Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Radio On!

The Typing Monkey has a challenge for you. It requires a car with a working radio. If you don't have both of those things, you can stop reading and skip on to another post here, or click on one of the links in our "Monkey Love" section and enjoy some other Web-based entertainment.

Those who are prepared for it: This challenge can only be a good time. Consider it an exercise in chance, discovery and a way to return a tiny bit of wonder to the act of listening to the radio.

But first, we are required to say:
Corporate radio sucks. Media leviathans own multiple stations in single markets and continue to drain both the local personality and musical diversity from these stations in the belief that they know what listeners want to hear, niche-programming music into blank-eyed predictability.

Conversely, technology has enabled consumers to program deeply personalized playlists of music they can take wherever they want, without annoying commercial interruptions or a disc jockey who pretends that his job is a non-stop party. MP3 players and cloud-storage music services have made the act of listening to music on the radio the technological equivalent of shaving with a straight-razor sharpened on a leather strap.

Now then:
If you've read this far, we won't rehash any sad statistics regarding media consolidation and the shrinking pool of songs from which radio programming draws, because the point of all this typing is to praise radio.

That's right, we love radio and we're not afraid to admit it.

It's easy to tune in to talk or news radio and leave it on all day at work, or while doing chores around the house. Some passively listen to a single music station because it's easy to do so. There's comfort in tuning in a classic rock station while you clean the gutters, or some other unsavory but necessary labor.

But hopping from station to station -- particularly easy with a car radio -- forces the listener into activity, and consequently makes the radio experience significantly more fun. Even in the dullest radio market a few well-chosen stops on the dial can provide a reasonably good driving soundtrack.

So here's the challenge: Reprogram a few of the presets on your car radio. Sure, pick whatever stations you may voluntarily listen to, but toss in a few that trade in genres you might not think of immediately. Don't pick stations you hate, though. This is a game, not torture.

Now, the next time you have to drive for more than 20 minutes, turn on the radio and find a song you like on any of the stations. Listen to it and if you don't like the next song, change to another station on the presets until you find something agreeable.

But don't ever stay on any one station for more than three songs. You'll surprise yourself by what you settle on, and if you plug in some off-the-path stations, the whole thing can feel like listening to somebody else's iPod set to shuffle.

Just do it. Seriously, it's fun. To prove it here are some recent results from a Typing Monkey staff field trip:

Stations programmed
~ Classic rock
~ Classical music
~ An "oldies" station that spans from *Your Hit Parade material on up through unnecessary modern versions of jazz standards by the likes of Rod Stewart
~ A well-funded "indie" music station
~ "World music" station
~ Two urban contemporary/R&B/hip-hop stations
~ Jazz
~ A "JACK FM" channel
~ Pop and rock hits of the '70s and '80s

Here's what we heard, starting at 9 p.m. [Brackets] indicate the songs we skipped, or missed due to the three-song limit. An asterisk* indicates songs we heard only part of.

Jack Jones -- "Wives and Lovers"
Barbara Lewis -- "Baby I'm Yours"
Tymes -- "Wonderful! Wonderful!"

[Carley Simon - "Nobody Does It Better"]
Breakestra -- "Lowdown Stank"*
[Brother Ali -- "The Preacher"]
REM -- "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)"*
Boston -- "More Than a Feeling"
The Cure -- "Close to Me"
[The Police -- "Synchronicty II"]
Steve Miller Band -- "Jungle Love"*
Led Zeppelin -- "Celebration Day" (Zeptember!)
[Station break]
The Wailing Souls -- "Kingdom Rise & Kingdom Fall" (12" Mix)*

The next day we tried it again at 1 p.m. and netted nothing worth hearing. Really, a total wash-out. Nobody needs to hear "Gypsy" or "Magic Carpet Ride" ever again radio. We can play those songs in our heads if we feel the need.

And lately the "urban" stations seem stuck on a permanent loop of passionless, Auto-tuned "soul" jams about getting drunk and engaging in casual sex. There's better urban contemporary material out there, we've heard it.

Three days later, we took a chance on a morning drive. If you want to hear music, statistically, this has to be the worst time of the day to listen to the radio.

After minutes of fruitless searching we settled on the last dramatic bars of Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor, a decent transition into The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" then Queen's "We Will Rock You" (didn't stay for "We Are the Champions"). Switching again we landed on Charles Mingus' "Better Get Hit in Your Soul" (a revelation) and Blind Willie McTell's "Broke Down Engine Blues." That was enough to get us to our destination and now we know it's time to check out Mingus Ah Uhm.

You have the rules. Give it a try. And if you live in a barren radio wasteland, try it anyway. You never know what you might end up with after exploring the dial.

Car radio image courtesy of Antique Automobile Radio, Inc.

Monday, September 28, 2009

We'll be right back after these messages.

from Sesamstrasze
"Im Garten eines Kraken"

[courtesy derhuebiii]

For the equally delightful English-language version, click here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Gentleman's Self Defense

Let's say you're walking home from your local after enjoying a drink in the company of friends when suddenly a young tough emerges from the shadows and demands your money. Also, it's Victorian London. You may hand over your purse and still receive a thrashing. Or you may do something like this:

Edward William Barton-Wright studied jujitsu and Japanese wrestling, among other Eastern martial arts. He combined these methods with Western boxing and wrestling techniques, and fencing, into a fighting style called Bartitsu, possibly the first mixed martial art. (Some Bartitsu maneuvers utilize walking sticks or parasols as weapons, and encourage using your hat or coat to distract an opponent.)

Barton-Wright also helped develop the first self-defense classes for women, which were especially popular with members of the English women's suffrage movement. Suffragette and martial artist Edith Margaret Garrud used her jujitsu skills to fight off police and civilians attempting to attack demonstrators for women's rights, all while decked out in the heavy clothing of a proper Victorian woman.

Learn more about it at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Want Some?

The Typing Monkey has issues with Good magazine that aren't worth discussing here. But once in a while, they put something up that really is worth a look. Photographer Jon Feinstsein has been snapping various fast-food items, shot against a stark black background, and collected them into an exhibit called "Fast Food."

"8 grams" by Jon Feinstein

Peep the whole Good piece here, which has some interesting comments from Feinstein himself. Or just go to his Website.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In Search of the Skull-Crushing Good Times

Finding movies about ancient-world warriors who cleave skulls with battle axes is not a difficult quest. Picking out the good ones is. For the viewer with a desire for quality Medieval/Viking/primitive ass-kickery, the search for satisfaction never ends.

As enjoyable as Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was, years of crap fantasy films, manic fan rapture and the work of George Lucas put a screen between our eyes and those films. At best LotR reminds us that Jackson did right by Tolkien, at worst the trilogy prompts us in our more cynical moods to describe it as the over-inflated story of two guys trying to return some jewelry.

Either way, the LotR films inspired no repeat viewings. Whereas any of the sword & sandals flicks featuring Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animated creatures keeps us returning despite the fact that the target demographic was 7-to-14-year old boys.

Nostalgia plays a large role in that, for sure. But something about The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts taps into the pure joy of watching mythical archetypes clobber each other with weapons, magic and their fists.

Kung-fu movies can deliver the same thrills, but for anybody who sank their brain deep into Greek and Norse mythology or non-superhero adventure comics, there's no substitute for the battle-hardened brute of the Western world diving headfirst into the red mists of war, blade in hand and strict moral code intact. No modern person wants to live in that realm, but the stories' clear division between right and wrong has its appeal.

Past cinematic offerings in this pulp genre are patchy. The Italian Hercules flicks can be campy fun. But the Schwarzenegger Conan films fell flat -- despite John Milius' direction of the first film -- largely because Schwarzenegger is never anyone onscreen but himself. For every inventive outing such as Excalibur there's a not-quite-there entry such as King Arthur; for every Flesh + Blood, a Gladiator.

And the straight-to-DVD/made-for-basic-cable landscape offers a bounty of passable dreck that, we confess, may pull us in on a hangover Sunday afternoon. (We don't watch those movies because they're worth our attention, we watch them because nobody has to know about it when we're done.)

Thanks to CGI and a summer blockbuster season that lasts six months, Hollywood's launched a few more big-budget swashbucklers our way in the past decade, with expectedly mixed results erring on the side of crap. But two forthcoming releases could be worth a look.

Michael J. Bennett, who helmed two unusual, battle-themed horror films -- Deathwatch and Wilderness -- has directed the first big-screen adaptation of Solomon Kane.

Kane, a creation of Robert E. Howard (who also brought Conan the Barbarian to life), is a 16th century tough who packs two flint-lock pistols and various sharp items because dang it if the Colonial world isn't lousy with Satan's minions. James Purefoy, unknown to the average U.S. viewer, plays the lead. Check the trailer here.

From the less popcorn-friendly side comes Valhalla Rising, a film about a slave named One Eye who escapes his Viking captors only to run into some Crusaders and an unusually thick fog.

Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, who delivered the goods with the punishing Pusher trilogy brings the bleak reality of life in 1000 A.D. Northern Europe to the screen here. The role of One Eye is played by a Danish actor named Mads Mikkelsen. (Everytime we say his name aloud, various Slayer riffs play. It's the damnedest thing.)

Here's the Valhalla trailer:

[Courtesy Vertigo Films UK]

Having not seen either of these, The Typing Monkey can't vouch for the level of quality. So don't send us angry e-mail if they're trash because we'll be just as disappointed as you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New Monkey Love

The Girls
So you like early Devo, The Cars and too many spastic British pub/punk bands to list? This quintet does a fine job of recreating and recasting that sound for modern audiences. Novelty sunglasses encouraged, but not required.

Ill Roots
We don't pretend to be anywhere near the frontier of hip-hop, and you shouldn't either. However, this blog offers a selection of downloadable singles, mixtapes and remixes diverse enough to suit just about any taste within the realm of the DJ/MC style, and does so with a fair amount of framing so that you know what you're in for.

For example, here is a funny bit of text regarding the music of rough-looking rapper MegaSean: "If you're currently picking dandelions in fluorescent skinny jeans and humming show tunes then I wouldn’t advise you to download any of this. For everyone else please proceed to give your eardrums a taste ..." Right below this was a post hailing "Pursuit of Happiness" -- Kid Cudi's new single featuring MGMT & Ratatat.

Ox Rooster Little Tiger
Ever been to Taiwan? Typing Monkey associates Monsieur Goman and Bri went for you and have been there since August '09. Catch up with the overseas adventure of this adorable, morally upstanding duo.

Beware, There's A Crosseyed Cyclops In My Basement!!!
We blabbed about this site previously, and have decided to add it to our love list. Downloadable comic books to suit just about any taste, updated with dizzying frequency.

Just For the Hell of It
Looking for rare and out-of-print DVDs of the B-grade, Z-grade, horror and exploitation variety? Look here first. They even have a YouTube channel where you can get a temporary fix with select scenes from various features. Shadowman -- yes! (J4HI YouTube clips not always SFW.)

Secret Fun Spot
Lots of Websites post pictures, reviews and rememberies of pop culture ephemera from the recent and distant past. Few are as classy or well-designed as this. You will waste much time here. Don't believe us? Two words: bike decals.

Old Monkey Love

Change is healthy. The natural world modifies, adjusts and amends frequently and we must emulate that fluidity in order to keep things interesting. So with the symbolic end of summer -- Labor Day has passed, school resumes, and the first tentative signs of autumn appear -- we bid farewell to a few items on the "Monkey Love" links list.

Daily Monster
Stefan G. Bucher's fun art project continues by splintering off beyond the original plan: A monster a day, created, documented and posted for your viewing pleasure. It's now a book with a DVD you can order on Amazon. Mission accomplished, sir.

The End Times*
Disassembled by Dr. F. Beldinstein, the "doom folk" trio has a posthumous LP in the works, recorded before the good doctor brought it down. Singer Abigail Anderson makes music on her own. Slide-guitarist Tyson Lynn documents many aspects of his life on various social networks. If you missed them, get the recording when it's available.

Friday Night Frights
Who thought this was a good idea?

*Note, The Typing Monkey generally removes bands from the "Monkey Love" section if the band breaks up. So why do we keep a connection to The Blacktree Singers, a one-off project never intended to last? Because their music is the sound your heart makes in spring.