Q: Why did they call it ‘Crossroads?’ A: Because ‘Wankfest’ wouldn’t sell many tickets 4

Tuesday night, I sat through the two-hour, six-string cinematic wankfest known as “Crossroads 2010,” the concert movie that documents Eric Clapton’s annual guitar throwdown of the same name. Today I’m going to tell you everything you need to about know the movie.

This will save you the price of a ticket, plus 120 minutes of your life. It will also save you the five bucks you would have spent on that family-size box of peanut M&Ms you bought because you got totally blazed in the parking lot before the movie. And how do I know a family-size box of peanut M&Ms costs five bucks? Listen, I’m doing you a huge favor here, so how ’bout you mind your own business, huh?

First off, let me say the good stuff was really good – bordering on transcendent, in fact. Derek Trucks, who can usually be found filling Duane Allman’s old slot in the Allman Brothers Band, plays slide guitar like a man possessed. He’s one of those rare players who make it look effortless as he blows your ears off.

Likewise, Steve Winwood’s set with Clapton was sublime. Their cover of Blind Faith’s “Had To Cry Today” preserved the spirit of the original without being a rote recitation. And their version of Jimi Hendrix’s 15-minute “Voodoo Child” jam was nothing short of a revelation (Winwood, of course, played on the original).

And, since this was Chicago, Buddy Guy was on hand to school the kids on how it’s done.

Had the rest of the players lived up to this admittedly high standard, the movie would  have been epic. However …

I’m not sure how a lot of the musicians got picked, because they clearly didn’t belong in the same area code as Clapton, much less on the same bill.

Let’s begin with Sheryl Crow; what is she doing at a guitar fest – especially playing a keyboard? Sure, she looked smokin’ hot in her short, tight skirt but … oh, hey, never mind.

And how about Doyle Bramhall II (that’s right “II” – not “Junior” but “II,” like he’s a king or something). Like Jimi Hendrix, he plays a Fender. And, like Hendrix, he plays left-handed. Sadly, that’s where the Hendrix parallels end. And while I’m not a songwriter, I do know that “Yeah yeah yeah yeah” is a refrain and not a verse. And it’s certainly not two verses – unless you’re Doyle Bramhall II.

And who the hell is Citizen Cope? His song was two chords and nine words, apparently repeated (and I say “apparently” because I think I slipped into a coma at some point) for about 45 minutes.

In the right hands, two chords and nine words can make a compelling song (and if you’re Richie Havens they can make an entire career). However, those hands are not at the end of Citizen Cope’s arms. Seriously — this guy looked like he had wandered in from the Special Guitar Olympics and no one had the heart to chase him off.

Another puzzler for me was John Mayer. Yeah, he’s got the looks and the moves, but to my ear he borrows too heavily from Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. On the other hand, he’s seen Jennifer Aniston naked. Still — being a guitar god may make you a lucky bastard, but being a lucky bastard does not make you a guitar god.

All told, it’s not a bad movie – it’s just too long. My advice is to rent it. And remember: one of our greatest evolutionary gifts – one of the things that set us apart from other primates – is our opposable thumbs. With these, we can grasp tools, shape the world around us and, most importantly, work the fast-forward button.

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Cupcakes: world threat, or just annoying affectation? 4

Our world is faced with an astounding array of problems. A short list would include global warming, overpopulation, pollution and the depletion of natural resources, terrorism, war, famine, disease, and political corruption. Bummer, no? And this list doesn’t even include cupcakes.

Cupcakes are apparently bent on world domination, one wedding at a time. I’ve been to half a dozen in the past two years, and they all featured cupcakes in lieu of traditional wedding cakes. I think cupcakes for a wedding are perfect – if the bride and groom are six years old. Otherwise they’re kinda weird. I go to a wedding and see  table covered in cupcakes, I almost expect the happy couple to toast each other with chocolate milk, or decline their first kiss for fear of cooties.

Austin now has at least five trailers (all of them the requisite Airstreams, of course) and three storefront bakeries that do nothing but cupcakes. Lots of cupcakes, sure, and tons of options – but that’s it. Just cupcakes. No breads, no rolls, no pastries, no cookies. Muffins? No way. Profiteroles? Forget about ’em. Rugelach? Get outta here. But if it’s cupcakes you want …

I was in Houston a couple of weeks ago, and made the mistake of mentioning this phenomenon. Someone then insisted we go immediately to his favorite boutique cupcakery near the Galleria, so that’s where we went.

Maybe the Houston heat had melted my brain, but I was expecting something small and low-key – something like … oh, I dunno … a bakery, maybe. But this is Houston we’re talking about. Small? Low key? Near the Galleria? Please.

The parking lot was a madhouse – we had to circle a half-dozen times before we found a spot (and honestly, this place was so twee I’m surprised they didn’t have valet parking). After standing in line for 15 minutes just to get in, I finally got a look at their bill of fare. I was expecting the standard, pedestrian choices like chocolate and vanilla; and again, standard and pedestrian? Near the Galleria? I’m surprised they even let people like me through the door.

They had chocolate and vanilla — chocolate espresso, or chocolate and crème, or white chocolate macadamia nut, or Madagascar vanilla. They also had key lime, and hummingbird (hummingbird? They claim their flavors are all-natural, so I really don’t wanna know). At the cashier’s suggestion, I opted for the key lime, handed her a fiver and got back a buck and some change.

Yup – almost four bucks for a cupcake. One cupcake. A very good cupcake, to be sure, but still — four dollars for a cupcake? Really? Three minutes later, the cupcake was gone and all I had for my money was sticky fingers, a sugar headache and a wicked case of cotton mouth.

For my baked-good dollar, that’s not a very good return on investment. Compare my Houston cupcake with a dessert experience I had at the Abraxas coffeeshop in Amsterdam, where a brownie set me back three euros. I’m not sure what was in it, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t hummingbird. At any rate, two hours after eating it, I was convinced I could speak Dutch; it may not have been Dutch, but it clearly was not English. The rest of the evening is hazy but I woke up the next morning up on a houseboat, wearing a pair of clogs and sporting a tattoo of a tulip in a place I could see only with a hand mirror. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call ROI.

Forget beetle brow; my problem’s boomer brow 5

When I was a kid, I read a book that described to boys how our bodies would change as we grew up and matured from boys to men — or, if not exactly men, then at least very large boys with beards, deep voices, and an abiding love of grabbing our junk. It wasn’t nearly as interesting (or as frightening) as the companion volume for girls, but it was instructive.

But as informative and helpful as it was, what would be even more informative and helpful is a book that describes what happens as we go from full flower of young manhood to incipient decrepitude.

If there were such a book, it could devote an entire chapter to eyebrows.

What is it with eyebrows, anyway? To begin with, no one really knows what they’re for. I’ve read that they’re like little homegrown sweatbands – that they keep perspiration from running down our foreheads and into our eyes. But clearly, whoever came up with this explanation has never mowed a lawn in Texas. Seriously – you could crank up the Lawn Boy, slap a half-dozen industrial-strength panty liners on your forehead and still be permanently blinded by sweat in about five minutes.

As we age, our bodies change – and usually not for the better. Eyebrows are no exception. I’ve always had a bit of a monobrow; in fact, in that respect I resemble Frida Kahlo, only without the monkeys or the crazy eyes. But the other day I happened to look at myself in the mirror while I was wearing my reading glasses (without the glasses, it just looks like Ernie the Muppet gazing back at me), and I noticed something alarming: not only do my eyebrows touch in the middle, they’re well on their way to meeting in the other direction, too.

It’s true; they’re growing a hairy little land bridge – much like the one that scientists speculate once linked Asia and North America – across my temples and toward my hairline. And it’s not just a couple of hairs – it’s a bunch of them. In fact, if they get much thicker I’ll look like I’m wearing a fur headband, or some sort of weird eye mustache.

Why are they doing this? I like to think that our bodies’ shenanigans have some sort of evolutionary explanation, and that they do the things they do because they help us survive as a species. But what’s the Darwinian explanation for eyebrows that have apparently sent scouts to explore the far reaches of my head? Did they spot the rest of my hair and decide to send emissaries? Do they hope to establish diplomatic relations with my scalp? Is there a book that explains this? No, there is not.

Another thing about my eyebrows – not only are they apparently multiplying and striking out for more promising parts of my head, some of them are also getting longer. And the longer ones aren’t like the regular ones. The regular ones work together, lying down to form pleasing arches over my eyes – sort of like little awnings. Not so the rogues. No, I get out of the shower and these guys are standing up and reaching for my hairline. It looks like they’re doing the Wave. Ever seen a Venus Fly Trap? If my eyebrows were green, that’s what they’d look like.

Of course, at my age, I shouldn’t complain. I still have all my hair, my eyes still work pretty well and most importantly, I still have something that stands up on its own.

Adiós, World Cup, and thanks for the memories 11

Well, World Cup 2010 is over, and what a tournament it was. There were lots of upsets, and lots of surprises. This Cup left some indelible impressions on me; chief among those is the one caused by my lumpy futon, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m talking about the stuff memories are made of.

Of course, you simply can’t talk about WC 2010 without mentioning the ubiquitous vuvuzela. One thing that drew more commentary than it warranted (not that that’s going to stop me from commenting further) was this yard-long injection-molded plastic trumpet. By my lights, vuvuzelas are a lot like children – taken one or two at a time, they’re merely annoying; more than that, however, and they become a motivation to kill. Surely, if Satan has a marching band, it will be composed largely of vuvuzelas.

My one consolation here is that bagpipes are insanely expensive and largely out of reach for your average drunken yobbo.

Another thing that struck me was the level of vitriol this enormously popular game provokes in some people. The most common complaint I heard is that soccer’s boring. Of course, most of the people I heard voicing this opinion were weaned on American football, which is typically 45 seconds of mayhem followed by 10 minutes of beer and truck commercials. And I have to admit, it’s hard to compete with that for excitement. In fact, about the only thing that even approaches that level of stimulation is golf, or perhaps reading federal tax codes.

Some football lovers compare the beautiful game to jazz, with its ebb and flow and emphasis on improvisation. To me, though, a soccer match is more like four years of high school — it seems to go on forever, and if you score even once, it’s a huge deal.

Another highlight of this Cup was Paul, the German octopus who accurately predicted the outcome of eight out of eight matches – including the Germany side’s loss to Spain, which knocked them out of the tournament.

The fickle Germans loved Paul – until he accurately forecast the loss to Spain in the semi-finals. Once that happened, public opinion turned against the prescient mollusk – in fact, he even started receiving death threats. But that’s the nature of fame, I suppose – one day you’re the toast of the stadt, and the next your adoring public wants you lightly breaded and fried, with a little lemon aioli.

Actually, this whole Paul the game-picking cephalopod thing puzzled me from the start. Why did the Germans have an octopus predicting games, anyway? Apart from U-boats, I don’t recall them having much of a seafaring history. It seems to me that they’d have something with a more Prussian personality doing their prognosticating — like maybe a badger with a toothache.

Also, I can’t help but reflect that it’s too bad they didn’t have Paul around predicting outcomes in 1939; he could have saved the world a lot of trouble.

Another thing that made an impression on me was the English commentators and the way they butchered Spanish names. A perfect example was the way they pronounced the name of the midfielder who scored Spain’s Cup-winning goal. For the entire final match, I thought they were talking about “Auntie Esther.” I found this confusing because I actually had an Auntie Esther. She was a sweet old lady but she wouldn’t have been much of a footballer – what with the oxygen tank and everything. Hell on wheels when it came to bingo, though.

One last thought while we’re on the subject of names. If it’s true that our names influence our destiny, then Gerard Pique should thank his lucky stars his name is not Bijay.

Those who can, do; those who can’t, watch 4

Every four years I come down with World Cup fever. For three years and 11 months I am pretty much unaware of all sports, but then the Cup comes around and I get a little crazy.

People who know me are amazed by my fervor, and I have to admit that I am, too.  I was never much of a jock growing up and my few brushes with organized sport were all disasters.

My humiliation started early (I refer to athletic humiliation; romantic humiliation started a lot later but was no less crushing). When I was in grade school I played baseball for my school’s Little League team. I’m pretty sure I earned my spot solely because they needed a minimum number of warm bodies to field a team; it certainly wasn’t due to my innate skills or that mysterious yet apparently desirable quality the coach called “hustle.”

The highlight of my baseball career came when were thrashing another team so soundly that it became an embarrassment to our coach. When our score began to resemble one more befitting a basketball game, he decided to give the opposition their best possible shot at scoring — he put me in to pitch.

My time on the mound was over nearly before it started. On my first pitch I hit the batter in the head. I didn’t have much of an arm and I honestly don’t think the batter even noticed that I had beaned him. But the ump saw it, so I was out.

I got older but not better. In junior high I played basketball for a YMCA team. I did not think it possible that a sports career could be shorter than my tenure in baseball (seriously – subatomic particles created in hadron colliders have longer lives) but I was wrong.

My hoops career ended before I ever stepped onto a court; in fact, it ended when I went to buy the cup that was required of all players. As I recall the experience (and the years may have embellished my memory) I was being helped by a blue-haired lady who smelled of Tareytons and My Sin. When she asked me what size I needed, I panicked. Size? Compared to what? Sure, I had showered with other guys in gym class, but apart from one or two classmates who had apparently inherited Clydesdale DNA, the cold water rendered anecdotal evidence useless. Before she could clarify that she meant waist size, I was out the door and halfway home. So much for roundball.

College was no improvement. I was strong in both beer drinking and Frisbee tossing, but the small university I attended had programs for neither. I was also potential Olympic gold in what would one day be Mike Phelps’ best event, but sadly I was a terrible swimmer.

I think it’s because I was such a washout myself that I enjoy watching others –  young people who are in prime physical condition and at the top of their chosen game – performing in ways I can only dream of.  Wait a minute … I’m thinking of porn. Still not a clue about sports.

Sacre blow! France sings les bleus as soccer team melts down 3

The World Cup is heating up and boy, is it ever entertaining. There’s fights! There’s temper tantrums! There’s cursing in several languages! And as if that were not enough, there’s even some soccer being played.

The biggest news for lots of Americans was the US side being sent home Saturday by the Ghana team that did the same thing to them in 2006. Note to US team: aid to developing African nations does not mean giving a soccer ball to everyone you see wearing a red jersey.

But next to the hair pulling over the ubiquitous vuvuzela, perhaps nothing has provided more entertainment than watching the French team self-destruct. To paraphrase Voltaire, if they did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them (which is sort of an existential conundrum, since Voltaire himself was a frog).

The French disconnection started at halftime during their 2-0 loss to Mexico. Mon dieu – France, losing to Mexico? It was like Cinco de Mayo all over again, only without the beer commercials.

French striker Nicolas Anelka, apparently unhappy with coach Raymond Domenech, suggested to him, “Go fuck yourself, you dirty son of a whore.” While this probably sounded pretty awesome in French, it was enough to get Anelka sent home.

A few days later, the petulant French team refused to practice, and instead spent the day in their room, playing Edith Piaf records and pouting. That would seem to be drama enough for anyone – anyone but the French, perhaps. Senior French Football Federation official Jean-Louis Valentin was so pissed he tore off his beret, threw his Gauloises to the ground and declared he was returning to Paree.

Even a pep talk from Domenech had no effect.  “I tried to convince them that what they were doing was an aberration, an imbecility, a stupidity without name,” he said later. Here’s a tip for Domenech: work on the pep talks, Ray. While “a stupidity without name” probably sounded great in French, it’s not likely to motivate your players to win games – it’s more likely to motivate them to put Icy Hot in your jock strap.

The French lost their next match to an underwhelming South African side, and went home in disgrace. Domenech reacted by refusing to shake the hand of his African counterpart. Way to keep it classy, dude.

The French humiliation not only caused a national uproar, it also cost the team some serious advertising francs. Credit Agricole SA and hamburger chain Quick ended advertising campaigns featuring team members. But if Midol were looking for spokesmen, the French would be an obvious choice.