I Fucking Hate You Bill Cosby

binkleyI fucking hate you Bill Cosby
I fucking hate you Bill Cosby

Just like Beetlejuice emerging out of that scale model town, my emotions reach the surface on repeating that statement and I get surprised by watery eyes and stammering speech. I knew that he was important in my life but maybe I didn’t realize how much his influence on me was crushed by the discovery of his horrific actions.

What makes things worse is that just before that fateful Hanibal Buress exposure to the mainstream of what he had done, we were midway through season 1 of The Cosby Show with our kids. They were hooked. We were all laughing together at all the crazy Huxtible antics. But fuck all that because….

I fucking hate you Bill Cosby

The Cosby Show had principles. Great messaging for a young Pal that I wanted to share with my kids. There’s a scene where the entire family is fighting in the living room. A voice rises above all the yelling. The family goes quiet to look at the TV where Martin Luther King was giving his I Have a Dream speech. They slowly sit down to listen to the remainder of the speech. The episode just ends after that. It was the first time I had heard the I Have a Dream speech. It was the first time I had heard anything like that. That scene was so effective at making the statement that this was really important. It blew my mind. The idea of human rights and activism was not a concept I was aware of. That there were real people (not just the cartoon superheroes I was used to) who fought for what was right. That scene really meant a lot to me. I always had this weird fantasy that if I ever met him someday I would thank him for that. But fuck that now because …

I fucking hate you Bill Cosby

Watching The Cosby Show now, I came to realize that my family is sort of like the Huxtables. My wife is similar to Claire in her strength, beauty and reluctant acceptance of her goofy husband. My kids are smart, sweet and rambunctious like the Huxtible kids. I got a Rudy for sure in my youngest and I suspect that my oldest will be a Sandra. They were the ideal family and it warmed my heart to think that my family was similar. But fuck that now because …

I fucking hate you Bill Cosby.

So, we stopped watching the show. This was upsetting for the kids. They loved the show and wanted to see more episodes all the time. There was crying and begging because they didn’t know why we aren’t watching it anymore.

Like everyone else we were confused. Are these just allegations? There are so many women coming forward about what he had done to them. His leaked testimony of him admitting to giving drugs to women. The seeming awareness in comedian circles that something nefarious was going on. I am just a civilian, but I am going to treat it as a pretty solid fact now.

We can’t have our kids fall in love with the man the way we did when we were kids. When they get wind of the truth, what kind of message would that be that we happily watched his show knowing what kind of monster he is.

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We finally explained that someone on the show did something very bad and watching that show now makes us unhappy. They didn’t press the issue. Kids don’t want to know that stuff and I am glad that we didn’t have to explain ourselves further.  But we will have to eventually.

So fuck you very much Bill Cosby

All of this complaining about ruining my fandom is really not the issue. Even the far bigger fans than me that had their hero crumble like a meteor entering the atmosphere. The real issue is the women he raped and what that trauma did to, and took away from, their lives. The real issue is that he can’t be tried criminally. I understand their is a civil law suit and I hope they soak him, but that is not what should have happened. What should have happened is that he should have been convicted a long time ago. What should have happened is that those women should not have had to watch this monster rise to iconic status as the comedian’s comedian. As everyone’s favorite dad. because of that, I say…

I fucking hate you Bill Cosby.

There is an upcoming HBO documentary featuring the women that he raped. A follow up to the very compelling New York Post piece.  I will now look to these women as the ideals of principles and courage.

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So all we can do now is not forget. All we can do now is ruin his legacy. That is the point of this post.  He won’t get away with it in the eyes of the public.

Fuck you Bill Cosby.

7 Reasons Why Independence Day is the Most Offensive Movie Ever

miloPal, I have seen more than my fair share of offensive movies. I have endured scenes of torture and rape, suffered through hideous descents into drug-fueled madness, and even watched a character take a flame thrower to a bus load of children, for Pete’s sake.

But I recently watched a movie that truly takes the cake, a film so offensive it makes all those other sick-fests seem like child’s play. The movie to which I am referring is Independence Day.

Independence Day was released in 1996, was directed by Roland Emmerich and stars Will Smith. It is a thrilling, light-hearted and rousing action adventure about humankind successfully fighting off an alien invasion. It is rated PG and was, by far, the biggest grossing movie the year it was released.

It’s one of the most offensive things I have ever seen. There are so many reasons why, but I’ve narrowed it down to the top 7. Oh, and spoiler alert, if you are the one guy left in the world who has still not seen this movie, but wants to, stop reading right now. I give it all away.

7.  It imitates Satan

Everyone knows how the Devil works. He is wonderful when you first meet him, seducing you with his charm and luring you in. Next thing you know, you’re licking his fiery balls in Hell.

Independence Day works the same way. The first 20 minutes are awesome, a model of how to build suspense as  city-sized alien ships break through our atmosphere without warning or explanation and silently settle over major centres all around the world. Then stupid shit starts to happen. From there the movie just gets stupider and stupider, but by the time you realize what’s happening, it has eaten your soul.

 6.  The aliens’ motive is moronic

There is a popular (and logical) theory that any alien species sophisticated enough to figure out interstellar travel and make their way across unfathomable distances to find us would almost certainly come in peace. They would be infinitely older, wiser and smarter than us and would not feel the least bit threatened by us. We would be to them what salamanders are to us.

So, if they ever get here, there is any number of things they could do: study us, teach us, help us fix our problems. At worst, maybe pilfer some of our resources or put a few of us into their zoo. But to come all this way for the express purpose of annihilating us?  That would be like a person living in New York City building a cruise ship, filling it with soldiers and weaponry and sailing the thing all the way to a small island off the coast of Australia – for the express purpose of machine gunning each and every salamander on that island. It would be, to say the least, excessive.

5.  Everything’s a stereotype

Why complicate a film with characters when you can go with caricatures? In Independence Day, everything is simple. Politicians are assholes. Soldiers are heroes. Peace-lovers are kooky hippies…

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What a pretty laser!

Rednecks drink and drive trailers. Scientists are antisocial and are played by Data…

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Emotion overload, does not compute!

On the international stage, Russians are vaguely menacing, Arabs wear turbans, and Africans wear loin cloths and carry spears at all times…

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We’re going to need a bigger spear.

The purpose of this movie is to make Americans love America (good article here). There’s even a speech that explains why World history is really just a subsidiary of U.S. history. So I guess the filmmakers thought it best to just keep everything else as simple and shallow as a pancake. But it pisses me off, and it should piss everyone off.

4. The aliens are incredibly stupid for being so incredibly brilliant 

This is a species that can construct a mother ship one quarter the size of our moon, fill it with sub ships the size of cities, travel millions of light years and, upon arrival, already knew exactly which cities and buildings to target in order to wreak maximum havoc. They communicate telepathically. They are ADVANCED.

And yet, here’s something that happens:

The climax of the film includes a “covert” operation during which Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum use an alien fighter ship to sneak onto the mother ship so they can upload a virus onto the mother ship’s mainframe. There’s a lot to mock about this sequence, but my favourite is that the aliens have no idea there are two humans on the ship that they just let into their giant traveling home. Do they not have any detection systems on board? Do they not read minds? Could they not, at the very least, look into the freakin’ windows?

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Remember me? I was in Jurassic Park. He’s the Fresh Prince.

It gets better. Once they’re on board, Jeff Goldblum, the techie character in the film (we know this because he’s awkward and wears glasses), taps his keyboard about three or four times and says “we’re in”. Seriously? That’s all it takes to hack into this species’ network and wreck everything? They have invisible shields around their ships that can repel nuclear attacks, but they never heard of anti-virus software?

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Don’t worry, I’m not as bright as I look.

3. Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar

The climax of this movie is so full of absurdity, so many reasons for hatred, but for me it all just boils down to the cigars. Let me attempt to explain this.

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum have successfully downloaded the virus to the mother ship’s computer (yeah, right), which means the shields are down and the  fighter jets on Earth are able to successfully attack the city-sized sub ships. For Will and Jeff, this means mission accomplished, and so they light up cigars to celebrate. Here’s what they have to do next…

– Fly out of the mother ship while being attacked
– Become engulfed in fire and debris when the mother ship explodes while they are leaving it (please remember this ship is one quarter the size of our moon – that’s a shitload of fire and debris to fly through)
– Travel through space back to earth
– Endure the punishing experience of re-entry into earth’s atmosphere
– Travel around the planet from wherever they re-entered to the precise location in the desert where their wives and the President are conveniently waiting for them

And as they walk heroically across the desert to be embraced by the welcome committee, THEY ARE STILL SMOKING THE CIGARS! And not just that, but the cigars are pretty much the same size as when they lit them.

Saving humankind is a little tiring, but very satisfying.

Now, I don’t know exactly how long that journey home should take, but it’s got to be a whole lot more than three stogie puffs, and I don’t know what condition our heroes would be in (dead, actually), but I would think after the ordeal they just endured, chomping on a tasty Cuban would be the furthest thing from their minds.

 2. Female characters are less important than the cigars

If real life aliens watched Independence Day in order to learn about humankind they would conclude the men are retarded, and that the females have yet to develop brains. The women in this movie do absolutely nothing but think about their men and talk about their men while sitting around waiting for their men to come home and save them. Correction, that’s not all they do. Sometimes they dance in their underwear for money.

Stripping is, like, soooo pro-American!

1. President Pullman may be the most dangerous character in movie history

There is a large (and I fear, growing) percentage of voters who want elected leaders to be just like the rest of us. They vote for the person who seems like “regular folk”. This scares the shit out of me. I want leaders who are vastly superior to me. Why don’t we all want that? If the folks who vote for regular folk were a tiny minority it wouldn’t be a problem, but we know that sometimes these people win, as when the United States elected George W. Bush and Toronto elected Mayor Rob Ford.

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Just one of the boys.

Now, Hollywood has no obligation to show us how leaders ought to be, but they’ve generally done a good job giving us fictional presidents with gravitas, such as Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges and Michael Douglas.

For Independence Day, they went with Bill Pullman. Nothing against the guy, he’s fine in the right role, but Most Powerful Man in the World is not that role. He oozes “regular guy” from every pore. He looks ordinary. He talks ordinary. And, within the asinine script of Independence Day, he does things that real leaders don’t do, like fire his Secretary of Defense in front of a roomful of people just because it feels good to do so.

The speech is widely adored. It shouldn’t be.

And then we get the stupidest moment ever put on film, the moment in Independence Day when, if you’re paying attention, you realize your soul has been destroyed and all hope is lost, and you pound your head against the wall again and again.

What do you suppose President Bill Pullman is doing during the climatic battle? Is he holed up in a Situation Room in an extremely well guarded bunker monitoring the situation and making incredibly important decisions because, after all, the fate of all humankind hangs in the balance? No. I’ll tell you what he’s doing – FLYING A FIGHTER JET SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BATTLE!!!

He’s so cool!

If the real life President pulled such a stunt he would be immediately relieved of duties in order to have his head examined, but I’m pretty sure we were all supposed to cheer about this. And I shudder to think how many impressionable young minds watched Independence Day and thought how wicked awesome it was that the President had the balls to dive into battle. Is this half-witted “regular guy” their model for how a leader should be? Is this in any way on their minds when they enter a real life ballot box? Thoughts like these keep me up at night.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares

To wrap up…

The last movie I watched before Independence Day was Troll 2, a film so weirdly incompetent and bad that it has become a cult favourite where people go to laugh their asses off at it. I absolutely loved it.

What’s not to love?

So how can I forgive the idiocy of Troll 2 but lose my shit in anger thinking about Independence Day? Because the people behind Troll 2 were a ragamuffin little crew who didn’t know how to make a movie, but truly thought they were creating something special. They believed in it. They did their best. They acted with sincerity and passion, and through the ridiculousness, it shows.

The makers behind Independence Day knew better. They are big-time, smart, talented filmmakers who knew how idiotic their story was. They were aware of the stereotypes and giant plot holes, but didn’t care. And they knew exactly how Bill Pullman would play as President. They could have created something thoughtful and wise about the potential implications of humankind meeting alien life for the first time, but they knew they could make ass loads of dough with a jingoistic, big budget shit-fest that appealed to America’s basest instincts.

And they were right.

And that’s the most offensive thing of all.

Later, Pal

P.S. Independence Day II: Resurgence is due in theatres in 2016, “celebrating” the 20th anniversary of Part I. Yay!

Avett at Red Rocks – A Toast!

miloWell, Pal, we did it! We saw The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks: One of the great live acts of the moment at one of the most beautiful and renowned concert venues in the world. So maybe flying from Toronto to Denver wasn’t the most practical way to see a band we’ve already seen four times, but screw it – bucket list item checked off.

And so – a toast.

Kindly raise a can of Colorado-brewed Coors (or a hipster-approved Pabst Blue Ribbon if you prefer), and join me in a tribute to the myriad things and people that made this journey so weird and wonderful and memorable…

Here’s to…
The crazy people who built the Denver airport. Who put the thing on an unnecessarily large plot of land unnecessarily far from the city. Who decided a huge, freaky, blue horse with devil red eyes was the right way to greet arrivals to the city. Who designed the runways to look like a swastika from the air, and who filled the airport with creepy, weird murals. And who, for all these reasons, have inspired conspiracy theorists everywhere to conclude that beneath this strange, beautiful airport there are tunnels and bunkers to house and protect the secret rulers of earth on and after the fateful day that they decide to bring Armageddon upon all the rest of us. And for those who think I’m making this up, check it out.

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Here’s to…
The folks behind the hip and kitschy Curtis Hotel. For its talking elevators and themed floors (we were on the big hair floor, where Marge Simpson wished us well every time we stepped off), for the funky décor in the excellent restaurant, for the memorabilia-packed lobby featuring the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, and for being the kind of place that attracts both a burlesque conference (who knew such things happened?) and a body builder conference the same weekend we were there, serving up a wild dose of startling eye candy during our three-night stay in our home away from home.

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Here’s to…
The City of Denver. For filling itself with character and surprises, like recorded monster noises emanating from the sewers, street pianos, and statues and sculptures all over the place. For turning streets into dining rooms, and for having a pedestrian mall (under-used and beset with “urban grittiness”, according to the Denver Post) and baffling, largely ignored stop lights. For being home to the insanely popular Sam’s No. 3 diner, where you wait for an hour for a table before feasting upon a 3 egg Popeye omelet with a side of white, globby liquid fat more commonly known as biscuits and gravy. For being the kind of place where you can walk into a store and legally buy weed (smokable or edible, whatever suits you) from friendly helpful staff, and where Union Station has shuffle board and way more bars than trains. And for having a wonderful, classic ball park called Coors Field for us to sit in the sweltering afternoon sun and watch the home team Rockies crush the Atlanta Braves 11-3.

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Here’s to…
The unreasonably high number of drivers we needed during our very busy, somewhat poorly planned, stay. Like the shuttle bus driver who showed us every damn neighbourhood in the Greater Denver Area during our hours-long drive in from the spooky airport. And the Uber driver who couldn’t work his GPS and relied on us for directions to a surprisingly remote comedy club. And the various cabbies who didn’t know the way to Red Rocks even though it’s by far the coolest thing about their hometown, including the guy who told us the population of Denver went up by a full 100,000 after the town legalized dope.

And most of all, to the cabbie who looked like AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, who actually knew where he was going and went off meter to give us a discount, and who was once injured by a city bus that ran one of those baffling stoplights, and who has been battling what he considers a corrupt city government ever since. He’s got a YouTube channel, if you’d like to learn more.

Here’s to…
The visionaries who built the Rocks Amphitheatre.  Who ventured into the rugged rocky landscape near Denver in the early 1900s and came upon a place that absolutely needed to be turned into an open air music venue. Who recognized that, indeed, Mother Nature had already done most of the work by enclosing a mountainous slope with perfect giant rock walls on three sides, and all that was left to do was to add a stage, sound system and seating for 9,450 to create a magical place with stunning views, perfect acoustics and not a bad seat in the house. Who built an amphitheatre that would win Pollstar’s best venue award so often they finally decided to remove it from the competition and just name the award the “Red Rocks Award”.

I’d seen the pictures, read the rave reviews and went in with huge expectations of Red Rocks that could not possibly have been exceeded. And yet they were.

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Here’s to…
The wonderful people we saw in the Red Rocks Ampitheatre hours before the concert started, because the venue is run by the city and open all the time. To the scores of absurdly healthy people who can be found there everyday regardless of whether there’s a show because Red Rocks isn’t just a bucket list item for concert goers, it’s a bucket list item for people who want to test their endurance by running up and down those steep seats, often while being yelled at by boot camp fitness soldiers. And to everyone else just poking about, who just want to see it, or even just do this for a while…

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Here’s to…
Ranger Bob (as we subsequently dubbed him), who busted me for going off path during our hike on the beautiful trails around the amphitheatre, and who, with great seriousness, asked if there weren’t enough signs telling me to stay on the path (uh, no sir), and if there weren’t enough fences lining every inch of the path (uh, no sir), and who explained that a great deal of effort went into passing protective bylaws because back in the day when Red Rocks Park was wide open, people would trod everywhere killing the vegetation and themselves (on average two deaths per year from people climbing, then falling, from the alluring giant red rocks that are all around). And who outlined the various punitive actions available to him, asked if I could give him any reason why he shouldn’t give me a $150 ticket, and then, when I replied with heartfelt sincerity “because I hear you loud and clear and I won’t do it again”, confirmed that was the right answer by letting me go with a written warning.

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Here’s to…
The Avett Brothers, whose unique blend of sweet to stomping country rock (plus bluegrass and punk) is perfect for the natural soundscape of Red Rocks, and who have found a way to keep getting better and better in concert, in part by expanding their sound to fill the bigger and bigger places they keep finding themselves playing. Who can make you misty one moment with their tender thoughtful lyrics, then have you shouting and leaping in the air the next. To brother Scott, with his throaty voice and rollicking banjo, and brother Seth, with his heartbreaking croon and sweet guitar; and to their dad, whom they brought out for two especially touching tunes during Sunday’s show. And to their five backing players, especially Joe Kwon, the wild leaping cellist, and Tania Elizabeth, the fetching violinist, whose playful interactions and side jams made this pair of supporting players almost as entertaining as the brothers themselves.

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This is a band who can play three sold out shows at Red Rocks and not repeat a single song, a band whose loyal fans make no distinction between hits and obscurities, and who bring love, energy and beauty to every moment they are on stage.

Pal, you and I first saw the Avett Brothers when they were just a trio on September 30, 2009 at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto with about 350 other delirious fans, and we all went nuts because we knew this band was too big to be contained and that we’d never again seem them in a place so small.

We were right, but I still never would have imagined that night that we’d one day fly to the Rocky Mountains to see them or that, by the time we did, they would have evolved their live show to the point that they could make a 10,000-seat open air ampitheatre feel almost as intimate as that tiny little room in the back of the Horseshoe.

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Here’s to….
Our fellow Avett fans. Like the people we saw at the airport wearing Avett shirts, confirming we aren’t the only ones devoted enough to get on a plane to see this particular band at this particular venue. And to the woman who stood beside us at Sunday’s show, who had come from Kansas City and who came alone, and who said she’s thrilled Avett are playing big venues but dearly misses when she could see them in little bars. And to the young couple who were in the process of traveling from Yellowknife to Cape Breton and decided to swing by Denver for this show because, by their beautiful, meandering logic, Red Rocks was “on the way”.

And most of all to the 20 people we shared a bus ride home with after the Sunday show, and with whom we belted out every single word of the I and Love and You album, cheering and clapping after every song.

Because I encounter very few Avett fans in my daily life, it felt good to be reminded this is one of those bands that has a powerful hold on a small(ish) but passionate following.

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Here’s to…
Our families. To our munchkins and our loving wives who enjoy Avett too, though perhaps not to the same degree, but nevertheless understood our need to embark on this crazy indulgent, expensive journey, and supported us all the way, making them the perfect embodiment of Avett’s greatest line:

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And, finally, here’s to…
You, my pal and fellow musical adventurer. We flew to Denver and spent four days exploring, hiking, drinking, getting in trouble, getting lost, leaping, singing and laughing our asses off. We made a few bad choices but way more good ones. It was a grand trip. We travel well, Pal. As a very clever fellow once told me – I know where to go, but you know where to go.

So where to next?

Later, Pal.

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Don’t Scratch the Record Man! I Love that Album.

Now the sun goes down over Dolly Parton bridge
The one time home of soul takes our country’s final breath

I guess it takes
More than a king
More than a song
For such a fight
Graceland is a ghost town tonight

I guess it’s been a long decline
God bless the souls that shook up mine

(The Milk Carton Kids)

binkleyPal. What a post that was. I love that you struggled with this album for so long. It shows that that collection of songs meant something. That albums can be bigger than the person who wrote them. Records are made and then just float in the ether. Soon they become something other than what was intended. They change from being projections of the artist to projections of the listener. Albums are vulnerable to the musing of those that receive them.

This leads me to my post. I have a concern. A worry if you will. This is when I put my old man hat on and talk about how things just aren’t what they used to be. Maybe I am out of touch, but maybe I am right on the money.

Here goes…

Hey Pal, remember when you used to go to the record store to shop for albums? I remember how exciting that was. You had just heard that new song on the radio, or maybe your favorite band just released their new record, or maybe you just wanted to root through the bins of albums to find a cool cover and hear what that was all about. Going to the record store was so much fun.

I worry that, in this digital age of music downloads and streaming, we are going to lose that deep connection to the album. That in the near future, music will be more about presenting a constant atmosphere and not about having an experience. Maybe this is not a new concern. Fear of change has been here as long as music has.

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“You hear Beethoven’s new Symphony Number Five? That guy totally sold out. What’s with those DA DA DA DAAAs? That’s some bullshit right there, I tell ya.”

Nevertheless…..It’s a slippery slope to being mindless music robots

Slippery Slope #1…

I worry that the artist will be lost in this new world of music streaming.

Instead of putting on the latest Fleet Foxes album at a party, people will go to whatever music streaming app and select “Casual Party with Friends” and then press play. I have been to those parties. I usually love what I hear.

“Oh, that’s a great song. I love Fleet Foxes.”

“Who?”

“Fleet Foxes. That’s the band you’re playing right now.”

“Oh, I don’t know. This is Pandora.”

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Someone else has done all the work. There is no effort on the part of the listener. Don’t get me wrong. These mixes are a convenient way to listen to great music. They are way better than listening to terrestrial radio, but, no one knows what they are listening to anymore. Doesn’t this put too much control in the hands of other people to determine what good music is? Doesn’t it de-personalize the music?

Slippery Slope #2…

I use ITunes to buy my albums. I always listen to that 90 second song sample ITunes offers to determine if I like it first. It is not like the record store listening booths were back in the old days.  I would go with my pile of CDs and sample music for over an hour most times.  Now I can only listen to 90 seconds of a song. Recently, I heard Noel Gallager suggest that artists are actually manufacturing songs specifically for that 90 seconds. I don’t know if that is true now, but I fear that’s coming.

In some ways we are going back to the way it used to be. In the early 1900s musicians released singles only.  With digital media, the focus is not only back to the single, it’s using that 90 second sample to cherry pick the songs you might like. That is bad for the survival of the album. Have we hit a new low if we are only paying attention to a fraction of a song? Isn’t this a regression?

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Slippery Slope #3…

Artists know that we are losing touch with the idea of an album. I was listening to Merrill Garbus of the Tune Yards talk about music and she asked knowingly, “No one buys complete albums anymore, do they?” It was almost a statement of don’t bother to make a complete album. Nobody cares. To hear that from one of the most experimental artists in Rock music today broke my heart.

Not making albums leaves little room for experimentation and growth. I really hope that the artists don’t get complacent. They should be driving the direction of the music. Our interest, and surprise, in what they produce should inspire them to be even more creative. Without that, the concept of making an album won’t last.

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I must find something redeeming…

Okay, I am going to take my old man hat off now and end this post with some optimism. It isn’t the way it used to be in some ways, but it is like it always was in so many others. People need music. They demand it. Creativity in albums will never leave, as long as our butts and brains keep finding new ways of rockin.

To quote De La Soul…

If the Soul keeps rockin, the streets will keep rockin
If the streets keep rockin, the Soul will keep rockin
If the streets stop rockin, the Soul will keep rockin
If the Soul keeps rockin, the streets will keep rockin

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Later Pal.

 

 

Reluctant Roundabout Review of a Possibly Perfect Album: The Trouble with Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

miloHey Pal:

Well I find myself in a bit of a pickle: I’m falling back in love with the music of Cat Stevens, or should I say the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens who, since 1977, has gone by his reborn Muslim name Yusuf Islam.

And therein, more or less, lies the source of the problem.

More on that in a minute.

First, I need to put forward a new title in our Perfect Album series, and I must do so through a slightly meandering story (have faith, it all comes together eventually)…

Part I: In which a young Milo Pal discovers a magical film

As a high schooler in the late 80s I sat down one night to watch the cult classic film Harold and Maude, and it blew my mind.

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You know those films, Pal, the ones that showed you early on that film is an art form that can do more than entertain; that they can also provoke and challenge? This is one of mine. I loved everything about this dark comedy about a 20-year-old man child obsessed with death who learns how to live from his 79-year-old “girlfriend”. Through the ick factor and the dark edges, there is so much humour, sweetness and beauty in this film.

Perhaps the thing I loved most was the music. There wasn’t really a score, just a handful of folk songs from a guy I’d never heard of before; a guy with a voice that was sweet and soaring one moment, growly and wise the next. A guy named Cat Stevens. The songs and lyrics fit the film perfectly. I can’t describe it better than Jordan Cronk does in this 2012 review in Slant Magazine:

“And yet the Cat Stevens soundtrack—unquestionably one of the greatest in the history of the medium—that plays as both running commentary and harmonic transition device, adds an essential dimension to (director Hal) Ashby’s vision, quelling the manipulation of a traditional score while still reflecting and reinforcing his motifs. Stevens’s lyrics work almost as voiceover narration, coloring and enlivening an otherwise dark, deadpan comedy. He’s an omniscient presence, a character unto himself, a spiritual gateway for an audience cold to such guileless expressions of humanity.”

This probably only works for those who’ve seen the film, but I can’t resist providing a few samples, pics with lyrics:

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I used to walk alone / Every step seemed the same / This world was not my home / So there was nothing much to gain

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So on and on I go / The seconds tick the time out / There’s so much left to know / And I’m on the road to find out

 

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And if you want to sing out, sing out / And if you want to be free, be free / Cause there’s a million things to be, you know that there are / You know that there are

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I think I see the light / Coming to me, coming through me / Giving me second sight / So shine, shine, shine

 

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Bring tea for the tillerman, steak for the sun / wine for the woman who made the rain come

A beautiful marriage of song and visual.

Needless to say, I joined the cult of Harold and Maude and have been a member ever since though, until recently, it had been years since I last watched it.

Part II: In which a young Milo Pal discovers an almost perfect album

One thing was abundantly clear after first viewing – I needed that soundtrack immediately. But wouldn’t you know it, a soundtrack for Harold and Maude was inexplicably unavailable at that time. So I bought the next best thing:

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Perfect album?

It was one of Cat’s more renowned albums and happened to have a bunch of the Harold and Maude songs on it, so I purchases up the cassette and popped it into the old Sony Walkman, and what I heard was good, it was very good indeed.

These were folk songs — simple and sweet — but with balls. It wasn’t just a guy plucking a guitar and softly crooning (which is what I thought folk music was). The music was full — driving and urgent. There were drums. Songs built to a crescendo. The voice was arresting, potent and expressive. At times he sounded angry. Every song seemed to be about traveling or searching. Cat wasn’t sure what he wanted, but he knew he wouldn’t find it sitting still:

Miles from nowhere
I guess I’ll take my time
Oh yeah, to reach there

Sometimes he did provide answers. The sense of spirituality and righteousness that would eventually lead him to Islam was already strong:

Yes the answer lies within
So why not take a look now
Kick out the devil’s sin
Pickup, pickup a good book now

I listened to Tea for the Tillerman often but would not, at the time, have declared it perfect. The thing had orchestral touches I found cheesy and a couple of songs I could have done without, most notably the sappy “Sad Lisa”. That song just bugged me.

But overall, for a teenage boy pondering the meaning of life and asking more and more questions about the religion  he’d been taught, this was powerful stuff. I was a budding Cat fan.

Then, tragedy…

Part III: In which something terrible happens

In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini declared a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill author Salmon Rushdie for writing his great novel The Satanic Verses. And Cat, who’d been Yusuf Islam since 1977, and who had stopped making music and had distanced himself from the secular music he’d made, hopped on board and said in a couple different forums that he was down with Khomeini. Sure, he subsequently backpedaled, but go ahead and look up the quotes for yourself. You can even watch them on YouTube. It’s clear his fundamentalist-soaked mind had decided death was a fitting punishment for free speech.

Pathetic.

As my friend Jerry lamented at the time —  this, from the guy who wrote “Peace Train”.

I can’t tell you I nobly boycotted Cat/Yusuf from that moment on – I have certainly hummed along to “Morning Has Broken” more than a few times since then – but the sad, ugly incident certainly turned what might have been a lifelong musical love affair into a temporary fling. Plans to buy Teaser and the Firecat were cancelled. Tea for the Tillerman crawled to the back of the cassette drawer and was not replaced when growing up Pal entered the digital age.

Part IV: In which an older Milo Pal reconnects and finds perfection

With Cat and Maude and Harold and Yusuf far from mind, I headed down to the library recently to see what free entertainment I could dig up and just happened to toss Harold and Maude and Tea for the Tillerman into the overflowing pile of music and movies I greedily walked out with, and it was not until I got home that I realized I had inadvertently reintroduced into my life this natural film/album combo.

(If I believed in fate…)

No matter, I watched Harold and Maude – introducing it to my 14-year-old daughter – and it was every bit as good as I remembered and, to my slight surprise, the kid really liked it too.

Then I listened to Tea for the Tillerman.

And man oh man what a trip that turned out to be.

I liked that album back in the day. I like it even more now. It’s been a long time, but the whole thing was still vivid in my mind. Every song is a gem (even sappy Sad Lisa is not bad!). All the yearning and searching is still there, but the wisdom of it stood out even more now that I’m 20 years down the road.

“Father and Son” is the obvious stand-out now, being able to hear it as a dad. The aforementioned teenage daughter and I have been having some big talks lately about her life and the future. She’s in the mode of dreaming big. She’s going to write novels, she’s going to travel the world. University seems like a waste of time. She is committed to living an extraordinary life.

Do it, I tell her. I’m all for it. Be extraordinary. Then, because I helped make her, I lapse into offering some practical advice. It’s certainly not the same dynamic as the story that that plays out in “Father and Son”, but I do find myself echoing some of the Father’s lines:

“I was once like you are now.”

“There’s so much you have to know.”

“Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.”

So now I’m the old man. OK. I can live with it. It’s testament to Cat’s lyrics that both sides of that song hold up and are fairly represented.

The other thing that strikes me now about Tea for Tillerman is the length. At less than 37 minutes it is lean and precise. No filler, no wasted moments. Two of the songs are less than two minutes. Cat says what he needs to say and gets out. With my impatient, aging, Twitterized mind, I increasingly love brevity (though I fully recognize I am not demonstrating it in this long-winded post — sorry!). So I admire the hell out of any artist who can say a lot — and say it briefly.

And so, I will now declare it – I consider Tea for the Tillerman a perfect album.

Part V: In which things remain maddeningly unresolved

I’ve been so moved by my rediscovery of this classic, I needed to revisit the elephant in the room. What about the fatwa? Does Cat —  sorry, Yusuf — still stand by what he said? I’d heard he’s returned to making music and no longer renounces what he made before. Could it be that his rational mind has returned? Is he ready to say “shame on me for that whole Rushdie thing”?

Sadly, not so much.

The most recent thing I could find was this interview with Rolling Stone. Here’s the relevant chunk:

It’s still a sensitive subject for Yusuf. When I broach it, his son looks up, concerned. “People need to get over it,” says a clearly irritated Yusuf. “It’s 25 years ago. I’ve got gray hair now. Come on. I was fool enough to try and be honest and tell people my position. As far as I’m concerned, this shouldn’t be the subject of my life.”

That appears to be the end of it, and Yoriyos looks relieved. But Yusuf can’t help himself. “I’m a firm believer in the law,” he says. “I was never a supporter of the fatwa [against Rushdie], but people don’t want to hear that because they keep saying that I believe in the law of blasphemy. All I’m saying is, how can you deny the Third Commandment? It’s an Islamic principle that you must follow the law of the land where you reside.”

Unapologetic answers like that are what make Rushdie and his many supporters unable to forgive Yusuf, and he knows their feud will never end. “That’s the way life is,” he says. “I don’t want to put myself in this bracket, but if you look at any messenger, there’s going to be an antagonist.”

Well there you have it. Still miles from nowhere, if you ask me.

I suppose I’m glad Yusuf found the answers to the questions he was asking on Tea for the Tillerman. It’s just a shame those beliefs need to veer into the odious. Yusuf has his beliefs, I have mine – and at the top of the pile is that if there is one thing in this world that actually is sacred, it’s free speech.

So what to do?

Is this a case of needing to separate the artist from the art? Can I love the music but reject the man?  Or does listening to the music intrinsically mean support for the musician?

I don’t know.

Later, Pal.

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She is the Spectacle: St. Vincent at the Danforth Music Hall (Mar 3, 2015)

binkleyI know Pal. I am way overdue for a post. I have to admit, I struggled with this one. Not in the topic.  I knew exactly what I wanted the post to be about, but I wanted this one to be a doozy. I thought I needed more time on this one. I was moved greatly by what we saw that night about a month ago. Maybe one of the best shows I have ever seen. St. Vincent (a.k.a Annie Clark) at the Danforth Music Hall. It was a revelation for me.

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I wanted this post be as big as that show was using stories from my life as a pastiche to the wonderful encounter that meant so much to me.

I wanted to talk about the encounter we had with a large and georgeous amazon model type woman and that pipsqueak of a man that was clinging to her arm. She had it all together and it was clear that she was too much woman for him. Just like I had originally thought St. Vincent’s music was for me. It had this mammoth sound, and I was just this little pipsqueak clinging to it, trying to understand it.

I wanted to discuss women in music. How I never really listened to too many women musicians when I was young. How that was probably due to inequalities and double standards in the music world (limiting what was available) and a young Pal wearing musical blinders, shielded from all the great women musicians that existed at the time. I wanted to discuss how that was a real shame, and how that had totally changed in recent years to the point where I am probably buying and listening to more women musicians than men now. It has been an amazing last few years musically especially for women artists and I wanted to talk about how St. Vincent was at the pinnacle of that for me.

I wanted to talk about my daughter and how she built her own radio from a kit and how she listens to that primitive radio in her room at night before going to bed (and not just to Pop stations). I catch her listening to Jazz, Latin, Funk….you name it. Like she had hacked into to this unusual alien world full of great music. It smacks of stories I heard of how legend musicians, as kids, would stay up to the wee hours listening to these mind bending musical blues, jazz and folk acts. This shaped the future of Rock and Roll. Now my kid is doing this with her ancient looking radio she built herself. What will that shape in her? I bet St. Vincent did stuff like that. She must have been exposed to so many musical styles for her to achieve such a unique sound of her own.

I wanted to talk about all of these things. I wanted there to be this grand narrative that was stitched all through those stories. I don’t know about what. Maybe a strong optimism about where music is heading. How there seems to be a strong inclusive feeling in music these days where every unique artist can be heard. Where originality is rewarded. How a young girl listening to Funk in the middle of the night, on a radio she built by hand, can feel free to have an artistic outlet for all the crazy amazing music she might want to make herself. How young boys are hopefully more willing/able to get behind strong and powerful women musicians without them having to sacrifice their integrity with  cartoonish sexualisation (I am looking at you Nicky Minaj).

I wanted the post to reach its peak by reviewing the St. Vincent concert. I wanted all of it to mesh into a Magnolia style crescendo with frogs raining down on anyone reading this post. I was that blown away by her show.

Everything I heard on podcasts or read in magazines said that the St. Vincent show was the best show going right now. For some reason, I was anticipating a visual wonderland. With lights and props and lots of things for the eyeballs to feast on.

There really wasn’t much. There was a wedding cake like pyramid that was used to great effect (especially when she slow motion fell down it for 5 minutes) but that was it.

There were choreographed physical movements by Annie and the band. Robotic-like posing routines.  My favourite was the short stepping they did across the stage. Their feet were working like crazy, but from our vantage point it looked like they were just floating across the stage as they played. Simple and very  effective.

Other than that, there wasn’t much in the way of frills and flash. It was all Annie Clark and her amazingly tight band. That was the delicious meat of the show for our ears to feast on. Annie Clark’s presence was all my eyes needed. Although she is gorgeous, I am talking about her command of the stage, her interstitial speeches, the out-there artistic liberties she took, and most of all, her lightning fast fingers shredding blazing riffs and avant solos. Amazing.

To show how big it was for me, I wanted all this fanfare behind my review of the show.  I wanted a monumental post. Full of production and insight, with some grandiose statement on the big picture (whatever that might have been). I wanted my post to be a spectacle.

But, what I realized in reflecting on the show was that none of that is relevant. It isn’t needed. St. Vincent alone was the spectacle.  I just feel glad that we witnessed it.

I fell into the trap of thinking that the show needed more than St. Vincent. Just like I thought my post needed more than it is.

It didn’t.

Later Pal.

Best of 2014 in Movies: The Second Annual Pal-Ademy Awards

miloHey Pal:

Well it’s that time of year again – the Academy Awards are upon us and those of us who love movies are pumped. But even more pump-erific is the annual Pal-Ademy Awards, in which I make up categories to celebrate my favourite movie stuff of the year.

The theme this year is surprises. I had many movie surprises. It was surprisingly surprising. Also, they inspired surprisingly long award names. So without further adieu, here are the awards:

And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance by an actor everyone recognizes but nobody knows” goes to…

J.K. SIMMONS IN WHIPLASH!

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A moment of tribute, please, for character actors — those guys who do piles of movies and shows over dozens of years, and everyone knows he’s that guy from that thing, but no one knows his name. Every so often, one of those guys pulls off a performance so commanding and juicy that all of a sudden everyone notices and he’s up for awards.

This year, it’s Simmons turn. You’ve seen him as Ellen Page’s sweet dad in Juno and Paul Rudd’s sweet dad in I Love You, Man, and now watch as he chews apart the scenery as a monstrous jazz teacher who verbally and physically assaults his students, all in the name of trying to produce just one player whose music will be remembered long after he’s dead (probably of a drug overdose in his 30s).

He seems to have found his match in Miles Teller’s Andrew, an aspiring jazz drummer who couldn’t agree more that greatness comes with a price. It all comes together in my third favourite ending of the year. Great film. Great performance. Best supporting actor Oscar is in the can.

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You’re not a one tear guy, are you?

 

And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance in a movie that is so much more than my wife thinks it is but for the life of me I can’t convince her to see it with me” goes to…

SCARLETT JOHANNSON IN UNDER THE SKIN!

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OK, so Johansson is a sexpot. And she’s usually just so-so as an actress. And in this movie she plays a sexy alien who seduces men for mysterious purposes. And there are several scenes in which she peels away her clothes while seductively walking away from the camera…But it’s not what it sounds like! It’s not trashy! It’s not a re-hash of Species starring Natasha Henstridge!

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Really it isn’t. It’s artful, provocative, profound and strange, and it’ll make you see the world differently. And Johannson is damn good. Really. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m saying. Come to think of it, if you have seen it, could you maybe talk to Mrs. Pal about it? I could use a little help. All she seems to expect from this movie is this:

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But it’s not just this! Really!

 

And the award for “Most surprising documentary about a band that isn’t actually a documentary about a band but that nevertheless really makes me want to see that band in concert” goes to…

MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS!

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It ain’t easy being an under-achieving, bumbling schlub. It’s even harder being an under-achieving, bumbling schlub when your brother is the lead singer of one of the most adored indie rock bands around. Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National, let his brother Tom come on tour to help out with the food and equipment, and to make a little movie while he’s at it. The resulting film I suspect surprised everyone involved. Ostensibly, it’s about The National but it’s really about Tom and Matt, and it’s touching and funny and wonderful.

And even though it’s not really about the band, there is concert footage. Oh, the concert footage! And my second favourite ending of the year.

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Oh, you wouldn’t want an angel watching over, surprise, surprise, they wouldn’t wanna watch/Another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults

 

And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance in a surprisingly good movie that I never would have seen if I didn’t have a teenage daughter” goes to…

SHAILENE WOODLEY IN THE FAULT IN OUR STARS!

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Author John Green tapped right into the teen zeitgeist with his novel about kids with cancer falling in love. I knew all about it because it made the rounds in my house but I didn’t feel a strong need to read it, or see it when it was inevitably made into a film.

But in exchange for introducing my 13-year-old to the teen movie of my time –  Breakfast Club (she loved it) – she sat me down to watch the teen movie of her time, and I don’t mind telling you…I cried a little. Yes, the movie is carefully constructed to detonate every tear duct in range, and it does go over the top at times (I’m looking at you, Anne Frank House scene), but it’s got enough snappy dialogue and brains to keep it compelling and real.

And it has Shailene Woodley, whose effortless, natural performance surprised the heck out of me, and kept the whole thing together. I’d heard of this actress — I believe she’s in lots of other teen-centric movies I’ll probably never see. I can’t wait to see what the kid’s going to do when she grows up.

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Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.

 

And the award for “Most surprisingly awesome, loveable character who only says one thing and is voiced by an actor I never paid a moment’s attention to” goes to…

GROOT IN GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY!

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Vin Diesal starred in about 25 movies before 2014 and I didn’t give a crap about any of them. So imagine my surprise to learn that he was the voice behind the marvelous creation that is Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy.

I enjoyed Guardians, Marvel’s latest super-hero opus. It’s got a lot a more spunk and humour than these things usually have, though it also contains the usual hyper-kinetic, ultra-violent action scenes that we’re all supposed to love but usually just turn my brain to goo and make my over-stimulated eyeballs twitch.

But the best thing by far was Groot. How is it possible to find yourself dearly loving a tree that is smart enough to talk but not smart enough to know more than four words? No idea but, amazingly, Vin has something to do with it.

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We are Groot. Believe it!

 

And the award for “Most surprisingly great sequel in a franchise that’s been around forever but I never bothered with until my son got me into it” goes to…

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES!

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I’ve often thought I should check out at least one Planet of the Apes movie, but never got around to it until my 9-year-old decided that he and I were going to spend some time with the latest entry in the franchise, and boy oh boy, what a grand surprise this turned out to be — possibly the biggest surprise on this list.

It’s a sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In Dawn, battle lines between human and ape have been drawn and tensions are rising fast. There are good guys and bad guys on both sides, and it’s not easy to choose a side. “I don’t know who to cheer for” my boy said at one point. “I know!” I said excitedly, before realizing that, for him, this was not a good thing. He has a strong moral compass and likes a clear definition between good guys and bad guys. Not me — I like the grey zone.

For him, it was a lesson that right and wrong is not always clear cut. For me, it was one of the most exciting surprises of the year — ape movies are cool! We went back and watched Rise. Just as good. And though it’s been said a million times before I’m going to say it too — Andy Serkis is wicked-awesome at performance-capture acting. That damn dirty ape is a revelation.

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And the evening’s final award – “Best movie without need for qualifications or explanations” – goes to…

BOYHOOD!

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I’ve already written about it here, so I won’t go on and on. Suffice to say Richard Linklater’s 12 year experiment moved me and thrilled me. Plus, of course, it had my favourite ending of the year.

I hope it wins every Oscar it’s up for plus a few others.

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Later, Pal.