Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 9 of X: Covers

Rob Sheffield sticks in an "Instrumental Break" of a chapter about a third-way through his exceptional Dreaming The Beatles, about covers of Beatles songs and other recordings that for one reason or another bear strong influences of Beatles music.

Confession: I don't like covers.  I can't think of even a single example in which I liked a cover of a recording better than an original that I loved or even liked a lot.  (Ok, I guess one example - Carl Carlton's 1974 version of "Everlasting Love" was better than Robert Knight's 1967 original, but that's just one lone example.) This is what I've called the "first love syndrome" at work - when there is more than one version of a creative work afoot, we like best what we came to love first.

If you think this is too obvious to call a syndrome, consider this: I once ran into someone at a science fiction convention who told me his favorite Star Trek narrative on screen was the first Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so generally disliked that it's been called Star Trek: The Motion Sickness.  We had this conversation well after Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation had made their impact.  I asked this guy if he had seen them.  He said yes, but he didn't think that either measured up to the movie.  He then offered that his first Star Trek experience had been that first motion picture.  Q.E.D the first love syndrome.

So, though I guess it would be instructive to speak to someone who heard a cover of a Beatles recording prior to the Beatles recording, for me the question is always how much did the cover ruin an original that I loved.   Whether it's Tony Bennett or a garage band, I'd always rather hear the Beatles.   When Sirius XM's Beatles channel plays another artist's interpretation of the Beatles, I always take that time to catch up with some Trump atrocity on MSNBC.

But Beatles influences on other artists are a lot different that covers, and Sheffield's mention of Dylan's "I Want You" and "Just Like A Woman" as influenced by Rubber Soul is one of the delights of this chapter and the book as a whole.  I also watch Prince's beyond breathtaking guitar work on "As My Guitar Gently Weeps" in the Hall of Fame George tribute concert at least once a month on YouTube - it's far and way the best guitar solo I've ever seen and heard -- and I was glad to see Sheffield discuss that, too.

Actual collaboration is another facet of this chapter, and I always found Lennon's work with David Bowie so noteworthy that I actually wrote a whole novelette in which that figures  - Ian, Isaac, and John.

And I'll be back with more pretty soon.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return 1.10: "No Stars"

Twin Peaks: The Return 1.10 tonight concluded with a better than usual song, which is saying a lot, since those concluding songs are often the best part of the episode.  Tonight's song, sung by Rebekah Del Rio - who, I don't know, reminds me a little of Monica Lewinsky, was entitled "No Stars," a nice touch, since the episode has even more stars than usual, but who's counting.

One of those stars, Harry Dean Stanton, even sung a song himself, "Red River Valley," as one of our psycho bad guys left a river of blood in a nearby trailer.   There's no end to the evil on Twin Peaks, every bit as prevalent as the inscrutable.

As to the central plot, we're making maybe a little bit of progress with good Cooper recovering his identity.  At very least, coming with Jones' beautiful wife leaves him with a big grin on his face, which is the most emotion by far we've seen from this zombie in the past nine episodes.

The FBI is also making some small painstaking progress in getting on top or to the bottom of this, getting a crucial photograph of bad Cooper at the scene of a New York crime.   But the question still remains of when someone will make a breakthrough in either putting this all together, or, in good Cooper's case, realizing who he is.

I've been assuming all along that before The Return concludes, we'll have that epiphany, but for some reason, after tonight's episode, I'm not so sure.  No matter, as the long as the episodes keep concluding with outstanding songs in front of that red curtain.

See also Twin Peaks: The Return 1.1-2: Superluminal Sans Cherry Pie ... 1.3-4: Coffee and Cole ... 1.5: The Mod Squad Meets Big Love in the Diner ... 1.6: Red Door and Childish Scribbles ... 1.7: Lost and Not Lost ... 1.8: Atom Bomb and Mr. Homn ... 1.9: "I Don't See No Hidden Buttons"

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Game of Thrones 7.1: Library Redux

Game of Thrones as everyone knows was back tonight with the start of its seventh season.  It was an altogether excellent episode, satisfying in that every major character was given some time, but one thread I especially liked was Sam in the library.

Libraries have played decisive roles in science fiction, ever since Asimov gave the Library of Trantor such a pivotal role in the search for the Second Foundation in the Foundation trilogy.  This in turn and to some extent was based on the real Library of Alexandria, whose destruction in at least three stages over centuries has been counted as one of the greatest blows, if not the greatest attack, on intellectual history.  Only less than half of Aristotle's works have survived, mainly because unique copies were consumed in the flames that burned Alexandria.

So it was good to see the Library playing such an important role on GoT tonight.  It has a manuscript that shows a place where a huge amount of a resource crucial in the battles ahead is waiting.  And as a nice touch, Jim Broadbent is playing a Maester Librarian.

Speaking of acting, it was also good to see Pilou Asbæk from Borgen playing Euron Greyjoy - nothing to do with the Library, but he looks a lot like Joshua Jackson and his proposal to Cersei was daring and another good scene in 7.1.

And speaking hidden treasures, the closing sequence of  Daenerys coming back to her homeland was a fine short movie in itself.   In previous seasons, these little gems were often so far apart as to leave other parts of the story disadvantaged.  But they all seemed to be moving together tonight, like icebergs and lava on a slow, galactic collision course, with every surviving Stark and all of their enemies and enemies of enemies in some state of play, and the next six episodes should be quite a ride.

See also Game of Thrones 6.1: Where Are the Dragons ... Game of Thrones 6.2: The Waking ... Game of Thrones 6.5: Origin of a Name ... Game of Thrones 6.6: The Exhortation ... Game of Thrones 6.7: Giveth and Taketh ... Game of Thrones 6.8: Strategic Advantage ... Game of Thrones 6.9: A Night for the Light ... Game of Thrones Season 6 Finale: That Library

And see also Game of Thrones 5.1: Unsetting the Table ... Game of Thrones 5.8: The Power of Frigid Death ... Game of Thrones 5.9: Dragon in Action; Sickening Scene with Stannis ... Game of Thrones Season 5 Finale: Punishment

And see also Games of Thrones Season 4 Premiere: Salient Points ... Game of Thrones 4.2: Whodunnit? ... Game of Thrones 4.3: Who Will Save Tyrion ...Game of Thrones 4.4: Glimpse of the Ultimate Battle ... Game of Thrones 4.6: Tyrion on Trial ... Game of Thrones 4.8: Beetles and Battle ...Game of Thrones 4.9: The Fight for Castle Black ... Games of Thrones Season 4 Finale: Woven Threads

And see also Game of Thrones Back in Play for Season 2 ... Game of Thrones 2.2: Cersei vs. Tyrion

And see also A Game of Thrones: My 1996 Review of the First Novel ... Game of Thrones Begins Greatly on HBO ... Game of Thrones 1.2: Prince, Wolf, Bastard, Dwarf ... Games of Thrones 1.3: Genuine Demons ... Game of Thrones 1.4: Broken Things  ... Game of Thrones 1.5: Ned Under Seige ... Game of Thrones 1.6: Molten Ever After ... Games of Thrones 1.7: Swiveling Pieces ... Game of Thrones 1.8: Star Wars of the Realms ... Game of Thrones 1.9: Is Ned Really Dead? ... Game of Thrones 1.10 Meets True Blood

And here's a Spanish article in Semana, the leading news magazine in Colombia, in which I'm quoted about explicit sex on television, including on Game of Thrones.

And see "'Game of Thrones': Why the Buzz is So Big" article in The Christian Science Monitor, 8 April 2014, with my quotes.

Also: CNN article, "How 'Game of Thrones' Is Like America," with quote from me

"I was here, in Carthage, three months from now ..."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

El Chapo: Awaiting the Tunnel

I have to admit that from the moment I heard about El Chapo's escape from a Mexican prison via a tunnel built for him from his cell to a house somewhat down the road from the prison ... well, it struck a chord in me. When I was a kid, a long time ago, I thought that one way of remaining free if anyone from the government or wherever came after me was to build a tunnel from underneath my house to some nondescript town in upstate New York.  Of course, that tunnel would have needed to be a lot longer than what El Chapo had built, but, I still had to admire his accomplishment.

I was therefore eager to see this new Netflix series (shown first on Univision).  Alas, it leaves El Chapo in prison long before his tunnel, before even his earlier successful prison escape via other means.  But it's still a pretty good short series, with more to follow in September.

This first season in effect consists of two parts: El Chapo rising to power as a drug lord, and his apprehension and incarceration in prison.  Both are interesting in different ways.  The first has young El Chapo meeting Pablo Escobar in Colombia - a harkening back to Narcos and Pablo's story.  The second is a grim and gritty prison story, and the hell that El Chapo was put through, his spirit remaining unbroken.

There's also a lot, in both parts, about the Mexican government, and its struggle to contain corruption in its own ranks.  All in all, a riveting story, well told and well acted by Marco de la O in the title role, and I'm looking forward to more.  Although El Chapo cannot be considered a good man, his story nonetheless is a tableau of the resilience of the human spirit.

no tunnels here but plenty of crime

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bordertown: Nordic Noir in Finland

We slaked our thirst for Nordic Noir with an excellent new series from Finland, in Finnish, on Netflix: Bordertown (Finnish title Sorjonen).  It's unique, a little strange in a good way, and definitely worth watching if you're at all a fan of this genre, which my wife and I are.

First of all, I've long had an interest in Finnish, ever since I started writing science fiction stories with a Basque connection - an early story, "Last Things First,"  and my Locus-Award winning novel, The Silk Code.  Finnish is a Uralic language, meaning it has more in common with Hungarian than other Scandinavian languages.  Basque is not actually a Uralic, but has some similarity to the Uralic tongues in the way it creates lengthy word-versions rather than sentences made of shorter words, and, who knows, maybe Basque is in some way related to Finnish and Hungarian after all (but I don't want to get too science fictional here).

But it's fun to hear Finnish spoken, and the subtitles provide more than enough explanation of the story.  In the case of Bordertown, it's actually four distinct though interrelated cases which Kari Sorjonen (very well played by Ville Virtanen) is either called upon to investigate or he can't help investigate because a member of his family is either a victim, suspect, or both.

Sorjonen is an unusual and memorable kind of detective.  He has a brilliantly deductive mind - almost Holmesian - but his emotions are never too far from the surface.  His wife and teenage daughter are commanding characters, as is Lena (strong acting by Anu Sinisalo), his partner, who comes to Finland by way of St. Petersburg.  Indeed, the stories are sometimes as much about Russia as Finland, because most the action takes place in Lappeenranta (the Bordertown), close to the Russian border. Sorjonen has come to Lappeenranta from bustling Helsinki to find a bit of peace for him and his family, which of course he doesn't.

There's plenty of sex, perversion, and dark crime in these stories as befits a gritty Nordic Noir series. Highly recommended, especially in the summer, when the snow and ice of Finland look refreshing on the screen, whatever the seething criminality being enacted upon it.

Neanderthal Noir

Twin Peaks: The Return 1.9: "I Don't See No Hidden Buttons"

That was the best line in Twin Peaks: The Return 1.9 tonight - "I Don't See No Hidden Buttons" (said by the sheriff) - because, of course he sees no hidden buttons, how could he, if they're hidden, and somehow that deeply obvious statement about what can't be seen is symptomatic of the entire Twin Peaks: The Return story, right?

And it was a pretty good story, too, tonight, with at least one other outstanding line, "I am not your foot," said by a foot, and somehow reminiscent of Donovan's "I Love My Shirt," though there's nothing fruit case about that, as Rosenfeld (kudos to the late, great Miguel Ferrer) says about that poor blogger who is actually one of the few people who is not insane in this warped gem of a series returned.

Because that blogger has seen the alternate dimension, the one that spawned the bad Cooper and somehow Dougie too.  But the good news is that word of the two Coopers is now beginning to leak out.   To show you how far gone I am, by the way, our neighbors have a little dog named Cooper, I've known that since they bought the house next door about a year ago, but it just today occurred to me that maybe they named the dog after Cooper from Twin Peaks, as the lady of the house was calling after the dog to stop furiously barking, probably about a rabbit, but who knows.  (I'm pretty sure she doesn't read this blog.)

But if that is true - that the dog next door was named after our Cooper - the question is which one, the good one or the bad one, and why?

Possibly the tormented blogger would know - leave it to Lynch to put the truth in the mouth of a blogger - and I'm glad that someone, some living breathing being from this, our, dimension, has seen some of what is actually going on, because that provides hope for the rest of us.

Hey, I just wanted to also mention that, in addition to Lost,  I'd say Fargo (the TV series), Heroes, and lots of Tarantino's work is inspired by Twin Peaks, and that's nothing to sneeze at, but worth pointing out in someone's blog.

See also Twin Peaks: The Return 1.1-2: Superluminal Sans Cherry Pie ... 1.3-4: Coffee and Cole ... 1.5: The Mod Squad Meets Big Love in the Diner ... 1.6: Red Door and Childish Scribbles ... 1.7: Lost and Not Lost ... 1.8: Atom Bomb and Mr. Homn

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What the Amelia Earhart History-Changing Photograph Says about the Power of Photography

I've been thinking all day about the newly uncovered photograph of Amelia Earhart and its upending of history, telling us she indeed survived that dive her plane apparently took into the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

We're told the photograph has not been altered - was found in a long-neglected file - and it coincides with what people who live in the Marshall Islands have long believed and having been saying. Experts have said her body proportions - from shoulder to hip - match photos we already have of Earhart.  That seems like more than enough for me to think this photograph has changed history.

But we already knew what the island inhabitants believed.  So the essence of this upending is that we believe the photograph is bonafide.  Were it not, it wouldn't matter what the experts said about the body dimensions, because all of that could have been deliberately woven into the photograph.

In this day and age of fake news, photo manipulation is a fact of life and media.   But that goes back to the very origins of photograph, as I explain in Fake News in Real Context.  Lincoln was a subject of photographic manipulation, during his life and after.

But the photo of Amelia Earhart, as far the experts tell us and therefore as far as we know, has not been manipulated.   Alteration of pre-digital photographs may not be as detectible as digital fakes, but, for the time being, I'm willing to believe the experts.

I won't be shocked if the photo turns out to be bogus.  But for now, I just love that 80 years of history has been changed by one registration on a photographic plate.  I've argued for years with critics who say a photo is no more real in the objects its captures than a painting.  But it obviously is.  Though it can be altered, its very essence is a capturing of what is in front of the camera as it actually is - unlike the painter's inextricably subjective vision - just like motion pictures and videos.  (See my 1997 book, The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution, for more).   Today's news about Amelia Earhart, and the repercussions it has made for history, will from now on be the best example of this privileged relationship between photography and reality.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 8 of X: Rubber Soul on July 4

Checking in with a new review in my continuing series of reviews of Rob Sheffield's masterful Dreaming the Beatles on July 4.  This review is about Sheffield's chapter (actually two chapters) devoted to Rubber Soul.  There's no intrinsic connection between Rubber Soul and July 4, but I just read the two chapters, and they're too good not to talk about immediately, whatever the date.

Though, come to think of it, there is a slight connection, since Sheffield makes the point that he can't decide which of the two versions of the 1965 album, the British or the American, he loves most, because they're both so good.  This is just a minor example of why these chapters are such memorable discussions of Sheffield's favorite album.

There's long been a tie in my head between Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper (not quite Revolver, for reasons I'll get into in some subsequent review), but Rubber Soul has my heart and soul, and Sgt. Pepper my head, and I guess two out of three wins.  (My 1987 essay "Sgt. Pepper and the Presumption of Genius," reprinted in Electronic Chronicles, speaks to Sgt. Pepper, and I'll return to that in a later review).

Sheffield's chapters are just brimming with insights, my favorites being -

  • John and Paul later disputing who wrote a given song (I'll return to that general theme also in a later review)
  • John doing "slinky" harmony to blend in with Paul's lead in "You Won't See Me" (you don't often see John credited for his harmonies)
  • Ringo's essential drumming (Sheffield is slowing convincing me of Ringo's importance)
  • The Beatles worrying that Rubber Soul might not be well-received, with the lukewarm reception of the record label being no help (this is a story common to most great works in sundry creative fields, but it's still eye-opening to see the Beatles subject to it)
  • John trying to write about a love affair in "Norwegian Wood" in a way that won't tip off Cynthia (this is also a perennial problem with lyricists and all kinds of writers)
But what stands out most about these chapters, and Rubber Soul, is what it says about sophisticated love songs.  Dylan inspired the Beatles, but I'd say Rubber Soul and its superb variety of meditations on passion has as much or more in common with Cole Porter.  I've always thought that the greatest lyricists of the 20th century were equally Cole Porter, Lennon-McCartney, and Dylan - and Rubber Soul, the album and Sheffield's chapters, in effect testifies why (and why Lennon-McCartney are in retrospect the bridge) .  It may well be that Rubber Soul is the greatest album not only by the Beatles, but by anyone, because that mix of rock and folk, however brilliantly it might work for social commentary, finds its apotheosis in adventures of the human heart.

See also Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 1 of X: The Love Affair ... 2 of X: The Heroine with a Thousand Faces ... 3 of X: Dear Beatles ... 4 of X: Paradox George ... 5 of X: The Power of Yeah ... 6 of X: The Case for Ringo ... 7 of X: Anatomy of a Ride

lots of Beatles in here

Monday, June 26, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return 1.8: Atom Bomb and Mr. Homn

Anyone who doubted that Twin Peaks is one bizarre science fiction horror story of a story got their answer tonight in episode 1.8: it is, with a vengeance, spun of gut-wrenching, stomach-churning, searingly mind-blowing wordless narrative the likes of which you don't often see on any television, unless you're maybe watching Donnie Darko someplace the 20th time.

Also - I'm pretty sure we got an answer of sorts to what brought the alternate reality or realities into being: the first atom bomb test in White Sands, New Mexico in 1945.  This indeed was first atom bomb ever exploded (as far as I know) on this Earth, and who knows about the universe.  If I'm getting the silent movie correctly, which was the most powerful part of tonight's extraordinary episode, that first atom bomb brought into being the alternate reality or alternate universe and all the insanity it's brought us in all the Twin Peaks stories.  You could almost hear the atoms crying in anguish as they were torn apart - more than enough to create an alternate reality.  (Come to think of it, that's how Bizarro Superman was brought into being.)

At very least, we saw Laura Palmer's iconic young face in the little globe that was one of the products of what the blast wrought.  Also spawned tonight and a decade after the blast was a homicidal maniac - the woodsman - who only wants a light, but kills the receptionist and dj at the radio station playing The Platters' "My Prayer," and whose talking into the microphone (the woodsman's, that is) in turn kills more people, including a teenager who was just kissed but later has some grotesque insect with maybe human legs crawl into her sleeping or dead mouth (I told you this was horror - of the classic 1950s variety, raised or razed up a notch, to be more precise).

The one thing we can't be sure of is whether the atom bomb brought into being the alternate reality, or whether the alternate world already existed but was understandably agitated and aggravated by the bomb.  Doesn't ultimately matter, though, because it probably all amounts to the same thing.

None of this has any discernible connection to our 2017 story - though, hey, an atom bomb creating an alternate monstrous world should be enough of a story for one hour.  But we do get a significant step forward anyway in that 2017 story, at the beginning, when evil Cooper is killed, but monsters from the alternate world bring him back to life.  It's tough indeed to get rid of bad guys in this nightmare.

I was hoping against hope that the atom bomb would waken good Cooper from his stupor, but I guess it's still too early in our story at this point for that to happen, and since the atom bomb was already exploded in 1945, long before Cooper was put in his stupor, it wouldn't make sense for that same bomb to now bring him out of his stupor.  (There is some underlying logic in this story - at least, I hope so.)  But it was great to see Mr. Homn aka Carel Struycken again, from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I'll tell you one thing: I'm glad I've been listening these days to Sirius/XM's Beatles channel in my car and not any broadcast radio.   That atom bomb couldn't have an effect on satellite radio - uh, could it??

See also Twin Peaks: The Return 1.1-2: Superluminal Sans Cherry Pie ... 1.3-4: Coffee and Cole ... 1.5: The Mod Squad Meets Big Love in the Diner ... 1.6: Red Door and Childish Scribbles ... 1.7: Lost and Not Lost

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Gomorrah Season 2 Finale: The Brutal Analysis

Hey, I haven't been reviewing Gomorrah - the justly lionized Italian mafia series that takes place in Naples, and in Italian (with English subtitles) - but there's no time like the present, with the finale of the second season just on Sundance.

I'm not going to recap everything that came before - except to say it's an excellent series. If you haven't seen it, don't read anything further, because this discussion of the Season 2 finale will obviously have spoilers.

That finale features a good twist at the very end, as Ciro, with Genny's help, kills Pietro (Genny's father).  This season was aired in the UK last year, and the ending evoked a lot of criticism.  Why would Genny enable the killing of his own father, rather than kill Ciro, the man who had killed Genny's mother and humiliated him when he was younger?

This is a complex story, but the answer is straightforward.  To the very end, Pietro continued to belittle Genny and treat him like a child.  This was clearly warranted in the first season, but clearly not in the second: it was clear to everyone except Pietro that Genny was his own man.

Gomorrah has been compared to The Sopranos, but unlike The Sopranos, there's barely the scent of a hero in Gomorrah.   Genny, I suppose, is the closest to it - but what kind of hero sets up the killing of his own father?   I certainly preferred Ciro over Pietro, but, jeez, Ciro murdered his own wife. And though Pietro had a steely appeal, killing Ciro's daughter is flagrantly unacceptable.

Yet within this brutal story, there's somehow room for a little tenderness.  We see this in Genny's son, whom he names Pietro, and in the woman (Patrizia) Pietro was going to marry - indeed, she is also one of the most appealing characters in the story.

I hope we see her next season, which will no doubt be Genny's story.  Pietro would have won, had it not been for Genny.   But I can't see any alliance between Genny and Ciro lasting too long.

Meanwhile, strong acting by Marco D'Amore (Ciro), Salvatore Esposito (Genny), Fortunato Cerlino (Pietro), and Cristiana Dell'Anna ( Patrizia).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return 1.7: Lost and Not Lost

First, let me mention that Twin Peaks, especially The Return, has a resemblance to Lost.  If you don't know what that means, I can't help you.

Meanwhile, episode 1.7 is the most informative so far in The Return, so much so that I'm beginning to feel a little non-lost, at last.

The FBI and the Sheriff are both beginning to - slowly - close in on finding good Agent Cooper, still, mostly, in a stupor. But he had great moves in stopping the midget alter-dimensional psycho, and he also continued his rehabilitation by responding well to "Agent" - bringing the total of words he's now responded to, showing an awareness of his true identity, to I think three now, right?

And speaking of the FBI and the Sheriff, this episode had three stand-out performances by old white guys - David Lynch at his stentorian best as the FBI honcho, Robert Forster as the deadpan local sheriff, and James Morrison (not Jim) as the warden.  (Morrison, by the way, was last seen to great effect in 24, which, believe it or not, at least to me, also has some indefinable connection to Twin Peaks).

Also noticeable in this episode is no band performing at the end, or anywhere in the episode.  Instead, we get a great scene with the instrumental "Green Onions" playing as someone sweeps the floor - I mean, sweeps up the entire floor - of a bar, with the attention to task that one would find in a scene with someone sweeping the floor of a barber shop. Maybe this was in lieu of barbershop harmony? Or, more likely, you didn't need a song with words in this episode, because so many of the words in the hour added up to some kind of sense, a high-point for the series return so far.  And, as if to underscore this point, we also have an instrumental ending - Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk" - which is so obviously relevant to Twin Peaks it's ridiculous though it still worked beautifully.

And I'll see you again next week.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Abject Stupidity of Bank of America and Delta Airlines in Withdrawing Support from New York Public Theater

One of the stupidest, saddest pieces of news in the past week was Bank of America and Delta Airlines withdrawing their sponsorship of the New York Public Theater's production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar because ... the production presented Caesar with an orange, Trump-like wig, and, the corporations claimed, glorified Caesar/Trump's assassination.

The people at Bank of America and Delta Airlines are obviously stupid, or maybe ignorant is the better word, because Julius Caesar is not the villain (note to Bank of America and Delta - "villain" means "bad guy") in the play with his name, and neither is his killing glorified.  To the contrary, Caesar is the victim, and the villains - not the heroes - are the Senators who stab him to death, most especially the conflicted Brutus.  His assassination is presented not as something to be done or emulated, but avoided, if only because it is the undoing of the people who plot to do it and do it. That's the essence of the play.   Don't they educate executives at big corporations any more?

But their withdrawal of support for the NY Public Theater is also sad, because it follows the cowardly actions of CNN in firing Kathy Griffin and cancelling Reza Aslan's documentary series because of their criticism of the President.   Is this the society we've become, in which we can't tolerate politically lacerating humor (Griffin), cursing out a President (Aslan) - and, by the way, both did this not on CNN's air but their own time - and political commentary in art (NY Public Theater)?

People who believe in freedom of expression should do something about this.   I decided last week to watch CNN now about as often as I watch Fox News - almost never.   Fortunately, I don't bank with Bank of America, and I'm certainly not going to start.  As for Delta, I've flown with them many times, but now I don't intend to do that again.

Americans should stand up and call out these crypto fascists, wherever they rear their heads.

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 7 of X: Anatomy of a Ride

Been a bit since I posted a review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles (some 13 days), mostly because this is not a book to be rush-read or even normally read (whatever pace that might be), but savored, and also because I've been writing some science fiction, and there's also the lure of the cool water and soft beach of Cape Cod Bay.  But I wanted to record a few words about Sheffield's chapter on "Ticket to Ride", about as rich and satisfying an extended analysis you can find of a Beatles or any worthy song.

I recall well when "Ticket to Ride" came out in the Spring of 1965.  My friends and I - especially our group, on its way from The Transits to The New Outlook - knew immediately that "Ticket to Ride" was something different.  It had an edge, an imminence, a truth that none of the Beatles' songs quite had before.  (The B-side, "Please Don't Wear Red" aka "Yes It Is," is a masterpiece, too, and a personal favorite.  Not mentioned by Sheffield in this chapter, but it plays a crucial role in my 1997 Loose Ends.)

Back to "Ticket to Ride" - Sheffield tells us why.  It's a song about an adult relationship - Lennon is living with this woman.  It's a song pointed at a unique stage in their relationship - she wants to leave, she's bought a ticket to leave, but she hasn't left yet.  Maybe she won't leave (unlikely), maybe she'll come back (also unlikely), the only unambiguous note in this story is that she's deeply unhappy about living with John.   And as Sheffield aptly says, John is not arguing with her, trying to convince her to stay, he's just at the beginning of trying to understand this.

You just don't usually find relationships at this stage and presented at this level of complexity and ambiguity in love songs, although they are the marrow of real life.  This song also checks in on a quiet tally I've been keeping in my head for more than a half a century: can a love song be as socially significant as a song aimed at some social injustice?  Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" is one, rare example (as are some of Cole Porter's best works)  - but it came a year after "Ticket to Ride".  So the Beatles in terms of socially significant love songs got there first, and these two songs are all the evidence one needs that not all love songs are silly, or even just medium wise.

Sheffield also offers more testimony on behalf of George Martin's deft production skills, remarking on the perfect mix of McCartney's harmony on this track, so it provides resonance to Lennon's introspection without intruding on it.

And I'll be back sooner or later with another review.

See also Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 1 of X: The Love Affair ... 2 of X: The Heroine with a Thousand Faces ... 3 of X: Dear Beatles ... 4 of X: Paradox George ... 5 of X: The Power of Yeah ... 6 of X: The Case for Ringo

lots of Beatles in here

Monday, June 12, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return: 1.6: Red Door and Childish Scribbles

Among the scenes I most enjoyed or found most worthy of remark in last night's episode 1.6 of Twin Peaks, still all-but-incomprehensible in the main, were -
  • the red door to Dougie aka Agent Cooper's home: I have a front door exactly the same color, so I could relate
  • Dougie's boss getting the "childish scribbles" Dougie had drawn on the forms - this was sheer genius, though I'm not sure if this was an emperor's new clothes message or something more profound
  • the scene between the guy who looked and was acting like a young Dennis Weaver and the guy who looked and was acting like a young Christopher Walken: with all the decoys and doppels in this story, there was something about this scene which rang very true
  • the short guy from the other dimensions urging the still largely stupefied Cooper to wake up - this plea had a real poignance, which cut across and through all the fog in Twin Peaks
  • always welcome to hear talk of cherry pie in that diner
Scenes I could have lived without: I don't like seeing children killed, and I'm no fan of homicidal maniacs, either.

But the ending was good with a good song by the girl group, and I'll be back with more random but with any luck at least minimally coherent thoughts next week.

See also Twin Peaks: The Return 1.1-2: Superluminal Sans Cherry Pie ... 1.3-4: Coffee and Cole ... 1.5: The Mod Squad Meets Big Love in the Diner

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Cowardice of CNN

Yesterday brought the news that CNN cancelled Reza Aslan's documentary series, Believer, after Aslan tweeted that Donald Trump was "a piece of shit".  This makes the second time in as many weeks that CNN cancelled a program or fired a host because of what it deemed as unacceptable behavior off of CNN.  The first case was the firing of Kathy Griffin after she held up a severed, bloody head of Trump in a political comedy routine.

In Aslan's case, he was replying to a series of Trump tweets which attacked the Muslim Mayor of London after typically misreading or misunderstanding what the Mayor said after a brutal terrorist attack on London.  Trump continued with a reiteration for the need of his Muslim ban.

Trump could and should have been called a lot worse than "a piece of shit" for this and many of the other things he has done or attempted to do as President.  I could understand if CNN had a policy prohibiting that use of language on its air - which use, by the way, is in no sense illegal - but CNN has every ethical right to regulate what it broadcasts.

But cancelling a series because its creator tweeted something under his own name - something CNN didn't find to its liking?  A creator who was not a journalist or a reporter, but a documentary TV maker? Reporters are supposed to be objective.  Makers of documentaries are supposed to have a point of view, the sharper the better.

The cancelation of Aslan's series, after it had been renewed,  represents a dangerous precedent, especially when preceded by the firing of Kathy Griffin for the severed head.  We live in a country in which vigorous criticism is more necessary than ever, with a President who lies and insults and misrepresents almost every time he opens his mouth.  Rather than punishing and de facto censoring people in its operation who speak up for the truth, CNN should be standing behind them, and expressing its pride in giving a forum for such brave and truthful communicators.

As it is, CNN and its cowardice has become part of the problem, rather than its solution or remedy.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Devil's Mistress: A Love Affair with the Master of Propaganda

Having just watched The Same Sky on Netflix - a short espionage series about East/West Germany in 1974 - I tried its suggestion of The Devil's Mistress, the devil being Joseph Goebbels and his mistress the Czech actress Lída Baarová in this 2016 Czech movie.

First, let me say about Goebbels, although lots has been written about him and his contribution to the Third Reich, he's still not sufficiently acknowledged as one of the prime founders and practitioners of propaganda in the 20th century.  He had a PhD from the University of Heidelberg (1922), and was something very different from the Nazis as just anti-intellectual thugs.  (When I was earning my own PhD at New York University in 1970s, one of my professors, Terry Moran, used to cite Goebbels as an example of why, whatever you might subsequently do in your life, your PhD designation would never be taken away from you. Goebbels, to this day, is called "Dr. Goebbels" by historians.)  He was the first to explicate and put into baneful use the proposition that, the bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed by the masses.   Whatever Donald Trump may know about history, he applies this doctrine just about every day.

But The Devil's Mistress is much more about Baarová than Goebbels, who is portrayed as charming, witty, and brilliant (as well as viciously anti-Semitic),  but more for why the actress was so attracted to him (for his charm not his anti-Semitism) than as a master architect of broken history. The movie almost feels as if it is not only about the 1930s but was actually made back then, which is a plus in my book, because you don't usually see many 1930s movies on Netflix. Tatiana Pauhofová puts in an interesting almost old-fashioned and oddly compelling performance as Baarová, including a surprisingly tender scene in which she lets an assistant producer "stroke" her breast, when he shyly requests that as the thanks she offers him for enabling her escape from Nazi Germany.

Baarová's story has much in common with Leni Riefenstahl's, who may or may not have been Hitler's mistress, but definitely directed The Triumph of the Will and Olympia, to this very day among the most effective propaganda movies ever made.   (I regretted seeing no scenes with Riefenstahl and Goebbels in The Devil's Mistress.)  Riefenstahl (101 years) and Baarová (86 years) both survived the Third Reich and lived long lives, but Baarová's, as the movie shows in stark detail, was no bed of roses.

As the powerful depiction of Kristallnacht in The Devil's Mistress makes clear like a kick in the solar plexus,  The Nazis were monsters, the likes of which our world must make sure never get into power anywhere again.  All people of reason need to keep that in mind, with a President of the United States who takes far too many of his cues from the Goebbels handbook.

        fake news and propaganda 2016-217

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Same Sky: Nixon, Trump, and the German Democratic Republic

I saw The Same Sky, the German short series now on Netflix, the past few nights. Like Deutschland 83 on Sundance, The Same Sky is about East German / West German espionage, and mostly in German with a little English from time to time. Since I speak a little Yiddish - which is a kind of medieval German - it's especially enjoyable to watch shows like this, where I can understand some of the dialogue without the English subtitles (which are often too quick to read, or shown against a light background with light letters, anyway).

The other nice plus about The Same Sky is that it takes place some nine years before Deutschland 83, in 1974, as Nixon is unsuccessfully fighting to keep his job against the rising tide of outrage and evidence about his attempt to cover up the Watergate break-in.  Having watched James Comey's testimony before the Senate about Trump's obstruction of justice yesterday, it was satisfying indeed to see Nixon get his just desert on The Same Sky a little past midnight.

The plot, as was the case with Deutschland 83, has been aptly described as a "Romeo agent" from East Berlin on a mission to seduce a woman in West Berlin with valuable connections to NATO and the capitalist West.   Taking place in closer proximity to the Nazis than 1983, The Same Sky interestingly shows the stated revulsion to the Nazis of the East Germans, who see themselves as more truly a refutation of Nazi ideology than their cousins in the West.

As a spy story, The Same Sky has some good twists and subplots, especially those in East Germany, where a family struggles with a daughter being given testosterone injections so she can qualify for the German Democratic Republic (East German)  Olympic swim team.   The six episodes end with Nixon resigning, a few other resolutions, and lots of hanging questions - more than enough for a second season, which I'd certainly watch, with any luck with a new President in our current White House.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 6 of X: The Case for Ringo

Rob Sheffield makes the case for Ringo in the next chapter of his stellar Dreaming the Beatles, putting the question regarding Ringo as whether he was an all-time genius drummer who made the Beatles possible, or "a clod who got lucky, the biggest fool who ever hit the big time".  Sheffield puts his chips on the genius.

So ... let me first say that, as a self-professed expert in time travel (that is, I write it in fiction, and about it in nonfiction, and can't, alas, do it), I readily acknowledge that every event major or minuscule that ever took place might not have happened if even one exceedingly minor ingredient had not come before, and therefore the Beatles might well not have amounted to much if Pete Best had remained their drummer, and not in fact been replaced by Ringo.

But there's a big difference between being a necessary ingredient and a quintessentially great drummer, and Sheffield wants to shoot for both for Ringo.   Towards that goal, he presents two arguments: One, that Ringo's infectious presence inspired the other Beatles.  And two, that Ringo did incredibly good drum work in various songs like "Rain" (one of the my all-time favorites - I like the song and rain itself so much that I often include "Rain, I don't mind" in lists of my favorite quotes) and the cowbell for "Drive My Car" (which as I mentioned in an earlier review, is also one of my favorite songs).

The great drum and percussion work in specified songs is of course easier to prove than Ringo being an inspiration, and Sheffield does a pretty good job of the first.   But for Ringo to be as great in his own right as, say, drummers Phil Collins and Don Henley, I would've wanted to see Ringo do equivalent work on his own, which I don't think he did.   And if he didn't manage to do that on his own, I think this makes Sheffield's claim that Ringo did such great work for the Beatles a little harder to demonstrate. So Sheffield's convinced me only partially, at most, though I much enjoyed his chapter.

Three last little points -
  • Sheffield cites Robert Christgau in support of Ringo's importance.  While I don't disagree with Christgau's assessment - that Ringo was like a member of the audience, one of us, being in the band - I can't let a mention of him go by without objecting to Christgau's peevish attack on McCartney (Paul's first solo album) once again.
  • Sheffield mentions Paul's famous kazoo solo in Ringo's "Sixteen" - but Wikipedia cites someone who says Paul is really singing the part, making his voice sound like a kazoo, even though the liner notes credit Paul with playing the kazoo.  I'm just wondering who is right?
  • And speaking of Paul and Ringo, I just want to say that there once was a time, when the White Album first came out, that a lot of people were saying that the voice on "Good Night" was Paul doing his Ringo voice - I assume this has now been settled as the voice actually being Ringo.
And I'll be back soon with another review, writing as best I can in my own voice.