fortress social club band Fortress Social Club is making a move. The Los Angeles-based ensemble has released two full-length albums in 2013: Dreamin' the Life and Make Love, Not Babies.

If you haven't heard of FSC yet, chances are you will soon: they've been working steadily for months, playing local shows and garnering enough attention to open for Camp Freddy at the Roxy's big New Year's Eve blowout party tonight.

FSC is the latest project headed by Shawn Harris, previously the lead vocalist/guitarist of The Matches - a band I grew up watching in the Bay Area in the early 2000s. After that band went down the 'indefinite hiatus' route with their 2009 farewell gig, Harris formed a project called Maniac before landing with FSC. In addition to Harris, the group features Jo Harris (Shawn's sister), Mykul Lee, Johnzo West, Justin Bird Andres and Rob Humphreys - meaning that the band features the combined forces of musicians previously involved with Miley Cyrus, Oh No Not Stereo, the Matches, Phillip Sayce and the Bellrays.

Their hard work has turned enough heads to have their new music video premiered by Rolling Stone (that's still a pretty big deal). The clip, for a song called I'm Not a Praying Man, But... captures the essence of FSC: lighthearted, super-melodic fun delivered by some passionate musicians.

Here's another music video, this one for Dream Girls:

If you're in the Los Angeles area, they'll be playing on January 16 at the Troubadour - follow their Facebook page to stay in-tune with future activities.

And if you're a Spotify user, take a listen to Make Love, Not Babies below:

--- Cheese Sandwich

The year in film was one with no in-between: You were either the type to see an independent or franchise/sequel movie. January began the year with a slow start, with forgettables like Gangster Squad and Struck by Lightning. It wasn't until March that plotlines finally started to seem memorable (e.g. Stoker, I'm So Excited and Spring Breakers). Summer, of course, offered us the requisite blockbusters like Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel. But it wasn't until the end of the year that some of the best movies of the year came out (with its fair share of some of the worst ones). The year of indies intermixed with blockbusters


Spring Breakers: No other film has so boldly gone in the dark, twisted territory of Spring Breakers and managed to make it all seem mainstream. James Franco's portrayal of Alien (based on rapper Riff Raff) is also one of the most inspired of 2013.

Spring break, bitches

Drinking Buddies: Subtle, nuanced and unexpected, Drinking Buddies takes a new approach to exploring the "friend" relationship between men and women. It's also the best movie Olivia Wilde has ever been in.

Exhibiting the fine line between friend and fuck.

Short Term 12: Although the plot of Short Term 12 is somewhat slow-paced, it is the performance from Brie Larson that makes the film seem fresh and innovative. Themes of repression are expressed with glaring clarity in Cretton's script as he unravels the reasoning for his main character's emotional wall.

The counselor.

I'm So Excited: Pedro Almodóvar's penchant for farce shines through in this unlikely airplane comedy that spares no expense on delightfully offending. It proves, once again, that the auteur has just as much of a gift for the comedic as the dramatic.

The cast of I'm So Excited

Blue Jasmine: And, speaking of auteurs, Woody Allen also showcased his continued writing and directorial skill with the highly cerebral Blue Jasmine. The writing, paired with Cate Blanchett's incredible performance, makes this film by far one of Allen's (and the year's) best.

Little girl lost.

It's A Disaster: One of the simplest films of the year in terms of structure and storyline, It's A Disaster highlights the notion that no one is ever who you think they are, and their true personality will invariably shine through at the worst possible moment.

Julia Stiles and David Cross as the main brunch guests in It's A Disaster

Only God Forgives: Although the presence of this film on the "Best" side of the list may polarize some people, the second collaboration between Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling is a beautiful one. And then there's Kristin Scott Thomas to consider.

Gosling as another version of The Driver

American Hustle: David O. Russell has outdone himself with American Hustle, which might actually be better than Silver Linings Playbook for the costuming alone. Also Jennifer Lawrence cleaning and singing manically to "Live and Let Die" is one of the most memorable scenes of 2013.

The cast of American Hustle

Stoker: Park Chan-wook may be forever held to the standard of Oldboy, but the controlled nature of Stoker leaves you on edge for the entirety of the film, making this one of the most elegant and uncomfortable movies of 2013.

Promotional poster for Stoker

Inside Llewyn Davis: It will make you cry. It won't make you laugh. But for anyone who has ever known the endless battle of trying to be an artist, it is the most accurate film ever made.

Artists' woes shine through in Inside Llewyn Davis

Side Effects: As Steven Soderbergh's alleged final film, Side Effects holds a special place in 2013 releases. Plus, you get to see Rooney Mara stab Channing Tatum.

Promotional poster for Side Effects

Nebraska: There's no better person to show us the simple dreams of Midwestern folk than Alexander Payne, whose penchant for making lengthy films never seems to bother me.

Determined to collect a nonexistent million dollars

Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey got thin, Jared Leto dressed in drag. What more could you possibly want from a film apart from the frequent playing of T. Rex (which is also a staple of Dallas Buyers Club)?

Selling drugs that work.

So, with the best behind us, let's take a look at the worst.


The Fifth Estate: The only one who cares about Julian Assange is Julian Assange. And this much is apparent in the slow-moving biopic about the founder of Wikileaks.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Sometimes, getting together a group of comedians for a movie is the worst possible idea for both critical and commercial success.

 Promotional poster for the Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Disconnect: The only thing more unenjoyable than movies that try too hard to be comical are movies that try too hard to be intellectual.While it has its thematic moments of importance, Disconnect is largely a faux astute movie.

Promotional poster for Disconnect

Now You See Me: Although this was one of the highest grossing films of the year, Now You See Me served as eye candy more than anything else. So naturally, there's going to be a sequel.

Magic, it is not.

The Internship: Theoretically, another movie pairing Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson would seem foolproof, but The Internship is primarily a Google promotion with a thin story masking it. Wedding Crashers 2 would have been preferable.

Google font and all.

The Canyons: A collaboration between Lindsay Lohan and Bret Easton Ellis is all I could have dreamed of, but the result was what amounted to a soft core porn shot on an iPhone.

There's a reason erotic thrillers have gone the way of the dodo.

The To Do List: The To Do List was supposed to be the answer to the female sex comedy genre, but ultimately ended up proving that said genre should still be entrusted to Judd Apatow.

Aubrey Plaza might need to stick to the role of April Ludgate

We're The Millers: Jennifer Aniston continues to make bad movies on the side while selling water and moisturizer as her main occupation.

Posing as a "normal" American family

Jobs: Ashton Kutcher had one chance to show that he could handle a biopic. But maybe they should have just left the role of computer geek to Jesse Eisenberg again.

Kutcher in a serious role.

Thanks for Sharing: Pink and Gwyneth Paltrow in a movie together is bad enough. But Mark Ruffalo as a sex addict is also pretty rank.

Pink a.k.a. Alecia Moore in Thanks for Sharing

Carrie: Don't fuck with perfection. Sissy Spacek forever.

Carrie, another remake that didn't need to happen

While there may have been some terrible movies released in 2013, it was overall an impressive year for cinema, and one that makes 2014 have a lot to live up to.





Howard Hughes may not have spawned the term “eccentric billionaire,” but he certainly redefined it. His Christmas Eve birthday (which he also shares with former flame Ava Gardner) is just one of the many unusual elements about the man. Below are ten of his most fucked up actions amid incalculable others. Freaky deaky

10) Flying a stunt plane knowing he was incapable of making a safe landing for the movie Hell’s Angels. Hughes volunteered to fly at a low altitude for a certain shot and ended up crashing.

With Ginger Rogers at the infamous hotel

9) Asking the staff of the Beverly Hills Hotel to hide roast beef sandwiches in trees so he could collect them in the middle of the night.

The only thing more delicious than a roast beef sandwich? Snatching it from a tree.

8) Having a phone booth installed in his room so the operator couldn’t direct his calls or know his business.

This is personal

7) Being booked for negligent homicide after mowing down a pedestrian with his car in the summer of 1936.

6) Punching Ava Gardner in the face.

Clocked the bitch out.

5) Wearing shoes that reeked so heavily that when he tried to sneak into the Hughes Aircraft building to observe his employees secretly, the engineers could immediately smell him.

4) Wearing tissues as slippers.

Blowin' in the wind.

3) Employing someone whose sole job description was to catch flies.

Occupation: Fly swatter

2) Dying of kidney failure in spite of incessantly pissing in jars.

Acqua vitae.

1) Enlisting the services of Mormons to care for him and his affairs in his declining years.


And so, while having a lot of money is nice, you can't put a price on sanity. Happy birthday, Howard Hughes.








IMG_6926 This past Wednesday, it was an all-out 1990s revival when Third Eye Blind took the stage at the House of Blues Sunset Strip.

Through the years, I've grown more and more attached to the music I grew up with (as is probably the case with most people as we careen toward 30). That's especially true regarding Third Eye Blind. The band's self-titled 1997 album is STILL one of my absolute favorites, despite it being nearly 20 years old (sigh).

Because of that, I enjoy their live shows immensely. Even though Stephan Jenkins and Brad Hargreaves (drums) are now the only original members still around (everybody knows about the band's lengthy history of turnover and lineup changes), it hardly matters. They don't tour often, but when they do you can bet you're getting a top-notch show delivered by some excellent musicians. For example, the band's new keyboard/piano player - who's just 24! - adds a depth to the live show that they didn't have in the past. Fun fact: he was EIGHT YEARS OLD when Semi-Charmed Life was everywhere. Wild.


As for the gig - it was absolutely packed, probably one of the most highly-attended HOB Sunset shows I've ever seen. When the lights went off around 9:10 p.m., anticipation swelled...and while the band didn't utilize the light-up board spelling out T-H-I-R-D-E-Y-E-B-L-I-N-D behind them (I assume due to space issues), its absence didn't affect the show aesthetically.

For the first 15 minutes or so of the set, Jenkins, clad in a hoodie that covered his head, sang using a mic that dropped down from up above. He didn't greet the crowd until maybe ten minutes later, preferring instead to let the music do the talking for him.

Set-list wise, fans couldn't have asked for much more.

After teasing both Don't Believe a Word and The Red Summer Sun, they opened the show with Losing a Whole Year, sending everyone into a frenzy.

Once he removed the hood and began addressing the audience, Jenkins really loosened up. He told stories, reflected on what it meant to have so many people pack the venue for the band in 2013, and even poked fun at himself a bit.

When talking about how the band was supposed to have new music out in time for this tour, he noted that "in typical Stephan fashion I fucked that all up!", alluding to the infamous between-album delays that have characterized the band for the past 13 years or so.

As for the new songs, they were pretty interesting. One of them, Get Me Out of Here, was particularly promising:

Water Landing, from 2009's Ursa Major, was also another highlight, with Jenkins taking time to say that it's one of his favorite songs to play every night.

As the set wore on, the band played a few of the classic hits - Jumper was met with an absolutely deafening roar of approval, with fans singing the whole song very loudly:

Crystal Baller, from 2003's underrated Out of the Vein, was also a treat:

Though the band opted not to play How's It Gonna Be, they did elect to run through Never Let You Go:

And, naturally, fan favorites Slow Motion and Motorcycle Drive By, all building to an encore/finale of Narcolepsy (a personal favorite), Semi-Charmed Life and God of Wine.

Here's the full set list:


One of Jenkins' speeches was about how he and his band mates feel pretty great right now about everything. He said they plan to head back to the studio to finish a new record after the holidays.

Hopefully, those sessions go well and the band releases new music in early 2014 - because they sounded as strong as ever at the House of Blues, and it'd be great to see them come back sooner rather than later.


--Cheese Sandwich


Photos borrowed via CrowdAlbum, click here to view more

It’s ol' blue eyes’ birthday. That means it’s time to recap some of the sauciest (and sexiest) things Frankie’s ever said about women. And who knew more about women than Frank? The man dated Marilyn Monroe… Or does that mean he knows nothing about women? Frank and Mar.

On women in general: “I'm supposed to have a Ph.D. on the subject of women. But the truth is I've flunked more often than not. I'm very fond of women; I admire them. But, like all men, I don't understand them.”

Frank and Natalie.

On realizing that women like a comical man: “Dare to wear the foolish clown face.”

Frank and Ava.

On showcasing his ability to protect a woman: “Oh I just wish someone would try to hurt you so I could kill them for you.”

Frank and Mia.

On redheads/the plenty of fish in the sea motto: "For years I've nursed a secret desire to spend the Fourth of July in a double hammock with a swingin' redheaded broad ... but I could never find me a double hammock."

Frank and Martha.

On reverse psychology: “You treat a lady like a dame, and a dame like a lady.”

Frank and Barbara.

On the appreciation of a woman’s intelligence: “I like intelligent women. When you go out, it shouldn’t be a staring contest.”







AuthorSmoking Barrel

It’s that time of the year again. Not only are your tits freezing off, but you finally get to find out which films and TV shows from the past twelve months are going to be fairly and unfairly recognized. In general, the Hollywood Foreign Press has a tendency to be more experimental than the Academy (e.g. Madonna winning Best Actress in 1997), but it still isn’t without its insane moments. Then again, their selections are also a window into what the public is responding to. This year, the continued interest in Girls and The Big Bang Theory are among some of the most troubling. Those hypnotic globes.

Where the drama portion of TV is concerned, the Golden Globes are fairly on point, with nominations for Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, House of Cards and Masters of Sex. Clearly, Breaking Bad is going to win. But, in a bolder world, it would be Masters of Sex. In the comedy sector, which is the most disconcerting, you have The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Girls, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation. Let me put it this way: Between Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Girls, the former should win and between Modern Family and Parks and Recreation, the latter should win. And The Big Bang Theory shouldn’t exist (in either sense).

That's pretty much all you can say about Girls.

Where Best Actress in a TV Comedy is concerned, the only person that matters is Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I will kill myself if Lena Dunham wins. Which she probably will. In drama, it’s all about Taylor Schilling for Orange is the New Black, even though she’s quite possibly the least likable character on the show. In the Best Actor category, Bryan Cranston should (and will) win. Where the boys of comedy are concerned, it’s between Andy Samberg and Jason Bateman, though it’s more plausible that James Spader will win for The Blacklist…because this is Stef from Pretty in Pink we’re talking about.


Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bother bringing up the miniseries or TV movie scene, but there were two notable efforts that make it impossible not to: Behind the Candelabra and Phil Spector. With both Matt Damon and Michael Douglas nominated for Behind the Candelabra, my only wish is that they will take the stage in Liberace garb and play two pianos side by side (just call me queenie, okay?). And then there’s the timelessly fierce Helen Mirren, who deserves the Globe for her role as Linda Kenney Baden in Phil Spector. Also a formidable contender for the Best Actress in a Series, Miniseries or TV Movie is Jessica Lange for American Horror Story: Coven. There might be riots if she doesn’t win.


And now where it starts to get intense: The feature film categories. 2013 offered us a slew of contenders, including American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street in the comedy category. Although I have no idea how Inside Llewyn Davis is a comedy except in the most sadistic sense, my vote is for this one to win. For drama, the competition is between 12 Years A Slave, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Philomena and Rush (which seems arbitrarily thrown in because it's a Ron Howard movie). What I can basically say for this selection is: Gravity should not win. I’d even take Rush winning over Gravity.

Promo poster for Rush

The actors and actresses vying for the Best Actor and Actress award might be a close call this year. Personally, I’m all for Cate Blanchett winning for her role as a delusional former trophy wife in Blue Jasmine. Just please don’t let Sandra Bullock triumph for her hyperventilation skills throughout Gravity. In the comedy realm, the long shot I’m rooting for is Greta Gerwig for her performance in Frances Ha. And, even though Enough Said was pretty good, I can’t abide Julia Louis-Dreyfus winning purely because of all the annoying facial expressions she made during it. For the men, it comes down to Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club and Oscar Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis. Supporting-wise, it better be Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club or else I will deem the Hollywood Foreign Press eternally transphobic. And I’m sure Jennifer Lawrence will win if for nothing other than her “it-girl” status right now.

Slightly psycho.

In the director category, Alexander Payne deserves the gleaming ball of gold. Alfonso Cuaron does not. And so, alas, we’ve come to the end of all I want to acknowledge about the Golden Globe nominations this year. Stay tuned for my inevitably outraged reaction once the winners are revealed.









Oh Walt Disney. That lovable man who favored racism and sexism in most of his work. His birthday prompts one to mull over the legacy he has left in his absence and the generations of little girls he has influenced. Below are the top five things a girl can glean from some of the most classic Disney films. Though many of them were made after his death in 1966, each film maintains the credos and themes inherent in the Walt Disney canon and mind frame. And most of them were ripped off, bastardized versions of Brothers Grimm fairy tales. The man, the myth, the anti-feminist.

5) Go to sleep until a strapping prince rescues you, because you might as well be dead without a man. Cases in point: Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

Go to sleep, you twit.

4) It’s not how hard you think, it’s how hard you dress/put on makeup. Case in point: Cinderella.

With makeup and an expensive frock, you, too, can attract the right man!

3) Poverty is unacceptable—especially as a quality in a suitor. Case in point: Aladdin.


2) All non-youthful women are ugly, evil, wretched crones. Cases in point: The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Snow White.

If you old, you ugly.

1) Even though being a girl is often demeaning, being an animal is the most tragic possible existence. Cases in point: Dumbo, The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, Beauty and the Beast.

If you're an animal, one or more of your parents WILL die.

So there it is, some tips from one of the foremost people/companies responsible for shaping female youth. Thankfully, signs of change are afoot in terms of what Disney has released in the past ten years, but there’s still a long way to go in terms of shedding the original Disney vision of women.






Believe it or not, Jean-Luc Godard is still alive and today is his eighty-third birthday. For the most part, Godard now exclusively directs shorts and documentaries, but, once upon a time, his films were as robust and deranged as life itself. Fortunately, there are signs of Godard returning to his traditional enfant terrible ways with the upcoming film, Goodbye to Language in, ahem, 3D (something you would expect Godard to turn his nose up at, much like other of his contemporaries). Nonetheless, it will always be his 1960s offerings that ultimately prove 1) He was at his innovative zenith and 2) You shouldn’t fall in love if you want to maintain a modicum of sanity. Problems highlighted by Masculin Feminin

Of course, it all began in 1960 with the now classic À bout de souffle (Breathless). Jarring on a visual and emotional level, the world of cinema had never seen anything like it. Emphasizing the use of jump cuts and long bouts of dialogue, Breathless was intended to call attention to the fact that you were watching a movie. His second feature, A Woman Is A Woman (Une femme est une femme) showcased his fondness for exploring the nature of gender politics, a topic especially resonant during the 60s. The film also signaled the beginning of Godard’s glorious partnership with Anna Karina, who, incidentally, married the director in 1961, the year A Woman Is A Woman came out.

How most men feel about women and vice versa

The next notable Godard film was 1963’s Le Mépris (Contempt), upping the ante on Godard’s love of all things self-referential and meta. The plot highlights the difficulty of novelist and playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) as he tries to adapt the screenplay for Homer’s The Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang (playing himself). His struggle with writing the script is magnified by his bombshell of a wife’s (Brigitte Bardot) attraction to the producer of the film, Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance). Mirroring Godard’s own issues with his wife, Karina, who had a dalliance with famed film distributor Joseph E. Levine, there is something to be said of Godard’s innate ability to use film as catharsis.


With 1964 came arguably Godard’s most iconic movie, Bande à Parte (which Tarantino can attest to being a source of constant inspiration). Once again starring Karina, Band of Outsiders is not your traditional robbery movie, and yet it pioneered the genre in many ways. Exploring the beloved French themes of love triangles and the notion that money is the root of all evil, Band of Outsiders saw Godard reach one of his artistic peaks.

The beloved dance scene

The other three most remarkable Godard movies came in rapid succession from 1965 to 1966. Alphaville, Pierrot Le Fou  and Masculin Féminin serve as Godard’s holy trinity. Each focuses on a particular brand of disaffection, whether through the lens of sci-fi or a bombastic, dynamite-induced suicide. In 1967, Godard released his last truly avante-garde, eyebrow-raising work, titled simply Week End. A full-fledged attack on bourgeois life, Week End is the only movie in cinema history that features a traffic jam for the majority of the plot.

Godard’s most famous quote is perhaps: “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.” If only he had taken this advice more seriously after 1967. But they say with age comes wisdom, so maybe Goodbye to Language will be his sagest film yet.




It isn't everyday that you see a video full of scantily clad women--without a single man to be found in the frame. But then along comes Rihanna with her latest video for "Pour It Up," the second single from Unapologetic. Although Rihanna has been surprisingly quiet in terms of promoting her seventh studio album, "Pour It Up" is enough to suffice for quite some time--offering minimal imagery with maximum impact. As a song that's in sharp contrast to the sweetness and ballad-paced tempo of her first single, "Diamonds," "Pour It Up," takes a feminist approach to strip club life--because, really, what could be more empowering than taking one's clothes off?

With dramatic, Prince-esque cinematography, "Pour It Up" opens with a glam Rihanna wearing a blonde wig that makes her look like a combination of Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and Rita Ora. Her "I don't give a fuck" attitude oozes out of every pore as bodacious and curvaceous women dance around her in various states of undress. Acting with the nonchalance of a seasoned queen, Rihanna shows what real strip club etiquette should be like as she barely regards anyone around her.

Single cover for "Pour It Up"

Eventually, of course, Rihanna shows us her own dance moves--with several prominent Chanel plugs thrown in for good measure. Revealing herself to be the grande dame of all things hoochy, Rihanna has managed to overcome a feat that no one else has seemed to acknowledge: Turn stripping into something that isn't about pleasing men, but rather, about the enjoyment a woman gets from parading her body. So, once again, thank you Rihanna, for making female sex appeal less degrading. Though I'm sure you're bound to get your fair share of open letters from Debbie Harry and Sinead O'Connor. 


AuthorSmoking Barrel

It started with the MDNA Tour. The snapshot of life around the world finally got to Madonna. It enraged her to see what was happening to people and, furthermore, to see them so apathetic about it. And so, the #secretprojectrevolution was born. Madonna, who insists on being taken seriously (as if we wouldn’t), brings up the point that if she were an ethnic militant, people would be more likely to answer her call to action. But no, she's just a white blonde woman with a dream. In her seventeen minute, four second film, Madonna urges us, through the movements of dance and through the fervor of her words, to not sit idly back in apathy any longer. Imprisoned by political stifling.

As Madonna reminds us through Jean-Luc Godard’s philosophy of filmmaking, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” And so, #secretprojectrevolution showcases girls and guns in spades. At one point in the film, Madonna alludes to the fact that men just want women to “show us your ass.” She says, sure, but I’m going to say something while I do it. In many ways, this is the essence of Madonna’s brilliance—not just with this film, but in general. The message she wants to convey is always done through an engaging medium. Her lust to wake people up (a term she also used in 2005’s I’m Going To Tell You A Secret) was invigorated by observing the current state of American culture. She asserts, “Yeah, that’s right. I saw a lack of desire like a plague, putting everyone into a kind of trance.”

Freedom of expression, Madonna  notes, sounds more like a catch phrase than a reality.

And it’s true, quite a few alarming incidents occurred during the time Madonna was on tour: Malala Yousafzai was shot for her advocacy of girls’ education in Pakistan, Marine Le Pen expressed outrage over being portrayed in Madonna’s show with a swastika over her head, Putin imprisoned Pussy Riot and Mitt Romney was nearly elected. What this all spelled for Madonna was outrage. While she was in Buenos Aires at the end of her tour awaiting Steven Klein to do a photoshoot for her Truth or Dare lingerie, the singer received word that the distributing deal was off because the lingerie was too racy. Not one to let any artistic resources go to waste, Madonna decided to channel her current frustrations through filming the raw material for what would later turn out to be #secretprojectrevolution.

After watching “too much creativity being crushed by the wheel of corporate branding and trending,” it was easy to see that oppression doesn’t just happen in Third World countries, but right here in the United States—a fact made clear as Madonna sings an eerie version of “Land of the Free” at varying moments in the film. Dancers from the MDNA Tour contort and writhe in various fashions (undoubtedly a subtle homage to Martha Graham) to let their inner demons out in the only way they know how: Through creativity. When this basic human right is stripped, it's much easier to cultivate a hostile environment under a regime of fear.

At the premiere for the film in New York (September 24th), Madonna appropriately chose to do a cover of Elliott Smith's "Between the Bars." Her passion and sorrow is evident in the performance, ultimately leading up to the debut of #secretprojectrevolution--a film that, hopefully, others will see as a moving and stirring exhortation to stop languishing and start caring. For more information regarding the project and to see the complete film, visit




Ranger Dave for President.

It was one of those shows you wondered how it ever managed to get on the air—like Twin Peaks or Cop Rock!. What makes Pee-Wee’s Playhouse even more astonishing is that it’s a children’s show—maybe the first children’s show truly designed for adults. In its five-season run, kids were introduced to the likes of Jambi the Genie, Pterri the Pterodactyl and the King of Cartoons. Paul Reubens, largely inspired by the shows he would watch as a child (e.g. Howdy Doody, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and The Mickey Mouse Club), reinvented the wheel of children’s programming. Instead of treating kids as though they were inferior, Reubens spoke to them as an equal, which is something no one had done before or maybe even since. And, in honor of Paul Reubens, that dearest of Virgos, on his 60th birthday, here are the top ten best episodes of a show that has left an indelible legacy. The wondrous world of Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

10) “Ice Cream Soup” (The Pilot): After getting CBS to agree to a $325,000 budget per episode (an incredible feat usually reserved for primetime), Reubens was able to use his total creative control to introduce us to the world of Puppetland, where his quirky and unusual playhouse stood. Among other characters, Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne) and Miss Yvonne (Lynn Marie Stewart) were introduced and common precedents (like the Secret Word of the Day and Pee-Wee’s ball of foil) were established.

9) “Monster in the Playhouse”: If for nothing other than the fact that this was the first episode in which  the music was composed by Danny Elfman. It also marks the first appearance of Roger the Monster, who is the only playhouse character to ever get a chance to ride with Pee-Wee on his scooter as he leaves the playhouse at the end of the show.

8) “Why Wasn’t I Invited?”: You may know Cliff Martinez as the man responsible for the Drive Soundtrack, but before that, he set the musical tone for Pee-Wee to be the only person in Puppetland not invited to the Cowntess’s birthday party.

7) “Playhouse for Sale”: The forty-fifth and final episode of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, this story was a bittersweet one as Pee-Wee’s friends mistake a sign intended to read “Lemonade for Sale” as “Playhouse for Sale.” In the interim—before Pee-Wee can assuage their concerns—they all remember the best moments of their time in the playhouse.

6) “Miss Yvonne’s Visit”: Pee-Wee teaches us the politics of etiquette when Miss Yvonne—who wears far too much perfume for Pee-Wee’s taste—comes to stay at the playhouse while her house is painted. Instead of coming out and saying this, Pee-Wee makes a wish to Jambi for her house to get painted more rapidly. Thus, Pee-Wee proves that you basically need a genie to avoid being a dick to someone.

5) “Dr. Pee-Wee and the Del Rubios”: What could be more quintessentially surreal than the Del Rubio triplets singing “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”?

4) “Pajama Party”: In which Pee-Wee blazes the trail for marriage by betrothing his fruit salad. Double meaning much?

3) “Fire in the Playhouse”: Kids learn quickly about jealousy in this episode after Miss Yvonne gets a crush on the fireman who comes to put out the fire started by Randy. Who knew you needed an oven to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

2) “The Cowboy and the Cowntess”: Gender role playing and androgyny abound when Pee-Wee dresses as Miss Yvonne to help Cowboy Curtis prepare for his date with her.

1) “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special”: Hands down, quite possibly the best thing ever to air on TV. With guests like Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Grace Jones and Charo making cameos, it’s easy to see why this was one of the best shows of the 80s.

If this year’s viewer-voted VMA winners tell us anything, it’s that either 1) People have very bad taste or 2) There is nothing good to choose from—or maybe a combination of the two. With winners like One Direction, Selena Gomez and 30 Seconds to Mars, it seems safe to say that the days of artists like Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna being recognized is over now that the caliber of quality has lowered. Granted, Justin Timberlake’s performance proved to be more than worthy of his Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award—plus that brief 'NSYNC performance where every other member’s face seemed blurred out by Justin’s spotlight. The revamped Moon Man.

The vibe of the awards seemed decidedly laidback (perhaps owing to taking place at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center), even considering one of the more somber, sinister performances of the night, “Blood on the Leaves” by Kanye West. Lady Gaga kicked off the show with “Applause,” a lackluster song with a tired performance to match. Donning wigs and outfits representing her past, Gaga ended up in nothing more than a bikini and seashell bra—possibly to show off her new hip.

Not a performance to go gaga over.

Miley Cyrus did her best to shock as well, with a performance of “We Can’t Stop” and pairing up with Robin Thicke to sing “Blurred Lines.” Although everyone was seemingly shocked by her flesh-colored ensemble, have they all forgotten that Britney exhibited a similar illusion during her 2000 VMA performance of “Oops…I Did It Again!”? Taylor Swift provided several shock value moments of her own, including her reference to One Direction member Harry Styles upon accepting the award for Best Female Video and mouthing “Shut the fuck up” when One Direction took the stage to introduce an award. Apart from these trifling instances, the VMAs were decidedly low on the scandal meter.

Miley, doing her best to scandalize.

Speaking of scandal, Lil’ Kim made an appearance on the red carpet looking like a far cry from her infamous 1999 VMA persona. Lil’ Kim presented the award for Best Hip Hop Video, expressing Brooklyn love as she noted that she never thought the VMAs would make it to her borough. The fact that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won the award is further evidence of just how far “hip hop” has evolved since Lil’ Kim’s golden age.

Lil' Kim, 2013 edition.

Drake’s understated performance of “Started From the Bottom” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home” was a somewhat refreshing change of pace from the pomp and circumstance surrounding other artists of the night, including Katy Perry, who closed the show with “Roar.” With a boxing ring set up by the Brooklyn Bridge, Perry appeared in her standard brand of animal-inspired costume and delivered, well, if nothing else, a better effort at artistry than Miley Cyrus.

Drake, in one of the most stripped down performances of the night.

What it all boils down to in 2013 for the VMAs is Taco Bell-sponsored awards, recycled tactics of creating consternation and ‘NSYNC. That being said, it seems to be, like so many classic award shows, one that has continued to devolve as time goes on. But at least it wasn’t in L.A.







Very few women in fashion—or in general—have contributed so swiftly and innovatively to everyday culture. Coco Chanel (born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel) was one of those rare women. Born into poverty, she was all too familiar with making the most of what she had. Her father, Albert, was a street vendor who sold work clothes. It was perhaps this functional aesthetic that subconsciously influenced Chanel from the get-go. Schooled in the art of sewing by the age of six, Chanel easily found work as a seamstress. Her dreams of being a singer were supported in the interim hours when she wasn’t working. Chanel’s destiny in the world of haute couture, however, could not be shirked. And so, in honor of the icon's 130th birthday, below are Chanel’s top ten contributions to modern fashion/modern life as a woman. An irrepressible dame.

10) Know the right people: No matter how great you are, Chanel proved that finding favor with a wealthy heir to a textile company, Etienne Balsan, was what ultimately led her to begin cultivating the resources she needed for success (chiefly, access to tastemakers).

The lady is a vamp.

9) The man may have the finances, but the woman has the talent: After Chanel fell for a former officer of the cavalry, Arthur Edward Capel a.k.a. Boy Capel, he was able to seduce Chanel away from Balsan, but Chanel was able to seduce him into putting up the money for her first shop.


8) Androgyny is key—in fashion and in life: Chanel saw the comfortable, effortless look of men’s style and said, essentially, “I want that for myself.” The streamlined, androgynous style of her initial designs, were, in fact, largely inspired by Boy Capel’s own personal style.

Fashion advice.

7) Chanel No. 5: The most classic, timeless fragrance we will ever know.

Often imitated, never duplicated.

6) Casual wear doesn't have to be grotesque: Though, in our current déclassé epoch, we think of casual wear as jeans or (shudder) sweatpants, Chanel created clothes that did not sacrifice aesthetic brilliance for comfort. This line was first presented in 1913 at her boutique in Deauville.

The casual look.

5) One must be multi-faceted in her enterprise: Chanel expanded to hats, accessories, jewelry and fragrances—knowing full well her moneymaking potential beyond clothing.

Kate Moss, minimally modeling both jewelry and fragrance.

4) Dating another famous person makes you more famous: In 1920, Chanel began an illicit dalliance with married composer Igor Stravinsky. The 2009 film, Coco & Igor, documents this romance.

Coco and Igor, existing in the same social strata.

3) Never prostrate yourself to a department store: Theophile Bader, the founder of Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette, convinced Chanel to sell her signature fragrance to the Wertheimer brothers, under the corporate moniker Parfums Chanel. She would spend decades trying to regain total control.

Chanel instantly despised Pierre Wertheimer.

2) If you must take drugs, at least choose something elegant: Chanel injected herself with a healthy dose of morphine most every day beginning in 1935 and ending when her life did.

Cigarettes only scratched the surface of Chanel's dependency. Oh yeah, and hanging out with Salvador Dali is kind of like a drug too.

1) Use your beyond the grave powers to your advantage: I’m convinced Chanel had a hand in instituting Karl Lagerfeld as creative director of her empire.

Karl: Continuing the legacy.

Chanel may be known chiefly for transforming the face of high fashion, but it was undeniably her feminist spirit that gave her the strength to do so.


















Fifty-five years is a long time. Especially when the pressure is constantly on you to innovate and impress with each new incarnation. For Madonna, this has never been an issue. Her age has been something people have attacked since she hit 30. Two years after, in 1990, she toured the world on one of the most rigorous concert performances of her career--and in history--Blond Ambition. And so, to say that Madonna relishes proving her detractors wrong is something of an understatement. Below are fifty-five life and career events that everyone assumed would break this learned Leo. Madonna lost her V card around the time that she looked like this (#swag).

1)Losing her virginity at 15 (which she jokingly quipped was a career move)

While performing in Godspell, Madonna ripped her pants off to reveal nude hued tights--foreshadowing her innate ability to shock with her sexuality.

2) Performing in her high school's production of Godspell wearing flesh-colored tights

Taken while Madonna attended the University of Michigan, where it was immediately evident her ambition could not be contained.

3) Dropping out of the University of Michigan on a scholarship

Moving to New York in a destitute state may have been invigorating for the soul, but not so much for the stomach.

4) Moving to New York with approximately 35 dollars

Madonna in the early days of synagogue squatting (presaging her love of Kabbalah, perhaps).

5) Squatting in an abandoned synagogue with then boyfriend Dan Gilroy

One of the tamer photos of Madonna's nude modeling career.

6) Posing nude for extra cash (though she wouldn't know how much it would come back to haunt her later on)

Making a living, the honest way.

7) Working as a coat check girl at the Russian Tea Room--exhibiting her undeniable blue collar Midwestern ways

Camille Barbone (right) fell easily for Madonna's charms, even going above and beyond the call of managerial duties by paying for her dentistry.

8) Getting sexual with her lesbian manager, Camille Barbone

9) Auditioning for and failing to get on Fame

Hangin' with Patrick.

10) Performing as a backup dancer for Patrick Hernandez

11) Writhing around in a wedding dress at the 1984 MTV VMAs

Two Leos: It could never work

12) Marrying Sean Penn

Madonna and Maripol: A match made in fashion heaven.

13) Shedding her signature street urchin image--plastic bracelets, crucifixes, etc.--so carefully cultivated by Maripol

14) Releasing a song about teen pregnancy

At the Don't Bungle the Jungle benefit

15) Galavanting with Sandra Bernhard so frequently that they, along with Jennifer Grey of all people, became known as the Snatch Batch

16) Making Shanghai Surprise with Sean Penn

17) Starring in a David Mamet play, Speed-the-Plow, during her down time in 1988

18) "Selling out" by signing a five million dollar ad campaign with Pepsi

Basking in the warm glow of a burning cross.

19) Releasing the "Like A Prayer" video, featuring, among other incendiary imagery, burning crosses--which then prompted Pepsi to pull the plug on their deal

Madonna as Hortense Hathaway, a precursor to her role in Shadows and Fog.

20) Bloodhounds of Broadway (also starring Jennifer Grey)

A romance that couldn't last.

21) Divorcing Sean Penn amid rumors of domestic violence

Gracing one of many covers during their time together.

22) Permitting herself a brief dalliance with Warren Beatty while working on Dick Tracy

23) Having the Pope urge Italians—and all good Catholics—to refrain from attending the Blond Ambition Tour for its sexual/religious motifs

24) Releasing the video for “Justify My Love,” only to have it turn out to be her first ever offering to get banned from MTV

The two would eventually appear together in the Sex book.

25) Dating Vanilla Ice

26) Truth or Dare, which served to blur the lines between what Madonna wants us to believe and what is actually real about her persona

The original edition of Sex came in this mylar wrapping.

27) The Sex book, including diary entries from the perspective of Madonna’s alter ego, Dita

28) The backlash that resulted from Erotica, solidifying public opinion of Madonna as an oversexed, self-destructive dom type

29) Starring in Body of Evidence on the heels of the two aforementioned projects

Madonna took her knack for offending people to new heights with The Girlie Show, parts of which Gene Kelly helped her choreograph.

30) Rubbing the Puerto Rican flag between her legs while touring for The Girlie Show in 1993

31) Her profanity-laden appearance on David Letterman in 1994

A phase in which Madonna was also okay with drinking out of a paper bag.

32) Dating Dennis Rodman

A shared love of fitness couldn't keep them together.

33) Mixing business with pleasure by dating her trainer, Carlos Leon

Not everyone was okay with Madonna having Lourdes without marrying Carlos Leon.

34) Having a child out of wedlock in 1996

One of the many examples of M's love for this sect of Judaism.

35) Newfound spirituality and allegiance to Kabbalah

36) Being accused of plagiarizing 1998’s “Frozen” from Salvatore Acquaviva, a Belgian songwriter

37) The Next Best Thing

38) Remaking Don McLean’s “American Pie”

39) Collaborating with then husband Guy Ritchie to make yet another banned video on MTV, “What It Feels Like For A Girl”

40) The lack of pomp and circumstance on her second greatest hits collection, GHV2

41) Turning Lena Wertmuller’s seminal Italian film, Travolti da un Insolito Destino… with Guy Ritchie into Swept Away—though it really isn’t as terrible as everyone makes it out to be.

42) Starring in the West End play Up For Grabs during her British phase

43) American Life, her lowest selling album, but one of her best works

44) Becoming a children’s book author

45) Hanging herself on a cross during a performance of “Live To Tell” on The Confessions Tour

46) Adopting a Malawian child named David Banda, a move everyone considered to be conveniently “chic”

The "tell-all" book that didn't tell much at all.

47) The tell-all book written by her brother, Christopher Ciccone, in 2008

48) Divorce from Guy Ritchie, after which he was purported to have said that being with her was like “cuddling up to a piece of gristle”

49) Her third directorial effort, W.E.

50) Now famously calling Lady Gaga “reductive” when asked about the singer’s “Born This Way,” which bears a strong resemblance to “Express Yourself”

51) “Give Me All Your Luvin’”, the first single from her twelfth studio album, MDNA

52) Referencing the use of molly at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, causing DeadMau5 to deride her on Twitter (but whatever, fuck him)

53) Contention in Malawi over her involvement in building schools for girls after officials stated Madonna was embellishing the true nature of her contributions

54) Dating a Brahim Zaibat, her backup dancer, 29 years her junior

55) Facing an all-out ban from Russia in the wake of her support for Pussy Riot while in Moscow and St. Petersburg for her MDNA Tour.

Naturally, in the span of just one year, there could likely be another fifty-five things to add to this list. But I’ll save that for Her Madgesty’s 110th birthday.


Catty? Yes. Self-serving? Certainly. Like so many other famous Leos (Lucille Ball, for instance, whom Warhol shares a birthday with), Andy Warhol was nothing if not subtly cutthroat and hopelessly selfish. Still, the innovation of his work—though many art critics and enthusiasts will deny it to their last breath—speaks to something that we had never allowed ourselves to acknowledge: Celebrity obsession. Granted, Warhol created other works not centered around celebrity culture ("Flowers," "Cows," etc.), but this was the crux of his artistic thesis. Perhaps Warhol's most recognizable work.

Of course, reflecting society back to itself can get quite ugly at times—and many people abhorred Warhol as a result. His own personal stable of misfit superstars would even turn against him (his falling out with Edie Sedgwick being the most obvious example). And then there was the attempted murder by Valerie Solanas in 1968, so, clearly, Warhol’s messages and actions were not without their detractors. Nonetheless, below are Warhol’s five most memorable contributions to modern pop culture as we know it.

"Discovering" Edie Sedgwick and giving us the film Poor Little Rich Girl.

5) Before Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in The Simple Life, there was Edie Sedgwick in Poor Little Rich Girl. Warhol's portrayal of quintessential socialite problems would leave an indelible mark.

The brilliance of silkscreening.

4) As one of the earliest users of the silkscreening medium, Warhol showed us the powerful effect of repetition--a skill he undoubtedly fine-tuned during his years in advertising.

Summing up his philosophy in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.

3) In 1975, Warhol's philosophy was crystallized with The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, in which the oft misquoted phrase, "In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes," was coined.

Collaborations with Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1986.

2) Though largely regarded as a marketing scheme for both parties (which it probably was, but art has to sell somehow, you know?), the collaborations Warhol created with Jean-Michel Basquiat would set a precedent for big names in pop culture to work together in the future.

One of numerous iconic Interview Magazine covers

1) The cult of celebrity may always be viewed as void of meaning--utterly vacuous--but when Warhol established Interview Magazine in 1969, he was proving to the world that there is more to fame than simply an image.






It was July 27, 1983. It had already been a momentous summer across the globe. Margaret Thatcher was re-elected, Sally Ride became the first female to orbit in space and Return of the Jedi (featuring Carrie Fisher in her iconic role) was released in theaters. And so, it only made sense that, one, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, would continue this motif of female empowerment with her self-titled debut, Madonna. Released after four years of struggle and flirting/sleeping with the right people, the miraculousness of this album’s very existence is still appreciated thirty years later. Recorded from May of 1982 to April of 1983, the album marks Madonna’s shift from a downtown scene queen into a full-blown pop star with the demanding attitude to match. Not only is Madonna significant for setting the stage for Madonna’s quest for world domination (see: American Bandstand), but also its use of innovative production methods for dance music at that time (e.g. the Moog bass and Linn drum machine). Album artwork

Fueled by blind (or blond) ambition, Madonna came to fruition on the success of the underground dance track, “Everybody.” After taking it to local clubs around the East Village and Lower East Side, Madonna finally set her sights on DJ Mark Kamins of Danceteria to play her record. Did she use her feminine wiles to make that happen? Most definitely. The result was an audience reaction that was immediately positive. Soon, “Everybody” was everywhere—and this is what ultimately got the attention of Seymour Stein (with a little help from Mark Kamins), the then president of Sire Records. Madonna was unfazed at having to meet him at Lenox Hill Hospital--where he had just undergone surgery--to get her record deal signed. On the strength of “Everybody,” Stein signed her to a deal that would allow her to record two 12-inch singles. Mark Kamins usurped Madonna’s longtime friend and collaborator, Stephen Bray (who played with Madonna in her earlier bands, The Breakfast Club and Emmy), to professionally record “Everybody.”

With “Everybody” garnering enough notice on the dance charts, Madonna finally got signed to record an LP. Produced by Reggie Lucas (known for collaborating with such acts as Miles Davis and Roberta Flack), Madonna has a decidedly R&B sound. Contention between Lucas and Madonna on the direction of the album led her to call in the help of her producer and eventual boyfriend, John “Jellybean” Benitez. It was Benitez who brought in the demo for “Holiday,” which would become one of Madonna’s most recognizable tracks.

Displaying early signs of her Erotica era

Like Madonna’s career, MTV was also in the infancy of launching into a major music medium. Perhaps because there were so few videos in rotation at the time, Madonna’s video for the single “Borderline” received the benefit of so much airplay. Addressing the taboos of an interracial relationship (as she would continue to do time and time again) and establishing her brazen persona, “Borderline” helped Madonna on the slow crawl to the top ten albums on the Billboard 200 by October of 1984. Although Madonna had already segued into her Like A Virgin period by then, she continued to promote the tracks off Madonna on The Virgin Tour in 1985.

Though many would argue it was her 1984 VMA performance that made her, Madonna might never have ascended so quickly without such a solid debut--and the correlating attitude to back it. And even though critics of the time—and even critics now—sustain the same level of ire for such exuberant, unpretentious dance pop tracks, Madonna (and Madonna) was and remains a classic example of true pop genius (and all without Auto-Tune!).






J. Lo is 44 today. Let’s celebrate by recapping some her so bad they’re almost good moments. And I mean that in the best possible sense--for, as Bret Easton Ellis has taught us, there is nothing quite as addictive as lowbrow culture. Early days

1) Starring in a Japanese show called Synchronicity

Dancing backup for New Kids on the Block

2) Being a backup dancer for New Kids on the Block

Fly Girls

3) Being a Fly Girl on In Living Color

Shirking a Jackson.

4) Backing out of the Janet World Tour

Dabbling in TV.

5) Having her first acting role in a direct to video release called Lost in The Wild

Dabbling in TV.

6) Starring in a short-lived TV series called Second Chances—the set was ruined by the 1994 earthquake in Northridge a.k.a. the universe was  not havin’ that shit.

Snipes and Lopez in Money Train

7) Being a cast member of Money Train

Old school vanity.

8) Agreeing to be a romantic interest to Robin Williams in Jack

Old school vanity.

9) The "If You Had My Love" video

First husband--not into it.

10) First failed marriage to Cuban actor Ojani Noa

Wax figures

11) Dating Puff Daddy while he was Puff Daddy

Dubious album titles.

12) Calling an album This Is Me... Then

Implausible rom coms

13) Agreeing to be in The Wedding Planner--not just because of the plot, but because of the Italian portrayal

But apparently no limit when it comes to bad movies

14) Playing a battered housewife in Enough

Spray me.

15) Glow by JLo


16) Engagement to Ben Affleck

Worst career move ever.

17) Mixing business with pleasure by starring in one of the worst movies ever, Gigli (and yes, I've actually seen it to know for certain)

They had to kill J. Lo off to make Jersey Girl palatable.

18) Continuing her acting collaborations with Affleck in Jersey Girl


19) The American remake of Shall We Dance?

20) Trying to compete with Jane Fonda's spotlight in Monster-in-Law

An artificial insemination rom com is difficult to pull off.

21) Fortifying a series of riffraff films by releasing The Back-Up Plan

Slumming it on Idol

22) Becoming a judge on American Idol

Like anyone in the Bronx wants to see someone roll up in a car that's more expensive than their house.

23) That Fiat commercial

Remixes for "On the Floor"

24) Ripping off "Llorando se Fue" by Los Kjarkas for her song with Pitbull, "On the Floor"

Album cover for Love?

25) Releasing Love? an album with only one listenable song

Not so haute couture.

26) The Jennifer Lopez Collection for Kohl's

Another bum marriage

27) Marc Anthony

Awkward promotional poster for What to Expect When You're Expecting

28) Returning to the screen after a reprieve with What To Expect When You're Expecting

Fragrance shill

29) Fragrance bombing yet again with Glowing by JLo


30) Making a quick dollar as the voice of Shira in Ice Age: Continental Drift

CD version (nostalgia, okay?) of Dance Again... The Hits

31) Revealing desperation to fulfill her contract with Epic Records with Dance Again... the Hits

Oh, what might have been told.

32) Preventing Ojani Noa from releasing a tell-all book about their marriage (come on, even Madonna let her brother release his disparaging prose)

J. Lo could have had a mug shot too.

33) Not getting charged for criminal possession while she was with Puff Daddy

Never marry your backup dancer.

34) Marriage to Chris Judd (even K-Fed was a step up as far as backup dancer husbands go)


35) Starting the trend of merged celebrity couple names

The most beautiful collaboration ever--never to be repeated

36) Not collaborating with Ja Rule after "I'm Real"

Laying the groundwork for Long Island-level spoiledness.

37) Having her children at a hospital in Long Island

"Jenny From the Block" video--mostly showcasing wealth and Ben Affleck

38) Disingenous Bronx pride on "Jenny From the Block"

Love and Light fragrance

39) Peddling her fragrance, Love and Light, on the Home Shopping Network

J. Lo as Selena

40) Not making Selena 2: Rise of Yolanda 

Never to be topped

41) Never topping the green Versace dress at subsequent Oscar appearances

Advice giver

42) Telling Nicki Minaj how to upstage Mariah on American Idol 

Perez's account of dialogue.

43) Not telling Mariah how to upstage Nicki Minaj on American Idol

Apologizing for singing "Happy Birthday"

44) Getting in trouble for singing "Happy Birthday." Everyone knows you can't do that without getting sued.

Some authors are not born nihilists (and believe me, nihilism is something intrinsic within certain human minds). Some are forced to become that way as a result of their times. Where post-modernism (yes, I know, a very generalizing word) is concerned, it seemed unfathomable that anyone could ever hold a candle to Bret Easton Ellis’ espousal of life’s emptiness. Tao Lin, however, has emerged from the woodwork to upstage the insubordination of Ellis. With 2009’s Shoplifting from American Apparel, Lin’s expression of modern ennui seemed harmless enough—stealing here, G-chatting there—and not nearly as incendiary or ominous as the work of Ellis. But in Lin’s latest novel, Taipei, a world of utter meaninglessness is painted so bleakly that even Patrick Bateman wouldn’t take comfort in the serial killing potential. Taipei book cover

Following the drug-addled, average life of novelist Paul (no last name needed), a Brooklyn denizen with, quelle surprise, relationship issues, Taipei wastes no time in establishing a complete sense of the loneliness and isolation that the twenty-first century has wrought. As Paul becomes reconciled to the fact that he’s going to break up with his current girlfriend, Michelle, “he began complaining once or twice a week (that certain things Michelle did were inconsiderate, that he felt neglected) and, by July, most days, was either visibly irritated or mutely, inscrutably despondent…” (8-9). Soon after, he has a romantic dalliance with Laura, a 28 year old (Lin is very specific with age in Taipei) he met at a party after a reading. Laura friends him on Facebook the next day, when Paul realizes she also has a MySpace page. As usual, Lin has no fear of mentioning the entire panoply of social media enterprises, with depressing assertions like, “[She] drank a shot of tequila and most of a Four Loko (for a video she’d told someone she’d post on Tumblr)…” (130) or “’You should tweet it, stop talking about it…’” (232).

The ever non-present Tao Lin

Paul’s dating period with Laura is short-lived, ultimately leading him to meet Erin, who he technically “met” on the internet twenty months prior to this in-person encounter. Coming across one another through a mutual friend, Paul and Erin share a semi-equal attraction to one another. And while the narrative of the book is largely about dissatisfaction and doing drugs, it’s also about the never-ending quest to find another person who can even remotely empathize with your hatred for everyone else. As Paul himself says, “’I feel like I hate everyone’” (133).

The world of Tao Lin

The self-referential nature of the book is evident in the pull quote from Ellis himself on the back cover of the jacket: “With Taipei Tao Lin becomes the most interesting prose stylist of his generation.” While the praise sounds high, it also comes across as hollow—just as much of the novel does. It’s difficult to relate to a character whose “conscious, helpless ongoing lack of recognition” (34) prompts him to flounder through existence using every known drug to numb himself. But then, late twentieth and twenty-first century literature isn’t really about character relatability—it’s about reflecting the era we live in.

Like Ellis, Lin also relies on some of his tried and true prose tricks. For instance, shoplifting remains a symptom of carelessness and entitlement—exactly like in Shoplifting From American Apparel. After stealing one of the CDs from the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness double album, Paul is apprehended by a Best Buy security guard. After the ordeal is over, Paul tells Erin, “’I felt ashamed… I feel like I was on shoplifting autopilot. I wasn’t thinking anything. I was just already doing it’” (138). Mirroring the name checking of Less Than ZeroAmerican Psycho and Glamorama, Lin mentions the restaurants and bars of “Brooklyn” (I put it in quotes because the part of Brooklyn Lin references doesn’t even seem real anymore) as though making a laundry list: Legion, Harefield Road, Mesa Coyocan, Sel de Mer and Lodge. The multiple mentions of The Green Table also seem to serve as some sort of foil for Dorsia in American Psycho—that elusive restaurant you never make it to (though Bateman gets in eventually), in spite of it being on the top of your list.

Blank generation.

Lin’s propensity for dropping the names of pseudo relevant pop culture references—like Drugstore Cowboy, Half Baked and Trash Humpers—is also evocative of the Ellis modus operandi, no matter what the novel (including lesser favorites like The Rules of Attraction and Lunar Park). By the end of Taipei, Paul and Erin are traipsing around the city guerilla filming a movie called Taiwan’s First McDonald’s. This is where it starts to get especially Ellis-esque with its story within a story pastiche. Moreover, Lin is equally fond of promoting the "everything is everything" concept. For example, while on one of his drug binges with Erin, “they pretended to be Wall Street Journal reporters and recorded themselves interviewing strangers about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Erin meekly asked a large, young thuggish looking man and his smaller friend, both wearing backward caps, if they thought Darth Vader would ‘die in this one’” (140).

Book cover for Lin's previous novel, Richard Yates.

The conclusion of the novel, in which Paul is briefly convinced he’s dead, negates Lin’s previous worldview up until this moment as Paul slowly realizes he hasn’t quite crossed over to the other side yet, prompting him to express being “grateful to be alive” (248). It is in this regard, that, well, let’s face it, Lin is much more of a literary pussy than Ellis. At least Ellis always had the gumption to stand by the intensity of his disdain for modern civilization all the way till the end of his novels—instead of trying to pander to the concept of a happy ending that doesn’t totally make you want to kill yourself. Not only does Ellis have this on his side, but he would also never use the word “poop” (though “pink butthole pushes it in Glamorama) so liberally throughout one of his books. The presence of this word alone automatically eradicates any true literary value.