What Breaking Bad Has to Say About Control and Moral Failings

Nah, come on man. Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass at like what, sixty, he’s just gonna break bad?

Breaking Bad

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So, I’m late to the party on this one, but Breaking Bad is one seriously good show.  Srsly.

As a briefing for those who haven’t watched the show (don’t worry, this is in the pilot), Breaking Bad is about a brilliant chemistry teacher by the name of Walter White who is diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer (a revelatory Bryan Cranston) and decides to start cooking meth to pay for his treatment.

Seeing the former father of Malcolm in the Middle commit various crimes is weird and disturbing enough, but it’s deeper than that.  On a similar level to shows like The Shield and The Wire, Breaking Bad explores morally grey areas that are tough to look at.  They put a mirror on situations we’d rather ignore, showing what can happen when people falter and the tremendous fallout that can transpire when people rely on themselves to be saved.

**Warning, there be some spoilers from here on**

This Sunday, I heard a sermon on how we as people consistently fail.  It is true: no matter how much we try to prevent it, we are imperfect creatures and *will* fail at some point.  This concept is so hard to grasp because try as we can, we (mostly) try to do the right thing, at least what we view as being the right thing at the time.  And when we do fail or somehow don’t have things turn out the way we wished, we are devastated.

This is the major failing for Walter White; he believes he can save himself and his family, even if there may be some corners cut along the way.  The problem is that it is never enough.  Even if he makes a million on a batch of meth, there’s always another million around the corner.

This is what makes Breaking Bad so gripping and so hard to watch.  We are bystanders, watching a man and his “cooking” partner–Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul–fall apart and eliminate any sort of ethics slowly, but surely.  We are voyeurs, watching Walter transform from a man who cares deeply for his family into a ruthless drug kingpin of sorts.

A large turning point for me in the series was the first season episode “Gray Matter”.

During this episode, we learn that in his younger years, Walter White had the opportunity to work with a colleague at the organization Gray Matter.   He turned it down, deciding to enlighten youth as a high school chemistry teacher, a job he learns to loathe.  At a birthday party for his friends at Gray Matter, Walter learns one is willing to pay for his chemotherapy treatments.  But Walter turns him down.

These types of prideful decisions doom Walter throughout the course of the series, with much of his subsequent decisions a result of his despising his previous life as an underpaid, overqualified high school instructor.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Walter’s  decision to go in the opposite direction ends up slowly destroying his (and his family’s) life.

This one decision largely sets the rest of the series into motion, with Walter making the choice to no longer explore legal means to pay for his treatment, his belief that cooking and selling methamphetamine is being a “provider” to his family.

This belief that excessive control over our own lives brings freedom is a common struggle we often face and Breaking Bad is a brilliant example.

Watch Breaking Bad.  Seriously.  Like now.  Follow John on Twitter, if you so wish – @jododojo10


My Favorite Albums of 2011

As I think back to 2011, I realize it was a true life-changing year for me.   For one thing, I gained a job with additional responsibilities, working in a field–radiation–I had never had experience in before.  I also went to Japan.

Domo arigato, Japan.  Domo Arigato.

The world also experienced drastic change with the Arab Spring, the death of Osama Bin Laden and the unfortunate nuclear disaster in the beautiful country of Japan a few months before I arrived.

Along with these tumultuous changes, music had a pretty good year and electronic music continued a renaissance.

For a long time, electronic has been trivialized as mere pop.  Since Daft Punk’s landmark album “Discovery” that all began to change and electronic began to be taken seriously as a legitimate artform, not just dancefloor fodder.

That trend continued in 2011…

Best albums of 2011

10. Drive Soundtrack – Various Artists

I’ll admit, this is a bit of a copout.  Especially considering many of the tracks on this album are not from 2011.  However, in the context of the 2011 film Drive, this is one of the greatest soundtracks in recent memory.  I have kept my eye on the French electronic act–and their electronic label, Valerie–for about a year now and College doesn’t disappoint with “A Real Hero”.  Once you see the film–also one of the best of 2011–you won’t soon forget these songs.  Cliff Martinez also deserves credit in constructing a score Tangerine Dream would be proud of.

Fun Fact: Drive is the best crime film in years.  Seriously.

Key Tracks: “A Real Hero” (College Feat. Electric Youth), “Under Your Spell” (Desire)

9. Cape Dory – Tennis

I was first referred to Tennis through a friend.  He demanded I listen to their debut single, “Marathon”.  I didn’t give much of a thought to the song, but was blown away by their debut LP, “Cape Dory”.

What’s great about “Cape Dory” and the band Tennis in general is that they care so much about their music, with nary a smirk.  There is no irony or tongue in cheek, despite the old-fashioned and, at times, hokey nature of surf rock.

That’s partly what makes it so appealing — it’s so amiable.

Fun Fact: The husband and wife duo behind Tennis lived on a boat for around a year.  This experience informed “Cape Dory”.

Key Tracks: “Cape Dory”, “South Carolina”, “Seafarer”

8. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Coming off the heels of his highly acclaimed debut, this is merely a very good album.  It’s got some amazing songs, but doesn’t quite meet the astronomical expectations set by Justin Vernon’s debut.   I am happy to see Vernon’s progression into new sounds, experimenting with synths.

Fun Fact: Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon thinks the Grammys suck and are about selling out.  Oh really?

Key Tracks: “Holocene”, “Perth”

7. Era Extraña – Neon Indian

Let’s get this out of the way: “Psychic Chasms” is one of the greatest electronic albums of the past decade.  Just like “Bon Iver”, this album had no way to reach the expectations set by the debut.  Despite this, “Era Extraña” is a solid, solid album.  Alan Palomo–the lead of Neon Indian–constructs an album that is much more polished, but doesn’t lose the abstract pop heights met by “Psychic Chasms”.  It’s just that unlike “Psychic Chasms”, not every song on this album is excellent.  Only like 80% are.

Huge props to “The Blindside Kiss” and the obvious My Bloody Valentine influence though.  Some really great guitars on this album throughout.

Fun Fact: Palomo guested on much of Miami Horror’s great debut Illumination.  In particular, “Holidays”.

Key Tracks: “The Blindside Kiss”, “Hex Girlfriend”, “Fallout”

6. Camp – Childish Gambino

Months ago, Donald Glover came to the Variety Playhouse and played a sold out show in his home state of Georgia under the moniker Childish Gambino.  When I had seen a description of the show–and his unfortunate moniker–I declined to go.

Boy was I wrong.

I later caught Childish Gambino’s powerful live show at Moogfest 2011 in Asheville.  Showcasing much of “Camp”, I knew then and there they had something.  Glover takes the huge risk of eschewing much of the rap fallbacks–flaunting machismo, wealth, overblown confidence–to produce an album that is amazingly frank, vulnerable and hilarious.

Fun Fact: Donald Glover is from Stone Mountain, GA…And manages to largely talk about how much it sucked in “Camp”.

Key Tracks: “All the Shine”, “Heartbeat”

5. Rapprocher – Class Actress

As a pure pop album, “Rapprocher” is brilliant.  Even more impressive, this is only Class Actress’ first LP.  After their debut EP, “Journal of Ardency”, I was greatly anticipating this album and it did not disappoint.  “Weekend” is one of the greatest tracks of the year.  Pure pop perfection.

This album is my rookie of the year.  Really excited to hear what’s next for Class Actress.  I just wish they would tour in the South.  Now.

Fun Fact: Class Actress still hasn’t toured the South.

Key Tracks: “Weekend”, “Keep You”, “Let Me In”

4. Civilian – Wye Oak

Such a powerful album.  So much emotion on this album and definitely, atmospherically, the darkest of the list,  Wye Oak hits one out of the park here.  It’s even more impressive considering it’s a two person band.  Bands with five members often can’t even pull off this sound.  Really looking forward to seeing what else is up Wye Oak’s sleeve in the future.

Fun Fact: Earlier this fall, I planned to see this band on a whim and a recommendation from a friend of mine.  They canceled due to illness, with the replacement band being Deerhunter Music Band.  Not believing it was Bradford Cox’s Deerhunter, I didn’t go.  Later turns out it was.  Had a hard time sleeping that night.

Key Tracks: “The Altar”, “Holy Holy”, “Civilian”

3. Belong – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Long my pick for best album of the year, “Belong” is fantastic.  A perfect mixture of Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine, this is where The Pains truly spread their wings.  Almost every song is superb, a shimmering masterpiece any shoegaze act would be proud of.  “Anne With an E” was one of my favorite songs of early 2011.  It still is brilliant.

Fun Fact: I met much of the band.  They are truly awesome in person as well.

Key Tracks: “The Body”, “Anne With an E”, “Even in Dreams”

2. Father, Son, Holy Ghost – Girls

Leading with the upbeat surf rock tribute “Honey Bunny”, Father, Son, Holy Ghost later segues into probably the most stripped-down and raw of the albums I listened to in 2011, largely in terms of sheer emotion.  The young leader of Girls expresses so much honest, raw emotion it initially becomes highly uncomfortable listening to the album.

It’s also gorgeous and extremely emotionally affecting.

Fun Fact: Christopher Owens was a part of the Children of God cult.  He escaped at age 16 and has used this experience in informing his music.

Key Tracks: “Honey Bunny”, “Vomit”, “My Ma”

1. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – M83

After “Saturdays=Youth” became an instant classic for me personally, I was initially let down by M83’s latest.  However, I gave it another listen.  And another.  And another.  I have since come to the realization that this is M83’s greatest album and the best album of 2011.  The way Anthony Gonzalez is able to merge synths with instrumentation and heightened emotion brings to mind a mixture of French Eurodisco, hair metal, and New Wave.  This potent combination with sweeping choruses and harmonies reminds me of Meat Loaf…In a good way.

Fun Fact: M83 is one of the best electronic acts live.  Seriously catch them on their summer tour.

Key Tracks: “Intro”, “Midnight City”, “Reunion”, “Steve McQueen”

Honorable Mention

Within and Without – Washed Out

Days – Real Estate

Probably the two best chill albums of 2011, both are really impressive, but never managed to hook me.

In particular, I prefer Washed Out’s less polished older work, but it is a potentially important next step in Ernest Greene and co.’s sound.

“Days” is an extremely well-made album, but it didn’t hook me entirely.  I still appreciate the craft.

Biggest Disappointment (Tie)

Watch The Throne – Watch The Throne

This is more a disappointment in terms of talent than anything.  With Kanye West and Jay-Z at the helm, the album was hyped into oblivion as the Next Big Thing.  Instead, it rattled off a few hit songs and wasn’t spoken of again.  History will probably judge it along the lines of a Velvet Revolver-type collaboration (this isn’t a compliment).

Portamento – The Drums

The Drums’ self-titled debut LP was a new wave-infused sugar rush.  It reminded me of a more upbeat version of The Cure.  Basically all the sound with none of the sulking (or pretention) that often came from that band.  That’s what disappointmented me so much about “Portamento”.  There are a few good tracks on the album, but it doesn’t come close to meeting the heights of the debut and indulges in loads of pretention, as evidenced by their Spotify commentary.

Not a Fan

Dubstep

Yeah, I went there.  Sorry folks, Dubstep sucks.  Even worse, it’s becoming appropriated by brahs and growing like kudzu.  Bolt your doors, and hammer those windows tight, Skrillex is coming for your kids.

 

Update

So I realize I totally forgot Cut Copy’s “Zonoscope”.  It is one heck of an album and one of the best dance albums of the year.  It also definitely has a place in the top ten…It just had an awful release date in early Winter.

Yes, John is still alive after writing this super-long blog postIf you wish,  follow him at @jododojo10 on Twitter.


I Sure Do Miss The Good Old Days…

In case you didn’t notice, there is a tinge of facetiousness in the title of this post.  People always seem to speak about how much better the old days are.  We as people tend to view memories through rose-tinted glasses, exercising revisionist history on a repeated basis.

A couple months ago, I saw the film Super 8.  I was not a huge fan of the film (I would probably give it 2 1/2 stars for the record), definitely not as much as many other critics attested.  That being said, the crowd I saw the film with ate it up.  I also noticed much of the audience was older, averaging my parent’s age.  It is no coincidence that the film is set in the 70s, painstakingly taking turns expressing the period of the film.  This includes musical cues (“My Sharona”), fashion, and references to films at the time (Dawn of the Dead, for one).  It also owes a large debt to Spielberg’s fetishization of the suburbs.

The film is a crowd-pleaser, but is it because of the quality or the ability to tap into the powerful phenomenon nostalgia?

When you think about it, nostalgia has a huge influence on American culture. Movies such as Super 8 use the feel of the era to create familiarity and financial security for studios.  The endless reboots, remakes, and sequels coming out of Hollywood these days also attests to this (as do the record box office grosses).

Recently, Nickelodeon came to the realization that 90s programming could be lucrative, cashing in on the nostalgia of generation x (and y).  Based on the suggestion of a few interns at the company, Nickelodeon’s TeenNick channel has begun to re-air many of these shows in a block of programming called Nick ’90s Are All That.  As a result, the channel has experienced record ratings.

Further, politics are guided by nostalgia, looking back at the strong family of the Leave It To Beaver era as a reference point (never mind part of the reason families were so “strong” was an ignorance of racial and gender-based issues).   Ronald Reagan did a brilliant job eschewing a back to basics approach, using the nostalgic tone of his “Morning in America” ads to a landslide victories in 1980 and 1984.

The interesting thing about nostalgia is its sheer strength.  Watching a film or listening to a song without the proper context can completely alter one’s opinion.

I’ll admit I never saw The Goonies as a kid.  Watching it in my twenties made me realize it’s a sheer chore to get through.  It’s somewhat akin to being locked in a room with a bunch of yelling, screaming kids.  For 1 1/2 hours.  Torture.

Nostalgia is such a strong tool.  Just look at some youtube comments for an older song.

Quality often doesn’t change.  People do…well, unless they’re handcuffed by nostalgia.

 

John is hoping that you don’t think he’s a grouch for thinking nostalgia is lame.  He also hopes you don’t think him saying lame is lame.  John can be reached via Twitter or watch him wax nostalgic on last.fm.


Reflections on Japan and Moving On

I don’t know if you heard, but I recently went to Japan.  Oh, the land of the rising sun.  How I will miss thee.

An American Vagrant in Japan

I first flew into Tokyo’s Narita airport, equal parts bewildered and excited.  Part of this was jet lag, but it truly is interesting being on the other side.  As I’m sure many of you out there know, one of the biggest hot button issues in the United States right now is one of immigration.  Not being able to read or speak the language in Japan made me realize the crippling effect of being illiterate or simply not knowing the native language. 

My improv training served me well in Japan, allowing me to use humor to deflect embarrassing gaps in knowledge of the Japanese language.  It also led me to become a vagrant, An American Vagrant in Japan as it were, backpacking around Japan, ignorant to social norms and the language (I’m currently selling the screenplay…please don’t sue me John Landis).

Along with this, one of the best investments I made while in Japan was a JR Railpass.  This ensured my vagrant lifestyle would go unabated.  Further, the trains are simply just real cool…And convenient.  Something that can’t be said for most American transportation, which remains in the grip of the oil and passenger vehicle industries.

My trip to Hiroshima wouldn’t have been possible without the railpass, something I would have truly regretted.  Hiroshima opened my eyes to the sheer destruction nuclear weapons can reap, as well as the fountainhead of immense hope and peace that sprang from such hostility.  I was amazed by the Japanese people’s ability to move on from such a destructive act and build a peace museum, not a monument to jingoism.  While out there, I realized just how selfless the Japanese people are and how different that is from the United States.

That’s not to say I didn’t miss the United States.  One of the most interesting things I found when overseas was just how much I missed the boorishness and loudness of America.  An unwritten rule on the trains and in much of public in Japan is to be quiet and considerate.  The general lack of social mores in the United States has a certain charm to it, as long as it isn’t out of control.  I missed the trashiness and lack of pretension in doing what you want, when you want in the United States.  At the same time, this attitude has led us down a road to ruin in terms of reckless lending, borrowing, spending, and consumption.  

Some highlights of the trip:

  • Being accosted by a Japanese train cop who decided I was leering at women coming out of the women’s bathroom, even though I was waiting on someone.  My inability to talk or understand Japanese merely led to a stalemate for a few minutes.
  • Going to a Maid Kissa and making the locals embarrassed with my wanton zeal and boyish enthusiasm in the effort to be served by Japanese women dressed as maids

  • Pouring soy sauce into what was actually an ashtray and eating until I was told what it actually was.  What a shame, now someone can’t smoke.
  • Buying a Japanese headband in Kyoto, then realizing it said “no enemies” and wearing said headband in Tokyo, much to the delight (intimidation?) of the Japanese locals

  • Sleeping in a capsule hotel and not being able to extend my legs. 
  • Going to the magical city of Osaka and seeing large mechanical crabs and the weird obsession with the Glico man, as well as people wanting me to pose as the Glico man.  How degrading (not really).
  • Meeting the deer of Nara and being amazed by how they weren’t being shot by hunters.  I then realized they are the cutest and tastiest of animals that aren’t being eaten in Japan.
  • Sleeping (more like laying down and staring at the ceiling) in Los Angeles International Airport and watching the hypnotic back and forth of airport police on Segways.

A Japanese Vagrant in America

Along with my trip to Japan, there was coming back.  Coming back to the United States, I just felt…Different.  Jet lag played a role, but I found myself acting and feeling differently.  No longer was I a foreigner, but I still felt like one.  Further, when in Japan, I often had to find ways to entertain myself and could not speak to others who couldn’t speak English.  For some reason, this carried over for about a week where I went into a form of jet lag-induced hibernation.  Communicating with others almost felt like an alien response and I was often lethargic and sensitive to temperatures.

It truly was as though I had come from an alien land and was not acclimated to America’s climate, both physical and psychosocial.

It took about a week until I felt like myself once more.  But the Japan trip marked an important benchmark of sorts in my life.

Moving On

In part, I treated the trip to Japan as a way to relax before I lost my current job.  My contract was no longer renewable and I felt the stress of unemployment could dissipate by going overseas.  But more than that, Japan changed the way I look at things.  It is a beautiful country and one that needs tourism and other forms of support more than ever.  I now hold the Japanese people in high regard and thank them heartedly for their generosity and understanding in my simple inability to speak their native language or understand the customs.

Oh yeah, and by some string of luck, I did end up staving off unemployment when I came back from Japan.

Time to move on…

 John remains a big fan of Japan.  It is still under debate over whether he is Big in Japan, however.  He can be reached at Twitter (@jododojo10) or email (johnjddonovan@gmail.com).


“Ikiru” and Leaving a Legacy Behind

Hey, folks.  In preparation for my upcoming trip to Japan, I decided to delve into a work by *the* master of Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa.  Particularly, one of my favorite films ever made, “Ikiru”.

As I stated in a previous post, I first really got into foreign films (and more obscure films) once I was able to break the chains of the big box movie rental stores that were in the rural area I grew up in.   These stores often had racks and racks of bland, processed, mass produced films, but never the obscure and interesting movies I was looking for. Once I had gotten Netflix, there was no going back.  The virtual cornucopia of films by the masters of cinema was eye-opening.

One of these masters was and still is Akira Kurosawa.  My first foray into Kurosawa’s work was The Criterion Collection version of “Seven Samurai” (Suichinin no Samurai).  I was impressed by the film, but found it a bit overlong.  The best part of the film was Toshiro Mufune, who remains one of my favorite actors to this day. 

Despite being a tiny bit underwhelmed by “Seven Samurai” (perhaps because I saw the American remake first; movie blasphemy, I know), I went into Kurosawa’s other films and found many of them to be even better.  “Throne of Blood”, “Rashomon”, “Stray Dog”, and “Ran” are all excellent, beautifully shot films and further cement Kurosawa’s place in cinematic history.

However, the film that firmly placed Kurosawa at the top of my list of favorite directors was “Ikiru”.  “Ikiru” isn’t as well known as “Rashomon”, “Seven Samurai”, or even “The Hidden Fortress” (which was an inspiration to “Star Wars”), but it is more touching on an emotional level.  Well, at least it was for me.

“Ikiru” (translated as “to live” in English) is about a man who works at an office job, emotionless and without passion.  He has a strained relationship with his son that haunts him and a wife who is no longer there.  These regrets paralyze him, preventing him from living life to the fullest. At a routine doctor’s visit, he finds out that he has cancer and a limited time to live.  He then decides he has to do something about it.

The most noticeable thing about “Ikiru” is not its brain, but its heart.  The film has so much to say about the human condition in the span of its running time.  Just like all great works of art, it makes you look at your life in a different manner.  The emotions are not only conveyed in the actions of the characters, but through the use of sound and vision, just as film should be. 

Witness this swing scene.  So spare and minimalistic, but so much emotion conveyed in the span of a little over a minute of screen time:

“Ikiru” inspired me as a high school student to do something good and infused in me an energy to go study biology in college to help others.  I now work in public health, but still have a passion for art and its impact on others.  This film is a reminder of that power, the power of emotion in telling a story and connecting to the public.  “Ikiru” also makes one treasure the time they have on this Earth and the importance of grasping opportunities and caring for others.

“Ikiru” is a rare film–along with “Wild Strawberries”, another masterwork–that can alter the trajectory of one’s life.  It is that good.

 

Yes, it’s true.  John Donovan will be in Japan for some time.  He is also a huge fan of Akira Kurosawa and talking in the third person.  John can be reached at his Twitter @jododojo10 or his new Tumblr blog New Wave of the Future (newwaveofthefuture.tumblr.com).


Instant Gratification In a Digital Age

When I was in high school, films and music were my escape.

I used to have a library of VHS tapes envisioning I could start my own video rental company some day. I even considered charging classmates to rent out the tapes, but never had the business acumen to pull it off.

Then came the DVD. For the longest time I resisted, but became a late adopter of the technology once I bought the special edition DVD of Fight Club in 2000. Despite the format change, I wasn’t happy with my local Blockbuster’s selection.

This brings me to Netflix.

I never once considered the concept of the internet or an interactive community outside of face to face conversation. Netflix provided an opportunity to access a multitude of titles, many of which were considered not mainstream enough for big box stores.

As an angst-ridden teenage cinephile, Netflix was my catnip. Through Netflix I began to watch what I wanted when I wanted to.  And therein lies the problem. Netflix was my pusher and I could get my fix in a few days.  A few years later with streaming, I could get it instantly.

In a digital age, we no longer have the patience to wait for *anything*. This translates to a short attention span for many. Heck, I’m writing this blog post on my phone right now.  This also translates to the revolutionary nature of mp3’s, Napster and later p2p (peer to peer) sharing sites.

Ten years from now, we’ll wax nostalgic for the day of CDs like we do now for records . I envision retrobars spinning compact discs, playing Coldplay and American Idol albums on loop.

God I hope not.

Regardless, I fear this will result in the death of the slow burn. Music and film are now often programmed to be immediate, accessible. Very few albums or films are a major success unless they sell the sizzle, something that pulls the viewer or listener instantly. Unfortunately, this often results in movies engineered for Trailers and albums engineered for singles.

All I’m saying is maybe it isn’t so ironic that the notoriously slow moving films of Terence Malick are now getting booed at Cannes and a film like Lost in Translation is slammed for not having a “story”…

On that upbeat note, happy Memorial Day weekend to my American friends out there!!!!

John still loves Lost in Translation and doesn’t care what others think.  He can be tweeted at @jododojo10 or even contacted at his new, shiny Tumblr blog – newwaveofthefuture.tumblr.com


Music That Is Owning Me: “Setting Sons” by The Jam

I used to really think war was cool.  As a child of the 80s, I was raised on video games, sugary cereals, and ubiquitous product placement.  On a constant sugar high, I thought explosions were the bee’s knees, as were action/adventure movies.  War movies were a natural extension of the action/adventure genre and films like “Top Gun” and “Red Dawn” further infused me with jingoistic thoughts.  USA! USA! USA!!!

Where were we?  Oh yeah, anyway, when I got older I decided to move further into films and one of the first war movies I saw as a teenager was “Platoon”.  “Platoon” may be a bit overwrought and a little over-the-top (as is Oliver Stone’s wont), but it affected me tremendously as a fourteen year old.  I never thought war was cool again and found violent conflicts incredibly disturbing.

Combining an anti-war attitude with teenage rebellion is always an interesting mixture.  And with that, I present “Setting Sons” by British punk/mod outfit The Jam.

The Jam is a band I originally got into when furthering my interest in punk.  Specifically, 70s british punk.  To me, the Clash will always be the best punk band of all time, but The Jam is most likely a close second.  The Jam is the brain child of one Paul Weller, basically an angry (angrier?) version of Ray Davies, the lead songwriter of The Kinks.  Just like The Kinks, The Jam paints a very vivid image with its lyrics.  Some of his songs are simply gorgeous or uplifting, with the song “English Rose” a particular standout.  However, most are incredibly pessimistic and full of anguish. 

As a disappointed and angry youth–no doubt aided and abetted by my then-current displeasure with the government in representing what young people wanted or needed–The Jam resonated with me on a deep level.  Despite his high use of British slang and mention of many exclusively British phenomena (what is a tubestation, exactly?), Paul Weller and the rest of the band spoke to me on a very personal level.

“Setting Sons” is a further refined vision of The Jam’s debut “In The City”.  Many of the same angry ideals are present in the album, but the songwriting and production values are of a higher standard.  The album is also the closest The Jam came to making a concept album.  The concept here being that war is hell.

“Little Boy Soldiers” is a particularly haunting song focused on a young man from recruitment to his ultimate death on the front lines.  Much of the song is focused on the youth’s troubled soul and his disillusion with not being heard.

“Burning Sky” is another standout track with some of Bruce Foxton’s best bass playing during his time with the band.

One heck of an album

“Setting Sons” is one of my favorite albums of 1979 and quite simply a masterwork of punk.  One of the best things about the album is that the anger on display is for a reason, not just to provide controversy.  Unlike many punk bands at the time, The Jam is not there to merely shock.  Paul Weller and The Jam have some very sobering things to say and do so in an effective way, one that works on both cerebral and visceral levels.

The Jam and “Setting Sons” will always provide a bookmark reminding me of a time in my life when I was truly angry about the injustices that took place all around me. Without the tools to address those injustices, I was incredibly frustrated.  The messages The Jam present in their music still resonate with me today and I still view the incredible challenges of injustice and inequity winnable battles.  Hopefully battles that won’t be violent in nature.

John still loves punk music…And long walks on the beach.  He can be tweeted at @jododojo10 or emailed at jodonovan1984@gmail.com


So Bad, It’s Good: My Obsession with Tommy Wiseau

So Bad, It’s Good is a column  focusing on why I enjoy what is typically called “bad” in critical circles.  Many critics thumb their proverbial noses at these pieces of media and trash culture in general.  Despite this, like a famous fictional person once said, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

“You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!!!”

The man who wrote, directed, and acted in this scene is Tommy Wiseau and the film is called “The Room”.  Many, many stories have been written about the film and the phenomenon surrounding its cult fame.  The sheer awfulness of this film is in its purest form and unlike any I’ve seen.  “Troll 2” is a competitor to the crown (as are newer films such as “Birdemic: Shock and Terror”), but for my money, “The Room” is the all-time champ.

On every level, “The Room” is poorly done to an excessive degree.  Characters disappear and reappear, the music is grating and inappropriate in equal measures, the writing incoherent, cinematography ugly and muddy, and the acting is absolutely atrocious.

So, why do I like the film?  Why do I like pieces of pop culture traditionally called ‘junk’?  That is hard to define.  However, I think it can be distilled down into one word: Originality.

I truly prize originality in all pieces of art.  Films and music that somehow say something differently and take a different route in doing so are inherently more interesting than a mediocre, middle-of-the-road piece calculated to make money.  This can also be translated to people I meet.  I often find unique, individual people to be inherently interesting and worth listening to. 

“The Room” is a highly personal work, even if it is about as far from eloquent as humanly possible.  It is also a film that opened to scathing reviews and walkouts.  Wiseau spent approximately $3 million (!!) on the film and none of it shows on the screen.  Despite that, it shows how much the film meant to him and how much he was willing to put himself on the line.   With nearly no sympathetic female characters in the film, it also appears to be a bizarre treatise on his relationship(s) with women.

When you stare into the Wiseau, the Wiseau stares back

I first stumbled upon the film near the beginning of graduate school and I became hooked.  Some may even say obsessed.  I began to ponder the larger meanings behind various characters that appeared and reappeared, the reason for plotlines that were never resolved, and the constant panning shots of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.  I also began to watch videos of the film, unable to shake Wiseau’s visage from my brain, somewhat similar to my college obsession with Garbage Day.

I met the man when they had a screening this past year at The Plaza Theater.  Before the screening, I told him the movie (in somewhat hyperbolic fashion) “changed my life”.  His response:  “That’s what I like to hear.”

No, that’s what I like to hear, Mr. Wiseau.

I have spread the gospel of “The Room” to my family and friends.  I am hoping this post brings one person one step closer to understanding the cult surrounding this little film that could and, in essence, why people enjoy “trash” so so much.

 John doesn’t recommend you watch “The Room” more than three times in one sitting.  He knows from experience.  If you need to join a support group (or wish to comment), contact John at jodonovan1984@gmail.com


Music that is Owning Me: “Belong” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The creation of this blog was meant to provide a forum for my many interests. My original blog–Film and Health–is still active, but I felt my criteria were too narrow to sustain and I didn’t want that frustration to affect my ability to write for pleasure.

In that vein, music and film (and art in general) have always had a huge place in my life, providing both an immense amount of entertainment and something more to say about the human condition.  This series–Music that is Owning Me–is in reference to music past or present that has had a pivotal place in my life.

I first heard of The Pains of Being Pure At Heart through a friend (thanks, Naeem!).  The name seemed hackneyed and I was skeptical of the band after looking at the somewhat bland cover art to their debut.  The ticket price was also quite substantial for a band I hadn’t heard a track of yet.

Despite all of this, I gave a listen to Belong, their second album.  After a listen to their first single off the album, “Heart in Your Heartbreak”, I was drawn in by the catchiness of the music and the painful honesty of the lyrics.  With a hard-driving rhythm, the band drives an frank, openly romantic message home.  Other songs on the album merely cemented my strong feelings for the album.  “Anne with an E”, in particular, is an absolutely heartwrenchingly beautiful song reminding me of shoegaze masters Slowdive at their best.

Very few times do I listen to an album and it elicits such an emotional reaction.  Belong is an album made for lovers.  It reminds me of the film Lost in Translation.  Many people hated that film, but I never understood the sentiment.  Both pieces of art are love and romance personified. Breathless, dreamlike and gorgeous, Belong paints a world that you want to bathe in and it spoke to me at a time I needed it.

I forgot to mention I met the lead singer and the rest of the band.  They rock.

Give the whole album a listen for free at their site.

Twin Shadow opened for Pains when I saw them…Give their debut album Forget a listen.  Seriously.  It’s also super great.


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