Monday, March 6, 2017

White House, Monday Morning, 7am

Another Monday morning meeting in the Trump White House. In attendance are Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus. All top advisers to the commander and chief.  The three of them are waiting for their man to arrive; he insists on being the last to enter the room. Bannon and Priebus are engaged in an arm wrestling match (Bannon is winning).  Around 7:09am Trump walks in looking a little haggard with bags under his eyes.

The Donald:  So I just watched this segment on Fox and Friends, they like my tweets about Barack.  This will gain traction, take some of the heat off me.  I had to do something . . . this Sessions thing is driving me crazy. I'm tired of these disasters every week, let's make it a good week.

Jared: I thought you and Barack got along.

The Donald: He double crossed me Jared, he had the FBI bug my office.  And we still beat those bastards - 306 in the electoral college BABY!.  (He guffaws)  Did you see the media get into a hot mess about my tweets.  I attack their hero and they freak out. 

Bannon: It was a good one boss - kick em in the ass! This whole Sessions thing will die on the vine now!

The Donald:  I read about Barack's plot to destroy me in Breitbart, Steve your publication is a beacon of light in a world of fake news.

Jared: (underneath his breath) Anti-Semites.

Bannon: What was that Jared?

Jared: Nothing Steve.

The Donald: What else is on the agenda Reince?

Reince: We have the new travel ban to sign.  I think we should do it at noon and invite TV cameras in.  It went so well the last time. People love to watch you sign things. It looks so presidential.

The Donald: So the travel ban, what else?

Reince: Health Care sir.  We need to get congress moving on it.

The Donald: What the hell is taking Ryan so long?

Reince: It's complicated sir. If we take away people's coverage without a new plan it will be a PR disaster.  It will hit our base hard. 

The Donald:  We'll do it, and it will be great. What else?

Reince:  We got this threat from North Korea, we're gonna need you to make a decision on.

The Donald:  What decision?

Reince:  You know, The whole missile thing. They have big ones now.  We need a strategy, we'll present you with options.

The Donald:  Dammit, I don't want options. (He points to Bannon)  It's your job to present me with the best option Bannon.  I'm sure Putin has some good ideas.   Call him Steve.  What time is it in Moscow?

Bannon: I think's that's a great idea Mr. President. I have his private number, I'll do it right after the meeting. It is night time in Moscow.  

The Donald: Sounds good, Steve. Be sure not to wake Putin though, he might get annoyed  (he pauses, as if thinking)  You know what Reince?

Reince: What Mr. President?

The Donald:  Why don't we just take out North Korea? Just order our troops to cross the 49th parallel,   I mean, they don't even have electricity there right? We'll steamroll over them.

Reince: Sir, A war with North Korea would be a disaster, they have the military might to turn South Korea into a raging inferno during the first hour of hostilities. 

The Donald:  Oh, I guess we'll have to think about that.  Call Putin - We need him! He'll know what to do. Tell the Kremlin it's an emergency!!

Jared: Back to the Obama thing.  Are you seriously going to pursue this investigation?

The Donald:  I don't know . . . Maybe. . . . .   You see my ratings for the State of the Union. They obliterated Arnold.  Always knew I was better than that guy.  He's always been jealous of me. 

Bannon:  His Movies Suck!

Jared: Are you sure?  Predator was pretty good.  The Terminator?

Bannon: He's an overrated immigrant!  Gimme John Wayne any day.  Well, to be honest I checked out on Arnold after Jingle All the Way.  Everything before that was awesome! I tried to get him to read my script for a sequel to Commando.  He called me a diseased ewok looking man. In my script, he goes over to Iran and kicks so much ass.  So Much Carnage!  So Much Carnage! Economic Nationalism Baby! It would've been awesome. I love carnage!!

The Donald: Steve, I like you, but please settle down.  You are brilliant, smarter than all the generals combined. I mean, you've actually read books. In fact, I saw The Terminator and that gives me an idea. Could we build an army of cyborgs?  Reince, include that in the budget.  Forget about going back to the moon; I WANT AN ARMY OF CYBORGS!  They can build the wall too. And not those old fashioned ones like Arnold played, I want the ones like that liquid metal guy in Terminator 2.  They will defeat ISIS too!    

The unexpected turn in the meeting's discussion leads to an awkward silence.

The Donald:  Ok, I'm going to order a steak doused with Heinz Ketchup from the kitchen. Anyone else up for steak and ketchup?

Jared: Isn't it early for steak Dad?

The Donald: It's my favorite part of living in this dump.  I now eat steak for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  At 3 I get a Big Mac and a Shamrock Shake. It's great. The Kitchen staff, they are fantastic! Steve, after you call Putin, I want you to get every Terminator movie on DVD and have it on my desk - ASAP.  I got research to do (He gets up).  

Ok everyone, I'm going to go count my twitter likes, send a shout out to Fox News, sign the Muslim . . . I mean travel ban, then watch Spongebob Squarepants, I'll skip the intelligence briefing, I don't think those geeks from Langley like me for some reason.  Very Rude.  Steve - report to me on Putin - and I want those DVD's on cue and ready to play just as my Big Mac arrives.  How long will it take me to watch these movies Steve?

Bannon: Not sure Mr. President.  All day, I suppose.

The Donald: Great - Tell Spicer to tell the press that I'm "making phone calls to world leaders to discuss global security issues."  Don't tell anyone about my cyborg army - It's like . . . my classified top secret now. . . . I'll tweet about it . . . And Reince, write up an executive order that will force McDonalds to make the Shamrock Shakes year round- that's legal.  Right? I'm the Boss.

Reince: You're the boss, Mr. President.

The Donald leaves the room. The three of them glance at their watches, it was 7:57 am.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Book Review: Quentin Tarantino: Interviews (Edited by Gerald Peary)

The University Press of Mississippi has provided an invaluable service over the years by publishing reprints of interviews from the most influential film directors.  These books serve as excellent primary sources on the creative process of these directors. The volume on Quentin Tarantino is a highlight of the series.

The best interviews are the early ones with Tarantino shaking up world cinema with Reservoir Dogs and the even more ambitious Pulp Fiction.  They defined 90s cool and pop culture, in the same way the French New Wave films of Godard and Truffaut revolutionized movies in the 1960s.  Tarantino was one of many movie geeks working at video stores during the mid 1980s, in his case the now legendary (and closed) Video Archives in Los Angeles.

Reading the interviews on Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are like a film school in themselves.  What separated Tarantino from other directors of his generation was his interest in every type of film and his ability to create a unique genre out of them, while taking in large amounts of film criticism, mostly from his favorite critic Pauline Kael who wrote for the New Yorker.

After the one-two punch of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Tarantino become a pop culture phenomenon: frequenting the chat show circuit, cameo appearances, hosting Saturday Night Live, and attempted to launch his own acting career.  His 1997 film Jackie Brown, an adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, seemed an answer to his critics: a conventional, well plotted narrative with nuanced performances.

In the years since Tarantino's continued to explore genre: martial arts in the Kill Bill films, the war movie in Inglorious Basterds, and the Western/Blaxploitation in Django Unchained. In late 2015 he released the vicious Western The Hateful Eight.

A few general conclusions can be made about Tarantino from the book: his encyclopedic movie knowledge is unparalleled and that he's always been career conscious.  When he turns 60, Tarantino plans to retire and devote his life to writing criticism and fiction. After completing Pulp Fiction he stated his intention to make Westerns, war movies, and American History- all of which he's done.  

For a primer of the Tarantino aesthetic, look no further than this valuable book. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

President Barack Obama: A Few Kind Words

Today will be Barack Obama's last full day as the 44th President of the United States of America.  I believe it is safe to say we'll never see the likes of him for some time. Perhaps he wasn't meant for an age like ours, one where language is diminished. Arguments must be rapid fire insult ridden shouting matches carried out over social media where the only the loudest, crudest one in the room commands respect.  

Above all President Obama is a man of the written word and I hope he will continue to write after leaving office.  Like Winston Churchill, his command of the English language will serve him well for posterity. After writing the obligatory memoirs I hope he writes some history books like Churchill. Books, not tweets, will stand the test of time. Whatever President Obama decides to do, I wish his family well and hope he doesn't stay away too long.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Inauguration Day (For Night) Blues Playlist

As the Trump administration creeps ever closer to taking the reins of our ever fragile republic, I compiled a list of songs about many things that speak to the moment (for me anyway).  Many were songs I listened to over the past year so they are closely linked with the events of 2016. There's an ongoing tension between fear, hope, and defiance to the list. Let's begin with Badfinger's 1969 hit single, "Come and Get It" written by Paul McCartney for the counter-culture film The Magic Christian starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr about a privileged billionaire obsessed with what people will do for money.  Based on the Terry Southern novel, the sharpest hipster of his day, he would've had a field day with the Trump era, but reality is satire these days.  "When the Circus Comes" from Los Lobos prepares us for the craziness.  "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" cahnnels the mood of mid November '16. Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues" reads like prophecy for 2017 with Jack the Ripper heading the Chamber of Commerce and the delusional Commander of Chief in a barrage of psychedelic stream of consciousness verse. "People Get Ready", an anthem of the civil rights era written by Curtis Mayfield, got covered by hundreds of recording artists. I like The Chamber Brothers cover, a steady rocking version that gets to the gospel origins of the song- appropriate for any day of the year. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins offer a slanted whimsy to political theory on "The Charging Sky." Next Harry Nilsson's version of the Randy Newman standard "Sail Away" about a charming slave trader reminds us hucksters are often too suave to refuse.  Fred Neil's "The Dolphins" will take you to some other place far away. And then Neko Case with "Night Still Comes," a heartbreaking dirge about anything and everything sung beautifully. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds share some "More News From Nowhere." New York City band Parquet Courts search for the Southern Soul on "Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth" and Elmore James moves us back to the center of the circle with "Dust My Blues."  The Rolling Stones go further into the abyss on "Dancin' with Mr D,"  a boozy reflection on excess and temptation, a Stones song more appropriate to conclude a Trump rally than his ominous preference for "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Frank Zappa's "I'm the Slime," memorably performed on 1970s SNL follows a megalomaniac who gleefully manipulates the masses (thru TV, not twitter). Tom Petty comments on widespread culture dissonance on "Shadow People." As Petty ponders the mania for Conceal and Carry as the last refuge of a dangling man he sings with resignation, "Well I ain't on the left, I ain't on the right/Ain't even sure if I got a dog in this fight."  P.J. Harvey resets the tone on "Community of Hope"; a new-old sort of protest music.  "Sittin on Top of the World"  by Howlin Wolf throws an existential curve ball into the ether.  Judee Sill's splendid "There's a Rugged Road" serves up more resilience; Pink Floyd's "Fearless" brings the resistance up another notch - we gonna need it! Finally Ohia's "Farewell Transmission," fronted by the fallen Ohio cult hero Jason Molina (1973-2013) closes the list out with a swinging prose poem rocker of viscous defiance.  As a coda, after emerging from the other end of the rabbit hole, I hope to hear The Doors "Hyacinth House" playing on a shiny neon jukebox, hinting that things will somewhere, somehow be OK.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

An Alternate White Album

What if the Beatles decided to edit their 1968 White Album down to 15 tracks? Their producer George Martin always favored such a course and maybe he was right (don't get me wrong the original LP is still a masterpiece). It's a cool thought experiment. Here's my edit:
Side One
1) Back in the U.S.S.R.
2) Dear Prudence
3) While My Guitar Gently Weeps
4) Not Guilty
5) Yer Blues
6) Piggies
7) Mother Nature's Son
Side 2
1) Cry Baby Cry
2) Julia
3) Helter Skelter
4) Why Don't We Do It In the Road?
5) Happiness is a Warm Gun
6) Long, Long, Long
7) Blackbird
8) Revolution 1
The "single record" approach makes for a more intense and aggressive album that contrasts with the madcap pace of the original. It's also more democratic. I put George's material on nearly equal par with Lennon/McCartney, including his sardonic outtake "Not Guilty."  Ending the album with "Revolution 1" felt like the perfect closer, although Ringo's "Goodnight" is the perfect ending to the double LP.
John: Six Tracks
Paul: Five Tracks
George: Four Tracks

Friday, October 28, 2016

America 2016 Part III: Watching the Wheels

I remember reading the John Lennon quote I posted below and it always stayed with me. All elections are important, especially this one.  And folks are feeling powerless and afraid. I get it.  But why all the fanaticism for leaders?  Why not just focus on improving ourselves and being better human beings?  So whether one is right, left, or center, instead of firing talking points at each other, why not just being kind as we pass each other by? Crack a joke instead. Offer a sympathetic hand on the shoulder.  We're all in this together.  

"Well, you make your own dream. That's the Beatles' story, isn't it? That's Yoko's story. That's what I'm saying now. Produce your own dream. If you want to save Peru, go save Peru. It's quite possible to do anything, but not to put it on the leaders and the parking meters. Don't expect Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or John Lennon or Yoko Ono or Bob Dylan or Jesus Christ to come and do it for you. You have to do it yourself. That's what the great masters and mistresses have been saying ever since time began. They can point the way, leave signposts and little instructions in various books that are now called holy and worshiped for the cover of the book and not for what it says, but the instructions are all there for all to see, have always been and always will be. There's nothing new under the sun. All the roads lead to Rome. And people cannot provide it for you. I can't wake you up. You can wake you up. I can't cure you. You can cure you."

- John Lennon 1980

Monday, October 24, 2016

2016 World Series Preview: Cubs vs Indians

The 2016 World Series. Something's gotta give.  The Chicago Cubs are making their first appearance since 1945, going for their first World Title since 1908.  The Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series since 1948 after losses in 1954, 1995, and 1997. Their last appearance against the Florida Marlins came within two outs of a victory. 

The 2016 Cleveland Indians have youth and experience.  They steam rolled over the Boston Red Sox in the Divisional Series and easily took care of the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS.

The Cubs also cruised through the playoffs as well, overcoming a 2-1 deficit in the NLCS against the L.A. Dodgers. Their potent pitching staff of Jon Lester, Jake Arrietta, Kyle Hendricks, and John Lackey will be a formidable challenge for the Tribe. However, the Indians also have a strong rotation as well - and a superb bullpen.  

Odds are it will be a series dominated by pitching. 

It will be exciting to see two great baseball teams with a colorful history take the field. Despite being lovable losers for decades, the Cubs have a rich history.  I remember watching them frequently in the 1980s on WFFT Channel 55 out of Fort Wayne.  The Cubs were tough and fun to watch with Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Andrew Dawson, and Greg Maddux.

For a generation of Cleveland fans born between 1945-1975, a good season meant breaking even and not being a total embarrassment. Many, many colorful characters played at the old stadium by the lake. Highlights included hiring the first black manager Frank Robinson in 1975 and Len Barker's perfect game on May 15, 1981.  Other memories were less savory, such as 5 cent beer night on June 5, 1974 (the game ended in forfeit).

Behind manager Terry Francona, the Indians play with swagger and confidence.  A victory for the Tribe would heal the wounds of 1997 and 1954, two defeats that devastated the franchise for years.   

The eyes of the nation will be watching.