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.
Okay, I'll give the blathering on about Star Wars a rest. A review of "The Last Jedi" will probably be forthcoming in a few weeks. I'll just say for now that I liked it much better the second time.
Visiting my family in Indiana required getting up at 6 am on Saturday morning. So like most people would do, I set an alarm. But additionally, my brain does this really helpful thing where it likes to wake me up at least an hour before my alarm goes off. And it did that. So after a bit of unpleasant half-sleeping delirium I came to my senses, such as they are, enough to figure that I should check how much time I had left. And the clock said... wait for it... 12:46. So I had probably been asleep for like two minutes. I said to my brain, I said, "Are you ----------------------------------- kidding me??"
I got back to sleep and, sure enough, woke up again. I checked again. Maybe it was almost time. Or maybe it was 2:59. It was 2:59.
"I hate being me," I told God. That was an overstatement, of course, but it was how I felt at the moment.
The third time, I wasn't optimistic, but it was 5:49 and that somehow came as a relief even though I felt like crap. I just wanted to put on a blindfold like Kanan Jarrus and never open my eyes again. How was it possible to be so hungry and so needing to throw up at the same time? Ironically, I felt worse than I did a week later in Indiana, yesterday, when I went to bed at 10, fell asleep sometime after 1:30, and was woken up at 5:24, aka 3:24 MST. Somehow I got so hot while being unable to sleep that twice I went outside in my underwear and stood with my bare feet in the snow and it felt like a cool spring day. But I digress.
I had to get up so early, in large part, so I could arrive at the airport two hours before my flight to make sure I would have plenty of time to get through security even though it's never taken me more than five minutes. But this time it did. This time it took an extra ten minutes. When my laptop didn't come out of the scanner with the rest of my stuff, I knew something was up. When the TSA guy carried it over to another station and asked "Whose laptop is this?" I knew something was up. When he gestured me over to him with a couple fingers and pointed to the external hard drive enclosure duct taped to the top of it and asked "What's that?" I knew something was up. He said that for future reference it looks suspicious to have something taped to a laptop in an airport and their explosives expert would have to look at it. That was fine with me, as I had nothing to hide, but I started to get a little worried that they would confiscate it anyway like they did my toothpaste one time, and then they may as well just shoot me too because it has my tens of thousands of songs that took years to accumulate.
It was nice of the people at both airports to let me through with my expired ID. There was an officer at one of them who looked like Will Smith. I wanted to get a picture of him, but I might have gotten in trouble. I traveled all day, had the usual delays, and got to Indiana around 9 pm EST. It was another hour to the house and then I was ready for bed. And right as I got out of the car I remembered the trains that pass like twenty feet from my parents' house several times day and night and always blow their horns. I used to like trains.
On a more positive note, the next morning it was once again nice to attend a congregation not completely full of white people. Don't get me wrong, most of my best friends are white, but it just gets stifling when that's all I'm ever surrounded by, you know? Because it was Christmas Eve, somebody thought it would be a good idea to sing like eight hymns. I opted out of all the extra ones because I was tired. The black Baptist convert behind us complained that we had ruined the tunes, and she wasn't wrong.
So, the fifty degrees of winter thing the previous and only time I'd visited Indiana turned out to be a fluke. It was very cold. One day I walked a couple miles from the house and on the return trip my fingers felt like they had been hacked off. I have gloves, I just don't know where they are. But it was sunny! I was asked to post some pictures and bring the sunshine back to Utah! So here are some pictures and I got a pocketful of sunshine which, as anyone in Logan can attest, is being put to good use. I hope I got enough pictures to satisfy the person who requested pictures.
Trains that were very hard to photograph through the trees
As Douglas Adams famously wrote in "Last Chance to See", here be chickens
My parents have the best kind of neighbors
A church we don't go to
Bustling city stuff
My scary friend Mackenzie is starting to sound even more like a mob boss
I knew what she meant the first time, of course, but I like messing with her. My advice to her and anyone else hiring someone to take me out is make sure you're not talking to an undercover cop by mistake. I saw that on TV once. It was real, filmed with a hidden camera in the cop's car, and this woman was hiring him to shoot her husband and he was playing Satan and trying to goad her into being more evil. He was like, "You know, sometimes when I shoot people, it takes them a long time to die and they suffer a lot. Does that bother you?" And she was like, "I don't care, I don't care, I just want him gone. Ohhh, I'm gonna sleep good tonight." You can spot undercover cops because they never actually drink the beer. Wait, wrong scenario. You're on your own then.
My parents have a few books
I took the time to read some of them and record my thoughts.
"Lost Race of Mars" by Robert Silverberg. Written in 1960, set in the distant future of 2017, where the colonists on Mars still use film cameras and paper mail. I'd trade digital cameras and email for a colony on Mars. We haven't even put a person on Mars, which is pathetic and inexcusable. We should have done it decades ago. Would we even be able to get emails on Mars? Could they set up the internet infrastructure between here and there? But hey, at least we have fidget spinners, amiright?
"Peanuts Classics" by Charles Schultz. This one is mine. I don't remember it having a broken binding and a brown stain all the way through. Let's see... oh, I know all these comics by heart even though I haven't read them in who knows how long. I read them so many times and yet I never really understood how great some of them are.
"From First Date to Chosen Hate" by Brenton G. Yorgason. Oh, "Mate". Right, I always read that wrong the first time. It's not the best font. Well, maybe I ought to read this famous book. Plot twist: it's for Australians wanting to escape the matezone. "Hooley dooley! So you've come the raw prawn with another true blue Sheila and she's dobbed she just wants to be mates? Do you just cop it sweet and hope she'll be apples, or bugger that for a joke? Fair suck o' the sav!" etc. 1977? Then it should be good for a few laughs. I'm sure it's very... dated. Hum de dum. Oh, so dating sucked even before millennials ruined it? So much for my... romanticizing the past. Creative date ideas - skip! Satan's deceptions - skip! Getting engaged - skip! Oh, look, it's available on archive.org and I just wasted my time reading the hard copy instead of something else! Well, it was very dated but it did have some good stuff. I recommend modern readers to supplement it with "Modern Romance" by Aziz Ansari and "Animal Behavior" by John Alcock.
"Happy Valley Patrol" by John "Blitz" Krieg, pseudonym for Robert Kirby. This book has seen better days. The binding is all but gone and at least a quarter of the pages are not connected to anything. I didn't do it, though I have read it many times. It's a collection of the eponymous newspaper column about Kirby's time as a police officer in Utah, and I love it because it makes fun of two things that I love making fun of: the human race and Provo. And it's just as hilarious this time around.
I also read through all my Tintin books that my sister is keeping safely for safekeeping. I hadn't read them since before I started college, and now I get more of the jokes and references. Hergé truly was a rare breed of genius, which would explain why most Americans don't appreciate him. If you haven't read Tintin, do so; you won't be sorry unless you have no taste. If you want to be thorough you can start from the actual beginning with the mediocre "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" and the racist "Tintin in the Congo", but it's probably better to just start with the sanctioned volumes and come back to those for thoroughness after you're hooked.
The Mormon Section
A noble crusader against injustice has brought to light that in the last five years, twenty Holocaust victims were posthumously baptized by various Mormons in violation of LDS Church policy, sparking another round of complaints about baptizing dead people without consent. One should always obtain a dead person's consent before performing an ordinance that will either unlock their path to salvation or have no affect on them whatsoever. And it is, of course, incredibly selfish and thoughtless for Mormons to spend time baptizing people who will never be on the membership records, pay tithing, or help a church ball team. How would we feel if someone did it to us? I, for one, would be outraged if I were dead and a Muslim or a Hindu or a Rastafarian did something they thought would help me get into heaven. In fact, there's a website called "All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay" which purports to make that happen, and you can guess how much that upsets me by how many times in my life I've mentioned it. (This is the first time in my life I've mentioned it.) Why doesn't every religion just do this for everyone, and then we'll all have all our bases covered?
Several Jewish leaders take this practice personally because it reminds them of the long history of Jews being forced to convert to Christianity or die. That's understandable (even though, as people keep pretending to forget, Mormon teachings state that dead people are free to accept or reject the ordinance). The LDS Church is under no legal obligation to stop the baptizing of Holocaust victims, but does so as a gesture of good will. Most of the people feigning self-righteous indignation over the very few who slipped through the system are atheists who believe that Holocaust victims ceased to exist as soon as they were murdered. That in their lives, millions of lives, the Nazis permanently and irrevocably won. And these complaints about baptizing dead people without consent ring just a little hollow coming from them. And do they care one iota about Jewish religion or culture at any other time? A random teeny little hunch tells me probably not. Some people need to grow up.
The world has survived year one of Drumpf's presidency. True, he didn't accomplish much worthwhile, and he consistently refused to behave in an intelligent or dignified manner befitting a nation's leader (which comes as a surprise to no one), but he hasn't started a nuclear war yet despite his best efforts so I say we should count our blessings. I look forward to blogging for another year, and striving to please my loyal fans, unless of course I unexpectedly die and move beyond this vale of tears, which would be even better. I suppose it's also possible that Daesh will cut off my hands. That would really suck. I will surely face many challenges in this coming year, and just as surely God will bring me through them as He always has in the past, as undeserving as I am. I don't stress nearly as much about them now. So there's that.
George Harrison - Ding Dong
There aren't a lot of New Year's songs. That means there also aren't a lot of good ones. Enter George Harrison's "Ding Dong", which ought to be a lot more famous than it is, and might become a tradition with me since this is the second time I've shared it.
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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.