mind game

I spent most of an evening distracting myself with this simple puzzle before I started wondering why it was so unsatisfying to me. It should be satisfying. It’s just the kind of quick-hit game I like: wordless, no frills, complex enough to be gratifying and easy enough to fun. But it wasn’t either.

And then I saw it. The instant I finish a puzzle, the screen moves on to the next one. There’s no ding!, no triumphant flourish, no moment of reflection. Every solved puzzle gives way to the next puzzle without pause; it’s an unending cycle of needing to accomplish without ever feeling accomplishment.

And then I thought what a perfect metaphor that is for my mindset at the moment, and how simple it would be to change that.

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glory

This is one of my favorite pieces, springing unexpectedly from my A.V. Club assignment to review the bawdy, sometimes brutal, sensitively balanced Review, starring Andy Daly.

I didn’t expect my review of the season two premiere to delve into how Forrest MacNeil (Daly) uses his job reviewing life experiences as a pretext for escaping his own life, abdicating decisions and destiny both to the hands of random viewers, boxing off his actions from their consequences. Review allows Forrest to pursue adventures and debauchery without acknowledging how his own desires drive his behavior or how his detachment from his own culpability puts walls between him and the people he loves. Review lets Forrest put his life in a box… or, in this episode, in a hole.

Suzanne, Forrest's ex-wife (Jessica St. Clair) [Comedy Central]

Suzanne, Forrest’s ex-wife (Jessica St. Clair) [Comedy Central]

Forrest is right about one thing: It’s possible to find meaning in the most unexpected places, and in assignments that sometimes seem random.

“We’re on kind of a mission”

localhero

Over at The VideoReport, fearless leader Bill Duggan has an announcement to make, former VideoReporters of years past have some memories to share, your tireless editor keeps on highlighting new releases, and I have one last recommendation for a free rental that will break your heart, and it should.

I’ve been trying to count up how many friendships, marriages, partnerships, and careers Videoport nurtured in that cool, well-stocked cellar, and I can’t even begin to tally ’em all up. Thank you, Videoport, for everything — for even more than the movies, when just the movies would have been gift enough.

I can’t tell

I feel like I don’t have to tell you I was 14, just on the cusp of 15, when I started listening to Lou Reed.

I feel like I don’t need to tell you that I’d worked my way through the waves of punk, post-punk, and New Wave that were available to a suburban kid in those days before the internet opened up the world.

I feel like I don’t have to tell you that the rough, raw power of The Velvet Underground cut through all that synth-pop and atonal noise, cut straight to my bloodstream, cut into something in me that healed clean and and fast and left a mark for the rest of my life.

I feel like I don’t have to tell you that because, against all reason, it feels universal, inevitable, certain. It feels perfect. Is there a better age for a kid to hear Lou Reed’s early work?

Maybe for another kid, but not for me. At 14-almost-15, I was just starting to think what an adult world might look like, what an adult me might feel like, just starting to cope with the coming-of-age clichés, and The Velvet Underground meshed them perfectly: sex, drugs, cynicism, pain, and the high-minded hope of art.

I can’t count the number of nights I spent dancing alone in a darkened room, tethered to the stereo by the headphone cord, listening to the soft scrape of the needle saying shhh, shhh, shhh as the record ended and the hard POW of sound when I flipped the record and started over.

I can’t count how many times in that first year I rehearsed my own adulthood in their lyrics, or sang their songs under my breath, or cribbed lyrics from them to bolster my own weak poetry – because you can’t write poetry until you know what you’re writing about.

I can’t tell you how many times I, thinking myself so clever and avant-garde, stuck The Gift in the middle of a mix tape, or how many more times I feelingly uttered “Awwwwww!” along with the record after “She needed him, and he wasn’t there.”

I can’t tell you how that phrase resonates more strongly as an adult, or how now, stripped of all irony, it speaks to me today.

I can’t tell you how, even as I was listening to “Satellite of Love” and dancing alone this afternoon, I kept thinking of Laurie Anderson, whose work touched and shaped me even earlier, wondering how it feels to see your private grief echoed all over the world by people who never met your lost love, much less loved him.

I can’t tell you whether I’m crying for Lou Reed, or for Laurie Anderson, or for the rest of us, or just for 14-year-old Elsa dancing in the dark with headphones on.

I can’t tell.

Smithsonian urges Clinton: “Give up the funk. We want the funk.”

It’s official: Parliament-Funkadelic’s Mothership, the transporter of funk, will be the central feature of a permanent musical exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture (scheduled to open in 2015).

Presumably, in order to fit the immense metal Mothership into the newly built museum structure, the curators will have to tear the roof off the sucker.

personal top 40

One of my online friends on another site challenged us to come up with our own personal top 40 songs. I hesitated, then decided that such a ranking is necessarily shifting and impermanent, which removed a lot of the pressure. The task proved both instructive and startling: I found an unsuspected folky streak in myself, and I’m surprised at how many of my favorite artists got edged out by songs that just make me feel good.

These aren’t the best songs by the respective artists, or even the most personally meaningful, but they are the songs that I would stop everything to listen to, that I would hear in my head all day, all week. These are songs I croon absentmindedly, songs I belt out alone or with friends, or songs I play when I want to feel the most like myself.

This exercise drove home something I’ve been thinking already: I need to find a way to get more music into my daily life. I need to get better speakers for the laptop, buy a cheapie iPod and fill it, move the stereo (which is now in a little-used corner) or maybe just move the speakers.

These are in no particular order, except that I put the one long note first.

1. Picture in a Frame – Tom Waits (I coulda picked any of a dozen Waits songs, but this one is special: I pitched hard for this to be the first song at our wedding. The Fella, who loves Tom Waits even more than I do, nixed it, though I’ve never understood why. C’mon: “I’m gonna love you ’til the wheels come off”? Every time I hear it, I get all teary-eyed.)
2. No One Will Ever Love You Honestly – Magnetic Fields
3. A Town Called Malice – The Jam
4. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – Richard Thompson
5. Baby’s On Fire – Brian Eno
6. I’d Like That – XTC
7. Is She Really Going Out with Him?– Joe Jackson
8. Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
9. Los Angeles – X
10. Jezebel – Iron & Wine
11. My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone
12. Suffragette City – David Bowie.
13. Wicked Little Town from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
14. That’s When I Reach for my Revolver – Mission of Burma.
15. The KKK Took My Baby Away – The Ramones
16. Elvis Costello — like with Tom Waits, I could’ve chosen almost any song at random, but I actually gave it some thought and came up with I’m Not Angry, one of those rare songs that still sounds as amazing to me as it did when I 30 years ago.
17. Girl – Beck.
18. Love Will Tear Us Apart Again – Joy Division
19. I Don’t Love Anyone – Belle and Sebastian
20. Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love) – Ella Fitzgerald
21. Sway. I just love the song, not a particular version — but I first noticed the song while watching “Dark City,” so I’ll link that version.
22. Who Loves the Sun – Velvet Underground
23. Life During Wartime – Talking Heads
24. I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles
25. A Day in the Life – The Beatles
26. When You’re Next to Me – “Mitch & Mickey” (Eugene Levy & Catherine O’Hara)
27. Working in a Coalmine – Devo
28. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker) – Parliament Funkadelic
29. Llorando – Delores del Rio a cappella [Note 1: warning! Mulholland Dr. spoiler in that clip! Note 2: oddly enough, I don’t care for Roy Orbison’s English-language version at all.
30. I Hear the Rain – Violent Femmes
31. Driver 8 – R.E.M.
32. Why Don’t You Do Right – Peggy Lee (more recently made famous by Jessica Rabbit)
33. the abysmally depressing My Man – Billie Holiday
34. Lithium – Nirvana
35. Bye Bye Blackbird – I don’t have a favorite version, but I’ve linked to one by Diana Krall that approximates what I hear in my head when I sing it. (What comes out of my mouth is almost certainly quite different.)
36. Brick House – The Commodores
37. Bear Necessities – Phil Harris (The Jungle Book soundtrack)
38. If I Should Fall from Grace with God – The Pogues
39. All Day and All of the Night – The Kinks
40. (You will think I’m kidding but I’m not.) How High the Mountain (Y’all Are Brutalizin’ Me) – Ronnie Dobbs (David Cross)

I know there will be a handful of songs I CANNOT BELIEVE I left off this list, but for the moment, this feels pretty solid. “That one’ll do.” “Let’s go have us a champagne jam.”

Still here

So I had surgery for my parathyroids. Three are gone for good and the one remaining is slowly getting up to speed remembering it’s function. While everything is normalising, I need weekly blood tests to measure calcium levels and take a supplement from which they will gradually wean me. The problem is that I’ve got tingles that are driving me batty and the doctors just shrug because my numbers look good. I basically feel electrically charged, vibrational, and then my arm or leg will suddenly be overcome with that sensation like it’s about to fall asleep, intensely so. It’s not painful, it’s just, well, disrupting. And the last two days it’s been particularly active.

This afternoon I started going a bit stir crazy. I needed to literally make some sweeping gestures, larger than my Wacom tablet would afford. I needed to move and I needed to MAKE SOMETHING. There was no paper in the house large enough to do this on, so I took A3 sheets and taped them together for my palette. I discovered I have no charcoal, only a piece of white chalk, but then found a tube of black paint and some brushes. It didn’t have to be pretty, it just had to be the act of putting brush to paper and moving my arm. It didn’t help in the physical sense, but it still felt really good.