Currently viewing the tag: "pop culture"

steigerwald-montage-2I could have written many more articles, with many more examples, I realized while rewatching season two with my mother.

All of the dirty DC dealings in Netflix’s House of Cards arguably make it the most cynical of the current crop of highly-acclaimed and talked over television shows. However, the epic Game of Thrones – in spite of its fantastical elements – paints an even more brutal picture of the vile nature of politics, and the ruinous nature of wars with even the noblest stated intentions.

The HBO series, set in the magical-tinged fictional land of Westeros, is nearly finished with its fourth season. The show is often criticized for its graphic violence – though that usually has a larger purpose – and laughably gratuitous sex scenes. But neither gore nor smut is the point. The truly entrancing quality of the show (carried over fromthe books by George R.R. Martin on which it is based) is the scads of gray, but sympathetic characters to worry over. Indeed, there are flawed, but compelling characters on every side in the series’ ongoing war to win the Iron Throne. Hence the tension that comes from watching, and from the knowledge that there is no happy ending in store for everyone. Hell, there may be no happy ending for any of these characters.

On Monday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an exhaustive comparisonbetween the dragons of would-be Westeros queen – and George W. Bush proxy, according to both liberal and neocon interpretation – Daenerys Targaryen and the game-changing quality of nuclear weapons in warfare. This side-by-side mostly works, but the ideology of Daenerys remains more interesting than her monopoly on dragons/WMDS. For all her conquering hubris, Daenerys considers herself on a humanitarian mission to free the slaves of various cities that lie along her route to win the throne. She is well-meaning, deeply principled, and yet she is shown bumbling into cultures of which she has no awareness. It’s sometimes hard not to read her journey as a parallel with US foreign policy (even if necons prefer to twist that into praise of the Bush doctrine). If Daenerys says she means to bring freedom with her army; if she shouts her noble, chain-breaking mission from the hilltops, everything is sure to end well. And if she savagely punishes the slave masters in various cities, well, they deserved it and there shall be no negative consequences from changing culture by military force. (There will be, though, because this show is that good.)

The rest here

258c9a567fba3fc64abf3573d93b0db1Okay maybe guest blogger Todd Seavey didn’t stick to the Tuesday Apocalypse theme, but if we can’t go off theme at a libertarian/anarchist blog, what good is having an anarchist/libertarian blog? Seavey is a great writer, so we let him go on a nerd journey about some of the new X-Men films. The Stag Blog welcomes submissions on any and all subjects — including delicious nerdery. Check out below for links to some of Seavey’s other works. — LS

Word is that 2016 will bring the film X-Men: Apocalypse, set in the 1980s and featuring the centuries-old, conflict-creating, villainous, Egyptian mutant named Apocalypse (and perhaps a teenage version of X-Men team member Storm, back in her days as a street thief in Cairo?). This is just one of several reasons I can confidently predict that this year, in the film X-Men: Days of Future Past, the X-Men timeline will be rebooted (a la J.J. Abrams’ relaunch of Star Trek). Every X-Men film you’ve seen except for 2011’s X-Men: First Class will be erased from the fictional timeline at a theatre near you one month from now, mark my words.

But why? Well, when Star Trek, Star Wars, and Tolkien all went the prequel-film route, those franchises got worse. X-Men, by contrast, arguably gave us the best entry in the whole series with the swingin’, James Bond-influenced X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbinder were as engaging, in their own way, portraying the 1960s versions of heroic Professor X and anti-heroic Magneto as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen had been in portraying the aged, present-day versions of the characters in the other ensemble X-Men films. More important: McAvoy and Fassbinder’s contracts weren’t about to expire, as are the contracts of many of the Stewart/McKellen ensemble.

Rumor has it that Fox had long had its doubts about whether the unwieldy, megastar-filled cast of the main trilogy of X-Men film was worth the trouble of paying and scheduling, especially given what a small portion of the general film-going audience can keep track of all those mutant characters. The tortured one-on-one relationship of McAvoy and Fassbinder is easier to do — and Mystique, the shapeshifter mutant for whose loyalty they’ve battled, is played by Jennifer Lawrence, suddenly a big star in her own right. Why not focus on these three?

But first: this year brings X-Men: Days of Future Past, with a great built-in excuse for starting from scratch at film’s end. The whole plot (which was not conjured up just for the strategic purposes I’m describing here but was genuinely derived from a classic story in the original comic books) revolves around the Stewart/McKellen versions of the characters using time travel to prevent an apocalyptic war between mutants and humans circa 2023 — by teaching their younger selves (McAvoy and Fassbinder) to be peacemakers instead of warriors. Clearly, it’s easiest to end this film with a clean slate, back in the 1970s, and just proceed with McAvoy, Fassbinder, Lawrence, and whatever fresh, young actors we choose, leaving Halle Berry and other potentially-pricey old cast members to exit with dignity.

The fact that 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse takes place in the 1980s, then, strongly suggests that from here on out we’ll just keep moving forward from the newly-improved 1970s. That means Stewart et al — and the five films in which those actors appeared — will no longer be the foregone conclusion to which the franchise is leading. From here, it’s just First Class (which took place in the ’60s, remember) and forward. New viewers looking to save time can skip all the rest. It makes everything so easy! (Though admittedly having a major film franchise stuck in the fictional 1980s is a bit odd — not that you’ll hear any complaints from this Duran Duran fan).

The fresh start would also make it easy to ignore/erase the multiple continuity errors that the series has accumulated by skipping around to different eras (even before the time travel-themed film comes out on May 23), nitpickily cataloged by io9 here (though I don’t think any of those are impossible to reconcile). To avoid creating new continuity errors, though, let us just hope they remember in X-Men: Days of Future Past to show the 1960s Wolverine with bone claws, since he didn’t get laced with metallic adamantium until 1979 (as depicted in mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

 That’s a cold, hard fact, and you can’t just go changing facts willy-nilly.

You can catch guest blogger Todd Seavey talking about similarly nerdy things on this YouTube channel, his personal blog, the libertarian pop culture site LibertyIsland, and, on April 18, 2014, live and in person onstage in New York City as part of a comedic panel discussion (details of which will be announced on the aforementioned blog shortly).

Last week, I was so ready to write a thoughtful, invariably inside libertarian baseball response to Jeffrey Tucker’s piece in the The Freeman. Or I was going to write about horrible police brutality for the various outlets who enjoy that sort of thing. But then my Montana-dwelling aunt called, and we discussed the imminent spring, and the greatness of the Coen Brothers — with me evangelizing about Ralph Stanley, and both of us agreeing that the Greenwich Village-style of folk was not the platonic ideal, being a little too earnest English balladish, and not high and lonesome enough.

And then of course politics faded from my soul, as it does. I subscribe to the Tucker and the Radley Balko school of politics (and, really, most of the Reason writers agree) which says that it is a vile thing, and the victory of libertarianism would mean an ability to ignore politics without feeling as if you were betraying your imprisoned and oppressed fellow man. I just wish I knew how to channel a career into dissecting how Ralph Stanley sounds, as opposed to how endlessly sick the prison state makes me.

I had a lovely birthday on the 8th. I had lovely people come to visit me and gather around. But before I went to my own party, my mom and I went to a church down in Pittsburgh that was doing their monthly shapenote singing sing.

Shapenote singing was a 19th century method of teaching folks who couldn’t read music how to do four-part harmony. There are some great modern and older recordings of it on the internet — One of my favorites, from the famous Harry Smith anthology of folk music, is below:

At its best, shapenote singing has am unpolished eerie quality that undermines and delightfully clashes with its stodgier sort of choral aspects. Instead of just beauty, it has roughness and resonance. Like the voice of Ralph Stanley (who grew up in a Primitive Baptist Church, which bar instruments) sometimes does, the strongest shapenote singers have this quality that can only remind me of bagpipes. It just has this huuuugh gut thing.

Mom, who used to play the saxophone and plays piano and guitar, knew enough music to be baffled. I didn’t know enough to know where to begin or how to follow, plus read, plus hear other people, plus hear myself.

In our post-O Brother Where Art Thou?, post-Mumford and Sons world, I was not surprised that the demographics of the singers were middle age nearing old age and younger, scruffier types. I was not the only singer with a pierced nose, for Christ’s sake.

There was someone who swore, and people who seemed devout Christians. The most powerful, ceiling plaster-endangering singer was a middle aged woman with long brown hair who came from God Only Knows, Alabama. She was all down home encouragement and June Carter sass.

Here’s a more recent kind of shapenote singing — less weird and ancient, more just loud:

Though the traditional text, The Sacred Harp, contains mostly songs about Jesus, and other folk I don’t know well, shapenote singing is so perfectly American and strange, and I think it’s wonderful. It is not mine, but I like to borrow it.

My birthday party had a cacophony of people I love very much talking too loudly in too small a space. It was fun, but the diminishing returns of socializing were lurking at its loudest points.

However, S.T. and J.K., musical friends from Richmond and Baltimore respectively, decided to crash and give me musical celebration. When they play together, they are called the Dirty Mallards. I drank my first moonshine in their presence one summer day in 107 degree Richmond weather. From them I learned that “Tommy” without clarification means Tommy Jarrell, the great North Carolina fiddler.

S.T. and J.K. are more libertarian than not. J.K. is more personally conservative, but he has recently attempted to go off the grid, internet-wise, and I have to assume the National Security Agency is a big reason. When I first met S.T. he seemed to have stepped out of the pages of Tony Horwitz’ Confederates in the Attic, for all that implies about his views. And that’s not all wrong, but it’s not everything about him. He’s a student of history — and some of his conclusions I might disagree on — but he’s incredibly well-read, as well a an instinctual, leave me alone libertarian. They are both good people who provided with with the best birthday present since my cousin T. got Jello Biafra to insult capitalism just for me.

Now, my one association with Jeff Tucker is that he is endlessly optimistic about the non-state. Culture, markets, music, fast food, all of these do and will continue to bring freedom and choice to people. All of this is beautiful and chaotic instead of planned from above.

So when Tucker uses his “brutalist vs. humanitarian” libertarian metaphor in The Freeman essay, he almost pulls it off. The brutalists stripped down architecture to its cold, practical essence. Brutalist libertarians do the same with their liberty. They say, I have my freedom to be as awful as possible, you have yours, we need not encourage social goodness and kindness and need not discourage racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. within libertarianism.  If it ain’t the state, who cares! Is that really what he thinks will happen in Libertopia? Is that what he thinks will happen without an implied litmus test? Does he think that defending pure liberty is implicitly saying we desire to live in small, mean tribal societies? If Tucker truly believes most, or even a lot of people would pick that, he is not the optimist I thought he was.

Though Tucker does not say as much, and his version of this question is better than any of the ones I have seen recently, the artificially of the two camps still gives me a moment’s pause. Are libertarian J.K. and S.T. and their politically incorrect jokes humanitarian or brutalist? How about my conservative-leaning libertarian father? My an-cap atheist friend who professes to hate feminism, who I recently saw defend the Duke porn star from another Facebook commenter who was calling her trash? My Christian an-cap friend with whom I disagree about gender roles and religion, and who has argued with me about that long into the morning?

Even in Tucker’s Libertopia, I would not surround myself only with the angels of tolerance who are always saying just the right things. So, I certainly don’t want to discount flawed creatures before we get to that free land. We live now in a world in which minorities of ALL stripes are put upon by the state: Religious weirdos, the peaceful, bunker-dwelling racists, the cultists, or for fuck’s sake, just the people who maybe don’t want to use college liberal terms to filter the world. I want them all in my tent as well. I want them if only because more people than any libertarian would wish think they are right-wingers — inherently suspicious, likely bad, for wanting less or no government at all.

Libertarianism and friendships both have a sort of Miller Test. Or, rather you “know it when you see it” — know the good people you want in your life, or in your fight for freedom. I can’t tell you who they are for you, and you can’t tell me either.

I think I know good people who are are not PC and who are also a net gain for liberty in the world. This is not to say that we can’t say, as individual libertarians, or as groups, say we prefer tolerance of gay people to not tolerance. This is only to say that the divisions between libertarians, like anywhere else, are rarely as purely simple as paleo vs. cosmo, conservative vs. liberal, or humanitarian vs. brutalist.  Tucker is, again, incredibly deft and fair in his piece. He doesn’t seem to be trying to kick out anyone at all. But the two camps idea still didn’t seem real enough to justify it as an exercise. There is a danger in making people, even just libertarians, seem that A) or B).

I wanted to write a political response to Tucker’s piece. I was distracted by the pleasures of voluntary culture, and life, and music instead. Hopefully that’s still the point.

Maybe I just want to hang out with her and Tavi Gevinson. Is that so wrong? Is it?

Maybe I just want to hang out with her and Tavi Gevinson. Is that so wrong? Is it?

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.

Try to ignore this photo, though.

Try to ignore this photo, though.

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.

Look at these fucking hipsters.

Look at these fucking hipsters.

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.

4657776_l21) TitanicOnce I would have said that James Cameron’s teen sensation blockbuster should be trimmed to a tight 45 minutes, but I am softening in my old age. Just trim every single piece of Cameron-penned dialogue. Remove scene-chewer Billy Zane entirely. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet can stay for the one lifeboat scene which demonstrates some acceptable eye acting. Kill all romance and implication that a making out couple distracted every single British sailor on deck watch right before they hit the burg. Edit out the tiresome Bill Paxton learns to love something more than mysterious lost diamonds subplot.

Oh hell, never mind. Just stick to the sinking. Pretend it’s the story of the myriad killer secondary characters and extras who make those scenes gut-wrenching. They are the reason I can’t fully advocate for tossing out Cameron’s film and going for A Night to Remember. The latter is much better overall, but Kenneth Moore is all too chipper as Second Officer Lightoller. It doesn’t hit the gut in the same way at all.

On a side note, someone British please, please, please make an epic miniseries about Lightoller. His life was one of those impossible adventure stories that you make a movie about if they happen once. His happened endlessly. The Titanic was just a fraction of a life that included an island shipwreck on a sailing ship, a diversion into nearly dying in the Klondike, and a late middle age moment of personally taking his beloved yacht across the channel to fetch 168 British troop badly in need of getting the fuck out of France before the Nazis caught them.

On a final side note, my two instances of what could loosely be described as fan fiction were about Charles Lightoller and  Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley. I resented fanfiction.net for making me file them under the movie Titanic.

2) Straight to HellThere’s no way to edit a coherent plot into Alex Cox’s punk rock spaghetti Western parody, but editing out co-stars Dick Rude and Courtney Love and their method-whine acting would be a great start. Sy Richardson, some of the weird ’80s hotties Joe Strumer macks upon, Shane MacGowan, Elvis Costello, and director Jim Jarmusch in their bit parts can stay; definitely keep the off-kilter everything — like bad pacing that becomes funny — as well as the gory ending gun battle. But, just, trim off the annoying bits and focus more on sweaty, dusty Joe Strummer in a suit.

(Also, I find Jim Jarmusch, one of my hipster weaknesses if I must call it that, to be weirdly attractive. He can definitely stay. Also, the worst thing about his Coffee and Cigarettes is that he never got around to filming a vignette with Strummer!)

Turns out in 2010, Alex Cox released a new version of the movie, but they’ve only added five minutes of footage, some technical tinkering, and some CGI gore, so the above dream remains unfulfilled.

This is a terrible movie that I knew was terrible, even after searching Dormont’s (outside of Pittsburgh) Incredibly Strange Video for a VHS of it to rent (this is circa 2003). But either its humor holds up in spite of the no-plot plot, or sweaty Joe Strummer in a desert-covered suit is just that compelling.

3) The Towering Inferno: It’s been a while, but this movie was always completely dull for the first half hour. Cut to the fire — never mind the corruption and cost-cutting and bad villain — and cut out most everyone except Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Sweaty Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are good for America.

I really want to share a sort of spoiler. Okay, are you ready? You have been warned — I used to say I knew this movie was awful because you could predict that at the end OJ Simpson would hand Fred Astaire a cat. But when I think about now, this movie is great because you can predict that at the end OJ Simpson will hand Fred Astaire a cat.

4) On the BeachThere’s no way to edit in even attempted Australian accents or radiation sickness, so let’s stick with just editing out the God-awful, over the top Ernest Gold score. Not so disturbing (or good) as the Nevil Shute novel on which it is based, this 1959 picture about the last remnants of humanity waiting to die after a worldwide nuclear war is still pretty damn bleak for its time. But whenever you start to feel that existential stomachache, the score aggressively demands your attention and heartbreak and sorrow, and then it’s all gone. Because it’s of course just a movie.

5) Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg: Maybe a pet peeve of mine, but I disliked this Swedish film’s choice of beginning with an attempt at a motivation for Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg’s beyond-heroic efforts in saving 100,000 Hungarian Jews. The movie has to show Wallenberg witnessing the bodies of Jews being thrown from a train in order to explain his decision to accept the diplomatic post in Budapest. Why? I seem to recall that Wallenberg met some Jews who had fled to Palestine in the 1930s, but crimes against humanity in the cinematic way wasn’t why he went to Budapest. The man was looking for some purpose in life and he found it. And he was really, really good at it. By all accounts, he got a certain rush out of some of his audacious actions — at least before the actual battle for Budapest began. The movie mostly focuses on those rough, later days, which is an interesting choice — his triumphs where he pulled people off of trains and saved them from death marches are seen briefly at the start — to spend the most amount of time with our hero when he’s reached his limit.

This is a good film, but I have never found its way of telling the story quite satisfying. You want your perfect Hollywood man, with an arc from would-be profiteer to savior? That’s what Oscar Schindler is for. Wallenberg was less obviously interesting, more of a cipher, but that makes him all the more a superhero. Superman versus Batman, maybe.

6) Signs: My dad forgives any old movie not filmed on a studio lot. I forgive any terrible ending when a movie has done such a kick-ass job building an atmosphere of subtle, claustrophobic terror. And aliens just speak to me in a, I am technically 15 years old but I cannot sleep right now, way. The part where Joaquin Phoenix is watching the news in the closet and it is supposedly home video from a Brazilian birthday party, and then you see the alien for a second — I have never before or since made an involuntary and loud noise of alarm in a theater. Also, Abigail Breslin is so great. The Culkin kid is Culkinish, but Breslin always strikes me as such a believable little girl.

The edits I would make? The ending — spoilers! — with the water. Maybe it’s a metaphor, maybe it’s fluoride or minerals or something beyond H2o, but people just couldn’t abide that aliens could be killed by a substance that covers 70-odd percent of the planet. And I get that. The whole everything was meant to be and leading up to saving the Culkin bit was so purposefully unsubtle that I never fully minded, because it seems like a picture of a different world than the one in which we all reside. But as much as I find this movie a net good, the fact is that it deserved something better. The set-up is funny, scary, well-acted, and eerie. The idea of a man who has lost his faith in God having to face (potentially-allegorical) extraterrestrials is terrific. I am not sure how I wanted Signs to end. But like many a Russell T. Davies-penned Dr. Who finale, the lead-up was so great that the ending had to be a disappointment — but it didn’t have to be quite that cheesy.

Have any of your own suggestions? Lay ’em on me in the comments or wherever you like.

Concrete Blonde! Another band that feels like imaginary LA: That is the one that mixes the 60s, the late 70s, the 80s, and the early 90s. That is also Dad tending bar and taking over the LA Times letters. Mom hanging out with Peter Scolari and getting hit on by John Hurt while waiting tables. They meet. They go see Stop Making Sense, they have a few kids. Exene Cervenka lives down the street at some point. Everyone reads Joan Didion and watches cool-MTV until we have to move because of crackhead neighbors and because I get asthma and pneumonia  Soundtrack by the Talking Heads, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, The Cars, X, and the Blasters. Plus, Kingdom Come, I suppose. If only because I don’t remember living in LA, but I do remember the first I saw Uncle Dan without his hair metal hair.

Anyway, this is an anti-cop song, for an added bonus.

The greatest song about a dusty Bible that there is, which is impressive since the other one is by Hank Williams Sr. Fun fact: my friend Bob is still apologizing for going to see the Fox Hunt one night in Pittsburgh. I was taking a nap, he did not wake me up.

Latent Chatham University impulses coming up for me here, but I would love if Tegan and Sara always were this rockin’ and catchy.

One of my favorites by the Stanley Brothers. It makes me want to love the Lord in a way that only Ralph Stanley can.

Took me long enough. Sheesh.

 

 

A vitally important music snob question: which version of “Wagon Wheel” is worse?

A) Generic country-rocker Jeremy McComb’s:

B) Darius “Hootie” Rucker’s:

Trick question, I don’t care because they’re both too boring for me to stay awake. Neither is dynamically bad enough to bleed the ears, they just made a great song significantly less good. Which is a strange thing to do —  to make a song ache less.

Now Laura Jane Grace (formerly known as Tom Gabel) of Against Me! managed to actually cover this now-fratty-douchebag-request song and make it even more gut-wrenching and lonely-sounding. This cover bridged one favorite band to another for me. It is excellent.

But, even though secretly we real music snobs go to Old Crow Medicine Show shows and roll our eyes at “Wagon Wheel” and the hysteria the prospect of it invokes in one-trick fans, please observe how good the original song sounds. And in spite of the wonky lip syncing, how rockin’ this video is, sexy dancing girls, carnival, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings cameo and all:

Still, the winner of all “Wagon Wheel” is this obscure BBC version, with the band cozied up around one mic. The very end cuts off and that drives me nuts, but damn if this version doesn’t make me weep for the lack of Willie Watson in the Old Crow of today.

Check it, and know that no matter how many acoustic guitar dudes cover this song, it will still be great. And more to the point, no matter how I hate the people who go to see Old Crow and drunkenly shout for “Wagon Wheel!”, when the band does play it, the sloshing idiots who only know that one song become a bit more bearable for those four minutes — because we all love that one damn song. And, uh, maybe that’s what liking sports is like all the time, or something. We’re all in it together, is what I mean. Even if they should act like that for “James River Blues” or “Raise a Ruckus” or other, arguably superior songs as well.

No, the real point is that the covers of this song are perhaps like a Taylor Swift song, or something that I kind of like, that’s a little catchy, more fun than average radio noise. Something to which I might listen a few times and like. Maybe if I just heard songs I liked that much, I would think that’s what music sounds like. It would be nice. It would be fun for parties.

But then there’s songs like this, and voices like Willie Watson’s, and that is just another fucking universe from the well-crafted, fun enough stuff — and that’s my music.

That’s the good stuff. That’s the hair-raising stuff.

I am so sorry.Ladies. Am I right, fellows?

I am going to violate feminism right now and tell you to pay attention to several ladies who have nothing to do with each other except their gender and my love for them. Sorry for the tokenism/yay for the greatness.

1) Tavi Gevinson: Ha, laughed some people, Lucy is a god damned hipster after all. Also, she is not a teenage girl, so she is not allowed to be a fan of teenage girls. But, no, Tavi Gevinson is 16 years old and adorable and stylish gave us the best website ever for (technically) teenage girls. It is a web magazine called Rookie. It has a whole mess of stuff, some great, some just okay, but all of it worlds above any content in any print magazine marketed for teenage girls (no offensive, good Sassy, because I don’t remember you).  Tavi, according to her editor’s notes, is also working through ignoring that whole overly self-aware thing where you wonder if you like certain things because they’re cool and hipsterness, blah, blah, blah. Nah, she is genuine, and therefore actually fucking cool. And I am old (relatively speaking) and Tavi is a pipsqueak, but she makes me feel (the way my love Kennedy does) that you don’t have to grow up and wear beige all day so that people take you seriously as an adult. And who wants to do that, anyway? Mismatching, and putting shit you love on your walls and around your house until you die! Woo! (Manic pixie dream girl life crisis? Fuck you, no. The Smiths are pretty great.)

Rookie makes me want to flip off Luddites who scream about the death of print for hours and hours. If you don’t understand why a teenage girl magazine that included “Top Five Cryptoid Crushes” and why Hedy Lemarr  rules in inspired, you were never, ever, ever a weird teenage girl. And that’s okay, but you don’t get it, man.

2) Cary Ann Hearst: Cary Ann Heart of the staggeringly hardcore, cute, and sexy country duo Shovels and Rope. Shovels and Rope who were the best completely mysterious opening band ever. Cary Ann Hearst, who perfectly encapsulates the question usually provoked by male musicians — do I want to be you or marry you? Cary Ann Hearst who is all witty banter and sings all guts. And her hair, her crazy-ass hair. I love this woman. I love her stage persona. I love her chemistry with her (I think) husband Michael Trent. Their records are worth picking up, but their live shows are mandatory. Before you manage the latter, check out this whole series of live performances which I believe will eventually be part of a documentary on the pair. Look here, here, here, and here. Maximum cuteness with her and Michael Trent here. And if she doesn’t break your damn heart and raise the hairs on the back of your neck over here, you have no soul at all.

3) Wendy McElroy: McElroy is the libertarian lady of choice in your life, if you are living correctly. She saw the word “feminist” and was like, yeah, I’ll take that, statists. Her new book, The Art of Being Free, taught me about the best libertarian newspaper dude ever — R. C. Hoiles. It also explicitly looked and talked about the divide between wanting to be both of the two versions of Henry David Thoreau — the one who went to jail so as not to pay a tax that funded war and slavery, and the one who came out of jail, went berry-picking with some boys from town, looked over the rolling Connecticut hills and thought “the state was nowhere to be found.” She knows the conflicts, the warring feelings between just living free and wanting to not help to do evil towards your fellow man and lady. What I mean is, McElroy is the lady who wants to let you be, but she would appreciate you returning the favor.  She is great. Read her.