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Isaac Sher
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Isaac's #Nerdy9th  Wrestling Primer, Part the Eighth:  Reality Creeps In.

Sorry for the delay since the last installment; it's been a hell of a week, but let's get right down to it.

As things stand right now, WWE is still unquestioned master of the pro wrestling world, and Wrestlemania is still the industry's "super bowl".  Over the last decade, John Cena rose through the ranks, slowly shedding his "white boy rapper" gimmick, and becoming the company's uber-dominant All-American Face -- a Hulk Hogan for the 21st century, if you will.  However, he's starting to slow down, and the WWE is clearly thinking hard about who is going to eventually replace him.  

Right now, the top two contenders are Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns.  It would've been top three, with CM Punk in the mix, but about a year ago, he apparently just got fed up with how he was being treated and quit very abruptly.  Fans would like nothing more than to see Punk return, and you still get "CM PUNK" chants from the arena crowds on a regular basis, but Punk's made it clear that at best, he needs a break from Pro Wrestling, and never wants to work for WWE again.  That being said, there have been more explosive real-life disputes between famous wrestlers and their companies that have eventually settled down, like with Bret Hart, so I wouldn't be shocked of Punk eventually made his way back.  Wrestling has a way of getting into people's blood, and even the most jaded fans and performers eventually turn up again.  

Of the two top guys left, Daniel Bryan is the clear choice of the fanbase.  He's brilliant in the ring, a seasoned veteran, seems more accessible and easier to identify with on account of being smaller than most wrestlers, and has nurtured a fantastic gimmick revolving around the "YES! Movement", where he's presented as the ultimate underdog, the little wrestler that could.

Unfortunately, Vince McMahon has a long-standing and well documented bias against smaller wrestlers, convinced that "big men" are the way to true mainstream fame.  Thus it became clear over the last year that Roman Reigns would be the company's first choice to become the new big hero.  Reigns is a staggeringly impressive physical specimen; he's tall, with long and muscular arms and legs, he's incredibly handsome, making the most of his rugged Samoan features, making him look like a cross between The Rock (who is his cousin) and Jason Momoa.  And he's great in the ring, but a little rough on the microphone.   The fans have made it clear that while they do like Reigns, they like Bryan more, and resent Reigns getting shoved down their throats, so where the WWE goes with this in the future is anyone's guess.

In the meantime, many hardcore wrestling fans are actually more interested in what's going on in the WWE's "farm league", the mini-fed known as NXT, based out of Full Sail University in Flordia.  The brainchild of Triple H, an Attitude-Era wrestler who ended up marrying McMahon's daughter and becoming one of the top men in the company boardroom (and still occasionally gets into the ring), NXT puts a greater emphasis on in-ring action over complex storylines (especially for women wrestlers), emphasizing wrestler's past work with other companies rather than pretending they've never been anything but under WWE contract, and being willing to experiment and take risks. 

This period in wrestling is referred to mostly as "The Reality Era", and is generally considered an upswing in quality overall.  The name comes from the fact that the WWE has gotten in on the Reality TV craze, not only in how some of its backstage segments are handled, but even having an actual reality show of their own, "Total Divas" -- and it's rumored that they'll be bringing back the "Tough Enough" competition show as well, that follows wanna-be wrestlers competing for a WWE contract.  The name also comes from the fact that the line between kayfabe and reality is exceptionally blurred these days, making the job of writing storylines for wrestling much more difficult than it's ever been, especially with the need to be able to change course on the fly if storylines don't go over as well as expected -- like the current Roman Reigns push.

There are other feds around, of course.  TNA is still limping around, although most of their best talent has jumped ship.  Ring of Honor is still out there, among a multitude of other small feds, and new ones are popping up all the time -- like Lucha Underground, produced by famed film director Robert Rodriguez, which meshes Hollywood-level production values with Mexican-style Lucha Libre wrestling, important many Lucha veterans and attracting a surprising number of former WWE wrestlers, like John Morrison, Alberto Del Rio, and even Matt Striker as their primary play-by-play announcer.  

Overall, the future of Professional Wrestling looks very bright.  It's anyone's guess as to where the Next Big Thing will come from -- if someone already working in the ring will suddenly capture the world's attention, or if some newcomer or new idea will rear its head.  
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I've been meaning to, but I never get around to it.  Got any specific suggestions as to shows or matches to look for?
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Gretchen is in an interview right now for a job -- good vibes are deeply appreciated, everyone!
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Nothing to do but wait, then. Here's hoping that it won't actually take that long.
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This morning, I was dithering a bit as to what sort of character I wanted to play in Curt’s upcoming “Manhattan Nocturne” game, which is a sort of 20’s Jazz/Noir game, but with some steampunk and fantasy elements thrown in.

I knew I wanted to play some sort of bare-handed brawler, a veteran in the city’s “Mistrunner” community, folks who brave the outskirts of the city to recover much needed goods and luxury treasures alike when the reality-warping mists ebb and flow to deposit new lands, creatures, and items on the city’s shores.

So, what about an Orc, in the World of Warcraft mold? Orcs are big muscular dudes, so they’re good brawlers… but I didn’t want to play Proud Warrior Race Guy. So while Curt and I were talking about this in the car this morning, I imagined him in a fedora… and then in a red fedora, and then in a red zoot-suit. Which then let to me imagining that he’d look like a walking Christmas ornament what with his red suit and green skin… BOOM. Suddenly, I had his persona.

A relatively poor orc from the Orcish quarter of Harlem (where most of the “Night folk” live in this city), Gurakh saved up his coin to get his first nice suit, to try and get himself a job in the better part of town. But the suit that he picked out was in a bright red color, and led to people calling him “Mister Christmas”, which stuck. Now that he’s a Mistrunner, exploring lethal terrain to bring back precious goods, he likes to joke that it’s now his job to bring “presents” back to the city. “Guess what Mister Christmas has in his sack this time!” He’s proud of his contributions to the city, is a gregarious and happy-go-lucky fellow, and plays the trombone reasonably well as a side-hobby.

We also decided that colors work a little different in Orcish eyes. Hues that appear exceptionally bright and vivid to us seem rather drab and subdued in comparison to Orcs (partly because of their enhanced night vision), so there’s a running joke among Manhattan Nocture that Orcs are infamous for dressing garishly. “Decked out like an Orcish hooker”. Meanwhile, Orcs look at everyone else and wonder why everyone dresses like they’re going to a funeral.

We were talking about how Orcs almost certainly wouldn’t celebrate Christmas, so some orcs would see him as being a bit of a minstrel/sellout, while he defends it as Christmas being a secular holiday anyway, and that he’s just doing what he needs to in order to help support his clan – when one of us joked about how amusing it would be if the real reason that the other orcs were upset with this Mister Christmas business is because all the orcs in this city were Jewish. And suddenly, everything clicked into place.

In this city’s early days of chaos, the orcs that got dropped into the city settled on the edges of Harlem, right next to a large Jewish neighborhood. After some initial wariness, the two communities found that they had quite a bit to offer each other. The Orcs provided muscle and martial prowess, as well as an instinct for navigating the politics of the city’s new and more vicious power blocs. The Jews provided cultural context for the new world, a calming influence on the more hot-blooded orcs, and most importantly, spiritual solace. The Orcs felt rudderless and cut off from their brutal gods, and the structure and “live in the now” philosophy of their Jewish neighbors appealled to them immensely. Furthermore, the idea of no longer having to sacrifice their best and brightest on bloody altars was an added bonus, as the parable of Isaac and Abraham resonated especially strongly with them.

So the Jewish and Orcish populations have intermingled over the last few decades, to the point that it’s quite common for Jews of the city to have some Orcish blood, and for many Orcs to have some Jewish human DNA in them. The various rules of orthodox Jewish life have had to be relaxed or modified somewhat due to their world’s odd circumstances (no sunset, for example), but the overall structure that their faith and culture gives them has served both human and orc very well. Thus my character Gurakh became Gurakh Cohen, and there will be an NPC Rabbi mentor for him named Rabbi Shlomo Helmcleaver.

I couldn’t stop giggling for twenty minutes after we came up with that last name.
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I just want to hear +Curt Thompson voice Shlomo! 
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During the middle of my college career, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones came to our campus and held a concert. I'd never heard of this band, but I had nothing else to do that night, so I figured, why not?

I am so glad that I did. Bela Fleck made me reconsider what little I knew about the Banjo and what it was capable of, but the real eye-opener was his bandmate Victor Wooten, whom I've heard described as one of the greatest bass guitar players in history -- a title which I have no trouble believing at all. That man puts a bass through paces that I simply didn't know were possible.

When I saw them, the band was still just a trio, with Bela, Victor, and Victor's brother "Future Man", who played a portable percussion device of his own invention. A couple of years later, they'd add a fourth member on woodwinds, and released a Greatest Hits Of The 20th Century Album, which I immediately bought, and this track became my standout favorite -- "Stomping Grounds".

Imagine a three-way "dueling banjos" musical improv, but with a banjo, bass guitar, and clarinet. The infectious joy and energy of this song is impossible to deny, and you can't NOT see the band grinning like giddy loons as they play this. Perfection.
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Maybe it's just me, but I've found that this song holds an interesting place in music history. Titled "Breakaway" or "I Can't Break Away", this song set the tone perfectly for the opening credits of BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, and everyone I know of who's seen that movie absolutely loves this song.

But how many of you can name the band that performed this?

That band would turn out to be the Australian/New Zealand band BIG PIG, who featured this song on their first album, BONK. Fronted by the beautiful "Sherine", Big Pig seemed to have some real ambition, taking inspiration from Japanese taiko drums and other odd bits of instrumentation, but they never managed to really capitalize on their Bill & Ted fame.

One reason might be their odd choice of marketing. I found BONK in a thrift store bargain bin for a dollar back in my college years, and the booklet inside is a masterclass on How Not To Hype Your Band.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a band being named "Big Pig", there's been far stranger band names out there that have been extremely successful, but someone had the not-so-bright idea of dressing up the entire band in butcher aprons and shoulder-length rubber butcher gloves. Even the hot lead singer was reduced to this unsexy display, and the photos of the various band members in this getup, both alone and in groups, had everyone wearing the same facial expression, one that eloquently said, "why the hell am I wearing this crap?" I know I would've fired my band's manager if that'd been me.

You can tell the band taiko music, because the driving beat behind this song is just genius. Constantly pushing the song forward, evoking a beating heart, powerful and loud without overpowering the melody. Sherine's voice is a real treat, a voice that could have been equally at home doing blues standards, rock anthems, or even heavy metal, and yet she never had the opportunity to really take to the world stage beyond this one-hit-wonder. A shame, really.

But we'll always have this one song from Big Pig, and for that, I'm grateful. EXCELLENT!
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That Feeling When you wake up, and you've had a really interesting dream, to the point that you want to post online about it -- and then within five minutes of waking, while you're doing your morning hygiene, the dream evaporates so entirely out of your head that for a moment, you almost forget that you even had one at all.
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It's why I have so many insane dream log posts. Can just post from the phone the moment I wake.
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This might sound like a silly question, but…

Is there anyone else out there besides me, who really really likes the song “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins?
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+Curt Thompson Given that they were a couple, it's probably for the best.
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Well, that was unexpected.  My brain pulled something odd on me that's never happened before.

I'm driving home from picking Eli up from school, and I put on the youtube app on my phone, basically just to listen to some music I have saved in playlists there.  The first song that comes up is "When Can I See You Again" by Owl City, from the soundtrack for Wreck-it Ralph.

As the song starts, my brain suddenly imagines something unusually elaborate.  It takes this romance story that I'm working on, imagines what it would look like if it was made into an anime, and then further ponders what a fan-made music video to it would look like, using Owl City's song as the music.  Not only did this give me mental visuals of some key scenes I've done, but also expanded on some of them, and even suggested a couple of scenes that haven't even been in my notes yet.

In all my years of coming up with stories and characters, I think this is the first time that one of my creations has hooked into the core of my brain so thoroughly as to spontaneously create its own meta-narrative.  I'm both impressed and vaguely wigged out by this.
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Now you should write fan fic about your unfinished story
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Had a 45-minute PokeWalk tonight. Hatched a Meowth from an egg, and then caught my very first Machop. Turns out that the tennis courts across from the Jefferson Park post office are a known Machop spawnpoint, so I'll definitely be returning there.
Ran into a young couple again that I'd first met on a walk last week, a guy named Angel and a lady named Holly, who has this really neat birds-in-flight tattoo along the length of her right arm. Really friendly folks, and we talked for about ten minutes about life in general, in addition to game-related stuff. I suspect I'll be seeing them around a lot on these walks, and they were pleased to see me as well. There were a couple of other folks around as well, guys named Mike and Asher. Nice folks.
The social aspect of Pokemon Go is what really makes the whole thing so amazing. The shared love of the game makes for the easiest possible opening ice-breaker, where discussions of "hey, you can find a Squirtle over by that bus stop" can then lead into all sorts of other topics. I fully expect to see stories of "we met and fell in love over our mutual interest in Pokemon Go" to start showing up within a couple of weeks.
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Yup.
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Time for something more recent, and a little different.

If you don't follow professional wrestling these days, then you very likely have never heard the name "Shinsuke Nakamura"...

"Uh, Isaac, this is a MUSIC collection, what the hell are you talking about wrestling for?"

Bear with me, I'm getting there.

Nakamura is an amazing performer, with an in-ring approach called "Strong Style" that incorporates innovative grappling, agility, and most of all, Nakamura's array of exceptionally impressive looking kicks and knee strikes. He's incredibly charismatic, with an in-ring persona that's equal parts Freddy Mercury, Michael Jackson, and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.

A mainstay of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Nakamura joined the WWE in America this year, and has thought by many to be on the verge of a huge public splash on national television.

Last march, he wrestled his very first match in the states against the very awesome Sami Zayn, and when Nakamura's entrance began, THIS song is what heralded him, a brand new piece called "The Rising Sun", composed by WWE's in-house musical crew.

The instant the guitar riffs started on this one, I was hooked. It's a fascinating blend of western music and eastern bits, and I could listen to this all day. And if Nakamura does become the next pop culture phenomenon that many suspect he will, you might be hearing this music in some surprising places in the future. 
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I deeply regret that I don't have a link where I can share this music directly, because this album is simply magnificent. Originally composed in the late 70's under the name Walter Carlos, Walter would transition to female at some point in the 80's, and became known as Wendy Carlos.

Wendy Carlos has several notable works that hold quiet but significant importance in our cultural history -- such as the soundtrack to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and TRON. One of her earliest works was "Switched-On Bach", where she performed Bach and other classical pieces on a Moog synthesizer, an incredibly impressive feat on account of how Moogs could only record one track at a time, so that meant she would have to record individual "instruments" one by one, and then overlay them with each other to get the full orchestral effect.

Switched-On Bach was a critical darling, but it seems that her followup, this album I've linked to today, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, was largely passed over. That's a real shame, because I consider this to be a superior album in all ways. The first half in particular, where she performs Scarlatti and Handel's Water Music, was some of the first music I remember listening to as a small child. I learned how to operate a record player at age five under my mother's watchful eye, entirely so I could listen to this album.

If you are looking for something both new and old to listen to, buy this immediately. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
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All the Bach work (she release Switched On Bach II, as well as all the rest of the Brandenburg Concertos that weren't part of I & II), and Sonic Seasonings are my favorites. Some of her later work is quite good as well, Beauty in the Beast, Tales of Heaven & Hell. And who could forget her work with Weird Al doing Peter & the Wolf and a piss take on Carnival of the Animals?
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I'm going to start this new collection with the lead track on the very first CD I ever bought. Now, this wasn't my first music purchase overall, just in the CD format. And I've still got this disc.

I first heard Kon Kan at the cast party for my high school's wildly successful production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, held at Heath Farouz's house, circa 1991. At the time, everyone else in the cast seemed to know this song intimately, immediately clearing the way for a big coordinated dance. I couldn't dance for crap, but I was immediately looked, and went on to devour the entire album, titled "Move to Move".

Apparently this style is called "acid house rock", but I've never come across anything else that sounded quite lick Kon Kan.

I've always been a sucker for synthesizers (you're going to see a LOT of stuff in this collection that's either made by or inspired heavily by Vincent Clarke), and Kon Kan is certainly into that approach. There's such a wonderfully smooth and fast beat that it never fails to wake me up and get my blood flowing a bit more than it was before.
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