The usual setup: I haven't listened to all the music released this year. I have listened to a lot of music this year. Of what I have listened to, here are my nine favorites and why:
9. The Gaslight Anthem--American Slang--This is good, old-fashioned rock and roll. Though Gaslight Anthem has shorn off most of their punk-rock edge, the songs are still strong enough to carry the album. If this album has one weakness, its that the lyrics are a bit too obtuse to tell the All-American story vocalist Brian Fallon seems to be going for, but that is a tiny weak mark against a very strong album.
8. Mono--Holy Ground: NYC Live--Of course, if you are Mono, you do not need lyrics. Accompanied by the aptly named Wordless Music Orchestra, Mono plays through most of their 2009 release, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, as well as several older songs. The two guitars, bass, and drums already sound like an orchestra of their own, so Mono's post-rock stylings slip perfectly into the setting. This is perhaps the most emotionally powerful album of the year, and no one utters a word.
7. A Plea for Purging--The Marriage of Heaven and Hell--From the first scream, A Plea for Purging vocalist Andy Atkins sounds extremely angry, and that tone carries throughout this pummeling album. The title here is literal--the band spends all ten tracks attacking preachers who bring business into the church--and the attitude is relentless. APfP also toss in clips from absurd "prosperity" sermons throughout, amping the outrage, and by the time the final sample is burned away, one feels like they just got into the fight of their life, lost, but somehow won.
6. The Contortionist--Exoplanet--If a death metal Sci-Fi concept album tickles your fancy...Actual lyrics from this album:
A warning to conducting officers of the machine:
You are exposed to the diatomic focused gravity.
Stray cosmic rays are threatening our generational biosphere.
Celestial missiles envelop nearby space climate zones in the void.
Prolonged exposure to trace amounts of dark matter produces an exponential decomposition.
These are actually somehow all the lyrics from The Contortionist's song Oscillator and most of the other songs on Exoplanet follow in this mold. Also, this is probably one of the most beautiful heavy albums ever created, and contains at least three moments that are consistently tear-inducing. It's pretty.
5.The Chariot--Long Live--And on that note, perhaps this list tilts heavier than usual, but I feel like there was more innovation in heavy music this year than any other genre. With a so-called "soft-rock indie revolution" being touted by hip websites like Pitchfork, it's no wonder that the really interesting things actually happened in the genre at the far opposite end of the spectrum. The Chariot are as heavy as it gets, channeling chaos into ear-confetti, and Long Live is their masterpiece, miraculously more atonal than anything they have released, yet also more listenable than almost anything anyone else has released. Soft-rock can suck it.
4. Letlive--Fake History--And on THAT note, my major complaint with the direction music has taken lately is a lack of energy and passion. With a misconceived notion of irony and a missing interest in anything real, hipsters have popularized many bands that are far less interesting than hearing Lambchop's Song that Doesn't End on a five-day loop. Conversely, I can't think of any album I've heard this year with more passion or intensity than Letlive's Fake History. Their hardcore roots are only a starting template, and throughout the album they rip through so many unexpected directions, multiple listens are needed just to process. It's lively.
3. Portugal the Man--American Ghetto--I feel like classic rock throwback bands are a dime a dozen these days, with bands trying desperately to emulate the sounds of past greats. Instead of doing this, Portugal the Man actually sounds like the natural progression of classic rock. They respect what came before, but keep their eyes on the present. On top of that, they actually sound like they are having fun, and American Ghetto plays out like a breezy summer day in a well-planted city-park.
2. Deftones--Diamond Eyes--Art-rock pioneers Deftones should have nothing to prove, but after their last few albums hit depressing dark lows (while still being quite good) and losing their bassist to a coma, they have come back to show that they can release an album that doesn't seem to be coming from the perspective of rock bottom. Simply put, Diamond Eyes is a beauty, bringing out some of the dreamiest sounds Deftones have ever recorded while also containing some of their most brutal. I never thought this band would release a "feel good" album, but it's impossible not to do so after listening to Diamond Eyes. Chi Cheng would be proud his brothers have forged ahead.
1. Gorillaz--Plastic Beach--Gorillaz's previous album Demon Days was a tough act to follow. Maybe that's why it took front man Damon Albarn five years to do so. Demon Days was a cohesive triumph, finding hope during dark times. In these more confusing days, Plastic Beach conveys conflicting emotions but is an even greater victory for Gorillaz. Though Gorrilaz is fronted by cartoon characters, no one else has songs with the honest emotions of "Melancholy Hill" or "Cloud of Unknowing" or that sound as downright cool as "Stylo" or "Empire Ants." As usual, it's near impossible to put Gorillaz into any kind of genre, but if you've ever felt a little left behind, lonely, sad, happy, confused, or really anything, than you can probably feel this album. It's the best thing I've heard this year.
I apologize for bagging so heavily on hipsters and so-called Indie music during this, and the previous year's list. I only do so because I feel like people are caring less and less and feeling less and less, and honestly anything that is real and not just trying to approximate emotion (isn't that what sociopaths and serial killers do?) is worth praising these days. Unless of course it is promoting killing yourself or hurting people in which case no, no, no, that is bad.
Also of Note this Year (In Alphabetical Order):
Anberlin--Dark is the Way, Light is a Place--Anberlin proved something in 2010: they are a cheesy rock band. They can write a good, hard-driving rock song as well as anyone, but apparently the one time they decided to load an album with them (2007's Cities) was a fluke. What Anberlin would really like to do is record a few good rock songs and bury them in between schmaltzy ballads. Then again, if cheesy rock ballads are your cup of tea, I really can't think of a band that does them better.
Arcade Fire--The Suburbs--While Arcade Fire has always put out enjoyable music, I've never bought this whole saviors of rock thing (about them or anybody). Win Butler's voice doesn't have the power to carry a great hook and wife Regine Chassagne's voice can be tweetingly grating at times. That said, their first two albums had some great songs, and this one does, too, but not as many, and the attempts to branch out into electronica do them no favors.
Demon Hunter--Storm the Gates of Hell--Demon Hunter have their most major member shakeup yet, and they lose a bit of the epic edge in the process. The guitarists are completely new to the band, and while their contributions are noble and Ryan Clark's voice has never sounded better, this release feels like it is missing something.
Interpol--Interpol--Interpol continue their downward spiral of diminishing returns. Their first album was a masterpiece., their second was okay, their third felt tentative, and their fourth just sounds unnecessary. It doesn't help that the band's strongest asset--its rhythm section--is handcuffed for almost half the tracks, bass low in the mix and drums non-existent.
Jars of Clay--The Shelter--Jars of Clay dropped another excellent album this year, featuring guest contributors on each song. If I was actually normal and made a top-ten list instead of a top-nine, this would have snagged the ten spot. At this point, this band can do no wrong. Every song is strong, and the guest artists add a feeling of community to the proceedings, but never distract. This isn't a hard-rocking release, but it is full of energy, spontaneity, and joy.
Joanna Newsom--Have One on Me--This three disc monster is a hard listen. Half of the songs are only harp or piano with voice-accompaniment, and to be honest, the band-backed tracks are much stronger. I can't help feeling that culling the best tracks into one disc would have made for a much more engaging listen.
Jonsi--Go--Sigur Ros' lead-vocalist, Jonsi, is a major reason the band reaches ethereal heights, but without the rest of his band, many of these tracks feel small and undercooked. Don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful album in it's own way, but this is dolphin leaping through a hoop at Sea World where Sigur Ros is a Blue Whale hurtling through the depths.
Linkin Park--A Thousand Suns--When Linkin Park first attempted to deviate from their fun but familiar rap-rock format, the result, Minutes to Midnight, was horrendous. They set themselves up for an even bigger failure here in an attempt to create a concept album centered around impending nuclear apocalypse as a metaphor for the way we treat each other...but somehow, it's actually...good. The rapper raps again, the singer sings again, every band member seems intent on doing what's best for the song, and they succeed in their concept. When singer Chester Bennington belts out the line Love keeps us kind at the end of the album, I actually felt it. It's a shame this album is being overlooked. The sum really is greater than the parts, so singles in this case don't really cut it. I applaud Linkin Park for sticking to their guns, producing the album they wanted and not selling out to popular tastes. I think it works.
The National--High Violet--I hate to call The National overrated because I really like this album...but The National are overrated. Because they come from an indie background but actually have a singer who can sing, and a band that can play, they inspire a lot of awe. The fact is that they have recorded some songs on this album that sound so epic they could be made into films, but once the 3/4 mark hits, everything kind of begins to slip into the same groove. Maybe next time they can bring more diversity into each track so that everything doesn't bleed together.
Norma Jean--Meridional--I have made no secret of my dislike for Norma Jean's previous album, The Anti-Mother. This is certainly a step in the right direction, a full-sounding album without any throwaway tracks. Three huge flaws from the last album still loom--The lyrics make no sense, the drums sound weak, and the guitars don't take any risks. Somehow this is still an enjoyable listen, and I can only hope they continue to go up from here.
Sade--Soldier of Love--From start to finish, this is fun to listen to, like talking to an old friend, even though a close listen reveals that musically she is doing things differently than she has before. I hesitate to call anything Sade releases aggressive, but the title is Soldier of Love, and she does step more heavily here than she has before.
Starflyer 59--The Changing of the Guard--As usual, Jason Martin's music is a blast to listen to, but if he gets any more low key, he will be dead. I miss the old bombast and 40 guitars layered on top of each other. After a pretty laid-back decade, I am ready for this guy to rock out again.
Sufjan Stevens--The Age of Adz--I could almost give this album its own blog entry, but to be concise: Sufjan ditches his banjo and any landmarks of previous music to present an almost entirely electronic album with some of the most straightforward lyrics he has written and some of the most schizophrenic arrangements. It has its merits (and to be honest, almost made my list), but it is just a bit too out there. Only a little bit, though.
Weezer--Hurley--This is leagues better than Weezer's previous album, Raditude, but that is not saying much--that album was terrible. On the bright side, at least half of the songs on Hurley are actually quite strong, but as has been the status quo for recent Weezer, the lyrics are sloppy, the riffs feel recycled, and there are hardly any guitar solos to be found. With that said...
Weezer--Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition)--Weezer finally releases the long-awaited re-issue of their 1996 masterpiece, Pinkerton, along with a ton of long-awaited B-Sides and live material. Just hearing the B-Sides awakens a hunger for the sound of the Weezer of yore and shines an even harsher light on the music they have been churning out as of late.
And finally, as always, there were plenty of albums I wanted to hear and haven't, or have heard but haven't formed an opinion of yet. Those albums will have to wait until next year for a mention, just like the following did:
Albums from 2009 that would have made that list had I heard them:
P.O.S.--Never Better--The best rap album I've heard in quite some time, with some of the best lyrics, and the most interesting backing tracks.. Vastly underrated.
That's it. I was shockingly on the ball last year. There was other stuff from 2009 I've recently heard that I liked (Phoenix's or Zombi's newest albums, for example), but nothing else I liked as well as the nine I listed then.
And if you made it all the way through this, you get a cookie.
Happy New Year!
Friday, December 31, 2010
The usual setup: I haven't listened to all the music released this year. I have listened to a lot of music this year. Of what I have listened to, here are my nine favorites and why:
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Well, stop whining!!!
Reading a book is easy. All you have to do is find something you like and read it. The more you read, the more you'll want to read, and, well, I'm just going to say it, the smarter you'll get. I'm serious. When you actually take in a full body of information and not just a synopsis or a collection of catchphrases, your brain will actually wrinkle. If you've read a book or two, you will know that wrinkling your brain is a good thing.
With that said, yes, I get that trying to form some sort of a reading pattern can be difficult. I love the classics, but if I read nothing but them, I get burnt out. Instead, I try to alternate more difficult books with lighter stuff. With a newborn in the house, I think I felt like reading a little bit more popcorn than usual this year, too. To get an idea of how to keep a steady rhythm going, here is every book I read in 2010 in chronological (the) order (that I read them):
I Am America, and So Can You--Colbert and Contributors
The English Patient--Ondaatje
Sphere (2nd reading)--Crichton
The Terminal Man--Crichton
Friday Night Lights--Bissinger
Something Wicked this Way Comes--Bradbury
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland--Carroll
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Outcast--Allston
2001:A Space Odyssey--Clarke
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Omen--Golden
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Abyss--Denning
Thing Fall Apart--Achebe
Star Wars: Shatterpoint--Stover
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom--Kahn
The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War--Hemingway
Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye--Ritz
At the Mountains of Madness--Lovecraft
The Call of Cthulu--Lovecraft
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Backlash--Allston
Star Wars fiction is a great guilty pleasure of mine, and the four I read this year recharged me after reading more difficult books. I meant to review every book I read this year, but if you've been following this blog for a while, you know how that went. Anyway, good luck in your own reading adventures. I'll have my annual top nine music list up soon.
Monday, December 20, 2010
At some point in high school I decided that the thing I really liked was punk music. Never one to dive too deeply into anything or go through a phase, this only manifested itself in sporadic MXPX and NOFX (any band with cool letters) listens, and a place in my senior book's favorite bands list as "obscure punk music" somewhere beneath U2, Portishead, and John Williams.
After high school graduation, I found a fat sum of bills in my pocket. I combined this money with my Wal-Mart Retirement Fund (another story, but I will just say that my five-month stint with Wal-Mart had ended by that point) to make a nice chunk of change, and I actually managed this money well for a year before blowing the majority on college books, a cheap bass and an even cheaper amplifier. By that point, listening to punk music wasn't enough. I actually wanted to play it--as quickly as possible--but I am getting ahead of myself.
Over the summer and my first semester of college I used a small portion of these funds to build up a sizable punk music library. I am using fancy words such as 'sum' and 'sizable," but let's be honest, for the first and only time in my life, I was going through a phase. One of the albums I purchased was Craig Brother's Homecoming, and for some reason, I found myself coming back to that album more than anything else. I even started speaking a little differently, the diction and intonation of the lead vocalist's voice coming out in my own. I am using fancy words like 'diction' and 'intonation,' but let's be honest, I sounded weird, and people noticed and made fun of me.
Anyway, I am not sure if it is fair to call this time in my life a 'phase,' as I still enjoy punk rock music more than most genres and still like all of the music now as equally as I liked it then, but that was the only period in my life where I completely ceased to listen to other genres. I was a rebel and all I liked was punk, flabnabbit. If the beat wasn't fast and the vocalist wasn't a little angry, I didn't want no part in it.
This period of time went on until February 27th, 2001, when Tooth and Nail Records finally released Craig's Brother's much delayed second album, Lost at Sea. I was working in a stage production called Final Exit at the time. I am using fancy words like 'stage production,' but in reality I was in a Christian Haunted House where I got to wear sweet Darth Maul makeup and scare the crap out of people. Being in close contact with a bunch of fellow Christians my age, I got to spend a healthy amount of time debating and lamenting various issues. As I was dealing with many conservative people (and I don't necessarily mean politically), I found my main argument with them to be:
1. America was not founded specifically by Christians to be a Christian nation during a golden age where everything was perfect that began at the beginning of time and lasted until the early 1960s when 'they' took prayer out of school. It was founded by enlightenment thinkers with a much different concept of God than many of us would call 'Christian' during a time like pretty much every other in human history where people mostly drank, fornicated, and hurt each other.
2. Actually, I summed up my main argument with people in # 1, except
3. Punk rock music is super awesome, and if you think it isn't, you are super lame. Also, don't tell me that heavy music where people scream is evil and un-Christian or I will kill you.
Anyway, this stage production shared a facility with a Christian Bookstore, and I made darned sure that on February 27th that store would have currently-on-a-Christian-distributed label Craig's Brother's new album Lost at Sea waiting for me.
They did. When I popped the CD into my car stereo with my younger cousin Calen (Calen, you made it to the Nicsperiment. That is your reward for being in Final Exit with me ten years ago), I heard the familiar boom-tap-boom-tap-boom-tap drum beat of the first song, "Glory." Then, about three minutes in, something crazy happened. The drums went into a martial beat and a children's choir began singing. It sounded kind of awe-inspiring in a way children's choirs don't usually sound.*
Then the next song started...and it was kind of slow. The vocals came in and vocalist Ted Bond suddenly sounded more R.E.M than Lagwagon. And then the lyrics hit me. And here is the first verse:
And though my sermon salts the air
My ears are still left empty, silence now holds dominion
Words once adorned are now laid bare
Unpolished lumps of nothing, so much unheard opinion
Wow. Somehow this dude hit exactly on my feelings at the time, and his voice was literally floating on an aggressive lullaby--literally, the song is called "Lullaby"--not a crazy punk rock beat. And wait, is that an E-Bow in there?--I didn't even know what the heck an e-bow was. The song ends with the lines:
There's so much to see with eyes wide open
But not a thing worth placing hope in.
Is that the idea?
It all seems like such a rip-off. Am I supposed to act like it's okay?
Take it like a man?
Don't give me that fantasy. I'm nothing but apathy and impotent anger.
And not a thing worth placing hope or anticipation
Except the gentle thought of darkness and silence and slumber?
I don't have to look these lyrics up because I still know them by heart. I must have listened to that song every day for three or four months straight after that drive. Then the next song, "Masonic," began and there was no punk beat there either. There were harmonies, though, and they were awesome, and there was a bass fill-in that wasn't composed of 8th-notes, and it was awesome. And just like whatever girl I was crushing on at Final Exit that obviously wasn't awesome enough to realize how awesome I was, the girl in this song rejected the singer, too...and it was awesome.
The songs just kept rolling, "Divorce" holding onto the punk beat as a familiar island, but the lyrics still pushing, "Head in a Cloud" following with harmonies that soared above them into Outer Space. Next was a song that was not only absent a punk beat, but featured a VIOLIN.** And those lyrics:
Have all the plans that you laid out so carefully
Fallen short of your Neo-Victorian fantasy
You cling to so desperately?
Despite the righteous beliefs that you profess
You still can't cover the stains that mark your Sunday dress
No need to confess
This song is followed by two non-punk relationship songs, "Falling Out" and "Set Free," the second of which is a ballad--not a love ballad--it's a breakup song, but certainly not cheesy or one-note. While not completely topical, these songs still fit the mood of the album, and, while still a bit heavy, lighten the tone a little, until punk music rears its boom-tat head again on the penultimate track, "Prince of America."
Prince of America
Why do your tears fall so rampantly?
Are you not satisfied, in a world without context
Where everything's trivial, and nothing has meaning
Not even the throne you're heir to?
The album ends with the title track, a 7-minute monster that incorporates all of the musical and lyrical ideas that came before it. I won't even attempt to describe this song lyrically because I can't really do it justice. Suffice it to say, if you thought the above lyrics were juvenile, you will think this song is more so, but if you are actually correct in your opinion and think they are awesome, you will think this song is even more so.
This album said everything I felt, carried all the punk-rock attitude that I wanted, but was, for its majority, not punk rock. The overarching musical style was pretty hard to describe. Punk influenced rock? Whatever the case, I began dusting off my older music. I replaced my old Portishead cassettes(!) with CDs. I started playing more tempos than breakneck on my Bass. I felt musically free again, but still loved my punk rock--I realized that in all honesty, everything that I liked artistically was punk rock in some form: The free-for-all aggression of Deftones or Project 86. The Edge only hitting one chord for an entire song when someone else would jam pack it with notes. The Dismemberment Plan feeling all out of place. Portishead not sounding like anyone else. Moby marrying 100 year-old gospel songs with dance beats. Bjork being out of her mind and not covering it up one bit but celebrating it.
All punk rock.
Also, at that point I really solidified my Christianity as rebellion mindset. Not rebellion "as the sin of witchcraft," but rebellion as standing against things that are anti-Christ--even if those things are the church (not The Church) and its misled members. Thanks, Craig's Brother! I'm sure this was your intention!
And a final goofy story on Craig's Brother's Lost at Sea:
One summer after college I hit a kind of dark patch and drank far more than usual. One night I ended up in a bar with a good buddy of mine and we ran into the bass player of a certain no-longer-together indie-rock band that was also on Tooth and Nail records (though far after Craig's Brother was), and the bass player's wife. We then conspired to drink ourselves into a stupor, though I became the go-to-guy for dusting off the pitchers, of course. At one point of mass consumption, the bassist and I happened to have our hands raised in the air, and our shoulder tattoos popped out. I had been contemplating getting the cover of Lost at Sea on my other shoulder for some time. I figured no one else on the planet would ever get this tattoo. Then I saw it on this guy's upper arm.
"Dude, that is so awesome," I said. "That is one of the best album's of all time. You beat me to it."
Now I can never get Lost at Sea's artwork permanently etched onto my body.
It's just not punk rock to get the same tattoo as somebody else.
*Legend has it that Craig's Brother, without the label's permission, hired a children's choir to perform the trendsetting vocal performance during the bridge to "Glory," only to find the children's performance unsatisfactory. The children's attending parents then took a crack at the part, and their performance is actually what made it to the album.
**More Craig's Brother trivia: Ryan Key, lead vocalist for flash-in-the pan (but by comparison to Craig's Brother, huge) punk band Yellowcard did a short stint as a Craig's Brother touring guitarist. Legend has it that Key once crashed the Craig's Brother van, then quit shortly after to form the aforementioned Yellowcard and briefly struck it big. However, the violinist from Yellowcard played violin on this decidedly non-punk sounding Craig's Brother song.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
First we ran by the Post Office and then Sweet Wishes Cupcakes* to pick up some free ones Crystal had won. After this we went to Highland Road Park, and I carried Fox around.
Highland Road Park is mostly composed of trees and hills. It really isn't an Urban park. The wind was blowing really hard and Fox and I tried to duplicate its noise with our mouths, but it kept dissolving into laughter. We marched down a big hill and made staccato marching noises, crossed a stream**, and came upon a huge dirt pile. Of course when I see something tall I have to climb it, so up we went, much to Fox's delight. By the way, I forgot to mention that my book-loving son had been clutching Baby Beluga to his chest this whole time. As we reached the top of the pile, I held Fox up in the air, and his sweet baby mullet whipped around in the wind. Eventually we reached the tennis courts and gym at the back of the park. We peeked into the gym and watched some high school kids play basketball for a minute. I miss the sweet smell of sweat, rubber, and adrenaline, and the steady sound of the ball hitting the tile. I got a quick nostalgic shot of that anxiety I used to feel during opening tip-off, looking around, realizing that the kids in opposite colored jersey's were about to become my rivals for an hour. I hope Fox plays when he's old enough. We then walked through the tennis courts and witnessed hundreds of people sweating in the Louisiana December sun with no cellphones or computers***.
Fox and I took the long way back to the parking lot. The west park bridge was covered in police tape. Some kids, obviously celebrating the spirit of the outdoors by mistakenly taking the bridge for bonfire lumber, had burnt the bridge away****. Fox nestled his sleepy head into my neck, pressed baby beluga deep into my chest, and made smiley gurgling noises. He is clearly too cute for his own good.
Then we went home and I fed him his lunch while sneaking cupcakes while he wasn't looking. Yeah, don't think I'm mean, he is getting one after dinner. Just because I eat five pounds of cupcakes doesn't mean I'm a monster.
*You just gained five pounds from reading that sentence.
**I'm lying, it's a man made drainage ditch. But hey, when you are surrounded by trees and grass and can somehow sublimate all the cigarette butts and coke cans into clean earth, it's a stream.
***I'm actually typing this up on a typewriter.
****I'm sure this is what happened. Either that or Facebook maliciously burnt it away in a gambit to further keep people indoors.
The Blockbuster was packed***. I found Citizen Kane and walked to the counter. The three employee's were talking about how one of them liked to glue quarters to the ground in the mall, hide, and watch as people struggled and failed to pick them up.
"You jerk!" I yelled. "I fell for that once, and when I realized the quarter was stuck and I was being watched, I got so angry, I tried even harder to pull it up off the ground."
"So did you get it?"
"No! I felt like a moron."
As I left, one of the girls yelled, "Stay away from those quarters!"
The Sixth Sense Soundtrack ended. The final notes always remind me that we are all alone on this rock hurtling through the darkness together. Of course, I believe God is with us, but I truly feel he gave us each other so that we would not feel alone. I'm sure that's how watching The Sixth Sense makes you feel, too.
After the soundtrack ended I put on The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"****, and pulled up to another gas station because at this point I was out of gas. There was a large, scary man with a skull cap hovering near the Redbox machine next to the gas station. While I was pumping my gas I heard him yell, "What up, Puta!" to a Latino guy getting into his car. "Hey, screw you, man!" the guy yelled back and spun out of the parking lot. I tried to pump my gas as quickly as I could, but just as I was replacing the nozzle, I heard, "Say, bruh, whatup bruh?" in an incredibly deep voice.
Oh crap, I thought. I turned around and he was right in my face.
"Say, bruh, you got anything, even one or two dollars just so I can get some gas money, bruh?"
"I gotta be completely honest with you, man, I just gave my last dollar to those dance team girls running up and down the street."
"Hey, you my man, you my man. Say, bruh, put it right there."
He raised his fist, and I bumped it.
"Say, bruh, what does 'Puta' mean?"
"I heard it the other day and it sounded Mexican, so I told that Mexican dude just now 'Hey, Puta!' and he got all pissed at me."
"You probably shouldn't say it."
"Why, bruh, whas 'Puta' mean?"
"Ha. Something really bad."
He appeared to be edging over to my passenger side door so that he could go home with me.
"Haha, that's my boy. Say, bruh, you have a good night."
"You too, dude." I got in my car and left.
When I got home I made a special sauce out of mustard, mayonnaise, Budweiser Barbecue Sauce (tm), chili powder, and cayenne pepper, then spread it on a couple of Turkey and Cheddar sandwiches, tossed them in the sandwich maker, and drank a Pepsi Throwback while Crystal and I watched Citizen Kane.
*Because that movie was awesome. Seriously, no matter what you think of his later work, M Night Shyamalan made a masterpiece with that one (and I also think Unbreakable was a minor masterpiece).
**I'm lying. The film was actually Going the Distance, a romantic comedy my wife wanted to see, and I agreed to, as my last pick, Prince Caspian, was absolutely abysmal. It was even worse than the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe adaptation from 2005. Seriously, is it that hard to adapt a 140 page book? Don't even get me started. Going the Distance was actually a raunchy sex comedy more than a romantic comedy, but it was quite funny and Charlie Day stole the whole movie. If you don't know who Charlie Day is, nevermind. Go watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on the FX network at 9 PM Central, Thursdays.
***There were only two other customers inside. See the previous post.
****I'm lying, I put on "It's Been Awhile" by Staind.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
I love going to Blockbuster Video Store. I enjoy interacting with the people that work there. They are usually quirky and odd, and if I don't get a good movie conversation out of them, I at least get a memorable experience. I enjoy interacting with other customers. The only thing more gratifying than having a complete stranger amusingly tell me that a film I know I will never watch is a great movie I should definitely see is a complete stranger recommending a movie I can find common ground with them on, and then having an actual conversation with that person that reveals the human nature behind our likes and interests. I enjoy going into Blockbuster with no clue what I want to watch, having the case of a film I have never heard of catch my eye, renting that film on a whim, and watching it only to find it become one of my favorites. I enjoy falling for candy sales and unexpectedly chewing through a box of Jujyfruits while I watch my movie. I enjoy going into the store with my wife and having the shared experience of searching for something to watch, the goodhearted argument to see whose pick will win, other people overhearing and coming into the mix, me later grudgingly admitting that her pick was great, or hearing the same thing about mine.
I do not have a Netflix account and cannot comment on the act of clicking on an icon and watching a film while never leaving my home or encountering another human being, but I cannot imagine it being a more rewarding experience than what I have described above.
On my most recent trip to Blockbuster, the dire straits the business is in stood out more than ever. Discounted rental stickers hung on every case, every case crammed in an unorganized stack. Every month Blockbuster pops up as a business most likely headed toward bankruptcy. With the trend toward a completely isolated, computer-based existence rising exponentially, I don't imagine it will be long before I am forced to use my computer just to watch a film. At least there is still the theater...for now.
Monday, December 06, 2010
Most of our parents came of age in the 1970s, or "me decade." This phrase (coined by novelist Tom Wolfe) means (to quote all-knowing Wikipedia, which is iron-clad truth) that the 70s brought a "general new attitude of Americans towards self-awareness and away from history, community, and human reciprocity awareness." For some reason "finding oneself" has gone from generally not existing to apparently the most important activity one can partake in. Want to graduate college, get a job, settle down, find a place of residence, get married, and have children? That sounds like a plan...BUT WAIT!!! Have you found yourself yet? If not, I suggest you move back in with your parents. milk that as long as you can, and figure things out, dude. But this isn't really information I need to get out there. The 20s have transformed from a time of action and progress in one's life to a stagnant wasteland one wanders through until hopefully the miracle of the 30s happens. A lot of times, though, people do not want this for their life, but our society has changed so much that many have been forced into this position. I realize how fortunate I am to be where I am now, but I also spent a full year of unemployment after college hunkered down in my parents' house, clueless of what to do with myself. I also realize that I could lose everything and end up back in the bedroom with the Indiana Jones poster on the wall.
It's not that everyone even wants to have to "find themself", but even those of us who want to progress, even those of us who do not feel obligated to play X-Box Live in our childhood bedroom all day are forced into a stalemate by life. And let me add a quick note here: I do not think getting married and having children is the end all be all. It's not what everyone wants, it is not what everyone should want, and it CERTAINLY does not make anyone better than anyone else. Any idiot can get married and procreate. I am simply using this as an example of life progress because it is where I am right now and I am awesome and so worthy of your praise and attention, but I think the true goal is simply a sort of mental self-sufficiency where one thinks of one's self as an adult and does not feel like the world owes one more time to pedal one's bike with the kickstand down--finding one's self.
The only way you can actually find yourself is by the process of living. Feeling like you need 30 years to become an adult is not the way to do it. This is the world we live in now.
We live in the world of Facebook, where it is important to state your mind and who you are, to form an identity out of the things you can squeeze out of your keyboard as you sit alone in the dark. Or light. Dark just sounds more dramatic. Everything is about identity now, and Facebook is simply an outgrowth of that. In case you haven't caught on to what I am attempting to acheive in this clumsy segue, I am saying that Facebook is only an outgrowth of our society's continued trek inward--a trek away from community, but toward spending years locked inside ourselves in a desperate flailing solo waltz of self-expression. Yes, that was a dance metaphor. I could have said tango or samba, but for some reason waltz sounds sadder and more hopelessly isolating.
Instead of actual community, living one's life for others, we live our lives to satisfy the growth of ourselves. Facebook is a perfect tool for this lifestyle because no community is actually neccessary. Though we think of Facebook as a community, it is nothing but a digital mirror of ourselves, our wants and desires, a carefully sculpted view of how we want others to see, perceive, and understand us. Instead of dealing with the uncomfortable act of holding a conversation, we can say that we "talked" to someone when what we really mean is, someone commented on one of our pictures and said our shirt looked cool, and we said "thank you." This is not a real conversation. No one is looking into our eyes, no one is seeing the subtle motions of our mouth and faces, no one is reading our body language. There is no art to it.
The same society that has produced a generation of self-reflecting wanderers has also produced a system of communication in which it is never neccessary to step out of your own head.
As the age of growing up is pushed to the point where our bodies are obviously already degenerating by the time we feel we have reached it, Facebook and other social networking websites only further our inabilities by encouraging us to stay in a place where we don't have to. We don't have to build an actual support system or lay a foundation beneath it because we can just construct one from electronic, wi-fi fables.
Maybe it is time to return to a place of closeness and reality with one another where we can lift each other up, support each other, raise organic vegetables in self-sustaining gardens, feed the children, save the babies, drive cars that use love as fuel, end war, dance around a hill holding hands and spinning in a circle as flowers fall from the sky and Julie Andrews serenades us from the top of a mountain, and live in a pineapple under the sea, absorbent and yellow and porous. It is time to be human again.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
I have had a Facebook account for exactly six years. Facebook reached LSU's campus during my final semester there, and I signed up in my final weeks. Back then only college students could create a Facebook account. In fact, you actually had to have a college e-mail address just to create an account. Back then Facebook was a fun diversion that I checked out a few times a week.
Fast forward six years.
95% of the people I know over the age of 10 have a Facebook account. It is ubiquitous. That means it is everywhere. There, you learned something on Facebook.
Anyway, I now check Facebook far more than once or twice a week. Facebook has been fully incorporated into my life. I can't go a day without telling hundreds of random and not-so-random people how cool the combination of what I am eating and listening to is. I can't go a day without intruding into other people's personal business--personal business that has now inexplicably become public knowledge. I can't go a day without looking at photos of people I never actually see or talk to in real life.
I can't go day without checking my stupid Facebook account. That is pathetic.
I haven't made it a secret that I am a bit of a technophobe, however, Facebook goes several steps beyond this. Facebook is not natural to human existence. To illustrate this while also highlighting a bit of my own character, here is a fake conversation between 28 year old Nicholas and 17 year old Nicholas. To set the scene, 17 year old Nicholas is sitting in his Thunderbird behind New Roads after school, watching the sun set over a cane field, listening to the radio (most likely to Portishead, Deftones, or The Police), and counting down the minutes until he has to go to work. 17 year old Nicholas has no cell phone and uses the Internet to read screenplays of movies that have not yet been released, download MP3's that take an entire night to finish, and look at other things perhaps best left unmentioned on a public forum. I use this version of myself because he was not afraid of anything and had solid and unshakable opinions. This was probably because he was naive and inexperienced, but still, he was pretty awesome.
28: Hey, dude!
17: Holy crap! You're me! And your nose is huge!
28: Yep, I am you in 11 years.
17: Awesome! Are you a famous writer now?
28: No, not really.
17: But you still write everyday, right?
28: Oh yeah, everyday. I work on my short stories, and novels, and Facebook.
28: It's a website...where you connect with people.
17: Connect with people? Sick, dude! I thought I would be married with a kid by now, not hooking up with random strangers on the Internet!
28: No, no, no, you are married with a kid. Facebook...it's a social networking site...where you interact with your friends.
17: Like Instant Messenger? But I hate that crap! Anyone can have access to you at anytime. Why do you think I come out here by myself?
28: Well, it's not exactly like that. You post information on what you are currently doing and where you are and people can talk to you about it.
17: Why the hell would I want to do that? Where is the mystery? Most people have no idea what I do with my time, and that adds an enigmatic note to my life that makes me who I am. Really, it isn't anyone else's business. What are you doing to me, man?
28: Well, I mean, you can look at pictures of everyone else and see what they are up to, too.
17: This is a nightmare! So everyone can have almost unlimited access to almost everyone that they know?
28: Well, not just know. Anyone that you meet, even if you are probably never going to see again. And your parents' friends. Sometimes even their friends, too. But it's cool. I post funny things that make people like me more, and...
17: Wait, I care about what people think about me now?
28: Well yeah, don't you?
17: No dude, I don't give a flying crap.
17: Yeah, man. I don't care. And how is it anyone else's business anyway?
17: The future sounds terrible. Really, that's what the Internet has dissolved into? Social networking? Do people still talk in real life?
28: Well...mostly we use Facebook and text.
17: Text? What do you do that with?
28: Your cellphone.
17: I have a cellphone now? No! If you have a cellphone it means that anyone can reach you anywhere. I never want a cellphone!
28: It is integral to your life.
17: No! I am moving to Canada.
28: Canada has cell phones and Facebook, too.
Anyway, enough of that. Essentially, I am quitting Facebook because it is merely a voyeuristic means to serve my own ego. It serves no useful purpose in my life except to keep in contact with people I don't otherwise see, and frankly, I can just do that with e-mail. There are other reasons of course.
For instance, one time after I posted a music video I enjoyed, a Christian woman I had only met on one occasion left the comment "Seriously?" under the video and immediately defriended me. Seriously? I didn't spend so much of my life fighting religious oppression (and still coming out with not only my faith intact, but my joys and interests as well) only to place myself in a position where people I barely know can take potshots at me again. I am an adult. That is just ridiculous. It happens all the time.
Also, the word 'ridiculous.' It is not 'rediculous.' If I have to see one more person spell that word incorrectly on here...well, I won't because I'm leaving.
I haven't even mentioned the times I could have been doing something constructive only to fall captive to Facebook's seductive spells.
And finally...Facebook is just unnatural. Just last night I saw an adult offend another adult by responding to their status with something that would have been appropriate in a real-life private conversation, but was absolutely humiliating in the Facebook environment. If not for Facebook, these division causing arguments would not even occur. At this point in history, do we really need more fruitless arguing and absolutely asinine things tearing us apart?
I guess we do.
Facebook fits in perfectly with our sound bite culture. Any idiot with a keyboard can say anything they want to anyone else at any time without putting any thought or care to it. Near unlimited access to information, and we use it to let everyone know what our favorite breakfast cereal is, or argue that someone else's favorite breakfast cereal sucks. Facebook is the slow death of American culture. It is why the brightest minds in China create bullet trains that can top 300 miles an hour, while our brightest minds' voices die out in limitless electronic fuzz.Yeah, I know that is melodramatic, but seriously, how much time is lost every year due to this one website?
If Facebook is still around in 50 years, it will most likely be in Mandarin.
And I'll probably be on it. But not now.
On Monday I am cutting the cord.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
At the start of the summer of 2005 I had picked up a decent number of readers and was breaking into reviews. Then I took the summer off. I picked blogging up again at the end of that summer, blogged hard until summer of 2006, built up a huge readership with regular readers from all around the world, delved into difficult topics provoking interesting discussion (and in my not so humble opinion, those posts predated a lot of religious discussion that is only now beginning to hit the mainstream) then quit. Then I started again, then quit. Finally, at the end of last year (2009), I began blogging again with a focus predominantly on reviews, got a lot of hits, started to show up on review aggregate sites, quit again.
I don't know why I cannot blog consistently. It is one of the most persistent irritations of my life. Is it just not that important to me? Is my passion for blogging hot and cold? I don't think this inconsistency parallels anything else in my life, which is good, but why can't I just keep blogging?
Any ideas? I don't expect any comments because why would anyone want to put energy into checking a website that is never updated.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Please stop refering to music videos by the word "clip". A clip is only a piece of something. A music video puts visuals to the music of an entire song. If you are only showing part of a music video, would you say, "This is a clip of a clip?"
Also, please don't refer to danceable songs as "bangers." You are not from Jamaica and you are also probably closer in heritage to the suburbs of the world than the ghettos, so write words that wouldn't make you sound like an idiot if they were actually coming out of your mouth.
Pitchfork and AV Club, I am looking at you (but maybe I'm also winking at you, AV Club).
On the same note, does anyone know of any websites where I can read thoughtful analysis of recent TV show episodes and not have to wade through the reviewer overanalyzing, overpoliticizing, and uncooling the content of said episodes? Do I have to start reviewing the things I want to see reviews of myself?
Sunday, July 04, 2010
That isn't true, but it doesn't really seem like music is quite important to an average person's day-to-day life. Of course I am awesome and not average, so I listen to music all the time, but not everyone does, and far less people do now than in the past. Am I blowing smoke? Take these elements of everyday life:
1. The Car-When I get in the car, I usually listen to a CD, or the radio (Zune gets some time in as well). I don't like to talk on the phone in the car. While I am head-banging and rocking-out, sometimes I look at the car next to me to see if they can tell how awesome I am. Most of the people I look at don't notice me because they are talking on their cell phones. I am willing to guess that the majority of these phone calls hold no social importance and only exist for the purpose of killing time. I listen to my music to transcend my paltry concrete surroundings because I am better than everyone else.
2. At Home-I love throwing on, I mean gently placing a VINYL RECORD onto my VINYL RECORD PLAYER because I am remarkably well-rounded and incredible. I am also a Renaissance Man and play music at home through all other formats, and my whole family jams to the sweet sounds of my superior music selections. Most people don't listen to music at home anymore. If I am home alone at night, I will turn off the lights and throw a record on and imagine I am in a more enlightened time as imperfections in the vinyl hiss and pop. Most people left alone at night either fall asleep Facebook stalking or play Scrabble on their cell phones.
3. Cell Phones-Actually, maybe this post should be called: SMART PHONES DESTROY MUSIC, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY DUMBING DOWN AND DISTRACTING THE HUMAN RACE TO THE POINT OF DESTRUCTION! AHHH!!! Seriously everyone looks like a damn ostrich, except, instead of burying their heads in the sand, they are burying their heads into their cell phones. Notice I don't say "we" here because I am too much of a spectacular example of humanity to be counted in this number. Of course, some ostriches do listen to and value music, but other ostriches only listen to music in apathetic, disengaged passivity on their cell phone while they are testing out an "app" that allows them to prepare virtual grilled-cheese sandwiches.
So, here is my world-changing conclusion: Downloading is not killing the music industry. If anything, downloading is one of the few things keeping interest in music afloat. Other forms of distraction are killing the music industry. That is fine by me because the collective lessening of the masses only heightens the status of my greatness. Fin.
These days, though (and for quite a while), I don't think there is anything I would write that I would not say. I'm not having sudden freak-outs on my wife or anybody. Maybe I just don't have as much anger bottled up? Have I mellowed?
NO, I HAVEN'T MELLOWED!!!
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Speculates on the Nature of Facebook Again, Contemplates Deleting Facebook Account Again, Doesn't Delete Facebook Account...Again
Everybody wear your red, white, and blue tomorrow...unless you are a terrorist who hates America.
My wife, looking over my shoulder, immediately said, "Nic, change that, you can't post that."
"You know I'm only joking about the second part, right?"
"I know it, but a lot of people won't."
Unfortunately, she is correct.
According to Facebook, I have 346 "friends", and considering only 1/5 of these people are actually my friends, that leaves about 280 people who don't really have any idea who I am. Not one of these 280 people will understand that the above proposed status actually means:
Yes! The US is playing a big World Cup game tomorrow! As you know, I love World Cup soccer, and this game means a lot to me. I know it doesn't really mean a lot to most of you, though, and I wish it did, but I love you guys anyway.
I don't want to spell it out like this, though. Why should I when I could say something that my friends and I would all find funny? The answer, of course, is that Facebook is a sham. It isn't a community of friends, but an arena for any acquaintance, co-worker, or friend of our parents to eavesdrop into our lives. A lot of these people have apparently been appalled by what they have seen, because I have been defriended more times than I can remember. I haven't really been emotionally impacted by any of these defriendings because, really, what do I care? Better that people stay out of my business. I once had a woman Facebook friend me after meeting me on a single occasion, only to comment on this awesome video I posted with the word "Seriously??" and immediately defriend me. This kind of left me awestruck. Lady, don't take a bite out of the cake if you don't know what the filling is!
Sure, Facebook does give our acutal friends an opportunity to have a new window and easier access into our lives, but should they even have that access?
Why do we even humor each other with the question "What have you been up to?" anymore?
If we are being honest, we can say, "I see your vacation went well. Your new bathing suit is really cute. I see you and your husband ate at this particular restaurant, that you ordered this particular entree, and that you thought it was good, but a little too salty. I see your oldest son won his soccer game. He is getting so tall. I'm sorry work isn't going well. Hopefully that big project will stop stressing you out. I thought Toy Story 3 was great as well. Well, nice rehashing things we already know about each other. See you later." We won't say this, though, because we have already posted this on their Facebook page.
With this setup, we don't even need physical interaction anymore.
And going back to the story that I introduced this post with:
Did I really spend my adolescence, teenage, and college years fighting to establish my identity, just to wuss out as an adult on some stupid social networking site?
Still, I'm not deleting my account.
There is one condition that actually makes me feel like I own the music without actually owning a PHYSICAL copy: some bands have begun to sell their albums in MP3 form, direct from their websites. I think this is great. It cuts out the middleman, i.e., the distributor, and in some cases, the label. This means that the creator of the music can actually make money off the music. As awesome as I find this, I still feel an intangibility that I do not enjoy...unless the band releases a down-loadable version of the album booklet along with the MP3 files. This is easy for the band to do, but it goes a long way. I recently bought Portugal, The Man's excellent new album, American Ghetto, direct from their website. I paid less than ten dollars for it, and the band included a digital-version of the CD booklet in the download. I put the booklet onto my picture-holding MP3 player, and now when I listen to the album, I can click through my player, look at the song lyrics, and view the artwork the band intended to visually represent the album. Sure, I can't flip through the pages and smell them, but I guess a few trees got saved, and instead of losing shelf space, I am losing a negligible amount of drive space.
So there, I am not a technophobic-troglodyte.
BONUS: With the money the band makes from selling their album directly, they can easily pay the producer, graphic designer, photographer, etc. No label involved. VIVA LA REVOLUTION! Or something...
Saturday, May 01, 2010
Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin
Written and Directed by Nancy Meyers
* out of ****
The cover of the DVD and the poster for the theatrical release of It's Complicated feature Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in bed together. Within the first five minutes of the movie, we find out that the two are divorced and Baldwin has remarried a younger woman. We also see that Baldwin is an absolute pig who shouldn't be with anyone. Five minutes later, Steve Martin is revealed to the audience as a just-divorced architect working on Streep's home. Also, he has a crush on her. Using my supreme powers of deduction to somehow miraculously predict the next two hours of the film, I promptly fell asleep. I'm still confident in the rating I've given this film, though. I made it through the first thirty minutes to see that Baldwin's new wife is a cheater who had a child with someone else during her relationship with Baldwin, conveniently creating just enough sympathy for his character that the audience isn't completely repulsed by the quick messy affair he has with his ex-wife, Streep, before she realizes the sweeter, more adoring Martin is better for her. This horrible film not only commited the unforgivable crime of deceiving Americans into wasting over a hundred million dollars to see it; it also wasted the considerable talents of the three leads. Now I need some M&M's or fried chicken or something to cleanse my palate.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, and Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith
Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen
Written and Directed by George Lucas
When I was a kid, there wasn't Star Wars: Episode Anything. There was Star Wars, there was The Empire Strikes Back, and then there was Return of the Jedi. The plot of the movies can be drawn from the titles. In the first, their is a war in space. The good guys, or those on the side of the Jedi, win. In the second film the Jedi's enemy, the Empire, hands the Jedi a series of defeats and "Strikes Back." In the final film, the Jedi literally return and vanquish their foes. Being a young child, I could gather some semblance of what these movies meant just from this. As a soon to be high-school senior relishing his last summer of youth, I did not go to see Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace. I went to see Episode One. That is what we called it. During the summer of 1999, my first with the freedom of a car, I visited the theater five times to see this movie. I can still remember the feeling I got when those big yellow words marched up the screen and out into space. Outside of visits to see the Special Edition releases of the original trilogy, I had never seen anything like this opening on the big screen (unless I somehow peered through my mother's womb during her trip to see The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe that's why I inexplicably yelled "He's your father!" during my first post-natal viewing. Dagburn fetus-spoilers!). My first viewing of the film produced a pretty stunned reaction. Starships blasting through space on a 40-foot screen. Lightsabers clashing. Darth Maul doing backflips and getting chopped in half. I don't know what I took critically from the film on first viewing (and I was a pretty critical 17-year old), but my senses were certainly blown away. On the following four viewings I found myself doing things I never did while watching the original trilogy. Horrible, dirty things.
Actually, not really that dirty. Compared to your average movie, Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace is a pretty entertaining flick. The action scenes are extremely well done, the special effects still hold up, and the movie looks downright beautiful. Does anyone know what downright means? Is it just a misheard lingual travesty of "done right"? (What about dagburn? What does that mean?) The visual and aural aspects of Episode One are definitely done right. The problem is that this was the only thing I was truly taking away from the film. I found great pleasure in the things previously mentioned, and I enjoyed the fact that good and evil were back epically fighting each other on the big screen, but I was being forced to search for reasons to like the movie. As the summer ended I realized that I never had to do that with the Original trilogy. I watched them and I liked them. I did not have to search for reasons to like them. They were really good movies and I liked them.
Still, Episode One is only one film. A final year of high school and two morally confusing years of college later, and here was Episode Two. We did not call it Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, or even just "Attack of the Clones." Just Episode Two. This film has some strong aspects. The subplot with Obi-Wan Kenobi hunting and facing off against a renegade Bounty Hunter and his cloned child is quite thrilling. Though we still don't really get a sense of who Obi-Wan Kenobi is, Ewan McGregor injects enough into the performace to make him someone likable--and the strange father-son bond of B-Villians Jango and Boba Fett make them sympathetic as well. This often feels like a different movie from the misplayed romance of the A-Story. Still, the movie is even prettier than its predecessor (and sounds even better, too). The lightsaber battles at the end are even more thrilling. These pros are reason enough to enjoy the film.
Two and half years of college and sixth months of bizarre desert wandering later, and here comes Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith, or just Revenge of the Sith as we called it. That title was just too good. Revenge of the Sith was even PRETTIER than the previous two films, had even BETTER action scenes, and gave even MORE reasons to type things in ALL CAPS. Revenge even gave cause to a bit of audience emotion.
AND HERE IS WHERE I TOTALLY EVISCERATE THE PREQUELS!!!...
Nope. I can't. Star Wars has been a sort of parallel story to my life. Not so much the prequels as the original trilogy, the corresponding media, book series, comic series, video game series, tapper-keeper folders, what have you. Like many, many people, the original mythology of Star Wars has struck a strong chord in the mythology of my own life, my relationship with my parents, my siblings, my wife, my child, my faith. It's real...dagburnit. At the same time, it's only a bunch of movies made by a short, bearded man-child who does best when he throws out big ideas to directors and writers more talented to he is, then spends the rest of the production riding the special effects and set designers to get the visions of the wonderful things in his head out correctly. Star Wars, at its absolute best, is just this. I can't totally hate on the prequels, but I can easily point out the reasons why not only I, but even my four year old cousin will easily pick watching the original trilogy over the prequel trilogy any day. but
CAPS HIJACKING: THAT HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE. THAT WOULD JUST BE REDUNDANT
True, but I haven't written about this yet, so I think I may bring a different perspective to the table. That's right...
THIS WAS ONLY THE INTRODUCTION:
What works in A New Hope, but does not in The Phantom Menace:
Within the first fifteen minutes, A New Hope has a chief protagonist. He is a young man named Luke Skywalker, and he lives on a backwater planet with his Aunt and Uncle. He hates it, and he wants out as soon as out can be had. He never got to know his parents. He is extemely identifiable, as most people want adventure and feel like they could be doing something better at any given moment. He has distinctive personality traits: he is a bit whiney and impatient, but he is good-hearted and obedient. He is joined in his quest by an old man name Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kenobi is a calm, centered man who not only claims to be one of the last of a mythical group of supernatural warriors called Jedi, but also an old friend of Luke's father Anakin. Kenobi says Anakin was also a Jedi, betrayed and murdered by a dark warrior named Darth Vader, a vision of evil incarnate we are introduced to in the initial moments of the film. Kenobi and Luke get off planet with a cocky, violent smuggler named Han Solo, and his similarly violent, yet possibly more level-headed sidekick, Chewbacca. Together this motley group attempt to save Princess Leia, a leading figure in the Rebellion against the galactic empire. Leia is a five-foot tall tornado, angry, uptight and headstrong. That means she is stubborn, not that her head can lift mass quantities of weight. Those are our principal characters.
The Phantom Menace does not have a chief protagonist. This role is split between, arguably, four or five characters. Unfortunately, these characters have no identifying character traits. One is a master Jedi--so he must be wise and calm. One is his apprentice--so he must be slightly less wiser and calmer than his master. This apprentice is a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, so we infer his character from the previous trilogy. His master says he is headstrong (and I am guessing again that this means stubborn), but we are never shown any examples of how he could be considered this. He seems pretty by-the-book. They meet up with a bumbling alien named JarJar Binks--he is bumbling. They rescue a queen--she is queenly, apparently--named Amidala--and end up on another planet for kind of illogical reasons where they meet DRUMROLL Anakin Skywalker. Anakin is a kid who likes to fly around. I would tell you more about him, but that is it. These are the main characters, and instead of actions dictated by character, they perform actions based on what the story needs them to do. This lack of real character is mocked far more hillariously and intellectually by the famous 70-minute Youtube review of this film, so I'm not going to harp on this more. I don't even know how to play the harp, but I like the way it sounds.
Because the characters in the first trilogy are actual characters, they are allowed to have character arcs. They evolve as the trilogy progresses in ways the characters in the Phantom Menace can't because they aren't really characters. Because A New Hope's characters are actually characters that we can care about, we attach emotions to them. The death of Luke's Aunt and Uncle strike an immediate chord. His search for the truth about his father and his enthusiastic desire to live a bigger and more impacting life makes the life-crushing revelations he faces later on all the more heartbreaking. Han Solo's arrogance and shoot-first attitude make him immediately likable to the American viewer, thus his humiliation later on is even more shocking. Leia's changes are more subtle. She is the most steadfast and unwavering, yet she finally allows some of the emotional walls she's constructed around her to come down. These are actual people who change gradually over time, just as we all do.
On a technical level, The Phantom Menace destroys A New Hope. Unfortunately for the Phantom Menace, it doesn't have the characters to match. As Luke stares off at a fantastic twin-sunset and ponders his future in A New Hope, things crash and boom in The Phantom Menace, but the sunset and the longing it brings is more beautiful than any explosion Industrial Light and Magic can render.
Because the characters cannot carry the film, The Phantom Menace has to rely on an overly complex story that most people would still be trying to work out in their heads if they were still actually thinking about the movie. They aren't, but I can give you the plot of A New Hope in one badly constructed sentence fragment: Save the Princess, don't get blown up. Though I am wordier than most, most things aren't worth a single sentence if they can't be summed up in a single sentence.
Oh, and I haven't gotten into the well-known horror of JarJar Binks, a Phantom Menace side-kick character that is perhaps the title character of the film, haunting every scene with his menacingly annoying presence.. Everyone already hates him enough to the point that complaining about him would be redundant. I'll just say that C-3PO of A New Hope is the obvious comedic counterpart to JarJarBinks in Episode One. The difference is that C-3PO is not an obviously visible mockery of a minority, his banter with fellow robot R2-D2 is actually cleverly written and un-obnoxiously performed, and he is not in EVERY SCENE IN THE ENTIRE MOVIE.
What works in The Empire Strikes Back, but does not in Attack of the Clones
The Empire Strikes Back seems to kickoff right after A New Hope. Our heroes have been running from the monstrous enemy they have just handed defeat. There is already forward momentum. Attack of the Clones seems to happen at the end of a ten year nap. Anakin is a Jedi now, Obi-Wan is a Jedi Master, and Queen Amidala is now Senator Amidala...and that is about it. Anakin is played by a different actor and whines more, but really only the titles before the character's names are different. This lack of change in Anakin is a bit disheartening...because this guy is supposed to become Darth Vader. SPOILER! Wait, you're supposed to put SPOILER before the spoiler, huh? Oh well, guess I ruined that for you. Sorry. Bruce Willis' character in the Sixth Sense is dead the whole time. Book and Wash die in the Firefly movie. When Buffy and Angel do it, he turns evil, and she has to kill him. Santa Claus isn't real. Easter Bunny isn't real. Soylent Green is people. The Planet of the Apes is really Earth the whole time. Dumbledore dies. Ross and Rachel finally get together forever, but it really isn't that satisfying. Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father.
Not yet, though.
Right now he is just a whiny teenager, much like his son will be, except that isn't his son's only character trait. Anakin has the Galactic President whispering in his ear, but he really doesn't tell him much except, "Anakin, you're awesome." That's probably because their ONE scene together lasts about 20 seconds. Little-known to Anakin, the President is moonlighting as a dark Lord of the Sith. Flash forward to the Empire Strikes back, and Luke Skywalker has someone whispering in his ear, too. After an attack by the Empire splits up our heroes, Luke takes the advice of a now ghost-form Obi-Wan, and heads to a swampy planet to find and train under Yoda, a great Jedi Master. Yoda turns out to be more than Luke bargained for, first pretending to be a cranky eccentric, then revealing himself to be perhaps the wisest most-powerful (to our knowledge) being in the galaxy. Also, he is two-feet tall and green.
Yoda reveals the complexities of the force to Luke, as well as the difficulty of serving the light and resisting the darkness. Yoda is a great character, and his many scenes with Luke prepare Luke for the darkness ahead. They toughen him up, get the whine out of him, and give him a new resolve that is visible throughout the rest of this film and the next. Meanwhile, we don't get a parallel to this in Attack of the Clones. While Luke is smelted into a warrior for good, Anakin makes awkward faces at his love interest and does more whining. Scenes of Anakin's heart subtly being twisted by his future dark master would have added loads to the development Anakin is supposed to undergo. Instead we get a sudden scene where Anakin murders an entire village of aliens responsible for the death of his mother. Besides his whining, we don't really get a build up to this, he just gets angry and kills a bunch of people. Had Luke not received the training he received from Yoda, his resolve in the face of overpowering evil at the end of The Empire Strikes Back would have been a little unbelievable. This contrasts directly with Anakin's murders in Attack of the Clones, which really seem a bit ridiculous given we've never had any evidence before that this man is violent, let alone a murderer.
I'm not even going to get into a comparison of the romances in these two films. Lying. Of course I am, what's this blog for?
Han Solo and Princess Leia's romance works because it realistically reveals tenderness in two characters who hadn't shown much up to this point. It works because the characters are well drawn enough so that we can see that the proper, uptight Princess needs a devil-may-care scoundrel like Han in her life. Scoundrel? I like the sound of that. Speaking of, here's a sample of dialog between Han and Leia leading up to their first kiss:
Han Solo: Hey, Your Worship, I'm only trying to help.
Princess Leia: Would you please stop calling me that?
Han Solo: Sure, Leia.
Princess Leia: You make it so difficult sometimes.
Han Solo: I do, I really do. You could be a little nicer, though. Come on, admit it. Sometimes you think I'm all right.
Princess Leia: Occasionally, maybe... when you aren't acting like a scoundrel.
Han Solo: Scoundrel? Scoundrel? I like the sound of that.
[Han starts to massage Leia's hand]
Princess Leia: Stop that.
Han Solo: Stop what?
Princess Leia: [timidly] Stop that. My hands are dirty.
Han Solo: My hands are dirty, too. What are you afraid of?
Princess Leia: Afraid?
Han Solo: You're trembling.
Princess Leia: I'm not trembling.
[Han moves in closer]
Han Solo: You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.
Princess Leia: I happen to like nice men.
Han Solo: I'm a nice man.
Princess Leia: No, you're not. You're...
Wow, isn't that nice. It just crackles off the screen of my blog.
Now, let's compare a similar scene in Attack of the Clones, where Anakin and Amidala, or Padme, or whatever her name is first kiss:
[Anakin and Padme are about to be carted into the arena]
Anakin: Don't be afraid.
Padme: I'm not afraid to die. I've been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life.
Anakin: What are you talking about?
Padme: I love you.
Anakin: You love me? I thought we had decided not to fall in love. That we'd be forced to live a lie and that it would destroy our lives?
Padme: I think our lives are about to be destroyed anyway. I truly... deeply... love you and before we die I want you to know.
Uh, thanks again, IMDB.
Believe it or not, this scene was not written to be acted out by robots. Two humans actually have to robotically force these words out of their mouths. Ouch. Oh, yeah, and in cased you were worried, they don't die...yet. SPOILER.
I'm not really sure what Padme sees in Anakin. Maybe she has some weird younger man fetish. Whatever it is, we definitely aren't shown. Bah. Also, they're not supposed to be together because of some stupid rule that I'll get into in the next movie comparison.
Hey, let's talk about the final light saber duel.
The lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is easily one of the best movie scenes of all time. We witness Luke's growth and increase in skill since the first film, and his terror and marvel at the power of his foe. After the fight and Luke's defeat, we witness the shocking revelation that the man who just badly beat him and chopped off his arm (and on top of that, killed his mentor Obi-Wan in the previous film) is actually his father. Not only that, but we get an offer from Darth Vader to Luke that is almost impossible to resist. Join me or die. Luke's heroic surrender to the force and the subsequent escape it provides is well earned after everything we've seen. Now, let's compare this emotional scene to its counterpart in Attack of the Clones.
Anakin is forced to fight the evil Count Dooku, a character he has never met or heard of in his life. That's it. All the emotion of the scene in Empire Strikes Back finds no counterpart in Attack of the Clones. Anakin gets his arm (both his arms actually) chopped off and loses to his stronger, darker foe, and that's it. Strangely, though, this fight is the prequel trilogy's finest sequence. It reveals more about Anakin's character than any other scene. We see the well-illustrated result of Anakin's impatience as the fight begins, and then, in the most poetically shot moment of the prequel films, we see how a man like him can be seduced by the dark side. This is the only moment in the prequel trilogy that does this:
The ferocity of Anakin and Count Dooku's fight destroys the artificial lighting in the room. As Anakin and Count Dooku fight in the darkness, the red light from Dooku's lightsaber washes over Anakin's face. Anakin bathes in the light, wonder fills his eyes as he marvels at the power of the darkness, lusts for it. Jeez, that part was awesome.
What works in Return of the Jedi, but does not in Revenge of the Sith
Things look pretty grim by the time Empire Strikes Back's credits roll. On top of Luke Skywalker going and getting his arm chopped off and having his soul stomped on and everything, Han Solo gets captured by the Enemy and frozen solid in a black block of futuristic ice. After facing almost complete defeat, the good guys decide to start their "Return" by rescuing Han.
Revenge of the Sith starts with a rescue as well. Of course, following in the tradition of previous prequels, the character kidnapped is not only kidnapped offscreen, but is the Galactic Chancellor, who we don't really know or care tremendously about. His rescue is extremely thrilling and well shot, though, probably the best action sequence George Lucas has ever directed. The sequence even ends with a callback to Return of the Jedi, with Chancellor Palpatine/The Emperor, whoops...SPOILER telling a Skywalker to brutally finish off their defeated, unarmed (literally...hahahahahahahahahahaha!) opponent. Of course, we have seen Luke's metamorphosis througout the last three films, so when he does the right thing, our convictions and investment in him are greatly rewarded. When Anakin does the wrong thing he looks confused and pained, and his morally confused interactions with the Chancellor throughout the beginning of the film are well-played, but I kind of feel like I am getting ahead of myself here, AND THAT'S JUST WHAT THIS MOVIE DOES. Instead of building up to Anakin's turn to the darkside SPOILER...? he just turns. Instead of showing us how a good man is gradually worn away into an evil one...well, George Lucas doesn't seem either capable or willing to do so at this point. So midway through the film, Anakin Skywalker goes from slightly irritable hero of the Galactic Republic to child killer. That's right. After getting whammied by Chancellor Palpatine into believing that his wife Padme and their unborn children will somehow die if he doesn't learn some secret power from Palpatine, Anakin decides to murder all the Jedi, including all the Jedi children. Anakin even gets down on his knees and pledges to serve Palpatine. Sounds ridiculous? That's because it is! It's almost like George Lucas suddenly remembered, "Oh crap, Anakin is supposed to turn into Darth Vader. Dagburnit, I forgot about that! Now what I'm I supposed to do? Well, I guess if I suddenly make him murder children for no reason, people will just go along with it. Yeah, that's it! That's really evil, and no one will even realize that five minutes ago Anakin was selflessly putting his life on the line to save people. It doesn't even matter that I forgot to build up to this!"
Yes, it does!
Anakin's "coronation" into evil is the most frustrating scene in the entire prequel trilogy, even though it appears in the best film in the trilogy, because it is supposed to be the most important scene in the trilogy. The trilogy.
Actually, this should have never just been one scene...this should have been what all three movies were about!!! AHHHH!!! After investing so much time into these films, almost everything wrong with these prequels could have been overlooked if Anakin's turn had been done convincingly...and it is not. If not for this one terrible scene, I might not even have worked up the angry nerve to write this semi-diatribe that no one will ever read (and if you do, could you please proofread it for me? This thing is really long).
So here we have an instantly evil Anakin, and that is the movie for the most part. After some good scenes, we have this abrupt turn, most good-guy characters are murdered, Obi-Wan and Anakin fight to the (near) death, Padme dies from grief (or robotic malpractice?) after giving birth to twin babies, Luke and Leia Skywalker, and a burned and decapitated Anakin Skywalker gets put into an oversized Darth Vader costume/life-support device.
The fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is particularly heartbreaking, not just because the two actors did have a decent father-son-brother chemistry, but because Ewan McGregor, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, is obviously not sure what emotion he is supposed to be displaying because of George Lucas' conflicting philosphical/religious opinions manifesting throughout the films. This ties into the "rule" Lucas creates to keep Padme and Anakin apart that I mentioned above. Apparently in this version of the Star Wars Galaxy, Jedi are not supposed to have "attachments".
If you were thinking, hey, that's just like the concept of Upadana in Buddhism, it is. Were you not thinking that? Well, it is. Though I think my religion is the one true one and the rest of you's crazy twaddle is not, I still know all about the rest of you's crazy twaddle. And if Buddhism is George Lucas' crazzy twaddle, he sure makes a mess of it. If Lucas is saying attachments are a cause of suffering, well apparently they are the cause of Anakin's, as they make him easy fodder for the Chancellor's machinations.
But wait a second...in Return of the Jedi, after Luke refuses to kill his vanquished father and join the beckoning Emperor, does he say, "No. Because of my complete disattachment from the people around me, I am easily able to resist your offer, Wrinkles."?
Earlier in the film, the Emperor himself tells Darth Vader, "His (Luke's) compassion for you will be his undoing." Actually, Evil Incarnate, Luke's compassion for his father will be your undoing. Upon Palpatines's command to Luke to murder Darth Vader and take Vader's place at his Evil side, Luke Skywalker says (this is so badass, I'm giving it it's own paragraph),
"Never. I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me."
Man, that's powerful. I'm about to tear up just typing it. This emotional involvement I have in the characters in the Original Trilogy has been well earned. After all, they care for each other, and I care for them, even though they aren't even real. At least not as far as I know.
The Emperor's response to this is, "So be it, Jedi." This response seems to dictate that a Jedi is someone who loves and cares for others, and is motivated by this love to do good. Evil force-users like The Emperor seem to be the ones with no attachment. So with a shrug, the Emperor shoots lightning from his fingertips and begins to burn an easily overmatched Luke to a crisp.
And what do you know? Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker, consumed with love for his son, selflessly gives his own life to destroy the Emperor and save Luke Skywalker.
Looks like attachment might be a good thing after all.
Is this what Lucas is actually trying to say? Is he actually against this anti-attachment philosophy? Is he equating the fall of the Jedi because of their lack of attachment to say, the Catholic church's current problems with pedophile priests who were not allowed to marry? Well, I don't know, George Lucas might not even know, and his prequel trilogy actors certainly do not know. As Obi-Wan defeats Anakin in a final duel, reducing his protege to a burned-up, somehow-living torso and head, torso-head Anakin looks up at his master and shouts, "I hate you!", but Obi-Wan responds, "You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you!"
I wish we could have had more scenes of these two together to establish their relationship before this moment, but McGregor absolutely sells the line with emotion. Moments later, though, as Obi-Wan boards his ship and flies away, his brain (McGregor's not Obi-Wan's) appears to be attempting to decipher what emotion his face should be registering. After all, his character just left a man he viewed as a brother to die. But then again, for some reason he isn't supposed to have any attachments to anyone. So while the original trilogy actors, having no hokey, half-assed philosophical notions "attached" to them, would have no confusion that they are supposed to be registering complete, dejected sadness, McGregor does not have this freedom of clarity. This is a shame because McGregor's charisma has arguably carried the prequel trilogy along. What is he supposed to do, though, when the values his character espouses have reached a point where they contradict and make no sense? He is painted into a corner. The emotional spear of these films is again blunted.
Meanwhile, Return of the Jedi, even with one two many furry muppets and plot rehashes running around, ends in style. A now redeemed Anakin Skywalker's spirit, along with fallen comrades, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, beam with joy at victorious Jedi Luke, as he sends the glorious flames of his father, also victorious, into the heavens.
I haven't even mentioned the growth of Leia, who is now vulnerable to the point that she actually asks another character for a hug, and Han, who now does the right thing without question and is willing to risk his life for his friends.
As for prequel development, Padme goes from a Queen, to a Senator, to pregnant, to dead. Obi-Wan goes from Jedi-warrior on a city planet, to Jedi-warrior on a desert planet. Anakin Skywalker grows a foot or two, murders some children, gets chopped up, and wears a black plastic suit. I'm not really sure how they are different people at the end, except for Anakin. His character development is easily equatable to a coin-flip.
This ends my comparisons.
I sometimes wonder if the prequels existing is a good thing or a bad thing. They contain some of the best action and special effects put to film, but do they enhance the original trilogy, or justify an existence on their own? I dunno, that's not the point of this 4815162342 word blog. I can say, though, having read at least forty or fifty novels set in the Star Wars universe, uncounted comics, and thinking about Star Wars more than what I am going to wear on any given day, that Star Wars operates best on a certain level.
Star Wars operates best when the characters are at the forefront, the lines between light and dark are made clear, and when George Lucas mainly draws the pictures of the spaceships, puts his name on the poster, and stays out of the way.