31 December 2010

Movie Review: "True Grit" (2010)

True Grit
Written for the Screen and Directed by The Coen Brothers
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin
Theatrical Release Date: 22 December 2010
Date of Screening: 28 December 2010

Fourteen-year old Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) hires U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track down her father's killer, Tom Chaney (Brolin).  It's as simple as that.  (Oh, and Matt Damon as LaBoeuf is also on Chaney's trail.)  Lots of eyebrows were raised when word first broke that the Coen Brothers intended to make this film; it seems that remaking a John Wayne movie is about like declaring that you see how the Sistine Chapel should be repainted.  Never mind that True Grit was originally a novel by Charles Portis; audiences think of the Duke and that's that.

Then came the first trailer, set to Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down."  It felt like a short film unto itself, and I have to say it was one of the rare instances in recent years that I went from indifferent to enthusiastic about a movie during the span of its trailer.  I was to learn that the action-centric trailer was culled largely from the final 10-15 minutes, of course, but it looked like an old school Western with wall-to-wall perils.  In any event, I was able to stroll into Tinseltown Louisville with my wife and several of our friends with nary a preconceived notion in mind, having neither read Portis's novel nor seen the previous adaptation.

I found Tom Chaney and the rest of the villains a great disappointment.  This is not a reflection on the cast; Josh Brolin imbues Chaney with as much charisma and presence as he can.  The problem is that, within the story, Chaney is more a MacGuffin than a character.  He exists solely to put into motion the story being told of how Mattie comes to meet Cogburn and LaBoeuf.  The problem is that at no point did I ever feel that our protagonists were in any real danger.  Despite its title, I found little grit.

I'm also not sure about Carter Burwell's score. On the one hand, I appreciate that he didn't go for a riff on Morricone or anything garish. On the other hand, I scarcely noticed the music. I know there's a school of thought that a score shouldn't draw attention to itself and while I appreciate that perspective, I'm someone who actively listens for the music in a movie.  Apparently, his score was ineligible for consideration for an Academy Award because it incorporated too much previously written material.  That is to say, there are several pieces of 19th Century compositions that were selected to authenticate the film's atmosphere.

All that aside, there's much to appreciate here.  The pace was taut, the dialog was witty and sharp (though I suspect largely lifted verbatim from the source material).  Above all, Hailee Steinfeld was flat-out great as Mattie Ross. No offense to either Abigail Breslin or Dakota Fanning, both of whom have impressed me for a while now, but it was nice to see a young actress other than either of them in such a prominent role.  She wasn't just adequate; she was the heart of the film.  I can't speak to how Jeff Bridges compares to John Wayne, but I found his performance charismatic.  I missed him when he wasn't on screen.

Kudos also to Roger Deakins, the director of photography.  He did a great job capturing the gorgeous landscapes. Moreover, there were an awful lot of scenes that were largely just exposition between fairly static people, but felt kinetic because of the way they were shot.  If you're considering seeing it, I strongly suggest you catch it on the big screen while you can because that's the best way to really appreciate Deakins's work.

All in all, I felt that True Grit fell a bit short of its pre-release acclaim but was still solidly entertaining.  I'm glad my friend Chad rounded us up for the showing, and grateful that my guts cooperated and let me attend.

30 December 2010

Advice from The Duke

If you complain about the weather,
John Wayne will knock you the hell out.
Once upon a time someone was on a late night talk show and shared an anecdote about John Wayne that has stayed with me all these years.  In all likelihood it was Late Show with David Letterman, though I have no idea who told the story.  Anyway, it was an outdoor shoot for one of the Duke's last movies (it may have even been The Shootist, his final feature) and the weather had conspired against them.  Some of the cast and crew were sitting idly, complaining about how it was such an ugly day.  Overhearing this was John Wayne, himself dying of cancer.  "Any day you get up is a beautiful day," he reprimanded them.

Like anyone else, I am prone to losing sight of this point.  I have been, to say the least, depressed of late even by my moody standards.  Remembering this little story hasn't magically restored my perspective or balanced my emotions, but some part of my brain felt it pertinent to recall and to share with you, dear reader.  May you find some value in it.

27 December 2010

2010 Year-End Purge: Books

The purge continues.  Strange as it is, more of the books to fall under the ax right now are ones I haven't read.  In most instances, I came upon them by happenstance and they were impulse buys aided and abetted by being dirt cheap.  For instance, I bought Cold Mountain in hardback for a quarter from the library.  I tried opening it three different times in the two years since I bought it and the truth is I just can't get into it.  Away it goes!  Here's what's going with it:

Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man by Tim Allen
The Supergirl Storybook by Wendy Andrews
Books That Changed the World by Robert B. Downs (paperback)
Fair Ball by Bob Costas
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Triangle: Imzadi II by Peter David
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Cold Fall by John Gardner (audiobook on cassette)
Seuss-isms by Theodore Geisel (writing as Dr. Seuss)
The Official 1983 Price Guide to Comic Books published by The House of Collectibles
Baseball, I Gave You the Best Years of My Life edited by Kevin Kerrane & Richard Grossinger (paperback)
Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno (paperback)
The Klingon Dictionary by Marc Okrand (paperback)
Puerto Vallarta Squeeze by Robert James Waller (read in Las Vegas, January 2003)
Star Wars: Survivor's Quest by Timothy Zahn (paperback)

I'd add to the pile, except I can't reach the balance of my paperbacks because they're behind the stupid Christmas tree that I will be only too happy to bring down.

2010 Year-End Purge: Music

Every year since childhood I've had a compulsion to go through my things and part ways with less used items.  This, of course, began as I would make room for new toys in my toy box but it's a habit I've maintained even now that I'm no longer receiving gifts.  I started late last night with my CDs.  I have several discs set aside right now, including 17 from my George Strait library.  I began building it in 1997, when a friend introduced me to Strait's Carrying Your Love with Me album and challenged me to complete his discography.  I did, and have kept it up to date ever since.  The time has come, though, for me to dismantle it.  Most of the content that really interests me from his first 15 albums is present on the Strait Out of the Box box set or the more recent 50 Number Ones 2-disc collection (supplemented with the 22 More Hits set).  I'm not finished purging yet, but here's the current breakdown:

  • Trace Adkins - Greatest Hits Collection, Vol. I
  • Sheryl Crow - C'mon, C'mon
  • Sheryl Crow - The Globe Sessions
  • Sheryl Crow - Sheryl Crow
  • Sheryl Crow - Tuesday Night Music Club
  • 4 Non Blondes - Bigger, Better, Faster, More!
  • Goombay Dance Band - Caribbean Beach Party
  • Alan Jackson - Good Time
  • Alan Jackson - Here in the Real World
  • Alan Jackson - A Lot about Livin' (And a Little 'Bout Love)
  • Alan Jackson - Under the Influence
  • Toby Keith - Blue Moon
  • Toby Keith - Honkytonk University
  • Toby Keith - White Trash with Money [Best Buy exclusive with bonus DVD]
  • Chris LeDoux - 20 Originals: The Early Years
  • Shelby Lynne - I Am Shelby Lynne
  • Martina McBride - Waking Up Laughing
  • Willie Nelson - Country Favorites - Willie Nelson Style
  • LeAnn Rimes - This Woman
  • George Strait - The Big One [promotional single]
  • George Strait - Chill of an Early Fall
  • George Strait - Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
  • George Strait - Greatest Hits
  • George Strait - Greatest Hits, Volume Two
  • George Strait - Holding My Own
  • George Strait - If You Ain't Lovin' (You Ain't Livin')
  • George Strait - If You Can Do Anything Else [promotional single]
  • George Strait - On the Road with the George Strait Country Music Festival [5 track promo EP]
  • George Strait - Right or Wrong
  • George Strait - Something Special
  • George Strait - Strait Country
  • George Strait - Strait from the Heart
  • George Strait - Ten Strait Hits
  • George Strait - #7
  • George Strait - 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection
  • Travis Tritt - Down the Road I Go
  • Keith Urban - keith urban
  • Keith Urban - love, pain and the whole crazy thing
  • Hank Williams, Jr. - 127 Rose Avenue
  • Lee Ann Womack - There's More Where That Came From
  • Dwight Yoakam - Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room

Next up will be books.  This is always a difficult task for me because I know deep down how unlikely it is that I will ever re-read a book.  I should simply box up every book I've ever read and not look back, but there's a part of me that likes having them around to lend to friends or to be able to reference when composing a blog entry and I spontaneously think of a passage I want to quote.  We'll see.

The Christmas That Pretty Much Wasn't

Being wearable is why boxers > sprinklers.
This year, more than any other, I just didn't care about Christmas.  We didn't have the money to go around throwing gifts at tangential people like postal carriers.  For that matter, we had a 15 year old cut-off age and bought gifts for nine people, two of whom are infants.  Even if we'd had the money, it just seemed wasteful to me.  It really sucks being someone known for liking things that have been heavily licensed for merchandise.  The moment it comes out that you like Star Wars, you can expect anything from boxer shorts to a Darth Vader lawn sprinkler.  The boxers you can wear, at least.  And I'm conscious that, ultimately, there's a high chance that the well-meaning gifts I've given have been received in a similar vain over the years.  My mom has loved the poem "Footprints" for ages, but has not once worn the pendant inspired by it that I got for her more than a decade ago.

It also turned out that I felt fairly miserable on the 18th, when our friends gathered for a Christmas party, and still don't feel particularly great.  My stupid Crohn's-infested guts are nagging, my throat has been frequently scratchy and I've fluctuated between having a headache and being dizzy.  In short, I have not attended a single Christmas gathering except the brief lunch with my family here at the house.  It could have just been a spontaneous lunch for all the "Christmas" there was about it.  I was in the bathroom when my cousin opened her gifts--the only member in the family to receive them.

I tried to get into the mood with music (scarcely played any and nothing resonated with me this year) and movies and TV shows (for the annual DVD Talk Holiday Challenge, which began 22 November and runs until 1 January).  Most of my Holiday Challenge list is either stuff I didn't even mean to watch (like an episode of According to Jim, a show I despise, that my wife was watching on TBS anyway and I thought I'd at least add to my list) or things that were merely set at Christmastime and not really about Christmas (like Batman Returns).  The closest I came to caring at all was around two in the morning Christmas Day while watching the 1999 TNT TV movie version of A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart.  But then the movie was over and the flicker died.

I've spent the last 24 hours seeing tweets and Facebook status updates about being posting what they got for Christmas; everything from stacks of Blu-ray Discs to video games and iPads.  This was really the first year that I've had a sense of being on the outside looking in and I have to say I can see why people who don't celebrate Christmas have become so critical of it.  I don't mean to pass judgment on anyone else; it's not my place, and anyway some isolated online remarks are hardly evidence about the thoughts, feelings and actual experiences of a given person.  It's the aggregate, though, that creates a picture of an expansive, well lighted room full of fat, well-fed people hip deep in expensive trinkets wrapped lavishly.  It's great if you're in the room, but it seems obscene from the outside.

Am I bitter?  I don't know.  If so, I don't know if I'm bitter that I wasn't in that room this year, or that I know there's no returning to it.  I've been on the outside now and confirmed what I've always suspected: that Christmas is a narcissistic exercise in self-indulgence.  No wonder our outspoken politicians conflate Christmas with America.  The only thing that evoked any moment of jealousy was during the aforementioned A Christmas Carol TV movie.  I enjoyed watching the depiction of Victorian Christmas gatherings with games set to a piano and boiled pudding.  I could have gotten into that kind of atmosphere, but of course that's not how it is and I suspect it wasn't often ever that way for most people.  I'm sure there are people for whom that would be appealing, but I know if I proposed it to my family they'd mock me for it and it would never happen.  "I don't want to hear [insert name] sing any other day of the year, what makes you think I want to hear [him or her] sing today?" "That's stupid; let's just eat and get on with this."  "No, we're not doing all that; just eat like normal people."  Normal people eat, quite a lot it seems, and then circulate the highlights of a department store amongst one another.

I wouldn't have minded this kind of Christmas.
I will say that my wife and I received two Christmas cards from two of our gift recipients that were sincerely touching.  We're not doing well financially, but a friend of my wife's has had an especially rough time so we resolved to ensure that her kids got some gifts to open this Christmas.  They are the very embodiment of gratitude, and their cards reflect that humility and sincerity.  A particularly nice touch is that the card written by the boy included a hand drawn illustration of a level from a Mario game, complete with Koopa Troopa, piranha plant and item box.  Those two cards are directly responsible for any optimism I have going forward. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge being offered a place of honor amongst the Cratchit children, and while I wish I'd been able to attend all of he gatherings to which I was invited, I particularly regret not having been there to witness these children open the handful of gifts we were able to bring them.

25 December 2010

Christmas Memories: Music

When I was a kid we didn't have a cassette deck in the car Mom drove, so we carried a portable cassette player.  For the most part, we just played whatever tapes she had.  I remember singing along with a tape of Frankie Valli hits, and since her cousin was married to Les Taylor at the time we had some Exile around.  Mom recalls being big into Tammy Wynette around that time, but I'd be lying if I said I remembered her music.  The first cassette I personally owned was the soundtrack to The Transformers: The Movie.  A couple years later, my brother and I were given Randy Travis's first two albums on cassette (to share; we didn't each get our own copies of both albums).  None of these were Christmas gifts, though.  Music wasn't a gift idea when we were young.  It wasn't really until 1990 that I really cared about owning and listening to my own music.

The first CD I ever owned.  Really.
To this day, I look back with triumph over effectively forcing my racist dad to buy me MC Hammer's Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em on cassette for Christmas that year.  The next year, Mom got me my first CD player (a Sony model, though I couldn't tell you now which one) and my first CD was, as I recall, the soundtrack to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  That was the same year I saw This Is Garth Brooks! on TV and I got back into country music, but by then I was largely buying my own music and no one wanted to give me any for Christmas.

A couple of years ago, one of my friends gave several of us Dwight Sings Buck on CD, which was cool because 1) there was a group of us that got the same album and 2) I had planned on buying it anyway and just hadn't gotten around to it.  Another friend surprised me one year with William Shatner's Has Been one year and Johnny Cash's Personal File another.  He knows my taste quite well.  My wife got me Vince Gill's These Days box set for Christmas in '06 (hard to believe it's that old!), which was a surprise.  I'm sure I've received other music gifts over the years, but I honestly can't recall them.  My family has shied away from giving me music, because by the time I was old enough to decide what I wanted, I was old enough to pay for it myself and I built quite a library in a short amount of time in my teens.  (I was always willing to buy used CDs and rummaged through the clearance bins with nary a shred of shame.)

As for Christmas music itself, I've spent years cultivating that segment of my library.  I went through a period about a decade ago where I bought Christmas albums from artists I didn't even regularly listen to, because I felt that whether their normal fare might not appeal to me, their Christmas recordings were a different subject entirely.  I may not care for a regular release by Lonestar, but I bought their Christmas album.  It was fun, and I always appreciated that they sang the "circus clown" second verse in "Winter Wonderland" instead of repeating the "Parson Brown" first verse like so many artists have done.

I need a turntable so I can play this on vinyl.
I have Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper on vinyl, and wish I had a functioning turntable so I could play it this year.  Another favorite of mine is George Strait's Merry Christmas Strait to You, the first of his three Christmas album.  I prefer it because it's done in the western swing vain of his 1980s output.  Deana Carter's Father Christmas is another favorite; it's as close to having her sit on your couch with a guitar as you can get without breaking the law.  Alan Jackson's Let It Be Christmas, Brooks & Dunn's It Won't Be Christmas Without You and Brad Paisley's Brad Paisley Christmas are three recent favorites.  Paisley's includes the hilarious "Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday," which hasn't worn thin yet.

For most of the last decade, I've found my interest and enthusiasm for Christmas dwindling with only my enjoyment of the music remaining.  Last night and this morning I played the six George Jones Christmas songs in my library (can anyone explain how it is that he has never recorded a full Christmas album in his lengthy career?) and 2008's posthumous Elvis Presley Christmas Duets collection (a mixed bag, but the lengthy recording of "Merry Christmas Baby" is absolutely killer).  It turns out that neither the Possum nor the King could evoke any Christmas spirit for me.  "Maybe Next Christmas," as Jones sings.  Maybe.

24 December 2010

"Marley Was Dead."

I was arrogant enough to sign up for Drama 1 my freshman year of high school.  It was my very first class of the day.  I was one of just a few students in the class who weren't at least juniors.  Most of them had been in several plays and pretty much were the drama department of the school.  I only knew two girls who sat near me, and while they were friendly, we weren't friends.  To say the least, it was rather intimidating.

Our final assignment going into Christmas break was to select an excerpt from a written work and present a dramatized reading of it to the class.  We were instructed to photocopy the pages and have them on a black folder.  I decided that I would nod my head toward the calendar and selected Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.  For my birthday the previous year I had received a two-cassette audio recording of Patrick Stewart's one man dramatization of it, which reminded me how much I had always enjoyed the story.  I have always loved the opening line:

Original cassette release.
"Marley was dead."

That's how you open a Christmas story!  We were allotted more than enough time in class to familiarize ourselves with our source material.  In truth, I cannot account for how I actually passed the time (though I suspect it was spent doing homework I'd failed to complete the night before).  I never made it past the second page of the book.  I just kept deferring, until it was showtime.  The morning I was scheduled to present, our teacher was absent for one reason or another, but we were instructed to present anyway for the class and our substitute teacher.  I was the last one on that morning's docket, and part of me hoped that time would not allow for me to go.

Naturally, though, there was sufficient time remaining when my turn came up and off I tottered to the center of the room.  I don't wish to belittle my classmates who had performed, but the truth is that when I first stood there I looked out and saw quite a lot of bored and tired faces.  A few of them had outright laid their heads on their desks, not even pretending to be cognizant of their surroundings.  It felt like I'd walked into a honky tonk with a guitar and the barflies couldn't be bothered to look away from their beer.

"Marley was dead," I began.  "To begin with; there is no doubt whatsoever about that!" I continued.  We followed Ebenezer Scrooge to his counting house, and I knew I hadn't reached the minimum time requirement for my performance.  Some commentary about Bob Cratchit, still not enough time.  In comes Scrooge's nephew, Fred.  I'm up to four distinct voices now (narrator, Scrooge, Cratchit and Fred).  I will readily confess to having stolen Patrick Stewart for my narrator, but the rest I originated on the spot not because I was against further thievery, but because I could not recall how he had voiced them.  Heads have raised, eyes are alert, but I've got time yet to go.  Away with Fred; in with the two charity collectors (voices five and six, respectively).

Now, as you may recall, Scrooge toys with the two after they fail to grasp that his initial rebuff was quite sincere.  The game concludes with Scrooge, not terribly politely, shouting, "Good afternoon!"  It felt the perfect moment for emphasis, and so I slammed shut my book for emphasis.  I was receiving a standing ovation as the public address speaker intoned our dismissal (having long since replaced an actual bell).  It was spectacular; I'd remained in position, sustained frequent eye contact, created voices for each character and had been lavished with the most dramatic applause of the morning.

Naturally, I was terrified of repeating the performance the next morning for our teacher--as we were all required to do.  If you can picture student desks arranged like an L, her desk was the intersection of the two sections of desks.  I sat in a row adjacent to her right.  To her left sat one of the juniors who regularly played leading roles in the school plays.  To this day, I can distinctly recall him leaning to our teacher as I rose to present, saying, "He does Dickens well."  I doubt I was expected to overhear the praise, but I did and it was rather flattering.

I was, of course, apprehensive about catching lightning in a bottle twice but at least I knew when I was going to stop.  I was relieved and encouraged when our teacher audibly laughed at one of the lines that had gone over the heads of my classmates (rather than have Scrooge utter such a vulgarity as, "Go to Hell," Dickens diplomatically writes, "...and he went the whole length of the expression").  I felt the energy was down from the previous performance, but it was still solid.  At the end, I was given a grade of 97.  I lost 3 technical points because I read from the book and had failed to make the requisite photocopy.  I did well in the class overall, but I was especially pleased with that 97.

To this day, I can recite the first few paragraphs from memory.  I have also been in absolute awe of Patrick Stewart, for being able to create voices for every character in the story, for being able to recall every piece of the (admittedly abridged) text and for being able to go out night after night on stage and wow the audiences.  I've always resented not living in New York or London, where he'd done his limited performances.

Alas, there is no recording of either of my performances but Patrick Stewart's was issued on CD in 2006 and is well worth every penny.  I always liked to spread out my listening of it over four nights, lying in bed in the dark listening to each of the four cassette sides a night, concluding on Christmas Eve.  It's a little trickier on CD, so I try to just split it up over two nights now.

23 December 2010

"Up in the Air" by Walter Kirn

Up in the Air
Walter Kirn
Date of Publication: 3 July 2001
303 pages
Jacket Illustration by Pierre Le-Tan
Jacket Design by Umi Kenyon

Ryan Bingham is a burnout, but a goal-oriented one.  His job for a consulting firm, counseling recently terminated people, has left him emotionally depleted but along the way he's racked up nearly one million frequent flier miles on the company's dime.  We catch up to him as he is in striking distance of that millionth mile.  Before embarking on what he sees as a week long farewell tour, Ryan has left his notice of resignation on his boss's boss's desk, knowing it won't be retrieved or opened until after he's concluded his business.

At the end of the finish line, he'll get some face time with the CEO of the airline with whom he's accumulated these miles; the prospect of telling the guy off for all of his boneheaded changes that have resulted in a decline in the quality of his experiences is just one of the perks.  Ryan's sister Kara is getting married the day after his big day, but she, too, is a mess and her drama threatens to sidetrack him.  There's a strange undertone of incestuous attraction between the two, and it's just one of author Kirn's myriad nuances that both enrich the narrative and disconcert the reader.

At times, Up in the Air reads as a celebration of the high-flying, masters of the universe culture; Ryan's reverence for key businessmen is nearly worshipful.  Yet, his disillusionment with the actual men themselves as he encounters them as they really are suggests a rejection of that culture.  Ryan celebrates midwestern values, but steals prescription drugs from a girl he barely knows, regularly lies to his family (and lets them down) and makes no bones about the various women he's essentially used and discarded over the year.  In short, Ryan Bingham is as much who we as Americans are as who we wish to believe ourselves to be.  The question is whether Ryan ever really pieces together all of this and grows, and the truth is it's not apparent that he does.

We see Ryan jolted from coasting through his meticulous itinerary, led each time to events that seem certain to yield an epiphany.  Instead, Ryan avoids as many of these obligations and interruptions as possible and finds the quickest fix to anything he can't duck.  He recognizes that he's lost his faith in assorted individuals, but steadfastly reminds us time and again of the belief he has in people as a whole.  Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I felt cheated by never seeing Ryan extend his bitterness beyond specific former idols to humanity as a whole.  One thing's for sure: the novel reflects pre-9/11 America (it was first published 3 July 2001).  Eerie as it may seem, the novel spans 8-13 September; the 11th is depicted as a Wednesday, though, breaking from the 2001 calendar.

The structure is solid, and the pace of the novel benefits greatly.  Before you even see the first word of narration, there are three pages detailing Ryan's flight itinerary for the course of the novel.  Kirn keeps Ryan moving, constantly aware of the time of day and so we don't find ourselves wondering how long any given activity is actually taking him to complete.  When Ryan lets us know how long it takes him to meet with a client for dinner, we believe him.  Even though the novel doesn't occur in "real time," there's a sense that this is awfully close to it.  I just wish Kirn had been as attentive to Ryan's journey as he was to Ryan's flight plans.

A final note, specific to my own reading of Up in the Air: In a lot of ways, it complements the last two books I read (Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho and Diablo Cody's Candy Girl). All three are told in first person (though Cody's is a memoir, so that's fairly normal). Like Psycho, the novel heaps idealistic praise upon our corporate culture while exposing the individuals within it as fairly unlikable people, and there are passages that are ambiguous enough to leave the reader wondering just what the reality is that the p.o.v. character has perceived.  Like Candy Girl, there's a lot of talk about the midwest. Cody's book is 99% about Minneapolis, but each discusses subcultural values and mores of the region.  Both cut against the grain in a lot of ways, from Cody's line of work to Ryan technically being homeless, spending all his nights at one chain hotel or another.  I'm not saying the three should be taken as any kind of trilogy, but if you think you're up to it, there are a lot of common themes throughout the three.

View all my reviews

20 December 2010

Christmas Memories: Childhood

I never wanted to find out what I was getting for Christmas.  My brother, on the other hand, became a spy around Thanksgiving.  A little light went on that told him there'd be Christmas gifts stashed somewhere, and he was gonna find 'em.  It was a fairly good bet to make, too, since our mom began Christmas shopping the day after Christmas.  She'd find something she thought either of us might like, and if it was on sale, chances were good it would be squirreled away somewhere.  Adam knew this, and periodically he'd come running into my room asking if I wanted to know what I was getting.  It killed him every time I said, "No."  What was I supposed to do with this information, anyway?  Go crazy knowing what it was, but not getting to have it for another three weeks?  Plus, it was one more gift I wasn't going to get to open with any sense of surprise.  I'm really bad at faking surprise and excitement.

I think we were the last generation that didn't expect a big ticket time under the tree.  It was 1985, after all, before the Nintendo Entertainment System came along.  Today's kids--not to sound like a cranky old codger--are used to there being a new Nintendo, PlayStation and/or X-Box on the market every Christmas.  Sometimes a new home video format comes along, like the DVD player in the late 90s, or Blu-ray players a few years ago.  iPods and Kindles have entered the race.  Parents seem to just kind of rotate among them.  In our day, though, no parent in my socio-economic class would have put a $250 piece of electronics in the hands of a 10 year old.  Why did you need to play your own music, anyway?  Listen to the radio in the car, like everybody else!

It's no secret we were, shall we say, lower-middle class.  We lived in a government subsidized neighborhood.  Homes were cozy, but cookie cutters.  As a child, I hated the front yard because it sloped down to the street, which was horrible for playing catch.  There was, however, a little hill on one side that dropped down onto our neighbor's lawn, and their little girl and I liked to roll down it until we got dizzy.  Then her parents moved, and I never connected with anyone else who lived in their home.  Rolling down that hill lost its charm.

Mom didn't decorate the outside of the house much, but she loved to dress up the inside.  We'd put up the tree, with her handing us ornaments she trusted us with and putting up the rest herself.  She'd tell us about some of them, things that were heirlooms, or reminded her of someone.  I remember we'd always put up tinsel, throwing handfuls of the silvery stuff, until we were out of it.  Mom would have to go around and even it out, because Adam wasn't tall enough to toss it very high and I had to give him enough room to stand and throw that I couldn't get to all of the tree.  It never seemed to matter, though.

There was a little wall next to the door; I suppose more of a partition than anything.  I remember the little spires would be trimmed with white and red yarn, or something Christmas-y.  It would be covered with Christmas cards, taped to be seen on either side.  Other cards and decorations could be found on the entertainment center (which she still has, all these years later).  She had a little snow-covered village scene that lit up.  I liked it, but since dusting the furniture in the living room was one of my chores, I hated having to work around the thing.

You can see the little partition near the door, covered in Christmas cards.
The one Christmas that I always think of was sometime in the mid-80s.  I want to say 1986, but it may have been as late as1987.  Adam had his own room, but Mom insisted he sleep in my room on Christmas Eve.  This was because my room was at the end of the hall, the furthest from the living room (and the tree).  Anyway, some time around 3:00 or so, I awakened and was thirsty.  I wasn't awake enough to want to open gifts or rouse anyone else, so I deliberately averted my eyes from the living room--no small feat in a house with the size and layout of ours--and walked into the kitchen.  I went to the cabinet, grabbed a cup and poured some water (quietly).  All I needed to do was go back the way I came and wait for a more respectable time to go gaga over the spread I knew would be under the tree.

Pausing for a moment as I did, I turned round and there it was.  The kitchen table, literally covered with G.I. Joes.  Vehicles and figures galore; I couldn't even tell you know how many were there.  They were arranged as two armies facing one another, Joes and Cobra fighting side by side against other Joes and Cobra.  Tanks, planes and foot soldiers a-plenty.  It was obvious that Adam would get one side, and I'd get the other.  I may have traded a few things between the armies, but I made sure it was a balanced trade; a figure for a figure, a small vehicle for a small vehicle.  I didn't cheat my brother out of anything.

Later, it would cross my mind that none of these toys were in their original packages.  None of them were even new.  Mom had accumulated the whole lot in waves over the entire year at yard sales.  It added up to quite a lot of toys.  That's how she was, though.  In her mind, we'd rather have a table full of G.I. Joes than the far fewer number we could have had if she'd spent the same money on new toys.  She was right, of course.

I've met plenty of people who take a very derisive view of buying or owning used things, and are horrified by the idea of giving something used as a gift.  I didn't grow up with that kind of prejudice.  My mom thought it was better to dress us in $20 worth of used Guess? Jeans than $20 worth of the Rustlers they sold at Wal-Mart.  (Guess? was once somewhat trendy, and I have to say their jeans always held up well.)  I know it's not  for everyone, but that philosophy made sense to me as a kid and it makes sense to me now: I rarely buy a book that doesn't come off a shelf at Half Price Books; most of them from the $1-3 clearance section.  It's not like the book is any better or worse if I pay more for it, and quite often the books I've found have betrayed no more shelf wear than those at new bookstores.

We celebrated with Mom's side of the family on Christmas Eve.  Most years this involved us going to my grandmother's, and exchanging gifts with the family there.  Until 1989, Adam and I were the only two kids so it was mostly about us.  We just had to be patient enough to make it through dinner.  Often, we'd make small plates and devour them, then squirm in our seats knowing we could make another plate later after we'd gone through the gifts.

Christmas morning, we would wake up to Santa's gifts and have a little time to go through them and play before our dad would pick us up.  We went a lot of places over the years with Dad, from his brother's house to each of our stepmother's parents's homes.  Sometimes it would be another aunt or uncle hosting.  In the early 90s, they moved from their small home to a larger one and began regularly hosting Christmas themselves, which cut down on the chaos of our 48 hour Christmases.  At some point, we'd wind up at Dad's and get the gifts there.  I remember one year they got me the Snake Mountain playset, and I was stoked...until I was informed it had to remain there.  I felt that was unfair since that meant my Snake Mountain playset would be somewhere I wasn't for 11 1/2 out of every 14 days.  Besides, Mom let me bring toys to Dad's.  Whatever.
I got to visit Snake Mountain every other weekend.
What I remember best about Dad's are the stockings.  At Mom's, they were loaded with candies and small gifts that, themselves, weren't worth wrapping.  There were baseball bat keychains and Ninja Turtle buttons mixed in with chocolate snowmans (I prefer that term to "snowmen" and don't care that it's not an actual word).  At Dad's, stockings consisted of nuts and oranges.  There were other fresh fruits, but I clearly recall the oranges because they were bright, heavy and they stung my fingers when I ate them.  Those stockings were clearly less fun, but I always liked that they were traditional.  I never saw the point in saying so to Mom; this way I got both my chocolate snowmans and tradition.  (In addition to saving money, growing up without much money teaches you to learn how to maximize your take.)

There are pictures of us visiting various mall Santas as kids; Mom was a mallrat as a youth and we spent quite a lot of ours in them, too.  We didn't really buy much, but they were spacious and as kids we were slow walkers so it was an inexpensive way to while away a Sunday afternoon.  We'd eat at the food court; to this day, I resent that Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays.  It always looked good, and as anyone who knows me can attest, I rank waffle fries above all other cuts.  Anyway, I don't remember ever really knowing what to say to these Santas.  I knew they weren't communicating with Mom, so I could have told them anything and unless I asked for something alarming, the only thing I was going to hear was something like, "We'll see" or "Smile for the camera" or "Get a candy cane from Santa's helper."

Dad didn't do the mall.  In fact, Dad doesn't do civilization.  You might have thought that those Hank Williams, Jr. songs were just written about exaggerated caricatures or militiamen, but they're as much about him as either of those.  I can literally count on one hand the number of times I recall ever eating food that came from a restaurant with him, and once was at a Wendy's after my step-sister's wedding in 1998.  So, no mall Santas with him, but I do remember a Wal-Mart Santa one year.  As I recall, we got there just as Santa was about to call it a night, but he indulged us anyway.  I remember being just as stumped as ever, but it seems that Adam was particularly animated that time.  Maybe not, but this is my blog and I'm telling you the kid was practically ecstatic.

I used to sometimes wonder which, of all these elements, I'd want to pass on as an adult.  It appears that, for myself, I've lost any interest in any of them.  Sometimes I think I should go through the motions and see if it jogs the ol' Christmas spirit any.  I think those who say "Christmas is about the kids" are wrong (it's about celebrating the legacy of Christ), but I get the point.  There are kids in my life, but none for whom I'm responsible.  They don't come to me for the magic of Christmas; they come to me for the gifts.  It's rather cold to put it that way, and of course I don't mean to suggest that all I represent to them is a means to gifts.  Ultimately, though, I'm just a cousin and an uncle.  It's outside the purview of my role to bring the razzle dazzle.  Just as I believe Dad should have been free to give us stockings with nuts and fruit, I believe it's not my place to give them to someone else's kid--even family.

Don't worry; as gift-givers go, I'm almost always on the top of the kids' favorite list.  I give cool stuff.  Like this year, I'm giving...

You know, actually, I could probably say what I'm giving each of them.  None of them reads this blog, despite following me on Facebook and seeing links to these every time I post them.  Ungrateful little snots!  I'd give them all stockings of nuts and fruit, except the meaning would be lost on them.

19 December 2010

Movie Language

When you're young, you learn how to describe things from those around you.  This is when you learn to call carbonated drinks "Cokes" in the South or "pop" if you're, well, wrong.  Before this goes off the rails, though, we're focusing on language as it pertains to movies.  Just a little informal sampling, and I hope you'll respond with your personal preferences.

"Film" or "Movie" - They're synonymous, though there is a pretentious school of thought that likes to consider highbrow, artistic works "films" and mainstream fare "movies" as though there's some value to using one word over the other.

"Cinema" or "Theater" - Where do you go see a movie (or film)?  Also, if you favor "Theater," do you transpose the "er" to "re" to become "Theatre?"

Actor or Character - When describing a plot, do you find yourself saying, "Harrison Ford is accused of killing a woman" or "Harrison Ford plays a guy accused of killing a woman?" (Bonus point if you can name the story.)

"Part One" - If you're talking about a movie series, do you find yourself adding "One" at the end of the title of the first movie?  For instance, "I liked Godfather 'I' better than Godfather II."

"Direct" vs. "Make" - Fairly synonymous, though one is more specific.  Did Martin Scorsese "direct" or "make" The Departed?

"Star in" vs. "Make" - Same difference as "Directed."  Did Sean Connery "star in" or "make" Medicine Man?

Remember, this isn't one of those "choose which one is most correct" tests.  I'm just curious which terms you personally find yourself using most often.

18 December 2010

Narcissistic Volunteers

I haven't been to sleep yet, and I'm feeling...off.  I've been nauseated, flush, had a headache and now some severe heartburn is nagging at me.  I tried to lie down, but couldn't fall asleep due to discomfort so I did what anyone else would do: I hopped back online in search of numbing my brain enough to fall asleep.  After all, today's gonna be busy.  Before going to dinner for my mom's birthday we're expected to pop in on our friends's annual Christmas party this afternoon.

Anyway, I happened upon an article about a study conducted by the University of Michigan that determined today's college kids are 40% less empathetic than those of 20-30 years ago.  Naturally, our technologically advanced scapegoats are surmised as culprits; surely non-stop Grand Theft Auto and Facebook status updates are to blame, right?  Article author Ann Pietrangelo cites another study that older Americans take a very dim view of the so-called "me generation" of today's youth.

I couldn't help but be reminded of the memoirs of Gluckel of Hamelin, a Jewish woman born in 1646.  I was assigned her book during my studies of modern Jewish history at the University of Louisville and absolutely loved reading it.  My favorite bit was when Gluckel would go off on a tangent about how ungrateful her children were and how they were disrespectful in ways that her generation never dreamed of.  Go on, find a copy of this.  I guarantee you'll laugh.  Remember, this was written about a generation for whom there was no Grand Theft Auto and no Facebook.  It seems that the constant is not how self-absorbed the youth of any era really are, but rather how critical their elders are.

Which brings me to an important question: what gives those older people the right to be so critical?  Weren't they the ones responsible for raising today's college kids?  If the children raised themselves (aided by a television), then it seems to me that those cranky old codgers forfeited their claim on passing judgment on them.  You can't expect a television to raise your children and then complain they're not the adults you wanted them to be.  By virtue of the "it takes a village to raise a child" axiom, this extends beyond your actual, biological offspring.  Every time you shrugged off the chance to intervene for the better in a child's life, you sent the message to that child that he or she was on his or her own.

The funny thing is, though, that yet another study shows that today's youth do far more volunteering than those who are content to criticize them for being narcissists.  I distinctly recall in 2006, several of my classmates at the University of Louisville spent their Spring Break volunteering to help with recovery efforts in New Orleans.  They had gone together, telling us upon their return about how they'd worked in shifts round the clock to restore a church.  Aside from the obvious role a church plays in people's lives, it was important to re-establish that building as a hub of activity so that the people in that community would have a place to go for assistance, a place to sleep and so that supplies and help could be made more easily accessible.

My classmates didn't go for money; they paid their own way down and back and the only provisions offered them were whatever had been donated to the recovery effort.  They didn't go to earn credit or to boost their resumes.  They did it because they were in a position that allowed them to act when they saw a need for action.  Surely, then, there's a discontinuity between the lack of empathy and the rise of volunteering?

It's also worth noting that the Michigan study points to 2000 as the point at which our youth became noticeably less empathetic.  That year was really the last of the golden 90s for Americans.  Our society was prosperous, but it was starting to lose its luster.  Youth become disillusioned more quickly than other age groups, so it stands to reason they would feel that fading more quickly.  Since then, though, consider what today's college kids have endured and witnessed.

Today's youth saw their parents burned by Enron, and saw the Enron villains walk away unscathed for their misdeeds.  They flocked to New York City to help with recovery efforts at Ground Zero after 9/11, but have been inundated with messages conflating xenophobia with security.  They're the ones who've actually enlisted in our military, placing their lives on the line during wartime--without a draft.  They've been told that they should either be healthy or fend for themselves because somehow expecting better of the health care industry in America in 2010 is contrary to the values of America.  And let's not forget that it's this generation that has pushed the hardest for some of the most significant gains in tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community.  Today's youth have realized there are far bigger fish to fry than worrying about whether homosexuals wed.

My theory is that what has happened is not that today's youth are less empathetic than previous generations.  Rather, I posit that how youth understand and define empathy is what has changed.  I say they're more guarded than were their parents, and with good reason.  But their actions suggest that they're more willing to act, even if they're not claiming to feel.  The only obvious answer to this conundrum must be that today's youth aren't interested in delving into how they feel about something when they could instead be doing something about it.  Where previous generations felt the need to draw attention to issues that upset them, their children are forgoing the grandstanding and actually rolling up their sleeves to address the issue themselves.  I'm not sure I see the problem.

17 December 2010

Someone Should Sponsor Christmas

I had an epiphany recently regarding my failure to get into the spirit of Christmas this year.  This year, nearly every Christmas-specific TV commercial has addressed adult consumers with the "save money on the gifts you buy" message set to "Jingle Bells."  (Seriously, Walgreens; Overstock.com beat you to it by like, three weeks.)  I remember when I was younger, and we'd be inundated with commercials showing Santa knocking back a Coke, or soldiers coming home early for Christmas celebrating with coffee.  We pride ourselves on being a democracy, but we're really a capitalist society and it seems that the market has spoken: no one cares about the pageantry of Christmas.  We just want to save money on gifts we feel compelled to buy.

It's not just me, then.  TV ad programmers are notorious for doing research, and they seem to have concluded that no one cares about ads depicting the fantasy of Christmas.  We're far more pragmatic viewers now; we just want to know whether we get free shipping if we buy online.  We don't care about seeing wide-eyed children trying to spy Santa's reindeer.  We don't care to see happy families gathered around a green Christmas tree or a log fire or a full dinner table.  Just tell us where we can get Inception on Blu-ray on sale; we'll make merry on our own, thank you.

"Wait a minute," you're thinking.  "Weren't you the one who just recently posted that you hated the people who only cared about the superficial/commercial aspects of Christmas?"  True enough and I have two points I'd like to make.  Firstly, there is a distinction between non-believers horning in on Christmas just to put on a show and make a circus out of gift-exchanging, and those who honestly do care playing up the more childlike aspects of Santa, etc.  See if the following clarifies it for you:

A child of my generation saw Santa in commercials as a jolly, benevolent chubby dude who had a sweet tooth but wanted to make us all happy.  A child of this generation sees Santa giving jewelry advice and being told he's more believable than Diet Dr. Pepper.  Is it that today's youth are more cynical, or just less imaginative?  After being around enough of them, I'm afraid it's more a case of the latter.  They seem to require movies and video games for entertainment not because they're addicted but because they are, themselves, incapable of conjuring up a narrative for their amusement.  By not establishing a narrative of Santa Claus in TV commercials, the message seems to be that he's entirely irrelevant to today's youth (and we know kids are watching TV so don't hand me that "they're not the viewing demographic" nonsense).

Now, the "believer" side of things should be happy about this, that it would be a sign that Santa Claus is of less significance to kids and families than is Christ.  But here's the thing: Jesus is even more conspicuously absent.  It baffles me that one faith-based group can spend the money to run an ad suggesting that we all give up our seats on buses to little old ladies, but come Christmas time they've got nothing to say?  I get that we have disagreeing interpretations of scripture, can't agree on "traditional" (white) Jesus vs. historically accurate (black) Jesus, etc. but it seems to me there's bound to be a way of making a 30 second TV ad that manages to say, "Stay on target!" while we're dashing down the trench of the Death Star.

If Jesus is persona non grata on TV and Santa is restricted to hawking cell phone plans (really?), then what's left is nothing more than crude commercialism that can't be bothered to appeal to our faith or our imagination. Is it because we, as a society, lack them?  Has the market spoken, declaring them no longer worthy of address?  And if we have lost our Christmas mojo, can we get it back?  Do we care about getting it back?  What if we don't?  Will we abandon the charade altogether?

"Confessions of a Superhero"

Confessions of a Superhero
A Documentary by Matt Ogens
I Check Movies

There's something about staying up entirely too late that lends itself to watching indie documentaries.  Maybe it's that such features rarely disrupt the serenity of a quiet home.  Whatever the reason, I've had this in my Netflix Watch Instantly queue for quite a while now and finally broke down and streamed it this morning.  I was so caught up in it I just had to live tweet the viewing.

Take the struggling-in-L.A. theme of Swingers and the unsettling fanaticism of Trekkies and you've got an idea what to expect with Confessions of a Superhero.  Director Matt Ogens puts the spotlight on four of the folks who go out each day in costume on Hollywood Boulevard, hustling for tips from tourists in exchange for posing for photos.  At face value, the premise sounds like a Conan O'Brien segment.  What Ogens has done, though, is look beyond the punchline.

Christopher Dennis is a former junkie with an obsession for Superman.  Maxwell Allen is a guy with a striking resemblance to George Clooney and a disconcerting bravado.  Joe McQueen is a low key guy who doesn't get much screen time (and most of it is spent behind the mask of his Hulk costume), but his frank discussion about years spent homeless is genuinely moving.  That he has a smile at all, let alone optimism, is truly inspiring.  Jennifer Gehrt is a charming young woman who didn't fit into her small town Tennessean home and came to L.A. to entertain people.  It might be predictable that a marriage begun on a whim in Vegas would falter, but it's still upsetting to see the strain on the young couple.

Allen is the kind of macho show-off we all know and do our best to endure.  He's got a temper problem and is quick to present himself as having a shady past, working for a Texan mobster and name-dropping special forces training.  His own wife goes on record as saying you can dismiss about 50% of anything the guy says.  The other three, though, are very sympathetic and I found myself rooting for them all (even if Dennis clearly has some delusions).

The movie can be streamed from Netflix, and it had a small DVD run but that seems to have concluded.  The link from the official movie website to purchase the DVD brings up a message about how the sales site no longer exists, but hopefully this will go back into print soon.  Go on and stream it.  I'm putting it directly into the "Outstanding" category of movies I've seen this year.

16 December 2010

My Favorite Tweets of 2010

One of the little features of Twitter that I occasionally use is the ability to mark a tweet as a favorite.  Tweets marked as such are maintained on a list, accessible from your Twitter user page.  I thought it might be fun to look at a sampling of some of my favorite tweets of 2010, beginning with a remark about 2009 by Michelle Branch.

Michelle Branch @michellebranch, 31 December 2009: "So happy for this year to finally be over. It sucked donkeys for quarters."

Brent Spiner @BrentSpiner, 23 March, discussing the health care legislation: "RT @ MissMeggles Oh, I agree, I just think there are better ways.--Really? What would those be? And why haven't we been doing them?"

Paul Dini @Paul_Dini, 19 May: "Is it just me or does the Dos Equis guy come across as the beer drinker's Ras al Ghul?"

Jim Day @JimDayTV, 3 June: "Tragic is what is happening in the Gulf, NOT the missed call in Detroit last night." [referring to anger over the blown call that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game]

Mika @MikatheStripper, 10 June: "My customers can see my pussy & have my company for hours & know my thoughts. But hell fucking no they're not seeing my dogs."
[re-tweeted by Roger Ebert]

@Kno, 19 June: "MC Hammer just quoted Shaq quoting Nelson Mandela. I really need to take my ass to bed."

Seth Meyers @sethmeyers21, 23 June, in response to the firing of General Stanley McChrystal: "As punishments go, you could do worse than 'you're no longer in charge of winning the war in Afghanistan'."

Diablo Cody @diablocody28 June: "Tried out new breast pump; it's mesmerizing. I haven't seen such brisk, robotic nipple-suckage since 'Wild Things.'"

Dawn Foster @dawnhfoster, 7 August: "If eating cheesecake for breakfast is wrong, I don't want to be right."

Natasha Badhwar @natashabadhwar, 27 August: "Confidence is a paper plane. It soars, it crashes. I fold another one."

Elizabeth Banks @ElizabethBanks, 29 August: "I'll go ahead and say it: listening to other people's loud hotel sex is pretty great. You go, room 492!"

Gail Simone @GailSimone, 31 August: "I don't know if Peta [sic] is protecting animals or selling naked celebrities."

Tom Cox @tomcox75, 17 October: "'I am a thirsty seven-year old French girl.' In the world of unfortunate Guardian Soulmates typos, a zenith has been reached."

Mark Waid @MarkWaid, 16 November: "I stopped using the '40 yr olds who live in their mother's basement' slam after I realized it also applies to Batman."

John Fugelsang @JohnFugelsang, 2 December: "Obama's not a brown-skinned, anti-establishment anti-war liberal giving out free health care. You're thinking of Jesus."

Paul Gude @sgnp, 6 December : "Howdy, rich people! You've got your tax cuts! I'm totally ready for you to hire me for one of the hundreds of jobs I applied for last year."

Addendum: favorite tweets since I published this post.

@nowhitecaps25 December, in response to my question, "What's the point of having painkillers if we're not going to give them to patients in PAIN?": "So all the Vicodin mill doctors in Boca Raton can give them to the rich folks with fibromyalgia? :P"

Lastly, I just discovered @preeschoolgems, which collects hilarious quotes from preschoolers.  What's more is that they are presented entirely out of context, so when you read, "I fell because I high-fived so hard" (tweeted 8 December), it's all the funnier.  It's like @shitmydadsays, but with tykes instead of the old man bringing the comedy gold.

Also, here are a few of my tweets that others found worthy of re-tweeting this year:

21 March: "A trillion dollars is a horrible thing to burden the unborn with for healthcare, but a patriotic duty for invading Iraq in '03." [re-tweeted by six people]

6 May: "Greece: The birthplace of democracy; the resting place of capitalism." [re-tweeted by seven people]

19 September: "There are two types of people in this world. Those who love the Muppets, and those who are terrorists." [re-tweeted by two people]

10 December: "If you heard Bernie Sanders ask 'How many yachts does a person need?' and you became defensive: Fuck you." [re-tweeted by seven people]

Sketch: "Indiana Jones and the Sack of Christmas Gifts"

Continuing my Indy kick (see my previous post, "A Very Indy Early Winter") I dashed off this sketch just now.  I started with the Drew Struzan painting from the back of The Adventures of Indiana Jones DVD box set, then substituted Santa's sack for Indy's whip.  Good luck finding Harrison Ford's likeness in the face, but I think there's something recognizably "Indy" about it.  I had originally conceived of an expanded image, with a slumped over Santa Claus tied up in Christmas lights.  That was more ambitious than I was willing to try just now, and anyway I'm not sure depicting Indiana Jones as a guy who'd tie up Santa and steal his bag of gifts really sent the appropriate message.  (Though, between you and me, I think he'd do it.)

Indy Claus by ~minlshaw on deviantART

14 December 2010

Fatigue, Dwight Yoakam & Christmas

This game might be laced
with downers. 
I'm tired.  Lethargic, even.  I can always tell when I'm near the end of the week, because I take my vitamin D supplements on Fridays.  I'm almost guaranteed to be a dizzy zombie on Thursdays, and in rough weeks, Wednesdays.  Lately, though, I feel that way almost all the time.  Maybe it's the change in weather, the lack of sunlight outside or maybe it's something that playing Rock Band: Country Track Pack has done to my brain.  I don't believe I'm actively fighting off any kind of illness, and while my Crohn's has been a bit obnoxious I can't say I believe this is its handiwork.

Off-topic (or is it?), I have been entirely incapable of getting into the mood for Christmas at all this year.  I wanted to get in on this year's DVD Talk Holiday Challenge, but so far most of my few entries have either been things on TV that my wife was watching anyway (like an episode of According to Jim, a show I despise) or a few movies that qualify simply because they take place around the Christmas season (like Batman Returns).  I haven't even wanted to play Christmas music this year, and for about a decade that was really the only element of Christmas left that I still enjoyed.  Even Elvis can't rescue me from the doldrums.

It would be fine with me if I went back to bed and awoke in January, refreshed and no longer expected to muster some cheer.  Which reminds me, I wonder if anyone has tried to study who actually reports enjoying Christmas more: those who actually celebrate the religious origins of the holiday, or the secular people who, 364 days of the year insist religion is a sham but put up a tree and smile while handing out overpriced, unwanted gifts to everyone they can get to come to their home.

I hate those people, because they're everything that's wrong with contemporary ideas of Christmas.  Of course it's all materialism with those people: that's literally all they acknowledge or celebrate!  I just want to know why they can't go the full 365 days with their views.  Is it really that hard to resist the cost and hassle of organizing a get-together built around exchanging gifts?  Think about it this way: if I asked you in May if you wanted to get everyone you knew together, cook a big meal and we all run out and buy things for each other, you'd say that sounds like a lot of trouble.  Why, then, do people who literally do not care at all about religion, go through the charade of celebrating Christmas?

I used to think that my lack of interest in Christmas was that I'd just gotten too old for the magic, but that's not it.  I see now that my real problem with Christmas is this large segment of our population who reject any claim on faith, but insist on participating in Christmas events.  It's like going to a concert and finding out that a significant number of people there actively dislike the artist, but have shown up anyway.  Anyone who has ever been to a concert knows that what happens on stage is only part of the experience; the vibe of the audience is also quite influential on how things go.

You see this guy,
you pay attention!
I'll give you an example.  In 2002, some friends of mine and I went to Indianapolis to catch the Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus & Wild West Show.  The penultimate act on the bill was Dwight Yoakam.  It goes without saying that Dwight was the consummate professional, ripping through a set chock full of classic and current tunes while finding time to banter a bit.  It was everything I ever wanted in a Dwight set.  Yet, 95% of the crowd sat down and outright ignored him.  Oh, sure, they could be on their feet for Chris Cagle, but they yawned at an actual artist.  It detracted from how much I enjoyed Dwight's set, and I've always wished someone had chastised those people for being so disrespectful to one of the most interesting artists of the last quarter century.

I just feel like I'm back there on that berm, singing along with the guy on stage while everyone else is too busy talking about their overpriced beer and how much fun they had been having.  I know, I should accept that everyone has a right to enjoy whatever they enjoy, in whatever terms work for them.  Or that maybe I should try to get the crowd into it myself.  I care enough to be bothered, but not enough to do anything about, it seems.  Eight years later, I'm still just silently watching the crowd around me ruin my mojo.

Forget it.  Think I'm gonna take a nap.  Wake me in January.

Novel Playlist: "Candy Girl" by Diablo Cody

A book about a year spent stripping?  Of course there are references to music throughout!  Cody even peppers in a few lists throughout her memoir, including The Ten Best Songs to Strip To, The Ten Worst Songs to Strip To and even a little activity in which the reader is asked to pair five artists with the personality of the stripper who favors their music.  In short, you should be able to keep a party hoppin' drawing exclusively from this playlist.  I have omitted more generic references such as a club patron sporting a "ZZ Top beard," because those kinds of remarks really aren't about the music.

Page numbers are cited from the trade paperback edition I own, ISBN: 978-1-592-40273-1

Songs/Music Videos
    1. "I Do" by Lisa Loeb (p. 4) ["I had erased myself, just like Lisa Loeb in that one supergay video."]
    2. "Cherry Pie" by Warrant (p. 16) [references music video]
    3. "Rag Doll" by Aerosmith (p. 25)
    4. "Ignition" (Remix) by R. Kelly ["The Greatest Stripping Song of All Time"] (p. 30)
    5. "Purple Rain" by Prince (p. 30)
    6. "Honky Tonk Woman" by The Rolling Stones (p. 30)
    7. "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard (p. 30)
    8. "Amber" by 311 (p. 30)
    9. "Miserable" by Lit (p. 31) [references music video: "...Pamela Anderson is in the video, and she's like Jesus for strippers..."]
    10. "Back Door Man" by The Doors (p. 31)
    11. "Back in Black" by AC/DC (p. 31)
    12. "I Touch Myself" by The Divinyls (p. 31)
    13. "Hash Pipe" by Weezer (p. 31)
    14. "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" by Shania Twain ["a bumblefuck good-times Shania Twain anthem about beds and boots and cheating"] (p. 47)
    15. "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake ["Like Tawny Kitaen dry-humping the car in that Whitesnake video..."] (p. 49)
    16. "Raspberry Beret" by Prince ["...or that girl from Cheers (Jackie Swanson) who wore the "Raspberry Beret."] (p. 49)
    17. "Armageddon It" by Def Leppard (p. 50)
    18. "My Sharona" by The Knack (p. 62)
    19. "Toca's Miracle" by Fragma ["an urgent techno song called..."] (p. 66)
    20. "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin (p. 86)
    21. "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles [sung by Cody's boyfriend to his daughter] (p. 96)
    22. "We Want Some Pussy" by 2 Live Crew (p. 107, 139)
    23. "Scar Tissue" by Red Hot Chili Peppers (p. 119)
    24. "Pink" by Aerosmith (p. 137)
    25. "Truganini" by Midnight Oil ["that Midnight Oil song about aborigines"] (p. 144)
    26. "Friday I'm in Love" by The Cure (p. 144)
    27. "Hey Ya" by Outkast (p. 144)
    28. "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice (p. 144)
    29. "Girls" by The Beastie Boys (p. 144)
    30. "Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know" by Britney Spears (p. 145)
    31. "Elenore" by The Turtles (p. 145)
    32. "Hotel California" by The Eagles (p. 145)
    33. "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get" by Morrisey (145)
    34. "Beast of Burden" by The Rolling Stones [part of a two-song Stones set] (p. 187)
    35. "Barbie Girl" by Aqua (p. 195)
    • Hysteria by Def Leppard ["a valentine to strippers if there ever was one"] (p. 16)
    • Their Satanic Majesties Request by The Rolling Stones ["Peanut was possibly the only toddler in existence who knew (the album) by heart"] (p. 179)
    Other Music References
    • "I'm in Great Shape" (instrumental snippet) by The Beach Boys [bootleg only] (p. 2)
    • "Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)" by Diana Ross (p. 6) [after auditioning for a band on bass, "the band members just looked at me like I was farting the theme from Mahogany."]
    • "...I had been looking forward to posturing onstage like Kim Gordon or Kim Deal, or any of the assorted lank-haired bassists named Kim who had been my heroines as a teen." (p. 6)
    • "I did peel to Pixies songs on several occasions..." (p. 6)
    • "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers ["...I decided to return to the dressing room to count my money (Kenny Rogers would disapprove, as my dealin' was far from done)"] (p. 53)
    • "'That girl is dancing to Kiss!' Jonny remarked admiringly" (p. 72)
    • "...after requesting a Basement Jaxx song" (p. 81)
    • "mellow jazz piano wafted up from downstairs..." (p. 88)
    • Beatles medleys (sung by Cody's boyfriend to his daughter) (p. 96)
    • "Anything by Britney Spears" is among "the ten worst songs to strip to" because "chances are, you'll piss off a veteran stripper...who staked a permanent claim on the Britney catalog back in 1998..." (p. 144)
    • "Any Eminem song about matricide, Quaaludes or fatherhood" is among "the ten worst songs to strip to" (p. 145)
    • "O Holy Night" (p. 184)
    • "Pomp and Circumstance" (p. 188)
    • "I'd felt like such a libertine dancing onstage to AC/DC..." (p. 196)
    • Courtney Love ("a vocal alumnus of several strip clubs") (p. 209)