Friday, October 10, 2008

“Pay my respects to grace and virtue”

I’ll admit it– for some inexplicable reason, the songs that I enjoy the most are not songs that I like on the first listen. They take time (sometimes the second listen, sometimes the tenth), but once I give them said time, they leave a lasting impression in my mind that is more or less ineffaceable. Some examples: it took me about three or four listens to get used to my current favorite song, Live’s “Lightning Crashes,” while on the other end of the spectrum, I did not begin to listen to The Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies)" until about two years after first hearing it… and nowadays I can rarely inhibit myself from listening to it whenever I walk to or from class. (Quick personal note to self– I always play “Rebellion,” it seems, on the way to Precision Language. Perhaps this song is the reason I am doing so terribly in this class. Perhaps not.)

Why do I tell you this? Basically because of the fact that a more recent song has followed this trend for me. And these days, I cannot go without listening to it on repeat (with a few breaks for “Rebellion,” of course) whenever I am back in my dorm.

No, I do not speak of the new Nickelback song. I do hope that no one expecting that of me; I’d be disappointed if you did.

I am talking about The Killers’ newest single, “Human.”

"Human" was released to the digital world on the 30th of September. Being a dedicated checker of iTunes' Music Store every day, I can count myself among those that listened to it that same day. And my feelings, I must say, were mixed. I just wasn't sure about it.

Five days later, I was hooked.

And then there was the brilliant SNL performance.

The thing that surprises me, I suppose, is the fact that I did/do not consider myself a huge Killers fan. Yet, if their new album (Day & Age, November 25th) sounds anything like the lead single, I might have to change that.

I guess that what appeals to me most is the new sound they seem to be exhibiting. It's slightly reminiscent of an earlier song of theirs, 2006's "Read My Mind," which was the only Killers song on my iPod prior to "Human." It's the electronica-influence that sells it for me. To me, The Killers are becoming a modern day New Order. Don't know New Order? Here's one of their more popular songs, one many will likely know.

I am not saying that The Killers' new sound is EXACTLY like New Order, of course. It is merely what I take from it... considering, mainly, the electronic-rock sound. And as I consider myself a big fan of New Order, you can be sure that I'm loving this.

Of course, there are some nonsensical lyrics that no one's really been able to officially figure out yet ("Are we human? Or are we dancer?"). Precision Language has taught me that THIS IS WRONG. And no one else can seem to figure it out either: some wonder if there's an invisible 's' at the end (a likely story... or not...) that denotes plurality, while others attribute it to an old Hunter S. Thompson quotation lamenting that "America (was) raising a generation of dancers." I like the Thompson explanation better, don't you?

Whatever the meaning, the fact still remains that "Human" is one of the better songs that The Killers have released. I recommend that each and every one of you listen to it... you might like it and you might not; I cannot account for another's taste.

November 25th seems so far away...

Michael Phelps: Really the greatest?

(Note that this was first published on September 19. It was originally hosted at Wordpress, but I've decided to switch everything over here.)

For my first ever blog, I thought I would stick to a topic that I actually know something about (or at least think I know), so that extensive research, internet or otherwise, would not be required. It may take me some time to get the hang of this, so bear with me, if you will.

This past Saturday night, as many of you may know, was the season premiere of the long-lived NBC sketch-comedy show Saturday Night Live. I was particularly excited– not only is SNL one of my favorite shows on TV, but the choice of host was quite intriguing: Michael Phelps. The man, I daresay, needs no further introduction.

I’ve always been interested when an athlete hosts the show, and in the past I had not been disappointed (if you’ve ever seen Peyton Manning in the mock-United Way commercial, surely you’ll know what I mean), and, as a swimmer myself, I simply could not wait to see Phelps and his musical guest counterpart, Lil Wayne–or Weezy, as he is so affectionately referred to as–take the national stage.

While the show was subpar at best (Space Olympics, anyone?), I believe the lesson learned was this: acting is certainly not Michael Phelps’ forte. “Oh well,” I said to myself, “even the greatest Olympian of all time has his weaknesses.”

I paused, deeply considering what I had just said. Phelps… the greatest?
Is this really the case?

I’ve heard this argument often in the weeks since the Beijing Olympics ended. News publications from all over were abuzz over Phelps’ record eight gold medals and seven world records, and as a result so was practically anyone and everyone I spoke to, be it at work, in town, or elsewhere. In fact, only recently has the buzz really died down.

I’m not saying that Phelps’ achievements do not impress me; they most certainly do! I would not hesistate, in fact, to deem him Beijing’s top Olympian, each and every sport and nation considered. It is simply when a number of my peers consider him THE greatest that I begin to question their judgment.

Sure, Phelps won a lot of medals. But he was also entered in a lot of races, and, well, in swimming there is a lot to choose from. In addition, I can say from experience that it does not require too much practice to be able to swim all four of the strokes well– save for butterfly, perhaps. This is not to say that one cannot merely leap into a pool and start swimming all these strokes right off the bat, but for most it takes approximately a week before the stroke is, well, legal.

Therefore, Phelps has easy access to all four strokes, and thus could conceivably swim literally all of the swimming events that the Olympics have to offer. And from there it is not too hard to pick and choose eight of his best events out of a rather large pool (heh… pool…). Consequently, I would consider swimming to be easier to win a medal in.

Compare this to track and field, if you will. At the most, runners can run about 4-6races in the Olympics. Think about this: a 100 meter runner will not be running the 2 mile as well. Nor the 1 mile, the 800, or possibly even the 400, although the latter is slightly more believable. He/she may run the 200, and once again the 400, but nothing above that in the majority of cases. Even if a runner was to run every sprinter’s race possible, he/she would only have five events (the 100, 200, 400, 4X100 relay and 4X400 relay. Then, of course, there’s the hurdles, but rarely do the 100m-caliber sprinters run them.). Add in perhaps the long jump and he/she has six. Obviously this is far less than Phelps has in his arsenal. There’s simply more variety.

So who do I think is the greatest Olympian of all time? Well, with all this talk of track and field it might be obvious that it’s Carl Lewis. Lewis won a grand total of nine Olympic gold medals over FOUR, count them, FOUR Olympic games. And he did this in four different events, whereas Phelps, as it stands now, has won medals in eight different events. So yes, Michael Phelps has more gold medals than Carl Lewis, but Michael Phelps also had (as do all swimmers) a larger array of events from which to choose from.

Where do I consider Phelps in the ranking of the greatest Olympians? Certainly first of all swimmers, and undoubtedly inside the top ten, perhaps top five, with all sports considered. And could he move up my ranks? Definitely.
But in order for that to happen, he needs to come to the 2012 London Olympics and continue to dominate. Heck, come to the 2016 Olympics (keep your fingers crossed for Chicago!!) and continue to win. He’s been dominant for two Olympic games now (plus a 2000 Sydney fifth place). Carl Lewis won gold medals in four Olympic games, and won in 1996 at the age of 35.

Will Phelps still be competitive then? If he is, maybe he will garner my vote. I guess I won’t know for another four years, though.