“All By Myself” with Céline

Like a lot of other beating hearts on this planet, I haven’t been able to muster myself into any sort of creativity lately. I haven’t written, I haven’t collaged. Those pages sit blank. I’ve only managed to make some horrible postcards that fall apart in the mail and appear at their recipients’ houses mysteriously blank. (A sign from above?) These were slapdash creations glued together and doused in glitter and swathed in washi tape, the only “art” I could squeeze out of myself.  

And so I turn to Céline.

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The only flow I can get into is playing certain songs on a loop, someone else’s art blasting into my ears. One of those is Miss Céline Marie Claudette Dion’s rendition of “All By Myself.” It is a symphony of cheesery and so, so comforting, even as it articulates the pang of longing for companionship. A bit on the nose, perhaps, for those in lockdown alone, but with Céline in your ears, you’re not really alone. 

I may not be able to belt it out right now (or technically, ever), but Céline always has and always will. In my time of need, the desire to create something, anything, but coming up short every time, this woman comes through like the Titanic headed for the iceberg. The song may be an emotional tsunami, but Céline makes sounds that register as something that whales would respond to. Plaintive and wailing, but also a form of navigation out of the dark depths.

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The music video is a master class in ‘90s adult contemporary visuals. In black and white, Céline is walking around in a choice of a haircut in some green room decorated like a Tucson nightmare. She walks onto a stage, emotes in front of a droopy fabric background. Oh, but then, some color! Mostly white, though. She’s by herself, ok! When she dials the telephone, nobody’s home. Back to monochrome, she’s on stage singing it out in front of her many fans, in pleather. She doesn’t want to live by herself anymore! Anymooo–ooo–oorrr-hooo–orree!!

A bit under three minutes in, Céline holds a note for about 10 seconds, screaming into the first half and then modulating the shit out of it. The lung capacity, my god. Does she have a cave in there? Into whatever void in me, that note reaches.

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Why am I obsessed with this song? It is cheese. It is the fromaggiest of fromage. Eric Carmen wrote this in 1975, stealing from the late Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov (the second movement from the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor) for a good chunk of the melody – along with its ambience, I would argue. Carmen actually wrote this trash barge of sadness and put it out in the world. He didn’t pour it all out and then come back later thinking, you know what, this is too much. I have to respect that – efficiency is not everything, especially in my throwing-spaghetti-at-the-wall internality. 

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The song feels heavy, like a box in the corner full of old stuff you can’t get rid of. One of the basest human fears, that of being alone, laid out in minor key. The original version is over seven minutes long. (Interestingly, that one has almost eleven million more listens on Spotify than the single edit at four minutes and thirty seconds.) It has a slide guitar solo plus what I can only think of as a piano cadenza, as if Carmen thought of this as his homage to the foundational concerto. The main words beyond “all by myself” are “never,” “alone,” “nobody.” It’s a huge mess and I can only applaud its immoderation. 

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Another thing that delights me about this song is that Rachmaninov is credited as a songwriter/composer on it. Yes, this was the right thing to do, but it’s also insane. Rachmaninov! Dead in the great beyond, decomposing, and thirty years after he was put in his grave, some American dude slaps a song credit onto his catalogue. Excuse you, sir?? And Carmen didn’t even acknowledge it at first – the Rachmaninov estate had to contact Carmen after the song’s U.S. release to inform him the composer’s music is not in the public domain outside that country. 

(“All By Myself” is also not the only time Carmen has borrowed from Rachmaninov – he used material from Symphony No. 2 for “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.” Truly, Carmen never did anything all by himself, so perhaps this whole thing is a lie and I need to reevaluate everything.)

Anyway, it’s nice to feel something that isn’t general malaise, and Céline is there for that. The song may be a garbage heap of sloppy emotions, but at least it exists. At least it’s out there. By the end of the music video, Céline is doing one of the many things she excels at – reaching lots of people, spotlit, singing the shit out of anything. She is a musician, a performer, a lighthouse. Screen Shot 2020-08-10 at 12.53.51 PM

 

A Few of My Favorite 2019 Things

If doing something twice makes it a tradition, here I am following tradition and sharing my favorite happenings from the past calendar year. 2019 was a lot for the world and for me – but this collection isn’t in that spirit. The spirit that moves it is my truly spaghetti-to-wall brain. You don’t know what will stick, you’ve thrown a lot at that wall, but it’s fun to see what has staying power. True to my form, these things are quite a mashup of random stuff, highly irreverent but tinged here and there with deep reverence. And so:

Angela Hewitt with Music of the Baroque

On a snowy night in January, I got to see Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 with a woman conductor (Jane Glover). I died imagining that happening in Mozart’s own time. (His sister, Nannerl, was a musical talent in her own right but was lost to the invisibility cloak of old-timey marriage and man-centric histories.) To make things even better, I met Madame Hewitt afterward at a signing, and nervously told her how much the woman-led ensemble meant to me. I hope this is part of a growing pattern in the art world (I’d wish for a tidal wave, but…). 

Getting Jeni’s in the mail

Yes, this did appear on the 2018 list, but it’s amazing every time it happens. Ice cream delivery is probably the best invention of the 2010s. 

“Raquel, do you want some chicken?”

Buckle up for some nonsense. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures – if it brings you joy, and you’re not hurting anyone/it’s aboveboard/etc., who’s to say you should be ashamed of it? Objectivity is a construct of the patriarchy and cultural hegemony ranks the work of women and minorities lower no matter what. Ok, where was I – oh yes, Vanderpump Rules. This show about extremely awful people who don’t actually work at Lisa Vanderpump’s terrible LA restaurants is the rhythm of my life and you can leave if you don’t like that about moi. Everyone on this show is the worst (Exhibit A: Jax Taylor) and I should just look away but I cannot. Long story short, one moment on Season 7 in early 2019 got me through the whole winter, polar vortex incuded. DJ James Kennedy is at a party with his girlfriend and Millennial Teletubby Raquel Leviss. She’s talking to some other man by the bathrooms (??) when James sidles up to her and inexplicably asks if she wants some chicken. No opener, no party banter, just a chicken query. I was so taken by this exchange that I had to memorialize it. I’ve tried to figure out why I love this so much, and all I’ve come up with is that the unexpected is often very, very funny, especially when it involves people who are usually just tearing each other apart in search of reality show fame, not sweetly, weirdly seeing a woman about some chicken. That and perhaps the deep insanity instilled by winter.

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Continue reading “A Few of My Favorite 2019 Things”

Spectating U.S. Open Spectator Fashion

Here we are again, another tennis Grand Slam, more opportunities to ogle some outfits. Let’s look at what some famous people chose to wear to the 2019 U.S. Open in the idyllically named Flushing Meadows.

Meghan Markle

Once again supporting her friend Serena Williams at her job, Meghan Markle is all understated elegance. She knows all the cameras will be on her, but she doesn’t want to take away from Serena’s day. However, Meghan is still making a statement – the chic sunglasses, the simple dress with a cinched waist, and editor drape – her signature look. The Duchess checks off another patented public appearance.

Maria Andreescu

Her daughter Bianca may have won the U.S. Open women’s final (first Canadian to do so), but Maria Andreescu stole the show in her flamboyant ensembles. Big hair, big glasses, big attitude. Beyond her fashion sense, Maria also brought puppy Coco to every match. From an ivory look draped with a voluminous Louis Vuitton scarf to a Versace dog embalmed with a lady wearing a cat hat with “Dog Queen” written across the neck, Maria wins the trophy for arriving like she’d been here all along. Respect to you and your dog, madame.

Uzo Aduba

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Cute, coordinated, and Conversed.

James Blake and Jameela Jamil

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What are they lugging around in those matching cross-body bags? Sunscreen? Reading material? Tiny binoculars? Though I am glad to see a man carrying (heh) at least some of the purse responsibilities in a household. Otherwise, James aims for high-water haute couture and comes up a bit short. This whole look is a bit “Grandpa refuses to wear anything but his old golf pants and crew socks so we’re just going with it.” Jameela is part businesswoman, part bicyclist in some rather unfortunate chunky tennis shoes. Points for sports-inspired looks but try again next time, kids!

Continue reading “Spectating U.S. Open Spectator Fashion”

Odds

Let me tell you about a game called Odds, and the way it rules my family’s life. 

At base, Odds is a simple betting game that we made into a familial battle about who can think of the most ridiculous propositions. It is not about restraint or filtering your ideas by how they may be received. You must create an environment where any thought can at least be entertained. That’s probably why I love it so much – it is the blankest slate to receive and be received. No matter the situation, you must bring your whole self, and nothing but the self. 

The game does not require you to actually sit down and play it. It doesn’t begin or end; it’s a state of being everyone has agreed to. When you and any members of this club are together, you simply let loose with any situation you wish to speak into reality, influenced by your surroundings or not. It is, I suppose, a version of Truth or Dare, but more explicitly a part of the gambling world. The general outline:

  1. Think of an experiential bet – something someone else will potentially do for you to witness. For example, let your siblings buy you a complete outfit and wear it for a full work day. 
  2. Propose your bet to your target, along with the odds – introducing the element of chance. “Odds you’ll [action]?” Continuing the example: “Odds you’ll let your siblings buy you an outfit and wear it for a full work day?”
  3. The target fills in the odds: 1 in X. The more adventurous and/or generous they’re feeling, the better odds they’ll give. This is one of the more revealing parts of the game (beyond the bet itself). It’s clearly much more fun if they give you a higher chance of actually having to carry out the bet. Caution is not a virtue here.
  4. Begin the countdown: 3, 2, 1 and you both say a number in the stated range. If you both say the same number, the target must do the action you dreamed up. If not, keep on odds-ing. 

There is such an exhilaration to saying the number number as the other person. I for one can’t keep from screaming and wantonly gesticulating. It’s as if a wondrous door has opened in the universe and you get to go through it. You’ve altered fate somehow, no matter how small a way. You found that world oyster, and the pearl awaits.

Odds dictates how being with my immediate family unfolds. Especially with my siblings, any moment could explode into a series of Odds. Even the most mundane of car rides can turn lethal. Recently, three blocks from my parents’ home, we caught sight of a house under construction. My brother said to me, “Odds you’ll go in the biff [porta-potty] for five seconds?” It was on. I gave him odds I can’t remember, but we said the same number. My dad had to stop the car so I could carry out the bet. As my family watched and documented, I had to run across the street, up the driveway, past the dumpster, and open that nasty, nasty door. Plunged into a hot, cramped darkness, I held my breath and counted. After an eternity, I kicked that door back open and launched myself down the driveway and into the car. My brother and dad had been yelling out of the car at me the entire time.

Not seeing the possibilities of the format yet? Forthwith, some Odds my family has engaged in:

-In an Embassy Suites in Lincoln, Nebraska, we came upon a bevy of beverage bottles. It was the morning after a big football game, and the entire hotel had imbibed heavily in celebration. My brother, perhaps the most watchful for Odds ideas, saw a nearly full wine bottle (Barefoot Moscato, naturally), and Odds’d me that I would take a drink from it. I am normally an enthusiastic good Odds giver, but…the cornfed Midwestern germs on that thing! My brother won out in the Odds declaration, and I had to do it. I hefted that giant bottle, swallowed my pride, and swallowed the wine. Then I ran. Both in case any housekeeping staff saw me debase myself and to go gargle with Purell. 

-During a family trip to northern Minnesota, I became particularly inspired to do an Odds around the Ben Franklin, an eclectic, hyper-local general store-type establishment that once sold slivers of wood with renderings of holographic Jesus on them. In my most epic Odds idea, I asked my brother whether my sister and I could pick him out an outfit from this store, and that he would wear it for an entire day at work. This was enhanced by my dad offering to make sure the boss enforced the full day policy. (They text about cars, you see.) My brother gave his insane Odds: 1 in 3. I prayed to holographic Jesus and we said our numbers. When we uttered the same one, my soul leapt out of my body and I ceased to exist for a moment. I probably yelled, though we were in a restaurant. We headed straight to the Ben Franklin for outfit picking time. The good old BF is like a north woods Walmart – items for everyday life but also camouflage for any and all occasions. My sister and I had some tough choices to make. After combing through every option on those clothing racks (and making my brother try on some camo coveralls with no shirt), we settled on a black t-shirt with three deer on it that said “Survival of the Fittest” and a camo hat with a zippable front flap. (We were nice and let him wear his own shorts). The next week, we woke up to texts with photos of this outfit in action at the air traffic control tower. Perfection. He did have to wear the hat with the face flap unzipped due to work necessities, but it was still a masterpiece I brought into the world. Not to mention revenge fuel for my brother…

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The outfit in action around 5am

-Some Odds involve dredging up old memories the betting club shares. When my siblings and I were all home for some holiday, my sister got the idea to Odds my brother if he would go to the concessions stand at a hockey rink she used to work at (it’s Minnesota, okay), buy a hot dog (we call them rollie weenies), and eat it. My sister had described these rollie weenies made by apathetic teens in great, disgusting details many times before, so this was not an especially appetizing prospect, even for your average hot dog appreciator. Once again, my brother lost at Odds, and we got in the car to collect my sister’s reward. Sadly, I had to stay in the car while he purchased the rollie weenie, so I did not witness whatever happened inside the hockey rink, but the bet dictated he couldn’t actually eat the thing until we got back home. We bore the special weenie back to the house like a tubular king, blessed as it was. Then my brother broke out the ketchup and went to town. He survived, having eaten a piece of history for his siblings’ giggling enjoyment.

-Too many episodes to recount involving flights of disgusting shots.

As you can see, my brother and I are the hardest core Odds players in this family. Everyone else plays it safe and is much less fun. 

Odds brings with it ascendance or humiliation, and a foundation of communal weirdness – you are continually spurred on, whether you are basking in your good luck and seeming power or serving the whims of your fellow bettors. You have all entered this pact and you are all witnesses to a ridiculous reality you’ve created.

I’m sure sociologists have found humans have been doing some form of Odds since the dawn of our time on earth. Society in general is a collective gambling agreement, weighted more towards some than others. But Odds has shown me so much about my human bonds. We push and pull, and a Newtonian relationship ensues. You give and you get, and no matter how crazy things become, you really never know what will happen next. I now realize what those nice British ladies meant when they sang about spicing up your life.

In my family, in our endless Odds, we gamble on each other, pull the slots on our own bravery/stupidity. We elicit the crazy in each other, all within a world we made and continue making. We are communicating desires and testing each other – with a touch of Schadenfreude, perhaps, but it’s more about enabling creativity and giving carte blanche to each other’s weirdness. When else can we be so ourselves? 

Odds is exhilarating, embarrassing, revealing, bonding, all the -ings you’d want with the people you think you know the best. Everyone is large, and everyone contains multitudes. Odds is a rare window into that. I hope you can take these instructions and these stories and go forth and place fun bets with your friends and family. May the Odds be with you.

 

Spectating Wimbledon Spectator Fashion

Berries and cream
Berries and cream
I’m a little lad
Who loves berries and cream
       -Little lad from Starburst commercial, 2007*

I deeply identify with this song and dance by the wee page boy’d page boy extolling the virtues of berries and cream. To me, it applies to Wimbledon and the famous strawberries and cream of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. When this tiny chap claps his hands at the prospect of a sweet treat via berries and cream, I clap my hands at seeing outfits and style at this annual tennis tournament. I’m convinced the royals and celebrities carefully calibrate their appearances, allegiances, and sartorial statements – Jude Law would never go on a day someone more famous will get more camera time, and Meghan supports Serena while other randos vie for the secondary coverage. Some berries and cream is better than no berries and cream. Forthwith, some fashion! (Player clothes choices are a different conversation altogether.)

The Duchesses

Clearly these women will generate the most buzz when appearing at Wimbledon – together and separately. Into the hive!

Joint Duchessing

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One glorious (Earl of) sandwich (and everyone wins at sunglasses!)

Kate: Buttons! Bows! This dress has it all! The buttons say “I’m here for the business of tennis;” the bow says “I’ll also make small talk about your boat.” I don’t understand the forest green but I do understand Kate’s fashion choices tend toward militaristic influences. Carry on. 

Meghan: Our Ralph Lauren princess is back at it. I don’t know if this is actually Ralph Lauren and I shan’t be googling it but it has that classic silhouette. The simple, crisp white shirt shows off the glorious pleated skirt to wondrous effect. Duchess Markle shows us once again she is Queen of Subtle Sophistication. 

Pippa: I’m a sucker for toile but this looks like she got a last-minute invite to appear with the Duchesses while staying at her cottage in the English countryside so she had some mice and birds make a frock real quick out of her country chic curtains. I would like to stage a picnic on that pattern. 

Distinct Duchessing

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Meghan: Has anyone so successfully pulled off a fedora since Paul Newman in The Sting? Doubtful. What other powers does she possess if she can effortlessly slay a fedora look on a random Tuesday? Apparently the jeans are a no-no at Wimbledon, but if I were a duchess, I’d wear jeans any chance I got. I make the rules, you plebes! The light-checked blazer is a tennis homage, to my untrained eye, and I appreciate the casual cool.

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Kate: Bows and buttons continue, but I love this. It’s Kate’s tennis whites with a little black to set it off. She looks like she’s going to underground to crack some codes for WWII Britain whilst tricking the Axis into thinking she’s just visiting her soldier. Some serious spy chic. 

 

Kate and William: Once again we see the royals sunglassing hard. See this Everyone Looks Hotter in Sunglasses (ELHis) rule. They coordinated! Kate in a powder blue Fraulein Maria-esque frock – the sleeves, what is the folding there? Royal curtains again. But overall, a lovely summer look. I also like the flowery clutch, like she’s stashing seeds for her secret garden in there. William powdered his blue, too, taking cues from his Queen, as he should. 

Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch

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It absolutely delights me that a man who gets paid to lurk in movies and Benediction Corksnatch sat near each other at Wimbledon. What did they talk about? The intricacies of the Marvel universe? Their respective British private schooling? How much Pimms to consume before retiring to the yacht? Oh yes, sorry, their fashions – Mr. Hiddleston appears to have come straight from the investment bank he moonlights at, complete with navy suit. Really throwing caution to the wind there with the polka dot tie. I don’t understand the hair and I won’t respond to it. Mr. Cucumberbench is captivated by something on the court, and was clearly tipped off somehow to Kate’s outfit, because he brought out the powder blue. No competing with the Duchess, however – the is just boring. I’ll expect a better showing next outing, Mr. Corkybang.

Adwoa Aboah

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An expert deployment of the Editor Drape, in lemon, no less. A delicious confection.

Continue reading “Spectating Wimbledon Spectator Fashion”

Out of Context Werner Herzog

“When I met him, I wanted to tickle him.”

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“If you do that, I will buy your station and fire you.”

“It’s difficult and painful, but should happen somehow.”

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“A shock went through me of delight. A moment of great elation inside me.”

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“I do believe you have a great alternative and that’s the internet. But you have to be prudent in navigating the internet.”

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“Inconceivable.”

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“I don’t know, I’ll probably have a sailor’s grave somewhere in the ocean. By the way, I shouldn’t die anyway.”

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“I was paid to be terrifying. I do it well.”

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“But there’s a great joy, awe – all my feelings I feel with awe.”

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All quotes from an interview with the director after a screening of “Meeting Gorbachev” (May 10, 2019)

Bathroom Fights

The first rule of Bathroom Fight Club is that I get to talk about it.

When you fight in the bathroom, there is so much at stake. The amount of porcelain alone is a threat to anyone’s well being, and no one wants an Elvis-esque death in such proximity to a toilet. But I want to see it – how are people going to have an altercation in a small space? No room for error, it’s just you and some fists and a lot of tile.

This is an ode to the commode fight. Bathrooms are a kind of cathedral. Often marble-y, with different kinds of founts, for holy water or regular water – you get doused all the same, ritualized cleansings occur. So why not fight it out in there, too? Ashes to ashes, bust to bust.

You’d think the genre is restricted, but no, like a stained glass window, the possibilities tessellate. Movies with bathroom fights are inherently creative, as you have to put a lot of action in a smaller space, and my god, the camera placement alone is a logistical puzzle I love to contemplate. There should be an Oscar category for this. I’m calling the Academy right now. In the meantime, here are three of my favorite dust-ups in water closets that have informed my cinematic universe. [Contains spoilers, duh.]

Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

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The fight scene: I’ve mentioned an element of this particular bathroom fight on this here platform before, but the full tableau is too good to not discuss. (On YouTube this scene is titled “bathroom brawl” or “toilet fight.”) Plot points aside, all you need to know is that Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill parachute into the Grand Palais in Paris and go in search of their target. They follow him into an impossibly clean bathroom. Tom has a fun secret knife-needle thing he’s ready to deploy, but this being a public restroom, he and Henry run into issues trying not to bust their target apart in front of any witnesses. It’s almost physical comedy. Henry does the shortest, fakest hand washing. Finally, Tom goes in for a hit. The target sees him coming from a French bathroom mile away, but luckily Henry clocks him with his briefcase. More physical comedy ensues as the pair has to hide their hit from more plebs, and eventually the target regains consciousness. This is where stall doors get busted, Henry gets punched in the throat, and the target gets thrown through a mirror.

He somehow survives this relatively unscathed, and grabs a sink pipe to wreak more havoc (a tip I’ll have to remember). Henry recovers from having his windpipe smashed, winds up his fists, and goes in for the body punches. He still gets owned, and Tom gets backwards kicked in the stomach. There’s some more wall smashing and the target gets hold of an errant gun, then Rebecca Ferguson comes in and saves the day.

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Why it’s the right scene: The gauntlet for the genre has been thrown. Henry Cavill and his Tom Cruise-mandated moustache Wind It Up, throwing themselves around the lavatory like teenage boys at a middle school dance, but a woman gets the last word/bullet. She brings a dose of efficiency to the drag-out fight, and probably could have saved the guys some work and internal bleeding. But then we wouldn’t have had this magnificent scene, so she gets to be their deus ex machina. I like this setup because the target is a worthy adversary, and cannot be dispatched with a quick one-two. If he hadn’t had to die in a bathroom, it would have been fun to see him and Rebecca team up and start their own international spy ring. Another call I need to go make.

Continue reading “Bathroom Fights”

Suits I Have Seen and Loved

It has come to my attention that certain celebrities have been sporting sundry suitage of late. Specifically, three of the best famous people at work today have showed out in suits that telegraph their talent, their esteemed personage, the David Byrne-esque boxiness that says “I cannot be contained. But I’m wearing a suit that draws a map of my territory.”

Before I present the suit saviors, I need to establish my qualifications. My grandma wore a homemade suit to her wedding in 1947, smashing the patriarchy and serving a timeless look. She meant fashion business even with limited resources at her disposal. So I know from good suitage. Let’s begin.

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Sandra Oh hosting Saturday Night Live

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To host SNL on March 30, Ms. Oh and her fabulous hair rocked a blue tartan suit with a drop blazer (I’m making that a thing), and I now want to make that fabric my family crest. She noted it was her one-year anniversary of becoming an American citizen while recognizing her Korean and Canadian roots. Can we please have Ms. Oh in every editorial from now on? She and fellow visionaries like Whoopi Goldberg are underappreciated fashion plates who have discovered all the secret pathways in Mario Kart while the rest of us can’t even figure out how to get up the ramp in Koopa Troopa Beach. It takes someone with both verve and poise to wear a suit of less conventional proportions, and she gives us a lecture in making style your own. I want to attend her class and sit in her office hours. This country is beyond lucky to have Ms. Oh grace its screens, let one count her as one of its citizens. We are not worthy.

Harry Styles at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Mr. Styles had the honor of introducing Stevie Nicks at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. (She is the first woman to be inducted twice, which is something I needed to lie down after hearing. Induct all the women multiple times, you soulless award-hoarding men.) And he certainly came correct: a royally blue velour suit, an ultramarine dream, also with a drop blazer and wide-legged pants, complete with Navy-esque white shoes and buttons. All aboard the SS Styles. After saying things about our Stephanie like “she’s the magical gypsy godmother who occupies the in-between,” and “She is a beacon to all of us. Whenever you hear her voice, life gets just a little bit better. When she sings, the world is hers, and it is yours,” he bowed down to her like the royalty she is. Naturally, he knew blue was the only true color to wear on such a divine occasion.

Steven Van Zandt at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Not one to be showed up by younger generations, E Street veteran Little Steven brought his own brand of suiting to the same fete as Mr. Styles. Also royally resplendent in a monochrome purple ensemble, the Jersey don rolled up looking like a rock and roll turtle, the kind that lives forever and bears the markings of history on its shell. My theory is that while not on tour with Bruce Springsteen, he moonlights as an enforcer for Grimace, hence all the purple suiting he has apparently accumulated. I stand in awe of his accomplishment in making myriad McDonald’s spokesman violet tones look regal. Or I might just be blinded by the light. But as Bruce himself says, any good magic trick begins with the setup, and Little Steven has Set It Up.

A Few of My Favorite 2018 Things

To paraphrase John Mulaney, 2018 was “an on-fire trash can.” But it’s been this way forever: to paraphrase another great philosopher, every year is trashy/fiery in its own way. To be sure, lots of bad things happened in 2018, but that’s not why I’m here today. My initials are CGB, not CNN. I’m here to bring you goodness, not unending coverage of an orange menace. Puppies, not plutocrats.

In semi-chronological, semi-I did what I wanted order, what follows are some of my favorite 2018 happenings, both from the world and large and closer to home.

Arm reloading

This one is first for a reason. It doesn’t get any better than an ARM RELOAD. “Mission Impossible: Fallout” was a lot of things, but this punch prep was the absolute best bit of acting in it. I saw this movie twice, mostly so I could see this in large format again. Henry Cavill is fighting dudes in a French bathroom, getting smashed into some porcelain and pipes, and has a confusing mustache that Tom Cruise may or may not have ordered in a fit of insecurity. But the context of why he’s doing this doesn’t even matter; the gesture stands on its own as a power move for the ages. He is reloading his guns so he can crush you into a jiggly figgy pudding. I for one am still crushed by association.

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Locking and loading

Getting Jeni’s in the mail

In February, the bleakest month of the year, I received a dry ice-encased surprise in the mail. There it was, a sherbet-orange box, with the sacred name “Jeni’s” inscribed on the side. Inside were three flavors of the best ice cream this city has to offer. It may as well have been sent from heaven, a place I’m never going because I have a handbasket already reserved in my name. It was an insanely sweet gift pulled off by a master of the delightful and unexpected, a tasty version of the arm reload I’m still reeling from. A poster in the box informed me that “these ice creams are made to be devoured, shared, paired, spooned, licked, lopped, and loved.” Which is exactly what I did.

Continue reading “A Few of My Favorite 2018 Things”

“The Sound of Music” – A Novitiate’s Impressions

Somehow I made it this far in life without seeing “The Sound of Music” the whole way through. My own mother saw it in a Detroit theater in 1965, so I’m not sure how I missed getting it burned into my brain at a young age. But I parked myself in an antique movie theater seat for three hours recently to watch this beloved musical, and it was a spiritual journey complete with nuns. As usual, I had a lot of questions, especially: why did Julie Andrews not win all the Oscars for this? The Dame almost got blown right off a mountain by a helicopter while singing her heart out, and the Academy just didn’t care. Other than that oversight, here are some other impressions upon seeing this movie for the first time.

1. Nuns won’t hesitate to roast you down into hell

It has come to my attention that movie nuns get the sickest burns. They may already be married to the son of God, but they are also endowed with the incalculable power of Ya Burnt. Maria is a problem that just can’t be solved, and they let us know. While discussing her incorrigibility, Reverend Mother responds to the search for the wayward nun with a curt “Sister, considering it’s Maria, I suggest you look in someplace unusual.” They had also likened her to a cow in an earlier burn. Then the nuns conclude a litany of her faults with a simple “Maria’s not an asset to the abbey.” My face melted off. These Jesus brides are singing a nice little song but it’s going to take a while for me to recover from their barbs. Nuns can see right through your shenanigans and don’t you forget it.

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No one is safe from this heat

Also, at the end of the movie, they stealthily steal car parts from Nazis so they can’t chase the Von Trapps, so they win at history, too. (“Reverend Mother, I have sinned.”)

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Bonus: Marni Nixon gets her only film appearance here in the flesh as Sister Sophia. (She had done voice work for Audrey Hepburn (“My Fair Lady”), Debra Kerr (“The King and I”), and Natalie Wood (“West Side Story”), among others.) It does make me sad that she has to appear in a nun costume, her visage partly obscured. Force of habit, I guess.

2. 1938 Austria was a fashion paradise

I’m pretty sure the historical accuracy of this is questionable, but apparently everyone in pre-WWII Austria had some fabulous frocks. Even their drapes could be used for fashion purposes. The dresses in this movie are just so good (thank you, Dorothy Jeakins). Let’s start with Maria’s novice dress – nothing too special, but it had big pockets and the skirt was roomy enough for frolicking in the mountains as an escape from external restrictions so I stan it as a feminist fashion moment. Defy the patriarchy with your clothes and then take over the system, I say. Then there are the nuns’ habits, which do count – one must be practical but fabulous for Jesus.

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Liesl’s pink dress – let’s forget about her falling in love with a Nazi for a second to appreciate this confection. It fits her character so well. Seems a little risque for a sixteen-year-old in the 1930s but again, we are not going to talk about what the late 1930s in Austria was really like.

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Ew, Rolfe :/

Curtain clothing – just the fact that Maria took a page from Scarlett O’Hara’s book and used drapes to make a defiant sartorial statement is enough. I do wonder how she managed to make seven outfits for different-sized children seemingly overnight – is the abbey a secret sweatshop?

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Maria’s I am the Captain Now dress – also appears like former upholstery but she gets to drape herself all over Christopher Plummer while wearing it, so it fits the scene.

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The Baroness’s Satan dress – I know everyone hates her but she rises to the occasion and dresses like the villain she is, complete with cigarette holder. This red sparkly vision showcases her dishy devilry. I choose to believe her hairstyle was meant to mimic devil horns.

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Maria’s I’m Your Mom Now suit – Julie Andrews somehow makes mustard yellow and bell sleeves look chic. She’s married to a man who drives boats so she has to look the part.

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Maria’s wedding dress – I like to think the nuns made this for her because it is divine. It’s got a mock turtle/V-neck going on and seems like an homage to Grace Kelly’s own wedding dress from 1956. The veil whispers over the train and everyone faints. It’s a fairy tale in God’s house. Which reminds me: why do the nuns have to stay behind the cathedral grate? Are they prone to rage in the cage? Are they afraid to accidentally get shadow married to the Captain? Additionally, did the Austrian pope marry them? Did no one tell him the Papal Schism ended in 1417?

3. Christopher Plummer’s hair is a supporting character

The Captain spends a lot of time in Vienna, ostensibly on official business doing boat stuff and unofficial business romancing the Baroness (boo). I think there’s more to the story, because those caramel highlights didn’t come from nowhere. The Captain is straight out the salon with one of the best haircuts 1938 could buy. I don’t think he could have put in this performance without it, as he and his coiffure do some top-rate cinematic giggling and winking. (I’m also a bit confused about his role in the Austro-Hungarian Navy but I’ll let that slide.)

4. The famous “Lonely Goatherd” puppets are amazing but terrifying

I’m sure these puppets took many hours to make and follow some sort of storied Austrian tradition, but they will haunt my dreams forevermore. There is lipstick on these goats. The mountain men are carrying pick axes and seem kind of murder-y. Two balding dudes at a table elongate their necks like a premonition of “Exorcist” nightmares to come. The lonely goatherd song is delightful and I can’t get enough of the yodeling, but this scene scares me more than nun burns. Also, how did Maria teach seven children from ages 5 to 16 perfect, intricate puppetry? Did any of them suffer from night terrors as a result of interacting with these beautifully made, scary-as-hell marionettes?

5. How did no one die from being blown off an Alp by a helicopter?

I’m not a pilot but I have seen “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” more than once and those helicopters generate a lot of wind. Picture yourself climbing up a mountain with one of those machines flying alongside you – how do you stay upright? How did Julie Andrews not perish from the earth because the blades were whipping wind at her so hard? And then when the Family Von Trapp (spoiler alert) escapes the Nazis over the mountains at the end, one would think a whole line of children would be like helicopter bowling. Yet another reason Dame Andrews should have gotten her Oscar for this movie. She put herself in grave danger and didn’t get the gold. She would go on to win for “Mary Poppins,” and thanked America and Walt Disney in her speech. Dame went high. No helicopter can blow her off the lofty perch she sits on.