Monthly Archives: September 2016

It was all very run of the mill: Best of the Pretenders


Many years ago I heard “Precious” and “The Phone Call” side by side and thought I’d discovered the secret of what rock ‘n’ roll singing should sound like. Although she hasn’t recorded an album I care about since the first Clinton was in the White House, I like to say Chrissie Hynde is my favorite vocalist. Most comfortable with a talk-sing meter indifferent to iambs but so intuitive about listener expectations that she understood when to sustain a phrase, Hynde has been imitated by few. Like many first-rate vocalists who write, her stresses come at the beckoning of her melodies. Her band followed nobody — until the deaths of Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott. Even so she recorded Learning to Crawl, one of the great roaring-backs in rock and one of 1984’s quiet blockbusters. With the exception of 1986’s Get Close, produced by Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain and sounding like it, she recorded no duds, and before you say Packed!, know that this quiet, modest collection addresses (the fear of) commitment without the verities of adult contemporary. That would come with “I’ll Stand By You.”

1. Mystery Achievement
2. Up the Neck
3. Tattooed Love Boys
4. Talk of the Town
5. Brass in Pockets
6. Middle of the Road
7. Hymn to Her
8. Precious
9. Time the Avenger
10. Back on the Chain Gang
11. Chill Factor
12. Message of Love
13. Sense of Purpose
14. Show Me
15. Let’s Make a Pact
16. Night in My Veins
17. Don’t Get Me Wrong
18. Biker Boy
19. My City Was Gone
20. Day After Day
21. 2000 Miles
22. Popstar
23. My Baby
24. Stop Your Sobbing
25. The Phone Call

Best films of 1983 and 1984


I’d include Purple Rain‘s concert sequences and almost every frame of Molly Ringwald’s work in Sixteen Candles, but I couldn’t include the movies in the 1984 list.


The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman)
L’Argent (Robert Bresson)
Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman)
Rumblefish (Francis Ford Coppola)
Pauline at the Beach (Eric Rohmer)
Local Hero (Bill Forsythe)
Videodrome (David Cronenberg)
Under Fire (Roger Spottiswoode)
The Ballad of Narayama (Shohei Imamura)
A Christmas Story (Bob Clark)


Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone)
Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme)
Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman)
The Terminator (James Cameron)
The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein)
Love Streams (John Cassavetes)
Choose Me (Alan Rudolph)
Top Secret! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker)
Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg)

Singles 9/30



– HOLD UP. I sure hope Beyonce loves us like we love her.

– I wish my colleagues had loved “Kill a Word” as much as I did.

– Susane Sundfør on a pop dance track is more enticing than I thought, but I’m not sure Röyksopp in 2016 is the answer. Give a Geeneus cast-off and maybe.

Click on links for full review.

Bucie ft. Black Motion – Rejoice (8)
Eric Church ft. Rhiannon Giddens – Kill a Word (7)
Beyonce – Hold Up
Röyksopp ft. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever (5)
Radwimps – Zen Zen Zense (5)
Red Velvet – Russian Roulette (5)
Tieks ft. Dan Harkna – Sunshine (4)
E-40 ft. Kamaiyah – Petty (3)
Diana Gordon – Woman (3)
Florida Georgia Line ft. Tim McGraw – May We All (3)
Michael Bublé – Nobody But Me (2)
Post Malone ft. Justin Bieber – Deja Vu (2)
Zion & Lennox ft. J. Balvin – Otra Vez (2)
Marshmello – Alone (1)

The élan, the perfect poster boys of conservatism

Do go on, Jonah Goldberg:

So it sounds like Trump was rude, bullying and tacky to the former Miss Universe about her need to lose weight. That doesn’t shock me and I doubt it shocks anybody else. So could he have been nicer about it? Absolutely. But this notion that a beauty pageant winner’s physical appearance isn’t relevant to the organization just strikes me as bizarre. Alicia Machado is not a plausible stand in for all women, nor a perfect poster girl for decrying the scourge of “fat shaming.” Newt Gingrich is right when he says, “you’re not supposed to gain 60 pounds during the year that you’re Miss Universe.”

The son of Lucianne Goldberg, the publisher who encouraged Linda Tripp to record her chats with Monica Lewinsky, indulges in his usual rhetorical flimflam: rhetorical question followed by intensifier that as my students well know is less intense than he thinks. The point isn’t that Donald Trump was a boor, a lout, and dweller in locker rooms of an all too familiar type; for Goldberg it’s that Trump wasn’t nicer. The casualness and lack of self-consciousness with which Goldberg can write, “Alicia Machado is not a plausible stand in for all women” is precisely why “fat shaming” is a “scourge” and why we’re talking about it. To read the rest, Google. I’m not linking to NRO.

Elsewhere, peeking out from his cirrus clouds of melancholy David Brooks pecks sentences that form themselves into words.

This presidential election is a contest between the oldest of the baby boomers.

587 words to go.

Yet Donald Trump, 70, and Hillary Clinton, 68, represent two very different decades in the formation of that generation. Donald Trump became famous as a classic 1980s type, while Hillary Clinton first attained public notice as a classic 1960s type.

It’s interesting, and sad, to see how the promise of those two decades has aged.

Here is what we call in the business the nut graf, so-called because this paragraph was written by a nut.

Trump opened Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in November 1983. Go-go capitalism had a lot of élan back then. Capitalism had washed away the stagnation of the 1970s. It was defeating the Soviet Union. During the Reagan years, writers celebrated capitalism not only as a wealth-generating engine but also as a moral system, a way to arouse hard work, creativity and trust.

Of course, Trump was always a scuzzy version of the capitalist type. Somehow I got on the guest list of a few of the ’80s-era parties he hosted in the lobby of his skyscraper and would go for sociological entertainment

I would imagine that “somehow” Brooks got on this list because William F. Buckley, Jr. and the other “writers” who gave him his start spent eight years publishing encomia to Ronald Reagan’s feet. “Of course” Trump was a vulgarian, unlike Buckley himself, advocate of tattooing HIV victims and apartheid enthusiast.

Because Brooks dwells in the green rooms of NPR and PBS he pledges his troth to On the Other Hand. After praising the “poetic, aspirational” virtues of Hillary Clinton’s 1969 Wellesley commencement address, he writes:

Clinton can be a devastatingly good counterpuncher, but she lacks the human touch when talking about the nation’s problems, and fails to make an emotional connection.

“She is a woman, after all.”

When asked why she wants to be president or for any positive vision, she devolves into a list of programs. And it is never enough just to list three programs in an answer; she has to pile in an arid hodgepodge of eight or nine. This is pure interest-group liberalism — buying votes with federal money — not an inspiring image of the common good.

Federal programs and collaborations with business are not an inspiring image of the common good; they lack the “élan” of Brooks’ definition of capitalism.

There is no uplift in this race. There is an entire absence, in both campaigns, of any effort to appeal to the higher angels of our nature.


Yes, the world is watching what we do.
Yes, America’s destiny is ours to choose.
So let’s be stronger together.
Looking to the future with courage and confidence.
Building a better tomorrow for our beloved children and our beloved country.
When we do, America will be greater than ever.
Thank you and may God bless the United States of America!

Platitudes and excerpts from self-help books, but I can’t accuse them of lacking uplift.

Ironically, one of the tasks for those who succeed the baby boomers is to restore idealism.

If a reader can parse this sentence, contact my lawyer.

At some point there will have to be a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrus

I appeals to the same reader for help with “restored anthropology.” As for solidarity, friendship, and all the rest, Brooks can buy an example of one candidate’s “vocabulary” for five bucks. Tax free, I think. Just like the go-go eighties would have liked it!

The essence of libertarianism



I’m not sure who believes that just because someone has educated herself about geography and foreign leadership that her ideas must automatically be followed. It’s just that most of us used to think that presidents should have some basic knowledge of facts before they propose policies. The campaign of 2016 has revealed that such qualifications are no longer considered a requirement for the job — at least not by the half of the electorate who claim to be voting for Trump or Johnson.

Let me amend: before George W. Bush we assumed presidents should ave some basic knowledge of facts before they propose policies.

She refers, of course, to Gary Johnson, who weeks after thinking Aleppo was a brand of raspberry gelato couldn’t think yesterday of a single foreign leader he admires. He could’ve gone the true libertarian route and said, “Chris, I admire no foreign leaders; we need to put America first,” but the last clause has an unpleasant ring to it. Wlliam Weld, the vice presidential nominee with an IQ over two figures, helpfully offered “Angela Merkel,” suggesting how a Johnson administration would operate.

Last Friday I wrote about what a libertarian president will mean for the environment. Should Trump lose, the GOP will transmutate in five to eight years into Johnson’s kind of man: they’ll dump the odium against homosexuals and pursue criminal justice reforms while abandoning the poor to the remains of welfare and letting the young minds whom Wall Street will hire come up with newer models for vaporizing the global economy that will make collateral debt obligations and credit default swaps look like Monopoly money.

Libertarianism rewards the atomization of society. There is no society. What remains would realize Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “there is no such thing as society”; instead “there are individual men and women, and there are families.” Libertarianism pats the ignorant man and woman on the back. It encourages indifference to neighbors. Its lips quiver when I take the shirt off my back for the sake of a homeless man and cheers when I endorse politicians who slash social services. Following the logic to their thinking to its inevitable conclusion, libertarians believe the correct subject-verb agreement is “The United States are,” not “the United States is.

‘The Nice Guys’ treats Crowe, Gosling like dull guys


Why Shane Black set The Nice Guys in 1977 instead of 1987 baffles me: it has the torpid rhythm, zombie’s touch for staging violence, and uneven comedy of Beverly Hills Cop 2. A decade after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang became a DVD cult item, the writer-director thinks the physical contrasts between Russell Crowe as a brawny enforcer and Ryan Gosling as a dimwitted private dick are enough to have audiences rolling in the aisles. Instead, The Nice Guys exemplifies why Hollywood can’t film comedies that take less time than drying your clothes using the cold setting.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the mysterious death of Misty Mountains, a decent name for a porn star. When her aunt hires Holland March (Gosling) to investigate, he learns that He’s In Over His Head; Amelia Kutney, see, doesn’t want to be found, and with Jackson Healy (Crowe) she can’t lose. Jackson roughs up Holland (not that he could do much with a PI who lost his sense of smell in a fight years ago). They team up upon figuring out that Things Aren’t What They Seem. Joining them is Holland’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), one of those smart aleck Hollywood kids ogled by Black’s camera even as Holland and Jackson defend her chastity. Then the bodies start to pile.

The Nasty Guy‘s peak is a party in the hills where emaciated young actors and actresses in plane-sized collars and bikinis do “crazy” things in hot tubs and dance to “Boogie Wonderland.” Gosling’s peak is an unintended drunken pirouette off a balcony for the sake of impressing a girl. In the time-honored tradition of actors playing dumbfucks, Gosling speaks molasses slow and squints. Black indulges him: after stumbling on a body Gosling does the year’s least convincing double take, not to mention that an Abbott and Costello skit nailed it when Gosling’s grandfather was a boy. He’s too smart an actor and in too trim a shape to play dissolution. Crowe does better – he can do this glowering palooka business without looking at the script. Kim Basinger, unaware that she was cast in a comedy, has a small part as Amelia’s mother.

But the party takes place when there’s almost an hour left in The Nice Guys. Black’s timing is on ‘ludes; he muffs an okay joke about bourbon martinis. He includes a sequence in which smog protestors stage a public sit-in that wouldn’t have been funny in 1977 either (it has the feel of jokes told by aging alcoholic fossils at a Dean Martin celebrity joke). Kiss Kiss Bang Bang wasn’t a giggle-a-minute either, but it got its frisson from casting Robert Downey, Jr. as a heterosexual. I also don’t remember it stooping to such grotesqueries as tossing women through windows either. The Nice Guys plays like a discarded action comedy script with jokes shoehorned in. There’s hardly a fresh thing in it. And the sentiment sticks in the craw. Directors shouldn’t use Gosling and Crowe if the line “It’s not common to find such nice people in this world” is used within five feet of them, ironically or not.

‘The man who claims authority…is an object of distrust and resentment’


“America has always been a country of amateurs where the professional, that is to say, the man who claims authority as a member of an elite which knows the law in some field or other, is an object of distrust and resentment,” W.H. Auden wrote in the middle of the twentieth century during the peak of America’s postwar ascendancy.

He had more to say:

Thanks to the natural resources of the country, ever American, until quite recently, could reasonably look forward to making more money than his father, so that, if he made less, the fault must be his he was either lazy or inefficient. What an American values, therefore, is not the possession of money as such, but his power to make it as as proof of his manhood; once he he has proved himself by making it, it has served its function and can be lost or given away. In no society in history have rich men given away so large a part of their fortunes. A poor American feels guilty at being poor, but less guilty than an American rentier who has inherited wealth but is doing nothing to increase it; what can the latter do but take to drink and psychoanalysis?

This excerpt comes from “Postscript: The Almighty Dollar,” also written in the 1950s. It explains, well, a few things going on with the approval that a certain GOP presidential candidate gets for boasting he pays no taxes.