I posted this brief note on Facebook, but I should probably put it here, as well, for posterity's sake:
Tonight's season finale proved that the creators of The 100 know quite well how to properly send off a beloved character. If the send off we got tonight had occurred in, say, Episode 307, I'm guessing the uproar would have been reduced, or even absent. That those creators felt perfectly happy saving this send off for the finale, while participating in a trope that lost them a significant part of their viewership, is remarkably clueless at best.
I love The 100, and I loved most of the season finale. I really loved that send off. But it pisses me off the way it was mishandled. It's like a combination of when Tara died on Buffy, and when Friday Night Lights was derailed by that stupid murder subplot in Season Two. For many people, Episode 307 made The 100 beyond redemption. I'm still here, just as I stuck with Buffy until the end. But part of me wishes I'd just skipped all the episodes between 307 and the two-part finale.
I can't speak for the LGBT fans. I think it's obvious The 100 screwed up in falling into the Dead Lesbian Trope, and those fans are right to contest this.
But I don't want to exaggerate. I never wanted to quit watching. And I don't think artists should have to adjust their work to fit the desires of an audience. I also thank Jason Rothenberg for creating the character of Lexa in the first place. (I don't believe she was in the books.) Rothenberg finally seems to understand why the method of Lexa's death outraged so many. It's not about giving in to your audience, it's about understanding the place of your work in a broader social context. The 100 does not exist in a vacuum.
It's also true that I, too, am trying to tell Rothenberg how to write his show. I wanted Lexa to go out the way she did on the finale, not as Tara Part Two. The frustration I expressed on Facebook relates to that: Rothenberg had always planned to give Lexa/Clexa one last moment, and there is simply no good reason why that moment was displaced by the random gun shot. I understand that every character on The 100 is one scene away from dying (well, I doubt they'll ever kill off Clarke). I understand that Alycia Debnam-Carey was leaving for Fear the Walking Dead. I don't object to the decision to kill off Lexa. It's the way it was done that's the problem, and while I'm beyond happy that Clexa got their final moment, and that Lexa went out a badass, I would have been just as "happy" if it happened in Episode 307. Better put, the emotional damage of Lexa's death would have been tied directly to her final moments as a warrior and a lover, instead of being Just Another Dead Lesbian. Her death would have carried more dramatic weight within the context of the show.
Pet Sounds is generally considered the best album by The Beach Boys ... it is #1 on the Acclaimed Music list of the top albums of all time (they collate critical opinion). It has some of my favorite Beach Boys songs ... “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Sloop John B”, “God Only Knows”. And the 50th anniversary of its initial release is upon us, meaning it’s getting a lot of attention, including a massive reissue.
But this post isn’t about Pet Sounds. To understand why, I’m going to talk about my childhood.
I’m going to rely once again on memory, that most fallible of tools. Much of the music I listened to in the early 1960s came from the records my older brother owned. Yes, the radio was the biggest influence, but when you just wanted to play records, he had a pretty large portable player, and he had what seemed at the time to be a LOT of records, both albums and 45s. The Rolling Stones were one of his favorites, perhaps his #1, and he was on them from the beginning. But he was six years older than I was, graduated from high school in 1964 and went off to college (when I was 11), and while he came back home for a bit a couple of years later (another story for another time), it was those years through the summer of 1964 that I associate most with the records of his teenage years. And he had what seemed like every Beach Boys album, because they were very popular, because they were California (although we were NorCal), I don’t know why. And The Beach Boys were there quite early ... their first album came out in 1962.
Looking at the covers for their first five albums (the best way to jog that fallible memory), I get the feeling he owned all of them. At least the covers look familiar. The fifth of those albums, Shut Down, Volume 2, was released in March of 1964 ... the next album, All Summer Long, came out in the summer of ‘64, and maybe by then he was already on his way to college, because that one doesn’t ring a bell.
What I’m trying to establish is that my brother’s collection was foremost in my experience of Beach Boys albums. Their hits still played on the radio after he left, but their albums quit showing up at our house.
By this time, I was tentatively beginning to buy my own albums, and The Beach Boys weren’t necessarily my favorites. I liked them, and “Good Vibrations” is probably my favorite of their songs. But my favorite band, outside of The Beatles, was The Yardbirds, and I remember buying Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds. And Revolver. And, to be fair, Herman’s Hermits On Tour. The one Beach Boys album I bought was ... Beach Boys Concert, which came out in late 1964.
There are reasons why this album stands out. It was “recorded” just before Brian Wilson quit touring with the band ... since it was the only “live” album they released in their early years, it was the only place to hear the classic lineup of three Wilsons, Al Jardine, and Mike Love in a live setting. It featured several “non-Beach Boys” songs like “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena”, “Monster Mash”, “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”, and “Johnny B. Goode”.
And, unfortunately, it sounds like crap. I’m listening now to a remastered version, and it still sounds like crap. The biggest problem is the crowd noise, for this was the heyday of screaming fans. The recording of the band isn’t any good, either ... better than a bootleg, I don’t want to exaggerate, but if you only know the band from the time when Brian Wilson used the studio like a master, you’ll be startled by how thin it sounds.
Also, I didn’t know anything about doctoring live recordings when I was 11 years old, but it sure sounds obvious, now. Doesn’t really help, either.
There was an updated version released last year, called Live in Sacramento 1964, which utilizes all of the material recorded for the original album. I confess I don’t have the heart to listen to it at the moment ... I’m listening to Concert as I type this, and those 32 minutes are enough memories for one day.
Before I link to a couple of tracks, here’s the cover. It made a big impact on me at the time ... I had shirts that looked like the ones they are wearing on the cover:
I love how, just like I did above, they put scare quotes around “LIVE”.
These songs aren’t worth taking up lots of space, so I’ll skip the embed and just include a link. This is “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”:
Finally, just as a corrective to the “Pet Sounds Is the Greatest of All Time” narrative ... well, this has little to do with that album, but The Beach Boys cranked out a lot of albums in their first years: one in 1962, three in 1963, three in 1964, three in 1965. You know there’s going to be filler. But their filler was supremely awful. So when someone tells you The Beach Boys were great, nod your head in agreement, but then ask them if they’ve ever heard this one:
(May I add that the entire album is only 27 minutes long, and the above track takes up 3 1/2 of those minutes.)
(of a creative work) referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referential.
Jane the Virgin is as self-referential as any series currently on TV.
Let’s start with the character Rogelio De La Vega ... I could start any number of places, but that’s as good as any. Rogelio is a top star in telenovelas. He is played by Jaime Camil, who is a top star in telenovelas. Telenovelas differ from soap operas because they are limited series, whereas soap operas can theoretically run forever. Jane the Virgin could run forever, but the telenovela trope is still utilized by having Rogelio star in various telenovelas of limited length. When we first meet Rogelio, it is in his role as the titular character in The Passions of Santos. Later, we learn he is the father of Jane (the virgin). He takes a role on Pasión Intergalactica, a “sci-fi telenovela”, returns to Passions of Santos, and currently stars in Tiago a Través del Tiempo, a time-travel telenovela. Meanwhile, Rogelio is a character on Jane the Virgin, which itself is a form of telenovela.
Or how about the character played by Anthony Mendez? He is known only as “The Narrator”, which is an exact description of what he does. The show’s creator, Jennie Snyder Urman, has said that “The narrator does have a connection to the narrative; the narrator is specific, and he is a person”. We have never found out his specific connection to the narrative, but he is a fan favorite, and for good reason. Whether it’s the dialogue, Mendez’ delivery, or a combination of both, The Narrator is one of the most delightful characters on television. And, on a show that defines “meta”, he is more meta than them all. His preliminary spiels make every “previously on” segment on other shows seem pedestrian, and they regularly include comments about how this or that plot development is “like a telenovela”.
One of my favorite meta-moments came in a late episode in Season Two, which just finished. Jane is getting married, and she wants to have the wedding at her home, but the house gets flooded and is thus unusable. Her father has the crew from Tiago a Través del Tiempo build a mock-up for Jane’s house, so realistic looking that it could be the actual set the program uses. Later, we see the three Villanueva women sitting on the porch, as they so often do. They hear music, and when they follow the sound, they find Charo with her guitar, testing the acoustics for the yard. (Charo, we are told, is Rogelio’s third-best friend in all the world ... Rogelio is shown as pretty goofy most of the time, but in the world of Jane the Virgin, he really is a big telenovela star, and it makes sense that he’d be friends with Charo.) The women decide to go inside for some tea, which also seems very mundane. Until one of them points out that they are on a set, and there is no running water. The set and the house are interchangeable ... until they aren’t. (And, of course, “the house” is merely “a set” for the show Jane the Virgin.)
The meta moves are endless. Here’s one more, and I promise I’ll shut up about it: Jane’s professor tells her about The Bechdel Test, and the rest of the episode makes explicit connections between the test and the series in front of us. (The Narrator makes several references to this.)
There is more going on than just inside jokes. The telenovela structure allows for plot shenanigans that would be unacceptable otherwise. Something outrageous occurs (they play around with twins a lot, for instance), we start to roll our eyes, but then The Narrator says something like, “OMG! This is just like a telenovela!”, and somehow, everything is better. The integration of Latino culture, in particular the Spanish language, is fascinating. (Kathryn VanArendonk discusses this with sharp intelligence: “Jane’s bilingual dialogue has become a familiar, overlooked element of the series. It’s so commonplace to the show’s identity and tone that it’s easy to forget how fundamental bilingualism is to the [sic] its culture, relationships, and underlying DNA.”) There is great acting all over the place, starting with Gina Rodriguez as Jane, along with Camil and Mendez. Urman embraces the telenovela genre, but she is not limited by it ... the show’s core comes from the realistic portrait of family relationships. Even the guest cameos are fun ... Charo, of course (she loses her job as entertainer at the wedding to Rogelio’s other third-best friend, Bruno Mars, but she still turns up at the wedding ... as a bridesmaid!), but even someone like Britney Spears:
I think there are reasons why Jane the Virgin doesn’t get as much acclaim as it deserves. It’s not the usual anti-hero blood fest we see so often on HBO. (It’s on the CW, which used to mean “blah” to me, until I started watching The 100.) It’s got women at its center, even if it doesn’t always pass The Bechdel Test. Still, critics in general love it, none more than Maureen Ryan, who calls it the best show on TV. (Don’t follow that link unless you are caught up ... she discusses the season finale in some detail.)
Here are some other times I wrote about Jane the Virgin:
We went to a Mexican restaurant tonight that I had never eaten at. I decided to have the carne asada without rice on the side. When the waiter took my order, I said, "carne asada, sin arroz". I pronounced the latter word "ah-ROW", as is the custom in that part of Spain where my family is from.
"Sin arroz?", the waiter asked, only he pronounced the word "ah-ROZE", as is the custom in most everywhere except Andalucía.
This example of an Andalusian accent was first pointed out to me in the late-80s, when I used the same pronunciation for the same word in a Spanish class, and the teacher informed me that my family was from Southern Spain. He knew this because I had an accent, which was news to me.
Nice to know that the tradition continues to this day.
On this date in 1978, we saw The Patti Smith Group at Winterland, with Greg Kihn and The Readymades as openers.
Two days before the show, Patti was on the Tom Snyder show:
(Snyder was one of the best late-night hosts for engaging popular musicians, esp. punks.)
The Readymades seemed to open every show we went to in those days, at least when it wasn’t Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. Their singer was Jonathan Postal, who has had an interesting career as a photographer. It was The Readymades who headlined a show around 1980, maybe at the Longbranch, can’t remember ... I was going to see a shrink at the time, paying, I don’t know, $25/session or something like that. I went to see The Readymades for $5, slammed around in the pit, and walked out feeling great. The next time I visited the shrink was my last ... I told him I got more of my money’s worth at The Readymades show.
Greg Kihn wrote about his band’s performance on his blog a few years ago: “On This Date in Greg Kihn Band History – Winterland Ballroom”. This was a few years before their big hits, “The Breakup Song” and “Jeopardy”. Here they are performing one of their fave numbers of the time, “Sorry” ... this is from Winterland, New Year’s Eve 1976.
Smith was touring behind her third album, Easter, which included her biggest hit, “Because the Night”. It was the second of the four times we’ve seen her, the first coming in early 1976 (you can hear that show on YouTube). The biggest surprise of the night came when she sang this one:
Here is something I wrote back in 2003:
I recall a record we used to own when I was growing up. It was called The Soul of Spain, which sounds pretty authentic, I know, but this was an album by the 101 Strings Orchestra. The 101 Strings were like second-string Mantovanis ... they made a gazillion albums over the years, many of them theme albums, many of those themes tied to various places around the globe ... and so, The Soul of Spain.
The big hit on this album was, of course, "Malagueña" ... this was an epic rendition, almost ten minutes long, featuring (you guessed it) lots and lots of strings. For awhile it seemed like every guitar picker had to prove he could play "Malagueña" ... Hee-Haw star Roy Clark was one of the fastest ... the 101 Strings version even turned up a few years ago on an anthology called Cigar Aficionado: Latin Mood.
Because of my childhood memories, the 101 Strings version of "Malagueña" remains completely identified in my mind with my Spanish heritage. Pretty much anytime I hear the song by anyone, though, I get all teary-eyed. I also recall, as a kid, that we would go to my grandmother's house on Sundays, and oftentimes someone would grab a guitar, usually my uncle ... he couldn't really hear out of one of his ears, so he'd stick the bad ear right on the guitar and he'd play flamenco ... like a lot of people, I guess I assumed things like flamenco and bullfighting were "Spanish," because that's really all I was taught. I didn't think of myself as being Andalusian.
That ignorance means I never even made the simplest of connections ... that the title "Malagueña" referred to Malaga.
OK, I established that in my heart, to this day, I identify “Malagueña” with both my childhood and my Spanish heritage. But a fuller examination perhaps says something about identity in the United States.
First, just to cover all bases, my father was Spanish (as in “from Spain” ... his parents were born there), my mother was “American” (as in her family came from Kentucky). I was born in 1953, so I was raised during the height of assimilation. This meant, among other things, that we didn’t speak Spanish in the home.
I’m not sure I spent enough time in the above post describing the 101 Strings Orchestra. They released their first album in 1957. Their genre was “mood music” (it goes under many names), which is basically an easy-listening version of “lite classical” music. (OK, “lite classical” is likely easy-listening music itself.) There is a lot of information about 101 Strings on the Internet, yet my search skills seem to fail me, for I never quite get the story right. Suffice to say that 101 Strings sold LOTS of record world-wide. Growing up, I thought we had The Soul of Spain in our house because of my father and his family, but as far as I can tell, The Soul of Spain was one of those late-50s suburban artifacts that made it into many households.
As I say, their version of “Malagueña” is the standard for me, based solely on that album when I was a kid. There are many reasons why this is odd. First, there’s the idea of a mood-music orchestra playing Spanish classics. Second, if we’re going to be essentialist about this, 101 Strings were a concoction of an American record mogul who signed a German orchestra to play under the 101 Strings moniker. Third, “Malagueña” was written for piano, not for an orchestra. It has become a standard for all sorts of instrumental combinations over the years ... apparently it’s popular with marching bands ... and after Carlos Montoya recorded a flamenco guitar version, it became a standard showcase for guitarists (like Roy Clark, mentioned above, although there was also Jose Feliciano, and, perhaps most “authentic”, the Spaniard María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, better known as Charo). Given my connection to the orchestral version, and the prevalence of guitar-based versions, the version performed by Liberace seems incongruous. But at least he was returning the song to its original instrument.
All of this, with the exception of Charo, would seem to move the song far from Andalusia (even Charo came from neighboring Murcia). Thus, if “authenticity” is important (and who knows the answer to that question), then it probably says something about America, at least in the late-50s, that the version which stuck with a Spanish-American boy came via a German orchestra.
But there is more. The composer of “Malagueña” was Ernesto Lecuona, who wrote it in 1928 as the final movement of his “Suite Andalucia”. Here, it would seem, we can find the most authentic “Malagueña”.
Except ... Lecuona was a Cuban, born in Havana.
Oh well ... authenticity is overrated, anyway. Here’s the 101 Strings version:
Roy Clark, flashing his hot licks for Felix Unger and Oscar Madison:
Liberace (with Sammy Davis Jr. as a bonus at the end):
And the great Charo (with bonus Jerry Lewis Cuchi-Cuchi):
Game of Thrones is the centerpiece of the current HBO lineup. HBO has long established itself as the place for “quality” television. Game of Thrones may be a genre series based on fantasy novels, but its presence on HBO lifts it above genre. (This is not a value judgment or a dismissal of genre fiction, just a way of noting that HBO makes a series more than genre ... “it’s not TV, it’s HBO”.) HBO’s stature has declined since the days of The Sopranos ... there is a lot of competition nowadays. But there is no question that Game of Thrones is treated with respect in part because of the network on which it airs. It has won 26 Emmys and counting. Even if you don’t like it, you can’t escape it.
There has been some recognition of newer outlets like the streamers Netflix and Amazon, and their shows also achieve a level of acclaim. It seems a bit harder for already-existing premium cable networks to get the same kind of attention. Starz can’t escape its original reputation as a dumping ground for Encore movies, even though Spartacus was rather like a cheesy version of HBO’s Rome, and the current series Outlander is quite good (and, like GoT, is based on a popular series of genre novels, in this case, historical romance).
The true step-brother of HBO, though, is Showtime, which has been around for a long time, and which has offered many fine series, but which lacks a certain HBO-level of respect. Some of Showtime’s original series seek a different, broader audience, like Queer as Folk and The L Word and Soul Food, and others are attempts at “quality television” that are scaled down from the beginning, like Weeds or United States of Tara. Showtime does have “prestige” shows ... Dexter, like many of their series, ran for several seasons past its sell-by date, but it got lots of attention. Shameless, which is as good as anything on HBO and features a performance by Emmy Rossum that will apparently go unrecognized by the Emmys until Rossum dies, hasn’t yet begun to stink, and it’s hard to imagine why it hasn’t made a bigger impact. (Maybe if it was on HBO?)
Besides Shameless, Showtime does have a few series that have captured some of the cultural attention, most notably Homeland, which in true Showtime fashion was great for one season and has faded ever since without getting cancelled.
But the best series currently on Showtime is Penny Dreadful, which recently began its third season. It’s hard to assign a specific genre to Penny Dreadful ... perhaps the title gives us a label. It is a project by playwright and screenwriter John Logan, who has won Tonys and been nominated for Oscars ... he also wrote the two most recent 007 movies. As far as I can tell, Penny Dreadful is his first television series.
A series like Game of Thrones thrives on its immense landscapes and countless characters. It always looks expensive. Penny Dreadful, on the other hand, just looks great, without preening over its budget.
Penny Dreadful is also original ... it is not based on novels. But its construct couldn’t exist without novels, for Logan got the idea to do a mash-up of characters (in the public domain) from 19th-century fiction and early horror films. So there are major parts for Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and the monster’s mate ... Dorian Gray ... Dracula, Van Helsing, Renfield, and Mina Harker ... Lawrence “Wolfman” Talbot ... and now, Dr. Jekyll has turned up, as well. These famous characters surround Logan’s inventions, mainly Eva Green as Vanessa Ives and Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray. (Has there ever been a show that starred an ex-007 and an ex-Bond girl?)
You would be forgiven if you thought this would add up to a mess, glorious or not so glorious, and if you perhaps hoped Penny Dreadful was mostly camp, that would be understandable. Except for the most part, Logan is quite serious about all this stuff. The main method for demonstrating this is through the fearless performance of Eva Green, who at times appears to be channeling the great Barbara Steele. Green’s face reflects all of the craziness surrounding her, and the attempts by Vanessa to create meaning out of her chaotic existence is wonderfully portrayed by Green.
Yet for all of this, I don’t hear many people talking about Penny Dreadful, certainly not in comparison to Game of Thrones. Both series have complicated narratives with fine actors, both are full of sex and violence. But GoT, whose most prominent female characters are at best only nominally central, is taken more seriously than Penny Dreadful, where Vanessa Ives is more fascinating that Khaleesi and Cersei et al combined.
Penny Dreadful suffers, I think, from being the wrong genre. (Outlander is the real example, here ... I really should be writing about that show, but it airs on Saturdays, while Penny Dreadful airs right after Game of Thrones on Sundays, so I tend to think of those two series together.) We’re still in a time where a “guy show” gets more attention than something like historical or Gothic romance.
Eva Green in Penny Dreadful
If I had my way, I would tear this building down.
- Betty Davis, “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up”.
- Gino Washington, “Around the Town”.
- Beastie Boys, “I Don’t Know”.
- T Bone Burnett, “Zombieland”.
- Cymande, “Bra”.
- Johnny Rivers, “Memphis”.
- Crystal Gayle, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”.
- Esther Phillips, “Higher & Higher”.
- Taj Mahal, “Brother's Doin’ Time”.
- Peter, Paul and Mary, “If I Had My Way”. I love that the one operator can’t keep their camera off of Mary’s face.
On this date in 2005, we saw Bruce Springsteen on the Devils and Dust tour. At the time, I wrote:
Next up was the weirdest version of "Reason to Believe" in history. He stomped his foot for a drum, played harmonica, and sang into some oddball mic that distorted his voice beyond recognition, so even someone like me, who knew it was coming, didn't recognize the song until it was almost over. Try to imagine Captain Beefheart singing Delta blues from the bottom of a swamp ... it was downright scary sounding.
Here he is performing it a month later, to give you an idea:
Two years later, it had morphed into this stunning version:
Seen a man standin' over a dead dog lyin' by the highway in a ditch
He's lookin' down kinda puzzled pokin' that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open he's standin' out on Highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough that dog'd get up and run
Struck me kinda funny seem kinda funny sir to me
Still at the end of every hard day people find some reason to believe