Starman

The following essay is something I wrote on the night that I found out David Bowie died. Originally posted to Facebook because at the time I didn't have the website.


The first song I ever remember hearing was Space Oddity.

My uncle used to give my dad mix tapes whose cases were decorated in comic and newspaper collage clippings my uncle pasted together.  One of the cassette tapes was a collection of David Bowie singles and my dad played it often.  I loved it so much that after a while I think I just unofficially inherited it.  It was one of my favorite tapes.  I used to fall asleep to music, and this tape was usually what was playing in the stereo as I drifted off.  Through this tape I was introduced to the sonic worlds of John I’m Only Dancing, Changes, Golden Years and of course Ziggy Stardust, the greatest song ever written.

Those songs stirred my imagination and fascinated me in an important way.  Who was the Jean Genie?  What are Diamond Dogs?  Closing my eyes made me feel like I was floating in space with Major Tom.  I’m not sure why this exact image came into my mind when I heard it, but whenever I listened to Let’s Dance, I always pictured skeletons dancing in a graveyard.

From that moment on, David Bowie became a hero of mine, and forever will be.  Even though it scared me too much the first time, Labyrinth eventually became one of my favorite movies.  When my friends and I made a fake TV Talk Show with a miniDV video camera, I was David Bowie as the musical guest.  I lip-synched Ziggy Stardust.  In a high school Spanish project, I used the song Fashion as background music.  I got points taken off for using a song with English lyrics but I didn’t care because I’d found an excuse to shoehorn such a great song into a school project.  I remember my mind getting blown when my dad pointed out to me that Aladdin Sane was actually A Lad Insane.

David Bowie is a patron saint of the weirdos and the outcasts, the freaks and the rebels, the ones who never quite felt like they fit in.  He took his weirdness and wore it on his sleeves and turned himself into a living embodiment of eccentric cool.  His music spans and sometimes completely defies genre.  He’s been a capitalist alien, a vampire, Pontius Pilate, the Goblin King, a walk-off mediator for fashion models, Nikolas Tesla, and now he’s immortal.

My thoughts, prayers, good vibes, et cetera go out to his family and close friends during these next few days.

Goodbye Mr. Bowie, and thank you for all the good dreams.

The Definitively Non-Definitive Ranking of Every X-Men Movie For Your Reading Pleasure

The X-Men have always been a big part of my life.  Even before I really loved the X-Men, I loved the X-Men.  I have distinct memories of visiting my uncle as a small child in New Orleans and gazing over his vast array of X-Men comics and paraphernalia in wonder.  The colorful images of men and women with plasma beams shooting from their eyes and hands or claws extending from their arms grabbed ahold of my imagination and have still not let go to this day, continuing to influence the way I imagine superhuman beings in my head.

But I must admit something.  Even though the comic book illustrations were my first visual introduction to the basics of these mutants, the first X-Men film by Bryan Singer in 2000 was what made me fall in love with them as characters.  From there, I delved further into animated series (My favorite remaining X-Men: Evolution humbly), comic books, graphic novels, tie-ins, and other aspects of the world of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.  Therefore, I've always felt more involved in the film adaptations of X-Men than anything else.  I'll stand by these X-Men movies, no matter how huge they get, or how many corporate sponsorships they have.  What that means is that, as it is with fandom of any ongoing mythological widespread series, there are some dizzying highs and some dismal lows in sticking by the series.  It ain't always easy being a fan of something, but sometimes that means sticking by the series, even when it's awful.

I haven't seen Apocalypse yet, but I'm anticipating it warily.  I think it shows a lot of promise, but I also can't help but remember the missteps of the X-Men films, and I'm crossing my fingers that this is not another one of them.  In celebration of the X-Men returning to theaters, I thought I'd put together a ranked list, from worst to best, of how I feel about the previous X-Men films.  Enjoy, or don't enjoy, regardless, please save your torches and pitchforks for more worthy causes.


X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Nope, X-Men Origins: Wolverine has been spared from the bottom of the list.  Although objectively, Wolverine is a much clunkier and unprofessional film, in my mind The Last Stand will forever remain the most dreadful X-Men movie ever made.  In fact, it may possibly be my least favorite film of all time.  This could partially be blamed on Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn's script, but the majority of the blame goes to the tone deaf direction of Brett Ratner.  In 2006, I was still riding the highs of Peter Jackson's magnificent Lord of the Rings adaptation trilogy, and was hungry for more epic fantasy trilogies.  I had high hopes for this to be the Return of the King of the original X-Men movies.  Instead, it's the Revenge of the Sith of the series.  I was in denial about how bad it was at first, and the longer I thought about it, the more disappointed I became.  From the flat out bad (Mystique's fate) to the mind-numbingly stupid (Juggernaut, say no more), everything about this film is a misfire.  Ranter's misunderstanding of the characters is unforgivable, and we should all feel blessed he's never been asked to return.


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Here we go, take a deep breath, and try to remember what it was like watching this movie.  The Origins series is not a bad idea, but perhaps this film should have gotten at least more than one draft of a screenplay finished before they started shooting.  It really does feel like the script was banged out in a writer's room in the span of 12 hours.  It also feels like the movie itself was shot and edited in the span of 24 hours.  Design-wise, the effects are laughably bad.  Story-wise, this feels like it would be more at home on the Satellite of Love than in the X-Men film series, and character-wise it's a giant waste of huge potential.  This film is possibly the most infamous for its depiction of the character Deadpool, but to be honest, I've never been that invested in Deadpool, and I'm still not really that sold on him.  (I have an unpopular opinion on the recent film, but that's a tale for another time)


X-Men: First Class (2011)

I'm in the minority opinion with this film.  While it was a relative breath of fresh air after Last Stand and Origins, I was left disappointed and cold by Matthew Vaughn's entry in the X-Men series, and for the longest time, I didn't know why.  Then a little film called Kingsman: The Secret Service came out.  All of a sudden, everything made sense.  Matthew Vaughn wanted to make an old school Bond-Style spy movie very badly and he tried to do it with First Class and failed.  Then he tried again with Kingsman and succeeded with a standing ovation.  Because of this, I have a much less aggressive dislike of First Class, but unfortunately, it still doesn't work as an X-Men movie to me.  To me, the goofy, Moonraker-esque style of the film feels off in this universe.  The Wolverine cameo is great though.  I am also quite a big fan of Fassbender and McAvoy as Erik and Xavier, even if they'll never be McKellan and Stewart.


The Wolverine (2013)

Objectively, First Class is a better film than this one, but this one did a better job of fitting into the X-Men universe while still maintaining a sensibility of dumb action fun.  It's certainly an excellent palate cleanser of the original Wolverine film.  The Japanese setting was a fun change of pace and it did show that Wolverine can carry a movie on his own.  On top of that, there are some action set pieces that work exceptionally well, including the train fight and the climactic Silver Samurai battle.  Oh hey, and they actually managed to make Wolverine's claws look like they weren't just photoshopped in as an afterthought.


X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

There was a lot of hype riding on the back of this film.  Bryan Singer was finally returning.  It was going to be based on one of the most influential and popular X-Men comic stories.  It was melding the X-Men of the original films with the X-Men of the new films.  Would it all work?  Absolutely.  Bryan Singer's return was such a welcome one.  His voice is the clearest in the X-Men film series in a way that the other directors who tried to fill his shoes in his absence can't imitate. Singer has the ability to balance character, plot, and cinematic style while keeping everything perfectly balanced.  Hopefully lightning strikes twice with Apocalypse.


X-Men (2000)

Here we go, the first out of the gate and the second strongest of the entire series.  There's a refreshing simplicity to the original X-Men that makes it a delight to watch again and again.  It's a wonderful introduction to this world, with its Michael Kamen main theme and the strong opening scene of a young Magneto being pried from his parents at a Holocaust Concentration Camp.  As he cries out and reaches for them, he bends the iron gates until he's knocked unconscious by a guard.  Its thrilling as well as the perfect introduction to the character of Magneto, who is really never a villain, just a contrarian.  In fact, everyone gets great introductions.  "Does it hurt when they come out?  Your claws?"  "Every time."  The only really awkward part of this film is the infamous Storm one-liner right before Toad's demise.  Oh well.  You can't win them all.


Squad Goals

Squad Goals

X2: X-Men United (2003)

I missed the original X-Men film in theaters.  I caught it on DVD a few weeks before the sequel came out.  So this was officially the first X-Men film I saw inside a theater, and to me it was life changing.  Everything about this film is my definition of a perfect action film, sci-fi film, sequel, and superhero film.  From the very opening, this film demands your attention.  Watching Nightcrawler spin effortlessly through the air as he knocks bodyguards to the side like rag dolls, you know you are in for something unique.  Singer's beautiful staging of action set pieces has always been a defining moment for the X-Men films and the opening assassination attempt scene is the number one set piece in the entire series.  Even better for this film, we've already established the key players and now we have more time to have fun with them.  The chemistry between Magneto and Mystique, Wolverine and Rogue, Cyclops and Jean, Xavier and all of his students is fresh, fun, and intellectually stimulating.  And while we're at it, I'll go ahead and say it. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is the only Mystique.  Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderful actress, but she can't even begin to capture the intensity, anger, and danger of Romijn's performance.


So that's the list so far.  I'll be excited to see where Apocalypse falls in the list.  Here's to Oscar Isaac trying to wipe out humanity this weekend.  Cheers.

Spinning Blades

I have a strong affinity for old family photographs, particularly from times when I wasn't around or when I was too young to remember anything anyway.  One frozen moment says a thousand different things.  My particular favorite is a photograph of my mother holding me while I was still barely a year old.  We're both looking up at something just out of right-hand side of the frame.  Both of our faces are plastered with the most excited, joyful, wondrous smiles that light up the rest of the photograph.

We're staring at the living room fan, slowly spinning around and around, distributing a lazy, cool breeze around the room.  My mom says I would stare at that fan for hours, hypnotized.  She loved to hold me under the fan, watch my face, and rock back and forth while she sang "Horses" by Rickie Lee Jones.

I've thought about that picture and about that fan for most of my life.  Tonight, I've come to the conclusion that this picture is a definitive representation of the strength, love, and natural dedication that my mother has shown in the twenty five years that she's been there for me.  Of the countless times that I looked up at that fan, spinning in circles again and again, she never failed to match my enthusiasm and excitement for something others might consider so banal.  She greeted that fan with the same wonder that my little baby brain did.

She has shown that same devotion and wonder and love in every other part of my life.  Anytime I seek out a new goal, a new dream, a new chapter in life, she is standing there beside me, sometimes literally, sometimes spiritually, looking on in purely genuine wonder, excitement, and optimism, encouraging me to go on and push further.  Life has gotten a lot more uncertain and dark since the days of watching spinning fan blades.  A lot of times the idea of throwing in the towel is the most appealing thing I can think of, but my mother's unending encouragement keeps me going.  Pure and completely real positivity is hard to find in this world.  On this day, and in every day, I am utterly grateful for my mother keeping that ideal alive and shining bright.

Happy Mother's Day and here is to more years of spinning fan blades that never lose their allure.

The Other Side of Paradise

White Lung’s new album, Paradise, wastes no time in grabbing its listener by the collar and tossing them down a rabbit hole of sound.  Starting with a brief free-fall that turns into a spiraling plunge, the song “Dead Weight” lets listeners know right away that a musical gem has been discovered as it drags them into a sonic wonderland, beyond the looking glass of standard Alternative Indie Rock music.

Paradise is remarkable in its ability to never lose momentum even once in its breathless 28 minute lifespan.  There’s hardly a moment that let’s up the gut punch driving guitars, thudding racing heartbeat-like drumlines, and echoing atmosphere.  Even the quieter moments, like the track “Hungry” still maintain a sense of delightful punk urgency.  Paradise might not be as much of a straightforward punch to the face as something like 2014’s Deep Fantasy, but it still proves itself as the wake up call your ears desperately needed.  The snarling, sneering vocals of Mish Way on songs like “Sister” create a winking image of a strange Cheshire Cat face grinning at you from the dark, inviting you deeper into the madness.

The music isn’t the only part of White Lung that is firing on all cylinders.  The lyrics are tight, straight forward, fascinating, and create a fantastic image in the listener’s head.  A defining moment is the bloody grin of a chorus in the song “Kiss Me When I Bleed.”  Lines like “I will give birth in a trailer, huffing the gas in the air” wriggle their way under your skin and nestle somewhere in your subconscious, making it their permanent home.

In less than thirty minutes, White Lung takes its listeners on a breakneck journey through the strangest of any musical wonderland that has been introduced to us throughout 2016 so far.  The closing song invites listeners to continue on this dangerous but undeniably fun ride, as Way cries for us to “bow out with me, ride south with me.”  If the trip continues to be anywhere near as thought provoking and fun as this latest album, I certainly will do so, without a moment’s hesitation.

A Low Flying Panic Attack

Radiohead has returned, and they’re brandishing pitchforks and torches set ablaze.

The evolution of Radiohead will go down in history as being one of the most fascinating processes in alternative music history.  Although Radiohead has always been a band drawn to the eerie and isolated, their transition from alternative grunge to atmospheric, haunting art rock now comes to a fascinating climax with their new single, “Burn The Witch.”

They’ve brilliantly set this up too, ominously teasing new music, sending out cryptic messages branded with the toothy grin of their bear logo, then deleting themselves from the internet (which seems to be one of the most frightening things someone can do these days), only to return with the premiere of both the new single and the fascinating, disquieting music video to accompany it.  This is a unique opportunity for many to evaluate both a song release and the accompanying visuals, which seems to be a big draw to a lot of artists recently with Beyonce’s Lemonade HBO special and Aesop Rock’s Impossible Kid album set to an animated shot for shot remake of The Shining.

The pinpricks of uneasily plucked string instruments open up “Burn The Witch” while we’re introduced to the deceptively colorful, rounded, and friendly looking animated world of the video.  The familiar and haunting howls of Thom Yorke float over electronic flourishes that weave in and out of the minor key strings section.

In the music video, an unsuspecting man visits a quaint little town full of rosy cheeked residents.  The place seems like the perfect little neighborhood.

The smiling faces and the pastels of the music video’s world slowly become more and more untrustworthy as the little leader of the town gives the man a tour of the town, nonchalantly introducing things like sacrificial dances and rotting meat being sold in the market as if they were everyday occurrences.  The world devolves into The Wicker Man filtered through the sensibilities of Davey and Goliath which is the bow on this delightfully creepy package.

If this is a sign of what we should expect to come next, certainly we shouldn’t shoot the messenger.  This is the best news he’s delivered in years.

A Whole Lotta Years With a Lot To Say

Aesop Rock has been an influential and prolific underground hip hop presence since 1997.  It may have been a few years since his last solo outing, Skelethon, but he has always managed to keep himself busy with projects like Hail Mary Mallon and The Uncluded.  Now he has returned to the scene of his solo music, packing a punch with the fantastic The Impossible Kid.

Of all the admirable albums in Aesop’s discography, The Impossible Kid may be his finest hour.  He’s reached this achievement by maintaining his catchy earworm hooks, crystal smooth flow, and challenging yet undeniably fun lyricism, while also crafting a record that is deeply heartfelt and personal.

Aesop maintains a coy sense of humor and playful self-awareness while also wearing a lot of thoughts and early memories on his sleeves.  Songs like “Lotta Years” and “Shrunk” gleefully make snarky asides at his own ego while remaining honest about those insecurities and their roots.  Some songs like “Water Tower” or “Dorks” are less playful about the subjects of depression and mental illness but are never unbearably heavy.  The singles “Rings” and “Blood Sandwich” as well as the track “Get Out Of The Car” are so personal they are essentially auto-biographical.  Rock admits to regrets, reminisces on childhood memories, and gives his brothers a touching tribute.  Particularly in “Blood Sandwich” Rock’s fascinating lyrics and attentive eye for detail paint a perfect picture in the head of the listener, putting them in the middle of highly realized scenes like the gopher execution at a little league baseball game.

What makes this album so great is that absolutely everything about the record is tied together so perfectly.  All tracks are expertly ordered to flow seamlessly together, guided by a musical tone that is distinctively Aesop Rock, but with a strange new electronic note that makes it sound like it would fit perfectly as a soundtrack to a dystopian science fiction film.  This music is complimented by album artwork that reflects and partners itself with the music of the album in a wonderful way.  Like any great album that is remembered through the years, all aspects of The Impossible Kid work with each other and seamlessly mix and match.  The Impossible Kid is a product made by a musical veteran who has honed his skills over years and years and has revealed what could possibly be his magnum opus.