Monday, February 02, 2015

An Open Letter to Eddie Van Halen

Dear Ed,

How are you?  No, we’ve never met, but I saw you in concert a few times and spent a lot of my youth listening to you play guitar.  In fact, you were my hero.  I’m a child of the 80s and there was no escaping your music, especially when I was 13 and “Jump”, “Panama”, and “Hot For Teacher” were all over MTV.  After buying 1984 and listening to it a LOT, I dug back and obsessively listened to the earlier (and, frankly, better) records.  Of them, Fair Warning remains the best.  But I have to say, I tuned out around the “Pound Cake” era.  I mean, 5150 and OU812 were not great but I was willing to defend the band that was unaffectionately known to many as Van Hagar.  But only for so long.  And sure, it’s easy for you to bash your former frontman, but back in 1988 you seemed pretty committed to Hammy Sagar.  But that’s what you do, isn’t it, bash the former members.  Well, all but Mr. Extreme.

Anyway, I’m writing today to discus your future.  To me, you have two options: another reunion tour with Roth—and we both know you don’t want to do that—or abandon the need to be a “band” in the traditional sense.  No more three-minute rock songs with sing-along choruses.  They were fun, but really, lyrics like “I’m taking whiskey to the party tonight and I’m looking for somebody to squeeze” don’t really cut it in the 21st century.  The 80s were fun and your cocaine fueled party records were (and are) pretty great (well, the first six), but those days are done.  You know that.  Hell, you’ve paid for your indulgences.  (By the way: sorry about your marriage and the cancer). 

So what’s option two?  How about just writing cool little instrumentals?  That way: no more frontman drama, no need for a Roth or a Hagar or any other clown.  It could be just you and Al and Wolfgang.  (I’m not greedy: I’m not going to wish for you to see past the nepotism and rehire Mike.)  An instrumental band would free you up to write more songs like this long lost gem or “Intruder”, which is actually high on my list of favorite Van Halen songs. 

You don’t need to write catchy rock songs anymore.  Or power ballads.  (Really, there’s no need for any more of those.)  Play your strengths, man.  People already prefer “Eruption” to “You Really Got Me”.  I know you didn’t write that, but whenever I hear your wild soloing on the classic rock stations I tune out before that dumb two-chord shuffle that even Ray Davies is done with.  And you know what’s better?  “Spanish Fly”.  And better than that: “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”.   Seriously, the synth on that track is killer.  Like, as killer as Goblin.  I know you’re not in that dark, frustrated place anymore, but you’re not a young party rocker either.  What’s left?  Nostalgia mining?  Sure, that’s the safe route.  People will likely always shell out dough to see what passes as Van Halen slog through the classics.  But you have a shot at really writing some interesting music now that you’re older and have enough money (you have some money still, right?) to do what you like.  Ed, you’re a fine composer and an instrumentalist at heart.  Embrace that shit and compose something daring, something you might have only managed to force onto one of the old records.  Make these quirky experiments the focus.  Get wild.  Play some fuckin’ guitar again.  Get crazy.  Layer the synths, but not the expensive ones.  Go back to the cheap junk that you used to sculpt the backing track of “Cradle Will Rock” and make them sound like gold.  Shed the need to write anything that will ever get radio play again because the radio is no longer the place for your music.  Your fans will buy it.  You may even pick up some money from the ironic hipsters out there.  What do you have to lose? 

Okay, thanks for your time. 

Your friend,


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Great Bands That Never Were

I am hardly the first person to say the words: “We should start a band!”  But say them I have.  Of course, I have not actually started a band, but I have ideas and that’s what counts, right?  Well maybe not, but considering the lousy state of music today I’m confident that my imaginary bands are making infinitely better music than anything on the radio at the moment.  Here is a list of six bands that should have been:

Biting Bricks

This was a band I sort of formed with Chris Hunger.  We had the idea of an industrial/country band that played songs inspired by grade Z horror movies.  We wrote one song, “The Severed Arm”, and put together a pretty good cover of “Batdance” but that was the extent of our output.  I still think an industrial/country band is a good idea, so let me know if there any takers out there.  I’ve seen a lot of shitty horror movies, so the songs will write themselves. 

Slim Hips/Dribble Glass

Slim Hips was to consist of me on bass and my buddies Mike K. and Travis D. on saxophone and drums, respectively.  We envisioned jazz music with crude lyrics.  Once Travis left town, Mike K. and I decided to form a band called Dribble Glass.  The one rule was that we’d be very drunk for each performance.  Hardly original, but it sounded like a good idea at the time.  Sadly, neither band materialized, partially due to the amount of drinking the three of us were doing that summer.  Forming a band sounds great right around last call; less so in the sobering light of day. 

God Christ Awful

There were no serious (or drunken) talks to actually do this, but Chris Sebela and I briefly discussed the possibility of starting a metal band.  We agreed on the genre and then promptly forgot about the whole thing.  Full credit to Chris for the awesome name, which really needs to be used by someone. 

Repo Man

I floated the idea to Tony Tavano (of Vortis fame): let’s start a band that plays the entire Repo Man soundtrack.  Think about it: covers of Suicidal Tendencies, Iggy Pop, Fear, Circle Jerks, The Plugz.  That would be a great show.  For a few days, the idea had legs.  We emailed, made plans for practice, thought about where to premiere our great vision, and then did absolutely nothing to make it happen.  

Whiskey Dick

Out of boredom, I compiled a list of songs about whiskey.  Turns out there’re a lot of them.  So why not form a pub rock band that plays them all?  Hardly serious, I pitched the idea to a musician friend and again to Chris Sebela, and while both were smart enough to know I was essentially kidding, I think this is the one idea that has the most potential and would be the most fun.  Of course, the issue is the spelling of the band's name.  I vote to include the E in whiskey, but to do so would alienate Scottish concert-goers. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

Random, Unfocused, Blathering... Blame the Internet

I’ve never been a fan of primitivism, folk art, any of that “Look at the noble savages!” stuff.  The concept that we are too far gone in our mechanized society and need the simple healing of the true-to-the-earth people of the third world or wherever (rural Mississippi will suffice if you can’t find your passport) has always struck me as condescending.  This is not to say that I do not respond at all to simpler, slower, and less technologically innovative means of existence.  I do collect and read books, after all.  But I see no reason why I ought to ignore the digital or extol the wooden.  Both have a place.  Of course, for the over-stimulated and ironically bored teen with too much Monster energy drink in their veins and too much content to navigate, there’s perhaps a need for some slowing down.  But that’s your problem, parents, not mine.

All this comes to me today as I read an article in The New York Times about Humanism and Technologism, which I assume is close to Techno Solutionism, of which I’ve been a critic.  The article, which I’ll go ahead and provide a link to (right here), discusses, among many other things, the importance of the humanities in this tech-saturated era of ours.  An important concern, though not what interests me in this here blog post.  I’m thinking instead about the ways in which people look for escape from their complicated lives. 

This comes off of a recent trip to New Orleans, a city that (for me) is all about eating food and drinking and walking around and doing very little else.  Of course, if one lives in the city it can be assumed that one would see it as being a place of work and struggle as well as fun and frivolity.  I mean, you can’t eat beignets everyday.  But I saw (see) it as a place where I might escape my life, get away from thoughts of curriculum and grading papers and all the writing I’m not doing.  I wanted nothing more than a simple, relaxed vacation rife with seafood and whiskey and charmingly goofy street performers.  This being my third trip to NOLA, I was confident that this would be my experience.  And indeed it was!  Oh, the grilled oysters at Acme and the $3 Makers Mark cocktails during happy hour at Bombay Club, and yes, of course, late night beignets and coffee at Café du Monde… such simple pleasures! 

What a fucking tourist.

You see, for all my disdain of primitivism, I am as guilty as any other first world jerk of seeking refuge from my allegedly hectic life.  Except it is not so hectic.  I have a job whereas not long ago I had five at once.  I laughingly aspire to be a writer of poems, which means I make my own deadlines (and they are easily pushed back).  I have no children.  So why am I so stressed?  Ignoring the many very substantial reasons why I do indeed need solace from my busy life, I have it pretty easy.  Sure, my job is demanding, but that is like saying, “I have five fingers on each hand,” or, “I come from a dysfunctional family.”  We’re all busy, and busy is relative.  That being stated, I still feel a bit more at ease in my life than my friends with children.  And people wonder why I don’t want kids?

So why the need for escape?  Some might posit that this is a Modernist idea, that the industrialization of the landscape and the horrors of world war have planted within us this notion of our complex, overly technological society in need of relief.  I’m not sure this is a wrong idea, but considering Modernism’s roots in late the 19th-early 20th century, it is easy to accept the (let’s call it) timelessness of escape.  So when people talk and write and gripe about the tech-mad 21st century, I recall how other examples of generations felt alienated from society and sought respite in foreign culture.  And I do not criticize this in and of itself—why not learn more about other cultures?—but I still feel uncomfortable with the notion of being saved by primitives.  This is why the study of anthropology, while useful and often quite interesting and certainly more nuanced than my simple understanding, offends me on principal. 

Thinking back to the New York Times’ article, I can’t help but see the argument for study of the humanities absent materialist concerns (though I agree whole heartedly with it) as born of the same Modernism/Primitivism binary.  And I hate binaries.  Yes, the humanities will become more useful than ever in a tech-saturated world where people are really good at hunting for information but too distracted to do much with it.  So by all means, get an English degree.  (I did!)  But keep in mind the reductive thinking that often accompanies these us/them discussions (and, to be clear, Weiseltier does not engage in such a logical fallacy in his very good article—have you read it yet?).  The technology that has overtaken so much of our lives, speeding it up as much as it keeps us moored, requires a high level of discipline to be truly useful.  Such dedication and patience are not bred by materialist pursuits, but that hardly means a digital life is a sure path to slovenly ruin.  Instead of seeking healing from an earthy source, perhaps it might be in our best interests to find daily balance.  Which is what I’ve decided to seek, though frankly, it sucks.  I’d prefer coffee and whiskey fueled binge watching on Netflix for months on end and a quick curative visit to some voodoo shack in the bayou, but that lifestyle will surely prevent me from seeing fifty. 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Going, Going, Gone.

The weekend that came to known as “anniversary weekend” was inaugurated with a viewing of Gone Girl, the new movie by David Fincher, that guy I used to think was a genius.  My wife and I had the rare day off together, so we opted to take in an afternoon movie, always an indulgence tied to the sense—real or imagined—that we’re playing hooky.  We had lunch first and strolled through some stores like a couple of people with no concerns.  A few hours later, when the lights came up and ushers arrived to clean the nearly empty stadium theater, we turned to each other and, through laughter, confessed that it was a good thing this movie wasn’t made four years earlier.  We might never have gotten hitched. 

This is bullshit.  (Not the story—the part about us never marrying had we seen Gone Girl prior to tying the knot.  Pardon the cliché (two already and I’m barely into this thing), but it seems fitting to use clichés when discussing Gone Girl, a movie that revels in them.  If you have seen the film, you’ll likely be thinking that a movie with so big a twist can’t honestly be accused of delving into cliché, but, of course, the big crazy twist is itself a Hollywood cliché.  Anyway, I thought we’d collectively tired of twists in our post-M. Night Shyamalan world.)  We would still have gotten married, as evidence by our remaining together after seeing the film, despite Fincher’s prediction that his movie would launch fifteen million divorces.  That we even joked about the movie in this way (this prior to reading Fincher’s statement) makes me angry; that goddamn Fincher—he got me.  I may not be divorced but I still, in a small way, succumbed to his designs. 

I doubt very much that Fincher truly wants to cause anyone to break up.  No, his intentions here are standard: he wants to entertain and evoke, engage and amuse.  And what’s wrong with that?  Nothing, I guess, but I can’t help but feel that the director responsible for The Game, that most underrated of films, and Seven, that most successful of thrillers, is now more inclined to standard craftwork with a dash of smarts, just enough to make audiences regard three star fare as prime rib.  To a culture hooked on Candy Crush Saga, that’s about the best you can expect. 

Gone Girl is not a smart film.  This is not an insult.  When I regard any piece of art as “smart” I mean that the film/book/song asks the viewer/reader/listener to engage with the material in a way that is more active than passive.  Tall order for a movie, but more than possible.  Gone Girl only asks that we sit back and watch smart people (well, one smart woman, her dupe of husband, and scores of rubes so inconsequential one hardly notices their passing from the story) do interesting things.  This is fun and distracting and even engrossing, but the critics who imply that this is a smart film are full of shit.  This is better than average Hollywood fare made by a talented director starring a very talented actress and an occasionally talented actor who should direct more movies like Gone Baby Gone.  Again, there is nothing wrong with the film on that level.  The world can always use movies of this kind, movies that are fun and full “Holy Shit!” moments and nifty plots.  The good old devices work well-- twists (sure, why not), sex, murder, crazy women with sharp objects-- but creaking mechanics are too frequently celebrated.  It makes me wonder why the same critics who laud this film are so turned off by horror movies. 

Gone Girl is, in a sense, a damn good horror movie.  Okay, a thriller if you prefer that term.  But I don’t.  To me, it’s horror—it has some blood, some sex, and a damn scary villain, though some might regard her as the hero.  Why not?  I tend to root for Freddy Krueger.  As a horror film (let’s just call it that, okay), it is quite good.  But the confines of the genre can be a little tiring, and in this case they threaten to strangle the whole thing right around Act IV. 

If you’ve seen the movie, think back to when Amazing Amy comes back to Naughty Nick.  (If you have not seen the movie, be prepared for spoilers, though who gives a shit?)  She’s covered in blood and faking panic.  She’s just contrived and executed a perfect murder.  She’s onto plan B as her first scheme hit a rough patch after a trailer trash couple got the jump on her (some evil genius she turns out to be).  She’s committed to her sociopathic ruses in a way that should be the envy of any Stanislavskian.  But things have gone too far, for Amy and for the story.  We’ve seen too much.  Nick knows too much.  But he stays with her because… Actually, I’m not quite sure.  Some metaphor here, right?  And maybe a good one, and actually this may be the point where the audience is asked to use their head a bit, but the leap from exciting thrills to deeper analysis comes late and requires too great a leap from passivity to really elevate this genre exercise. 

Gone Girl seeks to subvert gender norms and fails when it embraces them.  Too bad-- I'd love for a horror movie to fuck around with bullshit gender roles.  It is possible to play with racial and gender politics in horror, though it’s rare (name a horror movie not titled Dawn of the Dead where the only survivors are a black guy and a pregnant woman).  But Gone Girl flirts with the idea and basically takes a giant shit on it.  Much has been made of Amy’s rant about the cool girl, the one every guy wants.  While I enjoyed the speech, the categorizing does little more than distinguish Amy from the woman her husband is fucking, dividing women into two very clichéd categories.  And her litany of complaints is hardly new, sapping some originality from what is supposed to be an original character.  A blonde writer with a genius brain and murderous tendencies… have we seen that before?  Well, to be sure Gone Girl will likely hold up a bit better than Basic Instinct, though not much.  But we might at least cut Basic Instinct some slack.  All it wanted to be was trashy entertainment.  You gotta respect the honesty. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Now back to Dancing with the Stars

I know that I have a tendency to discuss political subjects with a straight-up liberal bias.  Sorry.  It has taken me some time to decide that, yes, liberals are as cranky, stupid, and often wrong as conservatives, but you know what: liberalism is still a preferable ideology to American conservatism. 

If the above equivocation about liberals being as flawed as conservatives at all leads you to conclude that both sides suck, a pox on both houses, I’ll have nothing to do with either, well... you miss a larger point: both sides are populated with human beings and human beings are fallible, often stupid, frequently rude, and, therefore, given to saying and doing dumb things.  And in the age of the Internet and immediate connectivity, dumb things can ruin a career.  Oh, if Washington and Jefferson were alive in the age of Twitter.  What malaprops they might be haunted by!

That stated, I have to admit that my bias against the (rarely) right in this country stems from my inability to hear the intelligent conservatives over the screamers.  I have often let my inability mask what I know to be true deep in the recesses of my thick head: there are smart, articulate, learned, conservatives who are separate from the noisy jerks and (sadly) too quiet to hear.  Not all of them are dogs responding to tone and ignoring actual words.  My inability to hear them speaks to my own laziness (this is the age of the Internet, after all) as much as their (perceived) silence. But for fuck's sake, speak up, people.  You do your side no service by letting Michele Bachmann have so much airtime. 

To be sure, I am not a fan of MSNBC.  Save for the wonderful Rachel Maddow, I don’t care for the screaming left any more than the screaming right (okay, a little more).  And though I see the insidiousness of Fox News and the effect of infotainment on the populace, I can only recall Robinson Jeffers’ great poem “Be Angry at the Sun” and cool my own ire lest I join the duped. 

Lately I've tried to do as others have been opting to do: keep things light, not start debates, cool the angry rhetoric of social media, keep calm and carry on posting pictures of food.  This is, perhaps, a good course of action. But I can’t do it today.  While fond of sharing gags, puns, and what I perceive as witty little observations about life and the odd encounters that come with living in Chicago, I see how futile my actions are.  No less futile than my previous method of bickering with relatives and strangers over Facebook to achieve what I thought might be some form of common understanding.  But nothing changes, especially people.  I might as well be angry at the sun for fucking setting. 

So I opted not to add my own angry, ill-informed opinions to these angry, ill-informed discussions.  That was a nice two weeks.  But after last night, I’m afraid I cannot slide so easily back to laughing at adorable kitties.  You’ve seen the news, I take it?  The grand jury made its decision, people protested, peacefully in some places, violently in other places.  I knew what would happen if I went onto Facebook this morning.  I’d see any number of blissed-out citizens asking, “Why do they burn their own businesses?” as if the Civil Rights era and the Rodney King riots never happened.  How soon we forget conversations we’ve had for decades.  How little we learn from them. 

So I was willing to stay off Facebook, but, of course, I succumbed.  I thought maybe a quick viewing of some footage might be warranted—I should know what’s going on, after all.  But there’s a perfect hilarity that comes while watching a clip from some tragic local news outfit from Bumfuck, Iowa reporting on the grand jury’s decision not to indict that cop who shot Michael Brown.  They relate this news, which most of America has been anxiously waiting to hear, with what may be seen as trepidation—no one could have expected the reaction to be different than it was—followed by the assurance that they are returning to their scheduled program, Dancing with the Stars. 

That was it.  I lost my shit.  I started laughing like a rabid hyena. 

Upon reflection, I see that newscaster’s statement about returning to Dancing with the Stars as pretty beautiful.  Yes, there is strife, anger, inequality, violence, injustice, poverty, materialism, stupidity, and confusion to consider, but ignore all that; we’ve got Lea Thompson and Tommy Chong dancing before a panel of self-important assholes!  Doesn’t that sound infinitely more interesting?  It certainly requires zero critical thinking and social analysis. 

By way of going back to my first thoughts about why I’m re-upping with the liberal camp, let me state that while liberals are perhaps too quick to lionize Michael Brown, and that, yes, he was not a perfect human being, the reactions of most conservatives seem to be considerably worse.  If you are convinced that the community of Ferguson is taking advantage of the decision or if you are confused about the angry reaction to the story, then let me politely ask you to stop looking at trees and see the  forest.  And while there are surely some liberals fixating on the wrong questions and hammering away at the old talking points, they at least have an admirable, albeit unrealistic, goal in mind: progression away from obvious social injustice.  This is, again, not to say that conservatives are not interested in such things, but more an observation that I can’t help but make: the fringe has hijacked that party.  Objective analysis and common ground are elements of the discussion that are sorely missing in the popular sphere.  So be it.  This is perhaps nothing new: there’s been a long history of sensationalism in news and public discourse.  Cooler heads have likely always resided left of the dial, but there was always a sort of understanding that the smaller venue was where you, the individual had to search to find a more reasoned, civil form of debate.  The problem is that now we see the popular talk shows, always happy to court the lowest common denominator, as being the bastions of wisdom and the lone voices of the voiceless, the watchdogs of the government, the truth seekers.  I’d say we’ve lost perspective if I thought we ever really had any. 

So I’m not going to throw my lot in with the liberals to the extent that I will see the conservatives as enemies.  I will try to remain a bit more open-minded than that.  But damnit, people—you’re not making it easy. 

To summarize: liberals are as full of shit as conservatives, but I prefer the smell of their shit.  If you’re curious about why people are furious about last night’s grand jury decsion, examine your questions and look outside your own experience.  Realize that it is a false equivalency to expect that people will be as rational in their response as you were when you heard the news.  Stop listening to the loudest voices.  Children scream.  Adults think, reflect, and compose themselves.  And then they scream. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Best of Chicago

Recently, New City put out their annual Best of Chicago issue, a fine read from start to finish.  Nevertheless, it being only as perfect as any such publication, it contained omissions that I felt needed addressing.  In short: I was inspired to fill in some of the gaps and write my own Best of Chicago post.  So here goes.

(Side note: I’m sure I’ve done this before, but rather than comb through past blog posts I figured I’d just write a new version because, you know, no one’s reading or remembers anyway.  If for some reason you do remember and wish to accuse me of redundancy, well it’s my blog and I can do as I please.  So there.)

Best place for Vince to confront how much he and the city have changed:  Red Lion Pub.

When the Red Lion closed up six years ago, many of us were adrift.  We knew that the remodeling would not be quick, despite assurances to the contrary.  And many were upset that our favorite watering hole was getting a makeover, but I understood.  The barkeep and co-owner, Colin, said it best: charm is great but not when you have to live in it.  And while I was (sorta) okay with the charm of the semi-dilapidated faux British pub being scrubbed away, I accepted that it was a necessary scrubbing and that what emerged would be a bar where I could piss without fear of falling through the floorboards. So when the place finally reopened earlier this year, I was, as the kids used to say, stoked. 

But, sorry to report, this new polished incarnation just isn’t for me.  A fine place to get a pint (if you have the money—drinks were never cheap at the Lion but now the prices now suggest some staggering remodeling debts), but where there was once charm there is now gloss.  And books (most behind the bar or placed high above reach or locked behind glass) that work as decorations but are inaccessible to the average customer/reader.  But people seem to like it.  Me?  Eh, it just makes me long for long gone days. 

But not really.  You see, I hung out at the Lion in my late 20s and off and on through my 30s.  Now that I am in my 40s—happily married and in a very different place with my life—I shall step aside and let others enjoy this new fangled Lion while I opt for an alternative (see below).  The Lion has changed, but so has the city.  I barely recognize this town, save for the shitty weather.  Why hang on to relics of the past?  I’m not the same.  Why should my city stay frozen forever in 1994? 

Best place to spend six hours of your birthday drinking with friends and occasionally reading Ulysses: Red Lion Lincoln Square. 

To ease my sadness over the loss of the Red Lion, I’ve been going to the Red Lion.  The Red Lion Lincoln Square, to be specific.  This location is associated with the other by history only, which is a long story, but I like that this location retains most of the old look and fee of the old Lincoln Avenue location, not to mention the superior fish and chips.  And the pints are closer to what I’m comfortable paying, cheapskate that I am (see below).  This year, I decided to celebrate turning 43 by sitting on my ass for several hours drinking Guinness at the Lion.  Somewhere in there ate some scrod, chatted with friends who came and went, and read a few pages of the James Joyce novel that dominated my summer.  It seemed a fine way to usher in another year of living.  Some people climb mountains.  Some go on vacation.  Some eat cake.  But for Christ’s sake, 43 is an important year and should not be spent in so trivial a fashion as any of that.

Best place to get a drink: my apartment. 

Even though the last two entries on this list have been about bars, I really prefer drinking at home.  The booze is cheaper, there’s never a mistake with my order, the pours are heavy, and the company is lovely, even when I’m alone with the dog. 

Best library: the Francone Library, my apartment.

Sure, I don’t have the archives of the Newberry or the volume of the Harold Washington Library, but I’ll wager my collection bests most in town, not to mention there’s always something I want to read in these stacks.  And the chairs are comfy.  Plus: no Nicholas Sparks.

Best place to see a movie: my apartment.

The abovementioned comfy chairs make film watching a pleasure, and while the screen may not be as big as what one will find at the stadium style theaters, one will not find any crying babies, chattering dolts, or incessant texting in my apartment.  And there’s cheap snacks and booze.  This makes for relaxed viewing, so much so that I often fall asleep before the end of a movie.  Thankfully, there are no ushers at my place to kick me out.  

Best place to practice playing guitar where no one will hear how much you suck: my apartment. 

Never a virtuoso, I did achieve a certain level of skill, though years of neglect have left my chops rusty (mixed metaphor?).  So it’s nice to run through some scales without the judgmental ears of anyone but my dog who never complains about missed notes or fumbled chords.  Of course, the lovely Casandra is supportive and likes when I play, but it took me longer than it should have to learn “Behind Blue Eyes” and even after I had the changes down the guitar was out of tune.  No problem: like Eddie Van Halen, I tune the guitar to itself.  Unlike EVH, I… well, everything. 

Best place to write grumpy blog posts: my apartment.

Surrounded by the familiar, the outside world seems loud and cruel.  And scary. Better to stay inside.  I don’t like the looks of those teenagers. 


This morning, on Facebook (what a terrible way to start a blog post),I shared an article from Esquire that, in that snarky way quite common to internet articles and Esquire, a takedown of some cherished movies the editors decided to films stupid people think are clever.  While the article is pure click bait, there’s something to these choices of so-called stupid films—many of them I like.  They don’t stand up to real scrutiny and, at best, can be called pure entertainment with a dash of intellect and some genuine cinematic artistry ( especially Inception, which is a good looking film that feels quite empty).  Only one friend has commented on this.  That’s fine—I’m past the point of begging for likes—but I am sort of surprised.  Most of my friends are film buffs or film watchers or have some sort of opinion about film.  I suppose I expected a few to balk at the list and argue in favor of some of the entries.  Really, Fight Club is the one that I assumed would generate some discussion. 

Watching Fight Club today is like skimming through a journal written in high school.  You cringe at the angst, the stretches toward profundity, the shallowness masquerading as depth, the pedestrian sense of entitlement.  Yeah, the movie has some interesting things to say about monoculture and corporate life, not to mention Ikea and Starbucks (easy targets, really), but beyond some half-baked philosophy (and that’s being generous) about finding truth by letting go of that which truly does not matter, the movie is pretty goddamn silly.    

Of course, I loved the movie when I saw it.  It was (and is) exciting, visually accomplished, even funny.  Brad Pitt is perfect casting.  And indeed—David Fincher can direct the shit out of a movie.  But I am almost always saddened by lists that rank Fight Club highest among Fincher’s films.  The Game is no one’s favorite (I think it's Fincher's best movie), and I don’t expect it to beat out Zodiac or even Seven, but for fuck’s sake it’s a lot better than Fight Club.  As much as I love the absurd, and Fight Club gets pretty fucking absurd, I never believe a second of it.  I don’t know that I am supposed to, but the intentionally ridiculous story strikes me as alienating.  As goofy as the logic of The Game can be, I buy it all.  Maybe this speaks to my tastes: I prefer dark and menacing to gross and macho.  

I can forgive Fight Club, even look at it fondly, whereas Inception has always been a pretty hard to swallow pill.  I don’t know that I’d call it a film stupid people think is clever, but more of a convoluted movie that sacrifices its emotional core—which it seems intent on developing—to layers of what-the-fuck? plot and some nice CGI.  The movie looks pretty but is so cold that a pair of gloves should come with the DVD.  I admit that it does ask the viewer to engage with it, making it more of an active experience than the average Hollywood thriller, but frankly I prefer the average Hollywood thriller that seeks no claim to complexity or depth. 

To say that these are films stupid people think are clever is a tough (and stupid) claim to make, but I do wonder if the point J. R. Jones made about the movie Up in the Air is not one that can work in this conversation: it's a mediocre movie that seems great only because we're used to shitty film after shitty film.  When you've lived on peanut butter and jelly for months on end, a boloney sandwich is pretty tasty.  But it's still just fucking baloney.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On Random

I don’t know—it just seems that calling yourself a hacktivist is a way of ginning up what you really are: a dick.

Dave Grohl and Gwyneth Paltrow would make a perfect couple inasmuch as I hate them equally. 

The fact that so many people misread the New York Times article about WMDs in Iraq should depress me but I’ve decided to use this as my excuse to drink more.  So thanks, conservatives. 

Chicago is beset by beetles that look like ladybugs but are, I’m told, not ladybugs.  But they very much look like ladybugs.  I’m also told that I should not kill a ladybug.  It’s bad luck or something.  So I’m not sure if I should kill the beetles I have seen at work or the ones flying toward my face while I walk to the train.  What if they are actually ladybugs?  Think of all of the bad luck I might incur.  My life could spin out of control—more so than it already has—all because of this confusion.  Well played, beetles.

TBT—not a thing anymore? 

I’m happier in my 40s than I’ve been at any other time in my life, save for age 20.  Or maybe 6.  Still, it’d be nice to be 39 again so I wouldn’t have to think so much about what I eat and how it will likely kill me. 

Jorge Luis Borges said that he was more proud of the books he’d read than the ones he’d written, a sentiment echoed by his admirer, Roberto Bolaño.  Having published no actual books, despite being the greatest living poet (not counting Ciaran Carson, Paul Muldoon, Thomas Lynch, Medbh McGuckian, Dunya Mikhail, or Anne Carson), I can also claim pride over the books I’ve read more than the ones I’ve written, though when I say it the statement is diminished, isn’t it?  So now I have a new incentive to publish a book. 

In mechanized society, there are few things more decadent than eight hours of sleep.

What’s funny is that I’ve always liked long walks on the beach, dinners at home, a quiet drink, and cuddling on the couch while watching a movie, but I like these things all the more now that I have a dog. 

If you’re on the paleo diet, why not go all the way: no clothing, no internet, no plumbing.  #commit. 

Things I’ll never understand: the cult of Bob Dylan, most of science, why people would buy canned fruit over the real stuff, how we’ve let the system get so rigged.