Doors Week: The Best Purchase

After last night’s musings on the first Doors album that ever I bought (which incidentally is now in Hawk’s possession), I’m going to relate a quick story about the best Doors purchase ever I made.

See, Mike and I bonded initially over a very simple question about shared Doors fandom, and the sharing of No One Here Gets Out Alive, the de rigueur autobiography for any Morrison initiate. The one that, in retrospect, is the most historically inaccurate.

Like Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie, it’s chock full of myth-making, the type that young fans subscribe to in the effort to understand the enigma of young, famous death. But when you’re a kid and you’re looking for idols, it’s a fun one to read.

The truth of that biography is as muddled and inaccurate as Stone’s movie as well (he cribbed a great deal of it, unattributed, from that book and instead claimed only that Densmore’s autobiography Riders on the Storm was the source, but there are substantial pieces of The Myth that are not in Densmore’s book), but that’s not the story I tell today.

No, today, in honor of the fact that I’m hanging out with Hawk as I write this, I’m writing about one of the funnier moments in our friendship.

During high school, at some point in Sophomore year I think*, Phantasmagoria (an old record store I’ve mentioned before that, according to the Web, is now home to the Montgomery County Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity) had gotten a copy of Morrison Hotel, one of the six best full–length studio albums that the Doors ever released.

*I am pretty convinced it was early Sophomore year, in the fall, and it was either mostly cloudy or partly sunny; Mike thinks that’s accurate after I asked him if that’s what he remembers.

Being in high school and being competitive, the race was on to see which of us could get to Phantasmagoria first to win what The Kurgan might call…The Prize.

I remember racing out of school and virtually busting a lung to get there first. I was nervous energy and hopeful. Remember kids, this is in the days when getting an album was an accomplishment. There was no file sharing and no instant burning to CD. You either owned the album or waited the long time for the person to set aside time to listen to it and dub it from a synchronous tape deck.

In short, owning the album was everything.

And I got there, and it was there, and I bought it. As I walked out, as if scripted from a movie, Mike was across the street and I held the album aloft to say to him, Behold I have Won!

In retrospect, I was an ass, because Mike had his heart set on it and here I was, supposedly his best friend, dashing to the store to beat him to the purchase. I’m not even sure I was motivated so much by the music as I was by the chance at victory. I’d like to think that over time, I learned not to be so hung up on winning and losing and materialism.

However, in true BFF fashion, we sat down and ate at Roy Roger’s afterward and shared notes about the album.

But for that day and for that glorious moment, Morrison Hotel was mine all mine and I enjoyed the Hell out of it. It’s chock full of wonderful tracks and was the moment where the band very obviously finally found its real niche of Blues sound. LA Woman was very much the natural next step, and you can hear it start to be born in Morrison Hotel.

But every time I put it on and hear the first strains of Roadhouse Blues and I think of a nice day so long ago when I got the prize first.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s story…when I take Oliver Stone to task for his film. Someone finally has to do it, and the hammer must finally fall.

Doors Week: Frozen In Time

Are the things of the past that we love, loved because they are of the past, or timeless?

Do you love Star Wars because it’s forever tied to your idyllic thoughts of the best parts of your youth, that drown out the occasional horrors you’ve chosen to forget? I know that there are entire years of my youth that I’ve blocked out so as not to have to relive certain traumatic memories of cruelty, though enough remained to leave me with some sizable neuroses.

Do I love The Doors simply out of reflex and muscle memory?

A Wee Bit of History

I fell into Doors fandom as a pre-teen, when some friends in school began playing 13, which was the band’s first greatest hits album. It was released originally in 1970 to bridge the gap while the band was undergoing troubles, and was finding a new audience as the teens who had listened to Morrison while he was alive had children coming of age.

Not my parents, of course. My brother was feathering his hair and listening to the music teens were supposed to enjoy. I was listening to a brooding drunk snarl his way through post-modern exhortations to debauchery and nihilism. In retrospect, I understand why Mom reacted poorly.

The Doors are also the catalyst for forming my strongest and longest–lasting friendship. That’s a permanent, positive memory that will stay associated with them forever. There’s a reason why he took me to see “The Doors of the 21st Century” as a birthday gift.

I have something to say! It’s better to burn out, than to fade away!

—The Kurgan

Of course, Morrison is one of those iconic rock personalities whose myth grew largely because of his death. There was nothing about his later life to disillusion or alienate fans (think Springsteen, Stones) and there was never a chance of seeing the sex symbol become a bloated shadow of himself. (Actually, he kinda did, but it was near the end and they could make everyone forget about it.)

I used to wonder if my Doors fandom would wane. There was a high school teacher I got to know pretty well, Mr. Arnold, who assured me my tastes would change. They changed somewhat, but followed a trajectory formed by my love of the classic foundations of rock, of which The Doors were a part.

Whether because I never completely let go of that young man who assured him The Doors would be my favorite for all time, or because I gained a different appreciation as I grew older and learned more, The Doors remain my forever baseline.

I can still put on a Doors album the same way that I can put on a Star Wars movie or show and just ignore the outside world. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, how stressful the day is or what’s on my plate. I can put on The Changeling or Tell All the People and sing along with a dead man for long enough to feel alive.

So I guess it doesn’t matter what the trigger is, what matters is that they still do it for me, and they will for the foreseeable future. Nothing can top the joy of LA Woman on an open road, or the effect that Morrison had on my personal style of writing.

But I suppose that’s a blog for another day.

I Am Batman

Settle Down, I’m Just Making a Point

This is a blog inspired by yet another conversation I had with fellow Convocation member Jar Jar Hater (an endless fount of countervailance). Without going into details, because those are usually just starting points for discussions that leave people dumbfounded by my opinions (not always in a good way), let’s just say that the eventual statement was made, “I’m Batman.”

Before you run with that one and think that I have some sort of a hero complex (I don’t, it’s a martyr complex) I was speaking metaphorically. I don’t actually put on a costume and beat up criminals. (I turn on the porch light and glower at the young’uns what been wakin’ up the kids.)

But there is a reason I identify with the character so strongly.

Philosophies

Like Batman, I view people as flawed creatures who still make the right choices when they take the time to think about them. When they rush to decide, or they use their emotions and immediate desires as the basis of their decisions, they screw up.

Sometimes, you need to remind them to stop, breathe and think.

So without going into specifics, Jar Jar Hater and I were walking and talking among a loose group of people. Inspired by the surrounding group, we discussed a hypothetical situation that could occur, and in light of that hypothetical I commented that if necessary I’d tackle someone at the knees to stop such a hypothetical from becoming a practical example.

Jar Jar Hater, and another member of the conversation, asked why I’d feel compelled to do that.

It was at that point that I said, with just a hint of ironic self–deprecation, “I’m Batman.”

What That Means

I was asked to clarify. What I laid out at the time, and what I lay out here is: Batman is about prevention.

The response was, as seems to be the increasing case in our relativistic culture, to ask what “business” it would be of me to stop certain things from happening.

I suppose I don’t have a terrific answer for that. Too many of us, myself included, have become too adept at semantics to argue coherently on the subject of self–determination. After all, I suppose it depends on what your definition of the word ‘is’ is.

But the simple fact is, if people are going to “do something bad” then my momentary intrusion on things won’t stop a good decision, or put an end to something people are determined to do, will it?

I ask this sincerely: What’s so wrong about seeing a situation where some thought might make things better, and trying to make people reconsider things for a moment?

Don’t We All Have Moments?

Don’t we all have moments where we look back and think, “If only someone had made me stop and think that one through?”

I cannot possibly be the only one.

I suppose I look out into people’s actions and think about what a positive it can be when someone – anyone – steps up and says, “you need some help with this?” Isn’t that one of the reasons why they ask, during marriage ceremonies, if anyone has something to say that might impact the life–altering decision they’re about to undertake?

I know we view it as a formality now. Maybe that’s a symptom of the problem. Maybe someone should tackle the groom at the knees, hit him in the head and shout, “Dude, really? What the Hell?”

Start with Friendship, Work Backward

We’re all asleep at the wheel with this, and thus we keep sliding toward a more libertine environment. And even speaking as someone who’s a “moderate libertarian“®™, that’s not a good thing.

To tie it in with a discussion I had with Agent Bun a very long time ago, when a friend of hers was making some bad choices, I pontificated that the whole point of a friendship is to stand in the breach and be that voice of reason that simply asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?” You don’t stop being their friend if they make a bad choice, but at least you gave them a reason to stop and think.

So again, it’s not trying to live their life for them. Hawk can tell you without hesitation that one of the cornerstones of our friendship all these years is the simple fact that we can gently call bulls*** on each other. More than he, I’ve pushed on and made some terrible decisions – but he was always sure to say under his breath, “You sure about this?”

I Have to Go There

And to tie it in to Star Wars (because I can) this is a caveat for any argument that Qui–Gon would have made Anakin a better Jedi (more to come on that soon enough).

One of Qui–Gon’s key points of advice was, “feel, don’t think.” What the Hell kind of advice is that outside of a Podrace?

For an even more delicious irony, Obi–Wan specifically tells Anakin to think and stop relying on emotion to make his decisions in Episode III. So in that sense, he’s being a good friend.

After all, if I listened solely to my feelings on things, I’d likely have beaten someone to death by this point in my life.

That’s not an exaggeration.

Logic!

To borrow some wisdom from Spock, logic is the beginning of wisdom; you may not make a purely logical choice (emotion, intuition and logic are the big three important factors) but make sure you know you’re making a thoughtful choice.

And to be thoughtful, you need logic.

And in the end, isn’t Batman a physical manifestation of that logic?

Not really. But it’s part of what he is.

He’s the balance of those big three: emotion, intuition and logic. And the more I think about it, that makes Batman even more super awesome because emotion, intuition and logic are expressed in Bones, Kirk and Spock and they’re super awesome just on their own.

In Conclusion

Batman is more than just a crime fighter, and his motivation is more than just revenge.

Batman is about prevention. He is about holding the line, taking the shots and showing that we can be better than we are; though flawed himself, he never stops trying to be better. Discipline and dedication shape his world, and he learns from each mistake to become better.

And he shares that example with people as best he can. Not in a prideful way, but because he knows that it’s our responsibility to be better. It’s our responsibility to get stronger and find the way to the right choices, and to help others be better when they feel they might falter.

And where he’s divergent with Superman is that he’s about showing each individual how to be better. Instead of a collective reliance on someone else, if you show the example to enough people, eventually it’s going to stick with someone and from there, it can grow and spread from person to person and get better.

So yeah, I’m Batman. Kind of.

Flashback Blog: Why I Love Grievous

It’s pretty self-explanatory. However, it’s also fun to look back and see how “prophetic” I was about the greatly expanded role Grievous would enjoy in the not-yet-airing Clone Wars series that’s now de rigueur viewing for any serious fan, and even reclaiming fans who’d turned their back on the franchise.

In a nutshell, I love Grievous for one basic reason…but then it’d be more fun to have you read my thoughts as I laid them out little more than five years ago.

Fun side note. Apparently I posted this for the first time on the one-year anniversary of the release of Revenge of the Sith, also the sixth for The Phantom Menace. Neat coincidence!

Enjoy!


Flashback Blog: Why I Love Grievous

Originally posted May 19, 2006 at the original kessel korner.

General Grievous – a character that could have gone oh, so wrong and completely wrecked a terrific film. A completely CG main character, but not a good guy this time – a major villain. Considering that the villains had to be the ones to make Sith shine, this was an incredibly risky move. I’ll share with you here why I think he worked so well.

First and foremost, he was not cookie-cutter. He was not yet another calm, completely-in-control bad guy. We had that with Dooku. We had that with Palpatine. In Episodes IV and V, we had it with Vader. No, Sith needed a different ingredient – a villain that harkened back to the Snidley Whiplash-type, moustache-twirling villain who always got away just when it seemed they were about to be smashed by the heroes.

Grievous was a lot of fun. There is a sense of whimsy about him – a machine that has all the trappings of a failing human body. A cheesy, 1930s vampire accent. A cough that was explained to the die-hards, and left completely open to interpretation to the casual viewer. In short, he had a real character about him; he was more than the sum of his lines.

He gave Obi-Wan a chance to shine on his own. The fight with Grievous on Utapau established, without a doubt, that Obi-Wan was one bad mammajamma. Few people have the wherewithal not only to face an 8-foot cyborg, but remain calm about it.

And finally, because of the fight itself. I had a friend nitpick my review of King Kong, accusing me of showing fan favoritism; I had picked on Kong because of its ridiculous over-the-top action – he’s fighting a dinosaur! No, two! No, wait, three!

“Well,” my friend reasoned, “it’s no different with Grievous and the four sabers.”

“That’s not true, it is different,” I protested.

“Just because you’re a fan,” he retorted. My friend thought this was witty. I realized that he fell back on an argument everyone loves to use when I defend a piece of one of these films. The “He-Lost-Perspective-Because-He’s-A-Fanboy” argument.

At that time, dinner was served and we had to table the discussion. I had no chance to prove him wrong at that moment as he so richly deserved- my wife listens to enough Star Wars jabber that when she called us to the table, I chose to drop the discussion.

Well, here is my formal reply. (Since I am sending a link to this out to him, I’d like him to know that no matter how wrong he was that night, I forgive him.)

The Obi-Wan versus Grievous fight starts out with Grievous’ arms splitting into four, wielding lightsabers like a “windmill of doom.” Had it worked where the fight started with one saber versus one, then escalated to two, three and finally four, I would agree with my friend.

But it does not. The fight takes the opposite approach, with Obi-Wan calmly disarming Grievous (a pun!) of two of those sabers and the fight eventually boiling all the way down to a hand-to-hand match. A straight-up, honest-to-goodness fight, with two opponents simply doing everything they can to stop the other’s heart. Like a real fight to the death would be.

No rules, no flashy steps, no twirling like a gymnast. Just two opponents throwing down with anything and everything they can use, or that’s within arm’s reach. The fight is actually a move in restraint, because instead of starting small and building up to craziness, Lucas got the craziness out of the way and then boiled it down to mano a mano. A seeming lesson to other filmmakers that you can practice restraint, and wisely.

On top of that. the hands-on fight was filmed…with one actor and a CG character. That’s just frickin’ cool. Find me one other film that has ever had such smooth hands-on interaction between a CG character and a live person. There is none!

Sure, it’s unfortunate that Grievous only appeared in one of the films. But you know what? Cameo excepted, Tarkin was a character who had a part of consequence in one film only, and it’s okay to like him.

So Grievous has quickly and decidedly rocketed up my list of favorite Star Wars characters, and is likely to stay entrenched there for some time. I even bought one of his action figures to add to my “pantheon of evil” (I collect only cool bad guys and Jedi) and placed him next to Tarkin.

Here’s hoping we’ll get more Grievous in the TV show that takes place during the Clone Wars era – I suspect we will.

Great Expectations

With summer movie season starting up again, and with some of the discussions I’ve had with Mike through the years, the thought of expectations floated once again to the top of my mind.

This of course isn’t restricted to this one conversation, or even movies in specific. It’s an epidemic in a culture conditioned by advertising to expect nothing less than a biblical revelation in everything from entertainment experiences to burger taste to underwear fit.

It’s an old conversation. I’ve often harped about the fact that The Phantom Menace had a rough go of it because of the high level of expectation. The majority of people couldn’t be satisfied because they wanted too much from it. Of course, as with any movie, the marketing blitz was epic, but let’s face it: the point of marketing is to get us to buy. As a result, expectations get built and ironically can work against the very thing they’re trying to sell you.

Just go read The Space Merchants, watch Fight Club and have a stiff drink.

Of course, though there are those who will completely misinterpret what I’m saying here, let me try to be clear: enjoyment is a multi-factorial thing. Expectations can be overcome. I’m merely laying out that in terms of factors, expectations carry a great weight as pertains to your initial reception of anything (not a revolutionary concept), but that their importance is overlooked as regards movies.

Conversely, when expectations are lower – for instance, The Matrix or Iron Man – the movie becomes much more of a “must see” event and more of its sins and/or pretensions are forgiven. To a great extent, the new Star Trek movie enjoyed the benefits of lowered expectations. The majority of the Next Generation movies stank so bad (Insurrection in particular), and it had been so long since there was a Star Trek worth seeing and accessible to a general audience (though I still defend Nemesis, it was not appealing outside the fan base) that when there was a real, fun, adventurous Trek, we overlooked the lens flares and enjoyed the ride.

Again, this doesn’t mean I disliked 2009’s Star Trek – quite the opposite, I really enjoyed it. What I’m saying is that even if it hadn’t been all that good, it had the advantage of “not needing to be great.”

Baselines and Equations

But if the baseline expectations are not met, the reception of the film is much harsher. It makes inordinate sense, and again it doesn’t even apply just to films or products. Although as an interesting corollary, I’d say that films have helped to ruin the relationships experience in general. Again, by raising expectations of conditional results.

Thinking through the discussions of expectations and results, I decided to formulate an equation (you’re welcome).

S =(E/2 * P) / TASTE

In other words, your satisfaction is equal to half your expectations, multiplied by the actual product, and that result is then divided by your pre-determined tastes. So if I go into the next Star Trek movie expecting the next Wrath of Khan (E), and they deliver an adequate but not genre-transcending result (P), but I’m pre-disposed to liking Star Trek (T), then the end result is a somewhat dissatisfied fan who still liked the movie. But if any one of those factors alters then the outcome is different, sometimes radically so.

Say I’m just expecting the next Insurrection (though if I am, why would I pay money to see it?), well then “S” will turn out as a much more positive result.

Side Notes

I recognize that I still have to refine the equation somewhat, however. There are outside factors such as “I saw it on my first date with someone,” “I had just had a bad argument with my parents” or “world view” that need to be factored in, but I haven’t quite figured out how to weight those as part of the equation yet.

The irony of that is that the very world view we carry in to viewing movies is also skewed by watching movies and television.

A lifetime of watching filmed entertainment colors your world view. Watch enough chick flicks, ladies, and you’ll be shocked when your husband/boyfriend decides to let you know that, in fact, what you just said was one of the stupidest things he’s ever heard. Jacob and Edward would never say that, and with good reason: they don’t exist and never will.

Field Testing

The best field test for this is to watch about five movies that you’ve seen in the last several years, where your reactions were anywhere from lukewarm to enthusiastic. Strike movies from your typical milieu – for instance, if you know what LARP stands for, don’t watch the Lord of the Rings movies as part of this experiment.

My theory is that upon re-viewing a film, once expectations become a lesser part of the equation, the outcome is different. To go back to the example of The Matrix, I went back and watched it a few years ago. Granted, the result is skewed because I disliked the sequels very much, but the result was, I didn’t have as positive a reaction to it as I did initially.

Of course, I’m also a different person now than I was in 1999. That’s likely got something to do with it as well. If I hadn’t shifted my perspective on things in general (world view), or grown in some substantial way, perhaps my reaction to the film would have been constant.I suspect that will be the same for most everyone. I’d be surprised if anyone’s tastes are exactly the same as they were 10 years ago.

So the question remains, how to refine the base equation?

What Have I Become?

I will point out that I made a smart move years ago when I imitated Mike in this regard: I don’t want people to tell me what they thought of a movie if I haven’t seen it (unless it’s an absolute disaster and I need to save the time, money and effort). Even more than knowledge of the plot, this colors my own expectations a great deal; so I steer clear if I can help it. I make a mental note that I want to see something, then avoid news and reviews of it as much as possible.

However, I blame my desire to work out an equation for this on my lifetime friendship with Mike. So direct any and all biting comments toward him. He reads this blog, so feel free to deposit your snark in the comments area.

Seriously, I feel dirty. I have to go paint something now. Math? I’m using math every day now?

Ugh, thanks a lot, Mike.