In honor of Shane MacGowan’s passing, some thoughts about what a huge impact the Pogues had on me
Shane MacGowan died on November 30, and the Pogues were such a huge part of my twenties that I feel like I have to mark the occasion somehow.1It’s overdue, since I probably should’ve written something when Philip Chevron passed in 2013.
I discovered the band from Peace & Love when I was in school in Athens, GA. I don’t think I’d been looking for any particular song; I just thought the cover was intriguing, and it took me a minute to realize how it’d been edited. It’s probably the most accessible of their albums, even though it feels a little tame. There’s a lot of the spirit of the band (or at least how I think of it) in “Young Ned of the Hill,” beautifully cursing Oliver Cromwell to rot in hell; and especially “Boat Train,” a barely intelligible account of getting shitfaced drunk.
Which would’ve fit in fine with Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, my favorite in college. It still seems like as close to a mission statement for the Pogues as you’re ever going to see. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was about as far from punk as you could get, but still appreciated getting the opportunity to scream along and howl at the world with a rage I hadn’t earned yet. The remastered and expanded version is especially nice, because it includes an EP2That was weirdly difficult to find back in Athens in the early 1990s, incidentally that has “Rainy Night in Soho,” one of the loveliest songs MacGowan ever wrote.3The only version that’s easily available now is so over-produced it kind of ruins it, though. It’s worth looking up the original if you’re a fan of the song.
Two tangentially-related tunes to listen to while waiting for Silicon Valley to collapse
I don’t know about y’all, but I was already pretty disillusioned with Silicon Valley several years ago, when I was working as an app developer in San Francisco. I was shuffling between BART and MUNI trains with a bunch of hoodie-wearing maniacs pacing back and forth like caged tigers who couldn’t wait one more second to get to their open-office-plan desks and start disrupting shit.
And that was before I really appreciated the incredible magnitude of egomania that was running rampant among the guys making way over my pay grade, who acted like bypassing governmental regulations and selling people stuff they don’t really need were revolutionary ideas.
In fact, neither moving fast nor breaking things were all that novel. Look at Fiona Apple! Maybe no other public figure besides Sonic the Hedgehog understood what it meant to move as Fast As You Can.
Corny dad-level analogies aside, every time I hear a Fiona Apple song, I think “this is brilliant; why don’t I listen to Fiona Apple all the damn time?” And then I listen to a bunch and I remember why. She’s brilliant, but I don’t feel like I have brain chemistry balanced enough to mainline too much of it at once without going into a depressive episode.
I need to break it up with a song like “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue, which I try to listen to at least once a month to keep my spirits up. If I go too long without hearing it, the never gonna get it never gonna get it starts to pick away at my brain until it’s satiated. I can’t say I’m that familiar with the rest of their music1Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent, but this song is a bona fide classic.
(One thing I’ve never understood about this video: they’ve got four of the most beautiful women working in music, with some of the most iconic costumes from the history of music videos, so why the hell do they keep cutting away from them? I understand that at this time, having quick flashes of silhouetted dancers against a solid color background was required by Music Video Law, but they could’ve just done a couple and left more time for the stars. And I tell you what: if I’d gone to the trouble of putting on a tight dress and a wig, and they told me they were going to cut away to some guy dancing in a gimp suit, I would’ve been out the door!)
And now it’s time for a breakdown!
Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent
Rambling, unorganized thoughts about living up to expectations and how it’s okay to be okay
I spent Thanksgiving week at the house I grew up in, which is something I took for granted and something I hadn’t expected to be grateful for. I found myself up too late with insomnia, lying in a single bed with all the lights off, listening to Led Zeppelin IV way too loud on headphones, “The Battle of Evermore” and “Stairway to Heaven” crashing over me like waves, as if I’d been QuantumLeaped back to the early 1980s.
How often does a 52-year-old man get to relive being 13 or 14 years old so vividly?
Lying in the dark with music blasting has always left me feeling both expansive and maudlin. This was no exception. I thought about all of the things I wanted to do as a teenager, and I compared it to how many of them I accomplished, and how many I still want to accomplish. That’s not generally a healthy mental exercise even in the best of times, but it feels like the past couple of weeks have been particularly harsh for anyone who feels like they’re under-performing.
Two tangentially-related tunes to make you think of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and alternate realities
Back during my college years in Athens, a friend introduced me to the band Poi Dog Pondering, and I quickly became a big fan. They’re not so much my thing anymore — listening to them in the 2020s makes me appreciate just how much they were a product of the 1990s — but a few of their songs are still favorites, and seeing them at the Georgia Theater is still one of my all-time top concerts.
This week it seems appropriate to recall one of the best songs from their album Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea, which is called “Thanksgiving.” It’s about the priceless moments that can result from bad choices, which is a recurring theme with all the multiverse stories going on these days with the Marvels and the Daniels and so on.
In college I was also introduced to the Pixies by seeing the video for “Here Comes Your Man” on 120 Minutes, buying a copy of Doolittle, and then being incensed that I’d been promised a fun college pop record and instead gotten a CD full of some guy screaming. It makes me wonder whether my life would’ve been different if I hadn’t needed to mature into an appreciation of the Pixies, but instead had understood them immediately and gone to their concert in Athens when I’d had the chance.
Probably not, although I did find out a few years ago that before I met my fiancé, we’d both been at the same Pixies concert, which makes me think that our paths were probably fated to cross at some point.
I think in all possible universes, though, my favorite Pixies song would still be “Levitate Me,” from their first EP, Come on Pilgrim. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody who celebrates!
In honor of Dolly Parton’s new album of covers, an atypically mean-spirited list of my least favorite songs
Everybody loves Dolly Parton; how could you not? This week, she released a new album of covers called Rockstar, and even if you don’t care about the music, just the description of it and how it came to be is so charming and wholesome and fully in the spirit of Dolly.
A while ago, she politely declined an invitation to be admitted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, pointing out that most of her music was country, not rock. 1Gracious but absurd! “9 to 5” alone is one of the most memorable pop songs of all time! Eventually, she accepted, and then she called a ton of famous musicians to collaborate on “real” rock songs, which became this record.
What I love most about that account2Which I read on the album’s description on its Apple Music page is that I’m not 100% sure that it’s absolutely true, but as with all things Dolly Parton, it 100% doesn’t matter.
Two tangentially-related tunes we need to keep out of the hands of Zack Snyder
Today’s two tunes have something very obvious in common: I listened to them a lot during college.
“Superman” was the last song on Lifes Rich Pageant, which is REM’s best album. Anyone living in Athens in the 80s or 90s was required to be at least a passing fan of REM, but I stayed true until around Automatic for the People, which is when they lost me. Their take used Superman as metaphor, unlike:
“Superman’s Song,” which was a minor hit from Crash Test Dummies’ first album The Ghosts That Haunt Me, before they hit it pretty big with God Shuffled His Feet. They were always dancing along the razor’s edge between “interesting college radio” and “absolutely insufferable and twee,” even back in 1990s when that was The Style. I approved of this song mostly because it mentioned Solomon Grundy in the chorus.
Solomon Grundy is the best villain and never got as nearly as much radio airtime as he deserves. If you don’t recognize the title of this blog post, by the way, it’s a reference to the best thing Cartoon Network ever did.
The Marvels is full of moments that remind you it’s essentially the polar opposite of Captain America: Civil War
The Marvels is undeniably a little bit of a mess. It’s abundantly clear that there were too many ideas that people got attached to, and the filmmakers tried to cram everything into it. In addition to what was undoubtedly tons of edits due to studio interference and so on, the result is that moments don’t land as well as they could have, and the movie ends up feeling both overstuffed and slight.1I also feel like there was a continuity error more glaring than I’d ever expect from an MCU installment: I’d swear that Kamala goes from wearing the Ms Marvel costume her mother made for her at the end of the series, to wearing a T-shirt and flannel, with no explanation for the change. I don’t care all that much, but I bring it up because I never ever notice that kind of thing, which makes me think it must have been glaring.
But I honestly don’t believe it matters a bit, because there’s more than enough charm and fun to carry the whole thing through.
The thing I kept thinking of throughout the movie was, oddly, Donald Glover’s story about his meeting Billy Dee Williams to try and get some ideas on how to approach the role of Lando Calrissian: after all the setup and research and questions, Williams’s response was simply, “Just be charming.”
I think it’s tough for post-Endgame audiences to appreciate just how much of the MCU was built on simply that mantra: just be charming and accessible. While looking for images from The Marvels, I couldn’t avoid seeing a review snippet that complained that the MCU was floundering now that it has lost all of its “heavy hitters.” I realize I need to remember that the franchise is over 10 years old at this point, so people might not remember, but I still can’t get over anyone suggesting that Iron-Man and Thor were “heavy hitters.” People need to realize that this entire franchise was built off the B- and C-listers. And the franchise was started by treating Iron-Man as a romantic comedy with also robot suits, with the overriding idea being “just be charming.”
I also feel like there was a continuity error more glaring than I’d ever expect from an MCU installment: I’d swear that Kamala goes from wearing the Ms Marvel costume her mother made for her at the end of the series, to wearing a T-shirt and flannel, with no explanation for the change. I don’t care all that much, but I bring it up because I never ever notice that kind of thing, which makes me think it must have been glaring.
One thing that is driving me crazy about “By Design” is that the sample of horns that gets repeated throughout sounds frustratingly familiar, like I’m this close to recognizing it from a different song, but I can never quite place it. Even if it’s not directly sampled from another song, though, it feels very much like the kind of stuff I was listening to in the early 2000s, when it felt like I was starting to discover new music again after a long hiatus.
That was around the time I got into the Beastie Boys, since I was a latecomer and only started being interested around the time of Hello Nasty1Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.. Money Mark started collaborating with the Beastie Boys starting with Check Your Head2Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet. That was enough to get me to check out his solo album Push the Button, which is still pretty solid.
My favorite track from that record is the instrumental “Destroyer,” and to this day I don’t know how he got that drum sound3I asked him on Threads and got no response. Some people act like they’re “too busy” to respond to randos asking them open-ended questions about 20+ year old records!.
Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.
Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet
I asked him on Threads and got no response. Some people act like they’re “too busy” to respond to randos asking them open-ended questions about 20+ year old records!
Talk to Me seemed like a fun, scary movie, but it commits to the premise too hard to be that fun. Contains spoilers.
We chose to watch Talk to Me as a fun, scary teen horror movie for Halloween night, and reader, it was not as fun as I’d been led to believe. This is a very well-made movie that accomplishes almost everything I think it sets out to do, but I definitely didn’t enjoy watching it.
In fact, it’s as if I had the opposite of the suspension of disbelief while watching it. The premise of the movie is absurd, but perfectly in the way that befits a fun horror movie: teenagers have a new party craze in which they use a weird hand sculpture in a ritual to summon a dead person and briefly become possessed by them. It reads like a novel take on Ouija or Bloody Mary, where it’s spooky supernatural fun until something goes horribly wrong.
But watching things go horribly wrong in Talk to Me felt miserable — like, The Exorcist‘s relentlessly depressing scenes about loss of faith and how we fail each other as humans — instead of ratcheting up tension. The last third of the movie does have a structure similar to other horror movies, where the teens try to figure out the “rules” of what torments them. But the centerpiece sequence of the movie is so intense and violent, and the situation is so bleak, that I never once felt there was any glimmer of hope for these characters.
The movie also spends a lot of time showing us teenagers being absolute remorseless sociopaths. I remember my teenage years as being brutal, but not to the point of being openly hostile to everyone for no good reason, or hanging out with people who showed me (and each other) such open contempt. I don’t know if it was a case of teens these days being even crueler than they were in the 80s, commentary on bullying and social media pressure, or justification for why these characters would keep treating something so obviously horrific as if it were a fun game. It’s likely a combination of all three.
Two tangentially-related tunes spending Halloween night hiding under the covers
This Tuesday lands on Halloween, so that calls for a pair of spine-tingling spooky songs raised from the very depths of… well, Van Nuys.
That’s the hometown of The Ghastly Ones, a surf guitar band that made A Haunting We Will Go-Go, which starts with a brilliant opening track assuring the listener not to be alarmed if they find themselves transformed into an evil space robot or some other monster. It instantly became a lifelong favorite just for the correct pronunciation of “robot.”
And also because of “Ghastly Stomp,” which is kind of but not exactly a surf guitar cover of “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” the theme to Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I still love how much they commit to the bit, making the whole thing feel like an artifact from the 1960s, as if the vinyl release had surf rock on one side and spooky haunted house sfx on the other.
Two tangentially-related tunes in honor of my new commute
This week’s two-fer is an entry in the “this blog is a public diary” category: I got a new job, about a month ago. It’s for a company I’ve been a huge fan of pretty much my entire life, and every single person without exception was friendly and personable and welcoming throughout the whole interview process1Which was a huge shock after my experience interviewing for jobs in the Bay Area, and it pulls in aspects of every job that I’ve had to date, and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Over the past few years, I’ve frequently been reminded of just how significantly my life changed when I escaped Telltale the second time. Most significantly in terms of how I think about work: before that point, I kind of assumed that the only interesting thing about me was my job. I’ve worked on some really cool projects, for some companies I’ve liked a lot2And also some other ones!, and since that’s where I was making the most impact, that’s what I primarily focused on.
But really, that’s not good for anybody. Companies get the most long-term benefit from people who are well-rounded, and who can find ways to be productive and creative regardless of who’s paying them. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m happily keeping my job and personal life separate.
But I will say that I was interested enough in the job that I was even willing to start commuting again! I’ve been happily unemployed for most of this year, and I’d been working from home for several years before that. I’d sworn that I’d never take a job again unless I could work remotely. But now, I’m driving to Glendale!3Which is a mercifully short commute by Los Angeles standards.
I’m pretty sure that the first I ever heard of Glendale, California was from the song “Debra” by Beck, where a guy used his Hyundai and the promise of Zankou chicken to start a three-way with a store clerk and her sister (I think her name was Debra). There’s something comforting about the fact that people have been relentlessly mocking the San Fernando Valley since before I was born, while I’m finding that it fits my sensibilities perfectly4And I aspire to own a Hyundai, thank you very much..
And now that I’m pretty regularly commuting in the 21st century on the Ventura Freeway in my electric car, I can’t help but hear “Nation on Wheels,” often known as “The Monorail Song,” but not the one from The Simpsons. Industry! The Lifeblood of America!
Which was a huge shock after my experience interviewing for jobs in the Bay Area
And also some other ones!
Which is a mercifully short commute by Los Angeles standards.
A recap of one squeamish coward’s 2023 haunt season
It’s hard to believe that we’re still a week away from Halloween, since it feels like it’s been going on for a year already.
Last year, I was unsure how I’d do with spooky Halloween-time events. It seems that if you’re into theme parks at all, you never stop hearing about all the haunts at Universal and elsewhere, to the point that if you don’t go to these things , we have to question your commitment to the season at all (if not the very concept of fun). But I have unpredictable, physical reactions to horror movies, so would I even enjoy them?
Turns out the answer was yes; I had a great time at a couple of last year’s events. My initial trepidation faded pretty quickly, and by the end of the night, I gauged the success of a house not by whether I made it through unscathed, but by how many times I’d been genuinely scared.
Against all reason, I’d become a Haunt Guy.
Well, not really. The type of interactions at Horror Nights or Scary Farm are the limit of how much I want to get involved. (Absolutely no touching allowed, for instance). And even for that, there’s an entire community of people who are way more into the haunts, their lore, and their history, than I will ever be.
So here’s my rundown for 2023, which only included three events. (We skipped Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland, since last year’s was enough for me to see that it’s not my kind of thing).