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The Unique Passing of David Bowie

I awoke this morning to the news that David Bowie had died after an 18-month battle with cancer that was seemingly never made public. I say “seemingly” because I’ve never spent a ton of time keeping up with what David Bowie was doing from one minute to the next, so while it’s likely I’d have heard the news that David Bowie had cancer, it’s certainly possible that I might have missed it.

So, seemingly.

The news didn’t hit me like it has hit many. I like David Bowie and everything, but he isn’t George Harrison to me. That doesn’t mean he isn’t as talented or influential or important in the history of rock music as George Harrison. It just means that I have a deeper personal connection to the Beatles than I do to Bowie.

But the news certainly did hit a number of people in that personal space inside each one of us that is created when we discover music, and gets filled throughout our formative years when a song or an artist or an album comes to define how we think of ourselves at that point in our lives.

And that space is an amazing space.

It’s completely personal in that mine was created and filled by songs and artists that are unique to me and that music combines with each other and with me to build a meaning that that music by itself, or even in similar combinations, could never mean to anyone else.

But it’s also universal. While I don’t connect to the same songs in the same way that you do, I know there’s a space inside you that is filled just as full and is just as vital to you as mine is to me.

According to my Facebook page and my Twitter feed, I know a lot of people with a Bowie-sized hole in that space.

Which isn’t surprising. Bowie was certainly a massive figure in music over the last 40+ years.

What was surprising to me was the number of conversations I had about David Bowie today with total strangers. There were more of these conversations than I’ve had about Bowie with my friends throughout my entire life, and most of those involve his appearance on Extras making fun of Ricky Gervais.

I wasn’t singing Bowie songs. Or wearing a Bowie t-shirt. Or reading an article about his death. I was just sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room and at least three people just looked at me and basically said, “Wow, huh? Bowie.”

And these interactions made two things clear to me.

  1. I look like a David Bowie fan. I must, otherwise, that’s a strange thing to say to a total stranger.
  2. David Bowie made people want to seek a connection with their fellow man. So much so that when he died, people felt the need to share this loss with people they’d never met before in their lives.

That’s pretty amazing.

And it’s unique.

I didn’t have that experience with any other musician who died in 2015. Not Lemmy (from Motörhead). And Not B.B. King.

The death of Adam Yauch was close, largely I think because the impact of The Beastie Boys on other musicians and creative people was even greater than their popular appeal, immense though that was. And this seems to be true for Bowie as well.

But not even the biggest loss is really comparable to this. When Michael Jackson died what seemed to be happening everywhere I went was people blasting Thriller or Bad or Off the Wall from every radio they could get their hands on. Cars with windows rolled down, bouncing to the bass line from Billie Jean and people very publicly remembering how much they enjoyed the King of Pop (and also, a little, how weird he was, but less than you’d think considering how much we talked about how weird he was when he was alive).

Bowie seems to be different.

And best I can figure it comes down to this.

Michael Jackson was big in ways few have ever been (The Beatles and Elvis. That’s pretty much the whole list). He was wildly popular and insanely successful. The music and the impact of Michael Jackson filled the sky.

Bowie was important. And influential. And amazing. He was incredibly popular and successful. But while Michael Jackson’s impact filled the sky. The music and the impact of David Bowie filled the ocean. His impact was huge and visible, but it ran deep and it flowed in unseen places.

 

And its the hidden, less obvious, nature of his impact that is prompting people to look at strangers and say, “Wow, huh? Bowie.”

The Leia Myth

Have you seen The Force Awakens yet? You should. One, because it’s pretty great. And Two, because I’m gonna probably spoil some stuff here and if you read on, you may become cross with me for doing so.

Ok. So, we’re agreed that you’re cool with reading anything that follows that may be spoiler-y? Great.

One of the many great things about The Force Awakens is the character of Rey, an orphaned woman surviving on her own as a scavenger on a desert planet who is not only beautiful, but also smart, tough, talented, determined, and a budding bad-assed Jedi.

She doesn’t need to be rescued. And when Finn keeps trying to protect her or save her, she yells at him a bit and then pretty much does it herself.

She’s awesome.

No stranded princess waiting for her Jedi Knight in Storm Trooper armor to come and save her from the bad guys here!

One byproduct of the awesomeness of Rey has become an unspoken (or sometimes actually spoken) agreement about Princess Leia Organa and her role in the original trilogy. And that agreement is this:

Leia didn’t get to do any of the cool stuff, like participate in the destruction of the Death Star. She pretty much just got captured and wore a metal bikini while chained to a giant slug.

This is dopey and wrong-headed.

Here are some of the things she did:

She’s the only person to stand up to Darth Vader without undergoing months of swamp-calisthenics.

She withstood advanced interrogation techniques and still never gave up the location of the hidden rebel base.

She took control of her own rescue, grabbing the blaster from Han, shooting a bunch of Storm Troopers and creating an innovative escape route on the fly.

She saw through their escape, knowing far better than Han did, that they had been let go from the Death Star.

She flew the Falcon while Han and Luke shot the TIE Fighters.

She was in charge of an entire military base, and organized the evacuation, saving hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

She shot a bunch more Storm Troopers on Hoth while trying to escape with Lando and Chewy.

She executed the plan that got Han unfrozen from carbonite, disguising herself as a bounty hunter and presumably learning an entirely new language to threaten a gangster with a thermal detonator.

While other people used light sabers and blasters to kill the bad guys, she choked a giant slug-monster to death with a chain.

She got to drive the speeder bikes and blast more Storm Troopers. And if we’re being honest, driving the speeder bikes was the one thing we all wanted to do after seeing Return of the Jedi. Those things were awesome.

After getting shot outside the deflector shield bunker, she just gritted her teeth and blasted the hell out of a storm trooper.

Leia was not a passive participant in the events of the original trilogy. And to denigrate her in order to lift up Rey is inaccurate and wrong.

Princess Leia was an inspiration to girls in the 1980s. So much so that my sister-in-law, who doesn’t care at all about Sci-Fi movies, named her dog Leia. And she did this 20 years after Return of the Jedi came out.

So, check your Leia-hating revisionism. It has no place here.

My Thoughts on The Force Awakens

I saw The Force Awakens today. It was good. It was a Star Wars movie. In ways that episodes I-III weren’t, this was a Star Wars movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read this. I’m going to talk in detail about the many things I really liked, and the couple of things that bugged me a little bit.

Things I liked

1. Rey

In the role of desert-planet orphan with untapped ability in the force who comes across a droid with information vital to the resistance, Rey is pretty great.

There’s obviously a lot of A New Hope Luke in her to start. But then there’s the fact that she’s a girl, which draws Leia comparisons. And let’s not forget that Han thinks about offering her a job, before she seems to become the captain of the Falcon for good there at the end.

But the thing I liked about her the most is this, “I know how to run without you holding my hand.”

I’ve only seen it once, so I might have slightly botched the wording, but she actively stands on her own two feet and fights back against everything on her own. She doesn’t need rescuing, even when Han and Finn come to rescue her, she’s pretty much taken care of it on her own.

To say nothing of how great Daisy Ridley is in this role.

2. Everything About Han Solo

Harrison Ford has talked repeatedly how he’s tried to convince George Lucas to kill off Han Solo in Return of the Jedi. But Han’s death at the hands of his son, and everything about his life that we learned about in this movie makes me so glad he didn’t get his way 30+ years ago.

Upon losing their son to the dark side, Han and Leia drifted apart, pulled back to the things they do best; her running an armed militia, him getting in over his head in terrible business transactions that result in people trying to kill him.

But, when pulled back into the action again, he and Chewy return to their roles of heroes. And not reluctant heroes this time. Han has become the voice of belief, telling Finn and Rey that everything they’ve heard about the force is true, and reminding Leia that there’s always a way to blow up large planet-killing space stations before leading the team to destroy the thing that will prevent the weapon from firing and blow it all up.

Han’s role was not just to show up, wink at us, wait for the applause, and then exit stage left. He was central to the story and was very much the bridge between old and new that J.J. tried to make Spock in the Star Trek reboot. I liked the Spock stuff. I loved this.

3. Relationships

One of the biggest issues in the prequels is how many times we were told that Obi Wan and Anakin were such great friends. It just never felt true. And it was because we were told and not shown.

We saw Poe and Finn build a friendship under fire. We saw the saw thing with Finn and Rey. These people grew to like, trust, and love one another. In front of our faces. Not off camera somewhere else.

4. Simplicity

I’ve recently rewatched the previous movies (not Phantom Menace) and one of the things that made IV-VI work in ways that I-III don’t is that, you couldn’t explain the plot of I-III to people in under four paragraphs.

Here’s the plot of this one. Luke Skywalker has disappeared and everyone wants to find him.

Now, it diverts its attention and direction a few times, but that’s pretty much the thrust of the movie. But that doesn’t mean it’s all cut and dry. It’s simple, not simplistic.

5. Questions

I had questions during the movie. I have questions now. And this is good.

How’d Kylo Ren get Darth Vader’s helmet?

How’d Maz Kanata get Luke’s lightsaber?

What’s Rey’s backstory?

How’d there come to be a Star Destroyer crashed into her planet?

Those are interesting questions that I want answered. As opposed to why did the Trade Federation want to put a blockade around Naboo?

6. This took place somewhere real

The places in The Force Awakens felt real, not like pretty matt paintings or computer renderings of futuristic cities. That mattered more than just about anything.

7. Finn. Whatever He’s Selling, I’m Buying. I’ll take as much of it as he has.

I’m not going to pretend to understand exactly why he went AWOL at the beginning of the movie when no one else has ever thought to do that. I hope they answer that at some point, but he was reluctant, motivated by love (or at least lust), brave, but scared, and funny. His interactions with Han as they went to rescue Rey were great!

More Finn. More Rey.

Things I didn’t like so much

1. And More Poe

I have a feeling that there was a whole lot of Poe story that was written, shot, and cut to get the movie down to 2:20, because, “I just woke up that night and everyone was gone, so I just went right home.” is a pretty big yada yada.

I was all in on his character from his first comment to Kylo Ren, “Do you talk first, or do I talk first?”

There was a great escape sequence with Finn. They flew a TIE Fighter and became buddies, and then he was gone. Until he wasn’t.

It makes sense if they trimmed it for time, but that’s a character that felt underused and underserved. His story line seemed like it was edited by Walter Hobbs.

2. Luke

The question the world had been asking in the run of trailers for the movie was, “Where’s Luke?”

He’d been conspicuously absent from pretty much everything. And then, in the first sentence of the crawl, they explain it. And I was all in. That was a great way to start this off.

It’s kind of explained that he took off after Ben became Kylo Ren, and I’m sure we’ll get that back story in coming installments. So none of that was what bothered me about Luke.

What bothered me was this.

Luke got a whole lot of people killed by running off like that. That’s a really selfish thing for the last Jedi Knight to do.

3. The Politics

I don’t really understand what’s going on in the political world of The Republic. I’m not sure I really care all that much either. I’m actually glad this movie focuses on the action and the characters, and not on the inner-workings of the Senate, but I don’t really know who The First Order is, what The Resistance is resisting, how both sides get their massive funding, or what all of these wars are about.

But I’m not sure I really understood that The Empire was the government and the Stormtroopers were the army until like 1994, so there’s that.

I’m not really sure who the Ginger is who seems to be on equal footing with Kylo Ren, and I don’t really know what Capt. Phasma’s deal is either.

In the end, however, I’d like to say.

HOLY CRAP! THAT WAS THE MILLENNIUM FALCON FREE FALLING WHILE FINN SHOW A TIE FIGHTER WITH A BROKEN GUN TURRET!!!

A New Fear Awakens

I’m excited about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I have been since it was announced. And nothing I’ve seen since then has given me cause for concern.

There have been no pod races. No midiclorians. No one seems to have been told to act as wooden as possible.

So, I’m left with only excitement, or the ability to create brand new things to be worried about right out of my own little noggin. Which, of course, is what I just did. Just now. Five minutes ago. With no external prompting. And rather than keep this nonsense to myself, I want to share it with you.

I was thinking about Harrison Ford, and how exciting its been to see him in the trailers with Chewbacca and with all the younger, new characters. And then I was thinking how unlikely it was that Harrison Ford had signed on to a three-picture deal, which may or may not be accurate.

And then, I thought of 90210.

I was less excited when The CW brought us back to West Beverly High School than I am for Star Wars, but that may only be because it would seem strange to be this excited about that. I was, however, pretty excited.

Especially when I learned that Jennie Garth was coming back. There was going to be a tangible connection to Beverly Hills, 90210.

And then, they said Nat was coming back. And then. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Stop the clock! Shannen Doherty was coming back.

There were 1000 ways this could still be terrible, but the idea that they could convince Brenda to return from London was pretty amazing. No one thought that would ever happen.

In much the same way no one ever thought Harrison Ford would play Han Solo again. Largely because both Ford and Doherty (this marking the first time the two have been mentioned in the same sentence in the history of mankind) had said they would never go back to play those roles again.

Scoring Jennie Garth was cool, but it seemed about as hard to do as scoring Anthony Daniels.

Then, you know what happened? Probably not, because the Venn Diagram of Star Wars fans and 90210 fans has about three people in the intersecting segment. The show was almost entirely about the new kids at West Bev. Kelly had some stuff to do, and Brenda and Donna came back for brief story arcs, but after the first season, Kelly had less to do and the focus shifted entirely to Annie, and Dixon, and the rest of the gang.

And that’s when I realized that Star Wars was about to do that too.

I have no idea what The Force Awakens is about, on purpose. I don’t want to know. But it’s going to be about Finn, and Poe, and Rae and by episode VIII, someone may say, “Han had to go back to London to adopt a baby,” or something, and that will be that.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all lots of kids would be lucky to be adopted by Han Solo. And it’s most certainly necessary to continue the story in perpetuity like Disney plans.

But, I was suddenly filled with the fear that this transition would leave me wanting.

Which is a dumb thing to fear, because I have no power to change this one way or another and the story is what it is. But there it is anyway. Star Wars is about to go all 90210 on us.

You’ve been warned.

But don’t be afraid of that. Because fear is the path to the dark side.

On What ESPN No Longer Wants To Be, Or Is, As Of Today

A little over a year ago I went to a conversation at Colombia College here in Chicago between my friend Sam Weller and one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman. This was right around the end of Bill Simmons’ suspension for calling Roger Goodell a liar and then challenging ESPN to suspend him for it.

Klosterman, a friend of Simmons’ and co-founder of Grantland.com, was, of course, asked about Simmons’ suspension and his response was interesting, 100% correct, and extremely prescient. He made the very obvious point that Simmons wasn’t suspended for calling Goodell a liar, so much as he was suspended for publicly challenging his employer to suspend him.

When you go public and dare your employer to discipline you, there’s only one way that can end.

But, the thing he said that really struck me as true, and has turned out to predict the 12 months since then, is that, and I’m paraphrasing here, Bill Simmons is the single most important employee ESPN has from an on-screen and behind the scenes perspective, what with the creation of grantland.com, his incredible popularity, and his guiding hand in the creation of the 30 for 30 series. And he’s not even 1/100th as important as any game they put on the air.

Because sports fans want to watch sports. And they want to watch their team play. I’m an IU fan, and if IU is playing on ESPN, I’m tuning in, whether Bill Simmons, Keith Olbermann, Colin Cowherd, Andy Greenwald, Alex Papademus, Rembert Browne, Chris Ryan, Wesley Morris, Jason Whitlock, or Tony Kornheiser works there.

Btw, if 12 months ago you had Tony Kornheiser in the pool of last in that group to still be working at ESPN you’re now shocked to find that you were right.

Today, ESPN announced that they were pulling the plug on Grantland.com. A move that was inevitable after Simmons’ firing, and the subsequent exodus of all of the talent that made Grantland an innovative place filled with interesting content written by smart people.

ESPN, largely in reaction to the change in how cable channels are making their money (the rise of a la carte programming means fewer subscribers to the cable tiers that house the ESPN family of networks and fewer subscribers means less revenue) and the rising cost of securing the rights to broadcast NFL, NBA, NCAA, and MLB games, has decided to get almost completely out of the business of having smart people create interesting content and focus their money-efforts almost entirely on games, games, and more games.

And this change would make me sad, except all of those smart, interesting, and creative people listed above aren’t dead.

Simmons, after a forced hiatus has reemerged in podcast form and will land on TV again in 2016 on HBO. He’s also hired away some great talent from Grantland.com to help him build his next venture, whatever that is.

Cowherd is now on Foxsports, along with Jason Whitlock, and the Grantland talent that hasn’t followed Simmons has landed elsewhere, like the New York Times, and more of them may be joining him now that Grantland is dead.

Hell, Simmons might be able to lease the Grantland office space back if he wants and hang a new sign on the door. Stranger things have happened.

Since this summer, my podcast feed has started to run dry with The Hollywood Prospectus, BS Report, and Do You Like Prince Movies all ending. And now, with the official end of Grantland, and the return of the Bill Simmons podcast, maybe the others will rise from the ashes as well.

More importantly, maybe they’ll read this and hire me to help them build whatever is next.

Because a place on-line where smart, talented, people write about sports and pop culture is something I need. And someplace I should be working, if we’re being honest about it.

So, I’m sad for the death of Grantland, but from its ashes a number of great things can come that aren’t tied to the subscriber base of cable and satellite providers and the whims of a changing commercial landscape.

And I could work there.

What Playboy Can Learn From Krusty the Clown

This morning, the world awoke to the news that as of March 2016 Playboy magazine would no longer publish pictures of naked women in their magazines. Not for any new-found morality about the female bosom, but because there’s just no money in it anymore.

Scott Flanders, Playboy’s CEO, told the New York Times. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

It seems that playboy.com went non-nude a while ago, and they’ve found their web traffic increase and their demographic skew younger. But the reaction I’ve seen all over is confusion as to the point of having Playboy without the single defining characteristic of Playboy. And that’s a fair response.

Would you go to Starbucks anymore if they stopped selling coffee?

So, where does Playboy magazine go from here?

I’m sure they have a plan, but I’d like to offer a suggestion. And it’s one that proved successful over 20 years ago for a famous show within another cartoon show.

In the season three finale of The Simpsons, Krusty the Clown got some direct competition from Gabbo, a ventriloquist dummy show. His rating dipped and Krusty Gets Kancelled.

Worried about the idol, Bart and Lisa find Krusty standing on a street corner, holding a sign reading, “Will Drop Pants for Food.”

Bart asks Krusty, “Are you making any money?”

“Nah,” Krusty replied, “That guy’s giving it away for free.”

Will drop pants for food

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, Krusty called all of his famous friends, and they put together an All-Star TV Extravaganza, Krusty’s Comeback Special. 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers performed.

Johnny Carson juggled cars

Sideshow Luke Perry got shot out of a canon

Bette Midler sings with Krusty

And HUGH HEFNER PLAYED PETER AND THE WOLF ON WINE GLASSES!

Playboy has the same problem. There’s nothing wrong with what they’re offering, but there’s a guy right in front of them giving it away for free. Same problem. Same solution.

So, playboy, look no further than your own board room.

Host an all-star magazine extravaganza, have Bette Midler sing a song, censor the Red Hot Chili Peppers lyrics, shoot Luke Perry out of a canon, and get Hef to play the wine glasses.

Is there a better solution out there? Hef has already done this once, and Playboy’s CEO is named Flanders for the love of doodily.

It put Krusty back on top (it didn’t hurt that Gabbo called the kids in his audience “SOBs” with a live mic, so maybe have the free porn sites say something mildly offensive to drive away their audience as well).

If Playboy can pull this off, they’ll be swimming in ruby-crusted clown noses.

Pandemonium

Pandemonium was the second movie shown on the second episode of USA Up All Night and aired on January 14, 1989. It was a complete departure for Up All Night in that this movie had actual actors in it.

Set in the great state of Indiana at world renown college It Had To Be U where, despite a long history of murders during Cheerleader Camps, a wannabe cheerleader decides to reopen the camp.

And the only person who can save cheerleaders, Mandy, Randy, Candy, Andy, Sandy, and Glenn, is Yo-Yo Man himself, Tommy Smothers, as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and his sidekick, Pee Wee Herman.

It’s meant to be a spoof with gags like Eve Arden playing the warden of a prison. And her name is Warden June. Get it? Like Leave It To Beaver, Ward and June. Get it?

There are escaped convicts and escaped mental patients. And murder. And lots of gags centered around Tommy Smothers’ horse.

But none of that is what’s important about this film.

If you love anything that happened in comedy in the 80s, you owe Pandemonium a debt of gratitude because this movie is directly connected to almost everything that happened on TV or in the movies for the entire decade.

Don’t believe me. How’s this for other projects the actors in this movie also appeared in during the 80s.

Beverly Hills Cop

Back to the Future

Gremlins

Teen Wolf

Clue

Three Amigos

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

Pee Wee’s Playhouse

Princess Bride

Cheers

Night Court

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Back to School

Private Benjamin

The Dukes of Hazzard

M*A*S*H

Superman II, III, and IV

And so much more.

I also made you a handy infographic displaying all of these connections.

Pandemonium

And what more needs to be said about the movie that is the Dark Tower of 80s entertainment? All paths serve the beam, and the beam connects at Pandemonium.

I’m not suggesting that you need to go watch Pandemonium. In fact, that’s actually a small challenge to accomplish. But I am saying that you may not know it, but you owe so much to Pandemonium and don’t really want to live in a world without it.