Ranking Janet Jackson’s top forty hits

The death of John Singleton has rejiggered what I think of Janet Jackson’s early nineties achievement: singing and writing about erotic submission and action with the detachment of an observer who’s lived a little. Her sweet, small croon suits the material; it’s amazing how rarely Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ beats smother her. Also amazing:Continue reading “Ranking Janet Jackson’s top forty hits”

John Singleton — RIP

Few young filmmakers get their scripts approved and direct a film in which most things go right, and John Singleton did with Boyz in the Hood. The 1991 depiction of life in blighted South Central L.A. starring a mesmerizing Ice Cube became the kind of phenomenon that absorbs cultural currents and creates new ones; forContinue reading “John Singleton — RIP”

Chafing at limits: Lizzo, Reba McEntire, Billie Eilish

I’m catching up after finals, a conference, and listing. Lizzo – Cuz I Love You Wearing see-through panties, ordering Jerome to get his ass home before she takes matters into her own hands, Melissa Jefferson sings the body electric. Her third album shows off her big, broad voice. She’ll syncopate if she must, but theContinue reading “Chafing at limits: Lizzo, Reba McEntire, Billie Eilish”

Ranking Stevie Wonder top tens

As in the case of Marvin Gaye, appreciation of Stevland Morris’ self-produced masterworks overshadows the achievements of his youth, which, as the list below indicates, are considerable. Radiant and almost transparent, flexible when the situation demands it, Stevie Wonder’s vocals are one of America’s greatest gifts to the world, despite the Nixon-Ford-Carter-Reagan years in whichContinue reading “Ranking Stevie Wonder top tens”

In ‘Amazing Grace,’ Aretha gives one of 1972’s best film performances

The director allows himself one scene before the performance, discussing what he no doubt assumed was a technical matter. He looks excited; he’s thinking on the balls of his feet. Anxious too — with reason. The late Sydney Pollack, hot off They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? but devoid of documentary experience, accepted the assignment atContinue reading “In ‘Amazing Grace,’ Aretha gives one of 1972’s best film performances”

Singles 4/26

A short week thanks to Easter, and a week devoid of controversies: behold the plenitude of Soto 6’s, including for Madonna and Maluma’s okay collaboration, Anderson Paak and Smokey’s okay quasi-duet, and The Veronicas going Paramore and Tegan and Sara a few years too late. All the more reason to give the Lebanese act atopContinue reading “Singles 4/26”

The best Best Director winners

It seems likely that not even Alfonso Cuarón will top William Wyler and John Ford’s achievements by winning two more Oscars to match their four, respectively. Those who know their Oscar history will note that director/picture differences happened during the fifties (note George Stevens’ wins), tapered for a couple decades until Warren Beatty and OliverContinue reading “The best Best Director winners”

Florida politics and the carceral state

In a classic example of heads-I-win tails-you-lose policy, the Florida legislature has decided that the plain language of Amendment 4, passed with overwhelming support last November, doesn’t mean what it says: Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said that the upper chamber is scheduled Monday to consider a House bill that would prevent felons from votingContinue reading “Florida politics and the carceral state”

Ranking Prince’s American top forty singles

So immense is the shadow of his biggest eighties hits that Prince’s smaller ones strike a defiant pose. I don’t need to hear the curious rock star posing of “Let’s Go Crazy,” which never stirred my veins, when “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and, better, “Mountains” exist. Studying this list, I realized his singles didn’tContinue reading “Ranking Prince’s American top forty singles”

In ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ dreams, they complicate lives

Punch drunk on Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the last scene in Long Day’s Journey Into Night shows Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei) and Hongwu Luo (Huang Jue) kissing as the camera pans 360 degrees. Often these allusions signal no more than the filmmaker’s awareness of them; Bi Gan, however, uses cineaste memories of Hitchcock, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, JeanContinue reading “In ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ dreams, they complicate lives”

The Ten Commandments of Student Writing

Teaching full time since last August, I’ve got more students than ever, hence more exposure than ever to the infelicities of student writing. I wanted to share these pensées before my next face-to-face course in late June. Let me stress: student writing, not other writing, although why not. I’ll take suggestions.