BoJack Horseman: 2016’s Spirit Animal

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The urge to wade around in the pool of collective disenchantment of the times is certainly a strong one. “We’re all going to hell and everything sucks” is the underlying tone of nearly every social media post, newspaper article and talk radio monologue. The validity and truthfulness of this sentiment could be debated until our heads explode but one thing is clear it takes real humor, honesty and creativity to tackle the malaise of our times head on. Netflix’s BoJack Horseman does just that. Season three of “the animals living as humans acting like humans” in Hollywood sitcom premiered last week and cemented the show as one of the best on television.

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The show, if you’re unfamiliar, centers around a washed up 90’s sitcom star, BoJack Horseman(voiced with the ninja-like jerkiness by Will Arnett we’ve come to expect from the actor who should really win an award simply for playing an asshole better than anyone else on the planet), who is literally a horse and a man. BoJack for the first two seasons teeter tottered back and forth between comeback kid and full-blown train wreck. In season three, he gets to be both. Like many of us real humans, BoJack has a hard time with reality. He’d rather drink than be a good friend. He’d rather have one night stands than real relationships. He’d rather flee uncomfortable situations than face them head on. Needless to say, for this alcoholic in recovery who is not a horse but certainly a human in progress, I can identify. And that is the magic of this little sitcom. Even though it’s a Hollywood populated with animals, we see ourselves in these characters. we’ve all been a couch crasher like Todd or an optimist on the verge of delusion like Mister Peanutbutter or a workaholic who feels empty inside like Princess Caroline.  Season three ups the emotional ante not just for BoJack, who is busy working the awards seasons for his film Secretariat, but everyone around him. The people( and animal people) who populate BoJack’s universe are all disenchanted yet hopeful on some level and they’re all really, really funny.This all because of great writing and some terrific casting. From series regulars like Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris and Alison Brie to brilliant guest stars like Angela Bassett, Maria Bamford, JK Simmons and Candice Bergen each performance in this funny/sad universe is pitch perfect.  screen-shot-2015-02-27-at-2-20-15-am.png

Yet what really makes season three a knockout is the boldness. The show has found its footing and knows who it is. Therefore it can say and do whatever it wants. And it’s a glorious thing. For example, an honest and jaw-dropping episode about Diane, BoJack’s cynical yet loveable writer friend, getting an abortion is the television conversation we’ve always wanted on this topic but somehow could never figure out. The aforementioned Bergen stars in the sublimely ridiculous yet profound episode “Stop The Presses” wherein BoJack tries to cancel his newspaper subscription but winds up getting a free therapy session. Oh and how can we not mention what the internet is calling the “underwater episode.” Episode 4, “Fish Out of Water” is so darn creative and good that every site from Vulture to AV Club and beyond has already sung its praises. Done with nearly no dialogue while invoking Lost in Translation and Charlie Chaplin films, the episode deserves every inch of blog real estate that it currently occupies. 21-bojack-04.w750.h560.2x.jpg

BoJack Horseman might be a brightly colored animated world where the line between humans and animals gets gleefully blurred (the show has a really good time playing with animal sensibilities in human environments like a car filled with sardines in business suits) but the emotional terrain is meaty enough to keep you captivated. Great sitcoms (like the Mary Tyler Moore Show or Seinfeld or Golden Girls) have always had an ensemble facing the challenges of their personalities while trying to make the most of whatever life throws at them. BoJack Horseman does that for sure but it also is a truthful mirror of our times. The universal feelings of “less than” and “fuck it” are widespread right now and it helps BoJack resonate even louder. Will its addicted, dysfunctional characters stand on their own in a less cynical, post-Trumpism era? It’s hard to say. But for the time being, there isn’t a better group of people, or animal-people to hang out and commiserate with.

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On Assignment

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When it comes to covering the hard-hitting issues, look .. somewhere else. Yet coming this August, I am going on assignment. Not on the campaign trail. I mean how basic do you think I am? Not press junkets. Not breaking news stories. No, your buddy Sean is launching Sean on Assignment. For this weekly feature for August, I’ll be reporting on the random, the seemingly boring and quirky things happening in my town. That’s right. Yours truly is putting on his reporter hat. Although I fear it’s not as jaunty as Kermit’s. Or Lois Lane’s.

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This urge to take the seanologues on the road was cooked up in my brain a couple of weeks ago. Initially, I thought it would be fun to cover weird things around my ‘hood just to mix up the style of writing seen here. Turns out I have something of a journalistic past. ‘Tis true! Between an Andrea Zuckerman-like stint on my high school newspaper to writing for indie newspapers and magazines in Los Angeles, I’ve always dabbled in journalism. I would have even finished a journalism degree in my youth had my double major in Electronic Music and Drug Consuming (with a double minor in Drinking and Lying, thank you very much!)  not eaten away most of my time. I also thought it would also be fun to flex my observational muscle writing wise. Try writing about other people than myself for a change. I know! There’s a crazy idea. One so crazy, it just might work! But as I plotted out what I was going to write about, it hit me. There was another reason. I wanted to play Johnny reporter in my own life.

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A while back when I was feeling particularly beaten up by negative headlines, bombastic opinions and toxic Facebook posts(which I mean aren’t they all, even a little?) a light came on and a new personal mantra presented itself to me, “I am not the victim to information.” I’d been looking for clarity and wondering how I kept getting knocked over by all of the thoughts and ideas that whip by us at the speed of light and there it was. In the end, it wasn’t up to CNN or Twitter or even Facebook to change the information they churned out, it was up to me. I could deactivate accounts. I could take apps off my phone. I could read from actual pages instead of from screens. All things I’ve done for various lengths of time and with various degrees of success. It was up to me to handle what’s being served at the 24 hour information buffet. Period. It’s a delicate line to walk, however. As pop culture fanatic and knowledge junkie and not to mention an addict, it’s hard for me to know when to say when. Don’t think the irony of finally getting sober only to spend my time being an iPhone’s bitch is lost on me. I get it. So most of the time it looks a lot like keeping myself in check. Shutting the phone off. Walking without looking at my screen. Just listen to my husband without listening and tweeting or listening and reading crap on the internet. But I felt like there was still more that I could do.

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By writing what I want to read, by contributing stuff I think is funny or informative or ridiculous, I’m making a drop in the swirling black hole of internet negativity. It’s not much but it isn’t about changing the world’s mind. It’s just about shifting my own narrative in the only way I know how– writing. Now, now, I realize this is all starting to sound like one of those”Post pictures of puppies instead of talking about politics” threads on Facebook. But it’s not. After all, amazing people like my friend Paul or my friend Mark or my buddy Claire or Daniel or Chris and countless brilliant others are all doing it too– contributing something good instead of just soaking a shit jacuzzi. So me going on goofy assignments is a part of this. Maybe writing weird, uplifting and funny features on little slices of life will provide some levity for a few readers or maybe I’ll just entertain myself. Either way, it’s a win. With or without the jaunty hat.

Sean On Assignment premiers right here on August 4th!

time heals everything (but loving you)

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Time, a British drag queen with hit records once told me, is like a clock of the heart. Meaning, or at least this is how my 10-year-old self interrupted those words, time passes and feelings along with it. But love?  I don’t know if love ever passes. If all of this seems rather sad and confusing like that girl you sat next to in 10th grade art class, that isn’t my intention. It’s just that I think a lot about time and loving someone forever during the summer. I think about all of this and I think about Bernadette Peters.

In 1997, I had returned to Los Angeles from a jaunt around South America. I was 24 with no job and no apartment. So I couch crashed, went to clubs 7 nights a week, did extra work in movies and somehow found a way to drink and party every night with no money. Oh to be 24 in the 90’s in LA. I gathered a group of good gal pals and a boyfriend so I lived my life-like some flapper song about a party girl who danced her cares away. Of course it was way messier than that and always problematic. It was particularly troublesome when real life interrupted my Playboy-gayboy lifestyle. In June of that year, I received a voicemail (on a real-life answering machine!) that my grandfather had died. All of the sudden, the gin joint darkened. The record playing “Anything Goes” stopped. The lights went out. I was numb for the first time in my life not due to drugs or alcohol but because of real, deal category 5 grief. I fell into a black hole and didn’t feel shit until I was able to get on the plane and go the funeral in Denver. Except for about two hours with Bernadette Peters. La Peters in 1997 was touring with an album called Sondheim Etc. wherein the Broadway songstress performed, you guessed it, Sondheim songs as well as songs from the zillions of musicals she starred in. My roommate at the time who worked at a big time talent agency scored tickets to her show in Los Angeles. The timing was shitty. Just a few days after my grandfather died and the night before I went home for the funeral. But timing, schiming. It was Bernadette Peters. A legend. A goddess. An icon. Especially to musical theatre nerds like myself. So we went. The grief of the time coupled with my 90’s drug induced memory loss has made the exact details of the show fuzzy. However, I do remember seeing 80’s stars like Joan Van Ark in the audience. I do remember feeling special because we got VIP parking and entered backstage. Most importantly, I remember Bernadette Peters blowing the roof of the place with her voice, warmth and personality. Each song was an education in Broadway, Sondheim and her career. And I lapped it up.Music,in the eye of that grief hurricane, delivered as it always had. Music took me outside of myself. Music let me know it was all gonna be okay. It never mattered the genre or where it came from. In this case, it came from Bernadette Peters. I’ll be forever grateful to her for providing light in what was about to become really dark period of my life.

Even though he was in his seventies, I naively thought my grandfather would always be around. Because up until that terrible fucking voicemail, he always had. In fact, I had talked to him just days before. According to family lore, I was the last grandchild to speak to him, a distinction that should have made me feel better but somehow always made me feel worse. This guy, Bob, my grandfather and my grandmother lived around the corner from us when I was growing up. They cheerfully showed up to every lame sporting thing I miserably participated in, cheered me on whenever I was on stage and most profoundly, read everything I ever wrote and loved it. Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I discovered many years later that I was so heartbroken in fact that I drank myself silly in hopes of forgetting how heartbroken I truly was. What I didn’t realize at age 24 was this guy Bob taught me much of what I knew about compassion, about helping people and about love.  He did all of those things seamlessly and without condition, without wanting applause. He, although not an alcoholic himself, was instrumental in helping my dad get sober some 30 years ago. This wasn’t unusual for him. His funeral was filled with people he helped. People he helped at work. People he helped at church. People he helped learn how to read. And people like me who he helped simply by being himself.

Flash forward some 19 years later and I still can’t help thinking of him every summer. Except now it’s different. Now, it’s not this throbbing pain I’ve ignored and allowed to fester and getting worse due to neglect. That pain has been healed by time. Well, time and a fuck ton of personal growth. Today, I’m left with love. At age 43, I woke up on the anniversary of his death and I felt lucky to have loved him and to be by loved by him. I feel even luckier to have been shown how to love by him. I even feel lucky to have grieved him, as crazy as that might sound. I have healed and changed. Since getting sober in 2009, my life has been turned on its head and for the better. I’ve even seen Bernadette Peters again too. The last time was on Broadway in Sondheim’s Follies, the day before I married Michael in Central Park.

As I sit here with coffee in hand, on a hot summer morning, I remember something else from that show some 19 years ago. Bernadette Peters sang a song that night. A song that made a promise. A promise that time healed everything. It sounded lofty yet I clung to that promise. for the most part it’s turned out to be true.  What I hadn’t heard in that song until recently, however,was the caveat.”Time heals everything”,the lyrics tell us, “but loving you.” That “but” in the song has also turned out to be true. Maybe hurt can go away. Maybe pain can dissipate. But love? I don’t think love ever passes. Thankfully.

 

Still Sullen: Fiona Apple’s ‘Tidal’ Turns 20

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Maybe the things we write when we’re 18 years old are worth looking at again. Maybe our feelings in that baby bird stage of adulthood are valid. Maybe we’re developing a narrative at the age, despite not really knowing who we are.  And maybe, if we’re incredibly blessed, what we’re saying at age 18 is giving us a glimpse of the genius that is yet to come. This is all certainly the case for Fiona Apple. The singer and songwriter penned her debut album, Tidal at the age of 18 and today that record turns 20. Released on July 23, 1996 Tidal, for music listeners of a certain “vintage” was one of those records whose power that couldn’t be denied. Even if you weren’t a fan, you could admit you never heard anything like Tidal before. Everybody knew about it, everybody bought it and all done before the era of social media to boot. The buzz on her was just that huge. It also had the good fortune of being released in an era of really terrific female bands and songwriters. Bjork, No Doubt, Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, Garbage and even Alanis were all having a conversation at the same time that both genders were eating up with a spoon. And no voice in that crowd was as a distinct as Fiona Apple’s.

Part poet, part pain in the ass, Apple’s Tidal at times sounds like a musical journal of an angry girl. Other times, it sounds like a broken heart set to music. But more than that, I think what I responded to then was this girl, this kid, who is 100% telling the truth. The album doesn’t drip with bullshit. It tells it like it is. Take the opening song, “Sleep To Dream”, for example. The first words we the listener hear come out her mouth are as follows;
I tell you how I feel but you don’t care
I say tell me the truth but you don’t dare
You say love is a hell you cannot bear
And I say give me mine back and go there
For all I care

From moment one, Ms. Fiona is letting us know she is not here to play. She has her “own hell to raise” so kindly move your ass.

Being pissed off and everyone around not knowing what’s wrong with you is a very quintessential young person’s experience. Apple explained later that “Sullen Girl” was born from just that.

“Sullen Girl is… complicated for me. It’s about a lot of things. It’s about when I was doing the album and everything was happening all at once and I just felt like ‘Oh my God, what’s going on here?’ The second verse is a… I went through a really hard time when I was a very, very cold person. I didn’t like to be near people. When I was 12, I was raped by a stranger and that’s what this song is basically about, because I felt like everybody in my life thought there was something wrong with me and it was just my wondering ‘was that what changed me?’ […] That was an experience that made me a lot stronger. It taught me a lot about who I am and life. Things happen and you go through pain. It doesn’t have to be such a big deal. It’s like ‘yeah, I was raped.’ It’s over, though. And I learned from it. It’s sad, but good things come out of it, too.”

The next song on the record, “Shadowboxer” was a big radio hit and for many, a first introduction to the artist. While “Criminal” (Don’t worry. We’ll get there) left a bigger imprint in a pop culture landscape, “Shadowboxer” for me is an incredibly haunting and brilliant song that stands alone as some of her best writing. Exhibit A:

Oh, you creep up
Like the clouds
And you set my soul at ease
Then you let
Your love abound
And you bring me
To my knees

It’s a straight up classic and deserves a spot on your 1996 mixtape.

What can I possibly say about “Criminal” that hasn’t already been said? With its infectious hook, gut punch lyrics and Calvin Klein on crack music video, “Criminal” is arguably her signature hit. It’s her “Don’t Speak”, her “You Oughta Know”, her “Stupid Girl”. With lines like:

 Heaven help me for the way I am
Save me from these evil deeds before I get them done
I know tomorrow brings the consequence at hand
But I keep living this day like the next will never come

“Criminal” deserves every ounce of praise it gets, even if the song’s popularity at times eclipses the rest of her incredible catalogue.

When Tidal came out I was 23 and working as an assistant at a PR firm on Sunset Blvd which meant I mainly ordered lunch and answered the phone. The album was given the distinction of becoming our hold music, as dictated by my boss, who was obsessed with all things new. The next two tracks “Slow Like Honey” and “The First Taste” are atmospheric and jazzy enough to fit the bill. But to label them “just another white girl doing Sade songs” is unfair. “The First Taste”, in particular, is a transformative and seductive track that goes just as well with candlelight as it does with contemplation.

As I listened to Tidal as I was writing this, it was hard not to think about my life in 1996. Clueless, broke, new to Los Angeles, on the run from increasingly pesky drug problems and trying to figure out who I was, artists like Fiona Apple were my spiritual advisors. Moody, bewildered and heartbroken, Fiona’s words were identifiable even though I was older, male and gay. Those truths she was exposing at age 18 are universal enough and delivered in such a masterful way, that it didn’t matter. Apple was sharing secrets with me and a lot of them sounded like my own. The last thing that stands out about Tidal is the artistry. Fiona Apple wrote every word on that record herself at age 18. I guess that shouldn’t be a big deal but in an era where Beyoncé credits 50 some odd writers on Lemonade, it is a big deal. Listen, if you’ve got 50 some odd writers telling your story, it’s no longer your story. The art of the solo artist telling their story, on their own is rare and special. Apple was also blessed with a brilliant producer, first class musicians and a label who stood behind her, things that just don’t really happen for new female artists today.

And yet, things have changed. I’m not that much of a bitter, old fart to realize that music is different. That when “kids today” hear the word tidal they think of streaming service. That songwriting and storytelling in music has survived, you just have to dig deeper for it. But it doesn’t mean the things we loved or the way we felt when we were young, fucked up and confused aren’t worth looking at. Tidal isn’t just a time capsule for the pain we felt but a progress report for how far we’ve come and a scrapbook for the things we’ll never feel again.

the bullshit of busy

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“I’m so busy.”

“I’ve been really busy.”

“You know me busy, busy, busy!”

“Just stayin’ busy!”

If I answer the simple question, “How are you?” with one of the above statements, you have my permission to roll your eyes and say, “Girl. Please.” I’m serious. I’ve had it with busy. I’m breaking up with busy. Busy can take her buzzin’ ass and go make excuses for being flakey elsewhere. For me. Listen. I’m happy you are busy. I’m happy there are so many planets rotating around the sun of your life that it makes your head spin. I’m happy that being busy keeps you out of trouble and fulfilled and helps you sleep at night. But for me, busy is some bullshit.

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My first problem with defaulting to “busy” when somebody asks how I am begins with the redundancy of the statement. The last time I answered “I’m really busy” I later thought, “Who the fuck isn’t?” That’s like saying I’m tired. Aren’t we all busy? Aren’t we all tired? Somebody asked me how I was. They don’t give a fuck if I’m busy. This person is busy too but they’re being nice and asking me what’s up. I could say, I’m good or if I’m being honest and not wanting to over-share, “Things are hard but I’m doing alright.” Answering “busy” to that question is essentially saying, “I’m so busy and my amazing life is so full that it’s exhausted me beyond the point of being polite.” It’s no coincidence that “unavailable” is a synonym for busy. Ouch. Also? I sort of feel like “busy” is this passive aggressive way to get people to respond with, “Oh yeah? Busy with what?”  so I can then ramble about all the amazing things I’m doing. The reality is if people love me, they know what I’m doing or they’ll ask specifically about that. Or If we’re really close I can launch right into my life trials and tribulations without the I’m busy buffer.

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The other thing about slapping the busy label on my life is that it really helps me inflate my ego to Macy’s parade balloon status. Like busy is a valid reason to not call people. Being busy is a hall pass to be inconsiderate. Busy mean I can seamlessly transition to being bitchy and I have an excuse. Busy means I can flake out whenever I want because I’m so important and so busy, busy, busy. Barf.  Like bitch. You are not running some multi-million dollar conglomerate. You have to call two people back and you need to feed your cats. Calm down. You’re not J-Lo.

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This is all fresh on my mind because I just got home from the day job where I basically played crazy person dodgeball for 7 hours. I took my pants off (because nothing says “I’m over it” like walking in the door and immediately taking your pants off), collapsed and drooled on myself during the world’s most coma-like 15 minute nap. I wanted to write. But, you guys. I was so busy all day. Plus? I’m really tired. Can’t I just have sparkly ideas and a team of happy birds would read my mind and then use their cute little beaks type them out in WordPress? Shit.There I was using busy to get out of something that actually makes me a happier and more fulfilled person. And that’s not fucking okay. 2900.gif

I made a promise to myself last month that I’d publish three times a week. It’s a promise I’ve tried to honor and by doing so it’s a promise that’s already paid off. But here I was trying to poo-poo it (a poo-poo-romise, if you will) because I’m busy. Sat down at my computer anyway. I opened what I started working on yesterday and turns out, I hated it. It wasn’t funny. It was trying too hard. It was annoying. See? My instincts were right. I was too busy and tired and writing wasn’t worth it today. I’d get back to it but not now. Sigh.

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Like all good thoughts, what happened next happened because of a little coffee. I sipped some coffee. I opened a new document and left the old one in my drafts to sit and think about what it’s done. The empty headline blinked at me, waiting patiently.  I’ve had this idea about the bullshit of being busy for a while and like Celine Dion says, it’s all coming back, all coming back to me now. And here we are. The biggest reason why I think busy is some laughable bullshit is because I am lucky to be busy. I was busy getting fucked up or having a hangover for the better part of 20 years. I think I can balance doing writing work I enjoy and taking care of a home and relationship I cherish. I got this. Busy negates the gifts I have in front of me. Busy gives the finger to a life I actually really love. And those things I can’t get to because I’m busy? If they’re important and make me happy, I’ll get to them. If I don’t have time, I’ll make time. Or they simply reveal themselves eventually to be not that important and fade away.

It really is that easy and I’m really not that busy.

 

 

Choose Life: 20 Years of Trainspotting & Its Epic Soundtrack

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Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?
And so starts the funniest, most gruesome and heart pounding cinematic heroin adventure of all time, Trainspotting.

Released in the United States 20 years ago today, I watched Trainspotting earlier this summer for an upcoming episode of Sloshed Cinema. At two decades old, the film still has a lot of guts and the signature take-no-prisoners style of 90’s independent filmmaking so sadly missing from movies of today. There are stylistic choices and plotting that read a tad dated in 2016 but make no mistake about it: Trainspotting captures the delusion of drug addiction while putting it on the run in crime caper-style movie which cements it as a classic. One of the things Trainspotting does so well that is definitely so 90’s is have an incredible soundtrack.  So incredible is the Trainspotting soundtrack that it even it came on two CDs. Films like Romeo and Juliet, Stealing Beauty, Pulp Fiction, Singles, Reality Bites, Empire Records, Great Expectations all had these mind-blowing, very of the moment soundtracks that were often better than the movies themselves. And Trainspotting has the perfect soundtrack for the decade and for a film hell-bent on taking the audience on a terrifying hilarious ride.

From the opening montage to the closing credits and in dialogue throughout the movie, Iggy Pop and his iconic song are now synonymous with Trainspotting. It played in the trailers. The characters talk about seeing him concert. Pop himself is one of the more famous junkies on Earth. And “Lust for Life”, although it was released some 20 years earlier, perfectly sets up the tempo and action for everything Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie will do for the next 90 minutes.

New Order was a massive part of my growing up gay, terminally unique and addicted so it fits in the Trainspotting world like a glove. An underrated track stateside, “Temptation” has killer songwriting which captures the isolation and independence of the film’s lead Renton. “Temptation” is so spot on for Trainspotting that the character Diana even quotes it in a really trippy sequence. Another song called “Temptation”, by Heaven 17 also shows up in the film.

There are final hits and then there are final hits, Renton informs us. So fittingly, electronic duo Leftfield came up with a track for the film entitled “Final Hit” which illustrates the style of music dominating the times while helping to tell the film’s heroincentric story.

So much of the music of Trainspotting works overtime to create the mood of the movie. This song by Blur does that nicely, with its pounding piano and haunting vocals.  The same goes for the songs by Lou Reed, Elastica, Fun Boy Three and the below song from Primal Scream.

By the time, you get to the end of Trainspotting you’re nearly out of breath. Director Danny Boyle did such a bang up job of catapulting us from heists to overdoses back to heists again that by the time we reach the last scene, featuring this excellent Underworld track, we feel like we’ve just stepped off a thrill ride. As an electronic music listener and drug doer myself(albeit not heroin, thank goddess) this song still gives me goosebumps. My 43-year-old self sat on the edge of my couch while it played right before the final credits rolled. That’s sign of a film that held up well and a soundtrack really kicking ass. While putting this together, there were so many songs that were post-worthy but I found myself out of breath, once again. Did I miss your favorite? Post it in the comments section below. And choose Sloshed Cinema for your next podcast listen and of course, choose life.

cruel summer/best summer ever

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Right up there with griping about the earth being round and politics being terrible is complaining about seasons. I mean, honestly. There’s no surprises here. Winter’s always cold. Fall’s always slightly melancholy while spring might be a little too optimistic. And summer? Well, summer is the Beyoncé of seasons. Everybody tells you to love summer. Everybody else has a great relationship with summer. Everybody posts how magical summer is. Everybody is having the best summer of their lives. Everybody but me. Much like the aforementioned songstress, I don’t get summer’s appeal. I hate sweating. The movies, for the most part, are crap. I’m usually working and therefore cannot embark on a life changing summer odyssey. And I have no interest in participating in anything that would constitute in best summer ever behavior. Except for eating ice cream. But if we collectively decided that spring was the time when we’d eat more ice cream, I’d be okay with that.

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I will own my immoveable and snotty behavior when it comes to summer. Like many aging (gasp) hipsters, I still cling to the “everyone loves it therefore I must hate it” philosophy. Childish yet true. Seeing as this particular summer has been incredibly sad, violent and, for a lack of a more poetic phrase, fucked up, I’m left with a stronger distaste than ever for the season. Yet a crazy thing has happened: I might be really having the best summer ever. Now they don’t usually put crying, writing and self-realization on posters for the best summer ever but as I’ve mentioned, there’s been a little bit of that going on. Okay. A fuck ton of that going on. Emotions, like current temperatures, are running high. If there’s something to feel, I am feeling it.Don’t have time to feel something? Fear not! I will feel that shit for you.  Like the shite blockbuster in 3D that you spent too much money to sit thru, my emotions are loud, pounding and in my face. My emotions, as directed by Michael Bay. Somehow, I’m keeping it together. I’m getting out of bed. I’m calling people back. I’m going to meetings. I’m trying to find ways to be helpful instead of self-involved jerkface. Despite my gloomy inclinations, I’m even having fun.1970s-mens-underwear-ads-6

Not that ^ kind of fun but fun nonetheless. “Fun” I should mention is also a concept I find overrated.  I know. What am I the devil? I hate both summer and fun. Yeesh. Maybe not so much overrated but subjective. Like lots of things I think are fun (reading and drinking coffee on my patio) are not other people’s idea of fun. Likewise things like sports, mountain climbing, shooting guns at targets are not my idea of fun. I love that we tell people, “Have fun!” like it’s some kind of order. Have fun or else! Have fun or spend your life like Sylvia Plath. These are your only options. (Sidebar: what was Sylvia Plath’s idea of fun?)

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But yes. I am having fun. Outdoor concerts, train trips to the mountains, strolling around arts festivals, having friends over for game night and, yes, lots of ice cream excursions. And I have naturally found plenty of pop culture to obsess about. The Great British Baking Show isn’t just a reality baking show on PBS but a TV program I actually want to live inside of. (I could yammer for 6,000 words about the show but Linda Jones of NPR totally nails it. ) I’ve gobbled up a weird James Franco movie and the snappiest Sinatra movie about heroin for Sloshed Cinema. I finally watched Trumbo and shuddered at the realization of how paranoia and fear still exists today and enjoyed spending 2 hours with Bryan Cranston in a bathtub. What I’m getting at is even though I have summer issues(just like Seventeen magazine but more bitter) I am really enjoying myself.

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Two thoughts from minds with more perspective than my own will hopefully help me wrap up this seasonal blathering.

1.)I was given the advice during my first sober holiday season to “embrace it or get crushed by it” meaning I could lean into a season known just much for suicides as it was carolling or I could wallow in how fucked up my life still was. I chose the former. Maybe this summer I’m doing the same thing. which brings me to….

2.) The husband and I were talking about this thing called summer and he said something very profound. “Well, yeah you can absolutely have a great summer and make the most of it even if you don’t love it or if it’s hard.”

And that was it! Maybe I was making the best of hard times and maybe I was still heartbroken or sad. Who says I can’t be both? Nobody. So maybe your summer sucks too but you’re finding joy somewhere. Or maybe on paper everything looks good but you’re still mangled. Or maybe things are just hard and there doesn’t have to be a best summer ever. All of it is appropriate. Besides, no one’s getting graded on summer. No one’s failing or getting pulled over for doing summer wrong. The way I see it is if I’m living my life a little less horrible than the day before, I’m okay. My summer is okay. Fantastic even. But just for the sake of being festive, I’ll double down on the ice cream. You know. For summer’s sake.

 

push

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In order for it to happen, it’s all gotta be perfect. Perfect meaning the climate in my house is ideal, an absolute silence has blanketed in my entire block and the coffee is strong enough to punch me in the face. That’s when I think it’ll happen. The “it” being writing. Then and only then is what my demanding diva mind says. I will settle for nothing less, dammit! So no wonder it’s hard to even start. God forbid my house is hot. Or I’m out of coffee. Or some neighbor is sawing the world’s longest and loudest piece of wood. Or my cats have for some reason decided to practice their wrestling moves on the dining room table. One little glitch in the system can throw off the whole machine. And that’s kind of what my week has looked like. Satan is currently giving Colorado an HGTV-style makeover so running around in the heat is something I try not to do. We, the husband, the cats and myself, are primarily concerned with staying under the ceiling fan and moving as little as possible. Then there’s this whole the world is going to shit thing that is currently happening and what could I write to possibly contribute to such horrific times? Add to it a general feeling of laziness and my three times a week publishing practice has nearly flown out the window. wings

Needless to say, I woke up this morning like my bed was on fire. I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to write. I didn’t know if the conditions were perfect. I didn’t know anything other than that I had to write. See, I made that promise to myself a month ago and I took it seriously. Or at the very least I wanted to take it seriously. So here I am in my cool,quiet house with strong coffee and snoring cats writing. Being creative my entire life, I’m always shocked when I start to self-sabotage the process. I know making stuff and telling stories makes me physically and mentally feel better and therefore easier to be around, nicer and less a pain in the ass. I know this in my core but I still resist it. As an addict and alcoholic, I sort of resist anything that makes me feel better. When I admit this to other people in recovery, sometimes jaws drop open. Like now that I’m sober, I’m not supposed to admit that sometimes I suck at being a beckon of light and sometimes I don’t want to do things that make me feel better. Besides, isn’t the whole idea of feeling better subjective? I mean, I feel better than I did 8 years ago when I was waiting tables and scraping bits of cocaine out of paper packets. But feeling better in a, “Wow! That kid has his shit together!” kind of way? Uh.

And yet the evidence suggests, I am better than I was and so is my writing practice. I spent a lot of this week feeling not up to snuff. Like I wasn’t doing enough to foster creatively and that my actions were slowing down my writing process. Quite the opposite actually. The great Gwendolyn Brooks talked a lot about how a writer’s education didn’t stop inside the halls of schools. In fact, in her mind, the real work of writing was experiencing life and then coming back with something to report. Bingo. I heard live music this week that blew my mind.

I went and walked around an art museum with my husband. IMG_3330

I watched the rest of Girls. I read new posts from my brilliant writing compadres. I kept waiting for a lightening bolt to write this week or some big push. Turns out, I was already doing that. I was pushing my damn self. I just didn’t realize it until now.

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I guess what I’m getting at here is that my brain rarely tells the truth. Self doubt can slip in unannounced and wreck the whole party in mere minutes. However, I have been gifted with an emotional alarm system that now pushes me into doing things that make me feel better, even when (or especially when) I simply don’t want to do them. Being inspired at all times, as they tell us in 12 step programs, just ain’t gonna happen. This is fantastic news. This means everybody, even creative juggernauts who are so prolific it makes your head spin, get stuck and need a little push. The trick is to keep pushing. Push through sad times. Push through lazy times. Push through bad ideas, no ideas and even so good they scare you ideas.

Thus, on this Thursday in the middle of the weirdest summer of my life, I’m going to keep pushing. I hope you do too.

I walk alone

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this morning on Detroit Street.

This is how it starts. It starts on a tree-lined street in my childhood neighborhood that is now my middle age neighborhood. It starts here. It starts with me. And I’m walking.

Before I go much further, I should take a minute to call bullshit on myself. I am the first person to roll eyes at exercise posts or nutrition posts or articles on how someone stopped being a prick for ten minutes and is now the light of the world. I think a lack of humility about basic, human and humane actions is part of our collective problem. We’re not horrible for 20 seconds and we expect a humanitarian award. Sigh. That being said I love walking. And, I will say this right here, I was wrong for making fun of people who post how great whatever exercise they love has saved their life. I think anything that makes us happy and doesn’t hurt other people is solid gold. So I’m a judgmental jerk and I’m sorry. I’ve never really loved driving and proudly say that I am a non-car owner and have been for awhile. I try to centralize my life so I can walk everywhere. Yes, it’s good for the environment. Sure, it’s good for my body. But mainly I walk because it helps my head.

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a local karate school mural entitled “Fight Together!”

Walking the crazy off is a vital component in helping me be a less horrible human. A couple of years ago, I slipped into a pretty dark depression. I talked to my doctor at the time and I told her I was open to medication but I’d like to explore other options first. I already take an Elvis sized handful of meds just to keep my body running so I didn’t want to add another pill. Now, do not take this as an anti-psych meds stance. The opposite, actually. If you have a chemical imbalance that cannot be fixed any other way, for the love of God man, take your effing meds. Seriously, humanity will thank you for it. My depression, however, is a bump in the road of my larger mental health picture. And oh what a picture it is. What I’m getting at here is my depression has never gotten bad enough that I felt like meds needed to be part of the story. Until that summer. She, my doctor, then asked me a bunch of questions. What’s happening in my personal life? How’s my family? Which of my routines have changed? Insert giant lightbulb emoji here or a picture of a gate in my alley I took, whatever works.

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an early morning shot of a gate in my alley that I’m in love with for some reason

I realized in that moment that what had changed is my walking routine. Whereas I used to walk 40 minutes to and from work I was now only walking about 6 minutes. She recommended that I up my walking and start journalling about my depression(don’t expect that one on the Amazon editors pick anytime soon, by the way)and get back to her. If nothing changed we’d talk about medication. Flash forward 40 days, things had changed. I was walking more and feeling better. Again, let me stress, this is what worked for me and I wouldn’t tell you to do the same unless somebody who actually went to school for this type of shit suggests you try it. I’m just some idiot with a computer and a giant cup of coffee. So don’t listen to me. How about these smart people? Or this study? Or how about this?

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Really, the point of this whole spiel is not to convince you to Go Take a Walk America! Or some crap. It’s to tell you that me, this guy Sean with the big cup of coffee and the sarcastic attitude, feels better after he walks around his neighborhood. I don’t wear special walking clothes for godsakes. Nor do I belong to a walking group. Jesus. Anyway, it’s not just the health thing either. It’s also because as a writer I get to see so much more when I walk. Like the creepy pink baby heads above. Or this clever piece of vandalism:

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push it real good.

Or people yelling at their kids or dogs. Or old people holding hands. Or flyers for weird shit I’m never going to but want to read anyway. I get to see my life up close when I walk and I get to confirm that it’s all pretty amazing.

Even bah humbug exercise me has a fitness app on his phone. On good days, I do over 10,000 steps. Over the last few days, it’s been closer to 25,000. This isn’t mentioned for applause or a special walking ribbon. Clearly, these numbers confirm that I’ve needed the extra help lately. I have been pretty honest about my dismay over the human race as of late and I’m walking that off too. Sure, I’m still me when I get home and the world still needs a brain transplant but I can be human and normal and in gratitude after a walk. Therefore, this how the story ends: I’ll keep walking. Maybe I’ll even bump into you. I’ll be the guy by himself in jeans and a t-shirt taking pictures of weird shit or saying hi to random dogs.

Angry Anymore

chile_villiarica.jpgBubble. Furiously simmer. Boil over. And explode. Repeat for 10 to 20 years. This was the family recipe passed on for generations of hotheaded alcoholics. The funny thing is I always thought I wasn’t one of them. You know one of those angry, yelling types who blew the fuck up out of nowhere and for no good reason. Those assholes were cray-cray. I mean I loved them and I was related to them but they needed to relax. But I also thought that I wasn’t an alcoholic so what did I know?

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Turns out, your buddy ole smiling Sean Mahoney is one angry muthafucker. Thru a series of writings that the kids in programs that help people stop killing themselves with drugs and alcohol  call “stepwork” I was able to learn this. The more I wrote and looked at my past actions, the more I realized how incredibly pissed off I was. Pissed off at Catholic school teachers who humiliated me. Pissed off at exes who didn’t love me enough. Pissed off at myself for making the same mistakes year after year.  If I looked at this stuff and found my part and cleaned up my messes, I’d feel better and maybe, just maybe I’d stop drinking to dull how angry I was. They turned out to be right. And seven years later they are still right. I’m back into doing this kind of writing again and I guess I should explain why.  A mutual friend with the same time as me relapsed, couldn’t stop and killed himself. Another friend who I got sober with in 2009 and with more time than me went out and now struggles to stay sober. And yet another beloved friend had seven years but relapsed and has spent the last seven trying to get sober. He just celebrated a year. This sort of thing happens in recovery (sadly, a lot)but for some reason these events got to me this year. All of these people had the amount of time I had and suddenly did not. I was terrified. So I asked my sponsor if we could do the work again. Thus, here I am looking at how angry I am yet again.

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I realize for me, like the generations of hothead Irish alcoholics before me, that anger is poison. I’ve had two maybe three big, angry explosions in sobriety. They feel awful. They feel out of control. They feel like the kind of thing that would make me go back to drinking. Rage is equally as deadly as drugs and alcohol and I’ve seen people destroyed by it. Therefore, I have to look at it. I have to treat it. I have to write about it. Sigh. Seven years later, I’m still wishing for the unsavory parts of my character to vanish but they don’t unless I do a little work on them. This time around, I’m discovering there’s still a few things that I’m really angry about. It’s deeper, less superficial stuff though. I’m angry at America. I’m at angry at the news. I’m angry at the way we treat each other. I’m angry at racist, homophobic, sexist, intolerant assholes, in general. But the people I dated, the people who raised me, the people I drank with and probably pissed off too? Child. Ain’t nobody got time for the that.

Vivid colorful landscape scenery with a footpath through the hill covered by violet heather flowers and green valley river mountains Pentland hills near Edinburgh Scotland

Miraculously, through doing this stuff that seems impossible and like a real pain in the neck, a lot of the things I thought I’d never get over, I’m just not angry about anymore. Really. There’s a lot of forgiveness. There’s even more accountability. And there’s a strong recognition that being crazy and angry for me is a toxic place to be. On my best days, I can let anger say it’s thing and explode and then tell it, “Thank you for sharing. Now, go sit your angry ass down.” On my worst days? I try to shut up and not hurt people.  Yesterday, my sponsor told me to look at the people and things I have resentments against and realize which ones have to do with acceptance. What am I unwilling to accept the way they are? Turns out, that’s almost everything. For me, I can be sad today. I can have compassion. I can even be disappointed by the world and the people who populate it. I can also take action and change the things I’m mad about. But I just can’t be angry anymore.