RIP Tom Petty

The great American rock star is a rare breed. Anyone can strum on a six string and sing a song about a girl. Or pose for pictures in tight pants with hair over their face. It takes a special person to rise above the superficial glitz and glamour of rock and roll. It takes a special person with the gift to share stories about love and loss and connect with people all over the world. A special person who in one moment can pen a lighter burning rock anthem and in another, a drunken ass-shaking sing-a-long. Losing Tom Petty isn’t losing a great musician, it’s losing a slice of Americana. There will be other rock stars, other rock songs, but there will only ever be one Tom Petty, and that’s heartbreaking.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers broke through at an odd time for music. Disco was on the rise as was punk. New Wave was still a few years out and Tom Petty didn’t fit in with the current crop of stadium rock darlings like Journey or Styx. Tom Petty’s music was simpler, shorter, more in tune with the rock and roll of yesteryear. He loved The Birds and The Beatles and sang with a nasally Southern twang, courtesy of his upbringing in Gainesville Florida. Petty didn’t look like your stereotypical rocker either. He was gangly with straw-blond hair and big teeth, like a scarecrow who had come to life, picked up a sunburst Rickenbacker and slipped on a leather jacket. He wasn’t caught up in whirlwind love affairs or on the covers of tabloids for drug-addled debauchery. He was a quiet, unassuming soul, but most importantly a master songsmith.

You could fill a whole radio station with Petty songs and never run out of quality material. His songs could be upbeat and inspiring, but also rebellious and dark like “Breakdown” or “Refugee”. He was a great collaborator, working with artists like Stevie Nicks on the classic “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” or with the late ‘80s supergroup The Traveling Wilburys. In the 90s he transitioned into a folk-rock troubadour, blowing his harmonica on hit songs like “You Don’t Know What It’s Like” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”. He was one of the first artists I remember liking for their words. I didn’t care for lyrics as a child but when I heard “All the vampires, walkin’ through the valley move west down Ventura Blvd.” I was engaged.

Tom Petty is one of those artists you never imagine passing away. Whether you discovered him as a fist-pumping teenager or in the back of your mom and dad’s car, you can’t deny he was an essential part of our modern musical landscape. It’s sad to lose him, but at least we have the classics to remember him by. RIP.

Criterion Month Day 22: Thief

Thief (1981)

I wish Michael Mann had started his film career in the early 70s. I don’t know if it’s the De Niro connection on account of Heat, but I like to think of Mann as the west coast Scorsese. While Scorsese was showing off the grit of New York City’s seamy underbelly in films like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, Mann was doing the same for Los Angles with Heat and Collateral. Both directors have dabbled with period pieces, Scorsese (Age of Innocence, The Last Temptation of Christ), Mann (The Last of the Mohicans)—why is everything the “Last” of something?—and both have dabbled in horror, Scorsese (Cape Fear, Shutter Island) and Mann (The Keep, Manhunter). The difference is Scorsese started his film career a decade before.

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Criterion Month Day 14: The Face of Another

The Face of Another (1966)

“We all have a social mask, right? We put it on, we go out, put our best foot forward, our best image. But behind that social mask is a personal truth, what we really, really believe about who we are and what we’re capable of.” That’s a quote from one of the greatest minds of our time, Dr. Phil. Though I have no respect whatsoever towards Dr. Phil as a medical professional, I figure that quote is as good as any way to start a review about a surrealist Japanese film from the 1960s.

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Girls No More

Going into its final season, there seemed to be a lot of thinkpieces characterizing Girls as the show that launched a million thinkpieces (if you can wrap your mind around that). That said, I really didn’t do a ton of writing about Girls on this blog (apart from a season 3 review) despite being a fairly unabashed fan of it from nearly the beginning. And maybe it’s that unabashed fandom that oddly enough deterred me from writing about it. Continue reading

R.I.P. Mary Tyler Moore

I feel like we’ve eased up a bit on our abundance of “RIP posts”, possibly because of the overwhelming volume of boomer-era celebrities dying in the last year or so. But I still have a lot of admiration and adoration for the woman known simply as MTM, even despite the fact that I am a male and missed the ‘70s by a pretty large margin. Because unlike probably around 99.9% of my generation, I’ve seen every episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and a pretty decent chunk of The Dick Van Dyke Show for that matter), and I can attest that despite its very ‘70s aesthetic, is still one of the best comedy series ever made. Continue reading

Because You’re On Twitter, Dummy

I’m sure like many Americans last night, I found myself pacing around my apartment at about 7 PM PST, while the TV played the dispiriting election results which showed that, good lord, Donald Trump might have a serious chance of being our president. Then, from some nearby house or apartment building, I kid you not, I heard someone yell the phrase, “I’m as mad as hell! And I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Which of course is the iconic line from Paddy Chayefsky’s script for the 1976 film Network, which for many years has been my favorite movie of all time, and is also a film that I kind of feel like I’ve been living through for the past year or so. Continue reading

R.I.P. Prince

It was earlier this year, I found myself at a family gathering at my grandparents’ retirement home.  Now, I don’t think I’m unique in saying that family gatherings are not a place I typically want to be.  But my uncle and his family (who I hadn’t seen in over a decade) were visiting from Chicago, so I figured it was my obligation to be there.  Also, my grandparents are both in their 90s, and at this point who knows when they’re gonna go, so it was nice to be able to get all of my mom’s side of the family together, since who knows if this would ever happen again.  Anyways, over the course of the meal we were having, there was a bit of this underlying tension, since my other uncle on my mom’s side isn’t exactly a huge fan of the uncle who was visiting from Chicago.  Which is not surprising.  One of them is kind of out-there and a bit of a weirdo, while the other is an ultra-conservative former bodybuilder.  However, the two managed to be fairly polite with each other in conversation, while I nonetheless wanted to leave, but was more than aware of why it’d be incredibly rude if I did.

Fortunately, my inner music geek was called to attention late in the dinner, as my uncle from Chicago started recalling stories of his younger years when he was going to shows at First Avenue, Minneapolis’s legendary music venue.  Unsurprisingly, this led to him talking about the few encounters he had with a performer known the world over as Prince.  And being that I’ve been a Prince fan for a long time, as well as rock bands like Husker Du and The Replacements who around the same time played First Avenue’s Seventh Street Entrance (the venue’s smaller stage), I was more than intrigued by these stories.  But what I didn’t expect, was to hear my conservative uncle ask from across the table, “You’re a fan of Prince?”  To which my other uncle of course replied, “Yeah”.  And then my other uncle said something to the effect of, “I really like Prince.  He’s a really talented performer.”  And I felt it — a bond.  A bond between these two men that literally have nothing in common with each other besides their relation to my aunt.  And it was over Prince of all things.

With the announcement of Prince’s passing earlier today, I can’t help but think of this moment and why it is so emblematic of what made Prince such a special artist.  Prince was a guy who brought people together.  Whether you were black or white, straight or gay, or whether you could dance or not, it didn’t matter.  Once a song like “Let’s Go Crazy” or “1999” came on, if you weren’t shaking your ass, you were at least envisioning The Purple One shaking his ass all over some gigantic stage and wishing you were there in his glorious presence.  Which is why yes, it is incredibly sad that Prince is dead.  Much like David Bowie, he’s a guy who you’d think would live forever.  But at the same time, I’ve spent most of today listening to KEXP play nothing but non-stop Prince, and it’s impossible not to be put in a good mood by this music, or at least a better mood considering the circumstances.  He just had that power, and you could feel it no matter where you were coming from.