October 2-13, 2015

The first weekend in October was supposed to be Afropunk Atlanta, but the 8+ days of rain & the threat of flooding & hurricaning & whatnot led the organizers to cancel the whole thing. It is thus that I found myself driving to Greenville NC in a driving rainstorm with M to attend the North Carolina State Weightlifting Championship.

The weather was actually quite nice on the day of the event, albeit muggy as hell. Greenville has a very nice convention center. I have never lifted a weight in my life, but dating a weightlifter has turned out to be comparatively painless, inasmuch as the meets are indoors and they’re actually fun to watch. Plus nobody seems to mind if you just sit there & read a book instead. It’s one of those sports that’s all about the insides of the athletes’ heads.

After we got home, we went to see The Martian. On the one hand, it was a very well-made distillation of the book, preserving the highlights & teasing out the suspenseful bits to showcase.

On the other hand, it was in many ways a total betrayal of the thing that so many nerds loved about the book, namely that it’s essentially a 400-page treatise on problem-solving under duress. There’s a *lot* of that still in the movie, but folks who haven’t read the book will perhaps be alarmed to learn that for every innovative jury-rigged solution showcased in the movie, there are 50+ more in the book.

(This also means that the book can be tedious going if you’re looking for things like characterization & taut plotting — but man, if you like MacGyver and those 10 minutes in Apollo 13 with the duct tape, you’ll love this book.)

The rest of the week unspooled comparatively uneventfully — I had taken Monday off to fly back from Atlanta, so I went ahead & took it anyway, and spent the day continuing to slowly plow through some coding that needed doing for WXDU. (it was harder than I thought to find a WYSIWYG editor that would spit out markdown on the backend — apparently markdown nerds are a little too pleased with how easy they think it is to learn their flavor of markup, so WYSIWYG doesn’t even cross their minds.)

We’ll not discuss the 90 minutes I spent on 15-501 on Thursday evening. It’s amply documented on Twitter.

Saturday night we had tickets to see the new production of Antigone at UNC, with Juliette Binoche (51) playing Antigone (generally accepted to be around 15). This is the same production that premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music a couple of weeks ago, from the new Anne Sexton translation.

There were a ton of problematic elements (not least the age mismatch), but I nevertheless found myself totally drawn in. The translation is spare, elegant, not particularly “poetic” but still beautiful. The staging worked well. Could have done without the hugely distracting use of the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” as overpowering closing music/image/moment. Made no sense. I had a visceral reaction to it because it’s a brilliant piece of music, but that overrode whatever I had been feeling a moment before.

Did I ever write about seeing Sicario? Apparently not. I don’t even remember when we saw it. It was thoroughly competently made and kind of abhorrent. It’s all very Paul Schradery: here’s the drug war up close, here’s our lady FBI agent who still has a shred of human decency, here’s the wringer we’re going to put her through until she learns that human decency is an outmoded concept. Blah blah blah. Dudes make the most tedious movies when they think they’re being edgy.

Tonight we saw Goodnight Mommy, an Austrian horror/suspense movie whose uniformly good reviews mostly just illustrate how starved the nation’s critics are for marginally interesting horror. This has actually been a pretty solid year for indie horror — between It Follows and The Babadook, we’ve had at least 2x as many solid flicks as one might have expected. A third would have been overkill.

Goodnight Mommy covers some of the same ground as The Babadook — single parent, weird relationship with the kid, things spiraling out of control. The difference, at least for me, was that I picked up on The Big Twist within the first five minutes of the movie, and I think that skewed my perception of the whole rest of the thing. Plus, FYI, there’s some pretty unsettling torture in the last third which I wasn’t expecting & wasn’t prepared for.

We’re not watching the first Democratic debate tonight. I can’t bear the uniformly terrible questions, the stilted format, the candidates parroting their talking points into the camera. I’ll catch the highlights on the internet tomorrow. It’d take quite a bit to dissuade me from voting for Bernie Sanders, inasmuch as I’ve been an admirer of his for ages & ages.

Coming soon (probably this weekend): the results of my preliminary investigation into a couple of interesting micropayment platforms as an alternative to ads on The Internet. Spoiler: Not quite there yet. But very interesting.

October 2-13, 2015

September 25 – October 1, 2015

Saw Yo La Tengo from one of the fancy “Legacy Boxes” at the Carolina on Saturday night. We were in the middle box, which meant that a big chunk of one side of the stage was blocked from view by the box closest to the stage. I could only see Ira’s head, intermittently, unless I basically hung over the edge of the box and leaned out over the crowd below.

Still, it was an amusing experience. We had our own waitress, which mostly meant being distracted repeatedly during favorite songs by someone asking us if we wanted anything. I bought a couple of beers, in part so I could tip the young woman for walking up & down the stairs repeatedly, but then it was revealed that the Carolina’s credit card system is (logically enough) just set up for the counter sales they do downstairs, so there wasn’t a tip line on the credit card receipt. And she brought it up while I was in the bathroom, so even if I’d had a couple of singles on me, I didn’t actually see her to thank her.

The only reason we were in the box at all was because I flaked on buying tickets until all the good up-close floor seats were already sold. Memo to self: be quicker on the draw next time.

The show itself was good, of course — Ira was on acoustic guitar the whole time, so long-ago fourth member Dave Schramm, re-added for the recording of the new album & this tour, held down all of the electric guitar duties. He was phenomenal, full of expertly placed fills & the occasional amazing solo when such a thing was called for. Watching him was what kept me fully tuned-in through two sets that were otherwise a little more samey than I would normally prefer in a Yo La Tengo show — this was billed as an acoustic tour, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Fakebook & the release of Stuff Like That There, which is itself basically a tribute to Fakebook. So it was basically two hours of music that sounded like those two albums.

Highlight for me was a lovely mesmerizing version of “Deeper Into Movies,” which is usually a barn-burner live but which here packed all of that intensity into a hushed package, the only percussion Georgia’s fingertips on her cymbals.

Sunday night we started Todd Haynes’s 6-hour miniseries adaptation of Mildred Pierce, which took most of the rest of the week to finish, us being Working People and all. Unlike the 1945 Joan Crawford noir from the same source material, the Haynes is actually an almost completely faithful adaptation of the James M Cain novel, down to big stretches of the dialogue. Which is a good thing, because the book is one of the great noir melodramas, and six hours is just about the right length of time to do it justice.

My only quibble is that Haynes & his lead actress Kate Winslet didn’t (or couldn’t) go as far as the book in portraying Mildred’s pathological devotion to daughter Veda, which in the book takes on a decidedly carnal tone, particularly in the second half. Not that she wanted to sleep with her; that she somehow wanted to consume her, to become her, to reunite with her flesh. It’s remarkably weird in the novel, and you get some of that vibe in the movie, but not enough of it.

This week I had a bit of an about-face in my thinking about ads & ad-blocking. There has been a lot written on the topic recently due to the inclusion of ad-blocking APIs in iOS9. I read a lot of news on the web, and I have a fairly large number of friends who are professional journalists (plus a bunch more in the part-time/amateur category). Such writing has been ad-supported for, what, 200 years? More? But the migration of everything to the web has been hugely destructive to professional journalism, and blocking ads would seem to be just one more nail in its coffin.

So I have resisted installing ad-blocking software on my computers because I want journalism to still exist as a profession.

But the other day I read this essay by Maciej Ceglowski, the guy behind the awesome bookmarking site Pinboard. He is possibly better known for his acerbic tweets about the tech industry, but he also makes a living by charging a large number of people a small amount of money for a single-purpose service that Just Works (and has no ads).

The essay (which you should go read) makes the point that the giant iceberg floating under the surface of modern web advertising is this horrible arms race between click-fraud botnets & increasingly complex & heavyweight anti-click-fraud code, which has led to both an increase in unwanted tracking (reliable human-detection almost requires it) and an increase in the size of websites & the complexity of code they run, just to be able to serve ads.

He proposes ad-blocking as both rational protection from this iceberg, and as protest against it & everything it represents.

I still haven’t installed ad-blocking software on my computer, but that’s because I’m in the middle of a one-month experiment with micro-payments. I’ll have more to say about that in a week or two.

In other news, my trip this weekend to Atlanta was canceled because Afropunk ATL was itself canceled due to this endless rain & the threat of more serious weather to come. Hugely bummed about not getting to see all the bands; significantly less bummed about not standing in the rain in 60-degree weather for 20 hours.

Oh, one more thing. This.

Specifically this: “The team plans on naming the restaurant “Hattie Mae Williams Called Me Captain”. Brooks explained, “The name comes from an amazing woman who took care of my sisters and me growing up while my mom was at work; basically working for next to nothing during times when my mom couldn’t afford to pay for her. She used to call me Mr. President, until Robert Kennedy was shot. I was two at the time, and she decided that that wasn’t really a safe aspiration to have for me any longer. So she started calling me ‘Captain’ instead.

“She’s the person who taught me how to hit a baseball; she taught me how to collect things. Mostly I think she just taught me how to make a full and rich life out of next to nothing, lessons that I’ve carried with me, and have definitely put into cooking.”

To which my friend Eric Tullis replied:


September 25 – October 1, 2015

August 19 – 27, 2015

Just got home from seeing Tangerine, which I heartily recommend to all of y’all. I was going to say that it was the best movie I’ve seen all year, but it has been a good year for movies (It Follows, Mad Max Fury Road, etc) so we’ll just say it’ll definitely be making my top-10 at the end of the year. It follows two sex workers in LA on Christmas Eve, along with an Armenian taxi driver and his extended family. Both lead actresses are transwomen. The entire thing was shot on iPhones. It’s messy and anarchic and sloppy and foul-mouthed and totally filled with life. It made me feel like independent films used to make me feel in the 80s and early 90s, i.e. more Slacker/Clerks, less Little Miss Sunshine.

This week has otherwise been pretty quiet — my interns left on the 19th, so I’ve been doing wrap-up stuff at work, and have otherwise been able to start thinking more clearly about what I want to see at Hopscotch, and then a few weeks later, at Afropunk ATL.

In order to assist with the Hopscotch planning, I once again put together a Google Calendar of all the shows, both daytime and nighttime. See my earlier post for details. I typically use it by creating a second custom calendar & copying my shortlist picks over to it, and then hiding the original.

I already made a shortlist, but now that I have a little more breathing room, I’m liable to go back and re-listen to everything again. One thing is for certain, though: I’ll be at Kings for the WXDU/WXYC/WKNC Day Party on Friday, September 11. Won’t you join me?

Last Friday night my friend K & I drove to Winston-Salem to see High on Fire and Pallbearer at Ziggy’s. I’d never been there, neither this location or the previous, more-or-less outdoor one. It’s a weird room — big and boxy and industrial, with a balcony like the Lincoln or the Ritz, but somehow smaller than either of those venues. It actually sounded pretty good once someone who knew what they were doing, and cared, was running the mix.

At the bar, the special was a 32oz “rum bucket” for $10. There was a big pile of plastic Malibu-branded buckets on the bar. I didn’t see any of the metalheads drinking out of them. Weird vibe all around, but everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Pallbearer were great. High on Fire were . . . loud. I actually love their new record (and the songs they played from it definitely stuck out as superior), but mostly it was a lot of riffing and a lot of Matt Pike bellowing and after 25 minutes I felt like I pretty much got the picture.

On Monday the 24th, Chicago music critic Jessica Hopper tweeted the question “Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t “count”?” She then retweeted all of the replies, hundreds of them. It overwhelmed my Twitter feed, off and on, for the next several days.

Someone did a Storify of a huge chunk of them. You need to go read it.

Speaking of Twitter, I usually skim back through my timeline when I sit down to write one of these, because my memory is terrible. And I have to say, it’s usually a pretty good read, my Twitter timeline. Even on days when it’s 95% retweets, there’s some quality filtering happening.

August 19 – 27, 2015