So, you know how when you’re really looking forward to some event, a new book or movie or comic or concert or favorite TV show coming back from the longest hiatus ever, and you’re counting down the days and when it finally happens, it like totally makes your week and you’re just basking in the afterglow of how wonderful it was, maybe you even read or watch it again, or over and over, and all is well and all is good?
Well, I just overdosed. The third week of July 2010, really like a ten-day section we’re talking about here, very nearly leveled me. Some rewiring definitely took place. I’m going to spit it all back out, try to purge the madness.
It started on Friday, July 16th, when Christopher Nolan’s latest film was released. Now, I’ve been a huge fan of Nolan and his brother’s stories ever since MEMENTO. Now that I think about it, I’ve seen every subsequent flick on opening day or night. INSOMNIA, BATMAN BEGINS, THE PRESTIGE, THE DARK KNIGHT. Fine movies, all. And I was very pumped for this one to come out, had just glimpsed some shot of a street exploding in slow motion or something and looked away immediately, wanting to save the image for when I would have as much context as the Nolans allowed. I knew Dicaprio was in it. And that’s it. The plot, the rest of the cast, no idea.
The first viewing about cracked me in two. The stunning execution of such a simple but brilliant concept (dream-hacker heist movie) gave the movie jaw-dropping scope in which, really, anything could happen. The at first seemingly small detail of time compression within dreams (one minute in the real world = 12 minutes of dreamtime) leads to a tour de force series of scenes staged in three successive layers of dreaming, all kinds of madness playing out as a car takes close to half an hour of movie-time to fall off a bridge. And, whether he’s doing Cary Grant which-way-is-up? fighting or stealing a kiss from Ellen Page or negotiating group falls in zero-gravity or just plain rocking the suit vest, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets it done and a half, people, I am here to tell you right now.
The great thing about the movie is, it’s open to various interpretations, all of which are equally valid and can be supported by evidence found within the film. There’s no single irrefutable interpretation that renders others less valid. SPOILERS. The entire thing could have been a dream. The first ten seconds of the movie might be the only real world footage we get, and the rest of the movie is Leo sleeping on the beach and having this insane multi-tiered series of dreams. Or it’s perfectly straight and he really gets out at the end and goes to see his kids, the top stops spinning after the cut to black. Or it doesn’t and he’s still stuck in Limbo (I didn’t understand how he and Saito made it from Limbo to the plane if that’s the case, though, thought they’d missed their kicks, and that deadline was the whole suspense crush of the three-tiered insanity). Or Michael Caine is the architect and has recruited Ellen Page as Ariadne (the mythological reference, natch) to perform inception on Leo and lead him out of the labyrinth of the guilt he feels over his wife’s death. Those are all perfectly valid reads. And, and the song for the kick is “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien,” by Edith Piaf, which translates to, “No, I regret nothing,” regret being the dominant theme of the movie. But the real kicker is that Marion Cotillard, who plays Leo’s probably-dead wife in the movie, won an Oscar maybe three years ago for playing Piaf in a biopic that put ol Jamie Foxx and Joaquin to shame. There’s so so much to this movie. I could talk about it all day, have been for two weeks now, but the main point it might be making is that ideas are the most important currency of all. They’re a virus, taking root in our minds and growing, reshaping our views, our perception of the world, and, by extension, who we are, our very identity. Though the movie follows the conventions of the heist genre, there’s an inversion, in that the team isn’t trying to get away with the diamond or whatever they’ve stolen, they’re attempting to plant the seed of an idea that will pay off dividends if it’s inserted in a covert enough fashion.
You can even telescope the entire narrative out to a metaphor for moviemaking. The best films use ideas to change us, rewire our perceptions of the world. The breakdown of Cobb’s team’s responsibilities can be stretched into the big jobs on a motion picture, with Cillian Murphy/Fischer as the audience (and wasn’t this the first time you saw him play a role just straight? And wasn’t he still just creepy as fuck? That guy took a lot of acid before his 21st birthday, there isn’t a doubt in my mind, some simmering seething madness I recognize in his eyes all too well). As above, so below, that got me thinking about how we, or at least I, keep bombarding my(our)selves with superior narratives to produce some hopefully positive end result, all those stories cycling through us, grinding out impurities, making us better.
But, knew this would happen, I’m on and on about it, and that was only Friday night. Saturday night saw the American airing of the first part of the finale to the fifth series of DOCTOR WHO, fifth if we’re counting Eccleston’s stint as Series One, which I guess everybody is, though that seems odd to me, since we all agree that he’s the ninth Doctor. Run! Great writers who I really respect kept telling me to give the Doctor a shot, Chabon, Gaiman, Pollack, when the latter actually said so to my face, I promised myself to go back through from the Eccleston pilot, but then when the Doctah regenerated again, I just jumped on board that latest and greatest crashing TARDIS and figured I’d suss things out as they went wooshing by. And, man, just so glad I did, could not be more delighted and really full of wonder for doing it exactly this way. I know that every time he regenerates, everyone always says, “Oh, ______ is MY Doctah,” which conveys the fact that everyone’s done what they were supposed to and terms like “actor” and “character” have been abandoned as the true fan internalizes the narrative, feeling understandably vexed when this person they’ve let into their heart just completely changes. Can you imagine the uproar if Wolverine wasn’t Wolverine anymore? If he didn’t look like that, I mean, no mutton chops or hairy little 5’3 frame (though that last has, of course, I guess, been kicked to the curb pretty well, cheers, Mr. Jackman)(but see, MY Wolverine will always be as tall as my wife and smell like a cigar left inside a parka buried in a snowbank overnight). Oh, but we’re rambling wildly. There’s a line, I can either try to encapsulate what a delight Stephen Moffat’s first series as showrunner has been or just give you the title and let you do the work yourself, less than a dozen episodes, and I think that way is best.
So. Saturday night was “The Pandorica Opens.” And it did.
Oh, and that entire weekend, I was rereading all the Scott Pilgrim volumes to get ready.
Sunday, woke up and it was my dear friend Tommy’s birthday, and he was going to lunch with his mom and sisters and hanging out with his wife and baby girl, and I’m sure that was all wonderful, but I just felt like he needed a little bit more oomph, plus, of course by this time, I was totally fucking obsessed with INCEPTION and staring at the week in my mind trying to figure out the soonest time to dump it back into me, plus, Tommy maybe likes movies more than I do, which is just an almost unquantifiable amount, so I kidnapped him at ten of the clock and we made it happen, even though Beautiful Wife had to sneak out of the home at quarter to five in the morning to catch a 6:00 flight to Midland, meaning, yes, I was lucky enough to take Her Majesty out of her crib a scant six hours after the credits rolled. And what did she do when I walked in the room? “Mama.” “Mama’s at work, already. Come on, let’s hang out.” So, the kid throws down her baby, then follows suit by hurling herself down onto her sheets, a small little fit to start the day before eventually agreeing to being lifted out of her bed and given milk and music.
And what did that blessed child do that afternoon? Instead of sleeping a mere 45-65 minutes, she took pity on me and stayed down for an all-time medal finish of two hours and twenty minutes. I had enough time to pass out, wake up rejuvenated, and write, even. Magical times.
Catherine’s flight of course got buggered up, so she didn’t make it home until after ten, so I tucked her in and was right out the door to Austin Books & Comics for the midnight release of SCOTT PILGRIM’S FINEST HOUR, which was simply a triumph on every level. Nailing a finish on a longform serial narrative is a dicey, dicey proposition and Bryan O’Malley knocked the lights out. Was second in line, bought my copy at eleven seconds past midnight (my receipt says so!), sprinted to my car, sped home, devoured it once, saw that it was only half past one, and read it again right then and there, the finest hour x 2, LEVEL UP. Gorgeous, gorgeous work. The art is fantastic, but it’s really his writing that slays me. The growing up and change and all. Right up there with my favorite series finales. You should really really read it if you haven’t. You should really really do all of this if you haven’t, that’s what I’m trying to say, here.
That was a weekend. Tuesday, I needed a rest. Relatively normal day, and oh wow, was a pun ever less intended, cutting out a little sliver of your heart takes far more out of you than opening it up to all of the world that you can cram inside. Let’s just keep on going, you know I did.
So Wednesday peeked its head up out of the clouds, happier to see me than I was to see her. Because, you know, normally that’s the peak, time to gear up, but I was still whupped from the weekend. But I did my best, started slamming my way through Lone Star and guzzling comics, only I didn’t make it through my very first issue of Bendis/Romita’s outstanding AVENGERS reboot before my sweet baby girl started crying and fussing. She almost never wakes up in the night, so I gave her a very few minutes to work it out for herself, then went in there and rocked her back to sleep. I thought. Made it through the first issue but not through the companion NEW AVENGERS that also came out that day before she was back at it again, and this time with the fury, threw up all over her bed and Mama and let’s just say that by the time that all was said and done with both girls tucked back in to clean sheets and sleeping soundly and me having worked my way through the oral histories at the back of both issues (that Bendis, he does like doing them voices; I think a one-man Bendis Avengers puppet-show would be a thing of beauty)(and thunder!), oh you parentheticals, by the time I was through only the first two issues of the night, it was after one. Undeterred, I pressed on, climaxing with a glass of wine while reading Alan Moore’s NECRONOMICON by candlelight at 3:30 in the morning. Which was certainly the way to do that, I have to tell you, but man, was more than a little fried and DaddyTime at 7:45 came just real quick.
I thought it was such a shame the way New Comic Book Day/Night got derailed that I pulled a Take Two on Thursday. That went down a bunch smoother.
Then it was Friday. The 23rd! Rewind back three weeks exactly, Miller Li has just gotten to the point that she thinks it’s a riot when I play drums on RockBand as opposed to, like, an affront to her existence that must be quashed immediately. So, I’m going along like you do, unlocking songs level by level (but RockBand calls them Acts, which, I know they’re talking about bands, but I can’t help trying to apply it to narrative structure, so that by the time we’re up to Acts VIII and IX, I can just barely take the accumulated narrative density of all these songs I’ve been playing, the beats, the notes, the meaning embedded within the lyrics, one massive uberstory lumbering along almost paralyzed by its own unfathomable weight) and on this particular day, back at July 2nd, remember, for the first time I play this newly unlocked song called “The Electric Version” by The New Pornographers, and, you know, it was really just a fun song to play on drums. I had never heard of them and looked them up, figured What the Hell? and snagged their albums and they were and are simply a revelation. From the first verse of “Mass Romantic,” just a damn fine time had by all. Bands that make you want to dance and sing along and just feel good are maybe underrated. Listened to them for a good chunk of Saturday and then was eating breakfast Sunday morning with wife and child over at 24DINER and cracked open the Chronicle and almost fell out of the booth when I saw that they were playing at Stubb’s on the 23rd, which left me just enough time to program all five albums into my psyche (though not the members’ solo and preceding output, some prolific Canucks, there) and, really, literally listened to nothing for the following 19 days, which turned into this self-perpetuating glorious experience yielding exponentially increasing dividends of gratitude, the more times the songs cycled through me. It got to the point where Her Majesty would start bobbing her head on beat when her favorite songs started and would kick in with the background woo-oohs at just the right time.
But, what, it was Friday the 23rd at last, so I left wife and child and threw myself into the teeming capacity crowd at Stubb’s, caught the entire opening set from The Dodos, who were killer. Made it all the way up to the very front, wanted a Lone Star tallboy but was resting my right elbow on the stage-left stack of speakers and abandoning my post was out of the question. Kind of in hindsight wish I had backed up a little bit, because there was simply no way to maneuver one foot in closer to the middle and, man, it was a rhythm section show for me. Not like I didn’t hear all those glorious vocals and guitars and keys, but every single time my man Kurt Dahle hit that kick drum, it hit me right in the heart chakra like a microsecond ahead of the beat, which really got crazier as the night wore on, the more attuned to it I got. At one point, I thought “Half a second ahead the beat of the universe,” except there were probably more capital letters in there, so that’s where my head was at, for just a few seconds, anyway.
A great show. I have to say, not as great as it could have been for me personally because of the set list, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. To specify, I made a personal greatest hits mix spanning the band’s five albums, really agonized over it that last week, even, and they hit eight or maybe nine of the twenty tunes that would fit on the 80-minute disc. This is still batting pretty high in terms of overall delight because another seven eight nine or ten of the tunes they played, I loved and were on early versions and got cut, but what I learned, or suspect, is that the problem is Dan. I didn’t realize exactly what the dynamic was within the band, but apparently either Carl or Dan write all the tunes and then they just decide what to do with them, which ones Neko or Kathryn or they will sing and so forth. But it turns out that every single song in the entire discography that I find a little bit sketchy is a Dan song. (Which, breaking it down like that, strongly conjured and conjures Craig Johnson for me, but he will derail this entire thing, and certainly deserves his own entry, nay, his own dedicated blog or fansite(s), somebody’s probably already seen to that, let’s move on). This was kind of a crazy thing that played out for me as the night went on and I realized, by the second or third tune, Oh yeah, of course, this one is this guy TOO. There are three tunes in the band’s 63-song discography that I pretty much don’t care for at all. “Entering White Cecilia,” which I don’t even want to go into, just does nothing for me, “Silver Jenny Dollar,” which to me sounds like something that Billy Corgan would have erased as soon as he’d recorded it mid-SIAMESE DREAM nervous breakdown, like this one I actually played for the wife, as in, Wait for this chorus, isn’t this horrific? (hello, hello, hello), and then “Testament to Youth in Verse,” which is almost redeemed by the vocal interplay at the end, but features some of the most cheeseball verse chords I’ve about ever come across. I mean, there are Dan songs that I can dig, both Jackies and “Myriad Harbor” really grew on me, but when they played “Silver Jenny Dollar” after, I thought, certainly giving the guy his due with both Jackies, I was stunned, but not nearly so much as when they ended the encore, NOT with “The Jessica Numbers,” NOT with “It’s Only Divine Right,” (or, hey anything else off of the first two albums, say), NOT damn it bringing it all around full circle for me and only me on my insane three-week mainline of New Pornography with “The Electric Version,” and don’t think I wasn’t screaming myself raw for it, earning 350 lbs of glare from Big Johnny rocking his Security shirt in the two feet of open space between the gate containing all of us and the stage, but no, no, it was “Testament to Youth in Verse” to take us home. I was the only person in that backyard with his hands up, screaming, “Seriously?” as they walked off stage.
And this sounds really ungrateful, and I don’t mean to harp on what they didn’t play and how much more flattening it could have been for me personally. They just have such a fantastic collection of songs, and I pretty much wanted to hear them play all five albums straight through. Even the Dan songs, dammit, just feed me my favorites along the way.
So. Christ. It was like midnight now and I’d had to park all the way at the Capitol, like right in front of it, quite a hike. And I had my Nikes on and a little voice told me not to cut through the park by myself, there was no telling what would happen, this was the stuff secret origins were made of, so of course next thing I was running through the dark, brushing the branches away from my face as I roared by. Took a couple cool shots of the Moon hanging low over the Capitol trying to bring about some kind of change. What if we really have a wereCapitol and everyone who remembers has been dead for a very long time? Headed home and tossed back my quota of Lone Stars while rewatching last November’s season finale of MAD MEN and then saw the Pandorica open again, just to get ready for the home stretch, or at least the next couple of nights.
Rough times. I’m almost, I think I’m running out of gas here, not sure that I can give these final two nights their due, but it’s maybe an accurate representation of where my head was at, just freaking pummeled from all of this goodness, really right up at threshold.
I could not have adored the DOCTOR WHO finale more. The thing is, I managed to avoid all spillover spoilage from across the pond, except there are always a couple of the new hot young things yammering on about how they’d like to be the next Doctor or Bond, and I’d just seen some link about that somewhere in the middle of all this, so was just fully prepared for my affair with the Eleventh Doctor and dear Amy Pond to be cut short just as we’d almost barely gotten to know each other, old Moffat had tears streaming down my dimples at least a couple of times, even while smiling, just so so grateful for having met them at all.
Right. So, Series Five could not have ended better.
And then it was Sunday and time for MAD MEN, but for some reason, Mikey came over and we decided to make that Bloody Marys by the pool day, or afternoon, so by the time the martinis were fixed at quarter past nine on Sunday, July 25th, well, let’s just say that I was in a very strange place, and while I enjoyed the first one back, it didn’t level me the way every single one of the preceding season did, but that’s all right, because the Christmas episode the following week more than did the trick, had to go right back and watch it again after putting Catherine to bed, but now I’m skipping ahead, so much has already happened since then, most recently getting leveled-up by a midnight hit of Edgar Wright’s glorious SCOTT PILGRIM adaptation, but my point, there was a point, some sort of throughline, it was this, that the whole trick of the Nolan flick, whether or not it’s a heist movie or if that top stops spinning or if it even matters, the point is that ideas are powerful, maybe, really probably the most important thing, and the way we go wrong sometimes is by forgetting that and not being careful with what we put inside ourselves, I mean, you soak up any kind of significant portion of the information trash dotting the virtual, televised, or even still firsthand direct experience landscape, well, what do you think’s going to come out of you but some fraction of all of that crap?
But if you’re lucky enough to line up a series of inputs, entertainments, whether it’s your new favorite movie or TV show or favorite returning serial narrative or maybe one of the two best comic book writers who ever lived giving you a police procedural by way of Lovecraft or, of course, best, what you can never anticipate or schedule, the feeling of your baby girl’s little right hand squeezing your left shoulder for just a second that one night out of a hundred when she needed you to stop what you were doing and just hold her for five minutes, well, close your eyes and thank God and stir up all of that timeless wonderful and something beautiful is going to come right back out of you, it’s only a matter of time.