Thursday, August 28, 2003


I walked into the non-air conditioned tailor shop, sweating as it was, struggling with the six suits slumped over my shoulder. Despite they're just being cloth and buttons and thread, they were still heavy and burdensome. But I had been pushing this day off for quite some time and it had to get done.

I was there, in this random strip-mall location, because I was getting my father's suits fitted to my specifications. And it only seemed appropriate that I get them done at the same place my father used to bring his newly purchased suits. I was also sure that it would cheaper in New Jersey than at the cleaners in New York City who had a tendency to rip the shirt off your back and then dry clean it.

The tailor, his name I can't remember, was a large tall black man with an accent of some kind (he said later on that he was from the Caribbean). He had a gold chain around his muscular neck and a gold bracelet hanging from his wrist, he wore a sweaty white shirt with the first few buttons open and the sleeves rolled up. I had never been there before so he asked me who I was.

"My mom lives around here," I said. I explained that these suits were my dad's and I now had them to wear. Except they were obviously too big on me.
"Did your fahtha leeve around 'ere?" he asked.
I said, yes, and in fact, he had been here before.
"Oh, 'oo is your fahtha?"
"Rabbi Dworken."
"Oh yes, I know eem. What a wonderful mahn. So friendlee. 'Ow is he?"
Apparently, no one had told him. And why should anybody have. It's not like the local tailor gets the synagogue bulletin. This exchange is one that I always dread having. The one I want to avoid desperately. How do you tactfully tell someone your father has passed away without making him or her feel bad? I didn't know. Not then. And I still don't.
"He actually passed away a few months back," I solemnly said but not too solemnly so as not to upset my friend with the measuring tape and needle in hand.
"Oh, dear. That's terrible. I'm so sorry. How 'orrible." And he then went on with all the fond memories he and my father shared. As if my father's occasional visits were the highlights of this man's career. In truth, I wasn't paying much attention. I was too busy focusing on how crappy this whole scene was. My standing in the tailor, my father's tailor, trying on his suits, the suits he used to wear. All because he no longer had use for them.

We eventually changed the topic, still mentioning my Dad every so often.
"Your dad always had nice tayste," the tailor said while examining the suit I was wearing. "He always brought in such nice suits. So proud that 'ee found 'em on sale. Ha ha."
Ha ha. I laughed along with him. So true.

I went back and forth into the changing room, putting on another pair of his pants. Then his jackets. I had never noticed how much larger my father was than I was. I guess I never paid that much attention to his waste size.
As I continued to put the pants on (it seemed that I was now the one to wear pants in the family), I would discover something in the pockets every so often. I could always count on my father for many things but one particular quality that he always delivered on was tissues from his back pocket. An admirable habit considering he never used them--they were always for others to use. And I used them quite frequently. "Why don't you get your own," he would joke. Because as long as your around, I don't have to.
But on this afternoon, hot and humid, air condition-less, I took them out, dropped them on the floor and saw his tissues pile into a makeshift memorial to his reliability. All those tissues, all of them for other peoples' noses.

I stood there, looking in the mirror, seeing myself in a suit I had once seen my Dad in, not too long ago. And I got a bit creeped out. It was eerie. It was almost ghostly. Like in the movies, when someone gets sent down from heaven and put into someone else's body to save a family fortune or to tell his wife he loves her for one last time (or in an M. Night Shymalam movie, to solve a murder). One minute your person A but then you look in the mirror and you're person B.

I came out wearing the final suit that I would try on that day and stepped up onto the platform positioned before the triple angled mirror. The tailor began working on what would be his final Steven Dworken suit.
With pins in his mouth, he looked up and said, "your fahtha was truly, truly a wonderful mahn. You 'ave some large shoes to fill."
And unfortunately, it seemed, as I looked at my reflection one more time, some suits as well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003


I haven't been to mall in a long time. And if you're from New Jersey, which I am, that is akin to saying I haven't eaten in a few days. The urgency is not the same but the activity itself is that normal and regular. It's like people in New Jersey eat and when they don't, they go to the mall.

Well, the other day when I went to the home of the first hats-while-you-wait in Bergen County, I realized it actually had been too long since I wandered aimlessly (also called loitering) with my fellow mall rats. It seems that since I had been there last, a great deal of my white trash bretheren have developed a serious sense of style. Everything had changed. While it had always been easy for me to scoff at their sports jersey and baggy pants uniforms, their propensity to pick everything out 13 and a half size too big, this time it was different. The kids, as many today call the youth ranging from 12-26, have traded in their Roca Wear for some Mickey Mouse ringer T. They wear tight clothing, cool clothing. It's no longer a goal to look gangsta. Hell, in the mouse theme, some even wear Modest Mouse t-shirts or vintage day camp T-shirts. Where was I when this happened? Where was moi when the whigger moved out and was replaced by the hipster? Well, in New York City, actually.... but that's not the point. What is the point is that they all found out about vintage clothing, about wristbands, about ripped jeans and clothes that looked like that had been through a blackout or two. I mean, I've been wearing a wristband for two years and now I just look like a goddamn pathetic high school kid. How sad is this? And even worse, how snobby do I sound?

I began wondering: What is with the obsession for vintage clothing? Why is it that most in-the-knows and those that are even not-in-the-knows are clued in to the aesthetic that most downtown New Yorkers have been secretly adapting for almost 30 years? Is style much like real estate--does it get to a point where it’s pushed out to the neighboring cities?

One could argue that the desire to look "broken-in" is connected to a wanting to relive the past or at least, to just symbolize it. That the clothes are significant because they represent an existing of a past, that the person wearing it is not just "right now" but is also "has been" and "will be." The vintage clothing represents to those walking by that I went somewhere (most probably a thrift shop), I have been to a concert, I went on a roller coaster, etc. Meaning I have a story or two to tell you and you can tell this by just looking at the words across my shirt ("My Parents Went to Florida and All I Got..."). One could say the same is happening in music. The whole retro rock scene is just a bunch of musicians saying, with music, that we've been around. We know the old stuff, the good stuff, we've heard Elvis, the Ramones, the Nuggets boxset. This is a way of showing you something about us. What we're into. Lyrically, we'll even tell you some stories. Perhaps things were better back then. When this T-shirt was new. When this sound you're hearing was fresh.

Incidentally, this could also be why most don't create music for the future or for that matter, wear clothes that would be considered futuristic (have you seen someone in the mall all dressed in aluminum foil?). There's no emotional attachment to the future. No one is looking forward to the next minute unless you're going on vacation. But even if that's the case, looking back on a vacation is always nicer than being on it. Nostalgia is the market to that everyone wants to profit from.

But then if that theory is remotely accurate, how do you explain the recent influx of chain stores washing and rewashing their clothing to make them look old and used....? And furthermore, what about the lower age spectrum of the "kids" that don't really have that many memories yet? That are wearing false projections. You weren't there (Bob Seeger '78? No way. You're 14!) yet and chances are you will never have been there.

Hmmm, good question. Well, the first answer: chain stores respond to teens, not the other way around. They're always one Ritalin step behind. And they've discovered that the Kids have caught on to emo, punk, the vintage look, from their rock stars, thier new role models. It's a new world out there where black people listen to hip-hop and white kids listen to people whining. Indeed, the emperor has new clothes....well, actually, they're vintage. But anyway...This new supply-demand model technically answers the second question. Not to berate the suburban population (how often do you get to say that?) but malls create conformity--no shock there--and the masses shop in the malls, God bless them. Hell, I even found a store in the mall that I think has great, comfortable clothing. I'm psyched about it and I'll be back there often! As far as I'm concerned I plan on shopping at Hollister Co. ( even if it means that I'll find some high school kid wearing the same T-shirt as me some day. And I'm sure I'll look at him and he'll look at me and we'll both wonder, what does he mean by wearing that T-shirt? He'll then think; is that "Santa Monica '82" T-shirt we're both wearing more accurate on him than it is on me? After all, I've never been to Santa Monica.....

Wednesday, August 20, 2003


Jason Mraz
Waiting For My Rocket To Come

I once had a dream where I was sitting in a comparative Lit class at the University of Michigan. And smack in the middle of my professor’s lecture, Dave Matthews burst into the classroom with an army of angry John Mayer zombies. Dave yells, kill them all! Eat their brains! And the Mayers slowly chug their way over to those frozen-in-fear. The undead then open wide and begin to chomp on the countless minds of impressionable optimistic students who will no longer have a brain to make decisions with, like which frat house will I drink at tonight?

I had forgotten all about this nightmare. That is, until I put on the Jason Mraz’s (sounds like "more ass") Waiting For My Rocket to Come. Song after song, this is the blueprint for the new genre known as "americagenerica." In fact, if this album were any more generic, it would be wrapped in Duane Reade packaging with an "Adult Alternative" label emblazoned on it.

And what makes this album even more insulting is the smug delivery, the way Mraz spews "witty" lyrics from the mouth on his pretty face. Take this line from "I’ll Do Anything," for example:
"Are you in mood for some dude/ are you in the mood to be subdued?/…let us jet set/ we’ll be like the Jetsons/you can be Jane my wife/should I marry Jane tonight." This is actually just one of the many elbow-in-your-ribs that make up this perfect fodder for SUV’s everywhere (preferably, though, on the way to the beach wearing an Aeropostale bathing suit).

Hey, he plays his own instruments, he writes his own songs. Isn’t there some merit in that? Yes, one could argue these valid points. One could but one shouldn’t.
What takes away the guilty pleasure factor in a pop album of this nature is the level of integrity it strives for. Mraz "earnestly" yelps every word as if these songs are the lifeblood, the essence of his existence but then upon closer inspection, you know, you truly deep down know that he recorded these tunes just so they can be featured prime time on the WB. That sort of trickery doesn’t bode well with me.

And I do have to admit; I don’t know what’s going on in Mraz’s head but upon superficial hearing (which is just about all I can take), I am left feeling empty. This pain in my stomach can only come from a label creation taken out of an Abercrombie catalogue (I know—my second clothing reference) or from hunger. In this case, it’s both. I need something more or I need something less. Mraz is somewhere in-between, a listening experience that at the end of the record makes me feel like my brain too had been eaten by a John Mayer zombie. And that would be bad because God knows I need it for organizing my upcoming kegger.

[PS if you still had respect for Liz Phair, even after the last self-titled release, consider this: she opened for Jason Mraz on his last tour]

Wednesday, August 13, 2003


When I was a child, I had a lot of expectations for when I got older. I wanted to one day drive a Chevy Celebrity station wagon. I thought I would inevitably be a fireman, a police man, or more realistically, a super hero. I also expected to be super, filthy, freakin', monsterously rich. Apparently, as you can see (I don't have a car, I'm a writer, and...well, no comment) not everything worked out as planned. But I distinctly recall that when I reached the point of junior high, I began taking rock music more seriously and childish pursuits less so. And as I listened to a cassette in my room, lying on the floor, dreaming about Phoebe Cates, I also wondered what it would be like to be friends with a rock star and whether I would ever have that luxury or not.

Well, last night I conducted a drunken, sloppy, yet highly entertaining interview with three gentlemen who are rock stars. And coincidentally, between you and me, they also happen to be friends.


The Wrens are one of the most important bands that you don't know.

A pretty heavy statement to make, indeed. A statement that almost puts my reputation on the line. I mean, let's say you happen to pick up their latest triumph, "the Meadowlands," and you listen to it and think, hmmm, this is cool but why the fuss...then all I have to say is--and I refrain from ever saying this condescending proverbial slap in your standards' face--you don't get it.

Before I bite and chew into your perceptions of good and bad and, more or less, shake the world on which you stand on (wow! such drama!), I'll give you a background of the Wrens. But first let me to introduce you to Ben Greenman of the New Yorker:

"In 1996...a New Jersey foursome named the Wrens released their second album, "Secacus. Though label problems left the album in limbo, it was hailed by the diskerati as a great lost masterpiece. Seven years later, the Wrens, still together have delivered "the Meadowlands" to the faithful, but not only to the faithful--this time it's clear that the band means to make a bigger splash."

Well said, Ben. Thanks for dropping by. Please keep in touch.

"Secaucus," the album that Ben refers to as a masterpiece is actually just that (which is why I quoted him--he said it before me). When you grow up in the suburbs and all you have is a plethora of 7-11's, an album like this means so much to the occupier of the teenage bedroom of angst. It rocks out, it rocks in, it pops like Pop Rocks (sweet like that too), it harmonizes, it romanticizes. It slings longing and desperation at full speed, it aims to hurt, heal, apologize and then wreck the room. In fact, everyone I know and respect in the music industry works their tails off to gain credibility so they can bring bands like this up with them. It sure as hell is an inspiration for me. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not resting until one of these guys is dating Winona Ryder.

And the record that may make that possible, "the Meadowlands," which occupied almost seven years of effort, actually sounds like it took seven years to make. The intricacies, the spastic undertones of subtle guitars, the desire to burst forth from the plastic of the manufactured CD and to exist within the vibrant colors of the world around us.

You with me?
Ok, now inhale. Good. Exhale.
Here we go...

The album opens with the quiet sounds of the street in an anonymous town, the chirps of crickets, the passing-by of cars and the reflections of their headlights as they haunt the facades of broken homes. "It's been so long since you heard from me," the drummer, Jerry MacDonell croons. "... And I'm nowhere near where I dreamed I'd be/ I can't believe what life's done to me." A sentiment that pierces a confident exterior and reveals the insecurities of everyone everywhere. Then "the Meadowlands" brilliantly segues into "Happy" with Sett, the lead singer revealing, "I was wrong to waste it all/I can't figure it out what happened to us...I'll be alright/ Don't worry about me...I wanted you but I'm over that now." The simplicity of the lyrics and the earnestness almost feels voyeuristic. Should I be listening to someone confessing this sort of thing, one wonders, even if it is available for public consumption?

"This Boy Is Exhausted," one of the best tunes on the album, is a story of a desperate band lashing out at a clueless A&R rep with a major label (true story: they wrote this song to play for a clueless A&R rep at a major label. He never picked up on it, even as he blasted it in his office with the band sitting across from him). But what makes this song so potent is that it's told from the perspective of the rep. "I can't write/what I know is not worth knowing/ I can't tell a hit from hell...this boy is exhausted."

Throughout all these songs, Charles "Mexico," the lead guitarist of the band, is more of a painter than a musician. His licks are so sensual and attractive that they could almost hang from a wall. It's so much more three-dimensional than the usual short-comings of most indie-rock guitarists.This is most apparent in the latter half of "16 Months in 6 Minutes," a gentle song that almost offers a shoulder to place one's head on. But these musical expressions are only the case because the other guitarist, brother Whelan G.E., is Mexico's ideal partner (not socially, but in the band). He is the essential backbone to Charles' body.

All these previously stated components of the album are bits and pieces that make a completely wonderful output. It's a record that needs the time to grow with and adore, just as it took time to make. "The Meadowlands" is a special treasure that certainly everyone will gain from if only they went back to their suburban bedrooms, realized the angst and struggles of regular people. If they escaped into the hidden rooms of self-consciousness and honesty. The potency of realness. No shtick. Almost naked, reflecting in the mirror of our celebratory-yet-disastrous lives. Only then will they get it.

And to think I'm friends with these guys.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


- Get a room, guys, not a "reply all."

- No no no no no. YES!

- Oh, yeah? Well, your face is too fleshy.

- Why don't you take a right turn to HELL! And that's what I call directions!

- Well, the kosher meat store just called and said that they ran out of wieners!

- I may be drunk tonight but you'll still be my girlfriend in the morning.

- (Only applicable when talking to Anne Heche) If they had written your biography the title should be "Call Me Crazy!"

- I remember Bosnia, dude, and you are no Bosnian.

- (or; alternate) I remember Bosnia, dude, and not much else.

- Your mom is so hot that I turned on the air-conditioner for her in the living room.

- Poetry is for poets!

- You have more issues than a Hudson Newstand.

- Let's get off moms because I just got off mine!

- (Only applicable when talking to Woody Allen) Oh, yeah? Well, why don't you just marry your daughter?

- (Only applicable when talking to a Medical School student) You HAVE no pulse!

- Dude, I'm not homophobic! I don't even own a car!

- Just make like an intern and go surf the internet!

- Well, I haven't been around this many stupid since I was alone in a room!

Wednesday, August 06, 2003



I know. You’re confused. Yes, this is a Mandy Moore review and no, this isn’t Seventeen Magazine or YM, for that matter. And as weird as you feel reading this, I feel even weirder writing it.
But that’s just where the strangeness begins. Mandy’s new album, Coverage, is a bizarre and random collection of covers by artists like XTC, Blondie, Elton John, Cat Stevens, the Waterboys, etc. Moreover, the album is both hyper-produced by Jon Fields, the same “dude” that brought to you the Andrew WK beer keg experience, and proudly claims an Evan Dando cameo.

[I’m completely serious]

All this should really culminate into one big Moore mess that sends purists running to the bathroom vomiting all over their copy of Teen Beat. And how many wish that this was true, that Mandy had indeed made a total ass of herself.

But surprise—it’s quite good.

The first song, “Senses Working Overtime,” a pretty odd and brave song to start off with, has the winning charm of a lost Hanson session--which is a good thing. That XTC tune even comes complete (as her website brags) with “modern DJ scratches” (I wasn’t aware of “ancient DJ scratches”) and wedding cake-layered harmonies. Then the album makes a seamless transition into the record's best track; the Waterboys' "Whole of the Moon," terrific fodder for a romantic-comedy soundtrack. I can imagine Kate Beckinsale dancing in the rain looking for her lost love while Mandy sings in the background "I saw the rain-dirty valley/You saw brigadoon/I saw the crescent/You saw the whole of the moon!"

In an interview, appropriately enough, in Interview Magazine, Moore insists she picked the songs all by herself like a big girl. This is the stuff "people have been getting [her] into recently and [she] wants to spread it around" sort of like a disease. And while a majority of her favorites are chart hits by their respective original artists, a choice like "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters" makes it all worthwhile. This Elton John classic is perhaps one of his most overlooked and, thankfully for Moore, also not a cover of "Tiny Dancer" (shame on you, Ben Folds!).

Most importantly, though, the implications of this album are significantly more impressive than the actual music itself and that boldness should not be overlooked. Moore, while trying to maintain relevance and growing up in the spotlight, i.e. hitting puberty, is also trying to bring her audience along with her on the road to integrity. She is unabashedly saying, hey guys (insert Mandy Moore Giggle (TM) right about here) there was music before 1997 and it's pretty damn good. Justin Timberlake has subtly hinted at this idea with Justified, an album of near-covers (Stevie Wonder? Michael Jackson? Is that you?) but he never blatantly declared it. And Timberlake could also never get away with using a xylophone as Moore does in her treatment of Joe Jackson's "Breaking Us In Two."

But, one could ask, how does Coverage differ from, say, Britney's cover of "Satisfaction' or for that matter, Christina's new image overhaul which is very adult, as in Cinemax-late-night-adult?

Easy. Moore's music is not ugly, for one, and it's also not like watching a violent New Jersey Turnpike car crash into a pathetic Tiffany-like obscurity. This is Mandy validating herself to the gods of Where Are They Now, successfully so. Coverage is a sincere homage, her way of showing appreciation for a glorious back catalogue of never-ending pop ingenuity.

Truthfully, Mandy is also much easier to like. To quote a slightly fey friend of mine, "she is and always will be a treat." And after listening to this refreshingly guilty pleasure, I couldn't agree Moore.

Monday, August 04, 2003


[Jeff "Timecop" VanDam, who has requested that this post be removed, is also know to eat food that many would call "hearty." Others would just call it "unhealthy." You can send fan mail to]