SNL Season 36: Still ill.

I wrote last year about how SNL was showing signs of severe creative fatigue, with an over-reliance on recurring material, and a higher number of disappointing shows than in seasons past.I mentioned that unless the show took steps to fix some of these very noticeable signs of wear, the show is only going to get worse. SNL is still sick.I would argue it's a bit worse than last season, ever so subtly.There weren't any violently obvious symptoms like with last season, but the times when it appears to be firing on all cylinders are fewer and further between.

The staleness has been lingering for years now and the stench is starting to get pungent.At least when the show was at its worst they took quick emergency measures to fix the show.I do hope for next year that the creative powers-that-be realize they need to operate, or we're going to watch the show suffer and decay even further.

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SNL Season 35: What's Wrong?

The current SNL season is almost finished, and by and large it's been a dissapointment.It's not quite at the point it was in the infamously bad seasons (1980-81, 1994-95), but after coming off a particularly strong 2008-09 season (buoyed in part by Tina Fey's cameo appearances as Sarah Palin), the drop in quality is still noticable and that if things don't get fixed soon, it's going to get worse.For the most part this year has actually had at least one funny sketch per show.But the cracks are visible and unless something changes over the summer, next year could have the makings of another bad year on the level of 1994-95, when the show could no longer successfully navigate the line that divides the uninspired and the terrible.

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On music stores

Back when I lived in Winnipeg, I used to enjoy browsing the racks at the HMV in Kildonan Place.  This was before I had completely developed my musical taste but it was the time when my family finally had a CD player, and I no longer had to make do with the limited selection of music available on cassette.  I used to be in awe at the different albums that were available and remember seeing countless copies of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" and Tom Waits' "Closing Time" in the racks, the shrink wrap covered with the red WEA "super saver" logo.  I also remember prominent displays of jazz CDs in the aisles: Miles' "Sketches of Spain" and "Kind of Blue" (both recently remastered), Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz"...this made an impression on me.

I moved to New Brunswick in 1999; the first HMVs in the province opened in 2005.  I was aware the store had made a few changes in the interim thanks to a few trips to the Halifax stores, and the new mall stores not only were cramped and had annoying music piped in through the PA system, but their jazz, indie and catalog selection left a lot to be desired.  Even so,  I was still impressed that I could find $7.99 copies of "Giant Steps" by John Coltrane and the Gram Parsons twofer.  They also had a decent selection of music that was under the 2/30, 2/25 and 3/30 promotion; the 2-CD "The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads" only set me back $15.  Sure, I'd often leave the store with a vaguely dissatisfied feeling, and their "blacklists" of certain artists was just petty, but New Brunswick doesn't have great music retail anyway, so another store was welcome.

Unfortunately, the entire music retail sector is on a downswing.  CD Plus, the store in the mall that inexplicably filed all their music by the artists' first name, closed shortly after.  Music World went out of business.  Big box stores with music sections are reducing shelf space to the bare minimum, and there are towns and small cities that used to have decent music stores but now don't even have anywhere to buy CDs aside from Wal-Mart or Zellers. 

What's even worse is that in the past three and a half years, HMV has reduced shelf space to make room for more DVDs, video games and books.  I still go there just to see if they have something I want on for cheap (and I admit sometimes more often than not they do), but I know I'm not going to find any Miles Davis albums aside from the cardboard pack version of "Kind of Blue" and "The Essential Miles Davis".  Most of Dylan's back catalog is absent save for compilations  "Blonde on Blonde" and "Highway 61 Revisited", and while I can still find indie/alternative stuff, it's usually the newest release and the more well-known artists. 

There are a handful of good stores in Moncton: Frank's Music in particular.  It used to be the Sam The Record Man location in the mall until the chain went bankrupt, then soldiered on under a new name before moving out by the power center.  The prices are quite often higher than what you'd pay everywhere else but it's the only place in town that still has the classical and jazz in it's own room, there's a rack of new local and independent stuff, and the staff is actually quite knowledgeable and helpful.  On more than one occasion, I've seen the face of the guy behind the counter light up when he saw what I was ringing out with.  As well, there's a pretty good used place downtown where I've scored countless finds.

I accept that the rule is that stores have to be able to make money to survive, and these measures are just to keep the expenses down and sales high.  But every time I see good stuff no longer available so they can clear two whole columns of space for the new Nickelback CD, I die a little.  More and more independent stores are closing down for good, and the only way to find a lot of this stuff is to download it or buy it online with a credit card.  It's like if you don't like what the "unwashed masses" like, you don't exist.

I wonder how different my tastes would have been if the stores I had browsed in my younger days didn't have all that different music displayed prominently; while the Internet has made it easier for people to find good music that hasn't caught on with the public (for the record, this is how I got into a lot of indie music), fact of the matter is that having the music visible and convenient for people to discover does make a bit of difference.  Jyn Radakovits talks about this in her rant about music retail: with the internet, you have to dig deeper; the good stores put this stuff in the light.

The landscape is changing, whether I like it or not.  To me it feels a lot less like a natural change than something like the forests in New Brunswick being cut down and then replenished with homogenous acres of pines with the Irving logo up front.

On Natasha Richardson

I can't say I really followed of Ms. Richardson's career.  I don't even think I've willingly seen any movie with her in it (I might have seen a few moments of my family's video copy of The Parent Trap).  She was always one of those actresses that I was more familiar with by reputation than anything I've actually seen her in;  just another blonde Englishwoman who happens to act.  Sure, she was Vanessa Redgrave's daughter and Liam Neeson's wife but even that seemed secondary. Yes, her death this week was a tragedy.  That goes without saying; 45 is still young, and for it to happen the way it did, just coming out of nowhere, makes it all the more sad. 

What I'm more upset about is the way the media handled themselves; it was to be expected considering the vultures they were with Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II four years ago but when the New York Post and Fox News were posting rumours as fact before the family had a chance to make their statement, that was a new low.  I realize with all the pressure to get the story first (especially in a world where the internet allows information to get out like that) these things do happen, and those sources are not particularly esteemed for dedication to the truth anyway, but come on!  The family obviously was keeping quiet for a reason.  Some articles made sure to qualify that there was no official word on the prognosis and kept their headlines accordingly ambiguous, but putting "BRAIN DEAD" as a headline is just irresponsible at best, and sickening in what it reveals.

What it looks like to me is that these news agencies and gossip columns were actually rooting for her death.  Perez Hilton, in his ever so responsible way, made one post with the title "It's looking grim!" like he was creaming himself with anticipation of a great story (and he had already prematurely posted that she had died at that point, to boot).  Death does get more people to pay attention, I'll give them that.  But where is the line between the hot scoop and the actual pain and suffering involved?  The way the story was handled, everyone was rushing for the boasting rights to be first to say that Liam Neeson is widowed and a number of family members are grieving.  It's definitely some perverse schadenfreude operating here.

What I'm saying is not a new idea in the least.  I just wonder how far it will go.