Alan Moore with Dave Gibbons, Watchmen - A 20th anniversary thing, I had to read this for a Culture Studies class (ENGL 315) I took in spring 2003 of which this was easily the undisputed highlight; the rest was a big fat truckload of les theories des philosopheurs dees-meesséd and poorly disguised leftist political stuff....Adorno & Horkheimer, anyone? bell hooks? Deeply overwritten pamphleteering explaining why Disney is so evil? I imagine if you time warped me back to take that class again I'd have to slap myself to avoid supporting the invasion of Iraq, but I digress. At the time I would have happily declared Watchmen to be the best thing I'd ever read in my life, but I've only reread the whole thing once in the two decades since, and it was in preparation for the lukewarm 2009 movie. Re-reading it now, it's...still great, really, and I didn't need it to "come back to me"--I'd honestly forgotten next to none of it. Maybe the little after-chapter articles and the details of the comic book pirate story that parallels the New York City action at most...it wouldn't take me very long to list what little I hadn't had burned into my memory. Oh sure, it's not one hundred percent flawless and does require suspension of belief in some areas--I get that Moore is trying to show us how the world wouldn't really be much less troubled if there were real superheroes, but why doesn't the Soviet Union just make its own Dr. Manhattan, if all you have to do is put a guy in an "intrinsic field remover"? There's also the matter of the final chapter, which I still consider pretty great, but which has every character except Rorschach accepting what Veidt did as correct in a matter of like three pages, and the world sure does seem to recover quickly from three million people being killed in New York City by psychic death waves unleashed by an alien. I know that other people who aren't Alan Moore wrote published sequels to this that cross over with Batman and a lot of other junk, but I can't see myself reading them, though I suppose I could watch the HBO series which I saw got good reviews. What about you? Have you "outgrown" this? I still think it's stunningly readable as an adult, but I still like all those old Super Nintendo games, so....
Fahrenheit 451 (2018): Take one guess at how the recent, modern Netflix version of this story "modernizes" it. Go ahead, I'll wait. You'll never believe it: SOCIAL MEDIA. I know, right? The hero Guy Montag, now played by Michael B. Jordan, has all of his book-burning police exploits uploaded to whatever future Internet there is and we see a constant flood of comment sections scrolling up the sides of buildings, etc. Montag's dope addled zombie of a wife isn't in this movie either, which is probably a fine change, and the ending has been altered significantly, which, while not necessarily for the better, at least improves on the Truffaut film's conceit which was to not really have an ending at all. I guess they burned all the Kindles in the future too, huh? The villain is Michael Shannon, and by now it's time for him to go back to playing something else. This isn't terrible, and at least it adapts Bradbury more sensibly than Truffaut did, but it's still not particularly great. It also has me wondering if there will be some sort of social media apocalypse in the future that will shut social media down entirely so we can all laugh about how badly dated films like this are in the future.
Bodies Bodies Bodies: Speaking of social media, here's an even nastier satire of such, presented in the guise of an Agatha Christie whodunit, characters trapped in a mansion being picked off one by one. You'd have to be a fool to think A24 would successfully pull off something that lofty (and of course, it's not that lofty) so what we're really in for is what happens when the kids run into the first dead person and freak out, which is that they all start hysterically fighting with each other and accusing each other and screaming about their smartphones and their podcasts and their Instagram profiles and their neurotic problems ("Feelings are facts!" "Body dysmorphia is a thing!" "Your parents are upper middle class!") Thus, we have the most obnoxious and easy-to-hate cast of young characters on film since either The Blair Witch Project or any given Bret Easton Ellis adaptation. I mulled on that, thinking about how Ellis had his rich characters' minds completely warped by the consumerism and media of the 80s and maybe 90s, and now we have kids warped by having social media on the brain all the time. But Ellis' characters, while awful human beings, at least still seemed to be young adults; these characters are supposed to be 22-25 years old and come across as more like high schoolers than the 25 year old actors playing high schoolers in any given 90s teen movie. To top it all off, one of them is Pete Davidson. Sign o' the times. We're not gonna make it, are we? I wasn't wild about this movie.
Avatar: The Way Of Water: The only real advance this sequel makes over the 2009 original--mentioned in every review that I read as "having surprisingly little cultural impact"--is that Cameron's dialogue is slightly better this time around. The $400 million or so of digital stuff on screen is admittedly sort of impressive in terms of how much work was put into it, but one wonders why not just film actual fish, huh? Cameron still doesn't have any great characters (most reviewers had a great time pointing out how all the Na'vi kids are interchangeable, and several mentioned that they didn't even realize one of them was Kate Winslet until the end credits) but I guess he comes up with one nice battle scene towards the end to give me something to remember out of the 190 minute or so running time. Otherwise, all I'm going to remember is that I spent $14 on an Extreme Chocolate gigantic-ass milkshake that had so much sugar and calories in it that I felt like I was going to die afterwards.
Battleship Potemkin: Well this was worth watching a couple times for the "Odessa Steps" bit, natch. The first big "horrible gruesome massacre" scene on film? Maybe not but probably the first one to become influential, eh? And it IS gruesome--I was stunned to see that young boy getting stomped over and over by trampling crowds until he looked like Joseph Augustus Zarelli and his mother with a mustache came over and overacted in that silent-movie mode while picking up his body. Even worse than that was the woman who gets her EYE SHOT OUT with a closeup of her face while she screams in silent terror with dark goop running down one side of her face, how gory! There's also the baby carriage whose resolution we don't quite see--guess Eisenstein didn't have the courage to show it? Damn Soviet Commies didn't have the guts to go full dead baby with their stinking commie propaganda, fneh!!!!
The 12th Victim: A four part documentary on HBO about the 1958 thrill-kill crime spree of dumbass James Dean wannabe Charles Starkweather and his helpless 14 year old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate, you can already guess that this could have been half as long as it was and it would have been about as effective all the same, though it's not as bad about this problem as the six-part The Keepers or Mind Over Murder. The first part is the actual killing spree, and somehow I hadn't known all these years just how bad Starkweather really was--I knew he'd killed an infant, but I hadn't heard about what he did to some of the women he killed! Aggghh. Screw him--he deserved the chair. The rest of this is about the attempts by Starkweather and the general male population to somehow blame Fugate for what Starkweather did, and Fugate's subsequent life as a pariah which continues to this day (she's still alive at age 80) and attempts to exonerate herself. I have the Criterion edition of Badlands, which has a 20 minute long Bill Kurtis documentary about Fugate which pretty much does the same thing as most of this, though I didn't know Fugate was visited by Terrence Malick and Martin Sheen, who had their picture taken with him (and man, did Malick ever look like John Belushi back then!) I didn't think this was terrible or anything but it is overlong and mostly just amounts to a pity party for Caril Ann Fugate, and from what I can tell from the lack of external reviews and Moviechat commentary, not many people watched this anyway.
The Minutemen, Double Nickels On The Dime: File this one under "I" for "Incomplete"; even if the songs are short (and they very much are) there's still, y'know, 45 of them. FORTY-FIVE. That's a real b!tch to assimilate, y'know? I don't think I've ever listened to an album with that many songs before! After my ninth listen I think I'd come around to liking maybe 15-20 of these tracks, but not loving them; I agree that the band's instrumental skills were stronger than most of the rest of the 80s underground crowd, but I think what's holding me back is the general California funk-rock style, which is far different from the rest of the 80s jangle/punk/indie crowd. It can be good--it's just not something I easily warm to, and that's a problem with a 45-song, 73-minute album. The only opinion I ever heard anyone offer on this album at this board was when Mike D said he didn't like it because they "sound like the Red Hot Indie Peppers." Is this the smartest and most ambitious of the 80s underground albums? Zen Arcade, while a masterwork, was more like a raving roaring 70 minute punk-purging of everything Husker Du could do at once, and Daydream Nation, while also a masterwork, seems only sporadically to have been intellectually motivated...? (I'm not sure what I'm really saying here--I'm certainly not trying to call Sonic Youth dumb.) That leaves Game Theory's Lolita Nation as this album's main competition on the ambition stakes and I'm lukewarm on that one too. Uhm...for all Mike Watt's bass talents, it seems like the more I like a song depends on D. Boon coming up with a memorable or weird guitar line, like he does on "Jesus & Tequila" or "Theater Is The Life Of You" or "The Glory Of Man." You want some more highlights? "June 16th" (Joyce reference!), "There Ain't S*** On TV Tonight," "The Big Foist," "Viet Nam," "Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth"? But...yeah. 45 songs. This is going next to Soft Machine's Third or Frank Zappa's Hot Rats as an album I'm going to have to revisit every year or so until I "really get it" because for now I haven't digested all of it.
Aerosmith, Aerosmith: Apparently this barely got heard outside of Massachusetts in 1973, because "Dream On" didn't become a hit until a few years later. It's a humble little 35 minute album of basic 1970s bluesy hard rock with "Dream On" as the clear highlight, and no, "Dream On" is NOT a "guilty pleasure" to me at all--the bleak tone and use of a Mellotron set it far apart from most "power ballads," easily. "Make It," "Movin' Out" and "One Way Street" seemed to stick out as well. That said I'm certainly expecting these guys' subsequent albums to be better than this--definitely a warm-up debut. Harmless, though. Steven Tyler doesn't do anything obnoxious at all, and maybe his voice back then was better than his overblown 80s-90s voice. The Aerosmith equivalent of Cold Spring Harbor!
Dire Straits, Dire Straits: I guess I liked about half of this, too. And again, the big hit is the clear standout--it was nice to hear "Sultans Of Swing" again, actually, overplay or no. Other than that, the most notable thing about Dire Straits in 1978 is how well they'd age over the next 45 years; you'd not easily be able to guess from its spare, low-key rootsy style that the album came out at the same time as disco, nor could you easily guess from his vocal style that the balding, jowl-faced, hillbilly-looking Mark Knopfler was a 28-year-old Scottish-Englishman and not a 45-year-old American Midwesterner. Certainly you wouldn't guess that they'd become 80s MTV stars with the first album to sell a million copies on CD (did I get that right?) I guess I also liked "Water Of Love" for its chorus and guitar lines in songs like "Setting Me Up" or "Wild West End," but the band is already rehashing stuff--"Down To The Waterline" has the same rhythm as "Sultans Of Swing," "Southbound Again" comes too soon after "Setting Me Up" and "Six Blade Knife" just sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song that Knopfler gutted with an actual six blade knife. Decent album but it's not really getting me watering at the mouth to do the rest of these guys' platters, though I will anyway.
Terry Riley, A Rainbow In Curved Air: "Electronic"? I guess Riley used electronics to make the electric organs and electric harpsichords on this minimalist album sound all rainbow-in-curved-air-y, and sure, you can hear how these squiggles, signals and loops morphed into his namesake "Baba O'Riley" two years later. That's the first (title track) half of the album, which gets away with its repetition pretty well, thank you. The second half, "Poppy Nogood And The Phantom Band" sounds so much like Soft Machine's "Out-Bloody-Rageous"--the one song I really remember from Third, which came out a year after the Riley album--minus (oddly enough) the keyboard-loop-echoes fade-out that I'm surprised Riley didn't sue Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt. Seriously, the mood is exactly, EXACTLY the same in these two pieces. Or maybe Riley could have sued Gentle Giant a year later, because the original album cover for this features Riley's name and album title stamped on his balding forehead as his grinning visage looms in a pink haze over a lovely landscape. Worth listening to, though I'm not sure how I'd convince some new listener that it isn't sort of a pleasantly dated intellectual novelty record.
Kate Bush, 50 Words For Snow: I hate this album, because I ended up not hating it at the last minute of my eighth or ninth listen. The first listen? "Oh God, 65 minutes of mostly just her voice periodically interrupting sad simple minimalistic super-atmospheric echoing piano lines to coo about weird stuff? That's a zero for sure!!" I barely got into less than half of Aerial so I damn near WANTED to blast this thing into the chilly aether but...God help me, by the end, I was basically enjoying most of it. It's not entirely what I said it is--the atmosphere remains appropriately chilly and snowy throughout, but there's a song ("Wild Man") based around a nagging soft synth, a duet with Elton John ("Snowed In At Wheeler Street") which was the most slagged off song on the album, but the parts where Bush and John get dramatic together are nice, and Kate getting Stephen Fry to recite a bunch of different words for snow over a repetitive backdrop. But yes, those first three songs are just piano snow and voice...and they're the ones I remember the best, even though they should've been what I hated most. And the longest, "Misty," is the best of all? How did this happen?!? Who am I even going to recommend this album to? Critics liked it, and yet how do I tell someone that I liked this and yet less than half of Aerial?
Black Sabbath, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: The weakest of their 1970-75 "classics" (and I just listened to Technical Ecstasy for the first time an hour ago, and am not sure what's so awful about it). They seemed to be trying to expand even further on Vol. 4's advances into the art-rock-ish stuff on Sabotage and not quite getting there...? I did enjoy "Spiral Architect" a lot--a big dramatic 70s cinematic feel for the band, that these dumb-dumbs shouldn't have been able to pull off, but they did. "Sabbra Caddabra" has a good riff and I already knew that from the Metallica cover. Hey, "Fluff"--a totally obvious sugary acoustic guitar instrumental, appeals to me as well (it sounds like the Decemberists' "Cocoon" 30 years earlier! Yeah...you guys remember the Decemberists?...uh, never mind) I'm split on "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and "A National Acrobat"--the former starts with a riff that seems to retread part of "Into The Void," but the prettier part with the strummy guitars is really nice. "A National Acrobat" also seems to be a well veiled retread but I'm not sure of what, something from their debut maybe? Most of side two is weak--"Killing Yourself To Live" and "Looking For Today" don't really work and I confess it took me a few listens to realize how awful "Who Are You?" really is, and then all the reviews blasted it as well.
The Moody Blues, Keys Of The Kingdom: This is just more boring soft dinosaur-band adult contemporary slop, it just isn't as hideously embarrassing as Sur La Mer. I doubt I'll ever listen to it again, but while it's playing, I didn't think "Say What You Mean" and "Hope And Pray" were that bad, though most reviews thought they were cheese (and believe you me there aren't many reviews of this one out there. Few people care for 1991 Moody Blues.) The instrumentation is mostly faceless, though this is when they got rid of Mr. Moraz. One notable song is Ray Thomas' "Celtic Sonant," which has him singing like an opera master over a big overblown melodramatic orchestral arrangement--I can't even tell if I like this song or not!!
Birria + pastor + three cheese blend + chicken rub seasoning I brought from home = HELL YES TACOS TACOS. Anyone else? I may live in Kansas but hot damn there are some good Mexican food trucks here. Wish I could get these with Dorito Locos taco shells from Taco Bell and some nacho fries while I'm at it. Who cares if I end up weighing 350 pounds. Bleurgggghhh.
NP: Queensryche - "Spreading The Disease"