Lunchtable TV Talk: Looking – “Doris, I will definitely go swimming with you even though my legs are painfully white”

Standard

Imagine you are an overweight, confused, closeted gay, adolescent boy growing up in the US Midwest. In your 13-year-old imagination, an “out” future could be filled with equally out friends in San Francisco, a mythical mecca for everyone like you. Your imagination would be full of gay gamer conventions and gay gamer proms where you could get a happy prom-night photo with your cute new boyfriend. You’d probably have a cool job and many nights would end in party sequences fueled by loud music and very little, but stilted, dialogue – possibly parties in the woods where anthems from Sister Sledge would form your soundtrack. (Days before the show’s party-in-woods premier featuring “Lost in Music”, Mr Firewall and I planned a Scottish John “Enunciate Excessively” Hannah remix. Whatever else I might criticize about Looking, it’s got a fab and fun soundtrack.)

If the premise of Looking, the recently canceled HBO show about a group of gay friends living in San Francisco, were to dramatize what a 13-year-old gay boy imagined his future would be like, the show would be perfect.

I am not a gay man; I am not in San Francisco; I would therefore never claim any kind of expertise about a gay man’s life, in San Francisco or not. Like most lives, there is no such thing as one, “normal” way to live. I wanted to like this show. The premise had promise – squandered because I don’t think the show resonated with viewers of any demographic.

Believe me, I kept trying to watch – giving up and coming back, hoping it might have been one of those shows that takes time to develop its characters. But it never got any better. Instead the characters mostly became more like caricatures and more petulant with time. I got the occasional glimpse of self-awareness in these characters, but opportunities were frittered away casually. The worst character and my biggest problem with the show was its main character, Patrick. His behavior and manifold diatribes and tantrums were reflective of a teenage kid – all bluster, fluster and inexperience – trying to assert himself. Unfortunately that is the problem with the whole show – it comes back to this unsophisticated and teenage approach to virtually everything, especially in imbuing characters with identities. Maybe viewers could relate to that kind of awkwardness and discomfort. But average adults in their 30s and 40s generally don’t behave like Patrick or his friend, the just-turned-40 Dom, who is struggling with facing the onslaught of age (but not with particular subtlety or realism).

The best characters and only ones I cared about were barely there – Scott Bakula’s recurring guest role as Lynn; a random wheelchair-bound guy at the gamer conference who, in a blink-and-you-missed-it conversation, called Patrick out on his cluelessness/obviousness; Malik, the boyfriend of Dom’s constant friend and roommate, Doris (who never ceased to annoy me), and Richie, Patrick’s ex-boyfriend. Yeah, in fact, if the show were about Richie and his life, I think that might have been a better premise.

TV critics and others who really rooted for the show, at least on a thematic level, have echoed my sentiments with greater eloquence and clarity. For one, it’s a bloody boring show. I kept waiting for something really interesting to happen, for someone to express something close to the depth that all the characters claimed to want. But it never elevated itself above the level of engagement or excitement I find in an ad for pharmaceuticals, nor above the manipulations and presumption of what will interest the viewer also characteristic of pharma ads. This same boredom is echoed in the aforementioned citation.

Many defenses of the show attempt to explain that the show’s ho-hum dullness is where its genius comes from – the world can finally see that gay people are just people like everyone else. This is not a revelation. There are other TV shows about all manner of people, including gay individuals and couples, that show us how normal they are, with daily routines, normal problems and happy families, who are not mind-numbingly boring. And their lives don’t revolve solely around being gay. It’s a big part of the identity as much as sexuality is a part of anyone’s life. But does it define everything? It feels like Looking wanted to find the balance between “look at how dull and normal we are” but still wanted to make the entire existence of this group of guys be about being gay. All of that is perfectly fine – I don’t expect a show to be perfect. I don’t expect this or any show to represent an entire, and varied, community. But I do expect that there will be some entertainment value or some compelling reason to watch.

It’s a tough balance to strike, as a fantastic Gawker article points out:

“And, of course, above all else, a piece of gay pop culture, in these United States, in 2014, has the challenge of arguing that gays are people too—that we’re more than sex maniacs and objects of amusement” and “In Looking, gay men get to be boring on TV at last.”

It would be stellar if, as the same great critique put it, the show didn’t make you feel like watching is akin to “paging through a magazine at the dentist”. Looking felt like work to watch, which was disappointing.

It does give me comfort to know that something like Looking (but good heavens, NOT Looking!) makes its way to TV and is seen as just another part of the TV landscape. Looking makes it all seem farcical, as an article at Huffington Post explains:

“Like those mostly forgotten, cheesy 1990’s “gay” movies that we watched because they put us in a fishbowl and were pretty much all we had as media representation and also had dark sets and muted tones and lots of Erasure songs (seriously, guys, in 2014 Erasure’s the band you pick to give your show its Episode Two finish?), Looking spends all of its time telling us what we already know: We are men, we are gay men, and we like to have sex with other gay men. If the show were about straight guys it would be 60 seconds long and a beer commercial.”

Despite all of this, and my relief at being able to cross this show off my Sunday-night viewing list (yes, I like torturing myself with miserable TV), Looking did find its way into so many of my TV-related conversations. Granted, I was always talking about how much it sucks and how much potential it wasted week after week. But perhaps that is a mark of something the show did right – it certainly did not unify any group of people behind it. Was it designed to spark these debates? Opinions were decidedly mixed – plenty of haters and then plenty of people who felt that its presence on TV was proof that there is not really such a thing as “gay life” – life is just life. Fair enough.

Decayed Decade of Random Gum (2004-2014) + Part Past Part Fiction 2015

Standard

Forty songs for my forty years of life (in June). And ten years of the Random Gum mix (2004-2014).

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Random Gum, I have selected songs from the mixes of the last ten years to include on this year-end mix as well as a couple of discoveries to usher in 2015. Everything is as random and impossible to plan as ever.

The whole playlist in Spotify (minus those songs not available on Spotify)…

1. The The – “Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)”
A driving, prescient song with a message truer now than when it originally came out in the late 80s. Valid during the hubbub after the Danish cartoon incident several years ago and valid anew after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris

2. Dolly Parton – “Love and Learn”…each new love I find/turns out to be the wrong kind…
Not sure when I will ever learn – this song has been lingering in my head since 2nd grade (Dolly obsession era)

3. Kishi Bashi – “Manchester” …My favorite part’s when I die, in your arms like a movie…
The beauty of recommending music to people that they fall in love with. Here’s to Dr Ross

4. The Dø – “Stay (Just a Little Bit More)”
Perfect anthem for all the wasted years dealing with the Married Idiot. “He was a bore, a true chore, and I still wonder why I ever wanted to see him more…”

5. Melody Gardot – “Pretend I Don’t Exist
For Alex, someone from long ago but who was there when most desperately needed

6. The Aislers Set – “Jaime’s Song
Always true: “You get who you play for, not who you wait for”

7. Wilco – “How to Fight Loneliness”
The ultimate pretending. For S: “And the first thing that you want will be the last thing you ever need”

8. Lindstrøm & Christabelle – “Lovesick”

9. The Fall – “Cheetham Hill”
Nothing is complete without the indestructible sound of The Fall – it will make you drive more aggressively

10. The Jack Rubies – “Be With You”
One of those songs that remains a favorite (since 1989?) even if it’s rather silly

11. Circuit Object – “Voices Fill My Head”
Reminiscent of boundless but unfulfilled talent

12. Serge Gainsbourg – “Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M’En Vais”
Memory of driving Hwy 18 with my old friend, Mike. It’s like we were in another life; I was another person

13. Rodriguez – “Crucify Your Mind”
RIP Malik Bendjelloul

14. Glasvegas – “Fuck You, It’s Over”
Again, those Scottish vowels. For a while I got to hear those vowels every day, as I used to dream of…

15. The Chills – “Part Past Part Fiction”
“You cannot drive and stare rear view.” Good advice

16. Foxygen – “San Francisco”
“My brother is a soldier now…”. A song for Annette; a song for Kyle

17. Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Remove This Doubt”
All those times when doubt is all there is

18. Simple Minds – “Don’t You Forget About Me”
Timeless classic – recently watched The Breakfast Club again (hard to hear this and not connect the two)

19. Tori Amos – “Strange”
“Woke up to a world that I am not a part except when I can play its stranger…”. The pain still rings true

20. Bertrand Belin – “La perdue”

21. Tatsuya Ogino and the Bunnies – “My Sweet and Bitter Days”
The Friday song – the good old days at Opera. Happened to hear on the Friday when I finally put this all together. Love to Janne, Lauren, Annette, Jennifer and everyone from the good old days

22. Sam Phillips – “Love Changes Everything” …I’m not sorry we loved, but I hope I didn’t keep you too long…
When things crashed before finally changing the trajectory of everything: “We can’t fix what’s broken, so let’s leave it here, and walk on – I’ll be right behind you”

23. John Grant – “Queen of Denmark” …I hope you know that all I want from you is sex, to be with someone who looks smashing in athletic wear, and if you’re haircut isn’t right you’ll be dismissed…
More reflection on wasted time with Married Idiot

24. Portishead – “The Rip” … and the tenderness I feel will send the dark underneath/will I follow?…
Feels like the painful but transformative spring of 2008

25. Crowded House – “Don’t Dream It’s Over” …there is freedom within, there is freedom without – try to catch the deluge in a paper cup…
This one never gets old.

26. Martha Wainwright – “Far Away”
Heartbreaking sentiment: “I have no children/I have no husband/I have no reason to be alive/oh, give me one”

27. Lia Ices – “Little Marriage” …I started minding not having it all/one little marriage or big love…
For Jane, for Lóa and everyone who has been enveloped by the lush, layered sounds of Lia Ices

28. Joan Armatrading – “Save Me” … immune or evasive – throw me a lifeline – save me…

29. Low – “Closer”
Being enveloped in something that makes you feel more remote and distant than ever and needing escape

30. The Magnetic Fields – “My Sentimental Melody” …cool and unfazed, you’re always amazed when someone gets hurt…
Used to love this song but now it seems whiny self-victimization now that there’s some backstory.

31. Arik Einstein – “Ro’eh Atzuv
Seltjarnarnes early 2000s, Israeli MTV commercials, marshmallow couches and taking years to identify Arik Einstein, who recently died. Love to Sarah and the old days in Iceland

32. Kristin Hersh – “Quick”
Cancer song; the recurring feeling like nothing will ever be solid or trustworthy again

33. Amalia Rodrigues – “Povo Que Lavas No Rio”
Ache. Somehow now makes me think of Kristie – who supplied me with Halloween goodies!

34. O + S – “The Fox”
The formidable, tricky fox is always making an appearance

35. Kazim Koyuncu – “Ben Seni Sevdugumi”
For Roxane, for all my Turkish friends, for Jill

36. Hector Zazou feat Björk – “Visur vatnsenda rosu”
Iceland, of course, and all my beloved friends there.

37. Pulp – “Roadkill”
The early and unfortunate Berlin visits and always painful trips to and from airports and little reminders that trigger memories

38. Roberta Flack – “To Love Somebody”

39. Cowboy Junkies – “200 More Miles”
The first feeling of real heartbreak, 1989

40. Blondie – “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game”

2015 – Part Past Part Fiction

41. Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Trick Pony”
For Martina – more dog and pony shows, one trick ponies and all the rest.

42. Tomten – “You Won’t Be On My Mind”
Hometown Seattle music. Always lovely. How I wish I’d have my 40th birthday in Seattle this year featuring both Tomten and Tom Skerritt reading a poem! And here’s to all my beloved Seattle friends and acquaintances!

43. Lia Ices – “Magick
For Jane; layered bliss

44. Guns N’ Roses – “Welcome to the Jungle”
For long lost Terra, and our secret love for GNR. Duff! Duff! Duff!

45. The Association – “Never My Love”
I just like the sound

46. Poison – “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
For S and spontaneous, passionate renditions of this ridiculous song

47. Bryan Ferry – “This is Tomorrow” … Suddenly a voice I’m hearing/Sweet to my ear/This is tomorrow callin’/Wishin’ you were here…
For S, if only it could be yesterday or tomorrow and not a return to the darkest days

48. The Primitives – “Way Behind Me” …all those lies inside your head/took my hand and led me blindly…
For who I was in the 1980s – and all the people I knew then, and the continued need to know when to walk away. “I’m gonna try my best move/I’m gonna leave you way behind me”

49. Cameo – “Word Up”
For Tomislav; for S and his dancing career/codpiece uniform (ha!)

50. Teenage Fanclub – “Alcoholiday”… Went to bed but I’m not ready/Baby I’ve been fucked already/Falling into line but I’m doing nothing/We’ve got nothing worth discussing./Went to go but it’s all hazy/People say I’m going crazy…
S – the brief time between dark days turned out to be just an “alcoholiday” – never a more fitting song for almost anything. Never knowing what you’ve got til you’ve fucked it up for good. And now it remains to be seen whether the end is Leaving Las Vegas or Edgar Allan Poe

51. Mega Bog – “Aurora/99”
More Seattle gems. For Kyle, Naomi: “Goddammit, don’t take 99!”

52. Cate Le Bon – “I Think I Knew”
Thanks to Aurélien for the lovely recommendation, as always

53. St. Vincent – “Birth in Reverse”
Hard decisions that may close the door forever- a kind of birth in reverse. Love for Annette.

54. Sister Sledge – “Lost in Music” …responsibility to me is a tragedy/I’ll get a job some other time…
Get a job, you fucking disco cokeheads! For S

55. Laura Veirs – “Sun Song”
An Aurélien recommendation – thinking fondly of Malin (because of course I’m the sunshine of her work day!)

56. Jeff Beck – “Morning Dew”
Just has a cool sound

57. The Beatles – “Real Love”

58. The Preatures – “It Gets Better” … And all the times I had you near, through my fingers disappear/I see all that it could be, and it’s better than it ever could be…
S: “Only lonely in your arms again/I know you’re see-through but can we just pretend”

59. Tiny Ruins – “Night Owl”

60. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – “Xanadu” …she’s a lipstick anarchist…

61. Melody’s Echo Chamber – “Shirim”

62. St. Vincent – “Digital Witness” …digital witnesses/what’s the point of even sleeping?/if I can’t show it, you can’t see me/what’s the point of doing anything?…
For Martina and Jennie – the word “digital” is forever tainted for me.

63. Cyndi Lauper – “I Drove All Night”
Always stuck driving all night, through all kinds of treacherous conditions

64. The Dø – “Sparks”
“If someone comes & shows up at the door/No one will be there to answer anymore/We have it all on tape now”

65. Oyama – “Old Snow”
Iceland – represent

66. Mitski – “Texas Reznikoff”
Another one that makes me think of Jane

67. First Aid Kit – “Shattered & Hollow”

68. EMA – “So Blonde”

69. Father John Misty – “Bored in the USA”
Jesus, this cynical song makes me ache. “Now I’ve got a lifetime to consider all the ways/I grow more disappointing to you as my beauty warps and fades/I suspect you feel the same/When I was young I dreamt of a passionate obligation to a roommate”

70. TOPS – “All the People Sleep”

71. Al Green – “Tired of Being Alone”
Can’t just be with someone because you’re tired of being alone. For S

72. Tom Waits – “Ruby’s Arms”
“Jesus Christ this goddamn rain, will someone put me on a train/I’ll never kiss your lips again, or break your heart/as I say goodbye I’ll say goodbye, say goodbye to Ruby’s arms”