Pop Culture News

Not an awful lot to link to – apparently pop culture took the week of the 4th off.  But I do have a few very interesting things.

First of all, apparently Japanese  adults are addicted to coloring.  I’m jealous.

This whole Cristal controversy thing is a really interesting case study in culture and class clashes.

Every year, the new dictionary entries are announced and its one of my favorite pieces of corporate PR of the year.

Ads on hooker’s thighs – if only it had been real.  Would have been better if the ads were in braille though.

I’ve mentioned the gradually increasing presence that China has in business and culture before and now they are taking matters into their own hands.

This one is for Meghan, who helps me so much with my research: a person was shot at a shoe sale in Turkey.  Best line in the article: "Shooting guns into the air is a not-uncommon method for dealing with emotional situations in Turkey, including weddings, soccer games, demonstrations and deals on shoes that are almost too good to be true."

And last but not least, two articles on the changing face of popular culture:

The Extinction of Mass Culture

The Rise and Fall of the Hit

These are probably two of the most important and interesting articles related to popular culture that you could read this year.  They really sum up the changing world of culture and how the internet has spread the control of culture among the masses.   I can now easily find more garage rock bands than I know what to do with and there’s all sorts of tools to help me find new music similar to what I already like and to help me discover new stuff.  Top 40 radio is probably far from dead, but it is definitely starting to write its own obituary.

I’m sure that if you examine your own habits, you’ll find that you’ve changed the way you watch, read, or listen to various media over the last few years, whether it be downloading music or satellite radio or frequenting a web site that caters to some obscure taste.

Calling All Other Old Dawgs

A while ago I waxed poetic (or something like that) about turning 30, and now that I’m a few months into my 30th year, it got me thinking what I’ve done this year that has really stood out.  Unlike others who think their lives start to suck the older they get, this has been a great year so far, with a bunch of great new things happening to me (not the least of which is getting a fantastic girlfriend, but I’ll skip over that for now):

  • Attended my first professional baseball game outside of Fenway park, and did so with an impromptu road trip
  • Made plans to attend my first professional baseball game in Canada in September when the Red Sox play the Blue Jays
  • Checked off a life goal by seeing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed live
  • Learned to play tennis
  • Went bowling for the first time
  • Sat in the bleachers at Fenway for the first time
  • Finally made the short pilgrimage to Boston on the 4th of July to see the Pops play
  • Went on my first "booze cruise" on Boston harbor

Before the year is out, I will probably have gone camping for the first time in my life and possibly will have traveled overseas for the first time. 

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?  Now get off your duff and do something!

Special Event Concerts

Being at the 4th of July concert by the Pops was a bit of a special event concert – not so much because it was the once-a-year event, but because it was the first concert with Steven Tyler singing after his throat surgery. 

It got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago about other "Special Event" concerts I’ve been to.  These are concerts that aren’t just a regular tour supporting another new album release, but once-in-a-lifetime opportunities or times you’ve seen a band on their last tour (because someone in the band died and/or the band broke up) or on a reunion tour or a special night of a tour.  Here’s my list:

  • U2 on the ZooTV tour, the biggest production to date for a tour
  • KISS on their last tour WITHOUT make-up
  • KISS on their (first) reunion tour with make-up BACK on
  • Soundgarden (now broken up) when they opened for Neil Young in 1993
  • Blind Melon (Shannon Hoon is now dead) on the same tour in 1993
  • What appears to be Pink Floyd’s last tour ever (as of right now) in 1994
  • Eagles on their first reunion tour
  • Van Halen with Sammy Hagar
  • Little Richard (not sure if he’s still performing any more)
  • Roy Orbison (died in 1988)
  • Reunited J. Geils Band in 1995
  • Squirrel Nut Zippers, who don’t appear to have done much since 2000
  • Seeing Billy Joel in a Q&A session at the Providence Performing Arts center
  • Attending Woodstock ’99
  • Saw Rage Against the Machine on their last tour in 1999
  • Jimmy Page with the Black Crowes in 1999
  • Judas Priest with Ripper Owens…
  • …and Judas Priest back with Rob Halford
  • Aerosmith with Kid Rock and Run DMC
  • The short-lived "reunion" tour of Guns N’ Roses in 2002
  • First night of the Aerosmith/Lenny Kravitz tour in 2005

Some are more momentous than others, but they are all kind of special for various reasons.  I’d be curious what some of my reader’s "special concerts" might be – what bands you saw before they broke up, before an artist died or special performances you may have been witness to!

Out Of Control

Last month I blogged about the Mentos and Diet Coke phenomenon.  I should have blogged about it in May when I saw the world premier of the Eepybird.com video showing the Mentos and Diet Coke fountain.

When we first saw the video at the Oddfellow Theater in Buckfield, Maine, the Eepybird.com web site wasn’t even operating yet.  Just a simple "coming soon" page was up there.  Now, Fritz and Steve – whom I can say I have met – have been all over the news and on the Today show and Late Night with David Letterman.

Pop Culture Gangster was on the cutting edge of things and didn’t even know!

A True Life Experience at Tanglewoods

It was a busy week for the Pop Culture Gangster last week – not only did I go to Waterfires, and the 4th of July Celebration in Boston, but I also went to Tanglewoods for the first time ever, and accomplished a life goal of seeing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed live.

Unlike other concert going experiences, this was very laid back and had a plebeian sophistication to it.  It wasn’t filled with stuck up fans like the Andrea Boccelli concert, but it also was far from rowdy.  It truly felt like a group of true music fans there to hear great music – perhaps the greatest music ever composed – in a unique, historical setting.

The first thing that is unique about Tanglewoods is that picnicking is encouraged – you’re not forced to buy overpriced and poorly cooked hamburgers and hot dogs or stale popcorn at outrageous prices.  Like others, we showed up with two bottles of wine, cheese, crackers, sausage, salami and fruit for a light dinner.  Others showed up with full meals and ate on picnic blankets by candlelight.  Its tough to find a bad spot to sit on the lawn, but some opted for a better view of the dramatic valley landscape than a view of the stage.  Others got close to the musical action, which is never far away thanks to large projection screens.

The sound quality lived up to its legendary status, though next time I would love to hear the show under the shed instead of out on the lawn, as I think it would be more emphatic.  It is a high class but not snobbish event that anyone within a few hour’s drive should experience once in their life – even if you don’t like classical music, there’s sure to be something to entertain you and lawn tickets can run as low as $8.50!  The worst thing that can happen is that you spend a few relaxing hours with friends and loved ones listening to great music and picnicking. 

The drive out is a bit of a bear, but not any worse than other concerts – a long narrow road is shut down to allow two lanes of traffic to get out and only one pompous twit cut me off, unlike the aforementioned Boccelli twit-fest.

Classical music is one of those things that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but there’s probably a piece that will appeal to anyone willing to try it.  It isn’t all quiet chamber music – Beethoven’s 9th is an amazing piece filled with a chorus with a dramatic ending to end all dramatic endings.  The 1812 Overture is famous for its explosive finale.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pachabel’s Canon has become a well-loved piece of relaxing music.

Being a fan of classical music doesn’t make you a better person, nor does listening to it, but there’s also nothing wrong with it and can only help to broaden your experiences.  When put in a setting as gorgeous and serene as Tanglewoods however, it becomes a nearly religious experience and truly a life experience that everyone should be fortunate enough to have. 

Guide to Surviving the Boston Pops 4th of July Concert

Both as a public service and as a means of my own record-keeping, I present a list of things to bring and do’s and don’ts for anyone attending the Boston Pops’ 4th of July Concert on the Esplanade:


  • Pop-up camp chairs
  • Picnic blanket
  • Tarp or garbage bags to cover your stuff in case it rains
  • Umbrella(s)
  • Snacks – nothing TOO salty, but a variety of things to keep you going through the day
  • Plenty to drink – lemonade, iced tea, and water
  • Plenty to read – good chance to catch up on magazines
  • Card or board games
  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Hats – if its hot, you might sweat through one or two, believe me
  • Windbreaker or something else in case it cools off in the evening
  • Rolling cooler (worth buying one with wheels!!)
  • Napkins and/or paper towels
  • No-water-needed hand sanitizer
  • Wet wipes
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Decorations – people bring all sorts of thing to decorate their spot and themselves and it makes for a more festive environment

The earlier you get there, the better, but unless you want a spot RIGHT in the front, I don’t think you need to be there at four in the morning.  Just be prepared to wait in line for a while if you show up between 8:30 and 11:00 a.m.

Tents of various kinds are allowed during the day, but must come down before the show.

Be respectful of your fellow concert goers.  We let someone use our chairs to give his feet a break, and shared our refreshments with others.  We kept an eye on each ether’s stuff and felt safe and secure while we were there.  It would be a shame to see that change.

Its a long day and it will get more crowded as the day goes on – a lot of people get their wristband, stake out their location and then leave, coming back only before the concert – just realize that the nice spacious area you have at three in the afternoon might get more crowded by 8 p.m. – so don’t complain about it.

The bathrooms are porta-johns, but they do a great job keeping them clean and stocked throughout the day.  Probably the best job I’ve ever seen at any festival.

Think through your location selection carefully.  There are places you can’t see the fireworks from and other places where you can get a great view of the stage but will be baking in the sun all day.  There are some locations that offer a good balance of being able to see the show, sit in the shade, and see the fireworks, but you’ll have to figure that out for yourself, since I did and want to have the same spot next year!

Hoo-Ray for the Stars And Stripes

Like any other holiday, the 4th of July has a number of iconic images associated with it: hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill; spending time in your backyard with family and friends drinking cold beer and/or lemonade; going to watch the fireworks with the kids; the news report of some moron who decided to hold a lit M-80.  For me, one of those icon of Independence Day is the Boston Pops playing at the Hatch Shell.  After years of watching it on television, I finally went and experienced it in person. 

In recent years, Boston’s 4th of July celebration has come to be regarded as one of the best – if not THE best – in the country, but the event has been a 30-year-plus tradition going back to Arthur Fiedler.   Since then, major music stars team up with the Pops to celebrate the country’s birthday and a spectacular fireworks display follows, all shown on national television. 

Even before the national attention, getting a prime spot at the Pops at the Hatch Shell – a free concert – has been a major production.  Since overnight camping isn’t allowed, people start lining up in the wee hours of the morning and stay up all night to get a front row seat. 

While we wanted the experience of celebrating the 4th with the Pops, we didn’t want to go quite that far, so we arrived at around 8:30 in the morning.   That is 12 hours before the the concert starts at 8:30 in the evening!

Approaching the entrance from Storrow Drive (it is always weird to walk on a road that is closed and is usually so busy with traffic), we were deceived by what we thought was a short line.  Turning the corner, we found there were probably around 1,000 people in front of us.  Fortunately, the area in front of the Hatch Shell holds approximately 9,000 people and we were able to get a good pick of locations.

I had been saying all along that we would make some new friends during the day and sure enough, as we are standing in line, we began talking with a group of Texans visiting Boston for the week.  Another group of Texas natives got into the conversation, resulting in a whole "Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech vs. University of Texas vs. etc. etc." thing that we felt VERY left out of.  And to think that moments before they were making fun of we Red Sox fans for being so fanatical…

Once through the gates and with our wristband obtained, we picked an ideal location in the shade – that is all I will say, since we plan on going back and don’t want to give away where we sat, but we think it is the ideal location: shady, near the water, and with a good view of the stage.

The day was spent reading, playing cards, staying hydrated and doing a lot of people watching.  It is frightening what people think they can wear.  And I say this knowing full well that I can’t wear just anything and look good in it, but I also don’t go around in speedos.  Therefore, women who jiggle in the wrong places when they walk shouldn’t be wearing bikinis.  and tube tops are a privilege and not a right…

Speaking of American freedoms, I realize that we all have the ability to speak on cell phones and do what we want when we want, but is it really necessary to keep talking through the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance?  How important can the conversation be (I’m sure its not that important) that you need to disrespect your country and find out what happened last night on The Surreal Life?  For a guidance of what you’re SUPPOSED to do during the National Anthem, see here.

Anyway – for the most part, people at the event were respectful and laid back.  We had no problem leaving our stuff for a while when we started to take shelter from an approaching thunderstorm.  We shared our drinks with our new Texas friends and watched their stuff while they finished up their Boston site-seeing.

A few days before we had gone to Waterfire in Providence, another event unique to this area, and a another unique one in today’s crazy world.  Basically a bunch of fires anchored and floating in a river streaming through downtown Providence and accompanied by hauntingly beautiful music, it is an event that forces people to slow down and stroll, converse, or sit in quiet reflection.  In a world filled with extreme sports, fast-cut editing and 24-hour everything, anything that is capable of getting people to slow down is remarkable.  Spending the day on the Esplanade just reading, playing cards and talking was a great way to spend a holiday.

The concert itself was fantastic – great music that swelled with Patriotic pride, from Bernstein’s "Overture to Candide" to the grand finale of the "Stars and Stripes Forever."  Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were the special musical guests, which was the impetus for me going this year in the first place; not only am I a big Aerosmith fan, but it was going to be the first time Steven was going to perform since his throat surgery.  The first time he let out a signature Tyler-style screech, the crowd went wild, knowing that he was back in perfect form.

An interesting factoid: the Boston Pops keep playing during what are commercial breaks at home.  We heard the theme from Rocky, a song from the musical Chicago, and a hilarious sing-along of classic rock tunes led by conductor Keith Lockhart, who really can’t sing at all.  Like bad karaoke with a great backing band…

Second interesting factoid: the area in front of the Pops pretty much clears out during Stars & Stripes, as people rush to get a good spot for the fireworks.  There was no way I was leaving before seeing the American flag drop down from the top of the Hatch Shell, one of the simplest yet dramatic moments of the celebration.

A highlight was seeing the 1812 Overture performed live – we were close enough to the cannons on the riverbank that we could see the sparks fly out when they went off and at the finale had fireworks behind us, cannons to the left and the Pops to our front!

The fireworks were spectacular, perfectly choreographed to a great music soundtrack and reflecting perfectly in the water of the Charles river.

The smartest move of the day however, was the decision to stay in a hotel on Tuesday night.  While everyone else was still trudging to their cars and fighting traffic, we were showered and on a comfy bed watching the 11:00 news and saying "Hey! We were just there!!" which was pretty cool to be able to say.