That’s right, I’m back again, for a final FINAL chapter of “Ten Things Brian Likes.” I won’t stop beating this dead horse ’til it’s glue. In the first half of my honorable mentions, I acknowledged ten more topics about which I’m passionate. Now, to close out the series, I’m returning to the original ten “canonical” categories, with one final example of each.
1. YOUTUBE REMIXES
[Octagon Remixes, ft. Jack Black]
In 2009, Jack Black guest-starred on Sesame Street. One segment features Black explaining the word “Octagon.” Unfortunately, he forgot his octagon at home, and rushes off to find one. Elmo holds up a stop sign, which frustrates the frazzled Black, until he finally realizes that the stop sign IS, in fact, an octagon.
Somehow, remixing the scene became a YouTube meme, practically bordering on a subculture.
Ours is not to wonder why.
The first instance of the trend I came across was a video simply titled “Octagon Remix,” which leads me to believe it was one of the earliest “trendsetters” to establish the meme. The video, shared above, is a “YTPMV” set to the melody of techno track “Bloomin’ Feeling.” Because of this, the remix has subsequently been dubbed “Bloomin’ Octagon.” I wish I could give credit to the original artist behind this masterpiece, but alas, as with many “YouTube Poopers” he eventually fell victim to the site’s copyright police and had his videos deleted. Luckily, the YTP faithful carry on his legacy with endless re-uploads. The heavenly chorus of the revolving Jack-sphere shall echo for eternity.
If you survived that video (and enjoyed it), why not take things to the NEXT LEVEL? Here, to wrap the first segment of “Ten Things Brian Likes,” is an 8-minute collaboration which will melt your reality and turn the universe upside down. Black is octagon. White is Elmo. Stop is day. Night is “How, HOW!?” If that didn’t make much sense, it’s only because you probably haven’t finished the video and become a gibbering lunatic yet.
Full-Screen is mandatory.
Whoa. That was…really something. At least in terms of YouTube remixes, I’ve got nothing to top it. I guess we’ve got no choice now but to STOP.
2. HOT CINNAMON-FLAVORED THINGS
[Hot Cinnamon Soap]
I said it didn’t exist. I was wrong. Even though at least one site I checked classified hot cinnamon extract as “NOT BODY SAFE,” a few intrepid indie soap developers (think Tyler Durden) have forged ahead and pioneered a new frontier in saponification. Rejoice, brothers and sisters, for hot cinnamon soap is among us. I vow to burn my nethers with it ere the year is out.
Want to wash that image from your mind? Better stock up on some soap. Now let’s move on, as “Ten Things Brian Likes” circles the drain.
My internal monologue leading up to this selection went something like this:
“I’ve got to pick a book for the honorable mentions post. But which one?”
“What if you went with the one you’re currently reading?”
“That’s what I’m asking. So what’s the name of the book?”
“I just said. What If?.”
“I just said “what if!”
And then both of us screamed, “THIRD BASE!”, and I congratulated the voices in my head on being Abbott and Costello.
What If? is actually a compendium of essays on “counterfactual history,” a fancy term for alternate history written by professional historians who don’t allow themselves to use time travel or other “out there” suppositions to bring about their proposed changes. A different author wrote each “chapter” of the book, and each section (arranged roughly chronologically) explores “what might have been” had a given historical event unfolded differently. As the essayists are all military historians, these “branches off the timeline” invariably have to do with various battles, invasions, and sieges. Naturally, there are sections on the two “classic” military “what ifs”: What if the Confederacy had survived the Civil War, and what if Nazi Germany had won World War II? But even more interesting are the chapters which tackle more unusual questions. What if Jerusalem had been destroyed in the siege of 701 BC, preventing the eventual spread of monotheism? What if the Aztecs had managed to kill Cortes early in his campaign, leaving his Spaniards squabbling for power and other Mesoamerican groups unwilling to side with them?
I may claim to know a fair bit about media history, but this book has already (I’m only about halfway through) taught me a lot about world history…you know, the kind that actually matters. Did you know the largest contiguous empire in history was ruled by the MONGOLS? I didn’t. The book is filled with delectable tidbits such as:
“Part of Genghis Khan’s strategy was calculated massacre: If a city resisted his armies, once it fell to him – and they always fell – he had all the inhabitants slaughtered. The chroniclers’ reports of the numbers of dead are staggering; 1,600,000 at Harat, in 1220. Rumor reached the Mongol prince Tuli that some had survived there by hiding among the piled corpses, and when he took Nishapur, some time later, he ordered the heads cut off all the bodies. At Nishapur, according to contemporaries, 1,747,000 died.”
“The caliph of Baghdad, Islam’s supreme authority, defied the khan, which meant he had to die. The Mongol general had the caliph tied into a leather sack and trampled to paste by horses – a sign of respect, actually, since, symbolically anyway, it avoided the shedding of his blood. The caliphate has never been restored.”
Of course, time marches on, and things do indeed change (at least a few people out there today would argue that the caliphate has been restored). What If? offers historians (and readers) a chance to ponder the far-reaching consequences of tiny changes and chance occurrences. Individuals really can make a difference that echoes across the centuries. That’s almost Rudy-level inspiration…almost.
I wonder…”what if” I’d never written this series? Maybe scientists wouldn’t have felt the need to identify the DNA of Jack the Ripper the day after I wrote a post about him. Or maybe that was simply coincidence. These hypothetical reflections are only a game, anyway. Though small events may shape the future, we can never change the past. Time moves forward, and so must we all. History’s greatest empires, just like “Ten Things Brian Likes,” must eventually come to an end.
4. RHETT & LINK
With all this duo of merry minstrels has to offer, I somehow neglected to include one of my favorite songs in my initial write-up. “Space Junk,” part of a series sponsored by the Science Channel in 2009, addresses the often overlooked plight of space janitors. Why is it overlooked, you ask? Well, because space janitors don’t actually exist. But Rhett & Link make their fictional “cosmic custodians” seem so invaluable and gosh darn heroic that I’m ready to send in a resumé.
Soon, we will abandon this series, and it will float like a derelict spacecraft in the cosmic backwaters of the EarnThis archives. Here’s wishing the best of luck to any imaginary digital janitors who may encounter it.
5. WEIRD MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Behold, the Otamatone. Developed by “Maywa Denki,” a pair of inventor brothers in Japan, the Otamatone is a bizarre little electronic instrument resembling an eighth note with a face. The stem serves as a pitch slider, and the “musician” changes pitch by moving his or her fingers up and down its length. The player uses his or her other hand to manipulate the instrument’s “mouth,” creating a vibrato effect as the rubber maw opens and closes. In theory, it’s genius: basically a much more portable theremin. But there’s something lacking in the execution. At least in the “basic” model, the slider bar is cheaply made and imprecise, rendering the Otamatone extremely difficult to play well. And even when played properly, the sound the instrument produces isn’t always pleasant, with some less-than-kind critics referring to its characteristic timbre as “ear rape.”
This is primarily why I cut the Otamatone from my “Weird Instruments” lineup, even though it initially scored a slot. I simply couldn’t find a video of someone playing the thing in a way that sounded “shareworthy.”
Well, I found one.
Watch as insanely talented Singaporean musician Nelson Tan Yan Cong does the impossible and makes the Otamatone sound good, with an immaculate multitrack rendition of “Let It Go.”
I strongly suspect the inventors saw this video…here’s a subsequent post from Maywa Denki in which they rock out, in fittingly quirky fashion, to the Frozen anthem.
By the way, I would post a video of my own Otamatone performance (I was intrigued enough to buy a basic model for $35), but it was through my personal noodling that I learned just how hard it is to make these infernal “instruments” sound like anything other than dying cats. Fed up, I gave my Otamatone to my friend Paul (the nature-loving rocker “FreakSlice” on Count Gauntly’s). Keep an eye out for Episode 18, “A Pirate’s Strife for Me,” in which he manages to charm forth impressively musical Otamatone covers of several classic sea shanties. I have to admit, I was pretty jealous of his virtuosity in the wake of my own failure. But, like this series, I guess I’m just going to have to Let It Go.
6. JOHNNY CASH
This one qualifies as probably the most egregious omission in the entire list, because it combines two featured categories (Johnny Cash and the Muppets) and yet STILL wasn’t included. Let’s rectify that now.
The Man in Black upstaged the Man Named Black by having not one, but TWO guest appearances on Sesame Street. These appearances (in 1973 and 1993) spanned a full two decades, illustrating the longevity of both Cash’s career and the show’s run. In this clip, from Cash’s 1973 appearance, he croons a ballad about Nasty Dan, “the meanest man I ever knew.” Oscar the Grouch (puppeteered and voiced by Caroll Spinney, who also did Big Bird) interjects his own commentary as the story-song progresses, and these reactions are the highlight of the number. You will probably never see Oscar as happy as Johnny Cash and the saga of Nasty Dan make him. “Nasty Dan” was an original composition by songwriter Jeff Moss, who also penned the Sesame Street breakout hit “Rubber Duckie.” Johnny Cash would later re-record the song for his 1975 children’s album.
Now, I’m going to wrap up this series and get out of Dodge, just in case our own Nasty Dan comes looking for trouble.
7. TIME TRAVEL
Chronotron is without a doubt the best interactive simulation of time travel I’ve come across. This flash game requires you to pass through each level several times, with each iteration serving as a “past self” to help you reach the goal. It’s kind of like those loop musicians who put together songs by layering multiple tracks: Each of your “past selves” moves and acts just as you did during that iteration, and the “present you” must rely on them to press switches, pounce on see-saws, and activate or deactivate other obstacles at the correct times to enable you to collect a computer chip and repair your time machine. But stay out of their way…if you inadvertently flip a switch or, worse yet, erase a block, a past self may become trapped and unable to complete its circuit back to the machine. This triggers a paradox, which ends the game.
Like any good game, Chronotron starts out simple, but gradually builds in complexity. I have yet to clear level 18, in which floor tiles fall aways as they are stepped on: You must carefully plan where each iteration of yourself will walk, and then make sure to touch ONLY THOSE SPECIFIC TILES, even as five or six others of you are hopping around retracing past paths. Hey, it wouldn’t be time travel without a few headaches, right?
As “Ten Things Brian Likes” draws to a close, I sometimes wish I could time travel back to the beginning and experience it all again. But not right now. I need to cue up another round of Chronotron.
8. JAMES ROLFE
[“The Dragon in My Dreams”]
In my original post, I raved about the influence Cinemassacre 200 had on my life. Well, time passed, the tally kept climbing, and James Rolfe eventually made a similar short documentary to mark #300 in his filmography. The years was 2010. Rolfe was 30, and I was 20. In “Dragon in My Dreams,” Rolfe decides to take us back to his personal past, as far back as he can remember. He travels to his childhood hometown, seeking his “own fountain of youth”: a dragon fountain which inspired his earliest nightmare. On his journey, he muses about the nature of fear and the power of imagination, and the impact they have had on him on his path to becoming a filmmaker.
Every ending is a new beginning, and we’ve got to keep moving forward. Two more segments to finish up before we’re on to the next adventure!
9. RAZOR: FURTHER ADVENTURES
I mulled over a few options for my final Razor nod. Should I show off the increasingly ornate chests I’ve stored the sacred deck in over the years? Maybe I should share a bit more about the lead characters or Razor’s world. But then I remembered I mentioned the laser camel and never delivered. So that you won’t hate me forever, I did a little digging through a suitcase full of my old doodles.
And here you go: a laser camel.
Like a laser beam, this series flew by in a flash. Only one category remains.
10. MOVING MUPPET MOMENTS
Failing to be overly verbose has never been a problem for me before, but now…*sniff*…I simply can’t seem to find the words. So, as before, I’ll let the Muppets sign off for me. Our final Moving Muppet Moment, and our final, ultimate, last, concluding selection of the “10 Things Brian Likes” series is “Saying Goodbye,” from 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan (coincidentally the last theatrical Muppet feature on which Jim Henson worked).
“Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we’ve had.
Much more to say, foolish to try,
It’s time for saying goodbye.
“Somehow I know we’ll meet again
not sure quite where and I don’t know just when.
You’re in my heart, so until then,
Wanna smile, wanna cry…saying goodbye.”