Here’s a list of first lines from books, only ones that I have read, that are by far my top ten favorite. (So far.)
Back in 2004, freshman year of Suffolk County Community College, I was in a hip-hop group with my three closest friends. Then in November of that year, they kicked me out and would not hang out with me anymore.
It was deeply upsetting at the time, and pretty traumatizing. In hindsight, if it had continued I probably would have quit eventually. I didn’t enjoy the recording process nor did I have any focus for editing or making beats. The part I enjoyed the most was the writing. I had notebooks full of songs that I never recorded or performed but still continued to write new ones. The other part I loved was performing, it was thrilling. The amount of adrenaline you get from performing on a stage even though they were in high school talent show and a music showcase of all the school’s bands the adrenaline you get from it was crazy.
So my bridges burned with my former friends making music, writing music (and writing in general), and listening to the same music I had before left a bad taste in my mouth. I asked myself who was I before music? Well, before I discovered music at fourteen I was deep into video games. I started playing my GameCube heavily. Then I retreated further back remember this little comic book shop my mom used to take me to where I bought Spider-Man, Green Lantern, and The Simpsons comics.
The comics I read as a kid, as far as superheroes were concerned, were weird. Superman had a weird mullet, Spider-Man was a clone and Green Lantern had gone insane and replaced by another Green Lantern. When I walked into that same comic book store I had as a kid not knowing what I’d find what I found was the second issue of a comic called Green Lantern Rebirth by Geoff Johns. I held up and asked the guy behind the counter what this it was.
“Oh, they’re bringing back Hal Jordan from the dead and making him Green Lantern again,” he said. He offered me a deal for the first and second issue together and told me comic books came out on Wednesdays. I would buy comics there regularly for the next six years.
I became entrenched in comic books and video games to fill the void listening to hip-hop and writing it had left. Comic books though reignited my love for reading that would spread to novels when my girlfriend at the time brought me to a Barnes & Noble. Before this I had only been to Border’s Book, and not in years. Last time I had been there it was not in good condition. This was two stories of book paradise, one with a graphic novel section that was lacking. Instead I picked up this beautiful leather bound copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams I had seen at one of her friends house and The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King.
The more I read novels, the more I could see the weaknesses in comic book stories. Reading more novels led to more interest in literature. This led to me majoring in English which forced writing upon me. When I briefly dropped out in 2011 and into a deep depression it was writing that got me out of it and brought the love back I had for it back to the forefront of my brain.
All because I picked up Green Lantern Rebirth.
In my family from a very young age I was taught what teams to root for.
They rooted for the Yankees, the Knicks, the Giants and the Rangers. Both sides too, surprisingly. I had Yankee hats, t-shirts with Knicks logos, Rangers hoodies, and even a Giants Starter jacket. Remember Starter jackets?
It was a hand me down, that I remember, but I thought that Giants Starter jacket was so cool and so comfortable. I remember all the kids telling me the Giants were terrible but it didn’t matter to me. My whole family loved them so I tried to love them even though I didn’t watch a single game. Then in what I think was 4th grade I got out of my mom’s car and walked up to the elementary school around the block wearing my Giant’s starter jacket. As a walker, instead of someone who rode the bus, you would usually arrive early enough that they wouldn’t let you in right away. Some people that I knew were waiting outside when I walked up and everything was normal until one of them pointed out that a worm was coming out of the large front pocket was the staple of those jackets. I don’t know where it came from, how it got there, or why I didn’t notice it before but I didn’t live it down from those guys for a good two months or so which is forever in kids-making-fun-of-you time. Never wore that jacket again.
A more positive memory of sports was Super Bowl XXXII, the Green Bay Packers versus the Denver Broncos. My father and I were going over my uncle’s house for a Super Bowl party. My dad asked me if I wanted to enter the pool, and this was at a time when what little money I had in my kids wallet was few and far between and quite frankly going to more important things like Nintendo 64 games. I was mainly going to see my cousin and watch the halftime show on MTV which was one of the first episodes of Celebrity Deathmatch before it became a regular series. Still, my father was encouraging it and I wanted to be a part of the whole football crowd. Unexpectedly, I was the one who won the pool and I barely watched the game. I had no idea how the pool worked or why I really won it. My dad had just put me in and now I had enough money for about three new N64 games and maybe even a controller.
Lastly, a nice experience followed by a traumatic one all focused around my eyesight. It isn’t that I have no depth perception but very little. So little that trying to catch, hit, and throw a moving ball for me as a kid was next to impossible. In 3rd grade all the guys stopped playing childish things and instead decided to play football. The lead kid who basically ran the football games didn’t make fun of me per se but told me straight to my face that he didn’t want me to play because I was bad at sports. So I didn’t, and was pretty much the only one. I just wandered the old playground where nobody played before. I don’t remember being upset because he was right, I was bad at sports but also I didn’t want to play football either. No, I remember being bored. If I had been then like I am now I would of been reading and writing. Possibly even asking my 3rd grade teacher if I could go to the library.
Instead what happened was I had a friend in the class who taught me how to catch despite my vision and showed my new found skills in front of the lead kid. If he wasn’t impressed he was surprised and allowed me to play. I wasn’t really ever thrown the ball but I still was one of the tallest kids at the time so I played decent defense. Best of all that kid, who I thought hated me, was extremely nice to me ever since even saying hello to me in highschool long after we didn’t really know each other anymore with a warm greeting.
Then 4th grade happened, which was probably the worst grade for me in elementary school. I had the meanest teacher and it took me forever to make any friends in the class. In gym every year when it got warm we played softball and I dreaded it because I struck out every time and couldn’t catch. This year though we had a new boys gym teacher and he was not satisfied with me striking out. He would not let me leave the batter’s mound until I hit that ball. I begged him after ten swings to just let me be out, after fifteen swings the other kids were getting tired of waiting to hit the ball, after twenty hits he finally let me go to the end of the batter’s line. I dreaded gym after that, crying at night when I knew a gym day was coming up, faking a stomach virus so I wouldn’t have to go. The teacher tried teaching me how to swing with more technique but he didn’t seem to understand that I was swinging where I thought the ball was, not where the ball actually is. Next time, same thing to both the scorn of the other kids and myself but this time I actually hit the ball after ten swings. It was a soft hit and I was caught out pretty quickly but I still did it. I’d eventually get my revenge during kickball when the gym teacher pitched the ball. I kicked it with all my might, not worrying where I was aiming it. My gym teacher’s privates never saw it coming and everyone had a good laugh.
That same year my closest friend in the class and I were the kind of friends who rough housed, push each other, play hit each other and the like. One day in gym when we were going to play dodgeball he took it too far. The gym teacher was in the back room getting out the dodgeballs while my friend I were leaning against the gym wall. Continuing our rough housing he grabbed me by the hand and swung me into the gym wall. It honestly didn’t hurt that bad but my mouth slammed first breaking one of my big front teeth in the process. The gym teacher came back, I told him what happened and I was sent to the nurses office where my mother would soon be called. I remember going back to lunch to wait for when my mom would arrive and the kid being on the verge of tears, apologizing profusely. I really wasn’t mad at him, it was an accident and I was glad he had not gotten in trouble. Meanwhile both that gym teacher and the principal were scarred out of their wits they were going to get sued. I remember telling my mom to do it, because I didn’t know better and so I’d have some money. We didn’t.
If you like stand-up at all, you’ll have watched all the obvious specials that are on Netflix Instant Watch. Louis CK, Jim Gaffigan, Lewis Black, Aziz Ansari and Patton Oswalt.
If you’ve digged a little deeper you’re probably a big fan of all of the Bill Burr specials, you’ve watched Kevin Hart, Jim Norton, Jim Jeffries, and Russell Peters. Some were for you, some weren’t.
Here is what’s left that you should definitely check out no matter what flavor of stand-up comedy you enjoy.
Marc Maron’s Thinky Pain. I know a lot of people listen to his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron but I hardly ever hear anyone talk about his stand-up. In the past I’ve tried listening to previous albums by him unable to get into his jokes or find the Maron that I enjoyed on his podcast or his guest appearances on others. Then I watched his latest special and discovered he’s just one of those you have to watch. This special is done in a small venue, mere feet away from the audience and with no plan what-so-ever. His sits on a stool almost entire time during his set and basically tells stories of his life, his mid-life crisis and pain. Pain being a general theme with Maron but I appreciated it a lot more if I could see his facial expressions, his half open eyes and body language.
“I don’t really know if someone loves me if I can’t make them cry. Isn’t that the test for all of us, really? If you’re with someone and you really don’t know if you can make them cry I would go deeper. Can’t trust that bond.”
Eddie Pepitone’s In Ruins is stand-up comedy brewed with absurdities, rants and topped with an existential crisis. His rants are like a satire on the very serious and political rants of Lewis Black. He manages to take the pain of depression, of the sadness that comes with the absurdities of life and makes them silly with his yelling. There isn’t a lot of comedian who balance silliness with the personal which makes Pepitone’s special rather refreshing.
“Did you ever buy a hat where you like it so much, like, you look in the mirror like holy shit, this hat kind of makes up for a life that wasn’t well lived. Yes, I spent thirty years in a stoned out phrase masturbating to hockey fights but that’s because I didn’t have this fucking hat.”
Moshe Kasher reminds of a modern day Greg Proops, if Greg Proops had grown up in Oakland listening to hip-hop. In Live in Oakland, where he grew up with his mother, he pokes fun at his effeminate body language, his jewish background and his upbringing while mixing it up with the “I am intelligent and I am going to use it to make fun of you,” style of jokes. Kasher self-depricates enough to be empathetic but cocky enough to let the viewer know he deserves to be the center of attention. He has the perfect mix for a good stand-up comedian. A bit of a nerd with no filter, a lot of swagger and a not-giving-a-fuck-what-you-think attitude from a childhood balancing his drug-filled delinquent life in Oakland with his mother and his very strict Hasidic Judaism with his father in New York.
Reading YouTube comments on a clip of his joke: “And finally, fuck you, suck dick, never try to be a comedian again you stupid bitch. I hope you die from cancer so you can find out how foul really is, love Dad. That one hurt quite a bit. My dad’s been dead for ten years so it adds a layer of mystery to the thing. I didn’t even know they had the internet in hell. Turns out they do, it’s dial-up.”
Morgan Murphy has been a name I have heard spoken of a lot on comedy podcasts for several years but never actually seen until her stand-up special, Irish Goodbye, came to Netflix. The bombastic comedian and the storyteller comedian is so common now that it isn’t often you get the soft spoken straight forward joke teller like Todd Barry or Steven Wright. Morgan Murphy uses storytelling not just to tell a humorous situation with little quips that get a laugh but always ends her stories with a good punchline. Mix this all in with her subject matter which can take just enough of a dark turn that I enjoy and you have a new favorite comedian of mine. There isn’t enough dry wit in comedy.
“How weird is it ladies, how weird is it that we put penises in our mouths? That shit’s crazy. Like ladies and gay dudes but I’m not even including gay dudes because you have one so you get it but… we put penises in our mouths! Look at your wife, your girlfriend, look at her, your bestie, look at her right now. She has put so many penises in her mouth. Just shoved them in there where sandwiches go. That is sandwich space and we just do instinctively like we’re supposed to do it or something. Like if you put in front of me a mint, a chocolate milk and a penis and asked what does these have in common I’d go they go in my mouth, I’m not stupid.”
Like jokes about books, language, time travel, comic books, using complicated wordplay and lots of puns? Myq Kaplan’s Small, Dork, and Handsome is perfect for you then. It’s perfect for me.
“From childhood we learn, what’s the story? The Ugly Duckling. What’s that about? A duck was ugly but then it grew and found it was actually beautiful but also a different species. Sort of a M. Night Shyamalany twist at the end there that I don’t know how that is supposed to be inspiring to a kid. Hey, stop crying. Maybe you’re not a hairy ugly child. Maybe you’re going to grow up to find you’re a beautiful chimpanzee. You could be the chimpiest chimp, the chimp of the ball.”
These five specials are on Netflix Instant Watch right now, so go check them out.
A little over a decade ago, before the rise of YouTube, music videos and MTV were on a slow spiral downward out of relevancy in the music industry. Artists were still making them, record labels were still paying for them and MTV was trying to make programing that could collect nielsen ratings from them. Total Request Live was not the hit show it once was post-Carson Daly, if you can believe it, and pirating music wasn’t going away anytime soon.
Now, music videos aren’t what they once were. Shows like Making the Video were a big deal, videos were often how artists premiered the song entirely, and those premieres felt like big events for the said artists following. Today, music videos are just part of millions of videos on YouTube. Some get a high number of views but it isn’t the same. If you missed the premiere of a music video you couldn’t just type the song into Google and watch it again, you had to wait for it be shown on one of the music channels again.
This may sound like I’m mourning the music video but in fact I rather disliked them. I’m not sure if other people listen to music this way, but when I hear a song I imagine the story behind it. Not what the songs mean but literally a story behind like a movie in my head. I once heard the song Australia by The Shin and had to immediately outline an entire science fiction novel (which I’ve never written.) The story I hear when I listen to a song doesn’t have the band posing while they play into a camera, no budget restrictions and no director deciding what his vision for the video is. My imagination has no limitations while music videos have nothing but limitations.
I guess dislike is a strong word in this case, because for the most part I don’t think about them and honestly don’t even search them out. If it’s the only way for me to hear a new song from a band I like thanks to YouTube I can just like on another tab in Chrome while it plays. It was only in my twenties that I thought about the limitations of video versus my imagination mostly from exploring the adaptation of books but I was teenager when I discovered my disappointment with music videos.
I can recall exactly where I was and what video it was. I was over my former best friend’s house and we were watching MTV waiting for the world premiere of Eminem’s Stan. I remember thinking, I’ve listened to this song at least fifty times. This is not how I imagined it at all. What were they thinking?
I didn’t understand budgets, productions, or the fact that unless you framed around programing there was no way for music videos to make any money because it didn’t count towards nielsen ratings. No nielsen ratings means no advertising means no money means Real World / Road Rules Challenge marathon.
I think part of the reason I loved underground hip-hop so much was because they couldn’t afford music videos so the picture playing in my head was never tainted by bad acting, no money, and poor decisions.
There’s only one music video that matches the story in my head, and I think part of the reason is that the video is so ingrained in pop culture that you can’t help but think of it.
That video is of course Michael Jackson’s Thriller