Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Quick Hits from a Nicely Spent Saturday
Darling girl and I have started haunting a little used book store here in Aurora. It’s run by an older couple and it sits in an anonymous little strip mall where the only real draw is the book and those two who seem to have been running the place for something close to ever. Anyway, when I was finishing up my run, I happened to spy a little hardback copy of Bill Mauldin’s Up Front.
I grew up with “Up Front,” which was Mauldin’s World War II infantry-eye view of World War II. Mauldin himself was an infantryman and his characters, Willie and Joe, were one of the most honest looks at the infantry that you could find, warts and all.
It may sound strange to hear that I, who wasn’t born within decades of WWII, grew up with those guys, but it’s true. One of my father’s friends had this same book and another (the name escapes me, sadly), and I read through not only the cartoons, but Mauldin’s commentary about the soldiers, the war, the cartoon, and the stories that inspired it all. I would still say that if you want to get an idea of who wartime grunts really are, this is a great place to start. It doesn’t sugarcoat the guys, but there is an obvious, gentle affection to the poor bastards who carry the load.
The technology and some of the terminology have changed, of course, and there is an old-fashioned feeling to the cartoons, but there is a reason that his fellow soldiers loved him, there’s a reason that he enraged Patton and the Eisenhower protected him, and there’s a reason that he won a few Pulitzers for his work. I have no idea what kind of a guy he was in the real world, but “Up Front” was as much a love letter to the infantry (and more authentic) as Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
Of course, I picked up the fragile old book--pages yellowing and tearing in a few places--and brought it home with me.
Mauldin had a very obvious concern for his fellow soldiers and was concerned that the returning soldiers wouldn’t be taken back in by the country that sent them off to war. A bit that I read pretty close to the front of the book probably bears repeating today:
If you see a copy next time you’re in your local used book store, I highly recommend picking it up. It’s well worth the few bucks you’ll spend. Mauldin passed away a few years back, but he’ll be remembered as long as his doggies have to go to far off lands to fight wars on behalf of the rest of us. Mauldin told their story, perhaps, better than anyone else has ever managed.
I also picked up a copy of PJ O’Rourke’s wonderful Parliament of Whores. It might seem a little dated--the book is nearly two decades old at this point and some of the stories stretch back to 1988--but it’s still a fun romp at the expense of the political class (finished with a painful look in the mirror).
Anyway, here’s a quote for you. It’s from the opening paragraph of the chapter entitled, “The Three Branches of Government: Money, Television, and Bullshit.”
I grew up reading this stuff: is it a wonder that there is a streak of cynicism in me that rears up now and again?
Lastly, we also picked up Crazy Heart since the local Blockbuster didn’t have one to rent.
No regrets on that. It’s a wonderful movie with absolutely stellar performances and surprisingly good music. It might be a little smaller than some people might expect--there are no grand gestures and no earth-shattering themes--especially given all of the Oscar talk. But it’s that tightly-focused look at one lonely, old, alcoholic that keeps the movie good.
No politics, no “brave” agenda about racism or sexuality or any supposedly hot-button issue of the day, and no overblown sentimentality leave it being a wonderful movie with more humanity, by far, than something like Avatar. Of course, I’m also of the opinion that District 9 was the best science fiction story last year, so take that as you will.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I have to say it again: the music was surprisingly good. Jeff Bridges, as Bad Blake, actually made a credible country music artist. I didn’t realize that he sang so many of the songs in the film, but was pleasantly shocked by just how well he pulled it off.
That’s not my favorite song from the movie (that would be “The Weary Kind”, but that song isn’t sung by Bridges) but it has the bonus of featuring Collin Farrell, too. Again, surprising.
And here’s one more for the road.
I hesitate to throw this story in the mix, but I can’t stand not mentioning it. I realize that not everyone is heroic in action or willing to sacrifice for others--although I hope that if I’m ever tested, I would would be both--but this story is not only one of the saddest things I’ve read in a very long time, but also one of the most shameful. Not shameful to me, of course, but to those people who saw, who knew, and who still did nothing.
If I were to say a prayer on this day it would be that I am never so callous, never so uncaring, never so low as to leave a man dying in the streets while I did nothing. I’m sure that some of the passers never noticed, never saw the blood, and never realized what had happened, but, just as surely, some of them did see.
This man deserved far better not only because he had acted with courage to save a woman that he didn’t even know, but because he was a human being dying in the streets. He didn’t have to die and he deserved far, far better than this.
Shame, shame, shame on those people who let the man die.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Would They Do it Today?
There are two factors here. First, even if one of the respected news outlets respected the wishes of the family, the paparazzi would still be selling pictures to the highest bidder. They--and most of us, to be honest--seem to believe that any public figure is completely public and that we have the right to know every little bit about that person even in what they imagine to be their private moments. Is Aging Actress getting a little chunky? If she is, we’ll know it because someone with a ridiculously powerful telephoto lens will spy her in a two piece on a “private” beach. That intrusion from those fleas is driven by a public insatiable for details about our celebrities.
This isn’t new, of course. There was a time when agents would do things like providing details about one client’s life (a stint in jail, for example) in exchange for gossip writers ignoring information about other clients (news of homosexuality was carefully guarded). But the extent of the intrusions seem to have increased with time and technology and public figures now have very little reasonable expectation of privacy in now about nil.
There’s another change, though, that is even more disturbing to me: the near-insistence on public exposure from those same figures and from people who want to be celebrities. If you don’t have a clear understanding of just how far people will go to find their own tiny sliver of fame, you haven’t seen the abomination that is Daisy of Love. If you don’t have a clear understanding of just what the American public will watch and call entertainment, you aren’t acquainted with TLC’s lineup of shows about the intimate lives of little people or the fading trend of shows about families with more than the normal complement of rug rats.
These days, the family and friends of the deceased make a public show of their mourning.
These days, Jennifer Love Hewitt feels that it is entirely normal to share her adventures in Vajazzling--which is, if not trashy, then definitely of questionable artistic merit. Where does too much information actually mean too much information anymore?
I’m a private person and I’m not a person who is given to indiscriminate intimacies. I find myself wishing there were more people like me in the world.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Mood Music. Or Moody Music. Or Loud in Another Direction.
This is from Mark Lanegan’s first solo CD, The Winding Sheet from way back in 1990--which is a depressingly long time ago.
If you’re curious, here’s the Lala version of the entire album in all its rough glory. I once described it as being a lot like a demo tape. It’s not polished, the mix is a little rugged, and no one would say it was over-produced. What it is, though, is in the tradition of old, southern Americana in the same line as Chris Whitley’s Dirt Floor. Brilliant stuff, but not to everyone’s taste.
Back in ‘90, this album was quite a shock to people who were more used to Lanegan as the voice of the latter day psychedelic rock of Screaming Trees and went mostly unnoticed in the music world. His next album, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost was where i discovered his moonlighting gig and where I fell in love with his solo stuff. But this album, a little rougher around the edges, has its own charm.
“Ugly Sunday” chugs along like something Johnny Cash might have sang and the mood, though a little less country, hits the same ground. “Down in the Dark,” one of the few full-on rock songs in the mix, makes its way onto my road trip playlists regularly (and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Screaming Trees album). It’s after this opening salvo, though, that the songs really surprise.
“Wild Flowers” and “Eyes of a Child” are quiet, sweet little gems. Not happy--this was coming from a man who was getting serious about his drug addictions--but pretty, gentle, tender songs with very little adornment. That’s for the best since they stand so well on their own. “Wild Flowers” has an echoey sound that gives it the intimacy hearing a song played live in a church. “Eyes of a Child” has a more full sound and more full instrumentation, but, with the tone of these two songs, it would have been impossible to avoid putting them one after the other on the album.
As much praise as I can give some of these songs, though, this half of the album is ridiculously uneven. “Juarez” is a sleazy mess and it sounds terribly out of place. “Woe” feels unfinished. “I Love You Little Girl” is, perhaps, too light for a Lanegan album.
But you forgive it when you hear the scary, nightmarish “The Winding Sheet"--a ghost story that’s gothic in the old, unposed sense of the word. The chiming bell-like guitars in the foreground play over a fuzzed-out drone in the background while Lanegan sings of ghosts and God and dying. Wonderfully evocative.
Another song--the song up there in the YouTube clip at the top--that makes it worth the trip is the angry take on the old standard “In the Pines.” Here, with its roots in Leadbelly’s reading, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” sounds very little like most of the bluegrass, country, and backwoods blues versions of “In the Pines.” Here it is aggressive and menacing (helped along by Curt Cobain singing in the background and playing guitar, Chris Novoselic on bass, and Screaming Trees’ own Mark Pickerel pounding drums). The blend of Lanegan’s and Cobain’s vocals near the end of the song is about perfect--and a sad musical footnote of their aborted attempt to start a side-project together.
It’s a good album that might have approached greatness, surprisingly, by killing off a few of the weaker songs that detract from the high points.
Still, this is one of those hidden bits of the whole “grunge” thing that made that whole, overblown (yes, that’s an intentional reference) scene worth revisiting. Especially now where the pop music has become so overproduced and soulless, filled with whiny voices and Justin fucking Beiber, that we could use something to remind us of what music sounds like when it isn’t grown in a lab.
OK, fine, here’s your freakin’ context.
Feel free to add your own to the list, but you’ll have to provide your own context this time.
A Very Small Eulogy. Of Sorts.
Shawn eulogizes Pete Steele (if you know him at all, I would guess that you’ll know him as the lead singer for Type O Negative or maybe Carnivore).
RIP you twisted bastard. And, since I believe in the power of grace and redemption, I’ll even hope that, as Shawn says, “the Christians are right.” By some reports, Steele had returned to Catholicism over the last few years of his life. For a guy who had problems with substance abuse and depression, at very least, I would hope that it provided some peace and comfort.
Shawn’s right about one thing, though: I’m pretty sure God wasn’t digging on a lot of those songs…
Fair warning: the song gets a little loud and a little profane. Your cube mate might not like this stuff.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Misplaced Praise, Seventh in a Series of 562
Way to go, Heidi Montag! Your new plasticky boobs and surgically enhanced everything make you so much prettier than before. The world is a much better place with yet another gigantic, fake-breasted blonde who, apparently, was so desperate to look like a prostitute or porn star that she underwent 10 surgical procedures to achieve the goal.
Which is nice since men will certainly take you more seriously as you pursue your career. Even better, you’ll set a great example for young women everywhere who should know that their sense of self-worth should stem from their achievements and their minds instead of from their surgically sculpted asses. Unless it says the exact opposite.
Which, I suppose, is my way of saying: Heidi Montag used to be a beautiful woman. Now she’s a hideously distorted version of what a real, live woman should look like.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
Share a Moment with the Zomby
If you’d like to share a moment with the Zomby, fire up From Russia, With Love and fast-forward to the girl-on-girl Gypsy fight scene. Because that’s some fun stuff.
Disappointing only for its lack of gratuitous nekkidness. Sean Connery, however, was at his very pretty best in this film.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Ah, the Little Joys of Netflix
Late Sunday night, working on ads for a few magazines based in Australia, answering emails from our counterparts in Shanghai, and watching News Radio streaming through the Xbox 360.
News Radio still stands out as one of the funniest, most engaging sitcoms of all time. The writing, the comedic timing, the personalities are all stunningly good. I still miss Phil Hartman, I still have a crush on Maura Teirney, Steven Root’s Jimmy James is something close to perfect, and I still think Dave Foley is the best thing by far to come out of Kids in the Hall. Maybe the only good thing to come out of Kids in the Hall, come to think of it.
And I’m watching it streaming through my Xbox while trying to catch up on work. Isn’t technology amazing?
The only sad part is that I own the first three seasons on DVD, but I’m apparently too lazy to go upstairs and get them out…
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Hey, Maybe We Should See Movie Title This Weekend…
I dunno. I think I’ve already seen that one.
Catchphrase. Laugh laugh laugh laugh.
Corey Haim, RIP
Poor, stupid, little boy.
The tragedy isn’t so much that he ended up dead of a drug overdose (accidental or otherwise), but that he represents a wasted life. He couldn’t grow up enough to take responsibility for his life, he couldn’t be strong enough to stop abusing drugs, and that he threw away the friendship and opportunities that he had in his too short life.
To be honest--although not without a point--the world didn’t lose a hugely talented actor. Neither of the Coreys were great actors, they were great, fun personalities. Where Corey Feldman seems to have grown up and moved on with life, Haim just got stuck. The value of a life isn’t in how good an actor a person is, but in what they do with the years that are given them; the world didn’t lose a great actor, it just saw another person who failed to find a way to give his years any meaning.
I’m sad for the people who cared for him, but I wonder how many of them are actually surprised? I watched a part of the A&E show The Two Corey’s and knew that sooner or later he would end up dead or in jail because no matter how many chances he had, no matter who reached out to him, he had an amazing drive to self-destruction.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Lindsay Lohan: I’m Not a Milkaholic!
The funniest news of the morning comes to us from AdFreak:
I had been wondering where the insane little starlet had gone; it’s good to know that she hasn’t lost all her crazy.
(Okay, no, I wasn’t really wondering where the insane little starlet had gone. It just fit the flow of the narrative.)
Sunday, March 07, 2010
There I Was, Watching the Oscars…
...And Tyler Perry shows up to present an award. He had this to say: “They just said my name at the Oscars. I’d better enjoy it because it’ll probably never happen again.”
Yeah, that’s probably true. Thing about Tyler Perry is that, firstly, he seems like a nice enough guy, secondly, his heart seems to be in the right place in his films, and, thirdly, he doesn’t come close to deserving an award. Of course, many of the movies don’t deserve their awards, but his tend to be phenomenally bad. Not only does he scrape up every racial stereotype possible, but the scripts, the direction, and the acting are usually atrocious.
The same kinds of people who will tell you that Tyler Perry movies are good in any kind of an artistic sense are the same kinds of people who would tell you that the Left Behind books are artistically satisfying, that The Gamers: Dorkness Rising had good art direction, and that contemporary Christian pop music is something other than uninspiring pablum.
Okay, there may be a few exceptions to that last part, but the point still stands.
Those people so strongly believe in the subject matter that they entirely ignore the artistic flaws. There is a difference between artistic merit and personal preference; the Oscars may not always find the artistic merit, but it should always be their goal. Tyler Perry doesn’t deserve that kind of recognition, regardless of how nice of a guy he is and how much he tries to make moral movies.
The Oscars this year were a bit of a fumble, though, weren’t they? A few funny bits here and there, a fun intro with the resurgent Doogie, a great dance number, and some worthy winners were nice. It was also (up to the point where I am writing this, at least) pleasantly politics-free. On the other hand, the camera cuts were horrendous (especially noticeable at the beginning of the memorial section), the Baldwin-Martin team was uneven (although not horrendous), and a goodly number of the presenters proved themselves incompetent without a script and without good editing (Cameron Diaz, you’d be number one on that list).
Cheers to Jeff Bridges (goofy, strange acceptance speech aside) and all the other winners on the night, though. Whatever lack the show might have, it is always an honor to be recognized by your peers.
On a more important note, now that I know that Morena Baccarin is in it, I might have to watch V.
Update: Forest Whitaker’s introduction of Sandra Bullock for the Best Actress nominations was top notch. Some of the others, for both Best Actor and Best Actress, were nice, too, but Whitaker’s was pitch-perfect.
Update to the Update: The previous note was convenient since Sandra Bullock won and gave a touching and funny speech of her own. Love her.
That said, leave it up to Barbra Streisand to point out that we could have the first female or black director winning an Oscar this year. It turned out to be the first woman (Kathryn Bigelow for Hurt Locker) and a well-deserved win on merits.
But did it really need to be about that? Couldn’t it just be about the movie or even just about her talent?
Tom Hanks just noted that Casablanca was the winner the last time there were 10 films up for consideration. I watch it somewhat regularly and, though it’s a little old-fashioned, it has maintained its relevance artistically, culturally, and even politically through the decades. A wonderful movie.
Will any of the movies nominated this year wear as well? A few of them might, but I doubt that any of them will be as well-remembered as Casablanca. Which isn’t to say that it was a horrible class of movies (I liked Up, Hurt Locker, and Inglorious Basterds. I’m still pondering A Serious Man. Both District 9 and Blind Side were surprisingly good.
Casablanca is tough to live up to, though, in the same way that Lawrence of Arabia would be hard to live up to.
All that prologue aside, Hanks’ announcement of Hurt Locker winning Best Picture was a bit anti-climactic, wasn’t it?
No Appreciation for the Classics
My wife, the lovely woman that she is, has no appreciation for the classics. For example, after fifteen minutes watching Caveman streaming from my Netflix account, she stated flatly: “This might be the dumbest movie ever.”
Crazy talk. Ringo Starr has never been better (well, never been better as an actor, anyway) and neither has Shelley Long. Dennis Quaid, on the other hand, did go on to bigger and better things.
Maybe I’ll make her watch the Dudley Moore anti-classic, Wholly Moses later…
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Midnight Musical Interlude No. 2
If you were hoping that you could join me in listening to semi-random music while working late into the night, then here’s your chance. A late night list of tunes to nudge your creative spirit (or irritate the neighbors).
I consider both to be worthy goals.
I’m Sorry, but We’re Just Not That Into You
The time of beauty pageants in America is coming to an end. Or, at least, that’s what I’m hoping.
I’m entirely okay with that.
The pageants for young girls are freakish and the girls are a ridiculous mockery of feminine beauty. The women and girls who compete in pageants are airbrushed and perpetuate a focus on physical beauty as the standard of a woman’s value to the world.
If I were a dad, I wouldn’t want my little girl taking part in pageants. Not because I wouldn’t want her to be beautiful or to feel beautiful, but because I would want her to understand that her ultimate measure of value in the world is in the things that she does, the lives she effects, and the things she accomplished--and, just as importantly, not in how good she looks in a bathing suit.
I’m sure that many of the parents and many of the participants are good people. I’m sure many lead happy and good lives and that the pageant system didn’t do them any harm.
But what I value in life is decidedly at odds with what I believe those pageants teach young girls. If the Miss America Pageant were to die off completely, I wouldn’t shed a tear.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Midnight Musical Interlude No. 1
It’s been a dreary day here in Denver. A gray, weepy game with drizzling, cold rain and snow. For a melancholic soul like me, it’s a catalyst for the worst of my own mind. Fears, worries, and a creeping, spidery awareness of my own failings poke at the back of my head, needle sharp and insistent. Much of it comes from memories that play in my head as if the I was living through some of the worst moments of my life again.
I can see, hear, smell, and feel everything that happened in those moments. Sometimes I think I understand junkies and alcoholics. If you can’t turn off the noise in your head by shear force of will, if you can’t find a way to get away from the most vicious bits of yourself, then drugs and booze are a hell of a temptation.
Which is one of the reasons I stopped drinking at one point in my first marriage. Not that it saved us, but I started to understand why I liked drinking so much, and it wasn’t a very happy realization.
Some of you know that I lost a friend when I turned 21. He died an ugly death around the same time I started bartending--a death directly attributable to his alcoholism. I had been drinking since I was about 13, but his death was almost like someone firing a starter pistol and I was racing to the bottom of the bottle. Most people that I knew then were drinking because it was part of the party; I was drinking because I wanted to kill myself. I had a very specific view of myself and I wanted to destroy the person that I saw, I wanted him to sink away and never come up for air.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way and it wasn’t constant--which is why I never quite made it to either addiction or suicide, why I still had friends, and why, when I grew up some, I found out that I could be okay. That I could start shaping my life to be something better, something happier and more full. I think I also learned that loneliness is largely a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But some nights, old habits crawl back in.
Which, if you know me well, probably explains my taste in music. If I have to relive the worst bits of my life, then the soundtrack should fit, right?
With that introduction, here are a few songs that I’ve been playing today. Enjoy.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Meet Dave Cullen
I know this is a little late notice, but Dave Cullen is speaking and signing books at the Barnes & Noble Park Meadows off of County Line Road.
He’s a good writer, he’s a smart man, and he’s about as nice a guy as you can imagine. If you’re in the area, it would be well worth your time to go and have a listen.
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