Nasty, Brutish and Long: Farewell 2021

Here is my last blog post for a grimy and ugly year.

Although 2021 wasn’t quite the dumpster fire that 2020 was, the year was filled with frustration as the general public, body politic, and powers that be continued to half-ass their way through coming out of the pandemic.

No one gets along. It has stretched into every aspect of society, from the government to retail to restaurants and shipping. It is simply maddening. It made the whole year sadder and really crushed any optimism people may have been feeling.

The most frustrating part of the latest surge is that it easily could have been prevented. For most of us, 2021 was the year that the selfish, intolerant, and entitled ruined everything. Thanks to this obnoxious minority it became impossible to read a paper, watch TV, or go online without getting aggravated or shaking a fist in disbelief.

The weather in St. Louis was pretty decent this year. There was a really long winter spell where I nearly froze my ass off each day, but that run of about two weeks was pretty much all the cold weather we had. We also had a relatively mild summer, which was also a nice escape from our annual humidity. While I did enjoy the weather, the fact that the change in seasons was so drastic worried me.

Moving into a new year I am glad to see so many people getting fed up with their rubbish jobs. Part of the reason why there is a job shortage is that people finally are fed up with abusive customers, low pay, and no advancement.

For these disenfranchised folks, driving an Uber or doing Postmates is an opportunity to make more scratch without dealing with the hassles of working for the man. Personally, I never want to work retail again, it is simply not worth it. As the new year begins, I hope a lot more people get paid more for doing the jobs that form the bulwark of our economy.

Everything NASA did on Mars this year was really cool. From flying helicopters to exploring the Jezero Crater, the Mars mission has been a great distraction from life on Earth.  

Searching for water and trying to understand the Red Planet’s geographical history has given us a ton of data. The amazing photographs sent back were simply astounding. I cannot wait to see what comes next.

With the launch of the James Webb telescope, I feel kind of sad for the Hubble telescope. It is living on borrowed time now. Despite still being useful, it will soon be in the shadow of its more powerful sibling.

However, Hubble has nothing to be ashamed of. It has done an incredible job and given us a greater understanding of the universe.

On a better note, it was an outstanding year for books, movies, and films. There were a lot of great debut records this year. There also were some really interesting records by established artists. In a year of divisiveness and clamoring of nonsense, it was good to know there was a lot of great music to listen to.

While I still have to see some of the movies that are on best-of lists for the year, I have managed to sort out my favorite music of the year. Here is my Best of 2021 Music list in alphabetical order.

Arab Strap-As Days Get Dark

Beachy Head-Beachy Head

The Catenary Wires-Birling Gap

Dry Cleaning-New Long Leg

Ducks Ltd.-Modern Fiction

IDLES-Crawler

Japanese Breakfast-Jubilee

Mogwai-As the Love Continues

The Reds, Pinks, and Purples-Uncommon Weather

The Umbrellas-The Umbrellas

Honorable Mentions

Snail Mail-Valentine

Billy Bragg-The Million Things That Never Happened

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis-Carnage

Desperate Journalist-Maximum Sorrow

Kiwi Jr.-Cooler Returns

Geese-Projector

The Goon Sax-Moon II

Blankenberge-Everything

TV Priest-Uppers

Courtney Barnett-Things Take Time, Take Time

Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth-Utopian Ashes

Piroshka-Love Drips and Gathers

Chime School is from San Francisco. They have an excellent self-titled record out. The “band” is the latest project from Andy Pastalaniec of Pink Films, Cruel Summer, and Seabite.

Released on Slumberland, the album is filled with jangly melodies and well-crafted songs.

Taking cues from the spangled indie pop of the 1990s, Chime School’s record features a collection of whole songs, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. They are well constructed and have some terrific hooks.

The Vaccines have ended the year by releasing a collection of demos from their debut, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? Formed in South London, the band released their debut album 10 years ago on Sub pop in the USA. Since then they have put out five records in total, but this one is still the best. Raw, rough, and grimy, the songs are catchy despite being layered beneath textures of noise.

In their demo form, all of the songs on that auspicious debut are rougher and more energetic. The proof is in the pudding here, because, even in this infant form, the songs are engaging and energetic.

I am still sorting out my favorite movies of the year. There are still lots of things I need to get to still. I was glad to several great music documentaries: Summer of Soul, The Sparks Brothers, and The Velvet Underground film from Todd Haynes.

I did see Just Look Up. There was a lot of talk about this movie and I was curious to see if it lived up to the hype. It is one of those rare films that is both entertaining and terrifying at the same time. When people watch this film decades from now they will feel the electric tension of the times.

Encapsulating a wide range of contemporary issues, Just Look Up is a satirical science fiction film that resonates loudly. Featuring an all-star cast, it gets its point across without being too preachy. The events depicted would be hilariously funny if they weren’t so true.

I really liked Spider-Man: No Way Home. The first film I saw in a somewhat crowded theater since the pandemic, it was glorious escapism. I was happy to see Alfred Molina turn up again as Dr. Octopus. This time he got to give him some depth, which really helped the character stand out more. Willem Defoe was also terrific, returning again as the Green Goblin.

There is a lot of stuff happening in the MCU right now, and this film may be the most exciting part of it. Having Dr. Strange in perfectly set up the oncoming tragedy of Peter Parker’s life as a hero. Tom Holland is so good you practically forget he’s a grown-ass man playing a teenager. Tragic, comic, and emotional he carries the film.

It was also good to have Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield back. This time they got to dig deeper into their versions of the webslinger, giving their films an epilogue they sorely needed.

Unfortunately, I could care less about the new Batman movie. There have been too many and it is getting insane. I wish there were more original movies instead of adaptations of comics, books, or reboots.

Phillippe Garnier’s book on Hollywood in the 1930s has been an excellent read. Set during a time when Hollywood was still blue collar, gives the screenwriters of this magical time in pictures an overdue reappraisal.

Translated into English, the book gives the screenwriters of the 1930s (Niven Busch, Rowland Brown, Silvia Richards, and Edward Anderson just to name a few) their props for their creativity, determination, and grit. The book also describes how literary figures like James Faulkner toiled away on scripts as they honed their craft. Working long hours, drinking often (i.e. a lot), and avoiding encounters with the law, gangsters, studio executives, and other unsavory types these intrepid souls laid the foundation for Hollywood’s golden age.

Told with vivid clarity, the book also details how the haunts frequented by writers (bookstores, bars, restaurants, and hotels), served as hubs for collaboration that helped birth some of the decade’s best films.

In appliance news, the lettuce recall hit close to home as I had to throw out some me salad that was recalled because of listeria. The recall meant I had to chuck the bad greens out, along with any food next to, on top of, or near it. Then I had to remove everything else and thoroughly clean the refrigerator and the containers holding the rest of the food I could use. Then I had to wipe down all the surfaces where I set the uncontaminated food while I was cleaning the fridge. It took forever.

My old portable phone recharger also kicked the bucket, forcing me to get a new one. The one I had was lightweight and unobtrusive. The new one, a Boosa, is a lot heavier. But it gets points because it is black.

In addition to being mentally exhausting, this year was so long. For a while there I didn’t expect it to ever end. This is mainly because the pandemic slowed things down, but also because I settled into a routine with my remote work.

It sucked not being able to travel this year. I only took two trips. I took a long weekend in Atlanta. I saw some friends outside and socially distant and got to do a few other things in the city. I also took a train to Chicago for my birthday. While a lot of the city was operating on a weird schedule, I still had a nice break from the clustermess that is happening here.

People always mention resolutions as the year winds down. For me, all I want is for people to not be so stupid and selfish. It would be nice if there was a really dull year where nothing happened and everyone got along. Of course, this will not happen. It would be nice if the horse betting, Wall Street Journal reading, nonmaskers got their shit together and made life easier for the rest of us.

In 2022, I would like to eat indoors and maybe go to a bar without worrying about the person next to me being a walking infection. I also want to go to the grocers again and not have to improvise because they are out of weird crap like kimchee or feta cheese. Maybe the roller rinks could reopen?

But when all is said and done, the new year just has to be chill. We’ve all had enough. We are worn out. I want a year that brings me as much joy as hearing Pet Sounds. A year without beatings, shootings, boosters, and reality TV. One with good books, a wider selection of movies, live concerts, and less stress for those working on the frontlines in any capacity.

I hope the next trip around the sound brings enough kindness and normality that I won’t need a stiff drink or meditation to cope each and every bloody day. If only…..

Holiday Sneer

Having spent ages working retail and having a pretty nonexistent family holiday season for the last few decades, I am not a big holiday person. The lights are great, and the kitschy pop culture and fun records of the holiday are also amusing. But, in general, I wish the holiday season was a time of comfort and joy. I am one of those who sneer at the gross excess, annoying car commercials, and the irritating antics of hardcore fundamentalists.

Maybe it is because, as a kid, my parents never overdid it for the holidays. We always had a few gifts, mostly a combination of fun and practical. I was taught to spend the season helping the little guy, those in need, alone or down on their luck.

Twelve years of Catholic school didn’t do much to help either. They rammed Christmas down your throat. It was mass after mass after mass. Having said that, it is nice to hear a proper pipe organ with a good choir.

Overall, the holidays are a bourgeois construct. People lose their damn minds trying to buy stuff. I remember Christmases of the past when there was a clamor for Cabbage Patch Kids, Atari Pac-Man, and hot wheels cars. I must have missed the memo because I wanted other stuff.

Anyway, all I really want for the holidays is for the cadre of idiots out there to put a damn mask on so we can get us over all of this. I also am looking forward to chilling out, watching movies, and maybe having a drink or two. Not too fussy, no oversaturation of consumerism.

I have nothing against the well to do. They can buy all the crappy stuff they want. I just want them to shop at a local business. They can spend till their heart is content, as long as they don’t bother me with it.

Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve been trying to learn more about artists, authors, and bands that have interested me. For various reasons, I have not had the time to learn about them. But with more time at home, I have been able to delve deeper.

I have always been fascinated with the photography of Don McCullin. His work explores the gritty of urban life, champions the downtrodden, and brings the horrors of war to life.

While his photo sessions with The Beatles are amazing, he is best known for his work in the warzones of Vietnam, Syria, and Northern Ireland, where, as a photojournalist, he brought the horrors of ar to the public consciousness.

amazing as well. He also did some photography of the beats, and his travel photographer is pretty amazing as well. His work has a stark beauty to it. It’s not pretty all the time, but it is provocative.

In exciting household news, the air ducts are cleaned. I had not thought about getting it done for a few years but then I saw a thing on TV and decided it ould not be a bad idea. Fortunately, when they came to clean the ducts they were not in bad shape. There were no dead animals, no massive clumps of yuck, and Osteen-like wads of cash. Since the cleaning, the air has been much better inside the crib.

There also is a new showerhead. The old one was kind of limited and dull, this one changes settings and is removable. It’s pretty nice. With the world being so nutty right now, having an amazingly comfortable shower can go a long way.

I picked up 4K Criterion remaster of Citizen Kane. I got that one because the regular blu ray copies had issues with the first disc and you had to send it back and wait for a new one. It was a hassle.

It looks incredible. I didn’t think that much more could be said on the subject of the film, but that is not the case. There is a ton of extra stuff, including The Hearts of Age, a silent film made by Welles in 1934.

Zhang Yimou is one of my favorite filmmakers. His film work includes Shanghai Triad, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, To Live, and so many more. He also directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In addition to being a great storyteller, his use of rich colors makes his movies a sumptuous visual treat. Frequently writing about events in Chinese history, his films focus on the tenacity of everyday Chinese citizens in the face of adversity.

His new film, One Second, was pulled right before a planned screening at the Berlin Film Festival. Fortunately, it was picked up by the St. Louis International Film Festival. Screening only once, I was anxious to see it on a big screen.

One Second is a love letter to film and the power it has to bring communities together, and document important events. Superbly acted, the film is about a man who escapes from prison during Mao’s Cultural Revolution to get a glimpse of his daughter who is appearing in a film screening that is screening in a small town. While it lacks the action and tense drama of his more recent work, One Second has some wonderful comedic moments weaved into its nostalgic narrative.

in addition to making the film festival circuit, the film has gotten picked up by a distributor. I have no idea when it is coming out. Most likely in 2022.

Another film I saw at the festival this year was Memoria. An award winner at the Cannes and Chicago Film Festival, it is coming out in the next week or so nationally. Its distribution is pretty weird. Neon picked up the distribution rights for the United States and they are planning for it to be a “never Ending” release in that it will be shown on one theater screen at a time, week by week, across the country.

Memoria is the Colombian entry for this year’s best foreign film Oscar. A hybrid of drama, fantasy, and science fiction, the film was written by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul whose Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was terrific.

Here he has Tilda Swinton starring as a woman visiting Bogota because her sister is in the hospital. While there she is awakened in the night by a strange banging noise. At first, she thinks it is a sleep-related issue or some other ailment. However, after hearing the sound in a variety of places, including a restaurant, she begins to investigate.Being the only one to hear this particular sound disturbs her greatly as she seeks help from various people, including a sound engineer and a man living alone in the countryside.

Despite having outstanding sound mixing and incredible cinematography, the film moves at an achingly slow pace. A lot of film reviewers loved it, but, despite being imaginative and having an unexpected crescendo near the end, the film is drawn out, and crawls to a halt several times.

Swinton is terrific in the film, but audiences who miss a second of things often do not know what is going on. If you blink or miss a patch of dialogue you are lost.

There comes a time when you see a film and want it to be great art, but often are left staring at the canvas and wondering what the images mean. This is interesting, and the theater of the mind is always wonderful, but, here it doesn’t work. I also think the rollout for the movie is pretentious and kind of annoying.

The interesting thing about the current Spider Man film, and its predecessors, is that no matter who is cast in the lead role, they can dodo whatever a spider can

Beach House has a new album coming out early next year. It is called Once Twice Melody and it may be the record that gets them over.

Coming in with eighteen tracks, the band has spent the last three years diligently working on it.

The Umbrellas are an indie band from San Francisco. Their self-titled album was oneof my faovrites for the year. They have a very jangly ’80s vibe going on with a pinch of mid 1990s sugar pop thrown in for measure.

The entire album is filled with terrific melodies and clever hooks. It is a wonderfuk work of indie pop. Not too polished, not too grimy.

Billy Idol has made a Chritmas album. We are doomed. Although it has some nice hooks, it does fall flat.

Even in my youth, I knew there was a lot more to the Rankin/Bass holiday specials than was being let on. While they were made as fun entertainment, nearly all of them have some sort of bullying, stereotyping, and emotional abuse happening. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has the protagonist ostracized for a physical deformity. He is bullied, laughed at, and told he is not worthwhile. Meanwhile, Hermie the Elf is relentlessly taunted and mocked for his life choices.

Then there is Yukon Cornelius. While he seems endearing, he is a pretty greedy guy, driven by a hunt for treasure. He is more accepting than others, but his selfish nature often results in poor decisions. As for Santa, he’s a real piece of work. A blustering autocrat who does not tolerate abnormalities or work delays, he has no interest in Rudolph until he suits his own needs. What a jerk.

The Island of Misfit Toys is pure segregation that implies that if you are not what society thinks of as normal then you should be cast away. Not a wholesome message.

The Year Without A Santa Claus features Santa as kind of a wishy-washy jerk who wants to stay home. He claims to have a bad cold that makes him want to stay home. However, I find it hard to believe that a guy who has made that trip like two million times has never had a cold before. I think he is just burnt out.

That particular special implies that Mrs. Claus is incapable of solving any problems on her own. Well, she proves them all wrong. She is strong-willed, independent, and smarter than her husband. As for the Mizer Brothers, despite their impressive dance numbers, they are reticent fascists who rule their fiefdoms. Depicted as funny, they are uncompromising tyrants.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a little better. Here Santa is a noncormmist and a rebel who fights the machinations of authoritarians by being kind. Panfully optimistic, the Santa depicted here uses gifts to gain influence and escape form tight situations. While it is clever and teaches kids that they can share, thsi behavior also implies that people can be bought.

Overall, I think the Rankin/Bass stop motion specials remain entertaining in that they use siniging storytelling to convey the spirit of Christmas. However, they also feature some tewrrible character traits that are not healthy.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a little better. Here Santa is a nonconformist and a rebel who fights the machinations of authoritarians by being kind. Painfully optimistic, the Santa depicted here uses gifts to gain influence and escape tight situations. While it is clever and teaches kids that they can share, this behavior also implies that people can be bought.

Overall, I think the Rankin/Bass stop motion specials remain entertaining in that they use singing and storytelling to convey the spirit of Christmas. However, they also feature some terrible character traits that are not healthy.

It is interesting that as you get older you just care less and less about the holidays. I think this feeling runs deeper if you’ve worked with the public during the season. they can be stupid, terrible, selfish, and stupid. But, all of that experience makes you more determined and tenacious in the face of adversity.

Unfortunately, working in retail also wears you down and makes you cynical. It also opens your eyes to how important it is to move away from the materialism of the season. I also think it helps you become more aware of others by underscoring the importance of kindness during the holidays.

Personally, there is something awful about coming into a store five minutes before it closes so that the staff has to undo a bunch of stuff they’ve started working on to close out the day. It’s just rude. Learn some time management people!

Also, people who come to the theater late are annoying.

I’ve been seeing a few plays over the last month. It is great to see live theater again. It also is heartening that the local companies get it by taking precautions for their audiences. Masks are mandatory and they are checking to make sure folks are vaccinated.

The holidays have brought a lull in freelance work. It should pick back up again in early 2022. But, I am glad to have the break. I can catch up on reading and seeing movies. There is also a bunch of streaming stuff I want to see.

Although I am doing a few things out in the world, I am still masking up and being socially distant. The recent surge has made being alert more important than ever. It is still important to not let down your guard.

Man I hope 2022 is better. My fear is that it will turn out to be 2020-two. I hope I am wrong. Either way, I am looking forward to better things, including more kindness from a cruel world.