One Year Since “Millionaire”

A year and a day ago, as my friend Connie V. Chen reminded me, I cut class to appear on a game show. A year and five days ago, I woke up at an absurd 5 in the morning on the day off I had every Thursday last year.

Really, though, appearing on Millionaire was kind of an absurd experience. Thursday I spent holed up in ABC’s green room, with nothing to do but talk, pace, and eat roast bee sandwiches for 10 hours (for the record, I think I had four roast beef sandwiches). Monday was a sort of blur – in the green room, having run late, for about five minutes until they put makeup on me and brought me downstairs to the stage (well, first a cone of silence sort of isolation area, and then the stage). Really, I’ve expounded on the experience more than enough, but there are two things I’ve taken from the whole thing:

First, no matter how long it’s been since Millionaire was in its glory days and Regis was host and people actually won the grand prize, the show still has gravitas – and nearly universally at that. When I was being interviewed for my internship at the Museum of American Finance, they asked me about my time on the show. When I went to a pizza party a few floors above mine in my dorm over the summer, my friend Jane brought it up to a few of the French exchange students on the floor, piquing their interest and providing common ground (well, that and a love for cheesy foods). People still show up on my blog to see my Millionaire appearance and read my recounting of the adventure.

And second, Millionaire has created and sustained trivia-driven, cross-generational friendships. My friend Connie I mentioned earlier? I met her through Millionaire – our paths on the show were pretty similar: Thursday holdovers, Monday contestants, and eventually America’s Newest Thousandaires. Since then she’s moved to Austin and soon to Asia; her journey post-Millionaire has been decidedly different from mine. But that underscores the link shared among the contestants I knew and with whom remain in contact.

I still kind of regret not jumping that Burt Reynolds/Loni Anderson question. But I took a risk, a risk of which I was fully aware, and while it didn’t pay off monetarily, it’s a risk that’s part of something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, and a risk that’s paid off in spades.


New Quiz for mental_floss!

So a while back I pitched a few quiz ideas to Jason English over at mental_floss; a few of them were good enough to actually be commissioned (or accepted, or whatever), and today one of them was published. Check out the 19th Century Facial Hair Quiz right over here.

Music Monday: Norteno on the 6 Train (plus things of note)

First off: there was a norteño band performing when I was on the 6 train yesterday. I rarely if ever see musicians performing on the Lexington Avenue Line, at least on the trains (musicians can easily be found on the platforms of most stations (including 68th Street-Hunter College, which is one of the stops I often use), along with the mezzanine for the 42nd Street station). The trains are generally too crowded and thus musicians really don’t have the space to play. I suppose they were there since it was a Sunday and the train was sparsely-occupied.

The song itself, as recorded for the Subway Music Archive (which I’ll make a page for here on the blog at some point, just have to get around to it) is a fragment, as they began playing just before the train pulled into the 51st Street station – since I was taking the 6 to the E to the 7 on the way to a Halloween party (video of which is over here on Tumblr), I had to transfer at 51st – but I recorded until the train doors closed.

Also, two other Mets-related things I wanted to tackle without writing a separate post: Ted Berg is moving to the Upper East Side (welcome to New York County, Ted!) today and has been posting some of TedQuarters‘s “greatest hits”, including this one on the closing and tearing-down of Shea Stadium. It’s cool because I’d never read it before – it was on his “Flushing Fussing” column before he began his blog – and that it mentions my dad and I. Not by name – otherwise I’d probably know about it – but as “a young man and an old man [playing] catch with mitts and a tennis ball,” which my dad and I did for basically the entirety of fall and winter of 2008-2009 after work at the Armstrong House as sort of a cathartic exercise as Shea was being taken down.

Second, the Mets announced they’re moving in the walls of Citi Field today. It oddly looks like the renderings Randy Medina of The Apple drew up. I’m just going to leave it at that.

Friday Stuff & Things: Fun Jeopardy! Categories

The writers for Jeopardy! are nothing if not smart, funny people. (Note to any Jeopardy! writers reading this: I’d like to join you someday. Hell, I’ve already written a couple of Jeopardy! categories back in my TrivKnowl days – including one about people named Norm or Norman, called “Social Norms,” which went over well) As a result, there have been some fun categories. I’ve rounded up four of my favorites, all via the perpetually-awesome J! Archive:

  • Dr. Seuss Meets the Bard,” with Shakespeare as written by the greatest children’s writer in history (though that’s another post)
  • Staying on the Seussian theme, “Dr. Seuss at the Multiplex,” one of the categories narrated by the late, great Don “In a World…” LaFontaine.
  • Another LaFontaine-narrated category, “Coming Soon…History,” was done in the third game of the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, which featured every 5-day champion and every winner of the College or Teen Tournaments or a Tournament of Champions to that point vying for two spots in a three-day final against Ken Jennings. It lasted most of that year’s season and was freakin’ epic.
  • And finally, my personal favorite – one that was the result of a Late Show Top Ten List, “Moist Things.”
Enjoy playing, everybody!

Symbology and Myth in Marina City

The cover artwork of Wilco's 2002 album Yankee...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m breaking the usual format this week to provide a special Music Monday post (which in this case is more my thoughts tangentially related to the music and not the music itself) that’s been brewing in my head the last couple of days. The Week in Preview will come tomorrow, with regular posts to follow.

I was looking through the Wilco tag on Tumblr on a lazy Saturday evening when I found this.

An absolutely stunning picture of Marina City, or as Bestest Friend Ever Kelly Cordray put it, “the Wilco towers,” referring to the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, one of the greatest albums of the 2000s and easily my favorite album to this point in my life. I ended up coming back to this picture, again and again, for the next few hours, studying the contour of the buildings and simply being mesmerized by the picture itself. When I was talking about this with Kelly, she thought they were just buildings. And really, they are – as much as they seem abstract, almost mystical, people live there, and work there, and (in the lower portion of the buildings) park their cars there. Life goes on there just as life goes on in the former psychiatric ward in which I live. But to me, the towers of Marina City represent so much more.

How can a picture of a place I’ve never been encompass so much feeling? It’s kind of easy for Chicago to be that place, a city ever so eloquently described by Carl Sandburg (emphasis mine):

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people, Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

It’s a city with myriad neighborhoods, enough lore to rival New York, and like all cities, constantly at war with itself. It’s a town that reveres its hot dogs and its steak sandwiches. It has a flag that commands respect and wonder, and with it (and quite possibly from it), creates a sense of civic pride rivaled by few metropolises in the world. As was noted on Roman Mars’s fantastic design podcast 99% Invisible, when a Chicago police officer dies, it’s the city’s, not the national flag on their casket. And yet the most important component of the myth of Chicago is that it’s a place personally unexplored and relatively as far as the moon itself, and thus infinite in its potential.

But it’s more to it than that – more than just another great city, another potential place to escape and move forth – Marina City is as equally connected to the myth of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, my myth of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, as it is with the myth of Chicago. Obviously, on its surface, its connection is as all albums are connected to their cover, the nostalgia that comes into picking up the packaging, thumbing through the liner notes, combing over the lyrics to make sure you’ve got that line right in your head. (For the record, I love that in the YHF liner notes, it says that “Wilco is/was” the band – even in verb tense agreement, the album has such eternality.) When I first heard the album, about two and a half years ago, was a turning point in my adolescence, a point when I began to emotionally and academically mature, when I really came to develop the ability to be passionate about things – not in the way of the fleeting but intense passions of childhood, but of genuine, lifelong affinities – and when I came to connect with and understand people, and make truly meaningful friendships.

But at the core, for me, the music of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, both melodically and lyrically, has become a story in and of itself – one of love and its loss (and the garish beauty of love’s futility), and of truths hidden in the chaos of everyday life. And with those themes, Marina City remains at the center of the album – not just in the tall buildings shaking in “Jesus, Etc.”, but through all the songs. The aural landscape of the album can really just be walking about the towers and along the shores of the Chicago River, ruminating the thoughts humans like us think.

I wonder if YHF would resonate for me as much if the cover were different (as discussed in this video done by the AV Club), or if I found it at a different point in my life. As Jeff Tweedy himself alluded to at the first of Wilco’s Central Park concerts this fall, for those who heard it when it was first put out by the band in 2001 (particularly New Yorkers), the album could have been a way to reflect upon September 11th, 2001, or if the timeline were misconstrued, seen as a response to that day’s proceedings. But I discovered Wilco, and YHF, years later. In the end, it’s become for me what all great music of youth becomes: a symbol of personal change, an agent of discussion on what it means to be adult, and over time, a source of what was and what might still be.

Watch This: Thoughts from Places

Back in August of 2010, John Green recorded a video of his time in London and Edinburgh, doing readings, going to Nerdfighter gatherings, and generally traveling. It wasn’t a travelogue, per se – it was more a reflection on that travel; it was retrospective, rather than in the moment. And – as the key difference between it and other Vlogbrothers videos – it was presented in voiceover.

This became the basis of what the Greens called “Thoughts from Places” – a series of 100 videos (18 of which have already been done), a series to, paraphrasing John Green, bring more writing to YouTube and more YouTube to writing. It led not only to probably my favorite series-within-a-series the Vlogbrothers have done, but a style of video that has been imitated (or mocked) throughout YouTube.

Most of my favorites are from John’s European travels – starting with London and Edinburgh and continuing forth with my personal favorite, in Amsterdam, a video that combines the humorous with the thoughtful in a downright brilliant way; and in Bruges, during John’s stay in Amsterdam researching for and writing The Fault in Our Stars, his upcoming novel:

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Music Monday: “All Men Are Liars”

A while back, my friend Thiahera Nurse made a video defending Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” as sort of the apogee of faithfulness. I quite enjoyed it, because the defense of that point was worthwhile and itself humorous.

So when I saw Nick Lowe open for Wilco in Central Park and he played his song “All Men Are Liars,” I found it even funnier. I hadn’t heard of Lowe – let alone heard his music – so this semi-forced introduction was quite a positive experience. And so, I’m giving you a semi-forced introduction.

Hail and Farewell, R.E.M.

So R.E.M., that poppish rock band from Athens, Georgia, broke up today after just a little over 30 years of making music together. To be honest, when I first heard about it (via Ted Berg of TedQuarters), I was a little surprised. Sure, the band certainly showed signs that this was the end – apparently they didn’t tour in support of this year’s Collapse Into Now – but they’re one of the bands that have persisted throughout my lifetime, a band that was about as relevant at the time of my birth as they are today. I’d wager if you listen to the right stations you can still hear some of their hits on the radio, like “Man on the Moon,” “The One I Love,” and certainly “Losing My Religion.”

I was never the world’s biggest fan of R.E.M., but I thought their music sounded cool and that lead singer Michael Stipe was a pretty upstanding guy. And it helps that they left an indelible mark on my childhood, with their appearance on Sesame Street:

This Week’s Musings

We’re back with another week of posts. It’s a podcast week – 5 questions on Nintendo – and here are the textual things I’ve got cooked up:

  • Music Monday: I talk about Bon Iver briefly.
  • Wednesday Top 5: In honor of the upcoming Vendy Awards, my five favorite New York City food trucks.
  • Thursday Trivia: Again departing from the five-facts format, I present a brief history of TV musical shows.
  • No Friday post this week, but do expect a recap of the aforementioned Vendy Awards via the YouTube channel sometime this weekend.
And we’re talking about serious business on AccioNerds, getting nostalgic on TMV, and doing whatever I usually do on Twitter and Tumblr (meaning, not much).
See you in a bit for Music Monday, but first, here are a couple of videos I wanted to present on Friday but didn’t. The first is Hank Green’s song about quarks, “Strange Charm” (also the video that initiated me into Nerdfighteria), and the second is the downright awesome “mathemusician” Vi Hart talking about the science of sound (it runs a little long at almost 13 minutes, but it’s well worth it):

Song Monday: Four new covers and an accordion

For those who aren’t aware, I occasionally post songs over on my SoundCloud page (which at this point isn’t used for much else), and over the summer, I uploaded a few new tracks. While a few of them (those that I’m not posting here on the blog) are just straight up a capella covers (alas, I can only play one instrument, and even that one I can rarely play), others either mimicked their musical forebears closer or expanded upon them.

The first one was a cover of “Jailbird,” from M. Ward’s album Hold Time – part of what I called “M. Ward appreciation month”; in which I recorded both lead and backup vocals and whistling. The same goes for the second track, Monsters of Folk’s “Goodway.”

The other two, both Andrew Bird tracks, sort of add on to the originals – one is a cover of Bird’s instrumental “Master Sigh,” from the album Useless Creatures, that I recorded next to my kitchen window as the sounds of the rain (particularly Hurricane Irene) came in (largely because the damn song was stuck in my head as the sound and smell of the rain wafted through). It’s actually four tracks – one of the whistling, one of the “high hum,” one of the “low hum,” and one of just the rain itself; the latter three loop throughout the recording.

The last one was sort of a larger project – over the course of a week (specifically, the week of best friend/Guest Week blogger Kelly Cordray’s birthday), I recorded sounds of that week and added those as loops, along with whistling and vocals, covering Bird’s “The Happy Birthday Song” (or more specifically, covering the rendition of the song performed at Bird’s TED talk) as a birthday present for Kelly.

One of the loops I used for that song was an accordionist on the F train in Brooklyn, which I’ve added to the SoundCloud page as part of the Subway Music Archive (I also recorded a drummer on the 2 train about two months ago, but I inadvertently deleted that file):