Monday, March 31, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sundays of the Soul

Has it really been a whole week since the last post? Well, we're here now. Let's make the most of it.

I know several colleagues of mine who use Sunday either as a day for catching up on all the socializing they had to put to one side during the week, or to catch up on the writing they couldn't do because of all the other work that the week demanded. For me, the best approach is something more mellow; I like to use my Sundays to recharge the batteries, so to speak. Here, then, in best point form, is how I've spent the day thus far:
--woke up at 1ish. I am a lazy bones on the weekend.

--Did a bit of creative writing--833 words, to be precise--and man, it's been a long time since I've tried any of that. The page is essentially a bit of dialogue between one of the main characters of my Twin Powers series, probably from the third book. In true crazy person writing style, as I may have mentioned before, I wrote a novel in 2007, and, unable to find any publisher or agent willing to read it, occasionally plot out sequels to it in my head. I figured it was about time I got some of that out of my head onto paper. We'll see if anything ever comes of it.

--Went for a run. I've been jogging since... let's see... started University in 2001. Started jogging after my third year of university--that's 2004, then. That makes nine years in total, which means pretty much the only things in my life I've done more constantly is the schooling itself and vegetarianism. Of late, though, it's been more thinking about jogging than actually jogging, and sadly, it's starting to show. My lungs have gotten much worse since 2004, which limits my top speeds considerably, and my sags have sags. But the weather may finally be on an upswing, so there may be more jogging in the near future.

--read the first six or so essays in the essay collection "What Is a Superhero?", edited by Robin S. Rosenberg and Peter Coogan. It's a strange book, in that the essays are very, very short. There's essentially time to establish the basic case, a bit of context, then that essay's over, and it's time for the next one. So far, the ideas that seem the most interesting to me is Clare Pitkethly's essay looking at the superhero as an articulation of difference, and Alex Boney's claim that the originary, 1930s superheroes speak to the same modernist anxieties that the modernist writers addressed.

--watched an episode of Banshee. I'm not sure if it's because I wasn't paying attention, or the show's getting sloppier, but a plot twist at the end (it's episode six of season two) really confused me. Banshee's always been a weird show. It bends over backwards to convince you that the protagonist is a Very Sympathetic Character, by always making him right in pretty much every situation, even as the town's sheriff/master criminal. I think a Shield approach would have been more effective, where your sympathies aren't always 100% with Vic. Then again, it is a show that depicts more breasts than an episode of Game of Thrones, so there are a lot of problems going on here beyond just an unlikeable by virtue of being too likeable protagonist.

It's a good, low-key day, in other words. Just what I needed, after the onslaught of guest speakers and teaching. Why, tomorrow, I may even feel revitalized enough to work on the dissertation.

Later Days.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Academics writing fiction: yea or nay?

I feel like taking a blog day--a day where I just write a bunch of posts, and feel like I achieved something creatively. Or something. At this point of the day, it's probably going to turn into just one post, so I'll shout out the idea for the others and hope I get back to them some day: A series of Book Triads to catch up on my book review backlog! A description of what I thought about Uncharted! A post on modular story telling in Dragon Age, vs. the more linear JRPG!

To get to this post,  I've noticed that when I get really into a book, my writing actually takes on a bit of the author's style; I start thinking of weird puns when I'm reading Spider Robinson, and really depressing fantasy situations when I read Stephen Donaldson, for example. Back when I was doing creative writing on a regular basis, that bothered me--how much of what I was writing was my own ideas, and how much was just me aping someone else's style. I imagine I go so far as to start thinking in that writing style, just a bit. In that sense, the whole thing can be explained away in terms of technics and epiphylogenesis, that we are changed by the tools we're using, and books are just another possible tool through which that change occurs. You could even push that idea further, and argue that

The reason I bring all that up is that I certainly feel as if, for the moment, I'm writing not another author's voice, but in a character's voice, the lead of Jo Walton's "Among Others"--very reserved, formal, and matter-of-fact, but with a clear passion for what she's (I'm?) talking about. I was certain going into the book that Walton was an academic sci/fi fantasy writer, and I had a whole section lined up where I'd discuss the role of the academic who writes fiction on the side, which it turns out is not the case at all. Well, I'm going to do that anyway, since that's what I want to talk about today. It's been in my mind for a while, going at least as far back to a recent announcement that a professor in my English department, has released her own fantasy book, The Stone Boatmen, by Sarah Tolmie. I haven't read it yet, to be honest, but from what I know about Tolmie's work, it'll certainly be a book full of ideas worth reading.

The English academic turned writer fits with a larger category of critics who try their hands at whatever thing they are criticizing. It happens often enough that it's a bit of a trope, and it leads to the stereotype that the critic is someone who failed at the art, and so criticizes others. I know of plenty of people who started blogs on comic books, then went on to write their own; plenty of game journalists who went on to write videogames. In fact, regarding games in particular, there's an enormous pressure for academics to not just write about games but to make their own--I should know, because I usually feel like I'm under it, being ground away.

The trick behind academics writing fiction is that it's a shift in audience. It's hard to go from writing to a select, jargon-heavy, elite (and we have gone to great lengths to make ourselves appear elite) specialization to writing for the mass market. There's a push to be innovative, to craft something that reflects our theories and revitalizes the genre, and sometimes, the big ideas get in the way of the story at hand. The best example I can think of is a YA fantasy book that I can't remember the title of, but remember it was written by a professor of linguistics, and showed it too, as the syntax was very different from the usual subject-predicate that English abides by. It was a neat idea, but since the thoughts and action were written in more straight forward English, I found myself skipping past the dialogue, which almost never happens under my particular reading style.

There's plenty of examples of doing it right as well, of course.The obvious Canadian example is Margaret Atwood, who has made quite a name and reputation of herself writing a brand of Canadian lit theory as well as sci-fi and other genres.My favorite example is China Mieville, though his PhD is in political studies (specifically, International Relations, with a dissertation on Marxism and international law); his fantasy writing is chock full of ideas that aren't really found anywhere else in fantasy (especially when he started writing), but are still good fantasy stories. And of course, there's a whole branch of English studies devoted to teaching writing, to mass market and otherwise. We call it "creative writing." That's not quite what I'm talking about though--rather than people who have spent their lives training themselves and others to write for any audience, I'm thinking of the professor who spent their life studying something like gender in the romance fiction genre, then woke up one day and thought "you know, I could do that."

I wish I could think of more examples of what I'm talking about. I know Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum" is highly acclaimed, but I could never finish it; a parody of conspiracy theory thrillers turns into everything I hate about conspiracy theory thrillers very quickly, and I never had the time or patience to stick around and see if turned into anything else. I know Julia Kristeva has written detective fiction, and I occasionally search for a translated copy with a sort of fascinated terror. I know a lot of drama professors have written plays and star in other performances (I think it's much more of a requirement for them, and it might help my game-phobia to think of the pressure in game studies in the same light) and people like Tomson Highway have done a lot of great work in that regard, but that's again drifting from target.

The point I'm trying to make, and I'm less sure of now, since I don't really have a lot of evidence to back it up, is that fantasy and sci-fi academic authors have a bit of an easier time spinning out fiction that actually works as a story than other academic writers. I think it's because both genres are about the ideas over the characters a bit more than fiction traditionally tends to be, and lend themselves to weird expression in that regard. I also think that the traditional denigration of fantasy and sci-fi as lower forms of fiction work in their favor, in that there's less pressure to do something that's "high literature," and the respective writers feel more free to just tell a story of their liking.

Long time readers are free to call BS on that theory, given my own self-interest, that I've written my own fantasy novel that lingers on the digital shelf, to be revisited and starred at longingly once a year, then routinely rejected by agents and publishers alike without a reading. My own story isn't particularly academic or high concept fantasy--in fact, magic is barely involved at all, to the point where it's more a character study than anything else (much like Walton's book, come to think of it, albeit with a much more traditionally fantasy scope in turns of story progression). I like to think there's room, then, for the fantasy-based academic writer. In a way, the connection makes my relative failure in each seem somehow more acceptable.

My rationalizations are legion.

Later Days.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

If you're new to the segment, this is me, a man relatively unfamiliar with all music that exists, choosing a random song form youtube, commenting on it, then following whatever song by a different artist that youtube suggests to listen to next. This time round, our musical journey begins with the piece suggested at Rock Paper Shotgun's round-up of videogame news.

Architecture in Helsinki -- I Might Survive.  Oh, this is entirely too chipper for me at the moment. And a little too discoteque. You know that montage at the beginning of Season Two of Venture Bros where Doc Venture is at a rave? (Of course you do.) This could be playing at that rave. And yet... it's kind of catchy. "I'd rather be with you than alive." Yeesh. That's a depressing sort of sentiment for such an upbeat song. It's a contrast that works, though. And damned if I wasn't tapping my toe with a stupid grin on my face by the end of it.

Chvrches covers Artic Monkey's "Do I Want to Know?" for Like a Version, a cover channel, I guess. This would probably have more impact if I knew Chvrches or Arctic Monkeys, besides vaguely recognizing then name. I like the female singer. Otherwise... it feels like a pretty typical love song duet thing. I get a sense I should have a stronger opinion of this song than I do, but all I can muster is polite "that was nice." And the firm opinion that the phrase "tomorrow day" is silly.

Of course, now we are trapped in a cover loop, with San Cisco's cover of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." They sound New Zealand-ish.  But they are Australian. The one thing I got out of Flight of the Concords was a smug feeling that's inevitably wrong that I could tell the difference between Australian and New Zealand accents. Anyway, this song was everywhere about a year ago; I had no idea it was Daft Punk who played it, so that's a point in the musical education chart right there. I kind of like the use of bongo drums here. And I like the song. It's most distinct from the original in its non-chorus parts. Oh, but the "isk isk isk" at the end is... weird.

Next, Chvrches covers Arctic Monkeys' "Do I Wanna Know?".   I can't say I like the heavy percussion beat here. Very distracting. I'm vaguely familiar with the original song, and while this band seems likable enough, I think I prefer that version. It's very early twenties "dating is scary" and as an early thirties, it's embarrassing how much I can relate. Actually, most things are vaguely embarrassing re: relationships in the early thirties. I can vaguely see off in the distance the age where I'm old enough not to give a damn and not be embarrassed about anything, and I look forward to it with unguarded desire.

The Jezabels covers Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." My rule is that I can only select bands that I haven't already selected in a particular musical journey (journey being the term I use to describe these musical posts, not the band Journey, which have, in somewhat bad timing, just shown up). But with covers, that eliminates two sets of bands. So by my own rules, after the last song, for example, I couldn't select anything Chvrches has done, OR anything Arctic Monkey has done--or any other Arctic Monkeys songs. That limits my choices a fair bit.  Hence being stuck in cover town. I guess this particular feature, Like A Version, features a lot of local talent, which means Australian talent in this case. So this is "Don't Stop Believing"? Huh. I thought the song was called "Midnight Train." Don't laugh at me.

Next cover: HAIM's cover of Sheryl Crow's "Strong Enough."  The pre-song discussion is very endearing. I also cannot twirl a drumstick (or pencil, my equivalent) like Tommy Lee. The last few bands have blurred together a bit, but they stand out a bit. I like it. The electric organ is a little heavy in places, but the rest of it is good. The song itself is an interesting thing, gender conception-wise. But it takes on cool new shades when performed by an all girl band. I'm going to have to remember to come back to some of these folk in a non-cover capacity.

Miley Cyrus -- Jolene.  I thought I was out of the cover depths, but this is a cover too, isn't it? Because of my general musical ignorance, Cyrus is someone I know of more than than know, music-wise, wrecking-ball and twerking sessions aside. Her performance is... fine. This song is so clearly Parton's, though--it's like I can feel her lurking under Cyrus' performance, occasionally bursting to the surface. It's funny that this song actually crossed my path recently--there was an episode of Dan Harman's podcast a few weeks ago where they discuss it at great length, and how there's no real male equivalent, a song where a dude asks another dude to please not sleep with his girlfriend.

Avicii --Hey Brother.   It's a country-pop sort of thing. Is that a sort of thing? The vocals are by a bluegrass singer Dan Tyminski (uncredited) and the song is from Avicii, who is a Swedish DJ and producer. The image association keeps sliding between inspirational and weird: lots of basketball moves, a kid facing the rain, a guy getting hit in slow motion by a snowball. A guy in a suit breaking a pencil. Popcorn popping. A woman eats an olive. It's fine, but it strikes me as one of those things that's been produced to look like there's more depth to it than there is. Wikipedia tells me that the official music video version (as opposed to the lyric version I'm seeing) has a Vietnam War video, which is at least trying to say something, I guess.

OneRepublic -- Counting Stars. That is the fakest alligator ever. The plot seems to be a religious meeting of some sort, with the singers elsewhere in a run-down alligator infested building. (The basement?) The preacher riles up the crowd, seems to do a "release this woman, Stan" kind of thing. The croc gets its exploration on. The unpossessed are inspired to breakdance, as you do. And the dance does damage on the floor below. A man falls through, the band looks up. Seems like they've got a Chekov's Gator violation.

And rounding up this installment of A Musical Journey, we have Capital Cities -- Safe and Sound. Oh, that's this song. It's got a "history of media/music" thing going on, with black and white bits, ball room costumes, flapper dressed, disco, and such. It looks like one of those videos that would be a lot of fun to make, actually. There's not really much connection between the lyrics and the video, but both are light, simple things. The song is big in Germany, apparently. I could see that. Apparently, the whole thing was meant to be a reflection of the history of the Los Angeles Theatre, which I did not recognize at all.

We are at an end. We voyaged through the valley of the cover song, and came out the other end, in a land of alt pop. I have learned nothing from this experience.

Later Days.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Movie Buff--Clockwise (1986)

I would have called it "Clockwork," although I suppose that's too close to Clockwork Orange. John Cleese plays Brian Stimpson, a school headmaster who wants nothing more than to make it to Norwich on time to deliver his speech as chair of the annual Headmasters' Conference. But he gets on the left train instead of the right train, and it's all down hill (and through dirt roads, fields, and monasteries) from there.

I imagine that if I pored through TVTropes a bit, I could find one that directly names what's going on in this film, and it'd be called "one misplaced marble" or something like that; in a variation of the "for the lack of a horseshoe, the war was lost" saying, a minor misunderstanding spirals out of control, and such stuff is bread and butter for the comedy genre of the period. (Found it--they call it "The Wrong Turn at Albuquerque.") The plot sets this mistake up to its largest possible dramatic effect by making Stimpson a man who orders his life around punctuality, to the point where everyone--his students, his co-workers, his wife--thinks he's taking himself a bit too seriously, and he never stops ticking long enough to hear them. If the film was done today, there would have to be a Moment where Stimpson realizes the error of his tightly-wound ways, and vows to let life happen a bit more. Because this is an 80s movie, and British, no such moment needs to happen, and the film is the better for it. What we get instead is a wonderful moment where Stimpson holds off all comers just by being a blustery headmaster, then collapses when he looks at his wife, looks at the school girl on stage with him, and finally realizes what he's done.

Sorry, that line sounded more ominous/inappropriate relationship-ish than it was. To back things up a bit, after missing his train, losing his speech, and failing to catch up with his wife, Stimpson stumbles onto one of his students, 18 year old Laura Wisely (Sharon Maiden), and, in a decision that in retrospect was perhaps not his best, commandeers her and her car to drive him to Norwich. Unbeknownst to him, she's eager for the excuse, as she just had a row with the teacher she's secretly been seeing, and run off with her parents' car without asking, and no license. So of course, in short order, Stimpson is suspected of auto theft, and running away with a minor. (Also stealing a man's clothes and fleeing a crime scene, but he actually does those things.)

Maiden does fine as Wisely, and, again, it's a sign of the times that there's no real push to create any sort of relationship between them. She's a kid who's confused about her relationship and worried about her parents' car; he is a man struggling against the universe to reach an appointment. Their goals temporarily align, and Wisely eventually becomes invested in getting him to the appointment too, but never out of anything than minor respect and admiration. While the other characters perform their roles--the music teacher/Laura's lover wanders around wondering if he's been replaced in a vaguely comical (yet also kind of gross) way, and there's three old women that get pulled in and wander around after Stimpson's wife sees him with Laura while she's driving them to an appointment from the old folk's home--the movie is pretty much all Cleese. And to the surprise of no one, he does a good job. Unlike the last film I watched, the mainly meh Arthur, I actually laughed a few times at this one, which is probably a good sign for a comedy. He's comically authoritarian when he needs to be, and blunderingly oblivious when he needs to be that. There's a point in the script where he basically needs to be comatose with despair in order to allow Laura to make some very questionable choices on his behalf, and it should be a ridiculously stupid moment, but Cleese sells that too. It's a great performance.

If you want to go the high-falutin' route, this is a film about the deconstruction of authority. For much of the film, Stimpson's faith is so certain in the system and his role as administrator within it that he assumes he can justify any decision towards his goal and that system will carry him through it. It's important, then, in the understated, British way, that the low point in his fortunes is followed by Laura taking control and putting things on track (well, sort of).  And I know I mentioned this above, but man, does Cleese nail that reaction to Stimpson's wife. At this point, (spoilers) Stimpson has made it to the speech, and people have started to show up to derail him: the conference organizers, Laura's parents, the police. And he stands up to each of them, going full-headmaster, complaining about tardiness and browbeating them into taking a seat. But as soon as the wife enters--and this is only the third scene they've shared in the entire film, with the second being where she sees him without him seeing her--you can see him falter, and realize all the implications of what he's done in the last few hours, and how there's more at stake than a speech.

So yeah--it's not a great film, but it's a good comedy, and it avoids the sentimentality that some comedies *cough* Arthur *cough* can't seem to get around.

Later Days.

Movie Buff--Arthur (2011)

Helen Mirren in a Darth Vader helmet.

The 2011 Arthur remake is the story of a woman and her father, people who worked hard their entire lives and built up a successful construction company out of nothing, her becoming a successful, respected businesswoman. No wait, it's the story of her reluctant fiance, an incredibly rich alcoholic who is essentially a giant man child, whom we're supposed to feel sorry for because he's being forced into a loveless marriage with a sex-crazed Jennifer Garner as the only condition of keeping his ridiculous wealth. Also, he is currently being attended to at every moment by his nanny Helen Mirren.

If you can spot the problem here, then you are probably right.

The original Arthur was made in 1981, and had roughly the same premise. The "poor little rich boy" theme plays very, very differently in 2011, and that's probably the film's biggest misstep--if you can call the fundamental concept behind the movie a misstep. The other big problem would be the fact that it's not particularly funny, hitting that romantic comedy note where it's not funny enough to be a comedy, and not romantic enough for the audience to look beyond the general contrivance of the romance. It could have worked, I think, or at least have failed in a more interesting manner, if it wasn't trying to convince us we should feel sorry for Arthur. A man who has spent at least a decade of his life in a non-stop drunken stupor should have a hell of a dark side, and Arthur's basically just a Richie Rich who slurs his words every now and then.

The cast does their best. Russell Brand stars as Arthur, which is basically the same schtick that he played in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Me to the Greek--and this movie demonstrates why that character wasn't really the lead in either film. Greta Gerwig (who, in a bizarre coincidence, was born *exactly* the same day as me) is likable enough in that the blond romantic interest in this sort of movie basically serves no role but to be blandly likable.  I came out of the film generally predisposed towards her, though I still think "How I Met Your Father" is a terrible idea. Helen Mirren is his nanny, Hobson, in a role that has been gender-bendered from the original position as a valet. Mirren, to the surprise of no one, nails it. She creates some sympathy for Arthur just by virtue of association--if Mirren likes Arthur, the audience is led to believe, there must be *something* to him. Wisely, the film focuses on their relationship almost as much as Arthur's with Gerwig, if not more. The only unbelievable part is that we're asked to accept that if she was raising Arthur in lieu of his absent mother (Geraldine James, whose relationship with Arthur reminds me a little of Archer and his mom on the cartoon Archer), he'd turn out to be such a generally worthless human being. And rounding things out is Jennifer Garner as Susan Johnson, the would-be fiancee, who's not crazy about Arthur, but wants the family company and finds him sexually attractive. Honestly, I've got a soft spot for Garner, so I was prepared to hate a film that casts her as the villain on her behalf, but she seems to be having some fun here.

The cast elevates this film to better than it should be, but it's still tone-deaf and not very good in the first place. To cap off its complete failure to comment on opulent wealth, I'd like to note that yes, it was a failure at the box office--in that it made only $45 million, a mere $5 million more than it cost to make in the first place. And this failure's profit is still more than I will ever see in my entire life.

Still, this is a film where Helen Mirren wears a Darth Vader mask. And Jennifer Garner gets to deck Russell Brand, which is pretty sweet.

Later Days.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Facts Gleamed from Browsing Steam's Global Stats Acheivements

It's notoriously difficult to obtain mass data on videogames. While various surveillance tech makes the data easier to collect than it once was, it's proprietary stuff, for the most part. In the digital age, data is money, and publishers don't have a lot of incentive for sharing their profits and/or failures with others. For example, Kotaku did a piece early this year that showed just how damn difficult it is to pin down how much money is spent on an average blockbuster videogame. So while it's not particularly easy for the average user to find out certain facts about games on Steam--how many people have purchased it? What kind of sales bump happened when it was put on sale? Are some game types more susceptible to sale-boosted bumps than others?--what Valve does provide is the statistics for the achievements associated for each game. So you may not know how many people played game X, but you know what percentage of them got to point Y--as long as there's an achievement for doing so. I *think* the global achievement stats only take into account those who have installed and played the game at least once, but I'm not sure.

In the big scheme, this might not be indicative of much. Many games on Steam aren't only on Steam, and again, you still don't know how many users we're talking about. But it does give a nice indication on what particular subsets of Steam users are doing. Just for spits and wiggles, I thought I'd peruse my own Steam library, and note some achievement stats that interested me. Prediction: games are completed very rarely.

Binding of Isaac
*more than 50% of all players have defeated all the boss types in the basement.
*more than 25% have completed the game.
*more than 2.1% have reached 100% completion.
Given Binding of Isaac's reputation as a hard rogue-like, those numbers are all surprisingly high. I guess the game's of the sort that it's only played by people who like it, and most who like it play to a pretty high extent. Or I've gone into this underestimating what portion of people finish games.

Bioshock Infinite
*53% of the people who played the game finished it. (Tin soldier achievement)
*52.4% of the people who played the game finished it on the 1999 hard mode. (Auld Lang Syne achievement)
Compare that to the Kotaku report from a year ago that puts these numbers at 49.9 and 1.2, as of April 2013. That's a very interesting result, although less interesting than if we could measure how many more people added it since then. Still, it seems that a lot of people went back to the game to complete it again on the harder difficulty some time in the last year or so. That suggests the game has a lasting power that's a little surprising, given the complaints about how linear it was. The stats also illustrate that there's something to be gained by examining how they change over time. Conceivably, there could be a point where that 53% drops, although it doesn't seem very likely.

Tomb Raider
Following that Kotaku report, the next game they mention, Tomb Raider, *has* seen a drop in completion rate, currently standing at 49% rather than 50%. So more people have started playing Tomb Raider, but fewer have completed it. That makes sense; there's a little less impetus to complete a game after it starts to age. It suggests Tomb Raider has less a driving force than Bioshock Infinite, but that's not really a conclusion you can make until you've proven that there's a significant overlap in their respective user bases. Most of the lowest stats concern multiplayer achievements, which also makes a certain amount of sense--it's hardly a series known for its multiplayer play.

Since it's right near Tomb Raider, we'll go here.
*Beast Slayer I: Defeat Ordrak on Easy or Normal   16.1%
*Mod Squad: 1 game mod installed  16.5%

So more people have installed a mod for Torchlight than actually finished Torchlight. And the same number of people (0.03%) have completed the game on Hardcore Normal as on Hardcore Hard. And that number means that at least 10 000 people have installed the game to get the 0.03% value to begin with. At least the tormented (die 500 times) has 0.03% too. So at least most people playing the game aren't suffering excessively.

Bejeweled 3
*Blaster: Bronze. Destroy 30 gems in a single move  66.6%
*Inferno: Bronze. Clear 50 Flame Gems  62.4%
*Blaster: Silver: Destroy 40 gems in a single move 60.1%

I have no idea what these mean. Never played the game. I guess it's reasonably easy to destroy 30+ gems, and clear those flame gems. I don't know why I picked this one. I don't have much to say. You might say I'm... running out of STEAM.

Yep, that's a note to go out on.

Later Days.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.

Join me, won't you, on a musical journey of discovery through the highs and lows of everything Youtube has to offer.

Today's journey starts with:

Los Campesinos!--"Avocado, Baby".   There's a whole genre of music videos that basically just say "we'll go weird" and run with it. This one starts there, but ... well, it definitely says there. I mean, coffins, cheerleaders, game show, fire breathers, bath tubs--I'm sure there's a way to do all those things without going "weird," but it didn't come today. Still, there is a loose plot thing going on, with a disillusioned celebrity sort of thing. And while I can't quite make out long stretches of the lyrics, what I do hear is pretty catchy. "That is why they call you the avacodo" INDEED. Yeah, a second listen without looking at the video confirms it's a decent song.

Omar Souleyman -- "Warni Warni." It's immediately catchy and distinctly Middle Eastern, to the point where my white liberal guilt immediately asks if my reaction is in anyway racist. (The answer is the same as always: probably, yes.)  He's apparently released hundreds of albums, most made by recording performances of weddings, which I suppose gives his music a... what's the word? Closer to rehearsed than spontaneous, but not the sort of rehearsed you get by studio mixing. And not quite the same as a live show, because the context is more intimate. His stillness in the video is kind of intriguing--it's weird to see a performer who moves so minimally.  It's a cool contrast with the dancers.

And at this point, Bloggr failed to save my draft because it's the worst, and I lost all the other songs. But I've decided to bravely forge through them again, repeating the exact same choices, like someone living out the plot to Vonnegut's Time Quake.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down -- The Feeling Kind.  I like this a lot. The lead singer is sexy, without having to go typical Hollywood exploitative, or showing a lot of skin. According to the band's wikipedia page, Thao was getting a sociology and women's studies degrees when the band first formed, which is cool. And the action is simple--crossing a bridge. I'll admit, I can't make out a lot of the lyrics, but I really like the tempo. The brass instruments add a sense of fun to the whole thing--the trumpet and instrumental bit at the end works really well.

And now I'm in trouble, because the list of possible songs offered to me is definitely not the one I did the first time around. I refresh the page and my memory a few times, and eventually, it spits out a list with the right song:

Fiona Apple -- Criminal. And there's the other direction you can go in the sexy spectrum. I like that it's a reversal of the music trope where the guy sings about how awesome it is that he's done wrong but his lady stands by him, and it wasn't his fault, it was the fame, anyway. There's also something here about the illicit nature of female desire. Likewise, the surveillance implications with the TV and photos is neat.  Her voice is nice--deep in a way that makes it stand out.

Cranberries -- Linger. You can tell we're getting towards the more popular stuff when it's a song I actually recognize--though I think I know the Kelly Clarkson cover better. I have to admit, I only know the lyrics for the chorus. Video-wise, I'm not sure what's going on. There's a noir vibe, with the detective and the run-down conditions and the black and white. But the detective is clearly terrible, as he seems to think hiding about two inches from her is sufficient to disguise his presence.

Amy Winehouse -- Back to Black.I'll admit, Winehouse never really made it onto my radar until after her death. Looks like I was missing out. I'm not sure I get quite what's going on here: there's a funeral, but the lyrics suggest more a drifting apart kind of distance. "We only said goodbye with words." Nice.

Lana Del Rey. Born to Die. This starts with a couple embracing, topless, before the American flag, then cuts to a cathedral interior where Del Rey is sitting in a simple throne flanked by tigers. It's weird, is what I'm saying. It's got a carpe diem theme to it, as you might think from the title. Or it might be a relationship falling apart. Not that relationships inevitably falling apart don't work with carpe diem--seize what you've got while you have it. I think I hate the silent male boyfriend, though. Something about the tattoos and earrings. Not that he has tattoos and earrings, but that he has those particular ones.

Ed Sheeran. Give Me Love.   Well, there's a creepy start--dead bodies do not a cheery video make. It's disconcerting--for me, at least--to see a video focusing on a female character when the singer is a male. It's like he's speaking for her, which is uncomfortable. Also uncomfortable: the woman pulling a feather out of her back. Not plucking a feather that's already there--reaching into her back, into her skin and pulling a feather out. Given the body at the beginning, I'm predicting an Icarus ending. Okay, didn't see the cupid twist coming--nice rise and fall into chaos. I actually liked this; not the song, but the story.

Passenger. Let Her Go.  I really hesitated on selecting this one.It's striking a little close to home for me. That's the amazing thing about music--the way a single song randomly chosen can seem to speak directly to what you're feeling and thinking in that moment. In a different century, we'd be using poetry for the same thing. Okay, I'm going to do the full sap thing:  "Well you only need the light when it's burning low / Only miss the sun when it starts to snow / Only know you love her when you let her go. / Only know you've been high when you're feeling low/ Only hate the road when you're missin' home / Only know you love her when you let her go / And you let her go."

Well, this journey took an unexpected nose dive in the pentultimate act. Can the final song cheer thing up?

Imagine Dragons -- Demons. NOPE. I dunno, the cuts between the demons of the people in the crowd and the larger concert feels a little cheap to me--that the video is exploiting painful situations for a band that hasn't earned the right to be posed as the solution. And then the ending re: their friend who died of cancer knocks me the hell off my high horse. Good cause, but still not for me.

All in all, this was a pretty successful iteration of journey. I don't think we've had any other one with so many songs from bands I didn't know that I liked: Passenger's "Let Her Go," Winehouse's "Back to Black," Cranberries' "Linger,"  Thao & the Get Down Stay Down's "The Feeling Kind," Fiona Apple's "Criminal," Los Campesinos!' "The Avacado"--all good songs. 6 out of 10 randomly chosen songs work out? Pretty good.

Later Daysa.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

And Bill Murray saw his shadow, and his heart grew three sizes that day. Or something.

Are you ready for the dumbest life-changing event ever?

A while ago, I was reading up on a blog, where the author had posited a game:

Boil a movie's moral/plot into a single sentence, usually with humorous consequence. For example: 
I, Robot: Racial prejudice is entirely justified, and all those people who think we can get along are just dupes blinded to the secret cabal who rules the world and plans to murder us all when the time is right!

And so forth. It took off big in the comments, where people expanded on points, argued, and came up with their own examples, which is basically how the internet is supposed to work. The whole was amusing, in a look-how-clever-we-are kind of way, which is how the internet actually works, at least, when it's not terrible. And then I ran into this one, from the comments section:

Groundhog Day: Your life sucks more than you realize, and won’t improve until you pull your head out of your ass and do something about it.

It was... a gut punch, if I'm being honest. For reasons better left unsaid, I felt like it was a statement that cut directly to my own situation. And yeah, it sucks to have a situation that can be summed up so succinctly by such a negative statement. (In fact, it sucks more than you realize. Ahem.) But I didn't do anything about it, because it was easier not to do anything about it. And six months passed, and nothing changed, and it really isn't that bad, and I do like my life, and my friends and my family, and it's mostly just me I'm not so crazy about, and it's easy enough to ignore yourself if you have enough good things going on. So I carry on. I have a good time. But now, whenever anything goes sour, I've got the Groundhog Day mantra always lurking in my head, ready to jump in the moment my enthusiasm flags: "Your life sucks more than you realize, and won't improve until you pull your head out of your ass and do something about it."

And again, for reasons better left unsaid, something happened last night that brought the whole thing up again. I don't think anyone noticed my existential crisis (which of course creates its own crisis: Is no one noticing because I'm really good at lying and deceiving my friends? Or is it because no one cares?) but it was the proverbial back-breaking straw. I want to be better. I want something better. And it's not because this is bad, but because it doesn't fit me as well as it used to.

Problem being, of course, I don't have any idea what that means. So I'm trying a bunch of different things, and we'll see what sticks. This blogpost is part of that, actually. I'm not really comfortable presenting this level of honesty and emotional vulnerability to the world, but I figure if I actually put what I'm feeling into words--even oblique words that feature the phrase "better left unsaid" with such emotional cadence that I might as well shoved in a set of ellipses in 40 size font, then I'd be pushed into actually doing something. So let's get the head out of the ass. Let's see what's out there.

Later Days.