it’s no secret that i think jon stewart is one of the best people on tv, so naturally i quite enjoyed this NY magazine profile on him and his staff. a little ‘how the sausage gets made’ tour behind the scenes. (side note: NYmag puts out some amazing feature-length articles. i feel almost guilty that i’m tempted to subscribe, while i’ve never read an issue of LAmag… assuming there must be one, right?)
anyway, though the article deftly describes stewart and team’s approach to their uniquely whip-smart brand of comedy, there was an added little bit that got my attention as a person also in the ‘ideas’ business. not that i’m comparing what i do in either relevance or quality to what they do on the daily show, but still, they must have a pretty successful formula to put out such top notch stuff four nights a week most weeks of the year.
in rough terms, their process seems to be:
— get in early and get to work.
— get in a room with a lot of smart (and in this case, funny) people and toss things around, keeping the best stuff to dig into further.
— do your homework; or rather, have a team of people on hand to help with the details.
— as a corollary, don’t get buried in information yourself, because…
— things are getting rewritten right up until the last minute, and in the end you’ll know what works..
— and what doesn’t work. don’t be afraid to cut that part. go with your gut.
obviously it helps if you have incredibly smart, motivated people around you, but still, not a bad system. the main thing i’m missing is probably #3; maybe i should have got an intern after all…
watched this video today, the first part in an ongoing series, which i’m interested enough to follow up on. it reminded me of another archaeological music study on one specific sample called ‘the amen break‘ that a coworker shared a few years back.
what i like about this clip though is that it seems to promise that in future episodes, it will explore more of the implications of the endless remixing of culture, which is what’s fascinating. is all culture just other culture mixed around, sometimes even blatantly, and are we okay with that? do we maybe even prefer it?
if so, i can stop trying so hard to come up with new ideas and just spend a lot more time surfing the internet for old ones to ‘remix’…
well, for one: i love the format and presentation of this web magazine triple canopy. it feels the right size to be read in a browser but it flips from page to page elegantly without load times. the importance of that cannot be understated. (is this the beginning of ipad lust?)
but more importantly: this particular article, an interview with the creator of criterion collection (among other new-media ventures), was mostly fascinating in a semi-nerdy way except for this one incredibly amazing tidbit:
Bob Stein: Yes. It was just of one of those things where—I mean, I like movies, but I’m not a movie buff. I just knew I could do something interesting with them. You have to understand how much of this stuff is accidental. I knew the guy who was the curator of films at the LA County Museum of Art, and I brought him to New York to oversee color correction. He’s telling us all these amazing stories, particularly about King Kong, because it’s his favorite film. Someone said, “Gee, we’ve got this extra sound track on the LaserDisc, why don’t you tell these stories?” He was horrified at the idea, but we promised we’d get him superstoned if he did, and he gave this amazing discussion about the making of King Kong, which we released as the second sound track.
Interviewer: And that was the start of what became DVD extras.
just once, at some point in my life, i hope and i hope and i hope that i’ll make an offhanded comment that leads to something so original and cool as the dvd commentary. damn you, crazy genius nerd.
tonight i saw a movie called catfish. the marketing is all very secretive — the tagline is actually “don’t let anyone tell you what it is”, ugh — in a ploy to generate buzz for what’s actually a pretty fascinating, but really not that edgy or out there movie. but this isn’t about the film; i’ll talk about that more over here in the next few days probably.
what i wanted to put to a vote was something i’ve done a few times now. i go to some event in los angeles that i really enjoy. say, the pavement show i mentioned yesterday, or the new pornographers show from last month. or in this case, an early screening for a film that was a big hit at sundance. then a few hours later, i come home and do a twitter search for other people that just did the same thing, and click on a few to see if there are any rad locals whose blogs i could read or tweets i could follow, or so on.
on the surface, this may sound a little weird and obsessive, sure (especially if you happened to just see the film catfish). but isn’t this out-of-the-ordinary behavior of mine exactly what social technology should be used for? connecting people digitally who might be friends if only given the ice-breaking opportunity in real life?
admittedly, it’s only led to a few people worth following (one onion writer, for example, and a couple all-purpose nerds), and it’s not like i’ve forged any friendships this way — but i’d like to think it could happen, and it could be great. in fact, what i find more depressing is that a lot of the people i click on who share my interests still don’t seem that cool. either my standards are way too specific, or an awful lot of LA people just aren’t very interesting.
(yeah, okay, shut up bay area, NY, pac NW, and all other regions of non-LA friends who tagged a mental ‘duh’ onto that last sentence. i like it here.)
so yes, the question: creepy or not creepy? good idea or waste of energy?
Last week, we found out via an interview that Weezer are toying with the idea of doing a whole tour playing only their classic first albums, the self-titled “Blue” album and Pinkerton. As someone who was infatuated with those two albums during my formative years, this struck me as an outstanding idea. Only later did it strike me how weird it is for a band that’s still recording new music to essentially admit publicly that there’s a whole load of people who’d prefer just the old stuff.
Not that this is an entirely new idea; the Pixies did a whole tour just playing their classic album Doolittle. I recently saw a show by the reunited Pavement, part of a tour that singer Stephen Malkmus said flat out in an interview was all about playing the songs everyone wanted to hear. And I ate it up. That show was incredible.
Of course, the fact that these sort of shows are now appealing so strongly to me does point out that I have officially become part of a new age bracket in some definable form. Not unlike the people in Chuck Klosterman’s essay on people who take classic-rock-themed cruise vacations.
My theory is that I have crossed over an apex, which everyone will probably do some day, just not necessarily at the same point in their lives. Before this apex we are hungry for newness, as much as possible, so we can sort through it and pick out what we like — the things we’ll grow to love and use to define who we are. During this stage we wrap ourselves in cultural artifacts that match the personality we imagine for ourselves. Manly men (football players/fans who know what a nickel package is) or sensitive artists (people who can quote poetry or Smiths lyrics), we all soak up our identity from stimulus in the world. And whatever we immerse ourselves in during this phase will always be a part of us. This was the phase during which I loved Weezer, for example. I don’t just like that music, I have a relationship with it.
The apex is the point we essentially figure out who we are. Sure, this might happen at different points for different people (going to college surely extends it a few years, for example), and even for different aspects of life (our career apex may not coincide with our personality apex, for example), but eventually things get more or less decided. After that apex, we know well enough who we are, and well enough what we like, and just want to get on with enjoying it. The need to keep endlessly searching for something or trying to prove ourselves to the world starts to diminish.
This isn’t meant to be depressing, as if I just realized I’ve peaked and it’s all downhill from here. (Since I haven’t had calculus in a while, I’m probably using the wrong term or drawing a bad mental graph. Should asymptotes be involved?) What I really mean is, at least with regards to music, I’m on the other side of urgency. New bands come along that I love, and that’s great. Old bands release music and maybe it’s not the best, but now I have enough of a frame of reference to know that. I grew up with some great music, and I’ll always love hearing those songs no matter what. But my relationship with any of it — all of it — has changed, because I’m not desperate to fill the empty vessel of me-ness anymore.
Nostalgia is an acceptable indulgence as long as it doesn’t erase all critical capacity; it’s okay to have a soft spot for fond memories, as long as we’re still open to creating new ones. I’ll totally see Weezer play all their old music, just like I’ll go to FYF Fest next month and see a bunch of cool up-and-coming bands. But it’s comforting to know I’m past the point where I’ll have to pretend to like all of them.
so today i was reading a blog post that some person on twitter linked. because that’s what i do instead of blogging much these days — i click on links in tweets. this is what life has become.
anyway, my first reaction was, ‘oh boy, another person who’s made an infographic that claims to be insightful merely by being visual.’ it’s a cute chart, sure, but clever charts are just how designers write essays, because they hate words. i was ready to brush it off.
then i kept reading, and well, it’s not that. it’s actually a pretty thorough, friendly explanation of how one game designer gets more creativity out of his team. nothing groundbreaking here — we all know there’s no secret sauce beyond lots of work, a little fearlessness and a smart editor — but still, the kind of thing it’s good to read once in a while, to remind ourselves that we’re all struggling to be cleverer than we sometimes feel. if a chart or some new terminology helps, have at it. but i’ll admit, by the end i was a little bit inspired.
mostly, this struck a nerve because i’ve been feeling creatively insecure lately, like i’m a B+ guy in a C- world that’ll never catch up to the A team. a fool to be pitied, as it were. maybe i am, but i hope i’m not. or at least that with a little well-directed effort, i don’t have to be.
so as i pack tomorrow for a little short vacation/long weekend (depending on the fullness of your cup), i will be thinking of a few things: 1) how much beer i can consume over four days in atlanta, and 2) how to sharpen up by putting this blog to better use. i mean, the chart says that ideas follow from ideas, and more cycles means more green ribbons. wait, maybe i’m reading it wrong. nonetheless, maybe i can kill two birds with one stone by not wasting this space and trying to inject a little more inspiration into my day and yours.
but first the beer part.
ah, the food truck craze. it’s interesting to see the back and forth over whether it’s a fad, whether it’s good or bad for businesses, or the city, if they’re parking or serving illegally, blah blah blah. All that seems like a lot of whining, frankly.
in the past few weeks we’ve gone on a bit of a food truck spree. several we drove to specifically because we wanted to try them: frysmith‘s fries with mediterranean beef or thai chicken were excellent; lee’s philly makes a decent sandwich, and the gogi beef variety is not bad.
i’m lucky enough that a few have found the neighborhood where i work, so i’ve had a killer cheesesteak from south philly experience, fantastic saltado from lomo arigato, and well, a decent effort at the dim sum truck.
then there was the week i took off in january and went to a new one almost every day on wilshire for lunch. barbie’s q hooked me up with some yummy tri-tip sandwich action and india jones slung some tasty chicken frankies (like a bombay version of a burrito).
my favorite might be nom nom though, just because there’s hardly anywhere you can even get banh mi (vietnamese sandwiches) near where i live.
overdone? yeah, you might say that. it has all the signs of a gold rush that’ll get saturated and over-exploited and end up leaving people cold and bitter. and possibly hungry. we can make jokes about not eating in restaurants anymore, or be angry at cops who give citations and keep us from trying out the ones we’ve been waiting to come to our corner, but it all seems immature. it’s a new entrepreneurial business model. aren’t small businesses the one thing america has the biggest fetish for?
what this is all about for me though is sidewalk culture. if i can walk five blocks, — in los angeles, where no one walks — to get a lunch, i’ll do it. but if there are only a few lunch spots in walking distance, i’ll get sick of those things and walk less over time. if, instead, a different truck comes by my neighborhood every day of the week, i’ll walk more often, eat out more often, possibly chat with neighbors more often while we’re waiting for our food.
it’d be stupid to think these people will destroy restaurant culture, because the food is not better, and come on, people like to sit down to eat. but there’s a unique personal element to buying from just a few people in a truck versus the formality of a restaurant, and a sense of community that comes from waiting in a group on a sidewalk that doesn’t happen when waiting for a table in a restaurant. i’m a big fan of that part of the equation, even if the dumplings aren’t quite what i’d hoped.
and until we live in the world of the fifth element, and mobile food vendors come right up to our balcony at lunch, i’ll take any chance to get out on the street and mix with some friendly fellow gluttons. bring on the trucks, i say.
i think i eat up entertainment almost compulsively. every minute not occupied by work, or social obligation, or eating, or say, making out (and there’s always time for that!) — or in other words any minute of downtime — i have to be working through my many backlogs of entertainment options. netflix queue, video games to play, books to read, all that. there’s so much out there and i’m only gonna be around for so long, how can i not feel pressure to fit it all in? (wow, that sounds a lot darker than i meant it to).
anyway, a side effect of that compulsion is that the more i see/hear/read/watch/play, the more desensitized i get. what for most of america seems like a really rad movie, like, say, avatar, to a zealot like myself falls so much farther down the scale even if i can enjoy and appreciate it for what it is. by the same token, the things that get me really excited — the cool, groundbreaking, out-of-the-box stuff like synecdoche, ny or oldboy — a lot of the population would probably find impenetrable, boring, super-weird or just confusing. same thing with music. so much of what i hear i think, ‘that is garbage, how can people love that?’ essentially, i worry sometimes that i’m so far immersed into entertainment that i’m distancing myself from normal people’s experience of it. and then i worry that it’s making me a worse critic, a worse writer, possibly a worse person, and that ‘snob’ isn’t just a playful jab but a justified condemnation.
but then i hear something like yeasayer’s ‘O.N.E.‘ and think, ‘holy shit, this is just pure and simple goodness. anyone who doesn’t like this really is wrong. i don’t like it because it meets some lofty standards of rigorous intellectual examination. i like it because it feels good on a totally non-critical level that demands a proper turning of the volume knob toward radical.
then i feel better and get back to writing about how what you think is awesome is actually kind of stupid and what you think is crappy is actually really great, and i can go on with my day.
partially because i wanted to post again in this new format as i work out the kinks, partially because i didn’t want to leave it unrecorded, let me tell you what i did two weekends ago.
through work, one of our vendor companies invited us out to a sunday afternoon scavenger hunt, so a handful of coworkers and i showed up around noon outside the LA public library. but this wasn’t your old-fashioned ‘find as many obscure items on this list as you can’ scavenger hunt. this was a well-orchestrated adventure chase more in the style of the amazing race, with cryptic clues that led to each next step of the game. to get through as many steps (and earn as many points) as possible, we had to crack codes, solve riddles, figure out hidden messages with disappearing ink or blacklights, talk to undercover agents milling around like regular people, all while running like crazy people around a roughly 10-block radius up and down the streets and many, many stairs of downtown. what i was tempted to skip because it sounded lame and was taking up my sunday turned out to be the most fun i’ve had in ages.
of course, the vendor in question also paid for the bar tab afterward, which didn’t hurt, but that part can’t help you. what could is that the company they hired to put on this game, ravenchase, also does public events or can be hired for your own private games. just saying, anyone planning corporate events or themed parties might want to look this up. also, anyone who hears about an event from these guys or any other public scavenger hunt game and thinks it all sounds cheesy may be right, but just accept the cheese and go with it, because it’s a blast.
side note: jessica, who is a huge fan of amazing race, was so jealous she couldn’t come that i had to promise to go to a future public race after gushing about the experience once i returned.
other side note: did i mention my team won and we got $100 each, AND a trophy for our office? seriously, if you’re doing one of these and want a pro on your team, you know who to call. just saying.