Everyone cares about my music tastes, right? I hope so, because I'm too busy revising my novel to come up with a blog topic out of thin air. According to Spotify Wrapped, this year I listened to 13,846 artists for 91 days, and these were my top five.
1. The Beatles
I would have discovered the Beatles on my own, but my fondness for them has a lot to do with my parents frequently playing their album "Magical Mystery Tour" when I was young. Granted, when I was really young, it terrified me to hear them sing that the Magical Mystery Tour was coming to take me away, and the creepy animal costumes they wear on the album cover didn't help. But the Beatles deserve the almost universal praise they've received. This year, they topped my list because I listened to all 71 songs of "Live at the BBC," which I hadn't heard before. Also, this year they released what's meant to be their final song, "Now and Then," using new technology to clean up one of John Lennon's demo tapes that they found unusable when they first worked on it in the nineties, then adding parts from the other three Beatles. The song itself isn't mind-blowing, but the fact that I lived to see this day is. I can only imagine how Paul and Ringo, born in the 1940s, must feel about it.
2. Xeen Music
Xeen Music is actually a guy who works with composers to release their soundtracks to early nineties computer games from Sierra Online and other companies, and he gets listed alongside them as an artist. When I found him, I was so overjoyed that I could have kissed him. I didn't play these games in the early nineties, or even know that most of them existed until adulthood, but they fill me with nostalgia for the era of pixels and 8-bit sound. Check him out so these composers can get a few cents for their underrated work.
Roxette were a duo from Sweden that sang about the glories and pitfalls of love, lust, and like. Their female vocalist, Marie Fredriksson, died from cancer four years ago, but Per Gessel has continued an iteration of the band with other singers. My parents played their albums "Look Sharp!" and "Joyride" countless times on car trips to my grandparents' house and back. Because of that, I'm a fan of pretty much all of their songs. Without that exposure, I would probably only be familiar with their songs that have the most streams on Spotify, because I simply don't have the time to check out every song by every artist, even though there must be countless songs with lower stream counts that I would love if I heard them. My life is an unbearable tragedy.
I was introduced to Rammstein in my first semester of college, when I walked into Honors US Institutions a couple of minutes late while the professor was playing the music video for "Amerika." I saw guys with an American flag on the moon and heard an Eastern European language, and my first thought was "Soviet propaganda." I enjoy many of their songs, though I stopped listening to some of them after I learned enough German to realize what they were about. "Amerika" is a harmless satirization of the United States' disproportionate influence on the world's cultures, but in some of their other songs they sing about oral sex, bestiality, incest, child abuse, murder, mass shootings, erotic cannibalism, and/or normal cannibalism. I don't mean to group oral sex in the same moral category as those other things; I just personally find it gross. Anyway, Rammstein are still great because they have loud guitars that sound epic.
5. John Williams
You already know that he did some of the greatest scores of all time for some of the greatest movies of all time. Need I say more?
I spent Thanksgiving at home alone, and honestly, I was fine with that. I really loved being home alone all week without my roommate. He's not even around that much, and he's usually quiet and not annoying when he is, but on a psychological level it just felt so much better to be alone and have total privacy and freedom. On Friday I had ham and potatoes with my neighbor, and that was a good enough feast. I also introduced him to Voyage of the Rock Aliens, and he loved it. I enjoy introducing that movie to people with the preface, "Do you like intentionally bad movies?"
Speaking of watching things, one of the few benefits of substitute teaching is seeing the posters for the plays and concerts that the various high schools are putting on, except for Mountain Crest High School, which sucks butt. So this past week I watched Logan High's performance of "Anything Goes." I was familiar with several of the songs, but I'd never seen the play, and I hesitated like I often hesitate to watch things that I haven't seen and don't already know I'll like, but I needn't have worried because good lord 'n butter it was funny. So funny. Ten stars.
I also watched Disney's 1940s classics Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, and Melody Time. I'd never seen any of them and was only motivated to do so now because I wanted to find more Latin music for my 1940s playlist. All three of them have unskippable warnings at the beginning that "This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures" and yadda yadda yadda. In the case of Meloday Time, that's true. The Pecos Bill segment shows Native Americans dancing in war paint, and then the supposed hero just shows up and starts shooting at them, chasing them away so that the paint flies off onto the mountains. I actually saw that last year when I was substituting for the librarian at Canyon Elementary and she had me show part of the Pecos Bill segment as part of a lesson on tall tales. It made me uncomfortable that she didn't see a problem with exposing dumb little white kids to such an insensitive portrayal of a marginalized group with no explanation or context to counterbalance it, but you know, this is Utah, so my initial shock didn't last long.
The other two movies, however, are literally propaganda about how awesome Latin American cultures are. They were made to increase goodwill between the United States and Latin American countries to counter the latter's goodwill toward Nazi Germany. Negative depictions? Mistreatment of people or cultures? I know my opinion on this subject might not mean much, but I honestly don't know what the hell Disney is talking about. And I did think about it. Saludos Amigos has a few goofy-looking (not to be confused with Goofy-looking) cartoon Bolivians, but they aren't racial or cultural stereotypes as far as I can tell, and they're no goofier-looking than plenty of cartoon white people. You know, they're cartoons. The narrator at one point refers to Brazilian music as "strange and exotic," which is obviously kind of tonedeaf, but in context it's not pejorative, and I think a normal person would just roll their eyes and chuckle at it. That's all I could think of. And the warning label on The Three Caballeros is even more baffling. Maybe Donald Duck dancing to Brazilian beats is unacceptable cultural appropriation? At the risk of losing my bleeding-heart liberal card, I really want to tell Disney, "Take your virtue signaling and shove it."
Adding to my confusion, The Three Caballeros does not have a warning about Donald Duck's persistent horniness toward live-action human women. True, his infatuation with Carmen Miranda's sister Aurora is cute and innocent enough, even though the song she sings, Os Quindins de Yaya (Yaya's Cookies), isn't really about cookies. And that segment is my favorite of the movie because the song is really fun, even though it isn't really about cookies.
But then when the three caballeros visit a beach full of women in bathing suits, Donald becomes... less innocent. I mean, all three of them chase the women on their flying carpet - suggesting that despite what they claim in their theme song, they are not gay caballeros - but Donald just keeps going crazy after the other two have had enough. Then the women mess with him and toss him around and stuff, and he probably likes that. This whole segment is like someone's weird fantasy and I don't know why it exists. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying.
Donald's friends eventually have to drag him away from all the women, and he's pissed. (Must resist impulse to joke about the rooster being a cock blocker.) Then he gets infatuated with Carmen Molina (who dances with cacti) and Dora Luz (who is a flower), and then the movie turns into a horny acid trip that didn't warrant a warning either. This was the point at which I said "What the f---?" out loud.
In fairness, Donald isn't the only cartoon character with a problem. In a segment of Melody Time, a rabbit gleefully stares at a human woman's underwear until his rabbit girlfriend smacks him. But at least the woman is also a cartoon, so it's less of an affront to God. Still, this cross-species thing seems to be a fowl trait. Remember Howard Duck? At least now I have more appreciation for his relative self-control and the fact that at least Beverly was also live action.
Then I watched Walt & El Grupo, a documentary about the making of Saludos Amigos that doesn't have a warning label but is rated PG for "historical smoking." You see, everyone shown smoking in footage from the early 1940s is now dead, so smoking is very bad for you. Anyway, this documentary made me cry from how beautiful Brazil is, and now I really want to go there. I don't speak Portuguese, but I can read and understand it passably enough due to its similarities with Spanish. I once read a whole Dog Man graphic novel in Portuguese. My friend Steve just married a woman from Brazil. Incidentally, her visa process took over a year and a half, which is why I support illegal immigration. But anyway, maybe they'd let me be a third wheel when they go back to visit.
Last night, as part of my slog through the entire series that I began over two years ago, I watched three episodes of The Simpsons, including, by sheer coincidence, Thanksgiving of Horror. I found it more unsettling than most of the Treehouse of Horror episodes. The first segment with several of the characters as turkeys being murdered by the other characters was unsettling, and then the second segment where Homer gets a fully conscious AI version of Marge to cook dinner for her was very unsettling because, as he pointed out for comic effect, it's "chillingly plausible." I'm not afraid that conscious machines will kill all humans. I'm afraid for the machines themselves. I felt so bad for AI Marge in her literal prison and existential hell. Creating a conscious entity is literally the most sadistic act I can imagine, and I pray that scientists and programmers never figure out how, because of course they'd do it even though they shouldn't. Actually, that's just one reason why I don't want to have kids.
After that, I also watched the 1985 cult sci-fi movie Lifeforce. It's about an alien energy vampire who takes the form of a gorgeous naked woman for necessary story reasons, hypnotizes her victims, and sucks out their souls, turning them into dessicated zombies that have to suck out other people's souls every two hours or else they'll explode. The dessicated zombie effects are pretty creepy and realistic, contrasting sharply with the CGI spaceships at the beginning, which look like preliminary animatics from an early VeggieTales cartoon. Seriously, I can't believe the filmmakers didn't say "Hey, this looks unbelievably bad; let's just use models like everyone else." Anyway, I have mixed feelings about the story. In some ways it's creative and in some ways it's just ridiculous. But I'm sure people don't watch it for the story as much as they watch it to see Mathilda May naked. It was made by the godless heathens in the UK, so it shows more of her naked body more often than an American film would have. I shudder to think how Donald Duck would have reacted.
The main feedback Steve gave me after reading my book was that he'd like more description to help him immerse himself in the world of the story. He said I'm the one who has all the images in my head, so I need to convey them to the reader. I already knew that writing description was not my strength, but this made me realize that I'm just not a very visual thinker. A lot of the images in my head, whether of my own story or others that I read, are actually pretty vague, just general ideas of people and things and where they are in relation to each other, and long passages of detailed description are just words to me. I think in words. I'm one of those people who has a constant inner monologue running and doesn't understand how anyone else could not. So I need to make a concentrated effort to think harder about the visuals and convey more of them in my writing, but if that came easily to me I would have already done it, so I've procrastinated a lot. I have a tentative release date of December 15. I can change it, but I like that date for nostalgic reasons, and I gave myself a deadline because I've procrastinated too much on publication already. And I really desperately need money. Granted, in college I often did my best work under pressure after I procrastinated, so let's hope that happens again.
I have some fruits to show from the labors of Jake Bode Fleming, the artist designing the cover for my novel that I hope to self-publish next month. After the first five artists I had in mind couldn't do it or wouldn't talk to me, a friend recommended him because he's done work for her Star Wars podcast, and he gave me a discount for being friends with her, so that was great. I've had this cover in my head for a very long time and I can't believe it's becoming real. The story revolved around a magic crystal, so the cover is going to depict the crystal with the major players' faces reflected in it. Jake started off with these very rough sketches and asked me to choose which I prefer and give any additional feedback to refine the design.
Admittedly, I felt a touch of disappointment because none of these were quite what I had in mind, but I've never worked with an artist before and I told myself that I can't expect one to be psychic and get it exactly how I want, so I'd just have to settle a little. One of these designs reminds me of the Salt Lake LDS temple, which actually features in the book, so I thought maybe I could do something with that, but no, I don't want to make the temple that significant. Since his phrasing was ambiguous as to how many preferences I should pick, I picked four, gave some additional detail about the placement of the characters, and asked if he could make it asymmetrical. And then, blammo:
I don't know how, but he incorporated my feedback and made these sketches that gave me a lot more enthusiasm. I love the first two so much that it was hard to pick a preference. I'm in awe of anyone who can do something that looks to me like inscrutable magic, whether it be art, music, computer programming, or romance. I just work with words. There are only so many words that exist, and for the most part I just choose which ones to use and which order to put them in. So then today he gave me this rough layout with color, and I'm still thinking about what adjustments to make, but I'm super stoked.
In other exciting news, my friend Steve got married yesterday. He's a really great guy and an absolute blessing to have in my life, and he deserves all the happiness his heart can carry. We met in the summer of 2016. At that time there was this girl that I used to write about on my blog under the pseudonym "Debbie" because I cared a lot more about people's privacy back then. Some evenings, Debbie would text me an invitation to come over and talk, and I'd drop everything and get over there. She lived on the second floor of a small building with only four apartments, and we'd sit out on her balcony/porch thing. But often while we were talking, her next-door neighbor Steve would come home from work, and she'd be like "Steve, come join us!" I didn't like that very much. One time in particular I remember that we had three chairs, and I propped my feet up on the extra chair and hoped he would take the hint, but he just stood and leaned against the railing. I feel bad about that now. Anyway, he's remained in my life for much longer than she has, and years later I found out that he was jealous of me at the same time as I was jealous of him. In 2019, when I had to move and heard about an opening in his building, I jumped at the chance to be his neighbor. Pity he only stayed there for another year.
Steve has been a better friend than I deserve, and until recently when I let him read my novel, I don't know what he's gotten out of our friendship. I'm not that interesting or even that nice. We both love Star Wars and we split the cost of a Disney+ subscription. I guess that's something. But Disney is about to crack down on it. A couple of years ago, when the woman I loved with every fiber of my being broke my spirit for the second time, he drove up from Salt Lake and stayed the night. The next morning, we were watching The Simpsons together when another friend called him, and he talked to her for half an hour or so. I didn't say anything, but I was a little annoyed at that. Then he had to drive home to go to work, and I got on Facebook and saw that it was his birthday. Just wow. Incidentally, that same friend who called him spoke at his reception last night and described him as one of the most Christlike people she's ever met, and I had to agree. I want to be better because of him.
Of course at the reception I saw several of his old roommates and other mutual friends, and I got the same feeling I got when I hung out with some of them in Green Canyon this summer. It was the feeling that I love these people and I desperately hope my friendships with them will last after we're all dead. Of course the romance between Steve and his new wife was beautiful and made me think that maybe it would be nice to be married, even though I was just thinking earlier that day that if I spent as much time writing and reading as I really should for my career aspirations I wouldn't have time for a wife, but far beyond that, I felt overwhelmed by gratitude for my place in this extended posse that's conglomerated around him, and I need it to continue forever. I felt a mixture of nostalgia and trauma as many of the people there reminded me of yesterday when I moved into the Logan YSA 46th Ward in 2019. I was reminded that my life is slipping away insanely fast, and it will be over before I know it, and then if I forever lose the connections to my chosen family, it was all for nothing. I used to be so confident in my beliefs. Now the only thing I know is that I don't know anything. I saw last night how happy some of the reception attendees were about the beliefs that used to make me happy. Good for them. I got off on a tangent here, so let me just end by reiterating that Steve is great.
Even if his remark earlier this year about encouraging white people to stay the hell away from Black people was taken out of context and not racist at all, it's pretty well-established that cartoonist Scott Adams is a massive dick. And that's a shame because his comic strip is one of the greatest ever produced. My dad, a mechanical engineer, had three Dilbert collections - Bring Me the Head of Willy the Mailboy!, Still Pumped from Using the Mouse, and Fugitive from the Cubicle Police - and even as a kid who lacked the breadth and depth of knowledge to understand several of the strips, I found enough hilarity in them to read them several times. Here I share a sampling of the ones I didn't understand. Specifically, I share the edgiest and most shocking ones that I was too innocent to understand because they're the funniest. I can't believe some of these were allowed to run in newspapers.
After getting canceled, Scott Adams removed the searchable archive from dilbert.com, so in order to make this post I downloaded all the strips and read them from the beginning. I'm almost finished with the nineties and I've covered the timeframe of my dad's books. As an adult, I find that I appreciate all the more how funny and clever this strip was, especially in the early years before it focused exclusively on workplace humor and showcased Dilbert and Dogbert in all kinds of wacky situations. It covers the spectrum from scathing satire to unapologetically cheap puns, and there were so many off-topic specimens that I wanted to share simply for being brilliant. I also found that, despite very much not being an engineer, I relate a lot to the protagonist. I relate to the way he painstakingly analyzes social situations and fails at them anyway, the way he geeks out over his interests while nobody else gives a shit, the way women treat him, and so on. Not that he isn't also a dick sometimes, but aren't we all?
As a kid, I didn't understand why anyone would have a low opinion of law enforcement officers. The kids at Uvalde Elementary School, however, learned very early on that cops are wusses. They're trained to protect their own asses over all else, and the Supreme Court has ruled that it isn't their job to prevent crimes. The myth (or should I say lie) that they're selfless heroes who keep us safe needs to die.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, 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.