Caitlyn Jenner: a Different Kind of Brave

Caitlyn Jenner Drawing

Immediately after Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover came out, my Facebook feed was filled to the brim with happiness and hope and support and all kinds of wonderful, positive things, among them kudos on the bravery of doing something like that.

Then, shortly after that, I saw half a dozen of those wounded vet memes that throws the word bravery back in our faces. And it disturbed me. So I whipped up a Facebook status update and gave it back to Facebook, and it started a conversation that ended up going in a completely different direction. Continue reading “Caitlyn Jenner: a Different Kind of Brave”

My Favorite Albums of 2014: A Highly Important List

Kaiser Chiefs, Real Estate, The Belle Brigade, OK Go, Broken Bells, Bear In Heaven, Jenny Lewis, Gerard Way, The Happy Hollows, Tennis, The Preatures, Wye Oak, The Black Keys

2014 was a sweet freakin’ year for music. I’m no music journalist, though, so I’ll preface this list by stating that I am not an authority, I just happen to really like these albums, and maybe you will, too.

What makes my list unique and interesting over all those other legitimate publications’ best-of lists is that I’m including the best song from each album to use as the soundtrack for a movie trailer. Clever, no?

Also, big disclaimer: this list is totally incomplete. There are too many albums for me to think of, and the longer I delay this post, the more I think of, so I have to just cut myself off and stick with what’s below. I apologize to all the awesome artists I omitted. Please trust that there is no rhyme or reason to it.

And now, in no particular order…

The Black Keys - Turn Blue“Turn Blue” by The Black Keys

This melancholy slow burn of an album from one of rock’s most relevant acts of this century is as close to psychedelia as anything they’ve ever done. Produced by Danger Mouse, which means it’s necessarily melancholy and psychedelic.

Movie trailer track: “It’s Up To You Now”

Music video: “Fever”

The Preatures - Blue Planet Eyes“Blue Planet Eyes” by The Preatures

Much like HAIM in some ways, this band channels the best of the ’80s and ’90s pop/rock and squashes the mix into one solid album.

Movie trailer track: “It Gets Better”

Music video: “Somebody’s Talking”

Happy Hollows - Amethyst“Amethyst” by Happy Hollows

This band was a happy discovery for me this year. Indie-pop-rock with a slightly spaced-out vibe.

Movie trailer track: “Supernatural”

Music video: “Endless”

Tennis - Ritual In Repeat“Ritual in Repeat” by Tennis

Tennis is fast becoming one of my favorite indie bands. I’m dying to see this act live.

Movie trailer track: “I’m Callin'”

Music video: “I’m Callin'”

Broken Bells - After the Disco“After the Disco” by Broken Bells

Danger Mouse again! This pairing of one of my favorite producers and one of my favorite songwriters (James Mercer of The Shins) plant their flag with Broken Bells’ sophomore effort. Dark and beautiful with disco influences through and through.

Movie trailer track: “Perfect World”

Music video: “Holding On For Life”

Wye Oak - Shriek“Shriek” by Wye Oak

It’s rare that when a band does as big a 180-degree turnaround in their sound as Wye Oak did this year, it works out this well. They went from acoustic folk to electric dream-pop on this album, and it COMPLETELY works.

Movie trailer track: “Logic of Color”

Music video: “The Tower”

Bear In Heaven - Time Is Over One Day Old“Time Is Over One Day Old” by Bear in Heaven

This one’s a little hard to defend, I just really like it. It’s slow-jam electronica at its finest, and I appreciate the science fiction tint. I also find it’s really easy to think with this album on. Not sure why that is.

Movie trailer track: “You Don’t Need the World”

Music video: “Autumn”

Jenny Lewis - The Voyager“The Voyager” by Jenny Lewis

The crown jewel of L.A.’s singer-songwriter scene brings us the closest thing to Tom Petty I’ve heard since, well, Tom Petty. Fun fact: this is my three-year-old daughter’s favorite album ever.

Movie trailer track: “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em”

Music video: “Just One Of The Guys”

The Belle Brigade - Just Because“Just Because” by The Belle Brigade

This quirky pop duo are the grandchildren of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” (and other) film composer John Williams. That’s enough to sell me on giving them a listen, but as it turns out, this album is infinitely pleasing to my ears and absolutely one of my favorites from this year.

Movie trailer track: “Likely To Use Something”

Music video: “Ashes”

Gerard Way - Hesitant Alien“Hesitant Alien” by Gerard Way

Debut solo album from the lead singer of My Chemical Romance. Hard rockin’, yet focused and in control. Did you know this guy is also a comic book artist? Amazing!

Movie trailer track: “No Shows”

Music video: “Millions”

Kaiser Chiefs - Education, Education, Education & War“Education, Education, Education & War” by Kaiser Chiefs

I’ve been a huge fan of Kaiser Chiefs ever since they let me choose my own track order for “The Future Is Medieval” back in 2011, not just because I believe so strongly that track order matters, but because they seriously rock. This album proves the latter point.

Movie trailer track: “Coming Home”

Music video: “Coming Home”

OK Go - Hungry Ghosts“Hungry Ghosts” by OK Go

One of my all-time favorite bands. With this eclectically bombastic new collection, OK Go take their songwriting — and their music videos — to a new level.

Movie trailer track: “The Writing’s On the Wall”

Music video: “I Won’t Let You Down”

Real Estate - Atlas“Atlas” by Real Estate

Super-chill new album from New Jersey’s definition of mellow indie rock. Simplistic and beautiful, yet infinitely complex.

Movie trailer track: “Navigator”

Music video: “Crime”

Bland Car Enthusiast: It Is More Than Okay to Drive a Toyota Camry

Originally published June 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

Some time ago I wrote a blog post on how it’s okay to drive a Toyota Camry, the main concept being that despite other enthusiast publications’ insistence that it’s dull and boring and lame, it can be a super-awesome coolmobile because your car is what you make it. Everyone’s got different criteria for what makes a car a good car, and Toyota designed a vehicle with the goal of pleasing as many buyers as possible based on scientific market studies. So while it may not be perfect for anyone, it’s plenty good for a lot of people.

I’ll say it time and time again: vanilla is not a bad thing. Vanilla is, in fact, delicious on its own, and hey, you know what else? Vanilla is customizable. You can add sprinkles. You can add syrup. You can add a slice of pizza if that’s your thing. You add what you want, because that’s your taste. And if you drive a Toyota Camry, others might call you vanilla because you don’t like an engine that roars so loudly you can’t hear the radio, or a sleek, aerodynamic cocoon with no rear visibility, or whatever. Let them say what they want, because you know what? The car doesn’t make you cool. You make the car cool.

Of course, having written that with a chip on my shoulder in the fall of 2013, we are now past the 2014 New York Auto Show and the reveal of the “mid-cycle refresh” for the Toyota Camry turns out to be basically a complete exterior redesign. So now Toyota is helping you out with that cool factor a little bit.

The new styling is exciting and aggressive, not unlike its little sister, the new Corolla. With daring, determined headlights and an open maw for a grille, this car now carries the nay-sayer-challenging attitude that I wrote with last fall. And my eyebrows are raised.

I’ll admit I didn’t care for the exterior styling when it debuted with the 2012 model, but it was perfectly respectable. The 2015 is much more than just respectable. Well done, Camry team. That’s one hot car.

Finally.

Bland Car Enthusiast: The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata

The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai SonataOriginally published July 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

I’ve been a fan of the Hyundai Sonata since before it got its dramatic redesign back in 2011. I thought the 2010 model was handsome – stately, even, in an understated way. But I wasn’t sad to leave it behind for the next generation, because wow, what a game changer it was for midsize sedans.

Every other major auto manufacturer tried to pretend that it meant nothing. Good looking, sure, they said, but it’s still just a flimsy little Korean car. Too exotic-looking for the segment, they said. They didn’t realize that the interior was also better-built and better-looking than their segment-leaders. They kept their heads in the sands.

But sales numbers are sales numbers, and it didn’t take the rest of the manufacturers long to realize that they needed a dramatic redesign for their midsize sedans as well. So the once-innocuous Sonata came off the diving board with a cannonball into the still waters of midsize family sedans.

And now it’s time for a new Sonata. The design cycle is up, and the 2015 Hyunda Sonata will once again depart from the previous generation. I doubt this time around it will shake things up in the segment – the segment is now a Galapagos Islands-level mixture of exotic, colorful designs, with everyone trying to outdo everyone else on styling and engine performance – but the new Sonata’s design is revealed and public and yet again, I’m excited.

For one thing, apparently the back seat is so spacious, and there is so much room in the interior cabin, that the 2015 Hyundai Sonata technically qualifies as a full-size sedan, not a midsize. I’m all about size when it comes to sedans, so it’s nice to see the Sonata once again making a splash in its segment, this time for interior space.

The new exterior styling, though, is really just the loveliest part. It’s like it’s halfway between the current generation and the previous one – like the 2011 Sonata and the 2010 Sonata had a baby. A very big baby. It’s stately and understated, but still dramatic and sleek. And it’s beautiful.

U2 and the Rock & Roll Proletariat

U2 - Rock Ninjas, or Corporate Pawns?

I’m seeing outrage all over my Facebook feed – not because of actually outrageous things, mostly because of this illicit U2 album that allegedly every Apple customer received on their apple device. The story goes like this: upon announcement of various new Apple products to finally answer the call of “Hey, Samsung is doing it, why isn’t Apple,” Apple CEO Tim “Not Steve Jobs” Cook also declared that Apple had suavely pushed U2’s new album, “Songs of Innocence,” to all our devices. (I think that’s how it goes. I didn’t watch the Keynote, and I sure as fuck didn’t read anybody’s tweets about it.)

Here’s the thing, though, I didn’t get mine. I saw the news that this happened and went and checked my iPhone, my iPad and my MacBook and NOWHERE did I see any U2. What gives? I thought. Why am I alone here?

So like a fucking peasant, I had to open up the iTunes store and OH MY GOD GO OUT OF MY WAY to download it. It took nearly 45 goddamn seconds, too. Surely, now, here was my outrage manifesting. I will not be left out of the pool of ruggedly outraged individuals who cherish a self-curated music collection of independent rarities.

Interestingly, much of the outrage on social media is now being hailed as a good thing – a sign of life for those who demand a great divorce between corporate global capitalism and good old-fashioned rock & roll. You wouldn’t break into someone’s house and slip a vinyl record onto their shelf, so why is it okay to do the digital equivalent?

A corporate mindset didn’t see a problem with that, but the rock and rollers of the world rejected that notion outright. And maybe, in dramatic denouement fashion, maybe we’re seeing the people rock band together and fight the big white capitol.

But here is the question no one’s asking: how is the new album, anyway? Is U2 still cool? Well, I mean, obviously NOT, but if, hypothetically, this whole download debacle hadn’t happened, would we appreciate the album?

My answer: maybe. The album is good. It’s actually good. Not the best, but not the worst. I’m no U2 scholar. They’ve never really played a huge role in my life, and I don’t over-sentimentalize Joshua Tree. For a long time, I thought all their songs sounded the same. Of course, I know better now, and I like quite a few U2 songs, but still, they’re not my most favorite band and I just don’t know if this lives up to the standards of long-time U2 fans. But it’s a good CD to keep in the car (yes, I burned it to a CD) and it’s nice to see an aging band still throw some hot energy into studio recording.

I guess I’m the luckiest in all of this. It’s a decent album that I downloaded myself, without the stigma of having it forced upon me, and without any loss of money for purchasing an album I wouldn’t have otherwise bought. And all around me, I see the spirit of rock and roll exploding all over corporate America.

I am alone. I am Patrick Bateman.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Jetta Respect

VW Jetta - Redesigned for 2015

When the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta was introduced, I thought it was so offensively bad that it actually made me angry. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the silhouette and I liked the rear end. But the front end – with that too-slim grill and those beady headlights – was just awful. It may have been that because I liked the majority of the car’s looks, the part that I didn’t like was so painful and disappointing that I wanted to throw rocks at it.

But by 2014 the design had really grown on me. Some very, very minor changes were made to the headlights (straighter and slightly larger), and that solved the entire problem I had with it. It may also have been that I saw so many Jettas on the road that I got over the bad part and just appreciated the good parts (the silhouette and those bitchin’ rear taillights). But also, truly, I really came to enjoy the face of the Jetta.

So when it was announced that the 2015 Jetta would be redesigned, where ordinarily I would hold my breath, for this model I thought, “whatever may come, let it come. If I hate it now, I might not later.” And lo and behold, the 2015 Jetta is a continuation of the right trends. Well done, Jetta team. Well done.

There’s been enough of a facelift that my brain is pleased and calm when I look upon it. The taillights are better-looking than ever – they’re halfway between the old Jetta’s taillights and an Audi’s taillights. The silhouette looks good, and the back seat is still one of the largest back seats in the compact sedan class. And the Turbocharged 2.0-liter TSI four-cylinder gas engine yields 210 horsepower. That’ll get me up the Camarillo Grade in the morning, all right.

 

Bland Car Enthusiast: the 2015 Chrysler 200

2015 Chrysler 200

The Chrysler 200 is quite possibly the most under-appreciated sedan on the market, but frankly, now that we all know what the redesigned next generation Chrysler 200 looks like, the current model is a waste of space because HOLY SHITSNACKS the 2015 looks good.

I say “under-appreciated” because it’s so much better than the Sebring, the model it replaced, which was far and away the worst car in the world. The 200 was basically a nicer version of it, with many design flaws corrected and some vastly improved looks, although the overall looks were, shall we say, subtle and easy to under-appreciate.

The 2015 version of the 200 is completely different, inside and out, coming now with the most aerodynamic exterior of any sedan out there (including some bitchin’ taillights), an space-increasing futuristic center console with a space-decreasing gear dial instead of a gearshift, a nine-speed automatic transmission mated to some big horsepower numbers, and a very serious sense of personal confidence. Furthermore, Chrysler offers this beauty in some kind of weird dark teal color, which I’m strangely drawn to.

Knowing what the 2015 Chrysler 200 looks like means owning a 2014 Chrysler 200 would be an embarrassment. So, old people and mid-grade new-money businessfolk: I implore you, wait a few more months for the new model to come out. You’ll be glad you did.

One last thought on this car: there’s been some griping from comment trolls on internet rags about the name “200” for a car. The general sense is that under the Chrysler umbrella, you’ve got the Chrysler 300, which is taken from the classic of the same name that had a 300-hp engine, which was logical; you’ve also got the Fiat 500, which refers to the vehicle’s historical 500 cc back in its earliest form; and now you’ve got the Chrysler 200, which refers to nothing other than the fact that there is another car in the same brand lineup, and that that car is larger.

You know what I say to that critique? Go screw, that’s what I say. Chrysler has two cars and a minivan. One car is called the 300, the other car is called the 200. That’s just bad ass, that’s what that is. So there.

Track Order Matters: “El Camino” By The Black Keys

The Black Keys - El Camino

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Black Keys’ 2011 album “El Camino.” That album is super-good, but there was always something missing, something mysteriously wrong. I finally figured out what it was: the track order is not what it should be.

Don’t get me wrong: as it is, it’s still a really strong album. But I get the sense that they intentionally front-loaded the best songs because, I don’t know, maybe they thought they’d get more record sales that way? Could be a number of reasons. The track order was clearly chosen carefully.

The main problem is that the best song of the album by a light year is placed fourth. “Little Black Submarines” is so brilliantly amazing that you almost don’t even realize it the first few times you hear it. But it is.

For those that don’t know the album, here’s a quick recap:

  1. “Lonely Boy” – great start to a great album of straight-up rock & roll. Lyrically, it could be sad and mopey, but the driving beat and the steady burn of the guitar take it much faster and higher than the lyrics would have you believe, and you know right away you’re in for more than you bargained for.
  2. “Dead and Gone” – a switch in tone from the previous track, but just as hard-drivin’. Whatever the first track left wanting, the second track picks up.
  3. “Gold On the Ceiling” – the breakout single of this album. A great, great, great rock song. Simple, accessible, but clever enough to switch gears seamlessly multiple times and keep you on your toes. If you listen more closely than your average radio listener, you get even more, because this song is secretly complex and beautiful behind its dirty façade.
  4. “Little Black Submarines” – by far the best song on an album full of great songs. It starts off slow and quiet, evoking both lyrically and musically a picture of a sad, pathetic man at a payphone. A haunting melody from an acoustic guitar leads the way. Then, all of a sudden, halfway through, for a split seconds it stops so completely you can almost hear the smoke clearing. And out of nowhere, the rockingest band since Led Zeppelin shows up and blows you back to the 70’s for a few more minutes of Rock Heaven before releasing you back to the present, back to “El Camino.”
  5. “Money Maker” – Back to the tone of the earlier part of the album, we are now faced with a fine tune, but it’s not strong enough to remove the memory of the track we just listened to.
  6. “Run Right Back” – by the end of the track before, we’re back in the zone and ready for some more hard drivin’, and that’s exactly what we get with this alternate hit single. Interestingly, there’s a pain we can sense by the end of the song, and it’s not resolved at the end. Which leads us into…
  7. “Sister” – one of the album’s more underappreciated tracks, this one takes the lingering whatever of the previous track and spins it into a dangerous-sounding beat. If this song is the soundtrack to your night, you are gonna find some trouble. Or else trouble is gonna find you.
  8. “Hell of a Season” – this track expands on the finghting tone of the previous track, but takes it down a notch from near-anger to near-introspection, and thematically, takes a broader view of time and whatever space the main character of our story inhabits.
  9. “Stop Stop” – lyrically, this song is fit for the poppiest top-40 radio station, but the fuzz and the drums of the Black Keys keep it away. This track also somehow carries the infusion of melancholy from the previous two tracks. At this point, the album is showing us its internal struggle, and we see where the arc may be headed but we don’t know what the outcome will be.
  10. “Nova Baby” – here’s that song that wraps most of it up. With one high note ever present above every sound in the chorus, watching over the Black Keys like some useless angel, this track makes a damn fine last chapter, but leaves plenty of room for an epilogue.
  11. “Mind Eraser” – Our final track here is where the problem always occurred to me. The previous four tracks do a marvelous job of getting the listener ready to be knocked out of his or her own lifetime, but this one does not do that. This one is fit for the middle of the album; it’s a good song on its own, but of this entire album, it may have the most forgettable outro. Thinking about it now, I can’t even remember what it sounds like as it fades out.

And the solution is so clear to me now. The entire journey peaks one third of the way through the album…the thing to do is switch the fourth and eleventh tracks. That would not only solve the problem of the strength of the ending, I believe that would elevate the album from “one of the best of 2011” to “one of the best of all-time.”

See the graph below:

The Black Keys - "El Camino" (As-Is Track Order)

See how you spike early and then the rest, though still good and better than most albums, simply feels like a letdown. Now see the optimized track order:

The Black Keys - El Camino (Optimized)

You can see from scientific evidence that with the optimized track order, “El Camino” would rock its listeners hard for a solid chunk of time, and then, for those who stay with the band for one more track, it would reward its most loyal listeners with an epic song unlike anything heard within a decade, and we’d exit the album on the highest of highs.

Track order matters, everyone. Track. Order. Matters.

If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and check out the official “Little Black Submarines” music video below. Do yourself a favor: turn the volume all the way up.

Ender’s Game: Missed Opportunities

Ender's Game - The Movie“Ender’s Game” was a solid film. It’s true. The film’s biggest flaw was that it felt paced like a movie that had been adapted from a novel. I cannot escape the nagging feeling that perhaps this would have been even better if split into two movies – I can even think of the cliffhanger point where we could have left off.

But I really enjoyed watching it, and I have to admit – I also really enjoyed the commotion raised after we left the theater by fans of the original novel. It was a nerd fight as epic as the movie itself, and I was delighted to be a mere spectator to both.

As someone who never read the book and knew practically nothing about the film other than that Harrison Ford was in it, I was consistently surprised and I stayed glued the whole time. The plot was airtight, the universe was appropriately grand for the journey of the hero, and the relationships were perfectly clear. Few characters were one-dimensional, thanks to an adherence to the theme of knowing, understanding, and ultimately loving one’s enemies. The acting was good enough for me to never have to actively suspend my disbelief, the special effects were top-notch, and the ending was satisfying because nothing that was really invested in was left unanswered.

So again – the film’s biggest flaw was that it felt rushed, like screenwriter/director Gavin Hood was trying really hard not to leave any aspects of the novel on the floor. But at least the pacing was consistent, and the only time this rush-through-the-world-building was a problem was in the first third of the movie, where the audience has little time to get to know the main character. It clearly depends on the built-in sympathy of the fans who adore the book. After a certain point, though, we all know well enough how he behaves and we understand that he’s the main character, and we cruise along with no additional effort.

And I know the novel is always better, so feel free to enlighten me as to exactly where the movie fell short, betrayed origins, abandoned storylines, etc., etc., etc. Give me a reason to read the book. Because to be honest – for all that I know about it now, the film is enough.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Defending The 2014 Toyota Corolla

Redesigned 2014 Toyota Corolla.Critics far and wide are panning the redesigned Toyota Corolla as a new shell on the same old boring car underneath. To me, this is wholly advantageous.

By all accounts from those who’ve driven it, the 2014 model is the same as the 2013 model, meaning it’s a low-horsepower, high-mileage suburban runabout. Here’s the thing about that, though: this low-horsepower, high-mileage suburban runabout is the world’s top-selling car. As a for-profit corporation, Toyota would be foolish to change that formula. If you can produce the same car but wrap it in a newer, more interesting exterior, then by all means, do so.

I’m just grateful that the new Corolla looks so good. I mean, it looks really, really good. Toyota’s recent design language has been, shall we say, missing the mark in my opinion. The redesign of the Corolla brings the count of Toyota vehicles that I think actually look good up to two. (No, the other one is not the Camry. It’s the Avalon. More on that later.)

And the world’s top-selling car, being essentially the same economical and reliable car on the inside, is very likely to continue near the top of global sales, a large chunk of that being in the US.

I live in the US. That means no matter what, I’m going to see a lot of Corollas all around me. And now that the Corolla is a good-looking model, that means my view will improve. So, although I have no plans to buy a Corolla myself, I will absolutely endorse one for anyone else looking to buy a compact sedan.

So thanks for the redesign, Toyota! Well done.

Man Of Steel: Missed Opportunities

Superman, Lois, & Zod

Hey nerds. Let’s talk about the new Superman movie.

I’m not a comic book guy, so I don’t have the Superman comics in my head. I have seen the originals, though not for many years, and I saw the Kevin-Spacey-As-Lex-Luthor Superman flick a few years ago. I have enjoyed all these movies, and I enjoyed the latest Nolan/Snyder/Nash/Young superfilm. Let’s not get into whether or not the excessive battling in “Man of Steel” needed editing. I’ll concede that maybe it did, but honestly, it didn’t bother me because there was consistent building, slow and meaningful, like a baseball game where an even amount of runs get scored every inning. But I get that some people don’t like baseball because they think it’s boring. We don’t really need to discuss that part of it.

But I want to hear your thoughts on what I feel are two missed opportunities with the latest, which I think are problems from the very script itself. The first wasted opportunity was the origin story, and the second opportunity was General Zod. From all that I remember (again, only from previous films) General Zod was this incredibly interesting dude, even if he and his cohorts were one-dimensional caricatures of alien villains. And their choice to make Zod a very three-dimensional character, with actual motivations and even some moments where we almost sympathize with him, was absolutely fucking brilliant, as was their choice to cast a fucking brilliant actor like Michael Shannon for the role. But this is a story that — while it has its place in the origin story, is not necessarily integral to the true origin story of Superman. And I don’t mean the origin story of him flying to Earth, I mean the origin story of him learning to reveal himself as “super” to the human race, and declaring his intentions to protect and serve. I think by squishing both the origin story and the Zod story into one movie, they did a disservice to both.

For one thing, we are forced to take for granted that OF COURSE Superman will protect and serve humanity. But let’s face it, the chronology we are shown in “Man of Steel” basically tells us that everybody was a dick to Clark except his parents for pretty much his whole life, and we have no real sympathy for the human race. Superman’s motivation NOT to pack up and head to the stars is blurry at best. If we didn’t have 75 years of Superman saving the world ingrained into our very society, this movie would make no sense.

Another thing: for as long a movie as this was, I wanted more General Zod. They did SO WELL with that character that I think he warranted his own movie. They could have called it “Man of Steel II” and it would have been like “Superman II” and everybody would have been totally cool with it. Zod’s transformation from SUDDENLY obtaining super powers on Earth – and being about as comfortable with it as an eighth-grader with a boner in math class – to a super-kick-ass mega-ninja was so interesting, I felt like this could have made for a rockin’ hour-and-a-half movie all on its own. They wasted it by tacking it on as the catalyst for the origin story.

Let’s compare Christopher Nolan’s other origin story, Batman. In “Batman Begins” Bruce Wayne learns all his fancy ninja bat-skills from a guy who threatens to destroy Gotham City, and that is where the super hero within shows up, and he decides to protect Gotham and we totally get why. Then, to seal the deal for Batman as the city’s protector, that same guy who wants to destroy the city shows up again WITH A PLAN TO DESTROY THE CITY. It fits, it makes sense, it seems the most necessary plot line to watch Bruce Wayne come into his own as Batman.

But Superman’s origin story isn’t dependent on General Zod. At least, I didn’t think so. I felt he would have been better served with a story where just Lex Luthor was involved, because this is a case where he is saving humanity from humanity, and that goes much deeper into defining “hero” vs. “savior” vs. “space cop.” You have to really dig for the truth of why Superman does what he does for the good people of Earth. That’s my opinion, anyway. I’d love to hear the arguments in favor of his first test being General Zod, or really, any other alien foe.

So that’s that. I have some other, slightly unrelated thoughts on the Superman myth which I will now stick on to the end of this little blog post:

Quentin Tarantino has this awesome quote about how Superman is always Superman — he wakes up Superman, he literally IS Superman all the time, and when he dresses as Clark Kent, he acts dopey and insecure, and Tarantino basically describes how Clark Kent is how Superman views the humans. “Clark Kent” is Superman’s critique of the human race. Good point, Q, but that’s in reference to old TV shows, old movies, and possibly even old comic books (I wouldn’t know, would I, not being a comic book reader?).

“Superman Returns” gave us the opposite — Clark Kent is his comfort zone, and Superman is the mask he wears as a front to cope with the responsibility of saving countless lives. This actually makes sense, since he was RAISED as Clark Kent and just happens to have these super powers, which he didn’t initially want and didn’t initially know what to do with. The latest Superman film took the latter path, and I’m glad they did, since not only does it make more sense, it also makes Superman much more sympathetic to a human audience. It gives him struggles that we can understand, that aren’t simply overcome with speed and strength and laser vision. It solidly grounds him as part human, part Kryptonian.

Also: Amy Adams is the hottest Lois Lane by a mile. That’s not really something that needs discussing, I only mention it in case Amy Adams is reading this and is maybe feeling like her performance was too intellectual (no such thing) and perhaps didn’t feel so great about that super-kiss in the end. It was all good, Amy Adams. It was all good.

Artists & Sponsorship: Another Follow-Up

Nataly Dawn - Suit & TieBeing a teenager in the mid to late 90’s meant putting up with a ton of asshole teenagers at school ranting about this band or that band “selling out.” I guess that’s still the case, but luckily for me I don’t have to put up with asshole teenagers at school anymore, because I graduated in 1999. Now I’m a fucking adult, and it’s awesome.

But there’s still a mentality that, honestly, probably existed long before I was a teenager as well. It’s this notion that singers can’t accept money from corporations. They must only take money from fans. But there are two sides to this coin, and we sort of glossed right over it in talking about Amanda Palmer and her notions of making do as a performing artist.

Corporate sponsorship is not the enemy. Bullies are the enemy. Bullies can sometimes come in the form of corporate sponsorship, true, where a company pays the artist and then feels that because they are paying the artist, they have the right to turn them into their own little puppet. But that’s not always the case; in fact, I’d wager that’s rarer these days than one would think. In fact, I’ll bet that major record companies have historically been bigger bullies.

I used to have this rant a lot as a teenager, and I’m sure I was never even half as eloquent as Nataly Dawn, who rhapsodizes the freedom she feels as an artist backed by Hyundai Motors. Hyundai, as you may know, is a for-profit corporation that produces something other than music. They have previously used her side band Pomplamoose in their car commercials, and now they are sponsoring her solo tour. So she made a quirky video playing goofily on and with a new Santa Fe which they apparently loaned her for the tour; they didn’t pay her for the video, she just went and did it. Because she has a good business relationship with these guys. Because they are good to her.

Nataly hits the nail on the head in her blog post:
http://natalydawn.tumblr.com/post/48305906500/suit-tie

Go give it a read, and while you’re there, watch her video of her cover of a Justin Timberlake song starring her, her guitarist, and a Hyundai Santa Fe.

Selling out means changing what you believe in, or at least changing your behavior in a way that might betray what you believe in, because you are being paid to do so. That’s what selling out is. Being successful is not the same thing. Working with a corporation like Hyundai is not the same thing.

And speaking of the 90’s…

Artists & Money: A Follow-Up

Artist & MoneyLately I’ve been thinking a lot about artists and their money woes. It’s a stereotype that artists choose poverty – or else simply don’t understand how money works – and it’s a stereotype for a reason. My previous post reacting to Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk was intended to be my way of working that little demon out of my ears, but I’ve only been thinking about it more and more since having written it. And I suspect that one follow-up post will not satisfy my brain either, so instead of this being the follow-up, this is simply a follow-up. Everything else around me notwithstanding, my thoughts go like this:

One of AFP’s most important points is about connection and understanding. Her work is widely accessible, despite being described as a post-punk cabaret act (which sounds like it wouldn’t be widely accessible), and her work stands on its own, meaning a fan can sit in their room alone, holding the CD case and listening to AFP’s songs, and the audience is moved. However, the studio recordings played back by a machine are not the same as a live performance, or meeting her in person.

She has two things going really strongly for her: her live performance and her accessible songwriting. As an artist and as a human being, AFP connects with people. This is one core aspect that comprises her ask-don’t-force payment philosophy.

So the question now is how does this translate to bands? Or theatre companies? Or artist collectives? Or, really, any group of more than one artist contributing to the same work of art? Is every single member required to connect on a human level the way AFP does?

Not necessarily. I want to believe that the art is what sells itself, and all it takes then is one person to hold out one hand. But unity is important. Each individual really ought to be on the same page for this philosophy to work in actual real-world practice. Not every musician in the band needs to ask for money, but every musician needs to know where their money is coming from, because any disagreement on this spells automatic discord and possibly doom for the band.

Furthermore, “sales” in general is something that doesn’t just happen. Art doesn’t sell itself. You can convince an audience that your art is worth paying for, but the actual process of transferring money from audience to artist is, for some reason, avoided by artists. Sales also requires human interaction, especially if, like Amanda Palmer, you are literally accepting cash into the palm of your hand. Or into your hat. Or a credit card into that little slider device that plugs into your iPhone. Or anything. Sales is a tricky pickle, and it requires time and presence. And, like art, most of us are not instantly good at it. It’s a skill that takes time and practice, and the more you do it, the better you get.

There’s this amazing blog post from artofhustle.com, and I strongly recommend every single artist in the world to read it. It’s extremely important, and it hits the nail on the head.

http://www.artofhustle.com/2013/03/a-must-read-for-every-artist/

The biggest takeaway is that artists need to realize their worth, and they need to not just understand their craft, but they also need to understand real-world finances.

I think coupling this punch-in-the-face message of “artists need to know they should get paid” with Amanda Palmer’s message of “allow your audience pay for the art they enjoy” will bring the happy medium artists need to stay artists in the long term. If this can be adopted on a large scale, it’s possible that as audiences, our society will place ever-higher value on art, both with money and with emotional connection.

Is it too soon to whisper, “Utopia?”