A recent story I wrote for SpareFoot about the season premier of ‘Storage Wars’

Dave Hester

Everyone who tuned in to the Aug. 12 season premiere of “Storage Wars” was waiting for it—the deep, resonant, antagonistic “Yuuup!” that would officially signal the return of storage auction “mogul” Dave Hester. And it didn’t take long for fans to get what they came for.

In the episode’s opening shot, Hester took a seat, looked straight into the camera and let his trademark cry echo through the homes of everyone who eagerly awaited his unlikely return from a two-season hiatus and highly publicized feud with A&E. And as he burst into a maniacal laugh before the opening montage rolled, there was no doubt about it. “The Man in Black” was indeed back, and the tension surrounding his return would dominate the majority of the show’s 30-minute season debut. Continue reading

Aljazeera America

Spent the day in their New York studios for an article I’m writing. Pretty cool assignment. Stay tuned for details. Pictured: anchor David Shuster.

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Happy Sunday Funday

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Saturday Afternoon Reading

Nothing like some weekend Doctor Who comic adventures…

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Tuckerton Seaport Roots Music Festival

It’s summer, which, for many of us, means loads of options for live music weekend adventures. And if you’re considering venturing out this Saturday or Sunday for some outdoor entertainment (and can’t scrimp together cheddar to fly out to Glastonbury) may I make a suggestion: Go check out the Tuckerton Seaport Roots Music Festival.

This Saturday and Sunday, the historical nautical museum will host one of the most exciting events of the summer, which not only includes a whole host of wine tasting options but also some, well, roots music.

What excited me the most is the inclusion of The Keystone Swingbillies, a Pennsylvania outfit fronted by my good friend Dave Young. According to the band’s website, The Keystone Swingbillies “combines the best Country, Swing and Rockabilly music of the early half of the 20th century with modern energy and passion.” Check ‘em out here.

I’ll be writing a review of The Swingbillies’ new record sometime over the next few days, but in the meantime, go see them for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Michael Jackson Five Years Gone—A Retrospective

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I’m trying to resist the temptation to say, “I can’t believe it’s already been five years.” Because that’s what everyone says about such things, right? But such resistance would be disingenuous. Because truly, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it’s been a half decade since Michael Jackson left the world behind.

As if his musical legacy weren’t enough, I think it’s a fitting testament to his gravity and presence that Michael’s death on June 25, 2009 is one of those moments people seem to anecdotally recall in ways not dissimilar to the assassination of JFK. It takes a very large person indeed to leave such a lasting vacuum of emotion. For me, I was getting ready to attend a summer afternoon party at a nearby friend’s house when I got a text from an acquaintance. “Did you hear about Michael Jackson,” she wrote. I hadn’t. But after just a few quick keystrokes on Google I suddenly learned that what I hoped was just a rumor was, in fact, truth.

I write this without any trace of exaggeration or hyperbole: I could spend the next several hours composing thousands of words about the greatness that is Michael Jackson. I count him as one of the finest entertainers and songwriters to ever inhabit the space of human existence; an individual who transcended so many seeming limitations of talent and expectation that words pale against the blinding light he cast during his half century on this Earth. And so, in the interest of brevity and my own personal sanity, I instead present a few interesting links and lamentations.

First, I beg you to read an essay from a 2009 issue of Paste magazine written by Nick Marino titled “What I Miss About Michael Jackson.” Marino eloquently summarizes what made Michael so much more than a mere performer, and his bittersweet elegy was perhaps the most fitting of the year. Want a taste?

The moonwalk? It was jaw-dropping, one of the last dance moves to become a cultural phenomenon. Everybody saw it, everybody knew it, everybody was stunned by it. (When he debuted the move in 1983, during a 25th-anniversary concert celebration for Motown Records, the audience responded with a bewildered shriek—they’d never seen anything like it.) This was not like the Macarena, a wedding dance, an asinine hand jive drunken bubbas could do in the stands at NFL games. The moonwalk was otherworldly. We didn’t know a body could move like that—our bodies couldn’t move like that. The moonwalk belonged, and still belongs, to Michael. Have you ever seen anyone else attempt his signature move? It’s pathetic.

And then there’s this, his halftime performance at Super Bowl XXVIII in 1993. Notice how long he stands at the center of the stadium for the better part of two minutes before moving a muscle. And then, when he does move…well, the whole thing speaks for itself.

 

Finally, I humbly present a blog post I wrote in 2010 after watching the most excellent documentary This Is It.

The Truth About Michael Jackson (or, The Time For Easy Answers Has Passed)

Here, in a few words, is the paradox of Michael Jackson that is so difficult for us to understand:

The issue, really, comes down to our refusal of the reality that none of us is capable of being defined (or, more importantly, defining others) by any one particular facet of one’s personality. I am no more wholly “Nick From Medford” than I am “Nick, Cydnee’s Boyfriend.” Or “Nick, Guitar Player” than I am “Nick, the 29-year-old dude who lives next to me on Mill Street.” I am all of these people—these personalities, these manifest versions—combined into one. Separate, but equal. It is a strange duality indeed, and while I always strive for unity between my own fickle nature’s forces, I am increasingly confronted with the realization that it is impossible to express oneself fully at any given time.

I need look no further than those I know. Surely there are elements of other people’s personalities—my sister’s, my brother’s, my parents’, my best friend’s—of which I am at least partially, if not wholly, unaware. So doesn’t it only make sense that I too have such places and elements of personality, of which others are not wholly (or even partially) aware?

Of course it does.

Now, consider Michael Jackson. He was a human being, therefore he was subject to the same whims and impossibilities that govern all other human beings, myself most certainly included. If one also considers that Michael Jackson was not only a human being but a remarkable one at that—in talent, fame, and fortune—one is forced to contemplate what such exception does to the unpredictable and sometimes calamitous human spirit. Because of his place in the world, Michael Jackson’s dualities were obviously larger and far more noticeable to others (i.e., complete strangers and enemies) than they are to most of us, myself most certainly included.

How, we seem to ask ourselves, is it possible that such a beautiful and talented creature—a force of poetic human potential and positive energy such as the world only sees every few centuries—be equally scarred by such dark demons of self? How could Michael Jackson have been at once so unifying and divisive at the same time?

These are the sorts of questions we cannot seem to answer about Michael Jackson because these are the sorts of questions we cannot seem to answer about ourselves. Moreover, these are the sorts of questions that will continue to haunt us in his memory (and our own evolution) unless we begin to understand the larger frame of knowledge taking shape here. If we self examine—not superficially, but really self examine, down to the uncharted core of the soul, that place we keep hidden and from which we too often hide—and accept, rather than deny, our own shared dualities and conflicts and impossibilities of self, we will fail to understand perhaps the ultimate reason for his existence. What a shame that would be.

“And no message could have been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change…”

Ninja Turtles, Siberian Cities, Supreme Court Rulings, and The Music Of Trees: MidWeek Links To Enlighten

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It’s Wednesday, it’s hot, and it feels like summer’s languid ennui is finally settling in for good. So let’s keep it fast and easy by exploring some of the most interesting and entertaining goings on out there on the interwebs these days…

T-U-R-T-L-E Power: The second official trailer for the much (well…kinda) anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles August blockbuster is here. God help us.

As a massive fan of the original cartoon series and the films from 1990 and 1991, I just can’t stand to see yet another Michael Bayification of my childhood. I know I’m not the target audience here, okay. But…seriously? At the risk of sounding all “GET OFF MY LAWN,” why do The Turtles need high-tech weaponry that makes the Call Of Duty dudes look like a bunch of backyard Boyscouts? And why the hell does Shredder have to manifest as some kind of superhuman, Transformers reject that probably needs the entire weight of the United States Armed Forces to give him so much as a sprained ankle? Can’t we just be fine with a badass, evil ninja who wears a menacing (non-CGI) costume and fights a badass mutant rat on the backstreets of New York? Oh, and speaking of Splinter, you’ll notice that he no longer sports an Asian accent. Nothing against Tony Shalhoub (who lends his voice to this most recent iteration) but the anglicization of Splinter not only betrays the series’ roots but is yet another slight to a wealth of Asian-American acting talent, which Hollywood apparently just loves to do. Like I said…God help us all. Check out the trailer below:

 

Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go: Speaking of The Ninja Turtles, here’s a hilarious video from the geniuses at Screen Junkies highlighting the most embarrassing moments from the entire TMNT franchise (and there are plenty). Remember their touring musical act? Or when they appeared on Oprah? Well, these guys do.

 

The Silence of Scorsese: Making the transition from hack, trope-laden filmmakers to celebrated sages, here’s a wonderful (and short) video essay from filmmaker Tony Zhou about the ways in which Martin Scorsese uses silence for sublime emotional resonance. From the Vimeo description:

“Even though Martin Scorsese is famous for his use of music, one of his best traits is his deliberate and powerful use of silence. Take a glimpse at fifty years of this simple technique from one of cinema’s masters. For educational purposes only.”

After watching the clip below make sure to check out Zhou’s most excellent Tumblr Every Frame a Painting. Damn, how I wish this guy had been around when I was in film school.

 

The New “R” Word: No matter where you stand on the whole Washington Redskins name kerfuffle, you should definitely read this short piece from Esquire about the real history of the term. And guess what? It’s not what you think.

The Music Of Trees: Now this is just too damn cool. What you’re about to hear is an excerpt from the record Years, which is the creation of one Bartholomäus Traubeck. It’s seven recordings made from the rings of Austrian trees, including Oak, Maple, Walnut, and Beech. The clip below is the sound of an Ash tree’s “year ring data.” Here’s a nice little descriptive blurb from The Mind Unleashed blog:

Keep in mind that the tree rings are being translated into the language of music, rather than sounding musical in and of themselves. Traubeck’s one-of-a-kind record player uses a PlayStation Eye Camera and a stepper motor attached to its control arm. It relays the data to a computer with a program called Ableton Live. What you end up with is an incredible piano track, and in the case of the Ash, a very eerie one.

We do indeed live in amazing times…

 

Does The Cold Even Bother Them Anyway? You’ve probably never heard of Norilsk. Located in Siberia, it’s the world’s northernmost city of more than 100,000, and not only does it take home the title for one of the coldest cities on Earth, but its nickel ore smelting industry has also made it one of the most polluted. Check out this beautiful photo essay from io9. Here’s something to whet your appetite:

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They Fought The Law, And The Law Won: Finally, in a decision that I had been anticipating for weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Aereo Inc. violated copyrights on programming. This is a huge blow to not only an ambitious and innovative tech startup, but also to the broader evolution of common sense, on-demand television options for discerning American consumers. To avoid getting too technical and long winded, here’s a succinct nuts-and-bolts summary of the case from today’s Wall Street Journal:

The ruling is a potentially deadly blow to Aereo, whose technology promised a new—and cheaper—way of watching television that threatened the broadcast ecosystem. The decision bolsters broadcasters’ leverage over the deployment of new technologies for watching television programming.

The court’s 6-3 ruling blocks a company whose goals were to upend long-standing models for how broadcast programming is delivered to consumers. The service, which appealed to cord cutters seeking Internet-based alternatives to cable TV, allowed subscribers paying as little as $8 a month to watch and record their local over-the-air broadcasts from an array of electronic devices.

Since setting out on my own in 2001, I have never paid (and will never pay) for a cable subscription. Not because I’m one of those “KILL YOUR TV, MAN!” iconoclasts (there’s a lot of fantastic television out there), but because I just never saw the need to fork over $100-plus per month for a bloated bouquet of programing that could just as easily be found either through old-fashioned rabbit ears or new-fashioned streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. To that end, I am Aereo’s prime target consumer. I would have gladly spent $8 per month (was waiting for the option to do so, in fact) for quality local programming that not only allowed me to bypass the tedium of hauling out my shitty digital antenna every time I wanted to catch an Eagles game, but also gave me the option of pre-recording shows and watching them on wireless devices like my phone and iPad at my leisure.

This ruling comes as a great disappointment. Because of antiquated FCC verbiage and an unrelenting desire for cable companies to maintain their gross monopolies, it looks like I’ll just have to continue pirating. Way to go guys. Yet another example of technology being decades ahead of bloated and antiquated bureaucracies.

In closing, here is the unabridged email message sent out today by Aereo CEO and founder, Chet Kanojia, who’s probably feeling pretty much awful right now. I urge you to read it, whether you’re a cable subscriber or not:

“Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry.  It is troubling that the Court states in its decision that, ‘to the extent commercial actors or other interested entities may be concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.’ (Majority, page 17) That begs the question: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?”

“Consumer access to free-to-air broadcast television is an essential part of our country’s fabric. Using an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television is still meaningful for more than 60 million Americans across the United States.  And when new technology enables consumers to use a smarter, easier to use antenna, consumers and the marketplace win. Free-to-air broadcast television should not be available only to those who can afford to pay for the cable or satellite bundle.”

“Justice Scalia’s dissent gets it right. He calls out the majority’s opinion as ‘built on the shakiest of foundations.’ (Dissent, page 7)  Justice Scalia goes on to say that ‘The Court vows that its ruling will not affect cloud-storage providers and cable television systems, see ante, at 16-17, but it cannot deliver on that promise given the imprecision of its results-driven rule.’ (Dissent, page 11)

“We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done.  We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world.”