Friday, December 02, 2016

Does Everything Have To Be So Darn Complicated?

Some links that have me cogitating, this week.

First, the meat and potatoes -- or fleisch un leedschocke, to resort to tribal vernacular . . .

Sunday dinner will be served at 2:30, three hours after the praedjer's final "amen!"

. . . my former neighbor Miriam Toews has a piece in Granta in which she meditates on violence and other abominable secrets that permeate our humble Kleine. My view towards Miriam's writing tends to be rather jaundiced -- she often reads like she's got scores to settle, and she's packin' heat! -- but I think this piece is quite good. She gives elegant expression to her sense of mission as well as her perceived place in the pantheon of Canucklehead Mennonite Literati -- Rudy Wiebe lit the torch, basically, and she's running with it (along with all the rest of 'em, who aren't making the pages of Granta).

Other Matters:

Peak TV: "Westworld" cannot outsmart the internet! Westworld is one of a handful of new shows that sound terrifically promising, but I've held off watching so much as a single episode. The reason: why should I commit myself to an unspecified number of hours of television, only to court the very real possibility of Walking Dead-levels of viewer disappointment? Nope, Battlestar Galactica cured me of such folly. Now I wait for a series to conclude, either by design or by cancellation, before I watch so much as a single minute.

Exception: The Americans -- and only because they promise to wrap it up in Season 5.

No wait, there are other exceptions. I borrowed from the library the first season of Agents of SHIELD. The family watched three or four episodes and decided we didn't need to be underwhelmed any further. Which got me wondering: what happened to Joss Whedon? Firefly was insanely punchy -- every episode a tutorial in lean, mean story-telling. When did he become so reliant on the long, gassy story-arc?

Doubts niggled, so I queued up Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It only took the first two episodes of season 1 to realize the long, gassy story-arc is Whedon's preferred canvass -- even ardent fans recommend newcomers skip straight to season 3. Would a project like Buffy stand a chance in today's TV market?

Peak TV Satire: "In reality, our prolonged love affair with cracking wise wasn’t a tonic that shook people out of their apathy — it was a symptom of it."

So what does Canucklehead Poindexter Charles Taylor make of it all?

Related: God, I miss Richard Rorty.

Let's bring it back to the Mennonites (cos that's what this is all about): the same day I read Miriam's essay, I heard this radio doc ("Exiled in Canada: a sex offender finds refuge with Mennonites" -- hey, look at you, CBC!) whilst running errands. As I mulled over this particular story, I thought of Miriam's magnum opus, A Complicated Kindness, and wondered, "What acts of kindness are uncomplicated?" Not many. "Greater love hath no man," and all that -- possibly the most complicated act of kindness to go on sacred record, triggering some powerfully complicated chapters in history (including). If it's a lack of complication you're after, it's best to stick to the baser emotions in the palette of human experience: fear, anger, a sense of grievance. The rest of us in search of the fabled third way are fated to parse through manifold complications -- until our final trip to church, toes-up.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Gimme

It's been a nutty week, so I'm asking for a gimme. Here is a collection of 21-year-old infantryman Victor Lundy's sketches from WWII -- enjoy.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sharon Jones

The album cover for 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007) was my first exposure to Sharon Jones.


I had yet to hear a note of her singing or the Dap-Kings' playing, but even so: what was there not to love about this album? A gorgeous woman in a retro-frame that called to mind the soul and funk legends of yore -- the material within was either going to be a failed pose (in which case, thanks for the eye-candy) or a triumphal delivery on its promise.

The album delivered, and how. Listening to the music prompted further meditation on the cover. How old was this woman? I'd never dare to guess, her performance made the task too formidable. Her voice suggested experience beyond the merely mortal, even as the energy behind it was the very essence of youthful vitality.

Jones and the Kings got better with every album. The shows were another reality altogether. People who went to see her were glad they did. A consummately generous performer, gone at 60.

Too generous to be chasing after crowns -- Aretha may be the undisputed Queen of Soul, but Sharon Jones was surely its most spectacular ambassador. You know where to find her stuff. Give it a spin, won't you?

Friday, November 18, 2016

We Stand On Guard: The Ugly Canadians

My first thought when I heard about We Stand On Guard (story by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Steve Skroce and Matt Hollingsworth) was: "We've got John Milius' Red (White & Blue) Dawn for Canucks -- finally!"

Also: Wolverines are pussies.
My first thought once I'd finished was, "Yikes -- does the world really need this right now?"

We used to be friends...
Vaughan's story is high-concept at its highest: the United States of America finally invades Canada for its abundant freshwater resources. Small cells of anti-American resistance fighters still exist, but they are few and far between and vastly outnumbered and outgunned.

Enter: the villains.
The characters are quick studies, all animated by understandable motivation(s). The story zips along, once you start you don't stop until it's finished. And when it's finished, it is finished -- my pet peeve with comic writers is their pecuniary devotion to sequels and the like. Not so here -- the well was deep, but now it's dry.

The art is top drawer. Skroce and Hollingsworth obviously revere Geoff Darrow, but where Darrow would never leave a frame until persuaded there was absolutely no room for any whitespace S&H judiciously ease back on the hyper-articulation.

Maybe this isn't the best example...

Naturally, the American invaders are a hateful, entitled bunch. And when the story begins the Canadian resistance fighters are sympathetic, by virtue of their being evident victims. But by story's end it is apparent that they, also, are hate-full. The wry, belittling generalisations we Canucks currently make of our Yankee neighbours and their quirks and foibles are given just the slightest of tweaks to express unfettered, seething contempt. It all amounts to a nihilistic thrill-ride, which has limited emotional cache for this particular reader.

But is it ART?

Shortly before 9/11 Art Spiegelman lamented that the advent of the "graphic novel" had removed some of the tawdry, trashy element to comics-making that he used to revel in. Post-9/11 Spiegelman followed that observation with a bit of agit-prop that, I thought, was a little too elevated to really penetrate the nervous system.

"Elevation" is certainly not a characteristic of We Stand On Guard -- in many ways, particularly in its framing of our shared humanity, this extended pamphlet expresses a rubbishy glee akin to the leaflets of Jack Chick.

Purgatory ain't for heroes -- but Hell is!
To which I say, hey, if agit-prop is your thing, the worst we could do is go ahead and call it "art."

Given current events, the social media platforms I take part in anxiously press me with Maya Angelou's words, "Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet." Closer to (my) home we have the late Leonard Cohen: "Love's the only engine of survival."

Whether or not we "need" agit-prop, it seems the world in its current state is keen to produce it.

Just remember: what he said.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Doctor Strange

"...take away seven, carry the two..."
Two observations made during the car-ride home:

1) "That was the best 3D movie I've ever seen!"

I agree. I thought of others that have qualified, in their day -- Mad Max, Para-Norman, Tron, Polar Express, that James Cameron Ayahuasca movie, etc. Most are competently framed movies with occasional scenes of 3D virtuosity. This was a movie of nearly constant 3D virtuosity, with some moments that fell back to mere competency.

2) "That was the best Marvel movie yet!"

I had to mull that over, before finally agreeing with it. The hitch was, it's the best Marvel movie largely because of the 3D razzle-dazzle. Anyone who sees it in 2D or on the home-screen will likely be underwhelmed. Immersed in 3D, the viewer is more in tune with what the good Doctor is experiencing. Non-immersed viewers will be quicker to notice the usual Marvel deficiencies.

Rachel McAdams does a terrific job of a role that was probably the emotional lynch-pin of the script she signed off on, but became something lesser during shooting. Tilda Swinton . . . if she's ever dropped the ball on a film, I've yet to see it. Similarly, Chiwetel Ejiofor. As for Benedict Cumberbatch . . .

. . . who assigned him the American accent? If he opted for it himself, I can understand -- it's catnip for British actors, just like "the" British accent is for American actors.
Voice coach: "NOT 'terrr-ibly' but 'TED-ah-blee!'"
My favourite on-screen Brits are the ones who never lose -- not completely -- the accent, no matter who they're playing. Anthony Hopkins is stellar at this -- he can be Richard Nixon for nearly four hours, and we ignore the British inflections because this man is taking on the persona of another. It's actually less distracting if he keeps a little Brit-tonation. Jeremy Irons, Bob Hoskins -- one eulogy for Hoskins elicited my hoots and howls by praising his ability to put on an American accent. He had impressive means of persuading you he was a particular character, but burying his native Cockney inflections with a phony accent was not among them.

Anyway, Cumberbatch's "American" accent was flat enough to bring back painful reminders of my former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Perhaps Strange was among the brains that drained south of 49 when he took office? Regardless, if Strange were to "acquire" a British accent for the next movie, I would not protest.

Where Doctor Strange succeeds spectacularly, however, is with its introduction of the Meta-verse -- the Marvel Plot-Randomizer that allows the characters and storylines to be reborn every few years. In the hands of Marvel Inc. it's a clever money-making ploy. As represented in this movie, it's surprisingly awe-inspiring.

Go see it -- in 3D. That is all.

For Yahmdallah Bjornickerford. RIP, TLD -- another blog bites the dust. Happy trails, amigo!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Post-Election Cast-About

I think another friend called it better than I did: "The worst person for this job is the one who will get the job." A safer bet I could not have made.
Either way, it goes to some joker...
For those of us unshakably predisposed to pessimism, the genuine delight we experience when proven wrong remains among the greatest of life's joys. I'm hoping I'm wrong about a lot of things -- the wronger I am, the more rapturous the next four (or more!) years will be.

It is in this admittedly sour, yet sincere, spirit of the liberal ideal that I cast about looking for people keen to make the argument -- to persuade me, in other words, not through insult and invective, but through a (relatively) dispassionate line of reasoning.

These are increasingly rare creatures, to be sure, but they do exist, and I am grateful to and for them. Two of the better examples of people applying themselves to the argument are Sax von Stroheim, blogging at Uncouth Reflections, and Robert W. Merry, writing for The National Interest. Further consideration: here is the President Elect's (for real) to-do list for the first 100 days -- give it a look and see if you can't name one or two potential influencers.

Anyway, I remain unpersuaded -- I'm convinced this guy's a disaster for everybody, including especially himself. But prove me wrong -- please! Nobody would be happier.
"Waauugh!"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Talking to the kids

"Well, you called it." My first e-mail of the day, from a dear friend who is the most hooked of political junkies.

I called it. Yeah, maybe. But when I woke up yesterday and confronted the headlines I realized I hadn't truly expected to be right. I went to bed expecting my existential dread to return to a low boil in the morning. I woke up to discover there was a level of heat I'd lost touch with.

I was still trying to put it all into manageable perspective, when the younger daughter (newly 18) came into the kitchen, in tears, with two questions: "What happens now?" and "How can anyone listen to what comes out of that man's mouth and still put him in charge?"

Difficult questions both. I did the fatherly thing and dodged them.

I said I wasn't sure yet of the data, but I suspected most Americans did not vote. The data that was in said very clearly that the majority of those who did vote, did not vote for that man. Also: Americans have a longer and more complicated and indeed more painful history with Ms. Rodham-Clinton than the one my daughter's Facebook feed was presenting.

All this was to say that most Americans, including many who did vote for that man, were better-than-okay people.

I also said that political arguments are usually driven to polarities that simplify life in unhelpful ways. Before she was born there was a moment when I woke up to discover that Canada might, in a few days' time, not be Canada any more. The thought caused me a great deal of anxiety, until I heard someone on the radio say, "Political theory and argument exists in a realm way beyond our back-yards, and our passions expand to meet those borders. It's important to return our gaze to the window that looks onto our back-yards, and to take confident steps into the immediate neighborhood, and reconnect with the people of our communities, to keep our passions in check, and to keep our shared sense of humanity sustained and healthy."

"So make sure you have a good breakfast," I said. "Be kind to yourself. And make a point of being kind to someone else. Every day's a gift."

I was tempted to go full Kung-Fu Panda . . .


. . . but of course there's also this exchange. So it goes.

Friday, November 04, 2016

A Modest Proposal

I think it's safe to say: nobody is going to be happy with the results of this coming November 8. Not one single person in the entire world.

If I'm wrong -- if you're a person who, as the clock ticks past Midnight, Central, November 8 and closer to the Midnight of the Soul, November 9 -- and you can search your heart and say, "That glowing feeling, right there, that's close enough to genuine joy that I am made bold to say, 'I feel happy'" then I urge you to get dressed, leave your abode and seek immediate fellowship. You have spent too long removing yourself from the crush of humanity to (I'm just guessing here) nurse wounds that cannot be properly addressed without the balm of companionship. Go to church. Go to temple. Go to AA Agnostica. Go.

Now to the rest of us: have you wondered what the Universe has been trying to tell humanity in the Year of Our Lord 2016? If you don't already know, I'll tell you, and you'll slap your forehead:

Love your artists.

Man, somebody has got to help us get through this -- who else, but they? And they're dropping like flies.

When my girls were reading on their own and discovering authors they loved and followed I urged them to write fan letters. "Authors need to hear you love their books!" I said. Needless to say, their favourite authors are still waiting on those letters, because what does Dad know?

I might as well admit, I've been poor follower of my own advice. I've sent some letters, sure, but I could send more -- a lot more. So this is my public declaration of purpose: I will be putting actual pen to actual paper, and sending letters of appreciation and encouragement to authors, playwrights, performers of every conceivable stripe -- you name it.

We've got to keep these people upright. Because they're the only people left who are keeping us upright.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jack Chick, RIP

You probably remember where you were when you read your first Jack Chick pamphlet.
Pfft - EC comics are for babies!
I was in Madge Lake, Saskatchewan, at an extended family gathering/camporee. I would have been nine or ten years old. My younger cousin was reading them. She'd brought a few over from our grandfather's church. This Was Your Life! was one; Somebody Loves Me was another.

I remember because reading those pamphlets was like leafing through that magazine the neighbourhood boys had found in a ditch -- it attacked the brain-stem and sent electrical jolts that ran right down to the ends of my fingers and toes.

Many years later when I gave myself permission to watch The Exorcist and The Omen the biggest shock was discovering just how ho-hum I found it all. Chick and his nuclear redundancy tactics had got to me first, and reduced my capacity for emotional response to that of an insensate cockroach.*


Purgatory was one of many Catholic peculiarities that threw him into a frothing fit. Musing over the hot, writhing horror that grips the heart of Chick's message I have to wonder if this wasn't because Purgatory suggested a happier environment than the one Chick surveyed while trapped within his mortal coil.

Here's a terrific animation of Chick's Somebody Goofed. Trigger warnings galore apply to the content, as its fidelity to the source material is absolute.

*Not so, Rosemary's Baby. Jack Chick and Roman Polanski were on the exact same page.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Stewing over MSM coverage of my childhood hometown

Considering it was founded some 200 years ago by Mennonites hoping to quietly live on their own religious terms, the town of my childhood -- Steinbach, Manitoba -- has endured a surprising amount of "outside" scrutiny.
Does this windmill make my town look fat?
That our literati have a COMPLICATED (haw!) relationship with the place is hardly news. They place the little city in a fictive locale and give it a fictive name, then slag the bejeezus out of it. Deep wounds produce deep work, is the theory, and it seems to have manifested itself in these former neighbours from my past. The unfortunate corollary is that others who experienced their fellow citizens as compassionate but imperfect nurturers who sincerely did their best generally do not go on to write books that garner international notice.

But the town also remains a staple focal point for our cultural minders at the CBC. For years our national broadcaster marveled at the town's obstinately "dry" status, until they could triumphantly report on the recent rezoning that finally brought in a liquor store and one or two charming pubs with patio/sidewalk seating.

Most recently, Steinbach hosted its first Pride Parade, amid contentious local politics. I wasn't in attendance, but friends tell me the overall vibe was stratospherically positive. Lots of folks marching in public support of their LGBTQ family and neighbours, including several congregations whose position on a hot-button topic like gay marriage might still be considered oppositional.

It's some months after the fact, but coverage on the matter continues to peeve me. I've worked in the press, I know what a story-hunter has to do to make a buck. The easiest, laziest way to frame and sell a story is to pit one party against another, and "clarify" the issue by presenting its polar extremes (it's the temptation our literati face as well, not always successfully). Writers have their biases, and they don't often favour (language warning for the link ahead) "backwards" rural white folk of a socially cautious disposition. Consequently, we heard a pile of David and Goliath stories where everybody, including the slob at the laptop, thinks they're a David.

So no links to those ink-stained wretches who made a quick buck off the perceived spectacle. If you haven't read that stuff, you can find it in a heartbeat.

Instead, here is Josiah Neufeld, writing for The Walrus, doing an exceedingly decent job of giving you the inside scoop. It gets my highest recommendation. (Tip-o-the-hat to my aunt for bringing it to my attention.)

Friday, October 14, 2016

"Something is happening, and you don't know what it is ... do you, Mr. Jones?"

The freakin' Nobel Prize -- seriously?

"What a year ..."
Needless to say, my admiration for Dylan is of the decidedly guarded variety.

Really, there are only two other options on the spectrum -- the unguarded variety, or lifelong dislike. I'm not in the latter camp -- but those unguarded types (like the ones who gave the award), man, I dunno. They're a little unhinged, a little . . .

"JUST the Nobel?! Why, he deserves ... uh, is there something bigger?"

. . . well, let's be frank: one wonders if they're entirely trustworthy.

A little like the object of their devotion.

Good luck trying to capture what makes the man The Man, but I'd say a worthy start is reviewing the 1992 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration in Madison Square Gardens.

That was one weird stew. Sinead O'Connor got booed off the stage, while Johnny Cash and June Carter bounced all over it like a couple of teenagers. Lou Reed sullenly crammed Dylan's 7/8 meter into a 4/4 rendering. Johnny Winter was so cranked it took him less than five minutes to rip through the entirety of Highway 61 -- twice. There were plenty of entrants that weren't nearly so jarring, of course. But the overall effect of the affair? Unsettling.

The proceedings gave all the adulation a big fat question mark, really, until The Man finally picked up his guitar, slouched over to the mic and sang, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)."

Now that seems at least somewhat definitive. The music without the man is, almost always, a wannabe effort.

And the words without the music are this close to nonsense.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Flying Saucers Are Real!

Cory Doctorow provokes me to cogitate, as is his wont, this time with his enthusiastic (I didn't really need to type that, did I?) blurb for Jack Womack's Flying Saucers Are Real!


The Flying Saucer meme of the '50s to late-'70s was, sez Doctorow, "once a major piece of the public imagination, but has subsequently sunk, almost without a trace."

The assertion is kinda-sorta true, so far as it goes. UFOs do not occupy public discussion to nearly the same degree they did when I was a kid. My theory: The X-Files, followed by the George W. Bush years, pretty much put that meme to bed for a very long nap.

The Truth is in here.
Chris Carter's massive TV success was built on a self-perpetuating suggestion: what if there exists a labyrinthine cover-up of global -- nay, interstellar! -- proportions, which our most dogged citizens can only scratch the surface of?

But then along came 9/11, followed by W's response -- followed by a market collapse generated by what must surely be the planet's craftiest collective brain trust -- and we witnessed precisely just how capable the world's most powerful governing entities are when it comes to "covering up" actual conspiracies. If you want to nudge that into interstellar proportions, the off-world participants won't just have to do the heavy lifting -- they'll have to do all the lifting, period.

I don't think the phenomena have disappeared -- people still see and experience all sorts of strange stuff. But the business of exploring "what it all means" has certainly been pushed to the extreme fringes of public discourse. Doctorow and Womack and William Gibson all seem a bit wistful in the wake of this societal shift -- as am I.

I bristle at the tone to some of this wistfulness, however: "A tour guide to a place lost in history" (Doctorow); "The only physical evidence of the advent of the UFO meme" (Gibson). I'm open to correction on this, but I sense something juuuuust a little self-congratulatory about these declarations, akin to Fukuyama's "The End Of History!!!" hooey: Praise be to Ganesha, today we are all (well, most of us, anyway) beyond such pedestrian but eminently fascinating silliness!

Mm, oooookay. If you dudes say so, it must be true. Here is the book; also, Neo-Gnostic Erik Davis interviews Womack for Expanding Mind.


Endnote: in the late '70s, at my adolescent urging, my pop indulged me to a UFOlogist's lecture at the University of Winnipeg. The lecturer worked for the planetarium at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature and was pretty much the embodiment of a very particular type: an energetically open-minded skeptic. He had logged an unfathomable number of miles checking out claims and interviewing claimants. Most of these "encounters" had logical/natural explanations, but there were also those exceedingly rare instances which he lived for: the claims that absolutely stymied him. The Falcon Lake UFO (in Manitoba!) was one such.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Ratted Out?

One of the more peculiar fetishes my generation* developed was a brief enthusiasm for the lounge acts of yore, embodied chiefly (but not exclusively) by The Rat Pack.
"Yeah, I quit smoking. Also drinking and singing. That a big deal?"
Some of this retro-resurgence was ironic. What other option was there? The older sibs had clearly exhausted all venues of shock and awe with their hippie-cum-punk antics. If "today's noise is tomorrow's hootenanny" why not just make yesterday's hootenanny today's noise?

It turned out that yesterday's hootenanny had undeniable flashes of astonishing insight and depth. Throw in the whole business of devoting time, energy and $$$ to putting yourself together for a swell night on the scene, and the intended ironies silently dissipated like a puff of unfiltered cigarette smoke beneath the city's neon lights.

It helped that the Chairman was the only survivor of the pack by the time we "discovered" them. He could oblige the noobs with another album or two of duets -- no-nonsense "that's a wrap" studio sessions that the listener couldn't help but suspect were finagled for bragging rights, not just for hungry up-and-comers, but for the fading legend himself.

It also helped that we were too young and blinkered to notice the moment these guys took a nosedive from being the Reigning Kings of Cool to residing for decades in TV's dumpster bin of mockable celebrity has-beens. Sinatra himself was a seemingly inexhaustible font of reliable cheap laughs for the comic talents of none other than Joe Piscopo.

I still listen to some Sinatra, if the mood strikes -- selections from the Capitol years, the entirety of In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. Any given playlist I cobble together inevitably has one or two surprise entries from Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. And while I sure don't mind putting on a suit, you're more likely to find me wearing shorts until the snow starts to fall -- something Dino might appreciate, as he reportedly preferred blue-jeans to tuxes.

All this is brought to mind after reading Donald Liebenson's Vanity Fair account of When Jerry Met Dean -- Again, On Live Television. I can take or leave Liebenson's breathless account of a moment that amounts to little more than a well-played showbiz prank. But watching the footage of it (40 years ago; I was 11, the only Dino I knew was a barking dinosaur) was a revelation. Here it is:



Suddenly, Piscopo makes sense. The more Lewis recovers from the surprise, the more we see a listless reflex to Borscht Belt entertainment tropes taking over, all of it strictly Squaresville. Clean up the language a bit and dress these chummy goofs in felt, and you've got The Muppet Show. (And good Lord -- was there ever a lazier entertainer in Hollywood than Dean Martin?) Give the people what they want, of course -- by this time both the entertainers and the people in attendance were used to being called "square."

Nor, I imagine, were they much bothered by the denigration. If you brought the Boomers into this world, you basically shrugged this sort of thing off, and traded in kind -- or a lot worse. Hence the constant ribbing amongst the boys -- "It shoulda been a Jew" "You're not going Jewish on me" "Am I black? I didn't think I was dark," etc. Your hippie kids huff and roll their eyes at these exchanges, but what do they know?

Now that I think of it, these guys and their audience had all experienced military service -- if not directly, then indirectly. And the military mode -- still** -- is to point out potential personal distinctives in The Other, then, in ridicule, exaggerate them to such heightened levels of absurdity that the canard "truth in every jest" no longer applies.

Needless to say, this is not a mode we encourage as general public discourse in this day and age. There are reasons for that, some of them surely quite valid (it very quickly gets tiresome, for one thing). Still, I can't help but wonder if this rote sort of ribbing didn't deflate some of the very real tensions it simultaneously acknowledged and played with.

Final observation: the physical contact amongst these dudes! Long, tender hugs! Kisses! Soft touches to the other's cheek! My gen is so riveted to the Spectrum, it's all we can do to look up from our shoes and make fleeting eye contact.

One wants to exercise some caution when extolling the virtues of earlier generations. But still and all, a little extolling and, dare I suggest, judicious emulation might not be a bad thing right about now.

*Gen X, for those keeping score.
** Generation Kill, HBO's Iraq War drama, is a tutorial in the method, and makes this on-stage banter look like a Sunday School flannelgraph drama. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In The Book Bin

Deadpool Vol.1: Dead Presidents (Deadpool: Marvel Now)Deadpool Vol.1: Dead Presidents by Brian Posehn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I come to DP via the movie, which I giggled through, but finally thought, "It doesn't matter how meta you get with superhero material -- at the end of the day it's still a superhero story." That isn't necessarily a bad thing -- indeed when the writer and artist possess insight and some capacity to surprise the reader, it makes for a magical experience. Dead Presidents has its moments of amusement, which will strike some readers' funnybones with greater force than others. But insight? Surprise? Nah. DP/DP is just a superhero story.


The Twilight ChildrenThe Twilight Children by Gilbert Hernández
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Man, I wish I was giving this five stars! Story by Gilbert Hernandez and art by the lamentably late Darwyn Cooke -- this is the sort of pairing that can set off fireworks for a reader.

Not so this time, alas. Hernandez' magical realism proceeds with a leaden rote-ness to it, while Cooke's art -- the shiniest eye-candy he produced in his entire life, IMO (kudos also to colorist Dave Stewart) -- is too polished to bring any emotional weight to a narrative that is already threatened by its inherent spritz.

Back when Los Bros Hernandez were the last of the underground masters, they kept sharp and edgy touches in stories and layouts that threatened to slip into Bob Montana/Dan DeCarlo predictability. A little of that edge, or messiness, would have gone a long way in this project.

Not that I regret this purchase or the time spent thereon in any way shape or form. Maybe it didn't work for me, but these guys deserve attention -- particularly Cooke, who made every effort to keep stretching his already formidable capacities as an artist.



Maze of BloodMaze of Blood by Marly Youmans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marly Youmans is a lyrical writer -- a sort of Michael Ondaatje of the Deep South, really. Readers who dig the latter should, I would think, dig her.

Conall Weaver, her fictional portrait of pulp master Robert E. Howard, contains multitudes -- many more than most people do. Her compassionate excavation of his tumultuous inner life makes for a surprisingly welcome immersive experience. You've gotta be in the mood for it, though -- were I in another time and place, I'd likely rate this a "five out of five."


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scott McKenzie's Power Chord is, I think it's fair to say, a boy's book. The guitar heroes he tracks down and yacks with are all fellas who had their highest hay-day before Grunge appeared. Now they shill for guitar companies, form various iterations of the act that made them famous and rock out smaller venues, or give one-on-one guitar lessons at advanced rates.

McKenzie combs the highways and byways for these dudes, to gather wisdom -- not of the "living life" variety (which is just as well -- the one guy who could legitimately offer it, Warren DeMartini from Ratt (married 20 years and counting), resolutely refuses to discuss family life), but of the "What's it take to really play this thing?" variety. This is advice McKenzie heeds well, so that by the end of the book he is, despite a disastrous Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp experience, a proficient player.

The conversational tone to these exchanges is strictly of the "from one guy to another" variety, including McKenzie's tone as a writer. Is that a bad thing? If you're (cough) a midlife guy who's just picked up his first electric guitar . . . not even remotely. I had a gas.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Praying vs. Preying

"Brace yourself..."

Here's a video that's got me cogitating in all sorts of directions. Give it a look if you haven't already seen it -- it's only 2 minutes long -- and I'll get to my thoughts after that.


First direction: might as well get the obvious out of the way and admit -- this is all kinds of freakin' weird. Or, to put it more generously, ironies abound. No need for enumeration, I don't think, but if you need to prime the pump, the man being blessed by these African-American religious leaders recently suggested the best way to de-escalate racial tensions might be to ramp up stop-and-frisk tactics.

Second direction: I kinda dig it. Warmed my weak frightened heart, just a touch. I've participated in this variety of prayer -- "receiving a blessing" "the laying on of hands" what-have-you -- and it really can be a "blessing" to all involved.

In fact, I urge you to give it a go. Hey, we've become so bloody fragmented and isolated that our idea of "communication" is tweeting vitriolic zingers past each others' heads. As a species, we have not "evolved" past what we are seeing in this video -- I would argue quite the opposite.

Having said that . . .

Third direction: this particular activity can be the foulest variety of horseshit. To give just one for instance: it is by now uncontested that pedophilia is an issue within religious institutions. So I will go out on a limb and suggest that there are pedophiles who have received exactly this sort of blessing, which further enabled them to feel blessed to keep on doing everything they were doing. I do not mean to suggest this presidential candidate is guilty of said crime -- but I am saying this particular participatory ritual often blinds all the participants to the very worst of transgressions.

Which leads me to . . .

Fourth direction: when asked about satanic imagery in heavy metal music, born-again Christian Alice Cooper snorted. "The Devil isn't some big scary guy with horns on his head. [silky tones] He's your beeeeest frieeeend! He would neeeeeever hurt yooou!"* Whether you think of the devil as strictly a metaphor embodying our worst impulses, or as an actual ethereal being wreaking havoc on humanity, Furnier's observation has significant insight which I believe is easily ignored to our own peril.

Which lands me on . . .

Final direction: Prayer. I pray (still). And because I am Mennonite, Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" has pretty much been forged into a nail and, while still white-hot, driven through my forehead. The one bit that will haunt me right into the grave, because it did my grandparents, and theirs before them (etc):
"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

My forebears didn't read that and think, "Right: The Son of God is speaking metaphorically."

They read that as a straightforward, no bullshit command.

And as one squeaky Dissenter pleading with the rest of praying Christendom, I say: Please -- go and do likewise.