“mo ti mo” – king sunny adé and his african beats (1983)

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While everyone is out seeing the big blockbusters and films from the Oscars’ shortlist, it seems these days the only movies I go see are obscure and generally confusing to most people.  I’m not sure exactly why I go see these movies.  Maybe it is for the camp factor.  Or even just for the curiosity.  Or perhaps even the scarcity of the screening itself.  Does it really matter?  All I am saying is that I seem to spend money for the experience of seeing some esoteric bullshit.

Monday was no exception when I went to the Music Box Theatre to see the lost Robert Altman teen comedy O.C. and Stiggs.  Altman is a major name in the world of New Hollywood cinema having directed such great titles such as MASH, Nashville, and Short Cuts.  In addition to his making films with an aesthetic that highly stylized and satirical, he was also a maverick as a director in the sense that he was difficult to work with in the sense that he became anti-Hollywood during the 1980s.  It was during this era that he directed O.C. and Stiggs.

O.C. and Stiggs is a teen comedy about two trouble-making high schoolers who plot to prank an upper-middle class suburban family they despise in their hometown of Phoenix. Though it was shot in 1983 and finished production in 1984, it wouldn’t see the light of day until 1987. The initial concept of O.C. and Stiggs was developed by the National Lampoon and meant to capitalize on the trend of teen comedies that had seen a boost of popularity a few years earlier with titles such as Animal House.

Not much is known about the film since it was a critical bomb and Altman’s least commercially successful movie having only earned $29,000+ at the box office.  Though somehow, in the film’s development, Altman was attached to direct and that is when the initial concept changed during the course of production.

While the film was intended to be a true teen comedy, Altman had the plan to derail the original vision and turn it into a parody of the teen comedy genre.  With appearances from notable talent such as Dennis Hopper and Melvin Van Peebles, plus early appearances of talent like Cynthia Nixon, O.C. and Stiggs is a bizarre examination of teenage mischief through the lens of Altman’s satirical take on the American culture of guns, capitalism, and freedom.

The Music Box Theatre was almost packed to see this obscure title. It was quite a strange experience.  The film does not age well with numerous sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic jokes and a style that obviously comes off as parody, even if that wasn’t evident to the studio and distributors at the time.  While I have seen movies of a worse quality than O.C. and Stiggs, it still stands out as one of my strangest viewing experiences.  I think with other bad movies, I sense an earnestness from the director and their thinking they were making something truly wonderful (i.e. Tommy Wiseau’s The Room).  With Altman’s O.C. and Stiggs, this was parody without irony which is something you don’t see much of.

The only thing that has stuck with me from the experience of seeing the film was the music.  In the film, the two leads are obsessed with King Sunny Adé & His African Beats, a Nigerian jùjú band.  Only two tracks were contributed to the film.  One was an original composition called “O.C. and Stiggs” which had an instrumental that appears frequently throughout the film and plays in its entirety over the ending credits.  Unfortunately, that track has never been released.  While it does appear on YouTube, I cannot include it in my blog as the focus track since it has never been officially released outside of the film.  So, for this purpose, I’ll focus on the other track that appeared in the film.

During one of the big pranks O.C. and Stiggs play on the town, they interrupt a local play production so King Sunny Adé’ & His African Beats can play a concert after being swindled by a promoter in Mexico.  They perform “Mo Ti Mo,” from their 1983 studio album Syncro System, in its entirety with everyone in the place dancing and jumping around and forgetting that they were supposed to see a play.  In an otherwise odd scene, the performance was fantastic (studio and film versions below).

I never have to see O.C. and Stiggs again.  I’m glad I saw it, but now it enters my long list of films I saw because of curiosity and scarcity.  You don’t need to see it as well.  But do check out King Sunny Adé & His African Beats.

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“i don’t want to set the world on fire” – the ink spots (1941)

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It is said that January is the hardest month for people.  It follows the holidays, is typically the coldest, and is way too long.  In Chicago, January is when winter really kicks in with unbelievably cold temperatures.  January, with February coming in at a close second, makes Chicago a little unbearable.  So, I find ways to relax.

I’m a busy guy and I don’t relax much over the holidays.  I don’t believe that many people actually do feel rested up during the holidays.  There sometimes is a lot of travel involved and family can be a bit much to handle sometimes.  I always feel like I need a holiday from the holidays.  So, I try to make my January as relaxing as possible.  Both with regards to dealing with the weather and to get some me time.

When I was younger, I used to watch a lot of television and play a ton of video games.  They were just my hobbies.  However, I have new hobbies now.  I still watch some television, but I play video games very rarely.

The last few years, I have used January as a time to rewatch beloved shows that have since ended.  Last year, I marathoned Breaking Bad for its 10th anniversary.  I could not think of any shows I felt compelled to repeat, so I turned to my other former love.  I turned on my Xbox 360.

I remember purchasing Fallout 3 in 2010 after a friend’s recommendation.  I was never really into RPGs because I didn’t care for the turn-based gameplay that most of those types of games adhere to.  When I was told there was a real-time combat system, one that involved more than just pressing a button or two, I decided I would go for it.  And I loved it!

The open world, the scary creatures and environments, and the futuristic retro aesthetic really appealed to me.  Fallout 3 quickly became one of my favorite video games.  Since I was a recent college graduate and only working part-time, I had lots of free time over the summer to explore the Capital Wasteland! It was fantastic.

Fallout 3 is a massive video game with potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay.  Given the scope of the game, plus having recently moved to Chicago and focusing on finding work, I knew it wouldn’t be a game I would return to frequently.  I was also transitioning to a point a of my life, due to finances and apartment size, where video games were becomingly less and less of a priority.  It would be awhile before returned to the post-apocalyptic hellscape.

It wouldn’t be until the summer of 2014 when I returned to Fallout 3 and replayed it in its entirety.  I was nursing a breakup and didn’t have much going on, so Fallout 3 was a great escape.  It was amazing how I still remembered so much from the game, but was still left surprised by things I had forgotten or had not discovered before.  The second time through, it was still one of my favorites.

Now, in January 2019, I have returned to the ruins of Washington, D.C. for a third time.  Instead of catching up on a show, I have been revisiting Fallout 3 for the third time.  As I am playing through it, I have been taking a different strategy.  I’m exploring more than I had previously and am dedicating myself to more side missions.  I really want to get as much of an experience as I can because I don’t know when I’ll play it again.  Could be five years.  Could be ten.  Could be never.

Part of the reason why I’m getting more in-depth with it is because I’m missing out on the recent activity of the Fallout franchise.  I don’t really buy video games anymore, so I don’t have the latest system.  While everyone else has been exploring the reaches of Fallout 4 and Fallout ’76, I am being considerably more retro with my decade old game. And I am fine with that.  Maybe one day, when the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One is several generations old, I’ll purchase one used for $50, along with a used copy of Fallout 4 for $10, and see what I missed out on.  Maybe.

One of the signature qualities of the game is the music.  There are built in radio frequencies that you can tune into that each have their own characteristics.  And the music is featured in the game, and in the advertising, almost like a character itself.

While John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” has been the new featured tune because of the recent release of Fallout ’76, it doesn’t hold a candle to the legacy of its most iconic soundtrack choice.  Written in 1938 by Bennie Benjamin, Eddie Durham, Sol Marcus, and Eddie Seiler, the 1941 rendition of “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” by the Ink Spots has become that song’s official anthem.  I remember seeing the first trailer for Fallout 3 when a radio turns on playing the song as the camera backs out of rusted out bus to reveal a nuclear devastated landscape and a Brotherhood of Steel paladin looking towards the camera saying “War…war never changes.”  Cue hairs on neck standing.

I have heard that the song has been included in Fallout 4, but it will forever bring about images of a ruined Washington, D.C. with mutants, raiders, and a shadow government running amok.  And I’ll be there, as the lone survivor, to bring peace.

“happy new year” – abba (1980)

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New Years is such an interesting holiday.  People put so much stock into it with the belief that this arbitrary date within our concept of time will bring about some significance in their lives.  I know that is a cynical assessment, and I try not to be cynical because cynicism is just a symptom of fear, but it takes a lot of work to be optimistic.

I do think positively about New Year’s because the idea of marking our milestones, and the inherent sense of a new beginning, makes the difficulty aspects of our lives easier to bear because such a holiday gives us hope.  And hope is such an important thing to have.  Especially during these times.

Since I’ve started this blog, my posts about New Years have always been this idea that this next year will be when things truly amazing will happen. And, frankly, that just is not realistic.  Good things have happened, do happen, and will continue to happen.  But, so will bad things.  You must take them both to truly appreciate what you have in life.

So, instead of yammering on about the abstract concept of New Years and what is plays in our lives, I instead want to share a moment of tranquility I experienced a few days prior.

I was on a plane from Cincinnati to Chicago after spending the Christmas holiday with family.  I did not sleep much the night before and the flight was in the morning.  So, naturally, I knew I would fall asleep.  I boarded the plane, put on my headphones, tuned to Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich, and was out before takeoff.  The flight is only about an hour, but I woke up a few minutes before the descent.  I was sitting in the window seat and it was open.  I have flown many times before, so I am fully aware of what being above the clouds looks like. However, this time felt different.  I was confused because what I saw did not resemble clouds.  The texture and coloring looked like a wintry snowscape of a mountain valley.  For a few brief seconds, I thought I was a flight to Alaska since the flight path takes you over such terrain.  Then, I realized that I was actually looking at clouds and I was mesmerized by them.  I experienced a few minutes where I was living in the present, tuned out from the problems of the world and my life, and focused on the curves, crests, and stillness of these clouds.  For a brief moment, I felt transported.  It was a beautifully tranquil experience that I will not forget.

After a few minutes, the plane began descending.  I was immersed in solid white as we crashed into the clouds.  Then, in subtle shifts, grey tones started to bleed through as the plane, as well as I, transitioned from such a magical moment to the dullness of a grey Chicago day.  I enjoyed the magic of what I had just seen, but returning to my normal life really cemented in my mind how special such a moment was.  That duality is necessary in life to appreciate such moments.

A lot of songs about New Years are celebratory or about the hope of all the good things that could come with it.  I’ve written about those songs in the past.  However, for this year, I wanted to find a song that reflected the duality of New Years as a concept.

I could not find a better song than “Happy New Year” by Abba.  A single from their 1980 studio album Super Trouper, though it would not be released as a single until 1999, it is a song about what one feels when the party dies down.  We all celebrated a milestone and reveled in the moments with good cheer, good drinks, and good friends, but it is never enough to solve all life’s problems.  They still exist.  New Years, in the song, gives us a vision now and then of a world where every neighbor is a friend, but some dreams die.  However, things are not as bleak as they can be as long as we have the hope and will to try to make our lives, and the lives of those around us, better.  Otherwise, what is the point?  We might as well lay down and lie, as sung in the song.

There is a truthful duality recognized in that song that captures New Years in ways that many ignore or choose not to see.  Don’t get me wrong.  It should be a time to celebrate accomplishments, loves milestones, and other happy things while surrounded by people you love and who love you back, but it is more than that.  To quote a different band, nothing changes on New Year’s Day.

“the peppermint engineer” – joanie sommers (1977)

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Christmas is here! And that means that holiday music is playing everywhere, and people are complaining about it.  Bah humbug!  Holiday music is great and as far as I’m concerned, the cornier the better.  I think the reason why people say they hate Christmas music is because they hear the same songs over and over and over again, and they take the music too seriously.  Holiday music is meant to be ridiculous and campy.   So what if you’ve heard that only John Lennon Christmas song or various a cappella version of “Last Christmas.”  Instead of just complaining, try exploring what else is out there.  And don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.

The holiday season is all about traditions.  Most of the people who celebrate during the holiday season have their own traditions, often with family.  I know I do.  But, I’ve got my own traditions that I like to participate in on my own.  Topping the list is seeing John Waters do his Christmas monologue, but I always look forward to Andy Cirzan’s annual holiday playlist.

Andy Cirzan is the VP of Jam Productions and, every year, compiles a curated compilation of campy Christmas classics.  For several decades, Cirzan has searched through record stores, flea markets, estate sales, and all kinds of places to bring you the weirdest and most obscure Christmas music out there.

In recent years, Cirzan debuts his compilation on WBEZ’s Sound Opinions and tells stories about that record, what litter information there may be, and how he came across it.  The compilation is then made free to download for the remainder of the year.

To listen to Cirzan’s compilations, you must have an open mind and not take the content too seriously.  It is all ridiculous but that is the fun of it.  Amidst all the oddities, Cirzan does find some interesting stuff that is legitimately great or becomes an ear worm.  Regardless on how ridiculous the compilation is, it has become one of my favorite holiday traditions.

This year, Cirzan unveiled his 30th annual compilation.  Called Rudolph Pouts…and Pouts Again, The Hits Vol. 1, it is a collection of some of Cirzan’s favorite songs from previous compilations spanning three decades.  I always enjoy listening to Cirzan talk about the music and each song brings me joy.  He does a really great job compiling these compilations and his passion shines through.

I have my personal favorites that I have heard over the years.  And while many of them are good or laughably entertaining, one that I think about more than any other is “The Peppermint Engineer” by Joanie Sommers.  Released in 1977, “The Peppermint Engineer” is a saccharine tune about an engineer driving a peppermint choo choo and the spirit of Christmas love.  With vocals that sound whimsical and childlike, the song is as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

So, quit being a holiday music Scrooge and try exploring the wonderful world of holiday music.  You mind something you might enjoy!

“read, eat, sleep” – the books (2002)

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About this time four years ago, I picked up reading as a hobby.  I was not much of a reader growing up.  I read a few books here or there that looked interesting, but it was never something that would be referred to as a hobby.  Until I graduated college, I was pretty much about video and music.  Music is still great, but video games bore me now.

Anyway, back to the reading.  MY hobby of reading a ton of books is no secret to those who even remotely know me as an acquaintance. Having a book on me has become ubiquitous that reading has become more of an identity than a hobby.  I’m not even talking about one particular genre, series, or author.  I read all kinds of book on all kinds of subjects by all kinds of people.

I hit a major milestone last weekend.  I dropped a nearly vomit-inducing amount of money to be done with my student loans.  I had a spreadsheet tracking spending, student loan payouts, and estimates of when I would pay everything off based on a variety of different income levels and factors.  That shit was ridiculous and became an obsession.  I was tooling with its last week and then I paused.  I just stared into the distance for a few seconds thinking about life.  I decided this shit was dumb and I went for the nuclear option.  It took a few days, but I did eventually feel good about that decision.

After paying that off and becoming debt free, I started thinking about my life now versus my life four years ago.  Four years ago, I was flat broke, trying to get over a devastating breakup, and not regularly employed.  I didn’t really have any hobbies or friends as most of what I was used to was part of my old life with my ex-girlfriend.  All those things left with her, so I had to reassemble my life by finding new friends, hobbies, and interests that were interesting to me and allowed me to craft my own identity.

Despite a massive payment that made me want to collapse, my life is so much better than it was before.  Even t my lowest, four years ago, I was determined to do things my way.  I didn’t take money from parents and I set out to find ways to enrich my life.  I wanted to take guitar classes, but I couldn’t afford them.  So, I volunteered at a music school and got classes through that.  I only had about or two friends, so I went and did stuff to meet more people and grow connections with them.  It was a lot of work.  Sometimes it felt forced, but I think that was more due to my intensity and tenacity. But, it was truly organic.

My hobby for reading developed during this time.  A polar vortex hit Chicago, so it was too cold to wander around outside.  I didn’t have a TV because I got rid of it prior to moving in my girlfriend at the time, but I had a laptop with Netflix. Though, even that was not interesting.  Watching Netflix, alone in the dark or with bright lights, just depressed.  I have a lot of difficulty turning off my brain, so I cannot really zone out while watching shows.  Watching television is such a passive experience anyway, so all it allowed me to do was sit and stew.  I did not know how to be alone with my thoughts in a healthy manner yet.

From recent interviews, I had seen that John Waters had a book about him hitch-hiking across the United States.  That sounded interesting, so I got my library card for the first time, which was nearly 5 years after moving here.  I am a little embarrassed by that.

Anyway, that book led to another one.  I was unemployed, and everything was cold and Netflix was boring.  Reading became a way to actively engage my brain and distract myself from my problems.  It didn’t solve things, but it really helped.

Since I was unemployed, I could read all day. I ended up making a game of it.  That is when I put together my first reading challenge.  The goal was to read one book a week every week for a whole year.  Fifty-two books in fifty-two weeks.  And I had some rules.  First, it had to be a book I had never read before.  I recognized early on there was a lot I was missing out on, so I wanted to challenge myself and try new things.  And last, once I read a book by an author, I couldn’t read another book by that author until the end of the challenge.  Again, to keep my reading fresh and new.

That first year, I ended reading 90 books over 52 weeks.  I read a few hours a week at home, daily during my work commute, and during lunch at work.  I used to be really bored by reading, but I was loving it now.  I even started a spreadsheet tracking new releases, when I expect to start a new book, which book is next, and how many books I had read during the year to date.  Nerdy, I know, but it became fun and I liked the structure, though I did have surprise books I would drop in spontaneously as a palette cleanser.

Brining this up today because I am putting together my year-end reading stats for 2018.  This is where I figure out how many books I read, total number of pages, and pick my superlatives such as my favorite book of the year.  I still have two weeks before the end of year, but I already have my year-end choices down and I know I’ll finish them before the ball drops in Times Square.

I’ve also been winding down the last two weeks after finishing a really busy period.  Another busy period is happening right after the new year.  So, I’m gonna take some time to rest and think about the things I accomplished over the last few years through my own tenacity, plus the support of friends and family.

The Books dropped their first studio album Thought For Food in 2002.  The second track, “Read, Eat, and Sleep” is basically my plan for the rest of the year.  It is a slow-tempo folk, electronica song that is almost entirely instrumental expect for a vocalist spelling out the song title.  Nothing too complex.  Just straight chill, which is exactly what I need.

This holiday season, take some time and relax.  DO what you love and with the people you love.  Think about what you have and if there is anything you can learn from your past or appreciate from your present.  I’m in a better place now, which I’m sure seemed hard to believe back then.  I have three more days of work and then I’m checking out.  Gonna read, eat, and sleep.

“good morning, baltimore” – nikki blonsky (2007)

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Last week, for my birthday, I traveled to Baltimore.  I know. It sounds like such an odd vacation destination.  I have never had, let alone anyone else, expressed the desire to visit the place.  It was never on my radar of places to go when there are so many other places to see first.  Baltimore was never high on list.

However, I went to Baltimore.  At the Baltimore Museum of Art, there was an exhibition on the art of John Waters called “Indecent Exposure.” I wanted to see that, and I was not sure if it was going to tour.  I like to travel for my birthday and, out of curiosity, checked on airfare prices.  They were less than $100 and even then, I was still hemming and hawing about going to Baltimore.  Couldn’t I use that money for some place more exciting?  When a friend offered to travel with me, I decided to go.  And having done that, I never need to go again.

The exhibition was fantastic.  It featured portraits, statues, and chromogenic prints related to Waters’ own work, inspirations, and general fascinations.  It was subversive, and quite sincere in its execution.  It was everything I wanted and more.  I cannot recommend it more highly if comes to a museum near you.  Though, I cannot say the same for the rest of Baltimore.

My friend Amelia and I walked around a lot of places, saw different neighborhoods, and had a pretty comprehensive exploration of Baltimore.  And, frankly, Baltimore is really awful. This, of course, should not have surprised me.  Waters, in his films, has commented on the trashiness of Baltimore with fond recollection.  The seedy and trashy aspects of Baltimore inspired his outlook and cemented his unique vision as an auteur.  And he is sincere about it.  There is no irony in his work.  He loves Baltimore and all of its trashiness.

I just could not say the same for myself and neither could Amelia.  Walking from place to place, there was just a lot of trash, dilapidated buildings, and an aesthetic that neither of us could pinpoint. We were solicited for drugs on our way to Edgar Allen Poe’s grave and we, mistakenly, walked right through the worst neighborhood in the city.  Now, I may hear responses like “But, Bradley, all cities are dirty and filled with trash.  But there are nice areas too.”  I know that.  I live in a city much larger than Baltimore and one with a bigger reputation for crime and violence (although incorrectly attributed).  I know what cities are like. And Amelia and I did venture out to the nicer neighborhoods as well, but Baltimore is still awful.

Here are two of my favorite anecdotes from touring the city.  After we leave the Baltimore Museum of Art, Amelia and I walk two miles to the Green Mount Cemetery to find the graves of John Wilkes Booth and Elijah Bond, the creator of the Ouija Board.  We walk through a neighborhood that was obviously lower class and a bit rundown, but we were fine with it.  We live in Chicago and are used to these things.  We get to the cemetery and tour the grounds which are beautiful and stunning and filled with foxes.

When we leave, Amelia does not want to walk again so I ordered a Lyft.  As soon as we get into the car, the driver says “What the hell are you doing out here?  Do you live here?” We explained that were just visiting as tourists and he says “What the hell were you touring? What is there to see here?” We told him about the cemetery and other aspects of our trip.  He then tells us we were one street away from being in the most violent neighborhood in the city and was legitimately afraid for us.  He said he almost cancelled the order before picking us up.

My other favorite anecdote was at the gate to board the plane to get back to Chicago.  A woman in her early 20s was ahead of Amelia and I, and she turned around and said she recognized us from the flight to Baltimore two days earlier.  Turns out we had the exact same round-trip flight.  We asked what she was in town for and she told us she came to interview for a job.  I followed-up asking her what she thought of the city.  She grimaced, looked down a quick second, and then said, “If they offer me the job, I am going to decline.” Baltimore is so awful that a young woman trying to jump start her career would not move there.

I’m sure Baltimore can be charming and has a lot to love about it.  People willingly live there, so it cannot be all that bad.  I’m just saying I have no desire to ever return for any reason whatsoever.

Waters’ most successful film was Hairspray.  Released in 1988, it is an ode to the teen dance shows that aired in Baltimore when Waters was a kid.  Hairspray is the story of Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenage girl, who pursues local stardom as a dancer on one of these shows.  The film tackles the issue of racial segregation as Tracy fights to have these dance programs desegregate and becomes a local hero.

In 2002, a musical based on the film debuted and went to win the Tony Award for “Best Musical” in 2003.  A film adaptation of the musical was released in 2007 starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, and Nikki Blonsky as Tracy.  The musical would then air in 2016 for a live on-air adaptation.

Waters’ original film was surprising since it was released with a “PG” rating when most of his earlier works were “X.”  Since then, through the musical adaptations, it has become his most famous work, this lasting ode to 1960s Baltimore.

“Good Morning, Baltimore” is the musical’s opening number.  Performed by Nikki Blonsky in the 2007 film adaptation, Tracy sings about all the things she experiences in the city on her way to school.  It celebrates the dirt, grime, and trash of Baltimore with Tracy even hitching a ride with the garbage man and getting flashed by creep, Waters’ cameo in the film.  The song is a recognition of the Baltimore’s flavor, the same one that inspired him but repelled me.  I guess I have to appreciate the city’s character if it influenced John. It worked for him, but not for me.  I’ll just visit the city through his films from now on.

“creative depression” – julie doiron (1997)

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Since shortly after Labor Day weekend, I had spent most of my free time focused on a creative project that kept my mentally. Intellectually, and physically engaged throughout most of my free time.  I somewhat sequestered myself in my down time to work on it. Sure, I saw friends on occasion, but I did not go out of my way to make plans.  Instead, I just focused on the project.

When working on a major project, you go through a lot of ups and downs.  Moments of doubt and confusion are separated by feelings of pride and accomplishment, oftentimes experiencing a whole range of emotions within a few minutes. Going through a cycle of emotions like that is exhausting, but I powered through it to reach my goal.

I made sure to track progress and benchmarks while working on the project.  Whenever I started a new phase, I was not feeling exactly positive though the feelings were not negative. At the beginning of each phase, it was just me doubting myself about the next steps and if I could creatively achieve what I what I wanted. I was also concerned about originality and my voice, wondering if I had anything fresh or unique to say.

By the end of each phase, I felt really good. Of course, a significant portion of feeling that was completing the phase.  However, I had also felt great about the quality of the work.  I felt I was able to convey my original feelings as well as find a new perspective and voice. It felt great.

I finished a major milestone with my project over the weekend and I experienced a feeling I was not prepared for. Unlike when I completed smaller phases before, I did not feel positive when reaching my first significant milestone in the project.  I was full of doubt and unsure of what to do next.  Though I close out earlier portions of the project feeling accomplish and positive, I did not feel the quality was good and I was left thinking “is that it?”

Over the weekend, I had a lot of free time on my hands.  That was something I had to get used to. I caught up on some television that I had missed over the last few months and even played some video games, which had been a super rare activity for me even prior to starting the project.  The weather was nasty, and I just felt bored by everything. I did some perform some self-care by cooking healthy meals, going to the gym, and seeing friends.

Reaching this major milestone of my project was significant.  What it means is that I have done everything I can do now at this time.  I have to wait a few months before beginning the next phase and working towards the completion of the project. I should feel great about being so productive, but I just felt down all weekend.

I talked with a few friends about it over the weekend and they told me it was post-creative depression. The idea that, when completing a major creative project that took up a lot of time and head space, you’re left feeling empty and unsure.  You’re left with all this downtime that was previously occupied with something significant in your life that required instance and focused thought and attention.

I am told it is normal to feel this way and that it ok to sit with those feelings.  A close friend said they felt the same way after every art opening, they curate.  And I’m told the most intense the work put into the project, the harder it feels when it is done.  I know I’ll be alright.   I will be fine.  Perhaps taking this as an opportunity to rest and relax is exactly what I need.  I know I have earned this time.

In 1997, Julie Doiron released her second studio album Loneliest in the Morning on Sub Pop.  The album is a somber indie rock hidden gem. On the second side of the album is “Creative Depression, a song about not feeling ok, the reason behind it, but knowing that things will be fine eventually.

That song sums up my mood right now.  I’ll be ok.  Winter is here, and this is the perfect time to rest, relax, and reflect.  And I have been neglecting those things lately because I was so busy.  I’ll welcome the peace in a few days.  I look forward to tackling the final stage of the project after the new year.

“i’ve got my love to keep me warm” – billie holiday (1958)

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While winters in Chicago may be tough, I also appreciate the first real snow of the season. I find such comfort in the dramatic change in the city landscape and a significant blanket of snow radiates a beauty that makes the cold temperatures more tolerable.  The city’s pulse changes and it truly becomes wondrous in so many ways.

This past weekend, Chicago experience its first significant snowfall of the season.  A veritable blizzard was reporting to dump up to eight inches or more of snow on the city.  However, most of that was a bitterly cold rain that is never enjoyable in any context.  Though, I did wake up the next morning to accumulated snow, albeit it about two or three inches, and that was fine by me.

I just cannot stand a winter with no snow.  The cold always seems unbearable and there is an icky gray to the city that is unpleasant.  My belief is that if I am going to freeze, I would like things to be pretty.

Though, as much as I enjoy the snow, I can only take so much of it before I’m tired of it.  And, typically, this happens right on January 2nd.  When the holidays are over, winter becomes something to trudge through. Chicago winters are long and after the holidays is when we get the snowfall that becomes unruly and restrictive.  Just goes to show that there can be too much of a good thing.

Until then, I will continue to enjoy the snow during the holiday season.  It is a great time to eat delicious soups, drink comforting teas, and snuggle under blankets.  Now that I am on the verge of completing a personal project that I dedicated the last month to, I can finally slow down and take it easy for the rest of the year.

Billie Holiday’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” is such a fine song for this time of year as we get settled and brace ourselves for winter.  The season is only starting, but it will get worse.  Holiday sings that she cannot remember a worse December, but she relishes that warm fire that awaits her.  She finds solace in the idea that, through a dreary time, there are still things to hold onto.  You can let the winter make you cold on the inside, or you can keep warm with the love you have in your life, love from yourself and from others.

“light the sky on fire” – jefferson starship (1978)

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This past Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special airing on CBS.  Legendary in the Star Wars universe as being terrible, so much so that George Lucas has personally vowed to destroy every copy and Carrie Fisher would play it at parties when she wanted people to leave, the special has left an indelible mark on that brand that spawns ridicule, confusion, and (sometimes) ironic appreciation.  It is an intergalactic spectacle like any other.

Airing on November 17th, 1978, the plot of the special follows Han Solo and Chewbacca being pursued by the Galactic Empire.  Solo is urgently trying to get Chewbacca back to his home planet of Kashyyyk so he can celebrate Life Day, a deeply spiritual holiday for the Wookies, with his family.  Meanwhile, Chewbacca’s family on Kashyyyk, prepare for the holiday.  Itchy, Chewie’s father, spend times watching a virtual reality fantasy programs starring Diahann Carroll (which effectively serves for pornographic use). Malla, Chewie’s wife, is prepares a meal from a television cooking program hosted by Harvey Korman as a four-armed, purple-skinned alien.  And Lumpy, Chewie’s son, Lumpy tinkers with a video screen so he can watch things such as a cartoon starring Boba Fett.

Imperial stormtroopers and an officer force their way into the Wookie house ins search of Chewie until Lumpy uses a machine to imitate the voice of their commander and they are ordered to return to their base.  The fun doesn’t end at the Wookie home as we are given a glimpse of life elsewhere in the galaxy.  In the famous Mos Eisley cantina on Tatooine, the Empire has initiated a curfew and Ackmena, portrayed by Bea Arthur, is forced to close the cantina early, but not before putting on a musical number.

Just in the nick of time as not to be discovered by the stormtroopers, Chewie arrives and is reunited with his family.  From there, they prepare for the festival at the great Tree of Life, where they hold glowing orbs and are dressed in red robes against the backdrop of space.  As they walk into a star, they are greeted by all of their friends and heroes of the Star Wars film including Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2.  Leia gives a short speech about the importance of Life Day and, in all her coked-up gloriousness, sings a song to commemorate the occasion.

What makes the holiday special an embarrassment for Lucas and the franchise is the shear camp of the thing.  The special was designed to capitalize on the era’s trend of airing variety shows as television specials, which would explain the involvement of Korman and others like Art Carney. Their involvement adds outdated schtick humor that I’m sure was not even funny at the time.

Also, the segments of the special are incredibly weird.  I mentioned earlier the virtual reality porno fantasy Itchy was engaging in. That’s true.  It is Carroll speaking seductively and making a lot of sexual innuendo towards the camera.  Other segments include Itchy watching a Cirque de Soleil style acrobatics show.

Strangely, a lot of screen time was dedicated to the Wookie family with no discernible dialogue.  A good chink of the special involves them growling and roaring at each other with the audience unsure of what is being communicated.

I’ve seen several of these clips many times, and I have actually watched the special in its entirety.  Not even Mark Hamill has done that.  I find it entertaining in a this-is-ridiculous-but-fun-to-watch-in-a-group-setting-under-the-influence-way.  IT is certainly not something to sit through sober.

The special, despite the many atrocities it commits towards culture and good taste, did serve an important place in the Star Wars canon.  The special did introduce the planet of Kashyyyk and Boba Fett, who has gone to be one of the franchise’s most beloved characters.  When Disney purchased the franchise and committed everything apart from the films to be considered non-canon, they still made the holiday special canon with the inclusion of Ackmena in a book of short stories about the first film.  So, say what you will about Disney, they at least have sense of humor about this and it is funny to think that the holiday special, despite Lucas’ intent, remains current in the Star Wars universe.

One of the more interesting aspect of the special is a performance by Jefferson Starship.  Lumpy, as a way to distract one of the Imperial guards, tunes his video screen to a music video of Jefferson Starship, as an unnamed human band, performing “Light the Sky on Fire.” Cast with shades are dark pink and red, the band performs their interstellar rock ballad with gusto that effectively keeps the guard entranced.  Originally under the working title of “Cigar-Shaped Object (Vanished Without a Trace),” the song was a promotional tie-in for their compilation Gold, though the single that would appear on that collection is different than the one on the special.  The performance on the holiday special would also be Marty Baslin’s final appearance with the band before later rejoining in 1993.

If you have yet to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special, please do.  Get some friends together and just do you own home version of Riff Trax.  What a great way to spend Life Day and the memories will be implanted in your brain forever as people pity you when you tell them you’ve seen the special in its entirety.

“one more yard” – evamore (2018)

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Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day which signified the end of the Great War.  In order to celebrate the centennial of the international order that ended World War I, dozens of world leaders attended a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe.  However, in what was supposed to be a solemn occasion to reflect on the progress humanity has made over the last century to ensure peace and stability, it turn into a dark reminder of our worsening global instability.

Trump made a big statement about not attending most of the ceremony due to his claims about excessive rain, though the weather actually had minor precipitation. It showed that Trump does not consider relationships with other nations, many with leaders critical of his administration, to be of personal value to him. So much so that his behavior proves that he is only concerned for his own well-being and make a somber occasion about the devastation of global conflict and the need to maintain peace all about him.  Trump even chose to arrive after the other leaders citing safety concerns.

Putin also attended the ceremony, though arriving several minutes after Trump.  What both men have in common is their unwavering nationalism that they do not care about the rest of the world.  Trump has even declared himself a nationalist and is unafraid to demean other nations while praising Putin, the other central figure in global politics who is encourages furthering global instability.

Other world leaders at the ceremony chose to speak up against nationalism both as a commentary about the goals of the original pact and a rebuke of Trump and Putin.  “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying: ‘Our interest first. Who cares about the others?’”  These comments were made to address the resurfacing of old ideas “giving into the fascination for withdrawal, isolationism, violence and domination would be a grave error that future generations would very rightly make us responsible for.”

Trump’s behavior at the Armistice Day ceremony was not only embarrassing, but an indicator of how he will continue his own agenda regardless of its effects.  Even today, Trump went on Twitter to rage against Macron for his comments and insulted him, furthering the divide between the United States and the rest of the world.  Trump’s reaction adds validity to Macron’s comments and, without doubt, signifies that the United States is actively destroying the foundation of the principles of Armistice.

To commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Armistice, several Irish and English musicians collaborated on an EP under the name of Evamore, Chris Evan’s project collecting songs inspired by the letters of World War I soldiers.  The first single released from this project is “One More Yard” and includes contributions from Cillian Murphy, Sinéad O’Connor, Imelda May, Brian Eno, Ronnie Wood, and Nick Mason.  The lyrics, recited in spoken word by Murphy, was inspired by the letters of Lieutenant Thomas Wall from the Royal Irish Regiment to his mother.  Evan’s project will expand into a full album and raise funds for cancer awareness.  “It was incredibly moving to see how the words of soldiers 100 years ago were so similar to those of young people suffering from cancer today,” Evans said. “We can only now honor the sacrifice of those a century ago but there is so much to be done to help those who are locked into the greatest struggle of their lives as they confront cancer. We are very privileged that some of the greatest names in rock music and wonderful actors have chosen to get involved in our project.”

Evamore is an exciting project with an incredible mission.  It is representative of what humanity can accomplish when we unite.  Only in our division will we secure our own demise.