Stranger Things

I talked the Butcher and the Red-Headed Kid into watching Stranger Things on Netflix and we are binging out way through it, even though it involves the Red-Headed Kid rearranging his schedule a little to be over here.

I’m trying not to be too distraught by the fact that the character that was clearly based on me in high school is stuck in a demon dimension.

Through the First Week in July

I just need to keep my head down and my work good and get through this busy mess.

The other day, there was a big brouhaha because some fans on Tumblr were pretending to be the folks from The Black Tapes podcast. The Black Tapes is really cool with fans participating in the world, but it seems like this wasn’t clear that it was being done by fans. There was no disclaimer to say that the accounts weren’t run by the show and seemed to encourage confusion. So, the Black Tapes people had to try to walk this complicated line where they encouraged people to do all kinds of fan things–except thoroughly impersonating the show to the point of confusion.

There is something weird about the ways in which we feel like liking something gives us a right to it, some level of ownership over it. Like it’s ours to devour and consume, literally.

I finished Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock last night and it left me uneasy. Lake Mungo is one of my favorite movies. There probably aren’t that many people in the world who are going to read Disappearance who have also seen Lake Mungo so I don’t know how many people will notice it, but it’s the same story. Disappearance is what happens when you set Lake Mungo in the U.S. and give it a villain. Major plot points, which are genuinely surprising and upsetting the first time you encounter them, are present in both stories. Tremblay’s a really good writer so the parallels don’t ruin the book if you have seen the movie. But the movie is a delicate thing and it works hard at establishing a great aura of uncertainty. If you read the book before you see the movie, part of the movie’s delicate uncertainty will be absent for you.

So, that sucks. On the other hand, you’re probably not going to stumble across an obscure Australian horror movie. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

I guess I’m left feeling, too, like I wish there’d been a clear wink and a nod in the book or in the publicity around the book to Lake Mungo, something to say “Here are this story’s roots, so, if you like this story, check out this movie.”

Genre stories–well, all stories, but I’m focusing on genre now–get retold all the time. So, I guess it’s not the retelling that bothers me, especially when the retelling is this well done. But doesn’t a fan of a work owe it to the work to make sure that the work is known? That the influence is acknowledged?

What do fans who are also creators owe their inspirations? I don’t have a good answer for that. I’m not sure that, if I’ve had answers along the way, they’re sufficient or satisfactory.

But I feel like you have to leave breadcrumbs. You have to show the path you’ve taken. Whether it’s saying “This is a fan site because I love this thing so much, but please don’t mistake it for the thing itself” or “This is an homage to the movie I love, so, hey, if you like the book, show some love to the movie.” Otherwise, it feels like it’s not love, but theft.

Also, in other things that upset me, for the first time since I’ve owned this dog, he’s sleeping away from me at such an angle with his legs crossed at such an angle that the black scars on the back of his one leg line up with the black scars on the front of the other leg and it’s clear that they are not scars, plural, but one scar. At some point, a wire wrapped his back legs together and cut in to him deep enough to scar.

I want to cry for a million years.

And yet, what else about him would ever tell you anything bad had ever happened to him? He still has an open, joyful heart. He likes everyone.

I wish that I could say the same.

Hypericon

The new venue is great. The weekend was long. I’m still feeling a little frazzled.

Our cats are kind of dog-like, having been raised around at least one dog. They’re friendly. They kind of go for walks. But at the end of the day, they’re cats. As dog-like as they can be, at some point, you can hit a wall where they’re like, “Yeah, that’s too far.”

Sometimes this weekend, I felt like a cat among dogs.

I was on Twitter when a guy came up to me, touched my hand to get my attention, and then told me to smile. Like a fucking asshole, I did. I’m so mad at myself. But some of the other authors were delighted when they went up to hug him and he gave them surprise kisses.

So, here’s the thing. If you’re cool with surprise kisses, congrats. This minor celebrity just laid one on you. But how does he know that everyone who approaches him would be open to a kiss? I include myself in this group, so I speak from self-knowledge–there are a lot of socially awkward people at conventions. It’s very likely that a hug might be all they’re game for. I can’t help but wonder if and how many women got kissed who didn’t want to be.

And why would you behave like that? That’s a rhetorical question.

I have been thinking a lot about why I froze and smiled instead of scowling and telling that dude to suck my butt and I have decided it’s because I refuse to believe, in this day and age, that guys don’t know that women don’t like it when you tell them to smile. They know. So, already when you’ve decided that your pleasure is more important than my comfort, we’re in a kind of hostile situation. I want the moment to end without the hostility levels rising. The cost of me acquiescing is only my pride, so I acquiesce and you leave me alone.

I don’t know. It’s not really a big thing. Just in a weekend where no one knew what panels they were on until the last minute and I had to do a lot of running around town as well as doing the convention and meeting a lot of strangers and being “on,” it just stands out as a “WTF?” moment. Like we’re all trying to do our best here, dude, except you.

When There’s Something Strange…

This morning, I stumbled across a story about the new Ghostbusters, because someone had retweeted someone else who was complaining that they didn’t hate it because of sexism, but because it’s going to be terrible.

Let me be upfront. I’m not planning on seeing the new Ghostbusters movie at the theater. I’ll catch it when it’s on cable or makes it to Netflix. Or maybe not. If you’re not planning to see the new Ghostbusters movie either, I truly don’t give a shit.

But man, do I not believe people who feel the need to announce to the world that they’re not seeing the new Ghostbusters, but not because of the all-female cast. Okay there, bucky, sure, sure. There has been no clearer signal since “it’s about ethics in gamer journalism” that a person does not have their shit together and in really tedious ways that could easily turn on anyone engaging with them.

Like, seriously, folks, if you’re not going to see a movie, but you’re spending a bunch of time trying to make the internet believe you that you’re not not going to see it because of the women in it, I have no choice but to believe that you’re lying. Possibly to yourself, even.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this post Chuck Wendig wrote in the wake of Orlando, where he talks about the festering damaging stew we raise our boys in.

We force them to understand that they are MEN. They are MASCULINE. They are aggressive, dominant, alpha. They must be or they are weak. Big dick. Big muscles. Hot girlfriend. Prove your manhood. Wear it as an emblem. Just in case, we can make sure it’s driven home in the toy aisle, too. Make sure they play with guns and weapons of war (while at the same time limiting a young girl’s social ability to do so). Do not let them be nurturers. No dolls for the men. Men are soldiers, generals, builders, leaders. Trucks and cars. Guns and swords. But they also learn by limitation — the girls have their own aisles. They have not only dolls, but stuffed animals. They have little toy shopping carts and hair salons. They cook. They clean. They are soft like the stuffed animals. Not hard like guns. No Black Widow toys for the girls or for the boys. Even if the world gives us Ghostbusters who are women, let’s make sure that the packaging shows boys — lest they be made to believe they aren’t special, they aren’t the best, they aren’t chosen.

Not to jump tracks too much but I remember feeling really pissed off when I was getting ready to graduate from college and I couldn’t figure out how to get a job and all the help my university implied they would give didn’t really mean shit.

You do shit because you’re told these are the things you need to do to get the life you want and you do them and the life you want isn’t there, damn straight you’re pissed.

That’s a really common feeling. And really fucking hard.

The joy of the internet is that it can bring you into contact with people who are also going through what you’re going through and who can give you the strength to pick up and move forward.

But it feels like the Big Suck of this situation is that these guys band together to validate their feelings (fine) and then coordinate their resentment (not fine) rather than helping each other find healthy ways forward.

And one of the resentments seems to be that they can’t just do this shit without us figuring out that it tells us something about them. They want to dislike Ghostbusters because it stars women now, but they don’t want anyone to notice.

But I have to notice in order to keep floundering, stuck, angry folks out of my life.

The Gap, Again

I think it’s because I was at a meeting earlier this week where industry people were openly talking about the grave downside of capitalism, at least as we practice it here in the United States–any business that sells something to consumers which increases profits by finding ways to keep workers’ wages low ends up killing itself, but it usually takes so long that only the people in the business near the death of the business realize the problem and then it’s too late.

In other words, if consumers and workers are the same people, you have to pay your workers enough to consume your product or you’re committing slow-motion suicide. If consumers and workers aren’t the same people, you’d better hope there are enough consumers out there making more than your workers to make your business model work or you’re committing slow-motion suicide. Note that, if every business is trying to keep workers’ pay as low as possible, all businesses face the problem of not having a large enough pool of well-paid consumers who need their shit.

I keep thinking that we’re seeing this gap replicated over all parts of our society. You have something–in the case of what I care about, stories–and there’s a huge industry that takes those stories and sells them to consumers.

But you have a growing group of consumers who can’t or won’t afford the stories. They start looking for free or cheaper stories. I mean, as expensive as video games can be, what’s they’re per-hour cost? I bought the Butcher one of the Borderlands for $50 when it first came out. I don’t know how much he’s played it, but I bet I pretty easily have only spent $1 an hour on his entertainment with that game at this point. It’s roughly $7.50 an hour to see a movie. Depending on how fast or slow you read…

It’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about with the rise of fictional podcasts. That can’t be a money-making proposition by any stretch.

I guess I don’t have a fully formed idea about this except that it seems like the rise of the online magazine and the podcast and such are, in ways, people making art for people who can’t or won’t afford to consume it through traditional channels.

If a very few people will ever be lucky enough to make a living making their art and if audiences prefer not to pay for art (or to pay much less for it), I just…

I don’t know, really. I just know that it seems like a real gap between The Industry, as such, and what producers and consumers who can’t get access to The Industry are doing and I wonder what that means.

Preacher

The Butcher and I have been watching AMC’s Preacher and really enjoying it. But man, the actual business of being a preacher on that show is so weird. Like, I can accept a vampire, but accepting that a place that does full immersion baptisms has communion wine? I can’t do it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and the other day Coble had a Facebook post about how there’s basically no market for Christian fantasy & science fiction and why that is. The gist of it is basically that Christian authors want to write grown-up fiction with Christian themes, but readers of Christian fiction don’t want to read a lot of gore or sex or the kinds of things that mark a book as grown-up.

And it strikes me that Preacher suffers from the inverse of this problem. The show would be tremendously better if it had behind the scenes someone who treated Christianity like something other than another kind of fantasy trope. If it had a sincere, knowledgeable Christian overseeing the depiction of Christians.

Which is not to say that I think Christians are in any way being disrespected by the show. I mean, that’s one of the nice things about it. It does take people’s faith and their doubts seriously. But it doesn’t seem to understand the kinds of fundamental church things that would make churched people recognize themselves in that story.

I guess it’s tough. I wouldn’t like Preacher–which, let me reiterate, I like a great deal–if it were trying to sell me on returning to the fold. So, maybe it wouldn’t be that interesting for a Christian creator to work on it if he or she couldn’t proselytize through it.

But if Hollywood struggles to reach a Christian audience with the products centered around Christianity, one of the main reasons has to be that the Hollywood projects that treat Christianity as something other than just another flavor of fantasy–oh, cool, you have fairies and trolls, I have angels and demons–are pretty rare.

Which is a shame because I think Preacher could only benefit from getting those details right.

WXNA

We have a new radio station in town that’s the renegades from Vanderbilt’s old community station–WXNA (that’s the new station, not Vandy’s old station). And I’m loving it, so far. It’s like listening to interesting people’s cool record collections.

It makes me really happy to hear people doing interesting, creative things.

But I have to tell you that I think we’re seeing more and more a real split between people who can make a living doing the creative thing they love and creative people who have to find some way to subsidize the cool thing they love. The quality of people stuck in the “I do this for free” is exploding and it’s getting harder and harder to make a living doing what you love.

But it can’t go on, I don’t think. If society stratifies like this, then a lot of us will be happy with the entertainment provided by the people we know, which leaves the upper tier entertainment without the audience they want.

Maybe.

Headache?

I went to bed with a headache that wasn’t bad enough for me to take anything for it. It seemed like the kind of minor headache that you sleep off. But then I woke up with this piercing pain that ran from my eye to my temple.

I took some medicine, but it hurt so much that I was like “There’s no way anything over the counter could touch this,” but I guess that’s just years of migraine suffering talking? Because literally twenty minutes later, the headache was gone.

I’m weirded out. What is this beastly magic that fixes what it’s supposed to fix on the first go?

Ha ha ha, it also makes me realize what bears migraines are. I’ve certainly had migraines that hurt less than this headache, but they were much, much more persistent.

We watched the first episode of Preacher last night. I liked it okay, though it felt kind of hollow at the core for me. Like, I just didn’t believe the main character was very familiar with church. He’s a preacher now, but the conceit is that he’s also a minister’s kid. I didn’t recognize him as one of the family, I guess.

But the Butcher thought the church scenes were pretty accurate, so it may be just a matter of perception.

The chick from Shield is acting up a storm, though. It’s almost disconcerting to watch how good she is.

Better?

Fortunately, I don’t normally get a lot of trouble on Twitter. But yesterday, one of my friends was talking about how People has this new initiative to get women to share their dress size so that we can all see that beauty comes in every size or some such nonsense.

The thing that struck me about it, though, is that, because it’s about beauty, the women whose pictures are included, by and large, are striking “beautiful” poses while dressed in “attractive” ways while holding up the number that represents their size (because I guess they all have access to more consistent sizing than the rest of America?)

I rolled my eyes, because, of course, we can’t just have “You’re fine at whatever size you are,” because what’s that sell? We have to establish what a “beautiful” body at that size looks like, so even if you make peace with being a size 16, now you can feel anxious that you’re not the right kind of size 16 because you don’t compare to the chicks People has deemed properly representative. And buy the products necessary to relieve your anxiety. That’s the point.

Pit women against each other, set us up to compare ourselves to each other, and then sell shit based on the anxiety that unwinnable competition produces.

But it also struck me that there can’t be any eating disorder specialist who would endorse putting pictures of women up with some number attached so that other women can see how they stack up or if they need to try harder to get to the “right” number or be extra cautious about not “letting” yourself get to that undesirable number.

So, I tweeted at People something to that effect.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. A dude I don’t know @-ed me and some other dude I don’t know. No message. Just drawing other dude’s attention to the fact that I exist and then other dude began hurling insults (though most insultingly, really stupid insults) at me.

A dude sent another dude after me. The first dude, I assume, was monitoring the replies in the People twitter feed to see who had “wrong” opinions and needed to be dealt with.

Can you imagine?

I don’t want to downplay how creepy this is and I do feel a little weird now having come to the attention of a person like this.

But overall, I find this so ludicrous it’s almost delightful. If society is going to have arbiters of what is and isn’t okay to talk about and who can and can’t participate in those conversations, shouldn’t those arbiters be super awesome? Shouldn’t they show great discernment and judgment?

But no! There’s some dude whose set himself up as arbiter and he monitors the People twitter feed.

I will listen to wisdom from my betters, but the dude who monitors the People twitter feed, as evidenced by the fact that he monitors the People twitter feed, is not better than me.

The Black Tapes!

It comes back today. I packed my lunch so I can huddle around my phone over lunch and listen to it. I’ve also been enjoying the shit out of this season of Tanis.

But I want to know what Strand has been up to.

A Touch of Home

I stumbled across the Small Town Horror podcast this weekend and there’s not yet a lot to it but it seems pretty fine based on what there is. I’m going to give it a chance anyway.

The thing I love about it, though, is that, even though it’s set in Minnesota, the dude’s accent is a dead ringer for my Uncle M.’s Southside accent.

The Emptiness of a Song

There’s a certain kind of emptiness you can hear in some songs. I was thinking about that on my walk with the dog this morning. It’s one of the things that I viscerally dislike about the Velvet Underground.

It’s one of the aesthetic things that’s hard to talk about. But there’s something about the sound of the room I don’t like. It’s empty in a way I can’t stand. There’s a kind of hollowness in it. A kind of sharp hollowness.

I associate it with New York, but that may be unfair. Except you can hear that same kind of hollowness in this song.

So, I’m not alone, I don’t think, in associating that kind of space in the song with New York.

Last night, I had to talk myself out of buying the Chess Records box set, but as I was listening to the previews of the songs, I realized, interestingly enough a lot of those old Chicago blues also have a kind of hollowness to them, but one that I experience as warm and pleasant.

And it made me wonder if it might indeed be a known quality of either the recording studios they were using or how they set the band up in them or even how the track was mixed.

I’m not sure if this even makes sense and I certainly don’t hear it in all songs, but sometimes there’s a kind of sharpness to the space around the music that I really dislike and sometimes there’s a warmth in that space that I do like. But I’m not sure what it is that I’m experiencing or where in the mix it’s located.

But it does make me wonder one thing. Is this why I’m all in for The Doors? Yes, I intellectually get why they’re terrible. I don’t care. I love them. Every ponderous, belabored over-poetic, too full of their own genius part of them.

All their songs have that warm room feel.

Wheels

IMG_0109

I’ve got my afghan yarn back in so I’m making these wheels again. I need fifty-six. I have twenty six. So, it feels like it’s going well. I just really hope I’m not secretly fucking up these wheels, too, but I keep counting to make sure I have sixteen spokes, and there are, so that’s what it should be.

I remain a big fan of this yarn for its soft, squishiness and its weirdness.

I woke up early to purchase “Lemonade” so I can listen to it at work and marvel to be living in a time of geniuses.

I read the credits on the song she did with Jack White. It samples Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” so they get writing credit on the song. I noticed that Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe did not. It makes me wonder if this is one of the songs that Zeppelin ripped off and never had to make right on. I know Willie Dixon eventually got them to own up to what they’d done–and by that, I mean, get some money out of them for the use of his intellectual property, but I don’t know if other folks were able to.

The fact that Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe don’t get writer’s credits on the Beyonce song does worry me about that.

But I love the “gal I love, stole her from a friend, joker got lucky, stole her back again” aspect of Beyonce getting Jack White’s help to steal a song that Led Zeppelin stole.

But I do keep thinking of Willie Dixon, whose influence is so heavy on rock music, and who I think is utterly forgotten except by music nerds. Is justice come in the fact that most people who listen to Beyonce’s album aren’t going to know who the fuck Led Zeppelin was? My kind of music nerdery can’t accept that. I want people who love Beyonce to get the thrill of hearing Zeppelin for the first time and then getting the thrill of hearing Dixon or Minnie or Robert Johnson.

I want them to have that lightning shaped epiphany of seeing how art travels through time.

In Which I Say an Unkind Thing

I know “better” is subjective, but all day yesterday, I kept seeing people refer to some exchange where someone asks Eric Clapton what it’s like to be the world’s best guitarist and Clapton supposedly answers that he doesn’t know, why don’t people ask Prince?

And I get that people are floundering for some way to pay Prince a compliment and we don’t have good ways of talking about people who are extremely talented at whatever instrument they put their minds to. In terms of that kind of ability, there’s Prince and Barbara Mandrell and…um…yeah. That’s all I can think of.

But come on! Who are these people calling Eric Clapton the best guitarist in the world in the first place? It’s not like it’s 1. Prince, 2. Eric Clapton. And not that Eric Clapton sucks. He doesn’t suck. He’s quite good. But let’s be reasonable.

If you think Eric Clapton is the best there is, you’ve not listened around enough.

Not Everything is a Metaphor

It’s long bugged me that the Wikipedia entry on “Black Betty” claims the song is about everything but what it is at face value. It’s a gun! It’s a hearse! It’s a whip! It’s a liquor bottle.

Here’s my guess, though. I think “Hammer Ring” was a well-known work song.

And then I think something happened, a real thing, to a woman named Betty and, when the men wanted to sing about it, they adapted and adopted “Hammer Ring” to serve their needs. Whatever those guys told the Lomaxes about it, that’s on the Lomaxes for believing it. The subversive, transgressive truth, I think, is in the lyrics.

Let’s go with James “Iron Head” Baker’s version:

 


And let’s give the lyrics a try:

Oh, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Oh Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Well, I come [unintelligable, maybe cross the channel?] Bam-a-lam

Well, I’m going to Texarkana. Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, what’s your number? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, what’s your number? Bam-a-lam

Well, one hundred and fifty, Bam-a-lam

Damn hundred and fifty, Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty had a baby, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty had a baby, Bam-a-lam

And the damn thing’s crazy, Bam-a-lam

Damn thing’s crazy, Bam-a-lam

Now she put his head in gravy [?] Bam-a-lam

Now she put his head in gravy Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Now the baby had blue eyes, Bam-a-lam

Now the baby had blue eyes, Bam-a-lam

Well, it must have been the Captain’s, Bam-a-lam

Well, it must have been the Captain’s, Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

 

There are some weird things. Like when she dips the kid’s head in gravy? Is that a way of saying she put some kind of poultice on him or maybe a plaster?

But I think the important thing here is that this is obviously not symbolic. The prisoners who sang this work song were singing about a white guard who had a child with a black woman, quite possibly through rape. If her number being 150 is supposed to tell us she’s a prisoner, then it’s a flat-out rape.

Now, obviously, black prisoners couldn’t tell white people that they were teasing their white guards about wanting to fuck black women. But shame on musicologists for striving to find any explanation other than the obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less is More

There’s this moment, if you’ve ever had the unhappy opportunity to sit through Taking Lives, when Angelina Jolie is wearing a robe and it slips open to reveal her upper thigh. I could probably find fifty pictures of Angelina Jolie wearing less than that on the internet in the time it’s taken you to read this paragraph.

But it’s still a moment I find really charged and erotic in ways it’s hard for me to completely understand.

I was reminded of that when we were watching Spy and there’s this moment at the end when Jason Statham takes his arm out from under a sheet and again, it’s just his arm and it’s not like you don’t see his arm in every movie. But *pow*.

I’d like to understand more about what’s going on there. It seems probably like more a poet’s concern than a story-writer’s concern, but it’s still fascinating to me. Are there certain things–a flash of thigh a well-crafted shoulder–certain words, even–though I don’t know what those would be–that short-cut straight to the brain and set off an “Oh, my, wow” response without needing more than just those fleeting glimpses?

Water

This weekend, I realized that I have always thought that “Callin’ Baton Rouge”

and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Day Light”

were the same song. On my walk this morning, I was trying to think about how young I must have been to make this mistake and never realize I’d made that mistake. Pretty damn young, I think. Because, in my head, those are the same song.

But listening to them now, it’d seem like I might assume that they were related songs, like two parts of the same story. So, whenever the conflation happened, it had to happen before I was telling myself stories, I think.

Anyway, all this is preface to say that it’s worth listening again to “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” if you haven’t in a while, because it’s both a really good song and then, somehow, a really weird piece of poetry hiding in a pretty straight-forward narrative.

I mean, you think you’re listening to a song about one thing–a girl trying to run off with a stranger–and the nature of the road and of young girls and traveling men.

And then it ends with “Oh there ain’t no way to stop the water.”

(It occurs to me that the single above might not end that way, but check out Emmylou’s version.)

There’s been nothing explicit about water before this point. And yet, that lyric comes and I feel like maybe I’ve misunderstood the whole song. I listen again and I feel like there’s some mystery at the heart of the song that I can’t get to.

It’s just brilliant.

Morality

I’m enjoying the shit out of season two of Daredevil, even though the trial sequence was bad enough to almost ruin it for me, but I’ve decided that the show’s immorality is starting to wear on me.

I don’t normally care if a show is immoral or not. But this one is really hung up on morality, so it seems weird that it is so gutless about whether what Daredevil’s doing is moral or not. It seems, I think, to have skipped asking itself that question. I mean, yes, Matt asks himself that question in the first season and settles on an answer, but Matt is a madman.

Does the show think that what Matt’s doing is right? If we’ve skipped ahead to asking if Matt’s approach is better than, say, The Punisher’s, then the question of whether what he’s doing is right seems to have been settled. But I can’t help but feel that the moral thing for the show to do is to never let the viewer stop asking him or herself if Matt’s actions continue to be moral or were ever moral to begin with.

Which is weird because everyone else in the show seems to have a moral code, some of which have a moral dilemma at their core. Karen wants the truth. Foggy wants to do good. Elektra wants to be good. Frank wants to find the people who killed his family and have his revenge. Karen has some lie she can’t live with. Foggy has to defend a guy he loathes. Elektra murders people. Frank may ultimately find that some decision he made put his family in harm’s way–and then what? Kill himself?

But what does Matt want? I honestly don’t think the show has decided. And, since it hasn’t decided, it can’t effectively make the argument that what Matt wants is right, which, presumably, if he’s the hero, is the argument the show should be making. Or, if it wants to be a more grown-up show, it could do a better job of arguing that Matt is undermining at every step his ability to get what he wants. Which, upon reflection, may be what it’s trying to do… but it’s just not getting there for me.

If protecting your community is important to you, then you need to be a part of that community. Matt puts his community at arm’s length. So, why does he care about protecting it?

 

Collaborating

I guess I’m not done thinking about The Black Tapes or Tanis yet. I want to learn the trick they use all the time of leaving a kind of blank space of innuendo for the reader/listener to collaborate in the story with them.

It’s there in the “affair” Strand and Alex may be having/may have had, which is never alluded to in the text of the show, but happens wholly in the inflection of the text. Like, they create this unspoken something and they leave vague signposts pointing to it and then they leave it to their audience to decide what’s going on there.

And, like we talked about yesterday, there’s something similar going on in the way they set the stage for the assumption of Alex’s possession.

And like, with Tanis, I think this trick is even more explicit. Nic goes…someplace, right? But then he can’t remember what all happened while he was there. So, we’re again circling around something unspoken and trying to guess what’s in that blank spot based on all the clues surrounding it.

To me, the hardest part of this trick has to be that you need to know where your story is going and you need to rightly judge which parts you can count on your audience to fill in, but you need to leave plausible signposts along the way that clue them into what you might not be saying, BUT you need to not make those signposts so obvious.

I appreciate that the people making the podcasts are playing it straight–like those really are real podcasts and their involvement is as real, non-fiction podcast makers. But man, I would also really love to know who they are because I would LOVE to ever hear them talk about their craft.

Pacific Northwest Stories

The Black Tapes: There’s a glitch (or there was, anyway, the folks on Reddit are making it sound like they removed it) in the Squarespace ad where Alex repeats herself in slightly different phrases that, when it comes, is so fucking unsettling I had to pause the podcast and walk around a little. I’m fascinated just by the ways they put their stories together, how they make things creepy. The Squarespace ad was so brilliant because it felt like a moment where Alex’s falling-apart was so bad that it had leaked into the framework of the show, instead of just staying in-narrative.

The other structural thing they did that I thought was brilliant is that very, very early on in the show, I guess it must be in the first episode, before things settle into being about Strand and his black tapes, they mention that they’re going to look at people who do lots of different things. They specifically mention geocaching.

Then this episode starts with them “re-piloting” the series and interviewing a geocacher. This, to me anyway, has the effect of bringing past episodes directly into mind. This is reinforced with the re-introduction of Tannis Braun. And then the knocking.

Oh, wait, maybe I’m actually talking about the same narrative technique. They are, I think, making good use of the expectation of sets of three. We hear three recording “glitches” with Alex–the knocks, the voice, the Squarespce ad. Then there are three call-backs to early episodes.

So, without explicitly saying it, it sets up a kind of line of thought for the listener–something unnerving is happening involving Alex; think of earlier episodes. And she states explicitly in earlier episodes that she’s terrified of being possessed. They barely have to show us anything strange with Alex–just that she can’t sleep and it’s making her feel weird–but they’ve left us the right kinds of things to allow us to jump to the conclusion that she’s possessed.

That level of control of the subtext is something I’m really envious of.

Tanis. Whoa. I genuinely don’t know what to say about it. I think they nailed the landing. So, so good. I now want to go back to listen to the whole thing and see what I think.

Tiny Gloating

I keep forgetting that I wanted to make this point. So, Chris Stapleton remade George Jones’s “Tennessee Whiskey” (well, Jones made it famous, but anyway).

George:

I one-hundred percent recommend just watching George’s face through this whole performance. He just has such great expressions.

And Chris:

Okay, you all know that I had a belief that Gretchen Wilson could have salvaged her career with an album of country standards (I, myself, was especially keen on her doing “I’m Going to Hire a Wino” which I think would have been brilliant).

I thought it was such a good idea I even pitched it to someone who was, at the time, in a position to rip the idea off from me and do something with it. I would not have minded! It would have been worth it just to have the album!

But, boy oh boy, did I get told what a stupid idea that was and that nobody wants to hear artists doing other people’s songs anymore. The fans don’t know old songs so they don’t care about them. Labels, in fact, have forbidden covers on albums unless you’re a “niche” artist.

Years go by. This happens. I laugh.

Country Radio

At least one country station in rural Tennessee is playing Justin Timberlake’s “Drink You Away,” which I think has to be a result of there still being some local programming people AND his appearance with Chris Stapleton.

I also heard this song as I was driving the backroads of Tennessee and I was like, “Damn, this is going to be stuck in my head.” I’m a sucker for a good sing-along song. I did kind of wonder if someone this young, when she mentions Hank, means Sr. or Jr. Then I wondered where she was hearing either of them on the radio. But anyway, I like this song and I’m sad to learn that it’s getting caught up in the whole “But is it country?” debate. This is a good song. If it’s not country, who’s going to play it?

The Veil

I watched The Veil last night on Netflix and it’s kind of terrible, but terrible in a way I really enjoy. Like, you go the whole movie not quite sure if it’s working, some not-good-storytelling stuff happens, and then some really fine story-telling stuff happens and you think, man, if they stick the ending, this movie is going to be amazing.

But, if you paused the movie, say to go to the bathroom right when you had that thought, while you were peeing, you might ponder “What would a stuck ending look like?” And when you realize you can’t come up with one that quite satisfies you, you realize it’s not a good enough movie for the movie makers to have come up with one either.

And, ultimately, than ends up being true.

So, I guess, spoiler alert from here on out.

The movie is basically Jim Morrison/Jim Jones meets The Wicker Man. Except The Veil starts from a position of disgusting you with its occultists and then moves you into a position of kind of sympathizing with them. Except… except I’m not sure everyone working on the movie got that. So, the ending trades a lot on the occultists really being evil instead of just really zealous. And that’s a shame. I think a more unsettling ending would have been if it had just stuck with more ambiguity.

Like maybe if the occultists did everything they did but, instead of killing the daughter of the FBI agent, they let her in on their immortality (and the fact that they killed all her friends to achieve this form of it), she’s then left to know the truth but not be able to do anything about it, because who would believe her?

Then her guilt would parallel her father’s–he came to the cult and it resulted in everyone’s deaths. She came to the compound and it resulted in everyone’s deaths.

I would have liked to have seen them restart their cult.

Killing her just seemed like a kind of weird cop-out and not nearly as horrifying as the revelation of why the occultists died.

Thomas Jane played the head occultist and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, he wrote most of his own lines, to make the character an occultist, not a fundamentalist preacher. Perhaps they should have also given him a go at writing the ending.

But, y’all, he is fantastic. Every time he’s on screen, you wish you were watching just the movie about him. His character, I thought, was a perfect mixture of creepy and really compelling. I mean, watching him on screen, I realized I would be very susceptible to a cult with a guy like that trying to do the things he was trying to do–especially if he was having the kinds of success he was having–at the head.

Which was interesting because I’ve never really understood how people get caught up in cults. I mean, I understand it intellectually, but I haven’t before had the understanding that comes from “Oh, yes, I see how I could get caught up in this.”

Anyway, I think it’s a not-great movie, but it’s totally worth watching for being partially great and Thomas Jane’s character being a revelation.