Art Is in the Eye of the Beholder @billyjoel @StarWars @kesseljunkie #movie #music #art #StarWars #BillyJoel

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I have a phrase I like to use. By now, you should know it, but I’ll repeat it anyway: Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There’s a meme running around . . .  okay, going viral that completely misses this point. I’d like to trash the meme, but it goes all “sociopolitical,” and I’ve already done my annual sociopolitical post for the year. Instead, I’ll address another meme that reimagines the story told in Billy Joel’s fantastic song, Piano Man. The song is actually about Joel during his early days playing seedy bars filled with alcoholics and underachievers. The meme could be said to be sociopolitical too, but I don’t see it that way, so here it is.

Now, there’s a problem with the theory of this meme: Paul never had time for a wife. This means that if would have had a wife if his priorities are different. Also, not everyone who’s an alcoholic, failure, underachiever, or sailor is gay. That makes the statement at the end, “yep, it’s definitely a bar full of gay dudes,” to be rather arrogant, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t fairly infer that it’s at a “gay bar.” It still fits, and you just ignore the imperfections in the spirit of having fun with the lyrics.

Another Theory: They Still Live

Well then, it’s no less legitimate to instead imagine that Piano Man takes place in the They Live universe, but in a sequel called They Still Live in which a few surviving aliens have recovered their ability to hide their true selves. Joel is playing to bunch of extraterrestrials and doesn’t know it. Why can’t Billy tell they’re aliens?

Because those sunglasses are just ordinary ones. Instead of a bunch of homosexuals having a betting pool, it’s a bunch of aliens wondering when he’ll figure out that they’re aliens in hiding. They’re reluctant underachievers because they must remain in hiding until they reclaim control over the Earth. Is this a perfect inference? No, but remember, neither was the “gay bar” interpretation. This interpretation also has no clear contradictions within the lyrics, so it’s just as good. So would any interpretation in which people, extraterrestrial or otherwise, we’re in hiding. I’m sure the song could be put to use in a pretty good Al Qaeda recruitment video, and I doubt Joel would approve.

Revenge of the Sith

Let me give you another example. This one’s more on point with the meme I don’t want to discuss. In Revenge of the Sith, Mace Windu, et al. attack Emperor Palpatine, a.k.a., Darth Sidious. The others fall, so it’s just Mace and Sidious going at it, and Mace gets the upper hand. He starts to reflect Sidious’s force lighting back on him. According to the dialogue, as wells as a (long-lost) interview with George Lucas, the reflection disfigured Palpatine.

I never bought that, and I think Kessel Junkie and I have discussed it.

My interpretation from the moment I saw it was that Sidious was already disfigured from his long term use of the Dark Side. Within the movies – I don’t concern myself at all with the Expanded Universe – there’s nothing in canon to contradict that. With Mace Windu’s attack, Sidious’s power was being tasked, so his veil dropped. Everyone was seeing him for what he really was. He initially lied to Anakin to complete his turn to the Dark Side, then maintained the lie to convince others of the treachery of the Jedi. That in turn meant that he no longer had to use a portion of his power to maintain that veil. Win-win as far as he was concerned.

Am I wrong? Not according to me, so why do I care whether George agrees? Why would he care if I disagree with him?

The point is that you can interpret art, especially good art, in a way that suits you, even if it contradicts the intent of the creator. Unless you’re way off base, your interpretation is as legitimate an interpretation as anyone else’s. Whatever makes the art work for you is fine.

As long as you’re buying it, the creators won’t mind.

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Neat Watch: Brave New World @peacockTV #GoodWatch

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NBC Peacock offered their original series, Brave New World, free of charge last weekend. I liked it a lot. The episodes are between 40-50 minutes long, and there are nine of them. From the Peacock website:

In a utopia whose perfection hinges upon control of monogamy and privacy, members of the collective begin to question the rules, putting their regimented society on a collision course with forbidden love and revolution.

In a sense, it was a horror movie for me, but I don’t expect everyone to feel that way. This is probably best described as science-fiction, though it’s also referred to as Utopian or Dystopian. I think of it as trying to achieve the same sort of vibe as Westworld. It’s a different story, and they carve their own path, so I’m not accusing them of doing anything wrong. Among the show’s stars are three actors with whom I’m familiar: Alden Ehrenreich, Hannah John-Kamen, and Demi Moore.

There’s a scene near the end of episode 4 that really hits me. I’m not sure if this is the intention, but it basically says (to me) that you don’t need soma (their mood-improving drug) because there’s music in the world. I doubt that was the precise intent, especially in light of a scene in episode 5, but that’s at least close (or part of) what they’re trying to say.

Is it good? Yes. I liked it a lot and will watch subsequent seasons. However, there’s too much good stuff on Peacock, as well as the other streaming services for which I’m already paying, for me to add another bill. I’ll probably join for a month and spend a weekend watching season 2 and a couple of other shows.

Unfortunately, if you want to watch it now, you’ll have to subscribe to Peacock’s pay service. As always, YMMV.

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My Five Favorite Albums . . . Really Five This Time @rushtheband @StevieNicks @LBuckingham @MickFleetwood @billyjoel @IronMaiden @PhilCollinsFeed @tonybanksmusic @officialmatm #music #Rush #FleetwoodMac #IronMaiden #BillyJoel #Genesis

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I’ve provided my favorite movies, bands, and songs, and now we reach the last in this series: My favorite five albums. This should be the easiest of the posts, so I shouldn’t be such a coward this time. You’ll get your five. Again, however, I’m going to give you my favorite albums by the bands I mentioned previously, but my absolute favorite album of all time isn’t from any of them. Despite my methodology, though, this could very well represent my actual, favorite five albums.

Grace Under Pressure, Rush

R.I.P., Professor.

This is an unusual choice for Rush fans, but in discussing it online with several other fans, I’m definitely not alone. I’m not going to go into this in detail, because it’s a personal matter. I’m simply going to make this vague statement: There was a moment in time when I truly became an independent person. For better or worse, this was a significant moment and a significant development, and Grace Under Pressure was part of my life during that moment of clarity. It’s tough to separate this album from that.

Rumors, Fleetwood Mac

If you’ve read the previous two posts, you knew this was coming. I was raised on this album. It belonged to my older brother, but I could listen to it whenever I wanted, and he bought it at a time when I finally had a choice of what music I heard. I had my own radio, so I could listen to which songs I heard on the radio, and from 1977 forward, I slowly started my modest collection of albums so I could listen to the music I wanted to hear when I wanted to hear it. Despite it not being mine, Rumors was the start of that.

Powerslave, Iron Maiden

As with GUP above, I think I’m making a choice that isn’t very popular among fans of the band. Yes, my favorite Iron Maiden song is on this album, but as with much of our attachment to art, this is about more than the art itself. This is about nostalgia. This was my first Iron Maiden album, and the music on it is solid from start to finish. I’m also a huge fan of the instrumental, Losfer Words, as well as the title track. I’ve spent many hours jamming to these songs on my guitar or bass (though I’ll never win an award for my playing).

The Stranger, Billy Joel

This album combines the positive qualities I’ve referenced throughout this series of posts. While the music is all from a specific genre, it’s diverse within that genre. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant is epic. It’s like an Iron Maiden or Rush song in that it has multiple movements, all lyrically tied together, yet clearly distinct from one another musically, producing one hell of an effect. The band has enough members in it to fully fill out the music. The instrumentation doesn’t include merely the traditional guitar, bass, keyboard, and drum set collection, but adds woodwinds and other percussion. Hell, there’s even an accordion in there. Joel is a native New Yorker. He grew up in the ultimate melting pot. This influenced how he collected personnel and wrote his music, and the Stranger is probably the best example of that from his discography. As far as I’m concerned, this was one of my favorite artists at his absolute peak.

My Favorite Album? Drum Roll, Please. Duke, Genesis

Once again, I admit that this is all subjective, but there’s a pseudo-objective reason why Duke is my favorite album. As Duke was being written, you could still say Genesis was going through a transitional phase after the departure of Peter Gabriel. This was their third album after Gabriel left, and second after Steve Hackett left, so Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks were still trying to figure out what they wanted to do, even having considered for a time writing only instrumentals going forward. After finally settling on six songs that comprised the Story of Albert, the band realized they needed more music to fill out the album. Each of the members wrote two more songs. The result was remarkable.

Because the earlier six songs were telling a common story, Duke was strongly coherent. The later six songs mixed things up a bit to keep the album from being monotonous, but those later six songs were still connected to the earlier six, both lyrically and musically. In other words, you had a strongly coherent album of spectacular songs with just enough variety to prevent you from getting bored. The songs themselves represented a stunning bridge between progressive rock and popular music.

Of course, you must like this kind of music for any of this to matter, but that’s why I admit that it’s still a subjective question. In fact, many Genesis fans hate Duke because it tries to be both things, and to them Duke represents to worst of both worlds. Obviously, I believe it represents the best of both worlds. I’ve occasionally said that I’d be happy to pay full price for a concert ticket where Genesis got back together and just played Duke from start to finish. I’d need nothing else.

Subjectively speaking, Duke is my favorite album of all time. YMMV.

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My Five Favorite Songs . . . Sort Of @rushtheband @StevieNicks @LBuckingham @MickFleetwood @billyjoel @IronMaiden @jumonsmapes #music #Rush #FleetwoodMac #IronMaiden #BillyJoel

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Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to do this? Bands were hard, and movies were harder, but songs are impossible. There are just too many deserving of high praise and to which I have a deep, personal connection for me to pick just five, but that’s been the thing for the past two posts. I guess I’ll have to give it a shot. While I have a clear favorite song, what I’m going to have to do is pick my favorite songs by some of my favorite bands. My sanity depends on it. There’s just no way to organize a list that large.

#1: Limelight, Rush

R.I.P., Professor.

As alluded to yesterday, my favorite song comes off of Moving Pictures, and it’s Limelight. I have no connection to the lyrics, as I haven’t even had 15 minutes of fame, but that music kills me every time. I’ve heard that Alex Lifeson believes this to be one of his most emotional solos. For what it’s worth, I agree.

Landslide, Fleetwood Mac

Simply beautiful. The version from Fleetwood Mac Live adds in Christine McVie’s keyboards to really fill out the music. I won that album as a middle school dance door prize. It was the second album I ever owned personally, and at the risk of shedding my cowardice, I’ll add that Stevie’s performance of Rhiannon on that live album was one of the most powerful vocal performances ever recorded.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Iron Maiden

Sometimes, white people just want to punch someone. Rime appeals to that instinct, but the lyrics are based on Coleridge’s classic poem of the same name, which certainly doesn’t endorse such behavior. The bass solo always amazed me, but I could probably say that about any of Steve Harris’s bass solos. Like progressive rock bands, Iron Maiden didn’t shy away from epic songs that would never get radio airplay. They wrote what needed to be written and took no short cuts. The result, as expected, was always phenomenal.

Summer Highland Falls, Billy Joel

My favorite Billy Joel song comes off Turnstiles, which isn’t his worst album, but isn’t his best. The album isn’t bad in my opinion — he’s my #4 artist of all time! — but not everything can be the Stranger, ya dig? (Oooo, foreshadowing!) Anyway, I love how the consummate piano player just sits down with his piano and pours out his heart. Sure, he lets the band in for a bit of it, but make no mistake: This is about a guy, his life, and his piano.

Number 5?

By now, you must be getting the picture. To avoid undercutting the concerns of my post on bands, I’m going to cop out yet a third time. No #5 for you!

Yeah, I’m a coward, but let’s do this one more time tomorrow. I promise you’ll get five entries.

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My Five Favorite Bands . . . Sort Of @rushtheband @StevieNicks @LBuckingham @MickFleetwood @billyjoel @IronMaiden @jumonsmapes #music #Rush #FleetwoodMac #IronMaiden #BillyJoel

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Following up from yesterday’s post on my five favorite movies (sort of), I give you my five favorite bands. As this is all subjective, I can’t really justify my view by any objective metric, but I’ll be damned if I won’t try. Music is my favorite art form, so this one should have been tougher, but it turned out to be a little easier.

#1: Rush (tie)

What’s wrong with the people that don’t like Rush? No modern band in history can say that each of its members (or even just three of them) are in the consensus top twenty, of both music professionals and fans, for their respective talents. Geddy Lee and Neil Peart are often seen as the best bass and drum players respectively in modern music, and Alex Lifeson, while never given a #1 ranking, is solidly in the consensus top twenty. The songwriting isn’t silly and formulaic unless it’s the time for that. You can’t help but like what you like, but at the very least, this band deserves your undying respect for their musicianship. I, on the other hand, love this band’s music. I discovered it, and notably what remains my favorite song (q.v.) by any band, in middle school. The music kept coming until relatively recently. Oddly enough, I never particularly liked Tom Sawyer, which was the first song I heard from them.

R.I.P., Professor.

#1: Fleetwood Mac (tie)

Not only does this band get points for talent and songwriting, but they also get some serious nostalgia points. I was raised on Rumors. The fact that they had five members, three of whom were emotionally troubled songwriters, allowed them to produce rich, varied music packed with heart.

Here’s an interesting anecdote. Stevie Nicks wasn’t even two miles from me when she came up with the title to her masterpiece, Silver Springs. At least, that’s what I want to believe. As the linked map shows, I lived in Silver Spring, MD at about two miles from the exit sign that caught her eye and resulted in the name of the song. Rumors came out February 4, 1977, which is almost to the day when we moved out of that house. That’s when my brother bought the Rumors album and Silver Springs started to get some radio airplay as the B-side for Go Your Own Way. This band’s new music kept me going all the way through college. As soon as I was old enough to buy my own albums, I started going backwards through time and learning their older stuff as well, though nothing beats what was produced by the classic band lineup from Rumors, et al.

I also want to re-quote something an author wrote about the Chain.

[C]obbled together by Buckingham at a time when certain people in the band weren’t even speaking to each other . . . “[t]he Chain” is a stark reminder that you’re forever tied to the people you love most, even while they’re betraying you. –Jillian Mapes, https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/stevie-nicks-in-33-songs/

Nothing sums up that song, that album, or my life better than that.

#3: Iron Maiden

I didn’t discover Maiden until freshman year at college, and they hit me like a ton of bricks. I was primarily a bass player, and Steve Harris is one of the best that’s ever picked up the instrument. Bruce Dickinson is no slouch with the microphone either. It’s not just the music, though. One of the handful of concerts I’ve attended was the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour in 1988 (not sure if it was the 7/24 or 8/7 show). Along with Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason tour (June 1 of that same year), I was floored by the visuals as well. These remain my two favorite concerts because of how those visuals added to the overall showmanship of the concerts. 1988 was a hell of a year for me, musically speaking at least.

#4: Billy Joel

For the longest time (yes, that’s a pun), Joel was my favorite artist. Sorry, Billy, but you’ve been demoted to #4. What a fall from grace (almost a pun), loser! Seriously though, this guy goes back farther than I can remember. Like the other entries on this list, he was top five the moment I heard his music, and he never left that list. He’s also the only headlining artist I’ve seen live twice. (I saw Black 47 in a small bar in Soho and then again at the Guinness Fleadh, 1999, but no repeats otherwise.) I saw him on the Bridge tour with my sister and then again decades later with my sister and her eldest son.

Number 5?

Sorry, but I’m going to cop out again. I can’t name a fifth band because then I’d be slamming the door on a bunch of bands I’d instinctively call “top 5.” I also won’t even provide an “honorable mentions” list (again) for fear of leaving some deserving bands off that one as well. I challenge you to do better. See if you can limit yourself to just five without feeling dirty.

The lesson here is that there are really just four at the top, and then a bunch of stuff … bunched together beyond that. Or I’m a coward.

To all these musicians, including the ones I didn’t mention, whose music I listen to repeatedly, I sincerely thank you. Technology make life livable; art makes life worth living.

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Black Widow Dies #MCU @JeremyRenner @MarvelStudios

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Sundays are going to be lazy days for me. Going forward, I’m just going to re-post other people’s work. Today, it’s one of the best sacrifices in the MCU. As I’ve said, I don’t know if the relationship between Black Widow and Hawkeye was the best thing in the MCU, but it’s pretty damn close.

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Good Watch: Oliver & Company @billyjoel @disneyplus #GoodWatch #QuarantineLife

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In February of 1988, I babysat for my brother’s birthday party. About 15 10-year-olds and only two adults. 🙂 We saw this animated movie as part of the party. It’s definitely a kids movie, and didn’t appeal to me even then (I was 19), but I was curious how well I remembered it. Besides, it’s only 75 minutes long, and I still listen to the theme song, “Why Should I Worry?” by Billy Joel to this day.

I looked up the cast and saw that Roscoe Lee Brown voiced Francis, which sent me down a rabbit hole. As soon as I saw his image, it lead me to this vague memory from childhood: Doctor Scorpion (1978). I can’t find any details on the plot but would love to stream it if I can find it. I’m certain it didn’t hold up well.

Oliver and Company streams on Disney+. If you have young kids, it’s probably a good watch.

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Good Watch: Under the Skin (Not So Good) @netflix #GoodWatch #QuarantineLife

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I saw a video entitled Alien Movies on Netflix That Should Be Required Viewing. Some of the movies I’d seen, and a couple were on my saved list. I decided to give Under the Skin a shot. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, I’ll simply say that Scarlett Johansson plays a believable predator killing men. Her origins are in the real of science fiction.

I thought it was going to be a morality play, and it disappointed me that it wasn’t. While murder can never be justified, as I’ve discussed many times before, filmmakers often deal in extremes so that the less attentive in the audience won’t miss the point. So putting aside the inherent evil of murder, I was hoping her selection of targets would be based on their character. It wasn’t. She killed as many sympathetic men as she did unsympathetic ones. That soured me to the movie. A morality play could have resulted in an interesting ending, so unsurprisingly this one’s ending fell flat. It just … ended.

One interesting coincidence: It takes place in Scotland, and there’s a bus in the movie (during a particularly horrid but pivotal scene) that’s apparently from Lochgilphead. I’m planning a trip to Scotland and really want to visit the town. One of my paternal great-grandfathers was born there.

As always, YMMV.

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#Avengers: Age of #Ultron: The Flip Side of the #MCU Power Curve @JeremyRenner @lindacardellini

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In yesterday’s post, I voiced my only serious complaint about the MCU: The incoherent power curve. While that certainly annoys me, Avengers: Age of Ultron keeps me from forgetting that the least powerful original Avengers, Black Widow and Hawkeye, were certainly very important to the team. If the choice I was given was having a screwy power curve or eliminating them from the story, I’ll take the screwy power curve with a smile on my face every time.

Hawkeye

Hawkeye was instrumental in stopping Scarlet Witch from tearing the Avengers apart. He was the only one who avoided her powers, and he was the one to convince her, the person that would one day become the strongest Avenger, to join the team in a meaningful way. That was done with a speech rivaling any Captain America ever delivered. This was a believable effort on his part despite not requiring a superpower. Before that, however, he reinforced the message to the other Avengers of what they were fighting for by introducing them to his family. In fact, his non-hero wife, Laura, kept him from losing touch with his own importance. For a team that was falling apart at the seams, this was critical to the believability of the Avengers continuing to work well together.

Black Widow

I’ve written several times about how Black Widow is the glue of the Avengers. Except for Thor, she had significant, on-screen bonding moments with each of the original Avengers (as well as a few others) over the course of several films. This could explain her eventual inability to stick to one side in the Avengers’ “civil war.” With this movie, we saw the development of her most significant relationship, Bruce Banner, and the expansion of her most important one (from a story perspective), Hawkeye. I vaguely relate to Black Widow’s backstory, and how it shaped who she became, in a specific but personal way I won’t discuss; however, I think we can all agree that it’s compelling enough for her own movie. The story became a mission to rescue her, but not really. Far from the archetypical damsel in distress, she instead turned the situation around from the inside, leading the Avengers to Ultron. Without screwing with the power curve, Black Widow contributed in vital ways.

These two characters were as important to the Avengers as any of the others, and neither had a superpower.

Unrelated Note

In a cinematic universe filled with brilliant one-liners, one of my favorites comes from Age of Ultron.

“Oh, for God’s sake!”

James Spader is awesome.

Sometimes you must take the bad with the good. Black Widow and Hawkeye were really good.

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Why Captain America: The Winter Soldier Is My Favorite #MCU Movie @MarvelStudios #CaptainAmerica

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As you know, I love the MCU. Marvel Studios could have relied on the action and fantasy elements inherent to the source material to make a ton of money on crappy movies, but they didn’t. They spent a ton of money on special effects, but also on hiring highly talented writers, directors, and actors (some with Oscars under their belts) so that the movies had substance as well. No movie exemplifies that more than Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Like many MCU movies, it had the theme of establishing deep friendships that represented more than just coworkers or bar buddies. No, these friends were so close as to represent an adoptive family, replacing the biological families that Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanov, and Nick Fury lost, never knew, or never had. As wonderfully as it was executed, all of that is actually par for the course in the MCU. The Winter Soldier goes a step further.

Winter Soldier dealt with a political issue that is both timely and important: How do we strike the balance between security and liberty? Both are important. If we lax our security, we won’t have liberty for long, because nefarious forces from within and/or without will steal it. However, if security replaces liberty, then what kind of an existence are we actually fighting for? That’s why, when push comes to shove, liberty must win. In Winter Soldier, all of the good guys either fought for liberty or joined the fight after eventually realizing that they should have been all along. This decision shouldn’t be made naively, but those characters didn’t do that.

Okay, they sometimes did. The commitment to liberty was excessively idealistic, but this is a movie. Filmmakers must deal with extremes or risk losing the crowd. Many moviegoers aren’t observant enough to pick up key points being made unless they’re hit with it over the head, and a major theme is certainly a “key point.” This is why horrible characters that deserve the most serious punishment under the law can be forgiven and exalted by an audience simply because they’ve learned how to love a sibling. The movie world is different from the real world, and I’m sure you understand that. If not, movies must seem utterly ridiculous to you.

With that in mind, Winter Soldier dealt with an important and timely issue, came down on the right side of it (liberty) without being (too) naïve, and somehow managed to do that without pissing off members of any political party.

As a lawyer, how can I not get into that?

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