Thursday, October 16, 2008

Top 5 Inventors

Top Lady

1) Nikola Tesla
I can’t even explain a lot of Tesla’s inventions and how they work. But I do know that, aside from providing the city of Buffalo, NY, with hydroelectric power, inventing alternating current (AC) power, the lightning rod, ways to use x-rays, and a host of other transmitters and transformers, Tesla was the first to envision a main characteristic of modern life—wireless communications and energy transmission. Think about that the next time you talk on your cell phone.

2) Thomas Edison
Let’s just get it out of the way: the light bulb, phonographic recording, movies, voting machines, and even tattoo stencils—the man had over 1,000 patents before he died. Revival of interest in the struggle between Edison and Tesla around 1886 has produced a lot of books and documentaries showing Edison to be a real jerk. (Try to find footage of the film he produced of an elephant being killed using Tesla’s alternating current—actually…no, don’t.) But he is indisputably the giant of American ingenuity (well, until those Google guys came along).

3) Johannes Gutenberg
The Chinese may have invented a version of moveable clay tiles in the 1300s, but it’s Gutenberg’s 1438 invention that ushered in 600 years of books, newspapers, and every sort of printed material, and consequentially, mass literacy among the merchant classes of Europe.

4) Philo T. Farnsworth
The man who invented television (and his wife, whom he always gave equal credit) is almost completely forgotten by history—due in part to the selling of his patent to RCA Victor, which led to a classic little-guy vs. big-corporation battle. (You don’t have to guess who won).

5) Bo Diddley
Aside from his rightful claim as being “The Originator” of the link between country and blues to create rock 'n’ roll, Bo Diddley truly was the creator of the “Bo Diddley Beat”—heard in his namesake song, his hit “Who Do You Love?”, the Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away,” and countless other crossover hits.

Top Guy

1) Henry Ford
Ford often is erroneously credited with inventing the car. He didn’t. But he did create the assembly line, which revolutionized heavy industry and made the United States the world’s leading superpower.

2) Tim Berners-Lee
A group of super-smart American nerds invented the Internet (aided by massive Congressional funding spearheaded by then-Senator Al Gore). Berners-Lee wasn’t one of those folks, but the British-born computer scientist did invent the World Wide Web, which made the Internet accessible to the average guy and gal. It’s just a guess, but he’s probably not too thrilled that most people use his invention to look at porn or to goof off at work.

3) Orville and Wilbur Wright
Let’s get this straight; Ohio is the birthplace of flight. Yes, North Carolinians, I’m looking at you. The Wright Brothers were from Dayton, they developed their ideas about flight in Dayton, and they even did their early testing in Dayton. The Wrights only moved to North Carolina because the lighter winds and lower air density made it easier for their plane to take off.

4) Les Paul
If Les Paul was nothing more than a jazz guitarist, his place in history would be secure. But Paul pioneered the invention of the solid-body electric guitar, and created recording innovations such as multitrack recording, overdubbing, delay effects and phasing effects. If you listen to recorded music, you’ve heard some of Paul’s inventions.

5) Otto Rohwedder
Who’s Otto Rohwedder? He’s the Chillicothe, Mo., man who invented sliced bread.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Top 5 Months

Top Guy

1) May
Like I wasn’t going to put my birth month No. 1 on this list.

2) December
We celebrate the birth of Christ by giving each other presents. We celebrate the start of a new year by getting drunk and kissing people. Sure, it’s always way too cold, but December has plenty of upside.

3) June
In the immortal words of Alice Cooper: “School’s out for summer/ School’s out forever/ School’s been blown to pieces.”

4) November
Two of my favorite yearly events happen near the end of the month: the Ohio State-Michigan game and Thanksgiving. (And yes, they’re in that order.)

5) October
The last day of the month is a treat for boys of all ages. When we’re young, we get a nearly limitless amount of candy. When we’re older, women use Halloween as an excuse to dress as slutily as they can. October also gets props for inspiring a kickin’ U2 album.

Top Lady

1) October
Rocktober rules because the weather is fantastic pretty much everywhere in the United States, fall fashion comes back into play, you get the random day off of Columbus day, everyone gets crazy around Halloween, and after it's over, my own birthday happens. Also, Oktoberfest (which, I know, is technically in September, but still…)

2) January
Let’s be honest—aren’t you a little relieved when the holidays are over, the in-laws leave, and you can get back to your normal work/school life? When the clean slate of January is accompanied by a clean, quiet snowfall, it’s even better.

3) July
The sight of fireworks in the night sky turns everyone into a gape-mouthed five-year-old, and July is the perfect month for backyard cookouts and road trips. It’s also one of the few times a year when you can get locally grown peaches and berries.

4) December
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Year’s, the Holiday Office Party and Festivus. December just has too many reasons to drink to not be a top month.

5) March
Weatherwise, I hate March—the whole month is like a wet, slushy, windy bruise on the calendar. But there’s one day when the sun shines, people have hearts full of song, and young girls dance on slow-moving flatbed trucks. On the day that the Chicago River turns green, though, try and have a Guinness, instead of drinking beer the same color….

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Top 5 Clash songs

Top Lady

1) Spanish Bombs
Ardently political, punky, poppy, with a touch of romanticism (“O mi corazon”)—this song perfectly embodies the Clash.

2) London Calling
In the Clash’s world, a perpetual war rages on--in economic, social, and environmental spheres. That military-march guitar sound (that could have been coming from the Gang of Four) is offset by that mysterious, ominous bass line that seems to come from the Thames at the start of the song, and the distress-call lyrics are finalized by the fading S.O.S. Morse code at the end. Pretty terrifying for a song you can rock out to.

3) Janie Jones
A song about a young laddie—how British (and a precursor to about three dozen Blur/Oasis songs).

4) Guns of Brixton
Joe Strummer learned everything he ever knew about reggae from Clash bassist Paul Simonon, who wrote and sings this one. Kind of a precursor to the “Bad Boys” song from COPS, now that I think about it…

5) This is Radio Clash
A fun, youthful song that pushes them over into “Should I Stay or Should I Go” territory, but they’re still singing about the First Amendment, so I guess it’s political enough. Interestingly, this song contains the line “this is not radio free Europe” and came out in the same year as R.E.M.’s song of that name—but I doubt there’s a connection.

Top Guy

1) Garageland
The Clash’s eponymous first album closes with the perfect punk rock song. It’s loud. It’s fast. It’s angry. And it has a great first line: “Back in the garage with my bullshit detector.”

2) Guns of Brixton
Speaking of great first lines, it’s difficult to top “When they kick in your front door/How you gonna come?/With your hands on your head/Or on the trigger of your gun?” The beauty of the Clash was that it expanded what could be considered punk—“Brixton” owes more to reggae traditions than it does to the Ramones.

3) Straight to Hell
The band had pretty much broken apart by the time it recorded Combat Rock, and the resulting record was a mixed bag at best. For every “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah,” there’s an “Overpowered by Funk” and “Ghetto Defendant.” With its wiry guitar line and almost trance-inducing pace, “Straight to Hell” is the album’s true gem.

4) I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.
Bands tread a fine line between insight and sloganeering with political songs, and the Clash walked that tightrope better than most. It took Joe Strummer and the boys less than three minutes to synthesize everything wrong with the American dream, and they get bonus points for having the balls to open their first-ever U.S. show with the diatribe.

5) Train in Vain
London Calling closed with the greatest hidden track of all time. Why was “Train in Vain” hidden? Because it’s not political. Instead, it is a love song (or more precisely, an ode to love gone wrong). But “Train in Vain” proves that the Clash could write a great pop song but instead chose to write about what it thought truly mattered.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Top 5 Paul Newman movies

Top Guy

1) Cool Hand Luke (1967)
At some point, everyone wants to be as cool as Paul Newman’s Luke. He earns respect by always dragging himself back up, he makes dumb bets because 50 seems like a nice round number, and he’s the ultimate thorn in authority’s side. Luke proves again and again that sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.

2) The Hustler (1961)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof made Newman a star, but this is the film that made him Paul Newman. He plays pool shark Eddie Felson, and Newman seems to live and die with each of Felson’s ups and downs. The scene where Felson hustles the wrong guys—and gets his thumbs broken in the process—is one of the most excruciating images captured on celluloid. He later revived the role for The Color of Money, winning a Best Actor Oscar in the process.

3) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
There might not be two more beloved anti-heroes than Cassidy (Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford). They rob banks and trains, trade wisecracks and flee to Bolivia when times get too tough in the United States. The final scene, where the pair tries to shoot their way through the Bolivian army, is the ultimate us-against-the-world statement.

4) Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
He’s grumpy. He’s mean. And he’s the ultimate villain opposite Tim Robbins’ awe-shucks Norville Barnes.

5) Slap Shot (1977)
There are great baseball movies (Bull Durham, Pride of the Yankees), football movies (The Longest Yard, North Dallas Forty) and basketball movies (Hoosiers, Hoop Dreams), but there is only one truly great hockey movie. The film follows a struggling team that turns around its financial and athletic fortunes by using a steady stream of fighting and violence during games. Newman was the star, but Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and David Hanson steal the show as the ultra-violent Hanson brothers.

Top Lady

1) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Newman always looked cool playing a tough guy or outlaw; in this drama, however, he brings a heartbreaking complexity to the role of a son and husband who has to overcome alcohol addiction and a few other unspoken, unresolved issues to fulfill his place in the family.

2) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
OK—does anyone not want to ride around on the handlebars of Paul Newman’s bike?

3) Road to Perdition (2002)
In one of his few coming-out-of-retirement roles, Newman plays an Irish mob boss outside of Chicago who must make a choice right out of Greek tragedy—his own son has killed a trusted ally. Does he punish the crime? Only someone with 57 years of acting skill behind him could bring such nuanced anguish to the screen.

4) Hud (1963)
The film where Hollywood and everyone else realized that Newman could play a role that would otherwise be characterized as “the villain” yet turn him into a charming anti-hero.

5) The Sting (1973)
Basically Butch Cassidy, Part 2, The Sting has some neat twists and turns, but it is basically just another romp with Robert Redford and Newman in period costumes. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Top 5 World Series Teams

Top Lady

1) 1982 St. Louis Cardinals
Ozzie, Willie, Vince, Whitey, Forsch, Sutter, Tommy Herr, Keith Hernandez, and those powder-blue uniforms made for one of the best series teams of all time. Every other house in St. Louis has a VHS tape of this series sitting around.

2) 2006 St. Louis Cardinals
It was actually the NLCS against the Mets that made this team memorable for me, before they took down the Tigers in a five-game series. Yadier Molina’s game-winning home run in the 9th inning of Game 7 was the moment of a lifetime for thousands of Cardinal fans.

3) 1974 Oakland A’s
This was the A’s third consecutive WS win, qualifying the team for “dynasty” status, despite lots of intra-player theatrics. Rollie Fingers matched the bar set high by this era of excellent pitching, and certainly got help from Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson. However, the 1974 Oakland A’s will most likely be forever remembered for the true awesomeness of their mustaches.

4) 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates
Definitely a little team that could, the ’79 Buccos were led by the spirit of Roberto Clemente and the leadership of MVP Pops Stargell. Their earnest love for each other and their city was rivaled only by the sheer ridiculousness of their uniform design.

5) 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers
Featuring all-stars Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Pee Wee Reese, and Jackie Robinson, Dem Bums miraculously won this series against the Yankees—their first WS win since 1900, and their last before the team moved to L.A.

Top Guy

1) 1975 Cincinnati Reds

The 1975 World Series is generally considered the greatest ever played. There was history—the Reds were the first professional baseball team, the Red Sox one of the sport’s most storied franchises. There were stars—Johnny Bench and Pete Rose for the Reds, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski for the Red Sox. And there was drama—Fisk waving a home run ball fair during the 12th inning of game six. In the end, the mighty Big Red Machine won the series, then backed up their title with a sweep of the New York Yankees in 1976.

2) 1986 New York Mets
This was the year I got into baseball, and the Mets were my team. They easily won their division, beat the brutally tough Houston Astros in the National League Championship Series, then compounded the misery of the Red Sox by winning games six and seven following Bill Buckner’s agony-of-defeat-worthy error. Led by young stars Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry, this Mets team was supposed to become a dynasty. Instead, it will go down as a one-hit wonder.

3) 1998 New York Yankees
Like almost everyone who doesn’t call the Bronx home, I hate the Yankees. But the 1998 team was close to perfect. It won a then-record 114 regular season games, then backed it up with an 11-2 playoff record and a World Series sweep against an overmatched San Diego Padres. This also was the year that David Wells pitched his perfect game.

4) 1948 Cleveland Indians
Cleveland’s last championship is most noteworthy because it was the first time black athletes won a World Series title. Cleveland won it with black stars Larry Doby and Satchel Paige.

5) 1924 Washington Senators
Rooting for the Senators before 1924 must have been like rooting for the Kansas City Royals now. They were so putrid that one journalist quipped “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” That losing tradition changed when 36-year-old Walter Johnson led the team to a fluky World Series win against the New York Giants. This team showed there is hope for everyone—maybe even the Royals.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Top 5 Food Shows

Top Guy

1) Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Do I love Triple-D because host Guy Fieri reminds me of one of my old co-workers? Yes. But that’s not the only reason. Fieri searches out the best American diners and shows viewers how they make the food—spotlighting a segment of the culinary industry that is seldom scene on the Food Network.

2) Iron Chef America
Two competing chefs have 60 minutes to cook a five-course meal featuring a secret ingredient. Those meals are then judged by a panel of culinary minds, and a winner is crowned. The real treat is getting an inside look at how some of the world’s top chefs—always including Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, Cat Cora or Michael Symon—operate in the kitchen.

3) Mexico One Plate at a Time
If I could have lunch with anyone in the world, Rick Bayless might get the nod. The catch is that he’d have to cook. The Chicago-via-Oklahoma chef knows more about Mexican cuisine than anyone else on Earth, and One Plate is the perfect showcase for his knowledge and skills.

4) The Restaurant
Reality TV generally turns my stomach, but this now-defunct show was a can’t miss for me. Rocco DiSpirito was one of New York’s great young chefs until this series; now he’s a cautionary tale. From a chef who’s almost never in the kitchen to whiny employees who don’t care about the eatery’s success to a power struggle between the two principle owners, Restaurant was basically a primer of how not to run a restaurant.

5) 30-Minute Meals
I know it’s trendy to hate Rachel Ray, and I agree that she can be more than a little annoying at times. But who can argue against a show where the central premise is to teach parents that it’s possible to cook healthy, tasty meals at home in less time than it takes to load up the car and drive the kids to McDonald’s?

Top Lady

1) Good Eats
The most satisfying thing about Good Eats is its orientation of episodes around a single ingredient. It’s great to spend 22 minutes showing how to make eggplant parmesan—but even better to show five different things to do with an eggplant, as well as getting a little history and nutritional information besides. The fact that Alton Brown never seems to get tired of showing the best way to do simple things such as chop an onion is particularly endearing to those of us who were never taught how to chop an onion. Last year, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my family, due in no small part to this show. (It was awesome, by the way.)

2) No Reservations
I realize that some people have a problem with Anthony Bourdain. Aside from his New York ‘tude, he often remarks on how his adventures take him to places no mere American tourist would dare go or taste—as if having a producer that hooks him up with local guides, a camera crew, and a significantly larger travel budget than most backpackers makes him a mere tourist. However, he’s definitely willing to laugh at himself, and he seems deep down to want to encourage people to get out in the world and taste new things.

3) America’s Test Kitchen
Another science-y cooking show but on a PBS budget. What I like best about ATK is that they approach cooking with techniques out of a high-school lab workbook. What’s the best “room temperature” for baking with butter? Let’s make a hypothesis, set a control group, and find out!

4) The French Chef
The original is still the champ. I don’t know that Julia Child necessarily made things look easy, but listening to her breezy talk while she butchers up a rooster for coq au vin was the original comfort food of cooking shows.

5) Yan Can Cook
OK—this is not the greatest cooking show on Earth. But my mom will attest that I loved this show as a kid. Wearing aprons that said things such as “I Wok My Dog Every Day” (I know, sick, right? I don’t think he got it), chef Martin Yan made simple stir-frys and other Chinese dishes probably toned way down for the American PBS crowd. But he had a goofy sense of humor that appealed to kids when no other cooking shows did.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Top 5 Photographers

Top Lady

1) Lee Miller
Model, Photographer, Reporter, Muse: Lee Miller had an extraordinary life on both sides of the camera. As a young model, she graced the cover of Vogue in the 1920s, then learned photography (and a few other things) from her relationship with Man Ray, making abstract photographs. In the 1930s, she became a photojournalist for Vogue and Life magazines, covering World War II in France and North Africa. And she was the only photographer with the American troops when they entered the Buchenwald concentration camp, sending her images of dead and dying bodies back to her editors with only the words “Believe It.”

2) Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky creates wall-size photographs that often act as if they were paintings, often capturing large-scale scenes such as infinite layers of hotel balconies or the eye-popping colors of a huge 99-cent store. His free and open use of digital alterations also brings in the question the nature of the medium, which Gursky clearly believes is as malleable as paint.

3) Taryn Simon
A working contemporary photographer, Taryn Simon’s trademark is getting access to remote or off-limits areas to take “forbidden” images. A recent show at the Whitney Museum held pictures of green-glowing nuclear waste, the Death Star prop from Star Wars (packed in storage in a Hollywood lot), and a portrait of Kenny, a white tiger with mental retardation and other problems due to massive inbreeding.

4) Gordon Parks
Aside from being the photographer of the Civil Rights Movement, Gordon Parks also produced hundreds of images of simple beauty. And, yes, he directed Shaft.

5) Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley is definitely the toast of the town at the moment, and he should be. A young, working photographer in New York, his images capture the spirit of the 2000s in a way no one else does. Young, beautiful hipsters frolic in a park, find ecstasy at a Morrissey concert, and graffiti-bomb buildings at twilight. They seem to think they will always be young and beautiful, and in these pictures, they will be.

Top Guy

1) Richard Avedon
I often had been struck by beauty in photographs, but I had never really been moved by a still image until seeing Richard Avedon’s In the American West series. American West featured striking photographs of common people living hardscrabble lives as oil workers, cowboys and drifters. Walker Evans and Robert Frank also have captured the essence of the American soul, but Avedon’s work made a deeper impression on me because I saw it first.

2) Henri Cartier-Bresson
Cartier-Bresson is known as the father of modern photojournalism. He’s an innovator who took some of the most famous photographs ever. He co-founded Magnum Photos, possibly the greatest collection of photojournalists ever assembled. But Cartier-Bresson makes the list for one simple reason: When I elicited responses from my photographer friends, one wrote back “Cartier-Bresson (duh…).”

3) Nick Ut
Sometimes you become famous for being in the right place at the right time. Ut’s defining moment is a photo of a group of crying Vietnamese children running down the road after their village was napalmed. The photograph won Ut a Pulitzer Prize and helped end that disastrous war. In addition to being a great photographer, Ut proved himself to be a great man—he didn’t return to his bureau to publish the photograph until he had rushed a little girl to the hospital, saving her life.

4) Charles Peterson
Annie Leibovitz is probably the best known rock ’n’ roll photographer, but the Seattle scene wouldn’t have been Seattle without Charles Peterson. His gorgeous action shots of bands such as Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden are often slightly overexposed or out of focus, but they provided the perfect illustration for a grunge sound that was equally muddy and unfocused yet brilliant.

5) Gordon Parks
Few photographers could move back and forth between the worlds of journalism and fashion as deftly as Parks. His photographs for Life depicted life at both the top and bottom of black culture, and his fashion photos for Vogue were groundbreaking for the simple fact that they were shot by a black man. After a lengthy career, Parks tried his hand as a film director, scoring a hit with Shaft in 1971.