Well, That Happened: The 10 Things I Will Remember About the '00s
2009 TCA Winter Press Tour Recap

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The other day, I had a random thought: will anyone ever be nostalgic for the '00s? From my admittedly biased perspective (I didn't come of age in this decade, so my perspective isn't as rose-colored as it may be for others), the answer is an emphatic 'no.' The political climate was as toxic and divisive as the country has ever known. The music business fell to pieces. Baseball suffered, and is still suffering, its worst scandal. A football player was caught killing dogs. Tweens started dressing like strippers. Sexting. Paris Hilton. Television was as good as it's ever been, but so what? It's only television.

Then again, we're sometimes nostalgic for days gone by not because of what happened in the world, but because of what happened to us. (Again, that whole coming-of-age thing.) Someone will lose their virginity to a Creed song, and have a soft spot for the band for the rest of their lives because of it. That's how nostalgia works; it can't be reasoned with, which means that someone will think of these as the best days of their lives. Yikes.

And yet, it would be wrong to say that the '00s were without their charms. As I said, television was pretty awesome, and that "Umbrella" song will bury every man, woman and child currently living today. As the Bullz-Eye staff assemble their lists for favorite this and that of 2009 and the decade as a whole, I began with something a little more personal: the ten things that had the biggest impact on my life and those around me, both good and bad. In order to end this piece on a high note, I'm tempting fate by starting with the bad, sort of like when the Doors would open their sets with "The End." And this first bad is very, very bad.

THE FIVE BAD THINGS

September 11, 2001

Well That HappenedAs if this list could start with anything else.

I was actually on one of the last planes to land that day. My wife and I had taken a red eye from Hawaii to Dallas, and at 6:30 in the morning we hopped on a nearly empty plane - much like the ones that were hijacked – bound for Chicago. We walked through O'Hare like it was any other day; no one knew anything yet. I happened to see the bank of monitors listing departures, and saw that all flights to New York, Boston and Washington D.C. had been cancelled. I figured there was a storm front on the east coast. It wasn't until we got in the cab that it started coming together. "Hey, did you hear about the fire?" the cabbie said innocently. Then we listened to it all unfold on the way home. It was like listening to Orson Welles' Martian invasion broadcast, only it was real.

You won't get any moralizing from me on the subject, because really, who cares. But I don't think it's any mystery that we as a country have not fully recovered from the events of that day, and at this point I'm not sure we ever will. And that makes me sad; I liked the world better before everyone was a hostile cynic.

2003 NLCS, Florida Marlins vs. Chicago Cubs

Well That HappenedAs a longtime Cubs fan, it looked as though the stars had finally aligned. And through my wife's excellent work contacts, we scored tickets – free ones, no less – to every game at Wrigley. The Cubs lost Game 1, but Sammy Sosa's game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth was the most amazing sports moment I've ever witnessed. That place was louder than God.

They killed the Marlins in Game 2 – Sosa launched a ball that landed on the center field camera shed – and when they came back to Chicago up three games to two with Mark Prior headed to the hill, I did what no Cubs fan should ever do: I felt hopeful. In fact, when the Cubs got that first out in the top of the eighth with a 3-0 lead, my friends and I actually held up five fingers and said, "Only five more outs!" Everyone except my friend John, that is. He's an Indians fan; he knew better.

As history will tell you, that is the precise moment when all hell broke loose. Moises Alou tangles with the unluckiest Cubs fan in the world and can't make the second out. The normally sure-handed Alex Gonzalez boots an easy double play ball. With three runs in and the bases loaded, Sosa finally catches a fly ball for the second out, but overthrows the cutoff man trying to gun down the go-ahead run at home that he was never, ever going to catch. The runners advance to second and third on Sosa's throw, forcing the Cubs to issue an intentional walk. One three-run double later, and the Cubs are suddenly down by four. Meanwhile, manager Dusty Baker refused to use a well-rested Matt Clement in either of the final two games, insisting that "starters are starters and relievers are relievers." And losers are losers, Dusty.

Even when they were winning in Game 7, I had seen enough to know that it would not last. And sure enough, it didn't. My friend Lee will still get excited when the Cubs are playing well. Not me, not anymore. This series effectively killed my inner child.

The low cost of recording equipment

Well That HappenedLet me guess: you just said, "You're arguing against the low cost of recording equipment?" Absolutely. Now that virtually anyone can make their own music, every spoiled, over-privileged teenager now feels that it is their God-given right to do so.

It's not.

Say what you want about the major label system before downloads brought them to their knees, but there was some quality control taking place when they were the gatekeepers. That filter has since been removed, and now all it takes is a few million fake hits on a MySpace page, a greased palm on this or that music blog (writers are ridiculously easy to bribe; start with booze), and boom, suddenly Johnny Bedroom is a big deal. (In fact, our own Jeff Giles is convinced that the success of Conor Oberst is a practical joke hatched by the editors of Pitchfork gone horribly wrong.) Where bands used to have to gig for years – and thus improve in the process, which benefited all concerned – they can now make waves with little more than sleight of hand.

This isn't good for anyone. The marketplace was already overcrowded; now it's ten times worse, making it virtually impossible for a band to maintain a high commercial profile for more than an album or two. As bands have struggled to maintain chart success, listeners' tastes have become more liquid (which is a nice way of saying 'fickle'), compounding the problem even more and all but ensuring that only the most mainstream of pop acts ascend to the upper reaches of the Hot 100. New bands now have to literally give their songs away in order to be heard, with little thought given to how that only further devalues their product.

The idea behind cheaper recording equipment is that it will level the playing field. The reality behind it is that the upper class is unaffected – and in fact are getting much, much richer – while the lower class has suddenly tripled in size. (The middle class, ironically, remains the same because it consists mostly of heritage acts who spend more time on the road than in the studio.) And on the off chance that some unknown artist scores national attention thanks to their bedroom pop record, what is the first thing they do with their newfound name recognition? Sign to a major label, of course. Not exactly the act of rebellion that home recording was supposed to inspire.

The bottom line is that music is subject to the same principles of supply and demand as everything else. When supply goes up but demand stays the same, the value drops. (Technically, it's the price that's supposed to drop, but we all know that that's not going to happen.) Releasing an album used to be a big deal; it meant that you had talent – or at the very least, a marketable quality – and someone in a position of power believed in you enough to pay for your studio time. Now, it merely means that you were able to save up a little bit of cash.

Faux celebrities

Well That HappenedNow, before I begin an Andy Rooney-esque rant on how there is an entire class of alleged celebrities that didn't exist a few years ago, the truth is that the origins of the fake celebrity go back decades. Tiny Tim, fake celebrity. Morganna the Kissing Bandit, fake celebrity. Kato Kaelin, fake celebrity. Today, however, it isn't just that one weirdo over there that Leno cracks lazy jokes about – it's a multimillion-dollar industry…and for what, exactly? I still don't quite understand why they matter.

Perhaps the most galling thing about this new wave of fake celebritydom is that a sex tape actually serves as a legitimate résumé in some cases. Call it the Tommy Lee Effect, (with a nod to Chuck Klosterman); no one thought of Lee as a celebrity until his video with Pamela Anderson made the rounds. He was just the drummer for Motley Crue. That tape, however, made him a household name, and would you look at that, suddenly Poison's Bret Michaels had a tape on the market soon after. Now that fake celebrity has gone supernova, both have their own reality shows, long after their bands held any chart significance.

But here's the difference between Lee and Michaels and people like, say, Kim Kardashian (And if the writer of The Superficial is telling the truth, her sex tape shows her getting peed on, ewwww): Lee and Michaels had actually done something with their lives long before their tapes surfaced. Kardashian was just a privileged party girl who hung out with fellow privileged party girl Paris Hilton. Neither Kardashian nor Hilton possesses any discernible talent; they just come from money. Which is a pretty sweet gig if you're lucky enough to be born into it, but it doesn't merit them their own show, lingerie lines, or fragrances. And it sure as hell doesn't make them role models.

And yet, people look up to them. People care about their love lives, despite the fact that a good chunk of what people read about these people in the gossip magazines is storyboarded in advance. Supermodels have blue collar work ethics in comparison to the vapidity that is the lives of Tila Tequila or Spencer Pratt. But as we continue to chase that intangible American Dream – which seems to have something to do with owning a bunch of expensive stuff – people like Tila and Spencer are pioneers of sorts. In order to be famous; you merely need to have the kind of personality that makes for good television. (And by 'good television,' we mean awful, awful television.) The more self-absorbed, emotionally unstable and immature, the better.

Take a look at that again. These people are spoiled, immature, empty shells…and they're famous because of it. Man, does that send a horrible message to the youth of America, and worse, if the comments I've read on our blogs are any indication, this message is gaining more traction than I would like. Fame appears to be the only thing that matters, and if you aren't famous, you're nobody.

Wrong. Fame does not make someone significant, and lack of fame does not make someone irrelevant. What do you want on your headstone, "Beloved husband, father and brother," or "Once famous for doing nothing"? If Spencer Pratt dies tomorrow, he's getting the latter. That is no way to live your life, people. And while we're discussing blog comments…

The invention of the comment section

Well That HappenedI should be more specific. I actually don't have a problem with the ability to leave a comment on someone's post, since a little healthy debate is never a bad thing. (The comment section at Hot Chicks with Douchebags, for example, contains some of the finest creative writing the Web has to offer. Seriously.) I do, however, have a problem with people who no longer feel it necessary to filter their thoughts before posting them for the world to see. Would you, for example, say any of the following things to someone if you were standing in front of them? (Note: These comments were taken directly from various blogs, including one of our own.)

"Do the world a favor you obvious proof of Cranial Liposuction abuse, and slit your throat."
"You fail at life."
"Find something better to do with your time because you suck here."

Answer: of course not, because you'd get your ass kicked. Ah, but behind a computer screen, everyone's a tough guy – especially now that they have the option to remain anonymous – and they can say whatever vicious, belligerent and hateful nonsense that enters their puny little heads. Oftentimes the hatred is so over the top that it's funny, because the author has no idea how counterproductive his comment is. In fact, as a public service, I've come up with a helpful translator for the most cliché, overused expressions in comment sections. Think you're putting someone down? Guess again.

Frequently used expression – What it really means

  • 'You're just jealous' – I am insanely jealous of this artist's talent. I worship them, and wish I could be the air that they breathe.
  • 'You're a hater' – I have completely lost any and all objectivity when it comes to this artist's strengths and weaknesses. If they told me to slaughter children and puppies, I'd do it without a moment's hesitation.
  • 'Get your facts straight' – I'm deeply insecure, and the fact that you don't think exactly the same way I do is giving me a panic attack. As a means of getting even, I'm going to nitpick this one little thing you said even though, in the end, it proves nothing.
  • 'No one cares about you or what you think' – I care deeply about what you think, otherwise I wouldn't be writing you.
  • 'This is the dumbest thing I have ever read' – I don't read much. And I'm prone to using hyperbole when I type.
  • 'You have no idea what you're talking about' – Your point of view has shaken my belief system to its core. One day, I'll thank you for this.
  • 'You just don't get it' – You have much more discriminating tastes than I do.
  • 'You have no sense of humor' – I like fart jokes and shots to the groin.
  • 'How many albums have YOU sold?' – Even I know that this is a shit argument, since this line of logic also suggests that McDonald's makes the best hamburgers because they've sold the most, but it's all I've got.
  • 'You need to shut up.' – Don't bother pointing out the hypocrisy of me using my right to free speech in order to tell you that you have no right to yours. It will only be lost on me.
  • 'You suck' – I'm not smart enough to come up with anything better than this.
  • 'Are you drunk?' – I'm drunk.
  • 'You fail at life' – My girlfriend broke up with me. I'm so lonely.

What a lot of people don't realize is that the comments people leave on blogs provide detailed descriptions of the age, education, and upbringing of the person writing them, even if it's done anonymously. The word 'hater,' for example, immediately puts the commenter at 25 years of age or younger (If you're older than 25 and use that phrase on blogs, well, you have bigger problems than your blogging etiquette). It also suggests a complete lack of emotional growth, so if you want to show the world how immature you are, then 'hater' is the word for you.

And here's the other thing: for the most part, there is nothing you can say that will actually upset or anger the author of the piece you're commenting on anyway. Music critics don't care whether you disagree with them or not, so don't waste your time telling them how "wrong" they are. Political bloggers, meanwhile, are trying to offend people who disagree with them, much like fundamentalist preachers on college campuses. If you ignore them, eventually they will go away.

In all seriousness, here is the one piece of advice that I'd like to impart to anyone who's head over heels in love with a band and absolutely cannot tolerate a dissenting opinion on their awesomeness: take a deep breath. Love your favorite bands the same way you love your favorite people; Get to know them inside and out, seek out their weaknesses…and love them anyway. That is the best fan that any band could possibly ask for, because every band has flaws, and every band has detractors…including yours. Deal with it. Whenever you lash out at someone for not liking your favorite band, you're actually making the band look worse, because people will read your comment and think, "Man (insert band name here)'s fans are fucking sissies."  

Remember, what you write in a comment section says nothing about the person you're attacking, but it says everything about you. And if it's an anonymous comment, it comes with a giant 'I'M A COWARD' stamped at the top.

THE FIVE GOOD THINGS

The decade wasn't all misery and despair, though. I've now been married to the same wonderful woman for ten years, and despite my opinion that the music business has gone to complete and utter shit, some of my all-time favorite albums are from this decade. In other words, beauty is indeed where you find it. Here are the things that I will remember most fondly.

Facebook

Well That HappenedThe college kids may have run for the hills once their social networking tool was co-opted by their aunts, uncles and parents, but Facebook has done wonders in terms of keeping me in touch with old friends from out of town and sharing a laugh. Yes, it's abused just like any networking tool is – I've had it with Farmville and Mafia Wars, and when you send out a status update inquiring about turning your profile friends into fans, you've officially gone too far – but it's an extremely effective way to share news and pictures with friends and family. We'll see exactly where they take the cryptic language involving their ownership of their members' pictures, but for now they seem to be a benevolent overlord who allows people to play old NES games through them. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for another game of "Snake, Rattle and Roll."

The Kaiser Chiefs

Well That HappenedThey didn't make my favorite album of the decade (that would be Twin Cinema by the New Pornographers), nor were they the band I was most passionate about (that would be Muse), but there isn't a band alive that makes me happier than the Kaiser Chiefs. With their giant hooks, boundless energy, a style that filters the full spectrum of British pop, and one of the best front men in all of rock (Ricky Wilson, take a bow), the Kaiser Chiefs feel like they were made especially for me, as if I dreamed them up, and then they came true. They also put on two of the greatest live performances I've ever seen, at the 2005 and 2009 Lollapaloozas. Ricky even had a broken rib at the latter show, though you never would have known it.

It used to make me angry that the Chiefs haven't made more headway in the States, but those bands that get saddled with the "too British" tag all have that problem, and must settle for cult status (Blur, Pulp, Supergrass, The Jam, Madness). Having said that, they made a lot of fans at Lolla this year; I was talking to guys who came to see Tool and Jane's Addiction, big muscle-bound hard rock guys, and they were blown away by the Kaiser Chiefs. They surely made a bunch more fans opening for Green Day. And how is the band going to celebrate this shift in momentum? By taking some time off, ugh. So the band may never become superstars, but I just know that I'll be playing these albums 20 years from now, something I suspect will not be said often about the bands that came to prominence this decade.  

Getting to do what I love for a living

Well That HappenedLet this be a lesson to anyone who's hemming and hawing over attending their next high school reunion: for God's sake, GO.

I skipped my five-year reunion because I had just graduated from college and hadn't done anything with my life yet. I missed the ten-year because I already had travel plans the week before and couldn't really swing back-to-back trips. But I went to the 15-year reunion, and was stunned at how excited people were to see each other. I was set to play golf with four old friends, one of whom was a big music geek like me. As we got to talking on the back nine, he told me that he wrote for a web site called Bullz-Eye. (This was in 2001, for those keeping score at home.) I was just publishing my reviews on my own (totally ignored) site and through an email list, so I was insanely jealous. He gave me the president's name and email, and so I dropped him a line. He hooked me up with the editor, and they put me to work popping out this or that movie or music review. That led to a writing gig with PopMatters, which led to a gig with the Chicago paper RedEye. When the wife and I decided to move back to my hometown in 2005 in order to start a family, and I was having trouble finding work, the BE managing editor said, "Why don't you come work for us?"

And I said, "Okay."

And none of it would have happened if I hadn't attended my 15-year high school reunion. Thank you, Red Rocker. I am forever in your debt.

Interviewing boyhood idol John Taylor of Duran Duran

Well That HappenedThis story is equal parts awesome and humiliating. It's been almost five years, so I think enough time has passed that the truth can come out: the recording of the interview was stolen before I had a chance to transcribe it.

Here's the back story: in the spring of 2005, just before coming on full-time for Bullz-Eye, I was a consultant for a brokerage firm in Baltimore by day and doing the music thing at night. One day I received an email from PopMatters' interview coordinator that, miracle of miracles, they scored a slot with Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, a guy whom I didn't just admire as a teenager – I wanted to be John Taylor. Even better, the band was supporting one of their best efforts in years, the 2004 Fab Five reunion Astronaut. Whew, I wouldn't be forced to ask pleasantly-worded questions about an album I thought was crap, like, say, their previous album Pop Trash. (I tried two years later to score another interview with someone from the band when they released Red Carpet Massacre, but apparently my two-and-a-half-star review took me out of the running. Oh well.)

So I buy a handheld tape recorder, cassette and phone adapter (had to get a cab, and ask the cabbie to wait in the parking lot while I ran in to buy everything). The device I bought to connect the recorder to the phone didn't work, so I had to commandeer a nearby conference room and put John on speaker, ugh. John's running a little late – 30 minutes, if memory serves – and by the time I get him on the phone, he's clearly tired of doing press. (Hey, he was being patched in from Vegas; I wouldn't want to be trapped in a hotel room talking to reporters if I were in Vegas, either.) The best answers I get are to the most routine questions, and he wasn't at all afraid to voice his disapproval when I said something he didn't like. Still, by the time we wrap up, he's invited me to meet the band before their upcoming concert in my hometown (which their management completely botched, but that's another story), so I felt pretty good about the interview overall.

I listened to the tape five or six times while walking around Inner Harbor, still stunned that the interview actually happened. I packed up my stuff when the work week was done and got ready to hop in a cab for the airport. My carry-on bag was stuffed to the gills, so in my haste, I threw the tape recorder in a side pocket in my suitcase, thinking, "In this age of iPods and camcorders, who's going to care about a Walkman?"

Boy, did the baggage handlers at BWI show me.

I get home, and I'm already in a foul mood because my wife and I had been fighting (being out of town four days a week for months on end will do that), and so I was near tears when I discovered that my tape recorder had been stolen out of my bag…and the tape was still in it. Fuuuuuuuuuuuck!

So I put the interview together from memory. That's why all of John's answers are so brief. He talked at length about Bob Dylan's most recent book, but since I couldn't remember that part very well, I left it out. (You can read the interview here.) The responses to the interview were very nice, but I never shook the embarrassment that I felt for letting that tape get stolen in the first place. Still, the shame doesn't overshadow what an incredible thrill that was. I've done many more interviews since then, but John's still the biggest star I've talked to.

The band recently finished their thirteenth album, with producer and DKNY spokesperson Mark Ronson at the helm. It's gotta be better than Red Carpet Massacre. Maybe I'll request a chat with Nick this time around. And then store the recording on my external hard drive the second it's over.

The births of my children

Well That HappenedI'm guessing you all just went, "Lame!" Yeah, well, fuck you, they're my kids.

Granted, this has nothing to do with the events or technological advances of the decade, but the years 2007 and 2009 will forever be fond ones for the simple fact that I got to say hi to my son and daughter, respectively, for the first time.  I thoroughly enjoyed my kid-free years, but I can't imagine life without them now.

All of the clichés about becoming a parent are absolutely true. You never stop worrying about them. You watch movies and listen to music in a completely different way. (Language! Violence! Encourages bad behavior!) Perhaps the most surprising thing about parenthood was how it affected my tastes when it came to movies. My friends would all tell me that they don't go for the serious stuff, that they just want to be entertained. I couldn't understand that at all at the time, but I sure as hell get it now. And worse, I'm a film critic, so I have little patience for movies where the plot revolves around the grief parents endure when their children are kidnapped or killed ("Changeling"). Besides, who would want to experience that feeling if they didn't have to?

Anyway, raising children is not easy, of course, but there is fun to be had if you make it happen. My son Garrett loves music – his favorite band, natch, is the Kaiser Chiefs – and my daughter Amy is the happiest baby you'll ever meet. And since I work from home and they're only in day care three days a week, I get a lot more time with them than a lot of working parents. Yes, we're poor, and slumming through the worst economic climate many of us have ever known, but this is as good as I've ever had it.

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