpected. These are the nights that Christmas trees are stolen; that you bowl a 240 at 2am; that you run into Owen Wilson at Little Branch and tell him he’s got everything to live for. Of course, your streak can end in any number of ways. Time runs out (you spend your paycheck), the opposing team scores (your boss says you smell like a foot), etc.

Turbo: Turbo was the juice. By hitting Turbo, you put your player into another gear. The shoes lit up and man, could you scoot. But Turbo had to be used judiciously. If you rode the Turbo button, the juice would run out and your momentum would come to a screeching halt, leaving you susceptible to a violent shove, a turnover, a dunk at the other end and a barrage of obnoxious shit-talking from your opponent. In real life, or in our case, nightlife, Turbo is akin to pacing yourself. At the beginning of the night, you hit Turbo: you have a few drinks to get the mojo going. You’re ready to have some fun. But be careful. If you ride that Turbo and overdo it too early, you crash. You become the grumpy drunk on the couch that’s in no shape to go out. You become susceptible to violent shoves, spilled drinks, missed jokes and a barrage of obnoxious shit-talking from your friends. Should have used Turbo wisely.

The Nail in the Coffin: The Nail in the Coffin is the dagger that puts the game out of reach. Put a fork in you, you’re done. In social situations, the Nail in the Coffin is the shot that you clearly did not need. It ends your night and throws all hopes of frisky behavior with the opposite sex out the window. The Nail in the Coffin is the cab shot: the shot that makes you take a cab home, where under different circumstances you would be lucid enough to figure out cheaper, alternate modes of transportation. Is it the Shoes?: Is it the Shoes is the NBA Jam equivalent of Michael Jordan’s famed ‘shrug.’ MJ was in the zone to such a degree that even he couldn’t explain it. It’s as if he were saying, “Dude, I know I’m good, but I didn’t know I was that good.” For me, Is it the Shoes could mean one of two things in real life. The first is when you or one of your buddies pulls a girl that’s way out of his league, but he also makes the rest of your group better. He’s dressed slovenly: hooded sweatshirt and pants that haven’t been washed in weeks, or maybe ever. Hasn’t showered, hasn’t shaved. But for some reason, he can’t miss at the bar. He’s buying drinks, making girls laugh; he’s got that twinkle in his eye that comes maybe once or twice a year. He’s feeling it. I know what you’re thinking…this sounds an awful lot like being on fire. But being on fire is a purely offensive-minded phrase. But your buddy is buying rounds, he’s making assists, he’s boxing out guys that are trying to steal your thunder. He’s being a team player in every sense of the word. All you can ask is, “Dude, is it the shoes?” The other application of Is it the Shoes is strictly literal. You’re sitting around the living room with your friends when all of a sudden a noxious odor begins to circulate. As far as you can tell, no one farted and you just took out the trash. You look around, puzzled, and ask your grungiest buddy, “Is it the Shoes?”

Boomshakalaka: Boomshakalaka was perhaps the most ubiquitous phrase to emerge from NBA Jam. It meant, to put it bluntly, that you’re kicking ass. As such, it can apply to a whole host of real life scenarios. You get a raise? Boomshakalaka. You win at Blackjack? Boomshakalaka. You sign off a conference call? Boomshakalaka. There are however, a few situations where you definitely should not use the phrase. Vomit at the bar? Bad idea. Fall asleep on the subway and wind up in East New York? Bad idea. In bed with your girlfriend and about to make the “O” face? Bad idea.

So there you have it. Use these terms as you wish. And if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to play.

Two dispatches from the cultural desk, should you be so inclined to take a gander. First up, I saw a play this weekend that knocked my socks off. Pardon the hyperbole, but I honestly thought Good People was that um, good. Starring Frances McDormand of Fargo/Almost Famous fame, the play presented a fly-on-the-wall look at the lives of several blue collar folks from Southie, the famed Boston neighborhood dramatized in everything from Good Will Hunting to Mystic River to The Departed. The dialogue was so sharp and true-to-life that it really felt like you were in the kitchen sharing coffee and cigarettes (we’ll get to Jim Jarmusch in a sec) with the characters on stage. Frances McDormand was lights out, lending her character an acerbic wit and a vindictive edge that leaves you wondering whether she really is “Good People.” Getting to the theater can be tough because of the prices, but the Manhattan Theater Club is offering $30 tickets for people under 30…so if you fit the description, take advantage. You’ll be thinking about it hours, maybe even days after the final curtain falls.

Moving from the stage to the screen, I also checked out Permanent Vacation, the first feature by Jim Jarmusch. It’s an unsettling movie—16 year old Allie meanders about bombed out downtown Manhattan streets encountering various vagabonds and eccentric characters while pondering the meaning of life: his schizo mother, a junkie, a Vietnam Vet and a car thief, among others. Pretty cool to see where Jarmusch first started to develop his aesthetic and even cooler to try to emulate dance moves like the ones above.

An Open Apology to Lil J

April 15, 2011

I’m sorry. There, I said it. I—I’m sorry. I can only hope at this point that you accept my apology. You see, on the evening of Monday, April 11, in the year of our Lord, 2011, I absentmindedly neglected to include Lil J in my initial post about the Sophomore Slump and their show on Newtown Radio, which happens to bring the funky ass shit, like every single day (every single Tuesday that is). That’s Sophomore Slump on Newtown Radio at 7PM on Tuesdays—www.newtownradio.com. Bitch. Sorry, not you Lil J. I would never call you a female dog.

You see, I’ve only been able to listen to the show over the last few weeks, when Captain Rod 3 Way and Dylan have been holding it down. So it’s easy to understand why my remarks were fallacious (that means misleading or deceptive…I’ve been studying for the GRE). But I listened to this week’s show and I have to say…you do indeed have  a sexy radio face. I mean voice. You get my vote any day. So keep it real for the Slump, Lil J. You’re a cornerstone. And fuck law school kill em all.

Kilian Martin

April 14, 2011

A buddy of mine recently passed along the video below. The tricks defy physics, let alone logic. The anachronistic wardrobe and music are killer. The cinematography is nostalgic. This makes me want to go to a drive-in theater with a chick in a poodle skirt. Except we’re on a skateboard.

Do your Tuesdays suck? Probably. I’m guessing you get home from work, change out of your slacks then park it on the couch to dive into a Five Dollar Footlong (chicken and bacon ranch) while watching reruns of Spongebob until your eyes burn. It’s cool though, Tuesday is a pointless day as it is. Let’s see. Monday has to exist to take the brunt of our hatred of the workweek, Wednesday offers a glimpse of hope that life is still worth living, Thursday is pretty much Friday and Friday is pretty much heroin. Where does that leave Tuesday? Worthless…until now.

The brains behind the Sophomore Slump have taken their talents/discerning musical tastes to the worldwide webradio, delivering weekly doses of that’s what the fuck is up. Driven by DJs Captain Rod 3 Way, Lil J and Dylan, Sophomore Slump plays all the shit you didn’t even know you wanted to hear. From Yuck and Kurt Vile to Future Sound and Tribe, they’ve got it on lock. It’s like the radio station you wish your college had. Catch NYC concert updates to hear what sweet show you’re probably going to miss and maybe even a live studio guest or two. So turn off that episode of Funniest Home Videos and tune your browser to Bushwick-based Newtown Radio on Tuesday nights at 7pm to get your head blown. Actually, DVR that episode of Funniest Home Videos before you turn it off…you’re going to want that for later. Nootch.