Monday, August 26, 2013

RIP, Video Music Awards

Why does MTV insist on these Video Music Awards every August? This isn’t another MTV sucks rant (it does), or why doesn’t MTV play videos thing (I know why they don’t). I’m asking why would a network, that has clearly divorced itself from the music game, exercise this charade of handing over Moon Men for videos when there aren’t videos? MTV does nothing with music the other 364 days. Nothing.

Foolishly, I got excited about the VMAs this year. I got filled up with memories of the Eminem performance at Radio City, Madonna gyrating around the stage in a wedding dress, Guns N Roses rocking “Welcome to the Jungle." U2 was in the audience back then. Bon Jovi strolled the Red Carpet. Kurt Loder covered limo arrivals. It was a music empire’s flagship show. This year it was kids doing bicycle tricks outside the Barclays. Nonstop product placement, Twitter questions from "lucky" 9 yr. olds, via-video "OMGs!!!" for One Direction, then ten minutes later, Cyrus simulating sex in a flesh-colored bikini. It was desperate. It was unwatchable.

Back in the Eminem/Madonna/Axl Rose days, MTV was in bed with music’s biggest stars. 1515 Broadway had major muscle with record execs and managers. You can’t imagine the amount of flesh pressing that happens to get Springsteen on the VMA stage. The tradeoff was simple: You perform and give out awards at our show and we’ll air your videos and promote your products on our channel. We’ll give you a full week on TRL. John Norris will report on your tour dates and CD sales in the News Break. But now . . . As I watched some VJ I never saw before interviewing a 12 year old ten minutes before the Big Show, on an empty Red Carpet, framed by eighth-graders drinking Diet Pepsi, I asked myself: What’s the tradeoff in 2013?

As for the show itself? Soulless. When Selena Gomez is the biggest star in the building, kiss it goodbye. The production was riddled with technical difficulties. Every performance was sophomoric. Kayne West is mentally ill. Stop saying he’s a genius. He’s gibberish. Lady Gaga? Enough already. And how could MTV saddle Robin Thicke, who pumped out the summer’s best song, with Miley Cyrus? The awards are ridiculous. If they'd put the camera on Taylor Swift once more . . . Significant stars from music, movie, and small screen wouldn’t be caught dead at the VMAs. BeyoncĂ© wasn't even there. Beyonce's at everything! She headlined the opening of Gil's Garage in Clifton Park last month.

MTV has nothing to do with music anymore. TNT or USA has as much of a right to put on a music-awards show now. MTV and the VMAs is like LeBron James joining the billiards tour. One has nothing to do with the other. MTV is a young-adult channel with programming (scripted and um unscripted) geared towards people in their late teens and early twenties. That's it. Nickelodeon on steroids. They don’t play music. They don’t report on music. They don’t promote music. Best Video with a Social Message? There are no videos. MTV's not in the music game. That was evident last night in Brooklyn. Why does MTV care? What is their VMA angle at this point? Next-day buzz? I don't see why they roll out the Red Carpet.

A word on Justin Timberlake: His 20-minute performance was epic. Fresh off the LEGENDS Tour, the moves were razor sharp, the stage presence beyond belief. He was the one professional singer/performer in the building. He had 20,000 people on their feet through samples of ten songs. The NSYNC part was totally lame, all reunions are, but wow, JT is the Undisputed Pop King of this generation. I only pray that his powerhouse play was a farewell lap. JT's too big for MTV. And the second he finished his bit, I turned the VMAs right off.

That wasn’t an awards show. That was a funeral.

Watch JT:

Brian Huba

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

JT at the VMA's! I'm in!

I’m a total sucker for a star-studded VMA’s show, and this Sunday looks like it could be a good one. The setting is Brooklyn’s new arena, the Barclays, and the line-up is intriguing. “Hey, Brian, is Brooklyn the new Manhattan?” Absolutely not, but Sunday’s MTV show is stacked, and BK is where the red carpet rolls, so that’s something. Kayne West. Katy Perry. Bruno Mars. Lady Gaga. Robin Thicke. It’s a fun cast of characters, and should make for an eventful few hours, if nothing more.

The real reason I’m signed on for the 25th begins and ends with Justin Timberlake. Coming off his critically-worshipped Legends of Summer Tour, JT rolls into Barclays where he’ll perform (possibly with NSYNC, although you could throw four random guys in cargo pants behind Justin, and tell me that's NSYNC, and I wouldn't know the difference) and collect the Michael Jackson Lifetime Achievement Award. (Lifetime? Huh? Don’t take it too seriously. It’s an award MTV made up.) In addition to that, Timberlake is set to pass Madonna for all-time Moon Man wins. They both have 14 currently, and JT is nominated for 6 more Sunday. MTV doesn’t even play videos, so I’m not sure what winning Video of the Year really means. But Justin will wake up Monday morning as the most celebrated artist in the Music Television era.

I have zero problem admitting Justin Timberlake is incredible. I think he’s the best performer in the world. I’ve thought so since he was 18 years old, and wearing bedazzled bandanas. Madonna called him the best in 2006. When everybody else dismissed JT as another Boy Bander, I was saying he was Elvis Presley incarnate. He’s never made a bad career move. He’s handled the fame, and media, and trappings like a champ. He’s smart as a pistol and a balls-to-the-wall worker. Everything (besides a movie script, of course) he touches turns up gold. Gold, baby, gold. Can’t sell CDs in 2013? Really? Check the numbers on 20/20. And guess what? 20/20 kinda sucks. But it’s Justin, so who cares? Can I get a what-what?

Would I see Timberlake in concert? Absolutely not. But if he’s performing at an award-show setting, it’s must-see TV for me. Has been since 2000. Did you see him at the Grammy’s? Amazing. He’s the coolest SOB in the biz. Has been since 2000. I’m not suggesting “Mirrors” is a masterpiece, oh Hell no. “Mirrors” is the stupidest song I’ve ever heard. But it’s suddenly “Billy Jean” when JT performs it. This cat made “Mirrors” number one in like 13 countries. Enough said.

MTV is a joke now. It used to be the most important channel on TV. Now it’s nonstop “Girl Code” and that unwatchable puke-fest “Ridiculousness” or whatever it’s called. MTV sold its soul to “the Jersey Shore.” It was all over after that. Now the former home of "Singled Out" and Adam Curry has been reduced to throwing a bunch of fake awards at top stars to get them on stage. And when I heard that Justin Timberlake would be the center of that crap storm, I cleared my August 25th evening on the spot.

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Brian Huba

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

The summer of 2013 has been the hardest. Every time the phone rings: another log on the fire. I’m running out of refuge and real estate with work resuming in September. So we retreated Up North, to my wife’s parents’ house, one final getaway. It’s my favorite place. And my favorite part of “Up North” is a network of trails on the backside of a cemetery across the road. Said trails cut four miles through the wheelhouse of the Adirondacks. Every day when visiting, I walk my three dogs, sans leashes, as the nature sounds emanate on all sides. It’s a homerun workout for the body and mind. The world is all right on that trail.

Today my wife decided to walk with us. She’s ready to resume her normal load. Before leaving, she asked if I had my cell phone, she didn’t have hers. I said mine was dead, so we hit the cemetery then woods--a family of five--with no tool to communicate with the outside world. I’m sick of phones anyway. The sun shined bright and the bugs were few. It was a great day to walk. It was Sunday. We’d have the show to ourselves. So off we went, watching the dogs run, and sniff, and piss wherever felt right. Isn't life grand?

Two miles in, where the trail splits, we took the elevated path with no borders. The dogs bounded a few yards ahead, weaving free on the narrow pass, paws blackened on the few spots of still-wet mud. Suddenly the sounds of approaching ATV’s. This isn’t uncommon. The riders know to slow down then brake for dog walkers. It's understood. But these ATV’s were coming fast, fast, too fast! Then the two vehicles (one red, one white) showed themselves on the horizon, rock n’ rolling around a sharp turn thirty feet in front. I raised both hands so they’d see us between the trees, where the sun shot blinding bars. But these riders weren’t slowing down. Right behind me, my wife stood, and behind her, all three dogs (30-35 lbs each) like bowling pins on the path, frozen in fear. These ATV’s were coming. Nowhere to run. No escape. No time. My wife screamed. I side stepped to rip the first rider off his machine, but missed. He was free of me. I was helpless. He wasn’t stopping. My whole life was on that trail. Nowhere to run, straight drop offs on both sides. We entered those woods as an intact family of five. No way were we leaving the same way. He wasn’t stopping. Mass carnage cometh.

Then time hiccupped. That’s the only way I can describe it. It stopped, started again, and when it did, my wife and dogs were miraculously untouched by the death machine, now fifty feet down the trail, easing to a stop. Without thinking, I grabbed a five-pound rock and raced towards the hillbilly who almost sliced and diced my world. I screamed. I yelled. He sat slack-jawed. When my rant went dry, he told me he had no brakes, couldn’t stop. I wielded that readied rock. I was on fire. He finally vvvrrrmmed away with his friend, amazingly no harm done. When I got my three dogs together, hugged my wife, I was left to wonder how we survived that surefire collision. How did no one get hurt? How did he miss me, my wife, ALL THREE DOGS? How?

I was feeling total shock, and relief. How? That's when a third ATV emerged out of the darkness, moving slowly, and I knew not to be afraid, even though my heart was still in my throat. When the sun shone through, showed the rider's clean-shaven face, I knew why I wasn’t afraid. Understood. I knew that face from another life. Not "his" face, of course. But "that" face. This stranger rode towards me on his yellow 4-wheeler, cut the engine, and there he was. I guessed his height (as he stayed seated) at about 5’4”. His hair: shaved on the sides, number two on top. The jeans were frayed at the ankles. But it was the eyes that told me this stranger was no stranger. It was my old friend incarnate, and he said, in north-country drawl, that he’d heard screaming, came to investigate. I explained what "almost" happened. My new/old friend said he “patrolled these trails." When I told him who I was married to, he recognized the last name (ah, small towns), said he’d "absolutely" get to the bottom of the brake-less driver. The last thing he told me: “Don’t worry,” then he rode away. The sun swallowed him up, and he was gone. Twenty minutes later, my family walked out of those woods. Intact. Together. Safe.

As I write this, my wife is on the couch by the sliding doors that look out on the backyard and cemetery across the way, where the woods border on the backside. My three dogs are on the rug near the couch, sleeping, dreaming. Lola’s on the left. Pepper’s around the top, protecting her sisters like she always does. Sophie’s in the middle, and she snores. My family.

We were spared on that trail.

Thank you, old friend, thank you.

Brian Huba

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Who Cares about Character?

A few weeks ago, at a wedding, I got talking with a man from "the country" who said he was thinking about moving. The kids were grown and out of the house, retirement was around the corner, and he was maybe ready to leave the rural life in the rear view. Of course I pitched living in Latham or Clifton Park. He dismissed that idea as “characterless” for someone like him. To which I said, “Who cares about character?”

Who wouldn’t want to live in Clifton Park? You can have any type of house you want, any type of life you want. There’s land if that’s your thing, rural guy. There's even ponds and a lake. There are trails in the woods to run on. But why run on wooded trails when you can hit the million-dollar track at Shen? Anything and everything you could want is at the fingertips. The library, mall, grocery store, Chinese place, Wal-Mart, Target, etc, all less than three minutes from your doorstep. Something goes wrong with the house, BAM, right to Home Depot and back in a flash. “But, Brian, those are chain places. They have no character.” Character? Who cares? My sink is broke. I need it fixed. And I defy you to find something (anything) that Home Depot doesn’t have in stock and doesn’t fully warranty. And if they don’t, go across the street to Lowes. While you’re dealing with Bubba’s Hardware, because Bubba has character, and a two-week wait for that sink piping, I’m home, watching the Giants and using my new sink. You can have your character. Did I mention that CP taxes are the lowest in the area and the schools are the best?

My wife’s parents live in upstate New York, very rural, lots of farms, windmills for wind energy. I love getting away to their place. But after three, four days, I need real life again. Here’s the thing: Up there, going to the movies is an all-day odyssey, an epic. Down here, in good old CP, I leave the house at 8.58 for a 9PM show. Sign me up for the latter. But it’s more than that. My wife’s father is 70 yrs old. If he has a heart attack at home, where 75% of such attacks occur, he’s a goner. No way an ambulance gets to him under an hour. And the weather in rural areas. Next time there’s a snow storm, turn on YNN. I guarantee all the suburban and city schools are running, and the rural schools are shuttered for the next three days. I really hope rural guy doesn’t have “the big one” when that’s going on. But hey, character, baby, character.

Is Suburbia cookie-cutter? Of course it is. But it's more than that. The suburbs have the best and healthiest food choices. Hannaford has a whole section for organic. Across the street, there's a Green Grocer. You don't have to fill the gas tank twice to hit Barnes & Noble for that new Dan Brown book. Have you seen the CP library? It looks like a state building. I know there's more snowmobile riding options and better landscapes in the country, I get that, but come on, it's the everyday things like going to the store or renting a Red Box that matters most in modern life, right?

What’s my point? Simple. It’s 2013. Virtually any luxury you want is for the taking, with minimal work. So why would someone choose to live where all the easiness of today is not accessible? It's like camping in the rain when the Marriot has vacant rooms. Why? I just don’t understand living in the country vs. Latham because the country has more character. What does that mean? You might say I don’t "get" small-town living, and maybe you’re right, but I did grow up in Averill Park when guys were driving pickups with confederate flags in the window, so I have some idea. For the kids and teenagers, small town is awesome. For instance, if you play QB for a C or D school you're also the town mayor, your money's no good here, kid. But rural kid often can't cut it on the big stage. Why? You hear your whole life you're a star then hit the real world, and guess what? You're not a star. Suburban kid, who has to deal with a graduating class of 400, knows exactly where he ranks when college and the work force come calling. Nobody blows smoke at Shen. You are or you aren't.

As I type this sentence, my wife is walking in with a cup of Starbuck’s coffee. I know, I know, how suburban and characterless does it get? But Starbuck’s makes a better cup of Joe than anybody going, I’m sure, so again, who cares about character? Just give me the best product. I’ll tell you I came up with this idea while sitting in Olive Garden the other night, that's right, Olive Garden. It’s a total chain, but the food was descent, and the price was right. And I remembered asking my friend about the restaurant selection where he lived. He said, “not much, nothing really." Ouch. Then I asked him if he’d ever been to D’Raymond’s. He’d never heard of it. Character.

Brian Huba

Friday, August 2, 2013

Chris Premo

Two Wednesdays ago, my sister called to tell me that my childhood friend, Chris Premo, had been involved in a bad accident on a paving site. He was at Albany Med, might not make it. Life changes on a dime. So began a week of late nights at the ICU, donuts for dinner, doctors putting friends and family on a rollercoaster of hope then failure then hope again. But there would be no miracle, no divine intervention. It ended on Monday July 29th. After a tearful apology by Chris’s surgeon--for some injuries cannot be fixed by human hands alone--those who knew Chris best were invited to gather by his bedside. He left life at 34 years, six weeks, and several hours old. Chris Premo was gone. Even as I type it now, a week later, I can’t believe it.

One of Chris's favorite songs: "I believe in a thing called love" by The Darkness. He'd dance like a damn fool to that one.

Life never happens how we think it will. Someone must go first, that’s simple physics, and for us, it was Chris. Growing up, my next-door neighbor and close friend was a giant, even though he was the shortest of the bunch. He made short so cool I wanted to be short. He made being Chris Premo cool. We all wanted to be Chris. Everything about CP was epic, the one whose light shined a little brighter than the rest. He was Ponyboy Curtis, Jim Morrison, James Dean. When he was sixteen, he drove a Geo Metro wagon with teardrop tint on the windows. It was the coolest car ever. Why? Because it was Chris’s car. And as long as I was with Chris, in that car while he worked the wheel, I too would be cool.

Chris owned every type of vehicle, land & water. He could drive anything.

As I returned home this week for the burial, I quickly learned about the other Chris Premo, the man that my childhood friend had become. While the bulk of my "Chris memories" involve drinking parties and crazy vacations in our early twenties, I had since drifted down the road, while Chris married his high-school sweetheart, started a beautiful family that boasted two gorgeous children, in a brand-new house he literally built with his bare hands. The house stands right behind his father’s house, and I was ashamed to face the fact that I had never been inside it before this week. Chris was happy living where we were raised, I wasn’t, and because of that our connection lessened. That’s life. But I was given a crash course on the 5’4” giant who grew to be a great father and hardworking perfectionist. The other Chris. The new Chris. The Chris I’ll never know in the flesh.

Chris was a great wrestler in high school.

I’m 33. There’s nothing unordinary about a man my age having to bury one of his childhood buds. That’s how it goes. But I’m not sure most such experiences are like mine. A few days after Chris’s death, his shocking downfall made the newspapers, was featured in YNN’s Top Stories. A fund was started for his wife and two children. It has grossed thirty-five thousand in two days, and counting. I knew people were passionate about Chris, crushed by this cruel turn of events. But I had no clue how huge it was until his wake at the Bryce Home on Pawling Ave this past Thursday. I had the honor to sit fifteen feet from my old pal’s open casket, as five thousand people paid final respects. But they weren't looking at Chris. Chris was gone. Chris was amazing blue eyes, a boundless smile, dimples to die for. Chris was beautiful. But all night the line bulged around two street corners, and carried a three-hour wait in the pouring rain. Nobody cared. Nobody was leaving. This was Chris Premo. His wife stood in three-inch heels for eight hours, greeted every last mourner without break or complaint. That’s love.

Chris always wore t-shirts and blue jeans with the bottoms cut off.

Friday morning: My black suit and a funeral. Even as I followed the procession up the winding roads of St. Agnes, I couldn’t believe we were a matter of minutes from lowering Chris Premo into the ground. In 2000, when my uncle Dave died, I was with Chris, and he made me pray for Dave’s soul. I loved Chris for that. When my father died, Chris was by my side, attending his funeral which meant going late to his first day on a new job. We all told Chris to miss the funeral, it was all right, but he'd hear none of it. Some things are bigger than first days and new jobs. When my wife was diagnosed in April, Chris phoned immediately. When I didn’t answer, he called back. Nobody else I grew up with called. Just Chris. And now he’s gone, and all I can do is write some dumb words. I’m no Chris Premo. He kicked my ass in life. I have no doubt in death too.

Chris was a great pool player.

Chris was the rock star. But I get to live. I won’t be the first. That’s Chris. And as I rested my rose atop his chrome-colored coffin, I knew it was time for me to return to my life. There’s no place for me on my childhood street now, for my visa was a temporary one. I chose to leave, to start a new life, and now it’s time to resume that plan. I gave a final round of hugs to the players that populated my first eighteen years, then walked off with my wife, the woman who will centerpiece my remaining ones. Nothing matters now but her. Chris Premo taught me that. Before going, I turned back once more, and there sat Chris’s coffin, covered in flowers, and I knew the party was over. And driving home to Clifton Park with my wife, back to our dogs and modest house, a song came on the radio that went, “Take that look of worry, mine’s an ordinary life.” The song spoke to me. I'm not the rock star. Chris was the rock star.

Chris thought Meet the Fockers was a masterpiece.

Chris's best friend Mike texted me a video that showed a series of fires burning around the lake in my old neighborhood, the lake Chris called home all his life. The fires burned in tribute. Mike said he was with 200 people at his fire site, saying goodbye to Chris. I told him to look around at that huge group of lake-dwellers, for somewhere there was the next Chris, and the next Mike, and the next me. They were there. Where else would they be on this night? I told Mike he wasn't saying goodbye to Chris. He was passing the torch. The Chris Premo Era is over. And tomorrow's the new.

I once saw Chris Premo wrestle a 230lb ball of muscle to the ground.
I once saw Chris Premo jump into a gorge from a rock 40ft above the water.
I once saw Chris Premo hold a wheelie on his motorcycle for half a mile while riding with Northway traffic.

Everybody has a hundred Chris Premo stories. No story can fully capture him. No story can do him justice. Trying to describe Chris is like trying to describe music. You either experienced him or you didn't.

Chris Premo was invincible
Chris Premo was magic

Chris always told me I was smart. He believed in me when no one else did.

Chris’s final text message to me (July 19, 2013, ten days before his death): Everything is good. Alyssas good (Chris's wife). The kids are good. Youll c them soon. Lynda (my wife) will be good 2. Dont worry. Theres still hope in this crazy world.

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Brian Huba

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why is this kid famous?

Bieber concert slammed -- and was he lip-syncing?


Justin Bieber was slammed by music critics who have branded his performance in New Jersey on Wednesday "sluggish," "bored" and "lazy," and accused him of lip-syncing large portions of the show.

The teenage superstar took to the stage at the Prudential Center in Newark as part of his ongoing Believe world tour, but his lackluster performance prompted criticism from reviewers in the audience. Mesfin Fekadu of the Associated Press has written a scathing report about Bieber's show, insisting the singer was "not in pop star form," while also accusing him of lip-syncing most of his songs and failing to keep up with his dancers.

Bing: Bieber 'not in pop star form'?

"He seemed to be lip-syncing, and his sluggish, lazy dancing didn't match the oomph of the beats. Bieber phoned in a good amount during his show; at some moments, he even appeared bored. He was clocking in -- another day, another sold-out concert ... When performing the hit "Beauty and a Beat," he couldn't keep up with his background dancers ... During "She Don't Like the Lights," Bieber barely moved to the track's futuristic beat ..." wrote Fekadu, speculating that "maybe it was the leather tights?" that impeded his dance moves.

Chris Jordan of local newspaper the Asbury Park Press was also disappointed with the 19-year-old's performance, insisting the star did not deliver during the few moments of the show when he actually attempted to sing.

He wrote, "As for Bieber the performer, well, there's not a whole lot to believe in. His voice is thin and reedy ... Unfortunately, his dancing isn't any better than his singing. His turns are loose and his body control is sloppy. He seemed divided as to whether he should join his team of dancers full force or just let them do most of the work."


Why is this kid famous?