All posts by Jeff Sabatini

You think I give a damn about a Grammy?

So it appears that I have missed the Grammys again. Not to get all Woody Allen or anything, but I’m going on a pretty long streak here. Like, I think the last time I tuned in, George Michael was getting something—and it wasn’t just a sloppy kiss backstage from the Pinball Wizard. No, I think it was one of those little Victrolas (talk about a perfect representation of the relevance of the awards) for his seminal work with Wham!, but then again, I might be wrong.

Doesn’t matter really. (Though I know someone out there’s going to be shaking their fist, railing about how the Wham! Rap never got the propers it deserved.) Sex-is-fun George could have even been a presenter that last time I watched, but I don’t care and you really shouldn’t either. What are the Grammys, other than a bad TV show and a useless collection of mediocre music? Why watch, when you could be listening to something good? Or doing the goddamn laundry.

But no, we live in a society where we have to give out “awards.” Where we are so damn worried that we won’t receive the “recognition” for our hard work that most of our “hard work” is directed at things like awards and tributes and garnering praise from others. Internal motivation? Screw it, why do anything just to do it, just because you can? There’s no point if there’s no payoff, right? It’s this attitude that’s a cancer on our society, and it’s this attitude that’s responsible for the never-ending parade of musical clowns that occupy the limelight of our public consciousness.

And I don’t care if the Monkees were a good band (they were), because they’re still guilty of putting the PR ahead of the music. Not everyone is that lucky. (N Synch comes to mind, but maybe I’m just in a pissy mood today.)

Remember Milli Vanilli? Those poor suckers lost their Grammy in a wretched attempt to pretend that there was some sort of integrity to the awards. But why? Take their Grammy away, but let the other similarly talentless who win keep theirs? All because these guys didn’t actually sing? Who cares! It’s not about the singing, it’s all about the award itself. Gettin’ it in the first place, that’s the objective. Playing the music is secondary, it’s just a consequence of the desire to get that little record player statue. These guys did it just the way our society says to do it—worry about the accolades, get them in place, then work on your game. And they were punished?

Rather than being the Grammys’ eternal patsies, they ought to recognize the Vanillis as the true patron saints of the Recording Academy. Hell, how about renaming the award after the late Rob Pilatus, getting rid of the little Victrola and replacing it with a nice two-turntables-and-a-microphone setup?

Girl, you know it’s true.

Dale Earnhardt vs. Eazy-E

My response to Hunter S. Thompson’s column on Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt’s death has really bothered me a lot. It has affected me personally in a way that seems at first rather trite, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it is totally apropos. The last time I recall feeling this shocked by someone dying, it was Eric Wright. Don’t laugh, but the similarities are there: I was a big fan of both of them and had expected to be enjoying their entertainment for a lot longer. Granted, probably no one else in the world would ever put Eazy E and Big E into the same hero-pool, but I’m an eclectic guy. And it hurts just the same to look at my autographed picture of Dale or hear Eazy bust one of his wack-ass rhymes. But with Earnhardt, it’s much worse. He died with honor, doing something heroic.

That said, what can we take from Earnhardt’s death? What can we learn? Well, most importantly, racing is fucking dangerous. But unlike a lot of dangerous things, it doesn’t become less dangerous the more you do it, but actually more dangerous. Novice racers aren’t allowed in the biggest, fastest cars. Novice racers just physically can’t get the car to perform at its most dangerous level, what is referred to as 10/10ths. But Dale Earnhardt wasn’t just a 10/10ths driver, he drove at a Spinal Tap 11. The guy was the hardest-charging, most talented and driven driver out there. He would do anything to win. That’s why he was my favorite. That’s why meeting him and having lunch with him in November was one of the coolest things I have done in my life. That’s why I am so upset about his death.

But I’m also upset because the guy was a classic horse’s ass who raced in the classic horse’s ass series. He wore an open-faced helmet. He refused to wear a HANS device (neck and head support). Yeah, they were restrictive. Yeah, they would change his field of vision. Yeah, they weren’t part of the “good old days.” But neither are the cars, the restrictor plates, the aero package, or the entire show. The sport has changed and some of this new stuff might have saved Earnhardt’s life, just as some of this new stuff is probably what contributed to killing him. We’ll never know if an unrestricted engine with full horsepower would have allowed him to get the traction or miss the bump and not crash. We’ll never know if his head injuries could have been prevented by the safety equipment he wasn’t wearing. It really doesn’t matter anyway; he’s still dead.

People die racing. They always have and they always will. But this time, it feels different because it is. To understand, you have to understand NASCAR in a way that the mainstream media will not report. NASCAR is a redneck organization. These guys are not terribly smart, they are not business people, they are not professionals, they are not even city people. The motherfuckers at FOX are. So are all the others that form the financial interests in this sport—they’re also cold-hearted business people and they’re also motherfuckers. The people that run NASCAR do it because they love racing—you would too if you had the chance to drive a car at over 150 mph. (It’s the most exciting thing in the world to race cars, even to watch them in person. Go to a race and see for yourself.) Thing is, racing cars isn’t cheap so you need money to pay for it. That’s where the motherfuckers come in and they’re slowly but surely ruining the sport—shifting the focus away from what made it great, the racing. They want more, always more—more greed, more control, more stupid fascination with numbers and quantitative bullshit at any cost, even the cost of sport, fun, and life. They’re doing the same thing to the NFL, the NBA, etc., but that’s another story entirely.

Sure, despite the redneck nature of NASCAR, there are a lot of smart people within it, mostly talent and genius on the race teams. The smart people, like Dale Earnhardt was, say things like “Restrictor plate racing ain’t racing” and speak out about the fact that 40+ races per year are too many. Smart people like Roush driver Jeff Burton push for mandatory use of the HANS device and the same high-tech seats that they use in open-wheel cars. But these guys are not the people who make and enforce the rules. These guys aren’t the ones that ink the deals with the motherfuckers. These guys aren’t the ones that see their job as protecting the financial interests so that there is a NASCAR. These guys are just the people who are dependent on NASCAR for everything in their lives. It’s like working for a boss that treats you bad, but there’s no other job in town. NASCAR drivers can’t just go somewhere else to race—there’s no other stock car series with any money to support a guy.

So what do I think about Thompson’s column? Well, he’s right on. The WWF crap, the Street Fighter mentality, is certainly to blame, but as you can see from what I’ve written, it goes a lot deeper than that. There’s a lot of factors that make Dale Earnhardt’s death tragic. Whether the motherfuckers are directly to blame, no, I don’t think they are. But Earnhardt’s death is a symptom of a bad scene that’s brewing. Where safety, driver consideration, fan consideration, the honesty of the sport, and the rules are all being held up to the wrong God. It’s not NASCAR’s history or the feeling of riding the high bank at 180 mph that’s going into the decisions. It’s how many times can they say DuPont in an interview and how much it’s going to cost the network that’s driving things. It’s crap like Fox’s digital erasure of sponsorship on the cars in the broadcast of the Twin 125’s that’s giving everybody headaches, instead of suspension setups. It’s the inability of an organization of people just plain out of their league to deal with the bloodsuckers and vampires. Because this scum will pounce on anything good and new and honest and real and make it packaged for the masses, selling this now-unreal reality to people who don’t even know what real is because they’ve grown up with nothing but TV fakery all their lives. It’s sad too, because if anyone needs something to believe in, it’s NASCAR fans. And it’s being ripped away from them by the motherfuckers.

So what will/should happen now? I don’t know. But I really believe that people know—even the WWF fans know—that life is precious. That life and death aren’t something that you fuck with, that you sponsor, that you market, that you sell. NASCAR fans may be rather uneducated. NASCAR fans may be unpolished. But they aren’t sickos. They’re hurt and a lot of them are going to walk away. A lot of them are going to say that this has gone too far. A lot of them are going to want the motherfuckers to back the fuck off and let the sport be what it is, not continue to try and twist it into Survivor in Cars.

One of the biggest reasons why NASCAR is so popular is that it hadn’t become a made for TV crap-spectacle in the same fashion as other pro sports leagues. Not as bad anyway. It was still somewhat honest, in that the people who participated in it were real. The owners were real. The cars were real. It wasn’t the WWF, the XFL, the NBA, or something created to make people rich. It had pure motivations—a love of thrills, speed, danger. So when you hear people explain Dale’s death away with that famous phrase of his, “That’s just racin’,” ask yourself if that’s really true. Is NASCAR just racin’, or is it a bunch of motherfuckers lining their pockets with whatever they can get their hands on?

Put the Needle on the Record

What is it about other people’s record collections that cause one to be so covetous? I take a look at my homies’ vinyl and think, “Damn, Oak Ridge Boys. Cool.” Shit, I’ve got every single Bruce Springsteen album from the ’70s and almost all the Neil Young from the same period, not to mention about two hundred other great records and several hundred pieces of shit that I don’t even listen to, many that I have never listened to, so why should I be so bent when I see that a friend has two copies of The Village People-Live and Sleazy and he won’t give me one? (Better yet, why the fuck won’t he? But that’s not the point.)

Does my envy simmer because at some time in the future, when I’m sitting around my apartment drunk by myself I’ll want to listen to some track from his 10cc-Greatest Hits that I can’t even remember exists when I’m sober? Not likely, but that’s the way I usually think. In fact, that’s why I own a copy of that stupid album: Every time I decide to give it away or put it in the trash or smash it against the turntable stand, I give it one last listen. And fuck if there isn’t always that one song that makes me want to keep it.

Maybe this attitude is brought on by the fact that I want to burn a mix CD right now, but I don’t have a copy of an old Conway Twitty song that’s probably on three out of five K-Tel country collections, any of which could be purchased at your finer neighborhood Value Village. But see, that’s the problem, I didn’t buy that 50 cent record when I had the chance, someone else did (that bastard friend of mine), and now I can’t make the CD because the whole fucking thing revolves around that one lynchpin song. Yeah, I can ask him to borrow it, but that’s a whole other mess. What if he’s on vacation? Or what if he can’t find it? Or what if the damn record is stored in some parental basement somewhere, as fully 35% of all records must be?

Funny thing is that all the songs you keep—on the Toto albums, the Culture Club, the awful Queen records that hold about as much interest as a Freddy Mercury moustache ride—they never are the right ones. So you buy more and more records until you’ve got a whole collection of garbage that takes up as much space as all the rest of your personal belongings and weighs at least as much as your car.

Ever try helping one of your friends move? Notice the uneasiness everyone has about moving anything in the room that has his record collection in it? “No way, dude, I’m not going near the records.” I’d rather help move a sofa or a fucking refrigerator than help move goddamn records. It’s usually worth it to move yourself, just to get out of helping someone with a big record collection relocate.

On a related tangent, ever see the stupid behavior that results when a friend is moving and he gives away some of his record collection? Yeah, it’s always total crap. What, you think someone’s just going to unhand a nice mint copy of Like A Virgin? No way. He will, however, almost be willing to pay you to make off with his studio Peter Frampton albums and pretty much anything released on Arista in the 1980s. But you don’t need a bribe. No, you will be more than willing to slug one of your best friends in the nose as the two of you fight over a copy of a live Thin Lizzy album, making good entertainment for the friend who’s trying to relieve himself of his plastic burden. It’s a momentary distraction from the fact that no matter how asinine his friends will behave in dividing up his lousy records, there’s always two or three stinkers that they all already have. An extra, scratched and unplayable copy of Thriller, with devil horns gouged into the album sleeve above M.J.’s head or something similar, a Paula Abdul or Judas Priest that would play just fine if you could stomach more than 15 seconds of the music.

Ever come across the record in someone else’s give-aways that you yourself dumped years ago? And discover that it’s the same damn copy of It’s Hard that you used to own, because it’s got your initials marked in that special place where you mark all your albums? And further realize that you absolutely have to have it back because your life has not been complete since you gave up the ability to listen to “Athena”?

If you get it, if you’re into records, I think you can see where I’m going with all this by now. Records are great. They are one of my favorite things on earth. We all know that they are better than CDs for all the reasons that Neil used to howl about and a hundred more, not the least of which is the tactile sensation of handling one and the care that must go into owning one, but especially the beauty in the design of the album covers, done on a scale to which no crummy little jewel box will ever compare. And though CDs may have a small size and weight advantage, a durability advantage, a portability advantage over records, all these were the same advantages of cassettes, never enough to cause anyone to wax nostalgic over metal oxide. Part of the joy of records is certainly the insanity of being a record owner, all the strange behavior that we exhibit that we just don’t for any other form of recorded music. It’s a great feeling to be a record junkie, even if we freely buy CDs and tapes or even listen to mp3s.

But it’s time to face the reality that records are no longer really sufficient for keeping the bulk of our music collections. Unfortunately, that in itself is probably one of the things that makes records so precious, their inherent stupidity and eternal obsolescence. And just because I’ve now gone digital and forego listening to my stereo for my computer (let’s hope that this computer thing turns out better for me than Trans for Neil), surely I’m not going to get rid of my records just yet. At least not until I’ve ripped them all into mp3s and probably not even after that. We still need records, just like we still need burgers, cigarettes, Bacardi, weed, and an occasional blow job. But humans need more than just vices, we need an occasional blast of rationality and good, clean living. Where music is concerned, we need Napster. Internet-based digital music is like health food—it makes it possible for us to live to be a hundred years old without giving up booze.

So when Napster finally joins Tupac in that great musical oblivion, I sure as hell hope that someone else picks up the slack. If we could depend on its existence, it could help us weed out the Tony Orlando and the Larry Gatlin and the half-dozen Sugar Hill label 12-inches that would only be cool if you decided to start your own retro-rap act. Sure, you’ll still have to keep that moldy old Beatles album that besides being worthless would certainly ruin your needle after only half of “Here Comes the Sun”, simply because you’ve got be able to show that you own an original Fab Four slab. And that’s the point: Digital music is made for the record owner, it gets us off the hook but it doesn’t keep us from continuing to engage in the less socially destructive behavior that we know and love.

Having access to stuff that we don’t really need on the Internet as a sort of musical security blanket will make it possible for us to all live better and have more space in our lives for things like significant others, pets, perhaps even children. And even if you’re not planning on becoming a family man, God knows I’m not, Napster can help continue to fill the space absented by that discarded Perry Como LP, hopefully replaced by something more Johnny Cash or even Orbison-esque. Something better. Something more useful and worth owning. Because Napster allows us to discover, develop a liking for, and even—get this you evil fucking corporate music industry retards—buy more music. Take one look at my music collection and you’ll see just what a sicko I am. I have no choice but to continue to acquire more, even if I have to pay for it, which I routinely do out of either convenience or stupidity (at this point in time, I’m not sure which).

Someday, when the broadband gets wide and wireless enough and the memory gets small and fast enough, our mp3 files will truly become as transparent as our records are opaque, and it will no longer be a pain in the ass to have a great and sufficiently broad collection of music. Until then, I’m still going to be caging my pals records with an eye out for the Twit.

Britney vs. Madonna

If Britney manages to have as long and successful of a career as Madonna, I will renounce Ms. Ciccone as my Supreme Woman and no longer think about her when I masturbate. Yeah, that would be harder than quitting smoking was, seeing as it’s a 16+ year-old habit, but I won’t have to do it. No way, no how. Britney Spears is just a little talentless pandering hotbox. Madonna was a bitch (and yes, I’m using that in the complimentary way) and a rebel and Britney, well, she’s a corporate brand. In ten years she’ll be fat and married to some burnt out former child actor (Macauley Culkin perhaps?). They’ll have a house in Orange county and a decent income from investments and periodically she’ll appear on Entertainment Tonight talking about her cause du jour— freeing caged apes or some shit like that. Why are we even wasting our time thinking about her? Is the world that devoid of good new artists that we have to actually pay attention to her? I know we can’t just wallow in the early 70s forever (or can we?) but isn’t somebody doing something more interesting than B.S. (nice initials)? What are Liam and Noel up to?

The Cosmic American Philosophy

I bought the Flying Burrito Brothers anthology yesterday. What I am going to say now may shock you, but I think that Gram Parsons is *at least* as amazing as Neil Young. Right now, I would rather listen to Gram than Neil. Right now, if I had to pick only one artist to listen to for the rest of my life, I would pick Gram. And I know this for sure: The Burrito Bros. are the best fucking American band of the post-Altamont era. They are the real deal in a way that CSNY could have only dreamed of. GP is no longer a sidestreet on my map of great rock music, he is a fucking freeway. If that guy would have lived a few more years, the world might be an entirely different place. If there is anything more powerful than the Cosmic American philosophy, I don’t know what is. (except maybe Jazz but let’s not go there)