Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Captain Donut & The Holes Make The Boys All Pause

Christ, it's like more attention is paid to what men aren't doing then what women are doing.

Late 2017, like super-late, like I'm still digesting the turkey and potatoes, Rolling Stone prints their annual interview with U2 front-bug Bono. On the surface it's a fluffernutter to promote the band's 700th album, free ad space that should probably have been given over to a younger, more sonically interesting act. Covertly, it provided one of rock's longest-running figureheads a chance to bitch and moan about how "girly" the genre had become. Insinuating that A) men in rock must meet certain standards in appearance and execution to qualify as worthy and B) women in rock just don't cut the mustard.

Well, it's like my mother says: "If you can cut mustard, throw it away."

Bono's lament is summarized thus: "In the end, what is rock 'n' roll? Rage is at the heart of it." Sure. But it's possible to maintain a heartbeat with no brain wave activity. You can technically be alive, and unable to live. Other qualities--nuance, compassion, curiosity--made the body move. And move and move and move.

The assumption that rock must necessarily project anger is as foolhardy as the assumption that women in rock are not angry. They are. A woman's anger, furthermore, is not to be misunderstood as a repudiation or a representation of a collective. Has any person listened to an all-male band like U2 and thought, "This is how all men are"? Is "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" the Irish national anthem?

Blame it on Bey. The year before Bono cried in Jann Wenner's right arm, Lemonade snatched up the lease and turned the world's most iconic living rapper into a lawn gnome. In her wake, more female performers assumed spotlight roles and dominated all manner of music charts: Solange, SZA, Lorde, Taylor Swift. Responses ranged from "About time" to "Fuck this."

The old endearments are the new endurances. Girls grown wary of glorifying and/or defying the "bad boy" and bored of communicating strictly with pants and moans. When the muzzles come off, all barks become bites, and an integral element becomes a neighborhood nuisance. 

Women, as the shoulders of the world, are also entitled to anger over issues both grave and goofy. Men are also entitled to inquire as to the source of that anger. If the answer proves unsettling, well, that's their squabble to quell. Not every guy handles this responsibility well, particularly those sent into apoplectic fits over seeing themselves depicted in the media less frequently (a cultural shift they interpret as a portent of a world where the benefits of masculinity are construed as detriments and their individual voices will be quashed for the sins of a collective).

Beware--the decision to obey the creative urge leaves one open to obloquy courtesy of well-salted nuts wishing their jars had lids. Decency is, by definition, harder to detect. Failure to meet the demands of some well-defined segment inspires puzzlement at the very least. Make 'em think, make 'em feel, and maybe you make 'em mad, mad enough to shore up a restless defense of a rigid values system they don't even fully value.

That applies to so much…let's keep it music.

Complexity ruins rock music, the wisdom wails. Keep it tough, keep it basic, say "hey" whole bunches. The only thing worse than a man exploring the Parisian catacombs of his masculinity is a woman treating her femininity like a toy store.(Dare to play fast and loose with gender identity and run the risk of exposing suspected allies as gone Terfin' USA, eager combatants in spoon fights over scorching bowls of Alpha-Beta soup. Then again society is still somehow befuddled by how bisexuality works.)

My ever-shrinking patience with the demonizers justifies its own post.  I get it, I got it, they'e frazzled, I'm frazzled, we are all frazzled. We ain't gonna agree, but we gotta get along, meaning--stop spitting in my mouth the second you see the opening.

Speaking of nasty mouth business…twenty-five years ago, when I was slobbering around the sweet spot of my adolescence, it happened. The Angry Woman In Rock became trendy. Liz Phair, who just the year prior sent indie underthings into overdrive with her sharp and profane debut Exile In Guyville, was set to release her inevitably-disappointing sophomore album. Rolling Stone magazine featured her on the cover of an issue also containing an article on "Women In Rock," which asked the likes of Courtney Love, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett and Madonna about family, feminism, and fucking fragrances.

Speaking of nasty stink business…1994 saw another follow-up album from a relentlessly thoughtful woman. Courtney Love and her cohorts in Hole released Live Through This one week after the suicide of Love's superstar husband. More beloved by critics than audiences (selling less than two million copies to date in the United States), the twelve song collection is a fine representation of a scuzzy bombshell buffeting back at the world. Courtney's very existence wrenched forth the best and worst in people, not a one of whom seemed capable of a reasonable reaction to the grieving widow.

Not nearly enough attention was paid to L7, an L.A. band who, unlike Hole, were all tits all the time. They were flying the flannel and dying the follicles, pranking and yanking with the vigor of the boys, and oh yeah, playing great fucking physical music. (And boasted a Jennifer.) Never got as lachrymose as Hole, though, which I suppose indicated a stunted development (or a fierce dedication, let's not quibble). Butch Vig behind the boards, appearances on big talk shows and a cameo in the last great John Waters film, L7 were poised to reign as queens of the grunge movement.

Nah.

Millions were lulled into a naivete no less charming for its ultimate heaving absurdity. New York mag, in the summer of 1996, informed perusers "Feminism Rocks," even as the article focused heavily on Courtney's shenanigans and Alanis Morissette's recent ascension, the only mention of riot grrrl coming with Liz Phair's insistence music is powerless to create social change.

As the Nineties progressed, alternative's influence fizzled out. Enter, finally, 1999. An annus horribilis for the books. Hyper-masculine hybrid tunes ruled, dudes and their deals reclaimed their rightful combative stances and conflated every wrong in their lives into the last straw. Meanwhile I'm jamming a Missy Elliott cassette in my best friend's dark green Chevelle, an antidote to the scuzziness.

Everybody knew Missy, though. She wore trash bags and rolled with a guy named after footwear. Smaller radars detected drizzles of hope. Music in no danger of earning RIAA plaques or climbing Billboard charts. Music performed by women who struck raw poses to humble crowds. Where pizazz lacked, passion abounded. Yes, of course Sleater-Kinney, but I also mean the less-heralded likes of Erase Errata and Electrelane. Their rage was real--and unrecognizable to eyes conditioned to equate rage with a particular form, tone and timbre.

I've always considered Sleater-Kinney to be Team Dresch with more patience, tighter record collections and a nicer view. They garnered even more critical praise than Hole, and even less commercial success. No bass and competing vocals, one voice clinging to the side of the speeding railway car, the other attempting to lift the tracks clean off the ground via audiokinesis. And I'm like, fuck, this is as good as it gets. Women were still rocking, and electroclash handled the roll.


*****

New days, new waves, new ways to stay safe and warm in a blizzard. The new stars of stage, screen and Spotify, oh fuck me release day is Friday now? Also, we're eating charcoal? Christ a'mighty.

Facing threats from the lowest common denominator to the highest courts, middling around is a less-sexy option than ever. When I think women in music these days, I think of two letters: e-x. Exhausting, exhaustive, exasperating, examination, exhilarating. Excellence, experimentation.

Ex Hex. Great new album.

Who are you listening to? An épicène artiste, a fierce-brained naturalist, or a merrily mediocre fantasist. Skip the razzmatazz and give 'em their deserved fair evaluation. Lady Gaga, at her apex, was the new Madonna. St. Vincent, apex still pending, is the new Bowie. (Her electric twinning with Dua Lipa is the glorious opposite of whatever the hell happened in the video for "Dancing In The Streets.")

Now's the time to be worked into an audible froth, to let the chirping circles become part of your daily soundtrack, and who can do it quite like a woman. Virtually all the dazzlers in the maligned rock genre are female. Snail Mail, Japanese Breakfast, Camp Cope. Red foxes in the forest, each one. Courtney Barnett's supreme songcraft compels me to sit by a swamp and sketch out a week's worth of remembered reveries.

Anyone yearning for the Missy, a sizzling amalgam of pop, hip-hop and funk, had to be patient. Forget Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, bogged down by quizzical beefs and serious oversharing. Remember Lizzo. 'Cause I sure did.

I became aware of the wild-haired, bodily-blessed black woman from flyover country in 2015, when she opened up two shows for Sleater-Kinney at DC's 9:30 Club, throwing out cookies and reminding pasty faces how black lives matter. Three years on, she's an Ellen-approved star, truly the new Missy. Shit, maybe she's Sister Rosetta Tharpe with a flute.

(Janelle Monae, artier and more angular, will never receive the mainstream due she deserves, alas.)

*****



I've been looking at Lizzo and thinking, "Missy." Maybe I need to be thinking, "L7."

Away from the salt mines, L7 showed their support for women's reproductive rights by starting up Rock For Choice in 1991. A series of nationwide concerts raised money and awareness for the specific cause and for the importance of the youth vote in general. The final show took place in 2001. I'm telling you, we gotta bring it back.

Musical innovators, L7 were not. Respected and abetted by their male peers, L7 certainly were. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Fugazi--progressive-minded dudes sympathetic and sensitive to their travails. "Feminism" became a buzzword, again. (Yes, hesitate to hand out huzzahs for obvious righteousness, but hearing Kurt Cobain--the uncontested face of the genre--insist, "The future of rock belongs to women" meant something more than just a cursory acknowledgment of the right to pursue the life more solvent.) They wore flannel instead of blouses and crushed beer cans instead of rose petals, and they were proud to be women with a voice. They tossed blood at bored Brits (whose own music scene desperately needed estrogen) and galvanized overlooked segments of the American population.

We need that again.

Women in music are "between Nirvana and nothing," to quote Chuck D. Conjurers of the furious sound, signifying sweet and sour everything. Fuck the writers who spin in crude circles while asking questions that ceased to be pertinent a decade ago: Is she pretty? Is she ugly? Will she fuck me? Can I ever talk about her without feeling dizzy? (Smooth out the knots in your noodles or get rolled past.)

There's all kinds of niches for all kinds of bitches. Women are natural protesters, natural reshapers, and much like cheetahs cover great distances in impressive times. Some women are contented with being whimpering wives-in-waiting or fetching mistresses who mewl in key. Some women would rather die. We all sit side by side, spices in an endless rack. Diversification works, or it doesn't. Results will vary. The sine qua non is passion.

Ignore the useless and embrace the useful. Never listen to the person who throws out all the forks in the drawer just because one is bent.

Oh oh, yeah. Change the brassy bellow of the excited towards the exalted. No more, "You go, girl!"

Keep going, girls.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The More Real Skin

One of the risks with online publishing is the possibility of a website going under. The reasons are multitudinous, the reality is this: the site which once housed my short story "The More Real Skin" is no longer online. A new home is necessary. Please enjoy.

"The More Real Skin"
Jennifer Benningfield

Presently, life hangs. "Between" is the nebulous area in which I have lived much of adulthood anyway, so upon release from the hospital, genuine concerns such as contacting close friends and family were shoved to the rear. One solid week as an inpatient rebirthed a ravenous carnivore. Neither I nor the cabbie wasted any words from the time he picked me up until the moment he deposited me in front of the Boli's Pizza one block from my apartment building. Had my time away taught me nothing about prioritization? What decent man puts a cheesesteak, swimming in mayo, onions and pickles, ahead of his own mother? Just two more questions for the shrink-resistant pile.
 
Boli's had only been open ten minutes, yet I still had to wait in line behind a plaid-clad man half a century old, his egg-shaped head covered with bruises and bumps, and I'd say, "Ha, I'd hate to see the other guy," but for the suspicion I have that he was the other guy.
 
The belligerence suggested by his appearance bore out almost immediately.
 
"Whaddayamean, I gotta wait thirty minutes? I'm your first customer! Ain't that a kick in the back sack. Hey, check this out, I just lost my appetite for pizza. Not just your pizza, I mean all pizza, everywhere. Congratulations. Take two and drown, you poor schmo. Go home to your ugly wife and change your socks. What're you lookin' at, paste-face?"

                                                                     ######

Consider, these celebrated upsets of history: David downing Goliath, Truman toppling Dewey, Chaminade knocking out UVA, Preston victorious over Severe Depression. A battle I fought without deadly weaponry, until a disturbing irregularity began flaring up with disturbing regularity, until I stopped delivering mail, until I stopped answering the phone, until a regretful misalliance of Johnnie Walker and Seconal sent my ornery self first to the ER, then to the fifth floor, where they store the nuts.
 
Even with a tray of stunningly edible food, and a sweet-natured woman extracting important information, it still felt as though I were sitting underneath a naked light bulb, shirtless and scarred, plucked unceremoniously from a bad patch before I'd been given the chance to wind my own way out. I answered questions while nibbling mashed potatoes and conniving to gain my freedom. When the nice lady informed me that patients stayed a minimum of five days, I thought, Welp, you can pencil me in for 120 and not an hour extra, little mama.

                                                                       #####

The experience sucked no harder or gentler than most others.
 
Via mandatory meetings (both individual and group) with well-trained well-wishers, twelve sick souls learned the value of proper prioritization, various mental and physical exercises intended to strengthen our mental health, and the eternal blessing of self-love. All leading to the most vital lesson: how to process stress without sending tables airborne.
 
In between, we passed time by sipping soda, flipping pages, or talking small. Most of us gathered round the conference table did not fit the stereotype of a crazy person. Except Skinny Santa. I needed a Coke at the ready just to keep my mouth occupied, otherwise I would have been hysterically laughing every time he began babbling on aliens jumping rope to keep the Sun from exploding.
 
And I would have been the only one.
 
Of all the lessons I learned about myself over those 120 hours, "I'm An Asshole" was the harshest.

                                                                       #####

Also the most common. The recent pie apostate, he became hip to his own contemptibility probably on his own, likely before he learned his penis was good for more than just wizzing over high walls.
 
At least that's what I concluded after staring into those broken marbles he sees the world through. I guessed on, on the spot, that ol' egghead was no stranger to inpatient programs. I surmised he'd made several visits, perhaps even willingly. Maybe he and I missed each other by a week. Guy's spent 120 hours, minimum, fantasizing about breasts and beers as a nerd with bonafides drones out the agonizingly obvious. He's spent 120 hours, minimum, with a straw between his lips, pondering how many milligrams of caffeine the body requires in order to read Wuthering Heights without attempting suicide via paper cuts.
 
"What're you looking at, paste-face?"
 
"Nothing, sir. Have a good day."
 
Watching his face fold in on itself caused me to curse the distance between us and the store's beverage case.
 
"Agreeable bastard," he sneered. Before I could let loose with a helplessly liquid laugh, the employee behind the counter pretended to have a coughing fit. This snapped Eggy Gourdo back into a reality where he didn't force me to swallow three of my teeth. A reality where he walked on, walked out.
 
I walked up, specifically to the counter to place my order, shrugging off the employees attempts to joke, vowing internally to not eat my own hands, no matter how long I had to wait.
 
Which luckily wasn't long. Green for silver, grunt for grin, and I headed for the door.
(I'm not an unfriendly man; I just don't care.)
 
The walk home would take four minutes, tops. Given that I'd not made the trip in a week, I took a moment to savor my surroundings. I'd hit an emotional and professional rock-bottom that could have killed me on impact. I emerged, improved. More aware. More sensitive. More thoughtful. More real.

                                                                          #####

To be a good little inpatient, you had to be an attendee and participant at daily group meetings, held a half hour after breakfast, a half hour after lunch, and an hour after dinner. When your appointed psychiatrist shows up for one-on-one time, you will answer their questions sincerely. When the distressingly young staff hands out sandwiches after the last meeting of the day, you should really ask for the peanut butter and jelly, 'cause the turkey is sweaty and the mustard is the same shade of yellow as a late-Seventies new wave album cover.
 
And you must, you must, you must ingest the daily modifiers.
 
My day five was day one for a young heroin addict whose crisp appearance suggested an unearned affluence he could scarcely bear. I sat across from him at the huge table, empty except for arms and papers. He was too good to be in that spot, yet not good enough to be in the spot he'd been programmed to think he deserved. I could foresee a confrontation between the young man and one of the counselors, even more heated than the time Blond Rob interjected himself into a talk between another inpatient and their psychiatrist.
 
Those meetings meant to me what a cracker means to a grasshopper. There was a chalkboard, a TV set, neither of them used. I hated letting so many other people know anything about myself, never mind how unpleasant the things. Perhaps if these strangers had a chance of meaning something more, of playing a significant role in my life, of representing a real chance at positive change, I would have cottoned to the racket. But no. Frivolous and futile, every second.
 
After the final group meeting at eight, we'd have another two hours to make calls and take pills before bedtime. I was always so drained by then, not even my roommate's pitiable moans could keep me from the bliss of unconsciousness. (The road to mental health is littered with shredded rubber and bloodied fur.) I was always one of the first served, made damn sure of that, approached that counter and wasted no time giving my name to the plump lady who apparently asked her stylist for the "Judi Dench," who in turn gave me two small paper cups like the ones you put ketchup in at restaurants, one with the pills and the second containing just enough water to chase the little trip stops down.

                                                                        #####

What's better? To live day-to-day, or to live knife-to-neck? The doctors and counselors couldn't answer me--refused to, actually--and understanding their reticence only makes it slightly less infuriating. Mental health care is one of America's profound failures, and no one wants to be a player in a failure story. I think I'd rather have cancer than severe depression (although some people would say that's not thinking at all). As great a thought as it is, no one on the fifth floor of the local hospital can be wheeled to the floor below for relatively convenient extirpation of their malignancy.
 
Walking home, plastic bag of hell-rock hot deliverance swinging lightly at my side, I began reminiscing on my imprisonment with fondness. Freedom stretched over me like a new skin. Newly lively, I met the eyes of people on porches as I doddered along.
 
I could see the awning of my building, I could envision the side gate, the concrete path, the wooden steps meant to be navigated with annoying caution, until I was no longer moving towards the dim light of a tunnel whose walls narrow with every step, regardless of direction.
 
Lesson #23 learned during my time inside the antiseptic box-within-a-box: Each person must follow their instincts before joining the insects.

                                                                         ######

Either the man possessed ninja stealth, or I'd been utterly oblivious, ensnared by a web the design of which I played a considerable hand. Lost in blissful thoughts of a return to routine, I felt something dash by my left side.
 
Eggy Gourdo. The very same belligerent jerk from Boli's, throttled by an enigmatic agitation which left us both overwhelmed. The wisest expenditure of energy would have been to steal a meal. Instead, this guy wanted me (the sucker) to view him (the suckee?) as the superior, alpha male he'd mentally sculpted himself to be. Steel-chinned and brick-cheeked, with a mind like a god and a heart like a dam.
 
Alas, the portrait looked no less unflattering in natural light. He was older (by two decades, I figured), and larger by a few inches all around. Still, mine was only one perspective. The old, misshapen guy blocking my path might have been factually fearless, able to dismiss mustang lizards attired in titanium armor and rocket helmets with a single sniff...or perhaps the schmuck messes his underwear at a thunder roll.
 
I had no way of knowing for sure. I didn't collect those fallen parts of myself and reassemble 'em just to stand by with my thumb in a gnarly pie while some schizo tells me to run the cheesesteaks.
 
A voice from within commanded me: ask his name. I didn't; what could I hope to accomplish with possession of that knowledge? On the spot, I decided the wrinkly, discolored Humpty Dumpty shaking before me was a clear "Clayton." "Clay" to his loved ones, who probably don't care much for the guy. A man whose seduction attempts end before they begin. A man whose childhood featured a succession of dead pets and broken promises. A man covered with a short-sleeved shirt faded to the color of raw ground beef, the neck of the thing barely hanging in there.
 
He leaned forward. My heart defied time and space, a neat feat for a muscle stuck between two sponges. My hand gripped the bag tighter. Many places to run, nowhere to truly hide. No one approaching on either side of the street. The license plate of the jeep parked next to us would, once decoded, guide me to the next move. Meanwhile, Eggy continued breathing decay into my face.
 
"Tell you what, fella. Gimme that bag, and I won't cut ya."
 
A miniature Dagonet blew a giant, soggy raspberry behind my eyes, daring me to make an assessment and act on that assessment. Food, blood--which hunger growls loudest? I reached down and drew strength from the words of not some well-meaning yet ultimately demeaning doctor, but a well-meaning yet ultimately demeaning father: "Don't run away from a challenge. Walk with it. Take a hold of its hand, look it directly in the eye, and let it know--you will not back down."
 
I dropped the bag in front of my feet, eyes glued to their broken blue counterparts, relishing the surge of confidence, face fixed into a grin I prayed matched my inner delirium.
 
I waited for Eggy to make a move. When he didn't, I did, stomping the bag's contents into a cheesy, meaty, starchy mess.

                                                                      ######

After 120 hours, release day arrived. Once a big day for the music industry, still a big day for the mental health industry. Before my breath could rejoin the breeze, though, I'd need to hop aboard the "cut-loose carousel," providing short, sincere answers to loaded questions while a hospital worker filled out a form on my behalf while also scrutinizing me, ready to leap over the table and place me in a full nelson at the first indication of trouble.
 
My replies felt sincere.
 
Knuckle-down time. Slip off the old, slide on the new. Breathe in the sun, pay off the brittle plastic. That seven-layer dip I always see at the grocery and wonder, Who in hell would pay for that? I knew the answer.
               
                                                                       #####

Egghead gaped, devastated. I was one well-timed endorphin rush from gripping my junk while busting out a James Brown ad-lib.

"You're nuts!" he spluttered. I prepared for a blow to the chin, a bop to the nose. He had no response--at least, not a direct one. His skin paled. His bruises darkened. The moisture abandoned his lips.  

Victory was mine to seal. Soundlessly, I walked on past his frozen form, past the flattened food, never looking back to see if the poor guy had torn some skin off his knees.

                                                                        #####

Surfaces rule. They promote falsehoods, and earn reams of praise. My mother uses recordings of waves as a sleep aid. She claims it's not only the sounds which soothe, it's also the everlasting images they arouse in her brain, lustrous blue and foaming white, serene and familiar. 

Mom's mind is never invaded by visions of the ghastly hazards that dwell underneath the gorgeous immensity--sizable creatures with nightmarish appearances, some with flesh-shredding teeth, others bearing venomous gifts, none of them amenable to outsiders.

I am visited by such visions often.

Freedom is earning six figures, parenting obedient children, owning a golden gun. So it stands to reason I'll never be free.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Spirit Desire

Available now for free download, Spirit Desire is the incredible follow-up to 2009's sorta-legendary No Setlist. I saw an absurd amount of Sonic Youth concerts, and then I saw some more! Then they broke up and I kept seeing them! Twenty-four gigs in all, from 2009 to 2013.

Guts me that some of my best writing to date won't make it to print, but reality is to be faced if the egg is to remain in the shell. Self-publishing No Setlist was great, but for a variety of reasons, that route is not feasible for Spirit Desire. Money is tight, and audience is limited.

I am extremely proud of this book, regardless. I hope you check it out, and I hope you enjoy it. I hope, in some way, to hear from you.

Download here.

Friday, February 2, 2018

My Fantastic Short Fiction and Where To Find It



"Serenity" (Babbling Of the Irrational)
        First person, wildly personal, and probably the one I'm proudest of.

"She Of Underneath" (Not Your Mother's Breast Milk)
        Anybody can write about a chocolate chip cookie; try writing about one individual chip.

"Dots Dots Dots" (The Drabble)
        Short and sour.

"Golden Now" (Friday Flash Fiction)
         I tend to respond childishly to nihilism.

"Henry Is Unwell" (The Broke Bohemian)
        I went 0-2 on "Henry" until TBB came through. Each time, the response was the same: "The story is hilarious, but it's not much of a story."

"Hush, Sweet" (Mad Swirl)
        I placed myself a comfortable distance away before picking up the pen. The fragments proved too unsettling for the whole.

"Each Yearning" (Little Rose)
        Third person, wildly personal, and one of the earliest stories I conceived.

"Heart Of the Moon" (Black Dandy)
         Surrealist gem. Also my first story in print.

"American Goulash" (Vagabonds)
         Won't lie, I'm stunned this 'un found a home so quick. I pegged it as a sleeper.

"The Life Expectancy Of a Human Skeleton" (The Sonder Review)
          I hope reading this leaves people feeling as exhilarated as I did while writing the thing.

"Ten Buckets" (Five:2:One)
         Twisted list, like ranking yer fave pretzels.

"The More Real Skin" (Sun and Moon)
         Welcome home! Now offline; reposted here.

"The Sick and the Damned" (Fiction on the Web)
          One of my personal favorites found a marvelous home.
        
"Night Swimming By A Burning House" (Bending Genres)
          As of this date, the last short story I've written.        

"Daybreak" (Literary Yard)
          The short story I've shopped most has a home.

"Beach Buddy" (Bull & Cross)
           Just a funny little game between friends.

"Give The Mother Some" (Soft Cartel)
           A chapter from my aborted first novel.
    
"Recover Me" (Maryland Literary Review)
           And another chapter from my aborted first novel.

"From Me To You" (Scars)
          Short and savory. Click on my name.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi Didn't Ruin My Childhood, Asthma Did

The previews are almost over. The eighth installment of the Star Wars saga is about to begin.

In one theater seat, the casual admirer, the sort who buys a movie ticket with the reasonable expectation of an action-packed space jam. One seat over, behold the massive-obsessive. Their bonafides are unimpeachable. They've been counting down the days to this moment. Star Wars is not merely a fun little kids movie, it's a way of life, redemption and repletion in one riveting package. Their living quarters are barely navigable thanks to all the merchandise they've purchased over the years: DVDs, VHS tapes, books, action figures. They are possibly costumed.

In between these extremes--seated a few rows back, to the right--is the passionate fan. Seen all the entries multiple times, read a couple of the books, shared a theory or two with a similarly obsessed best friend, wishes Mom hadn't tossed out all those toys.

Three distinct types of fan. Three distinct experiences. I am in the rear of the theater: fan since the early 80s (to the point where I used lines of dialogue from The Empire Strikes Back in place of sheep when sleep came slow), saw Return of the Jedi in theaters, whined my way into dozens of play-things and books…hell, my two favorite childhood toys were an X-Wing Fighter and a Mama Pound Puppy with a chocolate-brown coat and dark brown spots.

Now that I've proven I'm old, it's time to talk Episode 8.





SO MUCH SPOIL, incidentally.

General Organa's Resistance is on the run from Supreme Leader Snoke's First Order. Super-pilot Poe Dameron manages to replace one form of doom with another, and the good guys are forced to hyperspace. Yet, through use of a tracking device, the Order is able to find their ships. In the ensuing attack, almost all of the Resistance leaders are taken out. General Leia survives, but is physically unfit to continue command. Assuming her post is Vice Admiral Holdo, a purple-haired hard-ass who instantly clashes with Poe. Upon discovering her plan to evacuate what's left of the Resistance in transport vessels, the impetuous flyboy stages a mutiny with the help of BB-8, Finn and Rose, a maintenance worker whose resolve to defeat the First Order only strengthens after the death of her sister, who served as a gunner.

Those last three travel to the casino city Canto Bight in search of a world-class code-breaker who they must convince to aid in the infiltration of Snoke's ship. They wind up, instead, with a untrustworthy "slicer." Leia awakens and the evacuation mission is back on.

Meanwhile, oh crap, remember the last scene of the last movie? Luke Skywalker is on his "kill your idols" shit. Rey is not to be deterred, though, and eventually convinces Master Skywalker to teach her the ways of the Force. Which is strong in her, incidentally. She and Kylo Ren are having "Force Time" sessions, even. These "talks" are sufficient for Rey to bolt, convinced that she can appeal to the former Ben Solo's lingering sense of decency.

At which point i said to to the screen what I should have said when I was five years old watching Luke leave Dagobah: "Oh you dumbass."

Yep, Rey fell right into the trap. That she escapes is little to do with her, more to do with Kylo, who assumes leadership of the Order and invites her to bathe in the shade. Instead, she boards the Falcon and heads for the salt planet of Crait, where the last few Resistance fighters are stationed. Awesome ground warfare ensues, wherein Finn is saved from martyrdom by an RKO outta nowhere and Luke shows up for one last confrontation with his sister and nephew he failed.

Except he doesn't….really…I mean, he does…I just…oh my gawwwwwwwww……

The Last Jedi is a surprisingly emotional accomplishment, as well the expected visual one (if you like the color red, boy howdy!) It is also at times hilarious, a reminder that these films should be fun and we should remember to have fun watching them. As with the previous entries, the film ends on a hopeful note (the very last scene is downright Spielbergian). Director/writer Rian Johnson is the best thing to happen to the Star Wars franchise since Boba Fett flew into a sand vagina. He dares. We win.

Well, a hand can make several "V" gestures.

It takes all flavors to make an ice cream parlor. From vanilla to salted caramel, get me? Certain fans in any 'dom carry certain expectations. For The Last Jedi, I'd only two, the same that I'd had for The Force Awakens: that the film wouldn't ascend the heights of The Empire Strikes Back, and that it wouldn't plumb the depths of Attack of the Clones. After a single viewing, I don't know where I would put Episode Eight on my list. I can only tell you with certainty that I love it, it makes me proud to be a fan, and I cannot wait to watch it again.

There are marvelous performances (Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, to the surprise of no one; Adam Driver, to the shock of everyone) and some of the most breathtaking shots and sequences in the entire franchise (silence has never been more golden). There are a few underwhelming/odd notes--the character of DJ, the "Whoo!" kid at Canto Bight--as you'd expect from anything with a 152-minute runtime.

Still, Episode Eight has played the Raddus to the fanbase's Supremacy. The discrepancy between the Rotten Tomatoes critic and audience scores is already the stuff of legend (to say nothing of the fan tallies on RT and Cinemascore). The scribes have been mostly positive, almost always fair; fans fill forums and comment sections with paragraphs of effusive praise, followed by paragraph of vitriol.* Passion is a quality I'd never discourage, as I equate apathy with death in all areas of life, but if a person in the process of expressing themselves bends into a shape that allows their brain to slide out, of what value is their expression?

It's good that The Last Jedi has left so many viewers unsettled. Especially the entitled ones. The ones who had their childhood "raped" by The Phantom Menace. The ones who wouldn't know a plot hole from a Plott Hound. The ones who at this very moment are typing about how they want to mouth-fuck the cryogenically frozen head of Walt Disney. The ones who see diversification as automatic detriment. They think too little, or too much.

Example of the former: why didn't Holdo tell Poe her plans? Easy--who in the Tauntaun shit is a renegade pilot to a Vice Admiral? Example of the latter: Snoke got screwed!  Snoke is just another sinister figure with a surplus of hubris. At no point in TFA did I sense he was on the level of Palpatine, improved hologram skills notwithstanding.

(Snoke's death also assures us Eppy 9 will not follow the ROTJ formula of conflicted baddie turning to the light and vanquishing his master, since it's already happened. Kylo's gotta be feeling pretty good, having one up on grandpa.)

Yes, Luke was a broken Jedi. That's known as character development.** Yes, they killed Luke. That's called understanding the way life works. Which is to say, that it begins and then it ends. "It's time to move on from the Skywalkers" is just one of several things the death of Carrie Fisher taught me.

The unwillingness to risk, the fear to pioneer, is what allows "Spirit in the Sky" and "Born To Be Wild" to flourish in movies and television to this day. Hell, it was the number one complaint lodged against the Episode Seven!

Careful what you wish for. You might not be willing to get it.






With the last movie, I didn't leave the theater--I hopped fluffy pink clouds. With The Last Jedi, same. Only, the clouds were much darker and bunched much closer together. A self-respecting Star Wars fan should see this film at least twice. Instant mark-out moments abound, as do ones that will take days to process.

Observe. Absorb. Reflect on Luke Skywalker's character arc, from a whiny farmboy to an embittered warrior. Let the emotions flow through you, without pushing out the intelligent thought. Find the wisdom to leave the past in its proper place.***


*I never spend much time rooting around these tunnels, but I don't advocate blocking their entrances. No matter the redolence of moldy fruit and rotting vegetables, all opinions deserve a forum. Respect? Not so much.

**Fans who don't comprehend how Luke could think of slaughtering his own nephew before thinking better of it are also the ones who can't comprehend how Mark Hamill overcame his own trepidation regarding Luke's behavior, and insist on peddling this ridiculous "Even Mark hates this movie!" agenda.

***I can't guarantee that J.J. Abrams will use "Intergalactic" by the Beastie Boys for the trailer (however strongly I suspect it) but I know, you know and our shadows know--Force Ghost Luke will be in Episode 9. So dry those eyes, guys.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Trapper Jenn Ranked You, Charlie Brown




1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
2. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
3. There's No Time For Love, Charlie Brown
4. Snoopy's Reunion
5. Charlie Brown All-Stars
6. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
7. She's A Good Skate, Charlie Brown
8. He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown
9. Happiness Is A Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown
10. I Want A Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown


11. It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown
12. Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown
13. What A Nightmare, Charlie Brown
14. Why, Charlie Brown, Why?
15. What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?
16. Happy New Year, Charlie Brown
17. You're A Good Sport, Charlie Brown
18. It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown
19. You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown
20. You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown



21. You're In Love, Charlie Brown
22. He's A Bully, Charlie Brown
23. It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown
24. Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?
25. It's A Mystery, Charlie Brown
26. It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown
27. It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown
28. Play It Again, Charlie Brown
29. You're In the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown
30. It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown






31. Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown
32. Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown
33. A Charlie Brown Valentine
34. Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales
35. It's the Girl In the Red Truck, Charlie Brown
36. Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown
37. It's Magic, Charlie Brown
38. Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown
39. It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown
40. It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown
41. It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The 1980s Called, They Want Me To Do A List

The greatest decade in world history. Remember when I ranked the 1990s? Same rules apply.


10. 1988
Video Games: Sure, every Metal Gear released since is better than the NES version, but for comedic value? Sure, "Doki Doki Plumber" wasn't the Mario sequel we were meant to get, but it was still fun. Two "Nintendo Hard" classics came out in '88: Zelda II: The Adventures Of Link and Ninja Gaiden. (Only the latter was worth my blistered thumbs, though.) Sega finally caught my attention with Altered Beast. And finally, on my eleventh birthday, Japan blessed gamers with Super Mario Brothers 3.

Books: Stephen Hawking and William Gibson kept the eggheads happy. Roald Dahl kept the children happy. Anne Rice kept making herself happy.

TV: What's more infuriating: the St. Elsewhere ending or the WGA strike denying Gilda Radner a chance to host SNL? A couple pretty good shows were unveiled this year: The Wonder Years, with its novel use of voice over, and Murphy Brown, which in a few years would become a political cause célebre. So were a couple of amazing ones: Roseanne, one of the truest scripted to ever make air, and Mystery Science Theater 3000, although if you weren't in Minnesota, you were SOL.

Film: So many future pop culture staples (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Die Hard, Big, Rain Man) and a few that shoulda been (Heathers, Hairspray, Space Mutiny). Check out The Accused for Jodie Foster's finest performance, and Coming To America for the funniest film ever shot.

Music: So begins the descent. Cheap Trick went from "Surrender" to "The Flame." Aerosmith went from "Back In the Saddle Again" to "Angel." The Beach Boys went from "I Get Around" to "Kokomo." For all the best music, you had to get your hands dirty.

9.   1983
Video Games: Ah yes, The Year Of the Crash. 1983 saw the beginning of a industrywide recession. By the end of 1985, revenue had fallen off by close to 97%. The culprits were multitudinous: oversaturation, inflation, inferior product and competition from home computers.

Books: Salute the ladies: Gloria Steinem for Outstanding Acts and Everyday Rebellions (a feminist must-read) and Joanna Russ for How To Suppress Women's Writing, a "guidebook" for dissuading female scribes.

TV: You know the old saying: whenever God closes a M*A*S*H, He opens an AfterMASH.

If kids weren't watching He-Man, Reading Rainbow and The Charlie Brown & Snoopy Show, they are now what's wrong with America.

Hill Street Blues was so killer in '83 I can't pick my favorite episode: "Gung Ho," where an undercover is shot and killed in an arcade by domestic terrorists while numerous Hill Street cops are felled by a stomach virus courtesy of sketchy Chinese takeaway; or "The Belles Of St. Mary's" where viewers are introduced to Vic Hitler, Jr., the narcoleptic stand-up comic.

Film: Lost opportunity it may ultimately been seen as, however, Return Of the Jedi is still a hell of a movie. Competing Bond flicks vied for dollars, with Sir Roger Moore coming out on top. Scarface and A Christmas Story were two unspectacular office workers who nevertheless rose in the ranks over the coming years.

Hot take: D.C .Cab is funnier than National Lampoon's Vacation.

Hotter take: John Landis probably would have rather gone to prison over The Twilight Zone Movie than have Stephen Spielberg stop returning his calls.

Music: Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus over the Serengeti, 1983 was a wonderful time for music. "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" played everywhere. "Blue Monday," "Photograph" (the peak of hair-metal), "Let the Music Play," "Hungry Like the Wolf" (greatest single of the decade), "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," "Burning Up," "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Major Tom." Fuck me!

(What about "Mr. Roboto"? Yeah no, that song eats.)

No shortage of amazing albums, either. In fact, R.E.M., Metallica, Slayer and Shonen Knife all put out their first full-lengths in '83.

8.   1984
Video Games: Um…uh...

Books: Funny for how so many the very words "nineteen eighty-four" bring instantly to mind a book. Dread certainly abounded: the landslide re-election of Reagan, the terrifying possibility of nuclear warfare, the spread of HIV/AIDS. If only any work of fiction released that year could even sniff Orwell's masterwork. The sole memorable read was a rare nonfiction venture by Joseph Wambaugh, the extraordinary Lines and Shadows.

TV: Before "Must-See TV," NBC made Thursday night "The Best Night Of Television On Television." From 8 to 11, viewers could sit back and enjoy the following: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court and Hill Street Blues. Oh, and Cheers? Both actresses in the cast were pregnant. And this was the debut of the Frasier Crane character. Pile it on, why don't I? Miami Vice! Jim Henson's Muppet Babies! St. Elsewhere turning one of its characters into a serial rapist! Whew.

Film: Note about '84: I gave the music, film and TV categories perfect 10s. If not for the other two being so underwhelming, this year would have topped the list.

These are not hit films, these are haymaker blows: The Terminator, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom, Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid. Gremlins is still the hardest I've laughed in a movie theater (for others, that honor might go to This Is Spinal Tap, also released in 1984. Or possibly even Police Academy, or Revenge Of the Nerds. Hey, they were funny at the time!)

I'll never forgive Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter or The Neverending Story for such shameless deceit.

Music: Hell, the most "80s" moment of my life happened this year: sitting on the couch, waiting for the premiere of the "Purple Rain" video, munching on my first-ever McDonald's "Value Meal."

Duran Duran released their most overlooked single and their most overrated single. Madonna tried to seduce a lion. Culture Club and the Eurythmics made people scratch their heads while shaking their party pieces. Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen showed that synthesizers weren't just for "new wave homos." Prince and Hüsker Dü were both on their viking ish, though their respective ships differed madly in size, shape and substance.

7.   1987
Video Games: Contra and Street Fighter swallowed up the quarters, while kids like me were content to wear butt imprints into the carpet playing The Legend Of Zelda, Punchout! and Mega Man. (Castlevania II as well, least until that day-night cycle shit made me throw the cartridge under the bed.)

Books: Oh wow. Besides Beloved and Misery, this was a flaccid 52 weeks for the art of words.

TV: I watched so many crappy sitcoms in the decade. Guys, I was so young and so easily amused. I laughed at Dave Coulier in not one but two shows. If My Two Dads did any good in the world, it warned me how painfully unfunny Paul Reiser was, so that by the time Mad About You came around, I knew better. I was a bit too young to appreciate Star Trek: The Next Generation, although given the quality of the first couple seasons, I don't bemoan my age too much.

Bye, Fraggle Rock and Hill Street Blues.

Film: An abundance of sluggish comedies and humdrum action flicks. (If yer gonna be bad, at least be entertainingly so.) 1987 at the movie house was just basically flickering cash. Death Wish 4, Superman 4, and Police Academy 4 were the perfect punishments for a country that would have voted Reagan in for another term had he not already reached the limit.

Music: Rock is back, thanks to a tattooed scarecrow and his band of less-than merry men. Appetite For Destruction should have sent all the limp-dicked pretenders scurrying back into their rented holes, yet somehow, Aerosmith became even more popular. (Guessing it was due to veteran status.) SST Records continued churning out marvelous mole rock.

Pop continued on sprained ankles, while R&B just lay on the dirt with two broken legs. Michael Jackson followed up Thriller with Bad , but did he really? Prince made a salad with homegrown veggies--and threw the dirt in for good measure. Nice guy Bruce Hornsby's piano-heavy tunes were the radio's way of saying, "Hey there, Jenn's sister, I know exactly what it is you wanna hear!"

6.   1986
Video Games: Metroid and Kid Icarus both belong in the pantheon, but can we not forget Arkanoid taking the Breakout series of games and ratcheting up the everything?

Books: Stephen King ruined clowns forever with It, a story that resonates to this very day. The Sportswriter kicks off Richard Ford's "Bascombe Trilogy" and the ruggedly gorgeous Silent Terror marked my entry into the stunning mind of James Ellroy.

TV: Don't miss the second half of Golden Girls' first season, which features Rose's homicidal vagina. After being let go from Hill Street Blues, Steven Bochco re-created it...with lawyers. America got to know Oprah…and Garry Shandling.

Film: So if I say that The Karate Kid 2 and Howard the Duck are cinematic cellophane, you wouldn't even flinch, but what if I throw Top Gun in the trash can alongside? What if I tell you Aliens is dope, but The Fly is doper?

MVP goes to John Hughes, whose name appeared on two more of the best high school films. And goddamn I cannot wait for the Big Trouble In Little China remake to come out and fail in every conceivable way by which success can be measured.

Music: Still so many classic singles ("West End Girls"! "Danger Zone"! "Kiss"! "Don't Wanna Know If You Are Lonely"!), but the fatigue is setting in. Three years after her big brother ruled the pop/dance/R&B charts, Janet Jackson took Control. Run DMC helped catapult Aerosmith back into commercial relevancy, meaning they share some of the blame for "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing." On the other hand, they are responsible for bringing the Beastie Boys to a wider audience, meaning they share some of the credit for "Sabotage." Speaking of white rappers, the greatest to ever touch a mic had his Stateside breakthrough in '86 with a tune about a dead composer.

Was this thrash metal's best year? Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood and Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?, although a lotta people seem to overlook that last one. Don't.

Van Halen put out 5150, their first album with new singer Sammy Hagar. Sonic Youth put out EVOL, their first album with new drummer Steve Shelley. Only one features my favorite song.

5.   1989
Video Games: I never made it past the dam level in TMNT. (And you thought Cannibal Holocaust did turtles bad.) Thank Jebus for Game Boy….

Books: The year's best novel, Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, concerns carnival freaks. Meanwhile, Martin Amis still can't write a convincing female character.

TV: Seinfeld, Baywatch, Family Matters, American Gladiators, The Simpons--you're welcome, Nineties.

Film: Warner Bros.' Batman series got off to a stellar start. Back To the Future 2 has actually improved with age, thanks in no small part to the sad predictability of the species. Films like When Harry Met Sally... and Field Of Dreams were made mostly so I can tell what kind of people I never want to waste conversations on.

Driving Miss Daisy earned a Best Picture nomination. Glory did not. Do the Right Thing did not. Burn Hollywood burn.

Music: Old men lectured listeners about world history ("We Didn't Start the Fire") and homelessness ("Another Day In Paradise"). Young ladies declared new nations and brought B-girl lingo to the masses. Hip hop was in a fascinating place, with "Fight the Power" and "Ladies First" fighting for attention alongside the likes of "Funky Cold Medina" and "It Takes Two."

4.   1982
Video Games: TV gave some shine to gamers with the debut of Starcade, while at the actual arcades, cups ranneth e'erywhere: Dig Dug, Q*Bert, and the one the only the Ms. Pac-Man. Meanwhile, Atari released Mr. Pac-Man for consoles: twelve million cartridges, in fact, pretty interesting strategy considering there were only ten million Atari 2600 consoles on the market. Sales went no higher than seven million, and the seeds of disaster were well and truly sown.

Books: Good year for books that would become movies: Shoeless Joe, The Color Purple, Schindler's List. Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant remains the finest novel set in Baltimore.

TV: Sha-la-la-la. Republicans would kill for an Alex P. Keaton on prime time now. I think millions of us would at least maim to have Letterman back in late night. NBC rolled out two beloved shows in '82: Cheers and St. Elsewhere. SNL added Brad Hall and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to the cast, which only in hindsight is notable.

Film: The head honchos put the kibosh on all the promise of the "auteur age," no longer willing to trust directors with pet projects and grand visions. The big studio flicks of the 80s were more focused on having a blast--of the literal and figurative varieties. So while Hollywood might not have produced the next Godfather or Easy Rider or Nashville this decade, it did give us the following--all in a single year.

--The best kids movie (E.T.)
--The best sci-fi movie (Blade Runner)
--The best high school movie (Fast Times At Ridgemont High)
--The best STAR TREK movie (Wrath Of Khan)
--The best film set in Charm City (Diner)

Take that, cinema snobs.

Music: Fools worrying about how to craft a hit single, please. This was the year Michael Jackson, Prince and Duran Duran each released albums full of nothing but hit singles.

3.   1985
Video Games: Pull back the curtain, flip on the houselights, sound the fanfare. The Nintendo Entertainment System is here to save the video game industry. Eatin' shrooms and shootin' ducks (and smart-aleck canines). No one even noticed ColecoVision leave the room.

Books: Outstanding works by Cormac McCarthy and Joseph Wambaugh. The second (and best) Stephen King short story collection. A little something titled The Handmaid's Tale.

TV: Bad ideas abounded: bringing back The Twilight Zone, putting Robert Downey, Jr. and Anthony Michael Hall on the SNL cast, canceling The Charlie Brown & Snoopy Show.

The good, thankfully, outweighed all that. I'm talking the debut of The Golden Girls. Four old broads in Miami: the smart-ass, the dummy, the slut, the other smart-ass. They attended Madonna concerts and dated midgets. They made my mother and I laugh like hyenas on helium. Correction: they make my mother and I laugh like hyenas on helium.

Film: Top-heavy. Back To the Future, The Goonies, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, The Breakfast Club and, ahem, Kurosawa's Ran, ya plebes. After all that? Uh…Roger Moore getting upstaged by two other actors in his Bond farewell, I guess that's pretty cool.

Music: Tears For Fears went 3-3, with three home runs. Phil Collins went 0-4 with a fielder's choice. Pfft, British people don't even play baseball. Woulda been better for everyone if USA For Africa had just donated beaucoup buckeroos and spared us the maudlin singalong.

Solid year for metal (Bonded By Blood, Hell Awaits) and indie rock (Psychocandy, This Nation's Saving Grace). How is it Run DMC are still the only hip hop act to sound at home rapping over power chords?

2.   1981
Video Games: Arcades and consoles are billion dollar business. Recalcitrant gorillas, space battles, frogs vs. everybody.

Books: Philip K. Dick, Raymond Carver and bell hooks in the same year. I don't think it's possible to romanticize this decade, I truly don't.

TV: Dry your eyes over the Muppets, guys. The most important dramatic series to ever appear on American television made its debut in 1981--Hill Street Blues. And no one watched it. Ranking 87th of 96 network shows that year, NBC nevertheless gave the critically-lauded cop show a second chance after it won a then-record eight awards at the Emmys, including Best Drama. Smart! Letting Dick Ebersol take the reins at Saturday Night Live, not so much.

Film: Harrison Ford made the seamless transition from slick space smuggler to daredevil archeologist, under the auspices of Steven Spielberg. AFI Silver has no issue recognizing that. My suggestion of a Cannonball Run/Evil Dead double feature, though?

Music: The biggest hit of the decade, per Billboard, was "Physical." Here's where I eviscerate not only the track, but also the American public for its infuriating vacuity. Except I'm not doing any of that, since "Physical" is the statue which stands outside the Smithsonian Museum of Guilty Pleasures.

The Cars went pop like snot bubbles. Prince's fourth LP, Controversy, smashed together music and politics until they sucked off their taste buds. Lovers of music which could safely be called "MTV-resistant" had Mission Of Burma, Black Flag, Glenn Branca and Whitehouse to blast. Haters of life spun Mike Love's first solo effort, which reeked of just that, effort. I'd rather take Campari intravenously.

1.   1980
Video Games: Atari struck with Space Invaders, but the arcade scene is still the place to be. Pac-Man, perhaps you've heard of him?

Books: Nice gumbo. Enrapturing YA (The Indian In the Cupboard), excellent true crime (The Stranger Beside Me), revolutionary academic text (A People's History Of the United States), a meandering novel from a purportedly important writer (Earthly Powers) and one of the funniest novels I've ever read (A Confederacy Of Dunces).

TV: Worst season of SNL yet (despite the presence of future superstar Eddie Murphy), Ron Howard leaves Happy Days, and what the turkey-stuffing hell did we the people do to deserve Flo and The Stockard Channing Show on the same night?! Oh, 1980 was also the year everyone was asking "Who Shot J.R.?," found out, then promptly forgot.

Film: Between The Shining, Friday the 13th, Caddyshack and Airplane!, movie theaters must've reached unprecedented stinkage and seat-stainage. An erratic year to be sure, with a number of good films that had the potential for greatness. Especially that boxing movie and that space movie. Oh well, they tried.

Music: Tusk!

The first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 was a ballad from friggin' KC and the Sunshine Band, clue A as to how legendary this decade was about to be. Clue B? Devo going platinum.