Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 7

I grew up stuck in the endless desert. Crazy magic sky water will never not be my favorite. There are few noises more soothing than the sounds of a crashing rainstorm that you are not out in.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 6

George Burns and Gracie Allen did vaudeville together in the 1920s, movies in the '30s, radio in the '40s, and television (above) in the '50s. They were married for almost all of it. The duo originally cast George as the daffy one and Gracie as the straight man, but the audience wouldn't stop laughing at Gracie's lines -- so they swapped, and had an instant hit.

It takes a remarkable amount of intelligence to be the kind of "dumb blonde" Grace portrayed on screen. The art of what George called "illogical logic" involves knowing what people expect you to say, figuring out why they expect that, and then swapping it out for something that technically fits all of the requirements of the correct answer in context, except that it is complete nonsense. Gracie evidently did it off the cuff, in person. She was on tour and engaged to another performer when George went head over heels for her and tried to woo her away. He inadvertently won her over by making her cry at a party. She figured she couldn't possibly be so upset over something so silly unless she really loved him.

George stepped out on Gracie only once, in their nearly forty-year marriage, and he felt so horrible about it he never did it again. He didn't tell her -- he thought it would just make things worse -- but Gracie overheard him telling someone else, and he made it up to her with gifts, including a centerpiece she'd been eyeing for the dining room. Years later, she commented to one of her friends, "I wish George would cheat on me again. I could use a new centerpiece."

Burns & Allen performed together for more than three decades, until Gracie decided she was tired of television, and retired in 1958. She passed away in 1964. George kept ticking until the ripe old age of 100, performing as a comedian and cheerful lech well into his 90s. Admittedly, he was a better dancer when he was younger. Who isn't? You have to be pretty good to keep up with Fred Astaire.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 5

There's kind of a story behind that song.

In 1995/6, Bowie was on a European tour, and for some life/family-related reason, his opener -- I think it was Morrissey, but don't quote me on that -- had to bail on him. So he rummaged through a pile of demos and pulled out "Nancy Boy", later one of the singles off of Placebo's self-titled debut. He decided he liked it, and got his people to phone their people (i.e., probably somebody's flat), and somehow or another... things happened. And they went.

You can't not learn a lot about someone when you go on tour with them. They apparently learned that Bowie was as fantastic to work with as reputed, and also, amazingly, that he was a human being. He drank beer and had headaches and read a lot of books and missed his wife. And he also talked to them, because for God only knows what reason he actually liked the crazy mixed-up kids on tour with him, and cared what they thought.

It is obvious from listening to them that Molko and Olsdal are grateful to have had Bowie a friend and a mentor. He gave them a hell of a lot of support, not just professionally, but also as a person. Everyone kind of assumes Bowie liked them so much because they reminded him of himself at that age. Molko was even perspicacious enough at the time to say so when asked. Molko would have been at most 25 and I think Olsdal is younger; it's entirely possible that Bowie was the first well-established, successful adult they'd ever met who was fundamentally like them in a lot of ways, and seemed happy with himself. He was by all accounts a hell of a guy, so no one really questions that he'd want to make a point of being supportive for them, because they were young and frankly kiiiiiiiind of weirded out by the whole rockstar thing, and it was the right thing to do.

Bowie grew up in post-war England. This was not a time or a place noted for encouraging things like emotional expression, sexual experimentation, or boys in skirts. He ultimately turned out pretty cool, but he had to get there by himself -- he wouldn't have had someone to look up to, because that kind of uncloseted weird didn't exist in his environment.

Being that alone for that long leaves scars. If my experience is any indication, they're always going to be there, and they're always going to twinge from time to time. There's no way to go back and fix it for yourself, but sometimes the next best way to make all that quiet down is just to keep your eyes open for kids who are in that same hole, and do your damndest to be the person you needed so badly when you were that age. Sometimes, you even succeed. Bowie was lucky enough to run into a couple of kids who gave him the chance to personally make things better, at least a little bit. It goes a long way.

"Without You I'm Nothing" is the title track from Placebo's second album. The original has only Molko on vocals, but after hearing it Bowie, phoned them up and asked if they'd like to do a duet version, Molko played it very nonchalant when asked about this in interviews, but it covered up a whole lot of squee -- his expression in one of the publicity photos for the single pretty much says it all.

There's another photo of that moment in the booklet for their 20th anniversary album. It's a snapshot taken off-angle, from somewhere off to the side of the official photographer. That wasn't just a day at work; it was a moment someone wanted to remember. That song is something they want to remember, and they still play it in concert, in memoriam of the person who helped make it possible.

Molko and Olsdal have kids of their own now, a third generation of likely-weirdos, growing up with parents who are going to be totally unfazed by wah-wah pedals and alien hair and cross-dressing. I like the idea that it gets a little bit better every time we go around the cycle.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 4

You remember "Tiny Hamsters Eating Tiny Burritos", yes? John Oliver ran it once, after spending about twenty minutes elucidating something terrible about the world, just so everyone could go to bed happy.

Did you know there are more Tiny Hamster videos? YES THERE ARE! Here is the playlist!

Just as a side note, I feel better knowing I am not the only person who plans, prepares, and plates tiny meals for my beloved vermin when I have too much time on my hands.

(Mine are getting new bowls for Ratmas this year, and I have already knit up the hammocks. Both roommates have agreed to help. Photos closer to Christmas.)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 2

Answer to obvious question: Yes. As hatters. The pretty, mildly pigeon-toed one in the KISS jacket and the one in the gorilla suit matriculated at an actual formal art school, entirely on purpose, which is a universally recognized sign of insanity.

The pretty, mildly pigeon-toed one in the KISS jacket is Noel Fielding, and his tall tweedy partner in crime is Julian Barratt, here playing their most famous characters, Vince Noir and Howard Moon. The comedy team as a whole is known at The Mighty Boosh, apparently after a very impressive haircut that Mike -- Noel's brother, the short one in the elaborate turban -- once had, because they thought "Barratt & Fielding" sounded 'like solicitors'.

I'm uncertain how best to explain them, their work, or in fact their careers, other than to point out that this is the touring stage version of a show they produced for the BBC, which was essentially a live-action cartoon sitcom. You can see season one here. They also did a radio show, which is even sillier. Their show aired at like two in the morning, with a budget of almost zero, featuring a group of extras entirely composed of their friends and family, and in later series, the occasional fan. This includes Razorlight, Robots In Disguise (one of whom was Fielding's girlfriend at the time), Roger Daltrey, Gary Numan, and Richard Ayoade (known for the UK version of The IT Crowd, and other things). They tangle with an awful lot of bands, mainly because the two of them have extraordinary amounts of musical talent, even if they do use it for being ridiculous.

The Mighty Boosh does the nicest comedy I've ever seen. It's not G-rated by any means, and full of various naughty ideas and swear words; it's just very, very nice. It is the only sitcom I have ever seen where nobody ever has to learn an important lesson about friendship. The characters are utter idiots in pretty much every other respect, but they're great at being real, actual, believable friends.

This is in large part because Barratt and Fielding are friends. And by 'friends', I mean 'permanently attached to one another'. Often physically. Fielding considers personal space to be the space he personally wants other people in. He is notorious for cuddling right up to anyone he likes, and he likes Barratt a lot. Barratt is actually extremely quiet and self-contained on his own, but Fielding is sufficiently important to him that his friend is not just allowed, but encouraged, to hang all over him like a fashionable scarf. It's striking and constant. The original Mighty Boosh pilot is included as an extra on the season 1 DVD, and one of the main differences between it and the aired series is that originally the character of Vince was meant to be more of a childlike follower, and Howard came off as more of an older leader. They couldn't maintain the distance. Every time Howard tried to put a avuncular hand on Vince's shoulder, Fielding forgot his blocking and stepped right into Barratt. At one point they exeunt a scene hand in hand, which they have been doing for so long it is apparently reflex.

Their brains seem to be similarly nailed together. Both of them are phenomenal voice artists, with Fielding in particular a crazy master of accents. There are several character voices that they both do, interchangeably, and sound so alike I can't always tell them apart. The silly duet songs you see are obviously rehearsed, but apparently that became a thing because it's nearly that easy for them to sync up when just messing around.

This is the kind of thing I watch when I hate reality. Works about equally well whether you're sober or swimming in NyQuil.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 1

This has been a fucking horrible year. I cannot even count the number of things that made me cry. Not even personal tragedies, like international news. Honestly, at this point, I give up on Christmas. I am just going to post a month of things that are goddamn nice. No real theme, just bits, bobs, scraps, links, pictures, videos, and stories that are not awful.

To kick things off, have a bunch of YouTube clips of rats doing weird and adorable things:

Friday, November 18, 2016

Once upon a time, over a decade ago now, I made plans to spend my spring break visiting friends in New York. I had tickets to fly out to meet them at their university upstate, then we were going to take the train down and spend a day in Manhattan. It was sometime after 9/11 -- not so long that we were used to all the airport security theater yet, but long enough that New York had more or less returned to its normal background level of muggings, stabbings, and fraudulent cab drivers.

About a week before I was scheduled to go, I had a nightmare. I dreamt I was walking down the canyons of Manhattan, concrete cliffs towering above me, when I saw someone in the crowd look up Then more people. So I looked up, and we all saw a glint of metal high up in the air, and then the obliterating brightness of a nuclear flash.

I woke up in a dead panic. I think anyone would. That's a pretty terrible image.

I have never believed in prophetic dreams. I've never even had one of those weird coincidences, where you dream of some mundane event and then something eerily similar happens a few days later. But I spent the next week haunted by the feeling that I was going to New York to die.

It was equal parts horrible and mystifying. Technically, the chances were non-zero that it would happen the way I dreamt it, as both Manhattan Island and nuclear weapons exist. But in practical terms, the odds were exponentially greater that if I did somehow die on that trip, it would be in the part where someone had to drive me to the airport in Phoenix. Phoenix traffic is full of poor demented souls who are 109 years old and legally blind, and yet somehow retain their legal right to operate a motor vehicle on public roads, plus the signage at Sky Harbor is consistently one lane off, which means almost literally everyone driving around that airport is both lost and angry.

Logic made absolutely no dent. At all. As someone who deals with most things by just hitting them over and over again with her colossal brain, this just left me gobsmacked. I'd already gotten fairly good at that point at picking apart my reactions to things and figuring out what was prompting me to feel the way I did, but with this one, it was one part of my brain going, "Okay, what's really behind all this upset?" and another part of my brain just giving a wide-eyed baffled shrug. I genuinely did not know why I felt that way, or what to do about it. It wasn't the first time I'd had a total meltdown, but it was the first time A) it had lasted this long; B) I really realized that all of the people who had accused me of making a fuss over nothing in the past were lying, as previous fusses had been about actual things, albeit probably not things that warranted that magnitude of malfunction; and C) I was actually terrified over nothing this time, and I had no idea how to make it stop.

I don't think I can really explain to you what it's like to be well aware that none of your internal experience is making any fucking sense at all, and at the exact same time, remain convinced at an emotional level that you are at every moment deciding what you want to do with the last week of your life. It's sort of the opposite of psychosis. Instead of having a whole bunch of feelings that make perfect sense in the context of the alternate universe presented to you by your broken reality testing, it's having a whole bunch of feelings that are utterly baffling in light of your perfectly functional reality testing telling you that nothing in reality warrants any of them.

It had long since been drummed into my head that nobody cared how I felt. Previous attempts to explain what was going on had mainly gotten me shouted at. I wasn't going to get sympathy out of anyone, much less help. So in the end, what I did with the "last week of my life" was mainly keep my gob shut and go to class. At some point I ran out of energy for trying to argue myself into not feeling doomed, and just decided that well, I wanted to see New York before I died anyway, and if someone did drop a nuke on it I wasn't going to get another chance.

I feel just like that these days, only worse, because it's not necessarily over nothing. I have no idea how much of my state of mind is because the world is legitimately dangerous, and how much is just because I have redlined and broken again. Drugs only do so much. The line between "too panicky to function" and "too sleepy to be coherent" is razor-thin with me, and the dosing is more difficult to judge since I've more or less given up on food. I'm not particularly good at being an anorexic -- I don't look fat in the mirror and I dislike being too thin, as it gets uncomfortable to sit on the floor and my neckline gets all collarbone-y and all that -- but we also don't have a lot of resources to spare, and that includes grocery money. The guilt and anxiety over possibly eating something that one of the more economically-valuable roommates might have wanted is overwhelming, and I'm really too exhausted to argue with it most of the time. I've somehow gotten phased out of the household dinner plans, so I just clean up the wreck they've left behind after making the dinner I didn't eat any of, and crawl off to bed.