From Lust to Warning Signs to Lasting Love

Eilen Jewell’s Queen of the Minor Key

In an age of streaming it’s all too easy to skip from song to song, album to album, and artist to artist. How many of us curate stacks of digital playlists for various moods and occasions that we hardly listen to (makes me wonder how many mix tapes I made way back when)? I do listen to albums from first song to last when I’m in a certain mood or situation and yesterday was one such situation. I drove several hundred miles over several hours by myself (my cat, Dr. Loomis, was with me but he wasn’t in a talkative mood). Instead of skipping from song to album to artist I opted to give some albums a full listen. One of those albums was Queen of the Minor Key.

Queen of the Minor Key by Eilen Jewell

I’ve listened to this album as a whole several times and the individual songs many more times, but driving along I57 with nothing but Illinois farmland to keep me company (Dr. Loomis was sleeping) allowed for a new listening experience. Jewell’s album is a fast paced ride through a well written collection of relationship songs that vary in story and nuance. Whether you want to listen to song about young lust, a relationship gone wrong, longing for a lost love, or lasting love Queen of the Minor Key has a song for you, and a few others too. Jewell’s ability to convey a love story in around the four minute mark with a bluesy/country sound makes for a fun listening experience. The stand outs for me are “I Remember You,” “Warning Signs,” “Bang Bang Bang,” and “Home to Me.” Of course they are all good and if you are in the mood to listen to and album first to last then cue up Queen of the Minor Key.

-K-

Queen of the Minor Key (2011) by Eilen Jewell.

“All Animals Are Equal”

Animal Farm and Warning Signs

Everybody loves 1984. Everybody quotes 1984. Everybody says we are living in 1984. Well, maybe not everybody but sweeping generalizations tend to get attention. There is one thing that most every reader may agree on, 1984 tends to overshadow another Orwell book that is in the same vein, Animal Farm.

Animal Farm is a fan favorite for many readers and it boasts a long list of positive critical reviews but it doesn’t get the attention 1984 does. I wonder if this is due to the novella’s length (many people equate long book with good book), its allegorical structure, or that it doesn’t seem as urgent or isn’t as dystopian as 1984? Maybe its that Animal Farm is a little too straight forward in its storytelling. Orwell is not to subtle in his use of foreshadowing throughout the novella. Animal Farm is loaded with warning signs (hell, the commandments should be written in bright yellows and reds). Readers know bad things are bound to happen and all we can do is go along for the ride.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

1984 may get a lot more glory but that shouldn’t keep you from checking out Animal Farm. If you are looking for something relatively short that will have you thinking long after the last page and is as relevant today as it was when it was published give this Orwell novella a read.

-K-

Animal Farm (1945) by George Orwell

Where The Dead Speak

The Voices of The Refrigerator Monologues

First, it is important to know that this book is not simply fan service. It is not just some variation of comic book storytelling. This book is an informative and entertaining look at the refrigerated woman comic book trope (the trope isn’t specific to comics but author’s focus is).

If you are like me and have more than a passing interest in comic books you will find The Refrigerator Monologues worth the read. Catherynne Valente gives voice to six female comic book characters (these are characters most fans will notice) who came to untimely ends. Their deaths were, in some respects, simple plot points used to develop a larger story line, but Valente gives each of these characters her own post mortem monologue. These six women speak of their lives, deaths, and impact on the comic’s larger story. In doing this Valente makes interesting points concerning the refrigerated woman trope that are worth further discussion (because one of the many things we comic book geeks love is a good discussion).

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

The Refrigerator Monologues is a great read for those of us who grew up with comic booksand recognize the names Gwen Stacy, Jean Grey, and Karen Paige (pick up the book if you want to know the other three). If your interest in comic books goes deeper than word bubbles and four color panels then check out Valente’s book.

-K-

The Refrigerator Monologues (2017) by Catherynne M. Valente.

Getting Over is Not Getting By

James Joyce’s “Two Gallants”

Hard times often call for tough decisions, but the decision to use another person is not getting by, it’s getting over. James Joyce’s short story “Two Gallants” centers on two individuals who use others for their personal gain. The characters of Lenehan and Corley appear to move through life by getting over on those around them without much thought to how their actions impact others.

Dubliners by James Joyce

Joyce’s Dubliners is an incredible study of a city and those who inhabit it. “Two Gallants” follows Lenehan, a nondescript man of middle age, as he kills time wandering around Dublin waiting for his friend Corley to, “pull it off.” The reader is allowed into Lenehan’s thoughts as he ponders his current state and how he is living his life (I won’t spoil it for you, but Joyce’s use of the epiphany is subtle here). We aren’t allowed into Corley’s inner thoughts but his words and actions clearly define the type of person he is.

Lenehan and Corley are men who have become so accustomed to using others for their own gain they barely think of it. They may tell themselves that they are getting by in a tough world but in reality they are simply getting over on an innocent victim. “Two Gallants” is a good read for anyone interested in the motives and means of those who use others for personal gain.

-K-

“Two Gallants” from Dubliners by James Joyce.

The Grind of Getting By

John Huston’s Fat City

What is your blood and sweat worth? This is the question Bill Tully, a boxer, asks his manager in Fat City. John Huston’s 1972 movie tackles a few serious topics, one of which is what it means and what it takes to get by.

Fat City

Fat City is approaching fifty years old and it definatley has the look and feel of the early 70s, but the story (I am reluctant to use words such as theme and message) is as relevant today as it was when it premiered. The characters struggle with the everydayness of work, relationships, and a desire to do more with their lives than simply get by. The movie is a slow paced character study that peels back the layers of a man’s life and examines his efforts to do more and be more.

The movie has a collection of characters who struggle to get by, from the main character Bill Tully, Bill’s buddy Ernie, and Bill’s opponent Lucero. Without giving too much away there is a scene in the movie where Lucero walks out of the arena after the fight that is itself a study in getting by. Fat City is worth a watch if you are interested in a character study in getting by.

-K-

Fat City (1972) with Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges. Directed by John Huston.

Stereotypes and Selling Out

Don Lee and Labels

What connections can be made between stereotypes and selling out? I read Don Lee’s short story “Reenactments” yesterday, and it has me thinking about the ramifications of being labeled a stereotype and how that label can lead to accusations and/or feelings of selling out.

The protagonist of Lee’s story is Alan Kwan, an aging Hollywood actor known for primarily for his action roles. He has landed the largest role of his career in a standard action shoot ‘em up movie that has sequel potential which would secure a recurring role and guaranteed work. Unfortunately the script plays to several stereotypes including Alan’s role as an Asian hit man. This is not he first time Alan has dealt with stereotypes during his career. He changed his name to Alan Kwan from Alain Kweon years ago to improve job prospects.

“Reenactments” by Don Lee

What distinguishes Alan’s current situation from previous experiences with stereotypes is that now fellow actors and crew expect Alan to respond to the stereotypes. Alan’s dilemma is whether to call out the stereotypes he and others have been labeled at the risk of losing future work or to remain quiet. Lee’s protagonist must grapple with not only how others will view him but also how he will view himself.

If you are looking for a short piece of fiction that addresses stereotypes and the personal ramifications that may accompany selling out then Don Lee’s “Reenactments” is worth a read.

-K-

“Reenactments” by Don Lee. One Story Issue #275

Major League Baseball and Selling Out

It’s Been Happening since 1919

Major League Baseball stopped being a game a long time ago (at least one hundred years ago since I’ll be referencing the 1919 World Series). MLB has been in the news of late due to current political issues. I’m not going to address MLB’s decisions and whether they were right of wrong (in any political sense at least). What I want to do is take a moment to look at the movie Eight Men Out and show how that movie can provide a long view of the business that is baseball and how MLB sold out the game.

Eight Men Out

I remember going to the theater way back in 1988 to see this movie. I didn’t know then or now how true and accurate the movie is to the actual events surrounding the 1919 World Series scandal, but the movie has a well written script and is played by an ensemble cast of talented actors. I viewed Eight Men Out as a good movie and an interesting piece of baseball history until 1994 and the MLB strike. The movie took on a different meaning for me after the strike and so did baseball. The idea of what Major League Baseball meant to me and/or could mean to me was lost after the strike (not even W.P. Kinsella could change how I viewed MLB after the strike). The MLB strike put Eight Men Out in perspective. I lost faith in the game and could better see how many lost their faith in the game after 1919. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you (you probably know how it ends) but the last ten minutes can really get you in the feels if you are fan of the game. A close viewing shows how the league treated the players and to some extent the fans. The league was more than willing to sell out eight men, and what has really changed in 100 years?

People still have a fascination with Major League Baseball, a desire to see it through rose colored glasses. It’s a fascination and view that the league banks (specific word choice here) on from the fans. MLB wants fans to think baseball is something more than a game, something other than a business. There was a time when fields and stadiums were compared to cathedrals, when poets referred to them as holy sites. There may have been a time when such views were applicable but those times have long passed. Today, fields and stadiums are nothing more than a variation of a big box retailer looking to take your money in exchange for a so-so product. Don’t be angry with MLB if you think they sold out. Give Eight Men Out a watch and you’ll see the league sold out the game of baseball a century ago.

-K-

Eight Men Out (1988) with John Cusak and Clifton James. Directed by John Sayles.

Koba the Dread

The Pinnacle of Unpersoning

In a time of unpersoning and a culture of cancelation it may serve us well to review (or view for the first time) a bit of history. History is a broad topic, but there is one individual from the last century that is worth a closer look if you are interested in the concept of canceling somebody. Joseph Stalin took canceling to levels unheard of in our current cancel culture.

Koba the Dread by Martin Amis

Martin Amis’ Koba the Dread is essential reading for anybody who wants a crash course about the reign of Joseph Stalin. Amis’ well balanced mix of personal experience and detailed research provides the reader with an engaging book (this is not your bland high school history textbook). Koba the Dread is required reading for anybody who wants to see what one man with unchecked power is capable of when he want to cancel a person, or several million people.

-K-

Koba the Dread (2002) by Martin Amis.

Pink Floyd and Pronouns

Some Scribbles Concerning “Us and Them”

It’s a pleasant afternoon out here in the Midwest with a glass of bourbon and The Dark Side of the Moon playing. Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” is a sincere and understated piece concerning war. One of the aspects of the song that always resonates with me is the subtle use of pronouns to dehumanize one’s enemy (I could also go on about the use of prepositions but that’s a topic for another time). “Us and Them” shows us how easy it is to unperson those we don’t like, or those we are told not to like.

The Dark Side of the Moon

The line “…It’s a battle of words?” shows the audience that pronouns are used to dehumanize and unify. By using words such as us, them, you, and me it is easy to dehumanize the opposition, and these same words are used to create unity, a collective spirit, for those on the other side. Propaganda runs deep through the song showing it’s easy (too easy, so easy it’s kind of scary) to convince people to march and die at the whims of generals or for anybody who holds a position of power or importance.

The talking heads on the news (I use term news with serious reservations) and other various media outlets revel in throwing around labels and pronouns these days. Before you step inside to chat with the man with the gun, ask yourself who they are and who you are (more importantly who you want to be and do they want you to be somebody different)?

-K-

The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) by Pink Floyd.

Orwell and the Unperson

The Importance of the Last Chapter of 1984

Considering unpersoned is the current topic of conversation I’m going to address the source, meaning, and an application of the word. The word unperson appears no fewer than five times in George Orwell’s 1984 and is one of those Orwellian words worth a closer look. It has a particular importance in the last chapter of the novel.

An unperson is a nonperson, a person who has no rights, and a person publicly ignored (especially by the government and media). In extreme cases an unperson is an individual Big Brother executes and erases all traces of his/her existence. Now, if you haven’t read 1984 you will want to stop now and hopefully come back after you finish the novel. If you have read the novel, think about Winston at the end of the novel as he whiles away the hours at the Chestnut Tree Café. Winston fits the definition of an unperson. Big Brother has effectively made Winston a nonperson who is entirely reliant on the very government that has destroyed his life. Winston is beholden to Big Brother for his menial government job of no importance, acknowledges that he betrayed Julia after being tortured, and simply moves from one day to the next lost in a drunken fog of Victory Gin. Winston Smith exists but is of no importance, save to possibly serve as a cautionary tale for those who may question the authority of Big Brother.

1984 by George Orwell

The last chapter of 1984 shows the reader the extent of Big Brother’s power. It would have been easy to execute Winston, to make him disappear, and wipe his existence from history. Instead, Big Brother breaks Winston Smith and makes him an unperson. This life of being a nonperson, of being ignored, of being canceled (to use a modern variation) is a much worse fate than death.

-K-

1984 (1949) by George Orwell

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