Ba-da ba-da bee-da ba-da booooo, The Death of Robert Goulet

31 10 2007

Of all of the acutely memorable bits assembled in SNL’s The Best of Will Ferrell DVD, none seemed to permeate my circle of friends than Ferrell’s portrayal of Robert Goulet, the ‘darkly handsome’ actor, lounge singer and generally exaggerated and anachronistic individual.

Goulet died yesterday at the age of 73, toppled by interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, a rapidly deteriorating lung condition that offed him while he waited for a lung transplant. His death, not necessarily an early one (although in this era, most could be considered so), has some truly astounding properties to it. The Times’ obituary (a must-read) cast him as a man larger than his work, a figure, a presence. He left life as a relic from an obsolete time, in a death that should rightfully have as much effect on our generation as Laurence Welk’s did.

But Goulet’s death is of the curious sort. I’ve never gotten calls, IMs, e-mails or anything when an ex-president or political figure died. Not when Hunter Thompson unloaded a 12-gauge into himself. Not when any athlete’s passed. But within an hour of the Times’ posting of the obit, I’d received half a dozen notices.

Goulet’s a perfect version of pop simulacra, alive more in the reproductions and parodies of his work than he is in his originals. Simulacra, in its modern definition by Jean Baudrillard, refers to a copy of a copy so detached from the original that it assumes its own life. It’s the same principal as Betty Boop, who was originally based on Helen Kane, who based her style on Annette Hershaw. Both Kane and Hershaw have faded into obscurity while Boop remains “an icon of the flapper.”

Ferrell’s performance had no malice. Goulet was treated as he was — an over-the-top performer out of context in an age of self-awareness and irony. So, he was dealt with ironically, covering Sisqo and Biggie. And thus, Bob Goulet found a second life in people who otherwise would have given his death a passing glance.

As a lot of you know, a significant portion of my humor from freshman through sophomore years in college is indebted to Mr. Ferrell’s take on Goulet. You could say anything in that voice and people fell apart. From “my, it looks windy today” to “you see that dame over there, she looks like she could sizzle like a ham,” everything worked. It was cheap, yes. But difficulty aside, the voice was everywhere.

My buddy Bob used the Goulet voice for his voicemail for most of junior year. I used the Goulet voice when guesting on radio shows both at BU and when I had a cameo during my buddy Matt’s radio show at Muhlenberg — an appearance that got Matt suspended for a month because DJ Goulet said ‘shit.’ Todd Southard went as Goulet for his final Halloween in college, wearing a sport coat over a burgundy turtleneck and carrying around a snifter of brandy all night.

Over time, Goulet, who had faded out of pop culture, re-appeared in that scene in a different incarnation. Suddenly he wasn’t a lounge singer, nor was he an actor. But neither was he really a parody of himself. He was a buzz word, a man still having a good time performing. Emerald Nuts, if you recall, used him in a commercial that warned that if your blood sugar drops, Robert Goulet will come in and mess the office up.

Goulet fever, in short, burned as hot as cowbell fever.

Still, nobody seemed to have any experience with Goulet himself. Everything came through Ferrell’s medium, which at once stole some credibility from Goulet’s work itself but also elevated the man to relevance, and, according to Dominick Reuter, reverence among our peer group.

There is, however, one final story about a deeply personal experience with the man.

I have a friend, Vanessa, whose family chose Goulet’s Christmas album as the yearly holiday ritual to play when the extended family comes over — most families I know have one (ours, despite the protests of my father and myself, remains Kenny G’s — my mom’s eternal victory). They’ve been playing it since she was young, real young.

So, Vanessa said, because she was too young to be able to draw the line between deity and performer (is there one in modern society?) she was convinced that the voice belting out ‘hear those sleighbells jingling, ring-ding-dingling too’ was the voice of God.


Introduction to Achewood

30 10 2007

Now, for the single clip that solidified my love for Achewood, the 2007 online comic of the year and surely the finest online comic of any time.

Achewood, like drinking, is something that is best experienced and not described. Please indulge. It’ll keep you busy at work for at least a week.

This particular story arc centers around Philippe the 2-year-old river otter’s campaign for the presidency, founded on hugs and happiness. Todd the coke-addled, stuttering squirrel is applying for position of vice president.

The Boston Red Sox, Your 2007 World Series Champs…and what that means

29 10 2007

In the final breaths of October in 2004, Boston broke down. Offices closed early and started late and TV sets hummed deep into the night. On the Prudential Center, 20 floors collaborated to leave their lights on at night to write ‘Go Sox’ on the side of the building.

Our professors understood — in a way they never had when the excuses were lies to cover hangovers or still-drunk mornings — not showing up to class. Some even canceled them, revealing a rare glimpse of realism and context within academia. And for so many reasons beyond the shutting-down of a major US city for a sports team, it was so easy to be a Sox fan back then.

It seems like a long time since the Sox represented what they did in 2004: workingmen, the down-and-out, the accursed, those without access to the higher circles. In short, losers. And losers tend to be lovable. Especially when they make strides to cease to be considered losers. And in 2004, nobody was making strides like the Sox, who shattered an 86-year-old curse that seemed to not only color the character of the fans, but of the city as a whole — an underdog mentality that composed a significant part of the Boston identity.

Now, another World Series title later, just three years after the last one, the contradictions in Bostonian identity abound. Back in 2004, we became ephemeral Sox fans because it was so cool to join them and their city in their assault on history and those who had oppressed them for the majority of a century. It was like slumming it. It’s only American to root for the downtrodden. But now, the 2007 World Series champions have lost the hunter title. They’ve become what the Yankees were when everybody either loved or hated them: the ones expected to win. A dynasty.

And instead of being the eccentric, weird, not-at-all-self-conscious yet endearing little guys, Sox fans are now becoming the eccentric, weird, not-at-all-self-conscious big guys. Sox fans, who lead MLB fans in their fervor and knowledge, also take the cake in quirks and, as my ex-roomie Anthony would say, corniness. Fever Pitch was more right than it was wrong. 

Thus, it’s time to re-evaluate what it means to be part of Red Sox Nation, a state of hyper-reality that’s more along a tribal level (they even held elections this year to instate the president of RSN).

“The Red Sox tradition has been clouded by the taste of victory,” said my buddy Anthony Piscionere, a Yanks fan. “They’re now an evil empire!”

This Red Sox dynasty, as it now certainly is, was founded on being the anti-Yankees. If you hated the Yanks, the Sox were the next option because they were, it appeared, the only other choice. They were the US to the Yanks’ USSR, and we were the rest of the world during the Cold War, afraid to forge the Third Way. 

And the dynamics of this baseball duality appear to be taking the same shape that the superpower duality did.

It was easy to love the Sox (and the US) for all they stood for — goofing around, liberalism, scumbaggery, general happiness, youth — in the face of what the Yanks (and Soviets) seemed to represent — scowls, drudgery, diligence, straight-lacedmanship. No fun.

Steinbrenner forced Yankee players to shave their beards and cut their hair. The Sox took shots of Jack before ALCS games. The Yankees were pros. The Sox were Idiots, with slogans like Cowboy Up and Manny Being Manny.  

So we tolerated things like Red Sox Nation. I watched my freshman year buddy Joe get brownout drunk during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS — the Aaron Boone game — then berate an elderly lady wearing a Yanks hat outside of BU’s West Campus. We tolerated the self-congratulatory culture, the fact that the fans found themselves to be just as important as the team on the field. We tolerated the exclusivity that gave way to come-one-come-all when Red Sox Nation took shape. We joined in when the “Yankees Suck” chant arose pretty much anywhere, from Fenway to Faneiul Hall to churches. And most of all, we understood the smug closed-mindedness that turns virtually every conversation about the Sox into an argument.

Hell, it beat rooting for the Yankees.

But the Berlin Wall came down and so, it seems, have the Yankees. So what we’re left with is an honest appraisal of Red Sox Nation the same way that the world began to look at America after the Soviets went capitalist. And we can see RSN the same way many see America: bloated, strident and smug.

With two Series titles in four years, this is absolutely a matter of sour grapes. But resentment takes many forms, and only gets sharper and more widespread as the object achieves greater and more sustained success. And Red Sox Nation, so proud of itself, has the outside attractiveness of flag-wavers or Wall Streeters.

Deep down, I love the Sox. But every year, I’m feeling more and more guilty for doing so.

Mutually Assured Destruction

26 10 2007

I walk home from work every day through a metal and glass canopy in downtown Manhattan, the falling sun’s beams crashing onto the buildings’ beams and splaying across the pollutant-rich sky — which creates a strikingly synthetic blend of orange, pink and lime green.

Near the end of this walk, I come to the New York Stock Exchange, where a dozen men in black flak suits lean against the cement wall or prop themselves up against the low, black and thick iron fence that creates a 50-foot perimeter around the building. Against their bodies they clutch thick black automatic rifles, guns that could cut down a front line, let alone a rogue, strapped subversive.

It’s somehow comforting, this destructive potential. And little else could be quite so disconcerting.

Over the past six years, amplified by Michael Moore’s declaration of it to the public in Fahrenheit 9/11, Americans have lived with a duality of fear and might. Instead of what perhaps came before, which I assume was something like a gradient from fear to confidence, we have supplanted an internal assuredness with external force.

Guns are our pillows, armor our blankets. We have entrusted our safety in the hands of those whose hands hold things that signify something far less than safety.

America has become a land of mutually assured destruction. We feel secure when we know that we have more firepower than our enemies, whoever they might be. But if we want to get back to America, the pre-9/11 variety (if that’s possible), we’ll need a more internal variety. Guns are great, guts are better.

Halloween Duo Costumes

24 10 2007

Nick Cardamone, with the suggestion of “Tools of Ignorance,” wins the column name-off. Congratulations to the man with a beard that grows faster than debt.


(He’s the one with the beard)

I apologize for the short posts of late. I promise to get back to rambling mini-theses again, when work ceases to inch me closer to aneurysm.

But! Another question, with another offer of a free round for the best suggestion:

Tay and I are trying to craft a tandem Halloween costume. I want to avoid human, especially celebrity, couples, and would prefer something abstract (Death and Dismemberment, War and Peace [not War and Peace], etc.). Any ideas?

Colbert For You and Me!

23 10 2007

Stephen Colbert, of the dropped final consonant-sound fame, announced last week that he’ll run for president in his home state of South Carolina, and only his home state of South Carolina, on the Favorite Son ticket.

Residents of the blogosphere — ones who write about things of substance, and not rants on suds, quick eating and Youtube — sounded off on his candidacy in the aftermath.

Is this something that’s good for American democracy, or just another funny but meaningless sideshow in the carnival that is the presidential election? Or, is humor just what we need in the campaign?

Don’t Fear Big Beer

22 10 2007

Last week, the beer world — and thus, by proxy, the business world — stirred when the wig-wearers at Coors and Miller announced that their companies were arranged to wed. It’s to be a glamorous wedding,

Now, the raw market share if Miller and Coors merged would still only reach the mid-30s, a dozen or so percentage points behind Bud’s behemoth. But what that means is that there are now two major pillars of American macrobrewing. And if it resembles the political structure of this country, it’s kind of like that. Craft brewing, once the norm in America, then virtually non-existent, is not the Green Party, or Libertarians (I guess it’s kinda like libertarians).

It’s a whole new party, one that has shaken, and will continue to shake the foundations of beer culture here, returning the judgement on taste and creativity to the drinkers and not corporate execs who force it down their throats, says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery.

I wrote a post two weeks or so back talking about how the beer giants are responding to the threat of craft brewers by not resting on their laurels, but pressing those laurels in the face of drinkers. Like an aging athlete walking around with a bag full of trophies that he’ll brandish when confronted. They’re resting their ambitions on their size, advertising their companies instead of their products, hoping that drinkers will be impressed by what has come before instead of following their tastebuds and minds.

Now, it appears, they’re traveling the same path cut by Catholics in response to the proliferation of science and the skepticism: Consolidation. By joining together in force, by accruing strength in numbers, purveyors of religion were able to bully the less powerful into imposed belief. The Church employed a threatening vocabulary, not to mention a good deal of violence, and made an already rigid dogma even more inflexible.

We saw how that worked out.

Coors and Miller will merge, and the resulting effect will allow their execs a quick, smug breath. But we have seen the fall of Big Steel, of GM, Ford because the scale of the operations made the companies too large for any flexibility and adaptibility. Size matters here, but ultimately, Americans are becoming more and more concerned with how you use it.