Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Movies I Like That Most People Hate

Do any of you folks have something that you really enjoy that you have found most other people don't? I sure do. I have a few movies that are among my favorite that seem to be big turn offs for a lot of people. 


I have liked "Revolver" right from the get go. In fact, after the first time I watched it, I immediately started it over again. There was something going on that I was trying to grasp. I had been studying up on self-awareness and ego and this movie hit those themes hard, but wove it into the story so well that the film begged to be seen multiple times to peel back the layers. The main character in Guy Ritchies most under appreciated film spends the entire movie trying to beat back that inner voice (his ego) that has kept him in trouble and caused him so much fear. Rotten Tomatoes has this one at 17% and Roger Ebert was scathing in his criticism; "It seems designed to punish the audience for buying tickets."  I suppose I've punished myself about 7 or 8 times since the first time I've seen it. Despite criticism of the film, I think I get a lot of it and that's why I love it. I see it as art and as something that isn't to be viewed once and tossed out. If you are interested in the message, it'll hold your attention and leave you thinking long after the movie has ended.

2001: A Space Odyssey

I can totally understand why there are people that don't like this movie. It's long, it can be boring in spots, and it's not quite obvious on the initial viewing as to what the purpose of the film is. That said, I think it's a cinematic masterpiece and Stanley Kubrick sure has a knack for dabbling in that rare air. Shot in the early/mid 60's, the special effects still hold up today. It was another 10 or so years (Star Wars) before anyone could duplicate what was done. The story is that of man, but only in evolutionary jumps. From our time barely surviving on plant life to transcending our mortal bodies, the film shows how those jumps could occur without being very specific. We just know that we started using tools and weapons and that kick started us into being meat eaters that developed a greater understanding of the universe and our place in it.

The Fountain

This film by Darren Aronofsky is one that a lot of people haven't seen. Generally, people get confused by it and it's a movie that will cause either reflection or revulsion from a viewer, I would imagine. There are three stories going on and each has a tie to the other, though the main character(s) is the same. It's beautifully shot and it's another one of those films that bears repeated viewings. It touches on loyalty, determination, love, death, and dealing with all of those things in the confines of a finite lifetime. In the end, the main character (Thomas) is able to transcend death and accept that we think of as dying is really just rebirth in another form. A different way for the universe to examine/experience itself apart from our conscience being.


This is one that many self-proclaimed, serious film buffs love to pick at and hate on. I won't defend it against assertions that it is text book action film making by Simon West. It is, but it's also a farce. A sort of parody that plays it close to the vest. It has all the elements of a block buster action film, but it isn't taking itself seriously. It throws everything at the audience. Every cliche' of the action film genre gets dealt with. A misunderstood, wronged hero who is just trying to get back to his family? Check. Menacing bad guys that have specialties in their criminality? Check. A wife and child just waiting for their hero to make it home? Check. A good guy that is trying to help out all he can, while having to fight off incompetence from those around him? Check. Corny self-serving dialogue? Check. Gun shots? Check. Shit blowing up? Check. Las Vegas? Check. Sappy and happy ending while a sappy song plays showing a family reunited against impossible odds? Check. It's an easy film to watch and a lot of fun. Remember, you can't watch this seriously.....it wasn't made to be watched that way. It's not taking itself seriously and neither should you! It's just a ride (to steal a phrase from Bill Hicks)!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

My Pull Back To The Right

I made a comment last week to a friend that I was feeling a pull back to the right (politically speaking). My reasoning was due to how insane the left and liberals seem to have become in recent years. I have been influenced quite a bit over the past 10 years or so by left leaning writers and commentators such as Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Dave Rubin. I also delve into philosophers like Alan Watts and Terence McKenna in an effort to "feed my soul" so to speak and try to keep from being overly accepting of the aforementioned influences. Naturally, being influenced by these people would definitely see me move towards a more overall liberal worldview. I still maintained that I wouldn't necessarily call myself a liberal, but I was done with conservatism as a worldview that I would adhere to in a staunch manner as I had for most of my adult life.

My choice was to stop identifying with one or the other and go issue by issue and stake out positions based on as much information I could get from both sides of any issue and my own personal parsing of that info. That's who I want to be and who I have attempted to be for quite some time now. With that said, I feel like at this point, I need to acknowledge that I am rethinking how openly I support liberalism as a whole. I could always forgive some of the economic things I didn't agree with because I felt that there was more open compassion from the left, because there were more people that could identify with how others lived based on their past and socio-economic position.

Over the past year or so I have been introduced to Jordan Peterson, Michael Shermer, and Ben Shapiro.  I wouldn't call any of them far right, but Shapiro is definitely a conservative, Peterson isn't a classic conservative, but he leans that way in how he attempts to make sense of our social/cultural constructs, and Shermer only appears to be right leaning because of how insane the far left has become. Shermer is probably where I am (or possibly Dave Rubin) speaking comparatively. I may not have shifted as much as the fact that the spectrum has moved under my feet. I don't even know if I'm speaking politically unless we are going to focus on specific policy/issue. This writing is geared more towards my rejection of political correctness and the general attempts of the "regressive" left to impose their fascist inclinations on everyone else. 

Dave Rubin has recently started rejecting his identification as a "liberal", simply because of what it seems to imply at this point in time. I strongly feel that a dishonest media, along with people who believe they need to be offended for others in an effort to gain power or some sort of misguided moral superiority are moving us backwards as a nation. It's going to turn out to be a phase, as we are already seeing a correction, as level headed liberals are moving towards the right and we have a president that is anything but politically correct. People are being driven into the arms of Trump in the same way that moderate Republicans were pushed to Obama or a more libertarian view by the George W. Bush years. I love freedom of speech, even when it offends me (which doesn't happen often, because I need to feel the hit personally) and I don't think anyone's communication with others should be stifled or made against the law. I want to hear from people I don't agree with. I can't understand when others don't want that. It's a chance to sharpen your own beliefs and more importantly, it's a chance to try to understand another person viewpoint. That's been very important to me for awhile. If I have a "fault" when I participate in group political/social discussion, it's that I seem to waffle, but that's really because I am trying to find out how it feels to hold each position. What about a persons worldview, up bringing, or person experience makes them stake out a particular position? I truly believe it's made me a better person by triggering critical thought and patience. 

I would really like to write more on the influence of people like Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Austin Peterson, Larry Elder, Michael Shermer, and Sam Harris have had on me, but that would make for a small book. I have kept an open mind, as much as possible. Anyone that knows me or knows my past writing should understand that I try not to live in a bubble. I cull info from a lot of different places and I trust the words of people more than I do any information that comes from a for-profit organization. 

The bottom line for me and what I've picked up from Jordan Peterson in a big way is that none of us have a right to not be offended. If a person is offended, it's a choice. Words have no power that we don't give them as individuals. That's been a position of mine for a very long time. I'm much more interested in seeing our country move forward on the basis of fact than feeling. When people (or a group of people) call others fascists and then seek to shut down those people's ability to speak freely (going so far in some cases as to try to create law limiting speech), the true fascist is revealed. If the middle and moderate right is where I have to identify and where I have to speak to others from, so be it. I accept freedom, personal liberty, and fact as the most important influences on how I think and act, and right now, the left side of the spectrum (and largely from those further on the left) isn't living up to being the progressives that they think they are. They rely on stifling the speech and freedoms of others as a way of making the country better and I firmly believe that is misguided and it eventually will lead to the authoritarianism, and yes, fascism that they fear. 

I'm going to stick with what seems tangible and real. I know that being correct on so many things is subjective and I accept that as truth. On the other hand, there is also fact on many other issues and there is intellectual honesty and working from those areas has to be the best for us all. Maybe I'll have more on this later. Maybe someone will challenge me with a comment. Either way, I will do my best to be honest about how I feel and respond to what is swirling around me every day in the world. 

The Rubin Report

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Last Jedi

If you haven't seen The Last Jedi and want to remain pure, don't read this. If you don't care about spoilers....hell, you still may not want to read it. Consider yourself warned. 

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Last Jedi

I suppose I expected there would be some fans that were let down by The Last Jedi, but I didn't figure on the split with the fans being 50/50 (according to Rotten Tomatoes) on whether they liked the film or not. No Star Wars film is ever going to make everyone happy. There is no way to make a film that captures what the original trilogy gave us. You know, the intricate character development, giving us origin and background information on the characters, definitively tying up loose ends in the plot, and a penchant for giving the fans just what they expect. You know....on second thought, the original trilogy didn't really do those things in the way our memories are telling us they did. I'm going to argue that The Last Jedi is closer to the vibe and tactical story telling of the original trilogy than any of the 5 films that came before or after episodes 4 through 6. 

Before I begin what promises to be an exhaustive and probably little read diatribe, I want to acknowledge that yes, absolutely there are some problems with The Last Jedi. There are some cringe inducing moments. There are some downright head scratching moments. I don't want to tell anyone they are wrong for not digging those moments. I don't want to tell any Star Wars fan they are wrong for not liking the movie....but I'm going to anyhow. Just to give an example or two on what I didn't really enjoy, I will say I didn't care for the way they brought Leia back from the almost dead. I didn't mind that it happened so much as the execution of it on film. It was very weird looking.....like she was Mary Poppins flying in from the heavens. I think it would have worked much better if her body had been rescued and the force brought her back in that manner. Another aspect of the film that I didn't care for was not so much that it was there, but that it was really underutilized and unnecessary. I'm speaking about Canto Bight, the high brow gambling city. That sounds contradictory, but if you are not going to have two central characters explore that world a little more while trying to pull off that plot line, just chuck it and make the situation a bit more simple. It seemed like a very forced way (no pun intended) to make a political point (and yes, The Last Jedi has some politics woven into it and I think we may see some of that spill over into the final film). 

There are other little things, but I'm not here to dwell on the 10% of the film that I wasn't on board with, I want to break down why I feel like the film was true to the original trilogy, more so than any of the prequels. More than Rogue One. More than The Force Awakens. I'll try to go through some complaints that I have read and talked to people about over the past couple of days. Hopefully I can convey my experience in a way that may make someone take pause and see the film a bit differently. 

I want to start by saying I believe that the prequels are a burden to the sequels and have rewired the way a lot (most?) fans think about episodes 4 through 6. Try to recall the time when there was no prequel. Remember seeing A New Hope for the first time and try to do so without allowing any of the other films to compromise your mind. ANH was a simple story. We met a crazy looking villain early on and had no idea where he came from. We met a girl that was called "Princess", but had no idea what was behind her royal lineage. We got to see a simple farm boy of no particular importance grousing about his place in the universe. We met a hermit that seemed to be a little more than met the eye. The story moved on from there and we went on a thrill ride the likes of which film hadn't seen before. The hero defeated the villain by using a thing called the force. Luke wasn't trained in using the force, but completely let it control him as he destroyed the Death Star. Not unlike the force using Rey and her keeping pace with an under trained Kylo Ren. We seem to forget that Luke had little training and was able to channel the force and understand it enough to let it control him. During A New Hope we were given small details about who the characters were and how the story got to the point where we dropped in, but we were not soaked in it. It wasn't central to the story and for any film to be worthy of your time, it should be a good story. The story trumped the details. The prequels took the mystery out of the cinematic Star Wars universe and the sequels now have to compete with that. The fans want their expectations met and only want a "twist" they expect. They want a literary film instead of one that asks the viewer to take a ride and get caught up in the inertia of the story. Instead, we now wait for expected developments and let our preconceived notions control our enjoyment or dissatisfaction. Hell, there are a large number of people that hated the film before it was even finished being made. How does a filmmaker expect to satisfy a fan base in this climate?  They can't, so Rian Johnson made his vision and I applaud his effort. While Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder turn out predictable fan boy satisfying films, Johnson took a more artistic approach and made the movie he wanted to see. A movie that pretty much forgets the impact of the prequels and nuzzles up to the originals like it should. 

The Empire Strikes Back came along and picked up some time later. We didn't know exactly what had been going on, but we see that the rebellion was still the underdog and that the Empire had regrouped and still controlled the galaxy. Relationships between the characters developed and some of it was just implied....we didn't even get to see what happened. We got to see Luke use the force with a little more confidence and started to get a sense that it could be manipulated by those that had a special connection to it, and they could be trained to use it in all sorts of beneficial ways. We know it could be used to move objects and for telepathy. We learned it could be manipulated to give the user additional physical powers. Again, we hold Rey's use of the force against her, but were OK with how Luke used it under similar circumstances. The force using and being used by a young whipper snapper is another parallel between The Last Jedi and the original trilogy. When we get to the climax where we learn Vader was Luke's father, we gasped! How can this be? We got what we didn't expect and that was so important to the original trilogy. Han was frozen and in the hands of a bounty hunter. Nothing was going right for the good guys. The film ended without resolution and there didn't look to be any hope. A mainstream movie ended with the bad guys winning? This film turned the twist ending into an iconic moment in film history and filmmakers of all sorts have followed that model since. The movie ultimately was about dealing with adverse circumstances and even failure. Once again we can see how The Last Jedi runs along beside the original films. TLJ is full of failure. Poe is reckless and undisciplined and gets many people killed. Rey can't turn Kylo. Kylo can't turn Rey. Rey can't get Luke to come save the day. Fin and Rose don't get the job done leading to the death of many resistance soldiers.  

With Return of the Jedi, we move further into the story. We saw Jabba the Hut and his lair.The good guys had infiltrated the camp and had a plan devised to get Han Solo back. We didn't need Lucas to tell how all of this happened, we could use or imaginations to fill in the details, but it wasn't central to the story and remember, the story is what is important. Luke learned from Yoda that Leia was his sister and passed that knowledge on to her. The film got away from itself with the Ewoks helping to take down the Empire (which even as a youngster I wasn't impressed with), but we got to see a final battle between Vader and Luke and low and behold we get some time with the Emperor. We don't know where he came from. We don't know why he was a bad ass that was ruling the universe and kept Vader on a tight leash. We didn't have to, the story wasn't about him. The film hashed out father and son.....good and evil issues. It completed the story, or so we thought. There were many questions that were unanswered and I don't really remember to many people caring. If you did, you read the novels and got into the extended universe. The important thing was the story. I'll get to the Snoke and Emperor parallels in just a moment. 

The prequels came along and filled the gaps in. Often times in weird ways that didn't quite fit what we thought we knew about the characters and the force. Lucas tried to fit everything together and it made for a saturated mess of information that wasn't really necessary. Episodes 4, 5, and 6 worked because of the story and the characters executing their roles. The prequels felt very much like it was a cash grab and in my opinion it set up these sequels to be over scrutinized. They carry a weight of expectation. Fans now expect every character to be connected. They expect every moment to have significance beyond what is being shown. We want an explanation for everything and it has to fit into OUR ideas of what we think Star Wars is or what it should be. The prequels gave us all the information we thought we wanted, but it rewired us to believe that the original trilogy had all this information that it didn't have. They stole the magic. They stole our imagination. Sorry....I just had to take another shot at the prequels. I know it's heavy handed writing, but I want to make sure that this point is not lost. 

One of the complaints I have heard more than once is that Snoke was taken out too early and he didn't come clean about who he was and how deep his involvement may have been throughout the history of the Star Wars timeline. Looking back to the original trilogy, the Emperor wasn't given back story. He wasn't even given a great deal of screen time, but we knew he ran the universe and probably shouldn't be trifled with by some farmer boy that worked on harvesting water. He was ultimately killed by his apprentice in a conflicted act of compassion and confusion. Fast forward to TLJ and we see the same circumstance. Kylo Ren acknowledged a "pull to the light" in TFA and is in a struggle with himself that wasn't helped by his connection with Rey. The two characters are conflicted about who they are and who they will become. They have no connection to their family and feel as though they were left to find their own way without guidance. This confusion and connection causes Kylo to kill Snoke. Not only did this mirror the events from ROTJ, but it also defied expectations of the audience. It's what was so gripping about episodes 4 to 6, you felt surprised and had to adjust your expectation and sensibility. It was a fantastic move and it let you know, in no uncertain terms, that this film isn't about Snoke. If he had started telling Rey about who he was, what would it matter to her? She has no frame of reference. She didn't even believe Luke Skywalker was real. Rian Johnson held true to the original trilogy on this and didn't service the fans. 

Another top issue is Luke Skywalker.....and pretty much everything about the character, from the way he reacted to Rey to his demise. First off, these first two films have been largely about Luke, even if he wasn't a screen presence in TFA. What was the original trilogy about? Mainly Luke Skywalker.  Luke has spent the couple of decades secluded. He has rethought this whole Jedi thing. Over time he came to the realization that he no longer believed the Jedi were always right, that they were always the light. He was finished being a Jedi and a hero. He saw himself as a failure. He unsuccessfully started a "Jedi Academy" and basically took Han and Leia's son away. He almost murdered Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) in his sleep. He had been in seclusion and convinced himself that he needed to just wait out death. He wasn't Obi Wan. He wasn't waiting for the right moment to emerge and save the day. He was waiting for it to be over. Rey came along and he lightly trained her, but did so in a way that only allowed her to develop as a force user, not necessarily as a Jedi. The force uses people to maintain balance and some people can connect with it and manipulate it. Rey is strong in that regard and the force has "awoken" in her and leads her. Rey is helped by Luke, not all that different that Luke was trained by Yoda. That is a reflection of TESB and holds the line with the formula of the original trilogy. The deviation, much to the chagrin of many fans is that Luke doesn't get involved in a way that was expected or wanted by the fans (including myself). Director Rian Johnson was true to the plot line and the story. Luke didn't want to be found. He didn't want to come back and join the fight. He wanted to be left alone. He did what he could to help without changing who he had become. He let himself go back to the force. He was exhausted and he was finished. The character went out in an unexpected way, without fan service or kissing the pasts ass. 

Character development has always been an up and down affair when it comes to Star Wars. As I have tried to hammer home, the story is what it's all about. The characters were secondary to the story in episodes 4 through 6. TFA was heavy in nostalgia with the old characters, but it also had to quickly set up a new generation of characters to carry the story. That was a difficult thing to do, but in my opinion, JJ Abrams successfully rebooted the franchise for a new generation of fans, while giving the older fans a reason to come back and re-engage. I believe there was plenty of character development where it was needed to push the story and set up the climax for episode 9. No character has been given the once over like Kylo Ren. We know a lot about him and there should be no questions now about his motivation. He constantly feels betrayed and isn't about to trust anyone. He likes his power and uses it to take what he wants. He has little nuance in how he uses the force and when he doesn't get his way, becomes a bully. Rey is a little behind in this regard, but she has the same general situation as Kylo, but has maintained a positive outlook on her life. Only when the force starts moving in her does she start becoming conflicted. Only when she sees how things really work does she start to develop an edge. Her naivety is wore off fast in this latest film. She is becoming a willing participant in the story. Poe Dameron was also given a lot of room in this movie. We got the feeling he was a hot shot "do gooder" that liked being a hero, but in this film we got to see that he is a very flawed person. He has the ability to lead, but has no patience. He is loyal to the cause and genuinely cares for the people around him, but is a risk taker that never sees where a miscalculation can turn a controllable situation into a disaster. I believe the character development was in line with the original trilogy. It didn't give us everything, but it gave us enough to understand their motivations in the story. 

This is already way too long, but since I'm here, I'll address the point that there was no climax and that the film didn't push the story forward. I disagree with this notion. This is the second of three acts. There shouldn't be an expectation of climax to the story, only to some situations and characters. TESB had the same climax as this film and it's considered by many to be the gold standard of Star Wars films. The story has taken us to the edge of disaster and hopelessness. As fans, we can now speculate on what might happen and in the fashion of the original trilogy, it's very open ended. We expected to know who Snoke was. We expected to know Rey's origins. We expected Luke to save the day and lead the charge towards the finale'. We expected a Leia and Kylo moment. We got none of that and that should be OK. The story is on going and now that we have had our heads spun by not getting what was expected we can have fun speculating on how our heroes are going to emerge. Will there be a time jump? We saw the kid at the end....just a slave kid who was apparently strong with the force. Is the rebellion going to be young people rising against the authoritarian regime? Is Rey going to train a new generation of force users that are not specifically Jedi or will she continue to work with Chewbacca? Will Kylo rule with his emotions and be undone by his search to bring Rey to his side? Will Poe emerge as a dependable leader? Will Fin find his calling within the resistance (he has seemingly bought into it by the end of TLJ) and will his relationship with Rose continue? Are C-3P0 and R2-D2 going to have continued roles? Will there be an uprising of the people based on the centralization of power and wealth that the First Order is trying to achieve? Is Snoke really dead? Was Kylo trying to minimize Rey's confidence by planting in her head that she had no role in this story? That she really wasn't important? Is Luke gone for good? These things intrigue me and make me excited for the next film. My expectations have been turned upside down by The Last Jedi. I'll forgive the purple hair, the under utilization of Benicio Del Toro's character of DJ, and a couple of oddly placed jokes. I'll forgive Leia Poppins. I'll let the notion of running out of fuel go to. I will embrace the Porgs. I love the new ways the force can be used. I anticipate seeing how the relationship between Huck and Kylo Ren develops and how the inevitable show down with Rey and Fin will play out. All options are on the table and just like with the original trilogy and with The Last Jedi, expect the unexpected! 

All in all, I think this film is going to be looked at much better by Star Wars fans in a few years. I trust that Rian Johnson is a big Star Wars fan that followed the original trilogy battle tested formulas and brought a refreshing twist to the franchise. I believe he has made one of the better Star Wars movies. It entertained me as a movie lover and it maintained my excitement as a Star Wars fan. I hope I helped to soften some rough edges for a person or two. Remember, in the end, it's just a movie and if you are a Star Wars fan, there is so much to like in this film that I implore you to not let a few instances ruin it. In this film we got a bad ass fight with Rey and Kylo destroying the Elite Praetorian Guard, Luke projecting himself and making a fool of Kylo, Poe phone trolling Huck, and all the sweet looking action that took place on the salt planet of Crait, Luke face to face with Leia, and the epic opening space battle. Not to mention Luke meeting the force as he looks out at the setting suns. A most fitting farewell in the way that the character wanted it. Nobody is having their childhood raped. Nobody is dying because of the direction Johnson took in telling this part of the story. Be glad we have more Star Wars. I don't want to live in a galaxy without it! 

Key lines of relevance in the sequels.....the very first sentence in The Force Awakens was muttered by the legendary Max Von Sydow (as Lor San Tekka) and he said (and I believe it to be accurate)....

"This will begin to make things right"

In The Last Jedi, the Luke and Kylo  characters both had lines that could be applied to the film....

Luke "This isn't going to go the way you think"

and Kylo "Let the past die. Kill it if you have to".

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Nothing In 2017

I've got several half written, half started musings saved from the past eight months, but I just haven't had the inspiration to finish them. Like this offering, I sort of went about what I wrote with a half-hearted attitude. If I don't have anything to express or say, I just won't publish or I'll delete. At this point, I'm just making sure I get on the board for 2017

There is so much going on in the world, but my feelings float back and forth between disgust and exhilaration. From politics to science it seems every day brings something else to occupy my curiosity. Any sort of passion is out though. I don't really care much that the election of Trump is causing a melt down. He's a buffoon and a jackass that in over his head and the hysteria his election has caused can be a little entertaining. I don't feel like there are any politicians with anything to offer, so let this bitch catch fire for a little while. I've gotten some solid laughs and "WTF's?" out of it all so far. 

I have found a few bands that aren't new, but they are new to me. I recently started listening to Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton and that was born out of my love of Shooter Jennings and Sturgill Simpson. A natural progression into more music made by artists that are not locked into the mainstream. I have also started listening to a pop band called "Portugal. The Man" and I dig them quite a bit. They have been around for awhile and are very much in the same vein as "Broken Bells", and "Foster the People"......sweet melodies and infectious hooks with a sensibility to the lyrics that are largely missing from today's radio pop/rock. 

I finally learned how to use Twitter. That's been OK. I get my news from there now instead of going to CNN/FOX. I really hate the mainstream media and want to be able to find information based on the level of importance instead of having to sift through click bait headlines and stories that I know contain editorial bias. I will probably tire of it, but at the moment it fills some time for me when I don't have much else to do. It's not a bad thing to read Ryan Adams melting down at least once a week. 

Tommy Stinson Steals A Kiss From Yours Truly

Oh, I did get to hang around a bunch of people that were hanging around Tommy Stinson at a "store show" for his "Cowboys in the Campfire" tour. That was pretty cool. 

Joe Rogan is still awesome and his podcasts are almost always worth my time. I continue to miss Christopher Hitchens and wish that Bill Hicks were here to comment on modern society. That would be a treat right about now. 

So, there it is. Nothing. My only offering of 2017 thus far. If you don't hear from me again.....I'm not gone, just gone away until next time. Enjoy life, it's probably the only one you'll get. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Bill Hicks: Comedian, Social Commentator, Prophet

When I was a kid, I pretended to be a lot of different people while I was playing. While playing whiffle ball in the yard, I could be Steve Garvey, Johnny Bench or whichever major leaguer was hitting me right that day. While playing football, I would always want to be Roger Staubach, Steve Largent, or Tony Dorsett. Age hasn't really kept my imagination from having fun once in awhile as Rock Band emerged and allowed me to unleash my inner Lindsey Buckingham, Don Henley, or George Harrison. Having a fertile imagination and allowing yourself to wipe out the grind of every day life can be a useful tool and provide a lot of fun when goofing off with friends. There is one philosophical question that I've asked others and been asked myself; if you could be anyone else, who would it be? It's a fun question, but at it's heart, if taken to a degree of conversational seriousness, it can be quite a vexing enterprise to come up with a suitable answer. I've never really been able to pin down an answer and mostly, I attribute that to my family and friends. If I were someone else, I wouldn't get to share my life with these people that I love. 

Recently, I have found the answer to that question. If I could go back to the start and live someone else's life, I would choose Bill Hicks. No, not very exotic or exciting, but then, if I were thinking in only those terms, there are dozens of actors, musicians, writers, and athletes that surely have lived the high life in a way that makes them the envy of most men. Me being me, I don't always choose the obvious, although a couple of people probably don't find it surprising. Hicks profession and worldview are appealing to me. The former as a "if only I had..." thing and the latter as a reality. I'm not in lockstep with his worldview, but I have a lot of commonality with it. I've now read two biographies on Hicks, I've seen his "specials" at least 5 or 6 times each and I have watched the two documentaries about him (both are excellent snap shots in distinctly different ways); "American: The Bill Hicks Story", and "Just A Ride". I've absorbed a lot of his material and have been exposed to almost all that a common fan out here on the wide world of webs can see and hear. Even though he didn't make it "big" in the USA (he was very popular in the U.K.) and he died at 32, that's a life that was truly lived. Going out into the world and entertaining people and being persistent in trying to turn others on to the horrors, banality, and stupidity of modern life. At the same time, he offered ideas on how to fix our problems. How to love and how to care. He, at times, let us know that hope was in our control. If we wanted a different world, we had to act differently. Our evolution is still ongoing and when all the fog of day to day life is burned away, we know that we haven't gotten to where we need to be as a species or as inhabitants of a minor planet in a minor solar system in a minor galaxy in what may well be a minor universe. Being awake (which I've covered a lot on my blog over the years, so I won't rehash, they are saved on previous blog pages here) is one of the great blessings in my life and to see that rarest of state of minds in someone else, that I can recognize and empathize with, is quite exciting. With that, I want to talk about Hicks' work and more specifically, how to ingest it. He had a long career but a short life, so many of his "bits" were works in progress and you can tell as a few years pass in his work that he honed his message and got better at rounding it into a palatable "act". I discovered Bill Hicks through Netflix a few years ago and have slowly evolved into a fan and I suppose in many ways, a "follower". I mean, "follower" in the same way I would discuss Alan Watts or Sam Harris, in that I want to hear as much as possible from them on how they see the world and why it's important to consider what they are conveying through their words. 

 To be clear, this is for me and anyone that may be interested in learning more about Bill Hicks. I may say some things that Hicks would find false in his own motivation or belief, but I consider the man to have been an artist and like John Lennon, Stanley Kubrick, and Hunter Thompson. His art can be interpreted by the individual in a way that isn't critique or review, but is meaningful as a way of thought or meditation on the message and how it can be applied to one's own psyche. Bill Hicks has been an agent of change in my life and for the better. I pay homage to him with this blog. 

As far as an introduction to Bill Hicks, I don't know if it's better to see the slick BBC documentary "American" or to watch his HBO "One Night Stand" special. Context is key and I feel like you have to try to watch Hicks work from the perspective of 1988 to 1993. What has happening in the world? What was on TV? Who were our best selling musical acts? What was OK to discuss on TV or in public? These questions have a lot to do with how Hicks' comedy can impact a person. I don't see Hicks as just a comic. I see him as a prophet. Twenty-four years after his death, so much of his material is still very relevant to our country and world. He had been looking behind the curtain, while the rest of us were going about our daily business of accepting a society that was becoming more narcissistic and driven by commerce and commodity instead of compassion, justice, and critical thought. Remember this is a pre 9/11, pre 1993 Trade Center bombing world. His political points should be outdated, but they are not. In many ways, his views on the military and war are still 100% relevant. We are currently paying the price for playing policeman and cowboy all over the planet with our sometimes imperialistic, hawkish, neocon actions. We continue to forsake feeding people for killing them. We make budget cuts to education and healthcare, yet use those cuts to make increases to developing weaponry. I wonder what Bill Hicks would think about the state of the world if he were still here, or hell, even more interesting would be if he could suddenly be awoken from his death slumber and shown what's going on. He could just pick right up where he left off!

As quotable as his acts could be, this one (below) really resonates with me, almost as much as the "It's Just A Ride" commentary. It's the root of his deepest works. We have the capacity for being better, smarter, more compassionate, and loving as a species.....so why are we not doing that? While guys like Burr and Stanhope share his resentment of the stupid, ignorant, and dangerous, I don't know that he ever wanted a great "thinning of the herd" as much as he felt like we should simply be enlightening one another.

OK, so I settle on watching the HBO "One Night Stand" first. It has the famous "think pieces" but also should be a little more accessible to the modern stand up fan. The "preaching" is still there, but he runs a tight set and from start to finish it's strong with pure laughs while still trying to drop little thought nuggets into your mind. With the shots that he fired at George Bush and the anti-intellectual Christian conservatives, it's no wonder I never found him when he was in his prime. I would have dismissed his words out of hand. I was a much different person then and didn't have room for differing worldviews. If you are the type, like me, that as soon as he gets turned on to something,  wants to find out all he can on a topic, the next thing to do is to watch "American; The Bill Hicks Story". It's a modern and entertaining documentary with a fairly broad look at who Hicks was and why he mattered to people and to comedy as an art form. Understanding a little bit about who he was will make the next step much more palatable and it should be considered a "prep" course on his "manifesto" (my word, not his). After watching the Hicks documentary, "Sane Man", should be watched and explored. It tends to touch on some of the same stuff as the HBO special, but it's much more targeted to people that have an open mind and can look at Hicks as a social commentator that is going to deliver the laugh, but he's going to make you think for it. He broadens his topics. It's almost like a directors cut of the HBO special, but it doesn't feel redundant. "Sane Man" was actually shot two years before the HBO special, but it's just not as slick and "customer ready". This seems to be for the more seasoned Bill Hicks fan or those that tend to be open to receiving information or comedy in a way that is not always conventional.  I believe to experience Hicks you have to be willing to put yourself in his time and you have to be willing to consider his point of view on topics that you may really disagree with him on. It's a challenge. It's art. He is asking you to take a little peak behind conventional wisdom. Who is pulling the strings? Maybe you should figure out why you believe what you believe? 

To this point, I've advised "HBO One Night Stand", "American", and "Sane Man" as the viewing order. If you have the means, the next thing I would suggest is the short documentary "Just A Ride". It's short, but gives an interesting insight to how contemporaries and friends saw him. It gives a perspective on Hicks that is a little bit grittier than "American". After all of this, if you are still clamoring for more or you have at least stayed interested enough to go the full nines to satisfy that you have done all you can to embrace his genius, then it's on to his greatest two works; "Relentless" and "Revelations". Both were released in 1992 and they, in my opinion, are companion pieces. There are not many audiences that want to endure two hours of cerebral comedy and social commentary (preaching?) so seeing this as two halves of the same piece can help a person understand the total Bill Hicks. Hell, "Relentless" even ends with Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" and then is back as his introduction music for "Revelations". Oddly enough, both of these specials were shot on foreign soil ("Relentless" in Canada and "Revelations" in England), which sort of tells the tale of his being accepted everywhere he went, except in his own country. The media was keeping a close eye on what was acceptable to be talked about and what wasn't (sound familiar?) and when you learn about the "inside baseball" that went on between Bill Hicks, TV producers, and other commercial entertainment enterprises, it's really no surprise that he didn't break out in the United States. 

"Relentless", in my opinion, is his most satisfying, consistent, and targeted work. He was on. Hicks gave a performance. It was physical. It was mental. It was funny. His timing impeccable and passion on display, Hicks was giving the audience what he wanted them to have. He was bringing you into his mind and asking you to not recoil, but to accept and think critically about what you were hearing. He is telling you that he knows he doesn't fit into this world and has trouble understanding it, but feels compelled to share who he is, even if it's rejected. This is his Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in "There Will Blood" performance. He can seem angry, resentful, and even puzzled by our culture, country, and civilization, but at his core, he believes that love, honesty, and integrity are what can and will make us great. He didn't believe we were done evolving and when you peel back the layers of this particular performance, you get a sense that this is a sensitive person. The jokes also may have tinge of pity for his subjects, but there is also the feeling that we can't continue to suffer fools if we want a better world. In the sarcasm and darkness, there is definitely a pleading to get people to acknowledge that we need to start making progress as a species.

 The second half of what I call the "Hicks Manifesto" is "Revelations". This pretty much picks up where "Relentless" left off, although it's a bit more challenging and probably would be considered a chore to endure for the uninitiated or for someone that doesn't watch it in context of its' time. Sure, all the societal, political, and entertainment stuff is there, but he also lifts the veil a little bit into the motivation of men and what, at a primal level, we really are or can become if we were to strip away our cultural evolution to expose a basic instinct. The "Randy Pan the Goat Boy" segment is just that. He jumps in and out of this character at the midway point of the show. It quickly becomes annoying for the person that is looking for the joke in the language. It's not the words that are necessarily the point in my opinion. It's the attitude and process. It's a "man thing". Yes, my dear, I'll play the dating game, but really, I'm more interested in the mating game. Goat Boy is just below the surface and we would do well to acknowledge that and it's not such a bad idea that women understand that it's there too. Hicks, for all his preaching was letting you see the truth behind the truth as far as he was concerned. We all have evolutionary urges and despite the suppression (which is a good thing for an evolving social creature, such as the human being) and lack of acknowledgment, try to know yourself. Many of his bits are just masquerades for greater points. Sometimes it's easy to get the point, but other times, it's not. That's what makes his work so "re-watchable". Like The Beatles or Bob Dylan, there are layers to some of his work and if you want to understand the artistic value, you have to spend some time with it. 

"Revelations" is fantastic, but I recommend trying to find the full version that has the introduction and ending attached. There are versions that have cut those things out, but I feel they are vital to the overall piece. Hearing Bill give you a little clue of how he sees himself is important to understanding why he does his comedy the way he does it. 

Bill Hicks has a lot of history and stories packed into his 32 years. He started sneaking into bars at the age of 16 and owning a decidedly adult audience. He was different from the start. He was an artist and he really did move the dial forward for stand up comedy. He stood on the shoulders of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin and these days there are countless comics that are standing on his shoulders. You can hear his jokes being told by Paul Mooney (Hicks used the "we have the receipt" line for our weapons of mass destruction sales to Iraq, 20 years before Mooney got laughs for it on the Chappelle Show), and Denis Leary pretty much stole and caricatured Hick's persona along with quite a few of his bits. Politics, religion, sex, abortion, warfare, advertising, artistic value in music.....all of these topics were touchy back in the "heyday" of Bill Hicks. You didn't oppose the war and you damn sure couldn't say anything negative about our imperialistic endeavors, lest you be admonished by the conventional wisdom of emerging right wing leadership. Yeah, it's a nice punchline to say if we can shoot a missile down an air vent a thousand miles away, why don't we start shooting food to the hungry?; but the message of that "joke" is that we use all of our knowledge and resources to build better killing equipment, yet we don't use them to solve a more human problem, like hunger.You could talk about religion, but really couldn't get away with hitting Christianity on a personal level in the mainstream. He chased down the anti-intellectuals. He chased down the musicians that he felt were shaming the good name of rock and roll and called them out by name. Again, at that time, you didn't do such things. He had a bit about his starring in a show where he would hunt down and shot gun Billy Ray Cyrus, MC Hammer, and Marky Mark. He felt he was right and that he was answering their shit by revealing some truth (as he saw it). Why should they get to cheapen and dumb down music and he not be able to say it? He was a "truther" in the best possible way. His "It's Just A Ride" closer to "Revelations" is all over You Tube and is one of the cornerstone's of how I want to view life. I don't always live up to it and I sometimes drift away from believing it, but I find myself going back to it. I will post a couple of videos of that below. One, as it is, on the performance and another that has him mixed and auto-tuned in with the great George Carlin, that I find both entertaining and inspirational.  

Hicks & Carlin: The Big Electron

I will probably think of more to say about Bill Hicks and my relationship to his work after I publish this, but as a free flow piece, I'm satisfied with what I've said. There is quite a bit more I could get into about Hick's influences and even some of the more negative traits that he had. He was a human being. He contradicted himself at times, but I believe at his core, he was a prophet. He couldn't have been truly understood in his time, but only in the context of seeing that time as a part of history and how it continues to impact us now. We have learned some things over the past 24 years since Bill Hicks died of pancreatic cancer, but we have also stood still and perhaps even regressed. Today, as much as ever, Bill Hicks can make an impact on our society and it's evident as he has stood the test of time. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi giving in to Darth Vader, "If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can imagine", Hicks is still a "Force Ghost" for so many comics today, like Russell Brand, Doug Stanhope, Joe Rogan, Jim Jefferies, and so many other modern day truth seekers. He is relevant and is more popular now than he was during his prime. 

You can find almost every special or documentary I have mentioned on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, or by purchasing them online. I highly recommend catching the David Letterman apology and I have linked a YouTube video on that below. Letterman made a mistake with Bill Hicks shortly before his death and eventually was able to try to make up for it, if not for Bill, then for his family, friends, and fans. 

It's Just A Ride

Mary Hicks on Letterman