Oh, that’s MUCH better

I’m no stranger to misheard lyrics. I have the whole collection of books starting with ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy. But this might be a new record.

Berlin released The Metro not less than 23 years ago, and I’ve surely heard it 100 times since then. It was in heavy rotation when I first got MTV, so I had frequent opportunities to wonder what the heck was wrong with the androgynous guy who apparently thinks he can do better than Terri Nunn. I remember kids in my high school who were drawn to Berlin by the single entendre moaning of Sex (I’m A …) conceding that Sex, the prototypical song high school kids play in their bedrooms with one hand on the volume in case their parents walk by, was fun but really wasn’t as good as The Metro.

In the past year, I’ve watched the Bands Reunited episode on Berlin and downloaded The Metro on iTunes.

And all this time, I thought one particular line of the song was “I remember I had a wrinkle in my hair.”

As I drove home one day this week, The Metro came up on my iPod. For reasons that could be understood only by a neurologist, my brain finally heard “I remember a letter wrinkled in my hand.”

That’s much better, isn’t it? I’ve always liked this song, but deep down, I thought it seemed a little flimsy to be so concerned with her hair at that moment. And how does hair wrinkle, anyway?

By the way, I count at least six cover versions at AllMusic, probably more. Most of them are simple reworkings of the synthesizer riff, including one foreign-language remix surely meant for dance floors in Europe. I like the version by Mike Lopez/Eve’s Drop. The System of a Down version, predictably, sucks. Does anyone actually like this band? I remember seeing ads for them around the time Strangers With Candy was on the air, and the resemblance to Jerri’s favorite band (Buddha Stalin) was uncanny. Every time Mrs. MMM and I run across the name System of a Down, we sing “Diarrhea milkshake, poo poo!”

Speaking of Strangers With Candy in this rambling post, it appears that the movie — with a cast that includes TV series stars Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert along with appearances by Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney and a few others you wouldn’t expect to see in a trashy Comedy Central spinoff — will indeed be released at some point, more than a year after its appearance at Sundance. The talk in the IMDB message boards is that Warner bought the film, then got cold feet after The Dukes of Hazzard hit some legal snag. (Something about a TV show being loosely based on a movie whose rights are still owned by someone else or perhaps a network.) But depending on who you believe, it’s either been ironed out with Warner or has been offered to another distributor.

Now attempting to verify with a quick Yahoo search (I don’t “Google”):

– Oh, this is funny … an interview with Sarah Jessica Parker that says “Her first project after Sex and the City ended, for example, was Sundance Film Festival entrant Strangers with Candy, a gritty movie about a recovering drug addict.” Sure. Much in the same way that Hot Shots was a riveting study of military life.

– A site on indie movies backs up the IMDB posters’ version of the Warner saga but says nothing about a release date.

– Good quote from Sarah Jessica at Boston.com: “(Amy) made us sign IOUs two years before it was even made: I hereby give my life to Amy Sedaris and will do whatever she asks of me.”

So no verification that it’ll be released. But to get back on topic, Yahoo lists 43 mentions of “I remember I had a letter wrinkled in my hand.” None for the wrinkle in my hair.

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way …

More signs of early senility: I could’ve sworn I’ve written on this topic before. No matter — I actually have something to add. Unless, in fact, I also wrote THAT part before. Anyway …

Certain people — the same ones who confuse cynicism with intelligence — love to set themselves apart with cultural snobbery. These are the people who insist Saturday Night Live hasn’t been good since (Ferrell, Hartman, Belushi). Today, they’re also the ones who insist that the BBC version of The Office is better than what you see on NBC.

Given that, it’s a bit of a shock that the NBC Office found an audience of any size. They were never going to win over the hard-core snobs, and they weren’t going to get the Fear Factor crowd. That leaves only mid-range snobs like me, and there aren’t that many of us. My take after limited viewing of the BBC version and unadulterated drooling over the NBC version was that the hard-core snobs needed to give it a rest. Fortunately, enough people have agreed with me that, with the help of perfect lead-in My Name is Earl, The Office is doing well enough to stick around. In fact, they’ve already made more episodes than the original, since British comedy-makers tend to quit while they’re way ahead.

Today, I had a chance to see a bit more of the Beeb’s version — in fact, I caught the last episode and a half, which tied up the storylines (until the “reunion,” which I’ve recorded to watch later). Of course, I liked it. But it’s also apparent from watching why a U.S. version was a pretty good idea.

Though I got more of a feel for the rest of the cast in these episodes, the Beeb version revolves around Ricky Gervais far more than the U.S. version revolves around Steve Carell. That’s not such a bad thing — Gervais’ David Brent is a classic caricature of a middle manager with a deluded sense of self-importance. If Gervais and company had done 50 episodes instead of 12 (plus the special), perhaps he would’ve worn thin.

Carell had big shoes to fill, literally and figuratively, but I think he gets a bit of help because the rest of the cast is better developed. Gareth is a believable office irritant, but Rainn Wilson has been able to show layers of idiocy and evil in Dwight. Some of the Eurosnobs insist that Pam (Jenna Fischer) is too pretty to be the receptionist stuck in an awful relationship, but don’t we all know someone like her? (Maybe it’s just an American thing that many pretty women with personalities and brains can still end up with knuckle-dragging alpha-male wanna-bes?) Her British counterpart, Dawn, just doesn’t register — she’s given so little to say that I don’t think I’d recognize her voice. Tim seems likable, but Jim is a joy to watch as the puppetmaster who controls the proceedings far more than the supposed bosses realize.

This isn’t a complaint about the BBC version, and it’s certainly not a complaint about the cast. They have the masterful comic timing you’d expect from a first-rate BBC comedy, and they’re able to pull off subtleties of expression. The point is that the basic premise of The Office lends itself to far more comedy than Gervais could pull off in 12 episodes, as good as they are. By spreading the wealth among the cast, the U.S. version is built better for the long haul, all the better to make it through the three or four seasons that will leave it ripe for future DVD sales and possibly syndication (though five has always been the magic number there). They’ll just need to figure out how to resolve the Jim-Pam storyline — even Cheers had trouble sustaining Sam and Diane’s on-off relationships and probably wouldn’t have succeeded if Frazier hadn’t entered the mix.

The other major difference is that the BBC version is considerably darker. The jokes are more obscene than U.S. censors would allow, and as a result, they’re meaner. The cinematography is bleaker, perhaps to make it seem more believable as a fake documentary. And the overall tone is sadder.

(** SPOILER ALERT **)

The last episode, which leaves several of the main characters miserable, probably wouldn’t go over well with a U.S. audience. It’s well done and astoundingly concise — I kept looking at the clock thinking, “They can’t possibly wrap this up in five minutes.” The key scene is brilliant: Tim (Martin Freeman) is sitting down and talking to the camera about Dawn, explaining — likely for the umpteenth time — that they’re just friends. It’s clear from his face and delivery that he isn’t even convincing himself. He stops in mid-sentence, says “excuse me” and takes off. The camera awkwardly turns, leaving a blur of scenery before catching up with Tim in the hallway. He asks Dawn, who had announced earlier that she was moving to the U.S. (irony!) with her fiance, to step into a side room, and he fumbles to turn off his microphone. We can barely see into the room through the blinds.

The result: Dawn hugs Tim, who walks back out to his desk. He picks up his microphone, turns to the camera and says, “She said no.” In the other storyline, which I found less satisfying, David Brent begs for his job back and is turned down — as blustery as Brent is, you can’t help but feel a little sympathy for him.

It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch. This show is usually described as a classic putdown of overbearing bosses. It succeeds on that level, sure — in both versions. But there’s also something very sweet about it. The Handbags and Gladrags theme music reinforces the sweetness, sounding a few sympathetic notes. The English have always excelled at rebelling against drab circumstances, finding beauty in whatever way they can — in Brent’s case, it’s presiding over an absurd kingdom like a kid with a plastic castle; in Tim’s case, it’s seeing Dawn as a reminder that there’s more to life than this crappy job.

For once, U.S. producers copied a British show well. They didn’t “Americanize” it by making it more crass; on the contrary, it has to be tamer unless they shift it to HBO. They built on the strengths of the show and developed variations. It has an English soul with American cameras. Now that I’ve seen a good bit of both, I appreciate each version all the more.

So will you start watching it already?

When David Lee Roth meets a snarky NYT reporter …

Down with Snark has the rundown, with this terrific conclusion: “If Ms. Finn wants to include snarky little put downs in every other paragraph of her written output, she should resign her post and get a blog. That’s what the internet is for. There should be a line between actual journalism and the claptrap that I write. That line, if it ever existed, is eroding. We will miss it if it disappears.”

Absotively.

I’m not sure I can extrapolate the .444 percentage that Michael comes up with here. Some of these comments may or may not be snarky. But to me, that’s actually worse. Finn sounds like the kid in the Simpsons Homerpalooza episode who can no longer tell if he’s being sarcastic.

The funny thing is that one reason Roth may be pretty good on the radio is that he can deliver more than snark. His naivete left the building a long time ago, but he sees genuine humor in situations. If you were to be trapped on the Titanic as it sunk with one guy, he’d probably be that guy. He’d do his best to make you laugh about things as you plunged into the icy Atlantic, and he wouldn’t be telling some tired joke about buying the captain some glasses or asking if the shipbuilders made the hull out of tin foil.

The conceit — actually, make that one conceit — of today’s snark peddlers is the assumption that anyone who’s no longer doing the thing that made him famous has become a loser. Put them in front of A Christmas Story, and they’ll guess that the kid who plays Ralphie is probably flipping burgers somewhere. (The reality: Peter Billingsley is a successful producer. The VH1 crowd might not want to piss him off.)

But the biggest problem here isn’t just that Finn deals in snark. The problem is that supposedly elite papers think this is how they should broaden their appeal. The Times isn’t alone — The Washington Post is turning over more and more of its sports page to kids whose idea of analysis is “Yeah. Jake Delhomme. He’s great.” (Well, is he?)

The curious trend in the media today is that we keep adopting the worst aspects of other media. Fox took the worst aspects of CNN and blew them out, and CNN copied the fuzzy copy of itself. Now papers are taking the worst aspects of blogging.

Resolution for 2006: Find a new industry.

MMM Band of the Year: Stereophonics

Like Neel over at Brevity … is Wit, I’m not going to go overboard with year-end awards. If I have something to say about the year, I’ll just say it.

And I do, and it’s this: The MMM Band of the Year is Stereophonics.

The guys from Wales are criminally overlooked in the States. Just check out the two-sentence dismissal in Rolling Stone, one of those self-contradicting pieces of tripe in which the reviewer clearly wanted to slag the band despite having nothing specific to explain why. XM gives them a fair amount of airplay, but they may be best known in the U.S. for the riff from High as the Ceiling that powers a TV ad for the Nissan Xterra.

Fortunately, they had a better year in Britain. Dakota, as I’ve noted before, hit No. 1 in England (ousting Nelly) and was downloaded like the U.K. equivalent of Hollaback Girl. (If you know of a more depressing contrast between U.S. and U.K. tastes, please don’t tell me.) From what I’ve read at the NME and BBC sites, it seems Stereophonics had to win over a lot of detractors, though their albums — including this year’s Language. Sex. Violence. Other. — have never had any trouble hitting No. 1 in the U.K. They’ve surely silenced their critics across the pond now, as evidenced by NME’s Stereophonics in decent album shocker review.

Because they’re such unknowns here, I’ve been discovering them gradually. Last summer, my Launch player dug up Help Me (She’s Out of Her Mind), an epic mix of laughing and crying over a rocky relationship surely influenced by lead singer Kelly Jones’ breakup with a girlfriend of 12 years. (See AllMusic.com’s MacKenzie Wilson’s take on 2003’s You Gotta Go There to Come Back, the album that kicks off with Help Me.) I downloaded Dakota in April, and it’s now ranked second on my iTunes/iPod play count behind my little boy’s favorite song, Bohemian Like You.

I’m past the days of judging bands on one or two songs, so I didn’t rush out and proclaim myself a Stereophonics fan. But other songs piled up. There was Moviestar, a synth-driven study of fame. The band’s top song at iTunes is the melancholy Maybe Tomorrow. That pairs nicely with the peppier and thoughtful Rewind, another 2005 release. And those who like the classic power rock that the critics can’t stand these days should try 2005’s Doorman or High as the Ceiling, which is more than just a truck ad.

I think that’s enough to prove this band isn’t some sort of fluke.

While today’s critics (and surely some fans and most radio programmers) seem to prefer predictability in their bands, Stereophonics know how to shift gears. They’re a power trio with plenty of power, but they don’t mind flipping on the synthesizers when it helps. Best of all, Jones is a lyricist equally adept at writing pop hooks and resonant verses. Dakota is wonderfully wistful, Rewind challenges the listener with a classic carpe diem verse that would make a high school English teach drool, and Moviestar offers surprising layers of complexity. Even on High as the Ceiling, a flat-out revved-up rocker, Jones refuses to get lazy and write mind-numbing filler around his hooks.

I’ve written about these guys three times in the past few months. So rather than let this become the Stereophonics fan blog, I’ve summed it all up here. (At least until they release a new one.) There you have it: MMM Band of the Year.

Merry Christmas

Or Hanukkah, or the old winter solstice celebration on which the early Christians built their holiday. (Anyone else think the whole hoopla over the “war on Christmas” is doomed to backfire because it’s made people so self-conscious that they’re either going to say nothing or say the least offensive thing possible, which is going to be “Happy Holidays” more often than not? I’m starting to think we should just opt for a NewsRadio-style “Gezizzuh.”)

I can’t seem to shake my head cold, but other than that, we’re having a great Christmas. The little guy loved his presents from Santa, and I’ve been plowing through my iTunes gift card. Can’t beat that.

Odd Web find(s) of the day

I finally found references to “sidehacking” that are not at all related to Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Updating with another MST note: The official FAQ (apparently still maintained, at least as recently as 2004) has a funny take on studio intervention with the MST theatrical release:

Skittish Gramercy executives cut and rewrote some riffs, which may explain why — as many MSTies noticed — the movie has fewer of the really obscure references that make the TV series so delightful. One example: When “Scrotor” the bug-eyed monster first appears, the original riff was “Bootsy Collins!” This was changed in the movie to “Leona Helmsley!” reportedly because the Gramercy executives had never heard of Bootsy Collins. (The irony of a bunch of white guys from Minnesota trying to explain Bootsy Collins to supposedly hip L.A. movie executives did not go unnoticed by BBI.)

They should’ve just said he was the guy from the Deee-Lite video.