Courtesy of Herr Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

“Thoreau was in jail because he wouldn’t pay a tax to support the Mexican War. He didn’t belief in the war. And Emerson came to jail to see him. ‘Henry,’ he said, ‘why are you here?’ And Thoreau said, ‘Ralph, why aren’t you here?’”

Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut

“Yeah, Yeah, Merry Christmas!” or How to Get Through Christmas Without Binge Drinking Spiked Eggnog

Pug Christmas
For the longest time, I would try to deny I felt any feelings of melancholy after the lights were all strung up on the house. This is Christmastime, dammit! My conscience would kick in saying things like “Get jolly, mofo” while I’d stand by my family’s Christmas tree, sniffing the aroma of pine needles like some holiday equivalent of a cocaine pick-me-up. No actual cocaine was ever used, mind you, nor any spiked eggnog for that matter.

The point is: I sometimes would feel pretty sad at Christmas and it’s something I really didn’t like about myself. I still have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life so maybe all I ever needed was the kind of mystical life-analysis Jimmy Stewart gets in that movie when he’s about to off himself. All I had to go off of was The Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge and I didn’t want to be a jerk like them. I love Christmas and I like to think I’d never be coldly dispassionate toward the likes of a Bob Crachit. The closest Christmas protagonist I could relate to was Kevin McCallister from Home Alone. He seemed to understand the concept of being upset and lonely at Christmastime. But he was also, like, ten. So I felt kind of creepy about the whole thing.

There’s a lot of social pressure to conform to a sleighride ethic around this time of year: you better be carefree, you better be having fun, you better put all your grudges and pain behind you, you better just slide along down this hill, head thrown back in laughter and explosive dopamine-and-Advent-Calendar-chocolate joy or else. If you transgress, expect coal and/or the condescending scowls of your more traditionally Christmasy family. The Church of Santanism has a lot of say. You don’t. I don’t. We’re all drowned out by the general populous’ blind chants of “Hail Santa!”. What’s a sad person to do at Christmastime?

This is one of the first Christmases I’ve spent truly enjoying the season in a while. I think a lot of it has to do with finally realizing the idea you must be in a constant state of frivolous happiness during Christmastime is what the ancient Greeks called “total bullshit.” Well, that and now I’m on Lexapro. Christmas is a time you spend with a family who can really get on your nerves sometimes, friends who let you down and get let down by you, the memories of significant others you no longer get to kiss under the mistletoe, and all the broken beauty of the world. Let’s not forget the holiday came about when Christianity co-opted a pagan fertility festival to inject its narrative of a Messiah born in a dingy, smelly stable in the midst of a widespread, Herod-promoted infanticide. Not exactly the most cheery subject matter.

It’s amazing what being okay with experiencing “bad” emotions will do for you. Most of the time, the negative emotions start going away. There’s a greater state of equilibrium when you realize life is pretty bent on destabilizing you. The ship’s never going to float in a storm you don’t believe is there. And there’s a lot of storms in December.

This year, I stopped believing it was wrong to be sad at Christmastime and it’s been one of the happiest Christmases I’ve ever had. Sure, I listen to all the shiny, happy Jingle Bells songs but it’s become just as much of a Christmas tradition for me to spin my records by The Smiths and Bon Iver. Why? They just sound better in December and sometimes listening to sad music makes me the happiest.

I’ll always take Chrissie Hynde’s hauntingly melancholy take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with The Pretenders to some other version which tries to commodify that minor key song to some major key sentiment of joy. The same goes for their wintry “2000 Miles” and plenty of Sufjan Stevens’ original stuff for the season. For what it’s worth, my favorite Christmas song is “Only at Christmas Time” by Sufjan and that song sounds hauntingly, hauntingly sad. The best Christmas songs are the ones whose sense of hope has a realistic view of how unfortunate circumstances and life on this earth can be at times. Real hope can only exist when you’ve known real pain, real hurt, real despair even. It makes the apple cider and Christmas ham taste even sweeter.

We forget “we wish you a merry Christmas” implies someone’s Christmas may not be merry in its own right. Or that we’re told to “hark!” when the herald angels sing because our natural state is not to listen for their voices. Or that “joy to the world” means the opposite of “joy is the world.”

It’s better to have a family who drives you nuts around the table then a set of Stepford Wives and it’s better to have those good memories of loves lost and won sometimes than to have them actually under the mistletoe. Your fireplace will warm you better when you admit it can get colder now than ever. Christmas is the same as any other time of the year except that it isn’t. Keep the paradox in mind, friendos. It’ll make the most wonderful time of the year all the more merry. Life is brutal and beautiful, especially at Christmastime.

Now let’s drink some Martinelli’s.

He’s Not a Republican: John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”

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The diverse and manifold strains of contemporary Christian theology seem to all be bent on convincing you of one thing in particular: Jesus is not who you think he is. Saints and denominations of many places and times all have their takes on who Jesus is or was, and that’s not counting the rival viewpoints offered up by Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, atheism, etc. So whenever a scholar tries their best to get to what Jesus must’ve meant to his immediate contemporaries, first-century Jews and Gentiles, it comes as a welcome repose from the endless barrage of revisionism. John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus is an eye-opening look at what Jesus and the other New Testament writers meant socially and politically to their initial audience.

Jesus, even more so than Moses, Muhammad or Gautama Buddha, is an historical figure regularly invested with timelessness, sometimes at the expense of losing his identity as a first-century Jewish historical figure. No one’s at fault for perpetuating this way of thinking about Jesus; the Christian doctrine of Christ’s preexisting eternality can find its root in the early letters of Paul and his compatriots. It remains ironic though that we lose the historical Jesus so easy when the Four Gospels, particularly Matthew, Mark and Luke, are so hung up on certain space-time details of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. Their theological points are made through their historical storytelling and analysis.

Jesus

What Yoder brings to the table seems obvious once stated but stays hidden in plain sight for so many. The theologically charged, historically rooted stories and letters of the New Testament were meant to bring about change in this world, which is to say at least a significant part of Jesus’ message could be considered social and political. His life and teachings were revolutionary for their era and remain revolutionary now. And surprise: Jesus isn’t a Republican! Or a Democrat. Or (sigh) a Libertarian. His sociopolitical message is, instead, something far more radical and inspiring than anything you’re likely to see on Capitol Hill.

While Yoder is most known for his appeals for Christian pacifism, I found them a bit underwhelming here. It wasn’t to say he did a poor job defending a “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus-was-anti-war position. You’ll find ample support for them in the book but his thoughts on the issue are drowned out by some more poignant statements on the nature of both power and servitude, as redefined by Jesus’ life, death and teachings.

Chapter Eight, “Christ and Power,” is one of the most succinctly and simply put explanations of the Christian idea of “principalities and powers” I’ve ever read. Yoder suggests that the “principalities and powers” Christ is now ruling over, as we are told by Paul the Apostle, shouldn’t defined so medievally as angels and demons. Instead, the text and context are speaking about the powers which drive reality, the wholes that are more than the sum of their parts.

Jesus 2

In other words, the “powers” referred to by Paul are the social constructs which surround us that end up taking on a life of their own. Are humans responsible for the creation of politics, economics, religious life, sexual norms, etc.? Contemporary sociology would say so and Yoder agrees, in part. We created money, for instance, but in some unknowable way, money has taken on a life of its own. Even the atheist Karl Marx conceded to this sort of ideology. There were intangible forces behind the tangible ones. It’s refreshing to hear such a clear thinker make a case for a world beyond materialism that can still be rooted in a pragmatic and empirical view of reality.

His chapter on “revolutionary subordination” is even more intriguing. Long have there been arguments about Christianity’s supposed pro-slavery, anti-women stance. Yoder highlights Paul the Apostle’s stance on women and slaves in the light of his cultural context. The Roman stoics weren’t even paying attention to women and slaves. Paul makes claims which, out of context, seem to be subjugating to women unless you realize Jesus’ main political message was “strength to servitude.”

Christian Fish

Were slaves and women encouraged to be “subordinate” then? Yes, but so were men and masters. The only reason Paul encourages slaves and women to remain in their position was because he was also encouraging an ethic by which everyone would serve each other. Women and slaves had a head start. The playing field would become level and, if Jesus is right in saying “the last shall be first and the first shall be last,” then Paul’s admonitions to women and slaves are actually very respectful and even empowering. Unlike the pervasive Greco-Roman culture, Paul and Jesus respected women and slaves as actual people worthy of admonition, encouragement and dignity.

The Politics of Jesus is a breath of fresh air, even forty years after its publication. Why most of Yoder’s ideas haven’t gained traction in the Christian church are beyond me. He makes a pretty compelling case for his views being the very same as those which belonged to the early church, the apostles and Christ himself. One would think Christians would like to align themselves with such a worldview.

New Song from Stephen Malkmus

The best. “Wig Out At Jagbags” for best album name.  Malkmus 4evahhhhhhh!!!

Mack’s Mixtape Mondays 11/11

Last night, I started a college radio show, Mack’s Mixtape Mondays, on http://radio.biola.edu. Tune in next week on Monday, 8-9 PM. Here’s the playlist and Maybe Musts from this week!

Love's Crushing Diamond

The Maybe Must Album of the Week is Love’s Crushing Diamond by Mutual Benefit. Mutual Benefit is making me hopeful for the folk genre again. It’s just nostalgic enough and just new enough to feel just right. If you like early Sufjan or any Fleet Foxes, these are your guys!

12 Years a Slave

The Maybe Must Movie of the Week is 12 Years a Slave. If you like your cinema light and frivolous, maybe stay in and watch Grown Ups 2 this weekend, but if you occasionally like it deep, depressing and honest, you’re not going to find anything better in theaters right now. People are saying this is the best depiction of slavery ever committed to film and I’m not going to disagree.

Runaway

The Maybe Must Book of the Week is Runaway by Alice Munro. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, she’s Canadian and she is just the best woman writer I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. She has this way of encapsulating the most human and morally complex experiences in the most everyday circumstances that it’s just enlivening the way I see my existence from day to day. And guys, we’re talking a lady who knows the female psyche and, from what I’ve read, the male one too. So if you want to figure out why you can’t get girls to go out with you or something or what’s the deal with girls to begin with, start with Alice Munro and you’ll end up learning a lot about yourself.

House of Cards

And the Maybe Must TV Show is House of Cards. It’s been out for a while now but it’s the first of its kind. Netflix’s first series, all of its episodes were released on the same day. David Fincher, the Fight Club guy, directs it and Kevin Spacey stars in it. That should be enough right there. But what if you’re like “Mack, you know me so well, but I don’t like politics! How’d you forget that? I thought our relationship meant more to you then that!” Well, luckily, Kevin Spacey turns to the camera and explains all the political stuff along the way. And it sounds cheesy but it’s great and hilarious. If you’ve got Netflix, you need to watch this show.

Green Turns 25: Track-By-Track on One of R.E.M.’s Best Albums

Green

Today, Green is 25. Bands need their landmarks and Green fulfills the same role of The Unforgettable Fire by U2, The Queen is Dead by The Smiths and Remain in Light by Talking Heads. It’s a release bookended by the animated and mumbly angst of youth on one hand and a meaningful settlement into maturity on the other.

“Pop Song 89” starts things off more clearly than Michael Stipe usually tends to. His aim before was a lyrical vocabulary inviting questions and open interpretation. But now, he’s got his heart on his sleeve and he’s the one confused.

“Hello, I saw you, I know you, I knew you / I think I can remember your name / Hello, I’m sorry, I lost myself / I think I thought you were somebody else / Should we talk about the weather? / Should we talk about the government?”

In Stipe’s voice and Peter Buck’s jangly guitar tones, the song sounds like a party favor going off. But imagine those lyrics and sounds in the hands of Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood or perhaps in the darkest David Byrne discotheque. In such hands, it’s an ode to disconnection.

“Get Up” takes its guitars and pumps them up with an intensity and wailing conjuring up thoughts of the soon-to-be released Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. There’s a sprightliness these Georgians bring to even that ominous guitar sound and it’s wedded perfectly to their repeated refrain here: “Dreams, they complicate my life / Dreams, they complement my life.” Their genius on Green and future classics like “Everybody Hurts” was to never forget the second half of that adage while holding fast to the first as well.

R.E.M. 4

“You Are The Everything” is where they ushered in the sound they’d be most remembered for. As soon as Peter Buck committed this mandolin-strummed ditty to recording, he and his bandmates had the prototype for Automatic for the People and Out of Time. Here they established a bayou sounding sense of Southern hospitality, a Flannery O’Connor kind of honest and gothic aesthetic. It’s the sound expanded upon in the darkness of Automatic’s “Drive” or its most haunting ballad “Sweetness Follows.” Stipe has rarely been as poetic and softspokenly profound as he is here. “I look at her and I see the beauty / Of the light of music.” Listen to this and you will too.

“Stand” is perhaps most notable for its ability to make its listeners sway their arms in an absurd, circular motion, as per its music video. And I’ll come right out and say it: this is just a stupid, pointless song! It has the philosophical weight of Happy Gilmore. But who doesn’t like Happy Gilmore? Maybe some people. But they are, objectively speaking, godless fascists. It sounds like Disney’s California Adventure so don’t take yourself so seriously and spin your arms in a circle too, dammit!

R.E.M. 2

“World Leader Pretend” is Stipe at his metaphorical best and his most introspective. It’s the story of a man at war with himself, humble enough to know he has no control over others but hubristic enough to think he can be the “World Leader Pretend” over himself. Given Green’s appearance at the tail end of the Cold War, Stipe made the most of his ability to latch on to the quiet clash of world powers for its ideas of stalemate and built-up barricades.

“This is my world, and I am the World Leader Pretend / This is my life, and this is my time / I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit / It’s high time I razed the walls that I’ve constructed.”

Eighties America was rife with messages of the triumph of American freedom and individualism, especially in the face of socialistic tyranny. Stipe’s words are wise. Even if we’re allowed to run ourselves, be our own World Leader Pretends, we’ll muck it up just as badly as a tyrannical government. The freedom to do as we see fit is often as much a burden as it is a blessing.

And soak in that piano and lap steel.

“The Wrong Child” channels the same spirit as “You Are The Everything.” Present again are the mandolins and downtime warbles. For anyone who remembers their misfit youth, this song should bring a tear to their eye. It’s a perfectly captured Polaroid of an isolated childhood won over by a defiant acceptance. When Stipe sings “It’s okaaaaaaaayyy!” as this lonely child, the power is palpable. “Come play with me, I whispered to my newfound friend / Tell me what it’s like to go outside / I’ve never been / And I never will.”

It’s a potent picture of the album as a whole. Stipe’s sense of creeping isolation and childhood insecurity made sure their first albums were colored by mumbles and misunderstandings. Brilliant ones, at that. But now, on Green and “The Wrong Child” in particular, he’s ready to say what he means loud and proud

R.E.M.

“Orange Crush” is so badass. Need more be said?

“Turn You Inside Out” doesn’t really have as much to recommend it lyrically as other tracks on the album. Other than the shouted, enigmatic chant, “I believe in what you do, I believe in watching you,” the real strength here lies in the power of the guitar’s onslaughts and battle cries.

“Hairshirt” brings back those mandolins yet again and it should be no surprise how sentimental the result is. Funnily enough, this is the song which most possesses R.E.M.’s upcoming, trademark nineties sound and also the song whose lyrical style most conjures up the abstract mutterings of Murmur, Reckoning and Life’s Rich Pageant. If you’re looking for the bridge between the two sounds, here it is!

“I Remember California” is the most post-punk I’ve ever heard these guys and the second most apocalyptic (after “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”). As someone born and bred in California, I’ve got to give Stipe credit for creating such a nightmarishly accurate picture of the state. The premise seems to be an old one: what if California just off and tumbled into the sea? Outside all the perfectly descriptive and evocative language about remembering the state itself, the most entrancing mantra is: “I recall that you were there / Golden smile and shining hair / I recall it wasn’t fair / Recollect it wasn’t fair / Remembering it wasn’t fair outside.” Maybe we Californians deserve submergence after all.

R.E.M. 3

“Untitled” fits as well as an album closer as it would as an ‘80s movie end credits song.   It’s more a postscript than an ending. The organ rolls accentuate each statement of Stipean kum-bay-ah. “I’ve seen the world,” he sings. And once you get to the end of Green, you’d be a fool to think he hadn’t.

R.E.M.‘s lyrics got less and less cryptic, their music more and more pronouncedly accessible, as time trod on. Green has the appeal of the girlfriend or boyfriend you date right before you meet your wife or husband: a fond memory, an underdeveloped but necessary stepping stone for the both of you, so close to full potential you sometimes wonder on your worst days of marriage if they were the best after all. Green is the fine line between what you used to want and what you’d eventually settle down with, the middle state between Murmur and Automatic for the People, a wedding of innocence and experience.

Hitchslapped: A Review of “God is Not Great”

God Is Not Great

A couple weeks ago, I finished a book which is a few years old but makes a point which is far older. The book is God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens and its point is that God’s almost certainly not there and is a real jerk if he somehow is. According to the famed atheist, the idea of a real God or gods is capable of stifling human development, oppressing human desire and robbing human joy. Though Hitchens would’ve vehemently disagreed with the historical veracity of the account, this assertion is as old at least as the serpent’s words in Eden.

I’ve always loved Hitch. In my most devout days, he was and still is my favorite of the recent atheist Rottweilers.  Admittedly, the man was caustic in his approach, but his words bit so hard because he’d sharpened them on a constant feast of illustrious experience and widespread, passionate reading. With his death, we lost one of our  wittiest, clearest and sincerest writers. Insulting or not, Hitchens believed his every word about disbelief right to the end.

Christopher Hitchens

God is Not Great shows he understood an argument can never be won by pure logical deconstruction. We are narrative creatures and need a story to ground our facts in. I’ve yet to read Dennett’s Breaking the Spell or Dawkins’ notorious The God Delusion but, from what I know about both those men, their antitheistic literature would tend to the more scientific and philosophical side of things. Hitchens was a journalist first so most of his arguments are by anecdote, either personal or historical.

Far from the caricatured atheist stereotype a number of theistic apologists perpetuate, Hitchens is a humanist through and through. His arguments against religion are deft because of their earnest desire for human flourishing and dignity. Maligning him as someone who wants to see the decay of human morality and social mores is to utterly misunderstand his message. He may, at times, be too vitriolic for his own good but he should be commended for his dedication to human rights even if he’s a bit rough around the edges for the more puritanical.

Christopher Hitchens 3

When it comes to the injustices perpetuated by religious influence, Hitchens is as strong as they come. For someone who holds to an occasionally fragile form of religious belief myself, I was often left shaking my head or even sickened at the evils which have transpired in the name of God and proselytization. But perhaps most interesting of all were his stories about religion forming so quickly around shams and charlatans.

There is a set of indigenous people who, when visited by some cargo ships, built a religion around the coming and eventual return of the gods who visited them on these cargo ships. They’ve built docks and they’re still waiting for the cargo ships but they ships are not coming back. Also, there’s a story of a medieval Jewish candidate for the long-awaited Messiah position, with dedicated followers aplenty, who converts to Islam once certain death is hung above his head by the powers that be.

But when it comes to biblical analysis, I was surprised by the blunted blade of his exegesis. He interprets scripture like a fundamentalist which isn’t surprising given his book seems to largely be a polemic against fundamentalism. But, prior to reading Hitchens’ book, I’d inhaled quite a few sophisticated theological and exegetical tomes, both liberal and conservative. It disappointed me to see Hitchens had apparently done no such thing.

Christopher Hitchens 2

This lowest common denominator interpretation of the Old and New Testaments left me wanting more as I could see plenty of the biblical “evils” he discusses explained away by a simple look at larger ancient societal, linguistic and literary contexts. I’m not of the “nothing barbaric happens in the Bible” camp; there are definitely quite a few incidents in the Old and New Testaments which raise my eyebrows and turn my stomach. But if your argument hinges on the misinformation and vaguely illiterate judgmentalism propagated by belief, it would help to not be so misinformed and vaguely illiterate when it comes to the topics you’re attacking.

Luckily, the terms “misinformed” and “vaguely illiterate” aren’t even close to applicable to Hitchens as a whole. I enjoyed his research and beautifully brutal prose. Upon finishing the book, I felt I’d finished the work of a learned and enigmatic person but certainly not a prophet. His arguments went in hills and valleys and I think Hitch would be glad I didn’t take his word wholesale. After all, doing so would be to feed into the same devoted impulse which, according to the author, poisons everything.

So Long, Lou

Velvet Underground

I can still remember the first time I heard “Sunday Morning” off of The Velvet Underground & Nico and knew it wasn’t going to be the same from here on out. Lou Reed is associated with my freshman year in high school when I discovered Tom Waits, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. I’d known the power of music before them all but never in such a centralized, lyrical and innovative way.

Reed once told New York Rock Magazine that “My God is rock’n’roll. It’s an obscure power that can change your life. The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.” It’s safe to say he lived in almost perfect relation to his self-defined religious outlook. His was a life from cradle to grave spent in adoration and service to the furthest limits of leather-jacket clad and urbane rock and roll music.

His barely-in-key bass vocals were often more spoken than sung. As early as The Velvet Underground & Nico, Reed seemed more preoccupied with documentation than celebration. In a sea of sixties songs about lovey-dovey peace and understanding, Reed observed a culture entrenched in confused sexuality and self-destructive drug abuse. For their time and even for today, songs like “Venus in Furs” and “Heroin” were startling for their accurate and unrelenting depictions of darkness.

Lou Reed

“Heroin” in particular is almost psalmic in its appeal to the dangerous drug for release and healing. There’s never any doubt the drug is more bad than it is good, that it’ll be the death of the song’s narrator, but Reed gave listeners the poetry needed to understand why such a killer opiate would be taken in the first place.

“Because when the smack begins to flow / I really don’t care anymore / About all the Jim-Jim’s in this town /And all the politicians makin’ crazy sounds / And everybody puttin’ everybody else down / And all the dead bodies piled up in mounds.”

The song is a great litmus test for what made Reed such a respectable and unique lyricist throughout his tenure with The Velvet Underground as well as his illustrious solo career. He scribbled on topics the more conservative among us would hope to ignore and deny. If you lend him an ear though, it becomes apparent he’s not in the glamorization business. Does he spend a lot of time discussing sex, drugs and rock & roll? Certainly. But unlike a lot of his contemporaries, he calls a spade a spade. That unholy trifecta offered false comfort, would destroy his and many lives, but the same could be said of the more traditional forms of coddling offered by society. He was a poet of painful realities and the things people hurt and deceived themselves with to try and escape their presence.

Lou Reed 3

This sort of darkened, gritty realism made up a significant amount of Reed’s songwriting. But by no means was it all there was. Take a song like “Perfect Day” off his second solo release, Transformer, wherein the lyrics double as a literal explication of a day spent with a romantic interest and his own struggle with substance abuse. “Satellite of Love” is a sad-eyed, simple ballad about watching a satellite in space on TV while reflecting on an unfaithful girlfriend. The more easygoing rock music subjects were in him too but always in a different way than was common.

It’s dangerous to claim anyone for a particular viewpoint when there hasn’t been an explicit statement of belief on their part. Reed was Jewish by descent and the closest he got to religious statement in his more mature years was to admit “I think that everything happens for a reason, everything happens when it’s going to happen.” Nonetheless, Reed was no doubt a humanist. His songs were penned about the people he saw and the life he experienced, both so far from ideal and both so rife with potential and desire. Redemption always looms on the horizon in even his darkest moments because he never loses the pulse of his or anyone’s heartbeat.

Lou Reed 2

His rock bottom sagas propelled him to turn to drugs, love and the occasional bout with faith to save him. On “Heroin,” he sings “When I’m rushing on my run / And I feel just like Jesus’ son / And I guess I just don’t know / And I guess that I just don’t know.” In the wake of the iconic musician’s death, one wonders if this lack of knowledge in the presence of suffering and artful inquiry is the same which led him to sing, “Jesus / Help me find my proper place / Help me in my weakness / Cause I’m falling out of grace / Jesus, Jesus.”

His beautiful words and innovative music gave me the wake-up call of a prophet and the helping hand of an honest friend. If the beauty of “Pale Blue Eyes” didn’t make you bleary-eyed before, it really should now. We may never know if Reed ended up feeling he found his proper place but he can happily lay claim to a life which helped many of us in our weakness.

An Imaginary Pitchfork Resignation Letter

Pitchfork

Dear Pitchfork,

It’s with a certain degree of bitterness I tender my resignation to you today. But bitter cynicism was what you hired me for in the first place so I can’t imagine that frustrating anyone too much. Moreover, in light of some of the editorial board’s recent comments to me, it’s become clear my resignation isn’t so much a suggestion as an essential, non-stated command.

The tension began running high with a discussion about early 2000’s garage rock. I was conversing with the writer assigned to the “Listening to Coldplay gives people AIDS” story over cups of fair trade, Intelligentsia Coffee and made an offhand quip about thinking Angles isn’t a half bad Strokes album at the end of the day. And Is This It? is more analogous to the Jefferson Memorial than the Lincoln one when it came to being a landmark album. My fellow writer caustically shot back, “And I bet you’re drinking Peet’s today too, aren’t you?” Before I could answer in the negative, his scalding organic ground coffee was thrown all over my ironic Genesis: Invisible Touch Tour t-shirt. Our discourse prior to this had been civil.

Genesis

Upon complaining to my superiors, I was assured action would be taken. Little did I know this action comprised of my coffee-throwing colleague’s Instagram profile pic being put on the wall, attached to the moniker “Employee of the Month.” Upon further inquiry as to this supposed prank, I was informed this was no joke but, indeed, a decision handed down from the Editor-in-Chief himself who, apparently, had his eye on me. Coupled with this, I overheard him saying something along the lines of “that shit’s a Rolling Stone sympathizer” to my more immediate supervisor.

I was assured my “error” would not cause me to be treated unfairly but I’ve had my last three reviews scrapped  in order to “make room” for no less than three separate celebrations of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.  We’re a goddamned website! What’s all this “make room” bullshit?! This was followed by the rest of the staff writers throwing weekly parties to which I was not invited because I was, quote, “Probably a secret Bowling for Soup fan.” My tickets to SXSW were “misplaced” and I was lucky enough to receive a personalized cancellation from Vampire Weekend frontman, Ezra Koenig, for our  interview on November 3. His email, which I have reprinted here in full, read: “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? Probably  you, asswipe. No interview. I’ll see you in hell.”

All of this work-related cruelty has since found a way to balloon out into my personal affairs. My girlfriend of three years left me after I had one too many craft beers and admitted I found the characters in Ghost World to be kind of annoying. She also took our pet parakeet, Bowie, on the grounds I’d only ever listened to the greatest hits compilations of his namesake. Which is a lie. I’ve seen Labyrinth too.

Labyrinth

My parents disinherited me after I confronted them on their lies that they’d raised me on a diet made up exclusively of CBGB’s punk bands and one Big Star LP. I distinctly remember some Eagles songs playing on our vacations to Greenwich Village as a youth. My sister hasn’t spoken to me since my apathetic reaction to I Heart Huckabees.

So allow me to make myself plain. I’ve had at least three cups of Folger’s coffee in the last two months because sometimes I can’t tell the difference between that and the stuff they make on French Presses. I listened to Channel Orange forty-three times last year and I still think it’s just kind of okay. And for God’s sake, what is the deal with everyone and hating Coldplay?! They are catchy and they make me cry and believe in love.

I understand my resignation here has garnered me the nickname “Nixon” around the office. My life is in shambles but it’s better than living a lie. Someone discovered my Culture Club boxed set and I knew that would be the final straw. I’m not completely sure who Deep Throated me on this one but if it’s who I think it is, he should probably remember the time I was with him drunk and he said Pavement was for dicks.

Sincerely,
My Oasis-loving Ass

Triskaidekaphobia: How 2013 Taught Me to Stop Worrying and Love The Blob

Evil Dead

The title of this post is misleading. I’ve always loved The Blob. Since I was about five, the concept of a large gelatinous mass striking terror and fear into the hearts of an entire city was nothing short of hilarity defined. When it came to other horror films, I was a devout practitioner of abstinence, lest I micturate in my trousers.

I couldn’t make it through Laurel & Hardy’s Babes in Toyland because of the scene with the “Boogey Men” or The Goonies because Sloth made me cry. I could handle the Halloweentown movies on Disney Channel but just barely. One time, I rented Ernest Scared Stupid from Blockbuster and underwent what I would still describe as severe psychological trauma.

Growing up, I wore GoodNite diapers for a length of time I would never bring up on a first date. Or any date really. I remember one night where I slept in my parents’ bedroom because I kept thinking of the bassline from Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Yes. I was afraid of a bassline. This happened when I was around, I kid you not, twelve years old. I was on the floor of their room though, so don’t get weird about this. Imagine how I held up to the DVD covers for A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play.

But then I met Elizabeth, my girlfriend, when I was 20, who’s into all the things I am and horror movies. Now, I’m not one to recommend changing yourself for a significant other but, regardless, I decided dating Elizabeth was the time I’d finally conquer my fears of all the monsters which haunted my youth. At 20 and now 21, I’d finally learn how to walk into a Spencer Gifts without enduring a minor panic attack whilst near the Jason Voorhees action figures.

Bloody Elizabeth

Before we’d taken to the Facebook officiation of our relationship, I watched The Evil Dead so we could have something horror related to talk about. And I watched it on my computer in the day time with my finger over the mute button so I wouldn’t jump out of my skin when I felt like something was about to pop out. And, shockingly, I made it through and enjoyed myself, damn it! The gore, the monsters, the occult references: it wasn’t scary anymore. It was fun.

The first time she came to really hang out my house, we watched Evil Dead 2 and Re-Animator. Evil Dead 2 has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and, by God, does it deserve it. Before I knew it, I’d become a believer in the power of campy horror. Midway through the movie, I was actively contemplating how to procure a chainsaw hand, a fake shotgun and copious amounts of fake blood for an Ash Williams Halloween costume. To top it off, I fell asleep during Re-Animator. Which is to say I did not stay up all night thinking about and fearing Re-Animator but instead fell asleep during it. Fear was conquered and I felt like a demigod. Please hold your laughter.

They Live

But what of horror films without the cheap, low-budget splatstick like the aforementioned? What about the really scary ones? I still haven’t voyaged into the world of The Exorcist or Sinister or anything like that and it’ll be some time before I feel comfortable doing so. But, hey, I have seen Hellraiser and clips from Child’s Play. And, more importantly, I made it through The Shining.

So what does it all mean? Why the sudden indulgence into horror films? For many, watching this sort of material is either still off limits or something they’ve been doing since they were tiny. As a recent convert, I’m enthralled by the breadth of a genre I’d previously written off. Like hip-hop, there are so many nooks and crannies to explore.

The horror films I’ve watched run the gamut from unsettling to comical (sometimes intentionally, mostly unintentionally) and this grab bag of material is only drawing me deeper. Do I think any of these movies are of Oscar caliber? No, but then I haven’t seen Psycho yet. Nonetheless, they’re certainly entertaining and thought-provoking in a way I never thought they’d be.

The Shining

When blood splatters, when the dead rise to kill, when dads go mad and try to kill their families, it all points to how askew the universe we live in really seems to be, if only by metaphor. Things are not as they seem, things go bump in the night and we are helpless to stop it to a great degree. Watching horror movies typified living in the year after the world was supposed to end. On December 21 of last year, we didn’t all die and it might’ve been more refreshing if we had.

2013 proved we’ll be around for a while longer and sometimes even greater than the fear of death is the fear and confusion living brings around. The campy horror movies are entertaining because they show the real world to be far more frightening than the worlds we see on the screen. Waking up in the world of drone strikes and economic chaos is almost more terrifying than falling asleep to be visited by Freddy Krueger. The really scary movies are horrifying precisely because of how close they are to reality to begin with. No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh will always be a more terrifying antagonist than someone named Pinhead or the Toxic Avenger.

For the longest time, I thought life was best lived without horror movies. This year, I conquered my fear. I’m working my way through them all if I can. At least the eighties ones. Because if you tried to make me watch Sinister, I’d still spontaneously combust.

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