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the day after tomorrow and santa cruz

Thanks to everyone who posted on the Open Thread ... by my standards, I'd call it a huge success! Our trip to Santa Cruz was lovely as usual, and not much to say beyond that. We usually see a movie when we go away ... on our honeymoon, the movie was Hitler, The Last Ten Days with Alec Guinness, so we're used to stupid movies, and this year was no exception. We actually waited until we got back home to go to the show ... based on the conversation here, we chose The Day After Tomorrow, and Doug, in Emeryville it was the same thing, the theatre was ICE COLD! I complained to the manager after the movie, told him I thought they were doing it on purpose like it was a William Castle movie, but he laughed and assured me that wasn't the case.

As for the movie, it's REALLY stupid. But what do you expect from a disaster flick? I'm unimpressed by the "hey look it's Dick Cheney!" "politics" of the movie, and while our crowd also laughed at the anti-American stuff, it was harmless laughter. In my memory, audiences have always loved seeing famous landmarks and big American cities get their comeuppance, and this one was no different than Earthquake or Volcano or any of the others in that respect. I thought Independence Day was better, for what it's worth, perhaps because that movie had Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Vivica A. Fox, while this one wasted every single actor in the cast. I don't go to a disaster movie for the depth of characterization ... just get to blowing things up is my motto ... so the pathetic attempts at making us care about Dennis Quaid et al were completely wasted on me. I guarantee anyone who watches this on DVD, you can fast-forward through every single scene that isn't about destruction, and not miss a thing worth seeing. Five on a scale of ten.

Meanwhile, I get to play with my anniversary present from Robin, a Rio Karma ... I don't have iPod hatred, but I do like a bargain, and we got a serious bargain at Good Guys for my Karma (pun intended). And I guess I have brand loyalty, since my very first MP3 player (and this was long ago, I was the first person I knew who had an MP3 player) was also a Rio.

I'll catch up with everyone in the next day or so ... still have some papers to grade. David Shapiro, of course I remember you ... I think you graduated with my brother-in-law, Steve Smith, by the way. Mitja, happy anniversary to you guys, thanks again to everyone who posted, and hey you in St. Pete, who are you, anyway? Welcome aboard, whoever you are (yes Artfan, that goes for you, too).

Oh, and Go Giants!

open thread

OK, here's how this works. I go away for the long weekend; everyone who ever stops by to read this blog posts a comment to this entry. I don't care what kind of comment, although it would be nice if people actually read what other people wrote and responded to that. But it doesn't matter ... this is an experiment. And with my luck, it will be invaded by the Comment Spammers and I'll return from vacation to find 124 comments, all of them full of four-letter words. Popular blogs do this kind of thing all the time ... the blogger will be away for a day, when they return, there'll be hundreds of posts as the readers participate in a conversation. I don't have a popular blog, though, so it's entirely possible I'll come back Monday evening and there won't be any replies to this entry. Nonetheless, that's the general idea. We'll be at the Ocean Pacific Lodge in Santa Cruz, 831-457-1234. Tomorrow night, we'll be eating at Shadowbrook. We went there 31 years ago on our honeymoon; we've gone almost every year since then; we're going again in 2004. OK, it's all yours. Time to find out how many people actually read this thing ...

24 season finale

There's not much to say ... if you've seen the show, you've seen the show, if you haven't seen the show, you aren't going to start now. This year's season finale had all the usual touches: gruesome violence that pushes the edges of what broadcast teevee will allow, inane plot devices, utterly incomprehensible geographical leaps, and stupid Kim Bauer scenes, all wrapped around sixty minutes of non-stop edge-of-your-seat excitement.

24 is a stupid show. I can't imagine it inspiring a series of academic studies, the way Buffy or The Sopranos do. The show's trick, that each season takes place in real time over the course of 24 hours, is nonsense. Many of the regular characters are annoying, not in a so-bad-they're-good way (although 24 has those, too ... unfortunately, they killed off the best ones this year), but in a get-that-person-off-my-screen way. Kim Bauer is the worst character on a decent show in perhaps the history of teevee.

And nonetheless, when it's on its game, 24 is must-see television. It requires an enormous suspension of disbelief, but the tension can be unbearable, and Kiefer Sutherland is terrific.

Season Three was up and down, or rather, it was down, and then it was up. The first half or so of the season was mostly mundane; the second half or so was wrenching. At its worst (much of the first several weeks), 24 gets a "C" if I'm feeling generous; at its best, it's in the "A" range. So you can probably guess the final grade for Season Three: B.

Here's where we're at so far as the seasons come to their conclusions:

Joan of Arcadia: B+
24: B
NYPD Blue: B-
L Word: B-/C+
I never gave a grade to Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it was a B- kind of year for that show. Dead Like Me and The Wire were so long ago, it's hard to consider them a part of the current season, but Dead Like Me was in the B range, while The Wire gets an A+. Wonderfalls didn't last long enough to get more than an Incomplete. I gave up on West Wing, Tru Calling, and Tarzan, which tells you what I thought of those shows. Still running: Deadwood, The Sopranos, The Shield, and Queer As Folk ... all but the latter are having excellent seasons, QAF has been lacking. Finally, The Daily Show gets an "A" grade, although it doesn't really have "seasons."

spoilers ahead

I'm a little behind on the teevee watching, what with Sleater-Kinney last Sunday and a Giants game tonight. So I'm still watching stuff that everyone else has already processed, and for that reason, I'll keep this short.

You might have heard about it already ... one of the secondary characters died this week, not exactly unexpectedly, but like Tara said to Buffy when Buffy's mom died, no matter if you're expecting it, it's always a surprise.

Yes, I'm talking about Uncle Vic on Queer As Folk, who passed away on Sunday's episode.

OK, the truth is, no one cares about Uncle Vic. It was easy to remain spoiler-free for Vic's death, in part because everyone who watches teevee was too busy talking about the death of Adriana on The Sopranos. But another truth is that Vic's death carries little of the emotional resonance of Ade's death. Queer As Folk hasn't been very good this season ... the characters are all acting more grown up, there's a lot less gratuitous sex, but the result has been characters who are more boring, and too often characters who aren't really acting in a believable fashion, given what we've seen of them in past seasons. It's one thing to have the characters mature; it's another to make them different just for the sake of a new season.

Adriana, though ... we care about her, and her murder has important implications for the direction of the show. Of course, one of the reasons The Sopranos is such a great series is that actions have implications. But Ade's murder (it diminishes it to say she got whacked) isn't just about the show's narrative, it's about the entire world of the show, not just the show but the world of the audience of the show. Adriana was not innocent, but her transgressions were the kind we all experience: she does the wrong thing sometimes, she takes too many drugs, turns too many blind eyes. There was something about her character that made the audience want to look out for her ... Carmela is far more complicit in the moral universe of the mob, even though she pretends to exist outside it while Adriana always knew what kind of world she lived in.

There have been a lot of deaths on this show. But Adriana's murder was one of the few times where we in the audience might take it personal: like Adriana, we're on the outside looking in, we like what we see even as we're disgusted, we keep coming back for more. If I was a character in The Sopranos, I wouldn't be Tony, the king of the world, I'd be Adriana, trying to have a good life, trapped in the mistakes I had made, ultimately rejected by the people I loved, people I thought loved me. There really isn't any room for people like me in The Sopranos ... that's what Adriana's death means.

the times finally remembers their job

The New York Times offers a mea culpa regarding the crappy job they have done covering the war in Iraq:

we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.... Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.

perhaps the last s-k post for awhile

I'm still stoked, so here I go again, but this might be the last one for awhile.

Sleater-Kinney keeps a tour diary going on their website, and here's what someone (it sounds like Carrie, but it's unsigned) said about our show:

Sunday's show felt like a Sunday show until the end of the set. Everyone was friendly and attentive up until then, which is always rewarding, but things were also pretty low key. Then something shifted during the last few songs, a momentum was gained, and the encore was played to one of the most frenzied crowd of tour.

There was much jamming in the set, and there will continue to be. We're sure this comes as good news for some and bad news for others, which is exactly the point. The best kinds of shows and the best kinds of records are ones that people either love or hate; they bring about discussion and argument. In concert, the songs will always be the songs, with parameters inside of which we explore. But the moments in between, the interstices, are the places where the sonic mapping and communication occur, those are the moments that we live for. Songs bleeding into songs, blurring everything that before felt certain.

Here's the thing. As you read their tour diary, or interviews with them or whatever, you know that Sleater-Kinney is a band that takes audience response seriously. They believe it's our contribution to the concert, that we have fun and exchange energy with the band. If nothing else, they're aware of the difference between "low key" and "frenzied."

Well, they've been extending their jamming time over the last few years ... at first they never did it, then they snuck in a minute or two, now they're up to three or four jams a show, some of them quite lengthy. The first time I saw them jamming, I felt like they were bonding with each other ... Corin and Carrie would turn towards Janet, with their backs kinda 3/4 turned away from the audience, as they searched for a musical bliss. Musically, it was often exciting, and there was also an almost voyeuristic feel, unlike the usual crowd-watching-band-watching-crowd ambiance, as if for a few moments they were playing for themselves instead of for us. As the tour diary says, those were the places where communication occurred, "the moments that we live for." I would suggest that no matter how much we in the audience might also treasure those musical jams, the communication in those moments isn't flowing from band to crowd and back again ... the audience is much more the spectator.

And that's fine ... I'm for anything that encourages Sleater-Kinney to explore their muse. But I have to think that over time, an increase in jamming will result in a decrease in audience frenzy. Because the jamming seems to serve a purpose for the band that doesn't necessarily include or need an audience.

Which leads me back to Jillian's thoughts about last night's show, that the band is truly awesome, but that she missed the interaction with the crowd. Specifically, she missed the parts between the songs, when Janet would tell a dumb joke, or Carrie would offer an anecdote about something that had happened a few nights ago on the tour. Perhaps those "interstices" are taken up now with jamming, with "sonic mapping."


Eric over at Blogcritics commented on what he called "the continuity of your taste from the Velvets through the Sleaters," and that really brought home to me how much last night was about continuity. Let's see if I can be coherent here without just resorting to a list of stuff from my life ... it's hard to know how to tell this story, do I do it chronologically according to when stuff happened, chronologically according to how the events impacted my life, or just scramble everything together, stream-of-consciousness fashion? A lot of this, I've written before, here and elsewhere, but maybe not all in one place.

Well, first there's the Summer of Love. My brother Geoff, who was living in San Francisco at the time, took me to my very first rock concert ... I was 14 years old, the bill was Chuck Berry, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and the Steve Miller Blues Band, the venue was the Fillmore Auditorium. (Berry later released a concert album of the Fillmore shows, Live at the Fillmore Auditorium.) Also at those shows was a Bay Area writer named Greil Marcus, who made passing reference to them in his first book, Rock and Roll Will Stand, which came out in 1969.

Marcus goes on to write for Rolling Stone, which is probably where I first came across his work. Eventually he writes Mystery Train, one of the most influential "pop-academic" books of music/cultural criticism ever published. You can get a feel for the direction of the book, and much of Marcus's subsequent career, from the following sentence, pulled out of the intro to the original edition of the book:

I am no more capable of mulling over Elvis without thinking of Herman Melville that I am of reading Jonathan Edwards (not, I've been asked to point out, the crooner mentioned in the Randy Newman chapter, but the Puritan who made his name with "Sinners In the Hands of An Angry God") without putting on Robert Johnson's records as background music.
A few paragraphs before the Melville-meets-Elvis quote, Marcus noted a few important influences on his work, among them a few Berkeley professors that included Michael Rogin and Norman Jacobson in the PoliSci department, and the film critic Pauline Kael. Finally, the author's blurb mentioned that Marcus had taught something called American Studies at Cal in the early 70s.

When I read Mystery Train, I was early into my ten-year career as a steelworker for the Continental Can Company. I loved the book, and told myself if I ever went back to college, I would take that thing called "American Studies."

Move forward to the early 80s. In one of the few times in my life where I was actually "there" somewhere near the beginning of a phenomena, I attended a concert at a tiny San Francisco club called The Stone. The headline act was a guy named Prince; it was one of the best concerts I ever saw in my life. Later, Greil Marcus wrote about the show for California magazine. He got the feeling of the show down exactly as I'd experienced it, and I decided to write him a thank-you note/fan letter. I knew he lived in Berkeley, so I looked him up in the phone book, but while his number was listed, there was no address. Figuring he might have removed the address after he'd gotten some fame, I went to the public library, found a Berkeley phone book from the year before Mystery Train came out, looked him up, found his address, and sent him my fan letter. To which he graciously replied with a postcard I've still got sitting around here somewhere.

Eventually, I quit the factory and went back to college. When I transferred to Cal in 1986, I found that there was no longer an American Studies major. But Robin, who had been a Cal student in the early 70s, told me there was an option to write your own major. Which I proceeded to do, calling my major "American Studies." For those two years, I was the only American Studies student at Berkeley. The first thing I did was look up those professors who had influenced Greil Marcus. One was about to retire, but Mike Rogin was kind enough to sign on as one of the readers for my honors thesis ... he later sat on my orals committee when I was in grad school, and remained an inspiration for all who knew him until he passed away a few years ago, at which time, I wrote an obit/thank-you piece:

one day, a young scholar named Greil Marcus took a course from a professor named Rogin, he read a book by a critic named Pauline Kael, and the next thing you know, he was writing books of his own.... one day, a young factory worker named Steven Rubio read one of those books Greil Marcus wrote, and with sudden (and unusual) clarity, knew the direction his life would necessarily take

I got my degree in American Studies, along the way interviewing none other than Greil Marcus for background material on my honors thesis, which dealt with Elvis Presley. From there, I got my doctorate in English and then for several years taught American Studies at Cal (the major being reinstated), where, in my last semester in the program, I had a colleague, a visiting instructor named, yes, Greil Marcus. At the graduation ceremony that year, I sat next to Greil on the stage of the Greek Theatre, where he regaled me with stories about The Sixties.

Now, 37 years after Geoff took me to my first rock and roll concert, he's at the Fillmore Auditorium with Jillian and I to see Sleater-Kinney. Geoff brings his 16-year-old son, Sean, who attends the Fillmore for his first time. We go upstairs and show Sean the poster from that long-ago show ... we regale him (OK, we probably bored him, but play along with me) with stories of The Sixties and beyond. Then we go downstairs, to the same floor where Geoff and I saw Chuck Berry in 1967. And after the opening acts are finished and the floor is getting crowded with fans who want to get close for Sleater-Kinney, who should walk by us but ... Greil Marcus. You see, among the things about Greil I didn't mention above, he is one of the biggest champions of Sleater-Kinney, most famously a few years ago when Time ran a series of pieces on "America's Best" and Marcus's contribution was to write about America's Best Rock Band, Sleater-Kinney.

So I introduce everyone to Greil, and I ask him if he's with any of his family, and he says yeah, his daughter came with him, but she found some friends and was hanging with them while Dad moved his way closer to the stage (Marcus reminisced fondly about the early days of punk, when scrambling to the front of the crowd was an accepted artform ... nowadays, he noted with some sadness, if you just tried to sneak into a crack in the crowd with a hearty "excuse me," you got a dirty look). Besides, he said, perhaps it was best, since when he and his daughter had been together, he'd found it very difficult not to just regale her with stories of The Sixties and The Fillmore and ... at that point, I nodded my head at Geoff and Sean and said we understood.

And so yes, it's about continuity, and me and my brother, and my brother and his son, and the Fillmore in '67 and the Fillmore in '04, and me reading Greil Marcus and then me working with Greil Marcus, and all of us at the Fillmore last night to see Sleater-Kinney together and when I asked Greil if he remembered his first show at the Fillmore and he thought perhaps it was one of those Airplane/Big Brother/Dead nights, and I said my first time was Chuck Berry with the Steve Miller Band, and he said hey, I wrote about that in my first book, and I said yes and I have a tattered copy of that book to this day, and I didn't look but I wouldn't be surprised if right about then Sean was rolling his eyes at the oldtimers and their stories of the glory days, but hey Sean, print this post out and save it, and show it to some young whippersnapper when you turn 57. It's about continuity.

sleater-kinney, our 10th show

Just a quick note before I go to bed. They are better than ever. Jillian rightly noted that there was very little interaction with the audience tonight, and that matters, because their relationship with their fans is part of who they are as artists. And so, depending on how much importance you put on that aspect of the show, and it is VERY important, you might rank this show a little lower than I did. For me, the band was on fire to such an astounding extent that I didn't notice they weren't chatty until I was already won over. They barely stopped between songs ... they were very much like an early punk band tonight, just buzzsawing their way through one great song after another with barely a moment to breathe.

Individual comments: Janet was Drummer Queen as usual, but this time, she was also one of the opening acts, as part of Quasi. Quasi's not the best band, but Janet Fans like me can't get enough of her playing drums, and boy, did she play drums. (And on one song, she played guitar and drums at the same time!) Quasi was pretty impressive until Sleater-Kinney came on, and you realized that now Janet was playing actual songs, while with Quasi she kinda drummed to her own drummer, if you know what I mean. Corin was in excellent voice, so "Sympathy" was properly triumphant. She also continued her transformation into an animated rocker ... gone are the days when she'd barely move on stage. Carrie was more adorable than ever ... her bangs flopped down in front of her eyes during the first song and pretty much stayed there the entire night ... as Jillian noted, the bangs gave her a real Joey Ramone look. Her idiosyncratic guitar playing was magnificent. If Janet Weiss was the MVP of the evening, Carrie was still the most popular.

Other stuff ... Geoff and Sean seemed to like the show, which was nice. Saw Greil Marcus, who talked about going to the Fillmore back in the 60s. S-K didn't play "Youth Decay," but they played so many great songs I'm not complaining. And all four of the new songs were excellent ... I have no idea what they were about, but they sound great. For me, this was the best Sleater-Kinney show I've seen so far. They have progressed as a band to the point where I just watched them with my jaw open the entire show. I never thought I'd say this, but tonight, Sleater-Kinney was as great a live band as the Clash.

joan of arcadia season finale

My teevee watching is all off schedule these days ... with Robin gone last week, I taped a couple of shows to watch when she got back, and now I'm gonna be out tonight and Tuesday, which means five different shows will have to be watched on delay. Which is a long-winded way of saying I just watched the Season One finale of Joan of Arcadia.

I'm not sure why I stuck with this show all season long, which isn't to say it's a bad show, but only that it's not my kind of show. I began watching it for the usual reason (Tim Goodman raved about it), plus this first teevee season of the Post-Buffy Era seemed to be lacking in the young-girl heroine department. (Actually, that's not true ... as I've noted before, in a coincidental homage to the greatness of Buffy, the various networks ended up filling the Buffyvoid with at least FOUR series about young women with supernatural-ish traits: Joan of Arcadia, Dead Like Me, Tru Calling and Wonderfalls.) Joan of Arcadia maintained a high level all year long, never got predictable, and even had a seriously oddball season finale that ended with Joan believing that all of her conversations with God were an illusion.

Still, you've got a "family-safe" show that borders on the sappy, where religion is a primary topic and God is a regular continuing characters ... you can see why I'm surprised I stuck with it. Amber Tamblyn did a terrific job, and while I prefer my young women to be tart and sassy (a la the leads in Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls), Joan was just cranky enough and just pop-culture-savvy enough to escape my ire.

One area where the show faltered ... ok, that's totally unfair, because I'm about to discuss something that is completely outside of the actual show itself ... but I enjoy reading and even at times participating in the various online communities that spring up around teevee series, and this probably says more about me than about others, but the Joan fans at Television Without Pity drove me crazy with what seemed to me to be far too much gushing about how great their fave show was. I never felt like I learned anything from them, the way I do when I read the Television Without Pity fans of 24 or Deadwood or Jon Stewart.

I guess it comes down to this: Joan of Arcadia is a show that seems to be about something bigger than everyday life ... God's a character, remember? ... and each episode had much to recommend it. But I never thought about it much after the fact. It didn't resonate with me much beyond 9:04 PM on a Friday night. Maybe it's because I didn't talk about it much ... Robin's the only "real" person I know who watches it, and she's not much for hashing out teevee shows. So JoA might have been one of the best shows of the year, but having said that, I don't have much more to add.

Season One grade: B+