Edgar Keats' Epic 10

So the new year approaches. Tomorrow I will wake up early and make my yearly trek to Hollywood cemetery and contemplate the year that is about to end on a deep level. But today is all about the tangible, the trivial, and the Epic.

Epic Tube- Who's That Poke'mon?
There is a criticism that Epic Mail has become nothing more than a repository for idiosyncratic YouTube videos. I answer those critics with this:

It is true that I have previously posted this ridiculous video to Epic Mail. I'm posting it again because I love it so much. Of the roughly 1,152,000 views it has registered, it would not surprise me if I were responsible for a small fraction. Truthfully, 2008 was a year in which I watched many Poke'mon videos on YouTube, and I found more than a few of them simply hilarious. My girlfriend is very confused by my obsession with online Poke'mon videos, and I must admit that I am too. I never watched the show, never played the card game, the video games, or saw any of the movies. My mysterious connection to online Poke'mon videos was born in 2008, and hopefully 2009 will see it mature.

Epic Read: The Complete Sherlock Holmes

In the last month of any given year I am bombarded by end of the year best of lists. These lists are often filled with albums I haven't listened to, films I haven't seen, and video games I was completely unaware of. But the list that usually fills me with the most regret is the best-of book list. As much as I love reading, I rarely read more than four or five books a year.

But this year is different. Excluding audiobooks, I only really read one book this year. And I have no regrets whatsoever. About a year ago, when I still worked at Barnes & Noble, I stumbled across a beautif ul leather-bound publishing of the Complete Sherlock Holmes. I stared in shock at it's relatively low $20 price tag. I had to have it. In 2008 I went along with Holmes and Watson for a Study in Scarlett, I pieced together the mystery of the Speckled Band, and I bit my nails as Holmes faced his arch-nimesis, the evil genius Professor Moriarty. Sorry I didn't get to A Thousand Splendid Suns this year, but I have no regrets.

Epic Road Trip: The Civil Wargasm 2K8
In mid July I hastily embarked upon a trip to Gettysburg. Invites were sent, accepted, and subsequently rescinded. When all was said and done, only myself, my brother Jordan, and my esteemed
colleague Matt Sherrill were left to embark upon this adventure.

We pushed north in my rickety subcompact and enjoyed 24 hours of camping, history, Tim & Eric quotations, hat changes, photo competition, sober campfire ghost stories, bro stories, and so much more. Look alive, because the Civil Wargasm 2K9 is coming down the pike. This year's Civil Wargasm is far more epic in scope, harkening back to the Civil Wargasms roots as a crash course Civil War immersion trip, as described in the fantastic book Confederates in the Attic.

Epic Tu
nes- A Sampling Of My Favorite Tunes Of 2008

I've never been one for talking about music in any in-depth sort of way. My approach to music is much like kids' approach to Apple Jacks- I listen to what I like. Here is what I liked in 2008:

Epic 10

Epic Show: Broken Social Scene @ Toad's Place

2008 was an epoch year of concerts for me. With the opening of both the National and Toad's Place, I no longer had to drive an hour and a half east to Norfolk or two hours north to Washington to see a band, but merely 15 minutes west to downtown Richmond. These new venues brought many great acts to Richmond who, in years past, would have skipped over Fist City. Bands I had the pleasure of seeing this year in Richmond included The National (at the National, har har), Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Built to Spill, Okkervil River, and Broken Social Scene. Broken Social Sce ne delivered a truly Epic show at Toad's Place, and one of my more memorable concert experiences. The band fed of off the unusually enthusiastic Richmond crowd, and delivered a set that can be best described as Springsteen-esque. With the running time approaching three and a half hours, the band ended their set seemingly because they had run out of songs to play.

Epic Pay Raise- New Job
Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened to me personally this year was landing a new job. A year ago I was working as a teaching assistant in a Henrico County Public School class for children with autism in grades 3-5. I also worked some evenings and every Saturday at Barnes & Noble. While I enjoyed working with the children in the class, I was starting to become terribly bored with the job. The position's meager salary compelled me to work at Barnes & Noble, a retail job I had grown to loathe. I felt stuck in a rut, until a job posting for a position in the County's Technology department came to my attention. Securing glowing letters of reccomendation from my various supervisors, I applied. After a less than stellar interview, I became convinced the job was lost. But, lo and behold, the next day, to my amazement (and frankly, confusion) I was offered the position in the Technology Department. With the job came a dramatic increase in salary, responsibility, and freedom, along with the financial stability to be able to quit Barnes & Noble And while my enthusiasm for my job has dulled somewhat over the past few months, I still recall the moment I was informed of my selection as a high point of 2008.

Epic Meal- Filet Mignon @ Kabutos

Epic Mail rarely delves into the culinary world. But every now and then a meal comes along that is so succulent, so decadent, so deliciously Epic that it merits mentioning.

The occasion was my birthday. My girlfriend Hayley joined my family around the giant hibachi grill, and I was full of anticipation and saliva. There was the salad with the mind-bogglingly delicious ginger dressing, the comparatively lackluster watery soup with the mushrooms, and then there he was, the hibachi chef. I sat mesmerized as he practiced his fiery vegetable magic, engaged us with his wonderfully wry hibachi humor, and defied death as his razor sharp cutlery became an extension of his body. When all was said and done, a simmering mound of vegetables, rice, and, most importantly, tender filet mignon sat in front of me. I ate slowly, savoring each and every bite, letting the flavors dance across my quivering pallate. And then, it was finished, digesting in my greatful stomach. Spent, I leaned back in my chair, and asked Hayley is she was planning on finishing hers.

Epic Self-Promotion- Lubec

2008 saw the rise of Lubec, a music project I am part of along with Mr. Hot Eatz. A year ago, Hot Eatz and I were joined by our colleagues Quilliam and Daves N' Davin' at Sound of Music studios here in Richmond to record a few songs. After much remixing, the desired results were achieved, and the songs are something we can all be proud of. It was a sublime pleasure to be able to play music this year with Hot Eatz and all who joined us. In 2009 I look forward to creating more music, and playing more shows.

Epic Change- Decision '08

Often times we at Epic Mail ask ourselves "is this sweet?" When asking myself the question "was the election in 2008 sweet?" I can only offer an unequivocal and forceful "YES!"

At this point, the fact that Barack Obama will be our next president has set in. But from time to time, I still find myself saying "holy shit, how did this happen?" I know its been said enough to become a cliche' of sorts, but on election day, I was truly proud to be an American, as well as a resident of the former capital of the Confederacy, who went for their first democrat since 1964.

Epic Blog- Epic Mail

2008 saw the birth of the most exciting blog to come along in years- Epic Mail. Started in mid September by my most esteemed colleague Coaltrain, Epic Mail began small, but soon exploded with briliant posts exploring the American psyche. Epic Mail soon became a place for starved children of the internet age to go for nourishment. Where else can you go for an in-depth analysis of Chris Dane Owens' briliant video for "Shine On Me?" Where else can you go to read 8bit's charming, self deprecating remarks? Where else can you find an exploration of the notion of "Sweet," or take part in evaluating Chi City Man's mack? You can only find these, and many, many more topics at Epic Mail. Thank you so much for reading, and stay tuned for 2009, a year that stands to be, in a word, Epic.


An Epic Christmas Gift!

Well folks, we've done it again! We present to you the Contra Band's seventh Christmas album entitled "No Christmas While You're Luke." Here's a link to download your copy today!

A few of our contributors (including myself) are/were members of The Contra Band. What started as a high school band has now become an annual gathering of friends with the expressed purpose of recording a Christmas album. As I've already noted, this album is the seventh Christmas album in the collection.

In truth, this year's album almost didn't happen. First off, Luke bailed. Second, Brandon informed us that he no longer had a bass drum. And third, as Eddie and I sat in Chipotle eating our respective burritos, we found out that Brandon was stuck in traffic on I-95 in Northern VA. Eddie and I began speculating on what kind of sound we wanted to have on this album, or perhaps it is more appropriate to say what kind of sound we COULD get on this album. We decided to do something a little different than usual. Instead of writing grandiose, post-rock jams coupled with absurd pop ramblings, we opted for minimalism and brevity as our guiding musical ideas. Fortunately (for us and the album) Brandon did end up arriving on time and his presence is felt on the tracks to which he contributed.

Anyways, I speak for everyone here at Epic Mail when I wish you an Epic Christmas! Stay tuned for more Epic 10's later this week and next week.


Quilliam's Epic 10 of 2008

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10. Epic Time Vacuum -- Fallout 3

Set in the future, post-apocalyptic ruins of Washington, D.C. and surrounding suburbs, Fallout 3 is my ideal video game, and one of the few things that makes living with my parents tolerable. Within the first few hours of playing, I had trekked through the crumbling metro tunnels of Dupont Circle, blasting ghouls, only to happen upon a cult of mutated vampires who tried to convince me to join their ranks. Awesome. I tend to look at Fallout as less of a game than as a "dry-run." This game got me into such a post-apocalyptic mindset that when my friend casually mentioned that she had a case of bottled water in her trunk, my first thought was, "Pure water... so valuable. How can I steal it?" I'm not sure how to convincingly argue that digging through every single virtual garbage bin, rusted container, and overturned vending machine for scraps of irradiated food is fun, but trust me -- it's amazing. If you're still not convinced, then don't come begging for help when the bombs start to fall.

9. Epic Quotables -- The Beaver Boys

I approached this video as a skeptic, as I usually do for everything that Matt tries to introduce into my life. But the epic charm of these Tim and Eric characters soon broke down any barriers I had put up between myself and their intellectual wares. They preach a simple gospel: shrimp, and white wine. And the occasional Richardson Richardson. Are they from Jersey? Are they gay? Does half-digested shrimp and white wine really look like pepto-bismol? Constantly quoting from this video almost lost me several friends and a relationship.

8. Epic Remix -- The Hipsterrunoff Remix of "Nude"

This song is the only worthwhile thing that came out of Radiohead's remix contest. Carles, author of the blog Hipsterrunoff, created a hilariously irreverent track. Halfway through the contest, it was winning by a wide margin of votes, but eventually succumbed to Holy Fuck. If only the world knew their loss.
"I'll never forget the day that the drummer from Metallica shut down Napster."
"My favorite album of the 1990s was In Rainbows, by Radiohead."

7. Epic Film -- Primer

Made on a budget of $7,000, Primer unexpectedly turned out to be my favorite movie in 2008. The basic premise is that two young engineers accidentally build a time machine, and then go nuts with it. Though time travel movies are often categorized as "science fiction," this film comes across as a more serious, plausible story. The dialogue is fast-paced, technical, and parses out just enough information to make the audience do some work. Having seen it several times, I still have only a tenuous grasp of the actual plot points -- but somehow it makes the experience more enjoyable. After a viewing, Primer had myself and a few friends crowded around a piece of paper trying to illustrate our theories using absurd diagrams that involved a lot of arrows and stick figures, and asking questions like, "So, if I went back in time to kill my third double, but the second double gets into a new box, what happens to my current self?" Primer is a big puzzle that will keep you up at night -- beautifully shot, vaguely menacing, and bizarrely enticing.

6. Epic Radio -- NPR
Yes, I had listened to NPR before 2008 -- but in 2008 I have a regular commute to work. And during that commute, NPR is a lifesaver. This praise comes with the notable exception of Harry Shearer's "Le Show," which is the worst thing to ever happen to radio since the invention of television.

5. Epic Lunch -- The "Bruce Springsteen" Panini
As a regular working stiff, I understand the importance of a delicious lunch to properly rejuvenate before returning to the salt mines. And so I was ecstatic to discover this sandwich at my favorite Doylestown lunch spot, Lilly's. I can say, without hesitation, that the Bruce Springsteen is the best sandwich I've had in my entire life. It's fortunate that I recently learned to love the song "Born to Run," because otherwise I would never have paid money for something with The Boss's name attached. I have some suspicion about the patriotism of Lilly's management, however, since the constituent ingredients of the Bruce Springsteen are arguably un-American, and decidedly un-working-class. I'll let you be the judge:

Grilled chicken, provolone cheese, fire roasted peppers and baby spinach with balsamic vinaigrette on grilled sourdough.

4. Epic Brewery -- Russian River

The two best beers I've had all year are courtesy of Russian River, out in California: Blind Pig IPA and Pliny the Elder, a double IPA. They inexplicably appeared on tap at my local suburban-drunk sports bar, and the bartender always seems a bit confused when I order them. This beer is so good that I almost don't mind the ridiculous Chimay chalice it's served in. I say almost, because that stupid cup draws a lot of suspicious stares from under the hunting-caps of said suburban drunks, who probably think I'm "one of the gays."

3. Epic Fictitious Band -- Crucifictorius

Yes, Landry's rock band in the Friday Night Lights television series. The more the writers develop Landry's character, the more we get to see this fantastic band. Their music might suck, but the band embodies everything that's totally sweet about the concept of Landry. And in the most recent season, he's been working the "band mack" for all it's worth. Additionally, Crucifictorius gave us the debut of two new characters, both of whom have nothing to do with football: the lesbian bass player -- totally sweet; and the unnamed drummer dude -- totally sweet. Unlike Driveshaft, a similarly great fictitious band that met an early demise, Crucifictorius is just getting started. I already give their debut album a 9.8.

Honorable FNL mention -- Saracen's Mom (totally sweet)

2. Epic Album -- Cut Copy -- In Ghost Colours

I understand if you haven't had time to stop listening to the Fuck Buttons, Fucked Up, and Holy Fuck albums on repeat, simultaneously -- but before the year closes I highly recommend giving "In Ghost Colours" a chance, because these slick dudes from Australia have released the best album of 2008 (go buy some shaving cream, Fleet Foxes). Cut Copy achieves the perfect blend of pop, dance pop, and rock pop. Did I mention pop? Their music is soaked with unashamed optimism. Almost without exception, their songs can be classified into these four categories: songs about hearts; songs about ghosts; songs about dreams; or songs about love. And sometimes dreams about ghosts, or loving dreams, or ghosts with hearts. Having spent the better part of my youth listening to Thom Yorke screech about riot police, paranoia, and car wrecks, it's a nice breath of fresh air. If nothing else, Cut Copy has ensured that Australia will crush France in the impending Electrowars, and will rule gasoline-powered iPods in the post-electro-fallout wasteland that will follow.

1. The most epic thing of all time (in 2008) -- "Undefeatable"

This video is the most epic thing I've seen in my entire lifetime.
And yes the movie is actually called "Undefeatable."

I have so much to say about this video. Words almost seems fruitless in the face of such visual grandeur. I had a whole essay prepared about the mechanics of the fight and the underlying homoerotic/heterosexual messaging contained within, but it seems more appropriate to let it speak for itself. If nothing else, make sure you watch the last 20 seconds of this video -- I believe it contains a potentially explosive future catchphrase. After the villain is hoisted up to the roof of a warehouse via a meat hook in his eye socket, our heroes let the puns fly:
Girl: "Keep an eye out for ya, Stingray."
Dude: "Yeah. SEE YA."

Everything -- the context, the emphasis, the stupid look on his face. It's perfect. SEE YA.
Here's to another glorious blog year.


OKAY GUYS! My Epic Ten.

See more posts in the "Epic Ten" series.

Prefatory Remarks:

A few weeks ago, Dave's initial post unveiling the "Epic 10" concept led me somewhat improbably to the website of the "Fuck Buttons," who appear to be a British duo that makes buzzy droning sounds with two chords and is frequently lauded by critics as something edgy and brilliant (it sounds to me like music for teenagers that want to like Brian Eno but find themselves implacably bored by actually listening to Music for Airports and furthermore think that Eno neither used anywhere close to enough distortion nor screamed hysterically as often as he should have. Actually, the more I listen to this band [I am, regrettably, doing so as I write this] the more I want to write an entire piece on just how incredibly awful this is. Additionally, what is a Fuck Button? Why do I feel an uncontrollable urge to push one and see what happens?). The point is, Dave's off-the-cuff reference made me realize the extent to which 2008 was a year in which I felt particularly out of touch with the cultural zeitgeist, at least that of well-educated, progressively-inclined white 20-somethings (though the Fuck Buttons make me feel strangely comfortable with the fact). Isolated in my parent's house and later in New Jersey, I spent 2008 delving deeper and deeper into midwestern jangle pop bands of the mid to late 80's, the unabashed snobbery and elitism of craft brewing culture, the English ghost story of the late 19th century, largely forgotten British sitcoms of the late 90's and early 00's, and other relatively arcane pursuits such as I am wont to delve into when left to my own devices. In many ways, then, Epic Mail has proved an invaluable link to the world of pop culture. Other than my time spent scowling at preposterous-looking hipsters in Williamsburg bars, this is my main link to "kids" who are "with it." As such, I really have no idea if my list will appear aloof, disconnected, or even provincial. That having been stipulated, however, I am largely unapologetic and often downright passionate about what follows, my EPIC 10 of 2008:

Honorable Mentions: Friday Night Lights, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Fallout 3, the Wilfully Obscure music blog

10. Epic Conversationalist: Stephen Metcalf

For those of you who aren't rabid consumers of the Slate.com family of podcasts, Metcalf's name might be unfamiliar. He rarely writes for the site anymore, but is instead a regular participant in the Culture Gabfest and the Audio Book Club, both of which I heartily recommend. Despite the fact that I have absolutely no idea how scripted or plotted these podcast "conversations" are, Metcalf strikes me as one of the most fabulous talkers I've heard in a long while. There is so much about him that I find compelling - his prodigious vocabulary, his ability to spontaneously craft beautifully complex sentences, his considerable knowledge of all things cultural - he has a certain panache that I find heart-meltingly irresistible. I even have a recurring daydream in which I'm invited to a most fashionable cocktail party populated entirely by Stephen Metcalf facsimiles (though I've never seen a picture, he's always devastatingly handsome in these reveries). It's my own private vision of heaven.

9. Epic Nerdlinger: Guillermo Del Toro

I think 2008 may have seen more of a Del Toro backlash than anyone else. Following the arty aspirations (maybe) of Pan's Labyrinth, this year marked his return to a more sci-fi fanboy aesthetic of filmmaking, one that probably turned off as many fans as it excited (tangentially, has anyone notice how closely he sometimes resembles the Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons?). But as anyone who actually saw Hellboy 2 ought to attest, as a comic-book-adapted adventure starring the cigar-chomping spawn of Satan, the movie is really fucking good. In particular, his films do more to inspire the sense of wonder and awe that seemed to be exorcised from America movie-going about 20 years ago than any other contemporary filmmaker. Though I don't think the sequel was as strongly written as the first, the sheer quantity of sweet things in this movie more than makes up for it. I'm glad he's here to take pretension down a notch, and remind us all of the legitimacy and value inherent in the imaginative and the fantastic. I also partake of wonderfully geeky delight in the rumors that he will be directing an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.

8. Epic Pundit: Glenn Greenwald's blog at Salon.com

I love this man. One of the most thoughtful, articulate, and intellectually honest journalists on the web, Greenwald spent much of 2008 delivering a much-needed thrashing to the major media outlets in this country, accusing them of lazy reportage, a lack of intellectual rigor, and general complicity with some of the most egregious offenses of the Bush Administration. Greenwald has been particularly eloquent in his discussions about torture, the clusterfuck at the Justice Department, and domestic spying, but the most effective aspect of his work will always be his media critiques. As the incoming Obama crew ponders the fate of the various goons and thugs in the administration who have clearly committed criminal offenses during Bush's tenure, and most mainstream media outlets continue to ignore this fact (though there are glimmerings of hope at the Times), we need people like Greenwald to remind our less esteemed journalists of troublesome bits of news, like the fact that we've systematically dismantled every facet of the Geneva Convention. You know, along with the news that Joe Biden just bought, like, a totes cute puppy.

7. Epic Aristocrat: Edith Wharton

She's Henry James for people who like plot, or something like that. I don't know what inspired me to pick up The House of Mirth this spring, but I was delighted and surprised to discover a novelist who defied almost all of my preconceptions. Her attitude towards her upper-crust protagonists is far more ambiguous than elegiac, her sense of psychology and interiority is nuanced rather than dimly reflective of the Master, and she only dips into melodrama occasionally (anyone who has made it through Mirth's maudlin ending knows what I mean). The real treat, however, with Wharton is The Age of Innocence, which immediately won a place on my short list for Favorite Novel Ever. Suffice it to say that I embarrassed myself thoroughly by crying through the last two pages on the DC Metro. Edith Wharton won me over so completely, in fact, that I made a trip to Lenox, Massachusetts this autumn to visit The Mount, her majestic country house that is now in a state of fairly sorry disrepair, but still well worth the trip, if only to fiddle with the bathtub in the Henry James Guest Suite.

6. Epic Subculture: 1st Annual Savor festival

In what I hope will become a DC tradition, the first ever Savor beer festival was held in late Spring, and I was fortunate enough to receive a ticket as a gift (they were something like $75). I'm pretty sure that Savor was the biggest beer event ever held in the US in terms of participating breweries or something, and it was truly awe-inspiring. I was able to attend a small beer-cheese pairing session with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery (who seemed nice but comes across as a complete dick in a recent New Yorker article), tell an amusing anecdote to Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head as he poured me a World Wide Stout, and discuss the finer points of puking with Rob Tod of Allegash. The only minor hang-up was towards the end of the evening, when I became, for whatever reason, intent on being a part of some guy from Stone's video blog (alas, it was not to be). Every major player in the craft brewery was present, and I found myself reduced to a puddle of goo in front of luminaries like Adam Avery and Tomme Arthur. I've heard that Savor is making a return for 2009, and I strongly urge anyone who cares about beer culture to attend.

5. Epic Tragedy: David Foster Wallace

I always looked slightly askance at the type of person who secured a conspicuous spot on their bookshelf for a copy of Infinite Jest. For years it seemed to signify a certain type of cultural capital that was decidedly smug, and I harbored (and still do) deep suspicions that the majority of the people to whom I refer never made their way through the massive tome. It was primarily this notion of book-as-mark of distinction that made me fairly uninterested in David Foster Wallace's writing (I also used to get him confused with the hack-ish Bret Easton Ellis, so that wasn't particularly helpful either). Thus, having read only his "Consider the Lobster" essay prior to his suicide this year, I was surprised to find myself remarkably affected by his death. I promptly purchased his two collections of essays, Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (the title essay of the latter being my favorite) and have spent much of the last few months making my way, in many instances several times, through these writings, which are as consistently hilarious and penetrating as they are warm and big-hearted. I still have not tackled Infinite Jest, but the essays have been more than enough to convince me that neither I nor the general public has yet fully appreciated the enormity of our loss.

4. Epic Spookfest: House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

Never has my consciousness been so fully consumed by one fearful obsession than during a week in late January, when I read (that word seems decidedly inadequate, perhaps something like "gave myself up to" would be more accurate - actually no, because that implies agency on my part) House of Leaves. Never have I been so terrified of a physical object, let alone a book, than I was those fateful few wintry days. It got to the point where I couldn't be in the same room with the text if I was not actively reading it, but then found myself "checking on it" every so often, to make sure it hadn't moved about on its own, or done something even more sinister. I forced myself to bring it to school and keep it on my lectern (to the great confusion of my students), so that I could keep an eye on it. And to this day, the very sight of it on my bookshelf, sitting in mocking insouciance nestled between James Fenimore Cooper and Robertson Davies, sends a current of fleeting terror through my veins (sidenote: I've discovered this year that it's a cult classic among graduate students in English - it's like being in a cool secret club, but one whose admission requires you to endure some incredibly traumatic hazing). Quite easily the finest horror novel I've ever read, I'd recommend it only if one takes very, very seriously into account R.L. Stine's classic admonition, "Reader beware, you're in for a scare."

3. Epic Filth: New Jersey

The degree to which my imminent move changed the tenor of my summer might be more familiar to my friends in the DC area, but believe me, it was extraordinary. For whatever reason, the whole concept of me moving to Jersey ("JOY-zee"), became, in many ways, a centerpiece of DC weekends. Jager bombs, unprovoked Bon Jovi sing-alongs, horrifically obnoxious and frighteningly accurate imitations of Jersey accents, the constant referring to non-existant "Tony"s and ziti-baking "mothas," it was truly bizarre, and in many ways, beautiful. My Jersey enthusiasm waned a bit, admittedly, after I actually began living there, but I'm still constantly surprised and bemused by the sheer absurdity of life in the Garden State. Consider how incredibly weird this is: there are things called "Grease Trucks" at Rutgers, which sell sandwiches called (only somewhat unofficially) the "Fat Bitch" and the "Fat Dyke." I'm dead serious. This sort of thing happens. All in all, there's only one thing to ask concerning my great state: "Is this sweet?" And only one response: "Kind of. Actually, yes."

2. Epic 1 A.M. Broadcast: Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job

Something like the funniest nightmare you've ever had, Tim and Eric Awesome Show was directly responsible for 50% of the jokes I made over the course of the year. Actually I don't even think you could call rote repetition of nonsensical phrases or pathetic and half-recollected imitations of sketches jokes, but I found it hilarious anyway. Now through their third season, Tim and Eric might actually be getting more bizarre. Anyone who sat through the "Business Hugs" or "Child Showcase" sketches knows what I'm talking about. And for those of you who don't (and I pity you), I think I've heard the show described as cable access from hell, or something to that effect. I also think the Wikipedia page, in a marvelously felicitous phrase, calls it "surreal comedy." It's the kind of singular program that makes you want to laugh, puke, and get obscenely high all at the same time (though it is too often dismissed as stoner comedy). Salame, Salame.


1. Epic Discovery: The "Great Outdoors"

2008 was the year in which I feel asleep to the howling of wolves, learned to identify common birds by their songs, bathed in mountain streams, read Walden no less than three times, stood stark naked on a precarious rock overlooking a snowy canyon, discovered the fledgling field of ecocriticism, coated my feet in duct tape to prevent blisters, spent an entire languorous afternoon observing waterfowl at play on a lonely river, confronted several bears without incident, thought I was going to die of thirst in the deserts of Montana, purchased more field guides than I could ever have use for, promised myself that I'd improve at tree identification, stumbled upon an obscure valley filled with wildflowers more redolent than I could have ever imagined, and all in all developed a passion for wild spaces that will be with me for the rest of my life. Number one. Absolutely uncontested.

The obvious omission in this list, of course, is our own little blogging enterprise (it would have been terribly predictable). But let me say that as Epic as 2008 proved itself to be, I have high hopes that 2009 will be even more so. To use an analogy from classical epic, it is as though we've gotten through all the tiresome wanderings in the first half of the Odyssey, and we're only now getting to the part where Odysseus slaughters the living fuck out of all those sniveling suitors. And so, with this two-fold sanguinity in mind, I wish everyone a splendid holiday season and the happiest of New Years.


Epic 10: Daves n' Davin' in 2008

See more posts in the "Epic Ten" series.

Here's the first installment of Epic Mail's Epic 10 of 2008. More to come!

10. Epic Dance Song I Never Played at a Dance Party: "Green Light" by John Legend

Everytime I saw this video on television I liked it more. Andre 3000 can be a bit of a smug bastard in this video with his often bizarre (but not in a Lil Wayne bat shit crazy way) rap similies like "I got you gigglin' like a piglet." The song is ALL chorus but it doesn't need anything else - the beat keeps pumping and the people keep moving. The dancing in this video may have a large part to do with why I always wanted to play this at a party. Everyone is losing their minds by the end of the video yet they are also oddly synchronized. Anyways, I was too embarrassed to ever bust this song out a dance party although, after talking with Luke, I feel like I probably should have. This video also offers great fodder for another "Evaluate the Mack" post. Andre 3000's mack does not seem be going well at all mid-way through but then he suddenly appears in the girl's drink and comes up huge. What the hell did he do? Is this a metaphor for slipping her a rufie?

9. Epic Answer to the insipid party question "So what are you up to now?": Teaching ESL to a Buddhist Monk

So this fall I volunteered to teach ESL at my local immigration/refugee center and I was assigned a 31 year old Buddhist monk refugee from Myanmar who was staying at a Cambodian Temple in Mechanicsville, VA. As a religious studies major I jumped at the opportunity. Two things were a bit disappointing, however: 1) the Temple was really just a house 2) the monk had to learn English before we could have my imagined "cultural exchange." As unglamorous as the activity proved to be, it was the ultimate party conversation topic. Everyone immediately said, "What? Really? That's so cool!" It helped me feel less pathetic about my "year off to apply to graduate school" and it scored me major mack points. Sadly, Sit Kah moved to San Diego a few weeks ago and I am back to having nothing interesting to say at parties.

8. Epic Discovery: Blueberries
Maybe I had a traumatic childhood experience with the berry or perhaps Eddie howled "Booooooberry" one too many times but for whatever reason I had a mental aversion to blueberries for the first twenty one years of my life. 2008, however, was the year of the blueberry. I didn't make a conscious decision to force-feed myself blueberries until I liked them (i.e. the "Summer of Tea"); it was more gradual. By the time the summer rolled around I realized that I really enjoyed this new-found fruit. The fourth of July marked the height of my obsession when Sarah Ruth made a mind-blowing, tastebud-gasm-ing blueberry cobbler for dessert. I lost it. It might have been the six or seven PBRs doing most of the talking but the gushing praise and happiness that followed the first bite was completely genuine. I'm breaking family tradition this year and requesting blueberry pie for Christmas dinner. Apple pie has got to go - change has come.

7. Epic Disappointment / Epic Surprise: Coldplay beats Tokyo Police Club

Last January, the album I was most pumped about was the full-length from Tokyo Police Club. Their seven-song EP A Lesson in Crime was incredible and had been the soundtrack to my summer. The newest single seemed only to hint at a better album to follow. However, their new production and atrocious Death Cab vocal affect made me embarrassed to admit my previous obsession with their music. "Tessellate" proved to be too catchy to resist but even then it felt more like a guilty pleasure. Coldplay, on the other hand, had quite the opposite trajectory. There was not an album I was less excited about than Viva La Vida. But by June I could not stop myself from downloading the title track and chanting "Woah oh OOOOOH ah oooooh!" at the top of my lungs. Chris Martin's insistence on donning his multi-colored arm bands and acting a fool in video and on SNL, while at times made me cringe, was ultimately endearing. It's cool (or at least acceptable) to like Coldplay again - who would have thought?

6. Epic Read: Rapture Ready! by Daniel Radosh

2008 proved to be the year that I discovered early twentieth century modernist literature (Woolf, Joyce, Proust) but I won't put on any pretensions as a literary critic in this post. I'm going to stick to what I know best: weird shit about contemporary Christianity. Rapture Ready! came out in 2008 and is an engaging, even-handed exploration of the world of contemporary Christian pop culture. Radosh is a Jewish journalist from New York City so he has plenty of "you gotta be kidding me" moments throughout his journey into this often insular counter-culture. Many of the things he found even surprised me. Who knew that there was Christian pro-wrestling or a Christian rave scene? However, in addition to these puzzled observations, Radosh also treats his subjects with a surprising degree of respect. He does not try to expose the bizarre behavior of religious fanatics and put it on display. Instead, he paints a complex and human portrait of a religious culture that is earnest in its attempt to make religion feel relevant to people's lives. He grants them their opinion and, when it is appropriate, he engages the various communities he encounters, pointing out contradictions and inevitable implications. A great read for Christian and secular alike!

5. Epic Obsession: Podcasts

Necessity is the mother of obsession. During the fall I started working a job that requires me file paperwork for eight hours a day. Faced with this epic boredom, I asked my boss if I could bring in my iPod. To my surprise she said yes. Podcasts became my savior. I now had the time to listen to all the podcasts that I was incapable of listening to in college. I became a junkie, listening to Fresh Air, All Songs Considered, This American Life, Slate, the New Yorker, the Economist, New York Times Book Review, Radiolab, the Moth... the list goes on. Terry Gross became my very first VILF (Voice I'd Like to Fuck) and Bob Boilen became my older uncle who tries so hard to stay hip but never seems to be able to hit the mark. In the absence of my college friends I had the voices of public radio to keep me company and to remind me of my humanity. Thanks, NPR.

4. Epic New TV Series Obsession: Friday Night Lights

It seems like every summer I have a new TV series obsession. Three years ago I watched all six seasons of Six Feet Under in a month. Two years ago I got into Lost. This summer I decided to start watching the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Friday Night Lights on NBC. Too many humid summer nights were spent in the attic I was living in at the time, drinking cheap beer and watching episode after episode of the Dillon Panthers in action. I noticed that the show slowly started seeping into my life. I began asking myself at parties, "WWRD?" (What would Riggins do?). I began going to bars with Luke with the expressed purpose of eating wings, drinking beer, and watching "the game." Even though the third season was broadcast exclusively on DirectTV, the power of the internet allowed me to keep up with the team this fall. Despite the abrupt ending of season two, I feel that the third season is living up to seasons 1 and 2. The drama is as intense as ever, the camera still shoots in a cinéma vérité style, Saracen continues to charm the ladies with his cute-dumb-guy mack, Riggins might go collegiate, and I still want to get with any of the women on the show - especially the coach's wife. If you didn't check out the series this year, do yourself a favor and watch the first few episodes.

3. Epic Live Show: Fleet Foxes, Washington D.C. 10/3/08

It would be repetitive and inconsequential at this point to proclaim that Fleet Foxes were my favorite new band of the year, producing what I consider and what every other music blog in the blogosphere seems to consider to be the best album of 2008. So instead, I'm going to recount my experience seeing the band play live. Where to begin... ah, yes: so after we left Ben's Chili Bowl, Luke and I met up with some friends (anonymous out of regard for their privacy) and went into the 9:30 Club. The show didn't start for about another hour. The opening band was one dude who seemed straight out of O, Brother Where Art Thou? and who I might have enjoyed had I been sitting down. My back with killing me by the time the band got on stage but as soon as I heard the first five-part harmony my heart melted and the pain faded to the background. I had never been prouder to sport a beard than I was that night. Fleet Foxes sounded even better on stage than they did on record. It felt louder, fuller, and more epic than most live shows I've seen. The guys were also great on stage, quipping back and forth with each other and the audience in what turned out to be the best on-stage banter I've witnessed. They ended the set perfectly with "Blue Ridge Mountains" and we all walked out of the club feeling like we were coming down from a folkloric mountain-side revival. It was sublime.

2. Epic Bottle of Beer: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale during Obama's acceptance speech

While everyone else was partying out in the streets on election night, banging pots and pans and causing a peaceful ruckus, I was sick and alone when I watched the returns. I cheered to myself when Virginia finally turned blue. I watched with glee as it became clear to everyone that McCain was going to lose. I chuckled at Chris Matthews' emotional speech after Obama was officially declared the winner. And when Obama came on stage in Chicago to give his victory speech, I cracked open a bottle of Celebration Ale and held the bottle up high to cheers our first African American president. Here's to Mr. November! Let's hope he/we won't fuck us over.

1. Epic Musical Moment: the guitar solo in "Lord I'm Discouraged" by the Hold Steady

You might think this seems a bit trivial after Obama's election but you'd be wrong. (If you don't have time to listen to the whole song, the solo starts at the 3 minute mark) In addition to being one of my favorite songs of 2008, "Lord I'm Discouraged" has THE best guitar solo I've heard in years. Every time I listen to it, that moment becomes the best moment of 2008. It is impossible not to feel the pathos that the guitarist injects into this forty-five second solo. You can literally see him standing on top of the piano or wailing outside of the church where Slash stood long ago in the "November Rain" video. After Craig Finn tries to touch our hearts with his tragic story of a woman who has only "excuses and half-truths and fortified wine," guitarist Tad Kubler reminds Craig and the listener to recall the simple, cheesy, yet elegant title of the album: STAY POSITIVE.

That's it for me! Stay tuned for Epic 10 Lists from all our other contributors. Great blog. Great times. Epic Mail 2008.


Fresh Air for Richard Cizik

Just when you thought Jerry Falwell was dead and gone, out comes the Ghost of Christmas Past to bring back some of that ol' time religion, drawing lines in sand and ridding American evangelicalism of any fresh ideas. The now former vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, Richard Cizik, resigned last week amid controversial comments he made on NPR's Fresh Air. (Here's a link to the broadcast) He admitted to voting for Obama in the primaries, and advocated for government sponsored contraception and for gay civil unions. What an asshole, right?

Ever since this sanctimonious creepster stepped down as president of the NAE, Richard Cizik has become the kinder, gentler face of evangelicalism (a bit like Huckabee save the "flat tax" idiocy). Cizik has helped to push forward an environmental agenda among evangelicals, admitting that humans have caused it and that this is NOT how Jesus envisioned his second coming. Previously, care for the environment has been cast aside by evangelicals as just another secular, liberal, tree-hugging scare-tactic. Coupled with a mis-guided distrust of science, too many Americans continue to thump their Bibles and declare their "doubt" over the cause or even the occurrence of climate change. Cizik and other progressive (I use the term lightly) evangelicals have tried to re-frame the climate change argument, putting it in terms that speak to evangelicals. They have emphasized the impact that global warming will have on all humanity, especially the poor, linking Christian stewardship with a responsibility to care for the environment. More importantly, Cizik has led the movement to take the fire out of divisive, culture war issues like abortion and gay marriage and transfer evangelical political energy towards global issues like poverty and climate change.

I'm not an evangelical but I was excited by the moderate, reasonable arguments Cizik has been making over the past few years. It was nice to see the term "evangelical" being used to describe something other than reactionary politics. While I don't agree with some of his basic theological suppositions, I was kind of rooting for Cizik to beat out the old guard and end the culture wars. It was great seeing evangelicals come to the same conclusions as liberals but for their own reasons. A lot of this has to do with my own middle school Jesus Freak guilt and the hope that if evangelicals start talking like me then maybe I no longer have to be ashamed of my past. Cizik gave me hope for my redemption.

Now it looks as though Cizik will have to regroup and come up with a different plan. While there is large support for his perspective among young, college-educated evangelicals, the NAE old guard will not stand for a top-down reform by a rogue public figure. Here's to Cizik annoying the hell out of James Dobson and company! (pun intended)

Sidenote: Terry Gross has got to be living large knowing that her show has this kind of influence. Stay tuned for an analysis of Terry Gross and other 2008 obsessions in my Epic 10 later this week!

Evaluate the Mack: Kidz Edition

See other posts in the "Evaluate the Mack" series.

I realize that the following video has been making the rounds in various William & Mary circles, which is precisely why I think it deserves discussion in this particular forum:

Thus far, it seems to me like most of the Tribal conversation has revolved primarily around two positions:

1. The predictable, aggrieved feminist approach, whose proponents are somehow convinced that a 9-year old represents a particularly insidious next-gen, 21st century form of patriarchy, OR
2. A more reasonable "who really gives a shit, but this is still incredibly bizarre" response, to which I am decidedly more sympathetic.

I would probably respond to position 1 with something resembling position 2, but with an important omission, namely its preliminary rhetorical question. I would do so because, to put it bluntly, "I give a shit." In fact, I give a mammoth shit. And the obvious reason: this kid's mack is clearly off the charts. I find myself not only compelled to listen to Alec's advice, but to run to my nearest bookseller and purchase every copy of this book in stock. I challenge any woman who objects to his comparison of the fairer sex to "cars that need a lot of oil" to spend ten minutes alone in a room with this kid. I think we both know what would happen.

Let's look more closely at his specific advice:
  • "When you want to get a girl's attention, you don't want to be flapping your arms like a crazy mad man."
  • "...what could happen is that you could keep saying words and it would scare the girl."
  • "If she says hi back, you're off to a good start."
  • "Don't give her gifts unless its a special occasion, like a school dance or something."
Move over, Mystery. There's no need for complex lexicons of acronyms, or half-assed "magic tricks" to win a lady's heart. Here are four noble truths: Don't flap your arms around, don't talk too much, make sure she says "hi," and give gifts only occasionally. Perhaps it's this elegant simplicity that I've been neglecting my whole life. Maybe the mack isn't nearly as complicated as we've often envisaged on this site. Would Alec need a fridge-full of beverages for any occasion like our friend Chi-City? Clearly not - limb stasis, reticence, casual greetings, and bi-semesterly chocolates. Boom.

Whatever the potentially patriarchal or heteronormative implications of this particular 9-year old's musings (do people still use the word "heteronormative" seriously?), I believe that children, including Alec, are undeniably our future. And if I'm right, then the future of the mack is very promising indeed.


Shine: A Critical Commentary Part III

See other posts in the "Chris Dane Owens" series.

In many respects I wish I had been able to finish this critical commentary before the interview with CDO himself, because after these final entries there will be plenty of new, urgent questions. But alas, perhaps some mysteries were simply meant to exist as such, out of the purview of mere mortals.

What we do know is that Chris' rotting corpse has washed up on the shore, Shelley-esque, following the disaster at sea. Chris, at this point, is indisputably dead. We observe him entering the gates of heaven, and are treated to an image taken directly from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel:
Owens' evocation of Michelangelo is playful, but also indicates Chris' imminent resurrection. The creation of Adam, a creature doomed to sinfulness, is thus reconfigured into a rebirth, which either hints at Mankind's ultimate salvation following the Last Judgment or posits Chris as Chirst (the similarity in names is too uncanny to be a fluke). Also worth noting is the arm of God, which is decidedly feminine. We have already observed Owens' fascination with images of feminine power, and this might be its ultimate expression in this particular video. The soul of Chris then exits his heavenly frame, assuming earthly form as the Angel (is this God?) looks on approvingly.

Following is the image, seemingly taken from a Friedrich painting, of a ghostly cemetery at night, complete with ethereal specters:

It is my contention that this image is, as is so much of this video, defiantly ambiguous. On one hand, Chris' work is not yet completed, so it is not absurd to assume that the Witches are involved in Chris' resurrection in some fashion. His body, presumably, was buried in a cemetery upon death, so it could be that the Witches are merely overseeing the process. However, judging from the hell that is about to descend upon this world, it is equally reasonable to see the Witches as engaged in some sort of occult ritual designed to awaken an ancient evil. In either instance I think it is a mistake to view the phantoms in the graveyard as anything more than arbitrary lost souls.

I think the former interpretation can find some support in the following shot, in which we see Chris literally baptized in fire. If the Witches are indeed somewhere between Good and Evil, it would make sense that Chris must pass through the flames of Hell in addition to the azure skies of Heaven in order to return to earth in corporeal form. We are then thrust back into the action, and witness numerous horrific acts being committed in the name of the Masked Villain. Most notably, a new enemy is introduced:

These thuggish fellows to the right owe something to the various ubiquitous villains of comics and cartoons: the Foot Soldier, the Putty, the masked and inept robbers of Batman. They exist, essentially, to be knocked about, never posing any particular threat but rather symbolizing a general disorder that isn't especially desirable. More effective is the montage sequence that follows - a horrific, rapid-fire vision of destruction on an epic scale. Threats include, but are not limited to: Dragons (I absolutely love that shot of their scaly silhouettes against the full moon), rabid dogs, skeletons with flaming ribcages, visibly irritated alligators, and possibly, just possibly, the Witches. They are represented in predictably unclear terms:

Riding away from the scene of carnage, their faces convey a confident stoicism. I think that ultimately they are indeed responsible for the surrounding conflagration, but it is, admittedly, a debatable point. The most fascinating aspect of all this is the following:

Given that Owens takes apparent delight in quoting iconic imagery, it seems quite clear that this is a clear homage to Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. In a boldly revolutionary move, he recasts the Hueys as the indiscriminately destructive dragons: a veritable middle-finger to the U.S. military-industrial complex. Sandwiched among all the scenes of devastation is also a quick shot of Masked Villain carrying away an apparently unconscious Virtuous Babe. As I mentioned in an earlier post, part of the video's project is a somewhat reactionary (despite the leftist politics evident elsewhere) statement about the nature of love, which is figured in decidedly conservative terms. Here is another threat to the status quo, as Virtuous Babe is in danger of violating one of the terms of her appellation (Virtuous, not Babe). Chris cannot be made to love a "fallen woman," and thus the video becomes a race against time. Defeat Masked Villain before his love is deflowered by horrifyingly anonymous Masked Villain.

Before concluding Part III, I want to dwell for a moment on one more shot:

I don't know how many of you have lingered on this, but it clearly depicts a dragon hatchery - a breeding grounds of sorts. Incidentally, the vaulted Gothic arches may be the same interior space in which we first encounter The Captain. Will the assault on the hatchery be an inside job? Or were we merely peeking into the future? Additionally, the frozen hatchery ought to have us thinking about the ice comets again...

Don't you ever forget, LOVE HAS ENEMIES.


I go away for several weeks, and when I get back, I find a totally new Epic Mail. David is happy and has a new name. Brandon is a reporter of the highest order. Chris is blowing up. Things are looking good.

I haven't gone back in time yet, and read all of the posts about this "Shine" something or other.

But I can be sure of one thing:

It would all be a lot better if we put a donk on it.

Epic EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Christopher Dane Owens!!!

See other posts in the "Chris Dane Owens" series.

Chris Dane Owens was kind enough to answer some of our questions. SHINE ON!!!

-Epic Mail (EM) In your interview with the L.A. Times, you hint at an imagined world that goes far beyond what is actually shown in the video. Is this a world of your imagining, and if not, from where does this universe come from?

-CDO It is very inspired by some of the amazing films we have seen in the last decade or so "Braveheart", LOTR, "Last Of The Mohicans" Also, I love Anime, and that factored in as well. When Bob Short and I got together early on for the project, we both knew what we wanted the video to look like, and Bob was fantastic at taking us through the steps to get to our end result. We had an amazing team also. My editor/producer Jennifer Barlowe has incredible talent at story, colorizing, and over all pacing. We are all very impressed with her..

-EM We did some research, and found that you actually are an accomplished film maker. With your film career, I'm sure you made many connections. The video for "Shine On Me" is itself, visually stunning. Can you explore your connections with the film industry and how you have used those connections to benefit your music career?

-CDO Yeah, I sort of grew up in and around production in Hollywood. My dad and brother are some of the hardest working people I know. Also, lots of my friends produce, write, direct, or work in some capacity in entertainment. So my rolodex is pretty full of wildly talented people. As I assembled my team, all of our various Dept Heads for the shoot really came together well. No egos, just really cool people having fun running around the forest shooting this crazy music video.

-EM The days of the classic MTV Music Video appear to be in the past. With traditional music videos not having the same impact as they did 10 years ago, what was your motivation to make a truly epic music video?

-CDO I think because I am a producer as well, this was the only way I wanted to do a music video. The idea of me doing a conventional performance video really didn't interest me. I wanted to take risks and jump into something I had never done before. Also, it is very important to me that the audience to see how much I care about this story and how important it is that it come off a certain way. I spent literally months on this one… It's my baby…

-EM Can you say something about the cast of "Shine"? Did you cast friends and acquaintances, or people you know from the film industry?

-CDO We actually had open casting for the female roles and I feel so blessed that we found the talented ladies that we did. For my sense of it, they fit perfectly with the vision I had in mind. I had met my Co-star Ciel Post in a casting session for some Scandinavian commercials that fellow Shine producer Jay Schulz was doing and I thought her look and charisma were perfect to play Arra..

-EM What films/books informed the "Shine" video? Where did you get your conceptual inspiration?

-CDO I went through a period of buying really obscure Russian fairy tales on DVD, like The Snow Queen for example. And even though they are older and the production value is not at today's standards, they had a charm that was undeniable to me. But modern projects like Final Fantasy/ Advent Children, Howl's Moving Castle, and Nausica, all played a part in putting together the puzzle.

-EM Why do you think the "Shine" video has proved to be such a major internet sensation?

-CDO G4 did a fun piece on it and the LA Times writer by Charlie Amter was great too. It seems to be on quite a few sites right now, with lots of doors opening in the last week alone, so it gives me good hope about the future of our saga.. I think the video itself is fun to watch. Perhaps people find it engaging because of the romance, the action, and the spiritual elements.. It's hard for me to say why people like it.

There will be quite a bit more action in the next one.. I promise…

-EM Why the "Shine on Me" song with the "Shine on Me" video?

-CDO I think it was the story within the lyrics of that song that really made me want to do SHINE as the video. Lots of my other tracks are more aggressive musically and might have fit better. But I like the honesty of the song we chose, and it completely fits with the accompanying imagery..

-EM What are your touring plans?

-CDO For now, I am finishing the album. Then I will shift into the next mode. I suspect it will be all about Asia first.. I think the "Shine On Me" song and video will be up on Itunes in a few weeks, and then shortly after the CD will be available. We will also have a High res letterboxed version of the video included on the record. Lots of people have been requesting this so we are happy that we can get it out there.

-EM Can we expect more videos in the future?

-CDO YES!!! With some luck there will be lots of adventures ahead… Stay tuned, we'll have more swords, more danger, more love, and more fireworks!!!

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