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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Monday, August 30, 2004

The Video Music Spectacle

It's the end of summer, which is always marked by two things: Labor Day weekend and the MTV Video Music Awards. The VMAs were last night, held in Miami, and they delivered the usual extravagance and unintelligible babble from music superstars who can write a song but can't string together an English sentence.

Most of the insight from the celebrities came in the form of Lil' Jon screaming "Yeah!" Every now and then MTV would switch things on us and have Dave Chappelle imitate Lil' Jon by screaming "Yeah!" And when they really wanted a change of pace, they would bring in another celebrity to imitate Dave Chappelle's imitation of Lil' Jon screaming "Yeah!"

I don't think the censors understood what the celebs were talking about either, because during one performance, Ludacris's line "Bend over to the front" was edited out, but Lil' Jon was free to repeatedly shout, "Skeet skeet skeet!"

And speaking of Dave Chappelle, he didn't host the show, although since he's hilarious and everything he touches turns to gold these days, he should have. MTV didn't even have a host, and it went a lot better than it could have. Maybe it turns out that at award shows, hosts just get in the way.

Will Smith started the proceedings, and I was glad to see him representing Philly. A few years ago, I remember him coming to an award show (who knows which one) in a Phillies jersey and hat. He reprised that outfit, but dialed it back to a retro maroon Mike Schmidt jersey and old-school Phils hat.

MTV tried to do a noble thing and encourage the college-age demographic to get out and vote by having the daughters of both John Kerry and George W. Bush speak. Kerry's daughters were on hand in Miami; the Bush twins were live from the Republican National Convention in New York. This shaped up to be bad news for Kerry - Bush's daughters are more photogenic and probably appeal to their age group more, even if it is based on their reputation as teen drinkers. Plus, Kerry's campaign seems to have a knack for being extremely unsmooth. And this segment actually was going pretty well - right until the end, when one of the daughters started clapping with the crowd as she was wrapping things up. She inadvertently clapped her hands right over the microphone in front of her, got flustered, interrupted herself, said "Thank you" very quickly, and hustled off the stage. D'oh!

Jessica Simpson took the stage and went on to butcher Robbie Williams's song "Angels." Although it might bring my masculinity into question, the original version of that song is terrific. Jessica Simpson sampling the hook from "Jack & Diane" is one thing; taking a song and hacking it apart is a totally different thing.

During the awful performance, the teenybopper crowd in the front pulled out their cell phones - they all had one, and I'm pretty sure some had two - and flipped them open and waved them back and forth to create a lighting effect. Freddie Mercury must have been spinning in his grave. Somebody give these kids lighters.

This was the first year MTV had a category for best video game soundtrack, which is a brilliant idea. Over the past few years, games have been stocked with hits from emerging artists. Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl," which won a different award, was on the Madden 2004 soundtrack before it was even released. The collaboration between record labels and video games was bound to happen; might as well promote it to the hilt with an award. By the way, Madden '04 lost out to Tony Hawk's game, and Tony Hawk came up to accept the award, which makes you wonder what John Madden would have done if his game had won...

Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of the Flaming Lips (I didn't realize they were mainstream enough to make the VMAs) arrived via a giant hamster ball. He actually crowd surfed - sort of - while standing in a plastic ball about eight feet in diameter. When the crowd passed him to the stage, he delivered one of the envelopes to Jimmy Fallon, who probably wished he could have come up with such a stunt. But the best part about all of that was that he continued to walk/roll around on stage behind Outkast while they accepted their award.

Alicia Keys's performance with Stevie Wonder and Lenny Kravitz on "Higher Ground" was awesome.

No Doubt won two awards, and you've gotta start considering them one of the best bands of the last 10 years. They've been consistently putting out good music since I started high school, and perhaps most impressively, they're one of the few current bands that can put out a greatest hits album that's full of actual hits. Plus, Gwen Stefani continues to be hot in her own cool way.

Yellowcard won some award - I forget for what - but when they got up there, the lead singer excitedly exclaimed that he couldn't believe he was up there. And then, after declaring his astonishment at winning, he proceeded to pull out a list of people he wanted to thank. So I guess the win wasn't a complete surprise. Next time, memorize the list. It's always the same people anyway: Director, producer, record label, family, entourage, fans, and maybe God.

And nothing says "Get out the vote" like Andre 3000 singing "Hey Ya!" while his hoes shake signs that say "VOTE" like Polaroid pictures. That right there is a catalyst for change in the U.S.A.

I guess you can tell I'm living in L.A. now and not Bristol because I'm writing about this and not the Olympics (even though a handful of American gold medalists blew off the closing ceremonies to be at the VMAs). But I will say this in closing - serious props to the Brazilian marathoner who shook off a fan shoving him off the course to win a bronze medal.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

A Farewell To Bristol

It's been nearly a month since I wrote here on the site, but I have a good excuse. I swear. I moved to California.

That's right. I no longer work at ESPN. Instead, come Monday, I'll be back in school, studying law at UCLA. With the move (obviously) come a few changes, but what it means for the site is that I no longer have the unique perspective of an ESPN employee. However, I do have the perspective of a former employee...

Seriously though, I'm going to keep on writing here, so I hope those of you who came to the site hoping for some insight on ESPN won't stop reading now that my vocation has changed.

A long-running joke among ESPN employees is that "Happiness is Bristol in the rear-view mirror," the implication being that Bristol is perhaps the most boring place in all of Connecticut, New England, or maybe even the entire East Coast. Admittedly, there were times when I bought into that.

Then I drove cross-country.

Bristol is a bustling metropolis compared to most of America. Desolation is a sign in the desert of southern Utah reading, "No services next 100 miles." Such a sign exists. There were times when I would stop for gas or lunch in towns, such as Beaver, Utah, whose populations couldn't have been half that of ESPN's Bristol work force.

I don't mean to single out Utah as the measuring stick by which Bristol looks good, though. At some point between Mile Run, Pennsylvania (near where there is a sign that says "Mile Run - 2 miles") and Pittsburgh, there's not much going on either. Ditto for the areas near Ogallala, Nebraska, or Fort Morgan, Colorado. My car's thermometer hit 117 degrees somewhere near the barren Arizona-Nevada state line. And Barstow, California will always be known as that town that's on I-15 between Vegas and L.A.

My route covered 2,991.7 miles over slightly more than 48 hours of driving time. I averaged about 61 mph during the trip, and went through about 105 gallons of gasoline. Fortunately, I won $55 at the blackjack table at New York New York to help cover that expense.

I left ESPN a little sad to be going away - after all, there aren't many jobs where a sports nerd like myself can fit in so well, let alone put random knowledge to use. I know my Criminal Law professor will never ask me when the last time a Yankees righty hit 40 homers in a season. I will miss ESPN, and I do hope that one day I'll be back.

However, ESPN is fully aware of the unique quality and desirability of its jobs, and consequently pays accordingly. The show "Dream Job" might have been for an anchor position, but really, most sports fans would leap at the chance to work any job at ESPN, and management knows it. So while I loved what I did at ESPN, I didn't earn nearly enough to make a living.

Along my route from the Worldwide Leader to law school, I went from a place 50 miles from the Atlantic to one five from the Pacific. I saw the first of my high school friends get married (which really put my life change into perspective). I visited some old friends from college. I saw a minor league baseball game in which Pete Rose Jr. went 0-4 and only got the ball out of the infield once. I swam in the world's largest outdoor hot springs. I went to Venice, Rome, Paris, and New York, all in one night, in Las Vegas. I drove through cities, prairies, mountain ranges, and deserts. I passed through 13 states. In short, I had an experience everyone should have at least once in their life.

Now, I'm about to start law school, something that was just a speck of an idea to me a year ago, before I even started working at ESPN. I can't wait for the challenge, to try something new, to see if perhaps this is what I'm meant to do.

Perhaps it's hyperbole to compare myself with a paroled inmate, but I imagine I feel a lot like Andy Dufresne's friend Red did at the end of The Shawshank Redemption.

"Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'. That's goddamn right... I find I'm so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel - a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope."

I also hope that you'll keep reading, as I plan to continue updating the now ill-named site, Just Off-Camera.