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.

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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.

Triskaidekaphobia: How 2013 Turned Me Into a Hip-Hop Loving Homeboy

Hip Hop

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen. Putting the need for exaggeration aside, the number of my irrational fears and neuroses far exceeds thirteen. I have a lot of phobias. On a scale of bedwetter to Braveheart, I situate myself mid-spectrum as a confident “I can take Cloverfield” type. This psychological metric notwithstanding, triskaidekaphobia is not on my radar. Superstition isn’t really my jam. But if I knew what 2013 held for me in 2012, my past self may have sung a different tune.

In high school, my friends knew there were a couple things I just wouldn’t do. Besides heroin and Velvet Undergroundy sex stuff, I’d refuse to drive in a car with hip-hop on the radio without putting up some kind of pretentious fight for the rights of post-punk or indie rock. Apologies for this kind of behavior have been made. Another rule of mine: movie nights with Mack meant no scary movies. This traced back to a childhood of traumatic experiences passing by the horror section in Blockbuster. Maybe seeing Chucky’s face on Child’s Play 3 didn’t wonk you out but, if it didn’t, I’d wager you rank high on the list of “Possible Sociopaths” in most of your immediate friend groups.

In late 2012, I would’ve joked about going to record and DVD burnings for hip-hop and horror related delicacies. Not for any misguided moral reason but simply because I thought they were unnecessary forms of entertainment. But, in the last week, I listened to Yeezus for the twenty thousandth time this year and watched Hellraiser. 2013 did weird things to me. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the new Danny Brown album and am thinking whether I should finally go to Knott’s Scary Farm this year.

Jay Z

This new horror and hip-hop fixation indicates a lot of things which have changed about my personality since the clock tolled midnight on January 1, 2013. For one thing, the entire year has been a sort of identity crisis. Before 2013, my greatest fears were being part of the crowd and/or being taken by surprise by the unknown. Also, loud startling noises and urban environments where I believed my cracker ass was just waiting to get a proverbial cap busted into it. I feel like I ran from Freddy Krueger and Yeezy for those reasons. But, for now, let’s talk about Yeezy.

This year, I started doing penance with Yeezus, Jay-Zeesus and Everything In Betweenzus. Penance may be the wrong word since hip-hop lyrics tend to be the Freudian id unshackled. Bad desires are discussed with a startling degree of offensiveness but I’m willing to wager that offense is derived from their familiarity to us in our most honestly self-reflective moments, not their foreignness. I find most of their lyrics to be humorous in their lack of ethicality so how do I justify listening to these misogynous, hedonistic messages? Well, honesty and the possibility of redemption.

Kendrick Lamar

Musically, I’ve been surprised at the amount of creativity which is possible and actual within hip-hop. Not to mention, artists like Shad and Kendrick Lamar’s work couple socially conscious self-deprecation with their more indie friendly styles. It doesn’t all have to be about sex and drugs. Even if Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy talks about those things with more arrogantly human honesty than a lot of rock records.

But what are we to make of art which, as a whole, is morally bankrupt? Whether or not you listen to hip-hop is a matter of personal preference. The messages of the music tend to be far from uplifting. Moreover, I’d really earnestly suggest for you not to imitate any of the behavior detailed on a Tyler, the Creator or Earl Sweatshirt record. But the thing that finally turned me this year, besides my younger brother’s nonstop insistence the genre was better than either of us had imagined, was a growing awareness of myself.

Self-awareness is shopped around today as a primarily positive thing. The power lies within you and all that business. But there are inevitably aspects of the human condition which become startling to the self once they are made knowable. We are capable of great good and great evil, sometimes within the same hour. What I appreciate about Kanye West is the same thing I appreciate about Thom Yorke. They both exemplify negative aspects of the human condition so you don’t have to go down the road as far as they did. Yorke gave me a vocabulary for depression and West gave me a lexicon of vice.

Yeezus

And though we’d like to join the blissfully ignorant, it’s more important to become aware of your darker parts as well if there’s to be any hope of redemption. Because, if redemption is possible, it is only redemption of the person you actually are which is available.

Perhaps I’m kidding myself when I read these lyrics like a modern-day, vulgar Ecclesiastes. When you listen to these men rap about their copious amounts of money, sex, drugs and occasionally violent power, it’s hard not to see them as Solomons. Before you decry their lack of wisdom standing against the great king, try to realize they’ve reached the same conclusion as he. And that they merely use a different word for “concubines.” I doubt Solomon would’ve snatched Taylor Swift’s joy away on national television or gotten mad at Jimmy Kimmel. But that’s not the point. Unlike the rest of us, they really have tried everything under the sun. And, for that matter, they’ve come from darker, more impoverished backgrounds too. They know the highs and lows of human experience better than most.

It would be folly to deny the vices represented in their lyricism. But I hazard to say they are just more honest about their ids than the rest of us and the offensiveness of their tongues is an indicator of that. Most important of all, there is a deep, conscientious sadness which seems to permeate modern hip-hop. When Kanye West raps “Runaway” or when Kendrick Lamar crafts Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, their awareness that power and pleasure have left them unsatisfied means even more than it would should a normal human being recognize it.

For me, 2013 made life even weirder, homeys. Next post, how I learned to stop worrying and love The Blob.

My Brain is Too Pink Floyd, Wherein I Whine Without Finesse About Formal Education

Classroom

I really love to learn but I hate school. And this is coming from someone who wanted to and somedays still wants to be a teacher. As far as formal education goes, though, my mentality becomes more and more phlegmatic with each passing day. Among my many existential crises and the questions which arise from them, the one climbing highest in the ranks lately is: why in the blue hell am I still in school?

It’d be remiss of me to say I don’t sometimes worry this may all be my fault. My relationship with school has been stagnant since sophomore year of high school. Before then, I had next to no social life so my grades were always top notch. Around 16, I came to realize the gods I’d been trying to appease for years with academic performance had finally smiled, granting me friends and a small degree of popularity. All that reading and devotion to education in the years prior honed my ability to criticize life’s absurdity and joke around as a result, both skeleton key skills in high school.

Still, I never lost my desire to fill my mind with big or small ideas. Giving up the validation of a report card for the company of friends didn’t stop that. I’ve kept up reading and, lately, become more of a podcast junkie than ever before. But I honestly can’t remember paying attention in a class for the last five years.

I used to have such high hopes for college. In junior high, I had my eyes set on Oxford. Somehow, I ended up at Biola. I love the friendships I’ve made, I love the extracurriculars. The same goes for my old high school. Sometimes I worry the reason I’m so disenfranchised is because both these places are Christian schools. Calvary, more so than Biola, taught within a vacuum. Where my outside reading and listening is built on questioning, searching, the school I went to, the school I’m at is more about answers and stopping the journey after receiving them.

It just seems kind of strange that thousands of dollars are being spent by all kinds of families across the country and the debt is piling up like madness personified. All of this to receive a piece of paper with foil on it when we reach the end. That’s the validation our employers are looking for. And, I know, if I were to stop now, I’d feel there was something deeply wrong with me for not having a piece of paper with foil on it myself. For that matter, I’ll probably start feeling like a jerk if I don’t go to grad school.

Most of the friends I’ve talked to feel the same way. But a couple really, really love higher education and always have, always wil. I guess it all comes down to personality type. I’m too burnt out today to go all meta and David Foster Wallace on this topic. I guess I just wanted to piss and moan. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about it from a more theoretical angle.

Would it be fair to say I’ve always learned more from the books I’ve read, the movies, the shows I’ve watched and the music I’ve listened to than from any class I’ve taken? More importantly, that I’ve been shaped more by the relationships I’ve built with other people in my classes than our attempts at mostly pathetic attempts at shrewd discourse? Any John Hughes movie would answer yes so I think I’m in good company. I always felt this pang the best teachers I sat under felt the same way.

My brain is too Pink Floyd. “Another Brick in the Wall” is echoing through my psyche way too frequently. Sometimes, school feels more like Office Space than the office job I have on the side. Soulless and absurd. Here’s hoping all of life isn’t that way.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep listening to Pavement.

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