Nasty, Brutish and Long: Farewell 2021

Here is my last blog post for a grimy and ugly year.

Although 2021 wasn’t quite the dumpster fire that 2020 was, the year was filled with frustration as the general public, body politic, and powers that be continued to half-ass their way through coming out of the pandemic.

No one gets along. It has stretched into every aspect of society, from the government to retail to restaurants and shipping. It is simply maddening. It made the whole year sadder and really crushed any optimism people may have been feeling.

The most frustrating part of the latest surge is that it easily could have been prevented. For most of us, 2021 was the year that the selfish, intolerant, and entitled ruined everything. Thanks to this obnoxious minority it became impossible to read a paper, watch TV, or go online without getting aggravated or shaking a fist in disbelief.

The weather in St. Louis was pretty decent this year. There was a really long winter spell where I nearly froze my ass off each day, but that run of about two weeks was pretty much all the cold weather we had. We also had a relatively mild summer, which was also a nice escape from our annual humidity. While I did enjoy the weather, the fact that the change in seasons was so drastic worried me.

Moving into a new year I am glad to see so many people getting fed up with their rubbish jobs. Part of the reason why there is a job shortage is that people finally are fed up with abusive customers, low pay, and no advancement.

For these disenfranchised folks, driving an Uber or doing Postmates is an opportunity to make more scratch without dealing with the hassles of working for the man. Personally, I never want to work retail again, it is simply not worth it. As the new year begins, I hope a lot more people get paid more for doing the jobs that form the bulwark of our economy.

Everything NASA did on Mars this year was really cool. From flying helicopters to exploring the Jezero Crater, the Mars mission has been a great distraction from life on Earth.  

Searching for water and trying to understand the Red Planet’s geographical history has given us a ton of data. The amazing photographs sent back were simply astounding. I cannot wait to see what comes next.

With the launch of the James Webb telescope, I feel kind of sad for the Hubble telescope. It is living on borrowed time now. Despite still being useful, it will soon be in the shadow of its more powerful sibling.

However, Hubble has nothing to be ashamed of. It has done an incredible job and given us a greater understanding of the universe.

On a better note, it was an outstanding year for books, movies, and films. There were a lot of great debut records this year. There also were some really interesting records by established artists. In a year of divisiveness and clamoring of nonsense, it was good to know there was a lot of great music to listen to.

While I still have to see some of the movies that are on best-of lists for the year, I have managed to sort out my favorite music of the year. Here is my Best of 2021 Music list in alphabetical order.

Arab Strap-As Days Get Dark

Beachy Head-Beachy Head

The Catenary Wires-Birling Gap

Dry Cleaning-New Long Leg

Ducks Ltd.-Modern Fiction

IDLES-Crawler

Japanese Breakfast-Jubilee

Mogwai-As the Love Continues

The Reds, Pinks, and Purples-Uncommon Weather

The Umbrellas-The Umbrellas

Honorable Mentions

Snail Mail-Valentine

Billy Bragg-The Million Things That Never Happened

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis-Carnage

Desperate Journalist-Maximum Sorrow

Kiwi Jr.-Cooler Returns

Geese-Projector

The Goon Sax-Moon II

Blankenberge-Everything

TV Priest-Uppers

Courtney Barnett-Things Take Time, Take Time

Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth-Utopian Ashes

Piroshka-Love Drips and Gathers

Chime School is from San Francisco. They have an excellent self-titled record out. The “band” is the latest project from Andy Pastalaniec of Pink Films, Cruel Summer, and Seabite.

Released on Slumberland, the album is filled with jangly melodies and well-crafted songs.

Taking cues from the spangled indie pop of the 1990s, Chime School’s record features a collection of whole songs, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. They are well constructed and have some terrific hooks.

The Vaccines have ended the year by releasing a collection of demos from their debut, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? Formed in South London, the band released their debut album 10 years ago on Sub pop in the USA. Since then they have put out five records in total, but this one is still the best. Raw, rough, and grimy, the songs are catchy despite being layered beneath textures of noise.

In their demo form, all of the songs on that auspicious debut are rougher and more energetic. The proof is in the pudding here, because, even in this infant form, the songs are engaging and energetic.

I am still sorting out my favorite movies of the year. There are still lots of things I need to get to still. I was glad to several great music documentaries: Summer of Soul, The Sparks Brothers, and The Velvet Underground film from Todd Haynes.

I did see Just Look Up. There was a lot of talk about this movie and I was curious to see if it lived up to the hype. It is one of those rare films that is both entertaining and terrifying at the same time. When people watch this film decades from now they will feel the electric tension of the times.

Encapsulating a wide range of contemporary issues, Just Look Up is a satirical science fiction film that resonates loudly. Featuring an all-star cast, it gets its point across without being too preachy. The events depicted would be hilariously funny if they weren’t so true.

I really liked Spider-Man: No Way Home. The first film I saw in a somewhat crowded theater since the pandemic, it was glorious escapism. I was happy to see Alfred Molina turn up again as Dr. Octopus. This time he got to give him some depth, which really helped the character stand out more. Willem Defoe was also terrific, returning again as the Green Goblin.

There is a lot of stuff happening in the MCU right now, and this film may be the most exciting part of it. Having Dr. Strange in perfectly set up the oncoming tragedy of Peter Parker’s life as a hero. Tom Holland is so good you practically forget he’s a grown-ass man playing a teenager. Tragic, comic, and emotional he carries the film.

It was also good to have Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield back. This time they got to dig deeper into their versions of the webslinger, giving their films an epilogue they sorely needed.

Unfortunately, I could care less about the new Batman movie. There have been too many and it is getting insane. I wish there were more original movies instead of adaptations of comics, books, or reboots.

Phillippe Garnier’s book on Hollywood in the 1930s has been an excellent read. Set during a time when Hollywood was still blue collar, gives the screenwriters of this magical time in pictures an overdue reappraisal.

Translated into English, the book gives the screenwriters of the 1930s (Niven Busch, Rowland Brown, Silvia Richards, and Edward Anderson just to name a few) their props for their creativity, determination, and grit. The book also describes how literary figures like James Faulkner toiled away on scripts as they honed their craft. Working long hours, drinking often (i.e. a lot), and avoiding encounters with the law, gangsters, studio executives, and other unsavory types these intrepid souls laid the foundation for Hollywood’s golden age.

Told with vivid clarity, the book also details how the haunts frequented by writers (bookstores, bars, restaurants, and hotels), served as hubs for collaboration that helped birth some of the decade’s best films.

In appliance news, the lettuce recall hit close to home as I had to throw out some me salad that was recalled because of listeria. The recall meant I had to chuck the bad greens out, along with any food next to, on top of, or near it. Then I had to remove everything else and thoroughly clean the refrigerator and the containers holding the rest of the food I could use. Then I had to wipe down all the surfaces where I set the uncontaminated food while I was cleaning the fridge. It took forever.

My old portable phone recharger also kicked the bucket, forcing me to get a new one. The one I had was lightweight and unobtrusive. The new one, a Boosa, is a lot heavier. But it gets points because it is black.

In addition to being mentally exhausting, this year was so long. For a while there I didn’t expect it to ever end. This is mainly because the pandemic slowed things down, but also because I settled into a routine with my remote work.

It sucked not being able to travel this year. I only took two trips. I took a long weekend in Atlanta. I saw some friends outside and socially distant and got to do a few other things in the city. I also took a train to Chicago for my birthday. While a lot of the city was operating on a weird schedule, I still had a nice break from the clustermess that is happening here.

People always mention resolutions as the year winds down. For me, all I want is for people to not be so stupid and selfish. It would be nice if there was a really dull year where nothing happened and everyone got along. Of course, this will not happen. It would be nice if the horse betting, Wall Street Journal reading, nonmaskers got their shit together and made life easier for the rest of us.

In 2022, I would like to eat indoors and maybe go to a bar without worrying about the person next to me being a walking infection. I also want to go to the grocers again and not have to improvise because they are out of weird crap like kimchee or feta cheese. Maybe the roller rinks could reopen?

But when all is said and done, the new year just has to be chill. We’ve all had enough. We are worn out. I want a year that brings me as much joy as hearing Pet Sounds. A year without beatings, shootings, boosters, and reality TV. One with good books, a wider selection of movies, live concerts, and less stress for those working on the frontlines in any capacity.

I hope the next trip around the sound brings enough kindness and normality that I won’t need a stiff drink or meditation to cope each and every bloody day. If only…..

Holiday Sneer

Having spent ages working retail and having a pretty nonexistent family holiday season for the last few decades, I am not a big holiday person. The lights are great, and the kitschy pop culture and fun records of the holiday are also amusing. But, in general, I wish the holiday season was a time of comfort and joy. I am one of those who sneer at the gross excess, annoying car commercials, and the irritating antics of hardcore fundamentalists.

Maybe it is because, as a kid, my parents never overdid it for the holidays. We always had a few gifts, mostly a combination of fun and practical. I was taught to spend the season helping the little guy, those in need, alone or down on their luck.

Twelve years of Catholic school didn’t do much to help either. They rammed Christmas down your throat. It was mass after mass after mass. Having said that, it is nice to hear a proper pipe organ with a good choir.

Overall, the holidays are a bourgeois construct. People lose their damn minds trying to buy stuff. I remember Christmases of the past when there was a clamor for Cabbage Patch Kids, Atari Pac-Man, and hot wheels cars. I must have missed the memo because I wanted other stuff.

Anyway, all I really want for the holidays is for the cadre of idiots out there to put a damn mask on so we can get us over all of this. I also am looking forward to chilling out, watching movies, and maybe having a drink or two. Not too fussy, no oversaturation of consumerism.

I have nothing against the well to do. They can buy all the crappy stuff they want. I just want them to shop at a local business. They can spend till their heart is content, as long as they don’t bother me with it.

Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve been trying to learn more about artists, authors, and bands that have interested me. For various reasons, I have not had the time to learn about them. But with more time at home, I have been able to delve deeper.

I have always been fascinated with the photography of Don McCullin. His work explores the gritty of urban life, champions the downtrodden, and brings the horrors of war to life.

While his photo sessions with The Beatles are amazing, he is best known for his work in the warzones of Vietnam, Syria, and Northern Ireland, where, as a photojournalist, he brought the horrors of ar to the public consciousness.

amazing as well. He also did some photography of the beats, and his travel photographer is pretty amazing as well. His work has a stark beauty to it. It’s not pretty all the time, but it is provocative.

In exciting household news, the air ducts are cleaned. I had not thought about getting it done for a few years but then I saw a thing on TV and decided it ould not be a bad idea. Fortunately, when they came to clean the ducts they were not in bad shape. There were no dead animals, no massive clumps of yuck, and Osteen-like wads of cash. Since the cleaning, the air has been much better inside the crib.

There also is a new showerhead. The old one was kind of limited and dull, this one changes settings and is removable. It’s pretty nice. With the world being so nutty right now, having an amazingly comfortable shower can go a long way.

I picked up 4K Criterion remaster of Citizen Kane. I got that one because the regular blu ray copies had issues with the first disc and you had to send it back and wait for a new one. It was a hassle.

It looks incredible. I didn’t think that much more could be said on the subject of the film, but that is not the case. There is a ton of extra stuff, including The Hearts of Age, a silent film made by Welles in 1934.

Zhang Yimou is one of my favorite filmmakers. His film work includes Shanghai Triad, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, To Live, and so many more. He also directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In addition to being a great storyteller, his use of rich colors makes his movies a sumptuous visual treat. Frequently writing about events in Chinese history, his films focus on the tenacity of everyday Chinese citizens in the face of adversity.

His new film, One Second, was pulled right before a planned screening at the Berlin Film Festival. Fortunately, it was picked up by the St. Louis International Film Festival. Screening only once, I was anxious to see it on a big screen.

One Second is a love letter to film and the power it has to bring communities together, and document important events. Superbly acted, the film is about a man who escapes from prison during Mao’s Cultural Revolution to get a glimpse of his daughter who is appearing in a film screening that is screening in a small town. While it lacks the action and tense drama of his more recent work, One Second has some wonderful comedic moments weaved into its nostalgic narrative.

in addition to making the film festival circuit, the film has gotten picked up by a distributor. I have no idea when it is coming out. Most likely in 2022.

Another film I saw at the festival this year was Memoria. An award winner at the Cannes and Chicago Film Festival, it is coming out in the next week or so nationally. Its distribution is pretty weird. Neon picked up the distribution rights for the United States and they are planning for it to be a “never Ending” release in that it will be shown on one theater screen at a time, week by week, across the country.

Memoria is the Colombian entry for this year’s best foreign film Oscar. A hybrid of drama, fantasy, and science fiction, the film was written by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul whose Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was terrific.

Here he has Tilda Swinton starring as a woman visiting Bogota because her sister is in the hospital. While there she is awakened in the night by a strange banging noise. At first, she thinks it is a sleep-related issue or some other ailment. However, after hearing the sound in a variety of places, including a restaurant, she begins to investigate.Being the only one to hear this particular sound disturbs her greatly as she seeks help from various people, including a sound engineer and a man living alone in the countryside.

Despite having outstanding sound mixing and incredible cinematography, the film moves at an achingly slow pace. A lot of film reviewers loved it, but, despite being imaginative and having an unexpected crescendo near the end, the film is drawn out, and crawls to a halt several times.

Swinton is terrific in the film, but audiences who miss a second of things often do not know what is going on. If you blink or miss a patch of dialogue you are lost.

There comes a time when you see a film and want it to be great art, but often are left staring at the canvas and wondering what the images mean. This is interesting, and the theater of the mind is always wonderful, but, here it doesn’t work. I also think the rollout for the movie is pretentious and kind of annoying.

The interesting thing about the current Spider Man film, and its predecessors, is that no matter who is cast in the lead role, they can dodo whatever a spider can

Beach House has a new album coming out early next year. It is called Once Twice Melody and it may be the record that gets them over.

Coming in with eighteen tracks, the band has spent the last three years diligently working on it.

The Umbrellas are an indie band from San Francisco. Their self-titled album was oneof my faovrites for the year. They have a very jangly ’80s vibe going on with a pinch of mid 1990s sugar pop thrown in for measure.

The entire album is filled with terrific melodies and clever hooks. It is a wonderfuk work of indie pop. Not too polished, not too grimy.

Billy Idol has made a Chritmas album. We are doomed. Although it has some nice hooks, it does fall flat.

Even in my youth, I knew there was a lot more to the Rankin/Bass holiday specials than was being let on. While they were made as fun entertainment, nearly all of them have some sort of bullying, stereotyping, and emotional abuse happening. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has the protagonist ostracized for a physical deformity. He is bullied, laughed at, and told he is not worthwhile. Meanwhile, Hermie the Elf is relentlessly taunted and mocked for his life choices.

Then there is Yukon Cornelius. While he seems endearing, he is a pretty greedy guy, driven by a hunt for treasure. He is more accepting than others, but his selfish nature often results in poor decisions. As for Santa, he’s a real piece of work. A blustering autocrat who does not tolerate abnormalities or work delays, he has no interest in Rudolph until he suits his own needs. What a jerk.

The Island of Misfit Toys is pure segregation that implies that if you are not what society thinks of as normal then you should be cast away. Not a wholesome message.

The Year Without A Santa Claus features Santa as kind of a wishy-washy jerk who wants to stay home. He claims to have a bad cold that makes him want to stay home. However, I find it hard to believe that a guy who has made that trip like two million times has never had a cold before. I think he is just burnt out.

That particular special implies that Mrs. Claus is incapable of solving any problems on her own. Well, she proves them all wrong. She is strong-willed, independent, and smarter than her husband. As for the Mizer Brothers, despite their impressive dance numbers, they are reticent fascists who rule their fiefdoms. Depicted as funny, they are uncompromising tyrants.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a little better. Here Santa is a noncormmist and a rebel who fights the machinations of authoritarians by being kind. Panfully optimistic, the Santa depicted here uses gifts to gain influence and escape form tight situations. While it is clever and teaches kids that they can share, thsi behavior also implies that people can be bought.

Overall, I think the Rankin/Bass stop motion specials remain entertaining in that they use siniging storytelling to convey the spirit of Christmas. However, they also feature some tewrrible character traits that are not healthy.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a little better. Here Santa is a nonconformist and a rebel who fights the machinations of authoritarians by being kind. Painfully optimistic, the Santa depicted here uses gifts to gain influence and escape tight situations. While it is clever and teaches kids that they can share, this behavior also implies that people can be bought.

Overall, I think the Rankin/Bass stop motion specials remain entertaining in that they use singing and storytelling to convey the spirit of Christmas. However, they also feature some terrible character traits that are not healthy.

It is interesting that as you get older you just care less and less about the holidays. I think this feeling runs deeper if you’ve worked with the public during the season. they can be stupid, terrible, selfish, and stupid. But, all of that experience makes you more determined and tenacious in the face of adversity.

Unfortunately, working in retail also wears you down and makes you cynical. It also opens your eyes to how important it is to move away from the materialism of the season. I also think it helps you become more aware of others by underscoring the importance of kindness during the holidays.

Personally, there is something awful about coming into a store five minutes before it closes so that the staff has to undo a bunch of stuff they’ve started working on to close out the day. It’s just rude. Learn some time management people!

Also, people who come to the theater late are annoying.

I’ve been seeing a few plays over the last month. It is great to see live theater again. It also is heartening that the local companies get it by taking precautions for their audiences. Masks are mandatory and they are checking to make sure folks are vaccinated.

The holidays have brought a lull in freelance work. It should pick back up again in early 2022. But, I am glad to have the break. I can catch up on reading and seeing movies. There is also a bunch of streaming stuff I want to see.

Although I am doing a few things out in the world, I am still masking up and being socially distant. The recent surge has made being alert more important than ever. It is still important to not let down your guard.

Man I hope 2022 is better. My fear is that it will turn out to be 2020-two. I hope I am wrong. Either way, I am looking forward to better things, including more kindness from a cruel world.

Throw MAGA from the Train

The Doors sang about how people were strange. Well, if they did that now they would sing about people being stupid. These days, people are being just that. it soent matter what political affiliation they are or where they went to school or what they eat for breakfast, people today are just nuts.

Every day I get up and do my part, only to encounter a bunch of useless imbeciles who don’t do theirs. I might add they also have rubbish taste in films and music. it is all so maddening. Why have people suddenly reverted to pre-COVID 2019? It is like they forgot every lesson they learned and went back to doing everything they could be selfish consumerists again. It amazes me how many people are meandering around aimlessly like there was never a pandemic. I know folks are excited to get back out into the world, but in their excitement to do so they have become nuts.

Another thing is that it’s like there was no reset button. People learned nothing and adapted their post-pandemic behavior in no way at all. They still are rude, talk during movies, cut lines, and drive like imbeciles. They also care nothing about the environment. It’s like they’re feral.

A few weeks ago I took Amtrak to Chicago. It was so much of a change of pace from the insanity of flying right now. The train was clean and the seats were comfortable. Although it takes a lot longer to get there by train from St. Louis, it was nice to not rush and get some serious reading done and listen to music.

Unfortunately, there was a wild pack of assclowns in my car. They were older and going up to Chicago for a weekend. They were excited to smoke cigars, buy very, very pricy whiskey and pick up chicks in clubs. They were annoying! I didn’t have the heart to tell them. that were not going to pick up any “chicks” because they (a) were morons, and (b) no one is going to the disco right now.

But the biggest thing that got on my damn nerves is that they just wouldn’t wear a mask. A few of them half-assed it and wore it under the nose. However, one guy, a painfully tan Kenny Rogers guy, didn’t wear his on the entire trip. I spoke to the conductor about it after he sneezed a few times. But I got nowhere. Finally, I added a third mask and went on with my business pausing every few minutes to process the stupidity coming from his mouth.

It was a full train so I couldn’t move seats. But if I did I would have missed out on stimulating conversation from the Kenny Rogers guy. He would not stop commenting about the black fencing behind the train stations at every stop, saying “I bet the governor’s brother got that contract.” The repetition was friggin’ irritating. Clearly, this is someone who needs attention and has no sense of imagination. Other topics of conversation were Kid Rock, how big courthouses were, gambling, checking into the hotel early, hoping they wouldn’t get shot in Chicago, copy machines, and how nice it was to get away for a party weekend. Yuck.

Coming home was much better. The conductor on the train was snot screwing around you got two warnings about makes and then your ass got thrown off the train. It didn’t matter where. Our car was full but everyone seemed to be quiet and minding their own business. The best part is that they didn’t talk so loudly that everyone knew their business.

It was a quiet evening trip home until we reached Springfield, Illinois. There some moron pulled the emergency switch because he was upset he had t wear a mask. The train crew was apologetic. When this happens there’s a bunch of protocols that are in place they have to follow. It slows everything down. Luckily, they managed to get everything done quickly and threw the culprit off the train.

Despite all of this, I still would take a train now. It is comfortable and you can relax. I would however go, business class, since you don’t (normally) get all the dumbasses that ride in coach, and each seat has outlets for computers, phones, etc.

I had not been in Chicago for over two years. It was weird coming off the train and going into a deserted downtown at 12:30 on a Friday afternoon. Oddly, it was like this for the entire weekend the city was pretty empty. I went to Quimby’s and Myopic Books. Both are terrific, inexpensive, and independently owned. Quimby’s sells zines and a lot of cool indie books you cannot get anywhere else. Myopic has loads of really interesting stuff. Their music and film sections are very strong.

Overall, stores, museums, and businesses were closing early which was kind of weird for a city that is normally so busy. The weather was great so a lot of people were dining outside and walking around Millenium Park. People were wearing masks and being civil except there was not a lot of social distancing happening. I know we are supposed to be ‘coming out of all of this, but I am being careful and vigilant because there are so many morons out there.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about Chicago over the years is how the West Loop has gone bonkers. I used to go there for underground parties and concerts, It reminds me of Chelsea in New York now in that the gentrification has just gotten ridiculous and eliminated a lot of the character of the region.

While I still love the more Bohemian eats in Pilsen, I did have. a nice meal at Cabra. I wanted to go to a nice place fr my birthday weekend and this place did not disappoint. Their empanadas and ceviches. were great.

In addition to seeing some old friends in real life, it was great to get back to the Art Institute. In addition to seeing all my favorite works, I got to get a gander at the new Tiffany window that this pretty cool. It came from a church in Pennsylvania and was restored. it looks amazing.

I loved the André Kertész exhibition.

Although the exhibition is pretty small, there’s a lot of really wonderful stuff here. His postcards from Paris give you an idea of what the City of Light was like in the 1920s.

The weather was unseasonably warm which made it great for doing stuff outside. This is good since I was careful about where I was going with the pandemic going on. I did dine outside and wore masks whenever I was inside or around a lot of people.

It is interesting how seriously everyone there is taking mandates. The businesses are drawing in people despite the mandate and restaurants have mostly pivoted to this new world. It is a far cry from here where people bitch and moan about everything.

Every time I go there I find something new and unexpected. That is one of the reasons why I keep going there, even if a lot of the places I love have gone away.

Here are some other things that have bugged me over the last few months…

It has been my experience that people who own large boats, tend to be jerks.’

Law & Order does not need to return.

I have no idea why, but people who own cream-colored patio furniture tend to drive me nuts.

For decades people have bought newspapers, folded them neatly, and carried them under their arms. Now everyone wants them in paper bags. Mother Earth thanks you for doing this you lazy bastards. Newspapers are generally lightweight and foldable. They fit nicely anywhere, so why put them in a bag? Unless sit is raining. Otherwise, it is lazy.

Also, in our age of technological wonder why do people wait around for a receipt when they check out? In some cases, it is like they are waiting for the messiah.

I don’t mean for things that could be returnable or need tracking like a TV, clothes, mail, or groceries, I mean like one candy bar or a can of soda or a pack of smokes. Look in your online banking account. It’s there. why waste paper if you don’t have to?

Yes, I alluded to this earlier, but really, if you have been dying to go back to the movies then shut the hell up during the film. You’ve had 15 months to talk to the person next to you, you can be quiet for two hours.

I still am annoyed by pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes. I understand this makes me even more unpopular.

Candy Corn is just wrong!

People who don’t tip right now are evil and mean.

I have learned that the new season of Top Chef is going to be in Houston. While I have heard the city has an amazing food scene going on, I think they should pull out because of the state’s blatant attempts at voter suppression. I am surprised since Tom and Padma are so in tune with the world.

There’s a lot of music stuff going on. In addition to his recent Nightmare Before Christmas live concert, Danny Elfman has been actively making music! Now soundtrack, but actual noisy music.

While most of us were sitting on our couch during the pandemic Danny Elfman was making music. Not his wonderful cinema compositions, but real, agitated, rock and roll. Arriving 37 years after his debut, So Lo, Big Mess is loud, brazen, and raw.

Much louder and more visceral than his orchestral scores, the album illustrates Elfman’s skill at crafting melodies that mesh styles and forms. The record also is a reminder of Elfman’s terrific songwriting abilities, dusted off here, they have not gone stale.

Amongst my favorites are Sorry, Happy, Love in the Time of Covid, and True. Dark and brooding, We Belong is the perfect mix of the elegiac and the sorrowful.

Wet Leg are from the Isle of Wight. They have a few singles out and an album dropping soon on Domino. They also have some American live dates coming up.

Sonically, they have a terrific sense of melody and their lyrics are gloriously fun. They are going to be huge.

One of the things I did during the pandemic was read a bunch and learn more about the artists I had an interest in but not much knowledge of. I have always liked what I have seen from James Ensor but had not known very much about him. I saw an exhibition of his work at the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago and ever since then, I wanted to dig deeper.

There was a cool book of his work at a local used bookstore and I picked it up. It was pretty interesting. As a side note, there is a They Might Be Giants song about him too.

His artwork uses distorted forms and features lots of masks and people hiding their true visages. He also has a lot of symbolic imagery going on which is pretty interesting.

As an artist and printmaker, he was a pretty big influence on the Dada movement as well as Expressionists and surrealists. He was pretty dark. His work has a macabre feel to it that celebrates the grotesque, while also satirizing upper-crust privilege. Artistically, lot going on in his noggin.

It was great seeing Dune on the big screen. It looks amazing. The acting was great and the cinematography is gorgeous.

I wrote about it for needcoffee.com!

Anytime you adapt a book it can be problematic. People have their imagery in their minds and trespassing on that will never live up to their concepts or imagination. However here, I don’t have any issue with how characters were depicted. The world building is awesome, and the costumes and effects are great.

I saw Filibus, a 1915 Italian silent film directed by Mario Roncoroni and written by science fiction writer Giovanni Bertinetti.

It has recently been restored, and although it has some glitches in the print, it looks fantastic. Running just over an hour it is formatted as a serial, it is filled with a lot of fun action and swashbuckling antics.

Shot on location in the Italian Riviera, Filibus is about a cross dressing sky pirate who uses her airship to pull off daring capers. Holding a grudge again the well-to do, her robberies and grandiose and bold.

It screened at Webster University and was sponsored by Silents, Please STL who are doing some really coolstuff around town! This makes me happy since I love silent movies!

As the fall moves into the winter the leaves are falling and the commercial wheels of Christmas have already began spin. A few places already have lights up. Ugh! I also don’t want to see that dumb TV commercial where the guy buys his grilfriend a car as a Christmas gift. Who does that?

All I really want for the autumn is to have a real break between Halloween and Christmas. it seems that now the stores just jump into the yuletide season on November 1st and it is kind of dumb. Call me old fashioned, but I like the break. I want some time to prepare for the holidays, or at least, develop an escape plan.

The Sparks Brothers

(NOTE: This has been sitting in my draft folder for ages. I simply forgot to post it. Sorry)

The Sparks Brothers sees Edgar Wright doing something new, a documentary. As a longtime fan, he was itching to cover Sparks, a band that has released over 25 albums over their fifty-year career. But Wright’s obsession does not end there, for this film he has recruited a bevy of famous fans and the bands themselves, to talk about their prolific output, their music and how they have while influenced hundreds of artists around the world.

For more than For five decades, Sparks have generally enjoyed more commercial success in Europe than here at home. Adapting to the times at their own discretion, they have done everything, from glam rock, camp pop, to floor stomping disco, synthpop and art rock.

Like many subjects in Wright’s film, Ron and Russell Mael are not much to look at. Ron’s deadpan humor and curious mustache (part Hitler, part Chaplin) plays well against Russell’s spastic activity. They look weird but make great art. But the best part is, they are gloriously fun and odd.

Filmed in black and white and color, Wright shouts about their greatness from the highest mountaintop, deploying animation, stop motion, archival footage, interviews and testimonials from Neil Gaiman, Beck, Flea, Weird Al Yankovic, Tony Visconti, Giorgio Moroder, New Order and Mike Myers amongst others.

As a diehard fan, Wright is unwavering in pointing out how Ron and Russell’s longevity and resourcefulness impacted future artists. As he notes through interviews, behind their quirky veneer, Sparks are unafraid of being different. They have never accepted conformity. Endearingly energetic, their stubbornness, when paired with a relentless spirit of adventure, has led to their own reinvention several times over.

The documentary also illustrates that Sparks is a band that has experienced both sides of the musical coin. After years of being a ‘cult’ band they achieved some notoriety in American clubs in 1979 with their eighth record, the Giorgio Moroder produced  Nº 1 in Heaven and again in 1983 when they had a Top 40 hit with Cool Places, a collaboration with Jane Wiedlin that got them on MTV and American Bandstand.

Wright is also quick to point out that heir audacity has been epic. From a failed collaboration with Tim Burton to their FFS project with Franz Ferdinand, and their musical, Annette (streaming now) Sparks have always sought to remain relevant.

Ironically, Sparks has always had their own renaissance. This success stems from Sparks’ ability to makes music that meshes melancholy, exuberance and silly commentaries on the contemporary without sounding outdated. As noted by Wright, this formula serves as connection for their multiple eras and various experiments.

Their career of innovation is visually underscored by Wright’s use of television clips, music videos and live performances. He also follows their trajectory chronologically, allowing audiences to move beyond Sparks’ vagueness about their private personas and appreciate their musical legacy.

Wright also sets aside the glowing praise of their famous fans and examines their catalog, paying key attention to several releases, including, Kimono My House, Propaganda, Big Beat, Angst In My Pants, In Outer Space, Music That You Can Dance To, Lil’ Beethoven, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, Balls, and last year’s A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip. he also previews and their film, Annette, which opened the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

In addition to the standard rock band bio stuff, Wright also dips into moments of surreal fun as he follows the Maels to some of their favorite haunts as they get coffee, eat ice cream, and work in their private studio. The results of which are heartwarming and hilarious.

With The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright once again proves that he is a masterful storyteller. While his previous films have mixed drama, comedy and pathos with clever dialogue and snappy pacing, this one is just as compelling and fun.

A love letter to a band he loves, Wright treats the band with great reverence as he brings their career into a focused celebration of their musical mayhem and kooky brilliance. The film is streaming now and a DVD is coming. For more information on Sparks visit their website http://allsparks.com. The movie is streaming now. Sparks are also touring America in 2022.

Darkness and Door Locks

This is a short post. I am a bit off kilter and wonky. There’s a lot other stuff going on but that will be in the next post. But, in general, June and July were kind of crappy.

Between the variants, the heat, the rain, the stress of getting rid of my mom’s car, work and my perpetual weeding out of stuff, I am pretty knackered.

First, for, the second time in three days, the power went out. It was maddening. The first time it was in dribs and drabs. Then, the power went out and then was on again for ten or so minutes before going out again. It did this about three times before it finally worked itself out. This was near the end of June. it was insane.

After that, however, the power went out for ten hours. Apparently it was because of a fallen tree somewhere. The updates from the electric company were hilariously brief. “We are aware you are without power and have a team assessing the issue.” Then there was, “power is out in your area. We have a team working on it. We will keep you updated when power is restored.” Well, for that one I think I’d have noticed because I wouldn’t be sitting in the dark with a bunch of candles around me reading that. Unless I was Sting. Sting would do that. He did that in that one Police video.

The next text from the electric company mentioned a tree fell and that “additional resources” would be required. This was followed with the same polite “we will keep you updated.” There were maybe six texts total. Each was pretty droll. Then the power went on. I got two texts afterwards telling me the power was on again.

Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the power was back on until about 4:30 in the morning when I got up to get some water. I saw a little light from the computer mousepad. To be sure I had power, I turned on a light and then turned on a fan. Whoopee! But, I was awake then. That was a party.

Once I saw the text telling me I had lost power, (again thanks for noting the obvious), I brought some ice home from work. I saved most of the food in the refrigerator and moved things around so I would not trip and fall in the dark.

Ten hours later it is all done. Despite being a huge aggravation and a stress builder, I did get to take an inventory of candles and flashlights and sort out what worked and didn’t work for next time. The other positive from all of this is that I got to talk to my neighbors which was nice. They are pretty chill people and very outgoing. I had chatted with them on and off as the pandemic deepened into lockdown, but it’d been awhile since I had seen them. They have two very nice dogs.

I was on the porch reading as dusk tuned to darkness. I went inside at around 10 pm but came out again around midnight. It was like a Hitchcock film. Total darkness but sounds from the neighborhood. I could see flashes of lights from my neighbors as they turned flashlights on and off while moving to and fro. The police drove by and shined those huge ass lights they have over a few buildings. That was kind of cinematic.

The timing of the outage was pretty frustrating. I had a lot of stuff I needed to get done and wanted to do, and it all got scratched. But these things happen and there’s not much you can do about it, so you move on. Postscript, I think I’d be fine if this didn’t happen twice in three days. That was the real hassle of it. I didn’t really enjoy the feeling of not knowing what was going on. I did not feel, mad, panicked or helpless, just sort of malcontent and inconvenienced.

In appliance news, although this is not really an appliance thing, the really messed up light switch in the bathroom has finally been fixed. It worked before, but you just had to do this thing where you would move it and press it off to the side as you toggled it up or down.

This is also exciting (not really)! The nappy old front door lock is gone and in its place is a shiny new lock. You could lock the top deadbolt but not the bottom one. I tried new keys and WD40 but had no luck. The lock was over 20 years old and the keys didn’t really work well anymore. Luckily, I found an affordable locksmith who replaced it. He also changed out the crappy one on the back door and re-keyed everything so now one key fits each lock!

When I was looking for a locksmith I made it a point to find someone who was local and independent. The guy I used was terrific. He was a hippie, but I overlooked that. But my point is this, please support your local artisans, craftsmen, workers and businesses. If you buy online, look for someone who is selling their own stuff. Right now, it could be the only income they have.

Turning to weather, have you ever noticed how goofy looking the weather people are in other cities? I know the same could be said about the folks here, but it is really peculiar to see other city’s news and weather teams. When I travel I always try to see what the newspeople look like, especially the weather people. Do they look zany? Do they have bad hair? Do they look like freaky suburbanites? Are they the kind of people you’d find in the stores you never shop at in the mall? Do they look like pedophiles or insider trading criminals? Do they seem kind?

Anyway, Im rambling. As I said, the weather was really ghastly over the last few weeks. It was like Mojave desert hot with an apéritif of humidity. I only went out in the morning for my walks and to run any errands. Beyond that I was inside for a few days. Luckily, the weather over the last week has bottomed out and it has not been terrible. It also has been rainy and humid, but not a furnace.

I am reading Matt Kindt and Jason Hall’s Pistolwhip graphic novel. It is the complete version with some one shots in it as well. So I am pretty much getting all of it. I have been meaning to get to it for awhie and finally set aside the time. It is terrific.

Kindt, who is from St. Louis, weaves together a lot of story lines. It’s dense with drama and the characters never get dull. There are parts you may need to reread as you go along, but generally it is pretty compelling stuff.

It looks like concerts are back in full force. I have started to look at going to a few in 2022. I also am reviewing some live theater again. It has taken forever for the arts to come back and it is great to see so many local companies getting back at it.

I recently ate at Grace Meat +Three. Man, it was seriously good. The greens were amazing and worth the cost alone. I got the mac and cheese as well which was also pretty stellar. I was impressed at how organized they were and handling a long line. The staff was very friendly as well.

Cleveland Heath in Edwardsville, Illinois has gotten rid of their roasted cauliflower. This is a tragedy. Despite this, their mushroom fondue was simply amazing. I had a roasted chicken and it was well seasoned and not dry. They make a mean kale salad as well.

I am lucky to still be working. In addition to my part-time retail thing, I am continuing to work remotely from home doing a bunch of content writing. I love working remote since I don’t have to put up with so many morons who think the world is back to normal. It’s also work in my field which is nice. I did pick up some work writing for a resuable energy company’s catalog. it has been fascinating research. I also am working on an article for I Am East St. Louis magazine.

With hardly any connection to the outside world during the pandemic, I played online board games. It was great since it gave me some socialization and I got to use my brain. I like gaming, but my insane schedule always got in the way of things so this was nice since I could do it at my leisure. There is a beautiful connectivity with board gaming, and right now we could all use that!

Speaking of which, some friends of mine have a board game out! Those who love gaming and want to support local folks should check out Greece Lightning! It is available online or at local gaming stores here.

There is a lot more to come about books, music, and movies. But for now this is a boiled, down simple happenings of the last few weeks. Hopefully, the next post will not be as dull.

I Haven’t Got A Witty Title

I guess I should begin by apologizing for the long delay. It has been a bit of a ride lately. Not that anyone really reads this or waits around for it.

Since I last wrote a post I have become even busier. The store I work at has extended its hours. This means I have about 20 hours a week now rather than 12 or so. It’s not a really great job, but I get to read a lot of newspapers and magazines from around the world and I meet some interesting people.

The big thing, however, is that I also picked up two writing gigs. The first is for a national chain of dentists. I write copy and content for their websites and social media. I also edit and write doctor bios. It’s not the most glamorous job but it pays well. The biggest hassle with it is that I work with this person who has a habit of being really condescending. It’s pretty annoying.

Anyhow, after I started that gig, I got another contract from an ad agency. It’s a shorter thing, mostly project by project. It has fewer hours, but it is still money and it is with an agency so that foot in the door helps a bunch.

The biggest thing about these two things is that they are remote and in my field. For years I have wanted to work in marketing and content creation, and this is my opportunity. However, it is ironic that I waited until the back end of the pandemic to find some steady work.

In addition to these, I also am writing articles when I can for a few magazines and websites. So far I’ve done a theater review, a couple of opera reviews and I just finished writing about a woman who owns a pastry shop in East St. Louis.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis has moved their season outdoors. So far the weather has been terrific for the three shows I have seen. They have done a great job of spacing things out and keeping the shows running smoothly.

It is nice to have the arts back. In so many ways they are leading us out of all this. Sports are too, but that’s different. The arts provide mental stimulation, relaxation, and an opportunity to engage in new ideas, stories and experiences.

St. Louis is really lucky to have such a vibrant theater scene. One that works together and endeavors to make our community a better one. In addition to Opera theater and The Rep, there are so many other companies that are plotting their return to the stage. that is awesome!

I also have seen two films at the Hi-Pointe because everyone there is responsible and sane.

While so many great restaurants have left us in the last year or so, many terrific ones are still around. This is why I am trying to eat and shop local.

Running a restaurant is hard work. It is backbreaking and there is always a worry about money, customers, and competition. It’s a rather rough way to earn a living, so please eat locally and tip when you get a meal!

I am still catching up on TV. I did enjoy The Queen’s Gambit. The overall narrative and pacing were great and the sets and costumes were eye candy in their use of color and pattern schemes. The acting was also pretty darn good too. I also enjoyed how its length was just right. I wish more shows would follow the lead and only release the exact number of episodes needed to tell the story correctly. By not having extended fluff and tight plotlines, the drama was heightened, and thus, more enjoyable.

I am now starting on The NeversThe Expanse, and Resident Alien based on personal recommendations. We shall see how that turns out. If that was not enough, there are still a lot of movies that I want to see too.

Once again I got credentials for the Vienna Shorts film festival. There was some really terrific work in it this year. I particularly loved the animated shorts. Some were delightfully melancholy and some were just tripy and weird.

I also like Bella, a short set in Athens, Greece doing the 1980s. It had a lot of layers to it that made it especially interesting.

Here’s a bit on some books that have interested me lately……

Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel is out. Sadly, it is a reminder of what we’ve lost. He really was a great writer. I don’t think people gave him enough credit for that.

Released posthumously, World Travel features Bourdain profiling some of his favorite places to eat around the globe.

Split into short sections, each filled with wit and insight, the book does suffer a bit from feeling incomplete. Its a great read but you can tell there was supposed to be a lot more.

Continuing on the idea of chefs turned writers is Yes, Chef, an engrossing book from Marcus Samuellson.

Seen on PBS’ No Passport Required and as a guest judge on a bunch of cooking shows, Samuelsson, who runs Red Rooster Harlem, candidly talks about how began his career and worked his way up the ladder to achieve notoriety.

Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, his unique story is told in a refreshingly candid manner. His passion for food and the people who make it is at the core of this warm and candid memoir.

For some unexplained reason, there are a few books on 1984 in bookstores right now. At least one of them looks at the year in sports, while another focuses on the year in American music.

However, for me personally, David Elliott’s 1984: British Pop’s Dividing Year is the definite read on that year.

Told in great detail, the book features an incredibly fascinating year in music. From post punk to synthpop and a rising scene of jazz-flavored artists, Elliott covers it all.

The year saw the rise of The Smiths, an increased presence of socially conscious cuts, and a fierce streak of rebellion that led to some incredible music from a wide range of artists.

As Elliott points out in his self-published work, the specter of nuclear war looming over Thatcher’s Britain helped the pop music rebel, enthrall, and create some incredible music. From MTV to Apartheid and Band-Aid, no stone I left unturned.

I saw some live virtual concerts from Madness and Midge Ure. They were each good in different ways.

The Madness gig was a lot of fun. They played most of their hits and had Roland Gift and Paul Weller turn up to guest sing a few songs.

They also used some skits to break things up a bit and keep things light. I have never sene them live and this was a great way to experience their energy and chaos.

Digging into his catalog as a soloist and member of Visage and Ultravox, Midge Ure’s concert was a career-spanning affair.

Four decades on his voice is still in top form. He did all the hits, Fade To Grey, Reap The Wild Wind, and Vienna along with fan favorites like Mr. X and New Europeans.

Presented more or less as a straightforward barrage of songs, Ure was relentless as he energetically guided his band through the show.

Midge Ure was one of the last shows here in town before last year’s lockdown. I was sick as a dog and could not go.

As things begin to open up let’s all get our bearings……

Yep, in case you missed it COVID is still a thing! Really, I swear! But seriously, the pandemic is still kind of an anxious thing for me. I am vaccinated but am still wearing a mask and being careful. I have mostly eaten outside at restaurants. Going inside to eat still seems weird. I know it may be silly to be cautious but after being inside for so long it just seems like baby steps may be the best way to go.

Despite all the positivity and cheerleading about things going back to normal, I prefer to ride this out a bit longer. This is largely due to the fact that there are still a lot of idiots and morons out there waiting to just be silly and goofy and frustrating in their resistance to facts and science.

And, because there are also people in high places eager to prove them wrong, I just think I am going to be cautiously optimistic until I see more data come in on how things play out with the longevity of the various vaccines and how they hold up against new strains, especially the Indian ones.

I should point out that I am not against getting the vaccine in any way. I think they work and I think they are effective. But, I also know I am likely going to need a booster shot sometime soon. With that in mind, I prefer to be pragmatic in my return to the world of ‘normalcy.’

Anyway, that’s pretty much a rundown of all the shenanigans going on here. Again, I apologize for being so tardy and incredibly dull this time around. Hopefully things won’t be as scattershot next time.

Stay safe.

Vaxxed and (Not Quite) Relaxed

It has been awhile. I’ve been pretty slammed. I started a remote job and it involves a ton of writing and editing, which has kept me busy. I also wrote a piece for Sophisticated Living magazine and have another freelance thing that I am working on now.

Before I started the remote job, I finished two freelance gigs. One is with this woman who is a bit nuts. She has a foundation, and, to be honest, I am not really sure what it does. She means well, but I think she’s a bored rich person looking for an excuse to feel better. I’ve turned in all my stuff for her but am living vicariously by reading the insane emails she has been sending to the graphics team. All I can say is that if I ever get a lot of money I won’t be nuts.

On top of this, I kept my piddly retail gig. It’s only 15 hours a week and it gives me a little income in case the temp writing thing ends abruptly. The downside is that I have 3 coworkers who think COVID is nothing and won’t get vaccinated. It’s pretty infuriating.

Getting vaccinated is not supposed to be this hard. I had to work my ass off to get it scheduled and it was amazingly comforting to get it. There is an emotional release of anxiety that dissipates after you get jabbed. It’s a sense of relief, a feeling of security, and a renewed sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, you won’t die after all.

I am thankful to be fully vaccinated. Normally, I would not say I am not a joiner, but in this instance, sure, why the Hell not? I know I will probably need another booster or even a shot annually, but at this point, I am fine with that. This thing is bad news and it’s real.

On a positive note, it is good to see St. Louis begin to rally a little bit and become a community around getting vaccinated. I only wish the city would come together more, across aisle, boundaries, and classes. It would be so great if we were not so divided.

Having said that, the arts are doing some amazing thing right now and artists are not resting, they are doing some cool stuff right now. So are our local musicians!

It feels weird to go out into the world. I have taken a little ‘toes in the water’ dip and not a full dive with it. I went to a movie. Everyone was wearing a mask and there were only abut 8 people there. I also went to dinner with some friends, which was kind of surreal. The restaurant did a good job of spacing people out and the staff wore masks and weren’t messing around. Despite this, I am still not doing a lot of dining in.

I did go to see the St. Louis Symphony. I got assigned to review a concert and I must say, they were not playing around. No intermission, only 100 people, chairs marked for attendees and at least 7 feet apart. The ushers were on the prowl like circling vultures to make sure everyone was wearing masks.

I didn’t feel agitated or nervous there, but I did take more than one cursory look around Powell Hall to make sure I was really there, out in the waking world.

Overall, it is odd being vaccinated. I think there will be an adjustment phase for everyone and it will change depending on each person. But for most folks, there is a huge mixed sense of relief and frustration when you get your shots.

Being in a bubble has definitely changed me. First, I don’t care about stuff the same way. I mean, specifically, about the way I treat the physical. I can get books at the library or online, and I can listen to music online too. I love album art and book jackets, but somehow, the desire to have a bunch of stuff has been crushed. Mostly because I’ve been living in a finite space for such a long time and still want some room. Thus, the pandemic has led to a constant state of decluttering in these parts.

Decluttering has led to an ongoing excursion through the weird and interesting. There is stuff I forgot I had, or have not needed, or music I got from labels that I just do not care about, or, the loads of advanced reader copies of books I got from working in bookstores and libraries.

At this juncture, I think it is important to note that I am not a hoarder.

But back to my point….This idea though that we can just switch everything back on and get on with it is just silly. For me, it is all measured steps. I will go to the movies and eat inside more frequently, but only after I feel like the rest of the world, or a chunk of it, is not stupid and moronic. I realize this means I’ll be waiting for 65 years.

As a side note, there is nothing really good at movie theaters right now. I am glad I like art house stuff. There literally is nothing interesting to see in the multiple joints right now. Unless the screen an older film or something.

I’ve been doing a bit more reading over the last month. A lot of different stuff actually. I started with The Zealot and the Emancipator. It took a bit since it’s got some heavy subject matter. Sadly, I wish this book wasn’t so timely.

H.W. Brands writes really good history books in a way that is not dry or sterile. He’s been on a bunch of PBS documentaries and he teaches at the University of Texas. His books on Ben Franklin and FDR are both really interesting.

I have read a lot about Lincoln but I have not read much on John Brown. I knew about Harper’s Ferry and his dedication to ending slavery. I also knew he advocated violence as a means to an end. However, I had no idea how deeply committed to armed conflict he was and how determined he was to achieve his goals.

This is a study in contrasts between two men who eventually will share the same common idea of ending slavery. Brown is all in and in any way possible, while Lincoln takes a while to get there. As a result, it is interesting to chart Lincoln’s course to the presidency and his determination to abolish slavery.

There is also some intriguing stuff on Stephen A. Douglas. He was a Wiley little bastard. I knew about the debates and his avarice for power, but here, Brands really goes into detail about his meticulous plans for Kansas statehood and how shrewdly he played the North versus South angle.

Simon Heffer’s The Age of Decadence has finally been published here. It has been out in the UK for a bit now. Anyway, I have started it and it’s pretty compelling. My knowledge of Edwardian England is not as deep as some other parts of their history, but it is interesting stuff and he is certainly detailed.

The book spans the years from Queen Victoria’s jubilee to the outbreak of the Great War. That was a much more interesting time in England than I expected. I knew there was a lot of social change happening then, but I hadn’t really thought of the drama and literature of the era and how prolific it was.

There also was a deep divide in economic equality that mimics some of the struggles of working people today. The basic gist of it is that the years covered saw the Empire with an awful lot of wealth. it was unsightly and vulgar how much they plundered and pillaged from their colonies.

There is great care to mention this and also describe how the Empire influenced its colonies and how the political, economic, social, and technological changes they caused shaped the world. It’s a pretty nasty hypocrisy and, so far, it is the spine of the book.

The Oscars seemed sort of hollow this year. I’ve managed to see most of the nominated films or performances, however, it all seems kind of distant in that I saw none of them in the darkness of a movie house.

After a year of this, I still really did miss going to the movies. Especially after the particular strong year we had in 2019.

The pandemic has made everyone want to travel again. There have been loads of books, documentaries and webinars on travel, but none of them really worked on the same level as Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy.

Filming episodes before, during and after the country’s COVID nightmare, his quest to understand Italian food through the country’s culture and people is just what we all needed.

While his episodes on Rome and Tuscany were predictably good, his adventures in Bologna, Naples and Milan were really engaging in that they brought the culinary delights of these regions to life.

Funny, inquisitive and noninvasive, Tucci is a delightful host. For him the food and culture is the real star and he is more than willing to take a backseat to Italy’s cuisine and culture. CNN has renewed it for a second season which is great news. I am curious to see where he will be off to next.

I did see Tina, the documentary on HBO Max about Tina Turner. It is very compelling and it pulls no punches with discussing her relationship with Ike Turner.

Now a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, Turner has an incredible rags to riches story that is done proper justice in the film. Hearing her tell her story, in her own words is powerful. She was one hell of a performer and it is good to see her get her due.

There’s also some great live concert footage as well. I wish there was more about her early life in St. Louis, but I understand they cannot cover everything.

If you have not checked out Staged, you are missing something. Filmed in quarantine, David Tennant and Michael Sheen are magical together. Using digital technology they have managed to do a show that is better because of it. I am not sure this would work with a set and proper staging like a sitcom.

Another great thing about Staged is the cameos. Judi Dench has the best one, but there is also Michael Palin, Jim Parsons, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in there too.

Although there have only been two seasons so far, this ‘Zoom miniseries’ is amazingly fun!

I know it is weird but I finally saw West Side Story. Screening as part of the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival, it really does hold up well. It’s big. The sets are big, the color is big, the darkness is also big. It is also a film that uses setting and lighting to set up its emotional resonance.

The cast is great, especially Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer and fellow Twin Peaks alum Russ Tamblyn. However, it is weird seeing Natalie Wood playing a Puerto Rican woman. She is not awful in it, but she simply is outdone by Moreno in all of their scenes.

The score remains timeless and the songs are now a part of the fabric of American popular culture. Overall, the passage of the has done nothing to tarnish the film’s velocity, vivacity, ferocity and social relevence.

In addition to a great documentary on Powell and Pressburger, TCM screened a restored version of T-Men and The Méliès Mystery, a new documentary about the work of Georges Méliès and the quest to save his work from destruction.

A pioneer of early film, Georges Méliès started his career just before the start of the 20th century. Beginning as a magician, he was captivated by the movies, which resulted in an astounding body of work that is part animation, part science fiction, and part slight of hand.

This informative doc was accompanied by several of his restored films. Collectively, they are vital reminders of Méliès genius.

Filmic in scope and textured in sound. Godspeed You Black Emperor are back with their seventh album, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! 

Ironically, the record is available to buy at Wal Mart. But that really makes no difference, because they are still brilliant. For the last 25 years, this multimember Montreal outfit has weaved layered soundscapes to perfection.

On this album, the songs are varied in length but powerful sonically as sound collages meet chamber music seamlessly. Job’s Lament, Fire at Static Valley and OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.) are all highlights of a concept album whose themes of alienation, government intervention, and paranoia delve deep into your psyche.

The band is going on tour which is great news. I saw them at the Side door ages ago and it was absolutely incredible.

Finally, things are indeed opening up and our lives are falling into old routines. But despite this, it is important to not let our guards down. The pandemic is by no means over, and the idiots who don’t wear masks still are doing nothing to help their fellow man.

At least the weather is getting better.

One Year

It has been a year. While no one can really comprehend all that has been last during our pandemic year, there is some optimism that the world will at least partially reset. If only it were that simple.

But what kind of world will it be? Will it be a world where social injustice is met with with activism? Will the fast world of McDonald’s be replaced by home cooking? Will the interest in home gardening sustain itself? Will positive change really happen? Will the movies ever be the same again? How will we interact as people? How will work at our jobs? Will we have jobs?Will people finally give up listening to REO Speedwagon?

I cannot answer those questions, but bringing them up helps our society face them and built something better. Sadly, I fear we will all just forget everything we learned and struggled through and go back to what was. That would be disappointing. I want to believe that a better world will emerge, but I have doubts.

As someone who is social by nature I find it odd that I don’t miss gathering in large groups. I miss concerts to an extent and going to the pictures. Man I miss going to the movies. But overall, I am fine just staying in and reading my books, listening to music or watching tv.

This “time off” has made me enjoy taking long walks, sitting on my pack porch and doing more and more cooking. I also am less concerned about having stuff. This has resulting in a massive decluttering which has been therapeutic in that it has made more open space for the apartment.

The cooking has been interesting. I’ve learned t make a lot more Indian, Thai, Korean and Mediterranean dishes that I like. I’ve spent a lot more time in international grocery stores which has bene interesting in that there is often a discovery in every aisle. Like kimchee, which will sit in the fridge forever and it is always filling, or various Indian sauces which will always give things a spicy edge and provide flavor. Oh, and cauliflower rice is the bomb.

On the flip side, I’ve had to learn a lot about cleaning products, hand sanitizers and applications for bleach.

While I never injected myself with bleach, I did do some floor mopping and surface cleaning with it to such an extent that the smell never got on my nerves. Looking back, that crazy scramble for hand sanitizer, latex gloves and Clorox Wipes was a theater of the absurd. Everyone became obsessed with it. It got a little out of hand.

Separation Nation remains in full effect. Over the last year I have seen a few of my friends here and there as they stopped by to visit social distantly and say hello. But, generally, I haven’t seen many of them for over a year. That’s weird. It also is kind of freeing though in that this distance and isolation really has helped a lot of people discover who their real friends are.

Having been vaccinated now I feel obligated to help others get their appointments. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now and it has been very rewarding. It has underscored my hope that all of this makes people care abut their neighbors and fellow human beings. I suspect it will not since Americans are, by nature, stupid and selfish.

So the best advice. can offer is to pay it forward, any way you can. We need more empathy in our world right now and even more in the future. Empathy and giving up REO Speedwagon will lead the way.

I still plan on doing social distancing and masking up. I don’t really think I am going to change my routine up all that much.

For me, I really have enjoyed the weekly Zoom get togethers I have with friends in other places. it’s been nice to have social interaction and a sense of camaraderie. It also has introduced me to lots of crazy things like Korean TV shows, new recipes and an appreciation for new authors and bands.

I also have made it through the year by doing a weekly online board gaming night and that has been a lot of fun. It keeps the brain working and I get to some friends! It is interesting how board gaming was able to pivot to new formats during all of this. I also am doing word search puzzles which keeps the noggin’ sharp.

Had the pandemic not come I doubt I would have discovered so much new music. Thankfully, The Wants, The Reds, Pinks & Purples, The 1981, Phoebe Bridgers and Swansea Sound have been around to keep me company. I also have really enjoyed rediscovering Telex, Felt, The Jazz Butcher and The Close Lobsters.

I also have listened to more jazz than I used to and watched more streaming symphony concerts than I had previously. I still hate Phil Collins.

There also is a cool app called Radio Garden that lets you hear radio from around the world. I have listened to stations in Madagascar, Liechtenstein and places like that. It is interesting to hear what Western music is played where. For example there’s a lot of contemporary country getting played in Triesen, Liechtenstein.

I also have written more. I have had a lot of time. Two of the outlets I contributed to regularly folded and I had to scramble for fresh freelance work Luckily, I was able to interview John Doe, Tim Burgess (The Charlatans), Kathy Valentine (The Go-Go’s) and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads. Those were all fun! I also did a few reviews of streaming theater events and films.

Not being able to travel sucks. I don’t miss flying, airports or packing. But, I do miss seeing people I normally see when I travel. Even though I have gotten my jabs I still am in no rush to get on a plane. I can wait.

I mentioned before that I missed movies. That may have been off base in that I did still watch them at home. However, because streaming was insanely off the hook this year, I found a lot of good TV and films. I also got media credentials for the Vienna Shorts Film Festival and Slamdance which allowed me to see some really different, cool stuff.

Slamdance was pretty great. they had a really good selection of short films and they had some feature stuff that was really evocative. Trammel was my favorite short film. It’s about a guy whose only real communication with the outside world is through visits with his local pharmacy technician. It is sweet funny and has a lovely melancholy to it.

CODE NAME: Nagasaki is an emotional documentary about family, self-discovery and alienation. Marius and Fredrik are two friends who live in Norway and pretty much hang 24/7. Driven by a passion for movies and filmmaking they decide make a film about Marius’ quest to find and meet his long lost Japanese mother.

Seeking out a mom who left him decades earlier does not come without some intense drama and the film has that in spades as Marius weighs his every move with careful deliberation. The emotional distance between the two is heartbreaking and as the movie plays out these feeling of solitude and separation become further amplified.

It looks fantastic. Mixing black and white and animation, this powerful piece of cinema was named the fest’s best documentary film.

I also enjoyed the gritty minimalism of No Trace (Null Trace), another example of the exciting things filmmakers are doing in Quebec right now. shot in black and white it looks amazing.

Set in a dystopian future, the plot is sparse but centers on a callous smuggler whose hardened by life attitude shows cracks after she guides a young woman and her child across the border to safety. Unaware that their lives are inescapably linked their journey and struggle for survival is emotionally tense and compelling.

Director Simon Lavoie is a master of visual storytelling and I really liked how the narrative evolved with barely a spoken word. This will probably go into wide release.

Grimy Brit films were represented at Slamdance with A Brixton Tale, a film that takes on a lot of issues in a compact amount of time. Class status, exploitation, love and the art world collide in a movie filled with unsavory characters who just want to survive.

Speaking of gritty…. I watched Trainspotting again. The film has just turned 20 and it is still really enjoyable. Well as enjoyable as a film about heroin addiction can be.

Two decades on, the acting still stands out and the soundtrack perfectly frames everything. It doesn’t sound dated at all. In fact, I had forgotten about how good the Blur song in it was.

Upon seeing it, it made me miss Edinburgh. It’s an interesting flick too in that it calls out a lot of striking societal issues which have been careful been woven into the film. Robert Carlyle is a force of energy, Jonny Lee Miller is cool as a cucumber and Ewan MacGregor shines in his breakout film. I am curious to see how Ewen Bremmer plays Alan McGee in that biopic he is doing.

It is pretty cool that Perseverance is on Mars. JPL did some amazing things to get that project going and their efforts did a lot to lift the nation’s spirits.

It was amazing to watch the landing and see all the data come in over the last few weeks. Isn’t it amazing what science can do?

Here’s one last thing! There is furniture news! I have some new DVD shelves and bookshelves. It’s helped with the massive declutter in terms or organization and storage.

Anyway the adjustment into a person who is going back out into the world is Underway. Hopefully when it happens in a few weeks things won’t seem as desolate or sad or weird. I am not holding out hope. But it will be nice to not have as much of the worrying.

Entropy

Note: I wrote this abut a month ago when it was really, really, cold out. I had forgotten that I had this as a draft.

Everything is falling apart. I just finished spending 45 minutes getting the internet back online. I am not sure if it was a network outage or some weird thing on my end. But I do know that I trouble shooted the daylights out of my modem and router and finally got it working. It was incredibly frustrating.

I hate talking to service companies and (f)utility companies. They never really help and you always end up either shouting at them or trying to bang your head against the wall getting them to understand you.

If that wasn’t bad enough there was about a two week stretch last month (February) of really, really bad cold weather. There was ice and snow and subzero cold. St. Louis in winter is no fun anyway, but this was a particularly nasty stretch of weather. in fact, it was the longest cold spell with single digits temperatures since the 1940s.

For about 16 days it was in the teens at its warmest with wind chills between -15 and -25. It was no fun. Early , I toughed it out and planned things out to minimize exposure. After the first snow stopped, however, I went ahead and shoveled the back steps, driveway and front entryway. Thankfully, it was the kind of snow where you could just sweep it away.

It was like sweeping inside a meat cooler. I set my phone alarm for 30 minutes so I would not be out very long. It was 1 degree out and a -8 windchill. Ick!

It was like seriously Jack London and Ernest Shackleton cold. It was not a time to play around. I didn’t even have a Tauntaun. However, I did wear layers and paced myself. I got a lot of it cleared off in pretty decent time. Having finished that, I threw down some salt because it was supposed to snow two more times over the coming days and all the smart people from the weather bureau said it would help keep freezing down when the next snow hit.

It did snow again and boy were they right about throwing salt of gritty stuff on the ground.

Next, I moved the trashcan and recycle bin next to the back stairs, so it was right outside the back stairs so all I would need to do is open the back door and go a few steps to unload recycling and trash. My motivation for this was to avoid going outside again for a long period of time. I am glad I did this because I didn’t leave home for six days. I bundled up and dropped stuff in bins twice but I was only outside for, at most, maybe a minute or two.

The entire time this was happening I was worried about the pipes freezing. There is no-one living on the second floor which meant that no one was running a tap lightly at night to keep things from freezing. Luckily everything held.

It was Pushkin novel cold outside.

With regards to warmth, plugging in heaters and using every available blanket to bundle up was fun. Not really. Although things were not too cold inside, it got a bit rough when the winds picked up. But there was whiskey, hot tea and hot chocolate for that.

Having weathered that fiasco the drama of the water heater unfolded. There was no warm water for nearly a week. The pilot light just would not stay lit. A guy game to fix it and installed a new thermometer in it and things got warm for a few hours. But then it was cold again. This was the saga. Light pilot light, have warm water for a short duration and then it was cold again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It went on forever, almost as long as the Battle of Iwo Jima. There also was water leaking for the tank into the drain in the basement.

So the back and forth of getting my property manager to fix this went on and then they fixed it. When they sorted it out it was if the Red Sea had parted or something. It was insanely frustrating.

Then there was the entropy in the outside world. People were losing their goddamn minds. They couldn’t get vaccinated. They chose not to get vaccinated. They didn’t eat the red M&M’s. They insisted on going out maskless. They watched Friends. Civilization was ending.

If that wasn’t enough my freelance client spent a lot of time explaining to me that the Pope was a robot. Normally I would have cut my losses and run but she was paying me and the money was a nice supplement to the work income I was losing because the store was closed.

These kind of failures are emblematic of modern times. Things break, fall apart or need to be disassembled and then reassembled until they are in working order. In the end it all get sorted. Unless you need a vaccine in Missouri, then you are just screwed.

To call the ineptitude and disorganization around Missouri’s distribution of Covid vaccines Stalinist would be a compliment. This kind of total bureaucracy mixed with an unwavering sense of malice is utterly vile. The lack of compassion and disinterest in planning is simply inexcusable in our world. It is all infuriating.

On the plus side, I did get finally get my first shot. I only had to register at 20 (yes 20!) places before getting lucky. I even dug out the map of the state so I could find all these hick towns in the region that got more vials of vaccine than they had residents.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Slummer

So I think I have reached the part of the pandemic where I am basically slumming it. I don’t want to go out and I wear pajamas as often a possible if I have nowhere to be. This is mainly because I am working part-time and basically looking for a gig in the spare time. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to pass time. There are books to read, movies to catch up on, a dazzling amount of new music to investigate and tons of great streaming TV. Then there are also word puzzles and online boardgames. If that is not enough and I still picking up freelance stuff here and there. In general, there isn’t all that much to go out for, unless it is work, the radio show or errands.

My slumming also includes doing remote work. I like that because I don’t have to catch other people’s germs or deal with annoying people in public. To be clear, when I say “slumming it,” I am not meaning to imply being lazy or nonproductive, I simply mean being a homebody. I know it is not really “slumming it” when you just want to read a good book and be left in peace. However, I think I am just fatigued with making much of an effort to do a lot of stuff with people around during a pandemic.

It’s not like I am giving up completely. I just know the limits of what is sane in an insane world. It is all about finding a comfort levels in a city of unmasked idiots. For me, it is best to avoid the misguided and stupid.

For example, I still enjoy walking and getting fresh air, but, I think it is kind of pointless to walk into a store and go shopping when you don’t have a specific need to be there. I also am a “get in and get out” person. No loitering or hanging around. Direct and t the point. Again, the worst part of all of this is that you can’t control other people’s tomfoolery.

While the Super Bowl is a big deal for millions of people, I find it all kind of annoying after a bit. For starters, everyone has to call it “the big game” or something like that because of copyrights. That is dumb. The commercials are usually fun, but this year seemed so different thanks to the ever-present pandemic. Although I like watching football and appreciate a good game, it has been my experience that the Super Bowl is always kind of a let down. Like New Years Eve. With that mindset, having lots of fans at Super Bowl XL was a dumb idea. The game was terrible. I hate Tom Brady.

Another dumb idea was watching Crocodile Dundee. I had never seen it and thought it would be a fun romp of escapism. Man was I wrong. It doesn’t hold up well as a fish out of water story and some of the jokes are terribly inappropriate. I didn’t see it when it came out because it did not seem funny. Turns out I was right. Plus, Paul Hogan just isn’t a great actor. He sets up the gags well but his timing is sometimes off.

Another relic of the late 1980s is Bright Lights, Big City. It is a 1988 film based on the book by Jay McInerney. I saw it when it came out and I remember that New Order recorded True Faith for the soundtrack. It stars Michael J. Fox, cast against character in an attempt to get him different roles, and an interest ensemble that includes Kiefer Sutherland stars as Tad, his smarmy friend and enabler. Phoebe Cates and Swoosie Kurtz are also in it, along with a cameo from Jason Robards.

Fox plays  Jamie Conway, a small-town kid who moves with his wife to New York City. Working at a magazine while his better half gets a modeling job, things begin to spiral out of control, leading for late night drinking binges, complete with lots of cocaine and poor decisions. The result of this is tragic as Jamie slides deeper into addiction, eventually blowing his job and crippling his life.

Fox isn’t terrible in a movie that somewhat accurately depicts the debauchery clubs and capitalist greed of ’80s New York. His slide into the abyss is believable and it is good to see him in a role that differs from the boy next door parts he had been taking prior to this. Like Less Than Zero, the film is a part of the decade’s films that were based on books that were dark and rebelled against the conventional. While it was compelling to read, it didn’t always transfer to film.

With the pandemic happening I am also trying to revisit films I love or have not seen in awhile. One of those is The Seven Samurai. I enjoy Kurosawa’s films but see them so infrequently that when I watch them again it is pretty terrific.

With The Seven Samurai, I like watching Toshiro Mifume and Takashi Shimura. They are both incredible here in a film that features an amazing ensemble. Kurosawa worked his actors to death but the results were simply incredible.

It is epic in every way and the performances are incredible. While it remains one of the most influential films of all time, it is still unknown to a lot of people which is very sad.

What I also love about this one is that it is beautifully shot. Kurosawa was painstaking in his writing and editing and it shows. It also maintains its intensity throughout the entire film. Hailed as a massively influential film it still holds up really well.

I am so over this cold weather. While I do not mind it for a few days, a few weeks is a different thing altogether. Maybe it just seems longer because of the pandemic. I just know that I hate winter.

Slamdance 2021 is underway. Building on its reputation as a place for filmmakers to rebel in peace, the fest has a strong virtual component this year. Doing this allows the festival to do expand their inclusivity while offering a broad slate of films.

Running through February 25, 2021, Slamdance offers 25 features along with 107 shorts and episodics for the 27th edition of the festival. Programming also includes Unstoppable, a new showcase for creators with disabilities.

So far I have only seen a few short films but I intend to see a lot more stuff in the next week, including Isaac, a Soviet noir and No Trace,  a movie about a hard-living smuggler who guides a young woman and her child across the border to safety. They also have a track of animated short films that look interesting.

I finished Season One of The Flight Attendant. Going in I was not expecting much but it was actually pretty decent. Overall, it checked off all the boxes that a good thriller needs for television.

The basic premise surrounds a flight attendant named Cassie whose fling with a passenger in Bangkok sets of a spiraling chain of violence filed by poor choices. To make things worse, she literally has baggage. Added to this is her alcoholism which clouds her memory and often gets her into deep trouble.

I have never thought that Kaley Cuoco was a terrific actress and she may not be. But here, they the writers and directors play to her strengths in a way that she’s not as annoying as you may expect. They also surrounded her with an amazing ensemble cast, including Rosie Perez who is sublime as her bestie coworker.

Michelle Gomez chews up scenery and steals the entire thing. She alone is worth watching the series for. Ruthless but funny, Gomez’ take no prisoners attitude gives the show a great edge that really helps with the pacing.

Another weird thing about the show that I like is how it uses interior design. There isn’t a band house or apartment to be found. Everyone has big open spaces with modern design and lots of open space and natural light.

The last month has seen an uptick in new music. For starters there is The Third Chimpanzee, a new EP from Martin Gore of Depeche Mode. Filled with beeps and beats, its instrumental tracks shimmer with Detroit techno influences.

Diving beneath the textured layers of grooves is Howler a cinematic and dark track that accompanies another solid cut, the expansive Mandrill. Overall, the E.P. finds Gore returning to the long form electronic music he’s featured in recent collaborations with Vincent Clarke (as VCMG).

I have been enjoying Dry Cleaning a lot. They are from London via Bristol and have an album called New Long Leg dropping in April. I loved Scratchcard Lanyard, their single for last year.

Strong Feelings, their new single, picks off from where that track left off with some sludgy post-punk edginess. It snarls and sneers in all the right ways.

I am happy to have a new Mogwai record coming into the world. They just dropped “Ritchie Sacramento” ahead of their new album, As The Love Continues.

I love how sonically expansive their music is. Their tenth studio album sees them continuing their knack for crafting really textured songs that don’t meander or lose their heart. They are just a really good band.

I think doing any of the things people suggest you to do on HGTV requires some serious cash. Over the last few months I have found myself watching the channel more and more. I enjoy the design aspects of seeing a place get completely redone as something fresh.

Home renovation and rehabbing is a foreign world to me. Nonetheless, watching the pile of shows the network has is kind of a fun timesuck. It’s a nice way to get ideas for interior spaces, even if you have a budget. It also serves as a great distraction from the chaos on on the news.

Another fun thing is the sly ways that the Property Brothers handle irritating clients. However, in an industry that is all about money they also show a great deal of practicality and empathy, Plus the ‘competative brothers’ double act works pretty well.

Still, I can’t buy a house anytime soon so there is that….

Because of the weather it looks like I have some serious inside time in the next week. I am okay with that. I’ve been slumming it at home for almost a year now and there is a satisfaction to finishing projects, discovering new stuff and making all kinds of interesting meals. There is also booze!