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Ninety 90’s Songs: Canadian K.D.’s Constant Craving

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Oh, the nineties. After the fun, excessive decade of the 80’s which featured innovation stacked on top the also over the top decade of the seventies, things became more subdued. Men sang about their grungy emotions, stopped wearing make up, and women starting to take center stage as moody gravitas-bearing muses. Even some of them stopped wearing make up, too. It wasn’t all Cyndi Lauper and her party anthems anymore. No, this was the decade of serious women. And more black and white videos.

#52 “Constant Craving” by K.D. Lang. Released in 1992, and then again in 1993, this song became a major hit. Unexpectedly, K.D. won Best Female Pop Vocal and Best Female Video awards (Female Video? Videos have a gender? Don’t they mean Video by a Female?).

Whether you identify with it’s lyrics due to feelings you have towards someone you like, or perhaps a vice you can’t shake, and those may very well be the same thing, it’s not difficult to imagine why this song was so popular. We tend to crave the things that are bad for us, don’t we? Knowing we shouldn’t indulge only makes those cravings worse. And more constant.

The video features a stage production of “Waiting for Godot.” The themes (pick one, many have studied it and there are several) were meant to complement the themes of the song. Is K.D. craving the return of a currently absent yet soon to return Godot-esque figure? Maybe she is just craving a chance to play a role in a production that famously features only men. Regardless, having her sing backstage while we see the play performed mirrors how our deep longings continuously rack our minds behind the scenes, while we put on a mask to the world that we are just fine.

While I usually rag on the choice of so many 90’s videos to go black and white, the choice here provides a bleak and stark effect that magnifies the light and dark shades of emotion depicted in the song and video. The song deserved its acclaim, which makes it sad that we still don’t hear this song as often anymore, despite being featured on music-recycling powerhouse Glee.

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Rectify: A Ponderous and Luscious Season 1

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I do part time work in a watch store. Just the other day, I was helping a customer with replacing a battery for a watch he hadn’t worn in five years. While I did my work, he answered his phone while waiting at the counter. I don’t normally eavesdrop, but the content of his conversation struck me. After answering hello, he told the person on the other line that he had “got out on Sunday,” which was just two days prior.

By get out, he meant prison, where he had been for five years which is why his watch needed a new battery. While he continued talking I gleaned that he had spent his sentence in a few different locations. He also had no intention of going back again. Shockingly, just one week before his release, he witnessed a man get stabbed to death right in front of his cell.

He left the store with his shopping bags and still continued his phone call, but he accidentally left behind one item. No, not his watch. That would be ironic. Instead he left behind a custom made cookie with “I’m sorry” emblazoned upon it with bright frosting. Whether this gesture was meant for a victim or someone else who happened to suffer during his absence I didn’t know, but my heart nearly broke that the cookie wouldn’t be received. Thankfully, he returned and retrieved his cookie.

Naturally, the experience made me curious, but not about his crime. I was more curious about what happens when a man attempts to rejoin society after being in prison.

My curiosity led me to happen upon the TV series, “Rectify” while surfing Netflix, which depicts a man, Daniel Holden, returning home after being on death row for 19 years when new DNA evidence suggests he has been wrongly imprisoned.

First of all, this show is dense. That’s a good thing. The way the characters, themes, setting, and plot all weave together inextricably is engaging and satisfying. The setting, a small town in the heart of Georgia, is the perfect setting to explore themes of justice, morality, sex, and family. In fact, I felt like the Southern Gothic tone was straight out of a William Faulkner novel. The inherent prejudices that stem from conservatism and religion provide a perfect back drop to explore the struggles of a man who is at odds with a society that is bound by those things, and further tainted by back country corruption.

The cast and characters are absolutely amazing. The main character Daniel is portrayed as philosophical, intelligent, yet socially inept due to his imprisonment. He younger sister, his greatest champion, adores him and with her boyfriend-slash-lawyer has worked hard to secure his release. Daniel’s mother is strangely distant, perhaps a bit disoriented since she has moved on since the death of Daniel’s father. Daniel’s step father welcomes his wife’s son openly while his son from another marriage is equally resistant. Daniel takes a shine to his step brother’s wife, whose devotion to Southern Baptistry (or whatever it is called) offsets her husband’s cynicism.  And the there is Daniel’s teenage half brother who seems to adore him.

That may seem convoluted, but being from a strange southern family myself, this is quite the norm. Daniel’s character also functions as an audience surrogate, as his attempt to reacquaint himself with his home matches the audience’s attempt to get their bearings as well.

The themes are strongly portrayed in many of the characters, in which moral ambiguity keeps you on your toes as far as what to expect. There are no simple characters here, which isn’t to say that there are flawed heroes and sympathetic villains, which themselves are cliche.  What we have are characters who are divided by a lack of understanding of the prison life Daniel endured, and his lack of experience with anything else.  The society around him is composed of those who fear a monster walking freely in their midst, and those other outsiders and free thinkers who share in Daniel’s plight.

While the pace seems to meander a bit slowly, I personally don’t mind the more deliberate progress. The first season is only six episodes long, but they feel longer. I enjoyed being able to really absorb the interactions and almost surreal depictions. Helping with those depictions is the wonderful cinematography that seems to act like a narrator, giving us little cues between lines and scenes to remind us that there is more going on that each of the characters knows individually. Rarely does such a technical component of film jump out at me, but here its artfulness is impeccable.

The first season provided an exceptional television experience that is seldom matched, and I’m glad to know there is more in the next season and the upcoming third one beyond that. The tone of the series is on the darker side, with very little comedy or light heartedness that tends to get bundled in with other shows like Desperate Housewives, Twin Peaks, or even Orange is the New Black. This is actually a benefit, because what we get is a serious take on some serious subject matter that doesn’t rely on cheap tricks to fluff its content. It is a genuinely good drama with some of the highest quality writing I’ve seen in a long time.

Steam-y Reflections

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Valve Corporation’s Steam has undoubtedly affected my PC gaming experience much as it has for many other people. It’s been in service for over a decade now, and my first encounter with it several years ago occurred when I purchased Half Life 2, which required Steam in order to play it.

I remember begrudgingly acquiescing to this demand, which at the time seemed rather draconian. In fact, I was unable to play Half Life 2 for a while because for the first couple of years I lived on my own, I didn’t have internet. I was so Spartan.

Nowadays, Steam makes a common appearance on my PC desktop, where I can peruse the latest patch notes and updates, sort through random statistics (I’ve played that game for 200 hours!?), and sometimes I even get roped into buying a new game because of some special sale that happens every time someone breathes or something.

For better or worse, Steam has wedged itself into my PC habits. iTunes did the same years ago, but with streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, I rarely open that mess of mp3s anymore. Maybe something will come along in a few more years to replace it, but until then Steam looks to be a constant companion.

Having said all that, there are some things regarding my gaming habits that gave changed with my adoption of Steam and others (gog.com is another of my favorites). Here’s a rose tinted look at some aspects of PC gaming that have changed for me.

1. Shopping!

Well, I still shop for games. In fact, nowadays I can peruse more games than ever with my mouse.¬† I can view gameplay videos, cinematic trailers, and screenshots. I can read customer reviews. But there was something about walking into the store and looking at all the boxes lined up for you to feel and weigh and otherwise drool over. You could feel the discs and manual sliding around inside (Oh, that one feels heavy). Which leads to…

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2. Boxes.

PC games still come in boxes, but they’re usually the flimsy, cheap, DVD case kind. Before that they came in smallish boxes that where about the same size as DVD cases except thicker. And before that PC game boxes whee big and sometimes different shapes (I fondly remember Tomb Raider’s trapezoidal box). Sometimes cover flaps would open exposing more screenshots and features. Then there were the special edition boxes that were usually huge and contained all kind of collectible things. Long story short, PC game boxes used to set themselves apart, whereas now they attempt to blend in.

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3. Instruction Manuals.

I considered it a badge of pride when game companies would include decent manuals with their products. More than just installation instructions, good manuals included backstory for characters and setting, detailed explanations for in game features, and all that jazz. Great manuals were fun to read like magazines or something, and they always gave you a bit more to experience even when you weren’t playing the game.

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Nowadays, the digital days, these things are a rarity. Sure you can still go to the store and pick up a hard copy of a game, but it’s easier to get the same thing at home, and often for less money if there’s a sale.

Boxes are a thing of the past, even for consoles which are also providing non-physical options for purchase. Plus, they tend to take up space. When I moved last year, it was a pain to lug around boxes of old CDs and games and boxes. Boxes of boxes. Such a first world problem. You may not be able to make me get rid of my big box for Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, but there’s a certain kind of relief in knowing that I don’t have to make room for boxes as I impulsively purchase games.

As far as manuals are concerned, I do miss them, but plenty more games are better about offering tutorials in lieu of physical instructions. When a game came with a great manual, I would skip any tutorial that was also available, but it’s nice to know I that they are more common now, and the internet is such a good place to get useless info anyway.

Times have changed for PC gaming, but I’ve changed as well. Perhaps I have rationalized my acceptance in order to better cope with the changes. I’m less interested in having physical things in favor of experiencing things instead, so holding onto discs and CDs and boxes and books and all that stuff is more of a hassle for me now. It is sad that young gamers don’t get to experience what I did years ago, but that makes those memories more special to me.

Besides, isn’t purchasing a game at home from your PC and then playing it just a few minutes later the future that we all dreamed when we were kids?

Ninety 90’s Songs: Retro Brit Spice Girls Go Wild

Girl Groups are one of the easiest things to market in the music business, even moreso than Boy Bands. Guys get to look at attractive girls while they secretly enjoy the tunes, while women young and old have role models or icons in pop culture to help give them senses of identity. The legendary Spice Girls were no different. The biggest British invasion of the US since the War of 1812 and The Beatles, the Spice Girls swept America up in a tide of pop-feminism and S&M influenced male disempowerment.

#56 “Say You’ll Be There” by The Spice Girls. Coming off of their debut single “Wannabe” from album “Spice” in 1996, this track proved the Spice Girls were no one hit wonder. While they were often compared to compatriots The Beatles, their legacy came up short in the end. At the time of this song’s release, you wouldn’t have been able to predict that. American teenage girls were ravaging the nation with a sense of power that they could be who they wanted, wear their hair in funny shapes, and in the spirit of the song, tell boys they just wanted to be friends.
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The video for “Say You’ll Be There” was much lauded, won some awards, but the track itself acquired some tepid reviews amongst the throngs of hyped up praise. ¬†Each Spice Gal performs this song under a pseudonym, which allows them to commit crimes of S&M violence against hapless males in the desert using their Sci-Fi-influenced weaponry and martial arts skills. It’s good fun (if you’re into that sort of thing, no judgement…) and you even get a bit of Stevie Wonder-esque harmonica and R&B groove.

It’s this last bit that garnered criticism. While I personally love a bit of British Motown and Blue Eyed Soul-inspired groove from the UK, the Spice Girls washed ashore the States against a prevailing trend of R&B and growing Hip Hop influences. Their attempt at funk in this song was seen as a cop out and a street-cred grab to hitch onto that genre’s momentum.

The Spice Girls’ flame burned out, only to be rekindled here and their later on in film with “Spice World” and later reunitings. For better or worse, they are seen as a treasure by some in the UK (mostly in the music biz, I’d guess). Their legendary beginnings, including an alleged clandestine operation to steal their own materials and tapes before being enslaved by greedy managers and a draconian contract create a mythic background for a band that couldn’t wind up standing the test of time. Their unique personas stay with us, even if their pop beats remain in the 90’s, but is that really the worst way for their story to end?

State of the Blog Address: What the Heck Am I Doing?

I’ve been active, more or less, on my blog for about a year now, so I thought I would take a moment to reflect on what I’m doing.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and for the past ten years most of my writing has been limited to journals and copious notes for stories that I can’t get off the ground. My notes could amount to novels themselves in their mass, but they lack plot, theme, character and instead focus on trying to establish those things.
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And for the record, a part of me considers blogging about Sex and the City, 90s music, and whatever else to be frivolous. Regurgitating my own spin on someone else’s work is not creating anything new. It is, however, exercise.

And it’s kind of fun.

Something I’ve never done in my writing previous to blogging is setting goals for myself. Aside from telling myself in the morning, “I’m going to Starbucks today and I’m going to write,” I’ve never established any long term objectives.

So deciding to indulge in nostalgia and writing about 90s songs won’t directly result in the next great American novel. It will, hopefully sharpen my skills. And instead of stashing my thoughts away into spiral bound notebooks and boxes, I’m putting something out “there”.

Writing about Sex and the City, which ended a decade ago, won’t propel me to any kind of fame, but it will help me learn how to convey my thoughts to an audience, even if the audience is non-existent. Once again, it is something I’m putting out “there”.

There have been other goals in my life, other dreams, and some of those have passed me by. Others have transformed from fantastical aspiration into mundane reality. But being a writer has always been there, and there have been times when I haven’t given it its proper attention.

I’ve reached a point where I can no longer be a recluse with my writing. My plans and hopes for stories that I have yet to commit to paper or processor still reside within the vault of my mind, but my more superfluous musings are crowding my thoughts and my writer’s hand itches to express them.

I may not be engaging you in topics you enjoy with every post, and I may venture into interests that you do not share. That’s fine. You may come across this post randomly an may not understand who I am or what my angle is. A personal post like this may not be your thing to read, or maybe you’re surprised I have thoughts such as this and are interested in more.

There will be more. It may seem frivolous. It may not matter to anyone but myself. I may muster my courage and explore more personal matters, or maybe my wit will sharpen and I can entertain or enlighten you more effectively.

Onward to another year.

Re-Khan-aissance

I will admit it: I was scared of J.J. Abrams doing Star Trek. I was afraid he would distort it in his attempt to modernize it, neuter it in his attempt to revitalize it, and lobotomize it in his attempt to add more action. While it still may be argued whether or not he did these things, I can now say I mostly like what he’s done with the franchise.

My reticence to accept Abrams’ reiteration carried over when speculation about the sequel began. As people clamored for “Wrath of Khan” to be remade, I staunchly resisted such thoughts. How can Ricardo Montalban’s masterful portrayal be out done? Then I realized something…

This new Star Trek universe, an alternate reality if you will, is essentially one big game of “What If”. What if Kirk and Spock were rivals, instead of friends? What if the planet Vulcan were destroyed? What if Uhura finally got to have some Vulcan green-blooded goodness? More importantly, what if ,despite everything being different, certain meetings were a temporal absolute no matter the circumstances?

Of course, I am referring to the ongoing John Harrison/Khan debate. For the longest time I was sure John Harrison was some form of Gary Mitchell, the psychic menace who challenged Kirk in the second pilot episode. As big a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as I am (yay Sherlock!), he’s not Sikh superman material. But, what if?

What if he were?

While we have yet to discover who John Harrison really is, and everyone is denying the hell out of him being Khan, I am reminded by another denial which was relevant to the plot of a film. Marion Cotillard also refused to admit her character’s true identity (which I had guessed) in “The Dark Knight Rises”. This obfuscation was meant to preserve some element of surprise pertaining to a plot twist, but I wasn’t convinced and I enjoyed the revelation all the same.

Knowing that, are we really to believe in the attempts to misdirect us? Are we being carefully veered away from something in order intensify a surprising turn of plot? Unlike with “The Dark Knight Rises”, my conviction on this case is admittedly lacking. There is, however, some evidence that is striking in its implications:

John Harrison was a crewmember aboard the Enterprise in the Original Series, and he was involved with the Khan debacle in the episode “Space Seed”. It is also noted during the episode that of the 84 in suspended-animation aboard Khan’s ship the Botany Bay, only 72 survived.

72…

I’m not saying he is Khan, but I am tired of fighting against that theory. John Harrison is clearly related somehow. No matter how much the magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch (cumbersome name to type) is not the menacing Ricardo Montalban, I will be interested to see how the “What If” scenarios unravel in Star Trek Into Darkness.

72… Remember that and watch.