press your luck, journo plaudits

I have watched a Game Show Network original documentary. (I never thought I’d type that sentence.)
It’s called Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal. It’s all about an ice cream truck driver named Michael Larsen who figured out patterns on the Whammy-heavy ’80s game show and manipulated them into winning $110,000 — at that point, the largest sum ever won on a game show.
I’m not proud of the fact I sat through two hours of game show docudrama, but I did.
A couple journo-plaudits I didn’t post about while I was in Africa:
– Mad props to Justin Chen of my old college paper, who was named college journalist of the year.
– Madder props to Mike Sallah and Mitch Weiss at my old non-college paper for writing a series on Vietnam war crimes that will in all likelihood win a Pulitzer Prize. My only regret: If I was still in Toledo, I know I’d be getting a piece of that Pulitzer. Mike and I were the go-to p.1 projects team for my last year there. (For example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and many more.)

pitchfork rankings, mountain goats

In a surprising admission of critical fallibility, Pitchfork has reconsidered its Top 100 Albums of the 1990s listing from a couple years back. They’ve produced a new, revised ranking, and I can imagine the question you’re all asking yourselves:
But Josh, how do the various Pitchfork rankings correlate with your own voluminous record collection?
Here’s your answer: The new list matches my own tastes quite a bit more than the old one. The stats back me up on this one. Here are the number of top ranked albums from each list you’d find in my CD collection:
On the old list, I own:
– 9 of the top 10 (exception: Tori Amos)
– 15 of the top 20 (Walt Mink, Beastie Boys, Sunny Day Real Estate, Built to Spill)
– 19 of the top 30 (Shudder to Think, Wrens, Brainiac, They Might Be Giants, Fugazi, Elliott Smith)
From the new list:
– 9 of the top 10 (Bonnie Prince Billy)
– 17 of the top 20 (Smashing Pumpkins, Talk Talk)
– 24 of the top 30 (Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Beta Band)
There’s only one possible conclusion to be drawn from this evidence: Over the last several years, my record-buying habits have had a significant influence on the tastes of Pitchfork writers. Of the 11 “top 30” albums I didn’t own from the 1999 list, 10 dropped out of the new top 30 — clearly marking them as inferior pretenders to the indie rock throne. (The one disc I’m missing from both lists: Built to Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong with Love. And even it dropped from No. 11 to No. 24.)
In related music news, I feel I should apologize to the Mountain Goats, the one-man lo-fi folk band of John Darnielle. Back when I was running the CD Mix of the Month Club, I criticized the Mountain Goats in my February 2003 liner notes. (My exact quote, it now pains me to say: “Dude, the Mountain Goats blow.”)
Well, the Goats’ most recent album Tallahassee was one of the few I was able to cram on my (tiny) hard drive for my trip to Africa. I’ve listened to it countless times over the last six weeks. It’s really, really good. Ranks up there with the Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen as a classic portrait of dysfunctional love, a relationship built more on spite than affection. And the lyrics are great, even when they’re absurd (e.g., “Our love is like the border between Greece and Albania”). Darnielle’s voice is a strange but affecting mix of TMBG, Eef Barzelay, and Ethel Merman.
I think the Guardian gets it right: “As with Guided by Voices, these songs exhibit the gentle eccentricity of a self-contained world; as with the Go-Betweens, there is an intoxicatingly literate portrayal of noble failure and a heartstopping sense of melody. Infinitely understated but eminently sophisticated, Tallahassee is a treat made for incurable romantics to love unreservedly.”
Anyway, my belated apologies to John for the slight.


For the last 14 hours or so (or at least those hours I’ve been awake — which, thanks to jet lag, are quite a few), I haven’t been able to stop playing Clem Snide‘s cover of “Beautiful,” the Christina Aguilera song. (It’s on the newly released A Beautiful EP. I also saw them play it live a few weeks ago.)
Such a great song. Musically well assembled. And that message of empowerment in the face of rejection (“I am beautiful / No matter what you say”) works so much better coming from a whiny indie kid than from a pop star. At this particular moment in time, I just can’t stop playing it. I guess it speaks to me in some way. Even the hopelessly arrogant can use a little empowerment once in a while, you know.
Anyway, I’m off to Louisiana in a few hours for Thanksgiving break. My grandma’s long national nightmare can finally come to an end. I expect Cajun food to compare favorably to Zambian. Full culinary report to come (along with many, many Zambia photos).

back to the usa

Good morning! For those of you who didn’t read my last entry carefully, you’ve been missing my posts over at, where I’ve been faithfully blogging about my six weeks in southern Africa. Go check it out, dudes and dudettes.
I got back to this fine country of ours Saturday night after an epic journey — three continents in one looooong day. I was slightly insane by the time I got to Flight Hour 18 or so, but I can report I’m safely reacclimated to the land of McDonald’s and Krispy Kremes and prescription drug benefit debates and other such niceties. Perhaps in a couple days I’ll even stop sleeping from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
To jumpstart the ol’ crabwalk style, I point you to this article in Friday’s Post, which argues that Johnny Hart, geriatric creator of the comic “B.C.,” most likely slipped an anti-Muslim message into this strip on Nov. 10. Now, I love Gene Weingarten (the reporter) and I know Hart’s past as a funny-pages proselytizer, but doesn’t this border on the absurd? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.