34 years later, I still don’t understand Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”.

I was 14 years old when I first heard O Superman (For Massenet) by experimental musician Laurie Anderson. I don’t know if it qualifies so much as a song than as a spoken word piece with some musical bits to it. I remember being entranced by it and not being able to explain why. It’s eight and a half minutes long and the one constant is a “ha” that serves as the beat, in as much as it can be said to have a beat.

If you’ve never heard it, you can watch the video for it right here:

I had completely forgotten about it until this morning when it showed up on my Thomas Dolby radio station on Google Music. I was immediately taken back to those days in 1982 when I listened to it repeatedly trying to figure out what it was supposed to be about and understand why it had such a hold on me. Not just a hold, it affected me deeply. Particularly when it gets to the lyrics about mom.

Today, 34 years later, it was a jolt to hear it and realize that it still deeply affects me to listen to it. So much so that I had tears welling up as I sat here at my desk, which is really out of character for me. I love a good song as much as the next guy, but it’s rare that any music moves me to tears. I’m not a huge fan of the artist; I’ve never bought her albums and the copy of this song I had was taped off of a local radio station as we were wont to do back in the days before MP3s.

Reading the lyrics does little to help me understand it:

O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad.
O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad.
Hi. I’m not home right now. But if you want to leave a
message, just start talking at the sound of the tone.
Hello? This is your Mother. Are you there? Are you
coming home?
Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don’t know me,
but I know you.
And I’ve got a message to give to you.
Here come the planes.
So you better get ready. Ready to go. You can come
as you are, but pay as you go. Pay as you go.

And I said: OK. Who is this really? And the voice said:
This is the hand, the hand that takes. This is the
hand, the hand that takes.
This is the hand, the hand that takes.
Here come the planes.
They’re American planes. Made in America.
Smoking or non-smoking?
And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom
of night shall stay these couriers from the swift
completion of their appointed rounds.

‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice.
And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!

So hold me, Mom, in your long arms. So hold me,
Mom, in your long arms.
In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms.
In your arms.
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms.
In your electronic arms.

A good chunk of the song is a phone conversation between someone who initially claims to be the mother of the person they’re calling, but then reveals that to be a lie. Then it gets surreal with statements like being the “hand that takes” and something about planes coming and so on.

When I was 14 I thought it was very deep and I was just too stupid to figure it out. I’m not sure I’ve gotten any smarter in the time since. Today we have the Internet and Wikipedia article on it offers up the following explanation:

As part of the larger work United States, the text addresses issues of technology and communication, quoting at various points answering machine messages and the slogan “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. That line is inscribed over the entrance of the James Farley Post Office in New York and is derived from a line in Herodotus’ Histories (8.98), referring to the ancient courier service of the Persian Empire. This line is also interpreted in the accompanying music video into American Sign Language by Anderson wearing white gloves, white sunglasses and a white coat.

The lines “‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice / And when justice is gone, there’s always force / And when force is gone, there’s always Mom” derive from the fourth sentence of Chapter 38 of the Tao Te Ching: “When Tao is lost, there is goodness. When goodness is lost, there is kindness. When kindness is lost, there is justice. When justice is lost, there is ritual. Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.”

All of this is in the context of an attack by American planes and arms. In an interview with the Australian magazine Bulletin in 2003, Anderson said that the song is connected to the Iran-Contra affair, but she meant the Iran hostage crisis which took place in 1979-1980. Anderson appeared as a guest co-host on WFMT Chicago to say the song is directly related to the crash of the military rescue helicopter outside Tehran — a disheartening incident where U.S. military technology essentially let down the government. This equipment or pilot failure, she continued, was her primary impetus for the creation of the song/performance piece. When it became an emerging hit in the U.K., she was as surprised as everyone else, and the need to press more singles to meet emerging U.K. demand was what led to her first multi-album record deal.

Um, OK. So it was inspired by the Iran-Contra affair, but I’ll be damned if I understand how you’re supposed to glean that from the lyrics. Nor does it explain why I am so affected by something I simply don’t understand. I love this song in spite of it. I’ve listened to it several times while writing this entry. I don’t know why.

I can’t say for certain whether my reaction today was because of the song itself or the feeling of being transported back to 1982 and being on the verge of adulthood. The year 2000 was less than 20 years away and I was going to experience “the future” first hand. My cynicism hadn’t fully developed and the future looked promising even if I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do as an adult. I was still ignorant enough of the larger world around me that I could be optimistic without any good reason for it. The future! It was coming and I was gonna be there for it. Looking back it’s not quite what I thought it was going to be, but it could be a lot worse than it is so I’ll take it.

Still, this damned song. Do you guys have anything similar or is it just me?

My dad passed away one year ago yesterday.

I was going to write something about this yesterday, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. I’m still not sure what I’ll say about it today. It took me a couple of days before I managed to write an entry about his death when it happened last year. I miss him and I think about him pretty often, but that’s probably not a surprise to anyone.

Reflecting back on it now it occurs to me that I’m entering that stage of life where losing people close to me is going to happen more frequently. My father-in-law passed two years ago — it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long — all of my uncles on my mother’s side have been gone for years, my grandparents have been gone for over a decade, good friends of mine have left the world sooner than they should have, and now it’s been a year since my dad died. Some of those deaths were unexpected, but the last couple haven’t been.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. My reactions are mixed between the emotional and selfish side that wants to hold onto loved ones for as long as possible and the logical, rational side that says this is a part of life that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I guess the best that I can do is to appreciate the good times we had and that I continue to have with those still here. If your dad is still around today give him a hug for me. I bet he’ll appreciate it.

 

My father has passed away.

Albert Axsom — Jay to his friends and family — died in the early morning hours on Monday, July 21st, 2014. He was 73 years old and his 40th wedding anniversary to my mother was just the day before he passed. The cause was complications from a blood clot in his arm that had broken up and migrated to his lungs. He was on life support and my family made the decision to wean him off of it and let him pass peacefully. I was present and a part of that decision. It’s a decision I’ve been thinking about ever since. I’m still convinced it was the right thing to do, but it still bothers me. It’s part of why it’s taken me several days to write this entry.

Jay was not my biological father, but you’d never have known just by observing us. He took on three kids that weren’t his own when he married my mother and always treated us as though we were blood relatives. He was the only father my sister ever knew as our biological father had died when she was only a couple months old. He did his best in trying to raise us and he took pride in us as only a true father can.  He was a voracious reader of books until his eyesight deteriorated too much from diabetes to see the words on the page. He loved to cook and always had a new kitchen gadget to show you or recipe to try when you came to visit. He and my mother spent their summers making jam and preserves which they gave away to just about everyone they met. His cabbage relish is still one of the very few ways I’ll ever eat cabbage.  He was one of the most friendly people I’ve ever known and was able to strike up a conversation with people he’d just met as though he’d known them all his life. He wasn’t always easy to get along with — no one is — but you never doubted that he loved you.

Dad’s passing isn’t entirely unexpected as he has been suffering the effects of his diabetes for many years. Near the end he was having trouble seeing his computer screen and had taken to just listening to recipe videos on YouTube. He had to get around using a walker and was almost always tied to a portable oxygen tank. Trips to a clinic for dialysis had long been a routine for him. All of that is over for him now. He was as good a father as anyone could have hoped for and I am going to miss him terribly in the days and years to come.

Apparently a “vajacial” is a thing now.

You probably expected some sort of cat picture as a punny metaphor, right?

You probably expected some sort of cat picture as a punny metaphor, right?

I’m going to say something that I never thought I’d ever say: I think we may be taking our obsession with vaginas just a tad too far. I say that as someone who has been fairly obsessed with vaginas for a good portion of his life.

There have been news articles over the past few years about how porn has had an impact on the way people view their genitals. In the beginning this consisted mainly of the trimming of pubic hair for a more groomed appearance and that seemed harmless enough, but it wasn’t too long until it progressed to shaving off of the pubic hair completely, which seemed to me a bit more extreme. That, of course, was nothing compared to the rise of the brazilian wax which eliminated the razor in favor of just ripping the hair out by the roots.

Jinkies! That last one makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Anyway, while all of these things are fairly common among both men and women these days, it seems some women are taking things even further in pursuit of an attractive vajayjay:

Now, it seems that vajacials are a thing. As in, facials, but for your vagina.

Apparently, these started off as a relatively simple affair in 2010, with a papaya enzyme mask, deep cleanse and tweezer hair extractions.

They’ve moved on though. Impossibly, beauticians have moved on from convincing women that a papaya-scented nether region is a necessary aspect of good sex, and have introduced a whole new range of vagina-themed beauty products.

Some women, before a big date or perhaps a romantic mini-break, actually book themselves in for a treatment of vaginal steaming.

Seriously? How exactly does that work? Wait, I don’t really want to know. I thought a brazilian sounded painful. I can’t imagine applying hot steam to that region.

Supposedly this is done after a woman’s period has ended to “heal any imbalances”, as the article puts it, that the vagina may be left with. That right there pretty much tells you this is a bunch of nonsense someone made up to get women to spend a lot of money on having someone shoot steam up their hoohas while having goop made out of fruits no one wants to eat rubbed on them. If that’s not a big enough waste of your hard earned cash and you’re really worried that your nether regions aren’t of the proper shape then you can always opt for a vaginoplasty.

I’ve seen my fair share of vaginas over the years, both in person and in various publications, and I can’t think of any that were so unattractive that, if I were not a happily married man, I would turn down the offer of playing with them. Usually any declines of such offers had more to to with the person themselves than their vaginas and that wasn’t much of a problem because usually I was the one being declined rather than the other way around.

I thought we’d reached an apex of weirdness with vajazzling, but it seems there is no strangeness we won’t go for in pursuit of the perfect genitalia. Up next? Vajazercise!

Sylvia Browne manages to be wrong one last time.

Sylvia-BrowneSelf-proclaimed professional psychic Sylvia Browne, whom I’ve written about previously, has passed away at the age of 77. Some 11 years short of her prediction that she’d die at the age of 88.

I mention her passing not as an opportunity to gloat or celebrate her death, but as a final point to the fact that she was a charlatan who made herself rich preying upon grieving and desperate people while providing no real benefit to anyone outside of herself.

Alas, she is (was) not alone in lacking the scruples required to not take advantage of vulnerable and gullible people. Plenty of other “psychics” will fill the void left by her passing in short time. The best we can do is to continue to point out their techniques and try to educate people to avoid being scammed.

It is a sad day for memes: Mr. Trololo has passed away.

The song wasn’t particularly popular back when it was released in 1976, but it eventually found fame on the Internet nearly 40 years later and now the man who sang it has passed on:

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Eduard Khil was a beloved Soviet crooner who only won sudden international stardom two years ago when a 1976 video of him singing “trololo” instead of the songs censored words became a global Internet hit.

Khil, best known as Mr. Trololo, died Monday at age 77.

He had been hospitalized in St. Petersburg since a stroke in early April that left him with severe brain damage. The stroke was the cause of his death, said Tatyana Mamedova of Petersburg-Kontsert, which organized Khils concerts.

Soviet crooner Mr Trololo dies in Russia – People Wires – MiamiHerald.com

Contrary to the claim in the article, the lyrics weren’t censored. They just didn’t really have any according to Mr. Khil himself. The had a lyric or two, but thought they were pretty bad so he just made up some vocalizations and winged it resulting in eventual Internet fame.

If you’ve never heard his rendition of “I Am Glad, ‘Cause I’m Finally Returning Back Home”, and if you’ve been on the Internet for any amount of time it’s hard to imagine how you haven’t, then here it is in all its glory:

That man could sing.

Bizarre music video of the moment: Duck Sauce’s Big Bad Wolf.

It takes a lot to surprise me these days and this video surprised the shit out of me. The song itself is not particularly interesting, but the music video will have you wondering just what particular brand of drugs they were taking when they made it.

NOTE: This is probably Not Safe For Work because it technically has depictions of nudity and sex acts in it. Technically. Kinda. You’ll have to watch it to understand it, but remember: WHAT HAS BEEN SEEN CANNOT BE UNSEEN!

Now here’s the really weird part: This video has inspired a new photo meme similar to planking. Naturally, it’s called Big Bad Wolfing. Being fad conscious people I’m sure you’ll all want to get in on it.

SEB Mailbag: Dear Unintelligent Mean Illegitimate child.

I got a refreshing change in the SEB Mailbag the other day. In place of the usual poorly worded, barely coherent ranting I usually find there was a bit of fan mail that contained a Question of Utmost Importance! This is such an unusual occurrence that I thought I should go ahead and answer it here.

So here it is:

Hi SEB, I’m here to be a pointless distraction.

I’ve been a fan of your blog for a while, as I’ve always enjoyed the well-worded approach of telling people to go fuck themselves. I’m not just sending this to shower you with praise, however.

Being a person of reasonable knowledge of things happening on the internet, you’re probably aware of the sudden and unexpected fanbase of the newest “My Little Pony” show. This being sort of an interesting topic nowadays, and because I’ve got nothing better to do, I thought I’d ask you what your opinion was on the whole thing. I noticed you didn’t mention it on your blog, so you probably don’t feel too strongly about it, but I figured I’d ask anyways. That is all.

– Your pointlessly inquisitive reader,
kripto

Hiya Kripto! I’m always happy to be showered with praise as I was a middle child growing up and was starved of attention. Which probably explains why I’ve been blogging for so long. If someone gives me the slightest bit of attention I can’t help but soak it up as much as I can.

Anyway, yes! I am very aware of the huge fan base the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic show has garnered outside of its target demographic of young girls and tweens. I am also completely baffled by it.

You see, I’m old enough to remember when the original MLP toys were introduced some 30 years ago in 1981 when I was a mere 14-years-old. Like most toy companies back then, the first thing Hasbro did was hire someone to turn it into a 30 minute advertisement cartoon series. Well, that’s not entirely true. They started with prime-time specials in ’84 and ’85, had a feature length film in ’86 (voiced by relatively big name stars like Danny DeVito no less!), and that was followed by the 30 minute ads TV series that same year. As I recall, the toy line was a huge success for Hasbro and the commercials were near impossible to escape if you were watching anything remotely kid-oriented.

Here’s an example from 1986:

I almost went into diabetic shock watching that clip. Also, why the hell are there so many people uploading vintage 1980 toy commercials to YouTube? This was just one of a ridiculous number of 80’s toy ads I was able to find, many of which were for My Little Pony.

Anyway, the original cartoon series wasn’t quite as successful as the toys and was canceled in 1987 after two seasons. There was an attempt to revive the series in 1992 with My Little Pony Tales, but it didn’t catch on and died a mercifully quick death. Sometime in the 2000’s they revived the toy line and did a number of direct-to-video animated shows that I have no idea how successful they were. You can read all about the original series and the toys over at TV Tropes if you really want to know more about it. I’ve managed to remain blissfully unaware of most of MLP’s history since the 80’s faded from view, but apparently someone couldn’t let sleeping dogs stay dead (or however the hell the expression goes) and decided it was time to revive its rotting corpse once more in October of 2010.

According to the folks at TV Tropes, it was Lauren Faust who took on the challenge of bringing it back. In the past she’s worked on other cartoon series such as The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. This probably goes a long way to explaining why the show has attracted fans outside of its target audience as both of those shows tended to do the same. It probably doesn’t hurt that the show’s creators interact with fans on the Internet and often make references to things the fan base has come up with in the show itself.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point after the debut of Cartoon Network there was a trend toward making cartoons that adults could watch with their kids without feeling like they were losing IQ points in the process. Many of which were good enough that some adults watched them regardless of whether their kids were fans. I know a lot of adults who are huge fans of Spongebob Squarepants and the aforementioned The Powerpuff Girls.  I have been quite fond of shows such as Courage the Cowardly Dog and Invader Zim in the past and today I’m a huge fan of Adventure Time and The Amazing Adventures of Gumball. It seems that the folks behind MLP:FiM have taken that same approach with the revival.

Again, from the folks at TV Tropes:

 The first season was helmed by Lauren Faust, a highly accomplished, Emmy Award-nominated animator — for example, she was the writer and director of The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary FriendsFriendship is Magic is her attempt to rescue the genre of girls’ cartoons by presenting a clever show with a strong and diverse cast of female characters who aren’t pre-occupied with fashion and boys. Her goal was to create an intelligent show for girls that boys and grown-ups could also watch without wanting to shoot themselves. By all accounts, she has done an admirable job of reaching that goal. Following the end of the first season, Faust stepped down as the show’s executive producer, but she will continue to work with the show as a consulting producer through production of the second season.

The show proved an overnight sensation on the internet, and even before the first season was over, it had spawned image macros and countless forum threads full of speculation and discussion; it also led to lots of males having existential crises about enjoying a “girl’s cartoon” so much. It also provides one of the best examples of Troper Critical Mass in action: one season of a show ostensibly for little girls contains hundreds upon hundreds of tropes, a Characters page, fanfics, and legitimate fanbases for every character under the sun.

So, after all of that, let’s get to your question of what I think about all of this: Personally, I’m deeply amused by it.

OK, I am a fan of at least this one pony.

I’ve not watched the new show myself for two reasons. First, I’m still deeply scarred by the endless 80’s commercials and the horrible original show. I don’t recall why I ever saw the original show, but somewhere along the way I was exposed to it and it’s probably a huge factor in why I’m so cynical today. It was exactly the kind of mindless pablum put together by a committee that had no other goal than to maximize toy sales without spawning any kind of controversy that might negatively impact the brand that I think is partially responsible for most of the FOX News fans of today. To be fair, shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers were pretty much the same except aimed at boys.

The second reason is because I don’t want to risk becoming a fan. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that someone took one of the worst shows aimed at young girls in the 80’s and turned it into something that’s not only intelligent, but has garnered a following well beyond the group it was created for. Nor is it a concern over it being a challenge to my masculinity — I’ve been known to paint my toenails on occasion. I’m just worried my head would explode from trying to reconcile my deep cynicism over the original show with how good the new one is.

However, the fact that it’s blown up into a huge meme is what I’m deeply amused by. There’s a certain amount of incongruity with, say, seeing a MLP image macro applied to a discussion thread on Fark or some other forum that I find funny. The fact that it’s gotten big enough to get a shout out from no less than Stephen Colbert is also highly amusing. Overall I’m supportive of the meme for no reason other than I appreciate the non-conformity of it and the general weirdness it promotes. Plus it has generated a lot of fun sub-memes such as the unofficial character known as “Derpy Hooves”.

If you’d like to read more about the spread of the meme you’ll find the MLP:FiM entry at Know Your Meme right up your alley.

A few thoughts on the passing of Steve Jobs.

I’m not an Apple fanboy by any stretch of the imagination — I have one original iPod that was given to me by a company I worked for at the time — but I would be remiss if I didn’t pay my respects to Steve Jobs and all that he accomplished. To say that he had an impact on computing and gadgets would be an understatement. He made PCs fashionable as well as functional and he revolutionized the industry several times over.

Arguably the greatest testament of his genius is the fact that Apple at one point kicked him out of his own company and then proceeded to drive itself into the ground, nearly going bankrupt in the process, only to have Steve return and build the company back up into the tech powerhouse it is today. Windows PCs still dominate the market, but Apple arguably has a bigger influence on form and function of how we get things done.

A good example is the tablet PC and this image that’s been making the rounds illustrates exactly how Steve Jobs and Apple could change everything with the release of a single product:

Click to embiggen!

Before the iPad came along  most tablets were clunky attempts at wedging a laptop into as small a form factor as you could and not one of them enjoyed mainstream success. Steve Jobs revolutionized a niche market and made it mainstream. He did the same thing with MP3 players and cellphones. Whether you’re an Apple fanboy or not, we’ve all benefited from the innovations that Apple has put out under Steve Job’s guidance.

The question now is: Can Apple keep it up now that Jobs is gone? I don’t follow the company close enough to know if Steve put people with a similar gift for innovation into key positions prior to his stepping down a few months back, but I assume he would’ve had the foresight to try and do so. Then again, it was Steve himself who persuaded John Sculley to leave Pepsi and come to Apple where he would eventually kick Steve out of his own company. That said, regardless of Apple’s future fortunes, there’s no dispute that Jobs legacy in technology will be felt for a long time to come. It leaves you to wonder how many more tech revolutions he might have started if he hadn’t passed at such a young age.

Thanks for all you’ve done, Steve.

Elisabeth Sladen, actress who played Sarah Jane Smith on “Doctor Who”, passes away.

Well my afternoon just took a major downturn:

Elisabeth Sladen dies, aged 63 – Digital Spy

Elisabeth Sladen has passed away at the age of 63.

The actress is best known for portraying Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures. The cause of death is not yet clear.

Just as Tom Baker was the Doctor that got me started on watching Doctor Who all those years ago, Sarah Jane Smith was the first companion I got to know. When she returned to reprise the role in the new series with David Tennant as The Doctor, it finally made the show feel like a real continuation for me. Not to mention it was great to see her take on the role in the Sarah Jane Adventures spin-off that was developed for her after her new series appearance.

I don’t normally get upset over the death of a celebrity, but I have a lot of fond memories from my childhood of watching The Doctor and Sarah as they traveled through time and space. So I’m feeling this one a bit more than usual.

Thanks for the great memories Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane Smith and The Doctor