Thursday, May 12, 2011

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be . . .


(NOTE: It's good to be back. I've had a lot of things change personally that demanded I take some time for personal reflection, and actually a little bit of maintenance. During that time, I realized some thoughts and concerns have been living rent-free in the back of my mind for a while. It's eviction time. This won't be the last thing I write like this, but it won't exactly become a site theme, either. This is me not being entertaining, but just being real . . . for me. In all honesty, this isn't "Sleepless Colin" writing. This is Sean.)



This isn’t about jobs. It isn’t about careers.

It’s not about being astronauts, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, cowboys or President of the United States. Those are big things, granted. This is bigger.

What you do doesn’t define you. It speaks volumes about you. It can hint at your values, it can describe your paradigms and can even change you for better or worse. But it never defines you. That definition lies somewhere beneath, supporting everything.

What do I want to be? What I am never really changes. It can be hidden, obscured by battle scars, wounds, dents, dust and debris. But what we are never leaves once we define it and place our faith in it.

Do I want to be . . . “extraordinary”? Hm. Extra . . . ordinary. “Beyond ordinary.” Why should I care what defines ordinary? That’s far too subjective. It’s too fluid. That’s defining myself by someone else’s level. Screw that.

When I perform a dead-lift, does it have some material impact on me what the next guy at the rack lifts? Never. It never does. What he lifts won’t make me stronger. What I lift won’t make him stronger. It’s inconsequential. Odds are, we train differently, eat differently and maybe even have completely different builds. Sure, I can lift double my bodyweight on just about any given day. But I’m not a big man (5’9”, anywhere between 170 and 185 pounds, usually), so that may not seem like much to some. Likewise, I know guys with my height and weight who could probably lift about 50 percent more than I.

I respect that. But it ultimately doesn’t define who I am, what I achieve or how I approach what I do.

How about . . . “phenomenal”? Well, what is phenomenal, exactly? That’s somehow even more vague. That, to me, speaks to impressing somebody. That’s a path to misplaced priorities. I speak from experience.

Why care who I impress? I’ve many times steered myself off of good road trying too hard to impress people that I couldn’t see were inconsequential until I had the blinders off. The people I long hoped my blogs would eventually end up impressing, I’ve come to realize I probably should want nothing to do with because I ultimately can’t respect them. In the last year, I’ve learned some things about an early influence to how I write and my desire to generate an Internet media brand that frankly make me despise him. I wouldn’t have anything to do with him now, personally or professionally. The only thing left that I can respect is his talent. And ultimately, we can’t change to any significant degree how much talent for anything we all possess.

I will be . . . “electrifying.”

It’s a word often associated with one of my greatest personal influences, Dwayne Johnson. That’s right, snicker. The Rock.
It was always a phrase he associated with his character. “The most electrifying man in sports entertainment!” That’s because it’s active. It’s dynamic. It screams “change” and “impact.” It’s rooted in something that is really neither subjective nor deniable: causality.

“Electrifying” causes an effect. In any given sold-out arena since, oh, 1999 or so, when those throngs of fans heard “IF YA SAH-MELLLLLL . . .” the atmosphere became . . . electrified. The roar became deafening. I have been to professional sports events that haven’t even approached the explosion of excitement when Dwayne Johnson steps through a curtain and becomes The Rock. He changes the atmosphere when he enters any given arena at any given time.

That is electrifying. That is impact. But it goes beyond the reaction. He carved a niche for himself bigger than professional wrestling that few ever have, and none have on the level he’s achieved. He’s a Make A Wish Foundation legend and helps promote healthier lifestyle choices for parents and children through his The Rock Foundation charity – quite possibly the most electrifying things the former University of Miami All-American defensive end, multi-time WWE Champion and future WWE Hall of Famer has ever achieved. The world has been his spark’s conductor, and it’s carried the charge amazingly.

I want the things that I do to have a definite, undeniable impact. I want to be a game-changer. That doesn’t mean talking a big game. I can do that, and I often do. But it means I always want my actions to speak vastly louder than anything I could say. Being electrifying might be among the most liberating things one could be, because it's ceiling will never be talent-based, genetically-based, gender-based, creed-based, race-based, culture-based or based in anything else but the limits you give your desires. If you have the audacity to want something and make no bones about what you want, you can be truly electrifying. When I write a blog, I want it to generate views. I want it to generate buzz. I want comments. If you love it or you hate, either way, I have caused a reaction. I made you think for a moment.

When I write something for Geek Gems, nothing ever pleases me so much as high tweets and Facebook “likes”. That’s because I’ve sparked something. I’ve entertained somebody enough, informed them enough, that they passed it along and said “Check this out.”

If I review a movie and shred it, I hope that some laugh and others disagree. I want to be persuasive enough with what I say that I can win many over to my side, but the next best consolation is to start a conversation by making a sound point and having someone disagree. I’m bringing back mass communication’s inoculation theory: that unless your views and convictions are challenged, you’ll never be strong enough to defend them.

Make no mistake: this isn’t about popularity for me. Popularity is great. Being liked is, in fact, crucial to what I do. But the most important things lie beneath. The very worst sound I could possibly hear will never be “boo.” It’ll be silence. Wherever I write, whatever I do, I want it to be electrifying by being an example. That’s something distinctive. That’s something that echoes. That’s something truly remarkable, worth aspiring to be.

That is electrifying.

(While I’m at it, I don’t exaggerate that The Rock Foundation may rank among my favorite charities. I’ve you’ve ever chatted five minutes with me and seen the fire in my eyes when discussing health and fitness, you know that nothing frightens me in this world more than the possibility that the public will increasingly fund universal healthcare, despite more and more Americans taking worse care of themselves and hiking that shared burden.

Most of the most useful life lessons that have sunk in my life have been cemented in gyms, on basketball courts, in weight rooms and on treadmills. What Johnson does truly is valuable.

Please, visit www.djrockfoundation.org to learn how you can help this cause.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Going With the Flo




I usually write about music that I like that nobody knows, or very few people know.  There is so much good quality music out there that is being ignored by the masses, and I’ve made it my job to present the internet public with my opinions on it, as it appears in my iTunes library in alphabetical order.  That trend sort of continues with the letter F, yet this is a band that has already gotten some moderate-level recognition in the States, and COULD possibly get more attention.  This is Florence and the Machine.

Florence Welch and her session musicians (called the Machine) released their debut disc Lungs in the UK in the summer of 2009.  It wasn’t until over a year later that they made their mark on the States, first with their music featured in the trailer for Eat, Pray, Love, and (rightfully) stealing the show at the 2010 MTV VMAs.  Since then, the public ands media appearances still occur, but not to the extent of more popular but less talented “stars” who thrive more on gimmicks.

So do Flo and her Machine deserve more mainstream attention?  Is Lungs an album full of audible art, or is it just not catchy or commercial enough to tussle with the perceived “big guns”?  And no, that was not a direct reference to Katy Perry’s whipped cream-vomiting bra.  Not really.

“Dog Days Are Over,” We open the album with the song that was used in the aforementioned Pray trailer, and the song that inspired a VMA performance that made Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, et al look like a bunch of circus rejects that failed to make the list of Water For Elephants extras.  The lilting ukulele, tambourine-infused cadence, and rich vocals against a production that made it sound like it was recorded in Westminster Abbey give the song a very majestic feel, and I really love the chorus of “Run fast for you mother, run fast for you father/Run for your children/For you sisters and brothers.”  A very energetic and uplifting tune.  Grade: A+.

“Raise it Up (Rabbit Heart),” This song has a bit of an 80s, Human League-type feel, with the synth and piano and vigorous snare drum cadence.  Flo’s voice gets a little lost in the production during the chorus, but it’s still a cool song.  Grade: B+

“I’m Not Calling You a Liar,” The slow, flowing hand-clapping beat is enough to get you swaying, and the subtle use of the harp make me feel like I’m listening to this song in a forest straight out of Stardust.  You think she’d make a video for this song and use Robert DeNiro dressed in drag?  No? Grade: A-

“Howl,” This is a song that sounds like it could have been used in Red Riding Hood…*chorus of boos*….kidding!  I’m kidding!  This song is above that trite of a film.  The eerie piano chords that kick in after a few seconds and stay throughout the song, coupled with the violin cadence, sounds just flat-out cool, and Flo basically, well, howls the chorus.  The live versions I’ve heard show cracks in Flo’s vocal armor, but the sound is just as big and bold, and the song is still a highlight of her shows.  Grade: A

“A Kiss With a Fist,” Flo has stated that this song is not about domestic violence, but the lyrics seem to suggest otherwise.  I mean, seriously…black eyes, beds on fire, kicking and slapping?  Yeesh.  I guess you could take it to mean that the relationship portrayed in the song thrives on violence and is at least not boring and dead, but that does not make it any less disturbing.  And the punk-like arrangement seems somewhat fitting for the lyrics. Grade: B

“Girl With One Eye,” This musical tale of revenge really showcases what Flo’s voice is capable of.  It’s mournful, scheming and blues-y, yet soulful at the same time.  Flo’s voice shows great range and nuances that are a little more covered-up in the other songs on the album, and that wail on “Cryyyyyyyyyyyyy!!”?  Rich and gorgeous.  Best song on the album. Grade: A+

“Drumming Song,” There is a lot of drumming here.  Literally and lyrically.  Those pounding tympanis are really resonant and overpower Flo in a few spots.  The repetitiveness of the chorus gets a little grating, but it’s a nice song, nonetheless. Grade: B

“Between Two Lungs,” I love how the choir in the background gradually swells throughout the song, especially when matched with an alternating tempo of djimbe, tambourine and hand-claps.  I hear a little She & Him influence in this song, and I like that. Grade: A

“Cosmic Love,” Another movie trailer song, as this one was used heavily in the Water for Elephants trailer, among TV promos for The Office, The Vampire Diaries, etc.  The harp, the tympanis, the keyboards…all of it comes together to form this gorgeous, space-like symphony that can be used as a majestic anthem for any big, momentous occasion.  The second-best on the album. Grade: A+

“My Boy Builds Coffins,”  From the majestic to the dark.  This song is, of course, about a coffin maker/undertaker.  It’s much more low-key and quiet, and the way Flo sings about making coffins for him, her, and the listener is spine-tingling and creepy.  And I think the point of this song is to remind us that death is inevitable for everyone.  Good to know.  Grade: B+

“Hurricane Drunk,” It seems that this song is the token drinking song on a British album.  Though the lyrics seem to subtly portray the setting of Mardi Gras, and the subject goes on a major Hurricane binge after seeing her boyfriend with another girl among the massive throngs of party-goers.  The tempo is a nice mid-tempo groove, and Flo’s voice, though not magnificent, powers nicely through it. Grade: B+

“Blind,” We go back to another big, anthemic song, though this one is much more ethereal and minor-key.  The violin riffs are really cool, but the rest of the song drags a little in places.  Grade: B

“You Got the Love,”  This is a cover of a song by 70s singer Candi Staton, and while it’s a nice, uplifting closer for the album, it also seems slightly out of place, as many of the elements that are showcased in the rest of the album are absent here.  Flo does, however, use more of her upper register and conquer the lyrics with gusto, but I think this song would have been put to better use in the middle of the album instead.  Grade: B.

And there you have it!  Lungs is one of my favorite albums of last year, and while I get excited to see it used in the mainstream media in one way or another, I do remain cautiously optimistic.  If the band does take off and become really well-known, I hope it doesn’t dumb down their music into commercial fluff crap.  It just needs to go with the Flo and let them be.

Recommended Tracks: "Cosmic Love," "Girl With One Eye," "Between Two Lungs," "Dog Days Are Over," "Howl"

Until next time....Long live the harp

Friday, April 22, 2011

Super (Beautiful) Freak




I’ve been in quite a freaky mood lately (Heads out of the gutter….I don’t meant that!!).  I just finished a manga series about a freaky notebook owned by freaky death gods that kills people. Now I’m reading Water for Elephants, with its freaky animals (a horse with a tail where its head should be! Auuuggghhh!!!) and freaky bearded people.  Yet while my eyes are looking at these words and pictures of freaks, my ears yearn to participate in the show.  They long to get their freak on and experience these things that my eyes are snottily keeping from them.  To remedy that, I give them Beautiful Freak, the 1996 album by E (aka Mark Oliver Everett) and his indie band, The Eels (stylized as eels).

This is the band’s third set, and if the album cover art is any indication, then we are in for hopefully some of the freakiest sounds to ever come out of plastic and silicone and brush up against my eardrums.  So let’s not waste any time….let’s explore the Beautiful Freak.  And let’s take a drink for the number of times I’ve already used a variation of the word “freak”.


“Novocaine for the Soul,” We start of with a track that has a nice little mid-tempo groove and a neat, ethereal synthesizer mix to it.  The song talks about needing things to numb yourself and get away from the stresses of life, and the feel-good vibe it has seems appropriate.  Either that or it’s a subliminal message to off yourself completely.  Grade: B+.

“Susan’s House,” The only sung lyrics in this song are the ones in the chorus.  The verses are just E talking and describing things he’s seeing in different neighborhoods as he goes to his girlfriend’s house.  It’s a pretty simple song, but the structure of the lyrics, coupled with the cool piano riffs make this one of the best on the album.  Grade: A-.

“Rags to Rags,” This is a song that relates to a lot of current events, as the songs narrator tells of his financial hardships and losing his wealth.  The menacing guitar riff and slow build at the beginning are neat, and when the band kicks in full gear, the track turns into a good car jammer.  Grade: B+.

“Beautiful Freak (Drink!),” The title track is a haunting, gorgeous song about loving and accepting someone for their differences.  It’s a wonderful social commentary that’s lyrically simple and straightforward.  The keyboard and synth work create a lullaby-like atmosphere, and E croons softly and smoothly to the object of his affection, despite how freaky (Drink!) she really is.  Another highlight.  Grade: A.

“Not Ready Yet,” We go back to the edgier, electric guitar-laden sound and pounding drums.  I’ve read that this song is about E’s sister, who suffered from depression and/or agoraphobia and how she struggled with doing day-to-day activities.  It’s a song that’s appropriate for lounging around on a rainy day, but may also be to depressing considering the subject matter.  Grade: B+

“My Beloved Monster,” We now come to the band’s most well-known song.  For anyone not living under a rock, “My Beloved Monster” was used in the first Shrek movie. And appropriately so…it’s basically a great little buddy song with a jaunty guitar riff and cute lyrics.  It’s also the shortest song on the album.  Viva ShrekGrade: A-.

“Flower,” This is a slow-tempo song with a drum cadence that you can still bop along to and a simulated choir in the background that adds an uplifting element to an otherwise depressing tune.  The subject is paranoia, and E mourns the fact that everyone is against him and out to get him and basically make him feel like a freak (Drink!).  A solid track, though it fades into the background.  Grade: B.

“Guest List,” Like “Beautiful Freak” (Drink!), this song also deals with acceptance.  The subject is wondering if he’s doing all the right things in order to be included and be on the “guest list.”  The tempo drags a little, and the guitar riff isn’t the most interesting, but the overall message of the song is still important.  Grade: B.

“Mental,” The bass line and guitar work really well with the sarcasm in E’s voice.  The subject is frustrated and confused with not knowing the truth (of what?), and the aggressive arrangement of the song marries well with the lyrical content.  Another good song to jam to in the car.  Grade: B+.

“Spunky,” The lyrics are cryptic and give many ideas as to who Spunky is (Sister?  Girlfriend?  Pet Affenpinscher?) and what she’s trying to do.  This is a very piano-keyboard heavy track with a nice, flowing 6/8-time rhythm and a very soft overall feel.  It’s short, yet sweet.  Grade: B+.

“Your Lucky Day in Hell,” This song is choc-full of freaks (Drink!).  From a Winston Churchill dressed in drag to a Father Theresa, you really never can tell who’ll be at your doorstep, as the song suggests.  The arrangement has sort of a sixties-seventies influence, and E’s voice has a cool echo-y sound.  Probably the most sonically creative song on the album.  Grade: A.

“Manchild,” What a beautiful way to end the albumEverything about this song is gorgeous, from the slow, lilting arrangement, to the positive, uplifting lyrics of reassurance, to the snippet of a phone call from E’s sister…it’s a sad song, yet a great one to listen to on a really bad day…especially if you’ve gotten sick from all the drinking at the mention of the word “freak” (oops…Drink agai…eh, not to this song).  Grade: A.


And there you have it!  Freaky (Drink!) stuff, huh?  A very solid sonic effort from the band.  Also an important album to listen to if you’re an advocate of inclusion and other social and mental issues.  While it got some minor to moderate attention in the mid-nineties, many strong songs still managed to go under the radar.  So check it out, and find out if you are indeed a Beautiful Freak (Drink!).

Recommended Songs: “Susan’s House,” “Beautiful Freak,” “Your Lucky Day in Hell,” “My Beloved Monster,” “Manchild.”

Until next time…Long live Sprite (That’s what I drank.  Ha ha.)

Not Quite Geek Gems: Cthulu Fish T-shirt



OK, creationists and evolutionists. Points made. You will both go further out of your way to antagonize and bait one another than anyone guessed you would. Nothing will stop either side from shouting louder than the other. Got it.

But consider this argument settled.

First, people displayed ichthys ornaments (casually, the "Jesus fish") celebrating their devotion to the Book of Genesis' creation of the Heavens, Earth and all creatures great and small including humans. Then one day, a snarky evolutionist fired a dramatic shot across the bow and drew legs beneath the fish. Then the creationists drew the enhanced ichthys dead on its back, legs pointing skyward, and labeled it "Darwin."

All the while, a certain Great Old One who has probably lived long enough that he knows what really
happened was too polite to just say "You are stupid, and so is your bickering. Time to eat you now. Om nom nom."

Or, you know . . . something like that. 

You'd really do well not to test Cthulu's patience and just click here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Not Quite Geek Gems: Dirty Harry Potter

Every so often, I find an incredible product. Something that screams "YOU MUST HAVE NOW!" until my quivering digits start keying my Visa number and I'm suddenly a few dollars poorer for my weak will.

Thankfully, Scarlett is kind enough to be OK with my posting a few unused Geek Gems write-ups right here, for your viewing/reading/purchasing enjoyment. Know this, before reading onward: some of these products indicated some fairly strong opinions that I have toward certain franchises/trends/memes/people/kittens, etc.

This one . . . . OK, won't rankle that much. But you cannot convince me this movie shouldn't happen.

******



"I know what you're thinking, Malfoy. 'Oy! What sort of stupid-looking, muggle-made wand is that? Does he even know how to use it?!' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is what the 'muggles' call a '.44 Magnum', the most powerful handgun known to man -- and pretty quickly, to a snotty soon-to-be-ex-wizard -- and would blow your head clean off way better than a stick with a feather inside it, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky enough to cast a spell faster than a speeding bullet? Well, do you, PUNK?!"

-Excerpt from Sleepless Colin's first installment of a re-imagining of J.K. Rowling's acclaimed Harry Potter saga, titled Harry Potter And The Second Amendment. Soon to be a major motion picture directed by Clint Eastwood.

Go on, get to clickin'! Get your Dirty Harry Potter T-shirt right here!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Crysis 2 A Virtually-Perfect FPS



crysis_2_fire_feature
Though I’ve played a few stand-out titles, first-person shooters don’t rank highly among my most preferred games. That prejudice alone handicaps most FPS titles (admittedly, not always fairly) and amplifies every grating minor irritation like dragging a rusty nail across a chalkboard next to a microphone plugged into a Marshall stack. That acknowledged prejudice toward what I often regard as a repetitive genre that’s ever reinventing the wheel actually amplifies my respect for what a complete, enjoyable game this really is.
Crysis 2 is developed by Crytek for Electronic Arts and powered by the debuting CryEngine 3. Over-the-top bastardization of a single prefix? Perhaps. But when your game looks and plays this smoothly with nary a hitch, you’ve more than backed up the bravado. An engine producing graphics, textures and shadows this crisp, detailed and flawless comes along rarely. Only one other engine truly belongs anywhere near this one in terms of visual presentation, and it’s another engine forever bearing the name of its legendary debut appearance: Unreal.
What sets EA's latest superb shooter head-and-shoulders above nearly every other I've played? Find out right here, right now.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

From GamerXChange.net: "Unremarkable coda" or "effective bridge"?


What praise could I possibly heap upon Mass Effect 2 that wouldn’t be redundant at this point?
I’ve heard even critical gamers who consider the presentation too dialogue-heavy and the story too slow-developing and even “boring” concede it’s put together unquestionably well and an exceptional game overall – just not necessarily one they particularly enjoy.
Flip the coin, and the gamers who love BioWare’s opus revere it among gaming’s greatest total-package titles that hits every possible high note a single game can hit, from captivating visuals and practically flawless gameply, to its sweeping-epic story and virtually bottomless replay value. That goes doubly so for PC gamers, who have had far longer to foster and grow their love affair than the console crowd.
But even the greatest of all great things reach an end. Shenmue fans will tell you that. So it goes now that before Mass Effect 3 emerges and likely propels Commander Shepard’s saga full-circle, BioWare resolves the last chord in Mass Effect 2’s movement in this starry symphony with the final downloadable chapter before Mass Effect 3’s late-2011 release,Arrival.
And for all BioWare’s promotional focus on Arrival as a must-have finale to Mass Effect 2, it makes an enjoyable but unremarkable and anti-climactic coda.

Mass Effect 2's developers made precious few overall mistakes . . . . but Arrival continued one of them. Click right here to find out what went wrong, and for more from GamerXChange, my Home Away From The Diner