Monday, January 15, 2018

Famous Blue Raincoat

Here's where I ruin that song by Leonard Cohen everyone likes.

When I was a teenager, a girl said her favorite poet was Leonard Cohen. I was really into the Beat poets back then. But I knew Leonard Cohen because of Concrete Blonde's cover of Everybody Knows, and I'd heard a few of his other songs via Jeff Buckley. Back at her place she showed me a book called Stanger Music. I was instantly in love with both her and him.

Fast forward a few years, and I'd met a Finnish woman in Germany, but she moved back to Finland. We were using phone cards and payphones to keep in contact because texting was expensive and there was no such thing as social media. We decided to meet in Warsaw: September streets and coffee shops and the Fotoplastikon and the Jazz Jamboree a top the Palace of Culture and Science.

When she got back home to Vaasa she sent me a book and a mix-tape. The first song on the mix-tape was her favorite: Famous Blue Raincoat. It was the first time I'd heard the song. It was the last mix-tape I ever received. I never saw the girl again. I listened to the song over and over again to try and figure out what was so painful about it.

  • "My brother, my killer" to be cuckolded might feel like being killed, and a friend might seem like a brother, but there's also an implicit forbidden vaginal theme here. Brothers, after all come from the same woman. These two have also shared a woman.
  • "You treated my woman to a flake of your life" something as insignificant as a flake from one perspective is monumental to another. What is a flake of life? Rhyming thematically with the "lock of your hair," the shadow man literally gave to her, it's a nice figurative echo.
  • "Four in the morning the end of December" seems like just a throw away until you think about it. "I see you there with a rose in your teeth" is great since roses are a winter-blooming/December flower. And in the end when it's revealed the song is an epistolary you realize how much time has passed since she's been writing the thing. His woman Jane has awoken to blithely send her regards to the letter's recipient. The day has begun. He's been writing this thing for hours.
  • "Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes; I thought it was there for good, so I never tried" has to be one of the saddest lines of any song ever written.

Leonard Cohen played the Palace of Culture and Industry in 1985. It was hugely controversial at the time because everyone thought he would be too political on the wrong side of the iron curtain.

Leonard Cohen wrote all the songs for one of my all-time favorite movies McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Leonard Cohen performed a song with Manu Chao calle Partisan, which is maybe my favorite song by him. Plus, Manu Chao is cool.

Leonard Cohen is considered by most to be some kind of renaissance man. I think of him as a poet and novelist who made some very good songs.

He died in November of 2016, and the world is better off having known his presence and much worse for the loss of it.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Born in the USA

This is where I ruin that Bruce Springsteen everyone loves.

This song about someone remembering the Vietnam war ten years afterward is powerful in that its lyrics read like flashbacks. The narrator remembers how he got into the war, how he couldn't get a job afterward, how his friend died over there after having fallen in love with a Vietnamese woman, and how now he lives in the shadows of the penitentiaries and the fires of the refineries.
Springsteen hid all this in a pop anthem. Brilliant in that it's preserved for people like me who strip away everything and think about the words.
My microphone was giving me problems on this one, but I liked how it watered down the guitar and made my voice sound a little washed away too. So I haven't re-recorded for those reasons. Seems more painful and ruined this way.

The last line of the last verse is my favorite: "Nowhere to gun and nowhere to go"?!?!
Gun rhymes with gone, like he's gone nowhere, but then of course, gunning being the only job he's ever really known beside working in a refinery or rotting in a penitentiary.
And of course, gun rhymes with run, and I've heard the Boss sing it as "run" before. But "gun" is better I think. It kind of sounds like "come" too, which screws with your brain when you hear "go" right after. And "gun" gives you a nice rhyme with "go" making the whole thing more true-feeling.

I'd like to re-record my version again some time.

Starkiller Base Is the DUMBEST Thing in Star Wars History

You already know about Starkiller base, the First Order's planet-sized space station/weapon/Macguffin. It's by far the dumbest thing in Star Wars canon, and one of the dumbest things in Sci-Fi history.

It destroys Coruscant and all of the planets in its system. There's some debate to that statement, but it doesn't matter here for my purposes. They definitely destroyed five planets.

There are only a few ways for this to occur:

They didn't build it from scratch.

Maybe they weaponized an existing planet.
How do you weaponize a planet without the neighboring planets not noticing. It has a breathable atmosphere and trees growing on it. No one wants to live there? Did they just kill everyone already living there and drill into its core to create a superweapon that converts star energy into ammunition? How do you test that without destroying a star? The worst part of that plan is that it's a one-time-use weapon. You just get to destroy one solar system and then have to abandon the planet or try to use it as a base of operations until the debris from all the exploding planets destroys it. Planets don't travel from one system to another.

They built it far away.

How do they get it close enough to target and destroy the solar system? There are several projectiles travelling slowly enough for lens flares and for Kylo Ren to behold the impending destruction from a window. Consider it takes months to get to Mars, and that's only possible every other year. Even if these missiles "blast through hyperspace" (which is not what we see in the film) the movies have established nothing can be tracked/targeted through hyperspace. So, unless they want to fire these interstellar missiles and wait around for potentially years to see if they land properly, they're not going to shoot from too far. But that means they need to move this space station unfathomable distances to get into range.

Now, range matters. Star Wars weapons have ranges, and vehicles have fuel ranges, too. How much fuel would it take Starkiller base to travel from one star system to another? All the other ships that are jumping in space have visible blue exhausts. Not Starkiller. It's simply not built for travel.

It has to be super-long range weapon. Its size makes it able to launch plasma ridiculously long distances and it houses boundless computer capacity to target very faraway places. And the First Order is incredibly patient. That would be like the USA launching missiles at china and waiting 20 years for them to hit their marks. That's a long time to hold a grudge. 

Distance in space is usually overcome in Sci-fi by faster-than-light drives, subspace mumbo jumbo, wormholes, warp-speed, teleportation, etc. It's a necessity that some universes ignore (Firefly) to their detriment. Sci-fi has to do some work your brain won't in the suspension of disbelief. Star Wars used to not give a shit about what you thought about anything. But they've since talked about midichlorians and kyber crystals. And they always had the Force (which is just magic) and hyperspace (which is just sci-fi magic) to dismiss the impossible.

Anyway, the Starkiller base is idiotic, and anyone saying this movie was superior to episode VIII or any other Star Wars movie should start thinking about why they like these movies in the first place. They're stupid, bad movies we like despite all that. They're Fast & Furious in space. It's OK to like garbage. Garbage is fun sometimes.

Let's say they built a planet-sized weapon in the same solar system they were bent on destroying even though Hux says they're attacking planets in a system far away. How did its construction go unnoticed? The whole solar system thought it was normal somebody was building a whole new planet? Cloak?  That would still throw off the tidal patterns of nearby planets. It's simply impossible for the thing to have been built anywhere near their intended target. Meanwhile, the natural resources involved in building your planet would mean basically dismantling an entire world, to create a new weaponized one. So we have to take Hux at his word here.

Abrams can't function without an explanation-free MacGuffin. That's his power over his audiences, and he wields it with frustratingly successful results. 

I always imagined that the Death Star could move faster than light. You don't see any blue engine burns on the Death Star either, but maybe you just never get to see them in the movies. How would Alderaan not see it coming? It'd have to jump in and destroy and then refuel or recharge and jump to its next destination. Maybe that's why it just sat around waiting for the rebels to attack it; it wasn't able to escape the scene of the crime back to its secret location in time.

Kyle Hill has a fun article about Starkiller base here »

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Letterman Does what CNN Can't and Fox Won't

I watched David Letterman's new show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, last night and loved it as kind of a highbrow version of Sarah Silverman's I Love America with far fewer jokes and a format more like Actor's Studio but not as cringeworthy and far less boring somehow.

Its genial tone and Letterman's obvious interest and genuine stake in the conversation are like a welcome respite to the maelstrom of political screaming everywhere. Even when they spoke of Trump, they were respectful and polite. GASP POLITE!!!!?!!?!

I could gush about the show, but what's really interesting to me is this line I saw quoted on CNN when I woke up this morning:

"One of the things that Michelle figured out, in some ways faster than I did, was part of your ability to lead the country doesn't have to do with legislation, doesn't have to do with regulations, it has to do with shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness."

This is a really great line that encapsulates what I love about this show (and Barack Obama) and what I hate about what's happened in the media in the last few years.

This is president Obama speaking off the cuff, and it's more measured and thoughtful than anything we've seen come out of prepared speeches from most presidents, least of all our current one. He's humble and manages to maintain a dominant position with a self-deprecating opening. It's almost as if he's willing to say, "forget about who I am for a moment, Jack; I'm begging you to realize how important your role is to our culture."

Today when I rolled over and looked at my phone, the first article was from CNN:

Obama's stern warning for Trump

I mean... a plea maybe. A stern warning? C'mon. I know you guys went to college and know what words mean. I'm not even asking you to take the high road, but this is a little ridiculous. You can't say truth matters and words matter when you're going to use this as your headline for a one-sentence quote in which Trump wasn't even mentioned. If the truth matters, act like it.

Anyway, in a world lacking dignity, decorum, grace, civility, and compassion at the highest levels of governance and entertainment, this new David Letterman format had me sighing in relief that all is not lost.

I'm glad someone like Letterman is throwing himself back into this in a meaningful way.

Here are some links:

Friday, January 12, 2018

You Can Say You to Me

There's a legend in which Helmut Kohl told Bill Clinton "You can say you to me." I remember laughing about this friendly little gaf. See, in the German language, they still have the familiar pronoun. "Thou" is in the ashcan of English antiquity, but it survives as "du" in modern German.

So when a German says "you can say you to me," he's inviting you to be his friend. And who wouldn't want to be Helmut Kohl's friend? He promoted peace, unity, prosperity for 16 years. His accomplishments include unifying Germany and ushering in a pan-European currency!

And he was a conservative!

The reason I'm thinking of Helmut Kohl and his funny little (alleged) language error is our own conservative party in the USA.

Everything is vitriol now. "I'm a genius." "You live in a shithole." "That guys sucks his own cock." "That guy is a fucking idiot." It's exhausting. Where's the basic human decency?

I'm a progressive. But I've agreed with some conservatives. High-functioning humans in politics are complicated, and you can agree with some of their views without accepting all of them. But these days conservatives are two-dimensional caricatures obsessed with cheap insults and bad manners.

Helmut Kohl was at times brutal in his politics, but wanted to be your friend. He wanted everyone to be friends. He convinced Reagan to visit a German military (NAZI) cemetery in the name of friendship!

And after he left office, he was humble and introspective and reflected on his own political tactics, admitting that he at times acted like a dictator in the name of peace.

Helmut Kohl died in June last year (2017).

Here's more about him:
Wiki »
Acted like a Dictator »
Cost of reunification »

As a caveat, I'd like to offer this anecdote:

Yesterday at work a couple of women ate lunch and in the end, after eating everything except their ceviche appetizer, told their server that they "tried everything in the world to make this taste better, but it tastes like shit." They didn't want to pay for it.

They could have said something like "I'm sorry, but I didn't enjoy this, and I'd prefer not to pay for it." Why be vulgar for no reason? Why begin with conflict?

The ceviche was covered in hot sauce and salt as a result of their trying to make it "taste better."

I'm guessing they were not Trump supporters. But what the president and his ilk are accomplishing is a drastic diminishment of how we interact with one another. And I think it's important to have a culture of dignity and respect.

I resisted the urge to ask them if that's how they talk when they go to someone's house.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


This is where I ruin that Coldplay song everyone likes. I love how this song is basically a 3-chord-country song that mixes in motifs of jaundice, suicide, drowning, and the futility of loving someone else. My favorite line is "then I took my turn/what a thing to have done." That sentiment of "everyone else has tried, so I guess I will too now" has no business being in a pop song, but there it is, and it's beautiful and sad. It's overshadowed by the "bleed myself dry," but it's subtly powerful in a short, sweet song like this. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

All Along the Watchtower

This is where I ruin that song Dylan wrote and Hendrix made iconic. Its lyrics are psychedelic enough to be open to constant interpretation,  enabling it to stalk our culture. It was even a pivotal motif in  Battlestar Galactica! 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Flaming Margarita

Working at abar means you get to try out some cool things you find on the internet. I found a flaming margarita on the web, and I just had to try it. Of course, legend has it that flaming drinks are against the law in Clark County (Las Vegas), so I can't serve these, but they're still pretty cool. 

I made a normal Cadillac and peeled the rind of a lemon and lime and poured 151 Cruzan Rum in there and lit it on fire. Don't put a straw in there, because you'll melt it!

This is something like 1.75 Azunia Reposado, .75 Triple Sec, fresh sweet & sour, and .5 - .75 Grand Marnier. I can't actually remember the exact measurements, but this isn't really a post about cadillac margaritas. It's about lighting shit on fire!

Also, I think it's ridiculous we aren't allowed to serve flaming drinks in Las Vegas. Plus, I keep looking for the law online and can't seem to find it. I don't actually believe it's illegal.

Dunk the fruit before you sip, and the rum gives the margarita a nice float of woody sweetness and fire. Not just something for the eyes, it really gives the drink a little something extra that I like.

I guess I could have used a high-gravity tequila, but I thought the rum would be a nice touch especially with the Grand Marnier float already in there. They mixed nicely, and I highly recommend this version for quiet nights with friends, far away from the long arm of the law.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Paper Planes

This is where I ruin MIA's awesome homage to the Clash. She managed to take a playful song about a damning political topic and modernize it into something topical and relevant and to breathe new life into it.

Should all be polemics be playful? 

This Isn't a Dream

Every time I say "this isn't a dream; this is really happening!" I expect everyone to get the reference and at least smile. But I guess no one has ever seen Rosemary's Baby.

She's adorable in that movie, Mia Farrow.

Those eyes of hers.

There's a whole subplot spoofing the film in the Seth Rogen movie, This Is The End, and I don't think most people get what he was doing there.

Cultural touchstones aren't what they used to be. . . I don't think they even really exist anymore. Or if they do, it's for such fleeting moments that they're forgotten before they accumulate any weight. Maybe that's why we're still talking about Hamlet and other stuff made by men long dead.

Maybe we can just appreciate how pretty Mia Farrow was back when people still cared about the future.

If you haven't seen it, watch it.

Tomorrowland at Disneyland used to be about what the future might look like if we all just work our hardest and try our best. I was employed there when they announced that all plant life in Tomorrowland was going to be edible. Innoventions was the newest attraction.

Now it's all about Star Wars.

Star Wars is not about the future; it's a fairy tale set in space so it doesn't have to obey the laws of our physics. It's not a shining beacon toward which we might strive; it's a romp in the stars set to orchestral swells.

I don't feel like ranting about Star Wars today.
But does the future matter anymore?
Are we treating reality like a dream?
Maybe the future doesn't matter, but shouldn't it?

I still care about the future.

Wasn't she so pretty?