Quick thoughts on Robin Williams and thanks for 'Garp'

I got tired of Robin Williams' schtick decades ago, but only because I was immersed in it for so many years. People would remark: "Wow, how can anyone could think so fast?" I would recite how his "quick" off-the-cuff jokes were actually rehearsed and already used in that interview or that concert or these other two talk shows. I caught everything I could. It was terrific. Then I hit saturation point, and pretty much stopped watching his rat-a-tat-tat comedy bits with rhythms I had already absorbed and moved on.

Heck yeah, I wore these.

I fucking owned the Mork from Ork suspenders. I wore them until 12 years old. We friends greeted each other in grade school with "nanu, nanu". We repeated bits from Mork & Mindy the next day at school, and into the week, and the next week. Okay. Got that out.

As a subdued actor, he was much better to me. Like his comedies, some huge, awful misses, but also performances that were impressive. I know the cool thing nowadays is to think of Good Will Hunting as mawkish. But he was good in that movie. And in Dead Poets Society (something I avoid as more mawkish than Hunting). And, a movie I've watched 5-6 times to try to get precise about why/how it went wrong ... Hook. Spielberg whiffed that movie. Williams is good in a role he worried he'd be called "Porky Pan". There was no way to play that role and be great, but he showed courage taking it on. He's particularly good as Peter Banning, before discovering he was Peter Pan.

But the movie that I appreciate him the most for is The World According to Garp. My parents took me to see it in a movie theater. I was only 13. A lot of jokes were over my head, but the sense of the world wasn't. The irony wasn't. The hurt wasn't. And it got me into reading modern literature. I went straight from reading the Dune books (I don't like sci-fi, but it was a perfect series for a horny early teen cynic) to reading John Irving. I rarely read fiction written by living authors, even then. But I read Garp twice. I've seen the movie 4-5 times, and am moved each time. Enraged at the Ellen Jameseans, amused  and taken by John Lithgow's performance as a former NFL player turned to a woman, Glenn Close's oddly clinical yet warm performance.

And, except for a few scenes where he got to be rat-a-tat-tat in Garp, Robin Williams' performance is subdued and sly and engaging. As a writer, married to a literature professor. In Williams' often frantic display of frenetically vibrating strings and wavelengths, he often pointed us to nodes of calm. It is those points where I'll think about him the most, and where he showed us the most.

Robin Williams in drag, John Lithgow as a woman, in a memorial service closed to men in The World According to Garp

Robin Williams in drag, John Lithgow as a woman, in a memorial service closed to men in The World According to Garp

I've everything to show. I've everything to hide. REM's Out of Time

Spent the weekend with longtime friends, which always gets the mind hopping from "thens" and "nows". Before arriving, and since, I've had "Radio Song" by REM with KRS-One in my head. There's something about it sonically that is gooey in my skull now. Could it be that it's bouncy with bass? That it's from when it was unique to have a guest artist on a song, before it became almost mandatory?

The lyrics are okay, but I don't even know if it's among my favorite 15 REM songs — and I don't know REM particularly well — but there it is mentally rolling around. Does this stick in your head, too?

Four years ago, almost to the DAY, I posted about "Shiny Happy People". How square am (was) I? I got into REM's Out of Time a full year after it was released. When I enthused about it the summer of 1992, a good friend said "Where were you in 1991?" A good question, SJ!

When revisiting Out of Time, I rarely listen to the whole thing, but at a minimum I listen to the bookend songs. "Radio Song" and "Me In Honey". In the epic 5-hour karaoke concert that plays constantly in my head full of guest starts from past and present, I duet with one person on "Me In Honey" and we rock the shit out of that song, then never talk with each other again, having reached the peak of visceral human communication and humor.

But that fantasy may be largely based in wanting to stand next to Kate Pierson (gush) from the B-52's, the original guest vocalist on the song.

In defense of Iggy Azalea's flow

Pop music is a mongrel, forever gaining vitality borrowing and mingling from other pedigrees. It's slutty mongrel. No. Wait. It's a sex-positive mongrel. Iggy Azalea has two massive hits and has taken knocks for being an Australian female rapper with "southern rap" affectations.

Any artist should be free to steal from other sources and try any persona. If it works, it works. We don't look to artists for morals or history lessons. I didn't know who Ariana Grande was by name. I knew her as the girl with the one-note voice on the t.v. show "Sam & Cat" that was forever the background television noise while I was in the kitchen cleaning or making meals, or in the dining room writing, gaming, or doing dark and dank deeds. She's the actress with the dyed red hair in this clip:

Ariana Grande & Iggy Azalea. Interested in what they chat about? Me neither. Zzzz...

That one-note voice affection is, as actors say, "a choice", right? I heard Grande was a recording artist, but ALL OF THOSE Nickelodeon and Disney starlets are recording artists. No big deal. All those songs are boring aspirational or first-love stuff. All the more boring when they go into the inevitable "I'm not a kid anymore!" phase as if they are the first ones to discover the fumblings and grindings that generate us all and so shake the world.

I don't even know if I like Grande's well-produced hit "Problem". She has great range, but I keep hearing her one-note tone sitcom actress "choice" throughout. Iggy Azalea raps during the bridge.

Many articles have criticized Azalea for trying to sound "black" or "urban". A point for debate among music nerds, but not something to be ashamed of. Try everything. Go with what works. Plenty of suburban kids of all races have tried "urban" affectations (Alicia Keys comes to mind). So what? If the music is resonant & fun, let it roll. Any line of music that doesn't draw from other genres and cultural signifiers is doomed to staleness and extinction.

Iggy Azalea from the U.K Commonwealth Australia. Why Australia, which is plenty awesome, doesn't fully break the colonial tie is beyond me.

I don't even know if I like Iggy Azalea. There is something sonically interesting going on, but I'm undecided about whether it is good music or not. I confess to a problem with female musicians in their 20s and early 30s. It's my advanced age, but even if I would have found them attractive 20 years ago, to see them carousing about advertising their availability now (fine and their right), my gorge rises at it. They just seem like uninteresting people and I have trouble watching them. It's not them, it's me. Keep on keepin' on, kids.

Ariana Grande mentions meeting Azalea at a party thrown by shouty, shouty Katy Perry where they vowed to work together sometime. They have, and it's a success.

Now, if you want to get upset about Azalea outright stealing a rich vein of music, take her to task for robbing the sing-cheerleader-chant genre from Gwen Stefani. That shit is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

"House of Cards": a few grapes among prunes

House of Cards bores me when Spacey's character Frank Underwood talks to the camera. It's a dull device and a huge reason why I also can't fully enjoy The Office or Parks and Recreation. I don't need a character's permission to identify when something remarkable happens. It conveys: "Here's what I'm doing, in case you are too stupid to figure out what I just said to other characters or to understand what you just saw." I get it. It's supposed to bring us in. We are buddies with the character, on the inside track. It's like we're there in the office with them as their confidante! "Wouldn't it be great to get up to the break room and dish on that crazy thing, or that character yet again doing what he/she does, with Adam Scott or Jenna Fischer? Amirite?"

Man, I'm gonna soliloquy the fuck from this Oval Office desk to y'all!

Man, I'm gonna soliloquy the fuck from this Oval Office desk to y'all!


#RestoreTheFourthWall, shows, and stop having characters talk to me directly unless a soliloquy is really important and clever. And the way House of Cards does it is rarely essential or clever. It's a way for the slow people (all of us?) to feel smart. One commenter put it:

I've only seen a couple episodes of this show. Are they still doing that thing where Kevin Spacey puts someone in a booby trap and they sputter "B-b-but I thought we were friends!" and then Kevin Spacey turns to the camera and says "Politics is full of sneaky traps"?

And Spacey's alleged South Carolina accent sounds lazy, putting about 30% of the effort he put into Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Finished season 2 of House of Cards tonight, several months behind the rest of the world. Spoiler: a very bland President gets an injection of about 30 IQ points for half an episode, sees all the schemes, then goes Flowers for Algernon and loses his intelligence and resigns for dumb, vague reasons. Sending a boat to China, calling it back, and going to marriage counseling? Or something? U.S. citizens would care about any of this, to the point of giving him only an 8% approval rating?

The participation of noted media pundits is amusing, considering the show shits on the journalistic profession and the media over and over.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood felt like the center of the show in the second season, and the dynamic between the two of them as a married power couple is the most interesting part. The show has other ripe moments here and there, but I can't recall any moments of genuine insight about politics or the human condition.

A season 3 is coming in 2015. I'll have to think whether to bother watching any more episodes.

E-cigs: "Buddy, mind if I vape?"

E-cigs, those vapor-based nicotine delivery systems with little LEDs on the end of them, look silly-ass. Marketing talks about "vape" and "vaping". To my ears it sounds like an ill-researched attempt by marketers to develop a new slang term. Like when a square in a suit sits down "to have a rap" with teenagers.

You ever need a little alone time, a little rogue time, after a day of being a D-list actor? Yeah, man. It's like that.

"Vape Spot" SW 3rd & Burnside, Portland

How do we compare smoke to the e-cig water vapor emitted by these dorky blue-lit sticks? Howsabout "vape" instead of "smoke"? SOUNDS COOL! Let's give this a go...

Hey, brother. Can I bum a vape?

I got to take my vape break. I'm allowed one every two hours due to labor laws.

Is this flight non-vaping?

Where is the vaping section?

Hold up. Can we stop here at the store? I gotta get a pack of vapes.

Holy shit! She looks GREAT! She's vaping hot!

Jenny McCarthy thinks vaccines poisons your child's brain. But tobacco is a cool toxin that's okay for you.

I wish I could quit vaping. But, fuck it.

If you HAVE to vape, please roll down the window. My mom'll get pissed if the car smells like we've been vaping. She has no idea I vape.

Smoking DOES have allow for great visuals. It's instant atmosphere, particles catching the light around an individual. An act of defiance: I know this will kill me. And I don't care. I'm choosing this moment of dosage and pleasure receptors tickling away and demonstrating that I flirt with mortality on my terms, and my terms, my defiance against amoral and random Nature, is to will my end to arrive a little closer, to be less exposed to random chance than you non-smoking saps.

Using e-cigarettes conveys: Good thing this thing is not truly lit by fire, else I'd be ignited by my own fumes of Axe Body Spray and desperation.

"The Tornado" by Norman H. Russell

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as "Dusty" in 'Twister', a gloriously stupid movie I've seen a dozen times.

I like how the air pressure drops in the center of the poem. Tornadoes make me think of Kansas and the movie "Twister" and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Dusty in that movie. And of how Nature neither cares about us, or wished us malice. It is simply amoral.

The Tornado
By Norman H. Russell

just when he said the tornado
is now located at and moving at miles per hour
the television set went black
black as the sky black as death
black as the hell outside
black as the closet we groped into
falling all down with blankets and dresses
clutching each other our hearts pounding
loud as the pounding of the wind on the windows
gasping for breath holding our breath
like the wind outside roaring and pausing
then the great chunking of the short thunder
imprisoned in the small black animal
of a cloud rushing among the oak trees
went on east we heard it go we heard it talking
to the people in the eastern houses
and we sat still holding each other
still a long time yet in the black closet
slow to come back from the black
from the death in the teeth of the tornado.

Why I will see "Hercules" starring The Rock

The Nemean Lion with an invulnerable hide. OH MY FUCKING GODS, HERCULES, LOOK OUT!

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is awesome. He always elevates whatever material he's given. Brett Ratner is a mediocre director and a dimwit. Despite Ratner, I will probably go see "Hercules". Why? Four big reasons:

1.) "Conan the Barbarian" is one of the best, knowingly dumb, macho muscle movies ever made. The DVD commentary between director John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger is hilarious. The world needs a successor. I doubt it will be this movie, but it's important to keep hope alive.

2.) I had no interest in the OTHER Hercules movie that came out. Its trailer didn't seem to have anything to do with the Hercules myths at all.

Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion, which apparently shrinks in the wash.

3.) In contrast, while this looks, at best, dorky - I was pleased to see the trailer showed ACTUAL ELEMENTS from Hercules' myths including Cerebus, the Hydra, The Erymanthian Boar and Nemean Lion. ("Ah! Good!" I said aloud as these things showed up in the trailer.) Will this Hercules also clean the shit of thousands of animals that fill the Augean Stables by changing the course of a river? I HOPE SO!

4.) Way back in elementary school, I scripted out a film strip rendition of Hercules' story that I didn't complete in gifted mutant class (we called it PACE back then, later it was TAG. I don't know what PACE stood for.) so I have a desire to read/tell his story to this day. He has a reputation as a brute, but actually his saga is more about the wit and might of man overcoming the chthonic amorality of nature. And kicking ass.

Inferno, cannibalism, Taylor Swift, public employee pensions

Detail of "Ugoilno and Archbishop Ruggieri" by Gustave Doré (yes, I have this book).

Two recent dreams the same night. I hope they were separate dreams.

1.) Two men laying on the ground, caked in blood, one gnawing off the ear of the other person who lies passive and closes his eyes every few seconds yielding or savoring getting devoured. Reminiscent of (I had the visual but had to look this up) Ugolino perpetually gnawing on the skull of his nemesis Archbishop Ruggieri in Dante's Inferno (XXXII, 128-9).

2.) I duck out of a music show in a dignified theater with my dream-logic friend Taylor Swift. We get to the lobby, after a quick commiseration how BORING that show is, Swift starts peppering me with questions about how the public employee pension system works in California. I explain California is not my state, but I can send some info along. We decide a direct message via Twitter will be the best way to convey those links so she'll see them.

Snort if you want, as if YOU have never had a dream about perpetual cannibalism and chatting economics with Taylor Swift.

(Left) Ugolino snacking on Archbiship Ruggieri, illustration by Barry Moser. (Right) Taylor Swift.

(Left) Ugolino snacking on Archbiship Ruggieri, illustration by Barry Moser. (Right) Taylor Swift.

Legless Julia Roberts is to be admired

At the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Julia Roberts appeared in the following gown that defied us to judge her based on her status as a Legless-American. Look at me, admire my glamour she seems to say. I can be fabulous even with half as many limbs as many of you. Agreed, Julia, and thank you!

How do you think she manages to hover like that? Don't want to seem racist or anything, but is that something all of her people can do?


Righteous mic drop at NPR

Neal Conan mastered the soft NPR tone, but roared like a lion at the end.

Neal Conan mastered the soft NPR tone, but roared like a lion at the end.

I had been wondering what the hell happened to Talk of the Nation over the last few months, and why it seemed to be gone. Tonight I looked it up, and listened to the host Neal Conan's sign-off for the show and his career at NPR. It's spicy! [listen here, it's worth it]

So right here, I form my own private compact with NPR and my member stations. I will listen and, yes, I will open my checkbook, but I need some services in return. Go and tell me the stories behind everything that happened in the world today. Explain why it happened, and how it affects our lives. Do it every day. Tell me what's important, and don't waste my time with stupid stuff.

I listened devotedly to Talk of the Nation for more than 10 years. I recorded many programs from the radio and recorded them to my hard drive before podcasts were invented. Every day at work it was Howard Stern then Talk of the Nation. Ray Suarez was a good host, occasionally getting exasperated with the topic and/or guest with hilarious results. Juan Williams followed Suarez and was less interesting. Suarez went to Newshour, Williams went to Fox News and pretty much lost his mind.

Neal Conan didn't have much flavor to him, but I stuck with the program for years into his tenure. Then, between progressive radio starting up (R.I.P. Air America) and then podcasts I stopped listening to TOTN. Also, TOTN shifted to shorter segments. Instead of an hour spent on a single topic, an hour show was split into 2-3 topics. I liked the depth and the meandering that an hour on a single topic would sometime lead to. Kooks started creeping into the discussion. That made the program more fun.

I blamed that format change on Neal Conan, but given that NPR has dropped TOTN entirely (I don't think the ratings were bad) for a magazine format, it may have been a top-down decision.

Thank you Ray Suarez, Juan Williams, and Neal Conan. Talk of the Nation was a good program and the work of your teams was an important centerpoint of many days.