Limit Broken: How Final Fantasy 7 Ruined My Life for the Better

By guest writer Matt Jorgenson.

A lot of things had to go wrong in order for me to play Final
Fantasy VII at the precise time for it to have as huge an impact on my
life as it did. In fact, Final Fantasy VII doesn’t even appear in this story
until the middle. I’ve considered jumping straight to bringing it home
and playing it, but I don’t think it does justice to the impact this game
had on me, and it’s a somewhat comical journey. And hey, if you aren’t
interested in all that junk, skip the next paragraph.

The Christmas of 2005 my sister and I were gifted a refurbished
PlayStation 2. The following day, I convinced my mother to drive me to
a game store so I could spend most of my meager savings on games.
But in a few short months the console stopped working and I couldn’t
figure out why. The internet was no help, and game store’s solution
was to spend money I didn’t have on a new PlayStation 2. With
Summer quickly approaching, I resigned myself to saving up for a new
one with all the summer work I could find. But on the last day of school,
I missed the bus home. On a normal day, this meant going to the library

and waiting the few hours for one of my parents to get off work and
catch a ride home. But school released early that particular Friday and a
major leak in the bathroom saw the library closed for the day. So, I
found myself wandering around my smallish home town. At some
point, late in the afternoon I wandered past a garage sale and I decided
to stop. And it was there, covered in Thomas, The Tank Engine stickers I
found a PlayStation 1. I had the required 20 dollars and the lady was
willing to throw a game in for free, and it was better than nothing right?
Afterwards I B-lined for our local grocery store and rummaged through
the old game rentals until I found something that looked interesting;
which I couldn’t rent because I was a minor. Buuuuut, he could sell me
this other game behind the counter. It had been sitting in one of the
bins because it didn’t have a jewel case and the PS1 games were going
to start being sold off anyways. He was pretty sure it was some sort of
fighting game. But it was probably fairly-long because it had 3 discs.
And that brings us to how I played Final Fantasy VII.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I sat down to play Final Fantasy
VII. I wasn’t really an internet goer yet, and it had drifted out of the
zeitgeist by the time I started picking up magazines about video games.
I knew Final Fantasy was an RPG series, most of the time, and that
Dungeons and Dragons was an RPG so I thought I knew what I was
getting into.

And then a train pulled into a station, and our blocky protagonist
back flips in action against gun toting guards with a sword larger then
he was, all while attempting to plant a bomb in a faceless corporation’s
reactor in order to strike a blow to save the planet.

What was I even seeing right now? It had equipment and magic
like other JRPGs I had played, but those were all wizards and knights,
not mercenaries and cyborgs. The protagonists of previous game were
either voiceless avatars or cheerfully kind, but Cloud must be convinced
to do the right thing more often then not. Barrett had a friggin’
machine for a hand for Pete’s Sake! Sure, it didn’t look great compared

to the PS2 games I had played but this was a whole different kind of
wild! All of this combined with an excellent music track, and it being my
only game, I buckled in for what I thought was going to be a weird and
bizarre game. What I wasn’t expecting was the feelings. I legitimately
cared about the characters. Why was Cloud so closed off? How was
Barrett going to balance being a father AND trying to save the planet? I
was legitimately concerned when Tifa disappeared and was relieved to
see her okay, if only for a minute. And Aerith… That scene had a
profound impact on me. My line of thoughts in that moment are seared
into my mind.

“This can’t be happening… It HAS to be a dream. Or Cloud is going to
swoop in and save the day at the last second.”

But he doesn’t. Sephiroth kills her.

“Maybe she is just hurt! They will rush her to a doctor and she will be
okay!”

But that doesn’t happen. Sephiroth kills her.

“She will come back! Like Gandolf! I just had to find the right thing!”

But she doesn’t. Not really. Sephiroth had killed her.

I wouldn’t realize it until much later in life, but it was this moment
that I would become a lifelong fan of Video games. Even though I was in
pain, for the first time in my young life, a piece of media had made me
feel real life emotions. Up to this point I had, at most, felt mild
excitement after finishing Pokemon or frustration at failing at SeaQuest
(AGAIN). But not pain. Not REAL heartache over the death of a
character I really cared about or REAL anger at the character who cause
the death.

I was afraid of how strongly I felt and decided to take a few days
off from the game. But I needed to know how the story ended. I
needed to know if Aerith’s death was in vain. Or if, after all the fighting
was over, the world could be… not okay again, but maybe balanced
again. And so, I tentatively started playing again. But Alas, my
misfortune would strike one final time. The last disc was scratched

beyond reading, and worse, it corrupted my save file. I was reduced to
reading the last little bit of the game from a guide I found online. I
wouldn’t actually see the game in its entirety until I was 22.

I will turn 27 this year. It’s strange to think that I’ve lived over half
of my life since playing Final Fantasy VII. And it’s been even longer
since it came out. And on an objective level I can admit, with a bit of
arm twisting, that maybe it hasn’t age with grace. It’s a little on the ugly
side, and it has some problematic parts, and some of it is straight up
bonkers. But I’ll never shake the rush of emotion I feel every time I
download it on a new system or walk past a copy in a game store,
because at its core, I think, it’s still an excellent game well worth its
weight in gil in 2019. Now if you will excuse me… I have a train to a
reactor to catch.

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Captain Marvel Review: High and Further, Faster, Please

First up, if you haven’t seen Captain Marvel yet, leave this page, get in your car, drive to the nearest movie theater, drop whatever currency they’ll accept for a ticket, and see it. Come back when you’re done, because spoilers! this review contains spoilers.

Somewhere on the internet, during college, I read the phrase “we’ve come a long way, but we sure as hell ain’t there yet” at the end of an article about a feminist topic. I honestly don’t remember the rest of the article, but the sentiment that we’re halfway up the hill, not cresting the peak, has stuck with me throughout the past couple years. It feels particularly apt this month.

Finally, after eleven years, twenty-one movies, and behind a rival studio, Marvel Studios released Captain Marvel as their first outing with a female lead. I’ll run that back for you: eleven years, twenty-one movies, after DC. Expectations were astronomical. The HER-o marketing angle had me on edge. So much was and is riding on this film, and I was dreading the idea that they might be exploiting the goodwill toward a female-fronted superhero movie to take shortcuts where it counted most.

For the most part, they didn’t.

It goes without saying that Brie Larson is a talented actress, but I’ll say it anyway. She handles Carol’s challenging characterization pretty deftly, hopping over a clunky script, oozing confidence we expect exclusively from male characters. She shines brightest as the real Carol – the person under all those layers of Kree conditioning – when she’s with the young-ish Nick Fury, funnily enough. Their buddy-cop escapades trying to thwart the oncoming “Skrull invasion” provide the best glimpse into who we’ll probably be seeing in future films. Carol is brave, perhaps even a little foolhardy; hotheaded; snarky; quippy; and kind, in a reserved way. I don’t think the film follows up on those implied traits enough for me to call her nuanced or well drawn. But the bones are there.

Where I think Captain Marvel truly succeeds, however, is on a macro scale, in moments that matter more in that they’re the first time I’ve seen them on the big screen.

First up, Carol’s relationship with Maria Rambeau, her old Air Force buddy.

(Well, pre-first up, how often do we see female vets buddying around on screen? Never? Anyways.)

Maria, Carol, and the real star of the movie, Carol’s Nine Inch Nails shirt.

Once the Kree deception has been revealed to Carol, we’ve hit our superhero turning point. She’s possibly the only person who can help the Skrulls at this point, but when you find out the life you’ve lived for the past six years has been a lie, well, you’re a probably going to be a little unsure of yourself. You’re probably going to need a stabilizing figure to deliver some timely affirmations. It could have been Fury, or Talos the Skrull, or even the abstract concept of her rage at her old mentor, Yon Ragg.

But it wasn’t any of those things. It’s Maria, affirming her, encouraging her, assuring her she’s the only person in the universe who’s strong enough to help these weird snarky aliens not get turned to green goo by the Kree. Women affirming other women, pushing them up and spurring them to greatness? More of that, please and thank you.

The second hallmark moment is the final showdown between Yon Ragg and Carol. I spent most of the film waiting to see her best him without her powers because it’s set up so heavily in the exposition and honestly, that’s what we’re used to seeing in films. And it would have been satisfying to me if when he challenged her in their final showdown, she took the bait and beat him without. But Carol (who literally just got done punching a spaceship to bits) doesn’t. She doesn’t even let him finish.

Beyond the satisfaction, I get from a good prematurely terminated Bad Guy Spiel, Carol’s refusal to fight Yon Ragg on his terms feels monumental. There’s the outside context, that women are routinely punished and dismissed for being emotional, mirrored by Yon Ragg’s insistence that Carol masters her emotions to master her power. But in the real world and the Marvel world, deeply felt emotions are saving graces. Carol doesn’t need to strip herself of her feelings to be powerful or to win. She doesn’t need to bring herself down a peg to Yon Ragg’s level to prove anything to anyone – as she states pretty clearly. She beats him senseless using her powers because they’re her powers and she gets to decide when she does and doesn’t use them. Those emotions he told her to bury are her, and she gets to decide who that is. It’s a clear instance of this character’s agency and I was wonderfully surprised by it.

Talos and another Skrull.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise the film for another big surprise; its distinct anti-war message. I had my own misgivings before the movie about it being a glorified US Military advertisement, with the Kree being a proxy for the US and the Skrulls being a proxy for… whoever the US has decided to demonize this week. Instead, it poses the Kree as a highly imperialistic galactic force in need of checking. Through Talos (played impeccably by Ben Mendelsohn putting in serious work under layers of special effects and makeup), we come to see the Skrulls as refugees, victims of the merciless colonization, just trying to eke out an existence without having to bow down to Kree oversight. They aren’t absolved of atrocities, because, as Talos admits, they’ve committed their fair share. It’s a subtle, nuanced portrayal of the cycle of violence and abuse perpetuated by imperialism playing out in the background.

There’s still a lot in this movie that I found disenchanting. I take issue with the easily digestible, bite-size sexism present in Carol’s flashbacks; that felt like boxes checked rather than character motivations explored. I think way more time should have been spent with Carol and Maria and Mar-Vell rather than inserting Nick Fury’s origin story as well, because, come on, can’t a girl get a little screen time without it having to be about the dudes too? Its greatest flaw might actually be timing though. This movie would have blown me away five years ago. Today, some it feels a little too tread. Come on, the “smile for me” guy? Did the script writers just search the #feminist on Twitter?

But let’s be honest; this film made bonkers money in its opening weekend. It’s the second-highest grossing solo Marvel film behind Black Panther. Toys and merch are flying off the racks. She’s already confirmed in EndGame. We are absolutely going to get another Captain Marvel movie, and this one will hopefully go even higher and even further, hopefully, faster. Captain Marvel and ladies in superhero movies sure ain’t there yet, but this movie tells me they’re clearly well on their way.

PS: Oh, and at one point, when fighting the Skrulls, one screams at her in challenge and she screams back. It’s rad.

 

 

 

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33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Eight: Marry Me

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

I’m not anything at all

I’ve been leaning into some major escapism this month. Sometimes we all just need a break, you know? Mostly this means I’m reading a lot of sci-fi novels, but I almost always keep music on while I read, to really tune out the distractions and get lost in a world that’s got a better sense of morality than the one currently on the other side of my headphones. This time, it’s been a lot of St. Vincent, the musical identity of Annie Clark.

St. Vincent’s an artist I’ve only very recently gotten into, specifically with her 2017 record, Masseduction, after I was given it for a network Secret Santa from Falling In Love Montage‘s Helen. After going backwards through her whole catalog, Masseduction is still my favorite, but recently I’ve been gravitating towards her debut, 2007’s Marry Me. It doesn’t have the bombastic and explosive melodies of her latter work, or the complexity of some of her collaborations, like Love This Giant (with David Byrne) does, but Marry Me has really resonated with me beyond an album hiding in the background of my solitary reading sessions. Now, I don’t mean the album is best listened to passively, as it’s very strong on it’s own and certainly deserves your full attention. What I mean is that, unlike the rest of Annie’s catalog, Marry Me has a simplicity to the structure of the record that lets you forget just how brilliant it is.

While Jesus is saving, I’m spending all my days
In backgrounds and landscapes with the language of saints
While people are spinning like toys on Christmas day,
I’m inside a still life with the other absentee

The album has a lot of themes of the naive idealism of love from someone new to it, something I’m always a big sucker for. The overwhelming feelings you’re controlled by. The agency you give up to the other person, as you lie awake wishing more than anything that they feel the same way. Thinking, no, knowing, that this is the most important thing in the world, until you come up for air and realize it… wasn’t. Until it is again.

 

But you’re a rock with a heart like a socket I can plug into at will

And will you guess, when I come around next, I hope your open sign is blinking still

So marry me, John, I’ll be so good to you

You won’t realize I’m gone, you won’t realize I’m gone

As for me, I would have to agree, I’m as fickle as a paper doll being kicked by the wind

When I touch down again, I’ll be in someone else’s arms

Oh, John, C’mon

 

But albums about young love are not exactly the hardest thing to find. This album stands out above and beyond for a few reasons. Most importantly, the melodies and instrumentation are very good. It’s the kind of album where I struggle to pick what should’ve been the single.  There’s a lot of really great production, a lot in really unexpected places. There are 17 different musicians present on the record and it shows. Lots of strings, brass, and more help to layer the album, but the real shining star is Annie’s voice. I really love her guitar playing, too, but her voice ranges from choir backups (alongside the additional singers present) to some raw and straight-from-the-heart solo vocals over a simple piano. The record jumps from full string arrangements to the barest melody and back again without ever feeling jarring or out of place. The highs and lows of love are clear, not only in the lyrics, but in every aspect of the record. Her voice, alongside her writing, is so versatile that listening to her debut, you can clearly see why her records went on to be so unique. The dichotomy is here, bouncing between the simplest and most complex aspects of young love, embracing the overwhelming beauty of it all without ever ignoring the darker sides of it.

All of your praying amounts to just one breath,
Please keep your victory, but give me little death, It’s time, you are light,
I guess you are afraid of what everyone is made of,
so take to the streets with apocalypse refrain,
your devotion has the look of a lunatic’s gaze

It’s these deeper and darker sections, like in “Paris Is Burning” or “The Apocalypse Song” that forced my ears to perk up and focus more on the music, even if it meant reading the same page over and over again. St. Vincent lures you in with simple melodies and catchy hooks, but her lyrics and delivery keep you coming back when the record’s over. Her other albums, specifically Actor, St. Vincent, and Masseduction, stood out as great records immediately, but Marry Me is more subtle and has been exactly what I’ve been looking for this month. The slow burn kind of record that you find yourself starting over more often than you realize, even if it’s just on in the background… at first. But it won’t be for long.

You say “Love is just a bloodmatch
to see who endures lash after lash with panache.”
In the spring, I’ll dust off my lute, stuff my suitcase full of blues,
and stir the dust underneath the thrust of my clicking heels,
C’est la vie, what me worry? I never do

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33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Seven: Oliver Appropriate

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

New York, release me from my strata

I’m back and so is Say Anything. This time, it’s all about 2019’s Oliver Appropriate, the final record in the era of Say Anything’s catalog kicked off by …Is A Real Boy. I really could write a whole column on every one of their records, but for now, I’ll be fast forwarding to Oliver, which serves as a spiritual sequel to the themes I talked about last time. Just a quick content warning up at the top, this album deals with a lot of sex, sexual identity discussion, and violence against partners.

Quick recap: …Is A Real Boy was all about that entitled and obnoxious mentality that almost always accompanies a suburban punk dude, explored through singer and songwriter Max Bemis’ first person narration. Rage at everyone who won’t give you exactly what you want. Screaming over everyone else because you don’t think anyone’s listening. Stroking your ego just to cover up how little you actually like yourself. Lashing out. Constantly. Really all the time. At everybody. Like this guy:

Wait, that’s me

Definitely not me. I don’t know why that’s there. Weird.

Yeah, Max. That’s who I meant. I swear!

 

Oliver skips ahead 15 years later to see what that teenage jackass is up to now. It’s a thematic record, so I really recommend listening to it as a whole, even if the plot isn’t the clearest narrative on the first listen. The story opens with the titular Oliver, narrated by Max, an older version of our Boy protagonist. His band’s broken up, which he assumes is a devastating loss to the public, and he’s living his life through an alcohol and pill induced haze. He’s conformed to the standard hetero liberal “ally” lifestyle, despite holding deep resentments for everyone around him.

They fade into the liberal bourgeoisie,

Their hatred now inflamed to stoke your daughter’s screams

And ramble about Trump over Stellas

And headline Coachella

He takes that resentment as some sign of his superiority. He’s miserable because he’s better than everyone and always has been. He only pretends to be one of them to fill some hole in his self worth. His flaws are what define him, but no one’s allowed to see them; Oliver himself barely acknowledges them.

And everything they told me was wrong is still in my heart to turn me on

My ego is built on all my pain. I’m your migraine.

Deep down his struggle with his sexual identity gets covered up in a way that may seem familiar to a lot of people who came of age in the “newly woke” era. Oliver “pretends” to be queer as a joke to hide his insecurities. He kisses men as a goof to show off how “comfortable” he is with his heterosexuality, but never pursues these relationships past the mockery phase. He’s satirically macho to the point that he falls into the same tropes that outward misogynists do. And that struggle with his identity manifests itself, not only in his sexual identity, but in a deep hatred of women, no matter what he pretends to feel.

I somehow became a feminist, when ten years ago I was feeding drinks 

To women I’d laugh at when they’d think amongst my friends

It’s such a lie

After we really get to know Oliver, his whole world changes. His facade slips and he actually lets himself go home with a guy, maybe as a joke, maybe not, but he crosses a line he never did before and starts to really fall for someone after the high of getting his band back together lets him actually show some honesty, played by the drummer and co-writer of the record, Karl Keuhn.

Is it funny when I fuck? Is it funny when I suck?

 

One night with me is bringing back the memories of that old room where you started fucking the fear

Two broad shoulders and two hands as big as mine, I bet you think, I bet you know the end is near

And maybe it is.

‘Cause people like your father don’t take it lightly when we kiss

So now you either follow, let go, or bury below

But you can’t escape the sinking feelings you don’t outgrow

And Oliver finds himself… himself for the first time. This guy has let him be Oliver. And then… it’s over. This character defining moment to Oliver was just some night. He’s in love with someone else and Oliver was just some fling. We’ve all had these moments that keep us up at night for years, people you can’t get out of your head. And those people probably don’t even know we exist. We end up defining ourselves by something that the person responsible thinks of as negligible, if they think of it at all. But most of us eventually accept and get over it, but how does someone as self absorbed as Oliver take no for an answer? Well, we’ve all met these kind of guys and they usually… don’t. So Oliver goes to his apartment and…

Never earned the key so I’m knocking and now you’re home

My liver tells me so, it demands moonshine to blind the truth

That I was fine before you made me know myself, I wish I could go back

 

What does he got that I don’t? 

All I know, you’ll never love me

 

And Oliver murders him, ties them together, and drowns himself in the East River alongside him.

 

If you should die in your own form, I’ll reinforce that (I’ll convince you)

I’ll slit your throat and leave you gaping, oh, the hardest part of being alone

I’ll leave you torn, I’ll leave you waiting, oh, the hardest part of being alone

You break our beating hearts wide open, you’re the hardest part of being alone

You break our bleeding hearts wide open, you’re the hardest part of being alone

Being alone, Being alone, Is that enough?

It’s a pretty hard turn in the plot, but it’s what makes the whole album work so well. If you’re going to take a cautionary tale of entitled ego and advance it 15 years to now, to the Trump era, to the incel era, you have to follow through with it. We’re in an era where horrible men are being empowered to treat everyone as less deserving. An era where we continue to give the worst of us the loudest voices and the most power, normalizing and amplifying their bigotry and violence. All because they can’t take no for an answer. They can’t even imagine a world where people exist outside of what they can do for them.

It makes me sick and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m as powerless as our character in …Is A Real Boy was and I want to lash out and scream at everyone. But isn’t that the problem? Isn’t that why we’re in this mess to begin with, and if so, why was I so surprised when it happened? It’s because I’m privileged. Absolutely, I am. When Trump won, I couldn’t believe it. But then I heard plenty of people saying “Of course he won, this is the America we’ve always known. You didn’t notice?” Of course Kavanaugh was confirmed. Of course this is the world we live in. Because men don’t learn the right lessons from anything. A cautionary tale becomes an empowering icon.

I wish I could go back to that angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole and slap the stupid smirk off his face and tell him to get better faster. Never let yourself be satisfied or complacent. Nobody owes you anything. Yeah, life sucks sometimes, but acting like this hurts people. People like Oliver kill people every day and the majority of us don’t say a goddamn word about it. We deem it inappropriate to even discuss it in an uncivilized way. So maybe a lot of us could benefit from taking a look back at who we used to be and really think “am I that much better now? Am I good enough yet?” I bet a lot of us won’t find a good enough answer. So come up with a better one.

So go ask your Chomsky

What these systems produce

The cracks in commandments

That we can slip through

God, I’m smart and I’m worth hating

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33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Six: …Is A Real Boy

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

And the record begins with a song of rebellion

Here we go. I’ve been putting off writing this one for a while. I’m going to try to keep the gushing to a minimum here, but Say Anything’s …Is A Real Boy has been called my favorite record more often than not over the last 6 or so years. I could go on about how “Alive With The Glory Of Love” is a perfect song, or how one of the best songs to cover with my high school band was “The Futile,” with it’s intro of SHIT, NOTHING MAKES SENSE. Or even how neither my wife nor I hesitated to say “I Want To Know Your Plans” had to be the first dance at our wedding. So instead of just talking about how flawless it is, I’d rather talk about why I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. I don’t plan on getting into the songs that mean the most to me, but what the record is trying to say as a whole. As an aside, you gotta admit it doesn’t get more precious than this, captured by Flying Machine Network host, Elle Riccardi.

You’re what keeps me believing the world’s not gone dead,
Strength in my bones, put the words in my head.
When they pour out to paper, it’s all for you.
‘Cause that’s what you do. That’s what you do.

 

So if this record is such an important part of my narrative, why am I writing about it now? This month, I’ll be doing a two part column about Say Anything’s first major release, the aforementioned …Is A Real Boy, and their most recent and allegedly final record, Oliver Appropriate. I’ll save most of the Oliver talk for next time, but the premise is that it’s a concept album that extrapolates the character set up in …Is A Real Boy and follows up on where that character would be 15 years on. So let’s take a look at that guy’s beginnings.

The general idea behind the record is that our narrator, an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole has been cursed that everything he feels and thinks just pours out of his mouth in a dramatic, musical way. Definitely not how I see myself in any way, I swear. But this character isn’t supposed to be our hero. I’ve been thinking a lot about the problematic lead style of storytelling and what it lets us explore. I’m a big fan of following the, I don’t want to say villains, but the characters we aren’t supposed to agree with, to help illustrate the flaws we all have. SeinfeldIt’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and Rick & Morty are prime examples of cautionary tales of letting your pettiness and ego get in the way of being a real human being. We also have characters like Han Solo, who we see develop from problematic asshole to hero in their own right. That growth is what makes them fan favorites. But I’ve also been thinking a whole lot about the role that these characters play when the wrong lessons are learned by the audience. Rick & Morty’s fanbase is one of the most toxic places around and they worship at the feet of a character that’s supposed to be the villain of the series; taking his narcissism as an ideal to strive for instead of seeing the damage he brings to the rest of the cast. People look up to Joker and Harley Quinn, a couple that was literally created to bring domestic abuse and mental illness to the forefront of the already traumatic and messy world of Batman. But does that mean we should abandon work with problematic characters, regardless of authorial intent? Personally, I think it’s more important than ever to showcase the problems these characters work through and help show their motivations and the impact they have. Fiction is a safer place to explore the problems of society, than let people just like our characters exact more harm on the people around them and get surprised by the fallout. But by bringing voice to problematic views that people define themselves by, are you doing more harm than good? As Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be,” after all.

So how does that relate to …Is A Real Boy? Max Bemis, the writer behind Say Anything’s catalog, has openly spoken about how often the themes of …Is A Real Boy were misinterpreted. Our character was never supposed to be Max, but the manifestation of what drives an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole who can’t control his own impulses.

Lou is bugged, shot up with drugs. He sweats this bird he hardly knows, All he wants is to see someone he respects without their clothes. So like some hybrid mother/lover She’d soothe and heal his wounds And kiss those dying ears so softly That the reaper stops to Swoon Oh, please

Full disclosure, I completely missed this in high school and couldn’t stand his vocal delivery and writing style until years later when it finally clicked. I thought it was celebrating his ego and lust for sex and acceptance (mostly the former), but it wasn’t. It was projecting what this guy, who was a hell of a lot more like high school Ryan than I’d like to admit, wanted more than anything in the world, but it wasn’t supposed to make you feel good and empowered. Revisiting it years later, it made a hell of a lot more sense why his style was so… sarcastic.

And this girl, who I met. Who’s pride makes her hard to forget. Took pity on me, horizontally, but most likely because of my band. And that’s all I can get, when I’m lonely. 

When I read Catcher In The Rye in middle school, it was on the recommendation of my 8th grade English teacher, two years before we read it as an assignment. She pulled me aside after class and said “You really should read this now. If you wait to read it with a class, you’ll hate it.” I don’t know what she saw in me at 13, but she was right. When I first read it, I was in disbelief at how much of myself I found in Holden Caulfield. I read it over and over again, every winter for the next several years and my feelings towards the book changed significantly every time I finished it. My senior year of high school, I realized, yeah, I was Holden and Holden really sucks. I was also convinced that the whole book serves as a farewell message to his therapist before an inevitable suicide. And, being an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole struggling with my own depression, I knew, deep down, that if I didn’t make a significant change to my cynical, spiteful, implicitly misogynistic self, I would end up there, too. I hated everyone around me and what did I have to show for it? A lot of hate. And nothing else. So I worked on it, went to college, and reinvented myself as a romantic optimist. Desperately trying to escape Holden Caulfield.

I still adore Catcher, don’t get me wrong, but much like …Is A Real Boy where I once took it literally, I finally realized that it’s supposed to make me uncomfortable. It’s supposed to challenge me to rise above this character. In “Every Man Has A Molly,” we have a break up song with more vitriol than you can believe. It’s about how his emotional honesty has pushed his girlfriend away and now he’ll never “have rough sex with Molly Connelly again.” Max has openly spoken about how he was a virgin till college and how there never was a real Molly. But in this character’s mind, there should have been one. In “Admit It,” a diatribe against the exclusive nature of liberal hipster culture, we see that same rage directed at “the same superiority complex shared by the high school jocks who made your life a living hell. And made you a slave to the competitive, capitalist dogma you spend every moment of your waking life bitching about.” It’s pretentious, it’s pissed off, it’s what I felt like as a teenager. All I wanted to do was scream at everyone I thought I was better than, which, of course, was everyone. But luckily, I used characters like this to address and start the process of exorcising the parts of myself that I see in these characters.

So what happens when the audience learns the wrong lessons from a cautionary tale? What does Holden Caulfield look like 15 years later? What kind of person grows out of someone like this if they never learn how to be better? I’ll be back later this month to talk about the sequel, 2019’s Oliver Appropriate.

So you’ll come to be, made of these, urgent unfulfilled. Oh no no no no no. When I’m dead, I’ll rest

 

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33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Five: In A Silent Way

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

Shhh. Peaceful. Silent.

Happy new year, everybody! It’s January, and while I’m generally not one to make resolutions, there is still something about changing out my calendar that gets me thinking about where I should go next. 2018 was a big year for me and I feel like I’ve grown a lot. But that always pushes me to think “Ok, so I did all that, now what?” And I found myself gravitating towards music that asks the same questions.

There’s something about Miles Davis. Every single time I hear his trumpet come in over any of his incredible rhythm sections, I can’t help but think “why the hell don’t I listen to more Miles Davis?” But for Davis’ In A Silent Way, it doesn’t even take that long. It takes this record 7 seconds to kick in and it does not let up until it’s over. It opens with Joe Zawinul’s low organ hum until Tony Williams’ hi-hats, John McLaughlin’s guitar, Dave Holland’s bass, and Chick Corea’s and Herbie Hancock’s electric pianos kick in and just like that jazz fusion was brought in to the limelight, all in 7 seconds. Rounding out the band is Wayne Shorter’s beautiful soprano saxophone. And then, there’s Miles. His trumpet is unparalleled here. Sure, most people prefer his deeper exploration into the murky waters between rock and jazz in the following year’s Bitches’ Brew, but for me, In A Silent Way is where it’s at.

 

By the late 60s, Miles Davis was already an incredible musician and a huge force in the jazz world. In 1968 he had just gotten married to Betty Mabry, who introduced him to a whole lot of funk, soul, and rock throughout the New York scene, and as I talked about in my previous few columns on Prince and Bowie, newlyweds discovering music together is something I can really get into right now. But even though they were divorced the following year, her impact on his music was hardly a temporary thing. With 1969’s In A Silent Way, Davis had fully integrated the guitars, electric pianos, and organs of rock music into his jazz ensemble. There had been a handful of artists pioneering this mix of jazz and rock (eventually called fusion), but few had the jazz world’s respect that Davis had. As he continued to explore with dissonant and challenging mixes of genres throughout the 70s, he became so controversial and reviled in the jazz world, he went in to retirement for a bit, but very little of that strife is heard here.

The record is two acts, one on each side. Side A is an 18 minute suite of “Shhh” and “Peaceful.” As I said up top, this piece is one of my favorites. The bass, drums, and pianos hold a perfect rhythm while the leads go explore. Davis lets the guitars and keys explore for about two minutes before he comes in. This is the kind of improvisational jam you would later hear on albums like The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers or The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour, but here, it’s more… adventurous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking those fantastic records. But when rock bands jam, you feel the music building heavier and heavier and the focus is often on the dynamics, to give the musicians and the audience the release of an explosive crescendo. The exploratory jams are some of my favorite things in rock, for sure, but it’s a different vibe. You can feel the band’s energy as they push the jam bigger and bigger. But on this record, Davis grows the music sideways instead of up. The bass and drums never get more intense, they just evolve. The keyboards never start hammering away, they only add different kinds of texture. Just about all of my improv experience is through rock, so when I really listen to an improvisational piece like this, I’m always amazed at where the musicians choose not to go. When they choose to just stop and let someone else completely take over. Davis spends a lot of the song in the background while the guitars and keyboards complement each others. Every time the song builds up to just when I’m really feeling it, the band stops. Waits a second. And comes back in, just like before. With that organ hum, then hi-hats and bass. But this time, it’s somehow even better. I love a lot of Davis’ earlier work, but In A Silent Way is truly a whole other animal.

Side B is another suite, this time the Zawinul-penned titular track, sandwiching the Davis number “It’s About That Time.” “In A Silent Way” is a beautiful, soft ballad between guitar and keyboard that lets every note ring and flow just long enough to make me nostalgic for a time I don’t quite remember. But when Davis’ trumpet comes in with an overlaid melody, be still my beating heart, I feel like I’m falling in love for the first time again. But after a few minutes, the underlying harmonies start to get just a little darker and the melody starts to get a little more dissonant and just when I start to feel it, it ends and the funk-infused “It’s About That Time” kicks in. This one doesn’t have the same driving rhythms that “Shhh” and “Peaceful” had and it takes its time on the main themes longer than Side A, but the melody in the organ is just as strong, if not stronger. This is where Shorter’s sax really shines, too. The entire midsection of this piece is playing off a simple, but perfect melody that I never want to end, but of course, like all things on this record, it suddenly stops just when it really starts to hit its stride, going right back into the reflective and tranquil beauty of “In A Silent Way,” but this time closing out the record with a flawless reprise.

Miles Davis was never satisfied doing the same old thing over and over again. He could’ve easily kept cranking out albums derivative of some of his earlier masterpieces like A Kind Of Blue or Sketches Of Spain. But he didn’t. He pushed fusion into the mainstream, often up against the derision of both critics and audiences, and brought jazz into the world of so many new listeners. His entire “electric period” is brilliant, but my favorite is the one that really started it all. Yes, he hinted at a few of the things to come on the record or two before it, but In A Silent Way stands out as his testament to always push forward. Building from where he was, but never afraid to show just how far he was willing to go. Heading in to 2019, I think that’s as inspiring a message as I’m gonna find, and I hope for just a fraction of the creative bravery found on this record.

 

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33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Four: The Berlin Trilogy Part 3 – Lodger

Lodger really isn't my favorite, can you tell?

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

In the event
that this fantastic voyage
Should turn to erosion 
and we never get old
Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable
But our lives are valuable too

Here we go! We’re at the end of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. We started with Low, continued with “Heroes,” and now we’re finishing up with Lodger. I’ll be back to monthly after this, so I’m excited to see where I end up in January.

Full disclosure, right up front. I don’t have nearly as much of an attachment to Lodger as I do Low and “Heroes.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album. For sure. It just doesn’t have as grandiose of a thesis as the last two. It kind of wanders and is a bit all over the place. But that’s why it works for me. When you’re going through a transitional period, you can’t always end up in a clear, concise, and obvious place of growth. You usually just end up “here.” And you usually can’t tell where here is until you’re already… somewhere else. But it’s important to remember how you got “here.” Even when that trip was a rough one, it’s still, as Bowie calls it, a “Fantastic Voyage.”

But any sudden movement I’ve got to write it down
They wipe out an entire race and I’ve got to write it down
But I’m still getting educated but I’ve got to write it down
And it won’t be forgotten
‘Cause I’ll never say anything nice again, how can I?

We’re learning to live with somebody’s depression
And I don’t want to live with somebody’s depression
We’ll get by, I suppose

It’s a very modern world,
but nobody’s perfect

There’s a lot of interesting directions Bowie and Eno choose to take on their final (for now) collaboration. Songs like “African Night Flight” and “Yassassin” pick up where the final song on “Heroes,” “The Secret Life Of Arabia” left off, with Bowie and Eno experimenting with world music. These serve as the most diverse songs on the record, which doesn’t feature any of the ambitious atmospheric instrumental pieces the last two albums featured. I don’t have a whole lot to say about them, but these serve to define the eclectic and meandering style of the record. Coupled with the German influenced “Red Sails,” this record really feels like Bowie wandering around the world trying to find the next musical outlet to call “here.” In case the diverse styles aren’t enough to convince us of this, here’s Bowie on “Move On.”

Sometimes I feel the need to move on
So I pack a bag and move on

Well I might take a train or sail at dawn
Might take a girl when I move on

Somewhere, someone’s calling me
And when the chips are down
I stumble like a blind man
Can’t forget you

The second side of the album is more focused and thematically driven. After establishing that Bowie can do whatever he wants on Side A, Side B is all about expectations and what those restrictions can do to people. Now that Bowie has broken out of the standards he’s set on his own records, it’s time to explore just what that kind of pressure can do when you *can’t* break free of it, in four different acts.

First, in “Look Back In Anger,” we see the set up. No matter where the pressure is coming from, we can so often only get mad and just wait for it to reach a tipping point.

Look back in anger, driven by the night, Till you come
(Waiting so long, I’ve been waiting so, waiting so)
Look back in anger, see it in my eyes, ‘Til you come

Then “Boys Keep Swinging.” What about privilege? Can these societal pressures benefit some of us? Is it fair? What’s the downside to that?

Heaven loves ya, The clouds part for ya, Nothing stands in your way
When you’re a boy

Clothes always fit ya, Life is a pop of the cherry
When you’re a boy

Uncage the colors, Unfurl the flag, Luck just kissed you hello
When you’re a boy

Learn to drive and everything, You’ll get your share
When you’re a boy

Well, the downside is for the people that tell those boys no. Nothing’s ever their fault, everyone else is just getting in their way. When someone is expected to be handed everything, over and over again, how does that person confront people that say no? Usually pretty poorly, as he lays out in “Repetition.”

He’ll get home around seven
‘Cause the chevy’s real old
And he could have had a cadillac
If the school had taught him right
And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse
And the food is on the table
But the food is cold
(Don’t hit her)
“Can’t you even cook?
What’s the good of me working when you can’t damn cook?”
Well Johnny is a man
And he’s bigger than her
I guess the bruises won’t show 
If she wears long sleeves
But the space in her eyes shows through
And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse
Shows through
And finally, he concludes the album, and this theme with “Red Money.”
Oh, can you feel it in the way
That a man is not a man?
Can you see it in the sky
That the landscape is too high?
Like a nervous disease
And it’s been there all along
It will tumble from the sky
It’s been there all along
Project cancelled
Tumbling central
Red money
Can you hear it fall
Can you hear it well
Can you hear it at all
Lodger is a complicated album. Sure, it’s use of world music, and hooks helped influence so many musicians for decades to come, but at the time it was met with a pretty middle of the road response. But I think that’s fitting. After the masterpieces of Low and “Heroes,” expectations couldn’t be higher for a listener going in to Lodger. And what do you find? Wandering through different styles, grasping to see what works or what resonates with an artist in limbo. I’ve heard it described as a thesis-less album, but what if that’s the point? Aren’t we all unfocused, thesis-less people until we move on and someone decides what our “defining” thesis was? Sometimes we get the honor of deciding, but more often than not, it’s just the imprint that we left on someone else that actually matters. We’re all just different stages of put together as we fall sloppily through someone else’s idea of a narrative.
If Lodger is about anything, it’s about the struggle of finding the balance of who you are, how society helped create that person, and how hard it is to overcome those expectations. There’s no clear answer, within the record or within ourselves, but at least the record ends with a hopeful:

Such responsibility
It’s up to you and me

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The Best of 2018 by Malcolm (human) & Sora (cat)

As another year comes to a close, it’s become standard practice for aspiring internet writers to put together their reflections on the past year. On the personal end, things are moving along at a good rate. It’s no secret that politics in 2018 were… *frustrating*. This year I learned I had a form of acid reflux and had to cut out a few favorite foods. And we had all the growing pains that come with running a creative young start up. Losing and gaining shows, and trying to put out more great stuff all put me on a roller coaster, but just the little one at a carnival. It was a really exciting year for culture, though, and so much great stuff surprised and inspired me. So I thought I would go through and give some thoughts on my favorite art and artistic moments of the year. And as I sit here, wondering how I can possibly innovate a list like this, my fluffy cat Sora is sitting at my side on the couch, so we talked it over, and this will be a collaboration of both our favorites. Right?

Sora: …

Ok, he doesn’t talk a ton, but when he gets excited about something, he’ll let us know. Disclosure, this is just from what I got to try this year so far. I still have Roma, Spider-Verse, The Favourite, and Red Dead 2 on my wish list, among others. Let’s make a trendy internet list.

 

Best Ensemble Cast- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Related image

I could never get into the Gilmore Girls, so I was hesitant to try Amy Sherman-Palladino’s new show last year, but found myself very pleasantly surprised. In the past few years I’ve realized that my favorite period to display on film is the 50’s and 60’s, and they nailed it thoroughly. I was into the lead character’s arc of facing divorce and making a name in the male-dominated world of comedy, and really enjoying the supporting characters. Alex Borstein especially was a revelation. This year with the second season, they improved on every imaginable aspect, and went from very good to phenomenal. Rachel Brosnahan’s on-stage banter got faster and much funnier. The parents, played by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, went from quirky foils to breakout characters with really moving emotional journeys, possibly the best version of a sitcom giving the parents equal time and attention. Alex Borstein as Mrs. Maisel’s manager got even funnier, and in that way where the writers realize they can put less on the page and the actor will still crush. There’s an extended montage of her simply holding a prop without speaking that has become one of my favorite visual gags. So when you’re picking your favorite ensemble on TV, you think of the show where at any moment, any one of the characters could be the best and funniest, because they all are.  Except Joel.

 

Best Actress

Sora, you stopped licking your paw and looked at me. Did you want to take a turn?

Sora:  …

Ok, I’ll let you finish. Just let me know. Sorry.

Best Actress-  Daredevil

Image result for karen daredevil

My other favorite TV show this year was Daredevil, even though full disclosure, I’ll never fully be able to tell how much my nerd baggage is affecting my decisions. Matt is one of my favorite fictional characters, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over that delighted sense that they’re making my superhero stories, but I’m *pretty* sure season 3 was phenomenal. On the action front, it upped the ante again, topping the famous season 1 hallway fight with an unbroken take scene through an entire prison. But that’s not my takeaway.  Karen was. Deborah Ann Woll gave a performance so subtle that it only could’ve been built on the collected traumas the character had suffered over three seasons. Her solo episode was an acting showcase that lifted all comics up yet again. Name me another comic project with the guts and the investment in the characters to spend a whole episode with no superheroes.  Not only-

Sora: I’m ready. Now.

Uh, ok. Then let me just say-

Sora: Now.

Ok, she brought an amazing empathy to the kinds of characters that heroes’ and villains’ actions affect. Go.

 

Best Food

Ok, really curious how this is going to go. (We feed him the same cat food twice daily.)

Sora: Lettuce.

Oh yeah. You do really love lettuce, bud.

Sora: It snaps.

Yeah, so we do this thing where if we’re making a sandwich or a salad we’ll toss him a leaf and he just goes nuts and stands up-

Sora: It snaps like a spine. A mouse spine.

Dude. I thought, dude, I thought it was sweet or something.

Sora: …

Ok, I guess he’s done. I… yikes… Where are we?

 

Best Game- Hollow Knight

I got to try a lot of cool story-driven and artistic games this year, but for list purposes was disappointed to find most of them came out in 2016. Hopefully I can write about them soon, but it sort of left this one by default. That technicality should not detract from how great this game is, though. Hollow Knight is unbelievably the first game from Team Cherry in Australia, and ten seconds of gameplay footage will show you how strong their art game is. To the best of my knowledge, all the animations are hand drawn, and the lighting, rain effects, and layered backgrounds make the moodiest most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while. The art style is gothic, and sort of grotesque, with eccentric bug characters populating this world.

Sora: Bugs?

Yeah, but like cartoon bugs. And they have swords and stuff. Ok, he lost interest. The exploration is vast and rewarding, and the combat is a very restricted, very twitchy set of motions that makes hitting harder, but when you finally beat the varied difficult bosses, you feel like a sword master. This game rules on so many fronts. I’ll be replaying it for a long time.

 

Best Channels:  Art of the Score & Game Score Fanfare

If you follow my work on the rest of our site, you’ll know I’ve been making the move into essays about media this year. There are many sources of inspiration for this, but two discoveries this year were very formative for me. And since they both talk about soundtracks I figured I would mention them together.

Image result for art of the scoreArt of the Score is a podcast made in partnership with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and features three top tier musical academics in Andrew, Nick, and Dan. Their analysis of straight forward classics like John Williams and unsettling pieces like There Will be Blood is educational, yet comfortable and entertaining. I’ve listened to most of the episodes several times to re-familiarize myself with the concepts and see what I missed. I’m… frustrated and angry that even their first podcast episode, Raiders of the Lost Ark, starts off so comfortably and makes some amazing points that I’ll never forget. You’re supposed to start bad, guys.

Image result for game score fanfareGame Score Fanfare is a Youtube channel that’s a one-man operation by Mathew Dyason. He makes exactly the kinds of stories I want to make. You’ll often hear the very specific emotion or story purpose that a video game soundtrack is going for, including breakdowns of the instruments, use of silence, and the all powerful shifts in dynamics to match player actions. Game music can be hard to notice, since you’re often distracted by your choices or the other sounds, and it has weird rules about when it loops and changes since it’s waiting on you. Mathew cuts the other distractions and presents things in the easiest and most engaging way. One of my favorite video games to introduce people to is Journey, and I always make them watch his video after.

I’m not sure if Sora’s ready for another yet.

 

Best Scratching Post

You really just have the one, buddy. We got it a few months ago.

Sora: Daddy’s leg.

Ouch, yeah. You know I don’t like that. You already have the other post. Can’t you use it?

Sora: Daddy’s leg is a post I can chase.

Again, I can’t argue with your logic, but… You’re an intense little guy.

Sora: I know.

 

Best Villain-  Thanos

I know, I know. Killmonger is a respectable silver medal here. I think we can all agree Black Panther’s villain did much more for the genre as a whole. Intertwining his motivations with the hero’s, making his goals grounded and relatable. All important.

Image result for thanos

Thanos should have been awful. The entire buildup had come to be a joke. Another Marvel movie, another post-credits scene of Thanos getting out of his chair. Then Thanos finding his glove. Thanos checking his coat pockets for his keys. Thanos waiting to merge at a Yield sign. Not only was he teased, but he would come to be the big villain for twenty movies with no existing material. That’s a huge amount of pressure. And he’s a fully CG character, not just a painted person, and those have been good about… never.

Thanos tries to get over to the cash lane from the EZ-Pass toll lane.

So to be honest, a lot of my reaction has to be from Thanos not bombing. I expected the worst and he was really compelling right away. He needed to come out this year, not 2015, or we wouldn’t get that HD stubble and the little scars in his head. I loved the way each of his Infinity stones had a signature animation style that you began to internalize as shorthand.I loved that he just… would not… stop. He conjured the same feeling a Terminator, Alien, Freddy, or Jason does. I was terrified of him in the movie, and just felt that mounting hopelessness along with the heroes. And look, a lot of pieces have come out with lazy headlines like “Thanos was right,” and of course the authors don’t actually mean that (I hope).  I don’t really need the condescending math on what would happen if you actually wiped out half the life in the universe, either. But in one economical scene he illustrated why *he thinks* he’s right, and I bought it enough to understand his choices more than every other cartoon villain. I can’t wait to see how they wrap this up.

 

Best Nap Spot

Oh, great, you’re really getting into the rhythm. Whatcha got.

Sora: Couch.

Makes sense. Here we are.

Is that it? Yeah? Ok.

 

Best Sound-  A Quiet Place

Image result for quiet placeThis seems logical to anyone that saw the film. A thriller about trying to stay silent would need to and did provide some great sound design. But that’s not actually what I meant.

Best Sound. Single sound. It’s not the crunch of bare feet on sand. It’s not the clicks the aliens make, nor the hearing aid pitch.

Sora: Sink.

What?

Sora: My best nap spot is the sink.

Oh, right. Yeah, you can change it. So it wasn’t any of those sounds. This is a slight spoiler, but at a crucial moment in the film John Krasinski has to shout to attract attention.

Sora: Actually, top of cabinet.

Ok, man. I know you like your spots. John gives this loud scream that I’ve never heard at the movies. It was raw, undignified. His voice cracked like a little boy’s. It had the pure emotion of a desperately protective parent who-

Sora: Windowsill. Where the birds are.

Buddy, please. It was a sound that we’re conditioned to deride. One that all the stoic Rambo screams have banished. The lack of ego that it took for him to leave that in-

Sora: Then the other windowsill, to follow the sun.

Geez, okay. You did it. Everyone watch A Quiet Place.

Sora: My turn

You just went. That whole time.

Sora: No, you did sound.

Ok, dude. You’re still my son.

 

 

Best Human

Ever?

Sora: Mommy.

No argument, there, man.

 

Best Picture, Best Actor- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It’s weird for me to write about the Coen brothers. They’ve been my favorite directors since I started paying attention, so there’s bias, and they’re obviously legends, so I can feel redundant at times. But then they miss Oscars they should’ve gotten, or make some smaller movies, and I wonder if they’re actually some hybrid of all time greats and indie darlings. And then they put a movie straight to Netflix? Strange times.

Image result for buster scruggs

I had no idea what to expect since this is their first straight anthology. Hail, Caesar! had many interwoven storylines, but they were somewhat connected, and I found that movie really ineffective, anyway. And it’s weird to write about why a film is so great when the tones are so varied. The opening short is very funny, if violent, and has Looney Tunes logic and some musical numbers. Then later pieces are tragic, often with heartbreaking endings and bleak looks at greed and violent natures. But they cohere- the order of them matters, too, and the directors know when to inject their signature humor for respite. This collection moved me greatly. If A Serious Man is the culmination of all of the Coens’ sensibilities and experience (it is), then the Buster shorts are them flexing in the other direction. They’re proving in fairly quick succession that they have the genius ability to make the funniest fifteen minutes you saw this year, then the most moving twenty, wait, now the most moving thirty. All new characters and tone every time, and starting from scratch doesn’t slow them down one bit. Part of the fun is just deciding which short is your favorite. And which is the best, and why the difference?

Image result for buster scruggs meal ticketI think “The Gal Who Got Rattled” may age into being one of the great American short stories, but I found a very special attachment to “Meal Ticket.” It was minimalist storytelling at its finest. You’re waiting through long, dreary montages of life on the road for any indication of what the characters feel, about each other, and about their lot in life, but they give you nothing, and you share in the discomfort together. Harry Melling in particular gave an aching but internal performance as the quadruple amputee. Whether in his booming theatrical monologues or his patience from the back of a jostling wagon, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Not a lot makes me sad in movies. I usually can detach, but this character will be weighing on me for a long time.

This movie floored me and I hope it gets recognition this year.

Ok, it looks like the little guy is asleep. I should probably follow his lead and wrap it up. I’m not just saying this, but overall I think it was a good year. I feel like a plane, and yeah I know there’s a plane on the website, but one that you have to turn the crank to get the propellor moving. This year was those turns, the crank resisting, the engine sputtering. I think, I mean I feel, that I’m around the corner from a liftoff.

So thanks for reading, and a Happy New Year.

-Malcolm Nygard

 

Sora: Crazy Rich Asians

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33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Three: The Berlin Trilogy Part 2 – “Heroes”

I love Heroes so damn much

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

Something in the night
Something in the day
Nothing is wrong but darling, something’s in the way
There’s slaughter in the air
Protest on the wind
Someone else inside me
Someone could get skinned, how?
(My, my) someone fetch a priest
You can’t say no to the beauty and the beast

I’m back and so is Bowie! Last week, I covered his 1977 masterpiece, Low. And don’t worry! Next week I’ll be talking about the final piece of the trilogy, Lodger.

But today is all about “Heroes.”

If Low was about facing your demons and recognizing where you went wrong, “Heroes” is all about what comes after that realization. From the opening track, “Beauty And The Beast,” I could feel Bowie’s desire to grow. But not by forgetting the past or ignoring your mistakes. Our flaws and origin stories are a part of us, whether or not we let them define us; ignoring them only makes it harder to prevent slipping back into those old habits.

I wanted to believe me
I wanted to be good
I wanted no distractions
Like every good boy should
Nothing will corrupt us
Nothing will compete
Thank god heaven left us
Standing on our feet
(My, my)
Beauty and the beast
Facing my struggles head on really is the only way I’ve found that helps me get over them. Pretending that you’re perfect just creates a cycle of constant avoidance and Bowie lays that out on this record. Like in “Joe The Lion,” a song that, to me, pretty clearly makes a case against the strong face we put all of our energy into maintaining instead of just letting everything in. It creates a cycle of “always on guard, always defensive” that isn’t good for anybody.

You get up and sleep
Joe the lion
Made of iron

I’ve always had trouble with letting little things go. I always hold grudges and because of that, the slightest things set me off. This has been a pretty constant theme of my arguments with those I care about, as I’m so often saying “No, it has barely anything to do with this thing, it’s a larger issue.” If I could just address the issues as they happened, instead of staying silent at the time, these things wouldn’t build up so badly and I wouldn’t put all of my stresses onto one innocuous event. Moments that seem trivial to others often become these huge turning points, character defining moments, or silent breakdowns for me.
Sons of the silent age
Listen to tracks by Sam Therapy and King Dice
Sons of the silent age
Pick up in bars and cry only once
Sons of the silent age
Make love only once but dream and dream
Don’t walk, they just glide in and out of life
They never die, they just go to sleep one day
Like Low, “Heroes” ends with several instrumental tracks that are just as beautifully constructed by Bowie and Eno as the ones from the last record. “Sense Of Doubt” is a terrifying and deep bass-heavy piece, but with swells of treble optimism. “Moss Garden” is an exploration of calm tranquility. “Neukoln” feels like a tense, dissonant sci-fi soundtrack that draws from both of the previous pieces. Just sit in a room and spend a few minutes with headphones on. I think this block is even more immersive and well-constructed than the ones on Low and are worth really diving into. They close the record with questions on where to go, like Low, but this time, I felt like some of the answers were hidden in there. Just waiting to be revisited and re-contextualized when I was ready for them.
Now, of course, I can’t leave without talking about the title track. But I’m going to break chronology again and talk about another song first, “Blackout.” It pairs well with my main takeaway from “Heroes,” that the only way to really accept and move on from your flaws is to take them one day at a time. One of the major beliefs I hold is that love is the most empowering force in the world. Sure, I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I projected way too much of my happiness and self-worth on a relationship, but that unhealthy dynamic too often overshadows the inspiration and strength that we can pull from love. “Blackout” sets up the co-dependence trap that so many of us have fallen into. We’re all waiting to be saved, waiting for a dramatic kiss in the rain that fills all the emptiness, but if you wait for someone else to do all the work, you’ll never get there.

If you don’t stay tonight
I will take that plane tonight
I’ve nothing to lose, nothing to gain
I’ll kiss you in the rain

Get me to the doctor
Get me off the streets
(Get some protection)
Get me on my feet
(Get some direction)
Hot air gets me into a blackout
Oh, get me off the streets
Get some protection
Oh, get me on my feet
That brings us to the title track, ““Heroes.”” This song means the world to me. What does it mean to be a hero? Is it always being perfect? Is it always being the strong one saving everyone? No. A hero is someone who loves. A hero is someone who lets themselves be loved. They draw on the strength from those that they love and that love them back. They lift each other up and work together. Everyday we fight the villainy of our own inner demons. We don’t always win, but together, we can learn how to not lose, just one day at a time. All it takes to be a hero is to do what you can, even if it’s just for one day.
I will be King and you will be Queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
It’s not about erasing or hiding your weaknesses. It’s about embracing them. Maybe as a cautionary tale. Maybe to see those same weaknesses in people we can help. Maybe just to remind yourself how far you’ve come and how strong you truly are.
And you can be mean and I’ll drink all the time
Cause we’re lovers and that is a fact
Yes, we’re lovers, and that is that
Though nothing will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
Even if we aren’t strong enough today; maybe today we just can’t fight. So? There’s no harm in trying. And that’s all a hero is. Someone who tries, no matter what. No one’s a hero until they try to be one.
I can remember standing by the wall
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
We can beat them, for ever and ever
We’re nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we’re lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safe, just for one day
 
So who can be a hero?

We can be Heroes –  Just for one day – What d’you say?

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33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Two: The Berlin Trilogy Part 1 – Low

Low by David Bowie

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

Baby, I’ve been breaking glass in your room again

Listen don’t look at the carpet

I drew something awful on it

See you’re such a wonderful person

But you got problems

I’ll never touch you

It’s been a rough month. The only way I can bring myself to describe it is transitional. And my main companion throughout it has been David Bowie. Last month, I talked about why and when I started listening to Bowie, so I won’t reiterate, but the shorthand context is that I just got married and election day came and went. And for this month, I’m going to dive into my favorite era and for the next few weeks, I’ll be covering an album from the Berlin Trilogy.

Up first is Low.

I’m new to the whole Bowie catalog and… lore would probably be the best way to describe the many personas and phases of his career. The first album that really resonated with me was the incredible Station To Station, under his Thin White Duke persona. Which if you don’t know, is an interesting and controversial era for him, when he made a lot of seemingly pro-fascist remarks, which he later attributed to cocaine and drug abuse. Following the end of that era, Bowie moved to the still-divided city of Berlin to escape the toxicity of his lifestyle in LA and work on his next three records with Brian Eno, the first of which is Low.

When I first learned this context, I had already fallen in love with the record, after getting caught in a blizzard with it for a very tense two hour drive home in the snow, but the story behind it made me take a closer look at what Bowie was trying to say. I was soon struck by just how much it really resonated with feelings over the last month. From “Be My Wife.”

Sometimes you get so lonely. Sometimes you get nowhere

Please be mine

Share my life

Stay with me

Be my wife

I hadn’t realized just how much of my anxiety and anger at the world was being scapegoated into the aforementioned wedding and election. I was constantly saying “Once we get through this, we’ll finally have time to…” and “Once this all goes right, I’ll be way better, I promise” to no one but myself. Afterwards, I felt… empty? The wedding was perfect and the election was a wave. Objectively, everything should be great now, but I wasn’t being honest with my problems in the first place. Just like Bowie’s (and America’s) temporary love affair with unchecked fascism, I was putting so much faith in this larger idea to just fix everything without having to actually rectify the issues inside of me. Hoping to be saved left me bottling up a lot of things I’ve struggled with for years, like my anger. I started really retreating into myself, choosing headphones over my stereo and sitting alone in my office instead of working in the open living room. Too often, when I tried to open up, I just found myself in another argument. More often than not they were either my own fault or I was over exaggerating the effect of someone else’s flaws. The next song, “What In The World,” lays it out better than I can.

Deep in your room

Something deep inside of me – yearning deep inside of me

Talking thru the gloom

What in the world can you do?

I’m in the mood for your love

 

I’m just a little bit afraid of you

So what you gonna say and what you gonna do?

Ah, what you gonna be?

I’ve always struggled with a lot of internal rage. At society, at my friends, at my family, the list goes on. I’m always aware that I’m flying off the handle, but I just can’t bring myself to stop. Even when, no, especially when those that I love are the focus, I can’t help it. I hate it, but I’m trying. Throughout Low, Bowie talks a lot about how hard it is to break the toxic cycles that define us, even when you know you’re being watched by those affected. In “Always Crashing The Same Car:”

Jasmine, I saw you peeping

As I put my foot down to the floor

I was going round and round the hotel garage

Must have been touching close to ninety-four

But I’m always crashing in the same car

Structurally, Low is a fascinating album. The first 7 songs are complete, but only just. They’re primarily shorter snippets, some instrumental, that fade out right when you start to get the feel of what Bowie was going for. As soon as I felt the connection and message I was looking for, Bowie leaves, leaving us both with the same problems we had before he started. This happens over and over on the record; I’m never ready to hear the end of a song like “Sound And Vision.”

Pale blinds drawn all day

Nothing to do

Nothing to say

Blue Blue

 

I will sit right down

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

And I will sing

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Drifting into my solitude

Over my head

 

Don’t you wonder sometimes

‘Bout sound and vision?

And the way the album ends is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. The final songs are mostly instrumental (or with atmospheric and often non-English vocals), so I can’t really show you any excerpts here. During the following year’s tour, he opened with the first of these “Warszawa” to make sure the audience was patient and ready to really experience the show (side note, listen to David Bowie: Stage, it might be my favorite live album now). These pieces sound like the perfect soundtrack to my favorite movie, whether it exists or not. They’re somber. They’re complex. They’re so… deep and rich in instrumentation and tone. This is exactly what I’ve been feeling sounds like and that… helps.

The Berlin trilogy’s first entry really means the world to me and really set me up to try to face my issues head on instead of projecting and scapegoating. How’s that going? Next week, I’ll talk about how “Heroes” started to help me answer that question.

Bowie in 77

Care-line driving me – Share bride falling star

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