The Seanologues Podcast Coming April 13!

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At long last a return to the microphone! That’s right, kids. I’m coming back to podcasting my own show after a far, far too long sabbatical! Creatively entitled The Seanologues will launch  Friday, April 13th and every Friday after that for 9 weeks! But why this show, why now?

I LOVED doing my old show Sloshed Cinema so very much and adored working with Chris at Since Right Now. But after moving from Denver to Portland last year, I ran out of steam. I felt like I couldn’t get it together creatively and then too much time had passed. Flash forward to about a month ago and this idea came to me: why not do a show that’s just a monologue followed by a stream of consciousness rattle about one topic every week? No guest, no highfalutin concept. Just me blathering for a half an hour. I couldn’t a good reason why not to and in fact, the idea really inspired me! It inspired me so much that within a few hours I had roughly sketched out the episodes along with theme songs for each episode.

The monologue performed by at the top of each will also appear on these pages every Friday and I’m calling it “The First Six Minutes.” But what happens after that and a little musical interlude will be anyone’s guess! In the days to come, links to where to hear it and how to listen, will be posted all over the place so don’t worry. Just consider this your official invitation and we’ll talk more on April 13th!

 

 

The Rise of Politecore

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An odd thing happened for seven minutes in downtown Portland on Monday. This in and of itself is a remarkable thing to say, seeing as though a few weeks back in the exact same spot I witnessed a man in a Spider-Man costume playing the bagpipes and riding a unicycle. But this occurrence right here steps away from the world-famous Powell’s bookstore was something that doesn’t happen everyday, unlike the musically inclined Spidey. Because even in a terminally friendly town like Portland, there was something bigger and more profound at work and not just the eclipse, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1979.

No, what I witnessed was people, strangers for the most part, genuinely being happy with one another and dare I say it, in the era of world leaders dissing one another on the Internet, polite. Whether they were moving out of the way so a stranger could get a better glance or sharing their glasses with each other, something about the sun getting blocked out for seven minutes brought the best out in people. Very quickly you got the feeling that it wasn’t just the eclipse that was special but the behavior associated with it too. As it ended, we all went back to our respective shops, workplaces and cafes. The eclipse was gone and you could assume these moments of politeness, humanity and decency were gone along with it. But I’d argue that politeness is making a comeback and you need look no further than your television for solid evidence.

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Of the hundreds of things to love about The Great British Baking Show (or Great British Bake-Off as it’s known in the U.K.) are the moments when contestants help each other. As a reality tv aficionado (or junkie depending on how you want to spin it) I can tell you this is a weird and unnatural thing in the genre. Sure, we’ll have random drag queens loan one another costumes on RuPaul’s Drag Race but for the most part, the “I came here to win! I didn’t come here to make friends!” is the battle cry of American reality tv. Thus it’s the utter lack of backstabbing and cut throat competitiveness that makes Baking Show so charming. During the last season to air on PBS this summer, I once again found myself near tears as contestants assisted one another in finishing their frosted masterpieces. The contestants genuine goodwill and enjoyment of each other makes the show feel darn near aspirational. They help their fellow contestants not because there’s an endgame or an additional bonus for not being a selfish jackass. They do it because it’s the right, normal decent human being thing to do. Sounds like a revolutionary concept when I put it like that. And perhaps it is.

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For more proof that maybe  we just don’t act right, look no further that Netflix’s Terrace House. The reality tv hit from Japan became a global sensation recently when Netflix wisely added it to its roster of international delights. Seriously, if you’re not watching at least one crazy-ass foreign tv series on Netflix than you’re doing it wrong. They have a lot of great ones and Terrace House is my recent guilty pleasure. The show puts 6 singles (three boys, three girls) in a flawlessly designed house and let’s the drama (or in this case non-drama) unfold. If this all sounds eerily like MTV’s old standby The Real World than you wouldn’t be wrong. Except in Terrace House there are no manipulated situations, challenges or group jobs. It’s just six incredibly reserved Japanese people living under the same roof. With the exception of adding a room of offsite commentators who offer their own insights on the action in the house, that is literally it. Much has been written about why a show that isn’t just politecore but borderline borecore is so compelling even with its lack of fabricated plots. From the heartfelt discussions of emotions to the intimate glimpse into Japanese dating culture, the show has several layers that makes it a fascinating watch. But for me, watching twentysomethings that weren’t the rude, selfish, loud ingrates that I was in my twenties is utterly captivating. Even when Terrace House has “drama”, usually revolving around food or temporary thoughtlessness, the housemates resolve it in a sincere and tear filled way that would never go down on these drinking throwing, wig pulling shores. Sure, the sometimes snarky commentators offer good-natured jabs at the housemates. But even they spend a fair amount of time celebrating the personalities and emotional triumphs of each resident. Turns out, rooting for people who are considerate is just as easy as rooting for mental unhinged housewives.

While suggesting that we all be the Terrace House we want to see in the world is too ham-fisted and unrealistic for even me, I do think there’s something to be said for politeness. I recently had a job interview where the potential employed asked my philosophy on taking care of customers. I said basically, I try to treat people how I want to be treated. He laughed and said, “That’s so simple but sounds amazing in times like ours.” I agreed but it wasn’t just one of those things I said in order to get a job (which I did get, by the way). It’s a way of life I try to achieve. Try being the operative word. Catch me on a day with no sleep and in between meals while waiting in a long line and you’ll see that sometimes this ideal of politeness is hard to achieve. But for me the idea is to at least give it a shot. Like it won’t kill me to at least attempt not being awful.

This includes online too. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to do a lot of deep breathing and deleting on social media when replying to discussing about racism, homophobia and all the other nifty thing currently happening in this country. The endless scroll is now home to people yelling at each other, rambling off manifestos and most annoying telling others how they should process. I have come to the conclusion that it’s a trap to even have these conversations online. My rule of thumb now is I can either respond in a way that’s online with how I act in person or not at all. This, as it turns out, is a tall order as it is really easy to act like know it all or bully online with zero repercussions. Instead, I’ve chosen to make good-natured smartass comments, have my beliefs, stay of service in my real life and leave the debating over the head of strangers to those better equipped than myself.

Yet if we listen to the internet just being polite isn’t enough. Just being thoughtful of one another doesn’t qualify you to put resistance in your Twitter bio. Just having compassion won’t help us “rise up” as directed by the song the play on everything from the Olympics to soap commercials. And that’s fine. Part of politecore, the hardest part in my mind, is sticking to a value that kindness means something and that being courteous and loving to strangers is where real change is happening, without hashtags or celebrity endorsements. But the most amazing thing about politecore, about compassion and about love is that we don’t have to wait for another eclipse or to watch it broadcast from a foreign land. We can do it right now.

 

 

 

Betty & Veronica: Queens of ‘Riverdale’

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If I had to, I’d read Archie Comics when I was a kid. I’d rather read Betty and Veronica but I’d do it if that’s all there was at the drugstore.

Look, comic books in the 70’s and 80’s didn’t have this annoying-ass culture that they have now. Everybody read comic books. It wasn’t geek chic or cosplay or anything else. It’s just what we all did. Sure, there was always “that” kid who read them obsessively and rambled off facts about them at the drop of the hat. But I wasn’t him. I was just a kid who liked comic books because it was smooth storytelling with fast results. Ever the addict. Plus, I couldn’t be a full-fledged comic book junkie because what I was attracted to was pretty specific. I didn’t like things that were dark or scary. I didn’t like comic books that had a billion parts and took years to finish a story. And I loved comics with female leads.

As my Wonder Woman obsession is well chronicled on these here pages and my comic book heart belonged to her, first and foremost, there was always room for others. She-Hulk, Batgirl, Supergirl and Betty & Veronica. I was always drawn to female lead characters and heroes. I’d play them in games and dress up like them but there was never the sense that I was in the wrong body or that I shouldn’t be a boy. I just wanted to be a boy who loved Wonder Woman. Dammit. So I’d read Archie Comics if I had to but the whole time I was waiting for Josie and the Pussycats or Sabrina the Teenage Witch or Betty and Veronica to show up. With the new reboot of Archie’s world Riverdale currently airing on the CW, I find myself doing the same thing. But in this case, it’s certainly worth the wait. enhanced-12232-1491342073-1.jpg

Much has been written about Riverdale and it’s obvious (and welcome) nods to Twin Peaks. The show unapologetically takes Lynch’s dark, campy small town and tweaks it for millennial viewers. But the most 2017 thing about the show are Betty and Veronica themselves. After a rocky start, involving Archie naturally, the pair implode the decades long frenemy troupe over a pair of milkshakes: Betty and Veronica decide to never let another boy come between them.

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And just like that, B&V 2.0 is born, bitches. Gone is the life blood of every Betty and Veronica comic ever since 1950. The very thing that made Betty and Veronica tiresome and problematic has now vanished. Instead of bickering over a boy, this new version of our favorite girls is fierce, complex and empowered. The girls, decked out in seriously gorgeous Emmy-worthy costumes from Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup, have a new mission: being there for each other.

Self-involved rich girl Veronica Lodge has changed since I hung out with her in the 1980’s. First of all, girlfriend is no longer rich as her daddy, a Bernie Madoff type, is currently in prison on embezzlement charges. Secondly, she’s now Latina because why the fuck not? Lastly, and most importantly, she’s a girl who’s seen who she was and wants to change. In a great scene in episode 9, Veronica reveals that she was a bully back at her posh school in New York and how she really hurt a classmate of hers’. It taps us into a deeper character than we ever got a glimpse of on the comic book pages.  Yet Veronica, the fierce bitch who always get what she wants, the girl I wanted to be as a kid, is still here too. Just more emotionally in tune and smarter. Think Blair Waldorf after a 12 Step program. In a star making performance, Camilla Mendes creates a reformed bad girl for the ages and who doesn’t love that?

Sweet girl-next-door Betty Cooper, on the other hand, is more twisted than we could have ever imagined and I am here for it. At 10 episodes in, we’ve gotten a glimpse of Dark Betty and let’s just say she’s not just your student council president or favorite babysitter. The show is dancing with a mental illness storyline with dear sweet Betty. As of yet, we don’t know exactly what Betty has but we know her mama Alice (the perfectly campy, unhinged Mädchen E. Amick) isn’t all there either so it promises to get juicy soon. A steadfast friend and believer in the truth, Betty Cooper is still a golden girl but now she’s super interesting because she’s also sort of fucked up.

It’s not just Riverdale’s besties who have gotten a makeover for the better. Josie and the Pussycats are back. After a guilty pleasure 2001 big screen abomination, it’s safe to say their legacy is restored. This version of the Pussycats is an all black girl group (because again why the hell not?) who dishes out the fierce diva-ness required for every good teen show. Plus, the musical numbers are fun and filled with old school Archie references.

Elsewhere in Riverdale, it’s a mixed bag. Archie is still a dude-bro douche but at least this time he’s got great abs and the producers wisely have him shirtless in as many scenes as possible. He’s still clueless about women and kind of a disaster of a friend too. He’s hard to root for but as I noted in the top of the post I never really did. Also, the less we say about Luke Perry as his dad, the better. The new edgy homeless angsty Jughead is a great twist and he makes for a decent narrator even though the casting of his father (the one facial expression Skeet Ulrich) is equally unfortunate. By the way, I officallay feel 5,000 years old when people like Skeet Ulrich and Luke Perry who I used to watch play teenagers are now playing parents to teenagers. But at least Molly Ringwald is playing Archie’s mom!

Some of the storytelling gets cheesy and veers into old CW cliches but having established itself in a surreal camp realm at the jump makes me be a bit more forgiving as a viewer. Riverdale, with the openly gay Kevin character and a non-chalant kiss between Betty and Veronica, is queer in a no big deal sort of way that feels modern. After slogging through 2 episodes with bland, adult-heavy storylines, the series redeems itself in the latest two epsiodes. Mainly, becuase they’re filled with meaty, interesting things for Betty and Veronica to do. I’m going to stick Riverdale for the rest for the season because when it reallt goes there to full dark, weird and female positive place, it’s pretty darn wonderful. Besides, I’m positive my 10-year-old self would do the same.

God probably sounds a lot like Mavis Staples

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Whatever you believe in that happens to be bigger yourself, that happens to be something you can’t explain, that thing that I just call God, because even though I am about as non-secular as you can get, I am also lazy and God is easy. That that thing, God, shows up in the most unlikeliest of places. Like a Rolling Stone article about a recently released live track from 2014 where the Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples cover a Talking Heads song. The song, which may be proof of a higher power in and of itself, opened a whole can of worms for me. Mainly, the undeniable miracle that is Mavis Staples.

The same article linked to the above disco gospel ballad by Arcade Fire and Staples released in January as a protest song which benefited the ACLU. As I listened to the lo-fi electro beat and the lyrics, which talk clearly about giving power and then taking it away I thought, “Of course, Mavis Staples would be here for us now.”After all, here’s a woman, who alongside her family, provided the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement.Angry, teary eyed and yet somehow relieved, the song knocked me out.  Not one to slow down, Mama Mavis was also just featured on a brand new Gorillaz track. The song is another one with a powerful message made even more so when delivered by that incredible voice.

I have to be honest. Hearing these two songs back-to-back was incredibly emotional. Not only was I reminded of the fucked up times we live in but I was comforted by knowing that if there’s any hope Mavis will be around to help carry us through all of it. Raw, powerful and honest both songs pack a punch and one I didn’t expect just hanging out drinking coffee at my kitchen table. Speaking of things divine, the timing of my musical Mavis binge was certainly other worldly. I was planning on watching the documentary on her life Mavis! directed by Jessica Edwards, currently airing on HBONow, later that afternoon.

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The documentary, which was filmed in 2014 and made the rounds at festivals the following year before winding up on HBO, couldn’t be any more timely. While I am definitely not that annoying person who tells people they will or won’t feel a certain emotion when watching a film, I will say it wouldn’t be the worst idea ever to have a box of tissues nearby when viewing Mavis! Nearly 20 days of personal blogging has left me a emotional mess so my weepiness at the film could be considered suspicious however you’d have to be a Nazi Cyborg to not be moved by Mavis Staples and her incredible message.

For starters, the film profiles Mavis and Staples Singers incredible rise to fame as gospel singers who wound up singing songs of hope and message for the Civil Rights movement. The band’s personal connection with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is incredibly powerful. Pops Staples was inspired by King’s message and wanted to make music that did the same thing. Coming from Chicago, Mavis and her clan were shocked while touring the South to see the hideous racism and injustice happening to black people. And as Mavis herself notes, the struggle is sadly alive and well today and she’s vowed to keep singing about until, “Dr. King’s dream comes true.”

Staples’ list of collaborators and famous fans reads like a who’s who of rock and roll history. Bonnie Raitt, Curtis Mayfield and recent collaborator Jeff Tweedy are all mentioned or interviewed in the film but the dishiest celebrity dirt comes from Bob Dylan. Dylan, a huge fan of the group, apparently at one point asked Staples to marry him! She reaches ninja-levels of cuteness when talking about their flirtation which “may have included some kissing.”

Yet the tissues came in handy when the film showed footage of Staples working with Prince. The two made a record together that never saw the light of day, sadly, due to his all out war with Warner Brothers Records. As Staples describes Princes genius, we are treated to shots of the pair working in the studio together. While sobbing, I was reminded that nearly a year later, I’m still fucked up about that one.

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Near the end of the film, Staples and Tweedy listen to a newly restored recording of a song by her father from an album he never got to complete before he died. By this time, I was just a full-fledged tear waterfall and embraced my crying fest. It’s a beautiful moment and one Staples herself is touched by too. And of course she is because like all shining divine beings, she’s also incredibly truthful and human.

And that’s the thing about her voice. Far from the smooth voice of  an angel, Mavis gets a little rough and raspy. At times, she looks as if she’s exorcising some demons in the clips of live performances featured in the film. Mentioned more than once in the film, is her desire to keep telling the truth and to keep spreading a message and I’m convinced that’s what gives her voice that edge.

That’s why I’m pretty sure whatever my non-secular unicorn glitter god is it probably sounds like Mavis Staples. Raw, real, not always pretty but comforting to the depths of your soul. Yeah If God sounds like that than hallelujah. Plus with a career pushing past the six decade point, Staples certainly seems eternal. At the end of the film, the artist herself even hints at her own angelic future. “If you don’t see me singing here, look for me in heaven,” she says. “I’ll be walking those streets of gold and singing around God’s throne.”

Au revoir, Louis. Au revoir, Chappelle

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“There is nothing to apologize for. I made a joke, that’s what I do, “- Joan Rivers

Last year, my act of pop culture rebellion was I wasn’t going to pay to see any more Hollywood remakes or reboots of old films. This was brought on by that Ghostbusters. And no, it’s not because it was an all-female cast. What kind of misogynistic a-hole do you think I am? It was because it looked like a poorly written mess. Like I get it they bust ghosts. What else about that universe do we need to know about? Plus as a storyteller and film lover, supporting rehashes over fresh new stories felt hypocritical. I’m pleased to report, my little rebellion went very well. Nary a remake in my 2016 movie repertoire to be found. After just watching the Netflix comedy specials of Dave Chappelle and Louis CK, my 2017 pop culture rebellious act became crystal clear: I’m done with straight, male comedians.

There’s a two-minute joke at the beginning of The Age of Spin, one of two new comedy specials by Dave Chappelle on Netflix, where he looks like he’s going to go there. By “there” I mean the giant pink elephant in room of his widely chronicled bizarre behavior. He starts this hour-long special by addressing a TMZ story wherein he was booed off stage for being drunk. He wisely corrects the story with a great punchline: he wasn’t drunk. He was high. And he wasn’t booed offstage. Sure, people booed but he stayed on stage. It’s a great joke and hints at a self-aware special that promised to address all of the stories and do it in a way only great comedians can, by making fun of himself. Sadly, that hint is all we get. We instead get rape jokes, gay jokes and trans jokes.

Which would be fine. Let me be clear. Comedy doesn’t offend me. It never has. I grew up in the 1980’s where HBO and Comedy Central were flooded 24 hours a day with comedians many of them telling jokes that made your jaw drop. I like hearing comedy that tells the truth and sometimes the truth has to be dirty, raw and unpretty. That quote at the top of the post was made by the queen of offending people Joan Rivers who made a zinger about the women kidnapped in Ohio back in 2014. Rivers’ joke was a funny one but she was also able to roast herself first and foremost. This is the missing ingredient from The Age of Spin. Chappelle mentions he hadn’t performed in Los Angeles, where the special was taped, in over ten years. He also casually talks about a comeback. The subversive, hot topic jokes feel desperate. When he gives us a look into Dave Chappelle, the troubled and beaten down entertainer whose over a decade away from his groundbreaking show, he lights up. He provides belly laughs. He feels relevant again. Yet it’s fleeting. Part of what made him so good back in the day was his ability to tell it like it is. See his amazing SNL opening monologue for proof.

But without the self-reflection, the rape jokes, the gay jokes and the trans jokes fall flat. Instead of an hour of watching a comedy great return to the top of his form, we’re trapped watching a desperate and at times criminally unfunny attempt to claw his way back. Had he been able to take legendary public bellyflops with mental illness into a funny, confessional hour, it’d be something to actually talk about.

Yet Dave Chappelle alone doesn’t shoulder the responsibility of me swearing off straight dudes telling jokes. Louis CK’s dully titled special, Louis CK 2017 isn’t exactly something to write home about either. Also on Netflix, CK’s issue is similar. When reflecting on society as a whole and taking himself out of the equation, it feels like we’re watching an overpaid Vegas headliner doing their greatest hits. But his material absolutely soars when he talks about his family, his personal fears and his children. CK also goes there with trans and gay jokes and why these are even part of the straight man’s cannon is completely baffling. Like aren’t straight men horrible and fucked up enough to draw plenty of jokes from. Keep our names out yo’ mouth! While not as ill-conceived and tasteless as Chappelle’s, they are a cheap laugh and at least CK incorporates himself into them. His Magic Mike joke which finds him obsessing about the movie and questioning his own sexuality. It’s the best joke of the set which leads to a hilarious penis/microphone bit. As a fan of the sitcom CK walked away from, this mildly entertaining special doesn’t feel like a return to form as much as it does a people pleasing exercise meant to elicit hoots and hollers from other straight dudes.

Me being done with funny, straight guys is unlikely to make a difference and I know this. It’s the dominating source of things mainstream funny. One glance at the primetime sitcoms of the moment and we know that straight men still rule the playground. And to be honest, my latest act of rebellion has less to do with their straight-dudeness and more to do with my exhaustion with the genre. Much like the busting of ghosts, I know what to expect. I’ve heard it all before. I get it–women are hard to get along with, being a dad sucks, blah blah blah. Mainly, I don’t identify with their “struggle.” I resisted the urge to throw my computer out the window recently when reading about Tim Allen complaining how hard it is to be a straight white conservative in Hollywood and comparing it to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, for fucksakes. Boo fucking hoo, Tool Time. I don’t care which is fundamentally my issue. At my core, I just don’t give a crap anymore about the narratives of Kevin James, Tim Allen, Seth Meyer, Jimmy Fallon, Dave Chappell or Louis CK. So I’m giving up straight guy comedy for 2017. I will let you know how this experiment goes.

However, John Oliver gets to stay. Primarily, because he only talks about the news, he’s brutally funny, unapologetic and I might be the only gay man who knows who he is.

 

 

hey! shut up.

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It’s the same canned music at my day job, day after day. You know, that innocuous steady bum-bum-bum in the background that plays at every store, airport, cultural destination. Inoffensive enough if you’re just visiting an establishment. Truthfully? You might even not notice it. You might just stroll around and be none the wiser to the sounds that populate my days. You might wonder if music was even playing at all. You might, if you’re not a person like me. I’ve always paid attention to the song in the background for some reason because who knows? Maybe a great song has been paired by the universe to particularly match the moment of what’s going on. Or if by chance its a really awful, wildly inappropriate song for the moment, even better. Sometimes, it’s just a lyric or an idea from the random song picked out of a hat by the digital music gods, droning on the background that inexplicably matches the moment. Like, “Hey! Shut up”, for example.

This lyric, featured in what’s sort of a love song from 1989 by Bonnie Raitt entitled “Have a Heart,” slaps a smirk on my face each time it comes on. For one thing, it’s the very first thing we hear Raitt say at the tip-top of the song. It’s a funny and sassy on-brand way to start a Bonnie Raitt song. Though tiny in demeanor, Raitt’s been to hell and back so if she playfully tells you, “Hey! Shut up” you might wanna consider it. Not only do I find this a hilarious way to start a song, it’s advice I pretty much need to hear all day long.

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A beloved friend I got sober with, who met me when I was whirling dervish of emotions and a category 5 hot mess, once described me as “wonderfully verbal.” Although too much of a saint to admit it, I’m sure he was trying to say I talked too much. This is something I’ve known for decades. “Blurt it out and clean it up later”is how we roll around these parts. As frank and fun as that can be, it’s also frequently insensitive and just stupid. As I’ve aged, however, I’ve tried to run things through a filter BEFORE they blast out of my mouth and for the most part there has been some improvement in this department. My husband, who just last weekend shook his head and tried to get me to stop blabbing my big dumb opinions around friends who may be offended by said opinions, might argue about my progress. Nevertheless, I am at the very least aware that I need to pause before things fly out of my mouth. What I still struggle with is shutting up entirely. Particularly when there are dynamics that have NOTHING to do with me or where my opinion isn’t really necessary. If I’m really real here (which isn’t that the bare minimum that we expect from people who never shut up?) I’ll tell you that I had this lyric in mind and wanted to give you sparkling before and after look at how someone who needed to shut up and finally did. You’d marvel at how my life had changed and soon you’d do the same thing. Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do but just yesterday more garbage flew out of my mouth at the speed of light. Sigh.

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Without getting into the particulars and blathering even more, let’s just say I participated in a bitchfest, some gossiping, a little character assassination and general asshole-bigmouth shenanigans. It was at the end of my day too. I’d made it several hours without running my mouth and for nothing. 3 minutes of yammering shot it all to hell. I was really disappointed in myself too. Look, I’m 43 and what was cute in the cafeteria at 17 or delightfully vicious in the club at 25, is just plain ugly now. Earlier this week as my sponsor and i talked about my character defects (because we’re at that joyful and not uncomfortable at all stage of our work. Please stab me.), I fessed up to gossip being a big problem for me. What was fun, now feels icky. He pointed out that maybe it feels gross now because it no longer works. I wholeheartedly agreed and assumed that was that. It doesn’t feel good therefore it will go away and I shall never do it again. Roll the credits and cue the triumphant music!  What I neglected to consider is that in order to not feel icky I have to stop the behavior entirely. Double sigh.

As a writer, communicator and lifelong bigmouth, on a cellular level I know the benefits of editing. I know that I need to organize my thoughts for them to make sense. I know that sometimes being quiet and listening is more called for and even for valuable than talking just to hear myself talk. I also know that thinking about what I’m going to say can before I say can often save me from embarrassing or confusing statements.

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Yet here we are at the top of a new day. With more opportunities to say stupid shit and clean them up later. Sadly, I am clearly in no position to give you advice on how to shut up and how it might change your life. What I can tell you is this : noticing the music in the background, being great at conversation, even having frank funny and unpopular thoughts that get you unfollowed on Twitter are actually character assets.

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The other stuff? It’s a work in progress, as cliche as that might sound. I’m taking the fact that I feel terrible when I engage in this behavior as a step in the right direction. Following through and changing is the tough part and it always has been. It’s the part that separates the men from the boys and one where I really have to buckle down and change. Therfore, I wouldn’t be surprised if a post entitled “Oops. I did it again” shows up in your newsfeed soon. But until then I can try, I can listen and I can attempt to shut up.

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Today’s question: If a sad tree weeps in the forest do the other trees go and get chocolate?sad tree.jpg

I ask because on Friday, I was a sad tree. Maybe sad is the wrong word. There’s some legitimately sad people in this world who have earned their sadness. On the Syrian orphan scale of sadness, I didn’t even register. No, I was just kind of ‘blah.’ I woke up blah. The things around me felt blah. Projects I’d been ticking away on suddenly felt blah. I just felt down which morphed into being vaguely (okay, totally) annoyed with most things and people around me. In other words, I was a delight. I have,however, acquired enough emotional intelligence to know that when I feel like this, I’m usually just tired and I need to go away. Like far away from human contact where I won’t say or do horrible things I need to clean up later. It had been a weird Friday and my tiredness was squishing it all up and making it even more irritating. Earlier in the day, I had gotten “one of those phone calls.” See, if you’re in recovery and around addicts and alcoholics, you get to see people whose lives were in shambles and now have totally transformed. But other times, you get “one of those phone calls.”These calls usually involve someone who has relapsed or died because of the disease of alcohol or addiction. On Friday, I got one of these phone calls. It was a relative of someone in my sober family and it sucked. And it always sucks. It never stops sucking, as a matter of fact. You’re heartbroken but also really grateful that you are not in that place and that you have tools to keep you out of that place. But that takes awhile. And the feeling of devastation never really goes away. Compacted with the general blahness that my Friday was already flavored with, I was pretty over it. It was days like this that reminded me that I should maybe start seeing a therapist again. But given the late hour in the day, I was lucky to at least have this goofball waiting at home.

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Look, my love for my cats and for Larry in particular is well chronicled on the internet. And I straight up don’t care. You don’t have to search far to find oodles of studies that say living with an animal can help with mild depression and as person with mild or sometimes  even spicy depression, I can attest to this. Animals are just a fuck ton cooler than people. They don’t want to hear your life story. They aren’t judging the crazy outfit you put together. They just want to hang out. Now, being the big animal weirdo that I am, I’m convinced they know when you aren’t okay. Like last year when I had the 10 week party known as pneumonia, our two little muffins, Maeby and Larry followed me around the house like doting nurses. Promptly showing up for every nap time and popping by for soup and terrible daytime tv on the sofa. So like clockwork on Friday, these two were there. During my “Thank God It’s Over” Friday afternoon nap, Larry stretched his lanky long legs across my belly while resting his head on my chest. True, he probably just thought I looked like a good pillow but I like to think of these as cat hugs. I refuse to see it any other way, actually. It feels deliberate and intentional or that is how my crazy ass has interpreted it, and so it’s a cat hug. End of discussion. He purred melodically and wouldn’t let me roll over and I leaned into it. Moreover, I needed it.

Post nap time, I watched some weird ass PBS news thing, as dictated more by my status as an older, liberal gay man than an actual desire. I grilled some amazing eggplant, ate said eggplant along with roasted red peppers and couscous and watched more unmemorable television. Soon, however, the husband showed up. He was at a post-work drinks kind of thing and didn’t get home until much later. But it wasn’t too late for drag queens. Like clockwork and like my cats, the television oeuvre of RuPaul was here to save the day.

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As the planet of pop culture knows already, RuPaul and several seasons of drag queen television fierceness have made the world a better place. Endlessly creative, completely glamorous, instantly quotable and hilarious, surprisingly inclusive and highly addictive, RuPaul’s Drag Race is, as the Washington Post recently said, not just a tv show but a movement.  The latest incarnation of the show, All Stars 2 pits former season favorites against one another for a shot at $100,000 while camping it up, posing and lip synching along the way. RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered the year I got sober so it’s always been a touchstone of joy and inspiration for me.  It’s one of the handful of television shows that always lifts me up (even the seasons that aren’t so good, cough, cough season 7, cough,cough.) This latest drag queen battle royale doesn’t disappoint. Filled with big twists, big lips and bigger personalities, it’s all the things you want to order off the Drag Race menu in one place.

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Also incredibly helpful? Marrying someone who cares when you feel blah. It’s a whole new grown up world for me to be married and say, “Today I felt like shit” and to have that person genuinely say, “I’m sorry.” Sounds simple, I suppose but for an emotional kindergartener like myself, it’s major. In fact, just being present for blah days is major. Not that long ago, the minute something felt real or sad or blah, I’d douse it in alcohol so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

All of this brings us back to the random question at the top of the post and the answer is maybe. Maybe other people will bring you chocolate when you feel blah or maybe not. Maybe you gotta get yo own damn chocolate. Or maybe if you’re like me, you just get to go home. You get to lay down and feel embraced, by felines or friends or family or drag queens or maybe even something you can’t see. Because the real gift is you get to feel terrible, know it’ll pass and know that you’ll have help along the way.

 

Psst! If you’re looking for something to cheer you up, why not try the newest epsiode of Sloshed Cinema here?

 

Sobriety Stereotypes ‘Smashed’

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Ye old timey idea of what alcoholics and addicts look like can certainly be reinforced in the world of film. The white guy with the great career and beautiful wife who drinks it all away has become a trope of sorts, wheeled out by every actor from Ray Milland to Jack Lemmon to Michael Keaton and beyond.Short of beat up porkpie hat, a jug of wine and a mangy dog,  we know this sadsack drunken character the second we see him. However, in the hands of talented storytellers, films about drunks and addicts can be incredibly relatable, compelling and even entertaining. Which thank god because if they weren’t it would make doing my podcast, Sloshed Cinema excruciating. The amazing thing is that I’ve been exposed to a wealth of movies about addiction and alcoholism. Some terrific, some not so terrific and some just fucking weird. My mission for season 2 (currently available on Soundcloud & iTunes!) was a simple one: think outside of the box. Sure, there’s the classics that everybody knows and talks about. They’re classics for a reason. I’ve even done shows on some of them. But I really wanted to have different films or maybe forgotten movies that immediately didn’t pop into your mind. I also wanted to challenge myself and watch things I hadn’t seen before. Smashed,episode two’s film, topped that list for sure. It seemed, on an intuitive level, like the kind of thing I’d enjoy even though I didn’t really know much about it. Well, score one for intuition because I was right.

The film, a Sundance hit back in 2012, Smashed tells the story of Kate and Charlie Hannah (played with excellence by MAry Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul). They seem fun, hip, cool, like the kind of couple you’d want to hang with and have a few beers with. They’re two twentysomething LA kids. He’s kind of an unemployed maybe musician with wealthy parents and she’s a teacher in an elementary school. Nice as they may seem, we pretty much know right away that these two like to drink. A lot. When super-hungover Kate barfs in front of her class early in the film, you get the picture that maybe her current lifestyle isn’t exactly a healthy one. This vomiting sets in motion a big time lie to her boss as well as a series of comedic but sad misunderstandings. Oh and like it usually does, Kate’s drinking gets worse. Capped off by a crack smoking caper in downtown Los Angeles, some Lochte-style urinating on a liquor store floor and messy drunk sex Kate decides to sober. Here’s where the central conflict of the film shows up: can you get sober when your spouse is still drinking? It’s an interesting question and one not unlike the dilemma we see Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon go through way back in 1962. Yet what makes Smashed compelling is that it has something those other drunk films don’t have. Kate.

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Not only is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance as Kate unforgettable but so is the character. I read that the one of the writers of the film, Susan Burke wrote the movie on her own experiences of getting sober as a young woman and felt like her story hadn’t really been told. This intention is one of the things that makes Smashed feel important. This wasn’t some old white guy. It was a nice girl whose life keeps getting fucked up and she just wants it to stop. Her life is messy. Her relationships,outside of the ones she forages in recovery, are disastrous. Kate and her struggles are real, especially to anyone who’s been in early recovery. I found myself nodding my head and relating to Kate even though I’m a forty-something gay man.

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And that right there is why and how addicts share their stories is so freaking cool. “What it was like, what happened and what it’s like now” is the basic framework of how we drunks and addicts tell our stories. But everything else in between? All of the juicy details and personal flares? Those are as varied as the faces you see in the halls of recovery or online. Peruse one of the many thousands of sobriety blogs and you’ll see people from all walks of life going through what you’re going through. It’s true certain types of sobriety writers online trend big time, therefore certain voices seem to be louder. Right now, the voice of recovery online is distinctly female and that’s cool considering we didn’t even talk about women being alcoholics until the 1950’s. Plus, a deeper Google dig reveals that really all types of people trying to stay clean, one day at a time. Films like Smashed are important because they’re reflecting our expanding idea of what sober people look like. Ditto with the growing voices of recovery online. True, there’s still work to be done (yeah just try finding movies about people of color getting sober–it ain’t easy!) and bullshit we need to stop all together (enough with the bashing/justification of how others choose to get sober!). The point is film and art is starting to reflect what we’ve sensed all along: people trying to get sober look just like everybody else.

 

doubt, fired.

“Holy shit. Not another fucking Robin Williams meeting.”

I remember thinking that a little over two years ago today. I was thinking this and fuming as I sat in one of those rooms where people who have what I have talk about trying not to drink, do drugs or kill themselves. It was a horrible thought to have, granted. But since his passing a week earlier, I had literally been to 7 meetings where the topic was how fucking sad people were that Robin Williams had died. I mean, I got it. I got that he was a special part of people’s childhoods. I got that for this dark and sad group of people, his comedy probably provided a lot of joy to folks who normally didn’t have any. I got that he was an addict like ourselves and whenever one of our own passes, its horribly heartbreaking, whether they’re famous or not. I got all of this and I was still annoyed. I’m gay and alcoholic so in truth me being annoyed probably didn’t have anything to do with Robin Williams. Annoyed is just sometimes my old crusty default setting. I was probably just irritated that we weren’t talking about me in these meetings and that we were obsessed with the celestial being that was Robin Williams.

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As you may have picked up on, I am a movie snob and a half. Therefore, the later half of Williams’ career is something I resolutely turned my nose up at. Basically,1998’s Patch Adams and everything that followed it can be filed in Sean’s NMKOM (Not My Kind of Movie) file. Fluffy family stuff and flatulence based comedies are not my jam so the charms of films like Old Dogs, World’s Greatest Dad and License to Wed would most likely be lost on me. Still, as a performer his power was impossible to deny. I liked him best on stage and unhinged. Like most addicts, he was at his best when he was outrageous and honest. Like here when he talks about alcoholism.

When he died, before hearing sober people yammer about him for a week, I remembered my own Robin Williams moment from 2006. He came into the restaurant on Sunset Blvd where I used to work. It was one of those locals-and-cool-people-only places tucked away in and he was with a regular customer, Bobcat Goldthwait. They had just come from a meeting, Williams told us. His battles with drugs and alcohol were well-chronicled so he clearly embraced this part of this personality and seemed open about it. Seeing as it was a crowded Saturday night and the place was tiny, Williams and Goldthwait were undoubtedly in a fishbowl. It struck me how good-natured and sweet he was for a guy who was clearly being gawked at and watched. By this time he’d been famous for decades and overcome a lot of demons so he handled that dining room and everything with the kind of charm you’d expect from a star like Robin Williams. I was far, far, far from sober in 2006 therefore the triumphs in his personal life, like much of his film resume, were also lost on me. Suffice to say, two years after his death, I actually get it.

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Here in 2016, the battle to overcome mental illness and addiction is still very real. Sadly, maybe even worse than it was then. With an exploding heroin epidemic and a healthcare system stacked against mental illness, Williams’ effort to simply stay afloat is nothing short of heroic. We know now that Williams’ committed suicide in 2014, something more than one of us on this journey has certainly thought about. Personally, a shocking relapse in my inner-circle of early recovery has my own head spinning today. Someone I love with years of recovery is no longer sober. It’s as simple and heartbreaking as that. So I guess what I need to tell myself on August 11th while thinking about Robin Williams and my dear friend is that I need to stay. I need to keep going and keep fighting. More than that, I want to. When doubt creeps in and tells me it’s too hard, I need to tell it to kindly fuck off and keep moving. Because, as a movie snob and a half, I know in my heart that a tragic ending is not the only way for this to end.

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.