Category: Story Pile

Here’s where you’ll find the blog entries that are about examining – specifically – TV, movies, and other forms of participatory media that interest me. This is the space you’re going to find talk of characters in TV shows, or specific moments in greater narratives, or why you might want to watch a particular show or why I love – or hate! – a particular movie.

Story Pile: Son of a Son of a Sailor

The followup to Margaritaville And Some Other Songs was, to me, one half of a two-disc set that my dad got and taped so we could listen to it in the car. It’s a very literal album – some very clear, explicit stories told in song form, not a lot of subtle metaphor. This album, while definitely Another Jimmy Buffett Album and having a song or two on it I really like, is relatively brainless.

It’s got a song about liking cheeseburgers, a song about liking parties, another song about liking parties, and two songs about people he’s met, with a restful, relaxing pace to them. These are to me, the better songs on the album – Cowboy in the Jungle and African Friend are both songs that talk about other, interesting people, and their stories as Jimmy’s narrator only momentarily intersected with them.

It’s interesting, and infamously, Cheeseburger in Paradise is a weird classic of his, a song about… liking a cheeseburger.

Anywayyyy, uh

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Story Pile: Le Mans 1955

I was recommended to watch this short film on Youtube by my father, who is and has almost always been, an avid motorsports fan. Unlike many other Story Pile entries, this one, you can just press a button and watch it. You can watch the whole thing.

Le Mans 1955 is a 2018 short animated feature, made by a guy called Quentin Baillieux, along with no doubt, dozens of other people’s hard work. I’m not a French speaker, nor am I versed in the French animation scene so I can’t really get involved and say ‘oh, here’s the context for that,’ but I want you to be aware of the limits I have. I don’t know Baillieux, I don’t know the studio, this is very much just an area of my ignorance.

Hell, my ignorance runs deep on this one; I knew, vaguely, there were a bunch of crashes in motorsports history, but I didn’t know about this one. I can remember hearing of Ayrton Senna being killed in a crash when I was a young child, I can remember the horror of seeing my dad and uncle react to the news of Alex Zanardi being cut in half from a crash in 2000. Motorsports has been around me and never engaged me my entire life. What I mostly knew were these tragic, terrible incidents of someone just

being gone.

I was also growing up in the 90s, so the idea of the motorsports crash was heavily influenced by that – a period when safety standards had already been clamped down pretty hard and were going to clamp down further. I hadn’t looked into the grim history of the worst crashes, the worst audience fatalities, the worst this sport could be, and what could happen.

In 1955, one of the greatest motorsports disasters took place, where a track that wasn’t meant for cars to do this, where three bodies moving at high speed made reasonable but imperfect judgements and the result was a car moving at two hundred miles per hour flying through the air at such speed and with such force that it burst into flames and disintegrated, into a stadium full of spectators. Eighty people died. A hundred and eighty or so were injured.

This is a strange gem of culture. This is one of those periods of time when men were successfully carving out spaces for themselves. This is a point where a man retiring almost but not quite on top was a heavy weight, and it took eighty deaths and a hundred and eighty injuries for him to consider hey hang on maybe. This is a deeply relatable, painful moment, if you can connect with these men from a time when, in a space they had made for themselves and driven out all alternatives, they had to deal with the anguish that they normally relied on other people to handle.

It’s also about games.

The lead didn’t matter. Oh there were incentives, financial and reputation wise, there were some levels of stocks or investment or confidence or whatever that you could make out of winning the race, but winning the race versus placing second or fifth in the race was relatively meaningless. These were specialised subdivisions of companies that were showing they could push the idea of vehicle design to its absolute limit, but they were all systems of things. The nature of privilege for men, even in this period, was one where there were layers upon layers of protection and guarantee to keep you from being seriously hurt for failures. Nobody went to jail over Le Mans. Nobody got blamed.

The reason to care about your performance at Le Mans was because you cared about your performance at Le Mans.

In this movie, you see the emotions of men who cared about their performance at Le Mans so much that there was a struggle… a real tense struggle to be able to say no.

I have to stop the game.

People have died.


Thanks, Dad, this was a really good little movie, and I really appreciate being told about it!

Story Pile: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Now, look, odds are good listening to this music – if you have been – you may have found you like a few Jimmy songs. You might think that one or two of them are good, maybe the best songs on an album are worth sitting through. That’s fine. I don’t know why I respond to these songs the way I do. If you listen to this album and think ‘eh,’ that’s fine, but you should know that I play a game with this album with people where you take an album and ask how many songs you have to remove before the album’s not worth picking up.

On this ten song album, I think that you have to ditch nine of the songs for me to think it’s not worth getting, and the tenth song that remains is literally his most successful song.

This is the album that catapulted Jimmy briefly into the position of being an FM radio indie kinda guy that had fans but no presence to being what some people would later refer to as a one hit wonder in the country scene. And it’s kind of understandable – Margaritaville is an absolutely titanic hit compared to his normal songs. The song had cross-board appeal, getting to #8 on Billboard, and #13 on Country, which while not unheard of was certainly impressive. This song is not just a classic of the genre but it’s one that kind of became a cultural touchstone for people who went on to become country stars themselves – lots of people reference Margaritaville either by name or by using key phrases, and it’s a song that’s been covered a lot.

There are a few ‘canon’ versions of Margaritaville too, a radio play that’s slightly faster and structured differently, live versions that add different specific references, a kids version Jimmy recorded so his kid could sing along (she’s forty now, mind you). It’s also parodied a lot, with the most well known probably being ‘Marijuanaville,’ a song that is about as clever or subtle as you may think based on the name.

The song’s remarkable to the Jimmy Buffett fandom in that the song is actually a really sad, miserable reflection on how this guy is sad over a breakup and is just drinking himself unconscious repeatedly, whiling away empty days, and at the very end of the song, comes face to face with the fact his situation is his to own and he’s why it sucks. It is sung upbeat and happy and people sing along with it at concerts, and it gives the name to Jimmy’s restaurant chain, suggesting that he’s advertising a great place to go when you’ve destroyed your relationship and end the night being mopped into a bucket.

It also kinda sucks?

I don’t know if this is the Jimmy Buffett hipster equivalent of complaining about overplay, but Margaritaville is to my mind the worst song on this whole album!

This album definitely has more of your 1970s Gulf-And-Western style; songs about being in Mexico or coastal towns, songs about reflection in these spaces where nothing is making demands of you. Where Margaritaville is about a dude wasting his life, Biloxi is a haunting, sunsoaked meditation on a beautiful place, of innocent actions, of the swelling feeling of being in a place that does not hurt. Where Margaritaville is the gentle easygoing rhythm of getting hammered on endless sunsoaked afternoons that don’t matter, Lovely Cruise sings about that with an actual admission of joy, not sadness.

Then there’s In the Shelter, which is already excellent and I kinda covered already, and Landfall.

Now, look, Landfall is a stompy, piano-and-harmonica dance-hall country song that wants to be shouted as much as it wants to be song. It’s got some weird, time-lost joke references (Lucille Ball? Really? Okay, Jimmy), but what sticks with me, the phrase that I realise has been informing my mind for a long time, is where he talks about how being cooped up in a truck doesn’t bother him, being in confined spaces doesn’t bother him, but having to deal with people for prolonged periods bothers him. Running away to the ocean and ignoring people isn’t by any means a thing that scares him, it’s release.

And yeah, I like how singable it is.

I love this album. I’m not sure it’s ‘the best’ Jimmy Album – I put lots of value on West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown, and Landfall doesn’t have the same potency.

And Margaritaville isn’t that good.

 

Story Pile: Odds & Ends

Header image source: pixiv, by @maguro8989

Today, in Australia, as this article goes up, it is March 9. In Japanese, you can pronounce three ‘mi’ and you can pronounce nine ‘ku’ – meaning that the name ‘Miku’ can be seen as 3-9 – or the 9th of March. Inasmuch as Hatsune Miku, the cybernetic girl, the meme, the idea, the artistic influence and movement of artwork unto herself could be said to have a day, this is the one that people have chosen and so, it is the day we’re doing this.

Now, one might point out, somewhat accurately, that as someone who does not listen to Vocaloid music or play Vocaloid games, it’s a bit odd for me to talk about Hatsune Miku, and you would be right, but after my Touhou project article last year, it seems that that y’all don’t need me to be on the inside.

Miku is a busy lady. She’s a creative tour de force, having authored the Harry Potter books in the 1990s but not the last one, having created the game Minecraft before selling it to Microsoft. She’s also responsible for the hit manga Rurouni Kenshin, and her influence on classic rock from the 70s through the 80s is absolutely unparalleled. When you look back at the groundbreaking work of literature throughout the early 20th century and a number of philosophy texts, Miku is there, and so on and so forth all the way down until you reach the earliest texts showing Miku saying 光よあれ。” It seems that almost anywhere you look, Hatsune Miku is there, just a few steps away, being the person responsible for something you love.

There’s two very big things expressed in this very tight little meme, though. The first is that the question of authorship of a lot of these things involves a sort of painful maneuvering around part of our culture. These are important works, and once you participate in culture, questions of ‘where did this come from’ tend to follow along quickly. Miku’s work is important because it lets us talk about the origin of these things without needing to engage with the worst elements of related people. It signals to the person who asked how the topic is fraught, a sort of all-purpose social guardian. We’re not going to talk about where this came from, it says, because you don’t need to know about why Hatsune Miku made this.

The second is that crediting Miku with the creation of some work is a deliberate effort to decouple an artist from their work in a way that deprives them of the work’s glory. It’s actually really interesting because we live in a society of ownerships, with ideas and expressions being seen as ‘belonging’ to people even if they don’t necessarily have any way to represent that ownership. It’s a system of prioritised ownerships too – Emma Watson is not seen as owning Hermione, despite the fact that she had to actualise and formalise the mannerisms and tone of voice of the character, had to be capable of not only saying her lines but of occupying her identity for ten years. The words coming out her mouth were the result of Emma’s work and a director’s work and a acting coach’s work and a voice coach’s work and a room full of scriptwriters’ work and a story editor’s work and a language editor’s work and eventually, Hatsune Miku’s work, which itself was incarnating the work of other stories, of other conversations, of other people’s stories and affect. Yet despite all the work those people do on the project, it’s seen as inappropriate for any one of them to claim any ownership of the work, as if those who do the work are vessels for the work.

This vision of the conception as ownership and the creation as meaningless is really interesting when you remember just how many assistants even ‘lone’ creatives tend to have. When you look at how we prioritise ideas of singular creative vision to render an artwork as legitimate (which is kind of the root of auteur theory, in which a bunch of privileged narrow dorks believe that the product of privileged narrow dorks is better than anyone else).

It’s kind of like a big lever, wedging away creative media in a mass production culture away from the idea of sole arbiters, the ownership of Disney and the control of individuals.

What makes this all suitably ironic and weird then is that Miku is a corporate-designed character made by a company to sell a product that is at its heart about letting you make mass-produced media through their lens of what she should be able to do. That’s weird, and what makes it extra weird is the way that this blatant example of extremely cynical corporate product engineering has become a symbol for rejecting bad people’s right to be forgiven their badness by their involvement in an important work. The question sort of follows upon that didn’t Hatsune Miku start pre-cancelled? Isn’t she, by dint of being a corporate product for control and ownership of art, already a milkshake duck?

I mean sure.

I don’t care though.

Hatsune Miku is a character and a brand; she’s an image and she’s trademarked. Hatsune Miku is a character owned by a company, and they can license her appearance and use it in advertisements and she’s really popular, and she has a devoted fanbase that love her for reasons that aren’t necessarily related to that brand. That can make all the things that Miku does feel a bit… weirdly… bootlickery, where she’s this AI Girl that The Company is letting you fall in love with. It would be completely legitimate to point out that Crypton Future Studios made and sell the image of a cute anime girl that they know you like, and that’s why she hocks pizza and pocky and bowling and whatever else. She’s an icon, a marketing image.

Right?

But that’s not what Vocaloid is, not really – it was made by a Barcelonan research program in association with Yamaha back in 2004. What Miku is, in a sort of general legal sense, is an instrument. It isn’t that you’re using Vocaloid programs to make her music, it’s that the Vocaloid itself is an invention and the programs are ways of accessing that invention. The technology was originally developed to sell to professional musicians as a way to compose consistent vocals, demonstrate performances and generally streamline production for music. It wasn’t meant, in development, to be the thing it became.

What has ensued is phenomenal, in the literal way. The release of this tool into the wider world has resulted in people who may have a song to sing, an idea for words to have some way to say it that they didn’t before. Maybe they’re shy. Maybe they hate their voice. Maybe they’re unvoiced. Maybe the voice they have isn’t the voice they want. Maybe they’re too afraid to say what they need to say themselves. Whatever the reason, Miku’s voice is there, willing to hold your words, and to bear the criticism for them.

With that in mind, then, I just want you to listen to this song, Odds and Ends, about how Miku knows that people don’t have to like her voice, but she is willing to sing the words you give her.

So please let me sing
With your own,
your very own words

I love this song, I think it is beautiful, and I like the way it makes me feel. I like the way it sings about growing courage through making things, and I like the way the performers hide themselves, to focus the story of the clip around Miku and the little robot friend. I like the notion of the helpful voice that’s willing to help you create art by shielding you from one of those powerful barriers of embarrassment.

Yes, she’s a thing you can buy. Yes, she sells pizza. But Hatsune Miku made Hatsune Miku and everyone who lends their words to Hatsune Miku makes Hatsune Miku. That it’s 3-9, or Miku day, you can pronounce three ‘san’ and nine ‘kyuu’, which means that this is both Miku day, and a day for Sankyuu (‘thank you’).

And thanks, Hatsune Miku.

I really like all those books on Magic tricks you wrote.


Incidentally, all the references for this come in part from research inspired by RedBard’s The Advertising Of Hatsune Miku. Whenever she mentioned something I didn’t understand, I googled it, and that’s how I have this motley collection of what the fuckery.

 

Story Pile: In the Shadow of the Moon

Okay, so we have to establish up front, and this is important, that talking about what’s going on in this movie is going to involve spoilers. And just by telling you there are spoilery topics at work in this movie, you’re immediately going to have reason to go ‘oh what about X or Y’ and you may fear, in some way, that your enjoyment of this movie is spoiled, because there’s something really thoughtful, and clever, and cool in this story that you’re going to have to now feel is somewhat tainted, somewhat weaker and I may have, as it were, spoiled that for you.

Good news: You don’t have to worry about it, because this movie suuuucks.

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Story Pile: Havana Daydreamin’

I haven’t tried to hammer these Jimmy Buffett albums around the themes of the months as they come up. They’re just going to happen as they happen and things can move and adjust around them, whatever.

Still, this is an album with a bit of a theme that fits the mangled, strange ways I wound up approaching romance, and thankfully, I like to think it did some good, following on the heels of Come Monday from earlier.

When I first found Havana Daydreamin’ it was a busted, tan coloured tape that had been living in dad’s car, a place I didn’t spend any time hanging around until later in my life when I wanted to hide from the evening of loneliness that was church. I was cleaning dad’s car for a dollar, and I found this, in his tape collection. For that reason it’s always felt older to me, like this is somehow primal Jimmy, that this is Jimmy Buffett from before all the other, ‘better’ songs I knew.

The elephant in the room of this album is The Captain and the Kid, a song Jimmy Buffett ostensibly wrote about his grandfather, a sea captain who talked to him and helped him grow up and taught him things and then, as people are want to do, died. Remember that at this point I’m a cultist, I think that people who die are going to hell if they’re not going to basically our church, and so the mourning sadness of this man missing his grandfather stabbed me.

The song is great. It’s sad and it’s serious and it’s that Jimmy Buffet nostalgia turned to a deeper kind of sadness than just ‘hey, things from when I was a kid are gone.’ It’s beautiful and it made me reflect on how my grandfathers both died before I was born. I remembered actually resenting my life for that – that maybe if there were other men in my life than my father maybe I could learn useful things, maybe I could feel less afraid all the time.

There’s some real tour music, too – Kick it in Second Wind is an absolute coke binge of a song, This Motel Room and Big Rig are all just life-on-the-road story songs, and they’re fine. I actually ran a motel for a while and I remember always hearing This Motel Room as I went about my job, that and Vacancy by Harry Chapin. Which, uh, that song is also great, in a different way.

There are a few more story songs here than I normally expect out of Jimmy Buffett albums. You have songs like Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street, Havana Daydreamin’, Cliches, and Something So Feminine About A Mandolin and they’re all pretty good, salted with varying degrees of the Jimmy Buffett template of lots of alcohol and or drugs. Of them, I do prefer Cliches, which tells the story of two people who are definitely a pair of kombi-van hippies and how they’re happy and having fun with their lives anyway. What I love about this song I think, these days, is how it’s so incredibly of its time. The couple in this song are now absolutely a pair of stoner grandparents who never officially got married and still live in that trailer.

That’s the thing that I think stuck with me the most about this. There are some people here who aren’t very original. They’re not very remarkable. But they’re together and they like one another and they didn’t need their love to be agonising or astounding. They’re just happy.

Is there anything on this album to compare to He Went to Paris or West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown? No. But it’s a fun album full of low-key crime and a lot more drugs and fun than A-1-A and it’s got a lot more energy when it bothers to wake up.

Story Pile: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a 2018 romantic comedy movie about an ordinary everygirl who finds that the boy she’s been dating has all along been one of the richest people in the world and part of a community of super rich people and what follows is a reasonably but not completely predictable story about finding acceptance and the struggles and demands of family pressure and all that stuff you expect to see in a rom-com about a fish out of water dealing with a class difference.

I guess one of the other details is to mention that this movie is about and involves almost entirely Asian people. I would have thought that was a detail that didn’t need mentioning, until this movie brought to my attention that, in fact, this might be the second prominent romantic comedy ever made primarily by, about, and starring Asians that came out of western movie studios. That is to say, in the history of cinema, this might be the second movie like this that western media’s made. That’s effed up!

That’s your lot, that’s your movie, and now you get to watch as I, magic-trick like, pull another eight hundred words out of my hat.

I guess as a first point, I should admit that there’s a reason I watched this movie that has nothing to do with Smooch Month or the like. You may remember in a previous Decemberween, I mentioned Calvin and Dee, and how they were people in the board game space I listened to and liked. Well, Calvin’s in this movie, as the extremely awkward PT. Calvin suggested I watch this movie, and I did. There’s your disclosure.

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Story Pile: The Knight Before Christmas

I know over this past year I have definitely become something of a fan of not the Hallmark media itself, but rather the serious critical space that surrounds Hallmark media in the form of Dave & Jeb Aren’t Mean and their various commentators looking at Hallmark as a brand. Now, I don’t have Hallmark movies of my own to watch, but what I do have access to is Netflix, and Netflix are happy to make and present their own knock-off derivatives of Hallmark’s design space, and maybe even afford it something that could be seen as a ‘bigger budget’ version of same. Thus, for our next Smooch Month movie, we’re going to look at The Knight Before Christmas.

Notionally, you might want to know what happens in this movie, so to give you the most basic rundown of the plot, a knight in the 14th century England meets a witch, who hucks him forward in time with a cryptic message to 2019 Ohio, where he meets Vanessa Hudgens. They hang out and do no-impact Christmas stuff, he finishes a quest, goes back in time, then asks the witch to send him back, so he can kiss her again and become a cop. I’m not joking.

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Story Pile: Tall Girl

Smooch Month brings with it the challenge of li’l ole me, the boy who does not watch romantic media, trying to find a handful of movies, series, or even albums, to talk about that fall into the category of smooch media. I like the exercise! I like forcing myself out of the zone of watching just pure adventure stuff, and it means I can have fun asking Netflix to just show me something with a keyword like ‘romantic comedy.’

And this time, it gave me Tall Girl.

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Story Pile: The Meg

There’s a game we play when we talk about movies. You watch a movie, then, you, trying to represent the movie reasonably, tell people the things that actually happen in that movie, and you see how long it takes for the audience to stop believing you. It’s great. We’ve all done it, surely.

Anyway, so in this movie, it opens by exploring the ocean that’s hiding under the ocean.

Now imagine me stopping and taking a drink.

Before we go on, some content warning points; this is a movie that does stuff with submarines and containment and holding your breath, so if you think you’re going to hate a movie about being sutck in submarines and small chambers, yeah, this is absolutely going to be upsetting as hell.

Onwards!

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Story Pile: A1A

Alright, so Jimmy Buffett’s supposedly discovered his Gulf-And-Western sound. We’ve had the mournful, serious songs that would have blown the doors off if someone ‘properly country’ had done them. Jimmy is now firmly established in something like four years as someone who’s clearly from Alabama, producing music in the south, and isn’t properly Rock to get on the radio that wants that in the 1970s. The lore is that he didn’t get much radio play at all at this point (and it was a point of contention he’d continue to bust on in his 70s albums). We already covered some of that last time, with Saxaphones basically being a whine about it, but it’ll continue here.

What came out next was an album which continues this same mix of different ideas. Rather than hammering on a single idea, or developing deep on this musical style, we get A-1-A, an album that feels like a greatest hits album for a guy who’d only been releasing albums for four years.

The album opens with such a riff. It’s funny to think this is what country used to be like, or at least, this is close enough to country to be throwing rocks. It’s funny because while I can definitely see some of that jangly, almost jug-band like musical feel to it, the opening song Makin’ Music For Money is sure a statement. This is one of the things about Jimmy Buffett as a singular creator that I really noticed growing up: he was definitely writing about what was on his mind at the time.

Some of his songs are kind of just generic love songs, using the june-moon-spoon formulas of music industry stuff. They’re not bad, but they’re so rarely a fave, often these meandering slow-swing songs that kind of want to hang out with You, Baby, Girl. But when he was writing about what he cared about you got these interesting statements of purpose like Makin’ Music For Money, the maudlin reflection of Stories We Could Tell and the too-too relatable A Pirate Looks At Forty. When this album came out, he was twenty eight, writing about a hypothetical future time when he would face down his own place in history, as he got older.

It’s a really lurching feeling, as this young man writes about how he’s going to get old, about how he doesn’t feel he belongs to his time (which, you know, lots of young people feel). It’s sad, and it’s a song that I remember hearing, the first time, around the time my dad turned forty. I was about five.

I remember there was something really mournful about it, and I had no idea what it was. I didn’t get it. I certainly didn’t get why my dad was so taken with this song about sleeping with younger women, committing piracy, and doing drugs (which I also didn’t understand).

Stories We Could Tell is one of those songs that really feels like it belongs to other, serious country singers too, guys who sing songs rhapsodically praising the work of men who died before he was born. It’s reverent, which maybe Jimmy was doing to try and get Nashville to like him. It’s not his song, and it’s been covered a few times (including by Kasey Chambers and holy shit I want to find that), but it feels so perfectly tuned to have been covered by – well, honestly, by Alan Jackson, fitting in alongside songs like Midnight In Montgomery. But then, if Jackson had covered it I’d have seen it as an entirely artificial attempt to borrow seriousness from better artists, because I don’t think much of Alan Jackson.

It also has Life Is Just A Tire Swing, which is a retrospective song about childhood and growing up and almost dying in a car crash. I remembered in that song that I ruminated on how my life, as a little kid, was probably just like this one, except I didn’t have any friends to hang out with and we didn’t go camping and we didn’t have fun and I knew I could hurt things. I assumed the narrator in the song got beaten up regularly. I realise in hindsight how weird it was but I assumed everyone relating stories about their childhood had stories they just didn’t mention about getting pinned down and stomped on.

The basic ideas of Jimmy Buffett albums are all here. Talking about the sea, startlingly specific references to what he was enjoying at the time, retrospective mourning a lost past, and convenient alcoholism. Migration is a song that’s basically impenetrable to me as an adult, but it had an upbeat rhyhthm to it and it talked about a swearing parrot so I listened to it a lot. When I was asked a few years ago about songs by Jimmy Buffett off this album that mattered to me, I did name Migration (and a song of another album, but anyway), because… I remembered liking how upbeat it was.

I do have a favourite song off this album, though, Nautical Wheelers, and it’s probably for the silliest reason. See, this song has a tempo change in it.

It has probably the first tempo change I ever noticed.

It’s a simple song, with a waltz of a chorus. It doesn’t carry a lot to it. It’s positively G-rated for a song about getting drunk, staying up late, and having a party where you dance with people underinspected.

I was raised to hold on to a Bible verse: I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. It was the idea that you could just be happy being, and we did all sorts of hoop jumping, all sorts of nonsense to justify the way we made ourselves so intensely miserable while we claimed we were all joyful in the LORD. In all my time at church I never saw anyone, anyone who was ever content.

And this song about nothing much was my first vision of the idea of some people who were happy being unremarkably okay.

So, the Album is fine, it’s not got any of my all-star favourites, but it’s still got a lot of Extremely Important moments from my formative little mush-brain growing up. I still realise there’s some of the creative coda in Making Music For Money in my mind, where I realise making is more important to me than success at making. There’s still shards of the fatalism of passing forty. There’s still images of an old guitar haunted by the person who played it last. Is it a best album? Nah. It has to, after all, measure up to its nearest neighbours, which doesn’t do the album any favours.

 

Story Pile: The Gauntlet

Hey, look, alright, I know this may seem a bit weird to anyone out there who already watches and enjoys Mystery Science Theatre 3000, but I had to be introduced to this show after it stopped running and everything gets to be someone else’s first time. What do you want from me, I’m trying to spend this month focusing on media that’s family-shareable and isn’t going to be ruined by interrupting it for a meal.

First, to those people who are already into this kind of stuff: If you haven’t checked out The Gauntlet, aka Season 12, which is available on a variety of streaming services that are now all offering a one-month free trial in various locales, you absolutely should give it a shot. While you can talk about the charm of older episodes and a different time or energy in different arrangements of the cast, approached as its own thing, The Gauntlet showcases a variety of bad movies that are different enough to tell them apart and funny enough on their own without the (very good) comedians helping out.

Now, then.

Everyone else.

Anyone who has no idea what I’m babbling about.

Mystery Science Theatre is a TV show that could not be more of its time if it tried. It was basically a show that served as a wrapper for movies, which mostly but not always showcased science fiction or fantasy movies. This is a thing that you’d see on television, back in the day, where schedules had to be determined well enough in advance that they could be printed in the newspapers (in Australia) or books (in America and other countries) that would show you what TV shows would be available to watch at various times. This schedule meant that you sometimes would get ‘shows’ that would curate other shows and show them, sometimes edited for time or content. They might have names like ‘masterpiece theatre’ or ‘the Afternoon Show’ or ‘Saturday Disney,’ or, in this case, Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Continue reading

Story Pile: Living and Dying in 3/4 Time

Aw hell yes.

Okay, so we have an established formula for Jimmy Buffett albums at this point; he basically has three dials of ‘nostalgia,’ ‘chill,’ and ‘alcoholism,’ and there’s an occasional dash of whatever it is he’s thinking of exactly right now. After Pink Sports Coat we get Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, which was where I learned what a time signature was.

Fifteen years after I first heard the album.

First up, this album had some mainstream pop success with Pencil Thin Mustache and Come Monday, songs that served up the nostalgia and schmoop in pretty solid measures. Pencil Thin Mustache is especially funny to listen to when you remember it’s a dude in his mid-twenties talking about feeling old, making the whole affair feel artificial now in hindsight even if my whole life, Jimmy Buffett’s been the same age as my dad, and therefore, never younger than me.

Get off my lawn, Jimmy.

Anyway, sure, whatever, Come Monday is a – actually no, wait, let’s not skip over this one. This one taught me something, a message that’s served me well in relationships. He refers to himself as being in a proud, ugly haze. Later on I learned the song Foolish Pride by Hatsune Miku. That song includes the lyric Chalk another love lost up to foolish pride, and it’s kind of the whole point of the song. She’s not subtle, that Miku. Anyway, the thing is, I realise there were a lot of times I was doing things because I didn’t want to feel like I was weak or stupid for being mad or hurt in the first place, and I know for a fact there’s a lot of times my long-term relationships have been helped dramatically by a willingness to recognise that I’m being proud and setting that aside.

It’s surprisingly hard. It’s fucked up enough that my ability to recognise these moments in myself, stop, and immediately apologise for being a stupid asshole that it sometimes upsets the person I was arguing with because they can’t believe I actually mean it. That’s weird!

Anyway, Come Monday is a very generic song but it taught me that my pride could hurt the people around me for no good reason.

Anyway, you know what, let’s just skip to the B-side on this album because it fucking rules. Uh, Brahma Fear and Livingstone’s Gone To Texas are attempts to capture the country market again, and Brand New Country Star is making fun of that same market that doesn’t like him (and we’ll get to that). Ringling Ringling is one of those ‘loser town’ songs that touring musicians wind up writing. Anyway, whatever.

The B-side of this album starts with The Wino and I Know, a song that scored on my brain the phrase I am trying to get by, being quiet and shy, in a world full of pushing and shoving and fuck me if that isn’t a phrase that perfectly encapsulates some of my beautifully soft friends. I may not be a quiet and shy person, jagged and bloodstained as I am, but I 100% here to get hot donuts and coffee for my friends who just want to be the metaphorical flannel pajamas of life.

Saxophones is a blatant callout of the way country music (the dominant music of his home state of Alabama) treats him, despite his growing success and mainstream success and it suggests that he’d be better off doing ‘rock’ music with saxophones to try and get their attention. It did not work. It didn’t work for this album or the next, but it’s still a fun track and it sounds good.

Gods Own Drunk is a funny bit of stand-up, barely a song, but whatever. The Ballad of Spider John is a really good, strong closer song for the album, a real classic kind of riverboat story song that you might imagine Kenny Rogers would record if most of what he did didn’t suck ass. But the real gem of this album, the thing that I will always hold up and share with people, the song that may be his best song ever is the song which got this album banned in Canada.

West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gowns is a short song. Two forty. It’s a story song. It’s about picking up a hitch-hiker who shares maybe fifty words in the song. It’s not a big song. But it jam packs those words with the tension of a ruined relationship with an abusive mother and delivers the most satisfying final refrain of any Jimmy Buffett song. Period. This song ends with a raised middle finger fit to split a soul and I love it.

This is probably also the first place I ever heard the word ‘fuck.’

And this is 1973! This is a country album! This is before KISS!

Ugh, I love this song so much. I love it because I had a childhood of women in songs and stories who really didn’t matter, really didn’t make choices and sure didn’t get to cuss their bad moms out.

If you listen to the albums on these articles, you can absolutely skip everything except West Nashville. It’s that good. When talking about this album with Fox and my dad, the funny thing is you can knock out the two best songs on the album and you’d still have a pretty good Jimmy Buffett album.

There’s another album that’s more jam packed, that has more amazing songs I love on it, but this one, this one has the song that I think more and more may just be my single favourite Jimmy Bufffett song.

Story Pile: Rise of the Guardians

My first encounter with this movie, which I understand to be based off a series of children’s books which are wildly different in their overall scope and tone than this, was not in its advertising or reviews (which is weird, I watch a lot more movie reviews than I watch movies these days) but instead as a work of fan remix where people took short gifs from this movie, resubtitled them with different dialogue and intercut them with short gifs from another movie to imply a connected continuity between this story and that one as one of the most interesting and time-intensive forms of fanfiction I’d ever seen when you considered the time investment to make versus the time investment to process and this has all been one sentence, dear god.

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Story Pile: El Camino

I try not to make too big a deal out of the fact I like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. They’re pretty well made prestige TV, and they’re part of a modern ‘golden age of television’ that, thanks to the outing of the various people involved as abusers or the demonstration of whole waves of fans being awful or terrible endings has been revealed to be mostly coloured with piss. Breaking Bad is one of those shows where it seems that the people involved are broadly speaking pretty okay, and the worst thing about the work is the fandom.

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Story Pile: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

When A Wrinkle In Time’s trailer dropped it did so with the immense thud of someone on the other side of a backyard fence raising their voice and now suddenly, the whole neighbourhood gets to be part of this conversation that has been going on for years and is not going to end tonight no matter how much you wish it would. It was like a Discourse Bomb, a sudden and dramatic arrival of a conversation that was both in progress and extremely sophisticated, and it absolutely did not need me.

There was talk about the trailers, about the importance of Oprah as a goddess figure, about the race casting in the books and the movies, about the importance of the work as autistic art, about the intense significance with which people could dismantle scene by scene in the book and how a movie could never manage to express the quantum and fractal nature of the narrative, how Oprah didn’t deserve a role, comparisons to Black Panther for girls and hang on is that meant to say that girls can’t enjoy Black Panther and about how being mean to a billionaire never hurt them, and so on and so on and this was, again

when the trailer dropped.

Now imagine this trailer was literally the first time you ever heard anything at all about this book series or why it was important.

Unpacking what I thought about this movie has taken some time and part of the problem with that unpacking is that largely, I feel like I must have either a very surface reading of it, or I must not understand the contentious issues, because I thought it was really good and I hope other people get a chance to enjoy it without being slurped into that conversation like some kind of eldritch transport system.

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Story Pile: Hanna

Nothing quite kills your SEO like a movie getting a series, especially a series with a really similar name. Thanks, Amazon, thanks.

Anyway, Hanna is a 2011 action thriller movie with a deliberately European tone to its story of a runaway super-deadly badass hero who is trying to escape the threat of the  man who says they’re just coming to help but their form of help involves containment tanks and people with unhelpfully vague names like ‘Project Control.’ This one’s note of being interesting is that our badass one-person war machine isn’t just not a dude this time, but isn’t even an adult.

She’s a girl! She’s a little girl, or at least, a teenage girl! And you hit all those normal beats, all your action movie standby points. The first capture, the escape, the on the run, the escalation, the inevitable confrontation in something laced with imagery and all throughout lots and lots of murder, usually by or of assholes. It’s got an excellent couple of fight scenes where Saorise Ronan, who was at the time sixteen or seventeen sells the hell out of being a tiny little murder machine capable of fighting and leveraging her size against much larger opponents, and there’s one of those ‘look at what I can do’ action sequences in a shipping yard. If you like watching bad dudes getting just wrecked when they underestimate a little girl, then this movie is going to give you some good stuff.

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Story Pile: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean

After High Cumberland Jubilee, Jimmy Buffett went on to try something different. If Jubilee was an album full of attempts to be a cool late 60s protest singer – not proper protest, just protesty, he moved on to try something different, and that something different kinda became everything the man’s career would be about.

The narrative of the fans goes that this is where Jimmy found his own identity; where he became Jimmy Buffett, and explored the space that we now sometimes call Gulf and Western. It’s where Jimmy took on a very easygoing island nature, talking about beaches and boats and distance – not so much focusing on hard work and guns and roots the way that country tended to, but instead more about a sort of disconnected drifting.

The thing is, this narrative – that here’s where Jimmy found the ocean – is kinda weird when you listen to the opening of the album. It starts with a song that feels like a different kind of experiment in hindsight. The Great Filling Station Holdup is a pretty classic country loser story, some outlaw country, but the outlaws in question are idiots who suck and get caught immediately. It’s a funny song, singable, and it’s also pleasantly brief. It matches with a later song on the album, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, which talks about how Jimmy used to shoplift when he was poor. It’s kind of fun when Jimmy talks about ‘crime’ that centers himself because even his fictional crimes aren’t cool. They’re just dorky.

The followup, Railroad Lady is a really old, classic style song, made by Jimmy and Jerry Jeff Walker, the writer of the song Mr Bojangles. It’s again, experimental; this isn’t a song about the ocean and easygoing life. It’s talking about the death of the railroad and how it was possible to literally live on them, about how there was this whole wandering lifestyle that worked in such a strange way. This song is like a little serving on the A side for what closes the B side: there are some introspective, sad-sounding songs about winding down.

Jimmy writes about being old and tired and settling down, but it’s pretty worth noting that this album came out when he was twenty seven, so, you know, pump the brakes there Jimbleson Buffettersville.

Then there’s He Went To Paris, a song told in hindsight. It’s a pretty typical kind of country song – the old man sitting and crying and talking about what’s gone. But it’s a song that reaches its arms so wide, talks of travel so far, and uses (for example) the steel drums as a sort of long, soft weeping of the story. It’s beautiful and it’s sad, and it winds its way around to the beach, and paints a sort of future that Jimmy seemingly has decided to grow into. It’s not at all a unique song, there are so many like it, but none of the ones like it feel the same, to me. You can find dozens of country songs about old men reflecting on their lives. You can’t find many that feel as perfect as this.

Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit is the hit from this album, which I don’t get at all. I mean I’m glad there was a hit so he kept making them, but it’s a song I find infinitely forgettable. It almost feels like a song that’s more about the Coral Reefer band getting to play around with sounds. It’s boopidy doopidy and it’s not bad, I just don’t care.

Cuban Crime of Passage is – okay. So brace here. There’s a yikes. There’s a yikes where the woman central to the story is described as ‘half woman, half child, she drove him half wild.’ That’s pretty yikes. I assume this means she was a grown woman but it’s not the kind of framing I like. Still, I like it, it’s singable, and it does have that little underscore that no matter what goes on in Cuba, the whole life of people is reduced to just footnotes, discarded and forgotten to America. It’s a weird twist in the chorus, honestly, because it’s not like Jimmy seems to be positioning himself as above that.

Why Don’t We Get Drunk (And Screw) is a parody song. It’s meant to be a riff on the whole structure of ‘the love song’ on the radio, and it was part of Jimmy’s standard ongoing beef with the radio, which generally didn’t give him a lot of success. It’s also weird that people seem to now think of it unironically. It’s a song he’s revised a lot, including a kid’s version, Why Don’t We Drink Milk At School. I never heard this one growing up, seems dad was willing to hide this one specific song on a vinyl. It did come at the end of a side, making it easier to sneak away.

Still, it all ends up on the final song, a song that for the longest time I was absolutely convinced was some tragic, true story about Jimmy discovering his brother was a beautiful, amazing poet and wanting to honour him posthumously. It’s not a true story, but it’s a retelling of many true stories, all kind of cooked together. It’s one of my favourite Jimmy songs, and part of what I love about it is that it’s a very singable version of the kind of song it is. It’s sad and wistful, but that wist doesn’t mean the song breaks down as a song.

I love this album but I love it because it has He Went to Paris and Death of An Unpopular Poet. The janglier, louder, faster stuff I love from Jimmy isn’t on this, and I can honestly take or leave the majority of the remaining songs, but I have fun memories of sitting around with my cousin, uncle, and dad, and singing, together, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, so it’s always going to hit a soft spot for me.

Good album? Great album? It’s not like any song on it is bad, it’s just that this album has ‘merely’ two amazing songs on it, and those two songs kind of replicate one another, as reflective and mournful stories about unfulfilled goals.

Here’s the Spotify playlist if you’d like to listen to this album.

Story Pile: Jigsaw

Content Warning: Due to the nature of this movie, I’m not using pictures for this one. Not because it’s super horrifying, just because it’s not really very important. There’s some medical horror in this one, and a lot of gory fake dead bodies mangled up in messy ways. I’m also not really talking about spoilers beyond ‘there is a twist,’ which is sort of du jour for horror movies in the Saw franchise.

With that in mind, we now begin the presentation.

 

 

 

Just how good can this movie be?

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Story Pile: Expectable Dreads

I watched a bunch of different horror stuff this year, in part because I actually think I kind of like the genre, but also because it’s a place that does a bunch of interesting weird stuff. Horror Youtube is really bad, Horror Critical Youtube is pretty good (or maybe I just mean Nyxfears). Watching this media can be, at times, a guide, a sort of mental sabot, that encourages you to think and present your thoughts in a similar format, to make everything a five minute mention.

This impulse left me spending words on things I didn’t really care about enough to talk too long about. Particularly, though, what I found was a common thread of introducing the wrong horrors into these stories, a point at which I checked out, and knew that effectively, a content warning would just be the overwhelming character of whatever I had to say. It wasn’t that seeing worms implanted in someone’s body or the tearing of a man’s face off that bothered me, no, I was signed up for that.

Here then, four horror movies and series that I kind of wanted to talk about but which introduced something that made them suck.

Content warning for mentions of sexual assault, transphobia, incest, and pedophilia, and spoilers for American Horror Story, Don’t Breathe, Rings, and A Cure For Wellness.

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Story Pile: Goosebumps

The existence of this movie is in a lot of ways a pre-built punchline. I mean, Goosebumps is one of those book series that people in their adult life seem to go back to to complain about them being dumb or basic or whatever, and this movie, which is aimed as being Big Spookums for the I’m Old Enough For M Movies scene of twelve year olds, is a Jack Black movie. Jack Black has made a lot of movies that are bad, he has made a lot of songs that are bad, he has almost made a varnished kind of badness his business, and he even specialises in representing himself as someone you really hope leaves soon.

Everything about this movie is lined up to tell you that this movie is going to suck ass

and it doesn’t.

Some mild spoilers for the movie as follows.

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Story Pile: The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince is a netflix television show about an elf, a prince, a dragon, and all the complex challenges they have thanks to some mishandled jam tarts. If you just wonder about my general perspective, or if I’d recommend it, this show is great, bursting with personality, with good comic timing for its comic relief, wonderful action sequences, excellent voice acting (it really grew on me), and a number of characters who don’t overcorrect away from their archetypes while not sliding into being banal or overfamiliar. It’s great. Check it out. Easily worth paying for a month of Netflix and binging it all over a few weeks.

Now, if you want more, that’s after the fold. What is going to follow is pretty spoiler-free, but I want you I will say mean things about the Voltron fandom and criticise the ending of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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Story Pile: Highcumberland Jubilee

I love Jimmy Buffett.

I know, I’m not cool.

I’ve mentioned that I grew up in a media bubble. This space was one where I couldn’t really buy new albums, and my exposure to pop music was little snippets of music from – I kid you not – television ads for compilation albums of ‘the hottest songs of the’ etcetera. When I started engaging with pop music, it wasn’t the pop music aimed at me, it was the pop music that’d been aimed at my dad, because in our secret cupboard, we had hidden away, vinyl records of satanic, dangerous, wild music, like The Eagles and The Moody Blues.

Dad also owned every Jimmy Buffett album, in some form or another, from High Cumberland Jubilee through to Coconut Telegraph, mostly on old vinyl, and once, he tasked me to record all his vinyl onto tape so he could listen to it in the car. I took to this task, and while I was at it, I made recordings for myself, to listen to in my room. They anchored to my soul, singable music that I listened to over and over again, and became my bedrock for learning such ridiculous ideas as fictional narrative in music.

I’ll restate that: Jimmy Buffett is the place I realised that stories in songs can be fake.

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Story Pile: Haibane Renmei, Kinda

This is about Haibane Renmei. It’s also not really about Haibane Renmei, not really.

Let me explain.

Haibane Renmei is a generally highly-regarded, extremely pretty and artistically significant entry in that genre of media about sad looking girls suffering as a metaphor for some big ideas. It’s safe to say it’s not my cup of tea and I say that as someone who doesn’t even drink tea. Nonetheless, it is beautiful and atmospheric and thoughtful and poignant and everyone I know has a crush on someone in this story, even the people who aren’t massive lesbians.

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Story Pile: Dropped Stuff

I watch a bunch of stuff these days, thanks to Netflix, and as a media criticism junky, I find myself enjoying having a platform to write about almost everything I watch. There’s some reasons I don’t write about some things – for example, any media that tends towards including sexual assault, that tends to just get junked. Anytime a work is actively homophobic or where I’ve learned a central creator or person involved is particularly a known bad person, for example.

There’s a lot of reasons to do this! I kind of hate when I talk about something and people immediately want to change the subject to not what I talked about, or want to use a particular artist as an avenue to complain about something else. This has happened to me a few times, where what I will think of as very well intentioned people will interrupt me talking about thing A to instead try and make the conversation about thing B, believing it to be more important.

And sometimes I’ll consider a work too large to talk about, like Longmire, which is pretty bad, but it has some good stuff, but it does a bad job with it, and yeah okay, I kinda just summarised the whole series and we’re moving on. Sometimes, rarely, I’ll just ditch on a piece of media because it kind of bores me and there’s nothing in it I want to talk about. And sometimes I’ll ditch on a work for some other reason and I find myself yet wanting to say something.

And here’s a little round-up.

Pitch Perfect

I wanted to like this movie. I really thought that making a Sports Movie that was a Musical movie like Hercules that had some reason to do diegetic musical numbers could be really cool and it’s full of great actors. If nothing else, it has John Michael Higgins, Mathnet alumni and later Legend of Korra voice actor! I like the stuff that dude does!

Pitch Perfect then introduces Rebel Wilson, and what ensues is a set of jokes about how clueless she is about Jewish culture that I cringed myself inside out and closed the movie. Jokes about being from a backwoods in Tasmania who has no idea about how Jewish culture works just smashes my sense of disbelief because:

  1. There are Jewish people here, you know
  2. American media is full of Jewish people, and that’s what we watch on TV.

Anyway, realising that Rebel Wilson’s character would be hilariously quirky and not eventually punished for being an arsehole (because hey, can’t make the fat girl feel bad for being shitty), I didn’t feel any reason to go back and try more of this one. Basically she made such a great example of a first impression of a miserable arsehole I felt it best to not actually hang around and give her a second chance proving it.

Barely Lethal

This movie has Jessica Alba and Sophie Turner and Samuel L Jackson and Rachael Harris and Steve-O, wait, really? What the hell? And the premise is pretty robust; teen assassins made by a government organisation to kill people, but one breaks away to have an ordinary life as high schooler, and she approaches becoming a normal girl as an assumed identity through research and performance.

I was pretty on board with this movie being generally pretty funny and kinda okay, and I was honestly almost considering throwing a suggestion to my friends as an example of a spy movie about girls and their feelings and maybe the whole strain about performing as a girl could give my friends some comforting trans girl feels.

And then in the peak of the movie, the villain randomly calls another girl a tr*nny.

Just.

Y’know.

There, just randomly.

The thing with comedies in this way is that it’s pretty much always going to be the jokes that sell you on whether or not you engage with a story. They need to show you that you’re following along, that you understand the relationships and the characters, and the kind of world they live in.

And in this one, the only mention of trans people is a really hurtful slur and it’s wielded as an offhanded punchline.

And well, that sucks.

Ghost in the Shell

There’s a conversation around this movie, and it does directly connect to my work. There’s elements of representation, there’s questions of identity, there’s transmedia and transnational media, there’s cyberpunk and commercialisation and the real failure states of expensive movies and also the potential ramifications and moral relationship to these controversial works and the trajectory of Scarlett Johansson, as a bankable action star to generally a deeply embarrassing person.

That’d be great, that’s one of those things the Story Pile is great for. You dive in on a piece of media, then you use it as a tangent point to talk about those other things you want to.

And yet.

yet.

I can’t bring myself to watch this movie. It’s far too bloody dull.

Story Pile: Titans

You know, one thing I’m really glad of, in this current era of missing the point in the most catawumpus ways, is that nobody’s gone out of their way to try and make a standalone Teen Titans live action TV series. It’s just such a bad idea to approach the Titans in a way that isn’t already ensconced in a larger media space.

I mean, think about it.

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