What’s on your bookshelf?

Another week in the books, and I can’t quite understand how it happened. You ever get that way? Monday dawns, and it’s another grind ahead, and then you look up and it’s Friday, and you’re another week older.

Not that I wish to depress you. It’s just something that happens.

Today I found Barack Obama’s year-end list of his reading and viewing, and once again, regretted… well, you know what we regret:

That’s a two-page list, by the way. I’ve read two books on there, total — “Harlem Shuffle” and “Leave the World Behind.” I’m clearly not smart enough to touch the hem of Barack Obama’s garment, but I think we could share a laugh at a cocktail party. I read “Harlem Shuffle” in Paris, where I learned that every current best-seller on the U.S. list is available in Europe in a fancy paperback, which is maybe not important to you until you have to schlep this stuff through one, two or more airports.

I did better on the movie list:

Saw three of these – “Pig,” “Summer of Soul” and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” all excellent. I want to see the rest, but after the “House of Gucci” experience, I can wait until they play in the living-room cinema.

As you can no doubt tell, the holidays are sapping my energy, as is the January 6 subcommittee and all the rest of it. One of these days I’ll find something to say about it, but for now, probably just as well to look at other people’s reading lists.

Back after the weekend.

Posted at 8:44 pm in Popculch | 46 Comments

One star.

I forgot to tell you guys about our Friday evening over the weekend. The three of us went to see “House of Gucci,” and for Alan and me, it was our first trip to see a movie in a theater since the pandemic. The movie was just OK — more on that in a minute — but the experience of watching it in the theater was? Awful.

No wonder everyone is trying to short AMC stock. The whole experience was interminable and expensive.

If you’re going to a movie these days, especially a first-run movie the first weekend it’s open, you should expect to pay the top price, but holy shit — $14 per ticket, and that’s the beginning. Popcorn — two small popcorns, mind you — were $16. They were salty, so we got three beers to carry in. $35, plus tip. We’re now t $100 for three people to see a movie.

Showtime: 6 p.m. The previews start, and keep going. And going, and going. They ran for 25 minutes, followed by five minutes of turn-off-your-phone spots and a long one featuring Nicole Kidman, extolling the experience of seeing a movie in a theater. The movie finally started at 6:30. It was nearly two and a half hours, which meant we were there for three.

And it wasn’t very good. The short version: Everybody speaks in a mamma-mia-that’s-a-spicy-meatball accent, which somewhat obscures the clunky dialogue but doesn’t obscure that the movie is too long, verges on camp, veers wildly in tone and, most appallingly, is a movie about a fashion house that contains hardly any fashion.
Although Lady Gaga looks great and that’s about all I can say about it.

See it yourself if you want; maybe you’ll love it.

But enough about my petty complaints. Today we had a school shooting in exurban suburbia. Three dead so far, eight injured, including a teacher. It’s going to be a brutal few days, and I’m not looking forward to it. Who would?

Random France photo, on a government building. As national mottos go, it’s a good one:

Posted at 8:38 pm in Movies, Popculch | 45 Comments

Loose ends.

And…I am back. The Stones were great. I put off updating here until the column I wrote about it was published, as it is pretty much all I have to say about it, except for maybe this:

Leaving a football stadium with 30,000 other people the same week that Michigan led the nation in new Covid cases did not feel good. I had a mask on, but my friend kept muttering “CovidflumeCovidflumeCovidflume” behind me, and I fear he was right. I guess now we test the power of the ol’ booster.

I’ve never been to a Lions game. I was in Ford Field once before, to do an interview with someone who had an office there. Modern stadiums — stadia? — are marvels, especially if you’ve ever watched a Green Bay Packers game, or remember that Bengals-Chargers (? I think it was them) Freezer Bowl at Riverfront Stadium in 1980-whenever. Climate control is a miracle. I hope all those high ceilings kept the air moving, because: See previous paragraph.

Tuesday I and the Birthday Twins went to dinner at a local tapas bar, and Kate updated us on the exciting life of a rock musician/sound engineer. At the Seattle show, which was a festival scattered around multiple small clubs over three days, she walked into the green room and saw Michael Imperioli sitting there. Seems Christufuh has a band. They did not speak. Then they flew home on Delta instead of Spirit — “They give you a free cookie!” — and in another couple of days she’ll be freezing her ass off, doing live sound for the holiday tree lighting downtown. Living the dream.

It’s been a week. Next week will be bigger.

In the meantime, as we wait to watch the jury acquit Kyle Rittenhouse, let’s be grateful that as fucked-up as this country is at the moment, we can still despise Paul Gosar as one.

Good weekend, all. I’m off to pick out my turkey.

Random France photo: Used camera shop.

Posted at 11:01 am in Popculch | 64 Comments

This could be the last time.

You may not see much of me midweek, for lo, I am going to the Rolling Stones concert Monday night here in Detroit.

Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. No, I do: A friend asked if I’d like to go, and I said sure, why not. At the time, we thought we were buying tickets for a summer 2020 show, and I liked the symmetry: 25 years after the first (and only) time I’d seen the Stones. Five years after Kate’s first (and only) time seeing the Stones, both of us in the days after our respective high-school graduations. I figured it would be the last time (maybe the last time, I don’t know), but why not? Have the Rolling Stones ever disappointed us? Who cares if everyone is old? Isn’t that a triumph in and of itself? Isn’t that worth an evening of my life?

So I’m going to see the Stones with two friends. Kate, flying in from a weekend gig in Seattle, might be there with another friend — depends on whether everything is on time. Our seats won’t be close, but we’ll be under the same roof, and that’s symmetry enough.

But I’ll probably be very tired on Tuesday, fading into Wednesday. You never know.

On to more depressing topics: There’s a missing man in East Lansing, a 19-year-old who disappeared the weekend of the MSU-UM game two weeks ago. Last seen leaving a dorm. He wasn’t a student there, but at another school, in Grand Rapids. Since the last anyone saw or heard from him, his phone hasn’t been used, ditto his credit cards. As you can imagine, his family and friends are devastated, and there are prayer vigils, searches and fundraising for rewards and such. You can’t give up, they say, and I absolutely agree. It’s the not knowing that’s the worst, they say, and I agree with that, too. But I have a feeling I know where he is, and it’s not good. You tell me what your conclusion would be, factoring in that the football game is always a blowout party weekend, that the red dot is the dorm he left to walk back to his car and his phone last pinged on Beal Street:

I think he’s in the river. It’s terrible.

I can’t go further than speculation, because I don’t know the depth of the river there, and how hard it is to get to from the roadbed. But it puts me in mind of the deaths at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse some years back:

Between 1997 and 2006, La Crosse experienced tragedy after tragedy as 8 separate college students were found to have drowned in the Mississippi River. The deaths, contrary to some “serial killer” theories put forth, were determined to be the results of excessive drinking combined with a close physical proximity to Riverside Park, bordering the Mississippi River.

You don’t say. The 2006 victim had a blood-alcohol level of .32. I was thinking of these deaths when I worked on the college-drinking project for Bridge some years back. That year, there had already been three in Michigan – a Chinese freshman, a girl, who died of alcohol poisoning before classes even started (BAC >.40); a kid who thought it would be fun to cross the glass roof on Nickels Arcade in Ann Arbor (.20), and fell through; and a weekend visitor to Central Michigan who got lost walking late at night and stumbled into a pond in a garden and drowned (can’t recall his BAC, but he was drunk).

One might think, “But why would he go down to the river? That makes no sense.” But drunks often do things that make no sense. That’s one of the side effects, you drinkers might remember from the last time you were overserved. As I recall from our reporting, the single most dangerous time for college-drinking misadventures is the first semester of freshman year. All of this lines up with the missing 19-year-old here.

Rivers flow, and bodies flow with them. Cold water holds them down for a while, but eventually they get caught on something, stop their downstream progress and, in time, reach the surface. I expect his parents will get him home, soon enough. You always hope for a miracle and who knows, maybe he’s in Florida, having slipped the bonds of civilization’s expectations and lighting out for the territories. But I doubt it.

When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.

On a cheerier note, random French picture, this one sunset at Arles after a long, dreary storm:

I’ll say hi to Mick and Keef for y’all. Back whenever.

Posted at 5:41 pm in Current events, Popculch | 52 Comments

There she went.

I see Alex posted the excerpt from the Miss America book in yesterday’s comments, about the year Vanessa Williams won. It’s very good; if you haven’t used up your WashPost clicks this month, I recommend you spend one on it.

I attended, and covered, the Miss A pageant the year before that. I always have had abysmal timing, but 1982 was the year Miss Ohio was a local girl, and that’s the year the paper decided to send me. I flew to Philadelphia and then took a puddle-jumper to A.C., and there I was, at Miss America.

And yes, you can hum those last six words in the tune of the famous song. But that year, and I believe Vanessa’s year as well, it was not sung as the newly crowned Miss A took her first walk. It had something to do with firing Bert Parks and maybe he had copyright? Can’t recall. But the song that year was called “Miss America, You’re Beautiful,” sung by Gary Collins, Parks’ replacement. It didn’t go over well, and a deal was struck with Parks and “There She Is” came back.

I’m sure I’ve told all these stories before, so I won’t bore you. But as far as Amy Argetsinger’s excellent history goes, she notes an old Texas pageant coach told his own charge, well before they arrived in Atlantic City, the following:

“Miss New York is going to win,” he said. “She will be the first Black Miss America.”

I don’t doubt it, because even I had heard that. It wasn’t that the fix was in, but rather, that the timing was right. Various parties had been pestering the pageant for years for its lily-whiteness and retro ideas about femininity, etc., and they were under the gun to show nuh-uh, they were so not racist, and along came Vanessa Williams, and she was…perfect. Black, unmistakably so, but light-skinned, blue-eyed, fine-featured, tawny hair. She was Black, but entirely in the Miss America mold. And she could sing, god, she could sing. Looked great in a swimsuit. The whole package.

After my year at the pageant, I would read anything I could find about it, and I saw an interview before the ’83 pageant with Debra Maffett, who had won the year I was there. Miss California, wore the famous Lucky Swimsuit, another one you could tell was going to be in the top five just by looking at her. And even she said, in that interview, that “the time was right for a black Miss America.” My point being: Vanessa Williams was someone everyone saw coming.

That was such a weird week, hanging backstage at the pageant, doing interviews with any Miss who would consent to one, and they all consented, knowing the worth of a little press. I was the same age they were, and yet, they were…so. So polished, so sparkly, so…not charismatic, more like packaged. No other woman my age wore her hair the way they did, unless she was a TV news anchor or something, curled and teased and sprayed into a helmet. None of my friends wore that much makeup. And none of my friends read Time magazine like Talmudic scholars read scripture, so they could drop an opinion on Israeli foreign policy on cue. They were weird. I am an outgoing person, but couldn’t imagine being friends with any of those creatures, except maybe Miss Florida, who came in a bad girl (DUI) and left one, too. You could see the real person inside, trying to escape. The rest held their own actual personalities in with shellack – polish, nail and otherwise, foundation, sequins.

It was an old trick, the day of the swimsuit photo shoots for the wire services, for one of the Misses to jump into the pool they were all posing around, knowing that picture would lead the photo package (and ruining one’s hairdo, so you were effectively excused from doing any more). Miss California did that. I looked her up today: She’s a Trumper, and I see hints of QAnon lurking around there.

Anyway, that would have been roughly 39 years ago, and Miss A is so different now…wait, didn’t the pageant go bankrupt? I can’t remember. But when I saw Miss Michigan at the auto show a few years back, she had a couple of visible tattoos. In her introduction, she was quite the little spark plug. And a women’s studies major. What a hoot.

Another 90 degree day. Considered going out in it? And thought better. Happy Wednesday.

Posted at 9:00 pm in Popculch | 70 Comments

Trying to do better.

I was thinking the other day about some new language we’re all suddenly using. Not new words, but particular phrases. Make space for. And sit with that. And do better. There are a few others that will come to me later, but I ran across a couple of them in a single short piece the other day, and it reminded me how much they bug me.

There’s an undertone of nursey preschool teacher to do better, scolding mommy to sit with that (in your timeout chair), and while I despise the term “virtue signaling,” there’s an undeniable tone of it in make space for. Here’s a wonderful thing that a person who is better than you has made space for. Sit with that a minute (along with your lazy badness). See if you can’t do better, going forward.

I used the word “crazy” in a headline and got a finger in my face about it from a reader, who included a link on why no one is supposed to say crazy anymore, but honestly, “mentally ill idea” doesn’t really express what I was trying to say. Also, “slaves” has been replaced by “enslaved people,” which comes from the same idea that changed “schizophrenic” to “person with schizophrenia” and “manic-depressive” to “person with bipolar disorder.” It emphasizes humanity, but honestly, if it makes that big of a difference to you, maybe your problem was you not fully understanding slavery to begin with. I’m informed that “slave” is a nonhuman noun, but I never saw it that way, except when a photographer showed me his lighting system, which uses the term to describe a particular type of flash.

Twelve Years an Enslaved Person. Person Enslaved to the Rhythm. Doesn’t quite work.

Don’t get me started on the linguistic minefields around transgenderism. I keep my mouth shut. I check my privilege. I sit with that. I make space for the idea that it is better to confuse readers by saying, for instance, “actor Elliot Page has come out as transgender” than to spend even a single phrase explaining that Elliot was once known as E****, because one must never, ever use a deadname. You have to figure it out from the paragraph that says Elliot starred in “Juno” and a couple other films you may or may not have seen. Kate effortlessly uses “they” and “them” to describe nonbinary folks, and I’m never not confused by this, and asking “who else are we talking about?”

I try to have empathy for every member of the human family, but as a writer, my aim is clarity. This doesn’t help.

When Ross Perot was running for president, he addressed an NAACP chapter. He was talking about why NAFTA was bad for working-class people, who are disproportionately not-white, and he said, “Who gets hurt by these trade agreements? You people!” This led to a blizzard of think pieces about the term “you people,” how condescending it is, etc. etc. A colleague said, “He should have said ‘people of you,'” and I cannot deny it: I laughed, even though I fully understand why colored people is bad, and people of color is not. If Perot had said “you guys” or “you folks,” no one would have said a word, but oh my — you people. Very bad.

I read something yesterday that announced, in an editor’s note at the top, that a particular racial slur used by the subject of the story (describing an incident where the slur had been used to attack her, not by her) had been excised. I got to the part with the slur, and it had been asterisk’d out. So…OK, I get it, that was a good call. But why announce it first? Just do it. It’s talking down to readers, which is a reflection of so much of what we do with each other these days. It’s a writer announcing “I heard the bad word, but I am sparing you, because I’m trying to do better,” even though everybody probably knows the word in question.

Anyway, welcome seems to do the work of make space for. Think about it works for sit with that. Do better is probably something we have to live with, until it’s replaced by something worse. I leave you with this, which I found in the NYT’s Social Q’s column:

Posted at 10:25 am in Popculch | 52 Comments

Which edit? The edit.

My email signature, various online bios, all describe me as a writer and editor. And OK, yes, I get what this phrase — “the edit” — means, but it still gives me a bit of a facial tic:

It’s the definite article with “edit” that bugs me. One minute you’re just a badly paid pen for hire, getting an email or text reading, “Please address my edits,” or “I’ve done my edit,” and the next, cookies are getting edited.

Edit, in these usages, means, “a pre-selected group of something, made by people who know more than you about whatever’s being selected.” The Saks edit:

A whole store, called just…you know:

Note the copy block. The Edit is a store with not just an owner, but a curator. You see that word a lot in Edits, although as someone who’s edited, or been edited, my whole career, I’ve never had a curator, too. (Just an editor!) Maybe I’ll try that on my next note to whoever I’m tasked with editing next: “I am done curating your copy. See the edit, attached.”

It’s just one of those language things. One day you wake up, and no one says, “I gave you a present.” They say, “I’ve gifted you with this sweater.” Sometimes past tense just needs a kick in the ass. Or it’s “the U.S. team” one day, and “Team USA” the next. “Get well soon, Adam” yields to “AdamStrong,” justlikethat.

I blame hashtags.

You can tell what kind of day Tuesday was. Sitting around, waiting for phone calls, wishing I were already retired and could bore people with these sorts of observations full-time.

So I leave you with a little bloggage. Matt Gaetz tried for a blanket pardon:

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, was one of President Donald J. Trump’s most vocal allies during his term, publicly pledging loyalty and even signing a letter nominating the president for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the final weeks of Mr. Trump’s term, Mr. Gaetz sought something in return. He privately asked the White House for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, according to two people told of the discussions.

Ha ha ha. That guy.

OK, hopes for a better Wednesday, here. I hope it is The Edit of good days.

Posted at 7:49 am in Popculch | 69 Comments

Good news.

After a few days, weeks or months like we’ve had, would you be interested in reading an entirely pleasant story that may even make you smile?

Then have at it: How Nancy Faust and her organ set the tone for America’s pastime, a feature about Comiskey Park’s former organist.

We need more good stories about Nancys, in my opinion.

Long days, a night out. I’ll try to be back end of the week, but for now, Nancy Faust and a fresh thread.

Posted at 10:07 pm in Popculch | 100 Comments

Mr. Wrong.

I was born in the late ‘50s, at which point the Depression was still fresh enough in the popular imagination that many of its tropes were fairly widespread. (I should say here that this post is not about the stock market or economic collapse. It’s about pop music.) Among them was the hobo — the man who rambled from town to town, riding the rails, carrying his belongings in a bandanna on a stick. While they were seen as down on their luck, often drunk, just as often they were portrayed as free spirits that society never got its claws into. Every big city had SRO flophouses. No one ever talked about untreated mental illness or the need for more housing or support services. All of which is the long way around to notice that every so often a song will pop up in an oldies mix to remind me of how hard this archetype was sold, especially with regards to women.

I was driving home the other day when Spotify burped up “Gentle on My Mind,” Glen Campbell’s show-closing signature song. It’s a song about a woman who is fondly remembered by one of these footloose souls, and it had been a while since I listened to the lyrics:

It’s knowin’ that your door is always open and your path is free to walk
That makes me want to leave my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed behind your couch…

You’ve heard it. And just in case you think it’s about a long-haul trucker or something, the final verse makes reference to dipping a cup of soup from a gurglin’ cracklin’ cauldron in some train yard, which sounds pretty hobo-trope to me.

Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” introduced us to another romantic bum:

Find me a place in a boxcar
So I take my guitar to pass some time
Late at night, it’s hard to rest
I hold your picture to my chest, and I feel fine

But that’s not all. A decade later came the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man.” When it’s time for leavin’, he hopes you’ll understand that he was born a ramblin’ man.

Carol Leifer used to do a funny routine about Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” something about girl, you need to find a better class of boyfriend. This was in the ‘80s, which shows that finally, finally women were starting to respond to this preposterous romantic archetype.

At least Brandy, that fine girl (what a good wife she would be) had the sense to love a seaman. At least the Merchant Marine is a job.

Times change. Women wake up and smell the coffee in their own kitchens, not the pot bubbling on the fire down in the train yard. They ask themselves, why is my door always open and my path free to walk to this goddamn bum? It reminds me of Rob’s opening monologue in “High Fidelity:”

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

Not long after I discovered Glen Campbell on Spotify, I sent Kate a link to “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife,” a song released when I was 10. Even at 10 I knew it was bullshit.

Sometimes I think too much.

I’m writing this at 6 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Conventional wisdom says Joe has Michigan in the bag, but conventional wisdom about Michigan is often wrong. We shall see who Mr. Right really is.

In the meantime, enjoy midweek.

Posted at 6:09 pm in Popculch | 88 Comments

Video on demand.

I went to a meeting on Tuesday. One of the women there had just had a birthday, and a friend had gifted her with “a Cameo by that guy from the Fyre Festival documentary,” Andy someone. We all watched this thing, a roughly 30-second video in which Fyre Festival Guy called her by her name, specifically mentioned the big milestone (40) and her two kids, then threw in a Fyre Festival joke to wrap it all up.

“What is this…Cameo?” I asked, and got the usual answer: It’s an app.

Boy, is it. It’s an app (and a website) with dozens of photographs on it, along with prices, of individuals ranging from basically unknown to mid-level-oh-that-guy celebrities. For the price quoted, you can hire them to record a brief personalized video. A birthday greeting, congratulations, whatever. I haven’t dived all the way into the site; I assume all this has to be a mutual agreement thing. You can’t put any old words into…Charlie Sheen’s mouth. But that you can get Charlie Sheen at all is kinda amazing, when you think about it.

I got lost, scrolling through the possibilities. Stormy Daniels, $250. Gilbert Gottfried, $150. Tom Arnold, $100. OMG Tomi Lahren, $70!!! (Like anyone would pay that. Even Heidi Montag and Andy Dick fetch more than that.) It’s hilarious, proof that even the nominally famous are not immune from money-grubbing for a few $20s. Sooner or later, this shit will bring on the revolution, and I welcome it. Before it does, though, I’d love to get Stormy to record a birthday greeting for my boss. I’ll even write the script.

So, today. The hearings. I had a lot to do, which meant I could only pay attention here and there. I tried to keep it on in the background, but once Nunes started talking, I simply couldn’t keep my wits about me. I swear, the last three years have taken 10 off my own life. This can’t be good for me. So I muted it and checked in via Twitter from time to time.

My takeaway is that this is going to be bad for the Republicans, but only in the long run, and not as bad as it should be. Anyone stupid enough to put their faith in this moron are unlikely to be moved.

By the way, the snow that fell the other day? It overperformed. We were supposed to get five inches, but it ended up being closer to eight. Because the autumn leaf pickup was only about half over, much of the equipment that would normally clear it away was still fitted with leaf-collecting stuff, not snowplows, and some streets remain kinda rutted because they were only salted, not plowed. Then there was this phenomenon:

Leaves falling on top of snow. It’s unlikely to melt for at least another week, too.

One more link? Sure: A serious book-critic’s review of the Anonymous book:

More often in “A Warning,” actions are not taken; they are almost taken. In a particularly dire circumstance, several top officials consider resigning together, a “midnight self-massacre” that would draw attention to Trump’s mismanagement. “The move was deemed too risky because it would shake public confidence,” Anonymous explains. At any moment, the author writes, there are at least a handful of top aides “on the brink” of quitting. (The brink is a popular hangout for Trump officials.) Anonymous also wonders if Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protests in 2017, when the president drew a moral equivalence between white nationalists and those opposing them, would have been the time for such a gesture. “Maybe that was a lost moment, when a rush to the exits would have meant something.”

It’s like “Profiles in Thinking About Courage.”

Good one. OK, must run. Time to pull in the latchstring and think about Thursday.

Posted at 5:04 am in Current events, Popculch | 61 Comments