Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In honor of Bastille Day... A brief and irreverent history of France

40 BC - That Caesar guy was a bit of a dick, wasn't he? Oh well, I guess it's not all bad being conquered by the Romans, what with the whole "civilization" thing. Oh, and the orgies. We'll have to make that a tradition around here.

AD 486 - OH SHIT! THE GERMANS!!!! Oh wait, it turns out the Franks are cool dudes. They even converted to Christianity like we did. It's cool, and they promised us they wouldn't start shit with us ever again. Nice people.

987 - Some guy named Hugh is calling himself king. Seriously? Hugh? That's the name of the kid who got picked last in sport and merriment, or a horse-drawn-cart salesman. And that guy is calling himself king? Eh, it'll never last...

1066 - Hey, you guys see that big island over there across the Channel? Let's take it! I don't see how that could affect things over the next millennium...

1309 - Ha! It's so nice here, even the Popes are moving in! Save your whining, Romans - have you seen Avignon in June?

1337 - Ugh, these English folks are starting to get bitchy; some are even saying that their king should be our king. Say what?!? We got to go kick some ass around here; this shouldn't take long...

1350 - Ok, so it's been going on a decade, but come on, it's not like it's gonna last another hundred years, right? Right? Hey, what are these black spots on my skin...?

1453 - Well, I guess that got out of hand. Most of us just plain forgot why we were fighting in the first place; near the end there, we were just having drinking contests instead of battles (those English can't hold their wine at all). Still pissed they killed that Joan girl, she looked awfully cute in that armor. Although it must be said: she was kind of a frigid bitch. Yes, I know you're the leader of the army and whatnot, but was it really necessary to call me "needledick" in front of the other troops?

1572 - "Thou shalt not kill (anyone but the Calvinists)". Amen!

1660 - Louis XIV's parties are the shit! The dancing, the fireworks, the food, the entertainment, the orgies... I was supposed to be back in Normandy two months ago! What do you mean, "Who's leading the country?"

1720 - The Enlightenment, where our philosophers are creating the ideas that will improve society for centuries. Still waiting to get started on deodorant, though.... priorities, people.

1776 - The Americans did WHAT? To the English? Oh man, we should help the Yanks out; I'm still pissed off about Joan of Arc.

1781 - Wow, that worked out surprisingly well... perhaps too well....

1789 - Now, I know some of you are worried about this so-called "Reign of Terror", but I swear it's all done with the best intentions for France. After all, you can't make omelettes without decapitating a few monarchs... and aristocrats... and alleged traitors... and ex-girlfriends... and people who look at me funny....

1804 - Some midget from Corsica is declaring himself emperor (without a farcical aquatic ceremony, even). OK, I'm sold.

1812 - Invade Russia in the winter? Why not? It's this outside-the-box thinking that's gonna take the French army straight to the top!

1815 - Wow, that sucked. Got spanked at Waterloo by the Brits and Prussians (hey wait, didn't the Germans say they were gonna play nice?). On the bright side, we're no longer an empire; so it's time for us to install... another kingdom! Oh, wait...

1830 - Another revolution causes the king to be overthrown (woot!) in place of a constitutional monarch. Shit, that didn't quite have the effect we wanted, either. Oh well, I'm sure it'll turn into a nice musical one day.

1848 - Finally! A true Republic!!!!

1852 - Woo hoo! Napoleon as Emperor!!!

..........Wait, what the fuck!!! Didn't we do this like 50 years ago? I'm getting a sense that I've seen this already. There should be a term for that....

1870 - OK, now that that's all sorted out, can we try to stick with the Republic thing again? Please? OK.

1889 - Hey, things are going great here! We have colonies all over the world, the finest artists, writers, and chefs around, our cabarets are world-renowned and WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING THEY'RE BUILDING?!??? Why on earth are they erecting a giant metal penis in the middle of Paris? (Hey, stop chuckling over there.) Is this some Brit's sick practical joke?? Ugh, what a disgrace to the city, hopefully they'll take it down once the World's Fair is over.


1920 - Now that things have settled down, let's get to work philosophizing about how much everybody sucks (except us, naturally).


1944 - Wait, does this mean we have to actually like the English and Americans now?

No? OK, good.

1958 - Hey, Algeria, where are you going? Was it something I said? Those d-bags in Indochina put you up to this, didn't they?

1981 - You mean that guillotine is still hanging around? Ew... creepy. Toss it.


1998 - HAHA! At last, in our home nation, France has won the World Cup! Truly, we are now the kings of football, and will be for years to come....

2006 - Merde.

2010 - MERDE.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Training Day.

Here is a small sampling of the people who were riding in the same car as me on the PATH train between NYC and Harrison, NJ on 5-2-10 between 12:30 and 1:30 AM:

- A drunk girl who was standing on the platform, leaning against the train, and throwing up. When the conductor warned her that the train was about to move and that she should get inside, the girl's friend, who happened to be so flamboyant that I half-expected him to start singing showtunes, proceeded to yell at the conductor for being, and I quote, "a nasty bitch". Another passenger - bless her heart - tried to reason with him that the conductor was just looking out for her safety, but the friend just kept ranting and raving about it. Meanwhile, the girl passed out. Looking back, they may have actually ended up on the "relatively sane" side of the median....

- A 42-year-old man (I know this because he kept saying it, along with the fact that he is often mistaken for a teenager, which was an outright lie). If you're a bouncer, and you have ever carded this man, you really need to find a new line of work. Anyway, he suddenly pipes up and, like most crazy folks tend to do, TALKS LIKE THIS SO EVERYBODY CAN HEAR ALL THE IMPORTANT STUFF THEY HAVE TO SAY. THIS PARTICULAR GUY WAS MENTIONING TO ANYONE WITHIN EARSHOT (i.e., everybody) THAT HE KNOWS MUSIC HISTORY - BECAUSE HE'S 42 - AND CAN TELL US MORE ABOUT MUSIC THAN WE'LL EVER KNOW, INCLUDING GUYS LIKE PETER CETERA...

Wait. Peter Cetera? From Chicago? What?!?

Here's a tip: if you're going to make a point about all the artists you know, please try and pick one that's not in the adult contemporary genre. Because any artist you can list in the same breath as Yanni and John Tesh is not exactly going to win over a huge crowd of converts. EVEN IF YOU'RE 42 YEARS OLD.

- A girl wearing a Hartford Whalers cap. Not really anything weird about her; in fact, she was kinda cute. I just thought it was worth mentioning that she immediately earned my respect just by wearing a hat. Thank God she didn't start humming this, though; God only knows what I would've done... (Hey, that's not funny...)

- Another drunk girl (there seems to be a pattern developing...) who was wearing a low-cut dress; so low-cut, in fact, that she had a breast completely exposed and clearly didn't notice. Now, I don't know a lot of things (short-selling FTW!), but one thing I do know is that there is not one tactful way for a man to kindly suggest to a girl that she might wish to cover herself up. Particularly when her very muscular, tattooed boyfriend is sitting right next to her.... Also, this girl was carrying an iPod that should've just been called Obsessed (i.e., nothing but Beyonce - I'm pretty sure only five people would get that joke, and only one or two of them will ever see this blog....). Anyway, when the song "Single Ladies" came on, one of her friends - a guy - started doing the dance in the video, which of course, led to me trying to stifle my laughter, because I get the sense they would've beaten the shit out of me if they caught me. Check that, I KNOW they'd have whooped my ass.

Oh, and going off on a tangent, what on Earth was Kanye thinking when he said "Single Ladies" was the best video ever? Isn't it just Beyonce and two other girls dancing? Has the man not seen anything Michael Jackson put forth? Damn, Kanye, I know you're trying to kiss Jay-Z's ass all the time, but seriously, can you be any less of a douche? Well, according to this scientifically proven diagram:

Yes, apparently you can be much less of a douche.


- And finally, the highlight of the night, as the train pulled into the Pavonia station, there were three hot girls (yes, drunk) on the platform who were, I swear to God, having a wet T-shirt contest. Now, I'm sure that somewhere in the back of my mind, there was a part of me preparing an eloquent sermon on the downfall of Western Civilization, but as a guy, I couldn't help but watch speechlessly, because quite frankly, that's not an everyday occurrence (unless you live in Cancun). The part I'm still trying to figure out is how that brain trust settled on this particular location. I imagine the convo went something like this:

DRUNK GIRL 1: I'm bored, and sooooooooo drunk. You know what we should do? Have a wet T-shirt contest!
DRUNK GIRL 2: Yeah! But where?
DRUNK GIRL 3: How about the subway station?
DRUNK GIRLS (in unison): YEAH!!!!!

Sadly, the last two stops were anti-climactic as all the fun people had already departed. Still, as I got off the train (and flipped off Red Bull Arena), I recalled the last hour and came to one simple conclusion:

I love this train...

No, not that one.

Nor that.

Close, but not quite.

There we go.

And now that I've sufficiently used up my hyperlink quotient for today, I'm out.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I'm not a terribly good gambler. All my luck apparently got wasted during my youth, when I would routinely walk away with a couple of prizes at penny socials and raffles. Complete strangers would use me as a ringer if there was a prize they desperately wanted. My luck was something to behold, but unfortunately it only won prizes like a chocolate gift basket, and not something a bit more substantial, say, a Mediterranean cruise. And over the years, my luck has dwindled to just a speck, and so every trip I take to a casino inevitably ends with me walking out in a daze, wondering how the hell my wallet got raped so quickly. But still, it is fun to meet up with friends on occasion (misery loves company) and spend a day playing cards or table games. Such was the case a few days ago, when I decided to join my friends in Atlantic City for a little crapshooting.

Now, I had never played craps in a casino before. The only experience I've had with it is a handful of times playing at my friend Pete's place for fake money, and since the money was fake (and the alcohol was real), I usually just tossed all my chips on the table - what did I care? I gotta say, though, I was a little relieved that we'd be playing craps this time instead of poker. It's funny; when I play cash games with my pals, I'm aggressive, and I often end up with a pocketful of money (and my friends' contempt). When I get to the casino, though, the same pattern occurs: I win a hand or two playing strong, then I realize, "Hey, this is actual money in front of me, and I'm up now. Maybe I shouldn't be so aggressive...." Then I change my style, and end up turning into, for lack of a better term, the Table Bitch. As soon as someone raises, I pull out like a teenage boy who ran out of Trojans (nice image... you're welcome). In the end, barring some miraculous suck-out, I end up getting hammered at poker, so I figured that this time around, I might actually do well. Did I? Well, allow me to recap the day:

3:00 PM - I get in my car and prepare to drive to AC. I'd never driven there myself, and was always a bit hesitant to drive the Parkway, but I figured I'd have to learn at some point. Plus I had work the following morning, and my friends were all planning on getting shit-faced and staying the night. So anyway, I go to the bank and pick up $250. I went to get gas and lunch, and while I'm there, pick up a scratch ticket for $3. Surprisingly, it was a winner, for $20. That's good mojo! So I went to cash it in, and everyone in the place was watching TV. I asked what happened, and the clerk said, matter-of-factly, "House blew up down the street." Maybe that wasn't such good mojo. I got back in the car and got on the Parkway. BANK: $232.

3:20 PM - I really need to get an EZ-Pass. These tolls keep raping my stash of quarters. Besides, I think it's mandatory for all New Jerseyans... um, Jerseyites? Wait, I got it... It's a rule for all Bon Jovi fans to get an EZ-Pass anyway.

3:45 PM - It never stops being funny to me that there's a place in NJ called Cheesequake. Seriously. What, did the entire village lose a bet?!?

4:15 PM - Pass Seaside Heights. Fist-pump.

5:15 PM - Two hours and $5 in tolls later, I make my approach to Atlantic City. It's always a fun drive; you drive through these marshlands, and out of nowhere a whole shitload of ostentatious, brightly-colored buildings just seem to surround you. And for those of you who haven't been, there are two main areas: the Boardwalk, which has all the old favorites (Caesar's, Bally's, etc.); and the Marina, which has two casinos geared toward the younger crowd - Harrah's, which has a ridiculously trendy club called The Pool, and the Borgata, our typical stomping grounds. You can tell the target audience by the billboards that line the main road into town: Diana Ross and Ringo Starr at Caesar's, while the Borgata has more modern acts like Kesha, Weezer, and um, Hall and Oates.... Nevermind then. But the Borgata is actually a nice casino, and our usual stomping grounds. Such is the case tonight.

5:30 PM - One thing about the Borgata I always forget is the cocktail waitresses wear these extremely revealing dresses. Actually, I don't even think you can call them dresses, as they fail to cover up the girls' asses. Still, if you ever hear me complain about this, feel free to scissor-kick me in the testicles, since I won't be needing them anymore.

The first place I visit are the Wheel of Fortune slots. They've saved my night in epic fashion on several occasions, and after my scratch ticket win, I was feeling pretty confident. $20 later, and so much for my confidence. BANK: $212.

5:45 PM - I saunter past the roulette tables and figure I'll give it a whirl. I actually do OK at roulette most times. I put $20 on black and hit, then go $30 on black again and win a second time (Thanks for the sound financial advice, Wesley Snipes!!). Just prior to the third spin, this guy rushes up to the table like he had some urgent news, and proceeds to place a six-inch stack of $25-chips on red. It had to be at least $500 in that stack. Never have I wished for black to hit so much in my life - who puts that much money down on a single bet? As it was, it hit 00, so everyone got half their bet back (so the guy still lost $250, which tickles me a bit). Still, walked away with a $35 profit, and I'm feeling good. BANK: $247.

6:00 PM - Not all of my friends have arrived, and I'm feeling kinda hungry, so I go down to the food court. Make no mistake, this is definitely a food court: there's a pizza place, a burger place, a Japanese place (i.e. teriyaki for everyone!!!), a Panda Express, two other places that no one ever goes to, and a Ben & Jerry's. Of course, being a "high-end" casino, these places that you can find in any mall have their items' prices jacked up by about 200%. You know what's the worst feeling ever? Being cleaned out at the casino, and you don't have enough money to buy a brownie for comfort food. That's fucking depressing. Anyway, after standing in line behind a mom and her two kids (who brings kids to a casino? For that matter, who brings their kids to Atlantic City in the first place???), I plunk down $10 on a small cheeseburger combo. I'll let you figure out if it was worth it. Here's a hint: NO, IT WAS NOT WORTH IT. BANK: $237.

7:00 PM - OK, the gang's all here. Time to roll. Gotta hand it to the croupiers: they're an easy-going bunch, and they can do the math with ease. At our fake games, we practically hafta bust out a TI-83 to figure out the payments; these guys do it almost robotically. It's quite impressive, actually. Anyway, we hang at the table for a while, and have some ups and downs. One exchange while our friend Jon was shooting:
[Jon rolls a 7] ME & PETE: Yeah, Jon! Good stuff, man!
[Jon rolls craps] ME & PETE: Man, who is that douchebag rolling such garbage?
[Jon rolls a 7] ME & PETE: Hey, Jon, all that bad stuff we said, we didn't mean it.... unless you roll craps again, then we hate you.

Ultimately, I get paid on a risk bet (hard 8 and a $25 point bet) and end up being the only one in the group to come out ahead - by a whopping six dollars. Still, I'm doing well, and feeling pretty jacked up. Let's see how long this lasts... BANK: $243.

8:00 PM - One of my friends got wiped out at craps and decided to play penny slots. I lead him over to the Wheel of Fortune bay, looking to extract a little revenge from before... You can see where this is going.

8:01 PM - I lose $30 before I can even blink. And no word of a lie, the couple that takes my spot does one spin and wins $100. Go fuck yourself, Pat Sajak. BANK: $213.

8:30 PM - A few of the guys decide to play poker, and I wisely abstain. I decide to have dinner (yes, another meal. Shut it.) with my friend Dan and his co-worker, Chris, who hails from Britain. Maybe it was the accent, but by the time dinner was done, I had come to the conclusion that this guy was quite possibly the coolest motherfucker I had ever met. Then he picked up the tab, and I came to the conclusion that he was DEFINITELY the coolest motherfucker I had ever met. I should get him a giftcard or something; that was pretty boss of him to pick up a total stranger's dinner tab. Maybe that's an English thing, like mispronouncing the word "garage". And oppressing indigenous populations.

9:40 PM - The guys decide to head over to The Pool and get their collective drink on. I'm about to leave, but I feel like I didn't play enough tonight. Now, at this point, there's a little tiny voice saying, "You didn't lose a lot, there's no point in going back and risking it." That voice got shouted down quickly. After passing by the $50 blackjack tables (see my prior comment about Roulette Man), and the stream of whores heading to the clubs, I locate a cheap craps table. And by the way, when I say whores, I mean WHORES... like the kind that make you afraid of catching an STD just by being in the same area code as them. I particularly remember this one girl last year who wore a tube top that had more fabric than her skirt. Tack on a pair of 5-inch heels and more make-up than Dame Edna, and you have one classy lady (and no, my New England-based friends, I will not cast aspersions on the entire female population of New Jersey. Do it yourself.). Sadly, none are quite so trashy tonight, but it should lead me to pay attention more to the table, which should help me... right?

10:00 PM - Yeaahhh, about that.... After one halfway decent shooter (who blew on the dice like he was rolling in a back alley in Bed-Stuy), this old guy comes up to roll. In order, he rolls 3 (lose $10), 2 (lose $10), 3 (lose $10), 8 (set the point), 7 (lose $32 on the table). Holy crap, that was like getting a root canal from Freddy Krueger. Suddenly that tiny voice in my head is saying, "HA!!! I TOLD YOU! I FUCKIN' TOLD YOU!!!" Sometimes a separate tiny voice says "It's OK, we can get this back!", and you end up blowing everything. Not tonight. I actually show some restraint and take off. $5 fee for the garage later, and I'm heading back home. BANK: $156.

10:30 PM - I see a sign: "Philadelphia: 50 miles", and I'm half-tempted to just go there on a whim. But then I remember that Philly sucks, and following whims are for people who don't have work in the morning....

11:15 PM - Ha! Cheesequake..... That shit never gets old....

12:15 PM - Get back home, ninety-four dollars poorer. In the end, it wasn't an extremely memorable night - I've had much more epic collapses and great escapes. But I didn't bankrupt myself, which is always a good thing. Was it worth writing such a long blog about it? Probably not, but I haven't written anything in a while, and I felt the urge to tell a story. As for the events my friends went through at The Pool? Well, you'd have to ask them, but don't get your hopes up. What happens in AC, stays in AC. Except this blog post.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some random thoughts while I was playing Super Mario Bros.:

1. I've been tossing around the concept of warp pipes in my head. I mean, it would be pretty sweet if you could just hop in a tube and end up a few seconds later in a completely new place. It would certainly make the commute into the city a hell of a lot faster; then again, knowing the MTA, they'd figure out a way to make that a clusterfuck, too. And given what we've learned from the SMB games, you ultimately end up in an area where there's fire and danger at every turn. And while I'm sure Cleveland and Detroit could use the tourist money, I don't really want to go there.

2. Why do the magic power-ups pass right through the enemies? I think it would be a nice change of pace if a Koopa Troopa grabbed a Fire Flower or a Starman and just starting going berserk. As it is, too many of the enemies present little to no challenge at all - even the Hammer Bros. got toned down way too much. Remember them in the first Super Mario Bros? If you weren't Fire Mario when you saw them, you were pretty much boned. They were makin' it rain, except with hammers instead of money. I'm fairly certain the strippers in Vegas are thanking their lucky stars that Pacman Jones decided not to completely emulate the Hammer Bros back in the day. But now, all they do is shuffle around, throw a hammer, shuffle some more, make a sandwich, think about throwing a hammer, shuffle a bit more, and - assuming you haven't killed them at this point - throw another hammer. It's depressing.

3. My favorite power-up in all the Mario games has to be the Tanooki Suit in Super Mario Bros 3. You can fly, turn into a statue, and for cryin' out loud, just look at it:


Of course, I figured I'd find out just what the hell a tanooki actually is. As it turns out, a tanuki is a Japanese raccoon. Many shops and restaurants have statues of tanukis outside their establishments to symbolize good fortune. This all wouldn't be weird, except for the fact that the statues (and apparently the tanukis themselves) have rather large... um, Bob-ombs...

Only in Japan. I gotta say, that would've made the power-up much more interesting, but I'm fairly certain one or two parents would've filed a complaint after they saw their kids making Mario tea-bag a Goomba to death....

4. Why does Mario keep trying to rescue Princess Toadstool? [NOTE: Yes, I know they renamed her as Peach, but I kick it old school.] This game for the Wii has to be like the 7th time that Mario's had to bail her ass out. In fact, for the Princess to be "kidnapped" that many times, something fishy has to be going on. Here are my three hypotheses:

A. She's a moron, and can't figure out that maybe it's a bad idea to hang around in an area where she's been captured half a dozen times.
B. Stockholm Syndrome. Yup, you read it right - she's been held captive so many times, that she only feels like herself when she's with Bowser. Hell, she might actually be in love with him; as they say, "Once you go Lizard, [deleted for the sake of moral decency]!"
C. She's a drama queen, and is only playing the victim to draw attention to herself. And what's even worse, she's a bit of a cocktease - every time Mario gets close, she has one of her toadies tell him, "Sorry, but our Princess is in another castle!" Which basically amounts to telling him, "She really does like you; I'm sure if you keep chasing after her, maybe you'll get lucky one of these days..." So Mario has to go all over the world, sacrificing his very life to save her, and all she does is thank him? Then two weeks later, she goes and gets kidnapped again. See? Fishy....

So it makes me wonder why Mario even bothers with her. Granted, when you take a look at most of the other inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom, there's not much of a selection. But he's got so many hobbies (go-karting, golf, soccer, painting, drug-dealing, MMA, partying, etc.) that you wonder if he'd really even miss her if Bowser just kept her. By the way, when exactly do Mario and Luigi actually do their plumbing jobs? Has there ever been an actual reference to that in the games? Or are we going to have to wait for Nintendo to release a game called Super Mario Turd Wranglers? I can see that being a big hit with the whole family - must be a ton of fun with the Wiimote....

5. Ever since the very first game, collecting 100 coins gets you a 1-Up (an extra life, for those of you who have never played Su... what's that? All of you have played one of these games?!? Wow. So these past few sentences have been completely extraneous, huh? Good to know.) I always thought that this was a little bit of capitalist propaganda, basically telling little kids "grab as much money as you can and you'll live longer". Of course, if that were the case, if your lifespan were determined by how much money you have, then I think I'm going to die sometime around Thursday afternoon. I think I've figured out the music they'll play at my funeral...


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Top 15 White Stripes songs (OK, I know that's not a catchy title, but screw it.)

Let me start off by saying this - I LOVE the White Stripes. LOVE them. I own all their CDs, have almost their entire collection on my iPod, and have been searching like hell for a reasonably-priced copy of their out-of-print "Under Blackpool Lights" concert DVD. Hell, I even dressed up as Jack White for Halloween (and even when my friend arrived dressed as Meg, no one could figure out who we were supposed to be. :sigh: Rock is dead....) Still, if this blog helps you become a fan of the Detroit duo, or even if you just find a couple of songs to put on your own iPod, then I'll be satisfied. Just know that it was very hard for me to condense this list down to my personal 15 favorite tracks, so good songs like "Blue Orchid", "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)", "Jolene", "Truth Doesn't Make a Noise", and "Same Boy You've Always Known" were left off. But I still recommend them. And if you are a Stripes fan who happened to come across my blog and disagree with my opinion, then you can go ahead and bite me. Or start your own crappy blog. OK, so without further ado, here we go:

15. A Martyr for My Love for You
Album: Icky Thump

A fair portion of the White Stripes' songs are about love and the difficulties and angst that come along with it, and this is a great example. The lyrics are poignant, describing a man who loves a woman so much that he can't stay with her, out of fear of hurting her. The real twist comes during the instrumental breaks, when Jack offers one of the heavier guitar riffs you'll hear from the Stripes, which makes it a good counterbalance for the sorrowful tone of the rest of the song.

14. Hello Operator
Album: De Stijl

De Stijl, their second album, still showcased their roots in garage rock and blues. It was a very raw sound that's well-captured in the upbeat "Hello Operator". Meg's minimalist drumming (particularly the solo bits) is countered by some great guitar and harmonica playing by Jack. An excellent starting point for someone who wants to get into their older work.

13. Ball and Biscuit
Album: Elephant

The majority of the White Stripes songs follow a common philosophy: set a basic structure (usually Meg's job - people rip on her "lack of drumming skills", but she keeps the beat simple, allowing Jack to elaborate; people tend to miss the fact that Jack only limits himself to three chords while playing for the White Stripes, too.), and then improvise within the confines of that structure. "Ball and Biscuit" is a good example of that - it's a very basic blues riff that repeats over the course of the 7-minute track, but after each chorus, Jack hammers out some of his best guitar work yet. It all makes for a song, that's raw, powerful, and even a little bit sexy. [winky emoticon]

12. My Doorbell
Album: Get Behind Me Satan

Get Behind Me Satan was a departure of sorts from their previous work - with a few rare exceptions, Jack stuck to the piano on this album, and although it wasn't as strong overall as Elephant, a few fun singles came out of it, including "My Doorbell". The song about waiting for love, then abandoning it for "my own friends; they're all above me" is a bouncy, lilting song that just wouldn't have worked as well with a guitar, even if Jack White was the one holding it.

11. Conquest
Album: Icky Thump

Another fun song, and the first of three covers on the list. The Stripes take Patti Page's song about lovers alternating roles as hunter and prey, and crank it up a notch, adding blaring trumpets to the grinding guitar sounds (the intro and coda are great fun to listen to). It's obviously not an easy song to reproduce live, but every so often you should be allowed to have one album-exclusive track that just lets the listener crack a smile.

10. The Hardest Button to Button
Album: Elephant

Along with the #9 entry, one of the mosic basic hooks of any of the White Stripes songs, and surprisingly, Jack doesn't do much improvisation on it; instead, he focuses more on driving home the lyrics ("I had opinions that didn't matter..."). Of course, the hook is still remarkably catchy, and Michel Gondry's music video plays off the steady rhythm off the song - well worth checking out.

9. Hand Springs
Album: N/A

Not officially released on any studio album (but was part of a compilation CD called Hot Pinball Rock - seriously), "Hand Springs" is a very simple song. Meg provides a basic yet rapid beat, over which Jack recites a spoken word bit about a boy's futile attempt to reconcile with his girlfriend at a bowling alley. During the chorus, Jack plays a basic six-note riff that really only gets tweaked at the end of the song. Still, the result is a raw and remarkably effective track.

8. Catch Hell Blues
Album: Icky Thump

Now we start getting back to Jack's guitar prowess really being showcased. The melody during the verses is heavy and constant, which then opens up to let Jack tear loose with some incredible solos, only to come right back down from his guitar-god cloud into the lock-step beat from before. The lyrics are fun ("If you go looking for hot water, don't get shocked if you get burned a little bit"), but it's the variance from drawn-out notes to frenetic guitar-playing that make this a fun track to check out.

7. Icky Thump

Album: Icky Thump

The title track, which still receives a fair amount of airplay on rock radio stations, is another typical Track 1 from the White Stripes - a charging, guitar-driven song that's slightly more complex than their usual fare. The lyrics are also slightly different in "Icky Thump", as the quick pounding beat almost forces Jack to sing with more urgency and emphasis than in other songs. Not their best Track 1, but definitely worth a listen.

6. St. James Infirmary Blues
Album: The White Stripes

The only track off their self-titled debut on the list is probably the biggest departure from their early sound on that CD, which makes sense, seeing as this is a cover of Louis Armstrong's well-known dirge. However, like a good cover song should (and much to the dismay of Satchmo fanatics), the Stripes' variation is something familiar and yet entirely foreign and new. Jack's piano rendition is less mournful and practically bouncy, like something you'd hear at one of those New Orleans jazz funerals, or perhaps in a Screamin' Jay Hawkins song. This song shows that, even in their early stages, the Stripes showed both a love of old jazz and blues, and the musical chops to come up with an entirely new and entertaining spin on a classic.

5. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Album: White Blood Cells

White Blood Cells can be seen as a transition album, from their raw, garage-rock sound to their more polished style. "Dead Leaves", the album's first track, declares the White Stripes' presence on the major rock scene from the very start with a loud feedback screech. The rest of the song is a tense, charging number that really accentuates Meg's drumming for a change, particularly in the chorus. The lyrics about waiting for a lover to return are hopeful yet brooding, and of course, Jack's guitar-playing, though low-key, is always worth a listen.

4. Death Letter
Album: De Stijl

An exceptional blues cover, the Stripes take blues legend Son House's song about the death of his true love and keep it close to the original. As with most blues songs, of course, there is room for improvisation during the guitar solos, and Jack makes the most of it, changing pitch and tempo with practically no break in rhythm, and Meg, almost intuitively, follows along perfectly. It's a great guitar song from a true legend, and the Stripes certainly do it justice.

3. The Denial Twist
Album: Get Behind Me Satan

Another piano-based song off their fifth album, "The Denial Twist" is a light, bouncy little track that combines catchy lyrics ("If you think that our kiss was all in the lips, well, you got it all wrong") with a simple piano rhythm that mimics Meg's drumbeat. The video is also worth checking out: another bit of eye candy from Michel Gondry that uses trick photography in a fun way. Oh, and did I mention that the video has CONAN FRICKIN O'BRIEN in it?!? I rest my case.

2. Fell in Love with a Girl
Album: White Blood Cells

Their breakout hit (very possibly aided by the well-known Lego music video, directed by - guess who? - Michel Gondry), this sub-2-minute romp doesn't really showcase Jack's guitar abilities (except the intro, perhaps); if anything, Meg's drumming seems to take over the song in places. But it's overall such a quick, rollicking song that it's practically pointless to analyze it. It's like a music sugar rush - you get amped up and energetic when listening to it, and once the song ends, the crash of silence is pretty overwhelming.

1. Seven Nation Army
Album: Elephant

What else could it be? "Seven Nation Army" is far and away their most popular track; even people who haven't heard of the White Stripes have most likely heard the famous 7-note riff at some point over the last six years (side note: Jack didn't use a bass on this song, he just used a whammy pedal to drive the notes down an octave). The song won a Grammy in 2004 and was named one of the 25 greatest guitar songs of all time by Rolling Stone, and its popularity is still evident today, as many soccer clubs' fan groups have adopted the riff as a chant (especially in Italy, oddly enough); the song has also been covered by a number of artists from a number of genres. This was truly the song where the White Stripes cemented their place as one of the top rock acts of the last decade, and Jack White rightfully earned his reputation as one of the best guitarists (if not THE best) of this generation. If you haven't heard the song: 1) Come out from under the rock. 2) Here's the video; you can thank me later. I accept payment in the form of money and giftcards to Target. Or if you can get me that "Under Blackpool Lights" DVD, then we're solid.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Could've Been....

So upon Pete's suggestion (see? I actually do listen to you guys sometimes...), I decided to make a list of the Top 12 (how rebellious) Athletes whose careers were shortened by injury or illness. The general purpose of this list is to look at the athletes that make you think, "How much greater could they have been if they stayed healthy?" The higher on the list, the more unfulfilled potential (in my opinion, of course). Before I start, let me just toss in a couple of guidelines:

1) The player must have played at least 5 years professionally. That's enough time to establish yourself as a top-class athlete.
2) No current players (with all due respect to Yao Ming and Mark Prior).
3) Sudden deaths do not count on this list (that goes for you, Len Bias), nor do sudden retirements (ditto, Barry Sanders).
4) Players whose careers were interrupted by war (i.e., Dimaggio and Ted Williams) were not included. If they had been, Teddy Ballgame would've no doubt been up here.

OK, with that, it's on to the list:

Honorable Mentions: Pavel Bure (3 time goal-scoring champion, 1992 NHL rookie of the year, missed over 300 games in 12 NHL seasons, retired in 2005)
Mark Fidrych (1976 AL Rookie of the Year, lowest ERA in majors that year, missed almost two years with a torn rotator cuff, retired in 1981)

12. Greg Lemond
3-time Tour de France Winner
Retired 1994 (age 33

History lesson for you kiddies: Before Lance Armstrong rode in on his shiny bike and kicked both France's and testicular cancer's ass, there was only one legendary American rider. Greg Lemond was a truly dominant rider whose endurance and strength were largely unmatched when he appeared on the scene. After being the first Yankee to win the Tour de France at age 25, it appeared he was setting up a dynasty. But in 1987, a freak hunting accident caused him to miss two years in recovery (he still has shotgun pellets resting in his body). The fact that he came back to win twice in '89 and '90 is a remarkable feat, but mitochondrial disease soon struck, and he could never regain the championship form. Since Lance won his last Tour at age 34, it seems that when Lemond claims that he could've won five Tours, he might have been selling himself short.

11. Lou Gehrig
6-time World Series champion, 2-time American League MVP, Triple Crown Winner
Retired 1939 (age 35)

The epitome of a legendary career cut short by circumstance. In all of baseball history, few are perhaps as underrated as the Iron Horse. He had a career .340 average (16th highest ever), drove in 1,995 RBI (5th all-time), famously played in 2,140 straight games (2nd all-time, and would've been longer before ALS forced his early retirement), and hit 493 career home runs in an era where hitting 20 in a season would make you an All-Star. Speaking of which, Gehrig was also selected for the first 7 AL All-Star Teams, the last one coming a week after he officially called it quits. Sure, it helped to have the Babe hit ahead of you in the lineup, but Gehrig was as fearsome a hitter and as tireless a worker as you could find. He may have only had a few good years left anyway had the disease which now bears his name not taken his strength (and eventually his life). Still, had he only finished up that 1939 season, he would still be only 1 of 3 players in baseball history with 500 home runs and 2,000 RBI (with Ruth and Hank Aaron). It was a truly remarkable career that sadly ended in a way that no career should.

10. Mario Lemieux
2-time Stanley Cup champion, 3-time MVP, 6-time scoring champ, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Olympic gold medalist
Retired 1997 (age 32), 2006 (age 40)

OK, I know it's odd to say that someone who retired at 40 had his career shortened, especially when he won 2 championships, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and became the owner of the franchise before he hung up his skates. But the scary part is, he could've had an even greater career had he not missed so many games. He missed 2 months in 92 to undergo treatment for Hodgkin's Disease; he missed 48 games in 1993 - and all of the '95 season - with back problems, which eventually caused his first retirement in 1997. He came back in 2000, but still had injury issues, appearing in only 24 games in the '02 season and just TEN in the '04 campaign. He finally called it quits in 2006 after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Overall, in a stretch of 13 seasons (not counting the 3 he missed during his retirement), Mario played in just 461 out of a possible 1,056 games - in his entire career, he never had a season where he played 80 games (Gretzky, by comparison, achieved that feat 8 times). Considering the fact that Lemieux averaged nearly 2 points a game, had he played all those games he had missed, his numbers would be awfully close to Gretzky's all-time scoring records, and the Penguins might have conceivably picked up another Cup along the way. Nevertheless, Mario has had an extraordinary career; it's just interesting to wonder how much greater he could've been completely healthy.

9. Mike Bossy
4-time Stanley Cup champion, 5-time All-Star, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee
Retired 1987 (age 30)

Quite possibly one of the most underrated players in NHL history, Mike Bossy was also perhaps the deadliest goal-scorer in the game. In an era where Gretzky, Lafleur, and later Lemieux dominated the headlines, Bossy quietly used his blazing shot to help lead the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups. In 1981, he became only the 2nd player in NHL history to score 50 goals in his team's first 50 games - in fact, in his first nine NHL seasons, he scored at least 50 goals every time; not even the Great One can make that claim. He is also 4th all-time with 7 100-point seasons, and he also racked up 3 Lady Byng Awards for sportsmanship. However, recurring back problems forced him to the sidelines in 1987, and he was never able to come back. As the league gained popularity at the end of the decade, its greatest pure shooter was unfortunately left behind.

8. Earl Campbell
1977 Heisman winner, 1979 NFL MVP, 3-time All-Pro, NFL Hall of Famer
Retired 1985 (age 31)

When running backs like Adrian Peterson show up on the scene, they're inevitably compared to the Tyler Rose. Earl Campbell was truly a specimen: 6 feet tall, 240 lbs., and could run the 40 in 4.5 seconds. After an incredible college career, he signed with the Houston Oilers and continued to earn accolades. When he wasn't flying past his would-be tacklers, he simply plowed into them and ran them over. Even against stacked defenses, he'd still average nearly 5 yards per carry, and he led the league in rushing 3 straight years. However, the power running, as it does for so many halfbacks, took its toll, and by the time he was traded to New Orleans in 1983, people had already declared Earl's career to be over. Not only was that the case, but the punishment he received (and dished out) over his too-brief career also forced him to use a wheelchair to get around. A sad reminder of how tough the business of football can be.

7. Cam Neely
5-time All-Star, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee
Retired 1996 (age 30)

I'll admit it; Cam Neely was one of my favorite players to watch growing up (only behind Lemieux). He was a great shooter, a deceptively good puck-handler (here's some evidence of that), and one tough son-of-a-bitch. Along with Brendan Shanahan, he was the prototypical power-forward - a guy who could beat you with his fists and with his stick (not in the Marty McSorley definition of the term). In the 1991 playoffs, he took a cheap shot to the knee from Ulf Samuelsson - unfortunately, the leg did not heal right, and part of the muscle actually calcified. The fact that Neely could even continue playing is surprising, but he never played more than 50 games in a season ever again. Having said that, he was still a phenomenal player, racking up an impressive 50 goals in 44 games during the '94 season. Alas, the injuries caught up to him, and he was forced to retire from hockey far too early. On the bright side, he has done great charity work off the rink, and who can forget him as Sea Bass in Dumb & Dumber? Still, it would've been nice to have seen him hammer away on a few more dudes before his days on the ice had come to an end....

6. Marco van Basten
2-time World Player of the Year, 2 European Championships
Retired 1995 (age 31)

One of the most gifted strikers of the 1980s, Marco van Basten broke onto the world stage at an early age. After a few seasons with Ajax (where he scored this beauty), he transferred over to Milan, where he would help lead his team to two European championships and three Italian titles. Although the Netherlands was not as strong as they had been in the past, he performed admirably on the international stage, enough to be awarded the World Player of the Year Award on two occasions as well. However, upon his transfer to Milan, ankle injuries kept nagging away at him, and after the 1993 season, he underwent major surgery to fix them. The problem never really was solved, however, and van Basten was forced to retire in 1995, two years after he played his last match. Had he been healthy and in good form, the Dutch may very well have won the World Cup in 1994.

5. Bobby Orr
2-time Stanley Cup champ, 3-time MVP, 2-time scoring champ, 8-time Norris trophy winner, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee
Retired 1979 (age 31)

As with Lemieux, it might be a little off-putting to see someone with such overwhelming credentials to be so high up on this list. But even more than Lemieux, Orr had the potential to be even greater than he already was had injuries not killed his career. To put it simply, Orr changed the game: he was the first defenseman to be successful at joining the attacking rush, and he went all over the ice to make a play. He is still the only defenseman to win a scoring title, let alone 2 of them, and his tenacity helped the Bruins win 2 Stanley Cups (see the picture). However, as Orr himself has said, when you move all over the ice that much, you're going to take a pounding; as such, his knees began deteriorating at a rapid pace. By the age of 28, he was barely able to play - in his last 3 seasons (spent with the Bruins and Blackhawks), Orr played a total of 26 games. Yes, he did have ten phenomenal seasons, but after a dozen knee surgeries, you just can't be an effective player anymore. Sadly enough, had he been playing with today's advances in arthroscopic surgery, he might have had a few extra years in him. That's the sad part about being an innovator - you're too often stuck in the wrong time period to last.

4. Gale Sayers
5-time NFL All-Pro, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer
Retired 1971 (age 28)

When you talk about great rookie seasons, Sayers's performance in 1965 should be near the top of the list. The Bears speedster ran for a then-NFL record 22 touchdowns, including 6 in one game against San Francisco (still the record). In three of his six seasons, he led the NFL in rushing yards, and he was also a beast on kick returns; in 1966, he set the NFL record with 2,440 all-purpose yards. Unfortunately, as is the case with most speed backs, severe injuries on both knees put him on the shelf in 1970, and once the speed was gone, so was he. Since his retirement, he has had great success in the stock market and as a philanthropist (he was also well-known for the movie Brian's Song, one of only three movies men are legally allowed to cry at while watching - Old Yeller and Field of Dreams being the other two). Still, as accomplished as he is off the field, it is a shame he only had 5 full seasons to impress us with his athleticism and all-out speed.

3. Terrell Davis
Super Bowl XXXII MVP, NFL MVP, 3rd man in NFL history to rush for 2000 yds in one season
Retired 2001 (age 29)

Speaking of someone whose legs failed them, TD was an absolute monster when he burst onto the scene in the late 90's. Sure, the Broncos always had solid running backs, but Davis was as strong as he was fast, and opposing defenses had few solutions for him. And while John Elway famously won his first Super Bowl in 1998, it was Davis who gained MVP honors with a 3-TD performance. The following season, he rushed for 2,008 yards, joining OJ Simpson and Eric Dickerson in the prestigious 2,000-Yard Club, and the Broncos repeated as Super Bowl champs. However, that was the beginning of the end for Davis. Early in the '99 season, he torn his ACL and MCL. The next season, a stress fracture caused him to miss significant time. And in 2001, he had to have arthroscopic surgery on both knees. At that point, he decided enough was enough and retired at 29, just three years after his greatest accomplishment. If his legs had not given out on him so much, he could've easily become one the NFL's all-time greatest rushers. Unfortunately, the injury bug does not consider potential before striking.

2. Vincent "Bo" Jackson
1985 Heisman winner, 1989 All-Star Game MVP, 1990 Pro Bowl
Retired NFL 1991 (age 30), MLB 1994 (age 34)

If there has ever been a more complete physical freak of nature than Bo Jackson, I would love to see him or her (OK, him. No offense, ladies.) There was the most insane, over-the-top hype machine behind him (Bo Knows Money); there were the urban-legend stories about just how impressive his athleticism was ("Did he really outrun Carl Lewis? Did he hit a 600-ft home run? Did he bench-press thoroughbreds in the off-season?"); of course, there were the actual documented feats that were just as impressive (the "wall run" catch for the Royals, the Monday Night game where he made Brian Bosworth his personal bee-yotch); and of course, his single greatest legacy to mankind. Seriously, anyone who says Michael Vick was a better video game athlete should get punched in the face and made to look at that video with their eyelids held open, Clockwork Orange-style. Maybe a lot of it was hype, maybe some of it was steroids, who knows? (Well, we've already established that Bo does, smartass.) Still, one fluke tackle in 1991 was enough to dislocate his hip (which earned urban-legend status itself) and end his football career, and considerably damage his baseball career until the strike ended it for good in 1994. It was perhaps better that it was over quickly - we all got swept up in the hype, and the ride was over before we could really determine how much of the Bo myth was smoke and mirrors, and whether he was really as amazing as we all thought. But it sure would've been nice to see him crush a few more homers and obliterate linebackers for a little while longer, though.... that shit never gets old. Neither do the 99-yard Tecmo Bowl runs. Greatest. Virtual Athlete. EVER.

1. Sandy Koufax
4-time World Series champ, 3-time NL Cy Young, 1963 NL MVP, 4 career no-hitters
Retired 1966 (age 30)

It seems unfortunate that when people talk of the greatest pitchers ever, they name guys like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, or Cy Young, but they tend to skip over one of the most impressive (but sadly not so durable) pitchers in history: Sandy Koufax. With today's training staff and physiologists, it's very hard for a pitcher to "pitch until his arm falls off". Pitch counts, 5-man rotations, middle relievers, PEDs (oh, wait, am I not supposed to talk about that?) keep pitchers around a lot longer than they used to. You can bet your ass that if Sandy Koufax had been playing today, the Dodgers would be doing everything in their power to keep his arm fresh. To put it mildly, during a 6-year stretch from 1961-66, Koufax was more dominant than any pitcher in major league history. His fastball and 12-6 curveball were practically untouchable, even when the opponents knew they were coming. And since he was so dominant, the Dodgers kept putting him on the mound (usually 40 starts per season). Of course, reminiscent of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, their dependence on Koufax caused his arm to degenerate quickly from arthritis. Of course, he still wanted to pitch, and did so for two more years; he even threw a perfect game in 1965, even though he was taking a laundry list of pain medication. Finally, after the 1966 season, Koufax had no choice but to end a career that included an MVP Award, 3 Cy Youngs, 4 world championships, 4 no-hitters (then a record), and he remains 6th all-time in strikeouts per 9 innings. His retirement was unfortunately a reflection of the times in which he played - you threw until you couldn't throw anymore. Had he received better treatment, it's possible he could've had five or six more seasons of quality pitching, and then any conversation about the greatest pitcher of all-time would probably start and end with Koufax.

As with all these athletes, he had a great run, and you just wish they could go out on their own terms. But just like life, sports isn't always fair - the ball bounces the wrong way, the ref screws you over, or you take one wrong step, and then "What's next" becomes the saddest two words in sports: "What if?"

Monday, February 15, 2010

California Über Alles

So I was thinking of creating different sorts of pop culture Top 10 lists, as you may have remembered if you saw the first post I made here (if you didn't, well... now you know, and apparently that's half the battle. The other half? Big ass guns.) And I was listening to stuff on my iPod when I asked myself, "What's the best band California ever produced?" Suddenly, a light bulb went on in my head (an EnergyStar - gotta think of the environment!), and so I decided to compile of a list of - in my opinion - the 10 Greatest Rock Bands from California. This is a list of the bands whose success and influence, along with their talent (obviously), made them stand out from all the others.

Now, before I start the list, let me tell you that this was a lot more daunting task than I first imagined. The variety of styles is as diverse as the landscape in the Golden State. Over the last 50 years, Cali has given us punk, metal, surf rock, psychedelic rock, funk, new wave, ska, and more. I tried to get as many different styles as I could on this list, but when you limit yourself to 10, you end up having to make tough choices, like which child you "accidentally" leave behind at the house while you go off to spend Christmas in Paris (you still can't convince me that wasn't on purpose...). For example, here's just a small number of the bands I left out: Bad Religion; The Bangles; Black Flag; Blink-182; The Byrds; Counting Crows; Creedence Clearwater Revival; The Go-Go's; Incubus; Jane's Addiction; Jefferson Airplane; Linkin Park; Mothers of Invention; Motley Crue; No Doubt; NOFX; The Offspring; Rage Against the Machine; Rancid; Santana; Slayer; Sly and the Family Stone; Social Distortion; Stone Temple Pilots; Sublime; Tool; Weezer; and X. Whew. As it is, I'm probably missing some big name act, and will have to revisit this list again. Dang.... Oh well, on with the show!

10. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Started: Los Angeles, 1983
Signature Albums: Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Californication

Since forming in 1983 - hold it, they've been around for 27 years?!? How did I miss this fact? - RHCP has sold countless albums while retaining their original sound (would've been the original roster until John Frusciante left last year). Befitting a city as ethnically diverse as LA, their sound is a mix of hard rock, punk, and funk, the last part thanks largely to the often-underrated bass-player Flea. It seems that they have a few quiet years before releasing a monster album, but when you've been successful for a quarter-century, I suppose you learn how to pace yourself.

9. Green Day
Started: Berkeley, 1987
Signature Albums: Dookie, American Idiot

It would be easy to find reasons to keep this trio off the list - their sound is too much pop-punk; they've become sell-outs; "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" was vastly overplayed; etc. And while many of the complaints hold water, it's hard to overlook the fact that they've been a very successful band despite (or perhaps, because) of those changes. And even though it does make me sad about the state of rock music in general, it has to be said that American Idiot was one of the best rock albums in the last decade (there's an idea for the next Top 10 list, perhaps...)

8. Dead Kennedys
Started: San Francisco, 1978
Signature Albums: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, Frankenchrist

Arguably the most influential punk band not to come out of England or New York City, DK spent most of the 1980's as the figureheads of the anti-Reagan, anti-censorship, anti-authoritarian movement. One of their more subtle assets was their ability to cross-breed their punk sound with other genres, like funk and folk. They were not averse to writing silly songs, like "Too Drunk to F**k", but when push came to shove, they could create a scathing condemnation of society as well as anyone. Bonus points for the lead singer being named Jello, and for giving me the title for this blog post (great song, too - definitely check it out).

7. The Eagles
Started: Los Angeles, 1971
Signature Albums: Eagles, Hotel California

OK, if you were born after 1980, go through your parents' record collection (hint: they're vinyl) - chances are good there's at least one Eagles album in there (but if it's Desperado, feel free to laugh at them). They certainly weren't the hardest-rocking band ever, but their mix of rock and folk music was a damn potent combination - their Greatest Hits compilation ranks only behind Thriller as the highest-selling album of all time in the US, and the gap is not nearly as big as you'd think. Toss in one of the most acrimonious break-ups in music history, and you've got a hell of a legacy.

6. Van Halen
Started: Pasadena, 1972
Signature Albums: 1984, Van Halen

Speaking of acrimonious breakups.... There are 3 camps of Van Halen fans: The Roth fans (AKA - the right ones), the Hagar fans (AKA - the naive ones), and the ones who actually thought Gary Cherone was a decent frontman (AKA - the morons). The band's biggest successes and wildest stories all come from the Diamond Dave era, so we'll stick to that. As much as the punk bands of the early 80's were singing about rebellion and dissention, Van Halen was singing about girls, teachers, and more girls. And Panama. But it was fantastic fun, because they were everything a rock band should be - talented (namely Eddie), charismatic (namely David), and ultimately a way for us to forget about the stresses of life and focus on the fun stuff. Like girls. And jumping.

5. Metallica
Started: Los Angeles, 1981
Signatue Albums: Metallica, Master of Puppets

It's kind of a shame, really, that for the last decade or so, when people mentioned Metallica, most people thought not of songs like "Enter Sandman", "One", "Whiplash", or any of their other excellent tracks, but of Lars Ulrich crying like a 3-year-old who just got his favorite toy taken away. Regardless of what side you take in the DRM/royalties/Napster debate, it was a little off-putting to see the drummer from perhaps the most famous metal band on the planet looking so downright annoying ("Some Kind of Monster" didn't do much to change that). And yet, despite that and the never-ending carousel of bassists, they seem to keep plugging along. Death Magnetic is their best work in years, and it seems (for now, at least) that people have started to remember that these guys could write some truly epic pieces of rock music.

4. The Beach Boys
Started: Hawthorne, 1961
Signature Albums: Pet Sounds, Surfin' Safari

Again, it would be easy to dismiss their contributions to rock music by saying that they only could write about surfing, and that they couldn't stay relevant after the Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967. But that's doing an incredible disservice to the band. First, what's wrong with writing about surfing? I've never even been to California, and those songs make me reminisce about Malibu somehow. That's skill. Second, don't overlook Brian Wilson's writing abilities - when the British Invasion came over, he took a very bold step at the time and altered the band's sound to compete with the Stones and the Beatles (and in the process, came up with fantastic songs like "Good Vibrations" - no, not the Marky Mark one). And during their near 50-year career (yes, you read that right), they have sold more albums and singles than any other American band - suck on that, Aerosmith! Finally, I'm not sure whether I should've subtracted or added bonus points for the band having John Stamos as the drummer for a while....

3. Guns N' Roses
Started: Hollywood, 1985
Signature Albums: Appetite for Destruction, Use Your Illusion I & II

What was not to love about this band? You had guys named Axl, Slash, Duff, and Izzy, who all looked like they needed a shower but were too f**kin' cool for soap (they just got drunk until the booze covered up the smell of sweat, anyway). They partied hard, destroyed hotel rooms, hooked up with models (PS - what happened to Stephanie Seymour? Is she a MILF now? We need answers!), and most importantly, they were a damn good band. Even though their covers of Dylan, Wings, and the Stones were brilliantly done, it is their original work which truly makes them praise-worthy. "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Welcome to the Jungle" still sound as good today as they did 20 years ago (good God, this blog is making me feel old...), and they could write power ballads as well as anyone ("Don't Cry", "Patience", "November Rain"(kinda), etc.). It's been a shame to see them go their separate ways, but it was fun while it lasted, and besides, every good rock band needs to get pissed off and break up. So thanks again, Axl!

2. Grateful Dead
Started: San Francisco, 1965
Signature Albums: American Beauty, Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel

For most other lists, it would be rather bizarre to rank so highly a band that, over a lifespan of three decades, has only had one Top 40 hit ("Touch of Grey"). But you would be hard-pressed to find any band who has maintained such a vast and loyal following as the Dead. Hell, how many other bands do you know whose fanbase even has a name? Obviously, their cultural resonance is solid; I think everyone has seen the dancing bears or the lightning-bolt skull affixed to somebody's car/backpack/laptop, and who doesn't love Cherry Garcia (besides Communists)? But make no mistake - the Dead knew how to put on a show. Often called the forerunner of jam bands like Phish, the Dead's concerts were full of eclectic styles, including folk, jazz, and prog-rock, and songs would often go over 10 minutes and contain wild improvisations that were unlike anything on the album. It was like a very long jam session, and when you add in the fact that they willingly let the Deadheads tape their shows, you get a band who loves their fans, loves to perform, and gets loved unconditionally in return. OK, maybe marijuana plays a tiny factor too, but you know a Dead concert is an experience. And that's what music should be about.

1. The Doors
Started: Los Angeles, 1965
Signature Albums: The Doors, Morrison Hotel

If one were to create a band that fit So-Cal, you'd probably need a checklist of qualities, such as:
* Talent - This one is fairly obvious. Their lyrics have often been regarded by critics as poetry, and the guitar/organ work included some of the most famous hooks in the history of rock music. Check.
* Attractive lead singer - Check. I'm perfectly comfortable in admitting that even though I'm totally straight, I so would have f**ked Jim Morrison. And to all you guys who were laughing at that statement, I have 3 words: You would, too.
* Collection of hits - let's see... "Light My Fire", "Break On Through", "Whiskey Bar", "People Are Strange", "Touch Me", "Peace Frog", "Love Her Madly"... do I have to continue, or can I just say "Check"? Thought so.
* Short shelf-life - Sadly, Check. Morrison died in 1971, likely from a drug overdose (how rock-star of him), so the full band was only around for 6 years. And it wasn't even a full six, because portions of that time involved some sort of legal adventure. Which leads me to...
* Controversy - Big Check. Not even so much the fact that they were all tripping on drugs at some point, because, frankly, who wasn't? This is more about the time in Miami when Morrison insulted practically everyone in the audience and whipped his Lizard King out, thereby causing a media firestorm, and leading him to be charged with public indecency. Rock on.
* Having Oliver Stone make a movie about you - No. That never happened. You can't convince me of this.
* Legacy - It's been almost 30 years since they played a note together, but their songs still hold up now, and they still sell records at a steady pace. Sure, they're not as famous as the Beatles, or the Stones, or Elvis, or even some of the other bands on this list. But they rode their star all the way to the top, burned out quickly, and took everyone for a hell of a ride along the way. That's So-Cal. And that's rock & roll.