Thursday, December 17, 2009

Current Cultural Diet - December 2009

Wow, there sure is a lot of dust around here. Let me clear some of this off and have a seat.

OK, then. Where was I? Somewhere in the middle of my favorite rock albums countdown, which I will get back to at some point. Movie awards season is in full swing, and I want to watch some of the nominated movies before the Oscars this year, plus there are some other film-related things I want to get to. I was going to post something about Tiger Woods and actually got it half-written, but I junked that because I realized I didn't have anything new or interesting to say about the whole sordid story - suffice it to say, the guy has crashed and burned more spectacularly than any outsize celebrity has in, well, perhaps forever.

To get myself back in the blogging swing, I'm going to spend a few minutes on the music, TV, and literature that's currently occupying my limited attention span.

Music - Hunky Dory, by David Bowie. I've never been that big of a David Bowie fan, although my brother gave me a bootlegged live recording a few years back that I really enjoyed.

I picked up Hunky Dory, really, because of Rolling Stone magazine - it was #107 in their top 500 albums list a few years back, and then they recently did a piece devoted entirely to the album itself. Since I've been trying to work more classic rock albums into my ongoing musical education, I nabbed it from the used record store (yes, they still have those) and immediately won the store manager's respect--"cool!" he said. I don't know the guy but he listens to a lot of music, so that made me even more inclined to give it a shot.

Before Hunky Dory, I actually thought that "Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow" was an original lyric by the 90's Nirvana-aping band Bush. Now I know that Bush lifted it from David Bowie and "Life on Mars?" and that Gavin Rossdale is even more of a thieving hack than I thought he was.

Ahem. So anyway, my reaction to Hunky Dory? At least a half dozen end-to-end spins since I picked it up a few weeks ago, and I can see this as a staple of my audio diet for quite awhile to come. It's ambitious, a bit reckless at times, but also fearless. "Changes" and "Life on Mars?" and "Andy Warhol" and "Queen Bitch"--great, great album. Now I want to get around to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane.

Book - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Got this in paperback, well after the groundswell of popularity that attended its hardback release. Not sure why I picked it up exactly, as I'd been offered a copy for free before and had passed on it. I'd heard it was good, engaging, exotic mystery, but I'd also heard it was a bit dull in the beginning.

I may have been persuaded by the press surrounding the second novel in the late author's so-called "Millenium Trilogy," The Girl Who Played With Fire, published in English earlier this year. (Larsson died of a heart attack at 50 years old in 2004).

At any rate, I'm just over 100 pages in and can report that, yes, while it is a bit dry in the early going, it evolves into pretty nimble little thriller that I'm looking forward to finishing. The translation is a bit stiff and certain parts come across rather clinically, but the Swedish locales are interesting and the central mystery has real promise. Look for a follow-up later...

Television - Californication, starring David Duchovny. This show just wrapped up its third season on Showtime (and will be back for a fourth sometime next year). I've seen every episode to date, although I'd hardly call it great TV --some of the plot mechanations are so stupid that they leave me beating my skull against the headboard. Some of it is so patently contrived that you want to choke. And the actress playing Duchovny's daughter acts like a robot. At times I wonder why I even bother to watch, but then I remember that I like Duchovny--even as a loser, he's a winning presence, a perfectly deadpan mix of dry wit and moral rot who can be a drunk and a serial philanderer and still somehow likeable. He carries the show.

And the third season finale was a winner. Hank Moody (Duchovny's character) had to fess up to one of his more egregious sins, committed way back in the show's first-ever episode. I liked the way that karmic boomerang worked--it makes it seem like the writers have control of the show, even if they don't--and that turned out to be a very well-done scene. At first I was irritated that the show copped out on letting us actually hear the dialogue between Hank and Karen (Natasha McElhone), opting instead for playing Elton John's "Rocket Man" over the scene, but as it went on and the situation obviously escalated, the emotion on the actors' faces did the lifting, and what do you know, it actually worked. The dialogue wasn't necessary, and maybe would have been overwrought. The music, scoring what looks to be the final disintegration of an already fragile relationship, made it more memorable.

And it all left things in what could be a really interesting, game-changing spot for the fourth season, if the writers don't wuss out. I've been hard on the show in the past, so it's time to give it kudos for a job well done.

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