I Haven’t Got A Witty Title

I guess I should begin by apologizing for the long delay. It has been a bit of a ride lately. Not that anyone really reads this or waits around for it.

Since I last wrote a post I have become even busier. The store I work at has extended its hours. This means I have about 20 hours a week now rather than 12 or so. It’s not a really great job, but I get to read a lot of newspapers and magazines from around the world and I meet some interesting people.

The big thing, however, is that I also picked up two writing gigs. The first is for a national chain of dentists. I write copy and content for their websites and social media. I also edit and write doctor bios. It’s not the most glamorous job but it pays well. The biggest hassle with it is that I work with this person who has a habit of being really condescending. It’s pretty annoying.

Anyhow, after I started that gig, I got another contract from an ad agency. It’s a shorter thing, mostly project by project. It has fewer hours, but it is still money and it is with an agency so that foot in the door helps a bunch.

The biggest thing about these two things is that they are remote and in my field. For years I have wanted to work in marketing and content creation, and this is my opportunity. However, it is ironic that I waited until the back end of the pandemic to find some steady work.

In addition to these, I also am writing articles when I can for a few magazines and websites. So far I’ve done a theater review, a couple of opera reviews and I just finished writing about a woman who owns a pastry shop in East St. Louis.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis has moved their season outdoors. So far the weather has been terrific for the three shows I have seen. They have done a great job of spacing things out and keeping the shows running smoothly.

It is nice to have the arts back. In so many ways they are leading us out of all this. Sports are too, but that’s different. The arts provide mental stimulation, relaxation, and an opportunity to engage in new ideas, stories and experiences.

St. Louis is really lucky to have such a vibrant theater scene. One that works together and endeavors to make our community a better one. In addition to Opera theater and The Rep, there are so many other companies that are plotting their return to the stage. that is awesome!

I also have seen two films at the Hi-Pointe because everyone there is responsible and sane.

While so many great restaurants have left us in the last year or so, many terrific ones are still around. This is why I am trying to eat and shop local.

Running a restaurant is hard work. It is backbreaking and there is always a worry about money, customers, and competition. It’s a rather rough way to earn a living, so please eat locally and tip when you get a meal!

I am still catching up on TV. I did enjoy The Queen’s Gambit. The overall narrative and pacing were great and the sets and costumes were eye candy in their use of color and pattern schemes. The acting was also pretty darn good too. I also enjoyed how its length was just right. I wish more shows would follow the lead and only release the exact number of episodes needed to tell the story correctly. By not having extended fluff and tight plotlines, the drama was heightened, and thus, more enjoyable.

I am now starting on The NeversThe Expanse, and Resident Alien based on personal recommendations. We shall see how that turns out. If that was not enough, there are still a lot of movies that I want to see too.

Once again I got credentials for the Vienna Shorts film festival. There was some really terrific work in it this year. I particularly loved the animated shorts. Some were delightfully melancholy and some were just tripy and weird.

I also like Bella, a short set in Athens, Greece doing the 1980s. It had a lot of layers to it that made it especially interesting.

Here’s a bit on some books that have interested me lately……

Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel is out. Sadly, it is a reminder of what we’ve lost. He really was a great writer. I don’t think people gave him enough credit for that.

Released posthumously, World Travel features Bourdain profiling some of his favorite places to eat around the globe.

Split into short sections, each filled with wit and insight, the book does suffer a bit from feeling incomplete. Its a great read but you can tell there was supposed to be a lot more.

Continuing on the idea of chefs turned writers is Yes, Chef, an engrossing book from Marcus Samuellson.

Seen on PBS’ No Passport Required and as a guest judge on a bunch of cooking shows, Samuelsson, who runs Red Rooster Harlem, candidly talks about how began his career and worked his way up the ladder to achieve notoriety.

Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, his unique story is told in a refreshingly candid manner. His passion for food and the people who make it is at the core of this warm and candid memoir.

For some unexplained reason, there are a few books on 1984 in bookstores right now. At least one of them looks at the year in sports, while another focuses on the year in American music.

However, for me personally, David Elliott’s 1984: British Pop’s Dividing Year is the definite read on that year.

Told in great detail, the book features an incredibly fascinating year in music. From post punk to synthpop and a rising scene of jazz-flavored artists, Elliott covers it all.

The year saw the rise of The Smiths, an increased presence of socially conscious cuts, and a fierce streak of rebellion that led to some incredible music from a wide range of artists.

As Elliott points out in his self-published work, the specter of nuclear war looming over Thatcher’s Britain helped the pop music rebel, enthrall, and create some incredible music. From MTV to Apartheid and Band-Aid, no stone I left unturned.

I saw some live virtual concerts from Madness and Midge Ure. They were each good in different ways.

The Madness gig was a lot of fun. They played most of their hits and had Roland Gift and Paul Weller turn up to guest sing a few songs.

They also used some skits to break things up a bit and keep things light. I have never sene them live and this was a great way to experience their energy and chaos.

Digging into his catalog as a soloist and member of Visage and Ultravox, Midge Ure’s concert was a career-spanning affair.

Four decades on his voice is still in top form. He did all the hits, Fade To Grey, Reap The Wild Wind, and Vienna along with fan favorites like Mr. X and New Europeans.

Presented more or less as a straightforward barrage of songs, Ure was relentless as he energetically guided his band through the show.

Midge Ure was one of the last shows here in town before last year’s lockdown. I was sick as a dog and could not go.

As things begin to open up let’s all get our bearings……

Yep, in case you missed it COVID is still a thing! Really, I swear! But seriously, the pandemic is still kind of an anxious thing for me. I am vaccinated but am still wearing a mask and being careful. I have mostly eaten outside at restaurants. Going inside to eat still seems weird. I know it may be silly to be cautious but after being inside for so long it just seems like baby steps may be the best way to go.

Despite all the positivity and cheerleading about things going back to normal, I prefer to ride this out a bit longer. This is largely due to the fact that there are still a lot of idiots and morons out there waiting to just be silly and goofy and frustrating in their resistance to facts and science.

And, because there are also people in high places eager to prove them wrong, I just think I am going to be cautiously optimistic until I see more data come in on how things play out with the longevity of the various vaccines and how they hold up against new strains, especially the Indian ones.

I should point out that I am not against getting the vaccine in any way. I think they work and I think they are effective. But, I also know I am likely going to need a booster shot sometime soon. With that in mind, I prefer to be pragmatic in my return to the world of ‘normalcy.’

Anyway, that’s pretty much a rundown of all the shenanigans going on here. Again, I apologize for being so tardy and incredibly dull this time around. Hopefully things won’t be as scattershot next time.

Stay safe.

Merry Christmas and Get the Hell Out of Here 2020!

I am now recovering from the holidays and a mindbogglingly intense few months. I am glad the year is ending, it needs to go like a bad throw rug. But I am a bit worried because each year since 2017 has gotten progressively worse for me.

Anyway, the year ends with mixed feelings of terror, anxiety, frustration, hope and melancholy. I am sure I am not alone. No one should spend their life alone, so if you have family you can stand or friends who substitute for family be thankful. Especially now. But most of all, just don’t be a terrible person.

Mentally, I am mostly okay but still anxious about assclowns who just don’t get it or refuse to acknowledge the obvious. It’s a challenging time to deal with the stupid and I don’t do it very well sometimes. But I am thankful that so many people I care about are safe and well. A few of my medical profession friends got the vaccine and that is terrific news since they have been knee deep in the waters and are emotionally spent.

I miss being able to travel but I don’t miss going out much. Streaming has replaced going to the movies and I am trying to read more. With winter here I won’t be able to sit on the back porch and read which is kind of a bummer. I hate the ice and the cold and the general malaise of winter. Add a pandemic to it and it’s a real party.

I am still on the short end of the work stick have & have spent the last few months working on some freelance stuff. I’ve learned not to expect any help from people I know who could offer work but don’t. Ironically, they are the same people who always ask me for free tickets to stuff. They are on the naughty list.

It is weird to be reviewing theater type stuff again. The Rep has been doing an online series called Cooking, Carols & Cocktails that features local musicians and chefs. Opera Theatre St. Louis is pressing their virtual season with a holiday concert. Both have been welcome distractions from the insanity of the world.

A few quick hits about Christmas

-That Mariah Carey song is the work of the Devil!

-Black Friday is dumb!

-There’s a pandemic and people are still out rushing around.

-The Misfit toys are cool & have been marginalized in recent years.

-Santa is a huge jerk in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

A few quick hits about New Year’s Eve/Day etc…

-There are better songs on War by U2 than New Year’s Day.

-Prosecute them all!

-Ryan Seacrest is still annoying.

-Please support St. Louis’ excellent local restaurants, bookstores, shops, record stores and businesses during this time. If you read this from other places then support local businesses wherever you are.

-When these places talk of being in dire straights they are not messing around. It is important to support those who have toiled to build a business from scratch!

Also, it it totally true when you get older New Year’s Eve is less of thing. I remember being at my Grandma’s house on New year’s Eve when I was a kid. we watched Lawrence Welk and Guy Lombardo and the ball drop in New York then we had ginger snaps and went to bed. She also told these great stories about childhood celebrations she had when she was younger.

I have some appliance news! It is not super exciting, but the lighting fixture in the kitchen had bulbs go out. There was a lot of blinking and waiting around for it to get brighter. So, alas, they have been replaced with shiny and new 4 ft LED lights. It is so much brighter. There is also a Rhoomba here now, so cleaning hardwood floors should be a bit easier!

Mank is streaming now and is also in some theaters if you are bold enough to go to those. Gary Oldman is terrific in it and if you love classic Hollywood this is right up your alley. Mank is all about the creation of Citizen Kane and the backlash it created.

It also explore the relationship between Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote the script. David Fincher filmed it in black and white to do it justice. Cinematically it is gorgeous. Yes there are some liberties taken with the story, but generally, it is a really good film about the making of a cinema classic.

It also is nice to see Herman J. Mankiewicz get some credit since Welles is often prominently in the spotlight with the creation of that film. Sadly, despite his creativity he was a terrible drunk which led to him dying young in 1953.

Some days you just need to do nothing and watch nonsense. I did this recently and revised The Coneheads. It was on the telly and I had not seen it in decades. I figured why not? Surprisingly its themes of home and immigration resonate today as does some of points on law enforcement.

I also forgot that literally everybody is in it; Sinbad, Chris Farley, David Spade, Adam Sandler and bunches of others. Even though it is pretty forgettable there are some fun moments in it.

I did recently stumble upon a nifty little film from 1978 called The Silent Partner. Starring Elliott Gould as Miles Cullen, a nebbishy bank clerk who discovers his bank is going to be robbed by a man dressed as a mall Santa. Christopher Plummer stars opposite of him as Reikle, a seriously bad psychopath.

Seeing an opportunity to look after himself, Cullen skims a cool fifty grand from the bank’s till during the robbery. From here things get really interesting as Gould and Plummer have a battle of wits after Plummer discovers he’s been outwitted. Cullen’s life is compounded by his complex relationship with a coworker as well as the arrival of Elaine, a mysterious woman who he he en counters at his father’s funeral. From here the tension gets turned up to eleven as the walls close in on Cullen, forcing him to make some drastic decisions.

This movie totally caught me off guard. I had never even heard of it before, but apparently it has a massive cult following.

Each Christmas I make it a point to watch a few holiday movies that I have not seen before. This year I watched The Bishop’s Wife.

It was a rough movie to make. they had a few director changes. Grant was really picky about details on filming with the sets and dialogue. To add to all of that, Niven, was still grieving over the death of his wife. With all that going on it’s a Christmas miracle that it got made at all.

Niven plays a bishop who is so obsessed with building a new cathedral for his congregation (and a wealthy parishioner) that he completely blows off his wife.

Grant plays Dudley, an angel sent to make things right. Unfortunately, he is too good at his job and his handsome looks and kindness make him attractive to Julia (Loretta Young), the bishop’s wife. There relationship and the wrinkles it causes with Niven’s bishop form the tension of the film. There’s a lot of stuff in here about faith, duty and responsibility. It’s pretty sappy at times but the actor is stellar and the melodrama keeps you watching.

I took the advice of a friend and finally watched Auntie Mame. Despite some totally awkward racial stereotypes it is a real ball of fun.

It is interesting to see how much commentary there is on class, individualism, self worth, feminism, wealth and the importance of family. Despite the comic draperies, there’s a lot of pretty heavy stuff happening here.

The movie is whimsical and silly and funny all at once. Rosalind Russell is on fire throughout the entire thing and she really propels the movie. Everyone has an eccentric relative and her Mame pretty much sets the bar as a partying socialite who is suddenly thrust into raising her nephew. To do this requires a lot of personal growth, stubbornness and tenacity. I love how steely Mame is. She is a fighter who plays by her own rules and it is exhilarating to watch. I suspect that in 1958, when this came out, people may have freaked out.

I have finished Schitt’s Creek. The ending was pretty predictable but still managed to deliver in terms of fun. In a crap year it was such a great tonic for laughter. It also has an emotional gravitas to it the tis nice as well. I am sad to see it end because now I need to find a new comedy to watch.

There is still a lot of stuff to stream. I have made a list of all it since there is so much. I want to see Soul and I am excited about The Prom since I didn’t get to see it when I was in New York two years ago. There is a new season of Cobra Kai as well.

Because I am not going to movie theaters for awhile making a best of they year film list is kind of a nightmare. There are loads of things I am hearing via word of mouth. Things like The Sound of Metal, The Ammonite or the two thousand streaming movies Tom hanks has out right now. So, alas there is no best of film list this year.

That Left Turn At Albuquerque was one of my favorite fiction reads for the year. I read it very early in the year and its a real gem in terms of how the characters are fleshed out and the action unfolds.

Phillips doesn’t make warn and fuzzy characters which is refreshing. They have depth and texture and are very, very grey. If you like really good crime stories with helpings of art, lust and treachery, then this is a book for you. This is some seriously good old school noir.

I also liked Roddy Doyle’s Love. It is rich and frothy and he is a master at dialogue.

In addition to being a homage to pub culture it is a lovely story about friendship and love that tugs on our inner sense of regret. At a time when we can’t go out it’s nice to read a book about going to the pub and hanging out. The book also has Doyle’s rich characters too which are always intriguing.

The Neal Gaiman Reader is also solid. it is a really good collection of his work that fearers excerpts from his books as well as some short stories.

I do not always like books like these because they often play out like a greatest hits collection or a money grab. However, here the material is so imaginative and rich that it is perfect. Even though I have read most of the 52 pieces collected, it is still a great read in that it is well organized and flows well.

I am a big fan of Gaiman so the odds going in were that I would like it. But I was impressed by the selections featured. there were some I had forgotten and the rediscovery was terrific.

I really love The Reds Pinks & Purples. Glenn Donaldson’s newish project is poptastically exquisite. His latest album, You Might Be Happy Someday is one of my favorite records of 2020. It has lush melodies and catchy lyrics.

There is some melancholy too, but, taken as a whole the album is an uplifting experience that needs to be heard. The mixture of lyrics and music is seamless and the results are wonderful.

One of the things I did love about 2020 was that there was so much good music out. There was a lot. I also love how bands did streaming concerts to make connections with their fans. I watched really good streamed shows from OMD, Hot Chip, Fontaine’s D.C. and Cigarette After Sex.

While all of these were amazing, nothing beat Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer. It was simply stunning in every way.

Alone at a piano Cave channels his pain through his art, giving us 22 really amazing tracks. I loved Girl In Amber, Galleon Ship, The Mercy Seat and Into My Arms. Also available as a video, this is worth your time. It is really incredible.

I hate putting faith on hope and thinking the road ahead is gonna be better and all that jazz. I am a pragmatist. However, this year so so awful and terrible that even I want there to be some progress in tackling important social issues and moving back to normal in 2021. But, until it happens I will continue to be worried and aggravated by the stupid, selfish and insipid. The one takeaway from 2020 is that it showed how America is a place that needs a ton of work. I fear that calls for unity and togetherness are just going to be unanswered, It’s sad but it’s true.

For now, I just want to get through the coming year in one piece and in better shape than the tattered mess of the present. I want people to be kind and decent and vaccinated. I want art to thrive and people to be treated fairly and with dignity. I want less poor decisions and more opportunity.

Although I want to play more great music on the radio and absorb loads of cool movies, graphic novels books and stuff, I’d like the world to be filled with compassion and caring. More money would be nice too. I know that it is terribly capitalistic, but seriously who doesn’t want a cushion right now.

2020 totally sucked. It was worse than 1848, 1914 or 1939 all rolled into one. So much ion the pain could have bene avoided and people were stupid, shallow and callous. Good riddance. Please let 2021 be better.