July Media

Movies and Shows

The Night Manager
This was a bit strange, and thus I’m not sure how to properly rate it. Based on a John Le Carré novel, and updated for the modern age, it follows a night manager at an Egyptian hotel – and former British Army officer – as he stumbles into an affair with a woman connected with international arms dealers. She is murdered, he moves on in his career, and eventually runs into the man he believes responsible for the woman’s death. He contacts a British official who tracks arms dealers and is recruited to infiltrate the network. He does, gets deeply involved, and, eventually, earns a measure of revenge. He also has sex with the main bad guy’s girlfriend.

Where I struggle is in how the series was presented. It comes across as very British, taking its sweet time getting to action. This was most notable when nearly two full episodes early on were devoted to sleepily setting things up. When you have just six episodes to tell a story, this seemed like a waste. But perhaps they were just being faithful to the original story. The finale is also structured far differently that I believe it would have been if the series was made in America.

B

One Night in Miami
Oh, I am mad at myself for not watching this sooner, because it was excellent. After winning the heavyweight title, Cassius Clay joins his spiritual advisor Malcolm X in his hotel room; good friends Sam Cooke and Jim Brown join them. Rather than a party, it becomes an evening of discussion.

The four leads – Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Eli Goree, and Kinglsey Ben-Adir – are all outstanding. But Ben-Adir, as Malcolm X, was phenomenal. Which is saying something, since arguably the defining performance of Denzel Washington’s dazzling career was his turn as Malcolm X. I can’t say who was better, but Ben-Adir moved me greatly.

There was also a line, spoken by Clay when he and Cooke sneak out for a drink and are discussing the meaning of power. He says, “Power means a world where it’s safe to be ourselves.” This movie takes place in 1965. It is sad that we’re still trying to get our country, and our world, to a place where everyone feels safe to be themselves.

A

Spotlight
A lighthearted film about the group of investigative reporters from the Boston Globe who broke the story of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests on young parishioners. Yep, super lighthearted. It was really well done, which is tough, because journalism isn’t always the most dramatic of material to base a movie on.

A

Gunpowder Milkshake
Over the last year I have now started and given up on just two movies. Both were Netflix productions with casts filled with established stars. The first was the Will Ferrell-Rachel McAdams vehicle Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. And now this. I didn’t think you could go wrong with Karen Gillan and Carla Gugino heading a deep cast. But this, which is kind of a send-up of the style of movie I watched in June such as Atomic Blonde, just never works. It can’t commit to being silly. It has weird violence that is neither slapstick nor grotesque. I gave it half an hour then ejected for something else.

Incomplete

Tropic Thunder
That something else was this, which is how you do a satire. It was some funny shit. Robert Downey Jr….how did he not win an Oscar for his performance?

B+

Snowden
I totally forgot this was an Oliver Stone film until the end credits rolled. That explains why it was so mega-paranoid! The whole Edward Snowden affair broke at a moment when I wasn’t following the news very closely. I remember not being sure what to think about him and his actions. That remains true. Is he a hero or a traitor? I think the truth is probably a little of both. Which sums up the age we live in: we want to give the government leeway to protect us, but that freedom will always get pushed beyond its intended boundaries, by administrations we both like and loathe. The cat is probably well out of the bag and there’s really no going back at this point. I did not like how the real Snowden gets pulled in for the film’s final scene.

B+

The Usual Suspects
I was scrolling through Amazon Prime one night, looking for something to watch, and came across this classic. Which I probably haven’t watching in a good 18–19 years. There are some dated elements to it, and the impact is nowhere near what it was at the first viewing. But it still holds up pretty, pretty well.

A-

Ted Lasso, season one
I had to go back and watch the OG before the new season began. So many perfect scenes. So many moments that people have written about over the past year that hit harder the second time. Rebecca and Keeley’s relationship is one of the greatest things ever put on TV. Such a great collection of characters and acting performances. Barbecue sauce.

A+

Ted Lasso, season two, episodes one and two
No complaints about the new season so far. Roy Kent is a fucking treasure.

A

Lost Track Atlantic
Episode One
Episode Two
My old pals Torren Martyn and Ishka Folkwell set off on another epic surf journey, this time through Europe down to Africa. Until a massive storm approaches the African coast and they chuck the European part to experience the incredible waves the storm produced. Some pretty spectacular surfing, some amazing cinematography in general, all built upon an insanely good soundtrack. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

A


Shorts

Junk Cabin: Secretly building my wife a COVID office
I forgot to watch a Beau Miles video in June. Shame on me. In the first of these, he attempts to secretly build an office for his wife on their farmland during the early months of Covid lockdown. The result is kind of amazing.
A Mile with May: Adventuring with my daughter
Awwwww, Beau takes a walk with his daughter around his property.

B+, A-

Rap Fans React to The Cult- She Sells Sanctuary
Not what I expected. I thought this would be one of those videos where Black folks freak out when they hear classic rock songs for the first time. Those are fun, but they often seem a little performance-arty. But this couple are true music fans, and interested in hearing new things. I love the way they honestly and openly take in one of my favorite songs of all time and, by the end, are looking to check out some more music by The Cult.

A

One Breath Around The World
A mesmerizing film featuring world champion free diver Guillaume Néry.

A

Is Apollo 11’s Lunar Module Still In Orbit Around The Moon 52 Years Later?
Science!

A

Talk Watches with Jason Heaton
I’ve become a little addicted to the The Grey Nato podcast, in which Heaton and co-host James Stacey talk about watches, diving, cars, and adventuring. Here, Heaton talks about some of the watches in his collection. I have a few watches and have been toying with adding some more, but I’m looking at cheap watches that look nice. I’d love to have a collection like Heaton’s.

A

Olympics Notebook, Part 2

The first, and best, week of the Olympics is in the books. I say best because the swimming week tends to be better than the track week, which has fewer glamor events. And it also appears the US might suck at track. Puerto Rican medals are technically ours, right?


Saturday night I went back and read some of my Olympic posts from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. They’re pretty good! You should dig through the archives and read them too! A recurring them in most of those entries is how we need to invade Jamaica to stop them embarrassing us in track. Still true.


Speaking of travesties, can we not find an American to do the track play-by-play and analysis?


I was glad Caeleb Dressel lived up to all the hype he entered the games with. That’s a lot of weight for one person to carry, especially when you’re expected to fill the role of Michael Phelps. Good on him for not cracking. He was fun to watch.

It was mega-awkward, though, when NBC brought up the feed of his family after he won the 100 free. There was clearly some glitchy-ness in the feed, Dressel was super-emotional, and there were lots of uncomfortable pauses. It nearly ruined a wonderful moment.

Finally, it’s freaking 2021. How can NBC, Microsoft, and whoever else is responsible not get better connections when they show athletes’ families watching them back home? They always look like terrible, grainy feeds we could have gotten back in 2008.

I did get a little bored with all the features on Dressel NBC kept rolling out. I get how they need to get the viewing public, which does not pay attention to any of the non-NBA athletes between Olympics, invested in these swimmers, gymnasts, runners, etc. But their fluffing of Dressel was a little much.

I believe it was Dan Hicks who called Michael Andrew the Bryson DeChambeau of swimming. I don’t know if he meant that as a compliment or putdown. I was pulling for him since he grew up swimming in a backyard pool in Lawrence, KS. I also felt sorry for him that his parents don’t have enough faith in the way that they raised him to think he couldn’t resist the “temptations” of college, as they put it, and did not allow him to go to Texas or Cal or some other college swimming power.

I haven’t seen them all but the videos of Rowdy Gaines while he broadcasts a close race are awesome. He’s kind of the perfect announcer. He knows his sport intimately and has gold medals of his own. He a little wacky. He’s a huge homer but loves a great performance from non-Americans. He’s just a joy to listen to.

The swimming relays were almost uniformly awesome. So many close finishes. It was weird for the US to be an underdog so often.

On August 31, 2004 I wrote that Australia was my biggest concern for slicing into the American medal numbers. That was kind of a great jinx because while still good, the Aussies have fallen off in swimming a bit since then. Until this year, that is. Their women sure roared back, led by Emma McKeon, who is a badass.


The US-Netherlands women’s soccer game Friday kind of messed up my entire day. The game had just started when I turned the TV on and then I couldn’t move until it was over, with the US winning 4–2 on penalties.

What a game! The Netherlands looked better the entire game, aside from a four minute stretch when they gave up two goals. The US, on the other hand, looked old, slow, and disjointed. They couldn’t string passes together. They couldn’t maintain possession. They made bad turnovers. For all their legendary firepower up front, none of their attacking players could find good looks.

Then Alyssa Naeher saved a Dutch penalty kick deep into the second half and that seemed to give her teammates new life. They were the better team in extra time, having two goals disallowed because of offsides calls. Naeher saved two of the first three Dutch PKs and the US was perfect, going through to the semis. Terrific drama!

I guess all that magic was gone early Monday morning (In the US), as the Americans lost to Canada 1–0. Not sure why a US-Canada semifinal was played at 4:00 AM Eastern time.


NBC has made a lot of strange programming choices. I don’t know if there was a stranger one that how they covered the US-Israel baseball game Friday. I just happened to leave it on as I was doing other things, not really paying attention. The game was recorded earlier, so you would expect some “jumping ahead for time purposes,” right?

So they showed the first two innings, which were scoreless, then went to commercial.

When they came back from the break, instead of starting the third inning, they showed highlights of what happened in the next four innings, including five runs being scored, before picking up action in the 7th inning.

How on earth do you show 30–40 minutes of a 0–0 game and then just throw highlights of all the good shit? Makes no sense.


ROC is dumb. Just call them Russia. That’s where they’re from. Everyone assumes they’re cheaters, it’s not like that is being hidden. We can dispense with the semantical theater.


“You serve too many lollipops, you’re going to get licked.” So says volleyball analyst Kevin Wong. S gave me a look after he said that and asked, “What the fuck is he talking about?”


Speaking of looks, she was getting frustrated by the shots of the male runners in their tight shorts before their heats. “Do we really need to see all their man junk?” NBC must think we do, my dear. I do agree perhaps some padding could be useful so we don’t see quite so many details of these runner’s privates.

Friday Playlist

A little different format this week. You will learn why below.

“Natural Light” – Flowertown
This band went so hard for the retro sound that they put fake crackles and pops, as if you were listening to vinyl, onto it. In fact, they put those “artifacts” on every song on their new album. Which, to be honest, gets a little old. But in a single, pretty song like this, it works.

“Love Will Work It Out” – Durand Jones & The Indications
I think this is the third-straight week we’ve had some modern soul? And quite a track to continue that run, as this calls back to some sweet, sweet early ’70s soul. This band got together right down the road in Bloomington, IN.

“Fairytale in the Supermarket” – Jen Cloher, Hachiku
This is a fun little song, and certainly a huge departure from Cloher’s past work, which was much more mellow and folk-based. Turns out this is a cover of a song by late ’70s British punk band The Raincoats. I just checked out the original and it has a much more abrasive sound, consistent with the era it was made in.

“Hot Summer” – Prince
The latest song pulled from Prince’s vault, this was played once, by Prince himself on Minnesota public radio station The Current on June 7, 2010 – Prince’s 52nd birthday – before he buried it in the vault. Not that we needed it, but further proof he could write a song that was perfect for radio whenever he wanted.

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of MTV. I know the surviving original VJs have some stuff planned for SiriusXM over the weekend. I imagine there will be several articles exploring those early days, how the channel evolved, and so on that hit today. I came across this piece yesterday, in which Stereogum ranked all the videos played on MTV’s first day. It was fun to skim and see how strange some of the selections were. Two jumped out at me, so I will share those, then a video from an MTV legend who we lost this week.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” – The Buggles
There may not have been a better choice for the first song played that day. A classic example of a song that got much more popular well after its original release.

“Once In A Lifetime” – Talking Heads
Number one on the list was this classic. I honestly thought this song was from later, likely in 1982, because I remember seeing it a lot that summer when I would hang out with friends who had MTV. It was such a memorable and influential video, and indicative of the time, where anything could go as artists were figuring out this new medium. In addition to the images of this video, I remember my mind being blown a little by the song itself, which wasn’t like anything Casey was playing or that I was buying from the Columbia Record Club.

“Gimme Me All Your Lovin'” – ZZ Top
Speaking of masters of the medium, ZZ Top will always be at the top of the list (no pun intended). This was always my favorite song off their breakthrough album Eliminator. RIP to bassist Dusty Hill who passed this week.

Reader’s Notebook, 7/29/21

I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (Except When I Hate It) – Brian Boone
Between both switching to the smaller, satellite Indy library near our house from the larger Carmel library and Covid, I don’t just go wonder the library stacks very often, surprising myself with books that speak to me as I pass them. That is how I found this book, though. I was looking for another music book, it was missing, but spied this and knocked it out in a few sittings.

It is a collection of irreverent music lists and trivia nuggets. No heavy lifting, I knew some of the stuff, but also learned some new things along the way.


The Good Assassin – Paul Vidich
I have a couple lists of good espionage books that I’ve been working through. Paul Vidich’s work was recommended on one as some good, old school, Cold War noir. This, which takes place in Cuba just before Castro takes over, certainly fit that bill. In fact it was almost too noir-ish, sucking the life out of the book and making it rather bland. None of the characters were terribly interesting and the fascinating moment in history seemed wasted.


The Premonition – Michael Lewis
This is the book I read in one night, starting it sometime after lunch and finishing it a little after midnight. Which is kind of funny because I was reluctant to read it at first. It just seemed too soon to read a book about the Covid pandemic, since the light at the end of the tunnel might be wiped out by a new tunnel millions of idiots are building to protect their personal freedoms.

But, dammit, Michael Lewis found a way to write an insanely engaging accounting of how we got into the mess we are in.

As always, he focuses on personalities to explain larger problems. Also as always, he picks fascinating people for his focus. A hard-charging health commissioner in California. A cutting-edge genetic researcher at UCSF. And a pair of men who have been working on the problem of how to handle a pandemic for nearly 20 years who pull everyone together. It was these folks, and others like them scattered at various levels of government and industry, who helped to kickstart an otherwise inept and disinterested response by far too many power players in the US.

One interesting takeaway from the book, and why things are so fucked up in this country, is that there is no such thing as public health policy in the US. Each state and municipality is kind of on their own, consulting with others but often making decisions in a vacuum without any coordination from above. Thus, when a massive event like Covid hits, there is no structure for quickly making national policy. Throw in an incompetent president who was far more worried about protecting his own image than being a leader, and it’s no wonder we are in such a mess.

Another huge takeaway was that the CDC kind of sucks. Lewis shows the CDC to be a massive, overly cautious organization that would rather force others to make decisions than be held accountable for making difficult choices themselves. They attempt to thwart decision makers who have better information than the people in Atlanta if those locals go against the CDC playbook. And they collect massive amounts of incredibly important health and medical data, but hoard it for their own research purposes rather than share it so others can attempt to make rapid decisions in moments of crisis.

It isn’t until the book’s closing chapter when Lewis finally explains why the CDC might be so gun-shy. They botched the rollout of a swine flu vaccine in 1976 for a pandemic that never fully developed and both undercut its reputation and opened the door for the White House to control who ran it after decades of independence.

The personalities Lewis writes about are truly heroic, and the structural impediments they face are truly infuriating. He pulls that all together in a work of non-fiction that is as compulsive of a read as any fiction I’ve read in years.

Olympics Notebook, Part One

Not much has been going on the past few days. M turned 17 over the weekend. I read a terrific book in a single day. We went out on a boat with some friends. Ted Lasso returned. The Big 12 may be kaput.

Oh, and the Olympics started.

Thus it is time to bring back a time-honored recurring feature here on the blog: the Olympics Notebook!

Before we get to my observations and thoughts, a confession: I did not begin these games with my traditional strong interest. I’ve been loving the Olympics since 1980, and always get excited for them, especially the summer games. But with everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, I’m not convinced that having these games is the best idea. It feels like a super spreader event waiting to happen, a moment when the Delta and maybe the next variant will be shared over two weeks then taken back to all corners of the globe. No matter what athletic triumphs occur, might we look back in a year or two and think, “Yeah, that was a total disaster,”?

Hosting also seems like a lot to ask of the Japanese public, who will have to deal with whatever viral soup is left in their country when the athletes depart.

And the events, which are so often emotional and boisterous, come across as sterile without the stands filled with crowds of fans. Especially when a Japanese team or athlete does well and can only celebrate with their coaches/teammates. Those moments need stands filled with Japanese partisans roaring down their joyous approval.

Because of that, I totally skipped the opening ceremonies. That was the night I was reading a very good book which seemed like a better use of my time.

Fortunately I found my Olympic Spirit and have been watching a lot of coverage in the hours when we’ve been home and haven’t had guests over.


The Shocker

There was a clear A1 story for us US viewers…until Tuesday morning when the Simone Biles stuff hit. I’m never into gymnastics and doubted I would have watched much even if Biles had not dropped out. So no real change there, other than me trying to avoid what instantly became a political/value argument between people who likely have very little interest in gymnastics. Because it’s America in 2021 and that’s what we do: rush to diametrically opposed positions on any subject that comes up for debate.

Since I don’t follow gymnastics I wasn’t aware of the signs of strain she had been showing recently. I didn’t know when asked, just before the pandemic began, where she saw herself in 2021 she responded, “Retired.” I didn’t know about the physical injuries she had competed with. I didn’t remember she had taken an active role in the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal. I just assumed because I heard she won another national/world title every year or so that she was invincible and would roll to a bevy of golds in Tokyo. Even trying to dodge gymnastics coverage Tuesday, I still caught her vault runs that looked nothing like what the greatest gymnast ever should be doing. Something was clearly very wrong. I hope she’s ok.


The Other Shocker

OK, before that the clear story of the games for Americans was Lydia Jacoby’s upset win in the 100 breaststroke Monday night. Rowdy Gaines and Dan Hicks barely gave her any attention at the beginning of the race, instead focusing on defending Olympic champion Lilly King and the woman who had edged King out in the semifinal heat, South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker. Which made sense since the race was all about those two for the first 75 meters or so, until Jacoby eased by them and held on to win Gold.

It was a fabulous moment, made apparent by the utter shock from Gaines. He is never at a loss for words and was momentarily speechless. Jacoby’s reaction matched, as there was a flicker of disbelief when she saw the results before it registered.

That alone would have made it a great moment, one worth repeating. Then came the shot of students watching at Jacoby’s high school in Seward, Alaska. Kids jumping up and down in nervous excitement as she neared the finish, then losing their minds when she touched the wall. This was a genuine, in-the-moment reaction that felt even better because so few events are authentic anymore. I don’t think any of us who witnessed it live will ever forget.


Hoops

Jeez, the US men kind of suck. We couldn’t get a 3×3 team qualified, and now our regular team, filled with NBA superstars, gives up a 14–0 run late and loses to France in their opening game. It’s almost like you can’t just throw a bunch of dudes together for a couple weeks and expect to win anymore. Thank goodness Iran was next on the schedule so we could pummel them appropriately and give the impression that all is well.

The world has definitely caught up with us, and when those other national teams stick together over time, there is no margin for error for Team USA. I say we need a clear alpha and build around him, instead of putting a Super Team out there and hoping talent carries the day.

It is a huge bummer we don’t have a men’s 3×3 team, because that sport is awesome! Fast-paced, you have to be able to play both ways, and you can never relax because a made layup can turn into a 2-pointer for your opponent if you don’t immediately pick up someone on D. Love the dueling end points of both score and clock. I’ve mostly watched the women’s side, and it seems to be a better game. The men’s game seems dominated by brutes who beat each other up physically where the women’s game, while certainly physical, is more free-flowing.

Good on the US women for taking the gold medal contest Wednesday morning (US time).

Also dope for Latvia to win the men’s gold medal on a 2-pointer.


Random Notes

Hey, Phil Dalhausser is still around!

Isn’t it crazy how even though it’s the first Olympics without Michael Phelps in 25 years, he’s still everywhere? Doing coverage for NBC. Central and part of at least two ad campaigns. Tough luck for people who were sick of the greatest Olympian of all time.

I always laugh when local NBC stations suddenly take great interest in the weather in the host Olympic city. Our affiliate often leads off the weather segments with the current conditions and forecast for Tokyo before they get to our weather. It helps that it’s been hot and boring here for a couple weeks.

They couldn’t find a softball diamond to play softball on? Surely somewhere in Tokyo there’s a decent one. The Japanese won the gold medal, for crying out loud! Looked both odd and disrespectful to play it on a baseball field where you had to slide on turf if there was a close play at second.

How the fuck is Great Britain beating the US and Australia in men’s swimming? In freestyle, no less. Madness.

Katie Ledecky seems like a pretty great person. She looked genuinely happy for Ariarne Titmus after losing to her in the 400 free. She seemed as excited for teammate Erica Sullivan winning the silver as she was for her own gold in the 1500.

Titmus. T-I-T-M-U-S. Titmus, honest to God. If you know, you know.[1]

Not a fan of bringing in Steve Kornacki to crunch Olympics numbers. It’s just not as weighty as figuring out how much of the vote is still out in suburban Philadelphia.


  1. I tried to link to a video that explains that reference, but I couldn’t get it to work in three different browsers so I gave up.  ↩

Friday Links

This week’s round up of some cool shit I’ve read and think you might also enjoy.


‘You’ve never seen The Beatles like this before’: Peter Jackson on his epic Get Back docuseries

This feature/interview sure makes the upcoming Peter Jackson Beatles series sound phenomenal. I found this line interesting:

For any self-respecting Beatles nut, this must surely count as one of the final mop-top Holy Grails…

I suppose Paul and Ringo could still write exhaustive tell-alls of the 1960s. (Or perhaps they’ve already written them and are just waiting for the proper moment to release them.) But that statement is both correct and sobering: this could be the final piece of original work from the Beatles we ever receive. Which is amazing since they broke up 51 years ago.


Life never lived up to what Anthony Bourdain wanted it to be
Drew Magary on the new Anthony Bourdain movie? Yes, please.


The Great American Reboot
This is a couple weeks old. It is already beginning to feel outdated. After a month or two of admittedly cautious loosening of Covid protection measures, it’s beginning to feel – at least to those of us who take this pandemic seriously – like we may have jumped the gun. Or rather than we’ve been let down by a huge chunk of our country who are idiots.

T.M. Shine visited Las Vegas on Memorial Day. I thought this observation was especially brilliant.

One thing I think we have all realized as the debates have raged over the pandemic — mask or no mask, to be vaccinated or not — is that we value our opinions more than both our lives and the lives of others.

A-fucking-men.


How America Fractured Into Four Parts
Finally, there may be no better documenter of modern America’s politics than George Packer. In this long essay, an excerpt from his latest book, he suggests that we have been split into four different perspectives. There are flaws in his arguments, but I think he’s pretty close to the truth.

In Free America, the winners are the makers, and the losers are the takers who want to drag the rest down in perpetual dependency on a smothering government. In Smart America, the winners are the credentialed meritocrats, and the losers are the poorly educated who want to resist inevitable progress. In Real America, the winners are the hardworking folk of the white Christian heartland, and the losers are treacherous elites and contaminating others who want to destroy the country. In Just America, the winners are the marginalized groups, and the losers are the dominant groups that want to go on dominating.

Friday Playlist

Another jam-packed playlist to please your ears and your hearts this week.

“Living Proof” – The War on Drugs
Here it is, the first new TWOD song in four years! It does not hit with the same impact that the early songs from A Deeper Understanding hit with in the spring/summer of 2017. But as a side one, track one, this is a beautiful teaser for what’s to come. Music writer Steven Hyden said his advance copy of I Don’t Live Here Anymore is already his most-listened to album of the year and that is is “laden with bangers.” Excellent! I’m counting down the days until it the full album arrives on October 29.

“Dark Kept Secret” – EXUM
I don’t keep up with modern R&B the way I did back in the New Jack Swing era of the late ’80s, early ’90s. But every so often a song bubbles through all the other stuff I listen to and grabs my attention. Here is one. Such a cool sound to this track, not really true R&B but neither is it indie or straight pop. Yet it can appeal to folks who live in any of those spaces. And I had no idea this was former NFL player Antone Exum Jr. He’s an interesting cat.

“Jupiter” – Beachheads
This is just about a perfect summer song. Half of this band is also in a Norweigan metal band. Wouldn’t have ever guessed that!

“Chaeri” – Magdalena Bay
A strong Robyn vibe to this track.

“Seize the Day” – Paul McCartney, Phoebe Bridgers
A few months back Paul McCartney released McCartney III Imagined, in which various artists from his 2020 album McCartney III are reworked by other artists. So of course Phoebe Bridgers just knocked this track out of the park. I just listened to his version. It’s not bad. It might even be pretty good. But Phoebe’s is amazing.

“Knife Fight” – Painted Shield
Painted Shield is kind of a super group. Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard put the group together. On vocals is solo artist Mason Jennings, who sounds a hell of a lot like Spoon’s Britt Daniel on this track. Brittany Davis handles keyboard duties. And on drums is Matt Chamberlain, most famous for being the second of Pearl Jam’s many drummers. This track is funky and fun.

“Cassette” – Swiss Portrait
Another terrific summer song. Obviously I’m influenced by the title, but this makes me think of making mix tapes for some super cute girl in 1988. Or more likely a mix CD in the ’90s since this has a dream pop thing going for it.

“Summertime” – The Sundays
Not everything from the ’90s holds up well. But this sure as shit does.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 59

Chart Week: July 12, 1986
Song: “If She Knew What She Wants” – The Bangles
Chart Position: #29, 10th week on the chart. This was the song’s peak; it fell out of the Top 40 the next week.

I recall being in love with a lot of unattainable women in the summer of 1986. There was Heather Thomas, whose poster I had on my wall. There was Tamlyn Tomita, who played Ralph Maccio’s Okinawan love interest in The Karate Kid Part II. I’m sure there were plenty of girls at my high school I longed to get attention from but was frightened to speak to. And there was Susanna Hoffs.

Man, did I love Susanna! She had a girl-next-door quality to her beauty that made her seem like someone who was too pretty for normal dorks like me to have any hope of dating, but not so hot that she wouldn’t talk to you, laugh at your jokes, etc.

I know I wasn’t alone. And judging by comments from friends, there are a lot of us who are still fans, as she has aged very, very well.

Like most dudes my age I fell in love with Hoffs in the spring of ’86 when The Bangles hit #2 with the Prince-written “Manic Monday.” Later in the year they would release what ended up being the biggest single of 1987, “Walk Like an Egyptian,” another song the band did not write. In fact, of the band’s five biggest songs – all Top Five hits – they only wrote two, and both of those included input from songwriters outside the group. A handful of their other famous songs were also covers, which is a little odd given how the band was fully capable of writing a great tune. I guess they knew how to pick a good cover.[1]

“If She Knew What She Wants” was not one of their biggest hits. It struggled to gain traction on the charts and could only claw its way up to #29 and then fall clean out of the Top 40 a week later. Which is a shame because it’s a totally gorgeous song. Those “Ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo’s” Susanna throws in at the beginning and end of the track are both angelic and killer. I didn’t understand why people didn’t love it back in 1986, and I still don’t understand why it wasn’t a bigger hit.

It was – surprise surprise – also a cover. In this case it belonged to Jules Shear, a musician with a long, deep track record of writing songs for others. ’Til Tuesday, Marshall Crenshaw, 10,000 Maniacs, and Olivia Newton-John are just the most immediately recognizable artists to record his music.

Shear also wrote “All Through the Night,” which Cyndi Lauper turned into a #5 hit during her huge run in 1984. When she toured her monster She’s So Unusual album, Lauper selected The Bangles as her opening act. While on that tour The Bangles came to know Shear’s music and eventually struck up a friendship with him. When he performed his single “Steady” on American Bandstand in 1985, he recruited The Bangles to be his “background band,” miming the track along with him for Dick Clark and his audience. When asked to record a song for The Goonies soundtrack, The Bangles brought in Shear as a co-writer. As a token of thanks, or just a sign of their admiration for his art, they also selected this track to include on their Different Light album.

They didn’t veer much from Shear’s arrangement. They do flip a few words to adjust the gender perspective. It is their shift toward their favored sound of 60’s-influenced jangle pop with gorgeous harmonies that makes their version really shine, and elevates it about Shear’s version.

For some bonus Susanna Hoffs material, here is her performing two of her biggest Bangles tracks with a string quartet on CNN for the Fourth of July.


  1. My two favorite Bangles tracks are “Going Down to Liverpool,” which was a Katrina and the Waves song, and their absolutely ripping cover of Simon and Garfunkle’s “Hazy Shade of Winter.”  ↩

Reader’s Notebook, 7/20/21

The Alice Network – Kate Quinn
A friend gave me this book awhile back, but I left it in my bookshelf for months before finally cracking it open. When I did, S told me she had read it on one of our vacations and loved it. We don’t read a lot of the same books, so I was both excited and nervous about taking it on. What if I hated it?

That wasn’t a problem; this was a terrific novel.

It tells the story of two remarkable women whose lives come together. The first is Eve Gardiner, a British woman recruited to serve a spy in France during World War I. She earns a job waiting at a restaurant that serves German soldiers, becomes the lover of the owner, and passes on incredibly important intelligence through The Alice Network of female spies. She is eventually found out, though, and pays a horrible price.

The second woman is Charlie St. Clair, a young American traveling to Switzerland with her mother in 1948 to get an abortion. When they land in England, she flees her mother and tracks down Gardiner, who she believes can help her find her French cousin who disappeared during World War II.

Quinn flips back-and-forth between 1915 and 1948, and we slowly learn about Gardiner’s time spying and her trip through France with St. Clair and her Scottish driver. Both women are unique for their times: outspoken, take-no-shit, boundary-destroying chicks who fight for what they want. I loved them both and see why S liked them, and the book, so much.


God Spare the Girls – Kelsey McKinney
Once again, a first-time novelist has blown me away.

McKinney’s debut novel is focused on Caroline Nolan, a recent high school grad in North Texas who is the daughter of an evangelical pastor who is famous for his teen abstinence program. And Caroline goes and loses her virginity in the opening pages of the book. The horror!

That’s not the biggest family crisis, though. Turns out her dad has been cheating on her mom, who just found out about it. Which, as you might imagine, causes a bit of a scandal, although one the church leadership seems eager to get through quickly.

However Caroline and her older sister, who is about to get married, can’t get over it as easily. They spend several weeks in isolation on a ranch property their deceased grandmother left them. There, they get into deep discussions on what their faith means in light of their father’s failures. Whether they can forgive him. What Caroline having sex means. They hash out issues they’ve had for years. It’s a wonderful exploration of sisterhood and all the baggage that comes along with that. They become closer than they’ve ever been, and then one well-intentioned but poorly thought out act by Caroline ruins that.

McKinney fills the book with characters that would be easy to turn into caricatures. But she avoids those traps by focusing on Caroline and her sister, and making them rich, complex women who make unexpected decisions because of unexpected reasons.


The Spy and the Traitor – Ben Macintyre
Next another remarkable story, this one true. This is an accounting of the life go Oleg Gordievsky, one of the highest ranking KGB agents who ever spied for the West. Disillusioned with the closed nature of the Soviet Union, he was first recruited by the British while working in Denmark in the 1970s. Eventually he transferred to London and was on the verge of being named the Soviet equivalent of Chief of Station before he was outed by CIA agent Aldrich Ames, who was selling information to the Soviets.

This discovery set off a pretty amazing escape by Gordievsky from Moscow to the Finnish border before British agents slipped him out to freedom. Following his defection in the 1985, he gave the West unprecedented insight into how the KGB functions.

A pretty cool insight into what makes people share information about their home country with their enemy.


Americana: Dispatches from the New Frontier – Hampton Sides
This was marketed as a travelogue, so I thought it would tell the tale of Sides, who wrote the excellent Hellhound on His Trail that I read earlier this year, traveling through the US and discovering something interesting about us as Americans.

Which it kind of was. I guess I didn’t read the description close enough, though, and didn’t realize this wasn’t based on a single trip, but rather a collection of his magazine writing from a roughly 25-year period. Because of that, I worked through it slowly, in small chunks, since spring break.

He profiles all kinds of interesting people, places, and events. Getting through the first 350 pages or so is worth it when you get to his post–9/11 pieces. One is an absolutely brutal look at several people who were in the World Trade Center buildings on the day of the attacks. I had to stop reading and take a walk around the house in a few spots to give myself a mental breather. Another is about a Marine lieutenant who was the first American killed in action during the invasion of Iraq, and it is equally brutal. But both pieces are also wonderfully researched and written.

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