Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Desperate for Divinyls: "Siren (Never Let You Go)"

Image credit: Tony Mott

This 1984 performance of "Siren (Never Let You Go)" by Divinyls is pure electricity, an audio-visual blast of kinetic energy straight to the heart. Play it loud and I bet it could revive the dead. Chrissy Amphlett is a dynamo here, stalking the stage, dumping a pitcher of water over her head, attacking the mic stand with a wild ferocity, shouting and spitting out the lyrics with frightening intensity. It's cliche to say this, but it fits: she's a force of nature, a tornado ripping across the stage and about to level the entire building. Pure charisma. Raw power.


The studio version of the song is itself enormously powerful, but in a live setting like this, it reaches even greater heights, providing one crescendo after another, until you're completely drained by song's end but loving every bit of that exhaustion. Chrissy and the band have absolutely pummeled you with their supersonic barrage, from the first note to the last.

While Bjarne Ohlin sings the opening verse, Chrissy prowls the stage, seemingly psyching herself up for battle, her power and radiance building to near-explosive levels. Then, after dousing herself, she drops the pitcher and bolts for the mic, tearing into the song, all in one quick burst of fluid motion. She proclaims that she could not forget you—you did it with your voodoo!—and declaring, even threatening, that she's never letting you go. She's dialed up to eleven, her performance never losing any heat or potency as she propels the song forward through sheer force of will.

If you ever find yourself tasked with explaining to someone exactly why Chrissy was such a remarkable talent, truly a once-in-a-lifetime performer, show them this live footage. Let "Siren" educate the uninitiated and usher them into lifelong fandom. There's no doubt that it will do just that; you simply cannot watch and listen to this song and walk away from it anything less than altered for life. It's the power of music, fully unleashed, captured in one electrified, propulsive three-minute blast of frenzied rock fury. And Chrissy is the engine making it all go. She strangles both the mic and the song to within an inch of each's life. She sings of voodoo, of never letting you go, and of never forgetting you. In reality it's her voodoo working its magic on you, and you most certainly will never let go of or forget her. Never. Can't forget her.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Barely Making a Dent: June 2017 Books


In which our narrator tries to read his way through the endless stacks of books that are slowly overtaking both his bookshelves and his life.

If you think it's been a while since the last post in this series, you're correct. During that stretch, I finished Stephen King's It. I'm a longtime King lover, so I'm an easy mark for this one, yet so far I'm not ranking it in my top five King books. I'm fine with the excessive length (1,100 pages) if it's warranted, but at times it felt like needless meandering. Still, a terrific book, at times also terrifying and at others heartbreaking. And, um, that ending? I finished the book several weeks ago and I'm still not sure how to discuss it. You can read about the scene I'm referring to here. To say it yanked me right out of the book is an understatement. I'm no prude, but even I was disturbed by it. It's not only distasteful but also feels like a narrative leap that comes out of nowhere. It's ludicrous and just plain nonsensical, really. I have a feeling that King wouldn't write the scene in the same way if he were to write the book today. All in all, though. It was a solid King story, but a notch below some of his best work, which includes The Shining, 'Salem's Lot, The Stand, and the Dark Tower series. Really glad I finally read it because it's felt like a huge hole in my personal reading list for decades.

Somehow I've managed to read the following while reading It and since reading It.

Recently read

Blondie Unseen 1976-1980, photos by Roberta Bayley. Simply stunning photographs, on stage and off, of Debbie Harry and Blondie at their absolute peak. It proves what I've always known: Harry simply does not take a bad picture, ever. Hoping to write more about this one soon; stay tuned.

South and West, by Joan Didion. After the mammoth It, it was nice to kick back with a small, 120+ page collection of Didion's notes on her home state of California and her travels through the south in 1970. Didion is a personal favorite, so I cherish any chance I find to read her work, even her unfinished notes from four decades ago. They may be raw but they still manage to create an impressively cohesive book. Didion is one of our finest chroniclers of this increasingly strange late-twentieth/early-twenty-first century American experience, and all of the emotional turmoil inherent in that. Here's an example of how she drills right down to the heart of things, finding ways to express feelings so many of us continue to feel today, in 2017:
“It occurred to me almost constantly in the South that had I lived there I would have been an eccentric and full of anger, and I wondered what form the anger would have taken. Would I have taken up causes, or would I have simply knifed somebody?”
The Many Lives of Catwoman, by Tim Hanley. This was a review copy and I'm currently working on an interview with the author for Sequart; stay tuned.


The Caped Crusade, by Glen Weldon. I reviewed this one a few weeks back. I can't gush enough about Weldon's work so I'll just say this: if you're a nerd, buy this book. If you're a Batman nerd, rush right out this instant and buy this book. It's one of the most insightful examinations of nerd culture ever written. Plus Weldon is hilarious, so the book is always a rollicking good time. And with Adam West's recent passing, it also serves as a fine remembrance of what made his particular take on Batman so lasting for fans.
Quintessential Chaykin: guns, femme fatales, and action

Currently reading


A whole lot of Wonder Woman comics. You might have heard there's this little movie out now that's doing gangbusters with critics and fans alike. My daughter is turning into an enormous Wonder Woman fan, which is only ratcheting up my already-strong appreciation for the character. I know this post is about books, but I implore you to go see the movie, and if you're already seen it, see it again. I've seen it twice and my admiration has only grown for what Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, and crew did with this film.

Howard Chaykin: Conversations, edited by Brannon Costello. Another review copy, but one that I've had for a while now. Just getting around to it. Chaykin is a fascinating writer/artist whose work has been both innovative and controversial for decades, including a recent example of the latter. He's also an absurdly honest interview subject who doesn't shy away from any subject, especially when offering opinions on fellow artists, writers, editors, and the commercial art/comic book industries as a whole.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

An Appreciation: Heather Langenkamp in Wes Craven's New Nightmare


"There was no movie...there was only...her life."

All Heather wanted was to raise her son in peace and work in television. Instead, she has to confront that sick bastard Freddy. Again. Only this time outside of the safe confines of playing Nancy on a film set, and instead in the all-too vivid Hellscapes of both her dream state and her waking life. Blame it all on Wes Craven. After all, he had to purge those new nightmares—featuring everyone's favorite burnt, razor-gloved serial killer—out on the page. Dude was right though: Heather/Nancy is the key. She's the constant. She's our hero, a fierce mamma bear battling Freddy tooth and nail every step of the way for her little cub's life. Throughout, she's battered, bruised, cut, sliced, repeatedly prank-called, widowed, leered at by a creep limo driver, demeaned by an arrogant doctor, hit by a car, and repeatedly accused of being an unfit mother. Rarely has an actress faced more unrelenting horror than Heather does in Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Nevertheless, she barrels her way through it all to save her boy. A shock of grey hair suddenly appears late in the film, a constant reminder moving forward of the trauma she's endured.

Long Live Heather.


It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: no one in horror cinema has better hair than Ms. Langenkamp. It's lush and glorious and positively mesmerizing, practically a character unto itself. And it invites you to gaze upon the exquisite beauty of the face that it frames. She may be stunning, with hair that any Pantene model would kill for, but Heather/Nancy deserves to be celebrated as one of slasher cinema's smartest and most tenacious Final Girls. In fact, she's one of the very best. She's no victim. She's a survivor.

I repeat: Long Live Heather.

Also, when I was a young boy there were certain absolutes in life. One such truth, which I believed in with full certainty, was that Heather would make the perfect Kitty Pryde should Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men ever make it to film. They eventually made it to the movies, but that was years later. It's too bad Heather never got the chance to bring Kitty to life. At least we have this kick-butt performance from New Nightmare to revisit whenever we need a reminder of her greatness.

You know the drill by now: Long Live Heather.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman Week

Art by Nicola Scott.
With the new film is in theaters now, the internet has reached peak frenzy concerning all things Wonder Woman. And I kind of love it. I'm as giddy as Gal Gadot here in the GIF of the week.


Sequart has devoted this entire week's coverage to the character, with a series of articles exploring different facets of what makes her such an enduring icon. My contribution ran on Wednesday and can be read here. I tried to put into words why Diana represents hope for a countless number of fans; how she isn't defined by her powers or her skills in battle (although she's no slouch in either department), but instead by her endless capacity for compassion, kindness, empathy, and, ultimately, her ability to offer hope. My thesis was that she's a unique character within the world of superheroes in this regard. Honestly, I can't think of any other that comes close.


It's exciting to see the world celebrate Wonder Woman on the occasion of her first feature film. Please take some time to read all of the articles about her at Sequart this week. They're well worth your time.

Otherwise, go to your local comic book shop this weekend and celebrate the first Wonder Woman Day. Buy some of her comics and graphic novels, go see the movie. My daughter is quickly growing into a big fan, so I'm most excited to take her to the LCS so she can snag a free tiara and some other swag. The look on her face will show me all I need to know about Wonder Woman's impact on her legions of fans. It'll remind me of what I already knew, that Wonder Woman is Hope. She'll help my daughter to dream big and to find the courage to make her dreams a reality. What more could I want for her than that?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Handle with Care


Sometimes you can't understand a song until you're the right age to really hear it. Grooving to the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle with Care" as a kid, I felt the loneliness, the wistful regret, and the tentative yet powerful sense of hope in its lyrics, but I didn't understand any of it. That would come later.

That's what happens once you live for a while: you get beaten down and battered 'round, you've been uptight and made a mess more often than you care to recall. If you're lucky, you find people you can lean on that will not only accept but also return your love. Most importantly, they'll handle you with care.

The song is such a nakedly honest declaration of loneliness, about feeling like a screw up, while reflecting on the various messes that make up a life. It's universal. Who hasn't been sent up and shot down? That's every day for most of us. We're all yearning for a way out of the loneliness, though: "I still have some love to give," and dammit if you're not adorable.

For a certain kind of delicate and overly thoughtful soul, "Handle with Care" is a manifesto: we're fragile fuck-ups, sure, but we still need love. Appreciating this song probably means you're creeping through your thirties or forties and, for the first time, feeling your own mortality; in other words, a walking cliche. Being aware of this is half the battle; it allows you to accept your connection to the song in an entirely sincere way, without any traces of irony. In doing so, you're accepting yourself, and all of those times you've been fobbed off and fooled, robbed and ridiculed. And if you're fortunate to find someone who'll lean his or her body next to yours and dream on with you, well, then all the better.




*****

Been beat up and battered 'round
Been sent up, and I've been shot down
You're the best thing that I've ever found
Handle me with care

Reputations changeable
Situations tolerable
Baby, you're adorable
Handle me with care

I'm so tired of being lonely
I still have some love to give
Won't you show me that you really care?

Everybody's got somebody to lean on
Put your body next to mine, and dream on

I've been fobbed off, and I've been fooled
I've been robbed and ridiculed
In daycare centers and night schools
Handle me with care

Been stuck in airports, terrorized
Sent to meetings, hypnotized
Overexposed, commercialized
Handle me with care

I'm so tired of being lonely
I still have some love to give
Won't you show me that you really care?

Everybody's got somebody to lean on
Put your body next to mine, and dream on

I've been uptight and made a mess
But I'll clean it up myself, I guess
Oh, the sweet smell of success
Handle me with care

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Writing Roundup: Movie and Music Reviews


I reviewed Christine (2016) recently for The After Movie Diner.

Wow. A few weeks since seeing it and I'm still processing my feelings. Even though I knew what was coming, it was still a gut-punch of epic proportions. That's because everything leading up to Christine's on-air suicide is so thoughtfully portrayed. It's a compassionately crafted film centered around one absolutely transcendent performance by Rebcecca Hall. In nearly every scene of the film, Hall is riveting, unforgettable, and heartbreaking. I haven't seen a better performance in years.

John Carpenter's classic Escape from New York is my latest Cult Classics Review at the Diner, and you can check that out here. Writing that review made me realize there are at least five Carpenter films that could each make my list of all-time top five films: Escape, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China. Very few filmmakers have ever equaled that quality. I sense an essay on Carpenter in my future...

Over the last month or two I also reviewed three albums for Spectrum Culture and wrote turned in my first contribution for DC in the 80s. That one's an origin story of sorts, which seemed appropriate.


The reviews run the gamut: from Imelda May's new album, to Incubus' first record in several years, and finally to a "Revisit/Rediscover" review of a band and an album I love unconditionally, Divinyls' 1983 killer full-length debut, Desperate.

You should drop everything and listen to May's new album, Live Love Flesh Blood. I had to reign in my gushing for the review, but I really wanted to gush. The album's that good. I'd like to write more about the song "Should've Been You" in particular, so look for that in this space someday.

Reading It, Part 3


It's been awhile since I've checked in here about It, but I've made my way to page 870 (less than 300 more to go!). I'd always heard that after a fast start things drag a bit in the second half; so far, that's been partly true. As a King fan, I'm more than happy to read his dialogue or narration and just get lost in his writing, which is always so immediate and forthright, but also at times reveals great depth. Even if things have gotten a bit bogged down in recent chapters—did we really need that many pages to reveal that Eddie's asthma is all in his head?—King is always able to right the ship, usually with an assist by another appearance from the ancient evil, Pennywise, which reminds us exactly how much danger lurks around every corner for these kids.

But it's the emotional beats in the relationships between the kids that's really drawn me in and made me care about them. Taking so many pages to tell their storie allows King to paint extremely rich portraits of Bev, Bill, Eddie, Mike, Ben, Stan, and Richie. They feel real, as if I grew up with them myself. My heart breaks when their innocence is continually shattered, but their resolve in the face of such horror is nothing short of inspiring.

Before I had children, reading King's work always made me both wistful to have my own and also straight-up terrified at the prospect of raising them in in this crazy world. King presents familiar stories that we've all grown up with—dysfunctional families, bullying, and first crushes—in ways that resonate deeply with us as adults. There's a nostalgia at play, but it's also because King simply nails what it's like to be a kid. His stories featuring children aren't usually lumped in with Young Adult novels, but they certainly could be. Few writers have ever gotten inside the minds of children and young adults quite like King. One more reason why the man is a national treasure.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

RIP Chris Cornell


He was Louder Than Love.

When we were younger and knew nothing, people like Chris Cornell were our mentors, leading us down some interesting paths. They didn't have answers and they made that clear; they just made incredible, invigorating, heartbreaking, and memorable music that helped us get through most anything. "My Wave" was like a mantra: 
Don't come over here
Piss on my gate
Save it just keep it off my wave
I used to scour liner notes back then and when I discovered Cornell's music publishing name was "You Make Me Sick I Make Music" I thought, that's perfect. Take your defiance, your anger, your disgust with how cruel the world can be and channel it into something. Music, art, your friends and family, anything productive.

His death is devastating. To me, my friends, the world. Every time someone of his stature dies, people ask "You didn't know him personally, why do you care?" And I feel anger and a fury inside well up because those people must live the saddest, most pathetic existence to not understand why. For the last time: it's because we grow up with people like Cornell. They were there for us when no one else was, they spoke to us in a language we could connect with, and they helped us see things in ourselves we never knew existed before.

Thank you, Chris. You were there for us when we needed you, and we'll always carry you in our hearts.




Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Desperate for Divinyls: Introduction


This is the introductory post in a series where I'll focus on songs from one band or musical artist, typically featuring one song per post. First band up? Australian rock royalty, Divinyls. The essays might vary in style and length, some might even focus on some aspect of the band and not just a song, but the plan is to simply get at the heart of why Divinyls' were a truly great band.

Divinyls were the first Aussie band to sign their initial deal with an American record company right out of the gate. Their career spanned nearly two decades and five studio albums and contained countless Australian hit singles and several international ones as well. Still, while the band is rightly revered in Australia, they're not nearly as popular in the U.S., where a lot of people know them mostly for the international mega-hit, "I Touch Myself." I've already written about when that song was ubiquitous on early 1990s radio and MTV as a way to explore generational conflicts that arise when arrogant youth butts heads with humorless maturity.

As great as "I Touch Myself" is (and it is a great song), Divnyls' produced even more incredible songs over their career. An uncle once introduced me to their music and that's when I realized just how good they were. Today, I'm hooked on their addictive sound and the truly unique voice of the late, great Chrissy Amphlett. I'm especially fond of their first two or three albums, containing some of the finest '80s New Wave/pop rock you'll ever hear.

I'll be covering a lot of songs off those early albums. The band seemed to arrive fully formed on their classic debut, Desperate. The album came after the band's debut soundtrack album for the film Monkey Grip and was released with variations in track listings in Australia and the United States, which was common back then. For further reading, I reviewed the U.S./international release of Desperate recently, for Spectrum Culture.

Photograph by Robert Hambling

Which song will kick things off  next time? Will it be "Science Fiction," the lead single off their 1983 full-length debut? Or how about their very first single, "Boys in Town," which predates Desperate? Stay tuned.

Also, a few last words about why I've chosen to start this feature with a band many of you might not know well. First, Divinyls' music brings me enormous joy, and if I can share even a little of that with others, then that seems like a no-brainer. Second, my earlier post reflecting on "I Touch Myself" is, as of this writing, my most popular to date. I think that's a testament to Divnyls' devoted fan base. Which reminds me, I'd like to thank the kind folks in the Chrissy Amphlett & Charlie Drayton Facebook group. Y'all have been especially supportive and your song suggestions for this series are a big help.

As a teaser, here are a few of the songs I'm most eager to cover. This list is fluid, of course.

Boys in Town
Science Fiction
Siren
Only Lonely
Elsie
Ring Me Up
Take a Chance
Temperamental
I'll Make You Happy (cover)
Don't You Go Walking
Good Die Young
Hey Little Boy

Thursday, May 11, 2017

An Appreciation: Shelley Duvall in The Shining


Admit it: it's nice to have our opinions validated. Those moments are usually uplifting, even invigorating. Recently reading this precise, critical analysis of Shelley Duvall's performance in one of my favorite films, The Shining, was one such moment.

I've always found Duvall to be astonishingly good as Wendy Torrance in The ShiningShe breathes life into a thankless role, giving an absolutely heartbreaking performance as an abused spouse. In the annals of horror, few actors have expressed real, palpable terror any better than Duvall does in the chaotic final act, when tidal waves of blood gush from elevator doors, a man wearing a dog costume suddenly appears, and Jack is maniacally axing his way through the hotel towards her and Danny. That she claws her way out of that timidity and fear to be the hero of the story, fighting for her son's life with every last gasp, is all you need to know, really.

Yet over and over again, for decades, Duvall's been slagged off as "whiny" or "shrill" by one (male) critic and film nerd after another. Valid criticisms, because Wendy is indeed meek and intimidated by her psychologically (and possibly physically) abusive husband. Yet she's also holding it all together because that's what society tells women they must do: make a happy home for their son, keep him protected (from the world and his father), and, above all, don't make her partner upset. Wendy knows the game. She hates it, clearly; there are moments when Duvall gives a subtle tell, a certain look here, or overly fake pitch to her voice there, to reveal just how over it all Wendy really is.

Duvall's performance is one of the finest cinematic portrayals of a woman living in constant fear of a man she once loved, before the abuse started, which is something far too many women in the real world experience every single day.

Monday, May 8, 2017

It Came From the '90s: Polly Jean Meets Ze Monsta


This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

In 1995, Polly Jean Harvey released her third studio album, and first proper solo outing, To Bring You My Love. It received near-universal praise and, while Harvey was already a star, helped elevate her into even greater worldwide stardom. This exceptional album retained elements of the awesomely heavy alt-blues rock sound of Dry and Rid of Me while adding more musical and lyrical textures to the mix. Its songs are about desire and loss, with many of them loaded with Biblical references and imagery. The album felt like a major artistic statement from Harvey at the time and hasn't lost any of its urgency over the years.

During the '95 tour supporting the album, Harvey elevated her live act to new heights as well. She exploded out of her shell, unleashing a new style, charisma, and electricity to her performances that only broadened her appeal. For proof, surf YouTube or look for full-show streams or downloads from that year. She was an absolute beast on that tour, setting aside her guitar to prowl the stage like a panther, moaning and screaming one minute, singing softy and beautifully the next. This video of "Meet Ze Monsta" from the '95 Glastonbury Festival is a perfect example of what made Harvey so appealing during that era: she's absolutely on fire, seemingly able to will herself to do anything, all while making it look organically effortless.


The spectacular pink catsuit!  The glam-rock makeup! The epic hair flips! The mesmerizing dancing! From the first note, she's in constant motion: swaying her hips, prancing with a mischievous confidence, stomping emphatically, crouching down low, springing up like a cat, and slyly smiling with knowing delight throughout. Her band tears into the song too, ratcheting up the already menacing heaviness of the album cut. It's an incendiary and iconic performance.


Iconic is an appropriate adjective to use when discussing Harvey during the To Bring You My Love era. The album and her live shows, including television performances, moved Harvey into the upper echelons or rock. Songs like "Long Snake Moan" and "C'mon Billy" practically seethe with passionate longing, while "Down by the Water" and "To Bring You My Love" are richly expressive and moody dirges infused with a palpable sense of dread. In the slinky slow-groove "Working for the Man," she asks, "Don't you know yet who I am?" and the answer, clearly, is that she can be anyone she wants to be. No longer just the quiet, petite woman from the English countryside who could produce a ferocious racket with her voice and guitar, she was now also achieving a level of performance art often reserved for the most accomplished of rock and pop stars. She was like Jagger, Madonna, and Prince on stage, all rolled into one, except with a modern rock integrity that was unparalleled. Plus, she held onto the smaller-scale charms that made her so intriguing to begin with.


As a faithful devotee for decades—there is no musical artist I love more than her, period—I'm captivated by all of her many musical shifts in style and composition, but this era will always be extra special. In '95, it was clear that she was reaching the big time, which can often signal the apex of an artist's career. Instead, she used it as a springboard to achieve further greatness.

Anyone who's followed Harvey's career knows she's made a habit of taking hard left turns, album after album. That's one of her strengths, and something both critics and fans love most about her. She can create an album of immaculately constructed pop music perfection like Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and then follow that up with the starkly abrasive punk rock of Uh Huh Her. Consequently, her anti-formula is her formula: for more than twenty-five years she's built as unique and diverse a catalog of music as anyone. You can try to compare her to other musicians, but ultimately she's incomparable. In '95, she proved this repeatedly, first with an absolutely killer album, followed by a live act that left audiences awestruck by her beautiful, raw, and explosive performances. After two phenomenal studio albums, plenty of us recognized her as a star. In '95, the rest of the world simply caught up to this fact.

*****

Let's close out with an audio-video salute to PJ Harvey in '95  First, here's an essential hour-long compilation of Harvey's television appearances that year promoting To Bring You My Love.


Here's the full audio from the transcendent 6/24/95 Glastonbury Festival set.


And in case you want to see further video evidence of just how good that Glastonbury set was, here's Polly Jean performing "Long Snake Moan" from the same show.



This one's from 5/11/95 at the Kentish Town Forum in London. The video's a bit dark and the audio's not great, but it's worth checking out because the power of the music and her stage presence still shine through.


Finally, a brief interview with MTV where she discusses her musical evolution, how much she's enjoying using her body to articulate the words on stage now, and how much fun she's having playing dress up with her glamorous new style. She's thoughtful and reserved, providing a fascinating juxtaposition with her vampy and extroverted stage persona of the period.

Monday, May 1, 2017

It Came From the '90s: Falling Down


Joel Schumacher's 1992 film Falling Down has been on my mind a lot lately. It seems to have predicted a certain white-male-as-victim narrative that's playing out all over the United States today. April Wolfe looked back at the film recently for LA Weekly. It's a terrific article, examining both why the film works so well and how that may have contributed to audiences cheering on the main character ("D-Fens," played by a buzz-cut, bespectacled Michael Douglas). Yet, as Wolfe writes, he's clearly the villain, and that's only become more evident over the past twenty-five years.

What I didn't know before reading Wolfe's article was that Schumacher was filming Falling Down concurrently with the L.A. riots, in April '92. The smog in the opening traffic jam sequence? That's actually smoke from the raging fires less than a mile from where cast and crew were filming. Wolfe eloquently notes:
That Falling Down was filmed in L.A. amid the riots is both ironic and telling: D-Fens’ entire narrative is driven by his misconception that he is the true victim, even as he marauds through the city, terrifying fast-food cashiers, construction workers and immigrants — people who have far less privilege than the white, college-educated D-Fens does. The riots, of course, were a reaction to the jury’s and public’s sympathy for the white police officers who beat Rodney King; the cops were portrayed by some media outlets as the real victims with everything to lose, even as King himself suffered unquantifiable brain damage. The film itself is a caricature, but it carries the stain of this reality in every frame.
Wolfe sums up how this misconstrued white male rage against perceived enemies can intensify:
That opening scene — mimicking Fellini’s — is an object lesson in editing tension: A close-up shot of D-Fens’ sweaty upper lip cuts to a Latina child listening to Spanish radio cuts to rowdy children in a school bus draped in the American flag and on to two rich, white assholes yelling into a car phone. Then come insert shots of bumper stickers reading “Financial Freedom?” and “He died for our sins” and “How am I driving — call 1-800-EAT-SHIT.” Full dissertations could stem just from the glimpses we get of a Tropic Sun billboard emblazoned with the company’s 1990 tagline: “White is for laundry.” Schumacher continually zips back to D-Fens to get his agitated reactions to each new outrage in this buffet of symbolism. To be clear, this is the world from D-Fens’ claustrophobic POV — not reality — and the message he thinks he’s receiving is that he’s no longer welcome in this country.
D-Fens and other American men of his ilk feel threatened, even though facts and evidence flatly reject their histrionic misconceptions of reality. Their jobs aren't being stolen by non-whites or "illegals"; the digital age and shifting global socioeconomic factors have combined to create an entirely new landscape, one in which these men can't seem to find footing. So they lash out, blaming everyone else for their misfortune.

In the case of D-Fens, he's suffered enough, to his way of thinking. He abandons his car in traffic, declaring "I'm going home." Wolfe sums up the significance of that reference to home:

Going home becomes a central theme of Schumacher’s film, and as D-Fens travels across Los Angeles, we come to understand that “home” means the past, that simpler, fictitious time politicians invoke when they want to win elections, and pundits hammer on when they want to drum up fear and paranoia.
What follows is a series of disturbing confrontations between D-Fens and those he cannot tolerate: a Korean convenience store owner, fast-food employees, and even a white supremacist. These scenes show Schumacher confounding audience expectations—are we meant to side with D-Fens, or be revolted by him? Clearly, it's the latter, but the film regularly complicate matters. Wolfe explains:
D-Fens, disgusted by overt racism, eventually kills the white supremacist, but only after the man has smashed D-Fens’ daughter’s snow globe (a conspicuously symbolic gift). D-Fens can’t — and won’t — face the fact that he, too, is a caricature of white male rage. He won’t speak the slurs but he’ll seethe with anger when he hears that Korean store owner’s broken English. Today, we might see D-Fens and the white supremacist as the infighting sides of the far right — one couches racism in coded words like “thug,” while the other wants an outright ethnic cleanse. Ultimately, what both want is to return to their idea of a purer America, unburdened by the concerns of minorities and women.
Later we learn more about D-Fens' past with his family. Watching an old VHS tape of his daughter's birthday, we witness his explosive temper, aimed directly at his then-wife and child. This terrifying moment, from that fictionalized, bullshit "purer America"—when he was happily married and gainfully employed—exposes the lie behind his rage, which existed long before his wife left him, or the Korean store owner raised prices. Still, D-Fens is occasionally positioned as a sympathetic antihero in the film, or given more leeway by other characters than he deserves.

There's a reason for that. White men are allowed to express their anger, be abusive to their spouses, lament the loss of a way of life that never actually existed, and blame everyone else for their problems. Despite all of that, they'll continually be afforded more chances to redeem themselves than their female or non-white counterparts. 
If you doubt this, just flip on Fox News, or passively follow the NFL, for example. That some audiences have celebrated D-Fens and his actions is an indictment on a decades-long fomenting of hate and division in our country that certain politicians and media personalities have stoked and exploited in order to win votes or ratings.

Falling Down captured a moment in time: the racially charged powder-keg that was Los Angeles, circa 1992. It also provided an early glimpse at the white male victim lingering on the fringe, a character who would only inch closer to the mainstream over time. Wolfe succinctly points out, "Falling Down remains one of Hollywood’s most overt yet morally complex depictions of the modern white-victimization narrative, one both adored and reviled by the extreme right." That's the scary part: it hasn't lost any of its relevancy and in fact may now be more relevant than ever.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It Came From the '90s: Janet


This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

First, a prologue. This post ran here in a slightly different form last year. That was before I'd started the '90s series here, and since then I realized this piece fits well within that framework. I've edited it a little (very little, in fact) and am slotting the revised version into this series. It just seems appropriate; it's looking back at a time when Janet Jackson ruled the airwaves, in this case I'm really focusing on the Rhythm Nation 1814 years, so '89, '90, maybe '91. That album rarely left my tape deck or Walkman, and the videos were ingrained in my memory from repeat viewings on MTV. One thing I didn't edit is the overly precious use of second person in the narrative. When you read "you" here, I'm really talking about me, but also you, or us, or anyone else who loved Janet back then. I'd grown up on her music. Soon after this I'd transition fully into my teenage/young adult rock-snob years *groan* but this period in pop music was glorious. I haven't lost any love for that era's music since.

*****

Have you ever wanted to hug a pop music icon as much as you wanted to hug Janet Jackson in, say, 1990? She exuded warmth, soul, and acceptance. Hell, years before that you wanted to save her on Good Times. Oh, Penny! Little did you know, she didn't need saving.

Look at the videos for "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" or "Escapade"—her smile shines brighter than a thousand suns. She practically radiates happiness in those videos. Certainly she could be as serious as a heart attack—"State of the World" and "Rhythm Nation," for instance—but she was still always fun. Those songs set up residence in your heart and mind, never leaving. Back then you marveled at them as they premiered on MTV; each one more insanely catchy than the last.

Name a better pop love song from the last twenty-five years than "Love Will Never Do." See, you can't. What's often forgotten now is how heavy her songs were during her prime—the beats on "Love Will Never Do" practically blast you off your feet; "Rhythm Nation" is pure epic R&B jam, but also entirely unlike anything pop music had seen before. It explodes out of the speakers and never hits the brakes. Props to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, in full effect.


A poster of Janet from the "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" video hung on your bedroom wall during most of high school. That smile, always beaming out at you when you entered the room. That smile, it always seemed even more incandescent to you after a particularly rough day in the teenage trenches. In the song Janet knew that in theory love is fine, but in reality it simply would never do without that most essential ingredient: you. What more could a listener want to hear? Sometimes silly things like pop music get you through certain points in your life, but it's only after that you fully appreciate them. Years later you felt you'd outgrown Janet's music, her poster. You were a fool.

During a Presidential debate last fall, that perverse misogynist, that habitual sexual predator, the current Cheeto-in-Chief *shudder* infamously muttered "nasty woman" at his opponent. Memes of Janet and her song "Nasty" popped up online in an instant. It was as if a nation needed Janet and her nasty grooves again. Gimme a beat. It's time to give a damn, let's work together. By listening to her you could cleanse the toxicity from your system that had infected you over this long and grueling election cycle. You had deluded yourself into thinking you were fine without her over the years. Then you started spinning her songs again. It was obvious that for a decent chunk of time, when she and you were younger and full of electricity, there was simply no one better in popular music. For your money, she was the best there ever was at what she did and you'll endorse her every day of the week.

They said it wouldn't last. What did they know, anyway.

#VoteJanet

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reading It, Part 2


Reading It after dark, while the kids are sleeping soundly, has certainly enhanced the horror inherent in King's story of children either being abducted or living in fear of being abducted. Actually, it's the parents' fear that is most palpable throughout, even though they receive comparatively little "screen" time so far (three-hundred pages into the book). The kids understand on some level that they should be scared of the bogeyman terrorizing Derry, but as kids are wont to do they're also attracted to this horror, feeling a need to investigate it/It, to see it/It for themselves.

Following Bill, Ben, Eddie, etc., as they play outside, building dams and avoiding bullies, I can't help but think back to my own childhood. While these tales of childhood take place in the late '50s in the book, and I grew up in the '80s, there seems to be more in common with a child's existence in those decades than there is between the '80s the now. Helicopter parents, if they existed at all in the '80s, were rarer than today. Gen X latchkey kids ranged far and wide across our neighborhoods and towns, riding our bikes everywhere without much fear of consequence (what if we got lost and couldn't find our way back home?), always exploring, always looking for more adventure.

As the parent of twin toddlers now, that absolutely terrifies me to remember. When I swap out myself for my kids in these memories, my first thought is, "Oh, hell no." Then I try to reason with myself: kids have to be kids, they need a certain amount of freedom to grow and mature, and some balance between advocating for safety and allowing for exploration must be achieved by parents if they want their children to grow up to be free-thinking, productive adults.

Still. There are very real terrors in the world for parents to worry themselves silly over. With It, King plays off of those fears in powerfully visceral ways. He has a knack for bringing us inside the heads of his characters, and especially the young protagonists of so many of his books. King lulls us into a sense of comfort with the familiar nostalgia of childhood life. Then, he unleashes a giant, menacing black bird hellbent on eating a young victim, and all reason and ability to remain impartial fly out the window. Especially at ten or eleven o'clock at night and after a long day.

Do I think my children are in danger of a serial murdering clown who can manifest different shapes based on each person's own fears and anxieties? No, of course not. But in It, Pennywise represents the accumulated history of awful things that parents have long feared would cause harm to our children—drugs, heavy metal, sex, pedophiles, car accidents, razors in the Halloween candy, you name it.

Kids sometimes possess a naivety that can help them to face these fears. As adults we start to lose that ability, that courage to face down what scares us, because by then we simply know too much. So far, It is exploring how the innocence of youth can bolster our courage—sometimes stupidly so—even in the face of a creepy clown peering out at us from down in the storm drain.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It Came From the '90s: Nicole Kidman—A Star is Born

Nicole Kidman lit up the screen in '90s films like Batman Forever.

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Nicole Kidman rose to prominence in the 1990s, her star shining brighter with each passing year of the decade. This isn't to say she was the most popular actress of the decade—that honor likely goes to one of America's sweethearts, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, or Sandra Bullock—but Kidman's unique talents and serious acting chops came to the forefront during those years in a series of challenging roles. The Australian actress was laying the foundation for a terrific career that continues to this day.

Kidman's started acting in Australian films during the 1980s. On the cusp of the '90s, she drew critical raves with her performance in the tense thriller Dead Calm (1989). Then, alongside her husband Tom Cruise, she starred in the trashy but fun Days of Thunder (1990), the maudlin and forgettable Far and Away (1992), and the confounding classic Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Of the three films she made with Cruise, Eyes Wide Shut left the most lasting impression, for several reasons.

First, it was the last film from legendary auteur Stanley Kubrick. He died soon after showing the studio his final cut. Second, Kubrick chose Hollywood's then-current King and Queen, Cruise and Kidman, to star as a couple pushing back against the boundaries of their staid marriage. Critics had a field day with this added layer of meta-commentary. Cruise turns in one of his strongest performances to date as the naive husband, while Kidman imbues her role as the trophy wife with both smoldering resentment and barely contained eroticism. As in most of her work, she goes all in with the material, baring body and soul in the process. She's remarkable here, really scorching the screen.

Kidman, framed in classic Kubrickian style. Note the Edward Hopper feel to the composition.

Kidman didn't need Cruise's star power though, as she went on to chose a series of intriguing roles throughout the decade that only further cemented her as a serious talent. 1995 was a particularly big year for her, showcasing her talents in two vastly different films: Joe Schumacher's campy box-office smash Batman Forever, and Gus Van Sant's searing social commentary-cum-crime-comedy To Die For. It certainly doesn't hurt that her sex symbol status with movie audiences reached DEFCON 1 levels in '95—she was about to go nuclear.

She's ferocious in both films, attacking the material with an insatiable appetite and reckless abandon. As sultry psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian in the silly popcorn flick Batman Forever, she chews the scenery with such gusto that her jaw must've been sore for weeks after production ended. She practically devours Val Kilmer's Batman every time she's on screen. Then, in To Die For, as aspiring news anchor Suzanne Stone, who will do anything—or anyone—to get what she wants, Kidman is electric. Its no wonder she was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actress for the role. Yet again she dominates and manipulates the men on screen, seducing them into submission.

In films like To Die For, Kidman's characters often dominated weaker men.

She may have excelled as a femme fatale, but Kidman was far more than just a sultry starlet. Throughout the '90s, she methodically put together an impressive body of work across a disparate array of films. It was clear that she respected the art form and put in the time and effort to make her performances memorable. Even if her fans swooned with every magnetic smile or flip of her long cascading locks, they ultimately respected her talent above all else.

All of these hyperbolic statements about Kidman's talent do serve a purpose: to underscore how on fire she was during those years. I didn't even mention her work in Malice (1993) yet, a deliciously nasty and subversive little film that I recall fondly—who can forget Alec Baldwin as the narcissistic surgeon, delivering that memorable line, "I am God." I was already familiar with Kidman when I saw Malice, but that's the role that made me sit up and take notice. It's a layered performance, full of notes and textures. Ultimately, what made Nicole Kidman such a star in the '90s was her determination, her commitment, and her willingness to pour all of herself into a role. She still does this today. No matter the film's quality, genre, style, or budget, you can count on Nicole Kidman to bring the heat.

The look: Kidman's trademark smoldering intensity, from Malice.

Nicole Kidman's '90s filmography:

Days of Thunder (1990)
Flirting (1991)
Billy Bathgate (1991)
Far and Away (1992)
Malice (1993)
My Life (1993)
Batman Forever (1995)
To Die For (1995)
The Portrait of a Lady (1996)
The Peacemaker (1997)
Practical Magic (1998)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Postscript: Kidman's ascension during the '90s continued early in the following decade when she was nominated for an Academy Award Award for Best Actress for Moulin Rouge (2001) and then won the award for The Hours (2002).

Monday, April 10, 2017

Iron Fist: A Postmortem

Danny, showing off his skinny jeans at Colleen's dojo.

Well, now. Marvel's Iron Fist on Netflix certainly was a major disappointment, wasn't it?

I'm a fan of the Danny Rand character and the mystical martial arts world he inhabits in Marvel Comics, which includes strong supporting cast members like Colleen Wing. I've read a lot of Iron Fist comics, so I was possibly more invested in this series than most people I know. So when the early buzz was terrible, my expectations started to plummet. It's wise to be wary of pre-release reviews, of course, especially in this case when they only screened the first six episodes of a thirteen episode series. Yet, in this instance, those early reviews were accurate. The show is a mess, and not an entertaining, b-movie style mess, but instead a convoluted and boring mess.

The first few episodes were so interminably dull that I seriously contemplating quitting after the second. Things picked up a little after that, with some decent middle episodes. Then it slumped again, then found decent footing for the final few episodes before stumbling across the finish line in a ludicrously stupid finale. For a show about a master of Kung Fu, there wasn't nearly enough Kung Fu! The fight scenes they did include were also pretty underwhelming, with a few exceptions. The now standard hallway fight scene was good, but even that paled in comparison to similar scenes from Daredevil. The rest of the fighting often felt rushed and unimaginatively choreographed and filmed. The long warehouse battle with a series of Madame Gao's Hand operatives was particularly bad. The Bride of Nine Spiders, who worked beautifully in the comics, was laughably awful here. In her Frederick's of Hollywood meets cheap Halloween costume, and spouting cringe-worthy dialogue, she would have been right at home in an episode of Silk Stalkings.

Finn Jones really struggled to make Danny interesting. He seemed more assured in the relaxed, more lighthearted scenes, but seemed directionless or to be trying too hard when he was called on to emote or be badass. I kept telling my wife he reminded me of a puppy: he was cute and it was hard for me to dislike him, but he seemed way out of his depth here. I don't blame him for all of this though; the writers saddled him with atrocious dialogue and inconsistent motivations. Finn was trying, that was clear, but he rarely pulled it off. That's a big problem; when your Iron Fist isn't very interesting, how good can your Iron Fist series be?

Jessica Henwick was a bright spot, kicking all sorts of butt as Colleen Wing.

A few of the actors did well with what little they were given to work with. Jessica Henwick as Colleen was equal parts strong, sardonic, and smooth. She was great in the action scenes, really selling Colleen's swordplay skills, and also handled the quieter scenes well. She didn't have a lot of good writing to work with, and was saddled with some stupid lines and character development, but she made the best of it. In other words, she was nearly everything Finn as Danny was not. Throughout, I kept daydreaming of a spinoff show about the Daughters of the Dragon, costarring the equally good Simone Missick from Luke Cage as Misty Knight. I'm sure we'll get a Colleen and Misty teamup within the upcoming Defenders series, but I'd much rather see an entire show devoted to just them at this point.

As the nefarious Harold Meachum, David Wenham was acting in his own alternative universe. The only actor who really embraced the silliness of it all, Wenham hammed it up throughout. He was downright hilarious at times, but over the course of the series his performance started to grate on me a bit. Still, he kept me hanging in there at times when the rest of the show was sagging badly.

Ward Meachum was one of the only characters with a clearly delineated and interesting character arc. Tom Pelphrey played the material straight, and really elevated his performance so far above this mess that it's a shame he wasted it on this. Ward went from stereotypical smarmy and selfish businessman to struggling abuse victim and drug addict to, finally, practically the hero of the piece. Whether he was reacting with subtle incredulity at Harold's insane scheming, or painfully opening up to his sister Joy, or just giving an eavesdropping dear ole dad the most hilariously emphatic double-bird salute I've seen in ages, Pelphrey was terrific. His constantly bemused  "WTF" expressions made Ward into an effective audience surrogate.

It certainly didn't help Iron Fist that it came on the heels of the powerful and heartbreaking Logan and also ran concurrently with FX's mind-blowing head-trip of a show, Legion. Both of those Marvel properties (from studios other than Marvel) were outstanding because they had strong narratives, characters we could care about, and experimented with the superhero genre in ways we hadn't seen in film or television before. Comparatively, Iron Fist didn't know what it wanted to be. Was it an over-the-top martial arts romp, reminiscent of the kind Quentin Tarantino loves? Or was it the overly serious exploration of identity and loss that it kept aiming to be? It was only ever either of these things halfheartedly, and in limited quantities. Otherwise it was just a slog to get through.

Finally, people far more qualified than me have addressed the problem with casting a white actor as Danny. Yes, Danny is white in the comics, but there's so much more to it than that. Do a little searching online and you'll find some cogent essays on the issues at play, and why Marvel missed a golden opportunity. All I'll add to the conversation is that Marvel had a chance to correct the character's troubling 1970s white savior origins. Instead, they cast Finn Jones. 'Nuff said.

When it comes to Iron Fist, I think Ward speaks for all of us here.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Writing Roundup: Movie Reviews, a Q&A, and a New Theory


If I never do anything else worthwhile with my life, at least I can say I invented the Unified Theory of Jessica Alba. Put that on my gravestone, please.

I don't know where or how the idea struck, but it hit like a lightning bolt while reviewing the average but mostly forgettable Fantastic Four (2005) for The After Movie Diner.  Before I knew it, I'd formulated the entire theory. Based on an extensive use of the scientific method (i.e., watching movies), it maintains that there are five factors, or aspects, of any Jessica Alba performance that, inexplicably, combine to form something something...well, something. I won't spoil the rest for you; go read the review and find out.

And then read my latest review of another film that also happens to star Alba, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. I really enjoyed the first Sin City and I thought the sequel was a worthy followup. It's not as good as the first, but together they're a fun blast of comic book neo-noir silliness. And they provide further proof that the Unified Theory of Jessica Alba is really a thing! That's got to count for something.

A while back I also reviewed a much darker film, Rolling Thunder. This is a nasty, post-Vietman '70s grindhouse classic. Think a less artistic Taxi Driver meets Death Wish. Its tone and style are brutal and laced with dread. Also worth noting that, in a supporting role, young Tommy Lee Jones is electrifying as a live-wire vet just itching to get back into combat. It's nice to remember how great he was back then after having recently rewatched his gonzo (and not in a good way) performance as Two-Face in Batman Forever.

Lastly, I had the extreme pleasure of chatting with Jon Morris for Sequart about his new book, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains. Jon runs one of the oldest comic book blogs on the Interwebs, Gone & Forgotten. This book and his last one (focusing on regrettable superheroes) are like his blog only in book form, with more of the same funny and intelligent commentary you've come to expect from Jon.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Reading It, Part 1


It's finally happening. I'm going to read it.

See what I did there?

After decades of dancing around this book while being a Stephen King fan and reading a lot of his other books, it's time to finally read It. With the movie hitting theaters this fall, it seems like the perfect time. I only saw parts of the old miniseries and I barely remember it all, beyond Tim Curry's scary clown.

So far, I'm only 55 pages in—only 1,100 more pages to go! As I continue, I hope to occasionally share some random observations along the way. Not reviews, just quick hits. This might take a while, I might not get to write about it often, and I'm not even sure it'll last—although I will finish the book! I think it goes without saying, these posts will be lousy with SPOILERS.

Just a quick introduction to my relationship with the King of Horror. Like many young kids, I was infatuated with King's books and their movie adaptations. I remember devouring Night Shift and Skeleton Crew when I was around 11 or 12. Pet Sematary crushed me a a few years later. I took a long break from reading King as a young adult but then returned to him about ten years ago. The Dark Tower series was an epic reading experience. Reading The Shining right after becoming a parent was equal parts traumatizing and cathartic. In short, I love King's work, unabashedly. Some if it's subpar, but that's rare. Most of it is consistently great. No one writes a ripping yarn like King. He has an innate way of exploring our very real fears in creative ways that reveal things about us that we might not have known previously. The man is a national treasure.

It starts strong. Pennywise shows up early and he's creepy as all hell. Also right off the bat, King wastes no time playing off our eternal fears of our children being hurt or abducted. Without revealing much, he sets the tone: something's not right about the quiet Maine town of Derry and the crazy clown hanging out in storm drains is just the start. Throw in the homophobic violence of the second chapter and it's a decidedly upsetting read so far. As you would expect, of course.

Clowns are terrifying. This is an indisputable fact. From Bozo to John Wayne Gacy to last year's rash of creepy clown sightings, they're the worst. I don't know the backstory of It but I wonder how much Gacy's serial murders influenced King's decision to write about a killer clown. No matter the inspiration, It is off to a satisfyingly unsettling start.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

It Came From the '90s: Weezer's Geek Rock


This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

The X-Men references in Weezer's "In the Garage" resonated with me when I first heard the song in 1994. I'd grown up on a steady diet of comics and rock and pop music at that point, so Rivers Cuomo and the gang were landing squarely in my wheelhouse.

I've got a Dungeon Master's Guide
I've got a 12-sided die
I've got Kitty Pryde
And Nightcrawler too
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do

Uncanny X-Men comic books changed my life. I was just a bit younger than Kitty Pryde when I first read her introduction to the series. She was a lot of readers' surrogate back then, acting as our introduction to the colorful, surrealist, and expansive world of Marvel's mutants. She and the X-Men gave voice to our own struggles with fitting in at school. Years later, the music on the Blue Album had a different, yet still measurable impact on me. With songs like "Undone - The Sweater Song," "My Name is Jonas," "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here," and "Surf Wax America," Weezer seemed to reflect the the geeky introversion of so many Gen X kids haunting the malls and study halls of America.

Cuomo must've read his fair share of X-Men. Also, like me, he probably watched every episode of Misfits of Science and regularly read Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. At this point in the '90s, the geeks had not yet inherited the earth; we were still scamming BMG and Columbia House music clubs for free CDs and goofing around with this newfangled thing called the World Wide Web. Those moments of connection between like-minded nerds were more rare than they are today, when every other person you know is cosplaying as Harley Quinn. Just by being so earnestly dorky, Weezer stirred up the natural nerd tendencies that I'd been trying to suppress—halfheartedly and ultimately unsuccessfully—out of some fear they'd turn off potential friends or girlfriends.

During the height of the Blue Album's ubiquity across college campuses throughout the land—thanks in large part to the way their Happy Days-set video for "Buddy Holly" served as pure crack for Gen Xers raised on the Fonz—you couldn't escape its music. I was attending an outdoor festival with friends, summer of '95. Before the show, we hung out in the parking lot with everyone else, pre-gaming for the long day of music. I can still see us, sitting on the ground and leaning against the car, when one friend started humming, then full-on singing "No One Else." Soon we were all singing along to those vaguely unsettling lyrics about wanting a girl who'll laugh for no one but you.

Cut to recently, when I had a conversation with a Millennial friend about Weezer and realized that maybe you not only had to be a certain age to fall for them, but also needed to live in a certain time period to do so. This friend pointed out how narrowly immature the songs' narratives around women could be. She had a point (see "No One Else" above), one that I'd considered before but never really addressed. I stammered around a semi-coherent response, eventually coming up with this: when you remove them from the context in which they were first listened to with the most frequency—namely, by "alternative" kids in '94 and '95—then yes, they're definitely going to seem dated and out of touch in 2017.

Clearly, I could write a dissertation about my overwhelming love and affection for that era of Weezer, from about '94–'97. Even though I've outgrown much of their thematic obsessions (even if they haven't), I can still relate to those first two albums (Blue and Pinkerton) because it was the exact music I needed to hear at the exact age I needed to hear it. Any sooner and it might not have hit with as much force; any later and it might not have hit with any force at all.

In those days, through some misguided attempt at projecting depth, my friends and I saw ourselves as one pulled sweater-thread away from totally unraveling. Whether that was an organic or manufactured angst (it was likely a little of both), Weezer really did help keep us sewn together, at least for a little while.