Month: June 2020 (Page 2 of 2)

Ten Influential Albums

I think I’m done with Facebook for awhile. I’m not a huge user to begin with. But over the past week I’ve been disappointed at both Mark Zuckerberg’s continued stance that FB has no role to play in reining in posts that are meant to deliberately mislead people and spread lies and with a few friends who have posted/shared things I’ve found troubling following the George Floyd murder. I’ll check in to see who has a birthday and send them a message, but I don’t see myself scrolling through my feed or posting much again for some time.

My last act on the platform, for the time being, was to post my list of 10 influential albums in my life. The rules were that you just posted an album cover, no review, no commentary, no explanation. While I respect a strict set of rules that govern a music list as much as anyone, those constraints also maddened me. How am I supposed to share these albums without saying why they were influential? How can I not share a few words explaining that while album X isn’t one of my 10 favorites ever, it influenced me more than some of those favorites?

Fortunately I have a blog, so I can break free of those constraints here!

The Official Sesame Street 2 Book-and-Record Album, 1971
Yeah, some folks laughed. But this was the first album I ever owned, and I listed to the hell out of it. I think I was listening to it more in 1973–74, because I have pretty vivid memories of it. In addition to being the first album I owned, it laid the groundwork for my love of sad songs. Grover’s powerful vocal performance on “What Do I Do When I’m Alone” caused much distress in young me. I remember hiding in a corner behind a large plant and crying when I heard it, because I didn’t want Grover to be sad. I think my mom made me stop listening to it for awhile.

The Beatles 1967–1970, aka The Blue Album, 1973
I was obviously too young to hear any of the Beatles tracks when they were first released. But my parents owned The Blue Album and listened to it a lot. And I kind of hated it. But it planted the seeds for my love of pop music, and my love of the Beatles that would blossom 30 years later.

Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life, 1976
My mom listened to this album so, so much, and unlike the Beatles, I loved it.

Def Leppard – Pyromania,1983
The first cassette I ever purchased, at a Wal-Mart in Great Bend, KS while spending some time with my grandparents that summer. I didn’t own a cassette player, I had a knockoff Walkman that was AM/FM only, so I couldn’t actually listen to it until I returned home. This was the moment I stopped asking for albums for Christmas and my birthday and started purchasing music when I wanted to.

Prince and the Revolution – 1999, 1983
I had no idea what I was getting into when I ordered this from Columbia House. I knew “Little Red Corvette” and “1999”, but songs like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” “DMSR,” and “Lady Cab Driver” blew my mind. It was a long time before I appreciate those songs for more than just being about sex. Purple Rain is my favorite, but this is the one that opened my mind to everything Prince was offering.

Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill, 1986
The first hip-hop album I ever purchased, and it helped me navigate the hallways of a new school in California where everyone seemed to know every line.

Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1988
Hip-hop wasn’t just about women and beer and proving you’re better than the sucka MC’s. It could have a powerful message attached to it, and feel as ferocious as the loudest rock band. Soon after listening to this for the first time I was reading *The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and shifting my views on racial and social justice matters towards those of the most militant of the Black community.

Pearl Jam – Ten,1991
After nearly six years of listening to mostly hip-hop and R&B, this album changed my listening habits dramatically. Soon my CD rack was filled with alternative and college rock bands. With that shift came another, a new appreciation for lyrics and finding meanings beyond the most obvious.

Arcade Fire – Funeral, 2004
Another shift. I had just become a father, music was beginning to be consumed online more than through physical formats. I honestly don’t know how to define the difference between the alt-rock era of the 90s and the indie rock era that followed, but this was the transition point for me. Also the first album I ever bought on the iTunes Music Store.

Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight, 2008
No album has grabbed and held my attention as much as this one did since perhaps Ten.

Friday Playlist

Another week in the books that was a little worse than the week before. I don’t know what the end point is, when things will start getting better, but I fear where the next worst week will take us.

For this week’s playlist, some songs that both sum up what’s happening and how I feel about it. Not the most uplifting playlist, I admit, but there are some damn good songs in here.

“What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye
“Beds Are Burning” – Midnight Oil
“We Got to Have Peace” – Curtis Mayfield
“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” – Sly & The Family Stone
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” – Stevie Wonder
“Free Your Mind” – En Vogue
“Fuck Tha Police” – N.W.A.
“Racist Friend” – The Specials
“Prophets of Rage” – Public Enemy
“Stop the Violence” – Boogie Down Productions
“Nazi Punks Fuck Off” – Dead Kennedys
“This Land” – Gary Clark, Jr.
“Heroes” – David Bowie
“Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” – James Brown
“A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke

What I’m Watching, May 2020

My goal for May was to knock a bunch of movies off my To Watch list. At first glance it will look like I did exactly that. But I must admit I watched eight of these movies in that last nine days of the month. That was solid work!


The Last Dance

Well, shit, I never got around to writing about this. I guess it’s because I’ve talked about it so much to so many people I never felt the need to share more here. So I’ll try to sum up quick.

I loved it. It brought back a ton of memories. I understand that the control Michael Jordan had over the series was problematic, but that’s true no matter who makes a film. And if giving him control was the cost of getting him to talk, it was worth it. I’ve fallen a little out of love with MJ in his retirement as we’ve seen just how pathological his need to win is and how he’s struggled to shut it off. But putting it back in context of his playing days made me overlook the troublesome aspects of that drive. I thought the most powerful moment of the series was the final scene of episode seven or eight, when he was explaining the cost of his personality. In general I don’t think MJ has regrets or shame or pain for anything he’s done. But in that moment, he showed that there is a price. He may have “boys” from his playing days, but does he truly have friends, when his goal was always to dominate everyone, even the players he was close to?

This was great and I’m equal parts craving and dreading the next attempt to do a series like this. I’m not sure it will work for other athletes the way it worked for MJ’s story.

A


Lunar
A cool little short that recreates the Apollo moon landings with pictures taken on the Apollo missions.

A


A Parks and Recreation Special – Full Special – YouTube
Who better than the P&R cast to give us a moment of happiness in the midst of this horrible time? Except for that Jerry. God, Jerry!

A


The Irishman
I have no excuse for putting this off so long. Goodfellas is one of my very favorite movies ever. I also loved Casino. Another Martin Scorsese mafia epic with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci would seem like a no-doubter, right? Especially when you throw in Al Pacino’s addition to the gang.

I put it off from months for one reason or another but finally – FINALLY! – started it on Friday, May 8, and watched about an hour. The next evening I pulled it up on my laptop with earbuds, thinking I would watch a half hour or so until the kids started to head upstairs and I finish on a TV. Next thing I knew it was two hours later and I had watched the entire movie.

So, worth the wait? Absolutely. A fantastic third chapter to Scorsese’s mob trilogy. It is a compelling, wonderfully shot, entertaining movie. Al Pacino is especially fantastic, adjusting his typical manner to fit Jimmy Hoffa’s upper midwest accent. That said, it was weird hearing a bunch of New York/New Jersey Italians attempt to speak like Philly Italians, Irish, and Detroit Germans.[1]

What stuck out to me was the tone of the movie. It felt like a long, bittersweet good bye. It is hard to imagine Scorsese, DeNiro, and Pesci doing another three-hour mafia movie together. This was their valedictory lap, and for all the goodness, there was that hint of sadness knowing that this is the closure of one of the great chapters in American film.

After watching I looked up Frank Sheeran to learn more about him. I came across this article which pokes a lot of holes in the biggest assertions made about Sheeran’s activities. Reading it makes me think of this movie more like JFK. JFK was a brilliant movie, but it was also full of shit. From a historical perspective, I think The Irishman has to go into the same bucket as JFK.[2] And it is a reminder even if Goodfellas and Casino were based on journalistic accounts of mob life, there was also plenty of Hollywood polish put on those stories, too.

A


Beastie Boys Story
We have Apple TV+, or whatever it’s called, free for a year thanks to buying a new Apple device.[3] That gave me the chance to watch this, an ATV+ exclusive. All I knew about it going in was “Spike Jones Beasties documentary.” Which was enough for me. So I was a little surprised by its format: a live, on-stage show by Ad Rock and Mike D in which they basically ran through the same subjects the wrote about in Beastie Boys Book. It was fun, funny, touching, and perfect for a Gen Xer that grew up on the band.

A


Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill
Seinfeld stand up, what’s not to like? It felt like he left his fastball behind, but it was still a decent watch.

B


John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City
This was some funny shit. My stomach hurt from laughing through the first 40 minutes, and then he got to Trump stuff and I had to pause a few times to catch my breath.

A


The Crying Game
I don’t know that I had ever seen this all the way through, back in the day. Actor Stephen Rea, who plays Fergus, was married to Dolours Price, a key member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the 70s and 80s, and a main focus of the book Say Nothing. With the references to the movie in that book, I figured it was worth a watch.

For those not old enough to remember, this was a very controversial movie when it came out. There was a big twist, about halfway through, that Miramax asked audiences not to reveal after they saw it. The secret got out quick, but it was still shocking when you saw it. Hell, it’s kind of shocking now, 30 years later, but that’s more because of what kind of nudity we do and do not allow in our cinema even today.

What this really made me think about was a college roommate, who one night after a few too many beers and some late night, reality TV, asked how we would all react if we brought a “lady” home and found out she was not, in fact, a lady. This roommate and I butted heads often, and I wasn’t having his theoretical exercise. “I would know right away and never make it that far,” was my response. This instigated like a 90-minute, drunken argument that several other roommates zinged in and out of. He thought I was dismissing a legitimate question. I thought he was spending too much time worrying about a situation that was highly unlikely to happen.

The film? It felt very dated production wise. There were some elements I thought were strange: the tone shifted from light to very heavy randomly, for example. But it deserves credit for tackling a huge issue in a very honest way and in setting the stage for all the other noir-ish, arty films that would come in the ‘90s.

B+


Some Westerns

I keep a long list of movies I want to watch, but only knock off a couple each year. I just always keep movies after books, music, sports, and TV sports when dividing up my media time.

I noticed last month that several of the movies on my list had a common theme or genre. I’ve never been a big Western guy, but several movies on my list could either be classified as modern Westerns, or were influenced heavily by the classic genre. So about a week ago I decided to dive in and knock a bunch out. Along the way I added some more, so I have a long list to still get to. Below is an accounting of that week-plus of viewing.

There Will Be Blood
This has been on my list for years. Years I tell you. What a performance by Daniel Day Lewis. What a great story. How wonderfully photographed. A nearly perfect movie.

A


Django Unchained
It’s Tarantino, so you kind of know what you’re getting. A dazzling story with plenty of problematic moments. Lots of violence, often almost cartoonish in its gore. Homages to great films and film genres of the past. Sharp writing. A+ acting performances. Thus, nothing about the movie really surprises. But I really enjoyed Tarantino’s take on the classic Western. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz were fantastic as the two lead characters.

A


Hell or High Water
I had never heard of this movie before, yet it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. That just shows how out of it I generally am with movies.

Thus it was a great surprise. This feels like the ideal modern western: it has nothing to do with cowboys and Indians, or life on the range. But its bank robbing theme and gorgeous cinematography draw clear lines to the classics. The lead characters were all wonderfully filled by Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham. The movie makes you root for both the cops and robbers, and sometimes against both. A nicely ambiguous ending.

A


No Country for Old Men
I read this book sometime around when the movie came out and, as per my usual style, never got around to watching the flick. So the details were fuzzy but I remembered the basics. And the Cohen brothers nicely added their own twists while remaining faithful to Cormac McCarthy’s original story.

A


The Rover
Here we divert a hair for a movie that in most ways is not a Western at all, but pulls in so many references to that genre that it can safely be called a modern Western.

This one takes place in the Australian Outback ten years after an economic collapse has caused massive upheaval. The almost always amazing Guy Pearce has his car stolen and spends the next hour and forty-five minutes trying to get it back. Along the way there is much violence, most from Pearce’s gun. At the end, after he recovers his car, we see why it was so important to him. At first glance, it seems utterly ridiculous that so many died for this cause. But, considering the world he lives in, you realize despite his acceptance of brutality and death, he maintains a strong connection to the past and that he isn’t the cold, emotionless killer he seems to be. This is one of the bleakest movies I can remember watching.

B


True Grit
Hey, two Cohen Bros Westerns in one month! And this one is a legit Western, a remake of a John Wayne movie that takes place in the late 19th century. This had a few more quirks than No Country For Old Men, which made it feel more like a Cohen movie. Jeff Bridges with another fine performance, and I absolutely loved Haile Steinfeld

A-


Marriage Story
To wrap up the month, S and I watched this together Sunday night. I think we had very different views of the film. She found it depressing. I was, honestly, laughing out loud at some scenes. I felt like it was really playing up the ridiculousness of the process of getting a divorce.

But I also found it to be very powerful. I was a child of divorce, and while my parents’ divorce was not heated in any way, it was still hard, and I was sympathetic to that angle. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver were excellent. And there’s that scene, that one scene, which if you’ve seen this, I’m sure also left you breathless. My first thought following that scene, once I was able to breath again, was how many takes did that require and how wrecked were Johansson and Driver after? Oh, and the scene when Charlie walks in on Henry reading the letter Nicole wrote to take to their initial mediation? Yeah that really go to me.

A



  1. By the way, I had no idea Jimmy Hoffa was of German heritage. With his mob ties and a last name ending with a vowel, I always assumed he was Italian. My bad.  ↩
  2. Speaking of JFK, loved how David Ferrie – played by Pesci in the Oliver Stone film – made a brief appearance as Frank Sheeran was picking up arms to be delivered to the Bay of Pigs invaders.  ↩
  3. C, S, and I have all purchased new phones in the last month.  ↩

Heartbreaking Times

It is hard to know what to write today. We are in day four of an absolutely glorious run of weather. We got to see a few friends this weekend. The SpaceX launch was very cool. There’s a new wave of openings here in Indianapolis today which is making life feel a little more normal.

But all that is offset by what is going on in our country right now.

Last night Indianapolis was under a 10-hour curfew. We live far from where the violence and destruction was on Friday and Saturday nights, but it was still eerie to have all the restaurants and stores around the corner from our house close early to allow everyone to get home before 8:00. There was some traffic after 8:00, but it was certainly much lighter even compared to the reduced traffic of the past two months.

Indy got off light. There were a couple downtown banks and shops busted open, a few small fires. Minor compared to many other cities around the country.

It was very difficult not to follow the demonstrations around the country and not get emotional about it. Violence, destruction, looting is never the correct path. And I realize it is often two very distinct groups who are doing the peaceful protesting and the more violent acts. But I understand the motivation.

The George Floyd murder was just the latest and most egregious example of law enforcement using unreasonable and deadly force when dealing with Black men in this country. We’ve been seeing the videos for years, and before everyone had a phone in their hand we heard the stories for decades. But far too many white people wrote those stories off as exaggerations or outright lies. Others assumed that there had to be an act before the cameras started recording that justified the police’s acts. I think it’s this third group that bothers me the most. That view supports the idea that police can take any actions they want against a perceived criminal, even if those actions aren’t in proportion to the alleged crime. “Well, he had a criminal past and he was running, what do you expect?”

Plenty of white people sympathized, but none of us did enough to counter the racists, overt or covert, who twisted these incidents into opportunities to give the police more weapons rather than the public more protections. Or the politicians who look at the violence that came after the act and view it as the real problem, not the actions that caused the violence. Or the Thin Blue Line fanatics who forget that in a free society the police do not serve as judge, jury, and executioner out on the streets.

I don’t know what the answer is. It really feels like this country is broken, has been for some time, and we just keep getting worse. Plus we have a president who will use this as a gigantic wedge to anger the people he thinks will get him reelected, who will punish those who need help, who will reward those who took lives, who will somehow place blame on people who have zero responsibility but have the nerve to speak against him. Hell, it’s already starting. We can only hope that it backfires and is yet another epic failure in his presidency that will bring it to a resounding end next January.

As much as I want to believe a new president will change things, I don’t think it will make a huge difference. New elected officials may take over and implement new policies, but you can’t force people to be empathetic, and, as I’ve said before, I think empathy is on its last legs in this country.

It seems impossible for people to look at someone different than them and understand what their lives are like. White people and people of color. Men and women. Citizens and immigrants. Republicans and Democrats. Mask wearers and non-mask wearers. Someone with a different perspective is meant to be marginalized until they have no voice or power. We see it in everything from our legislatures to social media to youth league sports to the line at your grocery store. Everyone seems pissed off at everyone else, and if we can quickly identify a difference between us, we immediately turn it into a racial/political/gender fight.

We’ve told our girls over-and-over that it’s fine not to like people, it’s fine to be upset with someone else’s behavior, it’s ok to think someone is a jerk. But that’s all they are, a jerk. They aren’t a Black jerk or a gay jerk or a Mexican jerk.

I’m a cynic by nature, but I also often believe in a hopeful future. The arc of history bending toward social justice and such. That belief has fueled me through other tense moments in our nation’s history.

I’m not sure we are capable of overcoming all this hate, especially when so many elements of our society seem focused on glorifying our divisions to generate clicks, likes, favs, views, and votes.

I would love to be proven wrong. I would love it if I never see another video of police, or random strangers, killing Black men for no reason. I would love it if politicians realize it is better for our country to find areas of common ground rather than using scorched earth techniques that are focused more on destroying their opponents than governing. I would love it if social media companies didn’t hide behind the false flag of neutrality and took some responsibility for what is posted on their platforms. I would be fucking thrilled if white people in power didn’t think it was bad for business or would cost them votes to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.

Maybe the summer of 2020, which is off to a horrible start, will shake something loose and we’ll find a way to start getting along again.

Sadly, I think things are going to keep getting worse.

Stats

May 2020

  • Beastie Boys – 43
  • Neil Finn – 32
  • The Sheila Divine – 31
  • Pearl Jam – 26
  • Jess Williamson – 24

Complete stats available at my Last.fm page.

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