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.

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!