Shows This Weekend and Books, Music, and Television Worth Checking Out

Shiny ribs Show Page

I’ll be performing back to back shows tonight at Strange Brew in Austin, Tx with Shinyribs.  The first one is sold out and I have a feeling the second one will be as well.  If you want to go, get your tickets now.  Tomorrow we are in the Fort Worth area.  You can get all the details up above.

Yesterday I watched the latest episodes of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher.  I also finally viewed Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.  I was struck by how all three of these programs were more informative than anything on cable news.  They were also more interesting and entertaining as well.  The documentary was a serious piece by an award winning filmmaker, so it it is no surprise there. The other two are comedy shows that talk about current events.  Comedians are still our biggest mainstream truth tellers, even after John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have gone off the air.

I’ve been reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.  It is a murder mystery that takes place in an abbey in 1327.  But it uses the genre of the murder mystery, although with a historical twist, as a jumping off point for discussions on religion and philosophy.  It’s amazing the amount of visual and historical detail he is able to pack in, while still holding the reader’s attention throughout.

Next month features a host of records that I am really excited about.  New records by Darlene Love, New Order, Iron Maiden, and Public Image Ltd. all make appearances.

Reflections On “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”

I finally got around to watching Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the HBO documentary about Scientology.  It was everything everyone said it was.  The truth really is stranger than fiction.  I’m not going to do a full review, there have been plenty of others, and the film is still too new in my head to give it any kind of overall analysis.  There are just a few quick points and questions I wanted to address:

  1.  Watching the movie you see an alternative reality, where people believe things that can only be described as batshit insane.  Yet, many of these people are highly functioning members of society.  What widely held beliefs do we hold in our society that appear absolutely ridiculous to those viewing us from afar?  I don’t mean ones that differ from other societies, there are plenty of those, but ones that are provably false, yet a great deal of Americans put faith in them.
  2. Many of the people interviewed, the high ranking former Scientologists, that now have retired from the church, look back upon their former life with disbelief.  If we were to be removed from our current station in life are there things that we would view as absurd?
  3. When something looks and feels like a propagandist rally, it probably is.  There are creepy spectacles where the leader of the modern church, David Miscavige, and Tom Cruise speak to a stadium full of people in tuxedos and ball gowns.  Fireworks go off, people wave flags, inspirational videos are shown.  It looks like a megachurch combined with a political party convention combined with a sports rally.  All of these things are things in which every day America people have to suspend disbelief to participate in.  Sure, a sports rally is largely harmless, but you are essentially pretending that the action on the field somehow matters in your life, which unless you have money on the game, it doesn’t.  I think the other two examples are self-explanatory.

My point is that the church of Scientology is ridiculously absurd.  But at the same time, it is just an exaggerated version of many of the things that inhabit everyday life.  In fact when compared to some of the televangelists that John Oliver recently spoofed, it really isn’t any more absurd.  People in this documentary do horrible things to other people in the name of belief.  So many of the ills of mankind are based on a belief of some kind, but because they are more accepted, are not recognized as absurd.  The prison of belief.  One of the things that makes the documentary so powerful is that it is explicitly about Scientology, but it is also implicitly about the way that people get carried away by belief.  I would bet that even those of us that think we have a realistic view of the world have some pretty ridiculous notions if we look hard enough.  Hopefully this documentary will make people look at their own lives and not just the lives of the freaks on view.  That being said, the things Scientologists believe in are really, really, really fucking insane!

Iggy Pop and David Bowie On Daytime TV In 1977

My brother showed me these clips today.  They are pretty amazing.  Iggy Pop and David Bowie went on The Dinah Shore Show, a daytime talkshow, in 1977 to do an interview and two songs.  (Above is Sister Midnight and at the very bottom is a clip of them performing Fun Time.  Between that is the actual interview.)   I can’t imagine what a daytime talkshow audience would have thought of the heavy weirdness being laid down by the music those two were making back then!  I mean imagine someone going on one of those vacuous daytime talkshows today and singing Iggy’s lines from Sister Midnight:

Calling sister midnight
You know, I had a dream last night
Mother was in my bed
And I made love to her

Father he gunned for me
Hunted me with his six gun
Calling sister midnight
What can I do about my dreams?

Or Funtime:

Fun
Last night, I was down in the lab
Fun
Talkin’ to Dracula and his crew
All aboard for funtime

 

Why it is the Best of Times and the Worst of Times On TV

Why it is the Best of Times and the Worst of Times On TV

The above article at Salon is an interesting look at the economics of modern television.  Obviously, when they are looking at the future of anything, it is somewhat of a guessing game, if here at least one that seems to have some statistics to back it.  However, I think one thing that everyone needs to understand is that we get the kind of culture that we support.  We can either view culture as a public good and support at least part of it as a community, or we can view it as something that should live or die by the market.  Right now it is economically viable for a lot of great television to be made, and a lot of bad television.  I think that other art forms, for a number of reasons, are suffering compared to other times in our history.

True Detective On Religion

Ever since finishing True Detective Season 2 recently, I have been rewetting scenes from Season 1.  This is a great scene where the two main characters discuss religion and its role in society.  Even if you are not a fan of either season, there is a great philosophical discussion at the heart of this scene.

More Posts On True Detective Include: True Detective Season 2 Review

Morrissey On Larry King

Morrissey larry king

Moments from Morrissey Interview With Larry King

As anyone that comes to this sight with any regularity knows, I am a huge Morrissey fan.  He just did his first U.S. television interview in many years this week on Larry King Now.  Most people that are fans have already probably watched the interview or read the transcript.  For those of you that aren’t quite as enthusiastic, but still interested, Salon does a good job of providing an overview at the link above.

The full interview is here.

Morrissey Performs Live On James Corden

Morrissey performing Kiss Me A Lot from my favorite album last year, Word Peace is None of Your Business, on James Corden. Even in a fairly straight ahead pop song, by Moz standards, he manages to get in, “Bastille mausoleum.”

More Posts On Morrissey Include:  Morrissey As Existential Hero

Stephen Colbert GQ Cover Story

Stephen Colbert participates in the "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" segment of the CBS Summer TCA Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Stephen Colbert participates in the “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” segment of the CBS Summer TCA Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Stephen Colbert GQ Cover Story

Over at GQ there is a really interesting article on Stephen Colbert as he puts his new show together.  He is every bit as thoughtful as you would expect him to be.  A sample:

“I went, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I have to do it,’ ” he said. “I have to get up onstage and perform extemporaneously with other people.” He was part of the same Second City class that included Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello and Chris Farley. “Our first night professionally onstage,” he said, the longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”

“It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.”

More Posts On Stephen Colbert Include:  Former Seattle Police Chief Against Militarization

True Detective Season 2 Review

Season two of True Detective was a sprawling epic, a beautiful, enthralling, if at times messy, masterpiece. It was less tightly scripted than season one, and therefor its flaws were more noticeable, but it also exceeded the first season in scope, ambition, and I would argue, great moments. (Both seasons had flaws, but I will get to why they not only pale next to their accomplishments, but were also probably inevitable given the ambition of the series.) It was absolutely stacked with ideas and social commentary, it was batshit crazy with many moments of absurdly dark humor, and it managed to play homage to a genre, while at the same time upending the conventions of that same genre.

Creator Nic Pizzolatto took big risks with season two. It’s almost as if he was trying to pack this season with everything he ever wanted to say, as if, in the fickle world of television, he didn’t know if he wasn’t going to get a another chance. It reminded me of the idea of early punk rock where you play every song like it is going to be your last. Anytime one is swinging for the fences one risks the chance of whiffing hard, and certain scenes didn’t work, but overall I felt he connected way more than he missed.

– Before I go any further I want to explain that I am going to write as if all of you have seen the show, so there will be spoilers. However, I hope that those of you that didn’t can still get something out of this, that this review will still help you decide if you should watch this show or not. –

Every aspect of this show was packed with information. This, of course, includes the visuals. I loved the ariel shots of freeways that seemed to show civilization as some kind of blight on the natural world. How often does a TV show have images in it that make you look at the world differently? There were also little subversive jokes included in the images. There is a shot of an industrial zone, pumping out pollution, in which there is an American flag at the center of it. Also, a comically corrupt mayor has pictures behind him where he is hugging George W. Bush. But this isn’t heavy handed social commentary, these are blink and you’ll miss them moments. This is background information contributing to the overall feel and outlook of the show.

The show was noir in genre, paying homage to everything from the surrealist noir of David Lynch to gritty realism of China Town.  However, almost all noir is sexy, even when the sex is dangerous.  However, the sex in this show was actually presented as visually unsettling and damaging.  One of the main set-pieces in the show was an orgy held for the 1%.  It was filmed like a fantastic nightmare sequence.  There was nothing appealing about the sex in this or almost any other scene.  Even Lynch, one of my favorite directors, who has scenes of extremely disturbing imagery, often also has elements in his movie that have an old Hollywood sexiness to them.  Even when Ray Velcoro, played by Colin Farrell, and Ani Bezzerides, played by Rachel McAdams, finally connect and have sex, the warmth in those scenes seems to be despite of the sex.  Despite of their fallen humanity, despite the damage that these two characters have, they are able to form a connection based on love, a noble and all too rare tribute of the human species.

But if I am making the show seem serious, it is also laugh-out-loud, batshit insane funny.  The humor is jet black, but it is there in spades.  No one gets to capitalize on this more than Colin Farrell, who makes the most out of every scene he is in.  In one scene he does coke and goes through every human emotion in the space of a minute, going from shadow boxing to weeping.  He threatens a 12 year old bully in a way that is not only menacing, but so funny I had to rewatch it several times over just to believe what I was seeing.  He flat out kills the great one liners that the script gives him, as does McAdams.

So many of the actors deliver, not only the leads I mentioned, but also many of the character actors as well.  Special note must be made of Ritchie Coster, as the sleazy mayor, and W. Earl Brown, as an alcoholic detective straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel.  With much less screen time than the leads they deliver characters that can’t be forgotten.

This season did have flaws, but when it did it felt like someone overreaching, not like someone settling for middle of the road.  Vince Vaughn’s character was a mixed bag, and I can’t tell if it was the acting or the writing.  But even he had his moments.  There were certain scenes that felt like they could have been better, like the final shootout that both Velcoro and Vaughn’s character, Frank Semyon, participated in.

But I can’t even really hold these against the show, because it delivered so many moments of the interesting, the intelligent, and the weird.  Many of the criticisms leveled at the show focused on the fact that creator Pizzolatto wrote everything himself.  They seemed to say that he needed a room of writers to temper his creative sensibilities.  But if you were to do that, you might just end up with a television show that, even if it was tighter from a narrative perspective, also would have excluded the show’s more eccentric moments.

There is a Lynchian dream sequence early in the show, after Velcoro is shot, in which a Conway Twitty impersonator is seen singing Twitty’s version of The Rose.  (seen above)  This isn’t the kind of thing you are going to have delivered to you in your average cops and robbers show.  I’m always happy when I watch something and I feel like the form is being expanded.

Critics were also harsh in comparing season two to season one.  However, I feel like this is misguided.  This is like criticizing Moby Dick for not being Billy Budd.  Season one was fantastic, but it was a tightly scripted genre story thats strength came from the unique dialog, the excellent visual aesthetics, and the great performances of the leads.  Season two was an overstuffed epic that was messy at times, but was also great because of its messy all consuming nature.  When you read Moby Dick it can be hard to make it through the sections on whales, but those sections of the book expand the world of the novel.  I’m not saying that season two is a classic on scale with Moby Dick, but if you view it as something different than your typical genre story, if you can appreciate its expansive nature, I think you can begin to see its many and very real merits.

Often great shows are not appreciated in their time.  Twin Peaks and Deadwood, two of the greatest shows ever, were terminated before their time.  Both shows, years after they have gone off the air, are in talks to be revived, because people now appreciate them for the masterpieces they were.   (Twin Peaks is definitely being revived, Deadwood is only in talks at the time of this writing.)  It’s too early to tell if True Detective will hold up over the long haul, though every day since I watched it I find myself liking even it’s faults more.  Over time certain things lose their luster, while other things only get better through repeated viewings.  But the point that I want to make is that things that break new ground are often not appreciated in their time because they do not conform to preconceived notions of what they should be.  Things that reach for greatness, that expand their form, that are complex, are often not understood by a great deal of people when they first appear.  Many people want things in safe little packages.  Things that take risks often confound audiences at first.  It’s only after something’s influence is felt, as safer and lesser versions of something invade the marketplace, that the original thing more understood.  People learn to interpret things over time.

But I think there is no doubt that Pizzolatto is reaching for greatness through True Detective’s season two.  He has something to say.  He knows the noir genre and is trying to expand the form.  It’s not perfect, but that is one fallouts generated by the risk of of actually trying to do something new.  It may be messy at times, but it is also beautiful, frightening, funny, intelligent, and loaded with interesting moments.  I think years from now, although of course there is no way of knowing, when lesser safer versions of this same story are told, we will be glad that we had this original of the species to view.  In my opinion, Pizzolatto got to the mountaintop. If he stumbled slightly along the way, that is of little concern.

More Posts On True Detective Season 2 Include: True Detective Season Two Has David Lynch Influence

 

 

 

Fox News After the Debate

In Idaho in a hotel.   I had a gig last night during the debate, so I am watching some segments on it.  (On Fox News of all places!)  Everyone I ate with last night wanted to see it, so the big viewership numbers didn’t surprise me.  But the reason people wanted to watch it had nothing to do with their investment in it.  They just wanted a ticket to the freakshow.

Megyn Kelly is hosting a panel on Fox news tonight playing clips.  I feel like my TV just opened to a portal to another universe, but alas, it is our own.  The conversation is ripe with buzz words, Horatio Alger myths, and junior high history class conceptions of the way the world really is.  It’s like someone is making finger puppets in front of a projector and the audience is mad, but they are blaming the shadow and not the hand.

The world is a mysterious place.  There are landscapes I have seen on this trip that seem as if they were birthed from a dream.  They make human existence seem small.  There is a dark chasm that every single person knows is out there, eventually.  How do we behave in the face of uncertainty?   On Fox News the answer seems to be to cover up reality with a grotesque cartoon.  Send in the clowns…

More Posts On GOP Candidates: Donald Trump Will Turn Your Mind Into Rat Soup