2018 – A Very Good Year

 

Bests of 2018

I read, listened to, or watched these things in 2018.  They were not necessarily released or published in 2018.  Some are years old but new to me – I discovered them this year.

 

Best Album Title:  I’m Not Here To Hunt Rabbits

This is guitar music from Botswana “played in an eccentric style and with a depth of expression rivaling any genre of music, this is folk from the dusty outskirts of the Kalahari Desert.

A community of African country blues masters with a totally original technique. For one thing; the left hand reaches up and over the neck of the guitar, instead of from behind and underneath. Furthermore, although played on six-string guitars, the guitars are only stringed with 3 or 4 treble strings, usually in G, E and D, and one bass. If a bass string is hard to find, it might be substituted by a brake cable. Tuning is achieved by ear …

Where did these peculiarities originate? Why did they come about? Nobody knows. That’s how the older musicians did it – that’s how it always used to be done …” *

A good example song:  Rampoka by Solly Sobatso

FunkmammothBest Song About the Wooly Mammoth:

Brontosaurus by Funkmammoth

Best Protest Song:

Ohio by Leon Bridges, Gary Clark, Jr., and Jon Batiste.  This is a cover of the song written by Neil Young in response to the Kent State protests and killings of protesters in 1970.  The Guardian in 2010 described the song as the “greatest protest record.”  It is in The Grammy Hall Of Fame.

Honorable Mention:  For What It’s Worth by The Lone Bellow

Best passage from a book:

This passage from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

All night now the jooks clanged and clamored.  Pianos living three lifetimes in one.  Blues made and used right on the spot.

Best lyric from a song:

Well it’s all right, even if you’re old and grey
Well it’s all right, you still got something to say
Well it’s all right, remember to live and let live
Well it’s all right, the best you can do is forgive

I’m just happy to be here, happy to be alive

From End Of the Line sung by The Travelling Wilburys, written by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty.

Best music genre:

Lo-fi is a genre hard to define and characterize even after some research.  Lo-fi (or low-fi) is a term that’s been in use for decades as a label for “recorded music in which the sound quality is lower than the usual contemporary standards (the opposite of high fidelity) and imperfections of the recording and production are audible.  . . . Lo-fi only began to be recognized as a style of popular music in the 1990s . . .” **

I think I’ve been listening to a sub-genre of lo-fi described by Wikipedia as a form of “downtempo music tagged as “lo-fi hip-hop” or “chillhop”. **

Here is my favorite example of what I think is lo-fi hip hop or chillhop.  (Brontosaurus from above is also in this genre.)

Sens Plus Profond by Coquins

Best Fact:

Harry Belafonte’s album Calypso from 1956 is the first million-selling LP by a single artist.

Best Happy Song:

Happy With You by Paul McCartney, a good song for all us baby boomers and everyone else

Best Singer Of Nostalgia:

Van Morrison, still going strong after all these years.

The Beauty Of the Days Gone By

Memory Lane

In Tiburon

Brown Eyed Girl     “Do you remember when we used to sing… ?”

Best Movie:

The Shape of Water directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Theater from the Shape of Water

Virgil WanderI loved the cinematography – low-key, saturated colors with a palette leaning towards greens, browns, and oranges.  It reminded me of one of my favorites photographs – Flâneur Granville taken by one of my favorite photographers, Fred Herzog.  A key visual in the movie is an old-style movie theater and marquee reminiscent of a mid-twentieth-century main street.  The main character lives above the theater.   Later in 2018, I read Virgil Wander, a recently-published novel.  One of the novel’s locations is a small-town main street where there is an old-style movie theater complete with a marquee.  Again, The main character lives above the theater.

________________________________________________________________________________________

* Piranha

** Wikipedia entry for Lo-fi music

 

 

 

 

 

Going To the Movies

popcorn-boxMy earliest memories of going to the movies are of total chaos.  Imagine a large, old-fashioned movie theater on the main drag of my hometown during a Saturday matinee for grade schoolers.  The theater is packed.  There is a cartoon, an episode of a cliffhanger serial like Buck Rogers (to be continued the next week), then the main feature, often a black-and-white western.  The kids are not quiet.  When they finish their popcorn, they fold the box flat and sail it out over the crowded theater.  Soon the air is filled with gliding popcorn boxes.  The noise and chaos didn’t bother me at all.  Oh, but it was fun!

Yesterday I started watching the Stars Wars movie that is first in the series in chronological order.  I star-wars-textwas surprised how poor it was, dependent heavily on special effects and quirky characters.  The plot was as weak as day-old coffee and so lame that even the good actors couldn’t overcome the hackneyed dialogue.  I could only manage thirty minutes of the movie before turning it off.  There are a million better ways to be bored.

I often start a movie without finishing it.  A waste of money for sure, but also for me an indication that there are not many decent movies being made these days.  I’m not interested in movies based on comic book characters, so that excludes seemingly half the movies made these days.  Include the re-makes and there doesn’t seem much room left for original movies.

Going out to see a movie used to be one of my favorite things.  When I lived alone in Washington, DC and had yet to make any friends, I went to the movies at least once a week and enjoyed myself even if the movie wasn’t very good.  Now I never see a movie in a theater.  It’s not because there are no movies I’d like to see (not many but there are some),  it’s because the sound is often overwhelmingly loud, an assault on a person’s senses.   So I no longer subject myself to movie theaters.  I wait until I can get the DVD from the library or from the one-and-only, surviving DVD rental shop left in town.  I may never again set foot in a movie theater.

There is a lot of junk available on the internet.  Truly awful movies that exploit all possible human weaknesses.  I’ve gotten sucked in by too many such movies.  In my defense, I can say that I’ve rarely if ever finished any of the trashy movies, but I have to guard against temptation.

tempted-mouse

 

Punk in 1970s New York

city-on-fireI’ve recently read or watched two items that involve the punk scene (or should I say punk-rock scene?  I’m not sure.) in New York City in the mid-1970s:  The book City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Spike Lee’s movie Summer Of Sam.

City On Fire is a long book, almost 1000 dense pages.  The nexus of the plot is the murder of a young woman in a New York park on New Year’s Eve 1977.  The book describes in great detail the lives and relationships of the people who were involved in one way or another with the murdered woman.  It jumps back and forth in time from the early sixties to the start of the 21st Century while also jumping back and forth between characters.  Many of the characters are punks participating in the New York City scene that apparently started in the mid-1970s.  I cannot speak from experience about any aspect of punk.  During that time period I was moving in the opposite direction; exploring bluegrass, country, and mountain music.  So while the punks in this novel were moving away from the musical (pop) mainstream and finding punk, I was moving away from the mainstream and finding bluegrass.  Given what I learned from the book and movie, I’m glad I moved in that direction.

City On Fire also covers the massive and  complete blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977.  Some of the book’s climactic events happen during the night of the blackout.

summer-of-samThe movie Summer of Sam uses the background of the Son Of Sam serial killings to depict life in New York when David Berkowitz was on his killing spree.  It focuses on the punk scene and on life in the city’s Italian neighborhoods.  City On Fire presents more of a political and artistic picture of punk as a search for a sort of anarchistic freedom.  Summer Of Sam, in contrast, focuses a lot on the sexual goings-on within the punk and club scenes.

I’m not sure I would recommend watching the movie or reading the book.  I was often irritated at the book’s author for jumping around so much.  I kept wanting him to stick to the plot line in which I was engrossed.   Eventually, I just wanted him to wrap things up and tell me what happened to all the characters whom except, I think, for one, were strung out on drugs or alcohol.  They were all drinking excessively, strung out, shooting heroin, dropping pills, sometimes doing it all in one day.  I did not think it was possible for a person to use as many drugs and as much alcohol as some of the characters.

Watching the movie left me feeling like I had besmirched my soul.

eye-and-tear

 

 

Jingo

I watched two movies over the weekend, one that posed a difficult moral and ethical issue, the other that trashed the same issue in a gush of jingoistic nationalism.

Eye In the SkyI first watched Eye In the Sky with Helen Mirren.  Its plot involved a potential drone-launched missile attack on a house in a congested, urban area in Nairobi. At the moment of launch, surveillance intelligence revealed that two suicide bombers were in the house and about to proceed on their missions.  Surveillance also showed a young, innocent girl just outside the house.  The dilemma was whether to launch the strike that would abort the two suicide missions and likely save up to eighty lives but would likely kill the young girl, or cancel the strike and save the young girl but risk having the suicide missions carried out.  The movie shows that there is not an easy answer.  It doesn’t provide an easy answer.

London FallenThe second movie was London Has Fallen.  This movie begins with an actual drone-launched missile attack on the compound of a rich terrorist and arms dealer in rural Pakistan.  Surveillance clearly showed that there was a wedding in progress with many guests – children, women, innocents.  With no discussion, the attack is carried out and many innocents are killed.  The terrorist and his sons survive and plot diabolical revenge with an attack on London that plays out like a coup d’etat.  The Rambo-style hero rages unscathed through thousands of bullets, grenades, and rockets and eventually saves the day and rescues the U.S. president who behaves like a true American hero.  It was nothing more than jingoistic nationalism:  we’re the good guys, they are the bad guys, even though the initial missile attack was just as barbarous as the revenge-driven attack on London.  The issue of collateral damage from the first attack was never addressed.

I recommend Eye In the Sky.  It’s a simple plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat and starts you thinking.  Don’t bother with London Has Fallen.  Not only it is a gush of jingoism, the plot is unrealistic and illogical.  An embarrassing movie.

Helen Mirren(P.S.  Helen Mirren is 71 years old, way past the age of retirement in the U.S.military, but in Eye In the Sky she plays a very fit-looking colonel.  I think she’ll continue to entertain us with great acting for a long time to come.)