Archive for March 2011

Re-Blogging Sandman: Issue #6 24 Hours




Ok, I freely admit, I remember every single thing about this issue. It's fairly impossible to forget unless you try to suppress it. This is the first issue where Gaiman no longer intimates darkness; he unleashes full horror.

You could almost read 24 Hours as a Greek tragedy, as one by one, the characters are punished for their hubris, and none more so than Bette, the waitress with whom Gaiman begins the story. She attempts to become a proto-Dream; all her customers are raw materials she moulds into stories. To Bette, her customers are more real as stories than as people.

She exerts artificial control over the stories; she ends them at happy points, not letting them carry on until death brings the inevitable end.

John Dee, in his horrifying way, acts with more honesty; he doesn't stop the story in the middle, death is the final destination of his own acts of creativity. We are introduced to his power in cinematic fashion; things start going very awry on the television. All we see of Dee is that he fingers Dream's ruby. It seems his power is very unfocused outside the diner, leading to random acts of depravity and madness, while inside the diner, he is the puppetmaster. And of course that's when things get creepy.

One interesting question is, at the point where people start revealing their "true selves," are they actually revealing themselves or  truths or nightmare versions of themselves? The acts and prejudices described are almost too horrific for this random assortment of people to have possessed, and we do know that the ruby is the weapon of the Dream Lord, after all.

Next: Neil Gaiman forgets that John Dee is American, and I cannot concentrate on anything else because it's THAT annoying.

Re-Blogging Sandman: Issue #5 Passengers




There isn't much to say here; we're setting up for the next one.

We begin in Arkham Asylum, and we bear witness to a literal rogue's gallery of Batman villains (we see Scarecrow, Joker, and other Justice League villains I am less familiar with). Despite my lack of knowledge of those comic universes (apart from what I've seen in the movies), the borrowing of elements gives the illusion that the world in which Dream operates is extremely complete, very well-defined. If we wanted to learn more, there are a whole trove of comics to dive into, but if we don't, we are satisfied that the world is out there.

And, thankfully, no knowledge of the Justice League is required; Gaiman is not being referential as a coverup to a thin plot. He knows exactly what he's doing, and defines all his characters clearly in THIS universe. That is powerful. How else would we come to be shocked at the callous murder of one of the "passengers" in the story, poor Rosemary? In less than ten pages, we know enough about her to genuinely mourn her death. John Dee's vicious act could not have been predicted, but didn't seem out of character.

But the most important plot point in the story is of course Dream's ruby. He does not know that Dee has somehow modified it to poison him. Again, we see him taken down by a slightly better than average human. So in the running stakes so far, no matter how powerful we know Morpheus to be, he's not there yet. His command has not yet returned to him. But for some reason, I get a sense that the moment is near. The ruby is the final talisman, after all.

Also I think I've identified the first Sandman 'trope' (we'll see if this stands true later in the series). If ever we're caught in the nightmare of a character, we know they're in for a rude awakening by the Dream Lord himself. In this issue's episode of "Methinks Morpheus is On His Way," we are in the mind of Scott Free, one of the new Justice League heroes, trapped in an Oedipal nightmare about his grandmother. And then he's dragged back to the office to search for the ruby.

We learn about the universality of Morpheus, even on Mars he exists and is exalted. But I'm finding it a little bit frustrating that he is so all-powerful, but his talismans are so mundane; they can be handled, bought, sold, traded, and even modified by mere humans. Something about that doesn't ring right to me. But we have yet to discover the true value of the items, except that they are central to Dream's power.

Next episode: John Dee Goes Batshit Crazy

A Little Bit of Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, RIP

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It may seem strange that I am moved to write this piece, despite the fact that I had not seen a single movie with her in it until today (you'll be getting a very special Filling the Gaps piece in the near future). She's the old type of Hollywood star, the type that we only know today through soundbites, little pieces of data about her many marriages and her odd friendships. But the outpouring of remembrance for her has astounded me. The amount of genuine love for her seems passé in this post-ironic age; people don't love her because she's a train-wreck, they love her because she's Elizabeth Taylor.

I find this all the more striking because, until today, her films weren't really talked about. They hadn't transcended time and space like Casablanca or Gone with the Wind or any number of French films, but she was wildly successful in her era, and was duly recognized by the Academy. In fact, the only times you really heard about her movies was when people discussed biggest flops of all time (Cleopatra ahoy!).

I wrongly believed that she was just a tabloid identity, a Paris Hilton of her times. But it's astonishing how much of her tabloid persona was in fact created by the studios (Taylor was one of the last actresses to be indentured to one studio). They knew that keeping her chaotic personal life on the front page would lead to sales, sales, sales. Which is a shame, because it overshadows her output. If you scan her IMDB, you realize the number of quality films she starred in was immense. As an actress, she created a cultivated  career the likes of Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep or Katharine Hepburn, not of Angelina Jolie, her match in tabloid success. You don't get offered that sort of role again and again, screenplays written by Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, by just being a dilettante.

I'm also struck by how much women adore her (and gays, but we'll come to that). She was stunningly beautiful, but possessed neither the lusty beauty of femme fatales nor the girl next door attraction of contemporary Doris Day. There's something different there; her beauty is not superhuman but in fact alien. Simply put, she does not look American. Her beauty seemed universal, equally treasured in the dirty South, in the dark reaches of Africa, or anywhere in Asia. You can find actresses in any world cinema today; there's always one that looks a bit like Elizabeth Taylor. So while her films are perhaps not as influential or well remembered as they ought to be, her looks seem to have transformed what the world thinks of beauty.

So in that respect, she did finally become Cleopatra.

But she wasn't just a pretty face. Her AIDS activism is well-documented, and she was involved well before it was socially or politically acceptable to do so. Her long time and committed friendships to troubled stars such as Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift and Michael Jackson signal an affinity for the downtrodden.

So here's to you, Mrs. Taylor.

Re-Blogging Sandman: Issue #4 A Hope in Hell



And now we're in Hell! In the course of re-reading, Preludes & Nocturnes has seemed so far to be a 'tour of places that will be important.' Which is why I never ever recommended my friends to start from the beginning. (I usually have them start with the one about the cats, or the one about Midsummer Night's Dream, to get a full flavor of Gaiman's awesomeness before going back to the world-building).

Having read it all before, I am able to recognize the settings and characters who we will meet again, and pay more attention. But if you didn't know that, there shouldn't much incentive to invest in the various storylines and people and places.

But this is the story where that changes. Gaiman creates yet another new setting and a new cast of characters, but manages to somehow convey their importance without the story devolving into a carnival of freaks (the primitive coloring techniques used back then does not help him on this point, as becomes clear in the new Absolute Sandman releases).

I feel that this is the issue where we really start to feel the force of Gaiman's creativity. Everything in this chapter, from the visual design of hell to the game Morpheus must play to win his helmet, comes from a deeply imaginative mind.

Hell is extremely important to the Sandman universe (and the Vertigo universe more generally). Lucifer, like Constantine, has his very own series. But in this issue we only get surface deep; we learn of the triumvirate of lords governing Hell, and we get hints of a very long and deep history between the governors of Hell and Dream himself.

Most importantly, we are reminded, more explicitly than before, that the the world can only define itself, can only find meaning, if Dream exists and is active. For he does not only govern the thoughts that fill our sleep, he governs all subconscious workings of the mind, the imagination, the ability to think beyond oneself, the very ability to believe in something or anything. The ability to hope.

As a side note, we do also get one very important hint to Morpheus' nature: a brief two frame introduction to a woman named Nala. A woman who betrayed him 10000 years ago, that he has yet to forgive. Yet another mystery to be solved in the future (but I do remember how this one ends).

Coming Up: More hijinks with the Justice League, Villains Edition.

What's It All About in Libya?




So why are we in Libya now?

Just as in with Iraq, there are sound reasons supporting both intervention and non-intervention. Unlike Iraq, and this is an important distinction, the reasons supporting intervention are timepegged to now, and not 20 years before. A dictator who has long had a cushy relationship with the West has gone rogue, or so they say. In truth, he's been going rogue for sometime, but now the media has caught onto it, and the mass public suddenly care (thanks Tahrir Square!).

Libya was one of a wave of popular democratic uprisings, and that uprising started to go South right about the time of the Egyptian success. As usual, the Obama administration wasted the opportunity to capitalize on the media narrative. The US could have swept in when the rebels had the upper hand and actually have made a difference. The world, buoyed by Egypt, would have backed and supported this action at that time, and in fact urged it.

But it's not just an uprising anymore. Now it's a civil war. The moral relevance of this? This means there are civilians on both sides. The rules of war are different from rules of rebellion.

So why get involved now? Had the United States intervened when rebel troops actually had the upper hand, their presence would have been welcome and brief. But now we run the risk of being embroiled in another quagmire, one with dangerous reputational consequences for the United States.

Seriously, what is the objective here? Admiral Mike Mullen is on record as saying that they can envision completing their objectives and have Gaddafi retain power. THEN WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE?!?


The stated aim of the intervention is to protect civilians from violent action from Gaddafi. Yet the coalition will not use ground troops, only airstrikes.

An internal uprising rarely aims to destroy critical infrastructures and disrupt supply chains. This is still true to some extent even in a civil war. After all, who wants to turn a resource powerhouse into a wasteland? Conversely, these are the precise objectives of air attacks and targeted bombings. Bombs are used to destroy buildings, bases, homes and vehicles. And bombs have that pesky problem of collateral damage, especially cluster bombs, which are notoriously imprecise. End result? That country where you're intervening to 'protect the people' ends up with a hell of a lot of death and destruction.

Sending in ground troops could actually achieve the stated aims of the coalition forces; airstrikes are a gesture of military might and nothing more.


Which is shady at best.

Yes there are about 15 humanitarian crises that have reached boiling point around the world, and eight in the Middle East/North Africa region alone. Of course it's ludicrous for the US to intervene in all of them (from a practical basis at the very very least, not to mention ethical ones). But even if we limit the choices to the nations that have been heavily covered in the recent news -- Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and Japan -- the sudden reversal of the non-intervention policy in Libya is startling. [Japan has made statements that they do not require/desire assistance from the West, as they are more than capable of captaining their own ship].

So we are left with Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. Let's pretend that, for whatever reason, the US can only intervene in one nation, and not all three. How can the Libya decision be justified?

The charitable motivation is that Western institutions (government, defense and education) have been systematically shamed for complicity with the Gaddafi administration, and the West wishes to make reparations for its past transgressions (aka save what tiny bit of face they have left).

But the United States is equally, if not MORE, directly culpable for the events in Yemen. As pointed out in a Wikileaks cable (discussed in more detail here), "Yemen's government repeatedly diverted U.S.- and British-supported counterterrorism fighters from their intended use against al Qaeda to fight a purely domestic opposition group." Talk about embarrassing. I can see why the United States would avoid getting involved here, they have not been overly successful in countries with a strong Al Qaeda presence.

As for Bahrain? Too many complications with Saudi Arabia.

The less charitable view, and I really, really hate to make this argument, is about oil. Since the Libyan crisis began, oil prices have skyrocketed (Yemen and Bahrain also are oil producers, but they make significantly less of it, at less quality). Now it's quite obvious that the best way to return oil stability would be simply let Gaddafi steamroll the opposition and return production to full. So this may be why the West is making token gestures of airstrikes rather than all out ground war.

If they're lucky, Gaddafi will give in early and the US can claim some reparation to their shoddy human rights intervention record. At worst? Gaddafi holds strong and the west sticks to their commitment to NOT send in ground troops. So the intervention would fail, but at low human and financial cost to the United States, and they can still claim they tried. And oil production resumes. Phew. And the Obama administration can return to that lingering economic crisis and pre-existing nightmares in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Poem of the Day: Robert Frost's "Stopping By The Woods On a Snowy Evening"

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I've had this on my 'poem of the day' list for a long time. I've refrained from posting it for a couple reasons. One, that if you are remotely interested in poetry (or attended any high school English class in America), you probably already know it. Second, it's Robert Frost. Frost isn't that cool or edgy, at least not on first glance.

This poem's crept up on me a few times lately. For one thing, it's a test case for the International Memory Championships (my new obsession!), owing to its abstract imagery.

But that, again, does it a disservice. For those of us who aren't memory olympiads, it's a poem we're required to memorize for a weekly pop quiz, and then we promptly forget it. All beauty is then lost. Learning it that way, would you have thought it a meditation on the very nature of property and ownership itself? On sovereignty and generosity? Of white man's burden, and the glorification of colonialism?

I thought not. Spend some time with it. Try to imagine whose voice speaks. Little hints of tyranny peek through about the speaker and the owner of the woods. If indeed one can own the woods on a public wayfare.

Robert Frost - Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


Re-Blogging Sandman: Issue #3 Dream a Little Dream of Me



I do appreciate that Gaiman works in all the references to the sandman in popular culture. Here, the famous song is a running thread that ties together the disparate story elements, "Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream..." You know the one. Similarly, in the first issue, Gaiman managed to bring in the old DC vigilante Sandman, playing him off as a wannabe who stepped in during Dream's incarceration.

In comparison to the issues before and after, Dream a Little Dream of Me is a bit dull. It's got the mundane stuff like riding in taxis and searching through warehouses, and really really dull things like Constantine reflecting on his life. Yeah so John Constantine's more annoying than I remember. He's sort of a walking Nick Hornby cliche rather than the noir hero I remember him being.

But I get why the motions of the story had to be relatively tame; the horror of Rachel's addiction really shines through in contrast. That image when Dream and Constantine finally reach her has long been burned in my brain as one of the iconic images from the series:

Screen shot 2011-03-18 at 4.55.40 PM.png

Yes, it's horrible, but what she's done to herself IS horrible. She's been locked in a glass prison of her own making, where reality is clear and present but her ability to recognize it has been destroyed. But Morpheus lacks pity for her, and on some level we don't pity her either. But Constantine does, and influences Morpheus to show a little mercy.

Next up: Going to Hell

Reblogging Sandman: Issue #2-Imperfect Hosts




In Issue #2, we continue to face the consequences of Dream's incarcerations, this time in his own kingdom, The Dreaming. Everything has decayed beyond recognition, and only a few faithful servants remain (including the always hilarious brothers Cain and Abel).

We are introduced to many characters and concepts that will be woven throughout the series. First, we meet the brothers, locked in one of their recurring fratricidal spats. Then we meet Lucien, librarian of the Dreaming, who makes clear to Dream just how badly things have decayed since he left.

Finally, we are introduced to the Three Witches, variously known as the Three Graces and as The Hecatae (and many, many, other things throughout history). Through them, Dream finds out who has stolen his precious tools. One is John Constantine.  Other items are with the Justice League of America.The third item is in possession of someone more mysterious, a demon in hell.

Much as I hate to recognize the fact, this is the same John Constantine as horribly miscast with Keanu Reeves. Constantine went on to his own series, Hellblazer. In the early years of Sandman, Gaiman was encouraged to insert as many DC Comics tie-ins as he could (the same page we are introduced to Constantine, we also have mention of the Justice League. Batman also shows up a few times throughout Sandman, usually in silhouette.) The character we meet in Arkham Asylum, John Dee, is a frequent villain in the Justice League universe as Dr. Destiny.

Basically, Gaiman's done DC a massive solid! I wonder how many minor characters of the DC Universe are now familiar to readers only as characters in the larger Sandman universe, forgotten in their original stories.

As yet, we are given little insight into Dream's own character. In his interaction with the Witches, we see he has a touch of the flirt about him. We know from his exacting revenge on Alex Burgess in the previous issue that he can be ruthless when challenged. But we don't really get an idea of what makes him tick.

The series becomes so much more about the Endless as it progresses, I'd forgotten how much these early issues focus on other characters.

Until next time!

Re-Blogging Sandman: Issue #1 Sleep of the Just




Well guys, I realized to my immense sadness and horror that it has almost been a full ten years since I first picked up Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes on the whimmiest of whims, and fell in love with an entire universe forever.

Deep in the throes of Tori Amos obsession, I wanted to know more about "Neil and the Dream King", until then merely characters in one of my favorite songs, "Tear In Your Hand." (Though I had already read Neverwhere a year or two before at the insistence of my high school librarian, and somehow forgot about Neil Gaiman since.)

Well the Tori obsession has faded (albeit slightly), while Neil Gaiman's star has risen to stratospheric levels since I first encountered his work.

My friends have dressed as various members of the Endless, in countless costume parties. The memory of the characters is fully alive, but I realized, sadly, that I had forgotten much of the Sandman story, the details, the episodes.

And so I begin again. Starting at the beginning.

#1 - Sleep of the Just

The purpose of this issue is to introduce Sandman himself. It's a fantastically clever introduction; we learn about Dream's importance through the impact caused by his absence; he influences many key events in the 20th century.

Dream has been captured and imprisoned by a coven of magicians who were actually seeking to capture another immortal, Death, in order to secure their own immortality (I would dearly, dearly love to see a follow-up series where it is in fact Death who is imprisoned for 100 years).

The magicians have no idea how to access Dream's power, so they just lock him up and periodically beg and/or torture him to work for them.

In Dream's absence, of course all manner of shenanigans occur between the humans -- love affairs, power plays, and the ill effects of old age. Vigilantes step up to fill in the vacuum left by Dream's imprisonment. But there's a terror lurking behind everything: what happens when Dream is finally freed? It all builds up to this moment, and you know that his revenge will be tremendous.

There's not much to say in the way of analysis, as this is the introductory chapter to the Universe. But we are introduced, if only by mention, to the broader mythology of the Endless. We are embarking on the journey of getting to know them. And I cannot begin to express how excited I am. On some level, I'm glad I waited this long, as I'll be seeing so much of it with fresh eyes again.

See you next issue!

Fringe: "Os"





Lots and lots of creepy things happen, including dead men who float and faces that bleed, but nothing is more creepy than Nina's shipper smile (although Cameron's mustache gets a close second).


Walter and Hurley get high and reminisce about the good old days, aka the 1970s. Hurley fails to mention that for him, the 70's meant being shot at by deranged scientists under the employ of the Dharma Initiative. Walter bedded Yoko. Who had the worst 70's experience?

Walter than pops in on Nina to discuss how to save the universe, but Nina is distracted by the news about Peter and Olivia, and spends the rest of the conversation squeeing in her brain. (Also, it's fairly odd that she hasn't told anyone else about Sam Weiss's prophecy. I guess she just needs that private squee.)

Then we get A-plot, A-plot, A-plot. Usual stuff, until the dead man starts floating. Looks like Walter and Hurley aren't the only ones who got high (get it? get it?)

Peter performs his annual pretense of being a scientist, until Olivia calls and seduces him with 'street fair.' I think we're all thankful we don't have to see them dancing at a street fair when Broyles cockblocks them (hippie-blocks them?).

We are then tortured with about five minutes of exposition, including an all too detailed sum of the properties of "osmium". And I stop listening for a while, and am entertained by Olivia's giggles at the floating body.

Oh, look, it's Alan Ruck with a mustache! (Apparently Cameron from Ferris Bueller grows up into Thomas Friedman). Again, I lose interest. Sorry guys, this is the first time the A-plot has nothing to do with the continuing storyline, and thusly I have no interest in it.

Astrid and Walter do that annoying thing that makes anyone not want to tell a single person about new relationships: basically it involves creepy and knowing smiles.

Then Friedman!Cameron starts expositing, which is only fun because his audience literally dies of boredom.

The floating man falls to the ground, and Walter gets off one of his best Tom-Bakerisms yet.

Ok, I'm sorry guys, while I am fully in support of all the angst and the character drama, I actually find the whole Olivia and Peter actually being together really squicky. Olivia just seems weird, we've seen her in love before (anyone remember John Scott?), and it wasn't so...cutesy. Blech.

Sorry, I missed a scene or two, and now we move to Fried!Cam recruiting at a Special Olympics event.

Then more lab!stuff, and Peter and Olivia play hooky again! Seriously guys, this is why office relationships are bad! And then Nina, with the creepist shipper smile yet. What has happened? Why has this 'ship turned everyone into Stepford Wives?

The next scene reminds us, yet again, that Walter is the best character on this show; the hijinks of the older generation are what makes this show tick. They are the Olympic Gods, everyone else is merely a plaything.

Then lots of A-Plot stuff happens, and yes it's all very moving, but I still don't care.

Eventually, Peter confesses to Olivia about his shapeshifter side job. Before Olivia even has a chance to get angsty, something happens that nobody could expect in this farce of people behaving out of character. Basically, while everyone else turns into a Stepford Wife, Olivia turns into...wait for it...LEONARD NIMOY!!! It's uncanny, and VERY, VERY DISTURBING. I DO NOT KNOW IF I CAN SIT THROUGH A WHOLE EPISODE OF THIS NEXT WEEK!!!


I think I know part of what's making me so squicky about Olivia/Peter. We know that Peter is still thinking of FauxLivia, that on many levels he does think she's better than OurLivia. And so we have this weird Hitchcock Vertigo thing going on, where he only wants her because he can pretend that she's the doppelganger that he actually fell in love with. I know he didn't intend to fall for FauxLivia, he did originally want OurLivia, but I'm not convinced that's still the case. He's just biding his time now, knowing (or at least believing) that this is his best option.

Blogging Songs of Love and Death: Carrie Vaughn "Rooftops"

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One of the joys of reading short story compilations is discovering new authors. Granted, I wouldn't have picked up this one if it didn't have a new Neil Gaiman story in it, but there you have it. He was the only author I'd read before, so the rest was pretty much an adventure.

I've been jumping around the stories, which vary in style and setting from edieval Faerie, to modern Amsterdam, to Seattle, to the far recesses of a space-faring future, and I've yet to complete the collection. Other authors you might recognize are Diana Gabaldon (her story will be a subject for a future post), and Peter Beagle (The Last Unicorn). These are all stories about lovers who fight the forces of magic, physics, unintentional time travel, ghosts and fate itself.

But I wanted to draw attention here to one story in particular: Carrie Vaughn's "Rooftops".

(go read it, then come back!)

"Rooftops" very nearly made me die of romanticism. I can't even explain why. Nothing happens in it that hasn't been done elsewhere story-wise, but it's just...brilliant. Charlotte is a playwright on the cusp of success; her pet project is being directed by a top theatre personality, and features a famous actress. There is no hint yet about the funny nature of this world; we are drawn in by Charlotte's creative worries, her professional fears, all the artistic worry created when you let your baby go out into the wild, where other people both nurture and abuse it.

We slowly learn about her relationship with the district attorney, so wrapped up in work that he is rarely available.

Then, when she goes out for a quiet dinner so that she doesn't have to be home alone, she is mugged and very nearly kidnapped by a band of ruffians, saved only by a mysterious masked man. She starts to obsess over him, and even imagines a pattern where everytime her DA cancels on her, the masked man captures new pests in the city. It's an odd delusion that makes her extremely forgiving of her DA's absences and disappointments.

But what makes this story work is how Vaughn builds up the world Charlotte lives in. At some point, soon after the mugging, we learn that this is a world where superheroes exist; entire websites are devoted to "spottings" and tracking their movements. But her masked man doesn't really share any of the typical superhero trappings. So who is he?

It's a very simple story, and I was surprised (and pleased!) to find that on Goodreads, many other readers considered it their favorite story from the anthology.

I just loved the concept and the execution; it was nice to see this type of story so firmly grounded in basic human fears and emotions. I don't doubt that it won't be for everyone, but it's been a long time since I've read anything that made my heart swell such as this.

Inside Job (2010)

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Originally published at The 405


Directed by: Charles Ferguson
Releases: 18/02/11
Starring: Matt Damon, William Ackman and Daniel Alpert

Inside Job is Charles Ferguson's ambitious attempt to expose the systemic defects that led to the Great Recession. It's greatest success is in stirring up anger and horror at the sheer audacity of some of the architects of the crisis, who were actually willing to comment on the record under Ferguson's interrogations. However, I'm not as convinced it worked as a useful analytical framework to truly understand what went wrong before 2008.

The movie was very effective in describing the individual pieces of the puzzle such as deregulation, credit default swaps, derivatives, basic human greed (by both the banks and by the average Joe, obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses) and so on. It was less effective in explaining how these pieces came together to create a systemic meltdown. There was almost no mention of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and how they became embroiled in this mess. I suspect that the problem is that the story is way too complex to adequately cover in a two-hour mainstream release, but it's a real shame given the complicity of so many people that Ferguson managed to interview.

There are wonderful 'oh the wisdom of hindsight' interviews with Christine Lagarde (French Finance Minister) and Dominique Strauss-Kahn (IMF). There are also fantastic moments where Ferguson catches Bush toadies, cloaked in self-righteousness, contradicting themselves within 5 minute spans. You can see some of them actually begin to sweat.

That said, there is no doubt that these people screwed up enormously; what's still unclear is why. Ferguson had the opportunity to interrogate why they acted as they did. Apart from the Goldman-Sachs short-sellers, the industry as a whole cannot have been rooting for failure. What peculiarity in ideology led to this mess?

Also, Inside Job commits what I call the "Fahrenheit 9/11 sin": it made a specious argument about 'mentality' in the place of a useful analysis of systemic lock-in of mentality. The movie kept turning back to the 'prostitutes and cocaine' culture of 1980s Wall Street as an explanation for the hubris and greed driving the thirst for deregulation and increased amount of risk. This strangely Puritanical focus confuses personality with decision making; if there's a connection to be made between these men's retrograde attitudes towards women and their poor decision making at the office, than Inside Job doesn't make it convincingly.

The movie became much more effective and coherent when it turned a sharp lens on the conflict of interest between academia and consulting work. A full third of the movie is devoted to exposing the hypocrisy of the men who were paid to write highly prejudiced op-ed pieces on behalf of business institutions even as they were meant to be teaching the next generation the ethics of business.

There were a lot of moving pieces leading to the financial crisis; the unfortunate truth is that there wasn't any one piece that broke, everything broke at the same time. Inside Job's greatest strength is in identifying and describing the disparate forces at work that led to this disaster; perhaps, in a sequel, Ferguson can give us more insight into why they failed.

On the Snyder Decision, Or, the Greatest Boon for Free Speech in Years

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The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church in the Snyder v. Phelps case, which you might know better as the incident where Fred Phelps and his team of lowlifes demonstrated at a military funeral with signs reading "God Hates Fags!" Important point #1: Matt Snyder was not gay. Why is this important? Read on.

To understand the legal basis for the decision, you have to divorce yourself from the unique brand of ire and anger inspired by WBC. It doesn't help that WBC has gone on to make more egregiously distasteful demonstrations, most notably at the funeral for the little girl shot in Tucson, Arizona, and then at the funerals for the other casualties. They wanted to demonstrate against a nine year old girl because she was Catholic! (Granted, they weren't allowed to protest at the little girl's funeral, but by then the scandal was omnipresent).

It is only natural that the bereaved would be offended by these statements. But is that grounds to block any sort of controversial speech at funerals? That is perhaps a debate for another time. But considering the facts of this particular case, the Snyders, who do have my complete sympathy, have no legal standing in the suit.

The facts are these.

The media narrative suggests that Westboro were present and disruptive during the actual funeral, but this is not factually supported:

Although Snyder testified that he could see the tops of the picket signs as he drove to the funeral, he did not see what was written on the signs until later than night, while watching a news broadcast covering the event. (Opinion at 3)

This is because the picketers were more than 1000 feet away, on a public sidewalk, NOT in the funeral venue.

So there goes the defamation and emotional distress charges. You cannot be retroactively distressed at something you didn't know was going on.

Then there's the matter of what constitutes protected speech: are the WBC even allowed to make these statements?

They are if it's a matter of public concern, aka the most protected form of free speech.

Whether the First Amendment prohibits holding Westboro liable for its speech in this case turns largely on whether that speech is of public or private concern, as determined by all the circumstances of the case. ““[S]peech on ‘‘matters of public concern’’ . . . is ‘‘at the heart of the First Amendment’’s protection.’’”” Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc., 472 U. S. 749, 758––759 (1985) (opinion of Powell, J.) (quoting First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, 776 (1978)). The First Amendment reflects ““a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibi- ted, robust, and wide-open.”” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 270 (1964). That is because ““speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.”” Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 64, 74––75 (1964). Accordingly, ““speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.”” Connick v. Myers, 461 U. S. 138, 145 (1983) (internal quotation marks omitted). (Opinion at 5-6)

And also:

Speech deals with matters of public concern when it can ““be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community,”” Connick, supra, at 146, or when it ““is a subject of legitimate news interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public,”” San Diego, supra, at 83––84. See Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469, 492––494 (1975); Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U. S. 374, 387–– 388 (1967). The arguably ““inappropriate or controversial character of a statement is irrelevant to the question whether it deals with a matter of public concern.”” Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U. S. 378, 387 (1987). (Opinion at 6-7)

The Court held, correctly, that the content of Westboro's signs 'plainly relates to broad issues of interest to society at large, rather than matters of 'purely private concern''. So when they say "God Hates the USA," "America is Doomed," "God Hates Fags," etc., it is offensive, but it is allowed as commentary on the state of 'the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens'.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the WBC did not break any locak, municipal, state or federal laws or ordinances in its fame-mongering.

Simply put, the church members had the right to be where they were. Westboro alerted local authorities to its funeral protest and fully complied with police guidance on where the picketing could be staged. The picketing was conducted under police supervision some 1,000 feet from the church, out of the sight of those at the church. The protest was not unruly; there was no shouting, profanity, or violence.

And there you have it. WBC spoke out in a public place, on a matter of public concern. Just as they have the legal right to make their statements, the rest of us have the legal right to challenge them in the same political space, and in myriad others.

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 414 (1989).

Do I believe that the Westboro Baptist Church are the scum of the Earth? Certainly. I also believe they have the right to continue to be the scum of the Earth unless they break any actual laws, make direct threats or perform acts of physical harm. What the case boils down to is that WBC should be held criminally liable for being hurtful. Well, 'hurtful' is a subjective standard, and under no circumstances should it be enshrined as legally valid. Where does it stop, then? Military families are hurt by anti-war protesters, does that mean we can't protest? This is the speech that was at risk in this case. Thankfully, the Supreme Court chose to uphold the First Amendment.

Free speech is the bedrock upon which American society was founded. And that means having to listen to opposing viewpoints that challenge your own beliefs. Even when those viewpoints are morally indefensible.


And now we close with a bit of light humor courtesy of Easy A: "The funny thing is, the whole time this was going down? I couldn't but think that I could have made better signs."

Why Network is More Zeitgeist-Y Than Social Network

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I loved Social Network as much as the next person, but I get very very irritated when I see middle aged critics talk about how "it's the film that defines a generation," or some rot of that nature. Perhaps facebook itself does that, but the tale of a nerd defeating his physical superiors with cleverness and wit is a tale as old as time. Nothing in the mechanics of how fictional Mark Zuckerberg achieves this gives credence to this critical canard; he is blinded by power and wealth and betrays his best friend; all the success in the world still doesn't get him the girl.

Network, on the other hand, continues to scream its relevance in my ear.

It Just Keeps Coming Up

Since I've seen Network, there have been dozens of occasions that have made me think "OMG it's Howard Beale in the flesh!" And now we have Charlie Sheen, making a direct callback of his own, calling on his fans to stick their heads out their windows and scream his sitcom catchphrase "Duh, WINNING!"

The Sheen case is probably closest in spirit to the actual narrative of Network: both Sheen and Howard Beale have on-air meltdowns upon the rumors of their firings, and these meltdowns make them media darlings. Both fall from grace when they commit the one cardinal sin of being a media property; they bit the hands that paid them. Both have kicked serious addictions, only to have those addictions replaced by dangerous paranoia (Saudis! Tigerblood! Octagons!).

But these similarities are merely superficial; what about the more serious issues raised by the film, the questions that society still tries to answer?

The Glenn Beck Factor

I saw Network the day before the shooting in Tuscon, Arizona. That day, my primary Really Deep Thought was: witness the birth of Glenn Beck, thirty years before his ascendance. After the shooting, my Really Deep Thought was more complex; that no matter how much power the Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins of the world might have within their own party, even they cannot control their own message once it goes out in the wild. And that is why it's important to control the message you send. To try and prevent it from being warped.

The movie never addresses the true societal cost of the media inflicting a man like Howard Beale on primetime airwaves. That his parochialism and paranoia might be infectious, that it goes beyond mere entertainment.

Beck is but one voice in a systemically dysfunctional culture; he fans the flames of existing animosity, but he can't be given credit for planting the seed. Which makes Howard Beale more powerful, in so many ways; he gets Americans to get off their asses and do something, even if that something is little more than swallowing their embarrassment and shouting out the window. It seems that the only way to kill the message is to kill Beale, but that's false. There's already another brand of lunacy ready to replace Beale in the form of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

We do not live in a cult of personality; we live in a cult of ideology. If you cut off the Beck tentacle or the Palin tentacle, the sea monster will merely grow back new limbs, powerful with fresh venom. Network does well to remind us of this; in public life, all are but cogs in a pre-fashioned wheel. Despite their best attempts, none of these three could actually spark a revolution. There's always someone more powerful who can put a stop as soon as things get dangerous; there's always someone who can redirect the conversation.

Feminism at War With Itself

Faye Dunaway's TV producer is absolutely glorious. She is consumed with ambition and success, but that doesn't make her hard or dissatisfied. She genuinely loves her life, she doesn't feel burdened by a lack of human connection. But the movie treats this as some sort of moral failing. The fact that ratings make her sexually excited is a form of deviance, a break from femininity.

These concerns might have been allayed if Bill Holden wasn't presented as the 'moral conscience' in the film, but he is. In fact, the penultimate scene is his widely praised speech about what a horrible person she is, and how little concern she has for other people. But perhaps Bill Holden is so wrapped up and convinced of his own guilt that there's no point in his admitting it; maybe he just wants her to admit her own culpability in the steady ruining of his life, to give him assurance that it isn't a disaster entirely of his own making.

Which is a bit rich given that he's the one who left his aging wife and disappointed his children on a whim, for a woman who said from the beginning that she's not into relationships. She never lied to him on this point, so it's patently unfair that he lays all the blame at her feet when he leaves. Especially cause we, the audience, know she'll just sweep the floor and get on with her life.

She's a successful career woman who happens to be awesome at her job, and he wants to make her feel bad about that. Not that she's without moral failing, but she is the Rand-ian ideal; she makes the best decisions possible to serve her own success.


The questions that screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky raised so many years ago still lack clear answers today. To what extent is the media culpable for societal failings? Does rhetoric have the power to transform the vision of reality? Can we as a society tell the difference between fact and fiction? These are not the questions answered in Network; in the end the film is a satire of the network process for developing sensational television.

Howard reached a point where he happily and ingenuously constructed a temple to himself, but what about his millions of followers? They don't actually get their day in the sun, they just get to stand on their balconies and howl at the moon. And there will definitely come a point when shouting is not enough; they will crave action. And that's when you lose control of them. That's when you have Jared Loughner, desperate to make some kind of statement but lacks any defining ideology, who then latches on to the loudest voice of the moment.

What does it mean that Charlie Sheen and Howard Beale are not fired for their moral culpability, but for their embarrassment of the men who hold the purse strings? UBS (the fictional media corporation in the movie), like the Mafia, keeps it all in the family. As with the Mafia, there's no greater betrayal than giving away the family secrets. But in a Caesar-like twist the people who killed Howard Beale were the same schemers who crowned him Prince of Righteousness.

CBS has just fired Charlie Sheen. At least they didn't order his assassination.

Another Year, Or, Happy Families Are All Alike, They're All Bursting With Tension

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I just finished watching Another Year and I feel, well, deflated. There's a point in everyone's life where you believe that the angst and the drama are behind you; it's disheartening to be reminded that being old can be just as petty as being young.

The film centers around one happy couple and their shifting satellites. The movie exists to challenge Tolstoy's universally accepted opening salvo: "Happy families are all alike." Mike Leigh seems to say that happy families are completely unpredictable, shaped by the tensions between the ideal cocoon-like existence of long-time lovers and the desire to still be a part of the real world.

Into this steady dance roars comet Mary, who shifts the orbit of all the other satellites whenever she appears; she's a mess. What makes Mary so compelling is that, despite all our instant belief that she's "desperate," she doesn't see it that way. On some level, she still believes that the fruits of youth are within her reach, and that's why each disappointment whips back at her with energy that is both equal and opposite to the hopes she emits. This movie is worth watching for Lesley Manville's performance alone.

Jim Broadbent plays Tom, the most straightforward character. Gerri frequently restrains him from mouthing off. He is cynical and his is uncomplicated, sometimes impossibly so. He never hesitates to offer "rational advice" in response to the real problems of his friends and family; he clearly does not understand their pain, but needs to maintain the illusion of being a mensch.

His wife Gerri is a much more strange character; omnipresent, she remembers everything and everyone. She seems not to pass judgment, but while she never expresses her opinions in so many words, she reveals them in the smallest gestures, like her very slight eyeroll/sigh when Vera Drake leaves the room. Just listen to how her tone modulates in the course of each evening with Mary, the real star of the tale.

Is this what we're all doomed to become? If we're lucky we might end up self-righteous; if we are less blessed we radiate desperation as a magnet for more desperation and other desperate people. Another Year is a quiet film that asks big questions of the viewer, perhaps questions that we want to avoid for as long as possible. Don't miss this one, even though you may feel depressed for a day or two afterwards.

Five Great Cabaret-ish Songs by Artists You Wouldn't Expect




I say Cabaret, but I really do mean a certain amount of dark, Weimar-esque, theatrical melodrama. When I approached this list, I didn't want songs that sprang straight from the vaudeville font, but songs that had clear inspiration from that genre. Usually piano-based, these songs move with the unpredictability of the wind, but somehow the vocal melodies restrain the darkness from invading through the speakers. These are songs of a dark, dark love, from a dark, dark time.

ABBA - I Let the Music Speak

Many of you would be surprised to hear an ABBA song that's entirely divorced from the disco trappings of the era; there's scarcely a synthesizer in sight, just pianos and strings played as if by ghosts in a Bronte moor. The composition is perfect, Frida's voice melds perfectly into the symphony. The track is more theatrical than the rest in this feature, but I wanted to make sure you heard it; it's all worth it when the creepy choir invades.

Dusty Springfield - Windmills of Your Mind

This one is perhaps less of a departure from Springfield's more archetypal work, but it's different enough. Her voice is not on feature here, it's the atmosphere that's most important. Again the silence is bathed in strings, first gently and then more frantically. The chord changes are unpredictable, which makes this song just as magical despite being quite a bit more mellow.

Tori Amos - Lady In Blue

Yes, there is the appeal of the fact that this is in essence a "sad Lady Gaga" video, but still. I could have chosen 2 other Tori Amos songs that mine this dark jazz territory - "Purple People" or her cover of "Strange Fruit" come to mind, but this is my favorite of the three. It's already dark and mysterious, but then, 2/3 of the way through, everything changes. Maybe it's the beginning of a revolution, or the start of an orgy, but all I know is that something dramatic happens.  And then it continues to build, and build, and build, until it subsides like a tidal wave.

David Bowie - Lady Grinning Soul

This one gets points for the classical proficience of the pianist; it's not impossible to imagine the piece played by Liszt or Rachmaninoff. It's just a terrific song.

Silverchair - Emotion Sickness / Across the Night

I wanted to put "Emotion Sickness" in on the grounds that DAVID HELFGOTT PLAYS THE PIANO IN IT, but they do have a more cabaret-ish song. And the video has Guy Pearce as a character in a silent film. So Guy Pearce's new career in cameo dates at least as far back as 2005. But it's still a great song, and one of my favorite videos.

Abandoned: Lev Grossmann's "The Magicians"

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The Magicians was marketed as a sort of updating of the Chronicles of Narnia, a Harry Potter for adult readers. But give me half a choice, and I'll take the silly metaphors of Narnia or the mediocre writing of Harry Potter everytime. At least Lewis and Rowling believe in the worlds they created. The Magicians is not for fans of fantasy, this is for people who hate fantasy and look down upon readers of the genre.

It doesn't help that the protagonist is the most irritating, weasly and generally undeserving cretin in literary history; yet we are expected care about his emotions and relationships. He whines at every possible turn, he has everything handed to him on a plate and complains of his unhappiness. This while his classmates are eaten by invisible monsters, while others face genuine problems. All this, and he thinks people hate him because he's an obsessed fan of Fillory novels, a thinly veiled recasting of the original Narnia books. Really, they hate him because he's an asshole.

But this wouldn't matter so much if Grossman didn't ask us to sympathize with him. It seems that he had a hard time deciding whether he wanted to write literary character pieces or rollicking adventure, and his indecision means he failed at both.

The book also commits what in my opinion is a cardinal sin of film, television and literature. Grossman has set out to write a magical adventure for adult readers, but what that translates to is lots and lots of swearing and extensive descriptions of lust and sex. I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds this to be mundane in the extreme, and certainly not adult. (see Torchwood season 1 vs Torchwood: Children of Earth to learn the difference between "adult entertainment" and adult entertainment.).

The book is not without its good moments; there are a number of set pieces that work very well, usually when the characters are actively engaged in magic and forget their pettiness for five minutes. But for every moment that makes you consider continuing the book, there are 3 more to aggravate.

But that's not even what's most disappointing about this book. It actually hits the sweet spot halfway through, but apparently that was accidental. We are presented with something with great narrative richness; young magicians leave magic school and are lost in the world, a world where most of the great enemies have already been defeated, so jobs are scarce for would-be heroes.

There was so much opportunity lost in keeping the "post-collegiate drift" so brief, and so mundane. The characters spend thirty pages drinking their brains out. All-too brief mention is made of what other unemployed magicians do to keep their heads afloat. But no, back to the illogical sex and the half-assed prurience.

There was so much potential for this book to be better than it was, but in the end, it failed every expectation both of story and of style. It may be unfortunate, but I think I'll be staying away from these post-modern genre destructions for some time. Just because you never felt any magic in fantasy novels, don't ruin my childhood.

Blog Noir: Gilda, Or, Fifty Ways to Torment Your Lover

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Gilda is the rare movie that you can love and appreciate in spite of the fact that it leaves more questions than answers.

That said, it has a lot of elements working in its favor, particularly the actors.

There's nothing I can say about Rita Hayworth that hasn't been said a thousand times before; she is stunningly beautiful and very capable in handling the contrasts between Gilda's dark emotional undercurrents and her oft-blinding brightness.

But I think Glenn Ford is the real coup here; when we meet him, he is characterized by an open, honest face and an easy wit, despite the fact that he's obviously a hustler. His blank physical appearance serves the chameleon character well; we see Johnny transform and distort in every direction possible as he faces growing success, power, torment and eventually redemption.

The direction was also startling; Gilda is not bathed in darkness as you might expect, but Vidor is careful and precise in his use of shadows and camera angles. There's very little that's showy, but everything works. Not to mention the pornographic camera gaze on Rita Hayworth's show stopping number; has there ever been a more erotic glove removal?

The film is also very clearly structured, which is in direct contrast to the seemingly incomplete story; we never do find out about the truth of Gilda and Johnny. That it is so well put together prevents the audience from feeling cheated; their past is something for us to put together in our imagination, and I bet what we imagine will always be ten times worse than the truth.


Critics and scholars get hung up with the question of original intent. But I would argue that's irrelevant in this case; we can only judge what appears to us on screen.* Even if you ignore the scary-comic scenes with Johnny, Ballin, and Ballin's little friend (a giant stick with the power of piercing!), there's considerable textual evidence to support the reading of homosexual leanings between the two male leads.

Let's look at Ballin. He is never represented as an altruist, and Johnny has no demonstrable skills when they first meet. So why invite him to his posh establishment? And what was a mover and a shaker like Ballin doing in the dingy alleyway in the first place, an alley full of hucksters and hustlers? It's not unreasonable to assume that he was trolling for sex, or something like it.

Later, once Johnny gets himself hired by Ballin, Ballin presents his first and most important rule: no women. He wants Johnny for himself. This clearly goes both ways. When Ballin returns from his trip, and announces his new wife, Johnny turns hateful and distrustful even before he knows that it's Gilda. The homoerotic angle adds a whole layer to the early antagonism between the two; he hates her in equal parts for coming between himself and Ballin, for showing up in his life at all, and for making him love her.

That none of these elements supersede the others perhaps reduces the relevance of the past relationship between Gilda and Johnny; what we are concerned with is how Johnny's conflicting desires play out now in Argentina. Youthful indiscretions are nothing but fuel to the fire; we don't need to know the facts to appreciate that it was heinous enough to mutate these two characters into shells of their former selves.

When Johnny steps into the role of Ballin, he becomes Ballin entirely; he absorbs his cruelty and sadomasochism as completely as he absorbs his penchant for shady business dealing. And that darkens his relationship with Gilda even further.

What makes the second act so compelling is that having done every thing they can to deny their love for one another, they can no longer resist its pull. And giving in warps them both; it gives Gilda a sense of security that she is incapable of recognizing as false, as she's never experienced the real thing. And it gives Johnny a vehicle to exercise his newfound power and sadism. He can't deal with his desire for her, cannot even act on it, so he chooses to torment her in every way possible. Gilda is powerless as a woman, as an individual, as a lover. Their mutual obsession twists them both horribly out of shape.

These are not the emotions of children at play, no matter what Ballin believes of Gilda. And while the movie wants us to believe it's about sex; it's equally about power. Ballin has all of it until he's dead, then Johnny inherits it. And Gilda has nothing but her sexuality.


*I say it's irrelevant, but that didn't stop me from researching. And I found this:

“Women in Film Noir”, Edited by E.Anne Kaplan, chapter 8, footnote #3.

“According to Ford, the homosexual angle was obvious to them at the time; they could see the implications in the relationship between the two men in the early part of the film- nothing stated, just mood.”

From John Kobal: “The Time, the Place, the Girl; Rita Hayworth."


Gilda is distinctive in that it's the first picture in Hollywood with a female screenwriter, female producer, and topline female star.


-First Rita Hayworth movie (woohoo!)

-First classic film noir (shocking, I know!)


Best Discoveries of 2010: Part II, Relative Newbies


2010 has been a good year for discovering bands I never paid attention to before, or discovering parts of their catalog I never bothered to. All of the artists on this list have been around for at least 5 years, and usually much, much longer. I'll try and explain a little as to why I missed them and why it's worth your while to check these bands out for the first time if you haven't heard them, or for the second time if you've dismissed them.

Welcome to Part II, about the still-green. (Click here for part one if you missed it: Bowie, Springsteen, Petty, etc)

(reprinted from previous feature about the band)

It's an absolute miracle that I hadn't gotten into the Replacements before now. Back in college, I was a huge Vagrant records kid, and probably listened to every band about a thousand times. Except for Paul Westerberg (lead singer of the Replacements), that mysterious old guy on the label who wasn't doing shoulder-sleeve emo or hardcore lite. I knew a few of his songs, and I knew a lot of obsessed Replacements fans, and I knew that crazy video that's always in top ten lists where all you see is a speaker pulsating.

But then I saw Adventureland, with its superb late 80s indie soundtrack. I tracked down pretty much every song in the movie, and a LOT of them are by the Replacements. Classic jangly guitar rock of the best kind, celebrating youth and nihilism and all the things we get nostalgic about. Keep in mind that this was around the time that alternative music was just getting started, punk was over, the radio was deluged with overproduced crap (and HAIR METAL!) So I imagine the Replacements were a breath of fresh air to kids looking for something else, anything else.

The band themselves self-destructed in a pretty spectacular fashion. Never able to let go of their anarchist roots, they decided that in every tv performance or industry show they would get hammered and sabotage their own careers. There are hilarious videos out there (track down the SNL performance for an absolute doozy of drunken lyrical fumbling. They are one of very few acts that were actually BANNED from SNL, that paragon of good taste).

Recommended Tracks: Alex Chilton, Can't Hardly Wait, Bastards of Young, Swingin' Party


And now we arrive at the shoegaze portion of our article. I first heard of Galaxie 500 in a Liz Phair song called "Stratford-on-Guy." I got into early Liz Phair at such a young age that I probably didn't even realize that Galaxie 500 was the name of a band, heh. Then, a couple of years ago, I had a very good friend recommend the band to me, but for whatever reason I never got around to listening to them until recently.

They gained fame in the United Kingdom first, thanks to the late, great John Peel. While they cited the Velvet Underground and Jonathan Richman as key influences, they in turn influenced an entire generation of shoe-gaze music.

Trivia: The drummer(Damon Krukowski)'s best friend was Conan O'Brien, who had a drumkit that he never played. The band couldn't afford a drumkit in their early records, so they just used Conan's for years.

Recommended Tracks: When Will You Come Home, Another Day, Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste


Why I didn't listen to her is simple: stupid name. I just assumed she was in the Paramore/My Chemical Romance/ faux-emo camp taking over the airwaves in 2006.

But six months after discovering her, I can't get enough of her. Everytime that "Dragonfly" comes up on my iPod I just have to stop whatever I'm doing and let it wash over me. Which is not to say her music is slow, just otherworldly. Apart from PJ Harvey-esque footstompers like "Freak Out."

You've heard Shara Worden in other songs; she's the go-to female back-up for The National, Sufjan Stevens and the Decemberists.

God only knows why the band has only released one album since 2006; perhaps they felt they couldn't top the near-perfection of that year's Bring Me the Workhorse. But it is a very, very good album, and I'm glad to come to it, even though I've come to it late.

Recommended Tracks: Dragonfly, Freak Out, Something of an End

THE 88

Here's a more recent band, also famed for a theme song: the perfectly quirky song for the perfectly quirky comedy Community.

They've been around since 1996, when they released the near perfect album Over and Over. Keith Slettedahl, the lead singer, has a unique voice well-suite to the unpredictability of the band's music.

Recommended Tracks: Haunt You, Battle Scar, Coming Home


They came up the same time as fellow NYC bands Interpol and The Strokes, and have always inspired similar devotion from their fans. But while Interpol's style is unmistakably English (and Mancunian at that), The Walkmen draw inspiration from more diverse sources; in every song there's the trace of southern gospel, but there's the careful instrumentation now common in bands like Arcade Fire, but there's also a punk spirit. The Walkmen are a band of many faces.

One of my closest friends in college was an obsessed fan of The Walkmen, and yet I couldn't latch on. They had a ubiquitous single that I just didn't get back then; there was so much great music I didn't get back then. Well, as a tribute to my friend, I decided to watch the band at Reading Festival, and I was blown away. They're wonderfully unaffected, and have one of the strongest vocalists I've ever heard.

Recommended Tracks: Victory, I'm Never Bored, We've Been Had

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