Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Follow-ups

Some recent-ish news about subjects previously featured in this blog…

KW Glee, who blew us away with their performance with the KW Symphony earlier this year, proved that performance was no fluke as they were named Show Choir Canada’s Grand Champions. They also won best vocal, choreography, show design, and new choir. Unsurprisingly, their spring concert is sold out! We’re going to have to be more on the ball for tickets if want to see them in concert again.

As for the TV show that inspired KW Glee, the last two season 5 Glee episodes featuring Adam Lambert — “Trio” and “New New York” turned out to be… Pretty good, actually. Not so good that I feel the need to watch more episodes of Glee or anything, but worth watching for more than the Lambert pretty.

Adam Lambert himself has been in full promotional mode this week, as his new single has been released.  “Ghost Town” is incredibly catchy and rather, as long you’re OK with the house style (which  I am). Now that I’m no longer in a grief fog, I’ve also been re-listening to his Trespassing album. It’s quite good (and more than just distracting pop, really); very surprising it wasn’t a bigger success. Let’s hope he gets the success he deserves with the new album, out in June.

Adam Lambert on radio

And he’s still handsome. Guess that’s not news.

.But the other “Americans” I’ve been watching, Elizabeth and Phillip, have been recognized with a Peabody Award for Quality in Television. Well-deserved, I think; we’re nearly done watching Season 1 of The Americans and the show only get more complicated and fascinating as it goes. Apparently it’s just as good (or even better) through seasons 2 and 3. Great viewing ahead!


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Experiencing pop culture in a time of grief

When someone you love dies, blogging about pop culture, news, travel, and food drops off the priority list.

Doesn’t mean that these trivialities drop our of your life, though. Just that your relationship to them changes, at least for a time.

Music

You know, if you break my heart I’ll go
But I’ll be back again
‘Cause I told you once before good-bye
And I came back again

Music is an emotional mindfield, isn’t it? I don’t think The Beatles “I’ll Be Back” would make anyone’s list of saddest songs ever, but on a day of bad news, I couldn’t handle it. I frantically searched through my playlists for safer havens. I finally settled on “High Energy”, a gathering of uptempo rock and dance numbers, generally with pleasingly dumb lyrics. I stayed locked on that for about a week and a half, ‘til it finally seemed just too incongruous. (Then I switched to Classical.)

Adam Lambert’s excellent album Trespassing was just the sort of uptempo music I needed for a time

Food

I was interested to discover that I still got hungry, still wanted to cook, was still able to eat. Because certain forms of stress and worry make that difficult for me. But not this one, this situation with a known but sad outcome. While  I didn’t eat more, or drink more—I didn’t find comfort in that—I still enjoyed the routine of preparing and eating meals.

I certainly became a distracted cook, though. Leaving the milk out on the counter, putting the vinegar in the wrong pantry, forgetting to start the timer. Like the energy of pushing the sadness away enough to follow a recipe was not leaving enough mental space to remember anything that wasn’t written down.

Things are now improving on that front.

Movies and TV

While actually going out to a movie seemed like too much effort, watching stuff on TV was an appealing distraction. Since I don’t watch much medical stuff anyway, there wasn’t much I felt I had to avoid. Howard’s mother died on Big Bang Theory (as the actress had in real life), but it was handled with a light touch and didn’t set me off. In picking HBO movies, I decided to skip Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow for now, given its premise of the lead character dying over and over. I instead watched and quite appreciated the comedic In a World, one of the more overtly feminist movies I’ve seen in a long time. Recommended.

In a World trailer

News

The human interest stories—little boys lost in the snow, Oliver Sack’s terminal cancer diagnosis—were best avoided for a while, but I still found the theatre of politics a surprisingly useful distraction. Especially in Twitter form (about the length of my attention span, at times). I couldn’t truly dig up my own personal outrage at some of what was going on, but I could still appreciate and retweet other people’s. #StopC51 and all that.

Books

Cover of Being MortalSo just a few days before all this my book club had selected Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal as our next book. It’s about getting older and end of life care, and how the medical profession has been dealing with it, and how it should.

Of course, there were days I wasn’t up to reading much of anything at all, but when I did feel up to it, I did read this, I seriously doubt I would have selected this particular book if left to my own druthers, but I feel it was in some ways helpful. It’s an excellent book, anyway, and much of it was more abstract and factual, which appealed to my logical side. Stories did become more personal and touching later in the book, but that was later in this whole saga for me too and—I don’t think it made anything worse. It certainly presented a number of scenarios I’m so glad my loved one never went through.


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Chocolately, literary, comforting joyful Christmas (with an Eighties tinge)

This might be a record number of Christmas posts in a row, but it is more than a one-day event for me (albeit not 12 days), starting with our Noël à deux in advanced of December 25. I’ve already mentioned the meal we had, but we also do a small gift exchange. Jean’s main gift from me was a new watch of a brand he admired, but he got some other little things, like a Chromecast and “life-changing” Saxx underwear (as the ads I now encounter everywhere I go on the web remind me).

My main gift was a record player, which many people thought was an interestingly retro choice of gifts. What I didn’t mention too loudly was that this is actually my second record player (we won’t even talk about how many DVD players I have). The main feature the new one has that the other didn’t is a USB connection to make it easy to digitize LPs. (Because some songs are rather difficult to find digital versions of.) But it also has a nice Start function, and is hooked into the better stereo system. I’ve already listened to more LPs in the last 2 days than I have in the last 2 years.

I received other little items, including a great deal of chocolate: Not one, not two, but three boxes of Purdy’s chocolates; a raspberry chocolate bar; and mini snowballs! I also happened to win a Godiva chocolate basket at a Christmas dance. So the chocolate stores are shored up for a while.

Then we headed to Timmins, where it was weirdly mild this year, but not so mild as to melt the snow:

Gillies Lake in Timmins

We took advantage of the nice winter weather to go walking and snowshoeing, once on our own, once with toute la gang (almost).

Snow shoers

Five of the fourteen of us who went snowshoeing one day

A day after a fresh snow fall, the kids couldn’t resist doing this:

GIF of tree snow clearing

Christmas Eve my side of the family had dinner and stockings at my brother’s house, then the two of us went out to the Réveillon with Jean’s side of the family. As usual, everyone was fasting:

Réveillon food

A tiny sampler of the available food

There was a very good turnout, with only a few nieces and nephews away this year. The gift exchange from Jean’s side is an anonymous one on a theme, which this year was royal purple. I am now the proud recipient of two purple travel mugs. My lucky giftee now owns Prince’s Purple Rain on CD and BluRay.

With my family it was the first time in quite a few Christmas’s that all the siblings were up. We had a terrible time. 🙂

Two siblings and an in-law

Two siblings and an in-law, as I don’t seem to have a photo of all siblings. Perhaps I’ll get one from Dad later.

We also attempted a theme this year, though it was only loosely adhered to: comfort and joy. Cozy scarves were a popular item.

jean with cashmere

Cashmere!

S-S and faux fur

S-S rockin’ the faux fur

As were books! I have, like, six new books now. Most everyone else got a least one, I think. I made my sister’s fit into the theme with the Pleasure in the title—pretty close to joy, right? (Plus, John Taylor—yummy! Joy!)

In the Pleasure Groove

To add to my haul and increase the utility of my earlier gift, I dug through the LPs from our teenage years that had been languishing at my parent’s house, and brought home a bag-ful. Duran Duran, Aha, Prefab Sprout, Adam Ant, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads, The Housemartins, Paul Young, Squeeze, Echo and the Bunnymen, … I have quite the makings for an Eighties party.

80’s Music Medley from YouTube


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Who’s Next at Massey Hall

So, let’s talk about Massey Hall.

It’s a historic, downtown Toronto performing arts theatre, seating about 3000, beloved by many Canadian artists, such as Gordon Lightfoot and Lowest of the Low. I’ve seen some fine performances there, by Ray Davies, Jon Stewart, and Classic Albums Live performing Queen’s A Night at the Opera.

Massey Hall exterior

But I’ve always found it amusing that the cheaper seats—the ones higher and further back from the stage—are literally worse seats: they don’t have any cushions. That is, in the orchestra area, the chairs themselves are actually better, as though improved sightlines were not sufficient motivation for charging more for tickets. One also gained added comfort.

I could find that an amusing quirk, because I’d personally always managed to get seats in the center orchestra area.

Until this weekend.

Though I didn’t dawdle in getting tickets for Classic Albums Live: Who’s Next, I had to wait until after the subscribers and members were done until I could get my own. At that point, only Left and not Centre Orchestra was offered up as Best Available.

Now, left orchestra seats do have cushions. What they lack, however, is width. Seriously. They are super-narrow seats. You might think economy airline seats are bad, but these are worse.

This was a bit of a problem for my broad-shouldered husband, who had to spend the whole show sitting awkwardly askew, yet still spilling over into my seat and feeling he had to apologize to the woman on his other side.

But he was still better off than men in some other rows, where several large guys were seated next to each other. I’m not even sure how they managed.

So if ever wondering why the people in side orchestra seats at Massey Hall are so quick and frequent in providing standing ovations: It’s not they are particularly appreciative of the performance. It’s because they need to stretch!

Now hey, on with the show…

Who's Next album cover

I was very excited that the Classic Albums Live group was tacking Who’s Next, my favorite Who album, even if it required a trip to Toronto. Only 10 songs long, Who’s Next contains no filler. It starts with “Baba O’Riley” (Teenage Wasteland) and contains both the song erroneously considered to be their best, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and the one that actually is, “Behind Blue Eyes”.

Live, “Baba” was a stunning opener (just as it is for The Who), with the insane ending rendered amazingly by a cellist and the Moon-like drummer. This cellist was to demonstrate her musical chops all evening, as she moved between trumpet, keyboards, and vocals. That’s range, folks!

On “Bargain”, I was especially struck by the three guys who came out to do a clapping sequence, because:

a) I’d never noticed the clapping sequence in the original

b) I thought it was cool you could get a job in music just clapping

On point b), however, I was soon disavowed of that notion, as the three guys joined the cellist on horns for “My Wife”.

Clearly, the band size varied based on needs, but in this first were always larger the the four members of The Who. Apart from the musicians already mentioned, we had another keyboardist (who just stuck to that instrument, covering all the synthesizer bits), an acoustic guitarist, an electric guitarist, a bass player, another background vocalist, and a lead singer. He was the same person who did The Queen show, and while he doesn’t sound like Freddie Mercury or Roger Daltrey, he has the range and power to do both justice, and that’s what matters—even though he does tend to mess up the lyrics at times.

And, we got one more special guest on “Won’t Get Fooled Again’: A second lead vocalist—the guy who sings at their Led Zeppelin shows—was brought out to make The Scream as epic as it needed to be.

A compilation of Roger Daltrey screams for YGFA

(And that is the sort of special extra thing you get in the Toronto performances of Classic Albums Live that you usually don’t in the touring productions.)

So overall, it was a superlative job by the band. The only problem had nothing to do with them, but with the guy beside me (not Jean), who insisted on singing along—really badly—with a number of the songs. This completely ruined for me what should have been the highlight of the whole show, the lovely vocal harmonies at the beginning of “Behind Blue Eyes”.

Honestly. I now kind of understand why The Who themselves played so loud!

The second half featured a variety of other Who songs—including 5:15, The Real Me, The Seeker, Pinball Wizard, You Better You Bet, Love Reign O’er Me (and thank God, with no overdubbed vocals from my tone-deaf seat-mate) and Who Are You.

And for the true Who geeks in the audience, they also did the extended, 10-minute version of “My Generation” from Live at Leeds, (which segues into various bits of Tommy, etc), performing it very honestly, with only the same number of musicians as the original: Just four. It was really very cool, the faithful reproduction of something originally completely improvised. I have to wonder how many in the audience knew what that was?

Regardless. We in the side aisles were all happy to give it a standing ovation! 🙂


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Vinyl

For the first time in decades, I bought a new album. And by “album”, I mean vinyl record album, LP, “big black CD”, as Jean’s nephew used to call them. And by “new” I don’t mean just mean new to me; I mean that it’s fresh off the presses, a just-released record, preordered from Amazon.

It does, however, feature a couple really old guys: Roger Daltrey, best known as singer of The Who, and Wilko Johnson, not as well-known to North American (except to those who watch Game of Thrones, I guess), but a British guitarist and songwriter, formerly of a band called Doctor Feelgood. The two have been wanting to collaborate for some time, but when Johnson was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, they decided not to put it off any longer.

I, of course, mainly wanted it because of Daltrey, but I went the LP route instead of CD or iTunes because it just seemed to have such a nice cover:

Cover of Going Back Home

When it did arrive, in a ludicrously large box, I found the whole package to indeed be quite lovely. It has a sturdy record sleeve, with equally good vintage photos on the back. It has an insert with more photos, and full lyrics—that you don’t need a magnifying glass to read. It has a very solid record cardboard sleeve as well, and the vinyl record itself is thicker, and presumably stronger, than those that were popular back when LPs were all we had. I guess today’s LPs are more luxe products.

But what about convenience? Well, it also came with a download code, so I now also have the album in MP3 format on my iPod.

But first I played the actual LP. And my first impressions are good. It’s just straight-up, fun, rock’n’roll, and Daltrey’s voice seems to me to be very well-suited to Johnson’s songs.

“I Keep It to Myself” by Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey on YouTube


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Going to see an American idiot

No, I’m not insulting anybody. I simply went out with two friends to see a production of Green Day’s American Idiot: The Musical.

Poster for Green Day's American Idiot

Of the three of us, I was the biggest fan, in that I actually own the entire original album, not just the hit songs from it. But I don’t know it that well. Like, I only know the lyrics to the hit songs from it, and I’ve never taken the time to try to figure out what the plot or concept behind it actually is—though it appeared to have something to do with a young man’s angst.

So we were all going in blind, not knowing what the story or characters would be.

It turned out to be centered around the character of Johnny, who plans to escape suburban dreariness and do something wonderful and revolutionary in the city. His friend Will has to stay behind because of his pregnant girlfriend, Heather. His other friend Tunny does go with him, but they have a falling out and choose different paths. Then Johnny meets and falls in love with Whatshername. [No, I didn’t forget her name; that is that character’s name.]

Green Day’s music is absolutely front, center, essential, everything to this production. Spoken dialogue between songs is limited, mainly consisting of Johnny’s dated monologues or letters letting us know how much time has passed and the character’s reaction to what happened in the last song. And though I had to look this up to confirm, it does include every song from the original American Idiot album, in order—but it uses some additional Green Day songs from that period of their career to round out the story

There’s no orchestra with this; it’s truly a rock musical, to the point where the guitarists, bassist, keyboardist, and drummer are actually up on stage, in the open, with the actors, through the whole production. The cast also sometimes joins in on guitar (on a couple tunes Johnny sings with himself as accompaniment on acoustic), and their voices—oh my God! What amazing singers. (Somewhat better than Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, I would say.) But they have voices suited to rock, not Broadway, if you know what I mean.

(And on a shallow note, they were quite a nice-looking and fit bunch as well, which made for some pleasant viewing from our excellent sixth-row seats.)

It was a super energetic production, 110 minutes, no intermission. The dancing features a lot of head thrashing, fist pumping, and running and jumping. The staging was industrial-looking, featuring a lot of TVs that helped propel the mood of the story, with occasional strobe lighting and glitter.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you aren’t a fan of guitar-heavy, potty-mouthed, angry /angsty rock music, this is not the musical for you.

But we quite enjoyed it. Though it has to be said [do I have to give spoiler alerts on a musical?], the ending is not of the triumphant, feel-good sort. Love does not conquer all. Dreams are not realized. The world is not a better place at the end than it was at the start.

I thought that was brave, but also couldn’t help wishing it could end on a bit of a happier note.

Which is why the cast encore was so brilliant, and perfect, and not really cheating at all: Green Day’s “Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life)”.

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life!

 


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Jordan Catalano does good

Not sure how many people are just learning about Jared Leto now that he’s scooping up every acting award going for his role as Rayon in Dallas Buyer’s Club, but he’s been at least semi-famous for a while.

Woman on street of New York: Are you someone famous?

Jared Leto: Sort of.

— Scene from “Artifact”

He first drew my attention back in 1994 (20 years ago!) for his role as Jordan Catalano, object of Angela Chase’s obsession, in the wonderful ABC series My So-Called Life. And who can blame her—or me? Look at this guy:

Jordan Catalano

Jared himself is embarrassed by his work on this series, feeling that while the show was great, he was not. (He therefore did not participate in the DVD release of this series, which is a shame, since most everyone else involved did.)

I think he’s being overly harsh on himself, as I can’t imagine anyone else playing than the part better. From just the script, you’d get a beautiful but shallow dim bulb whose only interest was cars, guitars, and sex. From the acting, you read considerably more going on below the surface: a sensitivity, an intelligence. And you needed that more. Angela Chase intense interest had to be justified by more than just a pretty face.

You’re asking a *man* [to Graham, Brad]—sorry, sorry—to describe someone when I’m sitting here? Here’s what he’s like—fairly—out of it, not unintelligent. Sort of um—stray puppy, you know the type you’re always trying to ease their pain. He may even be a halfway decent person, but let me tell you—*trouble*. *Way* too gorgeous.

— Hallie Lowenthal describes Jordan Catalano to Patty, Angela’s mom

If you’ve never seen the series, you should rectify that, but it was low-rated and lasted only one season.

After that, Jared made movies. And at first, I made some effort to track them down, but the ones he starred in often had limited release, making them hard to get hold of back then (Prefontaine, The Last of the High Kinds, both pretty decent once I did see them), and his parts in movies that were distributed were often tiny (How to Make an American Quilt, Thin Red Line, each featuring him for maybe 5 minutes? His Fight Club role wasn’t huge, either.)

And then there were those movies I was just too wimpy to go see,  afraid I’d find them too disturbing: Requiem for a Dream, Chapter 27, American Psycho

Around 1998, he formed a band with his big brother and some other musicians: 30 Seconds to Mars. With their second album, they achieve significant success, which has only continued. But that’s no thanks to me. I was happy to have someone lend me one of their albums, but I just don’t like it all that much. I don’t think their music is terrible or anything, but it doesn’t really speak to me, either.

So the whole Dallas Buyer’s Club thing has been nice for “reuniting” with this artist. He has a good-size part in it; despite the AIDS theme, the movie is not that depressing or disturbing; it’s been successful and well-distributed; and I really liked it. Yes, he plays a woman in it (a very attractive woman), but he’s very much a man in the extensive publicity he’s done around it and while scooping up all those acting awards. At 42, he looks like this:

Jared Leto

That’s some great moisturizer he’s using to stay looking so young and gorgeous. But his Oscar speech also demonstrated great depth, integrity, and warmth. Appears Jordan Catalano really is “not unintelligent” and a “halfway decent person”.

Wouldn’t have guessed Jared Leto for the first MSCL alum to win an Oscar.

— Someone on Twitter

I’ve been following Jared on Twitter, despite that fact that he’s clearly not doing his own tweeting (and whoever is might want to tone down the triple exclamation points and all caps that made him sound like a 16-year-old fangirl). But it contains some useful links on what’s doing, and through that, I’ve learned about his award-winning documentary, Artifact.

It’s currently discounted to a 99-cent rental on iTunes, so I watched it last weekend. Directed by Leto under the name Bartholomew Cubbins, it was originally intended to just cover the making of 30 Seconds to Mars’s new album, but became something else when the band entered into a dispute with their record company. The specifics of the band being sued for $30 million for breach of contract are unusual, but bands fighting for better deals from their labels is not. And this documentary focuses more on that.

So, you don’t need to be a 30 Seconds to Mars fan to enjoy it; in fact, there isn’t that much of their music in the film. But I’d say you do have to be a fan of rock music in general, particularly one who may wonder why bands always seem to be getting ripped off by their record companies. And this documentary suggests: Because that’s their business model. Like, it’s routine that labels charge for “packaging” and “breakage” on sales of digital copies of music! The various reductions on artist’ take means they can earn nothing, or even be indebted, even after selling millions of copies of an album.

And why do artists keep signing with labels? Because of the difficulty of coming up with an alternative model, at least for artists that want more than limited, cult success.

30 Seconds to Mars is still with a record company. How they got there, without paying $30 million, makes for some interesting viewing.