Twenty songs, twenty years apart. This year’s edition of the 1997/2017 summer jam catastrophe playlist is 97.1 WJMZ.
(I almost called it “Summer Thoughts on the Common Toad.”)
In April my friend Russ Gilman-Hunt died. He was one of the first four people who worked at my job with me. He was funny, kind and clever. He was not very much older than me, but he had a deadpan world-weary affect and a quiet warmth that made him seem like everyone’s dad. I wish I had known him better, but most of his life was outside work, with his wife and two children and his community in the SCA. I wish they still had him.
In May I lost the job where I had worked with Russ, as did a number of my colleagues. I have a lot of support from people who care for me, and I am lucky in my socioeconomic class; that has allowed me to inform myself that this is an opportunity, more than a setback. (I have done so often and stridently.) I will probably have a new job soon. I like working, if not always working terribly hard. I hope I can make that work amount to something good.
It sometimes feels like the only things I write here are podcast show notes and epitaphs. I haven’t allowed myself much time to work on podcasts in the last month; hunting for what I perceive as a replacement means of survival has meant little available concentration for creative work. So this goes in the epitaph category. Sure wish there were fewer of those.
I didn’t always love my old job but I always liked it, and I took comfort in the idea that I was cultivating a good place to bring in new people and help them excel. I wanted to contribute patches to the leaky pipeline. I think Russ did too. I don’t know how much of that we managed. Some of the people I patched in got laid off with me. I’d say we did what good we could while seeing to our own survival, but. Well.
A job that you treat like just a job is, eventually, just a job. I want the work of my life to be more than that. Maybe in seven more years—if, God forbid, this WordPress install is still operating—I’ll tell you how that’s going.
In February I got an email from my old laptop, and then another, both suggesting that it was in Germany. I had not seen that laptop since it left the back of my car through a shattered window in 2010. The home page of its default browser, at the time, happened to be one I controlled and that was not linked anywhere else, so I told that page to blare alarms and notify me when and whence it was requested. It took seven years for that to (probably?) happen. I wonder if someone actually has that laptop, in more or less the same crumbling shape it was when it vanished. I wonder how well they read English, and what they can find out about me if they dig around on it. Surely nothing worse than the things I’ve written here myself.
I guess what I am doing here is reflecting, which is to say, looking for myself in a flawed surface. I started writing online in part because I wanted attention and in part because I already knew that my built-in memory could not be trusted to retain my life. My pipe is too leaky. All pipes are too leaky. Among my driving fears is the idea that anything I lose is lost forever, and that history unminded is a black hole, a /dev/null, a point of no return.
But to really believe that is to assert that I know the future, which is presumptive: the future and I have never met. Sometimes a setback is an opportunity. Sometimes the past writes you an email. Sometimes a kid whose dad dies grows up a whole person anyway. Even black holes leak back.
It’s time once again for Reel 90s Kids, the podcast you have forgotten that we did one time! We have now done it again. Here is the audio click button thing that tells you the wrong file duration, and below it are the show notes.
0:00 – Thanks to Oliver Schories for this episode’s intro song, which I think has a 40% chance of deeply irritating my cohost.
5:23 – I could put links to the Wikipedia articles for Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Dangerous Liaisons here, but you can type names into Wikipedia as well as I can.
10:48 – Sorry, Mr. Lester.
12:41 – Shooter the 2007 movie; Shooter the 2016 TV series. Since we recorded this episode, USA has apparently decided we’ve had a long enough gap between mass shootings to actually premiere and air it! Yaaaay
19:03 – I cannot put anything about the confluence of Bittersweet Symphony and Shakespeare in Love in the show notes, because my brain completely manufactured it. Why did I think this was a thing?! If you have a clue, please call our toll-free line.
20:13 – Audio taken from this Fusion interview.
22:48 – Movie studios were forced to stop running their own theaters by United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc, in 1948.
31:13 – I neglected to congratulate her, but Anne batted a thousand on these!
37:35 – See you back here for the Drive Me Crazy episode in June 2019!
38:11 – And thanks to Jade Berlin and her terrifying accompanist for our outro music:
Apparently the thing I do here now is, once a year, post a podcast I made with friends about a movie that already came out. This time I made one with my friend Anne! It’s about the non-classic 90s Teen Film Varsity Blues, for no clear reason that either of us could recall. Despite our claims at the beginning, we DID think of a belated title for it: Reel 90s Kids.
Because we remember.
I’m not going to link to the site we discuss for the latter half of the podcast because I don’t want to make anyone’s life sadder, including yours. I have faith in your ability to find it if you want to. Please don’t. Special thanks to small genius Aidan James for our outro music!
My friend Sumana is pretty spry for a retired newspaper columnist. For years she was MC Masala, syndicated in several papers all over the SF Bay, even after she had left it for the other side of the country. I loved the column and read every installment, and I was delighted to see that she recently resurrected its archives on her personal site, nearly a decade after she began that phase of her career. (As befits her growing skillset and shifting direction, she wrote the CMS for it herself!)
From the beginning, the column showed off her skill (and taste) in comedy, cosmopolitan interest in religion, and clever use of parables from both ancient texts and her own life. I still use this aphorism about books and sandwiches to remind myself how to engage with people at social gatherings. I stole quite a few ideas for tiny stories from her, sometimes immediately, sometimes much later; she delivered insights about the nature of attachment that would influence me for years to come.
Over its run, she let her readers in on landmarks in her life in a friendly, almost conspiratorial way: her move from San Francisco to New York, the concurrent shift from one career to another, her wedding—and even personal connections to events on a larger scale, like the end of glasnost.
She was way ahead of the curve, of course, on relaxing vice laws and marriage equality. She showed up early to the fight against manspreading (and manxiety). She preceded me in getting over Aaron Sorkin, and I took way, way too long to come around to her Brian K. Vaughn fandom. And she made some predictions about herself that were wrong in amazing ways: she does, in fact, now give many thousands of dollars to charity, and one branch of her current unpaid public service uses skills she is still developing, and increasing all the time.
Reading back through these, I felt smug and flattered all over again that I got to make a subtle appearance here and there.
Her final column makes me well up with feeling. I first started following Sumana’s blog sometime in 2001, so right now it falls around the halfway mark in the timeline of our friendship. It’s only gained more meaning to me since the first time I read it—I’d never even listened to the Mountain Goats back then!* To this day, she posts regular entries stuffed with insights and links to explore, whereas I didn’t write a damn thing here for all of 2014. I am so fortunate that I was able to make a connection with her back then, and to have followed her with aspiration ever since.
It’s been almost nine years, Sumana; where are you from now?
I shouted, “Congratulations!” She responded, fist raised, “Perseverance!”
There was a time when I liked romantic comedy films. Yes, it’s true! Despite my status as a burly exemplar of stoic masculinity, I once enjoyed the mixture of clever dialogue and bittersweet tension one might see employed by an early-period Bullock, Roberts or Ryan. Then, in the late nineties, my testicles descended, and also romantic comedy went right down the shitter. In a mere five years, we went from While You were Sleeping and The Truth About Cats and Dogs to Legally Blonde and Kate and Leopold. Kate and Leopold, Liz Lemon.
Things have not improved since. The men are shrill, the women are boorish, the scripts are assembled from plot coupons and the banter is a nonsense collection of zero-liners. I saw The Proposal on an airplane a year and a half ago and I’m still angry about it. I’m not going to compare it to genocide except to say that it was worse than genocide, and dumber.
But hey! Around the same time that came out, a lady named Jac Schaeffer triple-threatened an indie movie called (unfortunately) TiMER. It has the one girl from Buffy in it, it got a tiny distribution deal, nobody saw it and it holds a 58% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in over a decade. Kara found it streaming on Netflix, and I offer the following three reasons to watch it if you like this kind of thing:
I realize those bars are low enough to skate over, but I am not trying to damn with faint praise: it’s a fun movie and I was still thinking about it two days later. Its premise is that you can get a timer implanted in your arm. If your One True Love also has a timer, the two will automagically calculate the day you meet and start counting down to it. This is a big honking metaphor for a dominant cultural narrative applied to women, but the movie has the grace to hang a lampshade on that and then pull the Asimov trick and wonder how this can go wrong: one character has a blank timer and is on a crusade to get other people implanted, one has twenty years of waiting to look forward to, one has a timer go off way too soon, one gets a fake timer on the Internet, one has it painfully removed. And the ending isn’t as easy as you’re thinking!
Basically, this is a movie with smart jokes and kissing and it does a better job of exploring the conflict between free will and predestination than the Wachowskis did. My only improvement would be to put more than one nonwhite character in it, and also feed everyone involved a damn sandwich. (And not have the main character be named Oona. Hey, maybe Jac Schaeffer is a Wachowski.) Doubly recommended if you’re one of the nerds who liked Machine of Death.
I love Nathan Rabin. I’m just going to quote this whole thing, from his ongoing retrospective on the endless NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC series of chart-topper compilations:
Like The New Radicals, Semisonic will forever be tarnished with the one-hit-wonder tag. That’s a shame, because it was a fantastic power-pop group, a trio of eggheads with a gift for monster hooks, passionate vocals, and sincerity that never lapsed into sentimentality. Their 1996 album debut Great Divide is a minor power-pop masterpiece, but the trio’s follow-up birthed “Closing Time,” the group’s unlikely contribution to the NOW pantheon.
At a time when much of what passed for alternative music was steeped in rage, angst, and sneering irony, Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson was refreshingly willing to be romantic and sincere. He wrote great love songs like “Secret Smile” and “Singing In My Sleep,” and songs that weren’t what they appeared to be, like “Closing Time.”
On the surface, the song finds the romance in barflies scrambling for a closing-time hookup, but according to So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star, the likeable memoir of Semisonic drummer Jacob Slichter, it was written about the birth of Wilson’s first child. The song’s key line is purloined from the Roman philosopher Seneca, who originally wrote, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” It’s a line with multiple meanings; there’s the end of life in the womb and the beginning of life outside, but also a father and mother forsaking the pleasures of youth for the responsibilities of parenthood.
Dear everyone who has mocked my Semisonic completism: YEAH, FUCKERS.
Rian Johnson is posting like twenty pictures a day to the just-created Brick tumblr, for some reason. Happily, today he included this DVD-cover fan art that I did back in 2005. I always meant to clean that up and redo it; I had a couple other ideas for doing similar treatments of different scenes, but I don’t remember what they were now.
I’ve been thinking about Brick a lot the last couple of days, actually, because it’s occurred to me that I have pretty simple tastes in terms of plot. Give me any of the following and I will squeal with delight (double points for setting it in high school):
And, of course, the latter is why I love Scott Pilgrim. Take away the video-game trappings and the fight scenes and the hipster music references and the fourth-wall humor and… okay, don’t take any of those, they’re great. But the real reason I have such an aching priapism for those comics (which I didn’t pick up until 2008! GAH) is the way O’Malley spends so much care and attention setting up what we in the Indie RPG Club call a relationship map. He gets you to like everybody in it, gives them each their own petty little wants, and then lets them tear each other apart.
Not that I would know anything about what that’s like.