Tag Archives: Heroes

Skywalkin’ Blues

This is not going to go the way you think.

I am a tremendous Star Wars fan. Frank(Oz)ly, it’s rare to meet someone who is a fan of the series who is not extremely passionate about it. For me, the Star Wars saga is the greatest story I have ever experienced. Yes, I know about the prequels, and honestly, while I don’t love them or blinded defend terrible facets of them, I certainly don’t hate them and even find much of what they serve to be quite entertaining. Even in the  original trilogy films, which for most Star Wars fans are almost critically untouchable, are scenes that are flawed or downright silly, but I love them even more for this. Okay, I cringe every time I watch Leia kiss Luke and see him revel in it in The Empire Strikes Back, but it hardly sinks the film for me. That is still my second all-time favorite movie behind only Jaws, another film that is hardly perfect, but is so to me.

Nevertheless, my opinion as a Star Wars nerd is not the highlight of today’s focus, but rather a justification of a certain expertise if you will. Time has passed, and criticism from myself and others has been digested, and now I have some things to say regarding the latest, and perhaps most immediately and globally controversial of all Star Wars films: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Specifically, I will be addressing my take on the most significant aspect of the movie: the characterization of Luke Skywalker.

Allow me to again call upon my experience as a Force fanatic to say that my personal favorite character in any story in any media, whether it be film, book, television, radio, etc., is Luke Skywalker. I attribute this to many of the same reasons I love the Star Wars saga. For one, I saw these movies at an early age and they made an indelible impression on me (the same is true of Jaws). Like so many others over the decades, first seeing Star Wars in theaters was life-changing. My dad took me to see the release of the Special Editions (versions of Star Wars films with plenty of justified criticism) back in 1997, and I was blown away. No other movie looked like Star Wars, and nothing has looked like it since. Not just from a technical standpoint, but from a story and character level. Thanks to a great cast of characters (played by a great cast of actors) thrust into the space-based adventures of good versus evil, we the world over have been treated to an amazing trio of films that redefined how films were made in almost every way. None of this should sound new as countless people have heard about and experienced Star Wars in a similar way, and I would wager that many have also latched onto Luke Skywalker in much the same way as I did. It makes sense to, as Luke is the modern epitome of the monomythic hero, or the guy who goes on the big adventure in the storytelling structure know as the hero’s journey. Popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell, and altered and updated by many, including Dan Harmon with his Story Circle, the Hero’s Journey is a general outline of how a story’s protagonist gets his/her adventure rolling and changes as a result of it. Campbell explained this in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which after Star Wars was released had a newly designed cover with Luke Skywalker pictured among carvings and paintings of mythological heroes. It is based on classical storytelling from some of the earliest iterations of mythology and rolls the common themes in myths from across the world into one set called the monomyth. The original 1977 Star Wars followed this formula perhaps more apparently than any other film to date with fresh farmboy Luke Skywalker at its crux as – to borrow a term from Altered Carbon – the sleeve through which we, the audience observer, experience the story.

I believe that this is the primary reason why people, especially the most devoted Star Wars fans, had difficulty grappling with what was going on with Luke in The Last Jedi. Now, as should be obvious to anyone who has read this far, I will be getting into spoiler territory from here on out, so continuing to read assumes that you have already watched The Last Jedi. But, c’mon, who hasn’t by now?

Now that you have been warned, allow me to start off this dive into what’s going on with Luke by weighing some opposing views of his role in The Last Jedi. First, we have a well crafted video essay from one of my faves, Nerd Soup, the thesis of which may seem right on or harsh depending on your opinion.

As Beau Oliver likes to frequently reiterate on Nerd Soup’s many Star Wars related videos, nobody hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans. Now, of course he does not hate Star Wars, and certainly did not hate The Last Jedi, a point he makes quite clear in this video. In fact, I find his argument to be far and away the best of the bunch I offer up to you in this post, and I agree with what he says. However, I also agree with much of what the next two guys say as well.

Some good analysis that reminds us that Luke is a human who makes mistakes and has struggles, something that should be apparent in the best protagonists, be they good, bad, or ugly. In The Last  Jedi this is most obvious when a concerned uncle peers into his nephew’s darkening dreams (there’s no way that I’m going to make that sound not weird). Basically, Luke checks Ben’s text messages and freaks. He normally would not have done such a thing, but his sister’s son was acting really shady, and he decided he needed to take a quick peek to make sure it wasn’t drugs or something. When it becomes clear that the situation is out of hand more than he could have imagined, he makes a brief, but big bad call. For more on all this, let’s look to the video recommended in the last one.

Some fathier – er,  further good points for the film. For one that I particularly liked, Finn finds his groove as a Rebel. His storyline was the weakest part of the film and I’ll never be in love with it, but working with a great new character in Rose, and the always excellent Benecio del Toro plus BB-8 is going to win back some points. In all fairness, this storyline had the most cut from it before the final release, so there was a little more meat on those bones once. Regardless, the result is that Finn, who is still on the run from the fearsome First Order he knows the ruthlessness of better than anyone, finally makes the decision to fight for something more than his own skin and Rey’s.

Similarly, The Last Jedi shows us character growth in the other new crew members like Poe learning to be a leader and realizing sometimes you’ve got to lose the battle to win the war (Holdo totally should have told him and everyone else of her plan though). Rose goes from a mechanic working on the sidelines who gets starstruck by seeing Finn, to a badass on the frontlines working alongside him while also helping to teach him more about how the galaxy works and why the Resistance matters. Most prominently of all, Rey gets some schooling in what the Force truly is (I’ll talk more on this later), why it’s not entirely black and white, a crash course in trusting too much, and a harsh dose of reality regarding your heroes.

This final point is what makes and breaks The Last Jedi. As is the case with the entire film from start to finish, we have our expectations thrown back in our faces. Expecting a “can you hear me now?” schtick to open the movie? You sure weren’t. Did you call Leia and the other leaders getting blown into space in the first third of the film? Probably not. Did you think Luke was going to walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order? In all fairness, he pointed out how crazy it was to think this would ever occur when he asked it aloud. In all further fairness though, he later did this. But did you see him projecting his image from lightyears away to offer closure to his sister, escape to her comrades, and the ultimate “how you like me now?” to his nephew? Furthermore, did you expect him to die?

Expectations rarely come to fruition in our favorite films, especially Star Wars (watch  one of my absolute favorite YouTubers/film critics, Filmjoy – formerly Movies with Mikey – serve up some stellar stuff in his two-part series “How We See Star Wars” if you have not already for more on this). Look at how George Lucas expected so much more out of his initial movie in the series. He desired better effects, better acting, better support from the studio (yeah, all this), but the only thing that lived up to his lofty expectations, and actually far exceeded them was the incredible score from the amazing John Williams. This is the only constant that we can and should expect from movies in the Star Wars saga. The music will be excellent – the greatest ever among any film scores – as long as John Williams is composing it; all other bets are off. With that being said, allow me to get into the nitty gritty of my take on The Last Jedi‘s portrayal of Luke Skywalker, and remember what he told you in the film and I told you at the start.

This is not going to go the way you think.

Mark Hamill is a true professional. He was understandably not crazy about his character’s tonal shift and the finality of this role, but he set that aside and brought his A-game to every scene. Director Rian Johnson asked a lot of Hamill, and he got way more than he could have anticipated because Hamill recognized that his desires were not as important as making something great. Included in the bonus features of The Last Jedi is a documentary, The Director and the Jedi, that chronicles the making of the film with an emphasis on Johnson and Hamill’s relationship. We see Mark Hamill explain how he told Johnson that he disagreed totally with the direction of the character… but that he would do everything he could to give the best performance to bring Johnson’s vision of the character to life.

I would also recommend that you watch another bonus feature (I’m just generally assuming that everyone purchased the same steelbook that I did) called The Balance of the Force (which is shorter at around 10 minutes) where Rian Johnson explains that the Force is not a superpower, and he wanted to remind everyone of this fact while simultaneously presenting a new generation of fans with the realization of what the Force really is. To reiterate for the sake of not simply assuming all know, it is an energy that is created by and connects all living things. Channeling this energy is what allows Jedi and Sith and others to enhance their amazing abilities, but it does not magically bestow those abilities onto a select few. At least that is how it is supposed to work. As Mikey recently expressed in his two-part “How We See Star Wars”, there is a major canonical issue that spoils so much of the mystique of the Force: midichlorians. Check out his segment on The Phantom Menace here, and take a surprised trip down memory lane to realize how many people straight up loved this movie when it came out. (Props to the music intros to each film with a song that was prominent during the release of each.) As Mikey points out, the explanation that midichlorians make people sensitive to the Force – the all-living-things-are-connected energy that is felt by all and manufactured by all – is a problem. No longer, do we have the aspiration that we could be the next Luke Skywalker, for our fate with the Force is determined by bacteria in our blood or some such nonsense. Fortunately, this notion has generally been cast aside by one of the unexpected resolutions regarding Rey’s parentage being nothing special. If Rey is not from one of the dynastic Force-sensitive bloodlines we know of, and neither is that boy we meet on Canto Bight, then genetically-inherited midichlorians, like size, matter not where the Force is concerned.

Now that that is addressed, let’s consider a reason why Rian Johnson did not want Luke walking out in the flesh to face the First Order and Kylo Ren: it would open up a need for him to have a superpower. If Luke went to Crait (the salty sit-in for Hoth) why wouldn’t he just push aside the gorilla walkers with a wave of his hand? Sure, he probably is not the most agile swordsman anymore compared to Kylo Ren, but why duel him directly when you could fling him around the way Snoke was doing with Rey? The story could not have Luke confront Ren and his regime in person because he would be too much for them to handle and we would wonder why he could not simply handle them if he did not, but we would not be entertained if he did. It’s the Superman paradox of how do you make Superman interesting and relatable if he’s unbeatable both physically and emotionally. We need to see Luke’s humanity and his continued growth in order to care for him (and to have a ninth movie that isn’t just him mowing down the bad guys with ease).

Let’s look at Luke in each orig trig film according to Mikey from his great videos. He shows a snippet from each movie with a caption.

Star Wars: “Look at this precious boy”

The Empire Strikes Back:”Look at this struggling boy”

Return of the Jedi: “Owns entire Hot Topic catalog”

We need something different from older, weary Luke in The Last Jedi. But where to go from the Skywalker kid who grew up to save the galaxy? The classical hero has finished his quest; how does he grow up more? How does he even begin another quest without repeating his earlier adventure beat by beat? The solution is in updating his archetype.

In my post from last week, “Hit Me!”, I expanded upon similar scenes between Batman and the Joker in the 1989 Batman and 2008 The Dark Knight films after watching Just Write and his adorable Canadianly way of saying “out” in his videos “What Kind of a Hero is Batman?”. In the two-part series (which my YouTube faves are big on lately), he elaborates on how Batman has the unique distinction of having represented six of the main character archetypes over his many characterizations. Batman is a comic book character, so it is no surprise that he has seen a shift in style over the decades, but it is a testament to a character to be able to fit in more than one mold for the sake of his stories. Batman is my favorite comic book character thanks partly to this chameleonic ability, but mostly I am a fan of his time spent as a tragic hero, which Just Write goes into a good degree of detail of in his first video. He explains how the tragic hero must be relatable and not all powerful (using Superman as a foil example), but also has to be the reason for his own undoing. The moment at which Batman experiences his fall, his hamartia, in The Dark Knight is the scene I covered last week with the Joker staring down the barrel of a street with Batman rocketing toward him on his Batpod. Batman swerves, and sets in motion his fall from grace and more deaths, including the woman he loves, because he cannot bring himself to kill. Did Batman mean for this to happen? Certainly not. Should he be blamed for not killing the Joker? No. However, it cannot be ignored that his refusal to take down a man who has been a monster in his city perpetuates the events that unfold as a result of his inaction.

Similarly, Luke must have a hamartia in order for the Star Wars saga to grow beyond itself. This was set up in The Force Awakens as the instance where Ben Solo rebelled against his uncle, left him for dead, destroyed his temple and followers, and absconded with those loyal to him to don the moniker Kylo Ren. It comes as a shock to us to see a moment where an older Luke panics and contemplates, however briefly, murdering his nephew. Beau Oliver brought up the point that Luke has seemingly less of a connection to Ben Solo his nephew than to Darth Vader when he learns he is his father which makes their interaction and this moment come out of nowhere for us observers in the audience. I definitely don’t disagree with this, and I doubt that it will ever sit well with me as a huge fan of Luke from the orig trig, but it is worth noting that we do not see what leads up to this probably due to time and directorial desire to keep us in the dark. Rian Johson not only upended all of our predictions and expectations, but he crafted Luke as a tragic hero in a way that aided Rey’s arc as well. Rey, and the rest of us, discover that our hero is man after all. We’ve seen the great work that Luke has done, and we expect that ship to keep right on sailing without stopping, but that is not how life works, and Luke’s troubles with Ben create a new set of troubles to tackle, but he hung his helmet up a long time ago. We and Rey together realize how hard it is to see your heroes as anything but once they reach the level of legend.

Yet Luke’s story does not end entirely in tragedy. His shift into a tragic hero serves as a revival of his classical hero. Rey arrives with a call to action, but he refuses. Nevertless, with the help of an old mentor (in the greatest Yoda scene in the entire saga), Luke is provided with the push and guidance he needs to return to his sister and friends before confronting the new threat in a novel way, and receiving his reward of peace through that purpose to become one with the Force. His last act amplifies his status as a legend at a time when the galaxy needs it most, and provides the call to adventure that the heroes of tomorrow will answer.

The Last Jedi is not a perfect movie, and its characterization of Luke Skywalker is not perfect either, but it will endure for its effort to strike out in a new direction and burn the conventions of the past in order to reawaken the greatness we saw in the beginning of this magnificent series while continuing to make its own path throughout the galaxy far, far away.

Props again to Mark Hamill, the consummate professional and humorous presence who always excels at being honest and bringing joy to people. He may not be awash in film credits like his costar Harrison Ford, but his roles in his body of work is solid (something that honestly cannot always be said of Ford). Thanks to his talent, work ethic, and the happiness he brings, Mark Hamill is one of my favorite actors. He recently received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with some nice, heartfelt speeches of appreciation from Ford and George Lucas. Hamill himself thanked his fans for their support on a fantastic ride that has taken him “from Jedi to Joker and back again”. It is understandable why people love his characters so much when the man himself is so loveable. No matter what your feelings on The Last Jedi and the final hurrah of his most popular character, you’ve gotta love the man behind the lightsaber no matter who you are.

Thanks for reading and watching! Be sure to revenge- uh, sorry, return back here next week when I’ll take a closer look at the latest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees officially being christened in this Saturday April 14. As always, you can keep in touch with me at monotrememadness@gmail.com.

May the Force be with you,

Alex

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“Let’s Roll”

It’s easy to say, “Never Forget”, and for those of us who witnessed any part of the news coverage or the actual attacks we will never be able to forget the horrors the United States endured on September 11, 2001. There are markers and memorials in the impacted areas in New York City, Arlington County, VA, and Stonycreek Township, PA that commemorate the people who died and the people who helped rescue those lucky enough to escape with their lives, so that everyone born after that date will forever be able to learn about the history of largest terrorist attacks in human history. Today, I would like to highlight a few specific heroes whose efforts 16 years ago helped to save the lives of many others in the hope that this will help us to continue to remember them and their sacrifices and contributions.

First, I want to salute a single individual named Todd Beamer. Beamer was a sales rep for IBM traveling for work from Newark to San Francisco onboard United Airlines Flight 93. United 93 was one of the four airplanes hijacked on September 11, 2001, and it appeared to be bound for Washington D.C. after the hijackers turned the plane southeast as they flew near Cleveland. The plane never made it to its target thanks to efforts of Beamer and fellow passengers, including Alan Beaven, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, William Cashman, Jeremy Glick, Linda Gronlund, Rich Guadagno, Lou Nacke, and Honor Elizabeth Waino, as well as flight attendants Sandra Bradshaw and Cee Cee Ross-Lyle. They called their loved ones, prayed together, and then stormed the cockpit.

Their brave efforts to fight back against the terrorists who had killed the pilots led to the United 93 crashing into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Todd led the charge to reclaim the plane, first calling on one of the plane’s seat phones and connecting with Lisa Jefferson, a supervisor at GTE Airfone who spoke with Todd about the situation and the passengers’ plan to retake the plane. She prayed with him and some passengers, then Todd checked with the group, asking if they were ready. When he was given an affirmative response, he said, “Let’s roll.” Sadly, all aboard perished in the crash, but their sacrifice ensured that no one else would suffer from another attack. Todd and the others on United 93 are American heroes and should be forever remembered as such. Thank you to them all.

 


All of us in the United States also owe a great debt to our northern neighbors who helped to safely redirect the flights that were already in the air after the attacks had begun. The attacks prompted the FAA (the United States Federal Aviation Administration) to ground all flights close down American airspace – the first time in history that such an immense action was taken. This left over 250 planes bound for US airports in the air with nowhere to land. Operation Yellow Ribbon was Canada’s response. Canada took in 255 airplanes at 17 of their airports in cities great and small, and at military bases. Canadian airspace was also shut down for departing flights, except those with emergency and military distinction.

The Canadian government and the airports with diverted planes helped secure lodging and meals for the passengers of each aircraft. The following year, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said,

9/11 will live long in memory as a day of terror and grief. But thanks to the countless acts of kindness and compassion done for those stranded visitors here in Gander and right across Canada it will live forever in memory as a day of comfort and of healing…. You did yourselves proud, ladies and gentlemen, and you did Canada proud.

To the entire nation of Canada, thank you.


Finally, a nod to astronaut Frank Culbertson, who was Station Commander on the International Space Station and took the title picture as ISS passed over New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. Of the sight of the great smoke plume rising from the tower of the World Trade Center he went on to say,

“It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are.”

Culbertson also wrote a couple of letters in response to learning of the attacks which you can read here. Near the end of the final letter, he expresses hope that their mission can be a beacon of hope and cooperation for future harmony:

I hope the example of cooperation and trust that this spacecraft and all the people in the program demonstrate daily will someday inspire the rest of the world to work the same way. They must!

I know many of us wholeheartedly agree.

Thanks for reading and watching. As we honor our heroes and remember our fallen from 16 years ago, let us continue to do what we can to aid in the efforts to brace and heal in Texas, Florida, the rest of the southeast US, and the Caribbean islands affected by the trio of hurricanes currently impacting America. Good luck to everyone seeking shelter and to all aiming to help them find it.

Alex

Never Forget Our Heroes

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. This holiday may be the unofficial start of summertime in America that allows us an opportunity to get together with friends and family for burgers and beer, as well as the harsh realization that no, it’s not warm enough to go swimming yet, but while it is good that we can observe this lighthearted enjoyment in the company of loved ones, Memorial Day has a somber reason for its existence. Memorial Day was created to recognize those who lost their lives in America’s military.

While the exact date that Memorial Day was first observed is not easy to pin down, it is apparent that it became nationally prominent in the late 1860s following the American Civil War. Since then, Americans of all ages have paid their respects to their fallen military men and women in a number of ways. Typically parades, visits to cemeteries, and the aforementioned cookout with friends are common occurrences, yet today I am turning my focus to a specific group of aides to the American armed forces who deserve our thanks and are still living, although their lives are in serious danger and we need to help them to survive as they helped our service members to survive.

Since the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq began, there have been translators who have served as the necessary communicative link between soldiers and engineers working for the military and the native people. These translators have helped to save countless lives and now deserve to be returned the favor, however, this is far from the case as you can learn from this segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Translators, even if they were not born or even set foot in the United States, are American heroes and deserve the easy opportunity to become U.S. citizens. We should be fast-tracking these guys and their families on that course of action if they desire it, especially considering the imminent danger most of them are in. It is inexcusable, criminal really, to force them to jump through bureaucratic hoops to realistically attain the goal of citizenship. They deserve to be recognized for their service to America by being welcomed into America. We should be raising a toast of honor to these men and women on Veteran’s Day, not a toast of remembrance on Memorial Day because the United States government did not act as valiantly to serve and save them as they did to serve and save our soldiers and engineers.

The truly frustrating thing is that this episode aired in October of 2014 but things have not vastly improved in the application process. In fact, they have only become harder. Perhaps this is something your local representative should hear about.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please send them to monotremadness@gmail. com.

Alex

There’s a Starman Waiting in the Sky

The Glam is gone. The Plastic has peeled off the Soul. Ziggy will play guitar no more.

Yesterday, January 10, 2016, legendary rock star David Bowie died. Hiding his malignant liver cancer from the world for the past year and a half, Bowie worked until his last to deliver his art to the world, specifically his musical Lazarus. He debuted his final album Blackstar on his 69th birthday just two days before his death.

Born David Robert Jones in 1947 in the Brixton district of London, Bowie was the epitome of weird and wonderful in rock and roll. Transitioning through a series of musical phases and character personas (shown in the GIF up top) throughout his entire career, no one was more flamboyant in the arts on such a large scale. Fully deserving of his inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and universal reverence for changing rock and roll – no, no, music forever.

His themes, his words, his meanings, they were all as complicated as the man himself, and, as he described in his classic song I included in my second annual list of songs to live by, he was ever-changing. Bowie recognized that we are always growing and that trying to conform to a norm is not as rewarding (in his case quite so) as being yourself. His career was helped by the fact that no one, and I mean no one was like him. He was fearless, inventive, passionate, unbelievably original, and frequently coked out of his mind. All of these factors add up to a man who shattered conventions, inspired millions, and will be greatly missed.

It wasn’t always terrific; sometimes it was terrible. Bowie had his downs as well as his ups such as his collaborative cover of “Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger. I don’t care if they fucked; why’d they have to punish us with that? We share the blame though, as Peter Griffin says, that happened, and we all let it happen.

The good certainly outweighs the bad however. Bowie produced many iconic songs and albums that will endure eternally. Here I have included a list of my favorites from the man who sold countless records to the world. These are not meant as a ranking, and I’m sure I missed plenty of great ones, but it is as comprehensive as I can make it today while I’ve been listening the shit out of Bowie’s discography. Enjoy and remember the man who made it all happen. I apologize preemptively for some of the puns.

Suffragette City” – Powerful, fast, frenetic. The most rock and roll song of Bowie’s discography is one that’ll have you saying “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!” again and again.

Rebel Rebel” – The most commonly covered of Bowie’s songs, this was his goodbye to glam rock and hello to a new generation of fans.

Under Pressure” – Technically a Queen song, but this incredible tag-team effort features perfect synchronous harmony between Bowie and Freddie Mercury with the rest of the band being excellent as always. It’s impossible to imagine this song without Bowie or Queen. Bowie was a frequent collaborator with other major artists (consult the aforementioned Mick Jagger fiasco) and as with the rest of his career these instances were across the board. He did a few songs with Tina Turner, including “Tonight” and for Christmas he sang “Peace on Earth/ Little Drummer Boy” with revered crooner/actor Bing Crosby.

I’m Afraid of Americans” – This is a fitting song for citizens of every other country, from Bowie’s native England to Australia to Canada to many here in America… especially if Trump gets elected, right guys? HAHAHA! Pandering! Of course, some of our players in the presidential race are probably a fan of the line “God is an American” that is repeated in the coda.

The Man Who Sold the World” – Thanks to an excellent performance by one of his biggest fans during the famous MTV Unplugged special, this is commonly mistaken for a Nirvana song, so much so that Bowie was often complimented for covering them when he sang this in concerts! Kurt Cobain was a big time fan of Bowie which was evident in his own work, not to mention further reflected by the specific shout out from Anthony Kiedis in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “Californication” when he sings, “And Cobain can you hear the spheres singin’ songs off ‘Station to Station‘?” Station to Station was Bowie’s tenth album and one of his cocaine powered works.

Young Americans” – About a newlywed couple who start to realize they are not as into one another as they first thought. Nice job on the saxophone from David Sanborn too!

Golden Years” – Bowie could get funky and he was a pro at tapping into the good and bad of the confusion, change, and vibrancy of youth. Here he is on top of his game with both.

Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love” – Some ’80s Bowie for you!

Fame” -Bowie’s breakout hit in America was co-written by guitarist Carlos Alomar and John Lennon. It’s message is pretty self-explanatory: fame is not everything you hope it is and has a disturbing dark side to it.

Heroes” – I’ve talked about this one before in this post. An excellent song.

Queen Bitch” – Maybe this is the most rock and roll song from Bowie? Either way, it’s fucking great!

Sound and Vision” – Blue, blue, electric blue! That’s the color of my room!… Actually my room is gray. This song is simply gray-te!

Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – The title song to the 1982 erotic remake of Cat People  was also used in Inglorious Basterds. Bowie brings the fire to it.

Moonage Daydream” – This one was in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s out of this world.

Ziggy Stardust” – The title song of Bowie’s most famous album which is one of the greatest names for an album ever produced: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Remember what I said about being yourself? Do it, because we need more poetry like that in this universe! Ziggy served as the first of Bowie’s famous alter egos. He’s the one oft seen with the lightning bolt emblem over his eye. Ziggy’s life as described in the song is one of the stereotypical rock star hitting it huge and then spiraling down as a result of his own behavior, bad habits, and inflated ego. Nobody karaokes this song like my friend Mark drunk at 4AM in New Orleans.

Space Oddity” – Bowie’s first hit, and one of his greatest songs. It tells the tragic tale of Major Tom, astronaut extraordinaire. A surprisingly upbeat melancholy song that propelled Bowie into the public eye in the space age. In fact it was released a mere nine days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Another of his most popular works, this song was most famously covered by badass real-life astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield aboard the International Space Station.

Starman” – Included on the immortal Ziggy Stardust, this serves as the story of Ziggy’s arrival to bring his music to Earth.

Life on Mars” – A collage of the surreal presented less like one non sequitur after another like Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or The Beatles “I Am the Walrus”, but more like a young girl running through a movie theater observing the plethora of posters and pictures around her. The end result is a song that is on another planet than those two and is my personal favorite from him.

Bowie’s artistic talents were most greatly showcased in his music, yet he frequently worked as an actor as well. He received praise for his performance in the title roles in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth and on stage in The Elephant Man in 1980-81. Many remember him for helping to make Labyrinth more memorable when he played Jareth the Goblin King opposite a young Jennifer Connelly and Jim Henson’s darker D-list muppets. More recently he played electricity wizard and nerd icon Nikola Tesla in The Prestige. And of course, Zoolander proved that if you ever need someone to judge your underground model walk-off I believe Bowie may be of service.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy David Bowie and the many things he crafted over his lifetime. No matter whether you’ve heard every song and have collected each album of his, or if you are just discovering him in the wake of his death, or if you’re in between like me, I hope the man can influence you as positively as he has countless others. So long, Stardust, may you live on in those different looking stars and the hearts of the spiders from Mars.

Goodbye Moonmen,

Alex

Songs That Everybody Must Hear to Better Themselves (Or at Least Ease Their Whining With)

Hello everybody! This week we say goodbye and good riddance to the holidays, especially Christmas, which you’re probably sick of reading about it here and everywhere else. Although, I suppose you could be a sentimental soul for Season’s Greetings, in which case it’s time to accept that the holidays are over and move on with the rest of us. What? What do you mean, “No. There is another?” And where do you get off reciting Star Wars lines to me? Oh, now I get it. You’re one of those people who don’t want to stop the festivities and latch onto the next available date to have a shindig for. You like to give one last hurrah before you lose the Hanuchristzaa buzz. You celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Not that there’s anything wrong with having a party, especially one that allows you to meet up with the people you actually wanted to see on Christmas (I mean, I love my family! I just hate how they drank all my beer. ALL MY BEER.) However, seeking to actively enjoy swapping out calendars is unnecessary and feels forced. Yeah, I watch the ball drop with my friends too, but if I didn’t have the 400 football games to look forward to on January 1st then I couldn’t care less if it is January 1st.

Maybe I’m too pragmatic. I’m always the first of my friends to say something like, “Time is constant, uncaring, and unforgiving. It moves forward at the same pace always towards the future. It is really just half of the measurement of space-time which takes into account where we are at a certain point in time…. blah blah blah Neil deGrasse Tyson said…. blah blah Stephen Hawking…. blah blah I know, nearly three hours and that shirt was ever affixed to his torso….”

Then again, maybe I’m just sick of the same old shit, different year cycle New Year’s Eve and Day are so branded with. Every year the people packing Times Square without yet realizing what horror they have gotten themselves into may be different, but I can’t tell watching them on TV. The celebrity guests and singers may be new to the whoever-the-hell’s whatever-body-motion-synonymous-with-popular-music-genre’s New Year’s Eve bash is on your favorite far-from-unique network, but I’ve seen them performing at this award show and that sports halftime all year long. Plus, they were on the ABC platform for the same thing last year. What’s so different now? Oh, you’re going to make yourself better this coming year? Right after midnight, of course. Sure. So you say you want a resolution, well, you know, we all wanna change our winter weight. Listen, resolving to make yourself and your world better – whether it’s a little or a lot at once – is an admirable thing, and I sincerely wish you the best with it. Make the most of your newfound confidence; rock that overly-expensive and thankfully easily opt out-able gym membership; be all that you can be in the Army! Whatever you set out to do to make 2015 your best year yet, you’ve got my support (Legal Disclaimer: Alex is not responsible for any actions that are considered rash and/or illegal that the reader may do in reaction to this, nor can he be held accountable for anything lost or stolen within the confines of this blog). Meanwhile, I will keep my tradition of not making resolutions as I always hope to better myself at all times of the year, even with the knowledge that my apathy will prevent this from ever occurring.

Fear not though! Tomorrow is a doper, phatter, latter day, and I am here for you! One New Year’s tradition that I do like is hearing John Lennon’s “Imagine” played right after everybody drops out – I mean, the ball drops. It’s not so much that I like the tradition as I like the song. “Imagine” is the best song John Lennon made after The Beatles split. Hell, it’s the best song he ever wrote, and it endures as one of the greatest ever written. It is truly beautiful, and sometimes I cry a little when I hear it, like how an incontinent geriatric piddles into an adult diaper every so often when it’s Newman-Redford movie night at Babbling Brook Retirement Home. It echoes throughout Times Square each year because it calls for the ultimate New Year’s resolution: a world where everyone lives in harmony. Hate and evil have no place in any paradise, even Lennon’s hippie-dippy dream of it. Again, I’m the guy playing the pessimistic realist card and pointing out how this seems to be a very unlikely scenario, yet even I think it’s one worth striving for. Hearing a song like “Imagine” helps to warm the heart and free the mind to be a little more open to pushing toward such a noble purpose as only the best songs can.

Today I have included a list of other (mainly rock) songs that I feel everyone should hear to help lead a better life for oneself and others. These songs aren’t all going to lift your spirits though. Some will, yet others will drop you right back down to Earth and put things in perspective, but we all need some leveling in our roller coaster lives, so buckle up, hang on tight, and let your ears take a ride in better living for now and forever.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones – Here is the happiest sounding reality check you’ll ever hear. Ironically, it comes from the band who yelled at you for attempting to make them see things realistically and to get their heads out of the, well, you get it. With this life lesson in missing out on your desires (or at least what you think they are) the Stones show that they’ve come far from complaining about their constant lack of satisfaction (which is an awesome song; I just felt like I needed to put a negative spin on something for the sake of contrast). “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is pretty clear from the get-go about its message, but it’s definitely worth taking a listen or two or 2000 to.

Touch of Grey” by The Grateful Dead – The Rolling Stones let us know that not everything works out as planned, but sometimes it still works out, occasionally for the better. Jerry Garcia and his Haight and Ashbury pals reiterate this by encouraging you to look on the bright side, remember that it’s not as bright as it can be, and relax with the knowledge that it’ll be alright after all. Got it? Whether you do or not, give it another listen because this one’s a good one and catchy too!

The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel – Whether you first heard it watching The Graduate, on the radio while driving through the American west, or being horrendously butchered by a barefooted wannabe bard strumming his second-hand acoustic against a blossoming dogwood on the quad on a sunny spring day at your college, Simon and Garfunkel’s best known song never gets old. The duo (well, mainly Paul Simon) had many meanings woven into their patchwork of words on every album, and you can decipher new ones with each return. Whenever you come back to this one that can make you feel small, angry, frustrated, enraged, confused, angsty, and in general like a person who has many more questions than answers be sure you turn off the lights and close your eyes to shut out the world and all its noise to listen to the sounds… of a guy named Art Garfunkel. Try not to focus on that aspect too much.

Night Moves” by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – Nobody looks back on his youth quite as profoundly yet simply in that old fashioned rock and roll as Bob Seger. This classic of summer nights as a fresh and frisky teenager in the Midwest is my favorite from him, and I think it merits a place here for the lesson of remembering your younger days with a smile, especially as you recall how blissful it was to have so few answers as you kinda sorta looked for some with the number one priority being directed somewhere farther south. When he sings “Waited on the thunder” he’s not simply talking about an approaching storm, or just how his load is about to blow; Seger’s singing about feeling love more than just physically. He’s a young gun at the beginning of the song, looking for fun and something more he hasn’t quite figured out yet. By the end he’s become wiser with age and thinks back fondly at the distant rumble of thunder. And while we’re on the subject of sounds bringing back sweet memories….

More Than a Feeling” by Boston – This is one of my favorite songs ever. I clearly really like all of these tunes to even think of including them, but this song is sooooo good. It’s not just that the guy who wrote it hails from the same hometown as I do, or that the song was possibly recorded in his basement there, this song has all the components of a rock and roll ultimate hit, but there’s something deeper in there than just wailing guitars. “More Than a Feeling” describes the indescribable sensation you get when you hear that song, or get in that car, or do whatever it is that really, really means something to you and touches you deeply with nostalgia.

Take It Easy” by The Eagles – This is my favorite song, my motto, my farewell greeting to friends, and my excuse for being lazy. There is such a thing as taking it too easy, and I think I’ve been firmly on the “too” side of it for many a year now. Still, as a registered lazitarian I can very easily spot people who take it too hard. I mean, they aren’t easy-going. There is a major grind in everything we do in our lives, from home to school to work and back home again. Even going on vacation is a chore sometimes! Anytime we can actually step aside, or in more drastic circumstances, flee far away from our tasking tasks is good for realizing that managing monotony is not all there is in life. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for society if you go bonkers trying to make the in-pile empty by the end of the day when you damn well know it’ll never stay that way. Just ask Newman how it goes. Oh, and to all of you aspiring to lose weight for next year: follow Wayne Knight’s lead. The man is Newman no more.

‘Heroes’” by David Bowie – David Bowie is the most versatile artist to ever walk the earth. Some of his songs are drug-fueled nonsense, some are drug-fueled brilliance, and some are magnificent blend of the two. I haven’t got Bowie’s music and remarkable transition of styles completely figured out, just as no one has Bowie figured out (probably most puzzled of all is Bowie himself), but with “Heroes” the gist is pretty clear. What’s more, the passion is there. He exalts the imperfect heroes who may die physically but who endure forever in a testament of love. Specifically this song was inspired by Bowie’s bandmates making out next to the Berlin Wall, but it represents the sentiment of love conquering all, even governments that quash freedom. Feel the music call you to action to sacrifice yourself with less finality. Be a hero anyway you can to friends and strangers alike. This doesn’t mean you should stand with your arms sprawled out in the back of a pickup traveling at high speeds screaming in joy while this song blares on the radio to feel alive, but I’ve already included a legal disclaimer, so I won’t belabor the point of caution by pummeling a no-longer living equine.

Ten Years Gone” by Led Zeppelin – Sometimes love works out just right and you and your missus or mister or unmarried partner or “we’re not putting a label on it even though we’ve been together eight years and have three kids” live happily ever til death does you in. Not always though. More often than we’d like we get the opposite where everything but death does the parting. Whether the break-up is sour or not, there is a lingering curiosity of your ex-whatever long after things have ended. Robert Plant thought about one of his old girlfriends ten years after they split and wondered if she ever did the same, so he wrote the lyrics to this song that Jimmy Page crafted the melancholy music to. It isn’t bitter, but it isn’t really regretful either. It’s just another older man musing on his younger days. He’s content where he is now, probably even happy, but that doesn’t stop the memories of that long-past love from resurfacing.

The Wind Cries Mary” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience – While we’re rolling along with soft music from a band that isn’t exactly known for slowing down (though they did on many occasions) we’ll ease into another soft serenade from the only Jimi (or rocker as far as I’m concerned) better with a guitar than Page. Not quite as clear lyrically, as Hendrix had a poetry all his own that was helped by a very active creative imagination (and occasionally some other factors). Possibly inspired by a fight with his girlfriend, I’m guessing there’s a lot more to this beautiful ballad since Hendrix could take the smallest thing and run with it. Some of the best and brightest – as in burned out too brilliantly and quickly – often did (“Kurt smells like Teen Spirit”). Whatever the start was, the finish is an incredible piece of soothing sadness that to me is a song of guidance and a reminder of that unforgivable onward march of time I described earlier.

Let It Be” by The Beatles – Just like my Christmas music post, I couldn’t include John and not mention the other Beatles. This song is an obvious choice to anyone who has ever heard it – which should be everyone. Of course I’ve assembled this list of songs in the hope that everybody listens to them and feels something more than sound waves stirring their tympanic membranes, but this one is really special. Paul McCartney may call upon wisdom from Mother Mary, but it doesn’t matter whom you ask for help with the big, little, and in-between decisions in your life. “Let It Be” is a great piece of advice and music, and this one comes from McCartney more than a Madonna. The best part of it all is that it’s not even the best song he wrote.

Hey Jude” by The Beatles – That honor goes to this greatest hit of the greatest band to ever pick up instruments. I certainly couldn’t leave out this gem of a song that does a better job of making everyone sing and sway in unison than “Imagine” or any other on this list. Written by McCartney for Julian Lennon, John’s son, in the aftermath of his parents’ divorce, the song (originally called “Hey Jules”) evolved into an uplifting jam session that has a coda longer than the actual lyrical body of the song. This makes it all the more remarkable that we all sing along to it for longer than it actually goes on. Why this song is so beautiful is hard to explain. Perhaps I’m at the end of my long trail of thought that I’ve sustained longer than anticipated (once more), or it could be that I’m just out of steam. But maybe, just maybe “Hey Jude” is that song that we all have more than a feeling for.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to have a happy new year doing whatever you do – just make sure you do it responsibly. I’m looking at you guys with your Jesus and hooker boots party! You know who are! To the rest of you (if there is a “rest a you”) disregard the latter sentence, but heed the former for sure. Questions, comments, nude photos (supermodels and Chris Pratt only please), and future topic ideas can be sent to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to come back next year for more riveting writing, musings, and last minute post submissions.

Yours in unforgivable forward-moving space-time,

Alex

P.S. Go Bucks!