November Spawned A Monster

Sitting down to write this I have been thinking about a lot of things. You know, besides that thing and the other thing. Stuff like, my damn phone was acting up until I got lint out of the charging port and why is the garbage disposal suddenly making noises that sound like crushing bones?

What all of this proves is that it is interesting to discover just how much the mundane of now can become a big deal with these “unprecedented times.” The combined anxiety of so many things right now accentuates everything and send folks into a dither.

With regard to the title of this post, it’s from a Morrissey song and seems appropriate. I remember those halcyon days when Morrissey was just weird and not a complete jerkface. So far, November has been a crappy month with lots of ugly people trying to do ugly things. Whatever happened to that Pope of Mope that was so odd and kooky that we bought all of his singles and 2000 best of compilations?

There’s the one thing that started parties in the streets and celebrations but I am reserving judgement until it is all over. So, with that in mind it is kind of a crappy month. Seriously, enough with storms, hurricanes, COVID and idiots who didn’t take civics class.

I am mostly holding up okay. Entropy seems to have permeated everything, causing frustration and insanity. I am really tired of people freaking out about masks and meeting in large groups and being stupid. It is all so frustrating.

But let us turn to other more interesting things……

The International Space Station is now 20 years old. It must have been cool to be around for those early space missions in the late 1960s where each trip to space was a real big event. It must have been a real thrill ride since the public had a pretty cool idea of what was happening with NASA and its missions. Now it is more of a curiosity for the public, unless you have an interest in science of space stuff.

Still, the fact that people of all kinds of nationalities and backgrounds have lived in space for two decades, in relative harmony, is kind of cool. It would be nice, in this time of division, if something like this was more widely celebrated.

The last week or so has seen some really great night sky viewing. The Full Moon on Halloween was pretty cool.

With the exception of a week or so, we’ve been pretty lucky in these parts to have mostly clear skies at night. It has allowed for some terrific autumnal evenings.

A quick note on Halloween. I got a rock and I hate Kandy Korn.

It is still to early to play Christmas music or put up a tree. However, if that gets someone through all of this emotionally I can’t really argue. This is a big step for me.

I also have no qualms with not doing large gatherings for the holidays. I wish everyone stayed the Hell home.

Maybe it was a pang from not being able to go to a movie theater or I was just nuts, but, I recently got a box of Milk Duds. That was a mistake. Sadly, they all glopped together in the box making it impossible to eat just one without chopping each piece up. That’s a lot of work for mediocre candy.

Nancy Noisemaker, the girl on the 2nd floor, still likes to talk loudly into her cell phone. But at least the loud bowling like sounds have stopped. She is really very nice, but for a person living on her own she sure makes a ton of noise.

One of the happy frustrations of the last few months is that there’s been some good television to watch. A lot of it is streaming stuff, but nonetheless, there is some great stuff out there.

I am far behind with what I want to see. It’s gotten so weird I’ve had to go old school and start making lists. My friend has been recommending a lot of Korean dramas and there is always a plethora of British stuff to watch as well. Then, there’s also PBS stuff and sports and great old shows too. It’s maddening to try and keep it all sorted.

The Crown is starting up again. Olivia Colman is a force of nature in anything. I am fascinated by how good the casting always is.

The last season of Schitt’s Creek has been a nice remedy for when I was sad. It runs the board on emotions and never fails to deliver on giving audiences some laughs when they need them.

Matt Lucas has been a breath of fresh air for The Great British Baking Show (aka The Great British Bake Off in the UK). I still think the original lineup for the show was the best but I am making do.

Lucas’ sense of humor works really well and his interaction with the bakers is a perfect blend of curiosity and sympathy. He has been a real hoot to watch.

The format makes it pretty watchable and the bakers always seem properly British in that they never loosen their reserve. But, the biggest problem I still have with the show is that Paul Hollywood just seems like a big jerk.

I found out he races cars. Of course he does, I am guessing that goes along with the chasing young girls part of his persona.

The Mandalorian is back. Despite some really subpar films, you can always count on some part of the Star Wars universe to come through and cheer you up in dark times. I am hoping Season 2 is just as awesome as Season 1.

It is early in Season 2, but so far we’ve I’ve been pretty happy with things. It’s cool to have the Tuscan Raiders back and Timothy Olyphant was great in the season opener. Boba Fett is maybe back, or its a clone. This makes me happy. I heard he is getting his own series. That is swell.

I finally saw The Go-Gos documentary. Overall, I thought it lived up to the hype. Each one of them has their own issues and problems. they each are kind go a mess. But musically, each of them brought something to the band that made it unique and fun and awesome.

I also really liked seeing the old footage of them when they started out. There is a lot to process but the big takeaway is that Gina Shock is probably the most ground of them all. She has a great laugh too.

Basically, the band got worn out after they became popular and it really accelerated a breakup. Plus there was a to of blow and craziness. Despite this though, it was cool to hear about their chart success and their tours with Madness, The Police and The Specials.

Overall, I would say the film is something that their fans will love as well as anyone who loves ’80s music or is interested in the music business. It’s a very realistic and compelling view about life in rock music.

I have not watched Barnaby Jones or Cannon lately but I love me some Columbo. It is still great. Each of these shows are great in their own way. Cannon has that wavy side hair that needs to be trimmed, Jones is just a guy who you guess smells like a good aftershave and Columbo is a frumpy mess covering a very perceptive mind.

I have been taking advantage of streaming stuff as much as possible. Lately there has been some great live theater to watch from a wide range of sources.

I have enjoyed the The Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard III. It resonates emotionally and maintains all of its momentum from start to finish.

Presented in an audio format, it does not lose any of the performance’s emotion. It is riveting, well acted and nothing short of amazing.

Playbill presented an encore of the Goodman Theatre’s 1999 production of Death of a Salesman. Starring an unstoppable Brian Dennehy, it eventually went on to Broadway and won four Tony awards. It that was not enough, it also nabbed a slew of Drama Desk awards for acting and directing.

Just as intense now as it was when it got a Pulitzer Prize in 1949, it remains the quintessential American drama. I saw it live in 1999 and was mesmerized by it. Seeing it all these years later that feeling remains unchanged as the production delivers some potent rage, raw angst and tension. Dennehy is a force of nature.

Every year around halloween I watch Ed Wood again. It remains one of my favorite Tim Burton films and I love the ensemble and the soundtrack and the way it looks.

Beneath the schlock and goofiness however, there is great tragedy and sadness with Bela Lugosi. This is because Martin Landau completely inhabits the role and takes over the film. While Johnny Depp is quirky and odd and somewhat affable despite his finer jerk qualities, he simply is outmatched by Landau. Bill Murray is terrifically sublime as well. It is one of his more under appreciated performances.

I love the wacky stupidity of it. I love how it is creepy and spooky while still having no problems at all with mirroring Wood’s own ineptitude. Burton also did a great job of giving some heart to a rogues’ gallery of oddballs, charlatans and misfits. The result is a fun film made by a wonderful ensemble.

With science under such ferocious attack I feel compelled to read more science books. The problem is, I am not a brainiac in these areas but am fairly inquisitive. Sadly, my Catholic education did give me a broad understanding of several concepts and theories which means that I have an appreciation for science and a desire to learn more about it, even though I am not really proficient in any one area.

Usually, I get into some archaeology books that I can dovetail into my love for history and nonfiction. I also love astronomy but the math gets me all the time. Nonetheless, I love reading about it.

Everyone should have a physicist friend to ask questions to. It is so helpful in understanding what is going on.

I read a review of The End of Everything and am pretty curious to check it out. It seems like it won’t overwhelm me too much.

I may also try my hand at the new Brian Greene book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe. I have seen Greene on PBS and the way he breaks things down is pretty terrific. His books also don’t lose me with lots of smarty pants fiddle faddle.

At a time when everyone is looking for finite numbers and final counts, reading a book that explores infinite possibilities is a welcome sight.

As my city slogs along through a weak economy it is important to support as many of our local restaurants, stores, venues and independent businesses as we can. Most of these are run by really nice, hardworking people who have built something out of their sweat and passion. They deserve your love.

Please buy local and give back to your city. I would not preach about it if I didn’t know so many chefs, bartenders, booksellers, stage crews and business owners who were up late at night trying to plan their next steps.

I wrote about the plight of local bookstores for Sophisticated Living. But don’t just take my word for it, go out and read the blogs, social media and press releases of local entrepreneurs and then see for yourself.

As 2020 winds down I am determined to make it work on my own terms. I will probably fail, but I am determined to get some more reading in and make a dent in all the pop culture I am waiting to consume. From a practical standpoint, I am hoping to make cabbage in a cornfield and find some decent work where I am not an underling getting barked at by a burned out boss whose spirit has been nibbled away by an aching resentment of almost everything.

If that dense;t work then there’s always Vonnegut and Vicodin.

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.