Anyway you look at it, the universe it mostly empty.

1. The universe tends towards entropy. It all breaks down in the end.
2.Some material chanced to fall together in just such a way that began to replicate it’s pattern. Life. 

3. This elaboration produced an illusion of self which tends to feel an affinity for art. Art also temporarily organizes the chaos of universe in defiance of entropy

Three thoughts about the Rolling Stones – Gloom and Doom

The emotional heart of my recent science-fiction/corporate espionage short story was inspired by Rolling Stones imagery.

I am not entirely comfortable with my proclivity to treat real people as mythological figures in my internal cosmology.

Nonetheless I recently returned to thinking about music through autobiography and started reading Ronnie*. This has inspired the following thoughts in no particular order:

1). Keith Richards autobiography Life might have been a better biography if he had demonstrated a greater degree of self-awareness, but as a literary work, that awareness could have been fatal.

Adherence to reality aside, Life conjures up a portrait of a man overflowing with raw talent and passion for which he is rewarded with enormous success.

It also reveals a man trapped by the limitations of narrowly defined masculinity and his own image. He seeks redemption in friendship and art, even as he fails to acknowledge his own role in undermining the efficacy of these elements in his own life.

None of this would have the same layered depth, the same nuance, if you had a fully self-aware author. The phrase “show, don’t tell” is overused writing advice, but it applies here. As a novel, it leaves the reader wondering if the narrator is even a good person. What does it mean to leave to leave that kind of trail of destruction and not have any real sense of responsibility for it?

As it stands, Life is a beautiful portrait of undeniable talent mixed with obliviousness.

2) The commonly cited theory that the Rolling Stones recent albums are mere retreads of past glory’s holds up if you narrow your focus to their greatest hits. But their critical success rests primarily on the their streak from Beggars Banquet – Exile on Main Street.

Listen to those albums with fresh ears and you’ll notice that the Rolling Stones (for good or ill) have not even attempted to replicate the same heady mix of blues and folk that that they exemplified during that period.

If nothing else, their recent production relishes in clarity, while these albums are confident attempts to to bury their dynamic riffs and simplistic lyrics** behind layers of atmosphere.

At their worst the last three albums (Voodoo Lounge onward), are cynical retreads of Start Me Up, but they have not attempted to ape triumphs such as Jigsaw Puzzle, Loving Cup, or Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.

The trash on their recent albums are clearly throwaway Rock and Roll McSingles, but for my tastes I can cobble together a pretty good album with selective editing. But even that mix-tape of an album has few of the sonic influences that they were playing around with at their peak.

3). It is surreal is it that they have released a Greatest Hits Album (containing up to 80 tracks) entitled GRRR!

Seriously…. GRRR!

It is even stranger that barely anyone comments on the absurdity of this.

On the other hand, GRRR! contains one of their better McSingles titled: Gloom and Doom. The music is serviceable, gritty and on the right track, but lacks dynamism.  It’s lyrically great and it grew on my after repeated listenings.

It’s the kind of song that in a different context would make me think “this band is really onto something – I can’t wait to hear what they do when they get an album together.”

Who knows what they could do if they cared to really try.

*Random non-music autobiography book recommendations:  The Swerve (which demonstrates how old modernity is) and End This Depression Now! (which functions as nice economic’s primer for mainstream liberal thought and shows that money does strange things in large groups).

**My internal struggle with the content of most of their lyrics merits its own post.

On the Marriage Equality Issue

EDIT: here is the link.

What I really wanted to post here was a link to an NPR interview I heard years ago with an evangelical involved in the creation of the Moral Majority.

I wanted to post this because I don’t have anything original to say about the recent controversy’s regarding marriage equality, but I felt the need to say something.

I felt the need to comment, because despite the fact I should be inoculated against it by now, I am shocked and dismayed that this is a legal controversy.

Not because I don’t understand how someone could be against it. I just don’t understand how such large numbers of people can feel as if it’s acceptable to give that dislike voice in the law.

The interview I wanted to link to was with a sincere evangelical who believed that homosexuality was a sin. He talked about the calculations required to raise it up over other sins such as money lending.

I despair over our ability to handle complex problems if we cannot agree on minority rights. If we can’t say, “I don’t like it but it’s not really my call.”

If we cannot agree that if marriage is a big enough term to legally encompass all the non-christian weddings, the loveless marriages, the sexless marriages…

If it includes the people who don’t have ceremonies,

If it’s a concept that (legally speaking at least) really just involves two people declaring that they want to bind there lives together in some amorphous way….

then it is also big enough to include people irregardless of their gender.

If the libertarians can’t show up in force for this issue…

If slippery slope fallacy is able to stand uncontested…

If we can’t acknowledge that in the “culture wars” same sex marriage is the next logical step now that we’ve made marriage about romance…

If a hundred other things I’m forgetting to mention. Then how are we ever going to solve the complicated problems. The policy problems.

So, I couldn’t link to the NPR article, and I didn’t have anything new to add to the issue. But apparently I felt the need to say something anyways.

Also, the last link, the “made marriage about romance…” one. Is worth reading if nothing else.

Playing favorites: Cameron Crowe, redeeming Elizabehtown and trying my hand at film criticism

Q: What is your favorite film?

A: An unhelpful question. “Favorite” is vague enough to be meaningless and my answer is likely to change based on a variety of social contexts – none of which come into play when questioning myself.

Q: What’s a film that reveals something about you that you value?

A: Slightly better. Although my answer will still be random, at least we’ve eliminated Braveheart.

Q: Fine. What’s the movie you’ve had the most radical change of heart about?

A: Well now see Bravehearts back in the mix…

In this way we eventually approach Elizabethtown.  The linked trailer does justice to my first viewing. I almost walked out of the theater, casually dismissing the film as an unremarkable pat romance with some uninteresting family drama and a too long scavenger hunt at the end.

History has not been kind, and the general consensus seems agree with that interpretation.

Then I read Roger Ebert’s 3-star review, and I found an extra detail that caused me to reconsider. You see, at the start of the film, the protagonist is fired from the shoe company. This is the great professional failure that sets everything into motion (oh yeah- spoilers ahead for Elizabethtown & Almost Famous). Ebert writes:

“In the first cut of the film, there was a great deal more of the journey, followed by a pointless epilogue in which the Spasmodica shoe turns out to be a hit after all, because with every step you take, it whistles.” (emphasis mine).

It was this absurd detail – the idea that his great failure had been turned into success through some Jiminy Cricket like insane optimism.

Upon reading that I was suddenly able to see the movie not just as a long dirge with some manic pixie girl thrown in, but as a metaphor. Once I stepped back an inch everything else fell into place.

The scenes worked on there own just fine, but their power came from wielding larger concepts around with them.

Concepts about death. About love. About the meaning of life and parenthood and optimism and truly knowing someone else.

This highlights a few things:

1) I’m not so bright.

2) Context is everything. I could have gotten this context from knowing Crowe’s work.

Or from the opening of the film which signals it like a bat signal if you’re looking for it. Or maybe if I’d had a better breakfast that morning – who knows.

I do not mean to imply that detail about the whistling shoes should have been left in. Rather that viewing the film requires that we bring something of ourselves to the experience and what I bring can be unpredictable and may say more about me than the film.

3) Really good art can inspire interesting commentary even if the commentary isn’t particularly approving. Try searching for reviews of L. Cohen’s Old Ideas.

Once I saw the film with these larger themes in mind – it became a masterpiece.

The love plot became a layered balancing act of meaningful dialogue that commented both on the history of “meet cutes” as well as counter-balancing the foreboding sense of death, failure, suicide and regret.

Her manic pixie girl status wasn’t just a cheat or lazy writing, it was a conceit that opened doors.

Once I wasn’t watching just another romantic comedy, but engaging it as a something of substance it opened up and rewarded me for it.

Allow me to use an example from a better regarded Cameron Crowe film (since it has a youtube clip available – and because I’m slightly intimidated by Elizabethtown).

Sample Scene: Here

Here the “talent” of the band is getting back on the tour bus after a night of ill-advised partying. When they last left, it was unclear if he would return, or if the band was done for.

More importantly, the lead singer of the band, has made it clear that the rest of the band simply does not like him. The core of the tension is unresolved. This theme is hammered home throughout the movie. Time and time again when crisis hits – when you’d expect them to pull together and find a deep love for each other – they come up dry. They come up with selfishness and bitterness.

So why does the band stay together? Is it money/fame (partially yes). But then why do we care about them?

This scene argues compellingly that the answer is: music.

Sure they are all failures as human beings and friends.

But then there is the music. A theme (one of many) echoed throughout the film, from the rock critic to the too-wise band-aid. It is the heart of the film. It’s where the film begins, and ends.

Or maybe the movie is about a rock critic trying to maintain his distance so he can write about the music. Or maybe it’s about his love of the girl who puts her head on his shoulder, but is not with him.

It’s all there. The whole film is in that scene.

It also gets him out of the party, back on the bus and keeps things moving along pretty quick.

Or maybe it’s all in that song choice. It has the right kind of fame and feel to be sung on a bus. Not a bus I might be on, but a bus full of rock stars reaching for a way to show some appropriate manly sensitivity.

Not just a song that was famous around this time, but like the film, a song of this time. All enchanced if you bring certain cultural knowledge to bear on the moment, but works well on it’s own.

And of course it says a lot about the band-aid as well.

What I’m saying is, if you think Almost Famous has layers, give Elizabethtown a second viewing.

Or maybe it’s that I’m usually a lazy viewer and I woke up this one time.

More on this when I get the courage to break down Elizabethtown in detail. And if you beg, I’ll talk your ear off about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Et tu Amazon?: Meet the new boss

I am contractually obligated to have an opinion on the amazon controversies (here and here), so I thought awhile and got one.

My first instinct is to side with the small startup ebookshops (yay Diesel) and local businesses.

But why I wondered? I want to say that this is about power, about Amazon leveraging it size, distribution chain, and capital reserves to unfairly hurt its competition. And certainly that’s true. That is what this is about.

But that dynamic is also standard operating procedure. It’s why Amazons items are routinely cheap; it’s why they operate at as close to a loss in the short term as they can.

So what makes this a bridge too far?

Well, I don’t know that it is. I think some of the fuss is just old anger at leftover at the above battles.

But if it is too far, here is my stab at why:

1. It’s rubbing the losers nose in it.

By way of analogy: It’s one thing for the tall handsome football star to be elected class president. Sure he had some advantages handed to him, but he also worked hard at football, and he is basically a nice guy.

In this scenario Amazon went from just winning the election against the bookish policy wonk it ran against, to taunting the loser afterwards.

Amazon said in effect: We aren’t content with the hidden ways we have advantages over you, we want to flaunt it too. Then it drove away splashing sales tax and overhead costs at the nerd’s shoes.

2. The whole thing makes explicit the advantages Amazon has long enjoyed.

This bothers me. I want to think of the online retailers I shop at as wonderful and unproblematic. This makes it harder to do so.

3. It’s unsustainable. I’m often willing to accept that sometimes Starbucks going to come in and destroy the local coffee shop. After all I like my Frappuccino’s a certain way.

But the kinds of promotions listed above are clearly aimed at the competition and will not survive them. It’s not sustainable savings. The logical endgame is a monopoly where the discounts all go away once they are done using your local Target as showcase.

You could make the case that the same dynamic is true of big boxes stores in general, but again it’s largely hidden (see #1).

4. I had at least one more point in mind when I started this, but I can’t recall it anymore. Sometimes I think this economic stuff is complicated.