Being the random thoughts of Greg Tito, age 29.

Announcements for my standup comedy gigs are here at gregtito.com.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

All about Ben.

This Tuesday, I went to see Ben Folds play at Tower Records in Lincoln Center. He played for about 40 minutes and then was available to sign stuff. I waited in line with my friend Feldman and got Ben's new CD signed and got a picture with him.


Ben and I in love.

I was introduced to Ben Folds in a pretty normal way. I heard his song, "Battle of Who Could Care Less," on the radio in Ithaca, NY. I was working as a carpenter at the Hangar Theatre the summer after my freshman year of college, 1997. In the shop, we listened to all of our CDs quite a bit (the cd player was one of those 6 disc car changers so we would get bored of 6 albums at a time), but when the radio was on, it was tuned to the Ithaca College station, WICB 91.7fm. They played "Battle..." a lot that summer and I fell in love with the funny, anti-slacker lyrics. I thought Ben Folds was mocking my friends (I knew people who dressed like the Cure in high school) and that it was hilarious.

What does he sound like? The band was known for it's guitar-less lineup of piano, drums and bass. Ben's been called the American Elton John or the Billy Joel of our generation, but he's got too many roots in 80s hair metal for those comparisons. Most of the people who read this crazy thing prolly know already but for those of you who don't, the simplest way to describe Ben Folds is piano-driven pop rock.

On a whim at the indy record store in Ithaca, I acquired (that's a whole 'nother blog) Ben Folds Five's second record, Whatever and Ever Amen. It's a stellar album to this day. (Check out the newly released remastered version with some great bonus tracks.) The comical simplicity of tracks like "Song For The Dumped" and "Stephen's Last Night In Town" is deceptive. Ben's songwriting is unfettered with pretension, yet there is a lot of subtlety to it. It's hard to explain, but trust me, it rocks.

I introduced Whatever... to my blogmate, Ian, and he loved it so much that he got Ben Folds Five's self-titled disc, which came out in 1995. At first, I was skeptical of listening to another album. I loved Whatever... so much that I didn't want to spoil it with what the band did before. I needn't have worried, the record has so many gems on it that I actually like it better now. "Best Imitation of Myself" is pure genius, describing the posturing we go through in order to impress. And "Underground" is an anthem for all the kids who didn't like sports or pep rallies and found nose rings attractive (Even that's an over-simplification, because that song also satirizes those same people for their backwards pretension. See, I told you it was complicated.)

The music is also really fun to sing. I don't have a good voice, I'm pretty much tone-deaf, but I love to sing to music on the radio, especially in the car. Ben Fold's songs usually have lots of backing vocals (especially the 1st album) and a driving, almost Showtune-like, melody to the lyrics that you can't refuse to rock out to. And when you're going from Point A to Point B, nothing passes the time like an impromptu air piano session. My favorite air piano song is actually on the 3rd album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, and is called "Narcolepsy," but "Philosophy" comes in a close second, if only for the Gershwin solo.

...Messner has one song that pretty much sums up my friendship with Ian. In 1999, he was moving to Vancouver to go to film school and we wouldn't see each other for over a year. The last day before he left, we were driving home from UConn and "Don't Change Your Plans" came on. The song describes a guy who is on the West Coast and is nostalgic for home ("The leaves are falling back East/That's where I'm gonna stay") and someone he left behind. I'm not sure exactly why, but the lyrics seemed to be about Ian and I, about a friend leaving but also knowing that the leaving needs to be done. We cried like idiots, driving on Rte. 395.

After that, I was hooked. I've bought (or acquired) nearly every recording that he's ever released. Mr. Folds parted peacefully with Darren Jesse and Robert Sledge in 2000, most probably because he was tired of explaining the numerical joke in the band's name. Ben Folds Five only had 3 members. His first solo record, Rockin' The Suburbs, is a more mature record, if that means anything. Somewhere in there, he got married and had kids (twins!) so the songs are more about growing up as opposed to idolizing youth. The thing with his writing is, even though he is over ten years older than me, I always feel that he is singing about how it feels to be me. "Still Fighting It" is ostensibly written for his son, but the line that most resonates with me is "Everybody knows/It's hurts to grow up." I am 26, soon to be 27, and I am still fighting it.


Ben rocking out with his new bassist, Jared Reynolds.

Another more personal song of note on ...Suburbs is the last track, "The Luckiest." Mephistopholes and I have gone to see Ben in Central Park the last two years. The first time he played a double-bill with Aimee Mann and sang "The Luckiest" to us directly, or so it seemed. The song is an unsappy love song, Ben the songwriter is overly conscious of being cheesy and the result is a true representation of what it's like to be in love and want to grow old with someone. When I was getting married, I wasn't really nervous. Many grooms go through self-doubt or second-guessing but I knew exactly what I was doing and I was glad to commit to Mephistopholes forever. But I wanted to be nervous. I wanted to anticipate the day with a combination of fear and excitement. So I tried to learn how to sing, "The Luckiest." I'll repeat, I'm not a singer and it's very difficult for me to hold a note, but I rehearsed the song for weeks leading up to the big day. I just wanted it to be passable. When I took the mic at the reception and sang the first verse, there was not a dry eye in the house. People tell me it's because it was sweet, but I know it's really because the cracking voice hurt their ears so badly.

Anyway, after ...Suburbs, Ben came out with yet another grammatical joke with the live album, Ben Folds Live. It's just him with a piano playing his tunes solo. The most striking part is that there are so many fans who enjoy singing his music that he decides to capitalize on it. During "Not The Same," he splits the crowd into a 3 part harmony which sounds as good as a choir, and in "Army" he says, "This side's trumpets, this side's saxophones," and amazingly, that's what it sounds like. In the accompanying DVD, you can see him conduct the crowd like a maestro while standing on the piano.

This brings up a whole other quality to the Ben Folds catalog, his many side-projects and under-released recordings. From Naked Baby Photos, a collection of live and b-sides which came out just after Whatever..., to producing William Shatner's Has Been, Ben has quite a library built up after only 10 years. Shatner's album has some great guest stars like Aimee Mann and Henry Rollins and some intense songs about the tribulations of Captain Kirk, but the signature track is "Common People," a Pulp cover with a rocking chorus from Joe Jackson. More recently, Ben Folds collaborated on an EP with Ben Lee and Ben Kweller called The Bens. It's got four great songs but I am partial to the last track sung by Mr. Folds, "Bruised." My favorite nearly-unknown record is Fear of Pop, Vol. 1. It marks Ben's first collaboration with Shatner (other than during the priceline.com commercials) on "In Love," but I just love the overall sillyness and musical experimentation of tracks like "Root to This," which I think has vocals from his wife, Frally.

This past year, Ben did something a little different in the music world. He released 3 eps over the course of the year which were only available for purchase online. Each one (Speed Graphic, Sunny 16, and Super D) has five songs which are a mix of b-sides, live performances, covers or some new songs that he just felt like recording. He said it freed him from the music biz machinery of press and radio attention and let him just release the stuff that he's been working on lately. I love them. The cover of The Cure's "In Between Days" on Speed Graphic is uncomparable, "Rent a Cop" tells the story of a mildly pedophilic mall security guard, and "All You Can Eat" is Ben's self-described only political song about the Walmart-loving, bible-thumping heartland.

I always thought that his new record, Songs for Silverman, would be an amalgam of his EPs with some newer songs thrown in. In fact, the only song to make it was "Give Judy My Notice" and I frankly liked the version on Speed Graphic better. Overall, I'm not crazy about ...Silverman, there's too much slide-guitar and pedal steel for my taste, but it's got to be hard to keep blowing my mind with every recording. The single, "Landed," is a great song and I like the last track, "Prison Food." It's a rare jamming tune that feels more spontaneous than the rest of the album. Ben has kept up his rare release track record by simultaneously coming out with Songs for Goldfish, a mostly live album with one specifically hilarious track. Radio jingles for a Tokyo radio station, 76.1fm, "It's usually pretty good."

What brought all this on? How can I justify spending four hours on a blog post describing Ben Folds' entire musical catalog while getting paid to sit in my cubicle? I'll tell you.

I've spoken to Ben Folds twice now while getting autographs. On Tuesday, when I came in close proximity with him and observed his manner talking to his fans, his messy signature, I realized that he is very familiar to me. He is not a stranger, because I have been a witness to so much of his life through his music. But more than just his songs, I've been witnessing him, his change and growth as a songwriter as well as a man. And that means so much to me because I was changing and growing in similar ways. Or maybe he is a such a dorky-looking guy that I can see a part of myself in him. Could we be friends? Is this just a form of hero-worship? I don't know.


Feldman and Ben breaking up.

But when Feldman brought up his copy of Songs For Goldfish to be signed, Ben mentioned that the gem of a track on that disc was the Tokyo Radio Jingles. "That's something I totally forgot about. I just found it on my computer and thought it was too funny to keep to myself," he said. I'm paraphrasing but the point is, we both singled out those jingles as the track of note.

That means something, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Good Afternoon

For some reason, today, I feel good. Even though I have sweated through my undershirt, it's that hot out. Summer in New York. I'm really looking forward to it.

Basketball news: Ill Wind won their first game of the Spring Season last night. We have confirmed the sneaking suspicion that many teammates have vocalized: we only win when we blow them out. We won by about 19 points. Most of that had to do with a stellar 1st half where the team was able to score pretty much at will. Fast break points, half-court offense, we were able to do it all. I'd love to say that it was all from our talent, but the truth is that the other team wasn't very good. They were called the Masons (not to be confused with the secret society many claim to be descended from the Illuminati) and they were just plain bad. The Masons had two very tall doofuses (sic) who couldn't score from the block against shorter, weaker opponents, ie. me and Winston. They had only one guy with any real skill and he kept them marginally in the game with at least four 3-pointers. On a personal level, I think I had one of the best halfs since I started playing regularly again. There's no way to say for certain (our statistician was out sick last night) but I think I had about 7 field goals in the first half, one of which was a funky sky hook from the foul line over those two meatheads. But don't worry, I had a below-average 2nd half, scoring only twice and turning the ball over 2 or 3 times. I won't let it go to my head (in a bad way) but I do have to say that my confidence in shooting has gone up, and that makes me happy. My shot has been the last fundamental to return, after my long absence from the game.

I'll post about more stuff tomorrow, in case you felt slighted by my sports-related post.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Is there nothing that google can't do?

I've been in love with Google Maps ever since I discovered it. Way better than mapquest, google maps is still in beta like their gmail (even though everyone has a gmail account now despite privacy concerns). But as if Google.maps wasn't good enough, they just added a satellite feature that let's you switch between maps and satellite pictures AT THE SAME ZOOMING RESOLUTION. Amazing.

Here's a satellite map of where I grew up: Bob Jingle's house.

I wonder when these satellite pictures were taken. Could I zoom in and blow them up enough to actually see my mom walking outside the house? Perhaps Google is using stock satellite images from 10-15 years ago. Then I could technically see myself as a child playing on the street with the neighborhood cronies. Can anyone with an internet connection see me whip crab apples at Eric Johnson or try to flirt with Ferie Harper?

Does google actually make it possible to go back in time?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Ill Wind

In other news, we lost our second basketball game last night.

(IAN SPOILER: This post is about sports. Stop reading now.)

It was rough. The team we played had ten players, most of them asian but they had 2 big men. Ill Wind probably had the best game (up by 4 most of the game) we ever played but by the end of the second half, we were so tired that our defense lacked substantially. They kept feeding it in to the tall guys and we kept getting fouls called on us. The other team must have made 15 straight points from foul shots in the last five minutes. Which would have been fine if we were getting calls on the other end, but of course, we weren't. I was routinely getting pushed and slapped and hacked as I took shots but never got a call. Everybody was pissed, sure we could have played better at the end but it sucks when the refs change the game so dramatically.

Whatever, it made for a good bitching session over beers afterwards.

Rehoning my HTML skillz

So I added a links section to the page (look on the sidebar.) You'd think with all of the great features and ease of customization of Blogger.com that the process would be simple. But apparently, the only way to add content like that is to edit the html manually. I've written a few websites in my time so it wasn't a big deal for me. But it had been a long time and it was fun to get my chops wet again. That reminds me. I need to update Cofounder's website. I won't link it yet because it is frightfully out of date. When I do update, my loyal readers (all 3 of you) will be the first to know.

About the links, I think as a general rule I will only put sites on there that I've discussed in the blog. That way, you will know what they are and I won't have to write really long descriptions. The last post was gold mine for links but I added a few that I haven't mentioned before:

Instapundit. This guy was the first blog that I ever heard of. A co-worker of mine from many moons past, Tercio (one of my favorite names, means Third in Portuguese), would argue about allthings politick. He would visit this guy's site and then promptly start a discussion which would make the time at work go very fast. We are both artists and both liberals (He is an actor best known for a voiceover for Anarchy Online), and but he was right-leaning and i'm a little bit left-leaning. Debating fascism vs. communism, Lincoln vs. Kennedy, Punk rock vs. Alt. Rock made work fun, all because of Instapundit.

Wil Wheaton.net. This is THE Wil Wheaton. Wesley Crusher, the kid from Stand By Me, the guy you haven't heard about in 10 years. He's still an actor but he started this blog a while ago and he's gotten quite the following from it. Bastard even has a book out. He been posting a little bit too much about his cats dying lately but it's still a good read. I love being in Wesley's head.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Best of the Web, Vol. 1

Because I have such a mind-taxing and extremely busy job, I don't get very much time to partake in the wonders of the Interweb very much. So when I do get the rare chance to spend all day browsing, I want the content of the websites I visit to be the best that my salary can pay me to slack by visiting. Here's a list of some of the best stuff that I've come across:

Savetoby.com. This site was actually on the news last night. Some guys are threatening to kill their pet rabbit, Toby, and eat him. That is, unless they receive $50,000 in their PayPal account by June 30th, 2005. The site is quite funny, complete with recipes whose directions include, "After quartering, brown Toby at medium-high heat." After being protested by PETA and most animal rights activists, the PayPal donation link is cut off but you can still buy merchandise with the SaveToby logo. I'm going to get a trucker hat.

Snopes.com. Subtitled "Urban Legend Reference Pages," this site has a plethora of interesting stories, anecdotes, email scams and urban legends all organized by category. Snopes is run by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson and the couple do a great job not only reporting the story but analyzing what the legend might mean in a sociological context. There is a convenient color-coding system of the veracity of each legend, not dissimilar to our nation's homeland security warnings. I've read maybe 50% of the site (there's a lot of content believe me) and some of my favorties include Was Fanta Created By Nazis? and the truth behind that ghost in Three Men and A Baby. Don't forget to check out the picture gallery, I only click on the ones that say "Disturbing Images Warning."

Webcomics rule. Probably the greatest thing to come out of the Interweb, in my humble opinion or IMHO, is the prevalance of Comic strips that are only available online. There is somewhat of a movement for cartoonists to break free of the Syndicate System (a cartoonist is hired by a syndicate which then has a contract with newspapers) which has controlled comics for years. One artist, Scott Kurtz of the wildly popular PvP, has tried to subvert this system by offering his comic free to newspapers, which pen and paper comics scoff at. (If you're interested here's a forum thread in which Kurtz and his counterparts debate said topic.) Anyway, webcomics are great because they are an inexpensive way for artists to directly publish their work in a way easily accessible to readers. The more popular comics have a way to fund themselves as well by offering merchandise through online storefronts like Cafepress and Thinkgeek.

My favorite webcomics (the ones i check at least once a week) in no particular order:
  • Penny Arcade. Gabe and Tycho are my heroes. They can make comics about games, the gaming industry, or country line dancing and it will always be funny.
  • The Order of the Stick. If you like dungeons and dragons, you'll like this comic. If you don't, you'll also like it. I have foreseen it. This one actually has an ongoing story so you might want to go back a few panels to see what's going on.
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del. Also ostensibly about video games, this comic is more about the human condition. Or something.
  • Mac Hall. This comic is apparently drawn by someone who plays WOW on Sargeras (my server) and who is in college. It definitely has the best art of any of the other selections.
  • Poor Mark. A long, long time ago, this artist was my boss. He writes this low-tech comic as a way to investigate himself and I think it embodies everything great about the interweb and it's capacity for self-expression. And it's funny.

Something Awful. If you like absurdist and irreverant comedy, then this is a site you should consider reading 5 times a day. It has amazing features that often make me laugh out loud at work and then disguise the laugh as a coughing fit or sneeze so as to avoid notice. The topics range incredibly from ranking the best hot sauces to describing why blogs suck. And if you want to get in on the action, you can submit doctored photos every week for their Photoshop Phridays.

So that's my obligatory link blog. I've got more links stored up and I discover more all the time(when I'm not working my mandatory 47 minutes per day.) I don't know how much more I can put up without giving away too much of my perverse proclivities but I'll see what I can do.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Effort of Posting

I play basketball in a league here in the city called the New York Urban Professional League, which basically means, White Person's Basketball League. Actually that's not true, there are a lot of divisions and the more skilled players do happen to be black AND professional. The league is fun though, we play at school gyms all over Manhattan. It's my only experience with inner-city schools and there are some gyms that I dread playing in because of the condition of the building. Somebody should do something about that. Each game has two referees which are paid by the league and they are mostly impartial. I don't like the makeup calls (calling a cheap foul because they called a cheap foul at the other end) but it's hard to complain to a 6' black dude who's pushing 250 and is surrounded by white dudes.

The division in which I play is called "Air Ball," which is more than apt. Last season, our division was called "Most Excellent" and conjured images of wheelchairs and donkey basketball. I like Air Ball more because at least my team, inexplicably dubbed Ill Wind, doesn't feel retarded. We just know that we suck.

Suck might be too harsh. Ill Wind not good, but we're not awful. Last season, we were able to finish at .500 and that only put us out of the playoffs by two spots (remember, "Most Excellent.") That was done mostly by sheer will, not because of any talent.

Ill Wind ostensibly has 8 members but we haven't heard from James, the 6'4" center who is unarguably the best player, in a while. He didn't make the last six games of last season and gave no reason for his absence. I can only surmise that he's found greener pastures and teammates who know how to pass to him. That leaves 7 semi-active players.

Jason, 5'10", is the captain of the team, the organizer. I'd classify him as a small forward, he doesn't really bang down in the paint and he can have a pretty sweet 15' jumper when he doesn't get blocked. His ball handling skills, while better than some, demand that he look down while dribbling so he doesn't always "See The Court."

Han is a tiny Asian guard and he is a viciously hyper perimeter defender. By vicious, I mean that he once had 3 hand-check fouls called on him in under a minute. Offensively, because of his height, he is limited to driving and shooting a floater in the key, which he hits with varying success.

Our point guard and best shooter is Robert, a short Italian guy. He has the best ball-handling out of all of us and can turn the tide of a game with a few well-placed 3s. The problem is when those threes are ill-placed. Basically, when Robert is having a good game, so do we. You can figure out the corollary to that one.

Winston is our center without James. He's about six feet and actually plays more like a slashing forward. He's got a good turn-around jumper and can rebound relatively well. Definitely our best scorer, I feel confident passing the ball to him every time. The drawback to that is the other team figures out kind of quick that Winston doesn't really have that many post-up moves and can be susceptible to a double-team. Things go downhill from there.

Mike is also rarely at games, mostly due to a back injury. He is a shooter, although I rarely see his shots go in. Probably the most athletic build of anybody on the team, Mike needs to drive more and shoot higher percentage shots to build up his Turbo.

Chris is almost indescribable without hurting his feelings. He means well and has a fairly large amount of hustle, but he's a little bit like that kid in Hoosiers who dribbles the ball off his foot in the championship game. Actually, I think that kid was better. Chris shoots the ball with two-hands and he looks like a seventh-grade girl in braces while dribbling the ball. Other than that, he's great. He's "Most Excellent."

And that leaves me, Bob Jingle. I'm the power forward, the workhorse. I don't shoot very well but I try to make up for it by banging the boards and scoring on easy cleanup plays. On defense, I foul a lot and on offense, I get fouled a lot. Which sucks because I don't hit very many foul shots so it doesn't really help the team that much. But I try.

An Ill Wind is blowing in. Cover your nose and mouth.

The spring season just started last night and we were semi-blownout. We played in perhaps the worst gym of the league, the boards of the court are all uneven and lifting up and it's dimly lit. It was Parent Conference Day at the High School of Graphics on 49th and 9th Avenue. After the game, it was strange how we were taking off our pants in the presence of children and their mothers. Not very reassuring for the parents, I would imagine, to have all these men disrobing where their child goes to school.

Anyway the game was a battle. If you didn't get the idea from my description of the team, we are quite small and not very muscular or fast. The other team, called JOBU, were a group of athletic monsters. Not all of them were tall but they were all big and fast. We were down by 4 at the half, but that was only because I figured out that if you dribbled into the key and tried to take a shot, they would foul you. I think I scored the last 7 points of the half by shooting free throws. The second half started with JOBU going on a run, they scored the first ten points and effectively ended the game. I still tried the trick of dribbling in and that worked for a little while. The best play of the game for me was when I got fouled driving to the hoop and the offender judiciously made his claim of inaccuracy known to the official.

"That's fucking bullshit," he said. He was rewarded with a technical foul.

I shot 4 free throws (2 for the T, and 2 for the shooting foul) and I made 3 of them. Actually, last night was my best foul shooting performance to date. I think I hit 8 or 9 out of 12, not bad for a guy who usually is comfortable with shooting %50 from the charity stripe (that's basketball lingo for the foul line).

But it was all for naught. The other team was just too good for out little group of fighters. We had no answers to their superior big men if they got the ball down low and once they learned they could easily block our shots instead of fouling, our offense was shut down. Even a few threes by Robert couldn't keep us in the game.

I hope this doesn't mean that "Air Ball" wasn't somehow an ironic reference to a much better division. We might do better dropping back down to "Most Excellent" and concentrate on our donkey-riding skills.

Over the course of the season, I will try to keep all you dear readers informed as to how Ill Wind is faring. I'm not promising game-by-game analysis but it might keep my basketball fix going now that March Madness is over. By the way, this March was the most profitable for me ever as I made $400 by winning two office pools. I will not, however, be placing any money on the success of Ill Wind. I have learned something from Pete Rose: Don't bet on shitty teams.

Friday, April 01, 2005

It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

I don't know why but this just makes me laugh out loud.

I like titles

Oh, blog! How I love this blog of mine.

So yeah, life goes on. I work, I go home and play WOW, I eat, I sleep, I work. It's all very cyclical.

I am old. This thought has popped into my mind wuite a few times in the last few weeks. I have grey hairs on my temples. I am married. My muscles hurt after playing basketball for 4 days afterwards as opposed to just one when I was a kid. My joints creak and crack.

But more than just the physical changes, I feel myself changing emotionally. My friends, who all used to be closer than family, are changing. Idiosyncracies which used to be laughable or shrugged off have now become more pronounced and more irritating. I don't want to go into detial there but suffice to say that friends I once had are not as close as they were. And my quirk is that I have become more and more sensitive to those idiosyncracies. I am not as confident as I was, possibly because I am 26 and haven't accomplished anything which I set out to.

The stupid thing is that I actually have accomplished things, even in the last year. I've written a full-length screenplay. I produced a short film. I have performed Stand-up comedy in major venues in NY. I write this awesome blog. What else would I like? Fame, Fortune? Perhaps I should stop damning myself for what I haven't done and try to concentrate on what I have.

Perhaps I should start taking anti-depressants. Everybody's doing it.