75 Percent Less Fat: No. 39

We’re into the Top 40 with The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death, the second and final full-length from the UK’s The Housemartins.

The follow-up to London 0, Hull 4 saw the band expanding a little musically. It was something both P.d. Heaton and Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, would continue to do in their subsequent work. The debut was quite good, but for my money it couldn’t match the top-to-bottom excellence of the follow-up.

While the music on the disc bounces between bouncy jangle pop, Brit style, and slower soulful numbers, the lyrics are uniformly biting. And the targets range from the obvious (the Royal Family, circa mid-1980s), to unexpected (the latter half of the title track to Me and the Farmer), though consistent with Heaton’s previous exhortation to Take Marx and Take Christ.

Highlights: the Queen-skewering title track; the bizarre Five Get Over Excited, I Can’t Put My Finger on It and Me and the Farmer.

Important Information:

Name: The People who Grinned Themselves to Death

Released: 1987

Record Company: Go! Discs

Running Time: 38:06.

Track Listing:

  1. The People who Grinned Themselves to Death
  2. I Can’t Put My Finger on It
  3. The Light is Always Green
  4. The World’s On Fire
  5. Pirate Aggro
  6. We’re Not Going Back
  7. Me and the Farmer
  8. Five Get Over Excited
  9. Johannesburg
  10. Bow Down
  11. You Better Be Doubtful
  12. Build



75 Percent Less Fat: No. 40

Some albums grab you right away. Others take a little while to marinate.

This album was released back in 2008. The band then went on tour with Eulogies to support the album. As part of their tour promotion, the two bands offered a giveway of their new albums in a woxy.com effort. I was the lucky listener, so I soon received copies of both discs in the mail.

I kind of liked Eulogies right away. It was a nifty little indie pop record, with a lead single that Vampire Weekend clearly enjoyed.

The Dears more densely packed album didn’t immediately resonate. But as time wore on, the more I listened to the beefy disc (58 minutes of music in just 10 tracks) from Murray Lightburn and co., the more I realized they were the headliner on that bill for a reason.

I still don’t hear the Morrissey comparisons that have beset Lightburn from the outset, other than the fact that both men are decidedly difficult to get along with. But Black Moz or not, he’s a pretty gifted musician. These aren’t little ditties, but complex works where the brilliance is revealed on multiple listens.

Highlights: Like Who’s Next, this is a disc that is good from the start, but truly shines on the back half. Crisis 1 & 2 , Demons, and the 11-minute, album-closer Savior are among the strongest tracks.

Important Information:

Name: Missiles

Released: 2008

Record Company: Dangerbird Records

Running Time: 58:16

Track Listing:

  1. Disclaimer
  2. Dream Job
  3. Money Babies
  4. Berlin Heart
  5. Lights Of
  6. Crisis 1 & 2
  7. Demons
  8. Missiles
  9. Meltdown in A Major
  10. Saviour







Sending out an SHS

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is pretty easy to loathe, even in a Trump Administration crawling with such detestable characters. There’s the daily lying, of course, but that’s to be expected with the press secretary for a president whose relationship with the truth can most generously be described as “estranged.”

But it’s more than that. She somehow plays moral scold while defending the most inhumane administration on record. And she does so with a joylessness that must come standard with being one of Mike Huckabee’s offspring.

Now, she’s not as despicable as Captain Orange, his vapid veep, his uneducated education secretary, Betsy of Vos, his ethically vacant EPA secretary Scotty P, his (well, you get the picture), since she’s not responsible for any of the odious policies and decisions that we have to live with. Yet she manages to be equally icky. That’s no small feat.

And yet, SHS, like the rest of us, ought to be able to eat her dinner at whatever the hell restaurant she wants.

I know the arguments – this is what the right wanted, her working for the administration is a choice, etc.). Bullshit. And for evidence, look no further than the legendary Supreme Court Case of Mother vs. Misbehaving Child, where it was held, and I quote: two wrongs don’t make a right.

If you believe that it’s wrong for Christian bakers to refuse to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, or for restaurants to refuse service to LBTGQ individuals, you can’t forfeit that belief just because the patron is now your version of hideous.

It would have been much better, and defensible, for the restaurant owners to tell her guest: “Ms. Sanders. I want you to know that I find your boss’s policies reprehensible, and your defense of them to be outrageous. The entire Trump Administration is a disgrace to what makes our country truly special, and someday you will be forced to answer for your role in implementing them. However, since I believe that is not my place to refuse service based on beliefs, you are welcome to dine here, even if you are decidedly not welcome here.”

Principles are only tested when it’s hardest to live up to them.

Don’t forfeit them for some temporary schadenfreude.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 44

There will be no more Catholic album than No. 44, the Hold Steady’s sophomore disc, Separation Sunday.

The band is fronted by Twin Cities native Craig Finn, previously of the band Liftr Pullr. Finn’s sing-speak method of delivering his vocals is unmistakable. Just as his habit of telling stories that run through not just entire albums, but leap from disc to disc.

On this one, story focuses on Holly, short for Hallelujah. Like many of his characters, she’s a troubled young adult living on the fringes, turning tricks and taking drugs. Along the way we meet an equally sordid cast of characters. Her story culminates with a visit to Mass, where she crashes into the congregation on the album’s strongest track.

Highlights: Your Little Hoodrat Friend, Charlemagne in Sweatpants, a story of a pimp that references Springsteen, Jane’s Addiction and, of course, Lionel Richie; Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night; and How a Resurrection Really Feels, on my shortlist of best album closers, along with The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, White Trash Heroes and Vapor Trails.


Important Information:

Name: The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday

Released: 2005

Record Company: Frenchkills Records

Running Time: 42:11

Track Listing:

  1. Hornets! Hornets!
  2. Cattle and Creeping Things
  3. Your Little Hoodrat Friend
  4. Banging Camp
  5. Charlemagne in Sweatpants
  6. Steve Nix
  7. Multitude of Casualties
  8. Don’t Let Me Explode
  9. Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
  10. Crucifixion Cruise
  11. How a Resurrection Really Feels



A Crisis Actor’s Lament


People think it’s so easy. They look up on the screen and they see an Emma Gonzalez or a David Hogg stealing the scene, and they just assume that anyone can land that kind of opportunity.

Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work that way. It takes years of work, innate talent and a whole lot of luck. And for most of us, it simply never happens.

Look at me. I’ve been at this for 15 years. I’ve gotten some credits here and there, but nothing bigger than a little Off-Broadway* work a few years back. But here I am, still plugging away.

I can remember the exact day I knew I wanted to be a crisis actor. I was a 10-year-old kid playing in my living room while my parents watched the Channel 6 Action News team. In between slaying stories, the blond anchor du jour mentioned a protest being held over a bogus gay bashing. I sat mesmerized as the confident performers feigned outrage and sprinkled faux tears. A false flag was planted in me that very day.

But the road to stardom is a long, cruel one. For every 12-year-old Mike playing 3-year-old “Kaio” who goes viral, there are a hundred of us in the shadows. Men and women alike, living on the fringes, trying to beat the odds. I’ve taken all the usual part-time gigs that gave me time to pursue my true calling. I’ve stood in the median selling fake newspapers. I waited tables in the basement of the Comet Ping Pong restaurant. I even spent some time on the cleanup crew for Hilary Clinton’s EDT (Enemy Dispatch Team). Anything to pay the bills.

More than once I’ve been tempted to quit, to pack up my things and satisfy my landlords (mom and dad) by putting my biological engineering degree from Berkeley to use. I’ve got a standing offer to do water “treatment” work up in Portland.
But I’m not there yet. I might go two weeks without a phone call, text or any other nibble. But just as I’m on the verge of giving up, I’ll get a call from my agent – they want me to read for Soros. That’s the kind of promise that keeps a guy hanging in there.

It hasn’t been all empty. I’m one of the first guys a director will call when he needs to do a quick bus-in. I was the No. 3 lead in a small production of “GMOs will kill us all” a couple of years back. Oh, and I was a Pink Hat understudy in November of 2016. Just enough work to wet the whistle, I guess.

If anything does push me out of the business, it’s this move toward amateurism. These skinflint directors keep wanting to offer resume credit in lieu of cash. The day I consider selling out that way is the day I’m no longer a crisis actor. Have some respect for the craft, people.

Despite the odds, I still believe I’m going to make it. Give me the right role, and I’ll knock it out of the park. Sure, I’m a little too old to play a pretend high schooler after a Democrat-orchestrated shooting. And every time I’ve auditioned for a Dreamer Success Story fictional piece, I’ve gotten the same “Too Dolezalian” feedback from the producers. But let me sink my teeth into a meaty “man pretending to be grieving over his not-real sister who was never roughed up by Neo Nazis in the first place,” role and I’ll make you forget Burt Loughlin.** I think I’m perfect for these “phony veteran who gives up guns he never owned,” spots that have just taken off in the last few weeks. And I know, down to my core, that if you ever stick me in front of a green screen with Chris Cuomo occupying the other half of the picture, well, virality – thy name is Dan.

So, I keep on. Dreaming of the day I stroll across the stage to accept my well-deserved best crisis acting Golden Globe Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.*** It’s my destiny.

*Literally. Our Occupy string-pullers had hysterically planned a big anti-corporate greed protest near the financial district, and the cops kept telling us to “Get the f*** off Broadway.”

**See, I told you I’m good.

***Good Lord. Surely our globalist overlords could have tried to hide things a little bit better there, don’t you think?

Mass Fatality Fatalism

There is a bizarre sense of fatalism that surrounds these horrific mass shootings. Following each one, the cry from one side of the argument is there was nothing this law or that law could have done to prevent it.

In a very narrow sense, they may be right. We don’t like to admit it, but a motivated individual hell-bent on violence, and unconcerned with his (I don’t think we have to worry about the gender of the pronoun here) well-being will be able to do a great deal of damage before he’s stopped. Neither a well-meaning gun regulation from the left, or a well-armed good guy from the right is going to eliminate all of these shootings.

Yes, this isn’t a problem in other countries. But we simply have too many guns in the hands of the public, and the public is simply too heavily invested in the culture of firearms to think we can eradicate them.

But simply because these horrific incidents may still take place is not a reason to throw up our hands and do nothing, which has been the modus operandi for Republicans in Congress for far too long. Or, to believe the only possible solution is MORE GUNS.

Instead of worrying whether we can eliminate them all (which, of course, should be the goal), we should perhaps strive to limit the number that take place. Or mitigate the carnage when one happens. Or try to make a dent in the hundreds of shooting deaths, whether via homicide, suicide or accident, each and every day that aren’t part of a mass event. The Florida tragedy captures our attention and re-triggers the calls for some action, but it’s the everyday gun violence that is the true societal ill.


Perhaps we can take steps to keep the mentally ill from legally obtaining firearms. Or keep them out of the hands of people on the terror watch list. Could we have a better system of regulating gun shows and other sales? Maybe we can do a better job of following the weapons out there, or do a better job tracking the potential risk who begins stockpiling them. Require the owners to demonstrate some minimum of proficiency in handling them, or some understanding of gun safety before selling/licensing them. Possibly certain weapons whose only function is to kill lotsa people, lotsa fast can be reduced in the marketplace. Or maybe, and I know this is crazy talk, we can allow the CDC to study the causes and effects and correlations of gun violence, treating it as the public health issue it most clearly is. You know what they say, the only way to stop a nosy scientist with a slide rule is a well-heeled lobbyist with Congressmen on speed dial.

We don’t do any of these things. Not because Americans are opposed to them. A majority to super-majority of Americans, including gun owners, support many if not all of those things listed above. But we don’t do any of them because we have allowed a major element of public health policy to be written and decided and by the trade group representing gun manufacturers. Washington, D.C. lawmakers have abdicated their responsibility to seek out solutions to the scourge of gun violence to the NRA lobbyists filling their campaign coffers.

Thoughts haven’t worked. Prayers may have eased the pain of the mom who lost her son yesterday, but they haven’t stopped tomorrow’s disaffected high school student or disgruntled worker or angry white supremacist from taking out his rage on unsuspecting Americans tomorrow. And the next citizen good guy with a gun who stops one of these bad guys with a gun in the course of a mass shooting will arguably be the first.

We are the most heavily armed advanced nation in the world, by orders of magnitude. We are also the advanced nation with the highest per capita levels of gun violence, again, by orders of magnitude. Fighting fire with fire simply has not worked.

What will? I don’t know. None of us knows for sure. The problem is, we’re not allowed to even ask all of the damn questions.

Freed from Freeing

For most of the past 22 years, this season was quite the challenge. The weeks before Christmas were filled with shopping and running down items, wrapping and decorating. Christmas Eve required work long into the evening, not starting until after the last of the kids was in bed. And Christmas morning, at least for me, was the worst.

When I was a child, the two instructions most dreaded by my parents were “Some Assembly Required” and “Batteries Not Included.” But the problems associated with those toy-box standards seem quaint compared to the difficulty parents face today: extricating new toys from the packaging web that ensnares them.

You simply can’t purchase a new toy without running into a labyrinth of twist-ties, tape, stitching, wires and other affixation devices, all hermetically sealed to lock in that fresh, polyurethane goodness.

Product tampering? You’d have better odds of carrying your complete collection of Civil War swords onto a United Airlines flight while wearing a T-shirt proclaiming “Martyr in Training” than adjusting the hemline of a Nutcracker Barbie before it left the shelves of Toys ‘R Them.

Though the toy makers are just now perfecting the art of elusion, the move towards inaccessibility has been going on for years.

Imaginary research indicates one example of the toy companies’ cryptic packaging practices dates back more than a quarter-century. In 1977, 33-year-old Bob Tolbert of Parsippany, N.J., had just finished his 27th screening of “Star Wars” (retroactively renamed “Star Wars Episode π: Register of the Trademark”). Determining his downstairs bedroom in the basement of his parents’ split-level ranch home was not complete despite the replica Light Saber, Darth Vader Helmet and Princess Leia poster hanging directly above his bed, Tolbert purchased a genuine Luke Skywalker inaction figure. But Tolbert was stumped in his efforts to free Luke and instead left him on his nightstand in the original packaging, launching a mystifying adult trend that continues to this day.

But knowing the origins of this phenomenon is no help when you’ve got a child salivating at a shiny new toy. So you break out the knives, scissors and radial arm saw, which aren’t very good at liberating G.I. Joe from his plastic P.O.W. camp but do a good job of producing nicks, cuts, blisters, bruises and language unfit for this essay, let alone Christmas morning around the tree.

Of course, if after 90 minutes of toil you manage to separate the toy from the chaff, your hard work is rewarded five-fold as your child plays with the bounty with uncontrolled enthusiasm. This euphoria lasts an estimated 12 minutes, at which point your child puts down the toy, forever, and flips on the television to see what trouble Spongebob and Patrick have found themselves in.

And the most perplexing aspect of this entire dance: Absolutely none of these protective measures does anything to prevent someone from LiMeloballing off with the product from the toy store shelf.