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.

Kitchen Sink Drama

So I have been meaning to update this sooner but things have been crazy. I have been been putting in more hours at the university bookstore job and it has been weird since the kids are now back and even though we are only letting 10 in at a time they don’t always pay attention to the rules of social distancing. They are wearing masks though which is a plus. We still don’t have plexiglass at the registers. I am all over corporate about it but I think they are oblivious. My coworkers are trying to be socially distant and most of the kids are as well, but there are still a few knuckleheads out there.

I also have been knee deep in radio stuff. Juxtaposition turned 25 and I had planned a 5 hour show only to have management put the kibosh on that a little more than 48 hours ahead time even though they had two plus weeks notice. Anyway, it is fine, I am just spreading some of the live sessions out over a few weeks instead. Still, I had gone through a lot of archival sessions and interviews and planned a lot which ate up time and delayed getting back to this. However, the point of all of this is that I had a ton of time invested in that which detracted from updating the blog.

This brings us to now. Pretty exciting.

Let’s talk about appliances!

So early, early last Saturday morning I noticed the kitchen sink was filling up with water. It smelled like sulphur and the water was gross. I put on gloves to see if there was a clog in the garbage disposal. There wasn’t so I ran the disposal to see if that helped. It only made more water come up. After cleaning out a few buckets of water and drying up everything I put the stopper over the drain, cleaned up and went to bed. In the morning the water was back, rising past the stopper. It got a bit worse as the morning went on so I had to get more buckets of water out of the sink. it was gross!

I needed up calling maintenance and after a bit of back of forth about getting a person to fix things it was discovered that the cause of all of this was the girl on the second floor dumped more than half a bag of rice in her kitchen sink which clogged everything up. I was hoping that it was not a broken pipe. that would have been a mess. I also was quite happy that no one had to come into the apartment.

This brings me to the point that getting any kind of maintenance help right now is a messy drama. It adds a ton of intense stress as well. Especially, since a lot of people involved in that particular line of work don’t believe in social distancing or necessarily masks.

So, if all of that was not enough the washing machine decided it didn’t want to be polite and operate properly. It stopped working. Luckily, I was able to hang dry a lot of cloths until a guy came to fix that last Monday. In this case the service was prompt and pleasant.

With COVID everyone in learning about new gizmos and gadgets. For me, the month has been filled with learning about MERV filers and circulating fans, this month it is other stuff like ventilation and dry hydrogen.

I picked up a 59s UV-C LED Sterilizer box. it is great for sterling things like pens, my phone, keys, he charging chord, masks, credit cards and everything else that can fit inside of it. It takes about three minutes to use and runs silent.

It has a very abrupt Asian voice that says “sterilizing’ when you start and “sterilizing over” when it is done. In fact, everything about the product is direct and to the point. So far it has been a nice thing to have around in that I don’t need to wash every little thing when I get home.

In other appliance news Deep Thought has arrived. That is the name given to the new air purifier that is lovingly cleaning the air around me (I hope). It reminded me of the TV version of the character from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, hence the name.

Since I get allergies and want to improve air circulation I thought this could be handy with keeping any of this stuff and any other nasty stuff from blowing around the apartment.

While it does not speak it does know how to circulate in a room. I hope it does not go HAL 9000 on me.

I have spent a lot of time during the pandemic watching movies. Some are ones I have not seen in awhile, some are new and some are ones I just wanted to take a chance on.

One film I saw was It All Came True, a Humphrey Bogart flick from 1940. When I broke my foot in 2010 I was laid up for several weeks at home. During that time I made an effort to see as many of Bogie’s films as I could. To date, I have seen nearly all of them including this one which I rewatched since it is not shown very often.

Although it is not one of his best. It is not terrible either. He plays a gangster named Chips Maguire who is hunkered down in a boarding house after killing an unsavory character named Monks.

Ann Sheridan co-stars as Sarah Jane, a showgirl resident of the house who just happens to recognize Chips but keeps his true identity secret.

Despite a dubious reputation, Chips is basically a nice guy underneath it all. Monks was a real jerk and had it coming, so in the film world, he had it coming.

In the meantime, the affable boarding house owners, Nora Taylor and Maggie Ryan are about to lose everything because of their back tax debts. Down on their luck, Nora and Maggie get a break when Chips decides they could solve their cash problems by turning their stodgy boarding house into a fancy NYC nightclub. As a bonus Sarah Jane could sing there and be discovered.

Like many pictures of that time there is lots of double dealing, frame ups, wisecracking and backstabbing. It also has some pretty schmaltzy stuff in it as well. However, It All Came True is interesting to watch because we see Bogart in a raw phase of his career, eager to break out of gangster roles and develop more rounded characters. As the story unfolds Bogart tries his darnedest to make Chips more than a thug as he smoothes out the edges to make a more developed character for audiences.

There also was a slew of George Raft movies on TCM this month. Background to Danger is a 1943 spy thriller with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Raoul Walsh directed it and some of the script was edited and tightened up by William Faulkner.

The film is set in Turkey and revolves dastardly plot by a group of Nazis (led by Greenstreet) who are trying to turn the neutral country into an Axis power. Raft is an American who is sucked into the action by Russian agents who are fighting to keep Turkey neutral.

It is an entertaining little wartime film with Raft again filling in as a Bogart light character in his performance. However, as in all of his movies, he talks tough, is no nonsense and gets right down to it. The supporting cast is terrific and Greenstreet is gleefully diabolical as a Nazi.

Manpower is another Raft movie, this one with Edward G Robinson from 1941. In it both men play power line workers who become entangled with Marlene Dietrich. The biggest takeaway from it is that being a power line worker is not a fun job. Walsh also directed him in this one which is notorious because Robinson and Raft got in a fight on set which made filming problematic. Also, Raft turned down The Maltese Falcon to make this film.

Raft, who didn’t always make the best life choices, was also famous for hanging out with gangsters and turning down a number of now infamous parts in High Sierra, All Though The Night and allegedly, Casablanca. Sadly, the Scarface star also had a reputation for not being all that warm and fuzzy. Offstage he was often difficult for studios, directors and castmates to work with and his taste in friends put him on the outs in Hollywood.

In Escape Route (titled I’ll Get You in the USA) he is wrapped up in Cold War espionage in London after Russian conduct Western scientists. It it not a particularly thrilling picture nor is it exceptional.

However it is interesting to see that Raft has done zero to hone his craft and improve his technique. he basically is playing the same character he played decades earlier.

Do not watch Brazil in dystopian times. It will frighten you! I watched the Criterion edition a few weeks ago and while I did enjoy seeing the film again it was kind of disturbing in the context of present times.

I have been listening to Grandaddy a bit these days. I never stopped liking them but somehow I just lost touch with them. Although, I have heard the Jason Lytle solo records.

Although it is 20 years old, The Software Slump is still wonderfully majestic. I love how it mixes melancholy and melody perfectly. It does;t bother me that some of the songs are long because they have a real pulse to them and are constructed with narrative in mind. I am not sure how they did it but the band evoked a real mood in their music, warm and sad at once,. it is fascinating.

Smell The Magic, the first album from L7, has been reissued by Sub Pop Records. It is a loud and angry record that still sound fresh today. When I saw them at Lollapalooza 1992 I was backstage waiting to interview a band when they were walking by. They had already played and I mentioned I enjoyed their set. They clearly had been partying. this became obvious when while I was talking to a label rep, Demetra Plakas bit me in the neck. it was hilarious but also weird.

Anyway, I am glad their debut is been remastered. I think it got lost in the shuffle after their success on commercial alternative radio. It really is a solid debut and I hope more people discover them now.

Labor Day was pretty uneventful. The biggest thing was I had to run a few errands and noticed all of the little monsters from Washington University are back. None of them are social distancing. they are in gaggles going on blissfully unaware of the world around them. It is pretty annoying!

I also went to the Missouri Botanical Garden. It was peaceful and serene. The English garden there is terrific and they had a lot of new flowers blooming which was nice. I am glad I went, it was good to get some air.

Today I am hoping to get some chill time in with a book before heading off to work.

Because I fear I am babbling on endlessly, I am gonna call it a post. My next post will probably have some more book stuff and movie things in it. I have been seeing a ton of movies lately.

Of Masks and Men

It has been way too long I know. I have been woefully negligent with posting anything but this is mainly because of a combination of going back to work and tackling this crazy series of articles I have due for a magazine.

The articles are fairly intensive with talking to sources, researching and editing. But the tricky bit is that both big assignments are back to back and due on the same day.

Add Zoom calls, my other job and some decluttering and my time has rapidly been filling up. It has been kind of annoying to be so busy during a time when folks are still on lockdown.

Another thing that has kept me frazzled is the way people are casting aside sage advice in favor of listening to morons. Somewhere out there, in the weirdest parts of America, Carol and Stanley Idiot are just hanging around, selfishly refusing to wear a mask, social distance or show any sense of compassion for their fellow man.

Carol and Stanley Idiot are the dumbest form of sheep. Inconvenienced by wearing a mask to help flatten the curve but exuberantly happy to wear a hunting mask when they out to kill some squirrel or whatever it is they eat. For all I know it could be possum. Sadly they are part of the new normal.

But the point being is that when John Steinbeck created a really interesting character named Lennie Small he had no idea that over eight decades there would be thousands of people walking the planet who were just as mentally challenged. Unlike Lennie though, their mental challenges are self-inflicted and their big hearts are nonexistent.

I also have had a pileup of stuff to transcribe and edit and fiddle with and it is time consuming. I also have been interviewing folks for the KDHX website which has been fun. So far I have interviewed Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s, John Doe of X, Hazel English, Tim Burgess of The Charlatans and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads. All of that has kept me busy.

Both Valentine and Frantz have books out which is why I talked to them. Remain in Love is Frantz’s new book. It covers a lot of ground and is a great oral history of New York in the 1970s, a time when so much was happening. There’s a lot of ground covered, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, The Ramones, the Bowery etc..

But the really interesting stuff is about David Byrne and his relationship with the rest of Talking Heads. It was not rosy.

It is not pretty. I won’t ruin anything but as someone who is a fan of his music it put me in a weird spot emotionally. He was kind of a jerk back then and I sincerely hope he has mellowed with age.

Frantz also has managed to have an amazing love affair with Tina Weymouth and the book goes into that as well. It is very heartwarming in these crappy times.

Here is a link to my interview with Tim Burgess. his Twitter listening parties have been a great time occupier during all of this.

https://kdhx.org/articles/music-news/2051-telling-stories-with-tim-burgess

After talking to Burgess, which I might add was pretty cool, I got his first book. Going into the interview I was expecting him to be aloof and kind of distant. instead he was jovial, although serious, and very nice. He’s lived a real rock star life and his band is still under appreciated in the States in my opinion.

The first time I heard The Only One I Know was in 1990. My friend Jennifer took me to Wax Trax Records in Chicago and I was scouring the imports bin. The guy at the counter threw the 12″ single on and it began to play. I was in a different row from her but we could see each other. There we were, her with wildly black disheveled hair and I with a short mop, both decked out in leather jackets trying to just not stick out.

The record started and we both did that cool head bob thing you do when you her a record that hits like a delicacy on the tongue or good whiskey. it was pretty cool. I somehow managed to get one of the last codes of the damn thing and spent the rest of the day grasping it like a nun with a rosary.

From that point on I have checked in on them now and then. I think they are a great singles band with a few great albums smattered in-between. Burgess knows how to take his influences and pour them back into his music which is harder to do than it may appear.

As for his book, Telling Stories is pretty straightforward. It is a quick read and Burgess does indeed have stories that are informative, funny and insightful. Burgess has a new book, One Two Another coming out over here soon. it is a collection of lyrics accompanied by lyrics and annotations.

Now onto The Wants. They are from Brooklyn. they have a new record out called Container that is rad. They have this Interpol/Gang of Four thing going on and it totally works. They are grimy and dark and murky and they have great chords.

Their new ‘single’ is The Motor.

Fear My Society is also really good.

Beneath the surface is a serious sense for pop sensibility that also plugs into a minimal techno vibe in a few places. These guys sound like all the dark underbelly of New York places that I used to go to when New York still had such things. If you want more info on these guys check them out on social media or here: https://thewantsnyc.bandcamp.com

IDLES have a new record coming out called Ultra Mono. I love IDLES. they make great musical hissyfits and Joe Talbot has a distinctive voice. I also love that they are mostly angry. Grounds is their latest single and it does not disappoint. It flails uncontrollably in a wash of snarls and abrasive guitars.

IDLES are the perfect band for the disenfranchised minority. In this case that minority are people who appreciate the awesomeness of loud, angry post-punk and want to punch Nickelback in the face. Their songs are intense, crunchy and filled with lyrics that are clever and sly. They are the real deal.

I started watching The Mandalorian which has been a nice break from the hell we are living in. I am that guy too, the one guy that thinks there is too much Baby Yoda. But it is not that big of a deal. Beyond that there is some real character development going on. And I love that it is a Western.

I also started watching Derry Girls which has been fun. I have not needed subtitles. I have heard some Americans “don’t understand” the accents. If you are American and cannot understand an Irish accent by now I can’t help you. Just saying.

Schitt’s Creek is still great and I never want it to end.

I have taken the plunge and started watching The Expanse. There is a lot going on and they just throw you in feet first.

Nonetheless, it is just gritty enough to keep me curious. It isn’t shiny or cute either which is good. At first I thought the premise was a bit hokey but it grew on me.

Edward Hopper has kept me sane during the pandemic. So many of his paintings feature figures that are in isolation despite being in a large city. His elegant landscapes of urban areas are beautiful but desolate.

As this thing goes on I find myself looking at his work and finding comfort. If there are people in his paintings they look burdened or miserable or just tired. People can relate to that. If they are landscapes or houses or gas stations they are appear desolate and abandoned. the tis another thing that resonates today. They drip of melancholy and that makes me oddly calm.

Appliance news for this month……

There is a spiffy new rotating fan that has really helped cut down on running the AC. We also got some new hospital grade air filters. Hopefully that will help keep germs and viruses at bay, or at least slow things down.

Not quite an appliance but there is a new kitchen table. It has opened up some space in way too small kitchen which is fantastic. It is nice to have the extra space.

There has been workmen outside the apartment playing terrible classic rock for the better part of two weeks now. It is like an obstacle course trying to get around them because they are of the ilk that doesn’t social distance, even outside. They are nice but….

  • 1. They have crap taste in music
  • 2. I do not know what form of English they speak
  • 3. They love to litter
  • 4. They don’t clean up after themselves
  • 5. See social distancing complaint above.

Anyway, the poor bastards have bene out in the heat taking down hornets nest and walking on roofs so I can cut them some slack. They have a cherry picker that has been out in front for a while and they love it. They go up and down all day like giddy school kids.

Randomness…

I need to see that damn comet.

They should not be playing sports.

Selfish & stupid people are going to be the end of us.

On some mornings I find myself watching old timey steam trains in North Wales. They are on webcam and you can see them as they come and go. Everyone is socially distant and wearing masks. They run mostly from Porthmadog and Tan y Bwlch.

You can see the mountains of Snowdonia in the background too which is also calming. My dad worked for a railroad and I remember when he took me to the roundhouse and it was pretty cool.

Link: https://www.festrail.co.uk

I miss being able to travel. I still have no desire to eat inside a restaurant or go bowling. I wish I could say this is all going away, but nope it is not.

I just want one day where it does;t feel like 2020 is piling on. Just one. Ok, maybe a few. Like the rest of the year.