Thursday, June 24, 2004

In the Back of the Rack, on the Cheap

As the summer holidays and long weekends drape over the tent pole of the season, hopefully you'll find some extra hours to idle away, even after you've spent time in the sun, hanging with the clan, and doing the odd chore. If you happen across some of those golden, happy hours, and all the latest releases are already rented, here are some wonderful older movies that I bet you haven't seen:

The Frisco Kid
Back in the days of the Wild West, Gene Wilder stars as a Rabbi who is charged with leaving the Old World and setting up a congregation in the New World, in a place called San Francisco. He suspects it's somewhere on the East Coast, and figures he'll ask directions when he gets there. Imagine his surprise. Harrison Ford co-stars as a bandit who ends up accompanying the Rabbi on his voyage. This is the first time Ford got to show his comedy chops. This one's OK for mature children (say, 13), as there is some western-style violence and some language (the word "tits" is employed in a classic line, for instance). Totally charming and one of my grandma's favorite movies.

Jack's Back
James Spader plays the role of a lifetime as a doctor who figures out that all the gristly killings happening lately are reenactments of the original Jack the Ripper murders. Spader has always had an amazing range, and he pulls all of it out here. I guarantee this movie will have at least TWO huge twists you will never see coming, so by all means don't research this one first or read anything (else) about it on the web. Due to the subject matter, this one's appropriate for the 16 and older crowd.

Boondock Saints
Two Irish brothers inadvertently shake up the power structure of the neighborhood's mob bosses, becoming local heroes. Like Spiderman (though they have no super powers other than a killer brogue), they reluctantly assume the mantle of their new responsibilities. But these guys are class A fuckups, so things often don't go as planned. This is a blend of clever dialogue, slapstick, mixed with a bit of Tarantino-esque hyperviolence. A highlight is Willem Dafoe's depiction of an FBI profiler who's tortured over his admiration for the "saints," and his drive to do his job. The depiction of his doing his profiling voodoo, reconstructing the acts of the "saints," is some of the most original and mesmerizing filmmaking I've seen. (Oh, and this is also one of the few times where a character's homosexuality didn't feel gratuitous or trendily politically correct.)

Bedazzled (Original Version)
Dudley Moore and Peter Cook wrote and starred in this comedy of a man (Moore) who makes a deal with the Devil (Cook) in exchange for 7 wishes. To cancel a wish, Dudley must blow a raspberry (it's simple: just put your tongue between your lips and blow), which just keeps getting funnier. There is one brief, almost hidden, hard-to-pick-out flash of breasts in a mirror, but other than that it is OK for kids, even if they don't follow half of the jokes. They will especially enjoy the animated segment where Moore becomes a fly who can't blow his raspberry because he's choking on bug spray. For me, one of the more charming aspects is the attention to detail on the Devil's spreading of mischief. As he's going about other business, he casually intercepts things on their way to stores, putting big scratches across record albums and cutting a random buttons off of dress shirts. Mystery solved, eh?

Dazed and Confused
For those of us who attended high school in the late 70s, this is our American Graffiti. Everything is completely dead-on correct here: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the music, the drugs, the lingo, you name it. I am completely transported every time I watch this gem. This is one of Richard Linklater's early films; you know him as the director of the great current hit starring Jack Black, School of Rock. You'll recognize a raft of actors who got their start with this film: Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, and Matthew McConaughey, who - as the guy who's graduated but still hangs with the high school kids - has the great line: "That's what I like about these high-school girls; I keep getting older, but they stay the same age." There's some language, but it's realistic - an earmark of Linklater's films - so it's appropriate for 13 and over.

Zero Effect
Bill Pullman is goofball private detective named Daryl Zero. Ben Stiller is his gopher/lawyer/assistant. Detective Zero is the best detective around, smooth when he's on the job, can solve just about any mystery. However, when he's not out doing his thing, he's startlingly neurotic and weird. Stiller stands out in an early example of what he does best, the exasperated nice guy in the middle of events he didn't create. This one's a pretty solid "R," so 16 and over is best.

Commenters, what say you? Got any good sleepers to foist upon us for those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer?

Monday, June 21, 2004

Mystic River

Here I sit scratching my head over all falderal. I mean, Mystic River was a good movie. But it did not live up to the hype, which is not its fault. Still, had I gone in cold, I would have said it was medium good, say three and a half stars on a five star scale.

I waited a while to watch it, waiting for the right mood, etc., because I just cannot waltz into movies where I know a child dies, or is even just hurt badly, anymore. And that's been since I had one, not since I lost one. So, the story's gotta be pretty spectacular for me to go on that little walk through hell. In other words, it's gotta be on the level of Sophie's Choice for me to endure that kind of a plotline.

The fault line of "too far" vs "just enough" is almost directly over The Sixth Sense. When you don't know what's going on in that movie, Haley Joel Osment's extreme distress is heard to bear, but when all is revealed, it's actually about the perfect tension level. As a matter of fact, all of Shyamalan's movies are like that. He hits the perfect note so that parents don't have to squirm (too much - or at least for child-in-peril reasons) throughout the movie.

Over the line by just a redhead is Mel Gibson's Ransom. Even though the boy is OK eventually, the fact that he endures what he does makes it hard to take. And when Mel goes for the cheap seats and freaks during one memorable scene on a balcony overlooking the city, his agony is so palpable it's almost too real. I nearly puked in empathy.

What got praised in Mystic River was the acting. And, by golly, it was just OK. Nothing too phenomenal, imvho. I still think Mel's anguish outdid Spicoli's - I mean, Sean's - by a pretty fair stretch. Of course, Meryl's (Sophie's) is the current high water mark, which will most likely never be washed away. Like a lot of folks have said when discussing the acting in the flick, perhaps Kevin Bacon will be recognized as someone as good as the rest of the other "A-listers" and thus get more heavyweight roles - which will make the game "Seven Degrees of Bacon" too easy to play. Tim Robbins officially looks older than his SO, Susan, which is amazing as she is over a decade his senior. Kind of makes you wonder what in the hell happened to him.

So, I liked Mystic River, but did not come away with a lasting impression. If you were to mention the title to me in about 5 years, I'll probably wonder vaguely if it's a song I heard once.

And now we go into the spoiler section. I don't have any postscript after the spoiler part, so surf away now if you've not seen Mystic Sniveler.


Also what mitigated the child-in-peril part was the girl was 19 years old and about to elope to Vegas with her love muffin. The previews give you the impression it's a little kid who's killed. And yes, no matter their age, your children are still your babies and you will care as much, but for fiction it just has a different tenor once they've reached adulthood.

Also, it comes out that her murder was simply a fuck-up. Two kids were playing with a handgun and somehow manage to fire it into the windshield of the girl's oncoming car, and rather than help her, the kids beat her to death to hide their tracks. The misdirection of who really killed her feels like as much of a cheap shot as the actual fatal one.

I've read a few of LeHane's stories now, and they all have that not-quite-what-you-expected flow to them, and they all produce that same sensation of being a little ripped-off by the actual outcome. I tend to prefer Nelson DeMille in this genre, as most of his have a payoff that exhilarates rather than making you mumble, "Well, hell..." to yourself.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Guy Flicks

Some would maintain there have always been guy flicks. Westerns, action-suspense, swat-fu, and so on. Yet many in those categories appeal to women, too, when the story or characters are good enough. Thus, in my book, guy flicks - ones that appeal to guys only - are actually much rarer than chick flicks.

For instance, the only huge guy flick that comes to mind right now is Fight Club. I've yet to meet a woman who has said, "Yeah, great flick!" about Fight Club.

I think Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World might be a recent addition to the "guy flick" cannon. When I've heard any praise of it from women, it always centers around their crush on Russell Crowe, even though a few of them admitted he looked ridden hard and put away wet and was not his usual nummy self.

My wife was underwhelmed and her immediate comment when the credits rolled was, "Well, that was boring."

I myself kinda dug the action, the nautical detail, and the "hangin with the guys" camaraderie, though the doctor was a tad prissy for my tastes. And Crowe radiates a cool Capt. Kirk vibe, which, to give props to W. Shatner, is clearly much harder to do than one might assume.

So, for guys, Yahmdallah Bob says check it out. Canon fu. Sword fu. Mast fu. Gratuitous barfing. No breasts. Extra points for Crowe for getting more mileage out of a groaner (the weevils) than is typically allowed.

For the ladies, rent 50 First Dates, though your guys will like this one, too. Rumor has it that Under the Tuscan Sun is a great chick flick, but I haven't stored up enough testosterone patches to endure watching myself, so can only pass along what I've heard from the ladies.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Remember, Gems are Always Found Underneath Big Piles of Other Rocks

Movie snobs, look away now! Or come on down and revel in the ugliness - if that's how you get your jollies!

My lovely wife and I sat down to take in a movie last night. We were tired, so were gonna watch the first hour and pick up the second half tonight. We ended up not even pausing for snack or potty breaks.

The flick? Believe it or not: Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore's movie 50 First Dates. What a sweet, yet hilarious little movie.

The review by Perry Seibert on puts his finger on what makes the movie work, so here ya go: "The Memento-meets-Groundhog Day conceit is actually thought out by first-time screenwriter George Wing. The film actually takes the time to figure out how Drew Barrymore's inability to make new memories affects those who love her most, and manages to find complications and solutions that are logical and thematically resonant."

Rob Schneider gets to do what he's best at, a memorable sidekick character-actor bit. And Sean Astin - yes, Samwise himself, that fat little hobbit - plays the steroid-addicted and buff(!) brother of Drew Barrymore's character to great effect. I couldn't pick out where else I'd seen him until I pulled up the credits. The DVD extras include a mini-documentary on the pidgin English the Hawaiians use in the movie, and pretty good outtakes- one featuring Drew waxing less-than-ecstatic about the pools of sweat forming beneath her breasts during a long take on a hot day.

Few comedians/writers/directors ever hit a stride where they can contain humor and pathos in a perfect balance within a single film. This movie deserves to become a minor classic. It makes me want to give away lines - describe set pieces - but I'd rather you got to experience them for yourself. We had to back up and watch a few gags a couple times as they were so funny we had to relive them immediately, let alone catch what we missed right afterwards from laughing so hard. The sentimental stuff works, too. The ending formed huge rivers down my wife's face. As for myself, I was just tired and my eyes tend to get watery when I'm sleepy. No, really.
Can you hear me now?

I've often blurted gleefully here about the remastering of the classics of rock and pop history, such as the recent Fleetwood Mac releases. Those remasters were NOTHING compared to the new SACD remasterings of Bob Dylan's catalogue. Only hybrid SACDs will play on standard CD players, but even the CD compatible portion of the disc benefits from the upgrade. When things moved from vinyl to CD, I thought I was hearing music all over again. Even though standard remasterings are good, hearing Blood on the Tracks in SACD was similar to that vinyl to CD experience. The sound is so immediate and layered. I can't find adequate words to describe it. And, I don't even have an SACD player (yet), and so this is just the CD layer I'm talking about. If you like awesome sound, now is the time to check into SACDs. Holy cow.
Chic DVD

Constant readers will know that one of my favorite blogs is the 2Blowhards (see sidebar for link), which has gone through an interesting change lately; one of the primary founders is taking a sabbatical and the open position has been filled by a worthy replacement (imho). All of the flicks I'm gonna discuss here I watched because either because I've intended to see them anyway, or the 2Blowhards brought them to my attention, or both. The other day whilst checking out something at the library, I spied every one of these on the DVD rack at once. I spastically jumped over the rope, dashed over and snatched them up like a teenage girl (trapped in the body of a 40something guy) at an Old Navy sale, alarming everyone in the line behind me, and - having brought so much attention to myself - causing some discomfort when they saw what I had made such an effort to procure; probably because I was a guy and got excited over something other than a WWII documentary.

The Vagina Monologues

I wanted to see if this was as bad as I had heard. It was. Thank God I did not attend this live as I may have spontaneously combusted out of sheer effort to not squirm and groan. This was like all the worst poetry you've ever read combined with a performance that had all the subtlety of Arnold "the gov" Schwartzenhiemer's best thespian offerings, bleated out in a shrill voice that would give Fran "the nanny" Drescher the fantods. Two vicious rape stories are depicted, which always makes for a great night of theatre. And it's capped off by a performance of all the different kids of orgasms experienced during lesbian lovemaking. Eddie Murphy was right when he observed that everybody's ugly when they're coming (only Meg Ryan gets a pass on that one), but I don't think he could have prepared us for this particular horror. About the only thing that could have rescued this piece for me was seeing one of the performances that included Gillian Anderson. Hearing any of those words coming out of her gorgeous lips would have mitigated the pain. But not much.

I came away from this feeling that vaginas had been rather degraded in it, often rendered as an unappealing liability, and not praised, as would have been appropriate and expected. Save these two hours of your life for something uplifting.

Searching for Debra Winger

Rosanna Arquette was feeling sorry for herself because she isn't getting any parts anymore (I guess wealth, a bunch of hit movies, not to mention a classic hit song and TWO entire Peter Gabriel albums written strictly in her honor aren't enough), so she decided to make a documentary on the dearth of good women's roles in modern American films. Now, it's a foregone conclusion that American films of last few decades really don't have enough good roles for women, especially women over 30 (who aren't junkies, hookers, suicidal, or mothers of dead children), and we're all the worse for it. Healthy, vital women bebopping along in the big, wide, normal world just aren't depicted often enough in the movies right now. For instance, Kathy Bates lights up any freakin' movie she's in, so someone should be churning out stuff for her to star in so we have the joy of seeing her more often. It was great to see Diane Keaton in her recent hit comedy (and not just because she was nekkid), but one freakin' movie like that in a year? C'mon! Why has no one figured out what to do with Tracey Ullman? Is there such a thing as too much Francis McDormand? Now, there is such a thing as too much Sharon Stone, but that's really a different issue entirely. Oh, and I do really really like Sally Field, so where the hell is she?

The movie was amateurish, and someone should have helped Rosanna take out some of the more blatant self-pitying moments, but it was truly a lot of fun seeing all these wonderful actresses talk about this issue. I was pleasantly surprised to Martha Plimpton in there. She's got a quirky look, but she's one hell of an actress, and I've kept my eye out for anything she might appear in. She's one of the few actors (male or female) where I'll see the flick just because she's in it. Debra Winger does finally show up (I couldn't decide if this was a spoiler or not, but since she's in the freakin' title, I thought you'd forgive me). She's radiant, and I'd forgotten how stunning her eyes are. I would feel like a deer trapped in the headlights were she to turn those baby blues on me in real life - eeek! I marvel that she was E.T.'s (uncredited) voice. Retirement seems to have suited her, and it was her choice by the way. She just felt she was done. Not "done" in the sense of unhirable, but just really wanted out of Hollywood. Bummer for us.

Still, though, the movie does ultimately amount to a big whine session, and no real compelling solution to the problem is ever proffered. When Rosanna got all these powerful women together, why weren't they also pulling money together and hiring famous screenwriters who are in the same boat, etc.? Screenwriters fall out of favor the same way actors do, but that doesn't mean they still can't pop out a classic if asked. Even in this day and age if you get a decent script and attach a couple good actresses, someone would eventually make it. Why wasn't Jane Fonda going all producer since she has the money and she's out from under Ted's thumb?

Hopefully someday we'll find out.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

Being the complete and utter music slut that I am, I love Motown. I have the box set (Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971), which I can't recommend enough, if you dig that sound. It's one of the very few box sets that doesn't have a single bad song anywhere in the set. Not ONE.

Now, I did know that Motown essentially had a house band that played on all the songs, which is why the Motown sound is so uniform and recognizable, but I did not know the names of the band as Motown packaging has always, and still is, if not completely lacking credit information, includes the minimum possible, such as performer and songwriter. Even the box set has a single piece of paper in the cover insert of the CDs, which is a simple picture of a label vinyl 45 on the front and blank on the back. The back of the CDs lists just the songs and the performers. The spine doesn't even distinguish which is which number it is in the set of four. I have the old vinyl, tri-fold "best of" sets, and even those don't have anything other than the performers listed.

Therefore, this documentary finally brings to the fore all the unsung and uncredited heroes of Motown. Tellingly, Berry Gordy is not in the show.

Interspersed between the artists telling their stories is a concert that was held for the purposes of the documentary to show these guys playing and demonstrate that they still very much have their chops. The sound of the concert portions is phenomenal, so make sure you have the stereo on during the show. And make sure you check out all of the deleted scenes - practically a movie unto themselves. Some of the best stories are in those sections, including the interesting code lingo they used, which Bill Cosby incorporated into his grand old kid's cartoon from my childhood, "Fat Albert." Any class on American music history now has a distinguished addition for the curriculum.

The only sour note - outside of the fact that some of the most seminal Funk Brothers are gone - is the now obligatory "white man stole black man's music" saw that mars most documentaries that cover early rock and roll. What's kind of funny (ha ha funny) and illustrative is this line is trotted out directly after they talk about Chubby Checker and Elvis dominating the charts of the day (though the omission of Chuck Berry is odd). Yes, there were pockets of radio stations that wouldn't play music made by black artists; yes, there was a lot of racism to overcome; but, black artists still made the charts, people loved and bought their music, and they are in their deserved place in the cannon of that great American invention: Rock and roll. Rock and roll is really one of the few musical forms that everyone in our nation, all races and cultures, can claim to be a part of because it was a beautiful melding of all of our musical legacies. Chuck Berry and Elvis, the two men who invented the form, both said that their rock and roll was primarily a blend of country music and the blues. Why folks want to deny one of our true interracial and intercultural successes is a mystery to me.

Which reminds me, some of the Funk Brothers were/are white, which was a surprise. There's a poignant part of the movie that discusses the aftershocks of Martin Luther King's tragic assassination. One of the white guys is asked if the tone of collaboration changed with their black peers, as it did in some places of the music industry at the time. He responded that not only did it not change, but that their black friends and collaborators protected them during the race riots that ensued. Isn't that lovely? Or, better yet, "I Just Want to Celebrate"!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Rock Bio-o-rama

I recently blew through a gauntlet of rock bios, as I was a bit tired of fiction. (Well one of them was a screenwriter, but he considers himself a rocker who writes rather than jams, and I need a weak excuse to slide him in here). Now I'm a bit tired of bios.

Let's start with Shakey: Neil Young's Biography by James McDonough. What a turgid mess. McDonough seems to think he's freakin' Norman Mailer, and inserts himself and his opinions throughout the text. You just want to slap him upside the head and scream: "Get a blog if you wanna opine about yourownself, the rest of us wanna read about Neil Young!"

If you do want to get a good picture of Neil Young, sadly this is the book you want to slog through. It really is comprehensive about his life and times. But the format and the writing, and the utter lack of editing (I'm assuming here) make it a labor of love to do so. If you have a casual interest in Neil, just go to the All Music Guide and read his bio there.

The other mistake McDonough makes is he dwells on minor works by Neil and blows by some of the major ones because he didn't think they were worthy. He outlines in detail how music has to be "honest and real" and all that other bullshit that some whiphead music types get all wound up about. Yeah, Britney Spears is poser, but do you like her music or not? (I don't, but that's beside the point.) Bob Dylan, everyone pretty much agrees, is not a poser, but do you like his music? (I rilly rilly do like the Bob, but again it's beside the point.) Crazy Horse, Neil's main band, is almost to a person made up of the latter kind of music people, thank God. Neil himself tries to keep his music honest (his term) and he famously won't sell his songs for commercials. But other than that, he seems to have an eclectic taste in music, which almost always defies that uptight "all music has to mean something and has to be pure" silliness.

Neil himself seems like your typical artist type: Brilliant, visionary, narcissistic, selfish, driven, interesting, and kind of a prick. I'd have a beer or two with him.

Then I read Motley Crue: The Dirt : Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, as dictated to Neil Strauss by the band. I've never heard a Motley Crue song that I liked. And I heard them all because my partying buddies at the time felt it wasn't a party without the Crue. Gad, I loathed that band. In my opinion, they were nothing but a talentless hair band. Now, there are plenty of talentless hair bands I've liked, so that's not the issue. It's just that their music never connected with me. After reading their bio, I think I've put my finger on just why. What a bunch of shallow, vicious assholes. My God. These guys are every rock cliche on steroids, with some afterburners strapped on for shits and grins. They had it all: the heroin, the satan worship ("stuff started moving by itself"), killing innocent people while driving wasted, punching anyone that annoyed them (and annoying them could mean just existing in their presence) and the revolving door of groupies that they did stuff to that would make Led Zeppelin blush. Like the jacket blurbs promised, I felt like I needed a couple showers and some mouthwash - and maybe a delousing just to be safe - after finishing it.

It's kind of telling that they never discuss their music - or more precisely the creation of it. They mention writing songs after certain events. They mention configurations of their gear. But there's never a discussion on the sculpting of any songs. Shakey had those wall-to-wall, as did the Aerosmith and the Elvis Costello bios. Not here. The thing discussed with the most passion in the book was Tommy Lee's (the drummer and participant in the infamous "let's record our love" video) first girlfriend who, by all accounts - and I don't know why every guy in the band knew this - would ejaculate so forcefully when she orgasmed that it would jet across the room. What a fitting image for this book. What no one discusses is that Mick Mars, the elderly (compared to the rest of the band) guitarist, has a degenerative bone disease that slowly fuses his entire skeleton together. Everyone just referred to him as a hunched-over troll without even broaching the topic that he was that way from a debilitating disease. Further, when one of them ended up in a hospital or a jail due to a car crash and/or drug overdose, they rarely even checked up on or visited each other. Bastards to the core, all of them.

The only positive thing I have to say is the format of the book was very good. The author interviewed all the guys in the band, and organized their stories in chronological order, bouncing their version of events off of one another. That made it a compelling read, even if the topic was often icky. It made it feel as though you were sitting in a bar (a very seedy bar with an adipose stripper halfheartedly catting around on a tiny, stained stage in the distance), listening to these guys tell their story. I suggest biographers copy this technique.

Next was Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith, by Stephen Davis. The debauchery was much less in this book compared to the Crue, and of course Aerosmith is a much more vital, important band, but the stories of excess were much the same. The saving grace was that this was freakin' Aerosmith, arguably one of the best American bands ever. Just considering who it was made the stories fun to read. Though, there wasn't much in this book that wasn't in the many VH1 "Behind the Music" and other film bios of the band.

I followed that with Elvis Costello: A Biography, by Tony Clayton-Lea. About 20 pages in, it became clear this was one of those cut and paste bios that some journalists kick out to make a buck. It did a serviceable job of describing Elvis' life and rise to the top, but I can't recommend this particular bio. In addition, the writer is pungently British, and at times the style got in the way. According to Amazon, there are many other better bios on Elvis than this one. And I would certainly hope so. In my book (har har), Elvis Costello is one of the best and most important songwriters and artists of our age. Even one of the Beatles sought him out to collaborate with, man.

Finally, I read Hollywood Animal: A Memoir, by Joe Eszterhas. Joe is the screenwriter who wrote Basic Instinct and Showgirls. That tells you about everything you need to know. Yes, he's as arrogant, maniacal, oversexed, and deluded as you would imagine the writer of those two movies would be. He really thinks he's telling little tales of morality in his movies. In his view, you can't tell a story of debauched morals unless you show all the debauching. All the Hollywood dirt made it a bearable read, but I certainly wouldn't want to be stuck at a party with this guy. Like most rock stars, he screwed anything with a concave surface while married, and rationalized it all away because he was an important, creative artist who needed the company. Feh.

The main interesting thing I gleaned from reading all those rock bios at once is how small of a world it is - the music world - and how much everyone intersects. Nearly every one of those books mentioned the other artists and encounters they had with each other. The epicenters of these meetings seem to be Stephen Stills and Bebe Buell. Funny how everyone kind of puts down Stephen Stills, but they all know him and have worked with him (outside of the Crue, natch; pretty much no one got near them), and they all grudgingly acknowledge his enormous talent; it kind of makes me wonder what's behind all of that. There is no bio on Stills, which strikes me as odd. Funny how nearly everyone has boffed Bebe Buell, and speaks highly of her. After I get over my bio burnout, I'll probably read Bebe Buell's bio (say that after a fifth of Jack Daniels, three times fast), just to get her side of the story.

Friday, June 11, 2004

How many shrinks does it take to unscrew a lightbulb?

One. But it has to really want to change. rimshot!

While surfing on recently to look for additions to my reading list, I came across a book that looked like it dealt with an issue I've been mulling over since the trying events of this last year. It's called: Second Innocence: Rediscovering Joy and Wonder: A Guide to Renewal in Work, Relationships, and Daily Life by John B. Izzo.

Usually I'm leery of self-help books because so many people in the self-help and motivational speaker industry seem to be there simply because they don't want to, or can't seem to, hold a real job. ("Those who can't 'do'...")

I worked in a bookstore for about two years and when times were slow, we were free to explore the shelves and read. One bored day, after reading every freakin' magazine on the rack,* and having combed through the photo books for all the nudes (I was in my early twenties folks, boys of that age have a natural fixation, so cut me some slack, mang), and having caught up on all the fiction I cared about, I wandered over to the self-help rack. Previous to that day, I directed my attentions to that rack only when I had to stock the latest fad tomes, and even then I giggled uncontrollably at the titles, and guffawed at any given paragraph when I cracked a spine to have a look. But there I was, so I scooped about 5 off the rack randomly and went back to the desk to read them. Later, the guy across the way in the shoe store wandered over to ask me what was so darn funny.

*TLD: That was an interesting side-effect of working in a book store; I did get a chance monthly to literally go through every major magazine out there. I was amazingly media-savvy for a while. Note that I didn't say "well informed." My major discovery during that time was how little is actually reported in magazines - even the news mags. Also, this was during the time of Reagan (queue Elvis Costello: "They thought he was the king of America..."), and as a recent Salon article pointed out, the media in those days was the Teflon that covered that addlepated old fool. So, along with Neil Postman's opus, that fact made me distrust the media even more than I did already; liberal bias my ass. And, yes, I know, we're supposed to be worshiping Ronnie this week. Meh. I mean, may he rest in peace and all, but I really despised his presidency. He made a complete mess of the country for a while. Yes, he got us past Carter's "malaise" by reminding everyone that America is really a great country after all, and we are (notwithstanding our recent egregious defiance of the Geneva Convention). But outside of that one thing, we would have been better off without him, imnsvho. But, as indicated ("TLD"), I digress. Magazines, and the media in general, besides not having a lot to say in the first place, tend to recycle things a lot, too - something I wasn't aware of until after my two years on the magazine racks. Rest assured that if any big news happens, you'll hear about it without having to consult "Time" or "Newsweek" or even "People."

Thereafter, my limited exposure to self-help stuff has been the odd show on PBS during a pledge drive. Most of them are (still) maroons in my opinion, with the possible exception of Barbara Sher. I like her snarky, realistic assessment of the world. I haven't read any of her books, yet (link linkety link), but probably will. And if they're anything like her "yeah, life can suck, but let's get past that for the moment and paint something, eh?" PBS shows, I'm sure I'll enjoy them.

Anyway, the title - Second Innocence: Rediscovering Joy and Wonder - nailed what I thought I might need. I'd told my wife at one point recently that I felt I had lost my natural innocence and wonder in the past year, and here was a book about just that. I've always been a very optimistic person, and have experienced firsthand how hitting the day expecting the best and stopping to smell the proverbial flowers makes a huge difference in how life feels. But, when you've been bitch-slapped off your happy hobbyhorse by fate and tumbled down a cliff only to land in a bed of cactus, it's hard to get your Pollyanna mojo back.

And, as C.S. Lewis observed, grief makes you lazy. It's probably fortunate that carrying around the weight of the world is a lot of work; you want to drop that sucker as soon as possible.

The advice in Second Innocence is simple, and some of it's obvious, but it's still potent. If life has given you a wedgie, or even if your engine's just knocking a little bit, I recommend this book.

My favorite bits of advice were these:

1. Have Courage.
2. Ask, "What does life want from me now?"
3. Just Start...

These litigious days, stained with the moral relativism of post-modern stupidity, we are often told to find the thing to blame - parents, government, that bastard down the block, the boss, Starbucks - and once you've identified it, you can begin to fix what's wrong. And, yes, for some things that can be helpful. But a lot of the time, what's wrong is that everything just blew the hell up. Identifying the cause is not the issue, because a big smoking crater is pretty obvious, and being able to point at it doesn't accomplish much (outside of insurance claims, of course). Sometimes, things can't be fixed. Sometimes you just have to have courage. Simply hearing (or reading) that can make all the difference. Have courage. Good to know.

Proper perspective is good, too. I'm just as guilty as the next person of going too quickly to the thought, "What do I want or need right now? What will make me happy?" Odd how that often doesn't have the desired result. Odder still is that asking, "What does life (or God, or _____) want from me now?" is the very thing that brings happiness and solace.

Finally, fear, entropy, laziness and many other artifacts of grief and loss can create a huge center of gravitational pull on your ass. It just wants to stay planed to the chair. Getting up and doing anything just seems futile. Further, it seems like so much work. Why bother? It's all gonna fall down anyway, so what's the use in trying? Well, to quote Lyle Lovett "But what would you be if you didn't even try? You have to try." (From the song "Here I Am.") Even so, gravity can be pretty strong. How is it overcome? Pretty simply, it seems. "Just start..."

I've been employing that simple tactic for a while now, and I probably haven't found a stronger rocket fuel for getting off the pad and back into orbit.

So, memo to self: Have courage and just start. What can you do for the world now?

TLD: Y,know, dammit, I had started this post before I read Michael Blowhard's little blurbette in the midst of one of his posts about self-help books. When I ran across it last night, I was like, "Well, F@¢&!" Look, dear readers (all five of you), I am not aping the great M. Blowhard. Couldn't if I tried. I am increasingly convinced there's something to this synchronicity stuff, though.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Breast Equation

On Everything2, a web site where the goal is to assemble a sort of "people's encyclopedia" through blog-like entries, someone has submitted algorithms (generic computer code) that will generate life-like, well-formed, bouncy breasts on computer-animated female characters, like Laura Croft or Angelina Jolie.

I can't decide if I'm amused, or impressed, or worried about the future of our society in regards to this discovery.