Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Breeders Banquet

Pride month is over, so let’s turn it back over to the Breeders

The Breeders have released a 14-minute video called “Live in Big Sur,” recorded in the middle of a hiking trail in the most beautiful part of the California coast, capturing stripped-down performances of songs from Last Splash. In addition to some gorgeous drone footage, it’s also got short, clever animations scattered throughout.

The whole package is super charming, and a reminder that the band has a hell of a lot of great songs besides “Cannonball.” Here are two of my favorites:

I like “Wait in the Car” mostly because “Wait in the car, I’ve got business” is something I always thought only my mother said. It really helps sell the middle-aged midwestern punk rock vibe of the whole album. All Nerve is my second favorite Breeders album, and it was such a pleasure to see them get the band back together and still be as weird and funny as they were in the 90s.

Like when they recorded “Safari”. Which just cemented the crush on Kim Deal I already had from the Pixies. She’s just the coolest.

A Shallow But Sincere Pride Message

End of the Pride Month progress report

For the past few years, I’ve tried to make some kind of acknowledgement at the beginning of Pride month in June. But it’s usually a kind of generic “love is love” type of thing, an earnest-but-not-especially-deep acknowledgement of how much better my life has been since I came out, a resolution to keep speaking out in favor of equality and respect, the kind of thing that makes for a perfectly suitable sentiment on a rainbow T-shirt.

This month, though, has hit different. I don’t know if it’s because it coincides with my birthday, so I’m growing deeper into DGAF territory. Or if COVID has kept me isolated in one way or another, with a lot of time to myself to think. But June 2024 has really sunk in as part of an ongoing process I’m calling The Great Unclenchening.

Which means that even through I’m fully out and growing gracefully into my bland, Buttigiegian lifestyle, there are still all of these things that I’ve been holding onto as something I should be embarrassed about. Even though they’re completely inconsequential. Like having crushes. Or conforming to stereotypes. Or even being shallow.

I’ve offhandedly mentioned before how Instagram had an overly large impact on me. For better or worse, but mostly better. As lousy and downright toxic as the platform is, it undeniably helped change how I see myself. For the first 40 years or so, I thought of myself as being gross and ugly, and I felt like there was so much wrong with me. Then I started getting attention from bear dudes on Instagram. All of a sudden, strangers were giving me compliments, and I hadn’t had to do anything to win them over!1Except maybe grow a beard? I was finally being properly objectified!

Is that narcissistic? Hell yes it is! But it’s also rippled out to make a subtle but profound difference. Just this morning, after I took a shower, I saw myself in the mirror and I didn’t give a dejected sigh. Instead I thought, “that’s me, and I’m fine with that.” I don’t have to immediately shut down anybody giving me a compliment.2I’m still bad at that, but trying to get better. I don’t have to try desperately to make people laugh to get them to like me. I can just relax.

And it wasn’t lost on me that I was making this observation on the last day of Pride month. How it doesn’t just mean flags and parades, but shedding any sense of shame or embarrassment over the millions of harmless things that make up you. It also made me feel a step closer to understanding what transgender people go through, finally being able to have an outward appearance that matches how they feel on the inside.

Obviously I don’t want to underestimate the significance of coming out, or the importance of political activism and solidarity. But I feel like Pride month reduces a ton of ideas to symbols, flags, and cliches, so that it’s easy to forget it means a complete rejection of shame, embarrassment, and fear. Refusing to listen to anyone who’s getting in the way of your pursuit of happiness, even if — or maybe especially if — that person is yourself.

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    Except maybe grow a beard?
  • 2
    I’m still bad at that, but trying to get better.

Trainwreck Revisited

Reconsidering my take on a mostly-forgettable movie from 2015 that is still depressingly relevant

After Trainwreck — the movie written by Amy Schumer, directed by Judd Apatow, and released in 2015 — was released, I wrote an overlong defense of it on this blog. I’m reluctant to link to it, partly because so many of the images and links are now broken.1Especially since the studios are now insisting on removing so much of their content from the internet. But mostly because reading old posts on here often has me thinking, “Who the hell is this asshole?” My last post was mostly responding to two reviews of the movie that I feel completely missed the point, and I was needlessly hostile and argumentative.

But I still agree with the points I was trying to make, even though I don’t like the post itself. Similarly, although I thought the movie itself was middling-to-forgettable, the ideas in it were more nuanced and mature than most people gave it credit for. And since it was released during the Obama administration, and we’re still suffering from the ultra-right-wing backlash to that, I think it deserves a revisit.

My interpretation of Trainwreck is that it’s a rejection of any form of feminism or progressivism that’s more prescriptive than inclusive. It’s presented as a gender-swapped twist on romantic comedy cliches, where this time it’s the woman who’s the slutty one! Can you even imagine?! But the more meaningful twist is how it flips the notion of conforming to society’s expectations.

It sets up the story with two sisters listening to their father go on an anti-monogamy tirade while telling them that he and their mother are getting a divorce. He has them repeat: “monogamy isn’t realistic.” Years later, one of them has taken that to heart and done everything expected of her: she drinks and parties as much as she wants, she has sex whenever and with whomever she wants, she refuses to be tied down to a committed relationship, and she still has a successful career. The other sister Kim is the “bad sheep,” in that she’s chosen to have a quiet life in the suburbs, married and expecting a baby.

When the movie was released, Schumer went onto Twitter and said explicitly what it was about: “I hope you see it. It’s a love letter to my little sister.”

Because it takes the format of a conventional romantic comedy, which implies a level of earnestness and taking everything at face value, it’s easy to see why so many audiences interpreted it as conservative. By the time you get to the end, it might seem like the message is, “Women need to reject single life, stop drinking, stop sleeping around, and devote themselves to a life of Traditional Heterosexual Monogamy to truly find happiness. Victory Through Conformity!”

But the movie isn’t a celebration of monogamy, or conservatism, or heterosexuality, but instead a celebration of self-determinism and mutual respect.

Continue reading “Trainwreck Revisited”
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    Especially since the studios are now insisting on removing so much of their content from the internet.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Are You Not Entertained?!

Two tunes to irrefutably prove why everyone should like Soul Coughing as much as I do

Monday I got tickets to the Soul Coughing concert in Los Angeles (I live in Los Angeles, but I am not going to Reseda). It’s part of a tour that, as the site’s tag line says, the band said would never happen. Mike Doughty even wrote a book about it.1I haven’t read the book (yet), but from what I’ve heard it sounded like he was completely done with the band for good.

While I’ve been freaking out ever since the short teaser video was released — since I’ve gotten to see Doughty solo a couple of times, but have never seen the band perform live — it doesn’t seem to have hit everybody with the same magnitude. I’ve seen a couple of other fans comment on it, and the reactions are either this is the greatest thing that has ever happened, or who? (Maybe oh is that the super bon bon band? That’s nice I’m happy for you.)

For me it’s another one of those reminders of how I don’t get music on a fundamental level. Usually it’s about composing/creating, but here it’s about appreciating. Music has such a specific appeal for different people, and for me at least, it’s completely unpredictable. I can usually get to know someone and think, “Oh, you’d probably enjoy Battlestar Galactica,” or “I think you’d like Young Frankenstein,” or “You seem like you’d be a fan of David Foster Wallace’s books,”2Which I mean in a non-derogatory way, although I’m aware there are many who’d consider that the gravest insult. with a fairly good success rate. But I can’t do the same with any music. Even recommending bands similar to the bands I already know someone likes.

That also means that I just don’t get why people aren’t as blown away by Soul Coughing as I am. El Oso, my favorite of their albums, is near-perfect and not quite like anything I’d heard before, even from the band itself. Much of it feels like it was discovered like a Voyager gold disc, sent from a planet with an advanced civilization of jazz hipsters.

So I tried to pick what I think are the two Soul Coughing-est songs on their three albums, with the condition that they can’t also appear on their greatest hits album. The first is “Disseminated,” from Irresistible Bliss:

The upright bass, a looping sample from Raymond Scott, the stream-of-consciousness-seeming lyrics, a reference to chocodiles, the shuffling drums, and a backdrop of perfectly weird sounds that seem like the Mos Eisley Cantina band tuning up. What’s not to love?

The other is “I Miss the Girl” from El Oso:

This is like the climax to an amazing album full of amazing songs. Its creepy opening hook repeated over and over, getting more intense, and then everything building and building in creepy intensity until it ends in a cataclysm of sound, and then suddenly stops. (Leading perfectly into the quieter “So Far I Haven’t Found the Science,” which to me feels like what would happen if Soul Coughing made a song for a Muppet movie).

Anyway, I love them, and you should too. I keep having to remind myself that their last album was released in 1998, because to me it still sounds like music from the distant (and cooler) future.

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    I haven’t read the book (yet), but from what I’ve heard it sounded like he was completely done with the band for good.
  • 2
    Which I mean in a non-derogatory way, although I’m aware there are many who’d consider that the gravest insult.

Literacy 2024: Book 5: The Man Who Died Twice

The second book in the Thursday Murder Club series

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Book 2 in the Thursday Murder Club series

Not long after finding the culprits behind a double homicide in the first book, retiree Elizabeth Best receives an intriguing note from someone in her past life as a spy. Following up on the note involves Elizabeth, along with the rest of the Thursday Murder Club and their new friends, in a case involving multiple murders, mobsters, and the disappearance of a fortune in diamonds.


  • Gets right into the story, now that the characters and their relationships have been established.
  • Doesn’t feel as aggressively cozy as its predecessor, treating its characters from the start not as “elderly people solving crimes,” but actual characters with a ton of life experience.
  • Light-hearted throughout, but one line in particular actually made me laugh out loud.
  • Does a pretty good job of capturing “the banality of evil.” We see into the minds of (some of) the villains, and are shown that even when we’re in their point of view, they’re not fascinating or even exciting, just willfully ignorant and selfish.
  • Often anticipates the reader’s main theories about what happened, and has a character explicitly call it out, to reassure the reader that they’re in sync.
  • The character of Elizabeth, which I didn’t like much in the first book since she was essentially a super-hero of plot convenience, is more fallible and relatable here.


  • One of the main clues was disappointingly obvious.
  • The tone overall is “light-hearted but poignant,” so the moments where it descends into outright comedy just feel weird and out of place.
  • Overuses the gimmick of building tension by having a character reflecting on how good their life is right now. (Although the last one was pretty sweet).
  • The climax strains credulity past the breaking point, insistent on tying up every loose end at once.
  • Although I do really like the character of Bogdan, he’s clearly become the infallible super-hero of plot convenience for this book.

I think it’s better than the first book, more confident in its main characters and a little less eager to make them quirky and charming. The side characters still seem a little too try-hard, some of the jokes are extremely corny, and the gag of “old people so stubborn and seemingly harmless that they always get their way” has been over-used to its breaking point. But it is absolutely still a fun and light, character-driven mystery story that’s not so light that it evaporates.

Spoilers after the break

Continue reading “Literacy 2024: Book 5: The Man Who Died Twice”

People Are Saying

Idly wondering whether the basic rules of the internet will be forgotten as “generative AI” gets more ubiquitous

Last night, we watched the first episode of The Acolyte. I don’t yet have a strong opinion of the show, one way or the other, so this post isn’t about that. Instead, it’s about how I went to IMDB to look something up about the series, and I saw that it had been review-bombed. As I read through the surprisingly lengthy outraged 1-to-3-star reviews, a couple of trends emerged: apparently, it has the worst writing of any Star Wars project to date, Disney and Lucasfilms [sic] should be ashamed, and the existence of a fire in outer space was the last straw for many, many dedicated fans.

Earlier this week, XKCD ran a comic about the objective superiority of electric motors over internal combustion engines. Comments across social media platforms were full of disappointment in cartoonist Randall Munroe for ignoring the environmental hazards of mining rare earth materials for EV batteries, the obvious fact that electric vehicles only benefit the automotive industries and prevent adoption of better mass transit, and that gas engines are necessary in the desert and/or the event of an apocalypse.

Earlier this month, collectible toy retailer Super 7 posted a message on their Instagram in honor of Pride month, asserting that they’ve always promoted inclusion and diversity ever since the company’s founding in San Francisco. There were dozens of comments in response, calling them out for pandering and going woke, and informing them that they’d lost a loyal customer.

The one thing that all these comments have in common is that they’re garbage. Not just in the sense that they’re wrong, but in that they provide nothing of value and just weigh down the target with useless noise. As they’re most often intended to.

Anyone who’s been paying any attention at all knows that public comments sections and centralized social media — which already had a well-deserved reputation for being toxic waste — fell off a cliff in terms of usefulness around 2018-2019, when people with enough money finally recognized their value as tools for misinformation and disinformation. At least for me, that was the point that it all turned from “unreliable source” to “useless cesspit.”

I don’t even put in the effort to be discerning anymore. I used to look for stuff that seemed suspicious. But now, I just assume that everything posted online from any source I don’t recognize is being made in bad faith. Not even in the sense of not trusting the “wisdom of the crowd,” since there are always going to be cranks and fools out there; but in the sense that we can no longer assume that the crowd even exists at all.

This latest round of noise-to-signal stood out to me because of its predictability. Even though I don’t put any stock in the actual comments, I still just take it as a given that modern Star Wars, electric vehicles, and LGBT equality, are going to be treated as “controversial” topics on the internet. Even when we think we’re being discerning, we’ve already been “infected” by the torrent of garbage, conditioned to assume that there’s controversy where none actually exists.

Continue reading “People Are Saying”

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Out and Cringe

In honor of Pride month, two tunes from a time I wanted to forget but am now happy to remember

Dear Diary:

One of the things that might not be immediately obvious about coming out in your early 30s is that you’re a grown-ass adult having to go through a lot of the same awkward stuff that most people went through in their teens. In my case, that meant coming out with a huuuuuge crush on a guy that I’d met online, who decidedly did not feel the same way.

I should make it clear that there are no hard feelings at all; he was perfectly fine and supportive, and I don’t know how I would’ve handled the situation if the roles had been reversed. So everything here is making fun of myself, not anybody else.

Because I was infatuated. I’d save our chat logs and read back over them repeatedly, imagining that mundane conversations were the most witty and sparkling banter, and desperately looking for any clue that there might be some kind of spark there. Every story was fascinating, and I ended most conversations feeling like Marcia Brady after meeting Desi Arnaz, Jr.1I’m really, really old, is what I’m getting at.

And I got excited about “what’s your favorite song?” conversations, immediately going to buy the recommendations from iTunes.2Yes, this is back when you had to pay for music. See above. The first I remember was “Toxic” by Britney Spears, which was ubiquitous at the time, but I had somehow never heard in its entirety.

Purchasing this song felt like I was crossing some sort of threshold. By that point, I knew that I was gay, but I didn’t think I was that gay.

But once I got over myself, I came to the realization that “Toxic” is just objectively a banger, regardless of age, orientation, or snobbiness. The video is hilariously dated, stuck hopelessly in the early 2000s, but the song is still fantastic.

The other song, though, was “The Killing Moon” by Echo and The Bunnymen:

And again, I don’t mean any offense to anybody who likes the song, but man. That couldn’t be any less my thing unless it were death metal, or maybe “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Hearing it in the middle of an intense crush made my stomach drop like the first time I saw The Phantom Menace.

Hearing it now, though, just makes me happy. It’s a reminder of how hard it is to find the right person, how some people just don’t click no matter what, and how good things tend to happen when and if they’re supposed to. Twenty-plus-years-ago me was convinced he’d be alone forever, and he spent most of his time riddled with anxiety about everything. Now, I look back and realize… well, at least now I’m anxious about entirely different stuff.

  • 1
    I’m really, really old, is what I’m getting at.
  • 2
    Yes, this is back when you had to pay for music. See above.

Breakin’ Necks With Kal-El & Zod

Reconsidering a now-mostly-irrelevant superhero movie, and the dangers of meeting a story halfway

Last night, Instagram was doing what Instagram does, serving up never-ending sets of short videos in an attempt to hone in on what’s going to get me hooked on the app even more.

One of those was a video of clips from the climax of Man of Steel, with some unidentified narrators explaining how Kal-El straight-up murdering Zod [spoiler?] was not only perfectly in character for Superman, but it was necessary. Superman had no choice! Saving a defenseless family from getting heat-vision obliterated by a mad Kryptonian was the most Supermanest thing that Superman could do.

Because Instagram only cares about views and not context, I don’t have any idea of how old the clip was or who was doing the talking. Was it cobbled together from Bluray special features? Is it a fan video essay? Is anyone anywhere still talking about this movie, now that the “Synderverse” has pretty much fizzled out completely? Is it at all relevant?

I say it’s at least a little bit relevant, because I was dead wrong about the movie after I saw it. Reading back on my review 11 years later, I’d classify it as “charitable” more than “effusive,” and the things I mostly liked about the movie then are the same things I remember fondly about it: great cast, great final line from Lois Lane, and lots of Henry Cavill with no shirt on. Plus I like that it leaned into the idea of “Superman is an alien,” dildo-shaped spaceships and all, instead of “being an alien is Superman’s back-story.”

But the rest of my review hasn’t aged well. At the time, I said I was looking forward to seeing more in the series, which was clearly false because I still haven’t seen any of the other DC movies apart from Wonder Woman and Aquaman.1I’m not sure if The Suicide Squad and Black Adam are in the same universe? Also I’m not sure if I care? And those only because they suggested a novelty and weirdness outside of Snyder’s interpretation of the characters.

Most of all, though, I was wrong about the climax of Man of Steel. Like the people defending it in that aforementioned Instagram video, I said that the moment made sense in the context of everything that came before it, and with the overall premise and tone of the movie. Which is bizarre, because it absolves the filmmakers of having any control over the premise and tone of the movie. It values being tonally or thematically consistent, over being tonally and thematically appropriate for one of the most well-defined characters in popular culture.

Continue reading “Breakin’ Necks With Kal-El & Zod”
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    I’m not sure if The Suicide Squad and Black Adam are in the same universe? Also I’m not sure if I care?

Let Tablets Be Tablets

Thoughts about the current state of the iPad and speculation about Apple’s plans for the platform

It’s kind of funny that with all the talk about “walled gardens” and Apple’s closed ecosystem, it extends to the people talking about Apple. All of the tech journalists feel like this incestuous group who are always going on each other’s podcasts and referencing each other’s videos. That means that once anybody states an opinion with enough force, it becomes A Truth Universally Acknowledged.

One of those is that the iPad is at best languishing, at worst completely failing to live up to its obvious potential. It’s got as much power as a laptop Mac, and the latest M4 models have even more power than Macs, so why does Apple insist on hobbling it by keeping it from being able to do all the things a Mac can do?

With any new iPad release, the first stunt any tech journalist tries to do is use it as a replacement for their laptop. They dutifully report back after a week, or a month, letting us know that it’s not quite there yet. And the limitations are more often than not related to the kinds of things that tech journalists want to do: it’s not good for recording podcasts, or it’s not the best at editing videos for YouTube.

I’ve been guilty of the same thing, repeatedly. I just took it as a given that the iPad was Apple’s vision of the future of computing, the device that would become a successor to the Mac. My biggest complaint is that you can’t do any software development on it1I found out just recently that Swift Playgrounds, which I’d always assumed was just a tutorial environment aimed at first-time programmers, got a lot more powerful in version 4, and you can now develop apps and publish them to the App Store, all from the iPad.. It’s been a massive bummer, since it’d be perfect for a WYSIWYG HyperCard-like development environment, and/or for making games for the Playdate.

After using the M4 iPad Pro for a while, along with the most recent iPad mini, I believe I’ve been thinking about the iPad all wrong. It finally hit me when I was listening to one of the aforementioned podcasts, and a tech journalist lamented that the iPad-centric announcements at WWDC were such a disappointment. Why does Apple still keep you from being able to do things with your $2000 iPad?

My immediate reaction was: Why would anyone need to be spending $2000 on an iPad?! Sure, Apple will happily sell you a fully-maxed-out iPad for thousands of dollars, but they’re not positioning the iPad as a Mac replacement. So were did everybody get the idea that it was?

Continue reading “Let Tablets Be Tablets”
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    I found out just recently that Swift Playgrounds, which I’d always assumed was just a tutorial environment aimed at first-time programmers, got a lot more powerful in version 4, and you can now develop apps and publish them to the App Store, all from the iPad.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: It’s The Journey

Two songs from the Indigo Girls reminding us that the Wheel in the Sky keeps on turning

Or actually, it’s the Indigo Girls. I’ve been thinking about them a lot since the release of the documentary about them and their appearance on Seth Meyers’s show promoting it. They’re just great; absurdly talented of course, but also down to earth, bullshit free, community-oriented, and honest.

And great at writing songs about universal ideas. Emily Saliers in particular is so good at describing the serenity that comes from realizing your struggles and mistakes are essential to making you the person you are. It’s a theme that comes up over and over again in their songs, so there are a lot of great ones to choose from.

One of my favorites is “Watershed” from Nomads Indians Saints. It’s still got all the feeling of their first two albums, with the acoustic guitar and tons of harmony, and great lines like “Every five years or so I look back on my life And I have a good laugh.”

But my favorite might by “The Wood Song” from Swamp Ophelia. Listening to the Indigo Girls albums in order feels a little bit like the start of Stop Making Sense: they start out spare and acoustic, then gradually add more and more instruments as time goes on. This song was the first I’d heard that really felt like the instrumentation was adding more than just volume; it feels like the song gradually shifts the feeling from lamentation to celebration. The mistakes and struggles are victories.

(Another great song with a similar idea is “It’s Alright” from Shaming of the Sun).

Ouhrrr! Werewolves of Malibu

A begrudging appreciation for the original Werewolf By Night comic series

When I first got into The Sandman back in 1988, it was the first I became aware of the long tradition of horror comics that inspired it. And I realized that I especially had this nerd-cultural blind spot for the history of EC Comics, and its later successors like Creepy and Eerie in the mid-1960s.

The stories quickly become formulaic and predictable — often a few pages of setup ended with the exact same reveal of a character saying “For you see, I am a ghoul!/vampire!/werewolf!/zombie!” But the art was often phenomenal, with artists like Jack Davis doing incredible black-and-white line work. Reading those helped me better appreciate why series like Swamp Thing were such a big deal: they finally combined longer-form horror storytelling with the kind of highly-stylized artwork that had been overshadowed by super heroes, and brought it all to the mainstream.

It wasn’t until Marvel announced the Moon Knight series that I became aware of the horror-inspired side of the Marvel universe, running in The Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf By Night in particular. It’s fascinating, because while you can trace a direct line from early horror comics through DC’s anthologies all the way up to Swamp Thing; the Marvel side feels like something entirely different. At least with these two series, they’re 100% Marvel super-hero comics that happen to feature a werewolf and a vampire, heavily influenced by the Comics Code Authority and what creators are allowed to show.

Werewolf By Night is the much more interesting one to me, since it is the “no, but”ingest piece of collaborative storytelling I’ve seen since the Star Wars sequels.

Continue reading “Ouhrrr! Werewolves of Malibu”

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Mach 5-String

Two tunes with people playing banjo much, much better than I ever will

I don’t think O Brother, Where Art Thou? is what made me want to learn to play the banjo, but it definitely solidified any vague notion I might’ve had earlier.

I always hated pop country music, and coming from a fairly small city in Georgia, I wanted to resist anybody’s attempts to brand me as a redneck, so I just avoided anything that seemed even vaguely countrified. But bluegrass played well is sublime. Every time I saw Hee-Haw at my grandparents’ house, all I remembered was the corny jokes, and it was only as an adult that I realized how genuinely talented Roy Clark and Buck Owens were.

I got a banjo not long after O Brother came out, but I still haven’t practiced enough to get any good at it. I can play a slow and tortured version of “Cripple Creek,” which I think is the equivalent of claiming you can play the piano because you know “Heart and Soul.” It’s looking less and less likely that I’ll have a free decade or so to get good at all the stuff that I’ve been meaning to get good at over the years, so maybe I need to invest that time into learning to enjoy doing things even if I’m not good at them.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people who are good at playing the banjo, and they like to show off by playing it extra fast.

One of them is Dave Carroll in Trampled By Turtles, and you can hear him and the rest of the band showing off in “Wait So Long”, which I can’t hear without also hearing my middle school band teacher yelling at us that we were rushing.

But I think my favorite bluegrass performance ever is Alison Krauss & Union Station playing “Choctaw Hayride” live, with Ron Block on banjo and Jerry Douglas on dobro. If you’ve never heard their live double album released in 2003, I encourage you to listen to it as soon as possible. Every song is better than the studio version, the energy of the crowd is fantastic, and their personality and sense of humor come through as much as their obvious talent. Plus they do a performance of “Man of Constant Sorrow” when it was at its most popular.