Prior to Christmas this year, I accompanied my sister and brother-in-law who already had the you-know-what, and my infant niece who already has you-know-what antibodies, to visit my aunt and uncle and cousins who already had the you-know-what, and then my grandparents and other aunts who already had the you-know-what. We came home on Christmas Eve and I spent actual Christmas at home alone and didn't get the package my mom sent that was supposed to arrive on the 16th until today (I assume it arrived yesterday, but I didn't get it until today when I went outside and nearly tripped over it, so I'm glad it didn't get stolen overnight), but that's okay. The highlight of my brief travel was playing Legos with my ten and six year old cousins. Ten year old said at one point, "Who wants to get drugged?" I thought I must have heard her wrong, but no, she showed me the Lego "drug shop" she built where Lego people could "drink drugs" that made them grow extra torsos. Afterward, they "smoked" out of Lego saxophones. I just - what?
Also, two year old cousin found my scriptures and highlighted them for me, so that was thoughtful.
In the spirit of Christmas, I want to think about the good things that have happened this year, gifts from God, if you will. For most people, this year started to go downhill in March or thereabouts, but for me, January 14 was the literal worst day of my life, so everything after that was just kind of whatever. The best things that happened to me specifically were that I got accepted into graduate school and offered a graduate instructor position that I accepted and enjoyed, and my sister had a baby. Those don't go on the official list because they don't mean anything to most people and my purpose here isn't to brag about how great my life is, but I wanted to mention them.
1. We got Covid-19 vaccines in record time. I attribute this in part to the global fasts called for earlier this year by President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially the second one. In the April 2020 General Conference, he said, "I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized." The only immediate discernible result of this fast was an outpouring of love and fellowship among people of different faiths all over the world, which was really great but not the purpose of the fast. Within a few months, though, multiple companies have used new technology to create multiple vaccines faster than any other vaccine in history has been created. Skeptics will say it's a coincidence; I say it's not. I guess that's why they call it "faith".
2. The extent of racism still in the United States is finally being recognized and addressed by white Americans. Of course, many white people are fighting this recognition tooth and nail, insistent on deluding themselves that racism ended after some laws were passed in the 1960s, or that whatever racism still exists will go away by itself if we refuse to acknowledge it, but they've already lost. The protests and riots going on are generally regarded as another reason why 2020 has been a dumpster fire, but they're actually a good thing in the long run. They're the inevitable and long overdue symptom of a disease that's been festering for centuries, they're a step closer to healing, and they're what this country deserves. I don't condone or support riots, but as Martin Luther King (who didn't condone or support them either) pointed out, "in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard." This unrest could have been prevented if people in power had addressed these problems a long time ago, but now they have no choice.
This seems to be a direct silver lining of the you-know-what. If people hadn't been stuck at home spending all day on social media, the necessary outrage probably wouldn't have materialized, just like it never did in the past.
3. Police officers are finally being put in their place. While I recognize the huge racial disparity in police abuse, I count it as a separate issue from racism because racism manifests in many other ways and black people aren't the only ones subjected to police abuse. Occasionally I see arguments about whether Derek Chauvin is actually racist or not. As far as I'm concerned, even if you could conclusively prove that his murder of George Floyd over $20 (while he himself owed 1092.65 times that amount in taxes) had nothing to do with skin color, it would do little to alter the fact that he's a fascist pig who should be strung up by his genitals and used as a piñata. I hope there's a special place in hell for everyone who's tried to rationalize his actions, blame his victim, or otherwise make him look like less of a fascist pig than he actually is.
I say "abuse" to cover all forms of police corruption and misbehavior, not just physical brutality. I'm very conscious of that distinction after I myself was subjected to police abuse earlier this year on January 14, and after I recovered sufficiently from the trauma to form coherent thoughts I lost all respect for law enforcement and determined that the next time some hemorrhoid in a police uniform comes into my apartment, I'm not going to be Mr. Polite and Deferential while he yells at me. But it could have been much worse for me. All Officer Nelson of the Logan Police Department did was verbally and psychologically abuse me for ten minutes even though he had already been told I was suicidal and already knew he was supposed to make me go to the hospital for being suicidal. He didn't kill me, he just tried to drive me to do it myself. He never explained what I had done wrong and he never accused me of or charged me with any crime. But I thought the police would leave me alone if I didn't break the law? Huh.
Before this experience I wasn't motivated to try to do anything about police abuse, even though I knew it existed and disproportionately affected black people, and after this experience I was too frightened to try to do anything about police abuse because police were above the law, which of course is why Officer Nelson dared to treat me the way he did in the first place. I regret that I didn't get involved with the cause until everyone else did, but I'm determined to keep it going even if everyone else forgets. There is still much to be done until police officers are consistently and immediately held accountable for wrongdoing instead of having their fellow officers, departments, and unions ignore it or actively cover it up. If they abuse a civilian at any time, even if the civilian did something wrong once, they should be fired and, if necessary, arrested, full stop. Not reassigned to administrative duties, not put on paid leave a.k.a. vacation, not given a letter telling them not to do it again even though they've already done it seventeen times. Until that happens, people will continue to hate the police for damn good reason.
Bullies like Officer Nelson aren't the whole extent of the problem, either. While he tried to play bad cop good cop by himself, he was accompanied by another officer who seemed nice enough but said literally three sentences the whole time and did nothing to justify his presence there. He didn't stand up for me and he didn't ask his fellow cop to stop being a dickhole. It reminds me of this incident that happened in May but was just recently exposed, where a police sergeant in Boston bragged to another cop about running over BLM protesters in an unmarked police car, and didn't realize the other cop's body camera was on. Did the other cop report him? No, don't be ridiculous. The other cop warned him that his body camera was on, which tells you everything you need to know about law enforcement in this country, and the sergeant pretended he already knew that but immediately walked back his comments. Now that the footage has been made public, this piece of excrement has been placed on leave pending investigation, even though his comments alone are more than damning enough that he should be fired on the spot, and the only question is whether he should also be arrested for actually running protesters over.
Oh, and every time I see that picture of former police officer Brett Hankison with that insufferable smile on his face, I want to wipe it off with a brick.
Again, a silver lining of the you-know-what, for the same reasons. It's not like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were even close to being the first black people murdered by American police officers.
4. Donald Trump was not re-elected president of the United States. I know many disagree with me on this, though those people probably don't read my blog very much, but I strongly believe that for obvious reasons he will be remembered as at least the second-worst president in American history (it's kind of hard to top Andrew "Trail of Tears" Jackson). Again, not saying Biden is anything great, but at least he'll make the United States a bit less of a global embarrassment for the next four years, or however long he's in office before Harris assassinates him. At least he only sniffs women's hair instead of bragging about grabbing them by the pussy. At least he didn't unironically warn his followers that his political opponent "will listen to the scientists". At least come January, refugees in desperate need will no longer be banned from this country that once claimed to be a haven for "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore."
I think this is a silver lining of the you-know-what too. As much as I hate to say it, Trump still has enough support that he very well might have been re-elected if not for his criminally negligent mishandling of and misinformation regarding what he called a "hoax", which put God knows how many preventable American deaths on his hands.
5. Disney announced a bunch of new Star Wars TV shows. Given that the most mediocre episode of "The Mandalorian" easily kicks the pants off any Disney Star Wars movie except for "Rogue One", and given that I've long been turning to fan films to get my fix because there isn't enough official audiovisual Star Wars content, I'm thrilled. Of particular interest to me is the show that will star Ahsoka Tano. In a galaxy with thousands of sapient races, it's pretty annoying that almost everything of importance seems to be done by humans, and it's about frigging time someone else got to be the lead in a movie or show. Ahsoka is an awesome character and more than deserving of the honor. I admit that when I first saw her in the animated "The Clone Wars" movie I thought she was a stupid character, but I've repented of that. I actually prefer her more flawed and relatable teenage version but her stoic warrior adult version is cool too. She was one of the most-requested candidates for one of the anthology spinoff films that got canceled after "Solo" flopped, and hopefully her success in leading this series will disprove once and for all the fear of studio executives that "aliens alienate people".
Speaking of "Solo", there's another announced series about Lando Calrissian, which could be interesting as long as it avoids everything that was wrong with "Solo". As you may be aware, when that movie came out in 2018, this character established thirty-eight years earlier was retconned to be pansexual. In the movie, he acts flirty toward Han, and his robot sidekick makes a couple of innuendos and claims he's in love with her, but this is played as a joke until she dies and he's all distraught and it's just weird. Disney exercised restraint with his sexuality, though, just like they did with the brief lesbian kiss between two nobody characters in "The Rise of Skywalker" that could easily be edited out of screenings in more conservative countries. Yet the door is open. The actor who played him, Donald Glover, said in an interview, "How can you not be pansexual in space? There's so many things to have sex with. I'm serious. It just didn't seem that weird to me. You're in space; the door's open." Yes, Donald, you nailed it, no pun intended. That is what Star Wars is all about. So right now, the title of his series is just "Lando", but that's boring and I have a much better proposal: "Star Whores". Jussayin.
In the days leading up to my viewing of "The Rise of Skywalker", I tried to remain untainted and open-minded, without preconceived notions of how much I should reasonably expect to enjoy it. This was difficult to accomplish while being confronted with reviews like "'Rise of Skywalker' is the Worst 'Star Wars' Movie Ever'" or these Facebook posts.
I watched the movie with a small group of friends. We had really good seats except that I was next to a guy who, infatuated with his own voice and unable to understand how public theaters work, thought he needed to verbally react to almost everything that happened onscreen. I wanted to break his nose, but that would have been a path to the Dark Side. I did flip him off a few times but I don't think he noticed in the dark.
My spoiler-free preliminary review of "The Rise of Skywalker": it feels rushed and confusing, tries too hard to exploit nostalgia for the original trilogy, and incorporates several plot points that either too predictable or make little sense even by Star Wars standards. The retcons and justifications for several of "Last Jedi"'s controversial decisions are painfully obvious, making it painfully obvious in turn that the sequel trilogy was made up one movie at a time with no overarching plan or outline from the beginning. The new characters felt awkwardly shoehorned in with little purpose other than to sell toys, and I'm apparently the only person anywhere who doesn't think Babu Frik is cute. Seriously, what's so cute about a ninety-year-old space leprechaun who moves like a crappy stop-motion puppet, looks like his head was squashed and sounds like his brain was damaged in the process? Is this a fricking joke, pun intended?
Notwithstanding all that, the movie has some cool and creative stuff and wraps things up about as well as could be expected given what J.J. Abrams had to work with. The humor, while still not as funny as Disney thinks it is, doesn't feel totally out-of-place and obnoxious like in three of the other four Disney Star Wars movies. I think I like "The Rise of Skywalker" better than either of the previous sequel trilogy installments. It's not a ripoff of an earlier film like "The Force Awakens" and it's not totally bizarre like "The Last Jedi". It was originally announced to be nearly three hours long and I'm guessing there's a lot of cut footage that shouldn't have been cut, that would have made it more coherent and better paced. I thought it would make perfect sense for the finale of nine movies to be the longest one anyway, but nobody asked me.
In any case, with the Skywalker saga out of the way, I hope Disney and subsequently fan films will give the era of the Empire a much-needed rest and move on to other parts of the galaxy's multi-thousand year history. I'd be fine with never seeing another stormtrooper again.
So that was Star Wars. The next and final major event of the year for me is Christmas, or Life Day as they call it in some places, or Impeachmas as several of my left-leaning friends have recently started calling it for some reason. As I'm tired from staying up from the movie, on vacation in sunny Idaho, and generally not in the mood to try and peel back my cynical exterior and wax all poetic about feelings and stuff, yet still feel an obligation to recognize this special day that comes but once a year and only lasts two months, here are some better words from a better person.
"This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love, and then speak it again." - Howard W. Hunter
I hope everyone had a delightful Christmas, as I hope that everyone, Christian or not, is able to enjoy the candy and camaraderie and carols and so on. In this sequel of sorts to last week's post, I address what is widely recognized as a great era for music. The music of every decade prior to the 2010s has its own unique qualities, so it's hard to pick a favorite, but if I have to, it's the eighties. They make me nostalgic for a time I never lived in. Plenty of eighties songs are still loved and repeated, but for unclear reasons, other equally good ones have fallen out of favor and collective memory. I've never heard any of these on a classic hits station even though most of them were rather successful at the time of release. In theory, sharing videos like this instead of writing posts from scratch saves precious vacation time that could be better used to try to get into graduate school and hunt Gold Skulltulas.
The Nick Straker Band - A Little Bit of Jazz
We're starting off with something very clever; a song about jazz that isn't a jazz song, as far as I know. I don't know much about music genres or terminology, I just know what I like, but I'm pretty sure this isn't jazz. No further comment, unless "jazz" is actually a euphemism for some kind of drug or weird sex thing, in which case please don't tell me because I don't want to know.
Red Rider - Lunatic Fringe
A song of defiance against anti-Semitism, which not only hasn't become irrelevant almost forty years later, but also has vague enough lyrics to encompass the various other forms of bigotry that have experienced a resurgence in the Western world in recent years.
Eurythmics - Never Gonna Cry Again
The vast majority of Eurythmics songs are underrated. In my opinion their biggest hit, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)", isn't even in the top five. So it was no easy task to select just one to showcase here, but I settled on the one that was the catalyst for me buying their debut album which was the catalyst for me buying more of their albums. Their debut album was their least successful, but its unique and cool experimental sound makes it my favorite.
Shakatak - Night Birds
An instrumental, electronic version of this song was the demo on a few varieties of Casio keyboard, including the one my parents used to keep under their bed. I yearned for those moments when they let me take it out and push the special button to set it off. As an adult I found the demo online, but stupidly never considered that it might be a real song, until one evening when I was reading "Here There Be Robots" and letting YouTube play in the background and recognized a melody that made me stop in my proverbial tracks.
Goanna - Solid Rock
A better-known song in Australia, but most of my audience isn't in Australia. It's about the invasion of Australia by Europeans, which I think is a bit harsh since most of the Europeans who settled Australia weren't there voluntarily, but it's touching regardless. Much to the writer's chagrin, in recent years some Australians of European descent used his song to take a stand against the "invasion" of Australia by Muslims. It's comforting to know that the United States doesn't have a monopoly on worthless bigots.
L.B. Rayne - Indiana Jones
A rejected theme song for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". Okay, it's actually a joke song made in 2008, but it's more eighties than the eighties so I give it an honorable mention. I'd just as soon play along with the joke and not admit that, but then I'm afraid people would assume I'm stupid.
Baltimora - Tarzan Boy
No comment necessary. (Insert your own quip about none of my comments being necessary here.)
A-ha - The Sun Always Shines on T.V.
Once upon a time, two songs from the same album rose to great prominence. As the years went by, however, one remained prominent while the other fell into relative obscurity. The former is "Take On Me" and the latter is this one. While I can't bring myself to say that the godlike masterpiece of "Take On Me" is overplayed, since I doubt such a thing is possible, I wish the powers that be would spare just a bit of that time for its underrated brother. Until then, it's just another victim of Luigi Syndrome.
Animotion - Stealing Time
For some reason, the album is titled "Strange Behavior" while the song from which it presumably borrows that title is titled "Strange Behaviour". But I haven't chosen that song anyway, because it's not even one of the better ones on this great album. I recommend this entire great album, but you won't find it on Spotify because something something record label bullcrap.
Depeche Mode - Strangelove
I pronounce it "duh-PAY-chay mode". If that's wrong, please don't tell me because I don't want to know. This song has nothing to do with the classic Peter Sellers film of a similar name, but when said film gets its inevitable remake, this song had better be in it or the director should never be allowed to work in Hollywood again.
Icehouse - Electric Blue
Another Australian song, but with no overt Australian themes (unlike Icehouse's other really great song, "Great Southern Land", which is basically an unofficial national anthem). It gets ten billion points for not rhyming "on my knees" with some variation of "begging please", and another ten billion points for this guy's hair. I'm tempted to grow my hair out just like it, but that's a big decision to make. I need to mullet over for a while.
Information Society - What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)
Information Society is one of the most underrated bands of all time, with at least a dozen songs that deserve to be a lot more popular than they are. This one showcases their fondness for irrelevant Star Trek dialogue samples. The band's debut album from which it is taken was the only one they released in the eighties. They're more of a nineties band, though they started making music again a few years ago, I guess because of Trump. Their sound obviously evolved during that time and in this early offering it's at its simplest, but still powerful.
If I think of any more besides the ones from the same artists that I left out to promote diversity, I'll pull a George Lucas and edit this post, but without telling anyone.
I said "the world", which is a generalization, and I said "seems to have", which means I'm just expressing how things look from my perspective. Maybe it's just because I left New York for planet Utah. So if you remember any or all of these, good for you and sorry for getting your hopes up. In any case, this will provide a brief and welcome respite from Christmas music, won't it? (I like Christmas music. I just need a brief and welcome respite from it.)
OMC - How Bizarre
If memory serves me, this and Del Amitri's "Roll to Me" were constantly on the radio in 1995. I may be conflating 1995 with later years when I was no longer two years old, but what's certain is that I haven't heard this on the radio for a very long time and that's a travesty because it's really, really, really good. Looking at the video now I'm not sure if the crappy greenscreen effects are a stylistic choice or an artifact of 1995.
Fastball - The Way
Similar to how I was first introduced to many, many songs through "Weird Al" Yankovic's parodies and polka medleys, I was first introduced to this song through Gigi D'Agostino's dance remix. It's a surprisingly upbeat interpretation of the true story of an elderly couple who went for got lost on what should have been a short and simple trip and somehow fell down a ravine hundreds of miles from their destination and died.
The Click Five - Just the Girl
Not sure if this is creepy, touching or sad, but it's catchy and when all is said and done that's what really matters in a song, isn't it? Not to be confused with No Doubt's "Just a Girl", which is also great but sounds nothing like it. Articles matter.
Stacie Orrico feat. The Chipettes (Just Kidding) - Stuck
Occasionally, in the right lighting, Stacie Orrico bears an uncanny resemblance to my friend Cece that I haven't mentioned in forever because I haven't seen or talked to her in forever. I'd like to know how she's doing, but she isn't currently responding to my texts and that usually means she's not doing well. Please pray for her.
Howie Day - Collide
Pretty, lilting and wistful, this song was one of those that somehow sounded like nostalgia from the day they were released. Fifteen years later, of course it sounds even more so. In another fifteen years, if I'm still alive, it will be unbearably painful to listen to.
Los Lonely Boys - Heaven
This song was once overplayed to the point of being annoying. As soon as I heard its opening chords I would be like "Come on, play something else already." But after a hiatus of a few years, I'm able to revisit it with fresh ears and overplay it on my own terms.
Mario Winans feat. Enya (Not Kidding) - I Don't Wanna Know
Possibly the greatest hip-hop song in the universe. This is hip-hop, right? I don't know much about music genres, I just know what I like, and this song is light-years ahead of most of the garbage that was being released around that time. Or today, for that matter. Yes, barely into my teenage years I already had a head start on becoming the crotchety old man who hates this generation's music.
In conclusion, there's a lot of underrated music out there, but what's really baffling is when people recognize a song's greatness, make it a hit, and then forget it exists. And on an unrelated note, Merry Christmas Eve Eve Eve.
Against all odds, while dredging the internet for Legend of Zelda stuff to sate my obsession, I discovered a snarky synopsis of the Lamp Chop Chanukah Special entitled "Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah". If I wasn't already feeling nostalgic enough from working on my memoir, this cranked it up to eleven because I watched "Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah" when it aired in December 1995. I was two and a half years old. I really want to be two and a half years old again. All I remember from it was that Charlie Horse opened his Chanukah present early, prompting Lamb Chop to taunt "You're gonna get in trouble!", and that his present did indeed cause trouble as troublemaking people kept magically coming out of it, the first being some kind of genie who kicked the furniture and made something fall off the wall by yelling at it. It was very weird. Even at that age I wondered why Shari Lewis was giving her kids/pets such dangerous presents. Learning the context almost twenty-three years later hasn't really made it less weird.
After reading the synopsis, I still don't remember anything else from it, but it fuels my nostalgia nonetheless. Since the special is inexplicably not on YouTube I'm debating whether to spend twenty dollars plus shipping on a VHS tape that I have no way of playing. And what are these other things?
Lamb Chop's existence predates her early nineties show "Lamb Chops Play-Along" by over thirty years, though, and it turns out she's occasionally been a bit less than child-friendly, as in this couple of very old clips. I must admit that Lamb Chop swearing was not something I expected to hear ever, albeit they're just a couple of minor swears that aren't even swears in the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand. These clips both end with the same weird song, and that's the part most worth watching, as Shari Lewis switches between herself and the puppet with inhuman speed and precision. She never seemed old to me despite being in her sixties, but holy crap, she looks so young here despite probably being in her forties.
It also turns out that Shari Lewis cheated by celebrating Chanukah and Christmas. What lucky kids/pets.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.