All posts by J-Money

Twitter: @JDollarSign

Mix Tape: Class Warfare

Class Warfare.

It’s a struggle that dates back to the Plebeians and Patricians of Ancient Rome. It was personified by the populist crusade of Robin Hood in the Middle Ages. And it was settled quite violently during the French Revolution of the Enlightenment, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and all the strikes and skirmishes in between.

It endures to this day, obviously, with the 1% vs. the 99%.

So it’s no surprise that a such a timeless conflict has its ballads.

Honestly, there are so many songs about the subject, the ones I list below are chosen practically at random.

And yet, it’s all so terribly one sided. Every single song written on the subject seems to come from the side of the poor/working class.

I couldn’t find any songs about suppressing wages, circumventing the tax code, or buying a vacation home.

I’m not going to speculate as to why. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

In any case, here is a small sampling of what’s out there…

16 Tons – Merle Travis

When I was a kid, we used to sing this song in music class. It’s kind of a weird thing for a bunch of kids to be singing in school, when you think about it. But I remember wondering back then what exactly the “company store” was.

Well, now I know that these were basically just stores that sold food and other daily necessities. However, they were owned by the company that employed you.

Not only that, most of the low wage workers rented rooms, beds and sheets from their employer as well, effectively sending their entire paycheck right back where it came from.

Eventually, this gave rise to the company town – entire towns owned and operated by a private company.

The most famous of those was Pullman, Chicago, which was owned and operated by the Pullman train car company in the 1880s. This ultimately ended in disaster.

The economic panic of 1893 crushed Pullman’s business. The company slashed wages, but kept prices in its company stores, as well as the rents on its houses. The result was one of the largest strikes in U.S. history – the nationwide railroad strike of 1894.

Some 250,000 workers boycotted Pullman, riots caused $80 million in damages and 30 people were killed before the government stepped in.

It’s easy to forget that people died striking for things like fair wages and an eight-hour work day. But it happened.

The roots of class warfare run deep in America.

Kill the Poor – The Dead Kennedys

They say punk is dead, and in a sense, it is.

But the dream lives on.

Never before, or since, has musical rebellion been so direct, so hostile, so abrasive.

As a movement, punk rock was a direct assault on contemporary values – one that eschewed capitalism in favor of a lawless anarchy.

It raises the stakes far above the battle for decent wages and a respectable living to a fight for our very souls.

It’s not just about capitalism now, it’s about materialism. To a punk, the working man is stuck on a treadmill – a circular pursuit of material excess meant to keep us all in line.

He is governed by unjust hypocrites. Social orders are established not for the public good, but to protect and expand the interests of the elite.

Hence the lament of Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys whose morbid, hyperbolic satire set the standard for punk rock class warfare.

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In “Kill the Poor,” Biafra sings of a world in which the wealthy finally exterminate the poor using a nuclear bomb…

“The sun beams down on a brand new day
No more welfare tax to pay
Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light
Jobless millions whisked away
At last we have more room to play
All systems go to kill the poor tonight…”

You almost wonder why rich people don’t do it – just eliminate all the “takers,” “thugs,” “punks,” and “welfare queens” in one fell swoop…

Maybe because if they did, there’d be no one to pick the crops, scrub the toilets, and clean the dishes.

Thatcher Fucked the Kids – Frank Turner

At the height of the 1980s U.S. punk movement, Ronald Reagan was the living embodiment capitalist excess, cronyism and  inequity. As such, he was and a frequent target of the U.S. hardcore punk movement.

So too was his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher.

In fact, you could make the case that Thatcher was even more loathed.

This woman was so hated that when she died in 2013, “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” topped the UK iTunes chart for online downloads. (Punk song “I am in Love With Margaret Thatcher” got the number six spot.)

The Iron Lady has some very famous haters, too.

Morrissey called her “a terror without an atom of humanity” – a sentiment he expounds on in a song called “Margaret on the Guillotine.”

In his song “Tramp Down the Dirt,” Elvis Costello – who I always thought of as a mild-mannered guy – tells Thatcher: “There’s one thing I know I’d like to live long enough to savor. That’s the day when they finally put you in the ground. I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.”

Where does all of this animosity come from?

Well, as with President Reagan in the U.S., there was a push towards privatization and away from government services. Public housing was sold off. The social safety net was scaled back. And the tax burden was shifted from the rich to the poor and middle class.

All of this created a situation whereby the late 1980s a small portion of U.K. was enjoying a boom, while the rest was suffering.

And so a lot of British people hate Margaret Thatcher.

That includes Frank Turner, a musician whose song “Thatcher Fucked the Kids” falls into the small “fuzz folk” or “folk punk” niche. It carries the same angry punk ethos but shifts the focus from ripping guitar chords to melodic arcs and lyrical story-telling.

It’s a satisfying melding. Sometimes, punk can be too grating and folk too boring. So you mash the two together and there’s a nice middle ground.

Changes – Tupac Shakur

It goes without saying Tupac died too soon.

But in addition to that obvious tragedy, one of the things I find so unfortunate about Tupac’s career  was that the content of his music shifted from social plight to self-aggrandizement and childish feuds.

He went from rapping about police brutality, drug addiction, single mothers, sexism, and life growing up in a poor community, to rapping about drinking Alize, fucking groupies, and killing his enemies.

It was a huge waste of a mind, and a voice, that could be so profound, so incisive, and so transformative.

The song ‘Changes’ is kind of obvious or cliché, but it’s also Tupac at his best. You can see how many of the thoughts he posits remain relevant 20 years later…

“Cops give a damn about a negro,
Pull a trigger kill a nigger, he’s a hero…”

“We ain’t ready to see a black president…”

“There’s war on the streets and war in the Middle East
Instead of a war on poverty,
They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me…”

So it’s really no surprise that when he wasn’t smoking weed and downing thug passion at a club, Tupac managed to build a movement, what he called “Thug Life.”

People hear that phrase and think it’s just gangsta slang, but it wasn’t. Thug Life was a call for change. It was a philosophy that  recognized of the failings our socioeconomic system, but also advocated for improvement from within.

On the one hand, Tupac never blamed anyone for doing something illegal or outside the system to survive or get ahead. If you need to sell crack to feed yourself or your family, then you need to sell crack.

That’s just the way it is.

But on the other hand, if you’re just an absentee father, running the streets and shirking your responsibilities… Well, that’s a problem, too.

I look at where so many 90s rappers ended up. Dr. Dre is hawking Beats. Ice Cube is doing family-friendly movies. Snoop Lion is doing whatever the hell he’s doing. I wonder what Tupac would be doing if he were alive today.

Would he be out there selling 2pac brand liqueur? Or would he be saying some real shit?

I wish he were still around, and that more wisdom and maturity would  have come with age.  I wish he would have turned away from all the trouble that money, guns, and hos bring, and instead focused on the social plight he opined on with such sincere poetry.

I wish he refined the Thug Life message and reached his full potential as a powerful voice in American society.

On one level, Tupac’s death is the same tragedy we see every day – the tragedy of another young black male lost to gang violence.

But it’s also the tragedy of a man who was strong enough to survive five gunshot wounds, but weak enough to succumb to the material excess wrought by his creative talent and entrepreneurial success.

It’s the tragedy of a visionary artist, a genius, whose mind couldn’t navigate the booby traps inherent in our society to fully exploit the opportunity that abounds.

Netflix Instant Classic: Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis

Genre: Silent, Rock Opera, 1980s

What’s it about? A rich kid finds out the super-city his father presides over owes its existence to the exploitation of an underclass of workers. Trouble ensues when a mad scientist sends a robot woman to lead a rebellion.

Who’s in it? The pertinent figure here is three-time Academy Award-winning composer Giorgio Moroder. It’s he who spent three years restoring this German film, a large portion of which was lost. It also features music from such 80s luminaries as Pat Benatar, Billy Squier, Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler, and Adam Ant.

You’ll like it if… You’ve been waiting for someone to mash H.G. Wells’s Time Machine up with George Orwell’s 1984 and lay a rad 80s soundtrack over it.

Time. This movie is all about time – the past, present, and future.

It was originally made in 1926, it’s set in the year 2026, and it was updated and restored in 1984.

That’s right. This is a silent film set to a modern soundtrack (modern in the 80s that is).

So how does that translate exactly?

Amazingly well.

One way I’d describe it is to say it’s a lot like watching the Wizard of Oz while playing Dark Side of the Moon.

Old-timey visuals – visuals whose ambition and imagination far exceeded the technical capabilities of their day – are mashed up with a modern soundtrack that is far more appropriate to the content than it has any right to be.

Another way to describe it would be as a rock opera of sorts, along the lines of The Who’s Tommy, or Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Basically it’s like a 1980s music video that transcended its purpose as a promotional tool to establish itself as art its own right. (They were a rarity but they existed.)

However, that has far more to do with the movie itself, rather than the score. After watching this version of Metropolis I looked the original up on Youtube.

The original score lends the film far more gravitas. That is, it’s tempting to call Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis campy, but I think that goes a bit too far.

Suffice to say, there are a few parts where the music doesn’t quite fit the film’s aesthetic. Still, I found such disconnects more amusing than distracting.

It’s also more entertaining. No doubt, the original Metropolis is a masterpiece. But it’s also nearly a century old, so it’s a bit of an adjustment for the modern viewer. If the modern score is campy, the original is tedious and archaic.

The music notwithstanding, the acting, though silent, is remarkable and the story is timeless.

It’s a good movie.

So if you’re in the mood for something different, give it a shot. You have to be open-minded though… or high.

HateSong: My Ode to the Worst Song Ever Recorded

The AV Club runs a feature called HateSong, in which (quasi-) celebrities talk about why they hate a certain song.

It’s good feature. You can actually feel the burden of torment lifting from these people’s shoulders as they rail against the instrument of their torture.

I yearn, desperately, to share in their collective catharsis.

Many worthy songs have been chosen… but one has not.

Somehow, none of the subjects interviewed by the AV Club have hated on the song that’s tortured me (and all of us really) for more than a decade.

Well, that changes right now.

Today, I usurp the AV Club’s feature and tell the world why “Kryptonite,” by 3 Doors Down, is the worst song ever made.

I’ll get to that in a minute but first off, just look at the assholes in that picture up top.

I mean really LOOK at them.

Gaze upon their faux-hawks, their chain wallets, and their thrift-store chic. Look deep into their dead-eye gazes and tell me if you see anything resembling a soul.

That one guy is wearing not one, but two cross necklaces. He’s like fundamentalist version of Mr. T.

This is the band “3 Doors Down.” And yes, that’s 3 Doors Down, not Three Doors Down, even though EVERYONE in the universe knows we spell out numbers under 10.

And guess what, I looked up how they came up with that dud of a band name on Wikipedia:

“When the three men were walking through the town, they saw a building where some letters had fallen off its sign, and it read ‘Doors Down.’ Since at the time they consisted of three people, they added the ‘3’ to create 3 Doors Down.’”

Amazing. You can name your band anything. You can pull words out of a hat.

You could call your band: Slippery Onion, the Hospital Bombers, the Jolly Green Giants, the Doormen, Midgets Ride at Sunset, Peabrain and the Mulefuckers… Literally anything.

But these jags put maximum effort in exerting no effort whatsoever. There couldn’t possibly be a less inspired way to name your band. They might as well have gone with “Guitar. Bass. Drums.”

So right from the outset, these guys are an uninspired farce.

But then there’s this dickpunch of a song…

As many of you no doubt remember, Kryptonite came out in January 2000, which is fitting, because it put an exclaimation point on the greatest period of regression in the history of music.

Indeed, the decade of the 90s began with innovative and awesome bands like R.E.M. and Guns N’ Roses, passing the baton to Nirvana and Pearl Jam. At the same time, hip-hop truly evolved with Run DMC and the Beastie Boys giving way to 2Pac, Biggie, and NWA.

Yet, somehow we closed out the decade with rap acts like Puff Daddy and Sisquo on the one hand and “rock” bands Nickleback and Creed on the other.

And so in 2000, we’re left with this shit-ass band, 3 Doors Down, which is really just a generic, souless, cacaphonic fuckwagon.

This band is the equivalent of this…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a hydrogenated mush that offends your palette with its banality. It tastes so much like cardboard that it tastes like shit.

And it’s emblematic of everything that went wrong with music in the 90s. We went from anti-corp grunge and indie rock – bands who idolized the DIY, hardcore punk bands of the 80s – to an inauthentic, commercialized derivative.

And Kryptonite is the end product. It’s an imitation of an imitation.

It’s not even a motel painting; it’s the painting of a motel painting, of a motel painting.

And this unforgivable piece of shit has followed me around for a decade and a half. It hit No. 3 on the the billboard Top 100 chart. The album sold 6 million copies. It was No. 1 on the Modern Rock chart for 11 weeks. That’s three months, an entire summer!

This thing was played ad nauseum, and each time it killed a tiny little part of me. It’s a succubous, a leech that feeds off the cringes of its hapless listeners.

And sadly, for that reason, it will be immortal.

At some point in their lives, my kids will hear this song. It will play in the background of a movie about the 90s. They proabably won’t even notice. Only I will notice, and no matter how quietly it plays it will reach a level of unspeakable loudness in my head. I will get a headache from it.

That shitty guitar riff will kick up and this human tampon of a singer will call out his hellish refrain:

“If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman…”

The song’s lyrics don’t even makes sense; they’re completely contradictory to one another.

Look them up for yourself, because I’m not going to reprint them here. They should never be reprinted anywhere… at all… ever. They should be abolished and forgotten like some ancient druid chant that summons the dead.

Fuck this stupid ass song. And fuck 3 Doors Down.

Note: If there’s a song that gnaws at your soul the way this one chews on mine, by all means write me an e-mail about it and I will post it. (Or if you’re too lazy, just tell me what song it is, and if I hate it too, I’ll shit on it for you.)

Book Club: Wolf In White Van

I think it’s human nature to want to identify with a story teller. They’re sharing an experience with you and you want to see it from their point of view. That’s part of the fun, to step outside yourself and see things a different way.

But as much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t identify with Sean, the protagonist of Wolf in White Van.

Hell, Sean can’t even identify with himself.

“Whoever Sean is, it’s not who I think he is; all the details I think I know about things are lies,” he says at one point.

At another: “I sift and rake and dig around in my vivid recollections of young Sean… I try to see what makes him tick, but I know a secret about young Sean…  nothing makes him tick. It just happens all by itself…”

Indeed, Sean’s inner-workings – his motives, his goals, his dreams, his fears… – are virtually impossible to reach. It’s as if they’re locked deep within a fortress, in a distant wasteland, guarded by warlords and radioactive fallout.

Just trying to access that fortress is a hazard in and of itself – hazard, upon hazard, upon hazard.

Just like Trace Italian.

Trace Italian is a game Sean invented. It’s a fictional fortress located in Kansas, the last remaining refuge in a world ravaged by nuclear war. The objective is to simply get there, to penetrate the citadel and find safety in its inner-sanctum.

Sean is something like the Dungeon Master in D&D. He sets players on a path and sends them four options by mail. The players respond with their move, and Sean sends back the consequences of that move, along with four more options. And so the game goes… on until the player gives up.

No one ever reaches the Trace Italian, and rarely do they die. They simply wander through its labrynthian coil, a spiral that never reaches its center.

You can spend hours, days, or even years trying to get there it, but it’s virtually guaranteed that you won’t. It’s an indecipherable code, like the book’s name.

That is, the book title is a reference to a song by Larry Norman called “666”. When you play the song backwards, it sounds like “Wolf in White Van.”

A guest on the 700 club might say this is a Satanic message, but really, it’s a phrase that raises more questions than answers.

What exactly does it mean?  Why no article, ‘the’ or ‘a’? Is the wolf locked in the back of the van or riding shotgun? Is it driving?

Like Sean’s narrative, it’s ultimately enigmatic.

Sean doesn’t know why he does the things that he does, and you won’t either.

That’s not really the point, though.

Like fighting your way to the Trace, it’s more about the journey than the destination. It’s a walking tour of a tortured wasteland, a dark and dangerous land patrolled by mutants.

At one point, a long time ago, there was a fortune teller that might have been able to help you navigate the terrain.  But he’s dead now. So the best you can do is rummage through his remnants – a few vague artifacts and the key to a door you’ll never find.

Or as Sean puts it…

“There’s power in thinking you’re about to meet somebody who knows what’s next for you, and there’s another level of power in seeing that person’s body on the floor, having to get the information from him somehow now that he’s no longer in any condition to give it.”

Netflix Instant Classic: Let the Right One In

Genre: Foreign, Independent

What’s it about? An old man and young girl (a vampire) move into a small Swedish community and immediately start offing people.

Who’s in it? Buncha Swedes.

You’ll like it if… You are interested in vampires that aren’t brooding teenagers. You can handle subtitles (more on that below). You can appreciate cinematography and direction (They’re fantastic in this movie). You have crush on Sweden.

Let the Right One In isn’t just one of my favorite horror movies, it’s one of my favorite movies, period.

The story, acting, and visuals are absolutely captivating.

Set in Stockholm, circa 1982, the environment is dominated by darkness. Days are gray and nights are black. Just looking at the sparse, snow-covered landscape, its dense forests and empty streets stretching out into frigid oblivion, is enough to give you chills.

But then there’s the shroud of death.

An old man moves into an apartment complex with a young girl, presumably a relation. It soon becomes apparent that the little girl is a vampire and they must harvest blood to sustain her.

In the meantime, she befriends a local boy, who’s besieged by strife at home and bullies at school.

The story builds from there, and it’s as original as it is tragic.

Its characters test the boundaries of love, devotion, and even sexuality. They’re forced to weigh their own lives against the lives of other innocent people. They are marginalized as outcasts, and yet, they’re inexcorably chained together.

The sense of desolation – both physical and spiritual – is palpable as these characters are driven to extremes. The climate is unforgiving, and so are they.

I really would recommend this movie to anyone. It is technically a horror, and violence is obviously a part of that, but it’s really not that bad. There’s nothing in here that couldn’t be shown on cable. (i.e. Game of Thrones-level)

Of course, you might also be turned off by the subtitles. Again, they’re really not that bad – mostly because there isn’t very much talking in the film.

I’ve watched foreign movies before, and it’s aggravating when you spend so much time speed-reading dialogue that you miss the action onscreen. This movie doesn’t have that problem.

It’s very easy to follow.

Still, if you can’t handle it, then you might consider the American remake: Let Me In, which features Chloe Grace Moretz.

Obviously, it’s not as good, but the story is pretty much the same. (They’re both based on the same novel.)

You really should watch the original, though. It’s packed with the dark chill of a cold winter’s night and the burning sting of frostbite.

J-Money Mix Tape: This Is Halloween

As many of you know, I’ve been actively seeking creepy sounds for the Halloween season.

Some of you were even kind enough to offer up your suggestions. And they were, in fact, absolutely terrifying.

So I’ve decided to include some of them (as many as I could!) in this mix tape offering.

It’s broken into two categories…

The first are songs that scare me, J-Money.

The second section includes songs I solicited from friends.

I know you guys didn’t know I was going to use your suggestions for this, and honestly I didn’t, either. It just happened.

In any case, thanks for your feedback!

Let’s get to it…

Songs That Scare Me 

Teddy Bear’s Picnic – Henry Hall and His Orchestra

 

Of all the songs on this list, this one scares the most shit out of me.

Just what is this?

Is this supposed to be a kids’ song? Because it sounds like something Jack the Ripper would sing while gleefully tormenting a prostitute.

For a song about teddy bears, this is the least wholesome sound I’ve ever heard.

The creepy voice… The shifts from high to low… The ominous, yet gleeful tone…

And above all else, lyrics that are terrifyingly vague:

“If you go down in the woods today you’re in for a big surprise… You better go in disguise…”

Okaaaay.

Well first, aren’t the woods a public space? Shouldn’t I just be able to go whenever I damn-well please?

Nope.

Because the Teddy Bears are lying there in ambush “beneath the trees where nobody sees” to “hide and seek as long as they please.”

Okay, well, why this particular day then? This sounds like a ritual. Is today the day the Teddy Bears harvest organs?

Is that why I need I need a disguise? Lest I be discovered to be an intruder? Then what?

Who knows?

There’s only this ominous warning at the end:

“If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone!
It’s lovely down in the woods today but safer to stay at home.
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because
today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.”

Good God. What the hell is going on in these woods?

Who are these “Teddy Bears”?

Who the hell is Henry Hill, for that matter? And how many kids did he molest and leave in the forest before hanging himself from the nearest branch?

These are questions for which we will never have answers.

Gooble Gobble, One of Us – Freaks

 

It would be easy to look at this clip and say it’s not so much the song as it is the circus freaks singing it.

And that’s probably true… to a point.

Still, the song itself is creepy.

I can’t imagine being at a party and having my hosts break into this weird chant of acceptance. You could just go with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” you know?

And if you’re truly accepting someone into your ranks, freakish or not, you need not say so explicitly in the song’s lyrics. That just makes it sound sarcastic.

I like to think I’d be polite in such a situation, but I definitely understand Cleopatra’s reaction. Depending on how things had gone to that point, and how intoxicated I’d gotten, I might freak out, too.

Tom Waits… Just Tom Waits in General

 

Everywhere I looked, and everyone I asked offered up one Tom Waits song as another.

And rightfully so. He’s an awesome, brilliant musician, whom we all love. And yet, his music can be both bizarre and creepy.

Oily Night, Murder In the Red Barn, What’s He Building In There?

Take your pick.

Stay weird Tom Waits, stay weird.

Skulls – The Misfits

 

I talked about the Misfits in my last Mix Tape review.

I’m a big fan, and this is one of my favorite Misfits songs. I just feel strange singing along to lyrics involving misogyny, serial murder, and decapitation.

Mr. Danzig:

“The corpses all hang headless and limp.
Bodies with no surprises.
And the blood drains down like devil’s rain.
We’ll bathe tonight.
I want your skulls, I need your skulls…”

Give’em this: When they write a song called “Skulls,” they make it about skulls.

The Devil’s Workday – Modest Mouse

 

The horns… the banjo… Isaac Brock’s unhinged vocals… It’s a spooky sound.

Some lyrics:

“Gonna take this sack of puppies,
Gonna set it out to freeze.
Gonna climb around on all fours,
‘Til the blood falls out my knees.”

Kinda reminds me of “Country Death Song” by the Violent Femmes

Goodnight, Irene – Leadbelly

 

A lot of these old recordings creep me out, and that’s especially true of Leadbelly.

After all, this is someone who went to prison for shooting and killing a man (a relative no less) over a woman. He got out of jail on good behavior, only to go back five years later for stabbing another guy in a fight. And while serving that second term, he got in a fight with another inmate, who stabbed him in the neck.

Finally, after leaving prison for a second time, Leadbelly records this, his signature song, about pursuing a sexual relationship with a minor.

The whole thing sounds terribly menacing. It’s got that whole “If I can’t have you no one can!” vibe that makes me picture him slowly strangling this poor Irene girl with guitar string whilst shushing her to sleep.

He also intimates a desire to commit suicide, either by drowning himself in a river or overdosing with morphine.

“I wish I’d never seen your face,
I’m sorry you ever was born.
Goodnight, Irene…”

And if that’s enough, then there’s this song.

Songs That Scare You

Hamburger Lady – Throbbing Gristle

 

This scares me.

The fuck is this?

From an online commenter:

“Throbbing Gristle tried to create a disorienting aura to illustrate the pain, despair, and confusion of a woman who was burnt so badly that her flesh looked like hamburger meat. They also tried to create an ominous, evil sound to display the cruelty of keeping someone like that alive. It’s a very disturbing song.”

Alright. Well thanks for that! See you in my nightmares!

Kidz Bop

 

Yeah, totally. I get it.

Sure these kids are annoying but they’re scary, too. They’re really everything that’s wrong with the upcoming generation.

They dress like hipsters… They hide lackluster vocals behind outlandish choreography… They’re way happier than they have any right to be…

They’re really just a bunch of entitled fucks.

And worse, in this particular video, they’re giving their phone numbers to strangers (unsolicited), which is the exact opposite of what they should be doing.

Especially with sickos like Henry Hall running loose.

You dumb kids deserve what’s coming to you: Underemployment, crippling debt, shattered illusions, and a Teddy Bear picnic.

Kids in General

 

This one comes standard. Everyone knows kids are creepy.

What is it about this kind of broken playground music that’s so chilling, though?

Logically, I don’t understand it, because I never met a kid who scared me.

Kids, they’re not so big. You can push them right down or whatever. They’re so weak.

But if you were to happen across one perched listlessly on an overgrown fountain, singing a song like this on an overcast day?

It’d be fucking terrifying.

Kids are weird.

Carnival Music

 

Obviously. This is another no-brainer.

You got a carnival; you got freaks, carnies, and clowns.

Japanese Weirdos

 

What can I say? It’s a weird culture.

But whatever. If they want chocolate give them the damn chocolate. They look like they bite.

DIMMU BORGIR – Progenies of The Great Apocalypse 

 

No. Just no.

These guys are trying wayyyy to hard.

I keep picturing them at their day jobs. Guys like this wear facepaint so you won’t recognize them when they’re toasting your sandwich at Quiznos.

Look guys – Kenny, Bill, Kevin – we all love Halloween but it can’t be year-round. I know full-well you’re not going home to sacrifice anybody. Your mom would never let you get away with that on her new carpet.

There’s not even enough room in the trailer, anyway.

If you wanted us to believe you were spawned from Hell you really shouldn’t of blown 3/4 of your budget on that stripper flopping around on a leash.

You’re damned alright, but not to a fiery inferno. More like an Arby’s in Des Moines with perpetually sticky floors.

Netflix Instant Classic: Ghost Cat

(Note: I’ve found multiple titles for this film, including “Mrs. Ashboro’s Cat,” and “The Cat That Came Back.”)

Genre: TV Movie, Family Friendly

What’s it about? An old lady and her cat kick the bucket, but the latter returns from the after-life to foil a land grab.

Who’s in it? Ellen Page, Margaret the Cat

You’ll like it if… You like ghosts, cats, or ghost cats.

So, a widower shows up in small town New Jersey with his daughter, pulls his car over and immediately tries to buy a house he’s never seen before from a lady who doesn’t want to sell it.

And he’s the most normal guy in the movie.

Of course, that’s plenty fair when you consider the premise here is that a cat comes back from the dead to settle an inheritance claim.

Truth is, I love a good ghost story. And too often, animals are omitted from them.

If people can die and come back to life, why not animals? I like to picture the ghost world as populated with all kinds of crazy, extinct creatures with unfinished business.

I’m not the only one who thinks that way, either.

That is, this isn’t the first story about a ghost cat.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story called “The Black Cat.” It’s a chilling, and even disturbing, tale that really sets the bar for feline-based paranormal fiction.

Another master of the craft, Steven King, took his shot, too, with Pet Semetary (one of my all-time favorite movies).

This movie, Ghost Cat, doesn’t stack up to either of them, but it’s a fair enough effort for a made-for-TV movie that aired on Animal Planet 10 years ago.

It stars Ellen Page (*Wistful Sigh*), who is hands down the best – and really, only capable – human actor in the whole thing.

In fact, she won an award for her performance, the prestigious Gemini Award for the Best Performance in a Children’s or Youth Program or Series.

Me-ow.

Still, Page’s performance notwithstanding, the real breakthrough star here is, without question, Margaret the Cat.

Margaret the Cat delivers a tour de force performance.

Being a cat, and therefore unable to speak, Margaret relies on her gazes, body language, and subtle vocal cues to express her character’s inner-workings – those of a cat returned from the dead.

It’s no small feat.

Ghost Cat’s convoluted plot and blurry characters are so cumbersome as to nearly capsize the entire film. You can actually feel the movie teeter, driven to imbalance by the director’s inarticulate approach and the stale performance of its cast (sans Page, of course).

But when Margaret takes the helm, the ship is instantly righted. The waters calm and sails billow as the story cruises atop the uneven waves.

Margaret rescues this film just as she rescues livestock from a barn fire in Ghost Cat’s climactic scene.

So while this movie starts off in a free fall, seemingly destined to splatter on the cold, unforgiving ground of banality, it manages to land on its feet thanks to the performance of one precocious feline.

Just have a look for yourself…

A Song For Mickey

“There’s a monster in my closet,” Amanda said when she was five.  Her dad chased it out with a flashlight.

At age six, the puppy he bought her seemed to distract Amanda from the fact that her mother was gone.

“We’ll name him Mickey,” she said.

Then Amanda was seven and wanted the red lunch box with the rabbits, not the pink one with the ponies. Her dad had to take the first one back, but one hour and three stores later he got it right.

When she was 10 Amanda’s dad helped her color in the poster she made for her school’s bake sale, and when she was 12 he helped her catch a bumble bee in the backyard and preserve it in formaldehyde for science class.

Then Amanda turned 15 and  her father had to answer all of the tough questions about why her mother had left them all those years ago.

The answers did little to compensate for the fact that it was her father giving her advice about boys before her first date, and helping her to choose a dress to wear to her first prom when she was 16.

When Amanda was 17 she bought her first car but it was still her dad’s name on the insurance.

When Amanda graduated at age 18, they both shared the pride but she alone went to college.

When she was 19, Amanda called home every week. Her dad always picked up on the first ring.

By the time she was 21 she called less frequently, and by age 23 Amanda was living on her own and spending a lot of time with a serious boyfriend.

On Amanda’s 25th birthday that boyfriend became a husband.

It was tough on her father, he had just lost poor Mickey that same year.

Good news was on the way, though. Soon, he’d be a grandfather.

Netflix Instant Classic: Dirty Wars

Genre: Documentary, Political

Who’s in it? Jeremy Scahill

You’ll like it if… You have reservations about the War on Terror, you just want to see some real reporting for a change.

I woke up this morning and started watching “Meet the Press.” The topics were tabloid, the panelists were petty, and the discussion was shallow.

And this is the high end of mainstream political discourse in the United States.

So, it’s refreshing to watch a movie like Dirty Wars, written and produced by a journalist who went where he wasn’t supposed to go, and asked questions he wasn’t supposed to ask.

Jeremy Scahill is a legitimate journalist – a rare thing to find in the “information” age.

In 1998 he want to  Nigeria, where he investigated Chevron’s role in killing two environmental activists. A year later, he traveled to Belgrade to report firsthand on the war in Kosovo.   And throughout the 2000s, he ventured to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he covered the U.S. war effort.

His first book,  Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, was an international best-seller that detailed the private military contractor’s role in the Iraq war .

However, it’s his second book, Dirty Wars: The Word Is a Battlefield, that forms the basis of this movie.

Dirty Wars starts in Afghanistan where a nighttime raid conducted by U.S. special forces goes terribly wrong.

Believing some 50 Taliban members are present, U.S. troops crash a wedding of Afghani civilians, shooting one innocent man (a high-ranking member of the U.S.-trained security force at that) and two pregnant women.

After attempting to cover up the crime the soldiers flee, leaving a broken family in their wake.

Alone, this incident would be tragic enough. But, as Scahill finds, similar incidents are occurring all around the globe, many in countries where the United States isn’t officially conducting military operations.

In Yemen, a U.S. cruise missile, ostensibly targeting supposed terrorists, kills more civilians. And in Somalia, warlords discreetly acknowledge taking money and arms from U.S. suppliers to fight as proxies.

As the movie unfolds it becomes clear that the U.S. government has given its special ops unit, JSOC, carte blanche to kill whomever it deems a threat to national security.

Ultimately, this raises two important concerns:

1) A secretive branch of the military has become the judge, jury and executioner for an ever-expanding list of suspected terrorists.

2) The the number of civilian deaths (essentially murders committed by the U.S. government)  is rising along with the scope of the raids.

These are very real concerns.

It’s now estimated that three civilians are killed for every one person of interest targeted in a special forces strike. That fact is not only brutal, it’s dangerous. It’s damaging to the reputation and credibility of the United States, and it’s creating more terrorists, as the family members of the fallen seek retribution.

This is highlighted by Scahill’s visit to the family in Afghanistan, whose surviving members weep over pictures of their dead family members and swear revenge against the “American Taliban.”

Equally disturbing is that these operations are all the work of a single specialized unit. There’s no transparency or accountability,  just an ever expanding list of targets.

Indeed, since the start of the Iraq war the list of  JSOC’s “terrorist” targets has grown from 55, to 200, to more than 2,000.

That includes one American citizen whose only crime is speaking out against and inciting violence toward the United States.

Given that, it’s easy to see why Scahill is nervous. Civilian deaths aside, he worries that these targeted assassinations – which are rapidly expanding in both number and reach – contradict America’s founding principles and corrode to our moral core.

Yet, as Scahill notes, it’s JSOC that hunts down and kills Osama bin Laden. And that’s where the debate comes in.

No doubt, Scahill’s critique is valid. His criticisms of JSOC can’t be dismissed, but neither can the threat of legitimate terrorists like Osama bin Laden.

So the questions linger…

What degree of injustice abroad will the American public tolerate for the sake of domestic security?

Should the unit behind these operations continue to operate with no oversight or accountability?

Will these missions ever end or will they go on in perpetuity?

Are we creating more terrorists than we’re killing?

Is there a chance, however small, that the practice of preemptively killing American “terrorists” overseas one day comes home?

These are difficult questions and they may not have any answers at all – much less clean-cut ones.

But at least Jeremy Scahill is asking them. That’s more than I can say for David Gregory, Meet the Press, and the rest of mainstream American media.

So if you have the stomach for it, give it a watch and make up your own mind.

Note: The trailer for this movie sucks, so here’s Jeremy Scahill talking about it on Real Time.

The Journal of Noah

While the fabled Ark of Noah itself has yet to be found, pilgrims venturing to its alleged crash site have returned with the tattered remains of what appear to be the feverish rantings of a 600-year old man dating back to roughly 2500 B.C.

What follows is a rough translation of the original Aramaic script…

Day #1

I have done the Lord’s bidding. I have spent the past 120 years of my life building the divine vessel. I have herded all of His earthly creatures onto this ark, two-by-two. (And that was no small chore with the lions eating so many of the lamb.)

Now, the rain pours down in torrents. Let it wash away the sin of this wayward world, and let this vessel sail forth as a seaworthy shrine to God’s might and wrath.

May He have mercy on those that perish in this great flood.

Day #7

Seven days now, and still the rain comes and the water rises.

I must admit, I thought the mighty Lord would rest on the seventh day.

After all, it took him only six days to create the earth. And it’s been at least two days since I saw the last heathen clinging to a treetop before being washed away.

Hearing their wails and screams as they drowned was… disturbing. More than a few tried desperately to cling to our boat before sinking into the abyss or being taken away by sharks.

It was a gruesome display, indeed. But it is God’s will, and who am I to question it?

I am but a humble servant in His divine plan. And so I say, let the rain pour, mighty God, as I continue to pray for your mercy, and call upon your Heavenly blessings.

Day #12

The rocking… I definitely underestimated the rocking that would accompany the Lord’s mighty wrath.

Perhaps, as God’s anointed messenger and prophet, I half-expected to be spared the sea sickness, but alas…

Then again, the rocking probably wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the smell. The animals have gotten sick, as well, of course – many of them not accustom to the ocean. (One died, I regret to say. It appears the world has lost the Orangtapus.)

Given that, and the animals’ natural impulse to defecate, it didn’t take long for the hull of the ship to fill with the most Hellish stench.

I dare not venture above deck as God continues to pour rain down from the Heavens. The ark, crude as it is, tumbles violently though the sea of the damned. And I fear being washed overboard – or at the very least, drenched with rain.

This is my only pair of clothes…

And yet, below deck, the hull reeks with the stench of vomit and droppings – both of the animals, and I’m embarrassed to say, my own person.

Still, I thank God that he’s spared me… And that I’ve run out of food to purge from my stomach.

Day #14

Two full weeks, now.

The earth has been properly flooded, yet the rain pours still – God’s fury assailing us from the sky.

I’m quite sure most of the sinners have drowned by this point, even those that scaled the mountains.

Again, I make this point not to question, but merely to observe.

Surely, God is the greatest of all possible planners. This must have been the most efficient and humane way – if not the only way – to purge the earth of its blasphemous human scum.

Day #20

I do not know how long this journey will last, but I trust His infallible presence watches over me… from His throne… conveniently located in the sky… in the Kingdom of Heaven… where it doesn’t rain… ever…

Day #25

Lacking vitamins C and D, I’ve acquired scurvy…

Day #26

Cholera…

Day #27

Dysentery…

Day #30

This trial has been so long and so great.

My only solace is knowing that it will never happen again.

Never again will animals – much less humans – be crowded onto a ship, separated from their homeland on a vast ocean voyage, and made to lie, get sick and even die in their own waste.

No just and merciful God would EVER allow such a thing.

Day #35

[Editor’s Note: Here, what appear to be stick figures are drawn: One in which a man has hung himself from the bow of a poorly constructed rectangular ship… Another in which a hand protrudes down from a cloud giving the finger… Still another shows a large bearded man urinating onto a globe… The remainder, I’m afraid, are too crude to describe…]

Day #41

It’s over! It’s over! Jubilee! I cannot wait to return home, to dry land, farming and a flock.

Praise the Lord! Praise Him!

I knew the Lord Almighty would see me through this tribulation.

Blessed are you Lord! Blessed am I Noah! Blessed are His creatures (except for the Orangtapus)!

Day #42

…. The water appears to be receding rather slowly…