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July 2010
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September 2010

david mills and the emmys

I didn’t watch last night’s Emmy awards … never really done so in the past, and their ignorance regarding The Wire pretty much said it all as far as my current interest is concerned (I admit to being pissed about the absence of Katey Sagal from this year’s nominees). Like most such shows, there was a brief package of clips of those who had passed away during the year. Apparently, David Mills, himself a winner of multiple Emmys, who had written for NYPD Blue and The Corner and The Wire and Treme and many other series, and who had died during the making of the first season of Treme, was not included in the clips. So here is a beautiful post about Mills from a friend:

And here’s the video she included, which HBO showed at the end of the last episode of this season’s Treme:

what I watched last week

Mystic River. For me, the best movie Clint Eastwood has directed. I’ve never been a big fan of Eastwood’s work as a director … I find him competent in that “always get the movie in on time and on budget” way, and I’ve often wondered why he is so honored. But Mystic River is a triumphant match for Eastwood’s best qualities. He trusts actors … I’m not on the set, but my guess is he lets them work out their characters, and when the writing is as strong and subtle as it is here, and when the actors are people like Sean Penn and Tim Robbins and Marcia Gay Harden, it’s a good idea to get out of their way. The three central male characters all work hard at suppressing outward emotions, but all do it in different ways … Penn is always about to explode, Robbins sinks within himself, and Kevin Bacon hides behind a sheen of professionalism. (Bacon is a pleasant surprise here, holding his own with the other actors.) #36 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the best films of the 21st century. 9/10.

The Last House on the Left. Almost 40 years after I saw this at a drive-in during its initial release, I revisit this cult classic. I’ve told the story many times, about how the truck next to us was parked backwards so they could sit in the back and drink a thousand beers while they watched. When the guy in the movie got his dick bitten off, one of the guys in the truck leaned over the side and puked really loud. Ever since, I’ve thought of that guy as the perfect critic for what I found to be a worthless film. The difference between now and then is that I’ve had to address the movie as an academic might (one of the members of my dissertation committee was Carol J. Clover, whose landmark book Men, Women and Chainsaws turned the horror community on its head). So now I know that the movie was based on Bergman’s Virgin Spring, that Wes Craven had a masters degree in philosophy which he has relied on throughout his career as a director, that while the film was a cheap exploitation feature, it was intended to be something more. Many intelligent people have dug deeply into the film, and come up with interesting, relevant analyses. Watching it again, I can see that Craven’s direction was more effective than I realized at the time. And finally, I can see both why the movie is so bothersome (it’s really good at expressing the powerlessness of the victim, as personified in the never-to-be-forgotten “piss your pants” scene) and cathartic (the revenge angle in the film’s final scenes, which are too standard and not nearly transgressive enough, despite the painful fellatio). So I was wrong to consider The Last House on the Left a piece of junk. But I don’t care if it’s another 38 years before I see it again. 6/10.

this is your brain on drugs

I’ve capitulated almost completely … Google, I am yours. My aborted attempt to switch away from Google products didn’t last long, and by this point, the only remnant is that I’m still using Bing. Ironic that the one Google item I can live without is their search engine.

I wonder if the person who wrote Larry King’s USA Today columns has a blog?

Way back in the Bad Subjects days, we used to toss around an idea that we might produce an issue where each person’s article was actually written by the entire collective, minus the person whose name appeared on the piece. The assumption was that our styles were so recognizable by then that they could be easily reproduced. Nowadays, we’d have to hack each other’s blogs and websites and sneak our parodies into the cloud. I imagine a parody of this blog would read “Me. Mememememe. ME! Did I mention me?”

As you can see from the above, thus far, unemployment isn’t doing much for my creative writing.

adventures in technology

I pay my bills online. I used Microsoft Money for many years, but they shut that service down, so now I just use my bank’s website. Among the bills I pay are one to the Chronicle for our subscription (it comes to the door on Sundays, the other days Robin gets it on her Kindle), and one to a credit card I got long ago in a promotion the Giants were running. I use the latter for baseball-related purchases, and pay it off at the end of each month.

On the bill-pay listings at the bank website, the names of the above are shortened. The Chronicle bill is called “SAN FRANCISCO CH,” and it sits directly above the one for the Giants, which I sensibly relabeled “SF GIANTS.” When the July bill came for the Giants card, it included a past-due fee … they claimed I hadn’t made my June payment. I was sure I had done it … as I say, I pay it off each month … but I am forgetful, so I figured they were right, and I paid off the full amount in July and quit thinking about it.

Today I got an email from the credit card company saying my payment was late for the second time in three months. I KNOW I paid this one … when you pay off a credit card in full, and you put baseball expenditures on it, and you’re buying tickets during the summer, the bill can get rather large, so when I pay it, we’re a bit short of funds until the next payday. So I went back to the bank’s website …

And found that in June, and in August, I had sent my Giants’ card payment to SAN FRANCISCO CH.

I called Chronicle account services, and found out my current subscription was due to expire sometime in 2015.

The semi-happy ending is that they will be sending me a check for the total amount of the most recent overpayment, so I can get things back to normal (although I hate that my credit rating looks worse after those two non-payments to the Giants card).

I shouldn’t be allowed near a computer.

random friday, 1993 edition: pj harvey, “rid of me”

I will confess that I am cheating a bit this week. Shuffle play turned up Liz Phair, and I started thinking about her and what I might write about her, and PJ Harvey kept gnawing at my brain. Finally, I realized I really wanted to talk about Harvey. Well, that’s not quite it … I want to talk about them both, but also want to give Harvey the “top of the post” honor.

Harvey’s Rid of Me was her second album, which might suggest it was more polished than Phair’s debut, Exile in Guyville. But Phair had been working on the songs that ended up on Exile for some time, recording demo after demo, so it’s a mistake to think her album sprung out of thin air. (Phair was even a couple of years older than Harvey … not sure why I think that matters.)

Phair’s full-of-swearing lyrics appealed to geek fanboys. My guess is those boys would have been scared shitless by Harvey. Exile was popular by indie standards, which pissed off the holier-than-thou types who equate popularity with junk. Rid of Me might have been even more popular, but Harvey, with her sheep-farm past, managed to maintain “authenticity” while Phair, the cute blonde who was adopted by rich parents, was somehow already a sell-out.

A battle ensued. Not between the two artists, ironically, but between two men who championed the women. Bill Wyman wrote a year-end wrap-up for the Chicago Reader in which he contrasted Phair’s “desire to sell records” against “the insularity that increasingly characterizes underground music and the fringes of alternative music in America.” Wyman meant this in a pro-Liz Phair way (he included Urge Overkill and Smashing Pumpkins in the let’s sell records crowd), but others disagreed, among them, Steve Albini, who had produced Rid of Me. Albini wrote a letter to the editor, which was given the delightful title “Three Pandering Sluts and Their Music-Press Stooge,” the sluts being Phair/Urge Overkill/Pumpkins, the stooge being Wyman. He called Phair “Rickie Lee Jones (more talked about than heard, a persona completely unrooted in substance, and a fucking chore to listen to).”

Phair was doomed to failure with the indie crowd after that. She really pissed them off when she released a self-titled album in 2003 that might be called “MILF Rock.” She had transformed herself from Rickie Lee Jones to Avril Lavigne. Phair remains fascinating … it is unclear who is listening at this point. And she will always suffer for releasing a classic debut album against which she will always be compared.

I saw Phair live and solo on a 1995 tour. Here’s “Fuck and Run” from some show on that tour:

Harvey, on the other hand, has never had to worry about being taken seriously. She didn’t turn into Avril Lavigne … she added theatricality, but in the context of indie rock blues that kept her sound rooted in the “authentic.” She followed up Rid of Me with arguably the best album of her career, To Bring You My Love. Her weirdness always seemed to call on primitive urges, where Phair wasn’t really that weird at all, in the end. Harvey remains uncompromising, remarkably so, really. And I’ve come to realize over the years that yes, PJ Harvey is a “better” artist than Liz Phair. But it still feels like Phair loses because her idea of uncompromising is seen as mainstream, even as she releases new material on her website instead of through a label … if you think Liz Phair is mainstream, you haven’t been listening to the stream for some time now.

Here’s Harvey, singing “Rid of Me” in 2001:

Just for fun, here’s a quick peek at the woman who was the opening act the night I saw Liz Phair:

adventures in technology

I’m so easy. I can be bought for a stick of linguica and a lemon Fanta. After bitching and moaning about Google, and spending a day trying to wean myself from their now-evil clutches, I found myself a few minutes ago making a phone call from within Gmail. Yes, it’s their latest incarnation of Gmail/Chat/Voice. Instead of typing-chatting, you click on a phone icon, choose which # of the recipient you want to call, and voila! You are making a phone call, without a phone. It was kinda silly, really … I called my sister because I saw she was online, and the call worked just fine, but we could have had a video chat just as easily, so the point of this new thingie is a bit hard to discern (just like what you already do, only less!).

Still, I had to try it. I’m just a fanboy.

i need to get out more

I forgot my dress shoes when we drove up for the wedding, and my son, who came up a day after us, was kind enough to stop by my house and grab them. While he was there, he saw a wild turkey. He knows his wild turkeys … there are plenty of them where he lives … and he took a couple of pix with his cell phone. I didn’t believe him until I saw the pictures … I couldn’t imagine a turkey living on our block. But seeing is believing:

wild turkey

That’s right across the street from our house. Neal found the turkey at our house and ran it off.

I talked to some neighbors, and apparently, Robin and I were the only people on the block who were unaware of our feathered friend.

So, to summarize, a wild turkey has been loose in my neighborhood for some time now, and I had no idea.

I need to get out more.

tahoe wedding

My niece got married this weekend, so we traveled up to Tahoe for the ceremony. It was lovely, a perfect combination of the traditional and the quirky that exemplifies the couple quite nicely. Rain and wind threatened, and even made a bit of an appearance, but only so that the heavens could cast their approval:

rainbow 3

The reception was as expected:

ice water

And I survived a weekend in nature:

more forest

It was weird … due probably to the altitude, I had some asthma while we were there. Nothing serious, but enough so that I finally realized I couldn’t wait to get away from all that fresh mountain air and return to my smoggy Bay Area home.