Saturday, February 2, 2008

ANDRE THE GIANT LINEBACKER: Andre Tippett was just elected to the Football Hall of Fame! That makes me very happy.
IS JOE FRANKLIN JEALOUS? I am on the record here as not generally being a fan of Sarah Silverman -- calculated transgression, for transgression's sake, doesn't do it for me.

But her long-time boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel hosts a talk show, which apparently frequently concludes with him saying, "Our apologies to Matt Damon, we ran out of time." And, well, this segment she did for the show's fifth (?!) anniversary show on January 31 speaks for itself. NSFW, were it not bleeped.
EVERYONE WANTS TO BE PRETTY: OK, I'm only about 200 pages into Uglies, the first volume of Scott Westerfield's much acclaimed sci-fi series for young adults (seriously, most recent volume Extras warranted a full review in the NYT Book Review), and I'm already ready for the movie--I'm proposing Joss Whedon as writer/director (he knows how to stretch a dollar) and Ellen Page as Tally with Nicole Kidman as Dr. Cable. If you enjoy sci-fi, even though kids are the target audience, this is well-worth checking out.

ABC News: Stars Come Out for Obama Music Video

DR. ADDISON MONTGOMERY SHEPPARD IS THE NEW OBAMA GIRL? In one of the more bizarre assemblages of talent for a cause since SNL's Recurring Characters Benefit, Black-Eyed Pea has gathered celebrities ranging from Scarlett Johansson to Common to Kareem Abdul Jabbar to the aforementioned Kate Walsh to shoot this music video tribute to Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" New Hampshire concession speech. (Also on YouTube.)

In the interests of equal time, McCain sings Streisand.
OKAY, CAMPERS, RISE AND SHINE, AND DON'T FORGET YOUR BOOTIES 'CAUSE IT'S COOOOOOLD OUT THERE TODAY: It's February 2, so it's time to talk about the movie again. Do you buy the whole Buddhist thing, or should we just quote lines for a while and generally discuss its awesomeness? Participate in this thread, or it's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.

This year: shadow. Six more weeks of ... well, for the Phila-NYC contingent, does this count as winter?

Friday, February 1, 2008

ALWAYS BET ON BLACK: Wesley Snipes, acquitted of tax fraud.

[N.B.: I've spent the last fifteen minutes trying to come up with a better, topical Wesley Snipes reference for a title (without cheating/googling/etc.) and nothing's come to me.]
I WONDER WHAT HER BEST FRIEND, LESLEY, HAS TO SAY ABOUT THIS: OK, I get that Hannah Montana is a phenomonon, and that this weekend's 3-D concert movie is a big thing, at least among the female age 4-12 set, but who exactly is going to the midnight show of the movie?
FREEZE FRAME: This, in which 200+ folks freeze in place for 5 minutes in Grand Central's main concourse, is just brilliant.
SALUTE TO THE BALD BROTHERHOOD: Michael Wilbon's first column since his heart attack appeared this morning, and although it's a little bit Mitch Albom-y, is really thoughtful and moving.
THE ANNUAL SEASON-ENDING BIG GAME POOL: It is time, yet again, to register your predictions as to four key questions regarding Sunday's festivities:
  1. Final score.
  2. Game MVP
  3. Company responsible for the commercial receiving the highest rating in Monday's USA Today Ad Meter survey. (AdAge is your resource.)
  4. Assuming they do 3-4 songs, predict the twelve-minute setlist that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will perform during the halftime show.
My entry: Patriots 42-13, Tom Brady, Anheuser-Busch, and "Runnin' Down A Dream"/"The Waiting"/"American Girl". It won't be as good as last year's show, but at least we won't have to hear Paul McCartney's "Freedom" again.

In the past, we've offered Fame and Glory Forever to the winner, but as last year's winner I can tell you it's actually kinda fleeting. So here's the deal: whoever wins gets one guest post on the blog of his or her choosing. And if one of the bloggers here wins ... well, we'll work something out.
OLD GLORY ON MARS: I'm a very big fan of space exploration and, ultimately, exploitation and colonization. I'm a very big cynic about NASA. Waiting for NASA to get me into space is like waiting for the DMV to get me into a Ferrari 246.

Nevertheless, February 1 marks five years since we lost six good Americans and one fine Israeli on Columbia. This is what I wrote as a memorial, back on the old blog. I think it holds up alright:

* * *

I was happily gestating when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon and, for most of my life, I’ve joked that there were two things I wanted to see in my life: Old Glory on Mars and new pavement in Berkeley. Neither was going to happen, so I always wished for both. Last week, I drove back from my brother-in-law’s house and saw new road work on Hearst Street and I found myself rather depressed.

I would have preferred Old Glory.

But since yesterday morning, as sad as I am for the loss of Columbia and her crew, I find myself bristling with hope. Yes, we want to know what happened and we want to fix the problem. We think of the families and friends. But the public demands, on the networks, on the street, in conversations with my less space-focused friends have not been practical: Who Failed? Who is to Blame? What Did They Miss? but quite romantic: Where To? When Are We Going? What’s Next?

And I thought of what Deacon Matson says to Rod Walker in Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky:

“I’m telling you straight: I think you were born in the wrong age.”


“I think you are a romantic. Now this is a very romantic age, so there is no room in it for romantics; it calls for practical men. A hundred years ago you would have made a banker or lawyer or professor and you could have worked out your romanticism by reading fanciful tales and dreaming about what you might have been if you hadn’t had the misfortune to be born in a humdrum period. But this happens to be a period when adventure and romance are a part of daily existence. Naturally it takes very practical people to cope with it.”

Today, we have quite the opposite problem. This is a practical age begging for romance. We are living in Heinlein’s hundred years-ago, Rod Walker’s regression. The world is lousy with practical problems. Like it or not, this planet is going to spend the next few years fighting, in one fashion or another, over freedom and oil, tyranny and dirt. Africa is dying of disease. Millions live under tyranny in China, the Middle East and Cuba. We fight these problems, but it often requires the most naive optimism to find the will to win. Many good Democrats – Truman and Kennedy – were practical men who contained communism and held us back from the brink. President Reagan was a romantic who saw that the Soviet Union could be pushed. Many good Democrats were practical folks who saw AIDS as the problem it is years before the Republicans could even say the word “condom” helped stemmed the tide. I think President Bush, at least in Africa, is a romantic to believe the disease can be ended before it claims a hundred million people, but I think it could tip the scales between staunching the wound and curing the problem.

Since the Nixon Administration, the NASA Administration has been practical – good people, some known, most unsung. Scientists like Ed Stone, astronauts like Kathleen Sullivan, achieving important things, yes, the Shuttle, Voyager, Galileo, Hubble – but without a purpose, without an ultimate human purpose. Budgets and bureaucratic imparatives. The space station exists largely to give the space shuttle something to do, after all. What it does is very cool, but it's practical... humdrum.

But in the two days since Columbia, Americans seem to be asking the right questions, the questions that push us truly further. For fifty years, engineers could tell us how to get to Mars. But people need to tell the politicians and the contractors why. If one good thing is coming out of Columbia and the loss of her crew, it’s that we're ready to tell our politicians: because we can, because it’s there, because we’re Americans. We should go to Mars, because it’s silly and defeatist to think we shouldn’t. I see it in the pride of the good folks in Texas, finding and guarding the debris – their debris -- from their space program, but only asking: What Next? Where To? How Long? Pundits and newscasters reporting on an important story, but asking an optimistic When? Not a horrified Why?

Perhaps it was the visuals – if this had been a space station mission, the shuttle would have come and broken up over over Central America, the Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, not Texas and Louisiana. And I think America would have reacted very differently indeed. We would never have seen a thing, not astronauts in their last vibrant moments, no doubt trying to solve the problem long after it was hopeless. Instead we'd have been left with the images of a Coast Guard cutter looking for the dead and newscasters pleasing themselves with cheap, predictable ironies about the Columbia 7 dying just miles from the impact which killed the dinosaurs.

But we saw what happened, we know it was a tile problem (if that’s not yet confirmed... it will be) and we already know why, and we don't need the punditry to dwell on the practical, the mundane. We will bury our astronauts, we will put their names on the memorial, and we will begin to figure out what’s next for space. And we will live to make them proud.

Let us not apologize for wanting to see Old Glory on Mars in our own lifetime and, in the centuries to come, for demanding free people among the stars. We've got practical know how, we just need to be silly enough to think it possible.

Let’s push ourselves over the brink. Let’s tip the scales. Let’s go.

“I told you,” Matson said slowly, “that it would be rough. Well, sweat it out, son, sweat it out.”

“I can’t stand it.”

“Yes, you can.”

* * *

Ad Astra.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

SIX? So many new questions from tonight's Lost. Did we see what we thought we did? No spoilers until the comments, so, you all -- everybody! -- follow Alan, or follow me.
HOLY CRAP I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT JACK AND SAWYnah, I haven't seen it yet. But I hear there's going to be a cameo by the Cloverfield monster disguised as Spy Mommy.
I WAS HOPING FOR LEONARD PART 7: Bill Cosby is recording a hip-hop album.
OCEANIC AIR IN-FLIGHT MAGAZINE MAD LIBS: Don't look below. No cheating. List the following: (1) Adjective; (2) noun; (3) adjective; (4) noun; (5) person or group of people; (6) delicious meal. I said no cheating!

Now fill in the appropriate blanks in ABC's secrecy rider that accompanied advance copies of this season's Lost premiere, via Sepinwall:
Screeners of season four's first two episodes came with a laundry list of plot points ABC asked critics not to discuss, like "Any details about Hurley's [1][2], or that he even has a [3][4]" or "Who goes with [5] and who goes with [6]."
And there you have it -- straight from your subconscious, a guide to this season of Lost.
NOW IF I CAN ONLY GET MY BALTIMORA BIOPIC GREEN LIT: Behold the trailer to Falco: The Movie, which sadly is in German with no subtitles. As of yet, there is no U.S. release planned, but consider this my pledge to definitely see this in the theater should to come here.

Via Pop Candy
JERRY, JERRY, JERRY, JERRY: Rarely have there been critical reactions quite as polarized as we see today to the two-night limited run of Jerry Springer: The Opera at Carnegie Hall:
  • Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams calls it "Despicable, debasing, disgusting, degrading, dehumanizing, revolting, repugnant, repulsive, frightful, awful, disgraceful, discreditable, shameful, terrible, horrible, horrendous, horrific, nauseating, offensive, depraved, loathsome, vile. It is taking a roll in a sewer. It is the pits. The lowest. The slimiest. You not only need a bath after, you need an exterminator." In case that wasn't clear, she "hated it!!!!!!!!!!!!"
  • Post critic Frank Scheck is kinder, noting "While the one-note satirical humor wears thin quickly, it still impresses with its audacity and imagination."
  • Variety raves, saying that the show succeeds not only in "teasing out its obvious reflections on the exploitation of tawdriness and torment in American popular culture, but uncovering the poignancy in the sad, passionate yearnings of its freaks and rednecks."
  • Ben Brantley loves it too, arguing that it may well be a "great American musical."

Having seen the show in London a few years back, I'm much more in the Brantley camp. Sure, it's not going to make the bluehaired Wednesday matinee crowd happy, what with a repetitive chant in the second act of "f**ked in the a** with barbed wire!" But for those not easily offended, it's a fascinating colission of low culture and high culture with some interesting cosmology in the second act.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

WE'LL GET TO IT ALL AFTER THE TITLE FLIES THROUGH: So, pop-up video on Lost. I'm thinking it may have engendered some divergent views. Me, I thought it was kind of fun. Best to watch with a DVR, though, as some of the more interesting observations (of which there weren't many, although the whole enterprise had an amusing we-love-the-fanboys tone to it -- which isn't so surprising given the excellent Mo Ryan-Damon Lindelof interview of the other day) were offered during some of the more relevant plot points.

I'd really forgotten how densely packed the finale was, and how well executed certain plot points were. The poetry of Charlie's farewell, the customary end-of-season WHA?, the moment when we were sure that we had lost three survivors -- great stuff.

Which kind of leads to the biggest question in my mind going into this fourth, game-changing season. For the last two seasons, I've been defending Lindelof and the gang against gripes regarding the show's pace and stinginess with the doling out of actual plot-advancing information. (Read the Mo Ryan interview to hear Lindelof's thoughts on such nailbiters as Jack Goes to Vietnam!) But now they've got themselves a finite endpoint and a known number of new episodes until they reach that endpoint, and so I am done making the argument that the showrunners don't know how long the show's going to go on and thus need to pace it accordingly just in case the damn thing runs for ten years. No more excuses. Either you can write a great show episode in and episode out, or else you're Tim Kring and you can't figure out how to both start and finish a satisfying arc to save your life.

I have faith (and thus perhaps I lack some science), and I, for one, am very excited for tomorrow's Season 4 premiere. Bring on the other other others!

p.s. According to that Which Lost Character Are You? quiz, I am, naturally, Sawyer. Feel free to chuckle.
READER MAIL: From Amy, here's a request I think we can handle:
My husband and I are going to Vegas in March for a wedding (well, really for our first trip sans kids since our honeymoon, the wedding is just an excuse). My husband is a bit of a foodie, I don't care what we do as long as it involves no kids and a fair amount of cocktails, and we are both pretty green on Vegas. You guys have talked a bit about Vegas in the past, but do you have any recommendations on how we can do it up right in three days or less?
Me: it all depends on what you like, because Vegas has a place that does everything well. If there's a celebrity chef you like, odds are his Vegas location is up to standard. I can't go to Vegas without eating once at Olive's at the Bellagio, have had nothing but great lunches at the Spago at Caesar's, and I had a kickass dinner at craftsteak last year. I've heard nothing but raves about Robuchon's places at the MGM, but haven't been there yet, and I'd be very interested in seeing Batali's new place at the Venetian. But, seriously: it's a great foodie town, and it's hard to go wrong.
FINISHED WITH MY WOMAN 'CAUSE SHE COULDN'T HELP ME WITH MY MIND: In our bid to give copious analysis to every song on the We Are Marshall soundtrack, let me call to your attention "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath. I had always dug the music. The guitar solo at the start of the song is searing. The main section consists of a powerful three-chord riff that is an awesome example of straight-ahead heavy metal. "Paranoid" is faster and simpler than most Black Sabbath songs (which may be why I like it).

Watching the film, I couldn't quite make out the lyrics, so I listened to it on my stereo and then looked up the lyrics here. They are pretty intense (yet also melodramatic):
Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry
Happiness I cannot feel and love to me is so unreal.
I can understand why generations of alienated teenagers have felt such a strong connection with the song. There is quite a thoughtful discussion of the song here. I can't decide if the closing lines are chilling or simply over the top:
And so as you hear these words telling you now of my state
I tell you to enjoy life I wish I could but it's too late.

DCist: Michael Wilbon Has a Minor Heart Attack, Angioplasty

THANK GOODNESS I DON'T HAVE TO BEGIN THIS WITH "A MELANCHOLY ...": But this has not been a good month to be a Chicago-based columnist of more-than-slender build: PTI's Michael Wilbon suffered a minor heart attack on Monday; the angioplasty was successful and he's already out of the hospital. Still, 47, yikes.
I LIKE MINE WITH LETTUCE AND BOTULISM: In case you haven't seen it yet--it's cheeseburger in a can.

And speaking of, there's a new episode of Yacht Rock out, which explains the origins of "Footloose," featuring Jason Lee as Kevin Bacon (NSFW or Parrotheads).

And while were on the subject of cheeseburgers, if you are a fan, you need to be reading the blogs A Hamburger Today and Hamburger America. (NSOAES)
I WISH THE DOG WOULD EAT MY VOTE: By far the most heavily-advertised political issue in California in advance of February 5 is not the presidential primary. It is the revision to the tribal gaming compact. The big issues seem to be whether we're in favor of poorer tribes (if we are, both sides say we should vote for their side) and whether the revision will result in significant revenue to the state (unclear). I've listened to what seems like hours of ads, read the sample ballot, and even listened to an hour-long debate while driving from Riverside to San Diego today, and still I don't have answers to either the questions the partisans are asking (above) or the absolute most important question: how should I vote if I want gambling to be more convenient for all Californians?

If you know, help an uninformed citizen out, please.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

THE DOG ATE MY VOTE: I know we're not blogging every AI audition episode, but I have to ask: why is it that every year Paula has to miss some of the auditions (by the way, I missed the part where they explained why she was not there)? Is American Idol really not ten times as important as anything else in her life? Is she like "oh, I can't go to Omaha to say yes to every single person that gets through to the panel for positive rather than freak-show reasons because I have book club?"

Also: it's bad enough under any circumstances, but white people should never, never, never, nevernevernever NEVER sing "Heard it through the Grapevine." Not on AI, not in a California Raisin Board commercial, not in the shower, NEVER. People don't realize it because the song was written by Whitfield-Strong and popularized by Marvin Gaye, but it is the whitest song in the entire world. It's like the result of an experiment where a committee of Belgians was required to create a song using only a written description of "soul." It's the only Motown song that any country musician other than Cowboy Troy knows except for the ones on the McDonald's commercials. It's like a repeater of whiteness, or maybe like the musical equivalent of one of those things where you take a bunch of little pictures of white people and arrange them to make a gigantic picture of Gordon Hinckley. It is a known fact that as soon as he recorded that song, Marvin Gaye was given a lifetime supply of Dockers and a subscription to Forbes. True story: Berry Gordy first offered the song to Gordon Lightfoot, and Lightfoot's response was: "Damn. Too white."
GWAR NEEDS KEVLAR: Via Sound Opinions, still (?) the world's only rock and roll talk show (and a podcast well worth your free iTunes subscription), two musical notes from Chicago:
  • The Army is looking for a few good men. According to the RFP, "Professional Celebrity Rock Music Band, group not to exceed seven people for tour of FOB's in Kuwait and Afghanistan for February 4-13 2008. The band should be an active rock band, with a music genre consisting of Southern Rock, Pop Rock, Post-Grunge and Hard Rock. At least one member of the band should be recognizable as a professional celebrity. Protective military equipment, such as kevlar, body armour, eye and ear protection will be provided when the group is travelling on military rotary or fixed wing aircraft."

    Furthermore, according to the formal solicitation, "The Offeror shall submit details, such as a biography or other promotional or media articles relating to the proposed Professional Celebrity Rock Group, identifying the 'professional celebrity' status of at least one member of the group."

  • Apparently, that one guy in the Mighty Mighty Bosstones who didn't sing, didn't play an instrument, and just hung out and danced and provided the vibe ... has a name. It's Ben Carr. Now, contrary to DeRo's and Kot's lofty opinion of him in the sideman/hypeman hierarchy, he's no Bez, and certainly no Jerome Benton. Agreed?
BELATED CHRISTMAS MIRACLE: Ah, Dr.. Hizzy, how we've missed you (even though the episode would have been much better if aired in a timely fashion)! Sure, I figured out the Secret Santa twist and the first patient twist well in advance of the reveals and the show still doesn't know what to do with Drs. Cameron and Chase (and where was Cuddy?), but still, a lot of fun, and efforts to comply with the Sorkin Alum Full Employment Act are always appreciated.
SOMEBODY WHO WON'T MAKE ME FEEL LIKE A CLOWN: Newly-revised rankings of Adam's Favorite Santanas (previous rankings in parens):
  1. Tito (2)
  2. Carlos (3)
  3. Juelz (5)
  4. Dotson (4)
  5. Moss (7)
  6. Ervin (6)
  7. Rafael (unlisted)
  8. Johan (1)
WHICH LOST CHARACTER ARE YOU? With a nod of appreciation to frequenter commenter Devin, here is the "which Lost character are you?" quiz.

Link fixed (I think)

And I know what you're thinking: "Fine. Yeah. 1990s. Flow chart. Hammer. Funny... ish. But not nearly enough nerd-o weirdness for the middle of the night. Haven't you got any clerksesque wannabe-robot-chicken lego animation videos full of observational humor about well established science fiction franchises?"

Yes. Yes we do.

Monday, January 28, 2008

MAN, HARVARD LAW'S STANDARDS HAVE DROPPED: Sure, this Seth McFarlane-written strike video isn't all that funny as a whole (and is decidedly NSFW!), but Ted Mosby's strike beard? Awesome.

WHEN YOU SEE THROUGH LOVE’S ILLUSIONS, THERE LIES THE DANGER: Blame it on the writer’s strike. With nothing worth watching on television, I have been watching movies most nights. A few nights ago, I watched We Are Marshall, which features the song If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot. Shortly after that, I heard the same song on the radio. Since then, I’ve been thinking about the lyrics.

Before focusing on those poetic words, I should note that the music is uncommonly good as well, conveying powerfully the melancholy emotion of the song. Listen to the evocative bass line, chord progressions, and strings. The song has been covered by various jazz artists, which is a testament to the beauty of the melody. Lightfoot’s vocals are nuanced and expressive.

One reason why this song has captured my attention is the ambiguity of its lyrics. I am going to try to explicate the song, but, well, I don’t think I will achieve anything close to a definitive interpretation of it.

The song begins:

If you could read my mind, love,
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
'Bout a ghost from a wishing well

At least one source claims that Lightfoot himself has cited a surprising source as the inspiration for these lines -- the movie The Time of Their Lives (1946). The film, which I have not seen, features the comedy team of Abbott and Costello. The plot is certainly consistent with the song. Lou Costello plays Horatio, a tinker who is in love with Nora. Horatio is mistakenly shot by soldiers during the American Revolution on suspicion of being a traitor. He is thrown down a wishing well and condemned to remain there unless evidence can prove his innocence. 166 years later a letter of commendation from President Washington is found and Horatio is freed to join Nora in heaven.

This verse also calls to mind another “old-time movie” -- The Canterville Ghost (1944), which is based upon an Oscar Wilde story in which the ghost (played by Charles Laughton) must haunt an old mansion for the crime of killing his wife. He says to Virginia, the fifteen-year-old heroine of the tale, that he can “never be set free.” The ghost tells Virginia that because he has no faith and is unable to cry he can only die (and thus escape the torment of being a ghost) if Virginia “weeps for his past sins and prays for the salvation of his soul.” Ultimately, she is able to put the ghost to rest.

The song continues:

In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I'm a ghost that you can't see

Lightfoot is setting up the main theme of the song. The protagonist believes his lover (or former lover) is able to see only a false image of him and is unable to perceive his true nature. In light of what is to follow in the song, it may be that she can love only a romanticized image of him. On the other hand, in light of the reference to The Times of Their Lives, perhaps she unjustly thinks he is guilty of some disloyal act when he, perhaps like Costello in the film, might not only be innocent but in fact worthy of respect.

Throughout the song, what we discover in both of the lovers’ minds are works of fiction: “tales”, movies, and cheap novels. Up until the climax of the song, each party seems able to deal with the other only in terms that are not real. The protagonist will never be fulfilled (“set free”) until the woman can see him (and accept him) for what he is. He feels ensnared, invisible, and muffled with his wishes of what their relationship could be, or could have been, and she does not recognize or does not care to recognize his true nature, his true desires.

The second verse starts:

If I could read your mind, love,
What a tale your thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind the drugstores sell

There is clearly an undercurrent of contempt in these lines, possibly even a more general sense of misogyny. The way that Lightfoot enunciates the phrase “paperback novel” suggests that her thoughts are not of a quality that would make a publisher want to issue a lasting hardback edition. The phrase “the kind the drugstores sell” makes me think he’s describing a cheap Harlequin romance novel, the type that deals in artificial sentiment.

The lyrics proceed:

When you reach the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take

Before I go back to analyzing the song, I just need to say how stunningly powerful and beautiful I find those lines and how evocative I find the way that Lightfoot sings them.

His lover has an expectation that he will play the part of a typical romantic hero. The somber way that Lightfoot sings “But heroes often fail” is simply devastating. He can’t play that role.

The final two lines in this verse make me think he is describing a divorce, given the finality and the associated pain. That is consistent with Lightfoot's statements about the song.

The next verse begins:

I'd walk away like a movie star
Who gets burned in a three way script
Enter number two
A movie queen to play the scene
Of bringing all the good things out in me

The next thought I have to share is admittedly a stretch, but bear with me. I always think of Casablanca when I hear these words. A central theme in that amazing film is the contrast between Rick, the ultimate realist, and Victor Laszlo, the idealist. That certainly echoes the contrast in this song between the protagonist who ultimately becomes a realist and his lover who is consumed with romantic illusions. The film's contrast also echoes the contrast between the idealistic tales, movies, and books that dominate most of the song and the desire to be real, which comes at the climax of the song,

In Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman, as esteemed a movie queen as has ever existed, plays the role of Ilsa Lund, who brings out the best in Rick. Like “If You Could Read My Mind”, Casablanca’s enduring charm owes something to its inherent ambiguity.

There’s more than a hint of egotism in the protagonist describing himself walking away “like a movie star.” That, plus the lines about the woman’s thoughts being “like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstores sell”, make me wonder how reliable our protagonist/narrator is. He has a mix of positive and negative things to say about himself, although I would suggest that overall he portrays himself in a favorable light as, variously, an imprisoned and misunderstood victim, a realist, a hero (who fails only to meet phony expectations), and a movie star. In contrast, the woman is portrayed almost solely in negative terms.

That verse concludes with the climactic words of the song:

But for now, love, let's be real
I never thought I could act this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it
I don't know where we went wrong
But the feeling's gone
And I just can't get it back

Pause a moment to reflect on the power of those words. Reread those lines. Listen to the song playing in your mind.

In contrast to all of the fictional things described early in the song, now, at long last, the protagonist is insisting the couple focus on what’s real.

There’s a delicious ambiguity in these words. First, is it his feelings for her that he can’t get back or her feelings for him? I used to think it was the former, but now I’m not so sure. The latter view calls to mind this Bonnie Raitt song (written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin), which never fails to affect me:

I can’t make you love me if you don’t
You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t

Furthermore, what type of feeling is at issue here? I would assume that the prevailing view is that he is singing about feelings of love, but there’s certainly room to suggest that it’s a lack of sexual chemistry.

The first half of the final verse is a reprise of the opening lines, but the second half is different:

But stories always end
And if you read between the lines
You'll know that I'm just trying to understand
The feelings that you lack
I never thought I could feel this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it
I don't know where we went wrong
But the feeling's gone
And I just can't get it back

I am struck again by how one-sided the account is here (“the feelings that YOU lack”). It seems to me that in most failed relationships there is blame to be shared by both parties. Clearly, this verse suggests much more strongly than the previous one that it her feelings for him that he can’t get back.

Returning one last time to what I believe is the main theme, to me the key is that, as Jackson Browne wrote so eloquently:

When you see through love’s illusions, there lies the danger
And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool

SMARMY AND PUNCHABLE: Ken Jennings has some things to say about his writing routine, the difficulty of writing trivia questions, awesome things he's learned about Philly, and which Presidential candidate he'd like on his Pub Quiz team. It's worth a few moments of your time.
SERIOUSLY, "I SMELL LIKE I SOUND?" The best thing about this article about Disney's plans to exploit the High School Musical phenomonon is not the fact that a full-scale London production opens June 30, or that HSM2 will soon be available for licensing to schools for production, but the remark by "a Hindi translator contacted by the New York Times" that "Pa Pa Pa Paye Yeh Dil," which is how Disney has elected to translate "Bop To The Top" into Hindi (and which apparently means "the heart is full of happiness"), is "sort of like a Duran Duran song. The words sound sexy, but mean nothing."
IT'S A BUYER'S MARKET: The Wire is winding down, and it's clear that it's now following the Sopranos model, letting a lot of its minor characters have their valedictories. Because both were -- notwithstanding protestations to the contrary from Chase and Simeon -- crime dramas, the range of exits is fairly limited (prison, death, or going on the run), and much of the tension is in figuring who is leaving rather than how they're going to go. I'm going to stop saying how much I'm going to miss this character or that, because the truth is I'm going to miss them all, and I don't want to say it every week.

I will say, though, that the softening, unfocusing of Marlo's eyes at a key moment of tonight's episode was one of the most chilling moments I can remember in this show, the first time that I thought that Marlo actually is McNulty's fictive serial killer -- a psychopath that gets a kick out of the blood -- instead of just a particularly ruthless businessman.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

HELLO, UPPER EAST SIDERS: With tomorrow's State of the Union preempting most major network programming, worth noting that the CW will be airing regular programming all night, anchored by a special 90-minute version of the Gossip Girl pilot with deleted scenes, cast commentary, and the like. See if you can find hints of the alleged off-screen tension between Serena and Blair, and if you haven't been watching the dangerously addictive teen soap, you can start from the beginning.
BOOBIES = FINES: TV odds and ends:
  • The FCC takes on NYPD Blue, five years later.
  • Neat Simpsons episode tonight, which utterly destroyed any sense of the show's chronological consistency by positing a period during the 1990s before Homer and Marge were married in which Marge attended Springfield University, Homer invented grunge ("Kurt! This is your cousin Marvin ... Marvin Cobain ... remember that new sound you were looking for? Well, listen to this!"), many forms of political correctness of the early 1990s were mocked -- I mean, basically, it was an excuse for a big pile of cheap gags and cultural references, but it was a pretty damn funny pile of instastalgia for viewers of a certain age.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, accepting his SAG Award tonight: “It has always been the work of my fellow actors, including my fellow nominees, who have given me a sense of regeneration. Heath Ledger gave it to me. We wanted to follow him and yet we were afraid to follow him. In Brokeback Mountain, he was unique. He was perfect. The scene in the trailer at the end of the movie was as moving as anything we have ever seen. I ‘d like to dedicate this award to him.”
  • Okay, I'm on the Make Me A Supermodel train. It was the waxing scene that sealed it.
  • How much is it killing SNL's Darrell Hammond that the strike is preventing him from bringing back his Bill Clinton on a weekly basis?
HOUSE RULES: So we cracked open a deck of Uno cards to play with Lucy this morning, and I encountered two items in the official rules which did not square with my recollections of how I played the game. As per usual, I'm wondering if I'm the lone nut who believed ...
  • The rules state that when a Draw Two or Wild+4 is played, the recipient is not permitted to lay down a card after drawing. I thought the person could.
  • The rules state that if a player cannot play a card during a turn, s/he can draw only one card, play it if possible, and then play passes to the next person. I thought it was "keep drawing cards until you can play one."


I KNOW WHAT GUYS LIKE: GQ's got a list of 10 Guy Films You've Never Seen. And seriously, if you have never seen The Limey, guy or gal, get thee to a Blockbuster this afternoon and take advantage of the football free Sunday.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, DIET OF WORMS: So, what's the name of your next band?

[Notion stolen from John Scalzi]