Finn and I used to love to watch a show called Yo Gabba Gabba on PBS when she was a toddler, a show which defies easy description but we both loved.
One of the highlights of the show was when Biz Markie came on and did Biz’ Beat of the Day; I think Finn was a little confused by it but I was happy to see him getting some love. We got tickets to see Yo Gabba Gabba live at the Lyric and took her to the show, and they did a great job with getting the kids up to dance and sing, like they do in the show.
But the highlight was when Biz Markie came out and did a live beatbox, AND THEN BUSTED INTO YOU SAY HE’S JUST A FRIEND. All of the toddlers in the audience were shocked when their parents got up and started singing to the song, and it was awesome.
RIP Biz. Gone too soon.
It was with great delight that I read Disney was producing a streaming series based on the Mysterious Benedict Society, a series of novels we read as a family after we finished the Harry Potter books. It’s the story of four gifted children with different skills who come together to solve a mystery. We started it during my stint in chemotherapy, so I have memories of falling asleep on the bed as Jen or Finn read their chapter, lulled peacefully into oblivion by the gentle story and the sound of their voices. The series is excellent so far. Although several of the adult cast were not who I saw in my head, I like them more and more. They’re doing a great job with production design and story, and I hope it maintains its quality until the end of this series.
Another new favorite: Clarkson’s Farm, on Amazon Prime. Most people write off Jeremy Clarkson as a blowhard English television presenter (and to be fair he’s said his share of stupid and racist things) but, as with Howard Stern, I think he’s mellowed and matured as he’s aged. The new series began filming in 2019, right before COVID, showing how he took over management of his huge farm in rural England. As with a lot of his best work on Top Gear, it’s less about poking fun at the subject and more about skewering himself—here showing his audience just how hard farming is, and just how little he knows about any of it, even though he’s owned one for over ten years. It’s a wonderful window into rural England—and fun to watch.
Adult Swim canceled one of my favorite shows, the Venture Brothers, last year, with little fanfare. They announced today they’re going to produce a follow-up movie for the series along with Metocalypse and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, two other canceled shows. It’s not as good as having a whole season, but I’d love to see things wrapped up (and have a little more time with Team Venture).
I haven’t mentioned the Mustang here because, well, it’s not here yet. The seller was being a little iffy about the possibility of it making an hour-long drive and crossing a 3-mile bridge with no breakdown lane, so we postponed the pickup and explored other options. I talked with Matt yesterday and he’s arranged for it to be towed here this afternoon, as he didn’t want us to get stuck on the bridge or somewhere in Eastern Maryland with a car we hadn’t ever driven. Which is, frankly, fine with me: as much as I’d love to road-trip it across the bridge, I’d rather do the 1-10-100 test with my USAA towing card handy.
In other news, I dusted off my acoustic guitar a couple of days ago, tuned it up, and put it behind my desk in the office. There are a bunch of simple songs I was learning back when I was taking lessons ten years ago—sweet creeping Jesus time has flown—and recently decided I’d like to pick this thing back up and learn them again. I found my notes and chord books and I’ve worked on the progressions for two songs already, and my fingertips already hurt. But it’s nice to make music again!
Aw, man. Nimona, a comic book written and published while the author was a student at MICA, was released and earned rave reviews, multiple awards, and sold a ton of copies. Blue Sky Studios, the folks responsible for the Ice Age series and some other excellent animated movies, picked up the story and have been in serious production on the movie adaptation since 2015.
Well, Blue Sky just got bought by Disney, and announced that they are killing the movie entirely. Reasons given abound, but the reality is that the story features two gay men as main characters. I can easily imagine the suits at the Mouse spending maybe three minutes tops discussing how damaging the story would be to their lily-white heteronormative brand before greenlighting Toy Story 17 for immediate production. Fuck the Mouse.
As an extremely educated man, my grandfather had all kinds of books in his house. Because there wasn’t much else to do there when we visited, my sister and I read everything that was halfway interesting and a lot of stuff that wasn’t; that’s where I read Profiles in Courage and learned about JFK, and then read all about his assassination conspiracies in The Book of Lists. Grandpa had a bunch of books about 20’s era automobiles and World War I planes, but I was much more interested in World War II and that era, probably because my Dad had a bunch of books about it. I never really got why Grandpa liked that stuff, but given the age difference and his upbringing, I see how the cycle continues: His Great War was my Dad’s Korea to my Gulf War. Either way, I find military history fascinating.
The Naval History and Heritage Command is an incredible repository of information. I often will kill time in a waiting room or on the train looking at the history of an obscure warship or campaign, but often the easily available history will have only the basic information. In a series of articles, the director digs deeper into the histories of people, events and warships and provides a jumping-off point for further research. I could lose days in here.
Sadly, the French electronic duo announced their split this morning, which is as shitty as Monday news gets.
Thomas Bangalter was in another group called Stardust that put out an earworm called Music Sounds Better With You, the video for which captures so much of being around Finley’s age, making model airplanes and watching MTV.
Huh, I don’t know where this has been and how I missed it, but Spotify just suggested The 500 With Josh Adam Meyers: a podcast where the host goes through The Rolling Stone’s Greatest 500 Albums of All Time with various interesting musicians, comedians, and artists; they pick a song from the album and discuss. Right up my alley. His voice is a little grating, but overall I like it.
I’ve been leaning heavily on podcasts to get me through the quarantine; they make some kinds of work easy (design or coding, walking the dog solo, organizing the basement) a lot more manageable. I’m super picky about my podcasts, because there can be subject matter I’m completely interested in presented by hosts I can’t stand—either due to their voices or their patter. Car Talk, the venerated NPR show that was ostensibly about fixing cars but was really about two annoying men with shrill voices laughing at their own jokes, drove me nuts. There are many podcasts that do the same thing. Here are a couple of new ones I’ve been enjoying this year:
20 Macs for 2020
A deep dive geek-out on Macintosh hardware, this is sort of a retrospective of Computers I’ve Owned; I can claim 8 of the 20 models listed so far. Hosted by Jason Snell, a longtime writer and editor of MacWorld, back when it was a magazine I subscribed to, it features a deep dive into the creation and design of each machine, and features contributions from other eminent figures in the Apple sphere.
60 Songs that Explain the ’90’s (only available on Spotify)
This is a relatively new one on the list, but something I’ve also been enjoying for the nostalgia’s sake: Rob Harvilla goes through a wide variety of songs to tease out what they meant to us during the time they were popular, and what they mean to us now. His format is a little strange, and he’s a bit snarky but overall it’s a good listen.
The Big Picture
This is a movie podcast that covers current releases and the industry in general; the Ringer’s footprint is big enough now that they can get A-level guests to join them for segments, which is a bonus: they’ve had Steve McQueen, Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater on in just the past couple of months.
I was dubious about this one at first but fell in love about 10 minutes in. The conceit is that the host was fired from the cast of Saving Private Ryan 20 years ago and just wants to know why it happened. Along the way he’s joined by some of the production staff and former cast members—Ron Livingston and Seth Rogen (who was not in the movie) are as awesome as I would hope they are, and another bit player talks about his experience on set and how it affected him afterwards. I burned through all of these last weekend building shelves in the basement.
Another podcast reviewing old movies, this has been a go-to for years. For all the reasons I didn’t like Car Talk, you may not like this one, but I genuinely enjoy the banter the four hosts enjoy. They’re all roughly my age and they like the movies I do—although their inability to appreciate the genius of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension led me to near homicidal rage. This was one of the podcasts that got me through weeks in the hospital and the low points of chemotherapy.
Lost Notes: 1980
Another music podcast. The host, Hanif Abdurraqib, dives into music made in one important year, featuring artists like Joy Division, the Sugarhill Gang, Grace Jones, and Minnie Riperton. The episode on Darby Crash and John Lennon was fascinating. I hope he does more.
Yes, another movie podcast. The concept here is that these are all movies that are made to be watched multiple times—with the understanding that the hosts picking the movies are white males, aged 40-50, from the east coast. They started out with Michael Mann’s Heat, one of my favorite movies, and they’ve rarely picked a dud.
Rivals: Music’s Greatest Feuds
This one is less about the music and more about the people behind the music, which is what makes it so fun: the hosts research the people involved and find out what happened and why they hate each other so much. Each episode goes on for about 20 minutes too long, in my opinion. I tend to cut it off around the same time every episode when it gets repetitive, but the bulk of it is good stuff.
The Smithsonian Institution has more stuff in storage than they can ever hope to display, and this podcast talks about that stuff (you get to go in the side door of the museum on a private tour). Their episodes on the Worst Video Game, Outer Space and Underwear, and Apollo 12’s Really Close Call stood out to me—but there’s a ton more to get into.
Slow Burn, Season Four: David Duke
This one has been fucking riveting. I was only dimly aware of David Duke when he ascended to power in Louisiana, but this podcast shows how his blueprint for success in 1991 should have predicted the Great Pumpkin’s success in 2016. The same playbook, the same coded messages, the same blatant use of the office for personal grift, the same indifference or outright cowardice from the Republican Party and the general public: silence equals consent. Also highly recommended: the other three seasons (Clinton, Nixon, and Biggie & Tupac).
You’re Wrong About
This is a relatively new one for me. It reexamines stories and historical events to see if what we’ve all agreed upon as the truth is, in fact, true. They’ve done a lot of deep dives on Princess Diana but have also looked at O.J. Simpson, the Ford Pinto, and the D.C. Snipers. I’m getting into it more and more as I listen.
I haven’t been brewing much for the last couple of years, but one thing I’ve found is that using the aluminum pots I got from my Dad to brew wort does not work: the beer comes out tasting like molasses each time. Having switched back to the big stainless pot I had at the beginning, I accepted the fact that I’ll just never use the big professional pot Brian was able to find for me years ago. It’s beautiful but it’s made for 5-gallon brews. I brew 2.5 gallons and add water at the end—and when I used it, the liquid didn’t even reach the thermometer inlet. I put it up on Craigslist and after a couple of months of quiet, a man contacted me and bought it this morning for $10 more than I paid for it.
We are one episode away from the end of the Mandalorian, and it’s been really good this season. Disney just announced a billion new movies and shows in the Star Wars universe, some of which sound interesting (Obi Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka, hell yes) and some sound unnecessary (A Droid Story, Lando—unless Donald Glover is starring—and anything animated) so it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep the quality high or if they all wind up like Muppet Babies and dilute the franchise into pudding. My hope is that they’ve learned the right lessons from the series, they keep JJ fucking Abrams away from it all, and they double down on the things that make it all work: character development, tight storytelling, clear motivations, and grounding in the world they’ve built without all the fan service. Nevertheless, my inner 11-year-old nerd is thrilled.