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.

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.

Insert Title Here

So the longish days of April have turned into May. It is May Day, and I cannot help but think of working and how hard most people have it by working underpaying jobs where they have to deal with incredibly annoying people.

Before any of this started I had my doubts on how working people could make ends meet, but now the system has been nearly destroyed and I am not sure what is next.

I do know that I am not keen on going back to the way it was unless there are some real opportunities. I am fine with making the trade off of working with people I like and taking less pay for personal happiness. I mean happiness is way better in the long run. But, that pay must be fair and at least remain sustainable.

However, now the arduous task of sniffing around and networking is afoot. Like Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery, I am sniffing out my next gig and hustling to solve thing sand sort it all out.

I am working a bit at my job and still applying for other things which has been nice. I know this much, I am done with having to deal with large groups of people if at all possible.

I love how St. Louis has come together to help small businesses whenever possible. There is a nifty new farmer’s market that has popped up down the street. They have pretty much everything and it is affordable. I am avoiding the grocery store if I can and making do with ordering from local stores when I can. The international grocery store down the street is still open so if I need anything in a pinch there is that.

One nice thing about our city is that it, for the most part, has decent citizens who actually respect other people. As a result, this thing has seen folks come together and help others. Whether it is making masks, checking in on folks, shopping local or supporting the local arts. It is nice to not be divisive.

A lot the museums and arts organizations are working to provide some interesting content right now. I think just getting their name out in the public consciousness really helps a lot.

In appliance news, the food processor is kaput. There’s still some scratch left on the Target gift card so I guess shopping could sort there. But I would rather buy local.

Everything I was looking forward to has been canceled. I was supposed to be in Chicago this week. I miss Chicago. I have a monthly planner but it is pretty useless at this point. Unless I write in ‘stay at home’ each day. I am trying to watch some theater stuff that is being offered and a few concerts etc… So I could put that all in there but it seems pointless since I find I am not looking at it much.

I am taking a few online classes and that has surprisingly eaten into a lot of my time. Yale has a happiness class that apparently is all the rage and the most popular one offered on campus. I am taking a free version of it and it has been interesting. Part Psychology, part mindfulness and part ‘get your shit together,’ The Science of Well Being has been a good way to declutter mentally and sort of assess where things are it.

I also am taking two classes through MoMA in New York. One is Modern Art & Ideas and the other is Seeing Through Photographs. I just started the former this week and the latter about two weeks ago. They both have been pretty great. As someone who likes art and often has to write doubt it for various outlets, it has bene informative. I had a so so art history teacher in college so this has been great. I have always liked photography and am enjoying learning a lot more about it.

I did an online lecture last night for their current exhibition, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures.

You can take the virtual tour of the exhibition and see some interactive content on the MoMA website. I have always loved her work and it was really cool getting some context about it.

The next class I start isThe Modern World, Part One: Global History from 1760 to 1910. It is through Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. I have studied a lot of this before in school but I wanted a deep dive.

These are all mostly 5-6 weeks long so after this I can move on to some other stuff. I also have been studying up on analytics, marketing trends and doing as much writing as I can.

I have also been watching some movies, I saw Tokyo Joe early this morning.

It is a Humphrey Bogart flick from 1949 and finds him in postwar Tokyo. It is not as good as some of his other stuff but I had not seen it before.

I also am watching. SXSW films on Amazon. some are shorts, some are docs and feature lengths. I enjoyed My Darling Vivian, a documentary about Johnny Cash’s first wife Vivian Liberto. It was really interesting.

I also started watching Schitt’s Creek which has been fun. Dead To me is starting next week and I am looking forward to that. I am behind in watching a lot of stuff I wanted to see, but it is not like I am going out dancing anytime soon or anything.

The worst thing is trying to sort out sleep. it has been frustrating.

I did interview Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s about her new book, All I Ever Wanted. It is a very interesting read.

I still have a stack of magazines and books to get to so next time I may have more interesting things to write about.

I have been listening to a lot of music. I have made an effort to listen to the new albums by Fiona Apple and Hazel English. There also is Alphabetland, the new record from X. It is loud and fun! I also like this band called Catholic Action. They are from Glasgow and really have good melodies.

The Magnetic Fields have a new album coming out called Quickies. That should be fun too.

RIP to the great Tony Allen. His latest album, Rejoice is amazing. He was an amazing drummer and will be missed. This album is fantastic.

Well that is it for now. sorry for the delay. Stay inside. Please stay inside.

Lenny Bruce Is Not Afraid

Ok, if I hear “in these uncertain times,” or “in these difficult times,” or “with these changing times” anymore, I am going to yell loudly. The English language has loads of other words and phrases that people can use to describe all of this. Stop being lazy and obvious!

Also, those phrases don’t give people warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s like telling people The Beatles are out there to listen to but they have to listen to Third Eye Blind for awhile. Do your damn job marketing people and think of something else. It is just lazy and, frankly, sort of annoying.

So things now are all about routines. I try to have a set task for each day with a few other things to clean up. There’s webinars, job searching, the St. Louis art Museum’s object of the day and loads of zoo webcams. At night, I listen to Patrick Stewart reading a sonnet. He has a different one each day.

I also am trying to find time to laugh. This is why I am listening to a Lenny Bruce bit each day as often as possible. It’s not overdone or cute or simple. it is raw, honest and funny in a way where your brain is engaged.

As an extrovert I am surprised I am ok being separated from people. I am checking in on folks and saying hello to old friends now and then, but really I am ok social distancing. People are idiots and I am fine with not talking to strangers. I am of a generation where our formative years were spent trying not to get our ass kicked in high school for having a weird haircut and a jacket with buttons and badges all over it. So, for me, avoiding people is kind of old hat.

It reminds me of all of the terrors of Catholic school and social status and all that nonsense. What all this means is that those years of being a ‘weirdo’ in high school are paying off. I sure am glad I learned how to read.

I am really bummed about Bill Withers passing. I really loved his records. There was never a time when I ‘wasn’t in the mood’ to hear Bill Withers. he had a terrific catalog of songs and I think it is sad he didn’t get more mainstream attention. He really didn’t make a bad record.

John Prine’s passing is really sad. It was nice to see him get more notoriety over the last few years. he was one of our country’s best storyteller and his music was moving, fun, spirited and emotional.

Not much on the movie front. I have been watching some old films from the 1970’s and some film noir. The Taking o f Pelham One Two Three is not only a great movie, but an interesting slice of life of America in 1974. Walter Mathau is great in it. I want to be him when I grow up.

I also saw an indie film called Phoenix, Oregon. it was streamed nationally as part of film Festival Day. It is about these guys who buy a bowling alley becsuase there regular job sucks. Here is a link: https://phoenixoregonmovie.com.

I have discovered a band called Deutsche Ashram. They have a new album out called Whisper Om that has been calming and catchy.

They are very dead poppy but also have some textures and density to their music. https://deutscheashram.bandcamp.com

There also is a new album out from The Strokes but I haven’t dug too deep into it yet.

I did listen to Felt for the first time in ages yesterday. I forgot how much I liked their records. They formed in 1979 in Water Orton, Warwickshire and have this jangly sound that matures into more adventurous terrain. They are pretty obscure in certain circles, but the kids in the know appreciate the harmonies and nuanced songwriting.

I am still hustling. I finished a freelance technical writing project and have move onto a full on magazine piece. But “in these trying times” you have to take whatever you can get. I do know that I am never going back to any sort of frontline retail if I can help it. Especially since people are rude and uncaring and selfish.

I do miss baseball.

Sadly, I am not expecting to see any live music for the foreseeable future. it is a shame too since there was a lot of shows I was looking forward to seeing. In the meantime, I have books and music and word puzzles to keep me busy.

In appliance news, the dishwasher and washing machine are getting good workouts. I wish I had a freezer too.

I am plowing through All I Ever Wanted, the memoir from The Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there. From Austin to the heyday of LA’s punk underground and the rise of new wave pop, she has pretty much seen it all. The narrative is pretty straightforward and no nonsense. It also is candid and honest and free of sugar coating.

This would be a good time to read The American People in the Great Depression by David M. Kennedy.

It is part of the Oxford History of the United States series and is very good. There is some pretty scary and stark stuff in there but it is something people should know anyway. My grandmother always told me stories about the Great Depression and it was pretty sad stuff.

Well I guess you didn’t read this to be cheered up did you?