Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There Are Times Our Mayor Should Shut Up!

A few years ago, my son and I were invited to spend a few days in the Black Hills with the rest of my family. Since his mother lived in Redfield, I had to leave a few hours early to pick him up. Instead of heading south to get back on interstate 90, it appeared to be quicker to head directly west on state highways.
This method took us through a part of the state that I barely knew existed. The highways were primarily two-lane, with the exception of a few miles either side of the Missouri River. Even worse, these highways were in terrible shape. There were potholes all over the place; at some points there weren’t even two full lanes. Combine these conditions with the constant presence of slow-moving farm vehicles and you have an eight-hour drive that should not have taken more than three or four.
This trip was over a decade ago, and from what I’ve been told there has been little, if any, work to improve these highways. I’d bet it’s safe to say that this is pretty typical state of affairs for a good percentage of our state’s roads.
With the passage of President Obama’s economic stimulus bill, our state could possibly see approximately $183 million in the next two years to spend on state transportation projects. Surely, nobody can argue that a wise use of a good percentage of this money should go to upgrading these highways.
Oh wait, there is one person who is not happy. Our wonderful Mayor complained in Tuesday’s Argus Leader that not enough of this money was coming to Sioux Falls. In an interview on KELO he elaborated, saying that he felt this money should be earmarked for projects such as an interstate exit on 85th Street and the ongoing Highway 100 project on the east side of town.
The interstate exit is ridiculous in my eyes, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with the widening of the highway that will eventually be the home for Kohl’s, Target, and possibly Best Buy. This is a project that’s already in our budget, though, and will be completed no matter how federal money is dished out. A portion of our sales taxes are supposed to be designated for street projects. Let’s use that money for where it’s already been designated so that our Mayor doesn’t come up with other pet projects that we don’t need.
It’s unlikely, though, that these state highways will ever be upgraded without this federal money. This is a one-time opportunity to make these roads safe for not only our residents, but tourists and truckers from outside of the state.
Plus, the Mayor’s comments is going to further the rural belief that us “cityfolk” only think about ourselves. Already, many online commentators such as Pat Powers are making this very point. “Psst, Dave. It’s not all about you. South Dakota does exist beyond the borders of Sioux Falls. And the people outside of SF deserve a little stimulus too.”
Munson also fails to disclose that it’s likely that we will see some federal money besides the “snow gates, highway fencing and pavement marking” that he complains about in the Argus article. Over $60 million of this money has yet to be budgeted, and many local projects were submitted in the 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Along with both of the Mayor’s pet projects already mentioned, there were submissions for the Rail Relocation Project, an overpass on 69th Street, and expansions or extensions of a handful of other streets. Plus, it’s likely that the Lewis and Clark water project will get the aid that the previous administration failed to fund.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grammy Thoughts





People are always shocked when I tell them I managed to sit through the Grammy Awards. Hell, I’m sort of shocked, but definitely not proud, that I somehow manage to not throw my remote through my television at some point of the evening. God knows there are always plenty of moments that deserve some violent reaction.
I have my reasons for viewing the broadcast, though. Sure, I’m a bit of a sadist, but that’s another story. See, the Grammy Awards is the one day out of the year that I venture out of my self-imposed musical cocoon and allow myself to hear the garbage that the record industry forces commercial radio to play. I see pictures of idiots like the Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, Lil’ Wayne, Chris Brown, and Rhianna, but I have no idea what they sound like. (Obviously, I still have no clue what the last two sounds like since…and I’m not sad about that fact.)
I even immersed myself in the non-televised portion of the awards, which is always the time that a few artists I enjoy nab a few minor awards. This year was no exception, as Kings of Leon, The Mars Volta, Weezer, and Radiohead were winners.
This year’s broadcast opened with the big debut of U2’s new song, “Get On Your Boots”, which clearly rips off Elvis Costello’s 1978 classic, “Pump It Up”. In other words, pretty underwhelming, but I can handle mediocre.
I can’t handle cringe-inducing, though, and that was the story of the rest of the night. Grammy producers love the idea of pairing acts for what they call “Grammy Moments”, but it’s clear that there were no thoughts to compatibility.
Jay-Z’s appearance with Coldplay was no surprise, as he also pulled the same trick on an EP the band released back in November. When I first heard the tune back then, I noted to a friend that it didn’t seem to be a natural pairing, and it was proven on the Grammy stage.
Yet that was probably the most successful pairing of the evening. A tribute to the Rat Pack called the Rap Pack? Jamie Foxx desecrating the memory of the Temptations? Lil’ Wayne paired with some fake white soul singer in a tribute to New Orleans?
I actually did mute the television at one point. Tween stars Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus were paired for a song that seemed to come straight out of a bad 80’s ABC Afterschool Special. I actually understand the appeal of Swift. She’s a likable performer who simply sings her songs without the vocal gymnastics that mars 99% of all current pop music.
Miley Cyrus, though, is a train wreck. She simply can’t sing, and attempts to hide that fact by screeching into the mic. Not only that, she goes overboard on waving her mic around like she’s reaching deep into her soul to come up her tuneless vocals. She’s got about as much soul as her talentless father.
Yet that wasn’t even the low point of the show. That moment came about halfway through the telecast, when the Jonas Brothers were paired up with Stevie Wonder. Yes, Stevie Wonder, one of the all-time greats. This is the one moment in his life where he should be happy that he’s blind, as he would have knocked every one of those mama’s boys on their asses if he could have seen them jumping all over the stage pretending to play their unplugged guitars. Thank God they’re on their 12th minute.
It was around this point of the show that it appeared that the show had run out of performers. Many “stars” ended up on stage two, sometimes three times. Al Green schooling stupid Timberlake was almost enjoyable; having him show up again later in the show was pushing my patience.
You know an awards show is in trouble when two of the best performances of the broadcast involved material that weren’t even part of the Grammy lineup. Yes, technically both Paul McCartney and Neil Diamond were nominated for their current material, but there really was no reason for them to play “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Sweet Caroline”…except they were fun moments.
The musical highlight of the evening for me should be no surprise to anybody who knows me – Radiohead. Yes, including the USC marching band was sort of gimmicky, but they were so many miles ahead of anything else that appeared on that stage. Also, it’s nice that the marching band finally has something to play other than Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”.
As for the awards, they were actually pretty predictable. Coldplay was one of the two big winners of the evening, and they became increasingly annoying as their trophy case grew.
The Robert Plant/Allison Krauss collaboration won the majority of major awards, including Best Album. I know there’s a lot of grumbling that they didn’t deserve to win, but this really wasn’t a steal like last year’s surprise Herbie Hancock victory. Their album was a critical favorite last year, and despite zero airplay it sold well over a million albums. Krauss has also won a number of awards in the past, so she clearly sewed up the country vote, while Plant’s days with Zep nabbed him the support of music industry vets. With Radiohead and Coldplay splitting the younger, hip vote, and the belief that Lil’ Wayne is destined to be forgotten in a year, Plant and Krauss probably won with relative ease.
With the evening finally over, and these thoughts put to paper, I can now retire back to my indie rock fringes. Maybe someday my kind of music will see more than nominal, minor-category nominations. Oh, who am I kidding? That day will never come.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Pre-Broadcast Grammy Winners

BEST FEMALE POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE - "Chasing Pavements," Adele

BEST POP PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCALS - "Viva La Vida," Coldplay

BEST POP INSTRUMENTAL PERFORMANCE - "I Dreamed There Was No War," Eagles

BEST POP INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM - "Jingle All The Way," Béla Fleck & The Flecktones

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM - "Rockferry," Duffy

BEST DANCE RECORDING - "Harder Better Faster Stronger," Daft Punk

BEST ELECTRONIC / DANCE ALBUM - "Alive 2007," Daft Punk

BEST TRADITIONAL POP VOCAL ALBUM - "Still Unforgettable," Natalie Cole

BEST SOLO ROCK VOCAL PERFORMANCE - "Gravity," John Mayer

BEST ROCK PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCALS - "Sex On Fire," Kings Of Leon

BEST HARD ROCK PERFORMANCE - "Wax Simulacra," The Mars Volta

BEST METAL PERFORMANCE - "My Apocalypse," Metallica

BEST ROCK INSTRUMENTAL PERFORMANCE - "Peaches En Regalia," Zappa Plays Zappa

BEST ROCK SONG - "Girls In Their Summer Clothes," (Bruce Springsteen), Bruce Springsteen, songwriter

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM - "In Rainbows," Radiohead

BEST FEMALE R&B VOCAL PERFORMANCE - "Superwoman," Alicia Keys

BEST MALE R&B VOCAL PERFORMANCES - "Miss Independent," Ne-Yo

BEST R&B PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCALS - "Stay With Me (By The Sea)," Al Green Featuring John Legend

BEST TRADITIONAL R&B VOCAL PERFORMANCE - "You've Got The Love I Need," Al Green Featuring Anthony Hamilton

BEST URBAN / ALTERNATIVE PERFORMANCE - "Be OK," Chrisette Michele Featuring will.i.am

BEST R&B SONG - "Miss Independent," (Ne-Yo) M.S. Eriksen, T.E. Hermansen & S. Smith, songwriters

BEST CONTEMPORARY R&B ALBUM - "Growing Pains," Mary J. Blige

RAP DUO OR GROUP PERFORMANCE - Jay-Z and T.I. featuring Kanye West and Lil Wayne, "Swagga Like Us"

BEST RAP SOLO PERFORMANCE - "A Milli," Lil Wayne

BEST RAP / SUNG COLLABORATION - "American Boy," Estelle Featuring Kanye West

BEST RAP SONG - "Lollipop," (Lil Wayne Featuring Static Major) D. Carter, S. Garrett, D. Harrison, J. Scheffer & R. Zamor, songwriters

BEST COUNTRY PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCALS - Sugarland, "Stay"

BEST COUNTRY ALBUM - "Troubadour," George Strait

BEST BLUEGRASS ALBUM "Honoring The Fathers Of Bluegrass: Tribute To 1946 And 1947," Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder

BEST TRADITIONAL FOLK ALBUM - “At 89,” Pete Seeger

BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK/AMERICANA ALBUM - “Raising Sand,” Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

BEST REGGAE ALBUM - “Jah Is Real,” Burning Spear

BEST MUSICAL ALBUM FOR CHILDREN - “Here Come The 123s,” They Might Be Giants

BEST COMEDY ALBUM - “It's Bad For Ya,” George Carlin

BEST COMPILATION SOUNDTRACK ALBUM FOR MOTION PICTURE, TELEVISION OR OTHER VISUAL MEDIA - “Juno,” Various Artists

BEST BOXED OR SPECIAL LIMITED EDITION PACKAGE - “In Rainbows,” Stanley Donwood, Mel Maxwell & Christiaan Munro, art directors (Radiohead)

BEST ALBUM NOTES - “Kind Of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition,” Francis Davis, album notes writer (Miles Davis)

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, NON-CLASSICAL - “Consolers Of The Lonely,” Joe Chiccarelli, Vance Powell & Jack White III, engineers (The Raconteurs)

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, NON-CLASSICAL - Rick Rubin

BEST SHORT FORM MUSIC VIDEO “Pork And Beans,” Weezer Mathew Cullen, video director; Bernard Rahill, video producer

BEST LONG FORM MUSIC VIDEO - “Runnin' Down A Dream,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Peter Bogdanovich, video director; Skot Bright, video producer

Tonight's Grammy Awards

Awards shows are never satisfying. Everybody wants their favorite acts to win every award on every show, and obviously that can never happen.

But the Grammy Awards, just like the Oscars, are the most legitimate. Awards aren't handed out in exchange for a celebrity appearance, like they are at the VMA and American Music Awards. Critically-acclaimed releases that the general public never heard are generally given the shot they deserve, while bubblegum pop is not considered award-worthy.

Or at least that's the general rule. There's talk that because of declining ratings, the voters have been urged to go more mainstream than in the past. Normally, fluff like Lil' Wayne or the Jonas Brothers had little shot to nab any trophies. This year, there's real talk that Lil' Wayne will indeed sweep the major categories.

I still predict that Grammy voters won't go against precedent, and the Robert Plant/Allison Krauss collaboration will nab a good portion of the major prizes. The Jonas Brothers will win for Best New Artist, but that's a crime I can live with.

Although Radiohead has already won a pre-telecast award for the packaging of the deluxe version of In Rainbows, there will be an industry backlash against them for not only going completely independent but for giving In Rainbows away to their fans. This is a poor move for the increasingly conservative-minded music industry that should applaud anybody who comes up with innovative ways to distribute their product.

If you are a "twiterer", I'll be posting updates tonight as I watch the telecast. Those who aren't on Twitter can read my updates on the left portion of this blog.