- One gasmask from World War I, crumbling
- One child-sized modern gasmask
- Five American Civil Defense manuals from before 1970 relating to surviving nukes and/or fallout
- One Soviet equivalent
- Signed copy of The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel addressed “To Suzy”
- Copy of The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge by Randy and Sara Weaver, signed “Mark Laursen, Freedom at any Cost! Randy Weaver”
- Black and white photograph of people in a market with their backs to the camera, captioned “Empty shelves, Moscow”
- Three World War I soldier postcards, one of which has a cartoon of a Tommy in oversized uniform and the words “Wanted: five minutes with the guy who said it’s clothes make the man.”
- Two ’78s: “When They Found The Atomic Power” and “When the Atom Bomb Fell”
- A painfully racist postcard from 1907, with a cartoon of a black man being stung by bees
- A fascinatingly racist bumper sticker with the confederate flag over the White House, and the words “I have a dream.”
- A confederate flag bumper sticker with the words “Dead Yankees don’t lie!” written on it.
- A Chairman Mao magnet from China
- Four or five Soviet pins from the 1980s
- A button that says “Nixon: now more than ever”
- A black and white picture of Jesus from about the ’50s, and Jesus waves his arm if you shake it
- An entire photo album of a family of strangers from the teens into the ’20s
- Numerous SWAT Playmobils
- Two WWII ration books from my Grandmother
- A 10,000 Reichsmark bill from 1923
- An Outline of Abnormal Psychology, 1929
- A blue and an orange wind-up, plastic chattery teeth with feet
- Sixty-year-old face powder in a pink box
In honor of Charlie Jane Anders’ every Doctor Who episode ever list at io9, I am going to humbly approach a smaller task — ranking the new episodes. Because though technically the wise friend and her wise father who introduced me to the show did start with Three (Jon Pertwee), I have never yet had the attention span for Classic Who. Anders’ list may help me decide which arcs to tackle, however for now, I know only new.
Here we go, the top ten episodes of shiny new Who because I am way too lazy to do a count-down in reverse order. For additional laziness, multi-parters are filed under one average ranking.
We start with the best ten, and if I ever feel ambitious, I will keep on with the list.
1) “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” (2005): This was my second NuWho, and the episode that hooked me for life. A sciencey plot that is not resolved with reversing the polarity of the neuron flow, a touching exchange about WWII that I constantly cite, Captain Jack at his most roguish, and GAS-MASK ZOMBIE CHILDREN. Also the London Blitz. I love everything about this. And it’s a key one to cite when mourning the brief tenure of Christopher Eccleston as Nine.
2) “Blink” (2007): Yep, I am ranking it in the same spot as Anders, but at least I don’t have 250 episodes to compare it to. It’s just so clever — before then-writer, now showrunner Steven Moffat became too clever by half. It is the first look at a very Moffat-y beast, the Weeping Angels, before he overused them. It has a fantastic companion (as it were) played by Carey Mulligan before she hopped across the pond. It is scary, funny, and satisfying. It is overrated, except it really isn’t.
3) “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” (2006): I never disliked this episode, but it has been slowly crawling up my favorites list over the years. Rose and Ten have great moments together, but not sappy ones. They go off and do their own thing and take their own risks, but their bond is vital. The Ood are creepy and endearing, the secondary cast are awkwardly believable, and oh yeah, space Satan? Before I read Childhood’s End, this was even more epic a concept. But it’s still epic.
4) “The Doctor’s Wife” (2011): Neil Gaiman, you beauty. This was one of the handful of episodes during Eleven’s tenure that made me keep the faith. Nothing against Matt Smith, who has some really great qualities as the Doctor, but something about the tone of the whole show was usually off to me. And Amy does nothing for me as a companion, even if she is a stunning redhead with a gorgeous accent. This episode, on the other hand, has a terrifying villain to menace Amy and Rory, and a brilliantly bizarre way to give the Doctor a chance to speak to his oldest companion — his true love (no, it ain’t River Song, damn it).
5: “The Girl in the Fireplace” (2006): In some ways I might have burned out on this episode from too many rewatches, but it really is wonderful, no matter if the characterization of our main peeps is sort of…elusive. Finally getting Mickey in the TARDIS and having him adventure with Rose gives them a chance to have some good bonding. In the meantime, there’s a fabulous French woman who might be a Mary Sue, but valiantly rises above that; there are also clockwork monsters, another wild premise that holds together until the end (more or less), and a horse in space. More timey-wimey stuff that doesn’t just feel like someone shouting at you until you are distracted.
6:”Dalek”(2005): Weak extraneous characters with hilarious John Wayne American accents. However, Nine is on fire here. One Dalek becomes more menacing than millions of them. They are the ultimate in diminishing returns. Why couldn’t the show repeat the fury and terror in the Doctor’s reaction to Daleks with any success in ANY subsequent episodes? Rose is here being important to the plot, but this is Nine’s episode.
7:”Father’s Day”(2005): Anders is right that the monsters that appear do not show up in any other paradoxical instances before or after this episode. And considering what show this is (hint: timey wimey), that’s a bit awkward. But everything else here is so damned wonderful, and it all makes so much sense as a one-shot, that I don’t care. This is a fantastic episode about idealizing people who are gone, and missing them, and things like that. Billie Piper is really wonderful, and I think a former teen pop star deserved more credit for how good she was at being Rose.
8:”Midnight”(2008): This is another one that has slowly crept up in my ranking over the years. It’s almost Donna-free, because the Doctor needs to be separated from having an ally. Multiple people over the years have suggested this is Doctor Who does The Twilight Zone. It’s a strange, eerie, mysterious plot — and the strangest, eeriest, most mysterious part (besides how Russell T. Davies could sometimes write such good episodes, when he would go nuts in every finale) is that all of the alien confidence of the Doctor fails in this case. People are not impressed by him, and they don’t magically assume he knows best.
9:”Utopia/”The Sound of Drums”/”Last of the Time Lords” (2007): But-but the ending, you cry. Yes, I know. It is not…ideal. Still, before that final twist, you have two whole episodes that are strangely disturbing. Not in the way that Moffat’s best monsters are disturbing, but in a more subtle way that lingers for longer, like everyone’s eventual demise (sorry). “Utopia” takes place at the end of the universe. It’s dying, but people are trying to take a rocket to get somewhere…else. (Something about a slapdash rocket full of refugees trying to escape the end of the universe makes me sick in an awesome way — the way really killer sci-fi is supposed to, until you put it down and watch Gilmore Girls instead.) John Simm’s turn as the maser is not as hamfisted as it becomes later. It is still plenty broad, but it balances on a perfect, genuine line between madness and evil. His wife is unsettling with her twist. His domination of the world is scary. Everything except that final bit is fantastic. And yes, that final bit is bad. But it still makes more damn sense than whatever the fuck happened at the end of “The Stolen Earth” or even “Journey’s End.” Seriously, when Davros tries to destroy “reality itself” it feels like nothing. John Simm and the taclafane are an oddly sickening nightmare that demands repeat viewings.
10:”Flatline”(2014): There is a very good chance that this episodes will be seriously downgraded in the years to come. But I feel so grateful towards it right now, that I want to celebrate it. It’s as if someone was finally listening to my mother’s complaints that aliens are too humanoid. The alienness of aliens is fully acknowledged and worked with in this episode. There’s menace and pathos, but actual slapstick that didn’t make me want to stick my head through a wall. Clara is tolerable, and almost endearing. Secondary characters are good. The Doctor is not prominent, but he’s there, and Peter Capaldi is amazing and needs more episodes worthy of his amazingness. This is the first episode since “The Doctor’s Wife” that made me go “fuck yeah, this show, I love this show!” I keep forgetting this is possible.
LUCY: According to Spotify, the song I listened to most this year was “Golden State” by John Doe. I also accomplished my goal of listening to the entire Anthology of American Folk Music without shuffling or skipping (twice). Mostly, though, even with the shamefully easy benefits of music streaming, I don’t go for the whole, new albums the year they came out. I probably didn’t listen to ten entire albums that were from this year. So, I definitely didn’t have ten albums to pick from a wide list. I have never been culturally timely. Not when I was a Beatles-crazed 9-year-old, not now when my favorite band technically hadn’t broken up yet.
Knowing that, I attempted to make a top ten list of the best 2014 tracks. It is still skewed towards the country side of things, and yeah, one pick is a reissue, but it is a feeble attempt to be as diverse as possible, while only picking songs that I listened to numerous times and actually enjoyed.
After more qualifications than any human being needs, here they are. No order, except for the top three, which should surprise nobody.
“Golden State” by John Doe: I started off cheating hardcore! A compilation is arguably more of a cheat than even a reissue, but dammit, The Best of John Doe This Far was released in June, and I heard the song for the first time this year. It became my number one Spotify jam and earworm, so yes, it almost counts. Beautiful, basic song with love and pain metaphors sounds really good sung by John Doe — at heartfelt level of 11 — and Kathleen Edwards, who has one of those rare voice that isn’t nauseating for all of its excessive sweetness.
“Warbirds Over Hickory” by Endless Mike and the Beagle Club: Side B is a collection of orphan tracks, with this being the subtle, yet undeniable skewering of bullshit news, and bullshit War on Terror shenanigans. (Oh, Mike Miller, why don’t you turn your talents towards how much Obama sucks, since you were my circa 2006 “fuck Bush, man” kind of guy?) Endless Mike and the Beagle Club asks the question: what if the painfully earnest punk playing on the out of tune acoustic guitar in the dirty punk kitchen was really talented and hooky? And also he had a kick-ass rotating punk band, and a surprising number of tambourine and shaker players? And also, that band was everything when you hated college, hated George Bush, and sat in a lot of living rooms with a lot of beers? Side B ain’t the gem that is We Are Still at War, or my all time favorite of The Husky Tenor, but like just about everything Miller does, it has some seriously worthwhile tracks.
“Arcadian Coast” by Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua: A bootleg from like 1998 counts just as much as a compilation. Shut up. I do what I want. It was new to me!
Oh, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Dawn Landes covering Bob Dylan’s “Dark Eyes” was really good. And if it had come out in 2014, not 2013, I would pick the bootleg version of Bob Dylan singing “When I Paint My Masterpiece” because holy shit, it is perfect and I listened to it a LOT this year.
I just wasn’t made for end of year top ten lists, children. It is not my nature to be on time. Anway. Let’s proceed.
10) “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift: Here’s my nod to popularity. “Shake it Off” is Godawful, what with the sing-talk breakdown, and the disturbing kinship with “Hey Mickey!” “Out of the Wood” wants to be epic, and is anticlimactic each time. “Black Space” is weird, lyrical, fun, and catchy enough for three songs, instead of one to a half like the aforementioned Swift jams. I am not sure about techno-beat Taylor as a general rule, but I do like this one and its hilarious video. This is also the one song pick on the list from an album I haven’t heard in its entirely. See what happens when you drop Spotify, T-Swift?!
9) “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” by Against Me!: Oh, hey, Laura Jane Grace, turns out an an angry, confident punk album about struggling with being trans is awesome — lyrically and otherwise — in a way that “we signed to a major label/and now I am totally conflicted!” and even “let me be lyrically sodden about my hatred for George W. Bush” isn’t. Not since Against Me! were dirty, hard-traveling punks who wanted to be “a band that plays loud and hard every night/ and doesn’t care how many people counted at the door” have they sounded this good, and this punk.
8) “Next Sunday” by The Secret Sisters: A fresh, retro, harmony-filled lament about a long week before a lover can be seen again. Superior to the fun, but just a little too close to “Not Fade Away”-sounding single “Rattle My Bones.”
7) “Waltzing Will Trilogy” by Lavender Country: In a desperate stab for originality, I won’t pick the amazing and FCC-horrifying “Crying These Cock-Suckin’ Tears.” But most of this 1973 gay country album is good. It’s funny, and it’s sad — especially this track, which includes some blistering lines about forcible “fixing” of homosexuality — and it’s real music, even if the country aspect is laid on thick. Its mix of down home affectation and sincerity works bizarrely well. It’s a fascinating piece of history, and it’s also easily listenable today in shiny reissue form.
6) “Dust, Bones, Juice, and Hair” by Martha: Extremely British Belle and Sebastian/This Bike is a Pipebomb-ish/tweeish/pop-punk jam. Over just as it’s getting fun.
5) “Sweet Misery” by Mischief Brew: It starts acoustic simple, then goes all growling symphonic in its lyrics about a masochistic love affair. Erik Petersen can sing or snarl whatever he likes at me. Let’s say this one is tied with “O Pennsylytucky” and its lines about Three-Miles Island and “Filthadelphia.”
4) “Life of Sin” by Sturgill Simpson: It was all about Simpson’s trippy “Turtles All the Way Down” for a lot of list-makers. And that’s a solid song, and a great title. But I have to go with this other drugged-up country number. It’s paint by numbers hard livin’ turned into undeniably catchy goodness.
3) “Mexican Cowboy” by Willie Watson: Holy Jesus, Willie Watson went back in time when he parted ways with Old Crow. And that has translated to a ton of seriously stunning live performances, which can be found on Youtube. This song is basically Roscoe Holcomb’s version of the 19th century folk song, but more beautiful. Watson has officially crossed over into Ralph Stanley and Charlie Parr territory in terms of vocals that combine sweetness and an undercurrent of bagpipe-like, gut punching power.
2) “Coping Mechanism” by Shovels and Rope: Shovels and Rope at their best. Piano, drums, guitar: a blistering, raucous, magical duet about doing bad things.
1) “The Warden” by Old Crow Medicine Show: For all the country-gloss (relatively speaking, this is still Old Crow) put on the first album sans WW, it all ends with a stunning, beautiful, reserved ballad. I don’t just adore this song because it made me cry while writing about a Florida prisoner being murdered by guards (allegedly, I guess), but the strange appropriateness of it at that moment sure helped.
Gil Landry sings lead, with the other gents singing harmony. Some simple guitar and some basic questions sung in Landry’s deep voice with a whisper of a prison work song rhythm: “Well, the warden stands tall as he walks down the hall/puts all our lives on a shelf/holding the keys/to our misery/how does he live with himself?” A modern, folk classic, and a perfect capper to the album which began with an arguably overly light song about sexy times in prison. “The Warden” is so pure, it elevates everything that came before it on the album. It’s full to bursting with that Johnny Cash spirit of prison abolitionism, and it’s divine.
JOE: Much like the US embargo against Cuba, 2014 saw the end of my own personal embargo against “new” music. In the last ten years (or s0) I’ve purchased a total of one album: Muse’s “The Resistance”. But thanks to Spotify, I finally ran out of excuses. No longer could I casually put down artists I’d never really listened to solely based upon their popularity amongst hipsters and indie kids (I once compared Ryan Adams to the Clarks). I grudgingly combed through the “best of” lists of Spin, NME, Rolling Stone and *shudder* Pitchfork, downloading everything. I even listened to the new U2 album. And as much as I wanted to hate everything, I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of excellent artists still operating. Rock may be
mostly dead, but there’s enough pop, country, hip-hop, and R&B sprinkled throughout the world that I found myself struggling to contain my list to just 10 songs.
Also receiving votes: “Marry Me, Archie” by Alvvays, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, “You Are All That I Am Not” by Band of Skulls, “Down it Goes” by White Lung, “She Looks So Perfect” by 5 Seconds of Summer, “Champions of Red Wine” by New Pornographers, “Congregation” by Foo Fighters, “So Far So Good” by Sloan, “Head Underwater” by Jenny Lewis, “Fever” by the Black Keys, “Ten Tonne Skeleton” by Royal Blood.
“Eulogy for a Rock Band” by Weezer: Once great, Weezer’s output over the last 12 years was, in a word, bad. Yet, here we are in 2014 and I am praising not only a song from their album “Everything Will Turn Out Alright in the End” but *spoiler alert* it made my top 25 of 2014. Now, as far as “Eulogy for a Rock Band” goes, it’s a twin-guitar throwback to a better time, a time before they released an album with that guy from Lost on the cover and we all hated it. Back are Rivers’ slightly flat delivery, big choruses, and twin-attack guitars. Even the production sounds more like Blue Album Weezer than Make Believe Weezer. Tell Rivers to postpone the eulogy, Weezer’s not dead yet. (But get the shovel ready in case they release another Raditude.)
“Bring Me Your Loves” by St. Vincent: Possibly the weirdest track on St. Vincent’s excellent eponymous album — and that’s saying something. The song lurches forward; St. Vincent’s robotic guitar playing trading off verses with her chanting vocals until it explodes into a chorus of huge synths. Stops. Repeats the progression. Builds. And finally throws all the elements together in a glorious cacophony of noise.
“Body of my Own” by Charli XCX: A good old fashioned ode to self-love wrapped up in an 80’s throwback. It’s catchy, bouncy and about sex, everything pop music should be.
“Telepathy” by Crosses †††: The side project of Chino Moreno (of Deftones fame), Crosses gets the benefit of being a side project. Telepathy takes the Deftones formula, ups the dreamy synth quotient, and unleashes a truly funktacular chorus. All while maintaining the ominous feel of a David Fincher movie.
10) “California (There is No End to Love)” by U2: Rolling Stone putting “Songs of Innocence” as their album of the year ended up being only marginally less controversial than their collapsed UVA rape expose. The truth is, it’s a pretty decent album and number 10 on my list. “California (There is No End to Love)” is U2 at all their bombastic best (I mean look at that title). The song finds the band venturing into new territory with the Beach Boys-inspired opening choral of “Ba-ba-bar-bara, Santa Bar-bar-a,” before launching into “peak” U2, which despite the haters, has and always will be exquisite. When the “woaah-a-oh-a-oh” begins the break into the chorus, you’ll know Bono and co. have worn down your aural defense like the breaking of so many waves on the sandy beaches of California. Just go with the flow, man.
9) “Memories of You” by Avi Buffalo: Avi Zahner-Isenberg‘s lyrics are either unabashedly explicit, or just so filled with sexual innuendos, that in the end it almost doesn’t even matter what he’s singing about. His voice conjures memories of Wheatus (you know, “Teenage Dirtbag”), which makes the lyrical content even more disconcerting. This lurid tale is infectiously catchy, and boasts — at the “climax” of the song, natch — one of the most impressive, original guitar solos in years.
8) “High Road” by Mastodon: The riff of the year, by far. Mastodon’s “High Road” is a Mastodon song, which should paint a pretty accurate picture of what it sounds like. But their usual mixture of bludgeoning RIFFS followed by MORE RIFFS and then a bridge of RIFFS is tempered ever so slightly by the presence of alt-rock producer extraordinaire Nick Raskulinecz. The monster riffs of the verse lead to a chorus which pulls off the impressive task of being crushingly menacing and massively catchy. It’s a pop song for the Mad Max set.
7) “Pretty When I Cry” by Lana Del Rey: A funeral dirge to love, sung by a drugged out Disney Princess. Lana coos and flutters as the music builds ominously throughout the song. Finally breaking into glorious release as she goes supersonic against the backdrop of a thunderous guitar solo.
6) “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” by Against Me!: Lyrics notwithstanding, you’d have a killer punk song. But the sleek production and uptempo beat belie the obvious heavy emotional content promised in the title. When Laura Jane Grace sings “You want them to notice/The ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you/Like they see every other girl/They just see a faggot/They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick” the song’s brutal honesty knocks you back. It’s a credit to Grace that the song resonates so strongly, even though most listeners will never have to face the same prejudices.
5) “Himalayan” by Band of Skulls: “Himalayan” is a strutting foot-stomper that throws out wave and wave of groovy riffs, glam beats, and the allure of the male/female vocal dynamic. There’s nothing too revolutionary or transcendent here, it’s just a really good rock song, and sometimes that’s enough.
4) “Lost Domain” by Tim Wheeler: Tim Wheeler of Ash (the best band you’ve never listened to) goes solo in a tribute to his father who passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s. It’s a emotional powerhouse, packed to the brim with synths, an urgent, driving beat and the requisite “Tim Wheeler chorus”™ (i.e. anthemic). It wouldn’t feel out of place in an ’80s Cusack movie montage. But Wheeler, who has never sounded better, deftly takes the influences and molds them to his style, instead of shamelessly repackaging them. It’s a new direction for Wheeler, but he pulls if off with aplomb; more than a fitting tribute to his father.
3) “Gimme Something Good” by Ryan Adams: The perfect song. Every chord, every note, every word is exactly where it should be. In the future, the chorus will be used in thousands of movie trailers.
2) “Red is White” by Death From Above 1979: All it takes is bass and drums to drive this tale of young love gone bad. Dominated by Jesse F. Keeler’s massive bass sound, the song is immersed in a sense of foreboding that recalls the best of Queens of the Stone Age. You’ll see the tragic end coming a mile away, but with the song’s shifting dynamics and changing moods, its still one hell of a ride.
1) “Red Eyes” by The War on Drugs: As if there was any doubt. “Red Eyes” got to me early (I actually listened to the track when the album was released, not a week before I made this list,) and never let go. A deft combination of Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, and Bruce Springsteen, but packaged in a decidedly modern wrapper. Hints of songs and influences from the past well up, but the band is careful not let them dominate the proceedings. The spirit of the band is fully ensconced in the now. And the song is just really good. Classic, cruising out of town, leaving it all behind good. From the opening notes the urgency of the beat never falters as guitars, snyths and horns cut in and out around Adam Granduciel damaged croon. It’s beautiful revelatory stuff. A song for people who want to remember the past, but not relive it.
Before I watched this thing, I knew “Pancho and Lefty” and Justin Townes Earle’s namesake, and that was about it. But this sad, sad, documentary that is a country song in itself went so well with my last Nashville adventure. S.T. and I perched in R.B.’s disaster of a music nerd bachelor apartment and sunk into the life of Townes.
The most memorable part, besides the quiet, woeful songs? Van Zandt’s son talking about how he learned his dad was dead. Switching across the stations one night, the son heard one of his dad’s song, which was rare. Then he heard another one and thought, oh, a two-fer, great. A third song followed and he knew something awful had happened.
Before S.T. and I watched this, and before we saw Old Crow Medicine Show that night for a WSM radio show, we had paid tribute to Townes by having a beer at The Gold Rush. There is a picture of the man himself above one of the bars. When S.T. and I went to take a photo, the middle-afged bartender began telling us perfect, tragic stories about how shit-faced Townes used to stagger home from the place. Sometimes he would leave his lyrics-covered napkins behind, and the bartenders would keep them for him. By telling us these raw, real tales of sorrow, the bartender managed to simultaneously puncture the unserious fun time impression of the country-drunk and enhance it one hundred-fold. All in all, it was a very Nashville moment.
Favorite Townes Van Zandt song (besides the one I put in Friday Afternoon links below):
Oh, and here’s the whole documentary on Youtube!
5) Tommy Jarrell, Sprout Wings and Fly
A group of us has rented a little house in Nashville — by us, I mean the collection of oddballs I met from internet Old Crow Medicine Show fandom, all of whom are at least 15 years older than I am — to see the group at the Ryman for the switch from 2010 to 2011. There was moonshine, black-eyed peas, collard greens, Prince’s Hot Chicken, and S.T. and J.K. busking their hearts out on the corners and side-streets off of Broadway. And when S.T. and J.K. practice their fiddle and guitar, it gets serious — even religious. During their practice at our (for the moment) little house, the DVD of Les Blank’s Sprout Wings and Fly was brought out. “Tommy” they called Jarrell. In their reverence, he needs no other name. I didn’t display my ignorance, but watched and tried to learn the appropriate lessons and display my old time piety.
Jarrell was an old school Appalachian fiddler, absolutely from another universe, even while Blank filmed him at the end of his life in the 1980s. It’s just one of those perfect folk moments in amber that makes one wish to be named Lomax. S.T. told me later that the story goes that Jarrell’s musician father learned “Poor Ellen Smith” from Peter Degraf himself as he sat in jail for the poor woman’s murder. That story is so America, that I hope never to confirm whether it is true or not.
Favorite Tommy Jarrell song:
Here’s the trailer for the documentary:
4) The Clash, Westway to the World
I don’t remember the first time I watched Westway to the World, but my 15th and 16th years saw the DVD nearly worn to splinters. It’s just the Clash talking, with archival footage. Headon is withered and still on heroin, Jones is all teeth and a bit of smarm, Simonon is still handsome and cheeky, and Strummer seems sweet, and sad, and regretful about his key part in fucking up the completely magical foursome had had going.
Favorite Clash song:
And the documentary:
3) Joe Strummer, Let’s Rock Again!
Oh, Let’s Rock Again! I waited breathlessly to watch, sobbed my eyes out when Strummer is passing out flyers to his own gig, or sitting on the sidewalk chatting with teens, or being hugged by hysterically joyful Japanese fans, and then I could never watch it again. The Clash I missed by miles, but if congenital heart defects and my lack of prodigious coolness hadn’t gotten in the way, I could have seen the Mescaleros, dammit. I missed it. I fucked up. I was late. But the whole documentary just makes you love Strummer’s humanity and his earnest, human optimism. (Which, knowing how he turned out, makes asshole, must be a punker, 1976 Strummer even more adorable.)
Favorite Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros song:
And the clip where Joe passes out flyers to his own show — contrived or not, I want to hug him real bad. Strummer was the most huggable of all the old punk rockers.
2) Simon and Garfunkel, Songs of America and The Concert in Central Park
The latter, a 1981 concert that made 12-year-old me infuriated that I had even missed that pale imitation of a folk reunion by six years of life — making the ’60s I yearned to visit seem farther away still. The former, though officially packaged with a shiny new version of Bridge Over Troubled Water a few years back, came to my eager hands as a grainy VHS from an internet friend (I “met” her in an MSN Paul Simon fans group. She also sent me a burned CD of a bootleg of the once-rare The Paul Simon Songbook). That tape was painfully wonderful — finally a glimpse of the duo at their peak, the thing I missed. The thing itself is pretty low-key, sometimes it lags, but there are some good concert scenes, and a particularly wonderful Simon and Garfunkel warming up bit.
Favorite Simon and Garfunkel song:
And Songs of America! (You God damned kids have no idea what it was like pre-Youtube. The dial-up days were dark indeed.)
And the Central Park one as well!
(I finally saw Simon and Garfunkel in 2004, though for most of my childhood I assumed it was impossible. I heard “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “Suspect Device” that year. Seventeen was a good musical year.)
1) Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense
This, for the distinctive memory of my father rushing home from work one day, piece of mail in hand, and how he popped in his brand new VHS of the flawless Talking Heads doing their thing. He and mom were actually there for one of the nights the concert was made from. Though they were a very New York City band, my parents in LA in 1984 watching David Byrne in his great big suit, dancing with a lamp, makes them seem very California, and very familiar in a way — as if they helped raise me. And the concert is as wonderful as everyone says — its slow build from David Byrne playing “Psycho Killer” all alone to the full, wild stage and incomprehensible energy. It’s perfect, and it’s strange, and it’s my parents being cool and before my time.
Favorite Talking Heads song:
— David Byrne and that lamp.
6) Hats, specifically fedoras, are not some signal that the wearer is a mouth-breathing creeper (creepertarian is some circles) whom you can instantly dismiss. You’re thinking of trillbys. And honestly, shut up about both. Fashion — especially the male variety — is dull enough already without all of your judgement, people.
(Let’s bring suspenders back, though. I’m on that, but nobody else seems to be.)
5) Taylor Swift, whom I enjoy in small doses on occasion, is not particularly anti-feminist. Some critiques are fair, like the point I saw somewhere that Swift is the beautiful, rich insider who has a bad habit of playing the aggrieved ugly duckling even now, but some (looking at you, Jezebel, back when you thought Lady Gaga was your new artistic God), are way too prude-shaming, romantic-shaming, in my day we smoked clove cigarettes and used boys before they used us and we never, ever fawned ever bullshit. Other people are different, Jezebel. Nobody knows how contrived Taylor Swift is as compared to any other famous woman, but some people are less comfortable with meat dresses or leotards than others.
(I also dig this New York Magazine piece that notes that Swift is a woman, but she’s making 12-year -old girls fawn all over her the way they usually do over boys/non-threatening men. That’s cool. She’s the musician on stage. And since the majority of those girls will grow up to be heterosexual, they maybe want to be her, not dream of dating or marrying her. That’s not bad at all.)
All I ask is for folks to stop using the lyrics to “Fifteen” as proof that Swift is a big old slut-shamer. When she sings “Abigail gave everything she had/to a boy who changed his mind” she may or may not be talking about sex, but she is certainly also talking about feelings and emotions and such. The song also includes the lyrics “I swore someday I was going to marry him/but I realized some bigger dreams of mine” and “In your life, you’ll realize bigger dreams than/dating the boy on the football team/I didn’t know it at 15.” Again, not bad at all. Stop willfully missing the point, snob-feminists. The net lady power gain of Swift is debatable, but that song is not the sign of her and society’s creeping conservatism the way every blog decided it was circa 2010.
Also, at least half of you are lying when you claim never to have felt even a twinge of the sentiments expressed in “You Belong With Me.” Lying.
4) Guy Fieri is not that bad. Okay, maybe I don’t like him exactly, but there’s something totally non-threatening about his brand of douche-bro, at least within the context of his Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. His propensity for wearing his sunglasses both on the back of his head and upside down is upsetting. His hair is ridiculous, as is his mall-trash-rockabilly thing. But dammit, the show is glorious, glorious, greasy diner porn, with travel porn mixed in. And Fieri is just sort of genial about it all. He seems to know he has an enviable job. He talks, but not incessantly. He makes the experience about him to some extent, but more about him enjoying the food. And he knows where to go. Every restaurant I have been to that had his picture on the wall was amazing. (Nashville staples Prince’s Hot Chicken, and Bros, as well as the original Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh). Just, calm down about Guy Fieri, America. I don’t think he means us any harm.
(I wish he wouldn’t refer to his show as “triple d,” on the other hand. That’s a little nails on the chalkboard.)
3) Neither is Zooey Deschanel the devil. First of all, stop calling every character a manic pixie dream girl, especially “Summer.” Deschanel is doomed to be that, and it’s partially her fault for embracing a certain type of wide-eyed, childish, vintage-clad, sparkle and cupcake-loving character But she’s more than that, by virtue of being an actual breathing human. And like Taylor Swift, I can’t speak to what aspects of her personality are “real” and which are contrived. But the assumption that no female wants to wear vintage clothing (I do) or be obsessed with cute little cakes (okay, not so much) unless they’re “trying too hard” is tiresome.
And the entire point of 500 Days of Summer, a decent movie, is that it stars an unreliable narrator. That is made abundantly clear to audiences, that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character has romanticized the relationship and is constantly projecting things onto Deschanel’s character that are not there. And yet, this movie, which arguably subverted the quirky woman exists for your growing and learning experience, man-boy! trope even before Ruby Sparks did, is tossed into the pile along with much less thoughtful versions of the trope. And Deschanel herself seems pretty solid, especially when she says bad-ass things like ” I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?” You go, girl.
Also, there are a few decent She and Him songs. And New Girl is sometimes funny.
2) Leave Girls alone, but stop talking about it. Girls is a decent show. It is not nearly as bad or as amazing as people have suggested. It is occasionally funny or poignant, if slow-moving. The self-centered quality of the characters is moderately interesting, especially since they’re females and that is more rare, letting them be this unpleasant. Lena Dunham’s body and her awkward sex scenes are kind of interesting and were a sort of bold idea. (And people being complete assholes about her body kind of proves her point, by the way. So ha.) Everything about the show is pretty okay, if not ever super thrilling or lovable. Now let’s never speak of it or its deeper meanings ever again.
1) Stop calling everything hipster. It once meant something (like the death of the western world, am I right, Adbusters?!) 1950s and cool. It may have meant something recently (circa 2004, it was the high school students I knew who wore ugly clothes and listened to Mates of State and said things about vinyl that should have been a cliche to any self-aware 17-year-old). It means nothing except “thing I don’t like” now. And those of us who have ever been accused of being one I am sure have our reasons for being annoyed by the slur. I like vintage clothing and old shit of all kinds, so I am under suspicion. And my love of folk, old time, and country is more suspect than it was in 2008. (That’s the trade-off for having a lot more bands to enjoy. I will take it.)
Back in 2009, I dragged my skeptical mother to an Old Crow Medicine Show concert. She had heard some of the band’s earlier music, the sort that sounds bizarrely close to 80-year-old string or jugband music, and thought it was too derivative. Something about it couldn’t be taken seriously. But then she saw them live, chock full of runaway train, punk energy, and her mind was changed. Bandleader Ketch Secor is clearly putting on a show, both in interviews and at concerts. But he clearly has this fondness and fascination with the past performers that translates into a theatrical, but honestly sincere way of writing songs and speaking about music. He knows it’s all a show, but you can’t tell me he doesn’t love this old music to which he’s devoted his life. Nor can you tell me he did that just because it was going to make a killer Oxford American story someday.
While dancing to Pokey LaFarge a few months ago, I noticed the band’s dapper outfits, their ’20s style of music. Is this hipster? I wondered. Indeed, what the hell is that word, except an accusation that someone’s appreciation isn’t sincere? That it is instead a competition for most strange or obscure interest? Is wanting to buy quirky old shit on ebay hipster? Does it matter if my love of old objects — even, say, a hilarious old ad — is not condescending towards the foolishness of days gone by, but based on a breathless thrill that comes from trying to believe in a time for which I wasn’t around? Mom heard the jugband-influenced Old Crow as sort of jokey. I heard it as delightfully alien, and real, and holy shit, once this was what people heard on the radio and played in their kitchens. Ears hear differently.
You don’t know other people’s hearts and minds. So stop crying hipster-wolf and unless there’s proof of otherwise, assume that people love what they love — because they were going to love something — and this is what they picked.
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