Archive for the ‘Paul F. Tompkins’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JON BENJAMIN JAZZ DAREDEVIL–Well, I Should Have…* *Learned How To Play Piano (2015).

In 2015, H. Jon Benjamin released a jazz album on which he played piano.  He did this despite not knowing how to play piano.

This album should be a trainwreck.  However, he has employed the talents of Scott Kreitzer (saxophone), David Finck (bass), and Jonathan Peretz (drums) to assist him.  And they are really good.

It’s hard to believe that Benjamin has never played at all before, because while he’s not good by any definition, he certainly knows how to press the keys on the piano in a reasonable way.  Meaning, when he plays a solo he is at least trying to sound like he’s playing a solo.  It’s not like cats on a piano playing utterly random crap.  He’s certainly bad, but he’s bad within the ballpark, which makes this amusing to listen to and not intolerable.

Obviously, part of the joke is that Benjamin hates jazz and this pretty much mocks improv piano.  And yes, his playing sometimes sounds like an improv pianist deliberately plying wrong notes until the right ones come back into focus (although Benjamin’s never do come back in to focus).

The disc is quite short.  It’s under 30 minutes.  It includes a skit at the front called “Deal with the Devil.”  It is a really funny introduction in which H. Jon tries to sell his soul to the devil.  Kristen Schaal as the secretary get a very funny joke or two, but the devil (Aziz Ansari) explains that usually selling your soul is a last resort, not a first step.  There’s a vulgar joke (which I found really funny), but which makes the track unplayable for family gatherings (if you were to do such a thing).

There are four main pieces on the disc “I Can’t Play Piano” Parts 1-4.

“I Can’t Play Piano Part 1” (3:39) starts off with a rollicking sax solo and some bouncing jazz and then Jon’s tinkling at the high end of the piano.  The band even pauses a few times to give him a proper solo or four.  All of the solos are horribly inept and pretty funny.  Midway through the song, bassist David Finck takes a cool upright bass solo and you can hear Jon shout “play it Joe” or something like it.

Part 2 (3:09) has a riff that Jon tries to follow and fails to play spectacularly.  There’s less “soloing” in this one and more “playing with the band.”  At times you almost don’t quite realize that he’s playing with everyone else–something just seems slightly off.  There’s also some nice drum soloing from Jonathan Peretz.

There’s a hilarious skit [not on this record] by Paul F. Tompkins in which he talks about jazz as “a genre of music that is defying you to like it.”  He talks about going to a jazz show (by accident or because you lost a bet) and just at the point when you’re almost asleep, you think the bass player is going to play [blanhr] but instead he plays [blownhr].  And next.. this is the worst thing that jazz guys do.  The other guys on stage start laughing like it was the funniest thing they ever did see.  And you’re sitting in the audience thinking “I don’t get the jazz joke Why is that note so hilarious?  You’ve played many notes this evening, none of them particularly side splitting.”

This album is pretty much a musical rendition of that joke.

“It Had to Be You,” is a pretty conventional cover of the song (at least for the saxophone).  Jon clearly knows how the song goes, he just doesn’t know how to play it or which notes should even be in the song.  The middle of the song is a saxophone solo (no piano) and once again, you are kind of lulled into thinking the song is pretty straightforward, and then Jon comes back for a solo.  It’s a slow solo so at first it doesn’t seem so bad, but once he starts going, you realize how bad he really is.

“Soft Jazzercise” is a skit. Jon talks over a slow piano piece (presumably not by Jon as it is actually melodic).  Jon says that his soft jazzercise is very very very very very very very low impact.  You have to do it slow.  Like a turtle slow, like an opiated panda slow.

Back to the improv with “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 3” (4:57).  The song starts as a kind of call and response between the saxophone and the piano (hilariously bad every time).  Jon also gets a solo in the beginning.  He even slides his hand up and down the keys a few times–almost convincingly.  In the middle of the song you can hear Jon really getting into it shouting almost audible encouragement and saying “here we go!” and “dig this!” then the saxophone starts playing a response to what Jon is playing–can he even play that badly?  Jon even says “you can do better” at one point.  The sax almost plays “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” twice before the riffing ends.

The final improv piece “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 4 – (Trill Baby Trill)” (5:25) starts with Jon’s piano and the rest of the band apparently trying to follow or keep up.  Once again it’s not as horrible as you might expect.  It’s not good, but it almost seems like it could be a serious improv.  There’s a lengthy bass solo (no funny notes that I can hear).   Then, after the drum solo when the sax takes the lead again, you kind of forget that Jon is even playing.

The final track is a funky/rap about anal sex.

The five instrumentals would be hilarious to mix into any dinner party to see what people thought or if they even notices.  The other three tracks are definitely NSFW.

[READ: June 1, 2018] Failure is an Option

I love H. Jon Benjamin.  Or, more specifically I love his voice.  He has voiced some of my favorite characters over the years including Archer and Bob Belcher.

But I have found that when I watch things that he has created, I don’t enjoy them quite as much.

So, which way would this ode to failure go?

It’s a mixed bag but overall it’s quite funny.

It has an introduction with this appropriate line:

I am writing this at the dawn of the Trump presidency, particularly apropos of failure being an option.  A very horrible and dangerous option in the case of a entire country’s future.

The opening talks, as many of these memoirs do, about how exhausting it is to write a memoir (“when I was saddled with the task of writing a book”). (more…)

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On July 25, I reached 90,000 hits.
It took me seven months to get from 60,000 (Dec 25, 2009) to 90,000.
It took me nine months to get my first 30,000 hits.

There are some obvious contributing factors to this improvement (not the least of which is links from referrers that make absolutely no sense whatsoever (and which are pretty clearly spam, but hey, numbers are numbers, right?)  But the most obvious is the huge outcry at the failure of Scholastic to continue publishing the Ulysses Moore series.

If you Google “Ulysses Moore” I am the first post (after the official Scholastic site, Amazon, and fantasticfiction).  I have received so many comments from people who are frustrated that the can’t finish the series. It is amazing that so many voices are ignored.  As you can see, this series has garnered me 4020 views.

At 60,000 views I posted some theories as to why I thought these posts were so successful.  Since very little has changed (mostly just a little shuffle of the top ten), I won’t bother repeating that.  But, there is one post (see the bottom, hee hee) which has absolutely skyrocketed in just a few short months.

1. 4020 views posted April 25, 2009 [was #1 at 60,000: 1663 views]
Pierdomenico Baccalario–Ulysses Moore series Books 1-4
SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Vitalogy (more…)

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[cue music]:

I saw these stats come sailing in, on Christmas Day on Christmas Day.
I hit 60,000 views on Christmas Day in the mor-ning.

I hit 30,000 views back in March, and I was quite thrilled.  When I started the blog in May of 2007 I didn’t expect to get all that many views, it was more or less a blog to keep track of my books and maybe have other people comment too.  And so, it took nearly two years to get to 30,000.  Imagine how delightful it is to reach the next 30,000 views in the span of just nine months!

So thanks everyone for checking out what I had to say.  And thanks also for all the comments.  As with the first 30,000, I’ve included the stats that have brought me to this hallowed (but random) spot.  And I must add that Infinite Summer, which is underrepresented in my top ten posts, was absolutely essential for this huge spike in views (thanks DFW fans).  But, by far the biggest surprise was the surge that came from the first book(s) on the list below.  I posted about the Ulysses Moore series in April.  And it was by far the most frequently sought and (presumably) read post on the blog.  So, Scholastic Publishing, if you read this, please note the craving that my readers have for the rest of the series!  And please update your site!!

So, anyhow, thanks all.  Listed below are the Top Ten (and a few extra) viewed posts on my blog.  Happy New Year!


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ij8SOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star (1994).

ejstns“Bull in the Heather” is one of my favorite Sonic Youth songs.  I love everything about it (even if I haven’t got a clue what it’s about): the simple opening, the switch to harmonics, and, my favorite part, the drum break that leads to the chorus (who ever heard of getting a drum break stuck in your head?).

There’s a lot to speak for this disc even though it seems to be overlooked (as the empty spot between Dirty and Washing Machine).  Take the absolute variety of textures, and the almost surreal mixtures of styles within (short) songs (like “Bone” which opens with super fast paced drumming and howls from Kim and then breaks into a very mellow (and catchy) chorus).

For sheer variety: the disc opens with an acoustic guitar strummer by Thurston (“Winner’s Blues”), and then, after the single “Bull in the Heather,” there’s the 2 minute noise-fest “Starfield Road.”  This is followed by the cool and catchy “Skink,” which is like Kim’s version of the slinky and cool “Self-Obsessed and Sexxee.”  This is definitely Kim’s disc, she sings about half of the songs, and shows a great variety of styles here.

“Androgynous Mind” is one of those weird songs that has a wonderfully catchy vocal line but where the music is pretty much abstract nonsense.  And speaking of catchy, this disc continues with SY’s notion of sing along choruses (even if what you’re singing doesn’t make a lot of sense (“Screaming Skull” fits that bill perfectly)).  And then “Quest for the Cup” does a 90 degree turn after the intro.  All of these shifts and changes occur in less than half an hour.

The last 20 minutes or so settle the disc down somewhat (except for the brief “In the Mind of the Bourgeois Reader,” but the 7 minute closer “Sweet Shine” ends the disc on a mellow note.

This is also the last SY disc produced by Butch Vig.  Vig’s production is often described as clean. But Vig doesn’t clean up the noise that SY makes, he just makes it, I guess, crisper would be a better word.  Compare the way that Garbage’s “Vow” opens with a big grand noise and then stops dead after a few seconds.  Vig seems to be a master of controlling noise to make it stand out more.  And in that respect, his technique really shines through on this disc…it feels almost mechanical in its precision.

From this point forward, Sonic Youth would break away from this style of music into a freer and looser almost jazz feel, so even if the album title doesn’t make literal sense, it describes the disc quite well.

[READ: Week of August 10] Infinite Jest (to page 589)

Last week, showed Gately’s car speeding through Cambridge.  He runs over a discarded cup which we follow as it sails down the street and hits the Antitoi’s door.  It was very cinematic.  Discussions abound about whether IJ could (or should) be filmed.  I’m not going to add to that discussion but I did want to mention what I see as the filmic way the book written.

In many movies you are introduced almost casually to many of the protagonists, seeing them in their most typical place of employment or hang-out spot or some such thing.  And in films, it doesn’t seem that weird to get a two minute or even 30 second establishing shot of character A before jump cutting to character B.

And that’s how IJ starts, with all of these jump cuts, establishing shots, of characters.  Clenette’s scene is hard to read, but if you saw it in a movie, you’d say, okay that’s her character.  And, for the most part you would expect her to reappear later in the movie. I’m not sure what anyone expects to happen in IJ, so who knows what we think the Clenette scene is about, but realistically, the character has to come back, even if what she said didn’t make any sense at the time.

And as movies go, so does the book, cutting back and forth between scenes building the stories along as they inevitably intertwine.

It’s also not unheard of to have what seems like it may be the end of the chronological story appear first (we haven’t seen any return to the Year of Glad yet).

And so, yes I will say a thing about the filmic possibilities of  this book.  Sure the book is long, and yet so much of the book is description, stuff that in a movie can be done with an establishing shot, even a slow one.  The whole Joelle/overdose scene which covers so many pages could be filmed rather quickly.  So could Eschaton. The question of course is how much would be lost in translation.  And that I can’t answer (although I expect quite a lot).

Be a hell of a film, though.


So, in a few places, especially on Infinite Tasks, people have been mentioning some crucial information that happens on Page 17.   I felt bad that I didn’t recall anything that happened on page 17, so I went back and re-read this section (and how weird is it to re-read parts of a book that you haven’t even finished yet?)

And so Page 17 feels like a major spoiler!  It feels like so much is given away!  It feels like such an essential part of the story that it’s amazing how it’s sort of tossed off in a hallucinatory sequence.

I think of John N.R. Wayne who would have won this year’s WhataBurger, standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father’s head.  There’s very little doubt that Wayne would have won.

Wow.  So much packed into those two sentences!  Holy cow.

And, the end of that sequence has an orderly ask Hal, “so, yo, then man what’s your story?”

Is that the device that sets up that Hal is telling this whole book?  I just blew my mind.


This week’s reading begins with the aftermath of The Escahton debacle.  Or the precursor to the aftermath, anyway.  And it features the color blue. A lot.

It also gets to a question I’ve been puzzling about for sometime: why isclouds every IJ book jacket/promotional material designed in a sort of cloud motif. Well, in the section we lean that Uncle Charles’ office is decked out in an unsettling cloud wallpaper (which is coincidentally the same wallpaper as Hal’s dentist).  It has only appeared briefly so far, so it seems odd that it would take on such an iconic feel.  But we’ll see if it comes back.


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3000030,000 views may not be a milestone for many blogs. But, for a blog like this which was intended mostly as a record of what I’ve read, the fact that I’ve had 30,000 views is pretty exciting. And it seems appropriate to let you, the readers know what you the other readers have been reading here. So, here is the top ten most read posts on I Just Read About That… with a director’s commentary tacked on.

1. 819 views
Gordon Korman–Son of the Mob (2002)
I’m pretty much 100% certain that Gordon Lightfoot is NOT the attraction that made this post my highest one. Son of the Mob is usually a summer reading book. However, I get hits on this throughout the year.  I’m guessing it’s just a popular book.


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I have been an off and on subscriber to Entertainment Weekly for about fifteen years. Usually I subscribe because it’s cheap and I enjoy it. Then something happens to let my subscription lapse (usually it’s when I move). And then I resubscribe some time later. I’ve been steadily subscribed now for about 5 years.

It’s been a decent magazine. I don’t really care too much about the celeb gossip or even the cover stories, for the most part. They’re just an excellent resource for stuff that is about to be released. They give release dates and lots of reviews. Even if I don’t agree with the reviews, they at least give me an idea of what the book is about or what the disc sounds like. And, even more importantly, they do lots of genres in books, independent films and even indie rock.

So, when they celebrated their 1000th issue recently, imagine my surprise to hear that their new format starting with issue 1001 would feature: MORE WHITE SPACE, and be EASIER TO READ! Now, even the people who write letters to EW (and here, you should listen to the Paul F. Tompkins “Letters to Magazines“) know that more white space means less black space. In other words, fewer of those pesky words. That’s right! For our subscription dollars, we now get not 15-20 reviews, but 3. THREE! As you can imagine, all of the indie sceen is basically disregarded now.

There’s another new feature “The Ausiello Files” with some guy who says he’s an “insider.” And we see inane questions that no one would every have really asked getting answered with “insider” information. Rather than a review of the new Constantines album, we get great stuff like “What’s the scoop with so and so’s pregnancy on NCIS??” Come on, it’s Entertainment Weekly, not US Weekly.

I am thoroughly annoyed by this new look. And one way that you know that no one likes the new look is that they haven’t even run the “I love the new look” raves that they inevitably run whenever they feel smug about themselves.

The only thing I can figure is they must have fired a whole bunch of people to be left with such a paltry, pathetic magazine. Right now the only thing keeping me subscribing is that they haven’t cut the TV section. But come fall, if they stop talking about the shows we watch, EW gets the ax for good.

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Since the book had no words, I figured I’d review a record with no music. We heard Paul F. Tompkins on some random NPR show one night during dinner. They played the “Peanut Brittle” skit and Sarah and I were in tears. The kids must have wondered what was going on. We could barely eat; for six minutes we ignored all but Paul.

I tracked down the CD and it is very funny. Tompkins has a wonderful delivery and a way of making asides that keep the joke going longer than it should, but still staying funny. The very premise of the first joke is seeing a goth girl running, which is funny in and of itself, but he takes it in a new direction and turns it back against himself. Some other great tracks include the hilarious “Elegant Balloons” “Genetic Engineering” (house bears!), and the so true it hurts “Letters to Magazines.” Oh, and “Jazz” is also very funny, and I even like jazz.

It is clearly impossible to describe a comedy album without retelling the jokes, but I will say that Sarah and I had both listened to the CD individually, and then on the way back from the airport we listened to it together and were in tears yet again. Now we even get to make a few remarks just to relive the hilarity.

A little research uncovers that Tompkins was a player and writer for Mr Show as well as the Tenacious D series. And, in fact he is bubbling under in many venues. I guess don’t read credits well enough to have remembered him. So, good for him, and thank you NPR.

More research uncovers that this NPR shows was The Sound of Young America. Diligent readers will know that I discovered Simon Rich on this show as well. So I have listened to this show twice and come away with new material both times. I should make this a regular listen. You can hear an interview with Paul here.

[READ: June 21, 2008] Superbad: The Drawings

Now this book has nothing to do with the Ben Greenman books I mentioned earlier. This is a collection of 90 some pages of phallohgraphics (ie drawings of penises). If you’ve seen the movie Superbad, and who hasn’t, you’ll know there’s a story about the Seth character drawing penises and getting into trouble. Well, this is the collection of all the penises that the cowriter’s brother David Goldberg drew for the movie.

What can one possibly say about this except that the book is hilarious, childish and totally obscene. From an artistic standpoint, the drawings are first rate. Somehow, he was able to draw penises that look just like McLovin, Seth and Evan. Why on earth would anyone buy this? Beats me. I know I did. I’m sure I’ll peruse it from time to time and then hide it when my kids get old enough to browse the bookshelves.

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