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.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Guitars I Dig: Steve Vai's "Evo" and Brad Gillis' "Shovel"

I've been getting a big kick out of reading Thomas Scott McKenzie's Power Chord: One Man's Ear-Splitting Quest To Find His Guitar Heroes (A).

McKenzie's shtick is so brilliant it almost feels obvious, prompting forehead-slapping and "Why didn't I think of that?" lamentation. He begins his account as a collector of cheap knock-off guitars that decorate his apartment -- strictly for veneration, as he can't play more than a few fumbling notes. He enlists in lessons, and discovers that a startling number of "guitar heroes" from the '80s have shifted from stage to music shop studio -- where they are happy to accept your money and impart wisdom and anecdote for the allotted time.

Given where I'm at, McKenzie's book is hitting the readerly sweet-spot rather satisfyingly.

And thanks to this passage, I am now acquainted with two more guitars I dig: Steve Vai's "Evo" . . .
Photo from Vai's website.
. . . and Brad Gillis' (of Night Ranger, Ozzy Osbourne) '62 Strat.

Photo credit.
If you want an axe -- sorry: "shovel" -- like Gillis's, you've probably missed your chance. Vai, on the other hand, is tight with Ibanez, so if you're of the same collecting disposition as Scott McKenzie you, too, can possess your very own Evo -- though you'll have to resort to your own Kleenex stuffing.

Links: meet Thomas Scott McKenzie; purtier pictures of Evo.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years

The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 YearsThe Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years by Edward Gross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A massive culling of mostly-pertinent sound-bites from interviews gone by. The tone drifts into the catty frequently enough to keep the reader turning pages. No major revelations for inexhaustible Trekkies (though I do owe Joel an apology -- Nicholas Meyer does indeed relate an incident where Kim Cattral arranges a racy photo-shoot on the bridge that Leonard Nimoy puts the kybosh on), but the overall readerly experience remains fun. Speed-reading quotient: 60%.

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Monday, September 05, 2016

Hell Or High Water

Brad Wheeler (staff writer for Toronto's national newspaper (The Gloat & Wail)) dubs Hell Or High Water "the Coen Brothers for squares" -- a summary judgment I can in no way wrap my head around.
"I'm a brother, you're a brother..."
I enjoyed the flick, and apparently so did Wheeler ("maybe the best middle-of-the-seat drama of the summer") so I assume his tongue is somewhat planted in cheek. The reflexive referral to the Coens, however, is baffling.

The plot hinges on acts generated partially by human cunning, and partially by human brute stupidity -- by movie's end sheer dumb luck factors into the success or failure of the chief protagonists. You could say these are characteristics of Coen plots, but these are characteristics of most plots. Set Pride & Prejudice in Texas and cast Jeff Bridges as Mr. Bennett and perhaps this, too, would qualify as "Coen Brothers for squares."*

Still, I'm glad Wheeler made the comparison. There is indeed a familiar quality to the proceedings, and I was puzzling over it for quite some time after the lights had come back up. The movie is heavy on dialogue, and has a patter and rhythm that I associate with another Texan: Larry McMurtry. I'd put the script, by Taylor Sheridan, in league with McMurtry in his late-prime -- post-Lonesome Dove, basically. The only thing missing is an exceedingly strong female lead, to throw the inner narratives of the four male protagonists into utter disarray.

"Middle-of-the-seat drama" is a judgement I will second. Hell Or High Water is entertainment adults can enjoy, and well worth the various impertinences risked when taking a night at the cinema.

*"Coens 4 Squares" -- seems to better fit the first two seasons of Fox's Fargo, no?

Friday, September 02, 2016

Concert Performances: Peter Gabriel

Postings have been light-to-the-point-of-facile lately, I realize -- not a lot of mulling or meditating, or even revising, before I hit "post." We're getting the elder bundled up and out the door for college, so that's just the way it goes. I do appreciate you sticking around, though.

And maybe that's not a bad segue into this next category of keepable DVDs: concert performances.
Just a sampling (sigh)...
Man, I've got stacks of those. In any given night of any given year I'll reach yet again for something I've already seen a half-dozen times. When it comes to rock 'n' roll, there are some performers I prefer to watch in the bloom of their youth. The Ramones, for instance -- I'll take London in '77 over River Plate in '96 any day you give me, thank you.

I'm surprised, though, by just how many performers I enjoy watching as they stay in the game into their twilight years. Led Zeppelin: I love The Song Remains The Same, but to be honest, I've given Celebration Day, their '07 one-off, more viewings. Plant and Page were never ones to jump around the stage, even in their youth -- the musicianship remains the same, you might say.

The crown jewels in this collection belong to Peter Gabriel -- 1994's Secret World Live . . .
. . . and 2003's Growing Up Live.
The setlist doesn't vary much from concert to concert. And watched back-to-back the experience can be a little gloom-inducing -- ten years takes its toll, after all. Peter transforms from a nimble-footed, dark-haired dude in his forties to a fella who's plainly in his fifties. No shame in that, of course -- the shame would be to pretend otherwise.

Perhaps what's most striking in these concerts is the choreography and staging, via iconic Canuckle-head Robert LePage. Beneath his direction the transformation of ten years is conducted movingly with both candor and grace -- a gift to all involved, including not just the accomplished performers assembled, but the audience as well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Commentary by Steven Soderbergh"

I've sat through two of Steven Soderbergh's DVD commentaries: a film-geek's dream-come true, Point Blank, with director John Boorman . . .
Marvin's shoes provide an interesting anecdote (believe it).
 . . . and his own The Limey, (a personal fave) with scriptwriter Lem Dobbs.
Terence Stamp's costuming, on the other hand, is unremarked upon.
The back-and-forth with Dobbs is quite the curiosity. Dobbs seems to have a chip on his shoulder the size of Montana-and-change. Given the business he's in, I can hardly blame him. But he's combative and critical, while Soderbergh is largely . . . amused.

If you've the temperament and time you can devote the better part of a weekend to Dobbs' personality and read this interview. I'd hoped Soderbergh would be up for another three rounds with Dobbs, for Haywire (another fave), but Soderbergh is at that stage in life where he's only interested in what he's interested in -- which is good enough for me. He's one of those rare film people with interesting things to say, and thanks to him I'll actually be adding to my collection of DVDs.

B&W photo of Lee Marvin comes from this site, which has quite the trove of behind-the-scenes curiosities of older, cooler films. Check it out.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Commentary by Roger Ebert"

Roger Ebert did scene-by-scene commentary for six films: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Floating Weeds, Dark City, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and Crumb. I lack only two of these titles, which I'll get to in a moment.
" asleep, like much of the current audience..."
Watching the films with the commentary on tends to be a bit complicated, emotionally. There's the business of his voice, first of all, which was taken away some years before the rest of him. It brings to mind an observation he made about himself -- regarding a tape recording of his father's voice, which he kept close through the years but never listened to because the effect of hearing his father again would be too heartbreaking. Some of that element is in play when I revisit these flicks. I recall watching Crumb shortly after Ebert lost his voice, and feeling tetchy and angry through the duration of the experience. And of course, since he's died, there have been a handful of films I wish he'd lauded or panned -- because his voice on the matter seemed to resonate so much more than others'.

Also complicated: the two Rogers we get, depending on the movie in question. Citizen Kane and Casablanca bring out Professorial Roger, giving us the authoritative goods on the flick in question. Although he can unearth the unexpected in these uninterrupted monologues, much of what he says can seem obvious to a viewer who has also seen the films a few dozen times.

Then there's Casual Roger -- the Ebert that joined Crumb director Terry Zwigoff on the couch for a bit of back-and-forth as the film unspooled. One gets the impression Ebert did this soundtrack as a favour to Zwigoff, a director he championed early. Where Zwigoff sees mistakes and creative decisions he laments, Ebert sees an entertaining exploration of character. And where Zwigoff sees a character with deficits that frequently wreak personal havoc on himself and the people around him, Ebert sees someone commendable in his candor.

It's probably obvious which Roger I prefer. I'm missing Floating Weeds and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and I expect I shall spring for the forthcoming Criterion re-release of the latter -- because I imagine his recollection of the experience of closing off the '60s with Russ Meyer and a gaggle of gorgeous actors is probably quite entertaining -- if not necessarily insightful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About The Meaning Of Life

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of LifeYour Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here we are, again, with the nights growing longer, the weather slowly turning cool. Summer is wrapping up, fading into yet another memory fated to grow increasingly smudgy until it finally disappears with the ponderer. I know of no better way to stave off the seasonal melancholy than to pick up and read yet another cheeky meditation on the earth-shaking significance of rock 'n' roll music -- and Steven Hyden's Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About The Meaning Of Life more than qualifies.

Hyden's shtick is of a piece with Steve Almond, Carl Wilson, Chuck Klosterman, Andrew Beaujon and many, many others. As with the aforementioned, Hyden free-wheel riffs off the flotsam and ephemera of pop culture at large, spinning narrative significance into not just the rivalries (perceived or real) under examination, but within the larger sea of noise that surrounds us all, whether from forgotten TV shows or the back alleys of the internet.

The most magisterial of these meditations is chapter 9: Competing With Yourself and Losing: Roger Waters vs. The Rest of Pink Floyd in which Hyden manages to tie together such seemingly disparate pop-cult strands as Waters' contentious history with Pink Floyd and the fans, the Jay-Conan folderol over the "legacy" of the Tonight Show, and the 1987 NFL players' strike -- all to settle the question, "What is, or isn't, a rock group?"

There were still 116 pages left in the book after this tour de force. And though I had no difficulty reading to the book's conclusion, much of the momentum was lost after Chapter 9. Some of that was my own generational baggage (Biggie vs. Tupac = whatevs (and how sad is that?)). And some of that is just the nature of the beast -- even Almond and Klosterman struggle in the back stretch.

Regardless, for the low cost of a signature CD you, too, can enjoy hours of entertaining "cultural criticism, personal anecdote and music history" (book-flap) -- surely the best way to savor the fading glow of the evening's bottle of wine, and the season's close.

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"What's more fun than hanging out with comedians?"

"Nothing. Nothing. That's the sad part." - exchange between Jerry Seinfeld and Colin Quinn, Comedian (2002).

I vacillated between adding this disc to the list, or banishing it to the bin of unremarked-upon DVD detritus. Back in the day, the documentary felt like a revelation. Besides following Seinfeld's surprisingly bumpy return to the stand-up stage, we got a joshy commentary from the comedian and his friend. But then, prior to 2002 the opportunity to eavesdrop on droll exchanges between Jerry Seinfeld and buddy Colin Quinn was something only another friend or a stand-up devotee could chance into. Now it's an internet staple.

But I gave it another look last week -- the theatrical release, as well as with Seinfeld and Quinn's running commentary -- and it still (snicker!) stands up. And it's all thanks to Orny Adams.

The poor guy leads with his chin. And, given his chosen profession and the people this choice obliges him to hang out with, he gets it on the chin -- again and again and again. He's young, he's anxious not just for success but for validation -- that ephemeral end-point that, people who are older and wiser realise, simply does not exist. Older and wiser folk also recognise that this yearning fuels his ambition, so they tolerate the accompanying histrionics.

To a point. I was not at all surprised by the ease and glee with which older comedians took to lancing the boil of Adams' festering id. But I was surprised by their equanimity -- for every put-down there's a validation of what the kid gets right, or a recognition that, yes, this turmoil is indeed a recognizable and inescapable part of the journey.

Much is made of Adams' clueless solipsism. But there's another cluelessness on display -- the sort that slowly takes over when someone becomes a standout success. Both bear close examination.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cherished DVDs: Welles Criterion

I've got three Criterion DVDs, and these are two.
If you're surprised I don't have more, so am I. Criterion caters to the arty-farty crowd, to which I cheerfully cop pretensions. Even when Criterion re-releases kitsch, camp or meatball action films, it pads the prime attraction with serious commentary -- printed and recorded. Sauce for the goose, you'd think.

They tend to be pricey affairs, however -- costly enough to force reconsideration. Does this release truly qualify for the limited shelf-space on my Wall Of Plastic? More often than not, the answer is a clear "no."

I have owned close to a dozen, in my day -- but after a viewing or two I've given them away to friends whose passion for the particular flick greatly exceeds my own. Those are gifts worth giving, let me tell you.

I can't think of anyone, however, who might be into these two Orson Welles enterprises. Mr. Arkadin and F Is For Fake qualify as curiosities to most cinéastes -- good for a look or two, depending. I find them both rather troubling, in ways that some of Welles' more celebrated features are not. The short explanation: it seems to me Welles was haunted by the elusive spectre of authenticity.

And if you think about that for any length of time, you become haunted as well.