I turned on the Oscars just in time to catch the screenplay awards, where they run the text at the bottom of the clip from the nominated film. And Bradley Cooper says, “I’m reining it in,” but the super says “reigning.” Sigh. As if the world wasn’t stupid enough.

I went to bed right before Emma Stone won for Best Actress, but I’m glad she did, despite the overwhelming push for Lily Gladstone. We watched “Poor Things” the night before — it’s on Hulu — and her performance was spectacular, with a much higher degree of difficulty than Gladstone’s. I know this was assumed to be a shoo-in for the Native American actress, as Hollywood loves to give at least one award a year to make it feel good about its social principles, or just to recognize a promising newcomer. But I don’t think Gladstone was robbed; she took home a lot of statues this award season, just not this one. And Stone deserved it.

That’s the thing about the Oscars — it’s just a vote, and we never know how the other finishers did. Stone may have edged her by a one, 100 or 1,000, but in the end it doesn’t matter.

Martin Scorsese, now — he knows about robbery. The greatest living director, and he has exactly one Oscar for it. (“The Departed,” 2006.)

In other frippery from the weekend, I’ve been studiously avoiding any of the Kate Middleton speculation and gossip, because why subject yourself to that when American democracy is swaying on its foundations and she’s probably fine anyway. Then the weekend photo business happened, and I must admit: I’m intrigued. It takes a lot for the world’s serious news agencies to put out a mandatory kill on something as silly as a courtesy photo from the British royal family. But in this case, the Zapruder-film examination of it makes me wonder what might be going on.

Most of the speculation has concentrated on some obvious — if you consider going over a picture with a magnifying glass obvious — editing of some of the clothing, but to me, it’s the black hole at her midsection that looks wonky to me. The most informed speculation about what might be ailing her, in my opinion, came from a doctor I follow on Twitter, who suggested she might have had some sort of temporary colostomy for the treatment of Crohn’s disease, and it would track that the rail-thin princess wouldn’t be photographed with any indication she might be wearing a bag. It would also explain the secrecy, because ew poop. Whatever. I do hope she’s going to be OK, because who wouldn’t.

Also, the British celebrate Mothers Day in March? Really?

And now it’s Monday again. Time to get it in gear.

Posted at 9:54 am in Movies, Popculch | 32 Comments

A night at the opera.

How do you start your week? Even in my semi-retired state, I tend to spend a few moments on Sunday or Monday thinking about my obligations for the week ahead — pay this bill, meet this deadline, call that person, etc. All of it leads up to “The Week That Was,” the web show for Deadline Detroit that for some reason none of us can stop doing, and then, when it wraps at roughly 12:30 p.m. Friday, the weekend begins. I feel like Fred Flintstone sliding down the dinosaur’s tail.

We almost always go out, if only for a burger somewhere, on Friday. We only occasionally go out on Saturday. Go figure.

But this Friday the Derringers are going to…the opera. Allow me to explain.

The Michigan Opera Theater, now the Detroit opera, hired a new artistic director, Yuval Sharon, just before the pandemic, and boy is he artistic. This production put him on the damn map, at least if you consider attention from The New Yorker and New York Times to be something (and I do):

In the psychogeography of modern life, parking garages are sites of anxiety and subtle terror. The doctor’s appointment is minutes away, and yet you are still frantically circling. The space you find is so torturously narrow that it could have been designed only in consultation with auto-body shops. Afterward, desperation rises as you wander acres of concrete, listening for your faintly beeping vehicle. The lighting is sepulchral, the air dank. Few soothing scenes in movies are set in garages: shady deals are done, witnesses are offed, Deep Throat speaks.

It made sense, then, that Yuval Sharon, the new artistic director of Michigan Opera Theatre, chose a Detroit parking garage as the impromptu set for an abridged production of “Götterdämmerung.” The final installment of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle ostensibly addresses the twilight of the gods, but no gods appear onstage: according to the libretto, we glimpse them only in the far distance, at the climax, as fire consumes Valhalla. Instead, the opera is dominated by a compromised array of human beings, who move through a darkening, decaying world. In the prologue, we are told that Wotan, the chief of the gods, fatally wounded the World Ash Tree when he tore a branch from it to make his spear of power. The death of the tree stands in for the ruination of the earth by capitalism and industrialization. A multistory parking garage is as good a spot as any for the Wagnerian apocalypse.

This was during the Covid closures, and the parking garage “Gotterdammerung” worked like this: Your ticket got you admittance to the garage, in your car, needless to say. You drove slowly through the levels, stopping at scenes where a singer would perform a particular piece, with the music coming through your car’s sound system, tuned to a special frequency. When he or she completed the number, you drove on to the next one. Socially distanced and, for my money, the smartest, coolest way to put on a work of art in a time when most places just went dark. Was it the entire opera? Of course not; the whole experience, renamed “Twilight: Gods” took about an hour. But it was a triumph.

Of course we couldn’t get tickets. But now, with Sharon in the fourth year of a five-year contract, already a MacArthur Foundation genius, I figure we’d better get our butts in the seats if we wanted to check him out before he’s snatched up by a bigger city. So we’re going to this production, “Europeras: 3 & 4,” which promises to also be pretty weird:

Pioneering composer John Cage reassembles European opera as a collage in Europeras 3 & 4. These intimate, avant-garde operas exemplify his life-long fascinations that forever changed music history. Chance operations dictate everything in the production, from the staging to the costumes to the lighting design. In its joyful anarchy, Cage’s work invites audiences to embrace the unexpected.

I’m looking forward to this.

This week, I got 90 percent of my work done yesterday, so today I cashed in one of my birthday presents, a gift card for the Schvitz. Hallelujah, one of the massage therapists had an opening, so I snapped it up. I regret to say both the dry sauna and the steam were so hot I could barely stand them — both well over 200 degrees. The steam room temperature display read ERR, as in, the numbers didn’t go any higher. I came back after my massage, and it was down to 230, and I could handle it for maybe five minutes. However, this didn’t affect my enjoyment of my solitary afternoon one bit. The place was blessedly quiet, and I could discreetly take in the amazing tattoo variety without having to crane my neck. A good afternoon.

I think self-care is the only way I’m going to get through the next few months, frankly. It’s gonna be so ugly.

But now the week is under way, right? Let’s get through it.

Posted at 6:16 pm in Popculch | 34 Comments

They were (not) the world.

A friend recommended “The Greatest Night in Pop,” a documentary now airing on Netflix, about the making of the “We Are the World” single in 1985. I took his recommendation, and found his summation fairly accurate: Suffer through the first 30 minutes of showbiz bullshit, and you’ll be rewarded with an hour of watching musical superstars feeling and acting very superstar-y, which is to say, often like spoiled brats and other bad-behaving archetypes.

I have to confess my prejudice up front: “We Are the World” and its predecessor, the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single out of the U.K., ushered in an era that got on my nerves, the time of ’80s/’90s feel-good “philanthropy” that required nothing of the philanthropist more taxing than a trip to a record store. Or affixing a particular color of ribbon to your clothing. Or joining hands in some sort of stunt to “raise awareness” of homelessness. And the song was terrible, too; at least the British song had a Christmas-carol sound to it, with all those bells. “We Are the World” was syrupy treacle, made for linking elbows, swaying back and forth and proclaiming not that others were in mortal peril, but that we, the singers, are the ones who… well, let’s just paste the chorus here:

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me

Beyond a few references to “people dying,” it’s entirely self-congratulatory. Which is to say, it’s got the smell of Michael Jackson all over it. He wrote the lyrics, Lionel Richie the music. And Richie is the one who leads the narrative lookback, although there are other talking heads, too, including Bruce Springsteen, Sheila E., Cyndi Lauper and the most surprisingly amusing of the bunch, Huey Lewis.

The hero of the whole project is Quincy Jones, who had to herd all these cats toward their common goal, and to do so in the course of one marathon overnight session. Part of the showbiz-bullshit portion of the film talks about simple steps toward that goal as though they’re brainstorms unique to the brilliance of Quincy — i.e., to have all the soloists record in a big circle, facing one another, rather than retreating to booths where they can complain quietly and nitpick their performance to death. I guess that was a brainstorm for a field that requires no small amount of diplomacy, but if there’s one thing we know about divas of all kinds, it’s that treating them like normal people will work, at least for a little while. (It’s such a new experience for them.)

There were some amusing moments, as when Stevie Wonder suggested they should sing at least a few lines in Swahili, presumably because Africa. This led to Waylon Jennings walking out, but honestly, I was in full agreement (with Waylon). Then someone pointed out that Ethiopians, the presumptive recipient of this charity project, don’t even speak Swahili anyway.

And there’s always the shock of seeing how many of these famous, or semi-famous faces have had serious work done since 1985. Smokey Robinson’s mug is tight as a drum, and Richie’s lower face looks so plumped with fillers it appears to have become a balcony extending from his forehead. All forgivable, because we all have our vanity.

But I was most surprised by my reaction to Jackson, who is painted, as per usual, as a genius, an icon, a magical sprite who was simply too special and talented for this dirty world. I have a long-standing policy of not confusing artists with their art, but Jackson tests it too much for me to look away, as I do about, say, Miles Davis’ history of abusing women. Jackson was a pedophile, period, which makes all his lyrical references to children deeply creepy. I find it hard to enjoy, or even listen to, most of his catalog today. Sorry.

Also, see above for my feelings about the song he co-wrote.

Worth your time? Sure, if you’re into pop music and remember the era. There’s a lot of sic transit gloria mundi on display — hey, Kim Carnes! — and a few good lines. My fave was Paul Simon’s: “If a bomb falls on this place, John Denver is back on top.”

Finally-finally, I’d really like to know more about where the millions this project raised were spent. Did it go directly to food aid? That’s key, because we tend to gloss over the fact that in the modern world, there is enough food for everyone, even with crop failures, drought and other natural causes. There is more than enough, but getting it to people who need it remains problematic, and the Ethiopian government bears at least some responsibility for what happened. That was another thing I disliked about the project, that it led the rest of the world to believe the solution was as simple as raise money > buy food > give food to starving people. When it absolutely wasn’t, and isn’t.

OK, the weekend is almost here! Back to listening to the SCOTUS hearing on you-know-who and hoping against hope.

Posted at 11:25 am in Movies, Popculch | 62 Comments


I neglected to mention one detail of my Miami trip: Passing along the causeway to Miami Beach, we had an excellent view of Royal Caribbean’s brand-new Icon of the Seas cruise ship, in the Port of Miami, just days away from her maiden voyage.

You don’t know what the Icon is? Well, check it OUT, friends. It’s only what appears to be the world’s largest cruise ship, “the largest waterpark at sea,” with a fact sheet that must be read to be believed:


2,350 CREW


5,610 GUESTS





It’s all caps because I copy/pasted it off the fact sheet, sorry. Also: There are eight separate “neighborhoods” onboard, which I suspect is designed to make this enormous floating city seem smaller, somehow, although if small is what you’re after, why not book a smaller ship? Dumb question, I know. Cruising on this vessel is all about what you’ll tell the folks back home upon your arrival.

It’s as long as the longest Great Lakes freighters, and as tall as…can’t say. It looks weird and top-heavy, but that’s probably my uneducated eye. I can only say that, judging from the view from the causeway, I’d rather be towed behind in a dinghy than go aboard. I recall too many stories about norovirus, Covid, and what was the one that went dead in the water somewhere off the coast of Alabama a few years ago? CNN covered it like the Hiroshima bomb, and maybe that’s to be expected, as surely some of the passengers stranded aboard longed for the sweet fiery release of a nuclear explosion. I remember looking at the long-lens video shots of the ship shimmering in waves of heat coming off the Gulf of Mexico, and thinking: Fuck it, I’d go overboard and swim for it.

But people who cruise purely love cruising, and if that’s what they want, bless ’em. I wonder what the Finnish shipbuilders thought of this thing as they assembled it.

As I write this, the voters of New Hampshire are making their wishes known. This guy is surely one of them, and his story has been a minor social-media topic the last few days, and why not:

BEDFORD, N.H. — “This,” Ted Johnson told me, “is what I hope.” We were here the other day at a bar not far from his house, and we were talking about Donald Trump and the possibility he could be the president again by this time next year. “He breaks the system,” he said, “he exposes the deep state, and it’s going to be a miserable four years for everybody.”

“For everybody?” I said.


“For you?”

“I think his policies are going to be good,” he said, “but it’s going to be hard to watch this happen to our country. He’s going to pull it apart.”

As the story goes on, it’s plain this guy is lying. It’s not going to be hard for him to watch, whatever scenario this Northwoods idiot has in his head. He’s going to love it, plainly love it, because it’s going to punish everyone he dislikes, and that is a very long list.

It starts with his brother, from whom he is estranged, because what is family compared to Donald Trump, avenging angel?

Johnson started talking about “Russia-gate” and “Biden’s scandals” and Hunter Biden. What, I wondered, did Hunter Biden have to do with Nikki Haley? “She’s not going to hold anybody accountable for what they’ve done,” Johnson told me. “People need to be held accountable. That’s why you’ve got to break the system to fix the system,” he said. “Because it’s a zero-sum game right now. And to be honest with you, the Democrats are genius. They did anything they could do to win and gain power, even if they lie, cheat, steal. … What they’re doing is they’re destroying the country. Who could bring it back?” He answered his own question: “Trump’s the only one.”

Don’t want to over-paste here, but there is plenty-plenty more, and lest you think this guy is a trod-upon Deplorable, think again. He’s well-off, retired military with a great work-from-home job, a big house worth about three-quarters of a million, and more anger than you’d expect from a man living so well.

I used to think the people who said that MAGA was all about Trump giving people permission to hate others were a little bit dramatic. They weren’t. They flatly despise people they don’t understand, and it makes them feel good to do so.

And so they do.

OK. It has rained, drearily and near-freezingly, all the livelong day. School was cancelled last night, so no morning swim for me. So I’m feeling puffy and thinking I should maybe scrub a bathroom or something.

Posted at 3:21 pm in Current events, Popculch | 80 Comments

Bits and bobs.

I hope you all had a pleasant Insurrection Anniversary Weekend. The observances around here were minimal, mostly a lot of coughing, mostly on Alan’s part. Me, I think I may be over it, but as always, more will be revealed. Probably Monday. (On edit: It is now Monday. Still sick, but not terribly so.) We watched “Maestro” and were underwhelmed. Made salmon. Did the laundry.

Now I’m killing Sunday night scrolling through Golden Globes photos. Some astonishingly ugly turnouts, even considering it’s the starter event for awards season and often a little off-the-wall. Tom and Lorenzo liked this, but OMG no, Bella Ramsey, I don’t care if you’re nonbinary, this is not a goddamn bowling league banquet:

They also loved this, but I’m a hard no on peplums pretty much everywhere:

That’s Da’Vine Joy Randolph, from “The Holdovers.”

We’re in full agreement on Meryl Streep, however:

(We both loved it.)

Moving on to my new Monday hate-read: Paul W. Smith, who’s a local talk-radio host published by The Detroit News, where he files no more than six or seven paragraphs of prose so slight it barely qualifies as elevator small talk between the 10th and 25th floor. What’s more, they put it behind a paywall, because lord knows only the readers who pay for the paper should have the privilege of reading this:

Aside from many religious related exclamations of “miracles” over the years, one of the most famous such exclamations/questions of our lifetime had to be on Feb. 22, 1980, when extraordinary sportscaster Al Michaels blurted out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” at the end of the United States’ 4-3 upset of the USSR in the 1980 Olympic hockey semifinals in Lake Placid, New York. The U.S. then went on to win the gold medal.

I have a new miracle. In fact, I am proclaiming it the first one of 2024.

The miracle at Japan’s Haneda Airport. Japan Airlines flight 516.

That long windup in the first graf makes me chuckle, it’s so full of cheese — “exclamations/questions,” the precise date, “extraordinary” Al Michaels, the full quote, the score, the date again, the city, the medal. Because lord knows this obscure moment from sporting history needs to be fully illuminated in the opening sentence. I’m surprised he didn’t mention the movie, too.

Then, the technique I’m calling the Albom Drop: But I have a new one. [new paragraph] The new thing.

More cut-and-paste from the wire services follows, detailing the crash in Japan, etc. etc. And he still manages to get the miraculous escape, in which all the passengers survived, wrong:

The well-trained crew of 12, along with a veteran pilot with 12,000 hours of flight experience, led to a relative absence of panic while passengers remained seated awaiting instructions.

See, I differ on this. I’m sure the crew did their jobs. But what saved the 379 people aboard wasn’t the crew. It was the fact they’re Japanese, raised in a culture where following instructions for the greater good of the collective is a bedrock value. If Japanese passengers in a clutch situation are told to get up, leave everything behind and swiftly exit via the inflated slides, they’re going to do it without an argument.

Anyone who’s flown on an American airline knows exactly how this would have ended at one of our airports. Fifty people might have made it off, and the rest would have been barbecued in jet fuel as passengers clawed at the overhead compartments, trying to rescue their laptops, wallets or favorite shoes, angrily pushing back at anyone who tried to hurry them toward the exits, screeching I HAVE A WORK PRESENTATION ON THAT COMPUTER AND MY BONUS DEPENDS ON IT.

Eight paragraphs, due to the Albom Drop. If it took him 10 minutes to write, he took a bathroom break in the middle.

More photos? Yes. Here’s one for my Columbus readers. I was telling Alan some Dispatch stories the other day, and recalled the Bonhams, a married couple who presided over the Sunday books page. We only saw them one day a week. Fridays were payday in the newsroom, and in those days before direct deposit, it meant everyone came in on Fridays — all the regional correspondents, the farm reporter (who wore bib overalls, and was hilarious), and the contributors like the Bonhams, who assembled and proofed their Sunday page. They were…well, “old-fashioned” would be the polite adjective. They took over from another weirdo, whose singular accomplishment of note was keeping books he considered “dirty” off the paper’s best-seller lists. I don’t remember how he did it — it was before my time — but Marge, our bridal reporter, said he was furious when “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” sat atop the lists for months at a time. I don’t know if he asterisk’d or simply ignored it, but if you had a book that did unexpectedly well in Columbus during the 1970s, that might be the reason.

Anyway, the Bonhams were cut from the same cloth. One of my colleagues described their ideal volume as “Twenty Years of Steam Trolleys,” and that’s pretty close. But they also hankered to be authors themselves, and when the Dispatch agreed to print a collection of their columns in book form, they came up with the perfect title:

I didn’t buy it, or even nick it out of the library, no. I told Alan this story, which he found hilarious. A few days later, UPS delivered it to our doorstep. The used bookseller was clearly so thrilled to get this dog out of her collection, she threw in another small-press volume, something called “Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction.”

I’ve been paging through the Bonhams’ prose for a few days. My fave so far is “Some Books That Press My Anger Buttons,” which I’ll summarize for you: Books that tell the reader how to succeed with no thought of others; books that run down America; books with “vulgar scenes and bad language”; and “books that exploit celebrities.” This column contains my favorite line so far: An author I know, who is a good writer and is working on a book, is being pushed by his publisher to put a homosexual scene in the manuscript. “Never!” says the author. “Even if it means my book will never be published.”

Seeing as how I’ve gone on at length beating up on three writers, let me finish with some praise: This biblioholic received Zadie Smith’s “The Fraud” for Christmas, and is enjoying it very much. Happy Monday, all, and send healing vibes this way.

Posted at 8:13 am in Current events, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 34 Comments


And justlikethat, we’re into birthday season. The birthday twins will be celebrating later today, and I have to get up and start cooking in a bit, so until then, let’s have a little fun.

And play Connections!

Which may be entirely unknown to those of you who don’t have NYT subscriptions, but let me just say: The Times is killing it in their Games section. It’s not just the venerable crossword puzzle anymore, but an expanding array of phone-friendly games like Wordle, Tiles, Spelling Bee, Letter Boxed and Sudoku.

But Connections is my new fave. It looks simple: Take a tiled array of 16 words and divide them into four groups. Here’s a recent one:

The groups are color-coded: Yellow, green, blue, purple. Yellow is the easiest level, purple the trickiest. You get four mistakes, after which you’re locked out until the following day. I almost always solve it, and as I’ve gotten better at it, I’m starting to hold myself to my own standards — zero mistakes, maybe, or getting blue or purple first. But as you can see looking at these 16, you have to consider which words might have more than one meaning, and might belong in multiple categories. “Waffle,” for instance, could belong with “waver,” as the two are synonyms in one sense of the word. It might also go with “hedge,” when you think about it — they’re all ways of putting off a firm decision.

But that’s for the easier levels. The key to getting a difficult level first, I’ve found, is to pick a word that seemingly has no similarities with anything else, and then bear down. On this one, I did pretty well once I started thinking about the apparent outlier “Russian.” Once I connected it with “bloody” and “mule,” I was home free. This is how I solved it:

As you can see, “hedge” and “waver” did go together, but not with “waffle.”

Anyway, it’s a fun thing to knock out over your second cup of coffee. Always the second — I’m still fuzzy until the first hits home.

Since we’re nearing the end of the month, let’s do some gift links to other NYT content. Here’s an interesting column about the why-aren’t-people-marrying-anymore conundrum that looks at it from the ground level:

On the rare occasions that women are actually asked about their experiences with relationships, the answers are rarely what anyone wants to hear. In the late 1990s, the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas interviewed 162 low-income single mothers in Camden, N.J., and Philadelphia to understand why they had children without being married. “Money is seldom the primary reason” why mothers say they are no longer with their children’s fathers. Instead, mothers point to “far more serious” offenses: “It is the drug and alcohol abuse, the criminal behavior and consequent incarceration, the repeated infidelity, and the patterns of intimate violence that are the villains looming largest in poor mothers’ accounts of relational failure.”

But it doesn’t take behavior this harmful to discourage marriage; often, simple compatibility or constancy can be elusive. Ms. Camino, for her part, has dabbled in dating since her partner left, but hasn’t yet met anyone who shares her values, someone who’s funny and — she hesitates to use the word “feminist” — but a man who won’t just roll his eyes and say something about being on her period whenever she voices an opinion. The last person she went out with “ghosted” her, disappearing without warning after four months of dating. “There are women that are just out here trying, and the men aren’t ready,” she told me. “They don’t care, most of them.” Who, exactly, is Ms. Camino supposed to marry?

With that, I gotta get cookin’. But first, today’s Connections. Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 1:54 pm in Popculch | 51 Comments

Haunted? Hooray.

On my drive back and forth from Columbus last weekend, I passed several signs for an attraction called “Haunted Hoorah,” which was a little puzzling. Zombie cheerleaders?

No. It’s a reference to the Marine…cheer? Don’t know what you’d call “hoorah” as it applies to U.S. Marines, and I bet Jeff Gill will set us straight presently. But the website offers more clarity:

Haunted Hoorah is a 15,000 square foot, ten acre facility located in Marion, Ohio. You become part of the story, in this unique, interactive, Military/Sci-fi themed haunted attraction!

Attacking your senses and fears with every twist and turn. The Haunted Hoorah’s fright begins on a military transport as recruits travel to the first haunted destination – Joint Research Base Hoorah. Each recruit comes face to face with the doctor as he determines whether or not you have the substance necessary to be used in his super soldier creation program. Do you have what it takes? Come to the Haunted Hoorah for an experience that you will never forget.

Um, no thanks! But thanks for clearing that up. A few days later, I caught a Marketplace segment on the business of “scream parks,” which is what haunted houses — and they’re much more than houses — are called.

Haunted houses are so 20 years ago. If a building can be commandeered for a month, almost anything can be haunted. When I was in college in Athens, the haunting was at a vacant hospital. (“Wait until you see the maternity ward,” one of the builders confided.) Here in Detroit, they’re cashing in on the decades of scary stories connected to the Eloise Psychiatric Hospital, closed 40 years ago but still OMG CREEPY. One of my great regrets was never visiting the — I love this name — Haunted Scary Building in Detroit, on Mack Avenue in Detroit. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. They had a barbecue barrel set up across the street doing a brisk business. The following year, the Haunted Scary Building had been sold and demolished. Damn. There’s also a haunted car wash somewhere nearby. The Haunted Garage, at the end of my street, does a land-office business. On November 1, they strike the set and put up an over-the-top Christmas display, of course.

The various hauntings put on by evangelical Christian concerns were almost all terrible, inviting laughs, not screams. Oh look, a girl is having an abortion. Someone else is facing the fires of hell. Inevitably, you’ll hear someone in the crowd say they’re just not stoned enough for this bullshit.

Even worse was a haunted…something. Maybe it was a vacant Sears store? It was put on by the Fort Wayne police, and it was just terrible. A friend and I did a tour of several of these places for a column, and in that one, even the police couldn’t get into it. “Here’s a guy who made some bad choices,” one said, turning on a light that illuminated a skeleton lying in a coffin, still wearing his gang colors. So lame. I think the worse choice was trusting the FWPD to do justice to his story.

Back to the Haunted Hoorah, it’s a wonder they had to blend “sci-fi” into their military attraction. From what I’ve heard about Parris Island, it sounds scary enough just by itself. Battle a ghoul with pugil sticks! March for 25 miles before you’ve had coffee! Watch the rest of the platoon laugh at your girlfriend’s nudes!

Oh well, happy Halloween to all who celebrate.

Not much bloggage today, but here’s a gift link to an insanely long and even crazier story about the relationship between Kanye West and Adidas from today’s NYT. It is NUTS:

Just weeks before the 2013 swastika incident, The Times found, Mr. West made Adidas executives watch pornography during a meeting at his Manhattan apartment, ostensibly to spark creativity. In February 2015, preparing to show the first Yeezy collection at New York Fashion Week, staff members complained that he had upset them with angry, sexually crude comments.

He later advised a Jewish Adidas manager to kiss a picture of Hitler every day, and he told a member of the company’s executive board that he had paid a seven-figure settlement to one of his own senior employees who accused him of repeatedly praising the architect of the Holocaust.

This is what it’s like to work for an unmedicated manic-depressive, evidently. Amazing.

Have a great week, all.

Posted at 9:12 pm in Popculch | 77 Comments

Lucky son-of-a-gun.

I was never much of a Jimmy Buffett fan. Which is to say, I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t buy his records or certainly, lord knows, call myself a Parrothead. The first song of his I remember hearing was “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” which I loved, and still do. But everything else? Overplayed and ultimately drilled into my brain by aggressive radio programmers. I’d purely love to never hear “Margaritaville” again. But I won’t be that lucky.

In 2016, in the days after we returned from Iceland, my friend Dustin took me with him to the Buffett show at Pine Knob amphitheater here. It was …fine, I guess. Nothing objectionable about it. Here’s a picture from that night, with Jimmy out front in blue:

That’s a big ensemble for a singer-songwriter; I count three guitars, keys, two background singers, steel drums, conga drums, regular drums, bass, a shaky-percussion-stuff guy and I’m not sure about the guy at the top left – maybe steel guitar? Can’t tell. That’s 12 souls making music; pretty easy to make a big sound that way. I’m sure this was during the number I wrote about on this very blog at the time:

That said, it was fun, although by the end I could fairly say I was sick of steel drums, the stupid talking coconut and especially the insistent pandering to the locals. By which I mean? The song – don’t ask me to name it, because I don’t know – about beautiful places. The accompanying video montage started with images of Buffettville, beaches and swaying palms and so on, but transitioned to the cool blue lakes and pine forests of Michigan, before ending with a giant map of Michigan, just in case the drunker members of the audience didn’t get it.

But how can you argue with his success? And that, it seems to me, came down to the exquisite timing of certain boomers, who right-place-right-timed it into a fortune. Much of his music was crap, but he was perfectly positioned to cash in on the rest of it. Parrotheads were the original superfan cult, way before the Beyhive and Swifties, formed before social media – or even the internet – made it possible to connect online. (I recall reading one power city for Parrotheads was Cincinnati, stocked as it was with fresh-scrubbed Procter & Gamble sales people whose professional lives were so bland and boring they leapt at the chance to spend a night pretending to be a sozzled beach bum.) Opening the Margaritaville restaurants was a natural move at a time when places like the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood were making millions. The books? Why not? His brother-in-law was Thomas McGuane.

Basically, Jimmy was “extending his brand,” as we say these days, years before Gwyneth, Rhianna, Lizzo or any other pop-music celebrity was. Showbiz is gig work, forever and ever, and even successful gig workers can fall off a financial cliff. It’s nice to have multiple income streams. Diversify.

Couple other points to make: I really liked this piece by Greg Olear, on Substack, about “Margaritaville,” both song and concept:

Margaritaville is not a place; it’s a state of mind. And it’s not a healthy state of mind, not a lucid state of mind, not a happy state of mind. “Margaritaville” is awesome; Margaritaville sucks. What’s more, our drunken narrator knows it sucks. That’s why he calls it that, channeling the Rat Pack: to be ironic. He’s not bragging about being wasted on cheap tequila, as it appears at first glance, and as college kids who take to the song assume; he’s articulating his shame—confessing his sins—and by doing so, coming to terms with his pain.

…He is heartbroken. He is wallowing in self-pity. But there is no blame game—not anymore. Unlike certain FPOTUSes that come to mind, he is able to accept responsibility and own the consequences of his actions. There is no festering grievance. There is no embrace of full-on misogyny. He doesn’t start up a podcast and emulate Andrew Tate or Jordan Peterson. He doesn’t take the red pill. He doesn’t text Mark Meadows about barges coming for the Biden crime family. He looks deep within himself, admits the error of his ways, and grows from the experience.

“Margaritaville” is about a brokenhearted guy who hits rock bottom before turning his life around. That’s the genius of the song. The genius of Jimmy Buffett is that he was able to parlay the chill, fun-in-the-sun vibes of his greatest hit into a commercial empire.

It goes on from there, and is absolutely correct, although anyone who watched Reagan youth waving the stars and stripes to “Born in the USA,” an angry, bitter song about the loss of the American dream, can only shrug. I disagree the song is genius; it’s just misunderstood, probably thanks to the bouncy melody, marimbas and all the rest of it. Even “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” another song about regret and bad choices, is embraced by the fans as romantic, not tragic. The marimbas are subtler in that song, but you can hear them in the background, like the sound from a party a ways down the beach. American pop-music fans aren’t deep thinkers. As they used to say on “American Bandstand,” if it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it, it’ll be a hit.

Anyway, farewell to Jimmy Buffett, a brother-in-law whose books far outsold a great novelist, a restaurateur who made a fortune on cheeseburgers, a musician who cashed in magnificently on a few happy-sounding tunes, a guy who toured when he felt like it, paying 11 people to back him up. I don’t know if he had any last words, but if he did, I hope they were “use sunscreen.”

A simple Parrothead couple at Pine Knob, 2016: A cooler, a kiddie pool and a summer late afternoon.

Posted at 2:48 pm in Popculch | 38 Comments

Get me rewrite.

One of the stories in journalism these days is about artificial intelligence, and what it’s doing to the industry, as news organizations race to their ultimate goal of having no actual employees (but still lots of readers/viewers).

My alma mater, the Columbus Dispatch, was embarrassed when the AI it was using to write high-school sports stories (thereby confirming the silent opinion of scores of newsroom observers of the sports department, ha ha just kidding not you Kirk but definitely that one guy whose name I forget) glitched so badly it was turning out stuff like:

“The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday,” the story reads.

May I just say that I would buy, and wear the shit out of, a T-shirt that reads “Go [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]],” especially if it came in Dri-Fit. Mistakes like that never would have seen the light of day in the olden days, but apparently this one did, because AI not only wrote that sentence, it published it, too. Oopsie.

Today, The Detroit News had a great story about a guy in Port Huron, the sort who would have once been described as a “gadfly,” who has set up an entire local-“news” website written by AI, right down to fake photos of the non-existent reporters whose bylines appear on the stories.

Here’s “Dwight Dixon:”

And here’s “Jurgen Diggler:”

Can’t forget “Stephanie Love:”

I would link to The Detroit News story, but it’s paywalled, because real reporters have to eat and pay rent. But I’ll summarize the best I can: The owner of this site was hard to find, and was traced through the administrators of a Facebook page connected to another publication, which was eventually rebranded as the Blue Water Current, and it sounds as though everyone involved is a real piece of work:

One of the administrators of the Current’s Facebook page is Kevin Lindke, who works at Blue Water Healthy Living. Smith [owner of Blue Water Healthy Living] said he hired Lindke in June because he liked how the self-appointed community watchdog kept tabs on public officials.

Lindke routinely files public records requests and scours government documents and court transcripts. He sometimes breaks news on his popular Facebook page before the local newspaper.

He isn’t above ad hominem attacks, referring to frequent targets as “Twerp,” “Miss Piggy” and “Lying Little Munchkin.” He disparages public officials daily as drunks, philanderers and pedophile sympathizers.

(May I just say? We waste a lot of time talking about whether we’re courting civil war or whatever, but if someone called me or anyone else a pedophile without producing a rap sheet to back it up, I’d be on their doorstep with an axe, not hiring that person. So I’m already inclined to think everyone in this story is not what you’d call quality folks.)

Lindke says his goal is to be a “trusted and respected local news source,” but so far it’s not going well, as the AI is producing copy like this:

“The occurrence of the storm on July 20th, a date forever marked in our collective memory, bore witness to the unwelcomed presence of golf-ball sized hail.”

Also, Lindke referred to his “staff” thusly:

“We’ve assembled a top-tier team of writers,” he wrote on Aug. 4.

Anyway, I don’t want to bite the whole News story. I visited Blue Water Current and found a story about the death of Jimmy Buffett. Here’s the top:

I screenshot it because another thing in the DN story is, this guy pulls down stories without explanation. The rest of it doesn’t improve, but it’s a good reminder that AI only regurgitates what it’s learned by reading human-written prose, and hoo-boy is this a good reminder of how shitty that can be. Besides that “iconic” and dumb alliteration in the lead, I also spotted “outpouring,” “arguably,” and this kicker:

In the wake of his passing, one thing is clear: Jimmy Buffett’s music and spirit will continue to inspire and bring joy to generations to come. So, here’s to Jimmy Buffett, the master of chill. Raise your margarita in his honor.

In other words, we have taught AI all this stuff. And people think great writing doesn’t matter anymore.

Posted at 4:15 pm in Media, Popculch | 24 Comments

A bit busy.

You remember a few days back, when I said my planner has three lines at the bottom of the weekly page? Logging workouts, morning pages and blogs? I just looked at it and realized, oops.

But life has been crazy-busy this week, and this weekend in particular. It ended with us seeing “Oppenheimer,” thus completing the Barbenheimer cinematic diptych of the summer, so: Checked that box, but missed my blogging window.

I didn’t like “Oppenheimer” nearly as much as “Barbie,” but then again, the fact they’re both films is about all they have in common. It certainly has its place in the world, but my viewing suffered from not being a science nerd well-acquainted with every brilliant PhD who worked on the Manhattan Project. I knew about Oppenheimer, knew about Teller, but beyond that? Not much. So a great deal of the sub- and backstory was lost on me. And sorry, but why anyone would think they need to see this in IMAX is baffling — most of the action consists of people talking to one another in medium shots. In fact, my biggest disappointment was that the detonation of the first bomb, the Trinity test, was not really the film’s climax; it goes on for an hour afterward.

Maybe the draw is seeing Florence Pugh’s breasts in IMAX, I dunno.

We settled for a regular old wide-screen movie theater, and it was just fine (breasts and bomb). The explosion was very well-done, and I’m glad Oppy’s famous reaction line from the Bhagavad Gita was underplayed; I get the feeling someone like Spielberg would have dolled it up more. But the performances were very good, the story important, and it left me with lots to think about, including how a person with a brain like Oppenheimer’s interacts with the rest of the world. I certainly don’t understand quantum physics or mechanics, but the fact this achievement was followed by the 20th century equivalent of the MAGA era must have been almost physically painful for people that smart. It certainly made me wince that we only recently had a president who spoke of nuking hurricanes and countries and so on, as though these were special effects to be deployed, not weapons of mass destruction. Speaking of dumb.

Do I have bloggage? Why yes I do:

Neil Steinberg parts with one matchbook he’s been holding on to for 40 years, and has an epiphany: I could get used to this:

I’m at an age when I’m surrounded by great masses of detritus, aka, crap. Files and furniture, notes and boxes, mugs, souvenirs, relics. I hate to include books, which are holy, but hundreds of books, most of which I’ll never read. After I wrote the above, I went to walk the dog, and can’t tell you how good I felt. The mixture of performing a small kindness plus the liberation of divestment was a real boost. Only a little thing, true: an old, used matchbook. But it’s a start of the great give-away that will end with me being put, possessionless, into the ground.

Death-cleaning. It becomes more important the closer you get to, um, death, and damn, but it feels great.

Alan and I used to watch “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” when we first got together, so it has some special significance to me. Losing Paul Reubens last week was tough, but we’re all going to the undiscovered country eventually, so I wasn’t upset. This Hank Stuever appreciation of Pee Wee (gift link) was very good and exactly right, I thought:

There were a lot of ways to both fall in love with Reubens’s character and to also find him annoying, but there was no denying that he, along with other retro acts (the B-52’s come to mind) had harnessed a longing for and a lampooning of a B-movie, mid-century vibe: In the high time of Pee-wee Herman, every fun city had at least one gift store that sold inflatable Godzillas and cat’s-eye sunglasses and chile-pepper Christmas lights along with sardonic, non-Hallmark greeting cards.

And, more important:

Now, in a culture derailed by childish taunts and vicious politics (“I know you are, but what am I — infinity”), fixated on all the wrong kinds of nostalgia, where drag queens and other groovy outliers are publicly pilloried and accused of trying to corrupt children, it is becoming quite clear that things are increasingly less safe for anyone who deigns to be different. Just when the world could use Pee-wee’s keen and welcoming sense of humor, we lost him.


OK then, deeper into August we go.

Posted at 12:36 pm in Movies, Popculch, Television | 85 Comments