Buffalo named Donna

I’ve never been able to fully explain my emotional attachment to Donna the Buffalo, but that’s half of what makes them so special- trying to explain them doesn’t really work. Their sound brightens my spirits and comforts me like some weird metaphorical blanket knitted from fiddle strings and sawdust.  They exist in a perpetual balance of peculiar jubilance and delicate rumination that makes me want to boogie one moment and chokes me up the next.   Their music is warmly familiar, like something recognized from a dream… it brings about a feeling of Deja Vu that’s happily disorienting and soothing at the same time.  An anomaly in the very best sense of the word.

Gas Station Schwill Blog 2.0

A few months ago, I began recording my tasting adventures in the lowest of the low-brow alcoholic beverages: dirt cheap gas station malt liquor… basically any of those weird concoctions you find on the bottom shelf of the beer cooler at your local Sunoco.  What can I say?  I have an affinity for the unrefined.  One of my most recent endeavours led me back to to an old favorite- something that any native of Albany County has most certainly sipped on at one point or another (drum roll please):  Mountain Brew Beer Ice!

Yes, you read that correctly.  “Mountain Brew Beer Ice.”  Not much flow in that name.  This peculiar stuff is Stewart’s Shops’ very own brand of beer, brewed for them by Genesee Brewing Co. and only available at Stewart’s locations.  What’s that you say? You didn’t know the dinky convenient store chain based out of Saratoga Springs, NY, had their own beer?  Well now you do!

There are several reasons why Mountain Brew Beer Ice is just plain incredible, the first being that a six pack costs a mere $2.99.  It’s true! The economy doesn’t seem so terrible once you discover you can get a sixer for under three dollars, does it?

Personally, my favorite aspect of the M.B.B.I. experience is the packaging.  It comes in a plain silver can with “Mountain Brew Beer Ice” written on it in simple black script, followed by a little blurb proclaiming, “A Very Cool Brew!”… that’s it.  Joyfully minimalistic.  If the word “beer” was removed from the label, it would look more like a demented can of soda than an adult beverage.  The bottom of the can is adorned with several of those cartoon figures that are normally found on “Caution, Wet Floor” signs, and they are all partaking in various types of athletic activities; what could this possibly imply?  Will drinking this beer make me more athletic?  Is this a hybrid beer/sports drink of some kind?  Was this beer meant for the professional athletes of the world, and somehow fell into the hands of a common, unathletic fool like myself?  The possibilities are endless.  But one fact remains clear: it definitely looks more like something you would find in the cooler at a family barbeque in 1973 than on a convenient store shelf in 2012.

Lastly (and least importantly?): Taste.  I like to take the “it could be worse” approach when analyzing the flavor of this legendarily thrifty brew.  I mean, come on… you probably paid for it with the loose change you found in your glove compartment.  What were you expecting?  Sure it tastes a little metallic, but it’s not undrinkable.  The taste is no more offensive than that of more “well known” cheap-ass beers (Milwaukee’s Best, I’m lookin’ at you).  So just look on the positive side- it could be wayyyyyyyy worse.  Like…. Way. Worse.

Mountain Brew Beer Ice wins me over every time, probably due to the unbeatable combination of a quirky appearance, ridiculous name, cheesy slogan, and absurdly cheap price.  Definitely worth a try, if not just to say that you’ve tried it.

10 Life Lessons I Learned from “Freaks and Geeks”

Arguably the best show ever to grace television, “Freaks and Geeks” taught me more useful life tips in one season than high school did in four years.

1.) Be yourself.   Yes, this is the most corny piece of advice given to every adolescent, but it is also the most important rule that I learned from Lindsay Weir and crew.  You can get good grades and still be friends with the bad kids, you can be a nerd and still land the most popular girl in school, and trying to change yourself to make somebody else like you will inevitably end in tears.  Just do whatever floats your boat, and if people don’t like you for it, they probably suck anyway.  We all saw what happened to Daniel Desario when he tried to transform himself into a “punker” just to impress the hot cashier at the convenient store- he wound up alone and pissed off, with nothing to show for it but some egg white in his hair and a bloody half-pierced nose.

2.) Dancing to disco music is a surefire way to impress the ladies.  I mean, come on, is there a better moment in the history of television than when Bill shows off his best dance moves to some synthed-out disco?  Just remember ladies, never cut a guy off “mid funk.”

3.) Army jackets are sweet.  Not only do I genuinely love these types of coats, but I also love that Lindsay wears hers in literally every episode.  Finally, a TV character who isn’t sporting a new and different piece of clothing every time she appears on screen!  If Lindsay can wear the same jacket every single day for a year, so can I suckaassss.

4.) Sometimes the “bad guy” is just a sensitive dude with no friends.  We all have that one person in our life that we love to hate, whether it’s because they make our life miserable, or because they’re just a miserable person.  But one thing that “Freaks and Geeks” taught me is that sometimes the meanest people are the ones who have been hurt the most.  Sam, Bill, and Neil’s worst enemy, Alan, tortures them on a daily basis.  But one day he reveals to Bill that he bullies them because he’s jealous of their crew’s friendship; when they were younger, they all unknowingly ignored Alan, and he never made any of his own friends.  His hurt feelings eventually morphed into anger, then fast forward a few years and he has become the world’s biggest jerk.  Everybody has a soft side, peeps.

5.) “Our bodies are merely a shell which conceal our heavenly souls.”   My favorite quote of the entire series, spoken by oddball Harris Trinsky.  And in my opinion, truer words have never been spoken.  It’s silly to think that our outside appearance is capable of causing shame and embarrassment- it’s what’s on the inside that counts (gotta love cliches)!  You go, Harris!  6.) If your significant other doesn’t like “The Jerk”, that’s a deal breaker.  Sam Weir deals with lots of strange and off-putting behavior during his relationship with his dream girl, Cindy Sanders, who ironically enough turns out to be a total creep: her obsession with giving him hickeys, her constant Republican elitism babble, her desire to only socialize with the football team, and the fact that she allegedly “cut the cheese” in front of Bill without a hint of remorse.  But the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back is not when she refuses to wear the heirloom necklace that Sam gives her as a gift… no siree, it’s when he takes her to see “The Jerk” and she complains incessantly that the movie….. ISN’T FUNNY.  You can walk all over Sam Weir, but he will not let you walk all over Steve Martin.  Take heed, folks- if your companion doesn’t think the “I was born a poor black child” speech is hilarious, it might be time to end it.

7.) If you believe you’re cool, you become cool.  Ahh, the sage and knowledgeable Mr. Rosso.  If I had a guidance counselor like that in high school, maybe I would have spent less time skipping class and more time having brilliant repartee with the Vice President like Lindsey Weir did.  Anyway, when Sam decides that the only way he can become cool is by buying a “French Night Suit” and dressing like Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever, Mr. Rosso once again saves the day by explaining that being cool has nothing to do with how you look; the only way to become cool is to believe you’re cool.  Then everybody else starts believing it, too.  Mr. Rosso knows what’s up.

8.) “Lik-m-aid makes my spit taste like fruit juice.”  Millie’s breakfast of choice while waiting for the bus every morning is Lik-m-aid… a packet of neon green powdered sugar that’s eaten using a stick made of solid sugar.  Also known as FunDip, it is essentially Red Bull for children.  I used to eat this when I was a kid and it was so sour it would make my tongue bleed.  But it’s true, it makes your spit taste like fruit juice. 9.) Friends are about quality, not quantity.   Lindsay and Sam both know that it’s better to have a couple of good friends than to have a lot of crappy friends.  Sam, Neil and Bill are there for each other through thick and thin, and tell each other everything, no matter how embarrassing (Bill even reluctantly admits to Sam and Neil that he once pooped his pants at school. Whoops).  And while Lindsay has her fair share of problems with Millie, Kim, Nick, Daniel, and Ken, they still always end up proving to her that they’ve got her back.  Hey, it’s always good to know you have friends who will talk you down during a pot-induced panic attack, or who will buy a new bumper for your parents’ car after you accidentally total it.  That’s a true buddy right there.

10.) The Grateful Dead can cheer anyone up.  And maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll end up liking them so much that you decide to blow of math camp and go on summer tour instead! Gotta do what you gotta do, kids.

Levon: The Counter-Counterculture

Growing up a mere 45 minutes north of the famed Big Pink, I always felt proud of the fact that The Band chose to make my neck of the woods their home away from home.  Levon Helm even loved it enough to make it his permanent home- when The Band days were over, he moved into “The Barn” in Woodstock that would become the venue for his notorious Midnight Rambles.  Needless to say, my heart melted when I came across this video last winter that Levon filmed for the Ulster County Tourism Board.  He sings the praises of the Hudson River Valley so earnestly and whole-heartedly that it makes me want to move back to my hometown and stay there forever.  Levon loved the area not only because of its remarkable beauty and friendly residents, but because it was an environment in which he felt at home making music.  And with Levon, more so than with any other musician I can think of, it has always been completely about the music.

When Bob Dylan sings “strap yourself to the tree with roots” in the song “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (recorded with The Band on The Basement Tapes in 1967), I like to think that no human was a better embodiment of that deeply-rooted tree than Levon Helm.  At a time when psychedelic rebellion was taking over music, Levon remained unconcerned with what was considered hip, and proceeded to create raw, soulful music that was a perfect cocktail of tradition and innovation.

I still remember my first time watching The Last Waltz, and having an instant connection to Levon (and to Rick Danko, but my love for him will be saved for another time).  Seeing Levon’s sly smile as he hunched his shoulders and howled along to “Up On Cripple Creek” was simply amazing.  He didn’t have that “look at me, I’m a jaded rock star” vibe to him that so many other musicians were thriving on at the time- instead he had an air of complete genuineness and accessibility.  No excess, no strange costumes, no beads or bangles or feathers or neon colors.  Just him, in his jeans and button down, completely destroying his drum kit while simultaneously providing powerful lead vocals.  Painfully cool.

Levon helped The Band bring the genre of Americana to a whole new level of significance, and by rejecting the counterculture scene he ironically became one of the most unique artists of the era.  He had no desire to buy into any fad or cultivate any image; he put all the focus on the music and stayed authentic, while still pushing and expanding the boundaries of his creativity.  The result was his beautifully unique signature sound, a blend of rootsy americana and cajun-folk funk, that will live on forever.

Gas Station Schwill Blog

Exploring the bottom shelf of the gas station malt liquor cooler gives me such immense satisfaction.  It’s like a game- try to find the most bizarre alcoholic concoction for as little money as possible.  Of course to play this game, you must be willing to risk that the beverage you select will A.) taste absolutely foul, B.) make you feel sick to your stomach, or C.) all of the above.  Despite these risks, I still thoroughly enjoy the game; nothing says “I’m a winner!” like when I succeed in finding a drink that is both cheap and delicious, after much trial and error.  Also I am broke, so there’s that reason.

The subject of today’s Gas Station Schwill blog is, (drumrolll please): Mike’s “Harder” Limeade! I bought one of these little guys last weekend, largely because I’m obsessed with limeade and felt that I owed it to myself to give it a try.  And I have to say- I was more than pleased.  This is different than regular Mike’s Hard products because it is 8% alcohol rather than 5% (hence the name “Harder”), but pleasantly enough there was almost no gross alcohol-y aftertaste… even less so than the original kind . Yaaaayy.  But the main attribute that makes Mike’s Harder Limeade leagues better than original Mike’s Hard Lemonade is the simple fact that it is not lemonade.  Now, I have never been a hater of hard lemonade; I like to indulge in the stereotypical “girly” beverage once in a while.  However, its insane sweetness usually leaves me with a pounding headache and the desire to scrub my mouth out with soap after only one or two.  That’s why this limeade is way more enjoyable than it’s sugary cousin- it is tangy instead of sweet, and after drinking a 24 ouncer, I still loved the taste of it and could easily have had more. Win!  For $2.19, I’d say it was a success.  Official verdict: worth it.

Porno Funk’d

In honor of the recent 3 year anniversary of having the band back together, I wanted to pull out one of my favorite Phish Youtube gems.  Space porno funk at it’s finest- Rockpalast Fest in Lorely Germany, June 22, 1997.

I am a huge fan of the slow, bassed out, dirty filthy funk style Ghost (who isn’t?).  And while the whole “space funk” thing is often associated mainly with the Europe ’98 shows (Prague Ghost probably being the most well known example), a lot of the winter/spring/summer ’97 shows are a bit spacy as well, just in a different way.  A lot of the spaciness in the ’98 era Ghosts comes from the heavy “Waaaa Waaaaa” Star Trek-esque effects echoing in the background, creating that classic “outerspace” vibe.  Yet the more minimalistic approach of this 97 Ghosts end up giving it a very quirky and empty sound, resulting in an awesomely primitive space-like feeling.  I’ll take em both any day.

The Love/Hate Relationship with American TV

This concept has been becoming more and more noticeable to me as of late. It is a fairly well accepted notion that American TV programs continue to devolve into a greater state of trashiness with each coming year, and it’s safe to say that this is largely due to the ever increasing number of reality TV shows on every single channel.  Strangely, all of these shows essentially depict the opposite of “reality”.  Ironic?  Perhaps.  Wildly popular?  Definitely. People who are offended by the cringe-worthy, self-indulgent nature of American television often draw upon reality shows such as “The Jersey Shore” to support their reasoning; said program features little to no plot line, excessive alcohol and drug use, frequent violent brawls, promiscuity, and a complete lack of intellectually stimulating dialogue.  Now, am I an avid watcher of reality television? Not at all.  Am I one of the people who finds reality television to be insulting and offensive?  Sadly no.  But rather than beat myself up for occasionally enjoying such Grade-A depictions of sleaziness and general idiocy, I prefer to think of trashy TV shows similarly to how I would think of the circus: odd, creepy, and kind of wrong, yet entertaining because it’s so absurd.

Something that truly fascinates me is the hugely varying spectrum of reactions from the American public towards their own TV programming, and how fundamentally different it is from the way people in the UK perceive their television; I started pondering the weird dueling nature of American Trash TV vs. UK Trash TV about 3 years ago, after I discovered (through first-hand experience) that British and Irish programs are often far more graphic and racy than American programs, yet receive less popular and critical backlash.

When I studied in Ireland for a semester in 2009, my student apartment was outfitted with a television that received quite a few channels, and such began my experience with Irish/UK TV programs.  I quickly became very surprised by what I saw on a daily basis;  while the “Reality TV Show” genre had not yet taken off there at the time (these days it is becoming very popular with the help of British spin-offs of American reality shows like The Jersey Shore), their regular TV programs outdid ours on the raunchiness scale by far.

For example, we all know the very specific rules that American primetime and daytime programs must abide by: No blatant profanity, no clear depictions of sexual intercourse, and no overly graphic conversation topics.  This goes for movies shown on TV as well-  we censor them using “bleeps” over swear words, and any scenes that are deemed inappropriate for TV are cut out.  Even in reality TV shows, swear words are bleeped out and scenes of people blatantly having sex are not aired (I think I heard somewhere that they draw the line at “thrusting”.  Teehe).  Any racy shows or movies that are aired without censoring are saved for the late-night slots, or for special channels. The American media and entertainment industry seem to believe that plot lines and characters of television programs can be utterly foul, as long as the inappropriate things they do are censored to some degree.  And something that I find to be slightly ironic is the fact that it’s much more common to see scandalous behavior coming from REAL human beings on the reality shows, than from the fictional characters on sitcoms and drama programs.

What intrigued me was the fact that the UK essentially takes the opposite approach. In Ireland, censoring of television shows and movies (no matter what time of day or what channel) is little to non existent.  Profanity is common, even frequent, depending on what program you are watching, and sex scenes are far more graphic.  Dialogue and conversation contains much more controversial topics, and spares no details.  Yet at the same time, there weren’t many raunchy reality TV shows (although now there are); all of the raunch was provided through normal TV shows and films, and it wasn’t confined to the 2am slots like in America.

Now I’m not necessarily shocked or surprised by the approach that the UK takes with television.  More of the shock factor, for me at least, comes from the fact that such a degree of  “scandalous behavior” is allowed to be depicted on basic television channels, and that none of the Irish public seems to be bothered by it in the slightest.  You don’t see people up in arms about the racy nature of the shows, or parents whining that kids might stumble upon something they shouldn’t, which is a common parental complaint in America.  I find myself surprised, almost impressed, by the fact that a country known for it’s conservativeness and religious fidelity takes such a lenient and open-minded approach to public entertainment.  Yet in America, where there is a well established liberal, progressive community, this would most likely never be allowed.  And ironically enough, it is usually the liberal and progressive members of American society who seem to have the most problems with the racy nature of today’s TV.

I don’t mean to argue that one approach to television is better than the other, but I will say this: the lack of censorship present on Irish and British TV sure makes for some fantastic shows.  You get all the excitement of American programs, but without the cheesiness and unrealistic aspects.  For example, when I was in Ireland, a brand new show debuted on E4 (the equivalent of America’s CW or TBS) called “Misfits”, which still to this day is one of my favorite Television programs ever.  While the show was technically part Sci-Fi, in that the teenage main characters obtained superpowers through a freak accident (do not scoff, it is awesome), the portrayal of the characters was otherwise gritty and realistic.  Their behavior, language, attitudes, and everything else was spot-on; an uncanny depiction of “delinquent” high schoolers.  It lacked the melodrama and absurdity of most American teenage dramas, and replaced it with a much more real element.  Not to mention that while the show was categorized as a drama, it was also absolutely hilarious (much more so than most American comedies), because the characters were allowed to swear, tell dirty jokes, sleep around, and just be general assholes- and come on, we all know that’s exactly what teenagers are.  And, not surprisingly, the show aired at 9pm every Thursday, the same time slot that is typically reserved for more family-friendly shows over on our side of the pond.  Here’s a lovely little montage of some of the best moments from Season 1 of Misfits, just so you can get the gist of it:

Ok, you get the point.  Basically, I find it interesting that places like Ireland and England have used a liberal approach to television to improve plot lines and create generally more well-made shows, and in turn nobody complains, while in America, we use the “creative license” to create reality shows that manage to piss off about 50 percent of the population.  This also makes me wonder if the outrage and disgust that Americans feel towards their own reality TV shows like “The Jersey Shore” are due to the the nature of the featured characters, or the due to the the content of the shows themselves.  By this I mean: is it the fact that reality shows feature real people doing awful things, or is it the awful things themselves that cause all the public backlash?  And while I am fairly certain that graphic British programs like Misfits would not fly on American prime time television, I think it’s great that Britain and Ireland have embraced our take on the reality show and are now making spin offs of their own.  Maybe they, like myself, simply appreciate the fact that average people can get wasted and act like idiots on television these days, all in the name of entertainment.