The Terrible Burden of Having Stuff

Unknown-3Moving is hell, as the saying goes, and my recent move to California, in the tiresome way of all major moves, has been hellish. The main driver of misery is the Stuff to be moved. There is the back breaking, ass-kicking difficulty of dealing with the mother-lode bulk of it: the furniture, the boxes and boxes of items, the kitchenware, the pictures, the bedding. It takes weeks just to assemble it all, then days more to load it all into a 8’ x 16’ PODS container. Staring at that great tangled mass, stacked top to bottom, front to back, was tiring in itself, as though it was a crushing weight upon my soul.

 

The bigger problem is our emotional connection to our Stuff. Much of my suffering came from the idea my wife and I had that moving was an opportunity to assess the entire Stuff Collection, and get rid of lots of it. First, there is the curation of the Stuff. As Stuff which sits around inside your house, functional or not, there for sensible reasons or not, it constitutes a collection.

 

So we dug into the layers of storage and closets and all the spaces of our house where Stuff was hiding. I became unhappily immersed in my earlier selves and circumstances. It was an involuntary therapy session of photos and mementos, like embarrassing prom photos and ancient resumes and lamps that once seemed like a good idea and bizarre post college artwork and sporting equipment purchased at great cost which fizzled quickly into obscurity.

 

When you find an item, then you must decide. Is it on the truck or not? It’s live or die, love it or leave it. I stored it for good reasons years ago (or did I?): do they still hold up?

 

I feel sentimental about most stuff, and the people who gave me the stuff and the fond memories that surround the stuff…Is discarding that stuff then a rejection of those times and people? For example, greeting cards. How long must I store old birthday cards? Discarding them immediately after receiving them seems unappreciative of the positive sentiments the friend or family member was conveying with a carefully written note inside the card. Perhaps the card came from a beloved and now deceased family member, which makes it worse. So they stack up on a shelf. But must I carry them around forever?

 

Then you hit the killer, the tear jerker item, which shuts down the whole process and creates psychological crisis.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There is absolutely no use for it and it is bulky, but you can’t imagine chucking it. I am talking about what’s at the very back of the closet: my entire cassette collection, the soundtrack of my youth, in all its briefcase mixtape glory. I have not listened to them in 20 years. My cassette player was thrown away years ago, but there is just no way. It’s like the Smithsonian throwing away Lindberg’s plane. No one will ever make another trip in that thing. No one can even touch it. It has zero usability, but it’s History, so it will hang in the exhibit hall forever.

 

I have always pitied electronic devices. There is newness and great excitement when we get them, and they dutifully serve our needs: computers, cassette players, smart phones, boom boxes, cameras. They deliver their thing in their way, but as soon as the smell of tech obsolescence is in the air, we toss them, despite their years of loyal service, to be ground under by heavy machinery at the landfill. Thanks, pal.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo it was torturous to consider the fate of my beloved Canon AF35M 35mm auto camera, which still would work beautifully, if I used it, and was carried on numerous vacations and still possesses undeveloped film, possibly containing cherished memories. No one wants to buy a 20 year old camera. Not even on Craig’s List. No one wants this as a gift. It seems unceremonious and wrong to dump it in the trash. It was, and still is, a great camera, which provided pictures during some of the happiest times of my life! And it’s reward for this good service?

 

The camera went to Goodwill, with the sincere hope an appreciative person will find it and dispel my guilt about abandoning it.

 

Most of the cassettes stayed with me, but not all of them. May they live on without me.

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The Complete Discography of THE PURSUIT OF COOL

The I Ching says it best: Music eases tension from the heart, releases thoughts from the mind, and inspires us to greatness. For many people, music is a fundamental way they cope with the world. Lance Rally, the main character of The Pursuit of Cool, is one such person. Like most young people, he is looking for answers and is a sponge of everything he sees and hears in his pursuit of the elusive “cool.”

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Music points us in one direction or another. After listening to the music of an era we are changed, because the lyrics and attitude and energy all convey things that seep into our consciousness. It works both ways. The taste of young people, what speaks to them, influences what music becomes popular and makes that music also a statement about them. MTV, college radio, alternative music and Top 40 all combined to make music from the 1980s into an unforgettable mix.  Unknown-4

The songs in the Discography follow the flow of the novel with Prince’s “Take Me With U” from page 4, to The Replacements “Sixteen Blue” from page 334.  Many of the songs are mentioned specifically, such as  “Just What I Needed” and “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “O Superman.” Other songs are from bands mentioned, like Joy Division, but with no song specifically in the narrative, so I had to chose between several songs (“Leaders of Men” or “Love Will Tear Us Apart”?). In these situations I have chosen an appropriate song, or songs, from that era, channeling the novel and its characters, and perhaps throwing in my own personal musical taste as well.

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In the novel, music serves many dramatic purposes. Lance Rally is introduced to the world of punk/alternative music by his punk rock actor friend Ian LaCoss and it seals their friendship. Lance‘s dance floor dance palace moves are tested to the sounds of Wang Chung. He explores the bounds of free will by going on a road trip to Athens to hear R.E.M. A Bauhaus mix tape delivered by Walkman serves to channel Lance’s feeling of betrayal and confusion in his relationship with Lynn Van Oster. The Langford Amazons, a secret clique of college women, cover Lance’s college campus with leaflets defending Sinead O’Connor’s hairstyle. The Replacement’s album Let It Be serves as a salve to Lance and LaCoss’s heavy hearts (and will forever remind me of my failed 2011 Twitter campaign to get Paul Westerberg to approve a copyright license of lyrics for “Sixteen Blue.” Where were you Paul?)Unknown-3

The list of 40 songs can be listened to on Spotify. The first 30 are on The Complete Discography of The Pursuit of Cool PART 1  and the last 10 are on The Complete Discography of The Pursuit of Cool PART 2.     Happy Listening!

“Take Me With U” – Prince

“She Blinded Me With Science” — Thomas Dolby

“Europa and the Pirate Twins” – Thomas Dolby

“Drop Dead Legs” — Van Halen

“Really Saying Something” — Bananarama & Fun Boy 3

“Just What I Needed” – The Cars

“Rise” – Public Image Limited

“I Wanna Be Sedated” – Ramones

“Sheena is a Punk Rocker” — Ramones

“Love Will Tear Us Apart”– Joy Division

“She’s Lost Control” – Joy Division

“God Save The Queen” — Sex Pistols

“Car Jamming” — The Clash

“Tainted Love/ Where Did Our Love Go” –Soft Cell

“Freedom of Choice” – Devo

“You Gotta Another Thing Coming” – Judas Priest

“Everybody Have Fun Tonight” — Wang Chung

“7 Chinese Brothers” – REM

“Superman” — REM

“How Soon Is Now?” — The Smiths

“Bad” — U2

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” — U2

“Heart of Glass” — Blondie

“Lips Like Sugar” — Echo & The Bunnymen

“O Superman” — Laurie Anderson

“Never Let Me Down” — Depeche Mode

“Jane Says” — Janes Addiction

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead”– Bauhaus

“Let’s Go”– The Cars

“Lorelei” – Cocteau Twins

“So Alive” — Love & Rockets

“Ceremony” — New Order

“Temptation” – New Order

“(Keep Feeling) Fascination” – Human League

“The Caterpillar” — The Cure

“Gigantic” – Pixies

“I Want Your Hands on Me” — Sinead O’Connor

“Just Call Me Joe” – Sinead O’Connor

“Sixteen Blue” – The Replacements

“I Will Dare” — The Replacements

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Greatest 80s Music Videos – the Digest: “Rio” Duran Duran

imagesDuran Duran, with their unique synthpop sound, pastel clothing and male model looks, was the perfect creation for early MTV. They were the first to use exotic location shoots and cinematic techniques in their music videos. Like “Hungry Like The Wolf,” a companion video filmed in Sri Lanka, “Rio” was directed by Russell Mulcahy. The genius here is the mix of art and commerce into an extended free form advertisement. Can you say Brand? These guys mastered branding – sex, adventure, fashion! – and became an international sensation. The video has a loose plot: A woman named Rio (played by model Reema Ruspoli) tempts and torments the band on beaches, yachts and rafts. The vignettes feel like photo shoots that are filmed instead of photographed. The band goes full tilt with the concept and thanks to inspired cinematography and a full line of fashion, the result is energetic and satisfying. The bright vibe is very glam 80s and brings to mind Miami Vice.

The video was shot on Antigua. The creative vibe is extravagant and spares nothing, like an advertising team gone nuts and using an entire band: We’ll get yellow goop and dump it on her latex covered rump! Pastel martinis dissipating in sea water! Painted women on rafts talking on plastic phones! Each shot of the cinematography screams outrageous pizazz with lots of Caribbean turquoise and band members with perfectly teased hair posing in colorful Mark Antony silk suits.

The video has an overt, almost comical, sexual vibe with lots of gushing liquids, pouting lips, swimsuits and strutting. “Rio” generated an intense boy band-like enthusiasm with teen girls who bought millions of Duran Duran cassettes and records. The band relished the adulation and embraced their cutting edge fashion. In a MTV News interview of Simon LeBon, as the band toured Japan, he stated: “We spend all our extra time in bed boinking Western models.”

Don’t lose sight of their musical accomplishment (they get props from Beck and The Killers). They were a real band: they wrote their own songs, played their instruments and paid their dues before they hit big with the Rio album. Good early examples of their marriage of disco and punk are “Girls On Film” and “Planet Earth.”

The song “Rio” combines guitar and synthesizer parts into a rollicking sound.  Nick

images-1Rhodes created the signature hook using an arpeggiator on a Roland Jupiter-4. On the VH1 show True Spin, the band explained that Rio was actually a metaphor for America and the lyrics expressed their desire to succeed in America.

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand

Just like that river twisting through a dusty land

And when she shines she really shows you all she can

Oh Rio, Rio dance across the Rio Grande

The most surreal and compelling part of the video is when Rio prances and tip toes around the yacht as a painted bird woman, a sexy tribal spirit. The teak yacht is a 70 foot ketch named Eilean. At full sail, the deck tilting, the band hangs on while arrayed in an iconic group pose. This posterized shot would leap onto the walls of every American girl’s bedroom. The saxophone solo, in split screen on a drifting raft and atop an Antiguan peak, became a staple of 80s music and soon Huey Lewis and Rob Lowe’s character in St. Elmo’s Fire also showcased the tenor sax.

LeBon, the lead singer, displays his versatility. With the advent of the music video it was no longer enough for singers to just sing, acting chops became required. Mugging and singing into the blue plastic phone, LeBon seems a likeable guy who doesn’t take himself very seriously. He does action and light comedy, being knocked off a dock by a giant beach ball while wearing a strap speedo. As he rides the bowsprit of the yacht at the end of the video and sings and snaps his fingers, his enthusiasm seems genuine. Perhaps he sensed America would be conquered, and that soon people would think wearing a blue shirt and green silk suit was a really good idea.

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Greatest 80s Music Videos – the Digest: “Once in A Lifetime” Talking Heads

When “Once in A Lifetime” debuted on MTV in 1981 it went into heavy rotation in the consciousness of everyone who saw it and became an instant classic. The Talking Heads went from being artsy underground musicians to the coolest of New Wavers. The video highlights all the early VHS video effects: multiple images, squiggly lines, static, washed backgrounds. Even with all this razzle dazzle there is nothing cheesy about the result, it has a timeless hip quality.

The video focuses almost entirely on the choreographed movements of David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads, and is a startling piece of performance art. From the moment Byrne appears on the screen in his slim suit, bow tie, and Buddy Holly glasses, like a nerdy Vegas magician — he single-handedly started the “hip to be square” movement — your attention is transfixed by his movements.

He pops up and down, hyperventilating. He is stressed and peculiar, seeming to be suffering from a panic attack or some mania. Perhaps he is symbolically diving into and out of the electric blue green ocean which undulates behind him. He jerks and sweats like an animated puppet or a distressed robot man. Toni Basil is the choreographer of the video, she of the famous Mickey video (Also an actress in Easy Rider. What a career!). In preparation for the video, Byrne studied documentary films at USC and UCLA of people in trances. Basil also showed Byrne films of people with epilepsy to widen his scope.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

And you may find yourself in another part of the world

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife

And you may ask yourself

Well…How did I get here?

Byrne spoke to Time Out about writing the lyrics: “Most of the words in ‘Once in a Lifetime’ come from evangelists I recorded off the radio while taking notes and picking up phrases I thought were interesting directions. Maybe I’m fascinated with the middle class because it seems so different from my life, so distant from what I do. I can’t imagine living like that.” An examination of the lyrics reveals an existential subtext about the flow of life and the strangeness of arrivals and happenings. They are quite poetic and fun to ponder.

Letting the days go by

Let the water hold me down

Letting the days go by

Water flowing underground

Same as it ever was…


The funky rhythms and twinkly synth melody of the song are irresistible. All four of the Talking Heads (Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth) and Brian Eno are given writing credit for the song, from the album Remain in Light, their fourth album. The brilliant producer/musician Eno produced the song and is responsible for the way the song fades between different rhythms. But it’s the odd “moves” of David Byrne that really make the video. He mimics people in tribal footage, as though leading an elaborate video prayer ritual. My favorite is when he places his forehead on the ground and then swivels it toward the camera to sing more lyrics. He stumbles backward as if pummeled by unseen forces. Byrne later wears a giant suit in Stop Making Sense, the Jonathan Demme concert movie, further utilizing his unusual movement instincts.

There is a wonderful minimalism to the video. You really focus on the music and on Byrne and his trance-like possession. At the end, Byrne appears briefly in smoke (another classic 80s video meme) and then we see a more normal relaxed version of Byrne wearing a casual shirt, but still singing the lyrics. It is as though through his travails he has achieved enlightenment and clarity.

Here is the true test of the video’s power: 1.) find another adult person 2.) perform a chopping motion along the lower part of your opposite arm. 3.) Most of them will say, “Same as it ever was!”

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Movie Reviews of “The Master” and “Looper”

A study in contrasts, “Looper” is a tightly plotted high concept sci-fi thriller and “The Master” is a rambling low concept movie of stunning acting performances.  Each illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of their respective approaches.

“Looper” involves assasins (loopers) who kill and dispose of bodies time travelled by crime bosses from the future. Hooded victims blink into the present at precise times and are simultaneously executed, wrapped and disposed. The Loopers are paid in silver bars and party down with drug-laced eye drops and have telekenetic powers and adoring girlfriends who are sex workers. Joe (played by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt), is a slim, natty dresser who carries a modern “blunderbuss” as a weapon. He answers to a boss man played by Jeff Daniels and learns that a new super boss in the future is closing the loops by killing all the loopers. Everything is disrupted when Joe encounters his future self (Bruce Willis) who is trying to kill the 4 year old future-to-be super boss, who throws down with super telekenetic powers. Joe’s entanglements with a farm gal mom, Emily Blunt, give the plot a beating heart and complicate Joe’s motivations.

It’s an engaging stylized thriller, it’s “Matrix” meets “Blade Runner” meets “High Plains Drifter” meets “Time Travelers’ Wife.” The loopers wear dust busters, use large bore revolvers and talk like cow pokes, while Ridley Scott hovercraft search above urban streets lined with dusty, patched economy cars. The acting is good. The movie is a pastiche of sci-fi ideas, yet the result feels original. The raised stakes and ticking clocks and whispered plot points come so fast it becomes confusing, but the movie is riveting and satisfying.

***

“The Master,” the latest from American auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights” “Magnolia” “There Will Be Blood”), involves a troubled seaman, Freddie Quell (played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix) who tumbles out of World War II and into the world as a photographer, a migrant worker and a drunken hell-raiser. He randomly jumps aboard a new ship, captained by The Master himself (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), author of The Cause and leader of a cultish movement. And so a relationship begins between these two men built on high octane drinking and “processing” to rid Freddie of his past negative experiences. Freddie becomes part of The Master’s regular crew and beats up detractors of The Cause. It is unclear if The Master is manipulating and using Freddie as a guinea pig, is genuinely inspired by him, sees Freddie as a challenging spirit to conquer, or is trying to help him.

You cannot take your eyes off Freddie Quell in his scenes because you have no idea what he will do next. The close ups of him with flared eyes become terrifying. Such is the power of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. We learn of a girl back home who jilts Freddie and is a source of pain. It is unclear if Freddie was destabilized by the war, by the jilting, or was completely nuts to begin with, and thus it is difficult to sympathize with Freddie and put his violent outbursts into context. The Master puts out a new book, is arrested with Freddie, and inspires his followers to naked dancing. The Master’s wife (Amy Adams) begs her husband to get rid of Freddie, and we are shown she is capable of mastering the master.

Some say the film is too scattered or too indulgent, and I disagree with this. Interviews with Paul Thomas Anderson do reveal the movie was filmed with various ideas in mind and was assembled in editing, yet even with lots of questions hanging, the film succeeds as a nuanced and mysterious creation. It is a film designed to trigger discussion of what really was going on, and why things happened the way they did. The film is wildly beautiful and a visual feast: Freddie Quell running across furrowed California fields, a lit yacht floating under the Golden Gate Bridge… The acting is truly extraordinary. Hoffman and Amy Adams are convincing and incredible. It is a heady film, but it fills your head with rare and wonderful stuff.

In a revealing scene toward the end of the movie, The Master tells Freddie (with both disdain and admiration) that everyone has a master, yet Freddie seems to live his life without one. It seems an important key to the movie.

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Greatest 80s Music Videos – the Digest: “Come on Eileen” Dexys Midnight Runners

The music video for “Come On Eileen,” a lethally infectious single by Dexys Midnight Runners, hit MTV in 1982 and that zippy violin melody and images of shirtless hillbillies have been burning in our brains ever since. 80s videos were beloved because they combined storytelling with music and few did it better than “Come on Eileen.” It’s a small movie. One of the most iconic videos of the 80s, one secret to its appeal is the archival black and white footage at the beginning of Johnny Ray.

Poor old Johnnie Ray

Sounded sad upon the radio


Moved a million hearts in mono

Ray was a popular singer from the 1950s and the sight of girls swooning and going nuts and writing his name on their penny loafers as he gets on an airplane immediately makes you feel nostalgic and happy, but also sad since nobody knows about Johnny Ray anymore. The black and white photos of Kevin Rowland, lead singer of Dexys, and Eileen romping as kids are adorable, and then they’re all grown up and wearing overalls. Something about kids turning into adults always brings a smile because you think: Look, gee, they’re all grown up now! They made it! (I used to think Kevin or Eileen were the children of Johnny Ray but this is not the case!) By now, you are emotionally invested.

The video goes to color as Kevin and Eileen share a small kiss, and then zooms in Kennington, London into a scene in so strange it could only be an 80s music video: it’s Appalachia meets London! This grungy corner jug band in overalls, shirtless and baring their armpits! Forget Savile Row and the Houses of Parliament, suddenly hillbilly is cool. And these gritty, working class kids are loud and proud. The video was directed by filmmaker and music video director Julien Temple, but the overalls thing was Kevin Rowland’s idea.

The story kicks in with Kevin and his jug band pals playing on the corner and Eileen and her friend with a baby stroller wander by (Eileen is played by Maire Fahey, sister of Bananarama’s Siobhan Fahey, part of the Fahey 80s video dynasty). Eileen is unimpressed, she’s not stopping. So then Kevin corners Eileen by a chain link fence and he’s working on her, really hard, I mean he is pulling out all the stops, just singing his lungs out, to convince her of something the lyrics never make clear. MTV VJs sheepishly hinted it might be about sex, and the lyrics back this up:

You in that dress

My thoughts I confess

Verge on dirty

Oh, come on Eileen

Eileen is not buying it at all, so she peels off. She’s like: Yeah, I’m so not impressed with your greasy dungarees. Kevin’s celtic jug band mates come down the street snapping their fingers in time, like a street gang, and together they work the song even harder. They are not taking no for an answer. They pursue Eileen and her girlfriend, who are engrossed in girl talk (considering Kevin’s proposition?) (where is the kid in the stroller? abandoned?) So Kevin runs up behind her and grabs and spins her in the air — a classic Broadway move women cannot resist! Then it’s night time and the band is cranking on their instruments, and who comes up to join Kevin? Of course, it’s Eileen, and together they go off arm and arm.

The video is a tiny romantic comedy – they fight, they fall in love. Boy meets girl. Boy wears bandana and greasy overalls and starts a jug band. Boy wins girl.

Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, aye

And you’ll hum this tune forever

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Emoticons: Where They Come From & Why I Use Them

Anyone who has communicated on a social network or done some texting knows about emoticons, those clever smiley-faced :) and frowny-faced :( symbols. I count myself as a heavy user because I am an emotional and sensitive guy, a writer and an Aquarian, who enjoys adding emotional accent to what otherwise might be a droll and overly serious message. The disadvantage of social networking is the lack of human contact. No voice, no facial cues to give context to a typed comment. Adding a tiny face helps to make written exchanges slightly more friendly and nuanced. And you know when someone lays down a ;) or a :D that they are a certain kind of person. My kind of person.

When you meet someone in person and shake their hand do you otherwise maintain a completely stone-faced expression? No, you smile and at least try to act like it’s a nice thing to meet this person. You want things to get off to a good start.

Emoticons are a little something more. They go the extra mile. The distance of communicating in a text or on Twitter can be a source of frustration at times. It can be hard to tell if a “Thank you” is a routine thing, perhaps even auto generated, or something with real sentiment behind it, “Thank you! :)” And they’re just…some fun. They allow our typed exchanges an element of creativity.

You might think emoticons were invented by clever techies who were mucking about on American Online during the 90s, or the same geniuses who brought us the Sad Keanu Reeves meme. But actually emoticons date back to 1881, when the satirical magazine Puck published four emoticons. Vladimir Nabokov, the esteemed Russian novelist, suggested in a 1969 interview that he wanted to answer a question using a “typographical sign for a smile.”

The first person to suggest use of emoticons in relation to computers, and to suggest the emoticons :-)  and :-(  was Scott Fahlman, who posted a message to the Carnegie Melon computer science message board on September 9, 1982 at exactly 11:44 am (this historic message was saved for posterity from backup tapes 20 years later).

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:

 :-)

Read it sideways.  Actually, it is probably more economical to mark

things that are NOT jokes, given current trends.  For this, use

 :-(

It is amusing that Scott, in a nerdy computer science way, refers to the alpha emoticon as a “joke marker” and then hints significant message board energy is being devoted to jokes rather then official department business. The usage of joke markers then spread to ARPNET and Usenet, exposing the wiseass tendencies of the computing pioneers who haunted these early manifestations of the internet.

Interestingly, western emoticons, which require a left head tilt to interpret (:0  shock, :@ angry) , differ from eastern emoticons, which appear level ((>_<)  troubled, (-_-)zzz  sleeping, (+_+) confused). This allows for more complexity (\(^0^)/ excited,  (=^.^=)  cat).  An extensive list of emoticons can be found here.

If you are an occasional emoticon user or a hardcore person I say: I get what you are doing and good for you. :D \m/ If you have never used one before I urge you to give it a shot. It is a tiny way of giving, with a little sprinkling of absurdity, but a way of giving nonetheless.  You’ll be surprised at the positivity which comes back to you. :)

Robb’s Guide to Popular Emoticons:

:)  the classic smiler, good for most occasions

:D the chucky cheese big smile, conveys a bigger happy factor

;)  the winky smile, goes one further than the classic smiler, more playful

:-) the Scott Fahlman original, conveys good will

:(  I feel your pain, friend. But hey, cheer up!

:O  surprise, like totally omg!

:-*  secret telling, no one else on Twitter will hear!

\m/  rock on!

<3  my heart goes out to you.

Please feel free to add your favorite emoticons as well! ;)

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