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December 14, 2006

Money for nothing: How does a guaranteed 40% return with zero risk sound?

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Can't be legal, right?

Right.

But it was until today, when the U.S. government outlaws melting down nickels and pennies to profit from selling the base metals from which the coins are made.

Who knew that any nickel is actually worth 6.99 cents and every red cent in your pocket 1.12 cents?

Do the math: that means that every $1,000 worth of nickels, once melted down, is worth $1,400.

By my math that's a 40% profit with 0 risk — except for having the feds come down on you, starting today.

Oh, well.

Easy come, easy go.

December 14, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Lou Reed's 'Berlin' — 'The most depressing album ever made'

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Yesterday's New York Times, describing "Berlin," released in 1973, noted that it was "sometimes called the most depressing album ever made."

They wrote that, not me.

So don't come after moi.

But I digress.

Reed (above) performs "'Berlin,' his bleak, Brechtian song cycle, in full for the first time in Brooklyn, for four nights," beginning tonight, at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn.

Ben Sisario wrote the Times story, which follows.

    Revisiting a Bleak Album to Plumb Its Dark Riches

    Lou Reed refers to it with an understatement that borders on dismissal.

    “It was just another one of my albums that didn’t sell,” he said dryly at a West Village cafe recently.

    But get him talking a little — and a little talk is all one can expect from Lou Reed — and it becomes clear that “Berlin,” his bleak, Brechtian song cycle from 1973, which he is performing in full for the first time at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn for four nights beginning tomorrow, is a treasured high point in a what has been a lifelong project of pushing at the aesthetic boundaries of rock ’n’ roll.

    “It’s a great album,” he said. (He has also called it a masterpiece.) “I admire it. It’s trying to be real, to apply novelists’ ideas and techniques into a rock format.” He mentioned William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., Allen Ginsberg and Raymond Chandler as literary models.

    “But it sounds so pretentious saying that.” he added. “It just sounds too B.A. in English. Which I have. So there you go.”

    Mr. Reed has gathered a starry group of friends to help turn “Berlin” into a semitheatrical, multimedia performance. Julian Schnabel has created sets and will be filming the show, and Mr. Schnabel’s daughter Lola has shot film scenes with the French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, which will be projected onto the stage. Bob Ezrin, who produced the original album, will be doing musical direction with Hal Willner. The indie darling Antony will appear with a children’s choir and will also sing backup with Sharon Jones, queen of the local retro-soul scene.

    For Lou Reed fans it is a dream come true, and the concerts have long been sold out. But Mr. Reed, now 64, said he is surprised that many listeners remember the record at all.

    Sometimes called the most depressing album ever made, “Berlin” is the story of Caroline and Jim, a lowlife couple in the title city — she is promiscuous, he beats her, and they both do lots of drugs — and the tragic dissolution of their relationship. The demimonde of drugs and sadomasochism glamorized in songs by the Velvet Underground, Mr. Reed’s visionary 1960s avant-rock band, is shown with miserable consequences, as in “The Bed,” when Caroline commits suicide and Jim remains bitterly numb:

    This is the place where she lay her head

    When she went to bed at night ...

    And this is the place where she cut her wrists

    That odd and fateful night

    And I said oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, what a feeling

    The album was made at a high point in Mr. Reed’s career. His second solo record, “Transformer,” produced by David Bowie and released in 1972, had become a glam-rock keystone, and the song “Walk on the Wild Side,” from that album, was a major hit. (It remains his only song to have reached the Top 40.) Looking to continue Mr. Reed’s commercial success, his record label enlisted Mr. Ezrin, who, though only 23, had already made several hit records with Alice Cooper.

    “The expectation was that I was going to do something very commercial with him,” Mr. Ezrin said from his office in Toronto. “Sort of Alice Cooper-ish, real mainstream. In reality I had become mesmerized by the poetry and by the art of Lou. Maybe I lost sight of my mandate. Honestly I can look back and say I probably didn’t do what I was hired to do.”

    Recorded in London with a group of high-profile musicians including Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce, the songs of “Berlin” are rock filtered through a Brecht-Weill sensibility, with piano at the center of arrangements for band, horns and strings. Songs like “The Bed” and “The Kids” are among the most joyless Mr. Reed has ever recorded, but also some of his most delicate and intense.

    The album has a narrative that stretches over 10 songs, and Mr. Reed and Mr. Ezrin had dreams of staging it. “We were bordering on genius with this work,” Mr. Ezrin said. “We were doing things that you’re just not supposed to do with rock music.”

    But the album was, as Mr. Reed puts it, “a monumental failure at the time it came out — commercially, critically, you name it.” Reviewers savaged it. A reviewer for Rolling Stone, appalled at its seediness, called it “a disaster”; one critic described the vocals as “like the heat-howl of the dying otter.” (Not all writers were so cruel, though. John Rockwell of The New York Times praised it as “one of the strongest, most original rock records in years,” and Rolling Stone took the unusual step of publishing a rebuttal to its own review, saying that “prettiness has nothing to do with art, nor does good taste, good manners or good morals.”)

    Though it stalled at No. 98 on the charts and drifted in and out of print, over time “Berlin” has built a passionate cult audience. One of its most ardent fans is Mr. Schnabel, who called the album the soundtrack to his life. “This record was the embodiment of love’s dark sisters: jealousy, rage and loss,” he said. “It may be the most romantic record ever made.”

    For the show at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which is being co-produced with the Sydney Festival in Australia (where “Berlin” travels next month), Mr. Schnabel has created sets based on some of his recent paintings, which are meant to evoke the “greenish walls” of the fleabag hotel where Caroline lives. “Lou calls it the Berlin Wall,” he said.

    “Berlin” also became a life’s accompaniment of a different sort for 25-year-old Lola Schnabel. “I just remember that soundtrack at the moment my parents were getting divorced,” she said. “It wasn’t that the music was disturbing; it was what was happening with the music. But it’s part of my childhood.”

    The album was recorded when Mr. Reed’s own first marriage was collapsing. “This kind of anger didn’t come from a made-up place,” Mr. Ezrin said. “It is from deep within Lou’s psyche. We’ve all been through relationships where we’ve been disappointed by a partner and been hurt and wanted to hurt them back.”

    When asked about the circumstances of its creation, Mr. Reed said, “I don’t remember.”

    After years of prodding from Susan Feldman, the artistic director of Arts at St. Ann’s, which operates St. Ann’s Warehouse, to perform the album, Mr. Reed relented once he saw how dearly it was loved by Mr. Schnabel and other of his friends. “I just never wanted to do it,” he said. “I wasn’t itching to do anything in particular. I usually just try to do new things.”

    As for the title, Mr. Reed is typically blunt when asked why he chose to set the story in the once-divided city of Berlin instead of, say, New York.

    “I’d never been there,” he said. “It’s just a metaphor. I like division.”

....................

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Above, Reed and his band rehearsing "Berlin" at St. Ann's Warehouse, located at 38 Water Street in Brooklyn; 718-254-8779; Showtime each evening is 8 p.m.; Tickets are $65.

Look for the most amazing audience ever assembled each night — for sure.

Can't make it?

Not to fret — Amazon will sell you "Berlin" (below)

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for $10.99.

December 14, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Price Break on Thorlos — World's Best Running Socks

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I've been wearing Thorlo socks (above) since they first came out and have never found a reason to switch.

But they're expensive: usually $13 or so a pair.

So when I went to replenish my supply yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to find that the company's own website was finally selling them, and at a nice price: $11.99 a pair, with no sales tax and free shipping.

So imagine my surprise as I placed my order when I found that until December 26, 2006, if you buy three pair you get a fourth pair free!

No tricks, no gimmicks.

That takes the price/pair down to $8.99.

It's not going to get any better than that.

I will even go so far as to offer the bookofjoe challenge™: if you find these socks for less than that anywhere and furnish proof to me, I will refund the difference between the price you find and $8.99 and — this is no small beer — make you a member of my crack research team, with stock options backdated to whenever you like.

Cliff, eat your heart out.

December 14, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Patootie Problem in Richmond, Virginia — 'Teacher Suspended After Getting Cheeky With a Painting'

That's the headline of today's Washington Post Metro section story by Ian Shapira about how Richmond high school art teacher Stephen Murmer has been placed on administrative leave by administrators.

His purported offense: "Slathering his posterior with paint, pressing it against canvases and selling them as art," some for over $900.

What probably led to the suspension was not so much the art itself as the fact that a video from Murmer's 2003 appearance on a now-canceled cable television talk show, "Unscrewed With Martin Sargent," featuring the artist in a fake nose and glasses, a towel on his head and a black thong — and nothing else — has made its way onto YouTube (above), where Murmer's students can view it.

Of course, they all love it, as a Chicago Sun-Times story on the kerfuffle noted.

Judge for yourself.

The Post article follows.

    Teacher Suspended After Getting Cheeky With a Painting

    In the case of Stephen Murmer, Richmond area high school art teacher, avant-garde painter and entrepreneur, the issue comes down to this:

    Does his personal business — slathering his posterior with paint, pressing it against canvases and selling them as art — cause too much of a disruption in the hallways of Monacan High School in Chesterfield County?

    School administrators seem to think so. Last week, they placed Murmer on paid administrative leave and are conducting an investigation to determine whether he should be reinstated, suspended longer or fired, school officials said.

    "It's one of the strangest things I've ever encountered in my 15 years on the board," said Marshall Trammell, chairman of the Chesterfield County School Board.

    The beef over Murmer's buttocks began last week because — of course — a video surfaced on YouTube.com, featuring Murmer demonstrating his talents. Students, acting on their proclivity to gossip about teachers, especially those who may be rear-end-painters, circulated the news. Eventually, school officials, for lack of a better phrase, got wind of it.

    The incident raises all sorts of high-minded questions. What is art? What are the limits of the First Amendment? And what do today's students, jaded to practically every purported cultural indecency, think of it?

    "This one kid came up to our lunch table and said, 'Did you hear about the video that was on the Internet?' " said Stephanie Kazlauskas, 17, a senior and a field hockey player. "A lot of people didn't believe it. We were just laughing that a teacher at our school would have some kind of video doing something like that. But most people think it's kind of stupid that he's being so criticized."

    Cue the YouTube clip: Murmer is appearing on what appears to be a live-audience TV interview show called "Unscrewed with Martin Sargent," and he's going by a similarly spelled pseudonym — Stan Murmur. He's dressed in a white robe with a towel wrapped atop his head and is wearing fake glasses and a fake nose.

    He's peppered with all sorts of questions. What's with the disguise? "I do have a real job, where I do have real clients," he says. "I don't think they'd be too understanding if I was also the guy that painted with my [rear]."

    "To your knowledge, are you the first [fanny] painter in history?" his host asks him.

    "To my knowledge, I am the first one to focus specifically on that area of the body," he says modestly.

    Enough talk, the host says. The teacher strips. Down to essentially nothing but a black thong bathing suit. Then, he spreads out black paint on some paper, sits on it, then walks over to a canvas and sits on that, adding to a camouflage design of black, green and beige splotches. The paintings sell for hundreds of dollars.

    Murmer could not be located — a phone number listed for him reaches a recording that says the line is disconnected.

    Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, who is speaking for Murmer, said that public employees have a right to express themselves freely but that schools also have a right to ensure that those freedoms do not interfere with students' learning. ACLU officials confirmed that it is Murmer in the video.

    "How much disruption did this cause?" Willis asked. "Common sense indicates that this is the sort of thing that students giggle about for a few days, and it disappears. But the school has upped the ante by suspending him."

    Does the teacher stand to make any money out of the frenzy? Students at his school are apparently getting their first lessons in diplomacy. "I'm just not an art connoisseur," Kazlauskas said.

December 14, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

bluepom Lamp Dimmer

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Stacey (aka soobieoobie) sent me a link to this website yesterday; she wrote, "I saw this at a friend's house and this is the awesomest thing! It is kind of hard to relate to it on screen, but when you get to touch this fabric sensor thing and change the lights — it is addictive! It is immediate and rewarding, and I am buying them for everyone I know — check it out!"

Your wish is my command: it is done.

$49.99.

December 14, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Clinton v Obama — Who's on top?

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After reading Maureen Dowd's New York Times Op-Ed page column yesterday,

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which more or less anointed this odd couple as the final fantasy showdown pairing for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination,

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it occurred to me that it might well come down to who's going to blink first and take second billing in the event the pair becomes the ticket.

December 14, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Beerbelly Stealth Beverage System

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Say what?

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Olivia Barker wrote about it in yesterday's USA Today "Hot Gifts" feature, as follows:

    Beer Cozy

    Have your man stick it to the ballpark beer man with The Beerbelly ($34.95 regularly, $27.95 this week only), a "stealth beverage system," as the company calls it, that enables one to sneak 80 ounces of liquid joy — more than a six-pack's worth — into stadia, airplanes, movie theaters or malls (for enduring shopping excursions with the wife, naturally). A guy straps a sac-like "bladder" (their word) over his gut; stealth sipping comes compliments of a discreet tube. An insulated sling pouch keeps the brew keg-cold. The Beerbelly folks have even done some math to sway the skeptical: one Beerbelly = $34.95; six stadium beers = $42 at $7 apiece. But beware gut-busters: one size accommodates only those with modest natural beerbellies — i.e., dudes with up to a 40-inch waist.

....................

Huh.

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This could be just the ticket for old Cliff up Bloomington way.

Marsiglio?

Bueller?

Anyone?

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$27.95.

December 14, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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