Live, It's SNL and Cash! Plus: Digitize Your Stereo

Sure, you could hit the mall this weekend. Stand in line. Buy gifts. Or you could procrastinate. If you fall into the latter camp, we have a few suggestions. SNL's very first season is finally out on DVD (and it's definitely funnier than the current season). Johnny Cash fans will crave the reissue of his 1969 San Quentin concert, complete with prison jokes and top-notch opening acts. For those who are already tired of relentless holiday cheer, revel in the bile of Frost, a darkly comedic novel by Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. We'll also tell you how to bring digital music to your stereo with a minimum of fuss, and where to turn online when you have a burning question and no one to answer it.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive ... Online

Prince William

Want to know the best spots to elope if you're a prince trying to avoid prickly relatives during the ceremony? Ask Metafilter will have the answers. De Souza/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

The Details

Web Site: ask.metafilter.com

What It Is: A way to get answers to your burning questions

Cost: $5 to register

Mom always said two heads were better than one. What would she say about thousands of heads, all with varying tidbits of knowledge — and all willing to help answer anything or everything on your mind?

That's the gist of the three-year-old Web site Ask Metafilter, a growing community weblog that "queries the hive mind" for answers to obscure, "previously unanswerable" — and sometimes personal — questions.

For a $5 registration fee, you can join the ranks of the askers (or answerers). Expect anywhere from one to hundreds of responses to a post, depending on the topic. Queries range from techie — " How do I use my TV as a monitor?"* — to Heloisey — "How do I get rid of six months of accumulated burned 'stuff' from a baking tray?"** — to unusually personal — "What are the practical repercussions of getting married and not telling anyone?"*** The site even lets you post with the user name "anonymous" if you're shy. Site administrators moderate the questions. The community self-polices (and weeds out inappropriate answers).

The best answers on Metafilter are those that provide an Aha! moment — like the obscure book you remember from childhood, only you can't recall the title. Someone will know. And when you want to find the best (used book store/pancake joint/park) anywhere in the world, chances are that one of Metafilter's thousands of members will tell you exactly where to go. So if "Five for Friday" didn’t give you the right mix of ideas for weekend fun, go ahead, ask Metafilter. We won’t be insulted. And we may even give you the answer.

*If you have a high-def TV, you can plug the a cable into the VGA slot on the back. If not, you'll probably need a TV card.

**Oven-cleaner or a baking soda/vinegar solution (Who knew?!)

*** It may hurt your friends and your family — and people will think you're a weirdo.

Melody Joy Kramer is spending a year at NPR as part of the Joan B. Kroc Fellowship program. Her favorite hive mind is in Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End.

What's All This Fuss About an SNL DVD?

John Belushi and Gilda Radner of "Saturday Night Live"

He wielded a samurai sword. She got in a dither about "school busting" and "Soviet jewelry." The late John Belushi and Gilda Radner were two of the original members of the Saturday Night Live cast. Courtesy of NBC Studios, Inc. / Photo by Edie Baskin hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of NBC Studios, Inc. / Photo by Edie Baskin

The Details

DVD: Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season

What It Is: An eight-DVD set with the 1975-76 shows

List Price: $69.98 for the 8-DVD set, but in the mid-$40s on various Web sites

October 11, 1975. Boy, I remember it as if it were yesterday, sitting in my beanbag chair in front of our wood-paneled black-and-white RCA television set and watching the first episode of NBC’s Saturday Night, a crazy little variety show featuring an obscure comedy troupe that was, they said, "Not Ready for Prime Time." Actually, I just made that up. I wasn’t even born in 1975, and the first time I ever saw an episode from before the ’80s was when I popped in disc No. 1 of the newly released eight-DVD set, Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season.

Oh, the joys of watching a 31-year-old classic come to life before my very eyes, misty with nostalgia at episodes I’ve only heard about in hushed whispers of reverence. Like "Samurai Hotel," in which John Belushi portrayed a sword-wielding front desk clerk, establishing the show's absurdist streak. Not to mention the self-destructive streak of its cast members.

Even after wading through the duds — and there are plenty — it's hard not to appreciate the palpable energy and excitement among the members of the original cast. Like Gilda Radner's Emily Litella with her editorial miscues. ("What is all this fuss about school busting?") And thanks to a jumble of video and syndication rights issues, I'm not the only one who's watching the debut season for the first time — in all its juvenile, groundbreaking, sometimes prescient glory. A fake ad promoted a three-blade razor as the ultimate in consumer overkill; 31 years later, five-blade razors are on sale at drugstores everywhere.

The set itself is elegantly packaged but sparsely complemented, although the cast members' screen tests do reveal that Dan Aykroyd is as much of a chameleon as Robin Williams, segueing effortlessly from toothless news announcer to Louisiana crab harvester. If that's not suitable for prime time, I don't know what is.

Andy Guess works on podcasting for NPR's digital media. His favorite SNL skit is "Delicious Dish," in which the cohosts of a public-radio show wax poetic about mundane foods like toast.

The Perfect Book for Frosty the Cranky Snowman

Frost, a novel by Thomas Bernhard

The Austrian author's first novel has just been translated into English. Grinches will love it! hide caption

itoggle caption

The Details

Book: Frost by Thomas Bernhard

What It Is: The Austrian author's first novel, published in 1963 and newly translated into English

Publisher and Price: Knopf, $25.95

For those who are already grumbling about the holidays and want something surly to feed their inner grinch, Frost is for you. The novel stars Strauch, an aged and dying blabber, a painter who has burnt his canvases and is descending into lucid madness in the Alpine hinterlands. The artist's brother, a surgeon, sends a 23-year-old intern to find out what Strauch is up to.

Posing as a law student in order to keep his identity a secret, the narrator is at first puzzled but then mesmerized by the artist's savage fulminations on death, decadence and the sins of man.

Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) was a connoisseur of spleen, savoring his acid as if it was fine wine. His novels, plays and poetry spit out lyrical yet brutal bursts of venom at a number of targets, most prominently the moral decay of postwar Austria, a prosperous, amnesiac land he views as cheerfully anti-Semitic, thoroughly philistine and determinedly bureaucratic.

Published in Germany in 1963 and now translated into English, Frost was Bernhard's first novel. It provides plenty of gloomy comedy, though Strauch lacks the cranky pizazz of Bernhard's later nihilistic ranters. Still, given Michael Hofmann's agile translation, Frost serves as a fittingly spiky introduction to Bernhard's vision of the modern deep freeze.

Bill Marx, a freelance writer who covers the arts, teaches the art of reviewing at Boston University.

The Wages of Sin: 'Johnny Cash at San Quentin'

The Details

CD: Johnny Cash at San Quentin

What It Is: Another reissue of the 1969 classic, this time restoring the performances by Cash's terrific opening acts

Label and Price: Columbia Legacy, $39.98

Johnny Cash's San Quentin concert

Okay, he didn't actually do any time, but Johnny Cash's prison concerts were the perfect venue for his songs about crime and punishment. Jim Marshall hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Marshall

Johnny Cash embodied many personas as a performer: the bleeding-heart populist, the devout Christian, the devoted husband, the hard-bitten outlaw. But above all, he was obsessed with the wages of sin — the consequences of abandoning God, of dishonoring others, of shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. He sang colorfully about crimes committed, but his focus inevitably shifted to the punishing consequences.

It makes sense, then, that Cash was drawn to performing in prisons, where his love of the underdog could collide with his ability to articulate the cost of our indiscretions. After his landmark live album At Folsom Prison became an instant classic, Cash headlined a concert at San Quentin in February 1969, with the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers and Carl Perkins performing in support. Playing an assortment of his most prison-friendly material, Cash radiates credibility (though he never served time himself) as he commiserates with the inmates between songs: jeering the lousy conditions, teasing the film crew, even cracking a joke about prison sex. The words to "San Quentin" may play to the crowd — "San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell/May your walls fall, and may I live to tell" — but there's no denying Cash's ability to put himself in others' shoes.

Newly reissued in a two-disc "Legacy Edition" — which tacks on a scratchy DVD print of the British documentary chronicling the original event — At San Quentin restores the openers' performances, in the process providing an even stronger sense of being there. Of course, given the mindset of the lost souls who surround the performers, that's a profoundly mixed blessing.

Stephen Thompson is an online music producer for NPR. If he ever goes on a prison tour, it will likely be as an inmate.

A New Way to Marry PC Music and Stereo System

Logitech's WIreless DJ

It's a magical, musical trio: a remote control, a receiver and a transmitter that will bring your digital tunes to your stereo system. Logitech hide caption

itoggle caption Logitech

The Details

Tech Toy: Logitech Wireless DJ System

What It Does: Seamlessly brings the music of your PC to your stereo system

Price: $220

Available at: Electronics stores and Web sites

You have all this great digital music on your PC and iPod, but now your expensive stereo system feels sad and lonely because it cannot play those songs for your Sunday brunch.

It's not like you didn't try to fix things. You've used cables to plug your computer into the stereo, but then you had to run back to your PC anytime you wanted to skip a song on your playlist (say, Metallica's "Enter Sandman" in the middle of your holiday party). You've plugged transmitters into your iPod to beam songs to your FM radio receiver but the sound quality was shaky. And you've drooled over expensive, high-end systems that promise to wirelessly zap songs from your office to your living room, but — alas — you could not afford them.

Now there is an elegant and efficient (and affordable) solution: the Logitech Wireless DJ System ($220). It has three basic components: a transmitter that plugs into your computer’s USB slot, a receiver that connects to a stereo’s RCA input jacks and the remote control. And it’s the remote that distinguishes the Wireless DJ from previous options. Its large, backlit display lets you browse and organize all the music on your computer with the click of a few buttons. No more running back to computer to tinker with the playlist. One warning: If you have an exceptionally large music library on your PC, scrolling through on the remote can be frustrating. You can sort by artist, song title and genre, but the only way to get from, say, Abba to ZZ Top is by repeatedly thumbing the scroll wheel.

Setting up the Wireless DJ is fairly easy. You do have to install its StreamPoint software on your PC, but the system is pleasantly compatible with most popular computer music programs, including Apple's iTunes, Windows' MediaPlayer and Musicmatch's Jukebox. It'll be music to your stereo's ears.

Kenneth Terrell gauges gadgets and gizmos for U.S. News & World Report.

Books Featured In This Story

Frost

by Thomas Bernhard and Michael Hofmann

Hardcover, 341 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
Frost
Author
Thomas Bernhard and Michael Hofmann

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Purchase Featured Music

Johnny Cash at San Quentin (Legacy Edition)

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Album
Johnny Cash at San Quentin (Legacy Edition)
Artist
Johnny Cash
Label
Sony
Released
2006

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