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The Songs of Bruce Springsteen, by Liz Arcury

The following are excerpts of reviews of some selected songs of Mr. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)
With this album, Mr. Springsteen is exploring a newer, slower – yet explosive – sonic sexuality that America did not know was coming. After collaborating with various music historians who were active at the time of the album’s release, we have concluded that the second track, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” might be based on the non-fictional, existent location on the northern shore of New Jersey known as Asbury Park.

“Badlands," Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
This one has very sincere undertones of the singer’s personal history. Perhaps, where he grew up? We are given very little, and it is not clearly stated (and, need we remind ourselves of the value of ambiguity in art?) but “Badlands” could very well be about New Jersey, the home state of Mr. Springsteen.

“Streets of Fire,” Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
The streets and the fire are both located inside of New Jersey. READ MORE

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How I Will Become a Better Boyfriend, by Ronald Dario

I wanted to show you that I’m serious about making more of an effort to be a better boyfriend, so I thought about it carefully and came up with some personal goals. I know we have been having problems lately, but I wholeheartedly believe that if I follow through with each one of these, I will become a better person. I want to be the kind of boyfriend that an amazing person like you deserves!

1. I will sign up for those cooking lessons we read about.

2. I will start running again.

3. I will get rid of at least 80% of the Tupac-related content on my computer. Even though I worked really hard to collect it all.

4. I will try to wear shirts with collars on them more often.

5. I will be more vigilant about eating food in the fridge before it spoils or expires.

6. I promise to stop writing “Thug Life” in calligraphic lettering on your stomach with a Sharpie marker while you’re sleeping, every single night, regardless of how sexy I think it makes you look. READ MORE

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These Disappointing Times, by Tim Sampson

Living in this modern age is pretty great. For crying out loud, just look at all the wondrous technology that exists all around us. You can chat with your sister in Vermont while jetting off to Hong Kong at 500 miles per hour. We've got these marvelous little smartphones in our pockets that let us access a pool of knowledge too vast for any one person to consume in a lifetime. Heck, even as I write this, we've got little man-made robots roaming around on the surface of Mars. Mars, for pete's sake!

So don't for an instant think I'm not grateful to be living in the year 2013. I am. It's just that, when I'm really honest with myself, I can't help feeling a little disappointed. I mean, here we are living in such an advanced age, yet we still don't have flying cars or a morally dubious Truman Show-type reality program. READ MORE

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Fun Thing to Buy of the Day: 'Fridays' Is Finally Out on DVD

Fridays, the first and strongest challenger to Saturday Night Live's weekend sketch comedy dominance, finally comes out on DVD this week. The show (which ran from 1980 to 1982) has taken on cult, if not legendary status, because it launched the careers of Michael Richards, Melanie Chartoff (Parker Lewis Can't Lose), and Larry David — who was allegedly the one cast holdout who prevented a proper DVD release much earlier. It's better than early-'80s SNL for sure, and certainly more experimental, what with appearances from Andy Kaufman and even semi-dramatic bits. A four-disc best-of set is definitely a good way to check out this long-lost piece of comedy history.

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Miniature Golf Infractions, by John Carroll & Nick Klinger

Dear Trevor,

I am writing today to file a petition regarding our miniature golf match last Saturday. Since this is a formal complaint, I’ll be sending a carbon copy to Marty, the clerk at the Pro Shop & Sno Cone Stand who checked us in before our game.

At the end of our match play, you signed a scorecard of 49 strokes, which handily beat my score of 62. But I contend that you committed several infractions that typically incur additional strokes which you did not assign yourself. You should be penalized for the following:

The Mouse Trap (Hole 2, Par 2)

As I entered my backswing, you held your putter perpendicular to your cargo shorts zipper and said, “Jason, look how big my dick is.” You should have penalized yourself two strokes for distracting a fellow golfer in the act of putting. READ MORE

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Unearthing John Swartzwelder's 1996 Unsold Western Pilot

Antenna Free TV has a piece today on a near-mythical pilot from 1996 called Pistol Pete, written by the also near-mythical Simpsons scribe John Swartzwelder. A kooky, comic western, and an unmade show on par with cult lost gems like Lookwell and Heat Vision and Jack, it starred Brian Doyle-Murray and Steve Kearney, whom Harris tinterviews. Swartzwelder even makes a brief statement about the show, and shows up in a photo, both of which are remarkable, because if you know anything about the incredibly reclusive comic genius, it's that he's an incredibly reclusive comic genius.

SNL
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The Weirdest Episode of the Weirdest Season of 'Saturday Night Live'

Every few years or so, between its now clearly delineated epochs or eras, Saturday Night Live has a “growth year” or “building period” or “godawful season.” For example, the 1980-81 season was the first without the original cast, and the bloated, 1994-95 “Saturday Night Dead” year.

The 1985-86 season is one of those off years. Creator and masterlord Lorne Michaels had left the show, as had his poor replacement Jean Doumanian, leaving NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol in charge. Ebersol had very little understanding of comedy, nor did he care to understand. (Case in point: He publicly sided with Jay Leno during the 2010 Lenon/Conan/Tonight Show fiasco). Anyway, his tenure came to an end when NBC refused his request to shut down the show entirely for six months and build it up from scratch, and he quit.

And so Michaels returned in 1985, and he dismissed many of Ebersol’s writers and players. Michaels, who has something of an eye for talent, brought in new people (Jon Lovitz, Anthony Michael Hall, Dennis Miller, Joan Cusack) and new old people (former SNL writers Tom Davis, Jim Downey, and Don Novello). Despite having seen his somewhat experimental Friday night sketch show The New Show fail on NBC primetime, Michaels didn’t shy from experimentation. Part of that meant hiring the show’s first black female cast member, Danitra Vance, and its first openly gay cast member, Terry Sweeney.

Trying new things is never a bad thing, but it’s also a very, very hard thing, especially when you try a bunch of new things all at the same time. And Michaels decided to go ahead and try a bunch of new things all throughout his first year back at SNL. But almost everything about the March 22, 1986 episode seemed to be a new, half-baked, bewildering idea. It makes for a very strange departure from a comfortable, familiar, iconic broadcast. READ MORE

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Happy 66th Birthday, David Bowie! Here are 6 Fake, Funny Bowies

This is a comedy site, but rock God and androgynous British spaceman David Bowie is enough of a pop cultural icon with legitimate comedy chops — Extras, Zoolander, that video for “Dancing in the Streets” with Mick Jagger — for us to give him some recognition on his 66th birthday. (May we all be that cool when we are pensioners — because British.) Here then are 6 of the funniest Fake Bowies of all time, encompassing a number of Bowie’s many eras and alter egos. READ MORE

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The Year in Comedy 2012: Young But Broken People Trying to Heal

Comedy has thankfully evolved from its universally beloved origins as Milton Berle one-liners and saucy harlequins. Broadly put, comedy at its best is a patient, pointed examination and calling out of the absurdity of human existence. Narrative comedy, from Shakespeare to M*A*S*H, takes that conceit and adds “making the best of it” to the mix.

As our social mores and collective existential despair change, so does the style of comedy we produce and consume. In the ‘80s, the Reagan-fronted superficiality and “America is perfect” attitude meant the dominant comedy of the day was gentle, listless sitcoms about upper class families. The Nietzschean depair of post-9/11 gave way to a “who gives a fuck, nothing makes sense” nihilistic comedy, in things like Jackass and Bam Margera torturing his stepfather on the toilet. In the afterglow of the first election of Barack Obama, a “nice comedy” movement development, as exampled by shows like Parks and Recreation.

In 2012 (ish), a lot of the comedy people got together and decided that the broad cultural idea they were going to reflect in their work was going to be (because that’s how it works) People Who Are Young, But Already Broken Trying to Heal. READ MORE

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Reading List: The Best Comedy Books of 2012

The Guy Under the Sheets, by Chris Elliott

Not Elliott's first autobiography, and not Elliot's first fake nonfiction book written in his unctuous, smarmy, faux-snobbish persona. But there’s lots of self-analyzation from the point of view of the laudatory, starstruck biographer (Elliott himself, of course, but timely shades of Petraeus) about the slow acceptance of Elliott’s brand of challenging, meta, and highly influential anti-comedy. While the reader gets some sense of Elliott’s rise (the situations and life events are real, if not quite the execution), this book is more another fine Elliott product than it is an Elliott inventory.

Girl Walks Into a Bar, Rachel Dratch

After Dratch was unceremoniously demoted from Jenna to recurring player to nothing on 30 Rock, a show run by her close friend and old scene partner, I’ve wanted to read a Rachel Dratch biography. Girl Walks Into a Bar deals a lot with something that arts and entertainment books don’t touch on much — disappointment and the abrupt end of the fame train. Life doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go, which is another theme of this book, which ultimately becomes a sweet, cinematic story about second chances and unexpected joy (Dratch meets a guy and has an unplanned baby late in her child-bearing years). READ MORE

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'The Middle' Is Actually Really Good. Really.

The Middle debuted in 2009 in a timeslot right after what ABC thought was going to be a huge hit: Hank, a cynical mess about a laid off rich guy that used the words “bailout” and “recovery” a lot. It went after a middle American, working class audience while also making fun of that same audience. The Middle seemed like it might have been that kind of thing, too: a modern-day take on Roseanne, centered on a family of slobs from a state nobody in the writers’ room had ever met who can’t make ends meet and are gross and lazy but God love ‘em because they love each other and are real Americans, right real Americans sitting on your reinforced couches? Actually, at first, The Middle was exactly that. It was pretty bad, but so were Parks and Recreation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Newhart. The show found its footing and has since evolved into a sharp comedy that is darkly satirical of a listless America, but is also Cosby sweater-warm and family suitable.

The Heck family lives in Orson, Indiana, the prototypical blue collar midwestern town. The show is essentially a vehicle for former Everybody Loves Raymond star Patricia Heaton, who narrates and stars as Frankie Heck. Frankie is a perpetually tired mother, vaguely disappointed but accepting of her life because she doesn’t know any better, a refreshing and familiar alternative to the seemingly coked up, far too wealthy, perpetually displeased Claire on Modern Family. But here’s why you should watch The Middle instead of whatever it is you’re watching on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (probably Whitney, am I right? No.) READ MORE

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The Comedy Stylings of Ween

Often crude, at least vaguely drug-influenced comic music performed by two guys devoted to each other. Before Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords, there was Ween. But Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo and Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman are not a comedy duo, as they don’t do parody songs and they don’t go for the broad laughs and obvious punchlines. They parody not songs, but specific styles or bands, and from deep within. If “Weird Al” Yankovic is a mainstream stand-up comic like Brian Regan, Ween is UCB, character work, Andy Kaufman. They fully inhabit the world of a song, then ably mock it.

The duo started making homemade, low-tech music together in Pennsylvania in the mid-‘80s, when both were about 15 (as such “Ween” is a portmanteau of “wussy” and “peen”). While we all mess around with a tape recorder when we’re 15, making sketches, fake radio shows, or prank calls, Melchiando and Freeman kept going and got really good, evolving from a punk/DIY sound on its early releases to a musical proficiency and ability to play in most any genre. Except that the 15-ness never left. The music remained juvenile, puerile, profane, dumb, druggy, and hilarious. Some “high” lights (get it? Because drugs?): READ MORE

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Funny Songs Performed in Comedy Movies Released as Singles to Promote Those Movies


This was a curious promotional thing in the '90s and slightly beyond, back when music videos were a relevant cultural force. A funny performance or funny song from a comedy movie would be repackaged as a music video and released to the music channels, maybe even radio, as a way to promote the movie. Because how else would you know it was a comedy without the funny song? It was a strange time; we were all of us hopped up on Fruitopia for most of it.

The Mask: “Cuban Pete” (1994)

The Mask really tried to force 1930s nightclub culture down our throats for some reason. (The soundtrack also featured a rock song from Harry Connick Jr., which is just weird.) That fad was not meant to be, but here remains this relic of Jim Carrey doing a mildly racist “Latin singer” act in this, his cover of an old Desi Arnaz song. READ MORE

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The "Weird Al" Yankovics of Other Musical Genres, More or Less

Funny or “novelty” music is nothing new — Spike Jonze, Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer were doing their funny musical shtick way back in the ’50s. The most famous funny musician of all-time, however, is undoubtedly “Weird Al” Yankovic, whose 30-year career has made him one of the most durable musicians of any kind, parodist or not. But Yankovic primarily covers Top 40 and mainstream rock, leaving the door wide open for acts in other genres to step up and be the “Weird Al” of their own particular style of music—or at least that’s their hope.

2 Live Jews (Rap)

There’s a lot of fake rap out there. White people just love to pretend to act gangsta while talking about decidedly non-gangsta topics, and have done so since the 80s, in youth-targeted commercials, not to mention the humorous rap of recent acts such as the Lonely Island and mc chris. But as far as a straight-up parody rap groups — in which an act specifically makes parodies of specific songs — there’s little competition beyond 2 Live Jews, consisting (not surprisingly) of two live Jews: Eric Lambert and Joe Stone. Although they later expanded to originals and parodying other acts, their 1990 debut As Kosher as They Wanna Be was a full-court press on the flash-in-the-pan controversial rappers 2 Live Crew and their filthy 1989 double-platinum album As Nasty As They Wanna Be. Here’s their “Me So Horny” parody, “Oy, It’s So Humid.” READ MORE