Friday, August 21, 2009

This Boggles My Mind

Robert Zemeckis is planning to re-make Yellow Submarine. This cannot be a good idea.
Incidentally, I think the new songs the Beatles released for Yellow Submarine are some of their most underrated work. One of the long-time Beatles parlor games to try to imagine what a single-disc White Album (as George Martin would have preferred it) would have consisted of. Google "single-disc white album Beatles" and you'll get a whole bunch of attempts; most simply approach the task as whittling away half of the album's tracks into something catchier and less noodly than the actual classic album the Beatles released.

Several years ago, though, I found online a much more detailed approach to the problem that I unfortunately cannot seem to find now. On this particular site, instead of just imagining that the Beatles would throw away half of the songs on the double album, they tried to figure out how those songs would have been released in a single-disc White Album world. They started with the Yellow Submarine soundtrack being instead released as a sort of "Songs from Yellow Submarine and other songs," with the first side identical to the original release's, and the second side using songs from the White Album that would fit better with the tone of the Yellow Submarine tunes. Unfortunately, I don't remember which songs they chose, but their picks seemed to make sense. Then they figured that "Revolution 9" would have ended up on a Plastic Ono Band release (sounds reasonable) and that a couple of other tracks would have made for a good single (remember that the Beatles frequently released songs on singles that weren't featured on the original British albums). Or maybe they split up the double-A-sided "Hey Jude"/"Revolution" single and chose a couple of other songs as B-sides to those monster hits.

Anyway, I don't remember which songs they picked for what, but I do remember that their reasoning was sound and that the end result would have been pretty good --- Yellow Submarine would have become a much better album, and the remaining White Album (maybe keeping the title A Doll's House) would have still been pretty good. A fun parlor game, but in the end, I think the Beatles were right to release the White Album as a double disc. The material's weird and unconventional and is a great example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts, as the odder songs seem better when seen in context as the result of a fruitful bunch of experimental studio sessions.

On a related note, I've long thought that one of the most successful and revered double albums of all time, Pink Floyd's The Wall, would have better had Roger Waters not made the "Wall" metaphor so danged literal and cut it down to about 50 to 55 minutes. That's a bit long for a single LP, but somehow Genesis pulled off releasing Duke as a 55-minute LP in 1980. Anyway, my idea is basically just to keep the good songs. There's no real reason for anybody to listen to Waters' wallowing whining in "Don't Leave Me Now," for example. And "The Trial" sounded cool to me in high school but is just too obvious now. Songs like "Vera Lynn" and "Bring the Boys Back Home" make some sense in the context of the movie but just make the album drag.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Breakthrough!

Last month I wrote of the strange preponderance of Washington Nationals ballcaps. A friend of mine at work noticed someone wearing one of these caps at his apartment building, so he questioned him, and the guy responded that he didn't even know that it was supposed to be for the Nats, and that he instead bought it to stand for "West Side" (or perhaps "Westside.")

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Adam Villani, Master of the Overrated Tourist Trap

So, today Yahoo has a little feature up called "U.S.'s Most Over-Rated Tourist Traps," where they list eight places that aren't as good as we would hope. I've visited all eight. I think if you're finding the places you visit to be overrated, then you aren't doing a very good job of managing your expectations. With a lot of these places, I'm not really sure what they expected to see that they didn't see.

Let's go through the list:

1. Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
Yes, it's very tourist trappy. No surprise there. On the other hand, as the article mentions, it does have the Musee Mecanique, one of the coolest attractions you'll find anywhere. It also has the boats to Alcatraz, sea lions, and clam chowder in sourdough bowls. And here's the kicker --- really, pretty much all of San Francisco is a theme park version of a real city anyway. Fisherman's Wharf is just more honest about that.

2. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Okay, so it's not as spectacular as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. Who ever said it was? There's a whole lot of petrified wood and some nice views of the high desert. It doesn't deserve the slagging the article gives it.

3. Wall Street, New York City
Who ever even said this was supposed to be a tourist attraction? It's a financial district. I visited on a Sunday, and sure enough, there weren't many people around. For all the times I hear about Wall Street on the news, I was just happy to be able to have a place I could fit a visual to for it. Sorry, Yahoo Travel, there's no interactive museum of capitalism.

4. Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts
Now for this one, I agree with them. For all I wrote above about managing your expectations, I don't think it's possible to set them low enough to imagine that this giant piece of American mythology is nothing more than a boulder smaller than a VW Bug sitting on the beach inside an enclosure. Really, that's it.

5. The Alamo, San Antonio
It's a Spanish mission where a battle took place, not some gigantic palace on a hill or anything. My sister and I got here in 1991 about 15 minutes after it closed, and for the rest of our road trip we would jokingly ask each other, "Hey, remember the Alamo?" in a blase manner. But really, our disappointment was that it was closed, not that we expected it to be bigger.

6. Hollywood, Los Angeles
I suppose if you're a complete rube, you might expect to see hordes of movie stars strolling Hollywood Blvd. and the streets paved with gold or something, but surprise! that's not reality. What is in Hollywood is several spectacular movie theaters, some good live performance venues, some tourist attractions, the Walk of Fame, handprints in the concrete, nightclubs, a bunch of shops, drunks, punks, etc. And it's a lot nicer and livelier than it was 10 or 15 years ago.

7. Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Is it full of drunk tourists and gift shops selling cheap gewgaws? Yes. Should you look beyond it to the other neighborhoods? Yes. But would your first trip to New Orleans be complete without it? No! Some of these travel writers need to step outside themselves every now and then and learn to appreciate tacky, touristy places. I'm not saying that touristy = good, I'm just acknowledging that some places are overrun with tourists for a reason. They're places they don't see back home. And guess what? If you're visiting New Orleans on vacation, you're no less a tourist if you avoid Bourbon Street than if you embrace it. Tourism is not a dirty word.

8. The Queen Mary, Long Beach, California
Long Beach is my hometown, and I would say that the Queen Mary does qualify as over-rated except for the fact that I've never heard anybody rate it very high, unless you count their own advertisements. It's a big, nice, historic boat, it looks very good across the harbor, they have fireworks in the summer, you can take an interesting tour, but... yeah, it's just not as good as it is big. I lived about three miles away for 28 years and visited maybe four times.

So there you go. I think only 2 of those 8 really count as overrated. For the rest, sure, anybody can imagine some perfected version of them in their minds, but to say something doesn't live up to some dream-world version of itself isn't really a knock against it.