Saturday, January 29, 2005

It had to happen eventually

Last night, for the first time in my professional singing career, I sang Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler." And you know what? It felt good. The effect on the crowd was astounding, like meth in country music form.

Friday, January 28, 2005


If you're in business for yourself, as I am, you owe it to yourself either to bribe your friend who works at Hotmail for a really great e-mail address, or to buy your own Internet domain and e-mail service.


Important Business Contact: What's your e-mail address?
Me: It's krb1066 at That's K, R, B as in boy, 1066, the numerals 1066, at
IBC: krb, 1066, what?
Me: At
IBC: At yahoo.
Me: Yes. Dot com. So krb1066 at
IBC: krb1066 at
Me: Right.


IBC: What's your e-mail address?
Me: It's kenneth at
IBC: Well, that's easy.
Me: That's B-U-R-N-S.
IBC: Yes, I know.
Peeking in

It was documentary film night last night, and we caught up with a couple of fine ones. The first was, a 2001 look at a couple of young New Yorkers who, in 1999, launched an online company called They assumed they would make scads of money, and you can guess how things turned out. It's a grim story that is in some ways atypical of the dot-com hysteria: these fellows never were twentysomething billionaires, probably because they got into the e-commerce game relatively late. In some of the most excruciating moments, they haggle with venture capitalists over $12 million, $20 million--more money than I can conceive of, certainly, but small change in those days. (One of the film's directors, Jehane Noujaim, also made Control Room; I reviewed that here.)

Then we watched In Heaven There Is No Beer?, a 1984 doc about polka. The film, a winner at the 1985 Sundance festival, captures a slice of Americana that isn't celebrated nearly enough: the small, Midwestern beer halls and festivals where polka bands play and revelers drink and dance. I didn't appreciate polka until I moved to Wisconsin, but the more I learn, the more I like, and I've never seen a more engrossing look at the milieu than this one. In my favorite scene, a young woman receives an award from a polka association, and she is completely overcome with emotion; if you can't get emotional about your polka band, what can you get emotional about?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

From the archive

Badger Herald, Feb. 2, 2000, p6

UW problem: Midwest v. East Coast
By R. [I expunged the author's name. -KRB]
Guest editorial

I walked into my English class last week only to find myself greatly disturbed by a fellow classmate's assertion directed towards my content of character. Undeniably, I may have appeared somewhat groggy. I had a long, never-ending weekend. Before class, I grabbed a cup of coffee in order to ease my tired body and mind. Because I could not understand what this peer of mine was saying and asked him to repeat himself, I was ridiculed for being "one of those." I desired some sort of explanation as to what exactly "one of those" meant. His reply: "A snob ... well, what's wrong, did Daddy cut off your funds for the week?" Need I remind you I told him I was from New York the previous Friday. In response, my classmate said he could tell by the way I dressed.

He attributed his opinion of me due to my black jacket, my bag and what he referred to as tight jeans. Ironically enough, this guy wears more labels than I do. Not a day goes by when he doesn't wear an Abercrombie label or his Ralph Lauren hat. In any case, I played his game. My only defense was to call him a hick, even though I don't hold such an opinion of him in reality. I found it being my only defense, and the only way to show him that just as I had no right to judge him, he had no right to judge me.

Currently a junior at UW, I have learned to accept that this campus is blatantly divided between the Midwest and East Coast. It is by no means something this establishment should be proud of. However, because stereotypes continuously linger between the two opposing forces, change in the near future is looking increasingly grim. My hope is that other people apart from myself would like this stereotyping to change.

As a Long Island native, I will not deny being exposed to a high degree of materialistic nonsense from my hometown suburb. I dealt with all the idiosyncratic baloney then, and kept my mouth sealed. Upon arrival here, I lived in the Towers. It was recommended to me by my fellow constitutes that this dorm was the ideal living situation for my freshman year. As in high school, I was surrounded by the same nonsense. However, I made my friends. I adapted just fine and by no means regret my decision, and here is why: I find that nine times out of 10, I am required to actually prove myself as being a true individual before rightfully accepted by Midwestern peers. Had I lived in the public dorms, I undoubtedly would have experienced even more nonsense. This is the typical scenario: I walk into a bar, library or apartment. I am introduced, or rather I introduce myself to a Midwestern native. Undoubtedly, I will receive second looks for my attire and physical features such as my dark brown hair and eyes. Subsequently, I am asked as to where I am from. As always, I will reply "New York" with a prepared explanation that, "I really am nice, and I am not that bad." It is almost as if I am trying to win over the person's approval. The best is when I receive the line, "Wow, you have totally changed my view of New York!"

I would be lying if I denied the fact that such a response did not elicit some sort of positive emotion from within my heart and soul. However, this effect has greatly waned since my freshman year. I am no longer seeking to gain approval from the Midwestern crowd. If you give me a chance, you will see that I am not out to judge you. One of my best friends on this campus is from Milwaukee, and I would not trade my friendship for anything. We undoubtedly have our differences. She lived in a public dorm freshman year, and I lived in a private dorm. She has light features, whereas I have dark. I always go to bars in my black pants, whereas she is content in a pair of blue jeans. However, we follow the same realm of thought.

Stereotypes on this campus exist for a reason. Some East and West coasters express bitterness toward Wisconsin natives. For these people, I profoundly apologize. I can greatly comprehend why some Midwesterners may refuse visitation to my home state. However, the point here is that not every single person from these areas fits the qualifications as being "one of those." There may be a reason that such stereotypes against "coasters" exist, but I have even met people from Wisconsin--yes, Wisconsin--who are just as bad, or worse.

With all of this in mind, it is rather unfair to consistently judge and label your peers based on their state of origin. I know that everyone on this campus cannot get along, but would it kill you to try?

R. is a junior majoring in communication arts. She may hail from New York, but she really is nice.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Good word

"If, therefore, the profession you have chosen has some unexpected inconveniences, console yourself by reflecting that no profession is without them; and that all the importunities and perplexities of business are softness and luxury, compared with the incessant cravings of vacancy, and the unsatisfactory expedients of idleness."

--Samuel Johnson

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Stupid all-nighters

Am I still in college? I remember when the prospect of writing a five-page paper about, say, A Passage to India automatically meant a sleepless night of frenzy fueled by coffee, cigarettes and despair. At most I would grab a catnap of 20 minutes or so. The papers generally turned out OK, but I never seemed to find actual, working inspiration until things started to look particularly grim, typically just hours before the deadline. Then I would write manically and finish in precisely the amount of time I had left. I never developed good writing habits in college, or in grad school, for that matter. Part of me liked the drama.

Now that I write for pay, my methods have gotten a little better--a little. I rarely pull a true all-nighter anymore, though they do still happen. And much else is the same: the worrying, the pacing, the bargaining ("I'll read just one more newspaper article, and then I'll start").

Take my most recent deadline (please), when the day I should have been writing, the whole day, I instead was glumly playing the 1982 arcade game Bagman on my computer. And fretting about not writing. Then I decided I was too hungry to write, so I had dinner. Then I was too sleepy, so I went to bed. Then I got up at 4:00 a.m. and wrote the thing in a desperate burst of activity.

By the way, if you've ever gotten past the first level in Bagman, I want to talk to you.

Monday, January 24, 2005

From the archive

August 14, 1998
Top Ten Things Overheard Outside How Stella Got Her Groove Back

10. "I hope I never lose my groove."
9. "I knew she'd get her groove back, but I couldn't believe how she got her groove back."
8. "I've seen movies with groove back getting, but that was the groove back gettingest movie I've ever seen."
7. "Robin Williams was so funny as the voice of the groove!"
6. "She got her groove back, but I want my nine dollars back."
5. "This is the exact reason I always write my name inside my groove."
4. "What do you mean 'Saving Private Ryan' is sold out?"
3. "Turns out her groove was under the sofa cushion the whole time."
2. "Hey, Stella! I got your groove right here!"
1. "Am I the only white guy here?"

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Adieu Johnny

A while back I interviewed Jon Stewart, and we discussed Johnny Carson (1925-2005). Here's what Stewart said about him:

"I admire him for what he was able to accomplish and the fact that his show had a gentility and a sharpness, at the same time, that you can't get in, as the kids say, today's workaday world. It's from a bygone era when you didn't have to entertain by moving as loud and as fast as you could with the petrifying fear that if you don't, people at home who forgot to take their Ritalin that day will switch over to 'Blind Date' episodes. It's just a different world."
The moviegoer

It's nearly Oscar time, so for fun I looked over the Best Picture nominees of years past and noted which ones I saw in their initial release, from the first year I saw an Oscar-nominated film au cin�ma: 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark. (I was ten; I saw it thrice.)

I saw all five nominated films in only two years: 1992 (Unforgiven, The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman) and 1996 (The English Patient, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine). In 1994 I saw four of five (Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption) but refused to see the fifth film, Pulp Fiction, on the perverse theory that because it both was popular and hip, it couldn't be any good.

Otherwise, most years I saw at least one Oscar-nominated film on the big screen. For two exceptions I plead adolescence: 1983 (Terms of Endearment, The Big Chill
(was this really nominated for best picture?), The Dresser (I had to look it up; it looks good), The Right Stuff, Tender Mercies) and 1986 (Platoon, Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters (now one of my favorite films), The Mission, A Room with a View). As for the other exception, 2001 (A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge), what can I say? It was a weird year.