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Friday, January 30, 2015

Super Sunday

Steve Largent's Seahawks will beat the Pats 27-17.  

Winter's cold has gripped the Northeast and seems poised to hang on for a while.  February is upon us.  A short, but cruel month.  Valentine's Day is here to remind us that you are doing it wrong, if you are doing it at all.

A bloated Super Bowl awaits us this weekend.  The past few weeks have reminded us how our proud game is nothing more than the WWE with helmets.  We now have "deflate-gate" in our collective heads.

In Paris they march a million strong to support each other against the threat of terrorism.  We worry about how much air we have in our balls.

Never mind the combatants beat each other for 60 minutes with lasting health consequences.  And lest we forget the violence that takes place off the field.

Its been a rough year for the NFL.  However you can bet (which they love by the way) that they will record record profits for the year 2014.

As harsh and ugly the sport, and more specifically the folks that oversee it (yes, you Mr Goodell), you can bet we will have a blast at my Super Bowl Party this Sunday.

Maybe it is the diversion we all need.  Just wish it was a little more civilized.

How long until we are all cheering for someone like Jason from Rollerball.  And I am talking about the James Caan film too- I refuse to accept a re-boot.

The Academy Awards are a nice diversion too.  My colleague Doc S wrote a nice piece about Best Pic Nom American Sniper you can read here.  What of all the controversy over the protagonist Chris Kile.  Seems like more folks thought Henry Hill was a more likable chap than this accomplished soldier.  Its war people- there are a lot of gray areas- and you don't have to like it all.  Speaks again to how we are incapable of hearing, or more specifically understanding contrary opinions.

There were days, not long ago, I would have seen all the nominees.  Ever since they went to 20 nominations, or whatever the hell it is, it has been tough.

Hollywood has an editing problem, so the bloated nominations fit in nicely.

I know Doc S thinks Boyhood is this years best.  That film, Wild, and The Grand Budapest Hotel were the only ones I have seen, so far.  Of the three Boyhood is a stand out.  The 12 year filming is an interesting side note, but the film is far more than that.  Richard Linklater has always been great at capturing "small" moments.  And Boyhood is a collection of them.  That is, life after all.  As much as we like to think of a finish line.  In reality, who among us is going to retire at 65 and buy a nice home in the south?

The blueprint is more like:  work til you die.  Enjoy each moment when you can.

So, when you are stuck in the thick of it- take some time for you.  What do you like to read?  What gives you happiness?  If it is your work, I commend you.  If not, waste no time and remember it is ok to be selfish sometimes.  No, not in the Ayn Rand way.  In a, let me sneak an hour in to get to the gym.  Let me see that new movie.  Or, as is the case with this reporter, what new music can I delve deep into.

Below are this months selection.   Enjoy Responsibly!

Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield)
Panda Bear "Boys Latin" from Jimmy Fallon

The first of several bands, solo projects, acts that I want to dislike.  Noah Lennox is Baltimore, MD raised and now calls Lisbon, Portugal home.  His music can be described as John Waters meets Cristiano Ronaldo.  See what I did there?  It's a stretch.  But, like Waters he is experimental.  His synths and layered vocals are NOT for everyone.  This song, from his much hyped record Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, has a slow build- that at first I could not take much of.  Give it some time.  Maybe it grows on you too?  For deeper research take a listen to his other project, Animal Collective.

Sleater Kinney "No Cities to Love"

Admittedly Carrie Brownstein in Portlandia entertains me more than her band Sleater Kinney.  Their reunion album and upcoming tour are fine, for nostalgia alone.  The first single, "Bury Our Friends" never resonated with me.  Their second release plays far better.

Courtney Barnett "Pedestrian at Best"

Lo-Fi Aussie Barnett is back quickly from her solo effort.  There is little, if any flash on Ms Barnett's vocals.  But what she lacks in enthusiasm she more than makes up for with wit, confidence and grit.  It isn't quite spoken word.  But it isn't quite singing either.  This is a girl who is clearly having fun.

Matt and Kim

Matt and Kim "Get It"

These New Yorkers can be polarizing, I get that.  Matt's voice is super high.  His synths, samples coupled with Kim's frenetic drums take some getting used to.  And if you don't like the first thoughts, odds are you won't stay with it.  Having seen them perform live a few years back I am firmly engaged.  What say you?

Avid Dancer "I Want To See You Dance"

Jacob Dillan Summers is Avid Dancer.  It isn't what you might think.  This is a rock outfit, very much new to the scene.  Occasionally I find a band with limited followers (they have less than 3000 Facebook likes and NO Wikipedia page.)  Let's make these guys more popular.
Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile "Wherever Is Your Heart?"

A little unsure how this hard singing pixie isn't as popular as, say,  Melissa Etheridge was in the 90s.  Big, booming voices and a penchant for jeans and a flannel shirt.  She will be releasing her independent label debut shortly and this is the first cut.  Huge voice from such a slight thing.  Alt country in the spirit of Wilco, Ryan Adams, and Emmylou Harris(think Wrecking Ball.)

Waxahatchee "Air"

Philly girl Katie Crutchfield is also bad with another record.  Sisters are doing it for themselves.  Moody pop delivered quite nicely.

Modest Mouse "Lampshades on Fire"

Northwest rockers will release Strangers to Ourselves on March 3rd.   It has been a little while since we have heard from them, and if "Lampshades" is any indication, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Toro Y Moi "Empty Nesters"

SC indie soul compliments of Chazwick Bradley Bundick.  His record, What For?, will be out in April.  Until then he has shared this song, which is a complete departure from his last album.  Not a complaint, simply observing he evolves with each record and the sounds are always quite rewarding.

Django Django "First Light"

London based band premiered the above song a few weeks back.  Their debut record a few years back was a critical hit.  "First Light" is a strong follow up and indication the sophomore slip may have been avoided.
Django Django

Look for us here and here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Off Target on "American Sniper"

"It takes all sorts to make a world" - English proverb

It was just after the Hollywood celebrity slap fight among professional Debbie Downer Michael Moore, professional stoner Seth Rogan, and professional has-been Dean Cain, and the ensuing political hyperventilation, that I finally saw "American Sniper".

Bradley Cooper is particularly good, as evidenced by the fact that this is the first movie I have seen him in where I forgot he was "Bradley Cooper". An Obama-supporting Democrat in real life (he's even fluent in French, for pity's sake!) he disappears into the role of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
The combat scenes are spare and workmanlike, conveying the grittiness and shattering anxiety of combat without glorifying or aggrandizing the violence. I generally like action and war movies, but the action here set my teeth on edge.

Go see it for yourself. What I got out of it were two things that I think many people missed - both of which I think director Clint Eastwood, and Cooper, intended:

1) This movie is told entirely from Chris Kyle's point of view

This is not a portrayal of the War in Iraq, but how the war was experienced by one exceptional soldier.

Bradley Cooper is in just about every scene of the movie. Very little happens that is not part of his character's experience. He is only excluded in those scenes that show his rival enemy sniper preparing for battle, and even these have a very stylized Hollywood Western cast to them, as if it was how Kyle imagined it.

Similarly, the brief dinner table discussion showing how Kyle's values grew from his father's stern moral lessons seem stylized and simplified. Liberals complain this is right-wing propaganda -- but what I see how a man with a very black and white view of the world recalls his childhood.

Some also complain that the Iraqis are reduced to one-dimensional characters, that the nuances and complexities of the decision to go to war in Iraq, and the method of the prosecution of the war are not discussed.

I think this is because Chris Kyle was not one to reflect on them. He did not see that as his job. In Kyle's world there are good guys and bad guys. There is "God, Family, and Country", and those who seek to undermine or even destroy them.The who and why? Those were decisions to be made by higher military and civilian leaders.

While Kyle was certainly sensitive to the horrors he witnessed perpetrated by the enemy on his fellow soldiers, he is portrayed as claiming to be untroubled by the 160 plus people he killed (mostly men, but a few women and children ), saying he will "stand before my Creator and defend each shot".

Which leads to my second point:

2) Some of the characteristics that make one an excellent soldier may not be something all of us find appealing in another human being.

Kyle was a highly skilled professional soldier, and by all accounts a brave and effective one. He was also a sniper.

Kyle remained mostly high above the ground. He saw the enemy from a distance, trying to kill his comrades. And his job was to kill the enemy to protect them. A sheepherder, as he learned from his father, protecting the sheep from the wolves.

I've read a few books by former Special Forces members (Eric Haney's book "Inside Delta Force" is particularly good). Many SEALs and Delta Force members conduct intelligence and counter insurgency operations within foreign countries. They immerse themselves in the study of history, geopolitics and strategy. They speak multiple languages. They absorb the indigenous culture in detail so they can both build alliances with,and sow dissension among, rival factions.

That's not the type of soldier Kyle was, at least as portrayed in this movie.

He questions a potential Iraqi informer, and its clear that, despite multiple tours in Iraq, he knows not even a word of the local language, and seems baffled by local customs. To him, they are faceless "savages". Perhaps learning more about them would have made him hesitate to pull the trigger.

Several of Kyle's fellow soldiers express grave doubts about the overall mission in Iraq. Kyle rather coldly attributes a comrade's death not to the enemy ambush, but to the soldier's doubts. Doubt, for Kyle, could lead to his death, or the death of the soldiers under his protection.

In fact, in his fourth tour in Iraq, Kyle feels himself wavering while targeting a child (not his first) trying to fire an RPG at a company of Marines. Soon after, in the midst of a battle where he otherwise bravely acquits himself, he calls his wife,  tearfully telling her he is ready to come home.

I think this movie shows that for certain types of soldiers, with certain types of duties, someone who sees the world as black and white, as enemy and ally, as true believer in the cause and apostate, is the best person to have in that role.

Sometimes we all think that everyone has to be the same, and, particularly nowadays, we seem very anxious about anyone who disagrees with us, or sees the world a bit differently than we do.

I mean no disrespect when I say that Chris Kyle may not necessarily have been the kind of guy I would want to have a beer with. And likely the feeling would be mutual.

But if I were a combat soldier, he sure seems like the guy I'd want on top of a building watching over me.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Call Me Doc S

"Call me Ishmael" - Moby Dick, Herman Melville

In lieu of the expected list of New Year's resolutions to lose weight, save money/spend less money, or finally writing that screenplay, I'm focusing on attitude.

I think we have become an exceedingly anxious culture. We see doom and threat everywhere -- in our food, in our realtionships, and in our political leaders. Every event is fraught with neurotic significance. I think this is, in part, fueled by our immersion in the online world (of which I consider myself a passionate devotee) 

Every crime, every tragedy, every mistake is magnified and repeated and commented upon at an exponential rate. And much of our discussion around it is a swarm of chest beating, tough talk, and posturing. We complain that our leaders fuel this fire, but they are only giving us what we want.

Its almost like our anxious psyches mirror the increase in allergies observed over the last twenty years. One theory posits that because we have become so "clean" via antibiotics, our immune systems are hypersensitive to a wider range of "foreign invaders"

Perhaps this is happening to our spirits as well. Perhaps we have become so fat, warm and secure that our sense of living is hypersensitive to the new, the different, and the unusual that "invade" our minds.

One of the most important books in my life is Moby-Dick. I was forced to read it for an honors English class in High School and write a report on it. I hated every minute of it, not only trudging through its dense 19th century prose, but the hours I had to spend at nearby Lafayette College library reading books talking about its allegory, symbolism, and literary significance.

Since entering adulthood, I have re-read it (in part and in whole) at least ten times. In retrospect, it served as my primary "religious" text before I eventually picked a more established religious practice.

It is, I think, a core American spiritual text.

As a result, I think Ishmael's quote above is an apt statement to kick off the new year.

I always liked the mystery behind the first sentence of Moby-DIck. It suggests "Ishmael" is defining himself anew (he does not say "I am Ishmael"). 

There is nothing so essentially American as making a fresh start and plunging into a new adventure in hope of new and better things to come.

So, like Ishmael, let's all take our restlessness, nervousness, and anxiety, and, instead of stewing in it, find a ship bound to voyage, gather a sturdy crew, and head out to sea.