My October Symphony

Welcome to autumn. The leaves have changed and the weather is getting cooler. It has been lovely to take boring walks in this brisk weather. As the temperature drops I will miss reading outside and feeling the sunshine on my face.

It is boots and long jacket weather. I would enjoy the autumn much more however, if I didn’t know that winter was, literally, coming. This would not normally bother me, however, with now so many more allergies, bugs and icky maladies going around one doesn’t want to go out very much.

Everyone with half a brain is on edge, a little worried and kind of frustrated. This could all lead to a really annoying and tough winter. My fear is that the cold weather, fear of a flu outbreak and the continuation of Covid will not be enough to keep the ignorant from wanting to tear down all the precautions and get back to the world that was.

In summary: I am really fed up with these halfwits who don’t understand that the old way of doing things is not coming back anytime soon, if at all. Why are people so reckless and apathetic?

I voted.

I got my flu shot.

I got my pneumonia shot.

I am staying hydrated.

I am not fighting with the stupid.

I went to the DMV on my birthday. It was scary it was Hell. You might as well just pull out a kidney and plop down on the clerk’s desk at this point. DMV offices are some of the drabbest places on Earth.

Tom Yum soup is the best.

It is great for a cold day and for cleaning out congested sinuses. I like mine form Thai 202 in the Central West End.

As a way to not get throttled by the madness of today I have been listening to more jazz and classical music. Lately it has been a lot of Shostakovich, particularly his Symphony No 2 ‘To October’ in B major op 14. The strings in it are exquisite. I also like how it is big and grandiose.

Listening to this made to a bit of thinking about the work and how it fits within the context of the current mood of the world in relation to the October Revolution that Shostakovich’s textured work celebrates.

With that in mind, I decided to dig back into Sheila Fitzpatrick’s seminal The Russian Revolution. Diving back in seemed appropriate. Particularly at a time when the separation of haves and have nots widens and the public discourse over issues of the day is filled with more and more shouting.

Fitzpatrick’s quick and concise narrative takes no sides and presents the complicated story of how those nasty Bolsheviks led Russia down a path to totalitarianism.

Now, as the clock slowly ticks off till the end of the month, the historian in me pauses with an anxious breath. Like the madness of 1917, we are seeing angry masses of people who are fed up and looking for change. Then, the old world was going away and a new one was coming. It wasn’t pleasant or fair or even remotely peaceful. This has not changed much.

As you may have guessed I read books that are dull to most folks. However, recently I have been reading more fiction, mainly the new books by Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby with intentions of getting to Steinbeck again.

Over the last few weeks, before I got all brooding and serious, I plunged back into some graphic novels. I got caught up with the most recent batch of Moon Knight comics and a return to the Infinity Gauntlet series. I also am revisiting Warren Ellis’ excellent Transmetropolitan series, which also is incredibly timely right now.

With Halloween nearly here, I also returned to Batman: The Long Halloween, a 13 part epic that I like a lot.

In addition to restoring some noir oomph to the series, the story manages to collect all the usual suspects in Batman’s pantheon of baddies into a compelling arc.

There is a lot of bullying and emotional abuse in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Just sayin.’

Despite the fact that it has retained its charm, humor and melancholy, when you peel back the layers there’s a lot wrong with those kids. Charlie Brown is depressed, Lucy is a psychopath, Sally needs to become more liberated and Linus has a whole mess of tings going on with him. Plus, Snoopy is a classic narcissist. I also love how it celebrates bucking the system and finding your own path on your own terms. Linus may be nuts he’s his own man and sticks to his guns.

But maybe the most overlooked aspect of the special is Vince Guaraldi’s score. People tend to think that his work in A Charlie Brown Christmas is his best but I will argue that the music in this special does much more for setting the tone of the piece. It also creates more ambiance that breathes life into the characters.

Covering the five boroughs, art galleries, bars, parks and restaurants it’s a book that explores every facet of the city, from its founding until now.

Knowing all the ins and outs of the city is hard work and this book serves as a nice guide to stuff you don’t get in tourbooks. New York is best when you avoid the beaten path and explore on your own.

The Big Apple has so many things about to learn and now that it is daunting. it is nice t have a concise thing that breaks it down. My other NYC encyclopedia is his mammoth thing that weighs a ton.

The sections on the city’s musical history are particular tight and there’s some neat stuff on the birth of the fountain pen and stuff like that too. There’s a lot to chew on.

I have started Dylan Jones mammoth book on the New Romantic movement. Covering 1975-1985, Sweet Dreams documents the New Romantic movement with a broad palate that includes ska, goth and electronic music.

Jones argues that the movement helped spawn electronic music and I am not sure I agree since there was also house music and Kraftwerk. Ditto for goth which could be argued as a bi-product of punk happening. Again, Jones offers an interesting premise that I had not thought of.

Jones is bold in navigating this time in British pop history. there was a lot happening. Growing out of post-punk (which is still happening concurrently) Jones chronicles the movement’s history from sleazy and glammy clubs o the shores of North America where many artists of this period found success on MTV, leading the so-called “New British Invasion.”

Fortunately, he’s got some big personalities in here, Bowie, Visage, Sade, Ultravox, Adam Ant, Culture Club, Duran Duran and loads more. It is well researched and there’s some great stuff in it. My only problem is that I think he’s overreaching in places.

As we get nearer to the election I have found Lou Reed’s New York to be very prescient.

Released in 1989 and recently reissued in an expanded edition, Reed’s 15th album is full of references to Oliver North, the NRA, Rudy Giuliani, Jesse Jackson and more.

Political but still entrenched in rock n’ roll, Reed’s album is filmic as it sprawls out for nearly a full hour. There’s some harsh criticism of corporate greed, poverty, corrupt politicians and poverty, all things that still resonate today.

Halloween Parade remains one of the most important songs about the AIDS crisis ever recorded. Sick of You name checks the great villains of the city during that period, many of which are still kicking around today.

Taken as a rock album, it fires on every cylinder. It’s a basic rock record with some nice nods ot should and blues in the mix. Even as a concept project it retains the grit that makes Reed’s records so intriguing.

Why are they playing sports? I get it, there’s a lot of scholarships and boredom to appease and TV money to make, but really, to me, it seems insane to even try to put people at risk.

I know that many other cities have a Greekfest and that writing about the one in St. Louis isn’t necessarily a big deal, but I wold be remiss if I did not. I went to the one held in St. Louis County at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church.

Lasting full weekend, it normally is filled with dancing, crafts and music. However, this year’s feta fête, was in the same boat as almost everything else as it pivoted to no entertainment programming but plenty of curbside food.

In the past I have loved to hear the different musicians playing as I wandered the stalls with stuff was being sold. But as good as all of that was, the food was the thing everyone wants.

Pandemic be damned this years festival didn’t disappoint. I could literally eat the dolmades for months. The grape leaves are tightly wrapped nothing inside gets out. The rice was not bland and they didn’t go cheap on giving put taziki sauce. I had a beef and lamb gyro and it was not overcooked. The pita bread was not too try or doughy. The Baklava was also pretty damn good.

As I wind this down I want to send a final note out to support your local indie bookshops. I did a story on this last month and it was really interesting to see everything they are going through right now. Literally every dollar matters. So even if you buy a gift certificate you are helping.

I am trying to keep this shorter than last time. hope that is okay.

The Autumn of My Discontent

I apologize for the long delay in posting. I have been making a list of things to mention and write about but life got in the way. I had a freelance project to do and that pays, so that took priority. I am now getting ready to do another one where I interview a golfer. That should be interesting. I also have been working both jobs and picking up some extra shifts. I realize this is not an excuse for writing but, alas, it is what it is.

A lot of really sad and infuriating stuff has been going down over the last few weeks and I do not want to dwell on it and bring everyone down. But, all I can say is this… be active, participate in the process and make a difference. Also, the stupid can be frustrating. That is what alcohol is for.

My two pre pandemic planned trips in September didn’t happen. I miss travel. Although I have done a lot of traveling from the living room to the back porch recently.

Shifting gears……It takes a special kind of jerk to come into a restaurant or place of business 10 minutes before they close. It is kind of rude. People are winding down and trying to finish things up and go the hell home! Now, with the pandemic, people are even more anxious to get the Hell out of there and get home and clean up, decompress and get on with it. Please do not be that person! When in doubt ask or call first.

Also, where the Hell is all the Lysol disinfect spray?

It is insane. Especially since most everything else is coming back.

I also hate how long it takes after I get home to change, clean up, sanitize stuff and then, maybe get onto other things. It gets tedious. So does the whole wiping everything down a few times a day and making sure the ventilation is happening correctly. But I do it and persevere on.

As much as I love baseball, it is a miracle they are getting the season in. There really shouldn’t be sports and this whole ‘let the kids play’ business is moronic when you consider the bigger picture.

It is kind of sad to see all these schools in Missouri rush with excitement about playing sports. I know there are scholarships and titles to win and all of that, but really, nobody is going anywhere and people can slow down and be safe.

One of the best things about St. Louis is that, as a community, most folks are trying to support local businesses, restaurants and when possible, music venues. This is really, really important! Keep it up.

I love how the St. Louis Symphony are doing all these pop up concerts around town. it is a great way to get people engaged at a time when they need a pick me up.

The only appliance news this time is that there is a new garbage disposal unit and new handles for the sink since there was leaking going on under the sink.

I am thinking of getting a fire pit for when it gets cold. A small one so I can still enjoy some time on my back porch and get some fresh air. It has been a welcome relief to get fresh air in a space free of other people.

I wonder if Pushkin ever owned a fire pit? Probably not because he was born into nobility. Maybe a small makeshift one. But one has to wonder if Pushkin strolled into an ACE hardware store would he be moved to prose? I suspect not.

The holidays are coming. Hide! Again, shop local, shop indie and don’t be an assclown to workers. They are trying to not die. I have no qualms at all with not being with family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Peace and quiet for the holidays on my own terms sounds great.

A coworker of mine cannot believe I do not watch The Masked Singer. This is because if the apocalypse is coming I want to watch better television. Plus, I tend to hate all of the judges on all of those shows.

Speaking of TV judges, the new season of The Great British Bake Off is on Netflix. It has been terrific. I have not liked the last few seasons but this year, adding Matt Lucas has been great. He is funny, empathetic and a nice counterbalance to Paul Hollywood, who is still kind of a smug git.

The bakers all seem like nice people. I like Rowan, he’s a music teacher and he likes Bowie. He’s also hilariously funny.

I will never be able to make any of this stuff but I totally appreciate the work that goes into it. I also could never handle that much stress crammed into such a short period of time.

Having interviewed the cast of Cobra Kai, I am a bit partial to the show. They are all terribly nice. Ralph Macchio is very gracious and modest and William Zabka is not pretentious at all. In fact, I was kind of caught off guard by his overall niceness. The kid who plays Joey’s son seems like he’s kind of a doofus, but that’s the only complaint I have.

As for the show, yes it is sappy, over the top drama filled with teenage angst and eldercare regret, but it is sure a lot of fun.

It also is great to see everyone completely flip characters that seemed so one dimensional in the 1980s. I also love how it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I also started watching a Korean drama called Chicago Typewriter. It ran there in 2017 and has been making the rounds globally ever since. Despite being popular it will not have a second series. Most Korean dramas only run one season, however, there have been recent exceptions.

Robustly tense and spanning eighty years, it tells the story of three friends who helped resist the Japanese during their occupation of Korea in the 1930s. Today, they live as reincarnated versions of themselves. Adrift in the modern world, there is a snobbish and arrogant writer named Han Se-joo, whom, after experience a serious case of writers block, hires a ghost writer (with a penchant for jazz and antiques) named Yoo Jin-oh to get hm out of his funk. Their partnership is problematic. Loving fame but resentful of his adoring public, his life is upended when he meets Jeon Seol, an obsessively kooky fan.

It is here, in contemporary times, where the trio must discover themselves again before they seek out elusive answers from their past. Their journey is not easy, but it certainly compelling.

Spanning 16 episodes, Chicago Typewriter is a race against time filled with the usual tropes of redemption, betrayal, loss and love. The series begins as a slow boil before percolating into a compelling story. Jou have to stick with it and it is pretty worth it at the end.

I first saw Chungking Express in 1994 and remember really loving it. The balance of pathos and comedy work well and the acting is great, especially Tony Leung who says volumes with just his castaway glances. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Faye Wong are also both charming in it.

To be honest, I love Wong Kai-wai. For me his nonlinear narratives are not difficult to follow and his films generally translate well to a Western audience. He also has incredibly solid music in his movies which really punctuate the emotional tones he is going for.

I discovered his films in the early and mid-1990s when I dove head first into Hong Kong cinema. Although, most of the films coming to the States in wide, art house releases were solid, I was drawn to the fact that he has interesting characters and is not afraid to surprise his audiences. His cinematography is also magical.

In the Mood for Love and Ashes of Time are two other films of his that impressed me. it also is hard to not like Happy Together, even if it is a be redundant.

Do we need another Lion King movie? No!

I also have no interest in a live action Mulan film. Remaking animated classics is dumb.

In addition to the 2000 other things I’ve told myself I was going to do and because we can’t have nice things or go anywhere now, I have decided to rewatch some Wes Anderson films. My motivation for this is that I want to laugh and appreciate nuanced moments of tenderness and beauty.

I don’t remember seeing The Darjeeling Limited in theaters. In fact, I had very limited memory of any of it. So I got it for my local library and got to it.

I am not the biggest fan of Owen Wilson but he’s okay in this. The triad of him, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman really work wells and they collectively create a very real sense of dysfunction.

Anderson again is visually stunning as he mixes terrifically shot scenes onboard the train with vibrant images of India. It’s beauty, poverty and spiritual resonance seep into every pore of the movie as Anderson skillfully uses the country itself as a character.

I was surprised at how much the zen-like empathy of the film came into sharper clarity amongst the backdrop of contemporary times. Despite the overwhelming sense of melancholy and loss, there is a tenderness lurking beneath the surface. It is perfectly nuanced. The movie’s themes of familial disunity and personal reflection also provide a nice counterbalance to the cinematography and dry humor.

I also loved the music. Anderson always uses interesting sounds in his films and I argue his use of music is as good or better than Tarantino’s when it comes to framing the drama onscreen. Besides, any flick with three Kinks songs in it cannot be all that bad. Plus the Joe Dassin cut he uses is terrific.

On September 29th, 1986 New Order released their 4th studio album, Brotherhood. Having really loved Lowlife, I was looking forward to hearing it. I remember picking it up at West End Wax and then listening to it on the steps across the street from Metro High School where I was waiting to hang out with some friends.

While Bizarre Love Triangle is one of the most heralded and beloved tracks from the ’80s I think some of the album’s other tracks, Paradise, All Day Long and Every Little Counts exemplify that tis was a band really finding their footing.

I remember that Brotherhood was interesting in that a lot of people were expecting a more dance oriented album. Pardon the pun, but it has some real substance to it in the songwriting and production. Peter Hook’s bass really shines here in what is the last record of theirs to really let him do his thing. His bass playing really gives the tracks some texture and helps ease us into all the synths and beats. Weirdo has a vibe to it the makes it an ideal mid album surge of energy.

Looking back, I can’t help but think of it more as an album of a time in my life more than anything else. I do enjoy it, but I cannot hear it without being taken back to an easier time when discovering music was more organic and, in many ways, satisfying.

The band has a new single out called Be a Rebel and a shoe deal with Adidas. Weird.

They also have reissued Power, Corruption and Lies in a new ‘definitive’ edition. I wish they would stop putting out greatest hits albums and reissues and get down to the business of sorting things out with Peter Hook. They sound a bit hollow without him.

Stephen Morris’ new memoir is finally coming out over here in paperback. Released last year in the UK, Record Play Pause finds the New Order percussionist giving his side of the story of events that have been covered in both Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook’s books.

The problem those two are bickering aunts right now so finding out what really went down requires a voice probably somewhere in the middle. This is where Morris comes in.

From his stories of growing up around Manchester to his discovery of music and involvement in Joy Division it is a one of those great memoirs that is also a bit of a snapshot of time and a scrapbook of memories.

However, unlike those two, Morris seems a bit more grounded. With a second volume coming, Morris clearly knows he has a lot of things to say, and he’s pretty good at it. His prose is more casual than his constituents and he’s also more astute in describing the inner workings of both bands.

IDLES!

In a year where everyone wants to scream, yell, stomp around and break things, the arrival of Ultra Mono, the new record from IDLES is well timed.Loud, angry, aggro and fuel injected it’s a record that minces no words. It’s abrasive, catchy and cathartic.

It’s also distorted, disturbing and raucous. Utterly magnificent, it distills the anxiety of Joy Division anxiety with the jitters of Gang of Four, creating songs that are intriguingly blemished yet beautiful. But perhaps the best testament to its greatness is the fact that I cannot stop listening to it.

Mac Davis died this week. He was the man. He acted, he sang and he wrote some of the best songs of the last half century.

Helen Reddy died too. Her career is greatly under appreciated by casual listeners. This is a shame.

We also lost Frederick Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals. Even if you are not a person who is deep into reggae you have probably heard Pressure Drop. I have never really dug as deeply into that genre as I should, I do know that Toots’ voice was golden and smooth.

A pioneer in music for sixty years, his Do the Reggay is considered to be the source for coining ‘reggae’ as a name for an entire genre of music. He also worked with both Willie Nelson and Public Enemy which is pretty cool.

The part where the protagonist comments on the rubbish music he hears at work!

Everyone has to cope with hearing music they dislike while on the job. Whether it is a coworker playing stuff in their office or just bad songs at an office party, suffering through bad tunes is (or was) a part of the American workplace.

Look, I get it, I worked in a record store for six years and heard a lot of music I didn’t necessarily love. But, I can at least say that it was selected by people who had some taste or a sane rationale for what they threw on.

With this context I must say that the music I hear currently at one of my jobs is dreadful. And, even though my hours have been sliced to a laughable four hours a week at that gig (hence needing more than one job) because of Coronavirus, the piped in music I hear there is excrement.

It’s like they took all the worst music featured on the soundtrack for Felicity and dragged it out for eternity. I am not screwing around, this is some seriously bad music. I understand the folks at corporate want to connect with the kids, but doing it by playing the blandest, most mediocre music ever is not the way to go.

I get that I work in a corporate culture that wants to have a pleasant environment for customers, in this case college students. It is the belief that need to hear upbeat pop songs as they look for textbooks that drives their musical selections.

However, it all is played on a programmed cycle where the same tracks are regularly repeated. This, of course, leads to having my ears beaten down during each shift by some awful music.

Here are some examples…..

Weezer’s Beverly Hills gets played every damn day at work. Don’t get me started on how miserable they make me feel. They are so bad that I am glad I have fewer hours so I don’t have to hear it four times a shift. This song is so terrible they had to reuse the hooks of Undone (The Sweater Song) to make it even remotely listenable. In the annals of Western Civilization this record is a low point. To make it worse, they slogged deeper to rock bottom by releasing an annoying cover of Toto.

In addition to some pop from Lady Gaga, Madonna and Katy Perry there is a lot of Coldplay going on. I get it, they are safe and appeal to a wide audience. But my point is that the music I hear while working is so bad that it makes the polishy sounds of that band sound like punk rock.

The other band they abuse my hearing with is The Killers. Why do people like The Killers? They sound like New Order with all the trauma, struggling and hardscrabble of working class Manchester sucked out. Every record they make sounds formulaic and trite.

This brings me to Matchbox Twenty. If You’re Gone is a song I hear every time I work and I hate it. It’s like spending eternity walking around an empty mall. They are terrible. Period. End of story.

Sometimes while I am doing mundane tasks on the job I am interrupted by The All-American Rejects’ Move Along, an utterly useless piece of garbage that causes agony for the ears and dying cells for the brain. Can we trade them for hostages somewhere?

There is not a Turkish prison big enough to hold the sheer craptitude of Blink-182’s All the Small Things. Seriously, they need to do time for their years long con of making American youth think they were cool. They could donate every cent they made to fight hunger and then hang themselves and I would still find them repugnant.

Have you ever had kimchee? If so, then you know it has more flavor than anything by Plain White T’s. Every single time this gets played at work my boss bobs her head and hums along. Kill me. Please make it stop. Oh, and they have the stupidest band name ever. It reeks of suburban uncreativity and parents buying instruments for their entitled kids. Ironically, when I hear Hey There Delilah while folding sweatshirts or stacking coffee mugs I can’t help but feel like this is a band that embodies everything that is wrong with being in a band when you really should think about going to trade school.

Jimmy Eat World. I don’t get it. I have now heard The Middle at least a hundred times and I just cannot fathom how this is appealing. It’s got no soul, no heart and the lyrics are fecal. Call The Hague and try them for crimes against humanity.

Sometimes, you get a hamburger and want to put ketchup on it only to find you have one packet for the whole thing. If this feeling of exasperation could have a musical form it would be Suddenly I See. To her credit K T Tunstall has made a catchy as all giddy record.I can’t say anything bad about it other than it is not my thing. Hearing it so often I cannot help but feel like I am trapped on a show on the CW Network or sitting in a store that sells fancy soap. It is not the best songwriter either. She’s Scottish. Where’s the fierce sense of independence? she sounds like watered down whisky served at Denny’s.

This brings me to Fergie, an artist who, despite understanding how pop music is crafted for the masses, takes the easy road to hitsville by sampling Little Richard’s The Girl Can’t Help It. Another excuse for my boss to bop around, Clumsy is a cheap sham. Because she has enough talent to know better and instead opted to do this, she needs to be held accountable for her misappropriation of someone else’s talent.

I could go on, but you get the gist. The long and short of it is that I take it on the chin each week by exposing my eardrums to nonsense as I work around college kids who have no clue about the pandemic.

Sadly, I don’t think I am going into a movie theater any time soon. In addition to health concerns there just aren’t that many films I want to see right now.

This brings me to Lindy West’s new book. It’s a cracker.

In the book she takes on the popular films of the last few decades and offers sage criticism of why they do and do not work. Her humor is writing and her critiques are spot on. She demystifies classics like Top Gun and Forrest Gump with great fervor and it is a hoot.

Nicky Hornby also has a new book out. Just Like You is another of his works to examine the nature of adult relationships, but this one has a few more twists.

Despite having all the usual ingredient of his previous novels; clever dialogue, references to music and film and rich characters, this one sees Hornby switching things up a bit as he slyly comments on post-Brexit England, love and race. I am curious to see where this one goes.

I also am reading more graphic novels these days. More on that later I guess.

Until then I am just another sad bastard carrying on and doing what I can each day. One thing is certain, living in a ‘challenging’ world filled with insipidly cruel and stupid people is incredibly hard.