elasticity of compassion and dread

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I have spent a night filled with a growing, and somewhat inexplicable, dread. Now that darkness lasts longer at night, the sense of rare loneliness can creep in and make itself truly felt. This dissipates as the sun rises.

I have once more reached an impasse with someone in my life who has flowed into and out of the ‘rapids’ (i.e., daily life) for years. He has never been quite ‘peripheral’ but his role has changed. He is an addict, a compulsive liar, self-destructive and mentally ill. But all along, it has been hard not to care about him and feel tremendous compassion. Despite not being ‘with’ him in a relationship for a very long time, I still felt compelled by this compassion to be supportive, to help in any way I could. But there’s certainly a large emotional manipulation component that comes into play when he’s ‘off the wagon’ (as well as transparent deception; he isn’t good at it). I have done everything I have had in my power to give him support of all kinds and all the tools and coping mechanisms he could possibly need (that I could provide). But this is all one can do, really. At some point, as I told someone in describing this situation, compassion – despite its slack and elasticity – can be stretched to the point that it snaps. A point where self-preservation must take over. Watching someone self-harm, slowly kill himself, is just too painful.

With this as the backdrop, the night was accompanied by the rare feelings of missing people from long, long ago. Watching the Twin Peaks reboot earlier, and having a long conversation with someone from my life whom I met during the original Twin Peaks era, I remembered now-dead friendships that had meant so much – and some dormant friendships that, while they exist in that “say-hi-once-annually” way that Facebook affords, once pulsated with a kind of intensity that is almost impossible to feel in middle age. The viscous quality of this nostalgia left me feeling quite alone and quite cold, unable to shake the sticky links of the past.

But, as obsessed with moving forward as I always am, I have posed the question (to myself, and more rhetorically to others) as to whether this could be a pivotal moment. How nice would it be if we were actually able to recognize pivotal moments when they arrive? Do you ever look back and realize, “Ah, that was a pivotal moment” and lament that you did not notice, and made the wrong choice? Or even realize that you somehow made the right choice, even if you did not realize the significance of the moment as it happened? I have in recent days realized that while the surface of life and self has remained the same, everything underneath is a completely different organism from a year ago. And with these changes, perhaps it is time to make a clean break, closing the door on some of the things and people that/who linger from the past.

“While past and present continue to haunt/my future is nonchalant…”

Photo by Kev Seto on Unsplash

Memoirs & McKagan

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In between the more grueling books I’m juggling, I make room spontaneously for “spot choices” – something that I am reminded of in the spur of the moment, something I would not necessarily seek out eagerly (Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, anyone?) but which might be interesting in some way. This is, as I have mentioned before, how I come to read most contemporary autobiographical memoirs. They share some background information about admired (or not) musicians or celebrities, but don’t usually set my brain ablaze. Sure, from the thoughtful writing of Carrie Brownstein and Kim Gordon, both seemingly effortlessly cool public figures, I glimpsed that seemingly universal truth that no matter how cool, aloof, nonchalant and in control we seem on the surface, there’s an insecure, wants-to-be-liked person underneath.

Even the memoirs of “regular” people (which, of course, all of these books underline: we all are regular people), such as the pleasant-enough Shrill by Lindy West and the charmingly self-deprecating All Over the Place by effusively expressive Geraldine DeRuiter (and I am dead serious here: if you don’t already read Geraldine’s Everywhereist blog, do. Also follow her on Twitter; one of my favorite Twitter feeds), forge this kind of ‘we’re all in the soup’ of humanity by sharing their everyday experiences. (Or maybe now that I look at this as a pattern, I read all of these because there is the Seattle connection to all of them but Kim Gordon.)

That said, these kinds of books are rarely ever deeply challenging, will be fast and easy to read. They may make us smile, laugh, nod in agreement and approval or even get angry or feel sympathy for the writer. These are very human books. It was in this way, in one of these palate cleansing frames of mind, that I came to read Duff McKagan’s How to Be a Man.

I don’t know how Duff McKagan ever ended up being someone on my radar, bookwise or otherwise. Somehow since junior high school in the Seattle area, he, despite my not being the Guns ‘n’ Roses ‘type’ (whatever that is), stuck out (probably being a local boy and all helped that visibility). Later, I think I was impressed by the fact that he went back to college after the heyday of GnR and worked on finding his sobriety and ways to maintain it. At another point in my life, I would not have picked up this book; in fact even if I had, I don’t think I would have taken anything away from it. But this time, having had the experiences of the last decade, I approached it differently.

But this is what I will say about it: Despite the fact that it struck me as slightly disorganized (some parts more organized than others), slightly random (although some parts were considerably slicker than others, which made me think the editing was choppy), neither of these things made the book bad. It in fact inspired the feeling and sense of sitting and listening to the guy reel off stories and opinions about his life and his experiences. Maybe that was what he was going for – the relatable (well, in tone, perhaps, not in all the activities – although let’s be clear, as Duff most certainly is – all Seattleites DO live with the ticking-clock on summer, and the damn deck/lawn/painting/housework can only be done in rain-soaked Seattle in that limited window) and conversational.

The book was entertaining and perfectly served the need I had at this exact moment:

*It flowed quickly, even if, as I stated, the editing didn’t make the content flow all the time.

*I liked the random lists of stuff, particularly the diverse variety of recommended albums and books. I would probably add more must-hear albums/artists (today I am overly influenced by the songwriting genius of Neil Finn/Crowded House and the longevity and wild creativity of Robyn Hitchcock). I would also add many books, but who wouldn’t? There are too many books in the world to be able to do justice to a must-read list, which McKagan himself acknowledges, describing his propensity for populating his personal library both in digital and paper formats:

“But a bookstore is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in what’s new. You can browse, and you can ask around, something you can’t do as well in the cocoon of e-commerce. It can be the littlest hint or clue that sends people looking for a book and thrusts their life briefly in new directions. It can be gossip you hear in line for an espresso or a movie you see on espionage. The direction of your reading can very well influence your life for a while.” –How to Be a Man

Clearly he gets what most passionate readers get:

“This is every reader’s catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing. There is no way to finish, and perhaps that shouldn’t be the goal. The novelist Umberto Eco famously kept what the writer Nassim Taleb called an “anti-library,” a vast collection of books he had not read, believing that one’s personal trove should contain as much of what you don’t know as possible.” –My Life with Bob, Pamela Paul

*On addiction and sobriety, he didn’t have anything new to say that I haven’t heard or read from recovering addicts or specialists in this field. But it’s nevertheless key to see some of the resounding themes: resentment and regret; again, some of this same lack of self-esteem and assurance that the other memoirists listed above have expressed, e.g. learning to like and trust oneself; that, as cliche as it sounds, it’s a one-day-at-a-time process. And sometimes the things that pull you through are unexpected and maybe even the smallest things that then go on to have ripple effects. In his case it was his ‘latching onto’ Jim Rome’s radio show, and when he appeared on the show as a guest, this prompted other listeners to take steps to regain control of their own lives. This too could sound cliche, but the kinship of addicts, and the power of these small sparks to inspire, is the same kind of things I have seen in trying to understand and connect with recovering alcoholics in my own life:

“This life is crazy. It’s the little things that can be absolute game changers.” –How to Be a Man

*Seahawks, Seattle sports and the constant, indefatigable cheering for the (hometown) underdog. Need I say more?

*Seattle. Yes, Seattle. (Do I sound all homesick? I swear I’m not! I left so long ago for a reason!) That place that suddenly became visible in the 1990s, from which its veil was slightly lifted with the mania that surrounded Twin Peaks during its first go-around (even though this was not technically Seattle, you’d still have to go to Seattle to get to the real-world equivalent of Twin Peaks). It is hard to believe now that Seattle was ever this unheard-of place that McKagan describes.

But true story: in junior high, I had a pen pal in California (this was 1989) who phoned me once and asked not only what time it was in Seattle (says more about his ignorance of time zones and geography than Seattle’s invisibility). He seemed surprised to learn that I had ever heard of Depeche Mode and even that I had a phone. If I recall, it was the same year that Time magazine covered the insular nature of Washington state and its ire at “rich Californians” showing up to scoop up all the land. Hmm. (I did go back to see if I could find that issue of Time, and it was, as a side note, interesting to see the cover stories – Donald Trump on the cover in Jan 1989, taunting readers that we would all be “green with envy” about his wealth – or a headline: “The New USSR?” – or Kevin Costner, just releasing Field of Dreams, or Pete Rose, just being tossed for life from baseball. Oh, hilariously, there was a cover featuring the Rolling Stones, including a headline about “aging rockers”… and we thought they were aged then?)

Back to the point. Seattle was on no one’s radar. Not in any appreciable way, at least. Not until Nirvana came along:

“I used to brag to anyone who would listen that these guys were from “my town” and that soon the rest of the world would realize that people didn’t live in tepees in Seattle!” –How to Be a Man

While McKagan framed the singular Seattle “way” within the lens of sports (and a bit in music), it is on the whole accurate about the city’s attitude and evolution.

It is a place of some stoicism, insularity and a bit of an outsider’s “fuck ’em” attitude. Claire Dederer posits in her own sort of memoir, Love & Trouble:

“Seattle is not a big city for crying. Seattle, in fact, is famously emotionally stoppered. There are many theories as to why this is the case; some say it’s because of our dominant genetic and cultural heritages: Norwegian and Japanese. Whatever the reason, Seattle is a place where you are not supposed to emote. You are supposed to endure. In Seattle, where rain and traffic are two snakes twining, choking the body of the city, forbearance is an art. We don’t cry, we just put on more Gore-Tex or maybe use the driving time of our commute to listen to a self-improvement book on tape. Though “driving” is a strong word for what happens when you get into a car in Seattle. And yet suddenly there were these crying hot spots.”

“When you visit other cities, get asked about Seattle. The people you meet want to move there. No one used to move to Seattle except aeronautical engineers and, like, rabid fishing enthusiasts. No one used to know where Seattle even was. They thought maybe it was in Oregon.”

And this obscurity from which Seattle was lifted has made it a too-hot, too-desirable place, in which most mere mortals cannot afford to live.

So… bottom line, I don’t know if I would recommend that anyone read McKagan’s book. I will, though, be giving a copy to one person who will be able to relate, and I think in that way it will help him. And perhaps that is the most one can hope for: reaching one person, especially when they need to hear your particular message, one day at a time.

Random Gum: April Fools – April Skies 2017

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Random Gum – April Fools – April Skies – Q2-2017

The banditry of collecting music continued all winter and into spring. It was a strange time, a collection of moments, lasting no longer than that.

Moment
Adam Zagajewski
Clear moments are so short.
There is much darkness. More
ocean than firm land. More
shadow than form.

The postal versions (to those for whom I have postal addresses) are going out in the mail this week.

(Almost) complete track listing available on Spotify (as are all previous Random Gum mixes by accessing my Spotify profile). You can access all the past track listings, etc. here.

01 Ghada ShbeirToubayk’iidto
Such a beautiful, haunting start from Chants Syriaques album

02 Victoria WilliamsPoetry …Be sweet, be free, every day is poetry…
Introduced by William, who put this on a cassette mix 20+ years ago; I lost my copy of the CD & this was kind of a bitch to find because it exists seemingly nowhere (or very few places) digitally. Needed again as every day for me is poetry.

03 The Spencer Davis Group – Waltz for Lumumba
Finally read a book on Congo I’d been trying to get to for years. The chaos. Thoughts of Zaki ❤️.

04 His Clancyness – Pale Fear …sometimes I feel like a failure…

05 Tashaki Miyaki – Girls on T.V. …I’ll be the girl you made up in your head…
“I didn’t hear a word you said/But I love Kurt Cobain” Huh? Mention 1 of Kurt Cobain…

06 Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White – Grease
It’s like being a kid all over again only … updated

07 Television – 1880 or So
It’s always in the 80s – the French Revolution; Congo, Dunlop & his rubber tires; Tiananmen Square. SD❤️

08 VorderhausCatacombs …Have I the right to want you/Have I the right to love you?…
Listening loud on repeat ❤️: “Have I the right to want you, to say I love when I don’t see you?” Danke, ML

09 Lijadu Sisters – Life’s Gone Down Low …but it’s not too late for you and me if we hurry…
Can you resist Nigerian identical twin sisters doing tunes like this?

10 King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Billabong Valley …Outlaws on the run/Faster than a stolen gun…
Prolific Melbourne band – can only think of Jane❤️ when Melbourne comes up

11 Kate Tempest – Perfect Coffee …We’re Sisyphus pushing his boulder/the kids are all right but the kids’ll get older…
Only thanks to MP that I gave this a fair shake. Glad I did, eventually. Took a while.

12 The Breeders – No Aloha …Motherhood means mental freeze…
And goodbye, aloha, (no) thank you.

13 Broken Social Scene – Handjobs for the Holidays …It kinda takes the joy away, we don’t come at all…
“We’ve got eyes that leave us in places we don’t see”

14 Lovers – Igloos for Ojos
“Your breath is a voice, wet purring/A kiss on the mouth’s like an elegy/when you slide down next to me and say, ‘By morning this will just feel like a dream’/Your eyes are some cold home”

15 Jealous of the Birds – Tonight I Feel Like Kafka …And it scares me to think that nobody/Looks at me that way…
How did I end up with two songs that mention Kurt Cobain so prominently?

16 Amanda BergmanQuestions …I can find in my way baby knowing that this will be over too…
Still an Andreas ❤️recommendation that pays off again and again

17 Mega Bog – London

18 LUST – Mémoire
I love how the sound starts to melt, like relationships or events that devolve and dissolve into nothingness

19 Loose Meat, CibelleDaisy Chain

20 Omni – Wire …I’m nameless on hour twenty-four…
“You don’t get tired/As far as I can see/I’ve lost my sense of time & debut/I don’t require more than you could be”

21 Cherry Glazerr – Nurse Ratched …You’re so cold master, where do I begin?…
Thanks MP

22 Jaakko Eino Kalevi – Macho …Elle en a marre des machos/des machos ringards/des machos clichés/des macho men…
One from Helsinki’s favorite tram driver.

23 Blond Ambition – Shasta

24 Pictish Trail – After Life
Scotland, of course

25 Yasmine Hamdan – La Ba’den
Can’t resist a bit of Yasmine

26 Fabienne DelSol – I’m Gonna Haunt You …So softly I remind you/Of the ways you let me down…

27 Malcolm Middleton – Ballad of Fuck All …Oh I’m locked inside/Trapped inside this body/I can’t get out, and there’s not enough room/I’m glued to the back of this bone mask…
“Oh won’t you come for me/Comfort me in the night/I’m so tired of feeling sick and tired/Dying at life’s door all the time”. More Scotland. Who would I be without that particular overdose?

28 Scott Hirsch – Loss of Forgetfulness
Modern music with sounds from another time (sneaking suspicion that this is why Spotify started recommending Gram Parsons to me suddenly)…

29 Alexandra Savior – Shades …I’m always happy to be leaving/could be the company I’m keeping…
“Shouldn’t have come back/shouldn’t have switched it on at all/didn’t mean to hold you so close/but you know how it goes”

30 Fairuz – Salimleh Alayh
No words to say about the incomparable Fairuz

31 Mark Kozelek – Float On …and we’ll all float on okay…
“I backed my car into cop car the other day…” Somehow vaguely reminded me of the “African Arm taxi driver” story from ❤️Martina and Anthony❤️

32 Wire – Outdoor Miner …No blind spots in the leopard’s eyes/Can only help to jeopardize/The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries…

33 Chris Spedding – Video Life
“Meet myself on the action replay/Hope I get there right on time”

34 Angel Olsen – Woman …With no promise of the future/Am I not allowed/To think kindly of a stranger/Who reflects the sound/Of my heartache/As it’s beating/My life to the ground…
“You can leave now if you want to/I’ll still be around/This parade is almost over/And I’m still your clown”

35 Chromatics – Shadow …Can you hear me?…

36 Lambchop – When You Were Mine
A Prince cover; still seems strange that he’s dead

37 She Drew the Gun – Since You Were Not Mine …and to my lips too cold to speak/of a love just out of reach…
“Time refused to pass/though sand filled up the glass/each grain became the last/suggestion of our past”

38 The Yearning – When I Lost You
“But the world doesn’t know how I feel now you/Are out of my life, now you’re gone”

39 Elena Frolova  (Елена Фролова) – Mezhdu voskresnyem i subbotoy (Между воскресеньем и субботой)

40 Dougie PooleLess Young but as Dumb …Could you see that I haven’t learned a thing?…
“Cause I can see you now/Though I’m not sure I can handle the sight/The arms of a stranger, the light in your eyes/That’s making me wonder if I’m on your mind/See?/I’m less young but as dumb as the day that you left me”

41 Ulrika Spacek – There’s a Little Passing Cloud in You

42 Ruby Haunt – Crave
This song explains it all. It’s March, and I depart the station, heartbroken. “Listen to the girl, who waits by your side, in a simple world, no need to ask why, nothing’s gonna change, the people pass by, you feel no pain, as she starts to cry. Craving, craving some comfort. You can’t explain, the things on your mind, you’re on your way, you won’t rewind. It’s over with, no need to lie, you’re just a myth, but you know it’s fine. Craving, craving some comfort.”

43 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Bout des doigts
❤️❤️❤️

44 California Snow StoryRailway Station
Bring on more Scotland

45 The Besnard Lakes – Albatross …Oh you showed me so much/Those days are now long gone…
“And I have to admit/Things got weird for a bit/And I scream for you/There goes my man…”

46 Lisa O’Neill – England Has My Man …England’s so lucky/I’m not sure they know/I’m feeling bold with ideas of us…
“Now I am calmer than ever before/He opened the grand can of beautiful worms/I waive my fears and I face the chance/No one got near when we first danced”

47 Dean Blunt – 100 …But we keep it going on/Feelings coming on/But the bullshit got too long, yeah…

48 Soft Hair – Lying Has to Stop …Our lives they never seem to coincide/But if it’s all right with you/I try to focus on another life…
For Jane❤️, with her infectious laugh and tantalizingly soft hair

49 Lucy Dacus – I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore

50 The Animals – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood …I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…

51 Makthaverskan – Antabus
Yeah, it’s Antabus, not Antiabus! For SD❤️. Go on with your bad self, Göteborg music (even if some of it’s happening in Berlin)

52 BeverlyBulldozer …Cat is a machine pushing the rocks around/Bulldozer sleeping, dreaming up buildings…
For Annette❤️, loving human bulldozer, and her little Norm❤️ and his obsession with earth-moving machines

53 Ten Fé – Twist Your Arm
“And I give you love unconditionally/I give you love, what do you give me/I give you love, so I don’t understand/Why I gotta twist your arm/To hold your hand”

54 Archie Bell & the Drells – Tighten Up

55 The Holy – Ramses the Evil Brother
Finns from Funland!

56 Wild Nothing – To Know You …This is the circle that we live in/These are the people that we’ve been…
“So you gave a quiet light/My one chance at order/I won’t toss your way aside/For any corner of the world”

57 The Smoking Trees – Home in the Morning

58 Twin Peaks – I Don’t Wanna Miss You
“I could talk a girl right out of her clothes/I could talk myself into kissing your ghost/but you’re always on my mind”

59 Swim Mountain – Yesterday …Nothing could make us last this long/I wouldn’t have done it for anyone/Leaning forward to hear you say/ ‘I only wanted you yesterday.’…
“You said I live in my head/Never listen to the things you said/’Cause in love there’s always one/One who suffers and one who’s done”

60 Bill Patton – Alchemy …History tells us you don’t want to be native/but you don’t want to leave home either…
Seattle ❤. “If I make it to the fountain of youth/I will come home ridiculous and bearing syphilis/Travelling back in time has never been my strong suit/It’s just taken up all my time”

61 Ibrahim Maalouf – Will Soon Be a Woman (live at Babylon Istanbul)
The sound, movement, moment of the crowd carries you away

62 Ted Hawkins – The Lost Ones …We are the lost ones/seeking help from you…

63 Shallou – Motion Picture Soundtrack …I will see you in the next life…
“Stop sending letters/Letters always get burned/It’s not like the movies/They fed us on little white lies” (Radiohead)

64 Emel – Ensen Dhaif

65 Molly Burch – Try …Wouldn’t it be so nice if we felt the same/I wish you would try…

66 Frida Hyvönen – Amors förkastliga pilar
“Om jag mot förmodan blir kär igen/då ska jag inte agera/Bara andas väldigt lugnt/å låta det passera”. Tack så mycket, Andreas ❤️

67 The Dø – A Mess Like This …Are you a curse?/From bad to worse/Our affair/Helpless as I’m/Trying to react/You were the worst idea I ever had…
“Sometimes I wonder how I landed in a mess like this…”. Always thanking Bruno for the intro to The Dø

68 Allison CrutchfieldMile Away …Self-congratulatory mess/Yeah, you keep sleeping good at night/’Cause you’re inherently right…
“You’re acquaintances on a loaded train/You were spared rejection and it’s a dangerous thing/So you wake up confident every single day/You retire your own decency, you exonerate/And you’re blaring ‘Nebraska’ while she tortures you from a mile away, mile away”

69 Brigid Mae Power – Sometimes …Sometimes I just want to collapse into you, you/But I don’t know if you want me to/Or, if I should?…
“Shouldn’t I be okay out here on my own?/Living in my little home? No needs from others, doing it all by myself”. God, this makes me ridiculously sad.

70 Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now …I fell for that light, shame on you/You’ve got this idea, I can be fooled/Again with the light shame on me…
There is only now. “If you’re not here to help/Go find some other life to ruin”

71 Elvis CostelloRadio Silence …he’ll tell you anything you want to hear…
“Libraries filled up with failed ideas/There’s nothing more for me there/I trust in tender ink and gentle airs”

72 Jesus & Mary Chain – April Skies

Photo (c) 2016 Anders Sandberg used under Creative Commons license.

TV overdoses, past and present – Random stream of consciousness

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According to HuffPost the best line uttered on tv in 2013 was, “Not great, Bob!”

““Not great, Bob!” It was only three words, spoken by an angry Pete Campbell as he joined the ever-sunny Bob Benson in an elevator on Mad Men.””

As someone who loves any line that involves “Bob” (e.g. “I used to have a pretty good pen, Bob.” Or “Scarves, Bob? His life will be filled with scarves?”), I agree. Especially because I am, like most, a Mad Men fan – and possibly an even bigger fan of the work James Wolk has done on Mad Men, the entertaining and mostly underrated Political Animals and The Crazy Ones – he and Hamish Linklater are the best parts of that show.

I get roped into a lot of television shows – not just because television is improving and offers a depth and breadth that seemed unimaginable a decade ago. I live in the middle of the Swedish woods and am a workaholic multitasker. I need some noise going on in the background all the time, and when it’s not music, it’s television shows. Mostly I carefully select the shows to which I become devoted – but in the interim, I watch a lot of stuff halfheartedly (like the aforementioned The Crazy Ones, which is not very good and only offers a funny line now and then or –puke, puke – guest appearances from – PUKE – Josh Groban. I watch, I judge, I keep watching sometimes even when a show sucks or even after it loses the plot (example, Revenge) or becomes passé (case in point – Grey’s Anatomy). Some stuff is middling all the time – entertaining but nothing extraordinary (Elementary, Grimm, Revolution – stuff that does not require careful attention, enabling my half-watching notice, mostly things I will refer to as “network stuff”. As much as the major networks are trying to be edgy, they are still just middle-ground followers. Half-baked ideas relying on shock value, soapy dramatics, riding the coattails of the deserved success of edgier, deeper, different storytelling from free and premium cable channels. (Not that all non-network tries are successful. The US version of The Killing started off with promise, dragged its feet with sloppy storytelling and carried its first-season mystery into season two without resolution – never a good idea, right David Lynch/Twin Peaks/Who killed Laura Palmer? People extended the show goodwill enough to give it a third season, which was arguably much better than the second season, but it was really too late.)

Speaking of killing, I also caught a brief article on TV characters who should be killed off. I found that I agreed with the majority. The article also brought up some other random thoughts – because that is what a multitasker does – lots of different things at once, with disconnected thoughts shooting through the brain at lightning speed. Sometimes I capture them – sometimes not (but they were not likely worth capturing).

I only recently started watching Scandal – rapidly caught up on the previous seasons over holiday break. I dislike Quinn – never had a liking for her, but it has gotten worse. I agree that she can go anytime. I have trouble with Tony Goldwyn in general – he is a good actor but for me, he is Carl the bad guy from Ghost (a film I hated). I cannot do anything except make fun of Ghost. Everything about it was so cheesy, and the villains (Willie Lopez!? Carl!). I also remember ghosts of TV’s past when Tony Goldwyn was a guest star on Designing Women, asking the women to design his funeral. He played a gay man who was going to die from AIDS, and the episode ended with his funeral. Designing Women was a preachy show and brought up a lot of issues of the day (mid/late 80s issues). Not that AIDS is not an issue today – but the issue and the illness – or approach to the illness – have changed, maybe in part because of mainstream treatment of the disease?

Which then led me to think about the show Life Goes On (not least because one of its principal actors, Patti LuPone, is now in the ensemble cast of American Horror Story: Coven. Not a favorite in the US although it went on for seasons and seasons. It was probably the first show that put a family front and center that included a member with Down Syndrome and prominently featured that character in the storylines. While that was probably groundbreaking at the time, the show also gave one of its main characters an HIV-positive teenage boyfriend (played by Chad Lowe – probably one of the only things I remember him doing since his career has been overshadowed by his brother Rob and his ex-wife, Hilary Swank – who would have imagined that when she was in one of the many Karate Kid sequels?). I thought about how this character introduction was also its own kind of groundbreaking. While Life Goes On was never actually what I could call “entertaining”, it somehow tackled big issues without being over the top or preachy. It’s no wonder it was not popular (I am told that it was popular in Iceland for some reason – so everyone remembers “Corky” – I suspect if I were to ask a representative sample of Americans if they remember Corky or Becca Thatcher, they would not).

Where is this line in television between entertainment and education? At times Designing Women just felt like a mouthpiece for the creator’s political views and feminist diatribes. Life Goes On, without being too heavy handed or dramatic, still felt a bit too real, making it too depressing to be a gripping drama. Meanwhile, something like The Wire can do both – “edutainment”. But, it is also true that The Wire was not exactly popular during its first run. It has more of the slow-burn quality that comes from being able to buy whole seasons of tv on DVD or online for streaming/download. Some things just don’t catch on until well after the fact. Some fall into obscurity (Homefront, anyone?) while others live on and gather a loyal, vocal following (Arrested Development, Friday Night Lights – note that I cite TWO Kyle Chandler classics!). Thanks to the push for original programming from unorthodox sources (Netflix), we got another season of Arrested Development after years of waiting. Was it worth it? Hard to say – need to watch it more than once to assess. That was the beauty of Arrested Development all along – you almost had to watch it more than once to catch everything. The show was laced with multilayered jokes and references, and without a pretty well-stocked brain bar, getting the perfectly hilarious mixed cocktail it intended could be challenging. It was funny on its surface in many cases but even funnier if you could unpack all the layers. (The Simpsons is a lot like that, too – albeit more so in its earlier years.)

But then so much of pop culture – any culture or discipline – relies on shared references.

For example, everyone needs to see the 1980s classic film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High – I do not know how many times I have referenced it lately and heard it referenced. There was a con mentioned in the show White Collar called “The Phoebe Cates” (referring to the most memorable scene in the film). There was a reference in The Crazy Ones to the scene-stealing Jeff Spicoli (played by then-unknown Sean Penn). Most good pop culture – even the not so good – plays on these references and adds a richness

For the sake of posterity and trying to remember how, when, where and on what I flushed so much time down the toilet, I’m listing as much as I can remember of television I recently ingested and random thoughts on some of them. There are way too many other shows I have not listed (like Mad Men, actually – because they are not on now or soon).

Nashville – Not great, not terrible. I like Connie Britton (thanks to her work in Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story and early Spin City) – not sure I buy this show but I actually like a lot of the music in the show.

The Crazy Ones – This show is all right but I don’t go out of my way to see it. James Wolk and Hamish Linklater make the show for me (really enjoyed both of their work in other things as well). Robin Williams is too over the top as usual and Sarah Michelle Gellar, whom I keep trying to like, is just not for me. I do love Brad Garrett in his role, though. The episodes seemed to get better when he arrived.

The Good Wife – New life breathed into this (not that it needed it) when main character goes off to form her own law firm.

Justified – can’t wait for the new season, coming up soon. I love everything about this show and all its characters. Agree with the writer of article cited above – do not want ANY of these characters to die.

Once Upon a Time – I admit that I have skipped the whole current season of this show. I gave up.

Californication – Thank god we are heading into the final season of this show that should have died ages ago. Sick of this story being rehashed of some loser middle-aged dude who manages to pull his head out of his ass long enough to do something artistically rewarding only to fuck up his personal life and screw over all the people in his fucked life again and again. It’s only funny or forgivable for so long…

House of Lies – Pretty entertaining because it plays on all the stereotypical business clichés and management consultant language. Don Cheadle plays a great asshole.

House of Cards – Entertaining remake of the UK version, proof that creativity can be launched from all kinds of wombs (Netflix original programming)

Episodes – Looking forward to new season. Have been surprised by how crass but simultaneously funny this show is.

Lilyhammer – Funny but also like being hit over the head with stereotypes. But then no one outside of Norway knows anything about Norway – but this might be the sort of thing they imagine. UDI (immigration directorate) might take offense to its treatment, but I’ve never heard a happy story coming out of there.

Shameless – Looking forward to the new season

Grey’s Anatomy – End already. It’s getting petty (or pettier) and duller by the minute

Revenge – It was always soapy but now it’s just ridiculous and has lost any edge it had. Best part is the ease with which character Nolan Ross switches between male and female love interests and it’s just no big deal to anyone. Perfect.

Parks and Recreation – Losing its comedic edge unfortunately.

Community – interested in seeing how this is rebooted now that its controversial creator is back at the helm. Fingers crossed after dismal previous season.

Scandal – Outlandish but a guilty pleasure.

Hawaii Five-0 – another guilty pleasure. I like the chemistry among the cast. Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan together are pretty funny. I like some of the cheeky jokes, for example about Magnum PI – long ago and faraway Hawaii-based TV

Elementary – Big Jonny Lee Miller fan, like how Aidan Quinn is pretty much always a New York police captain in every show now, and Lucy Liu has grown on me in almost all the roles she has done since annoying Ally McBeal BS.

Downton Abbey – I could fully see where the popularity came from in the beginning but it is grating my nerves now

How I Met Your Mother – So glad this is coming to an end. It used to be quite funny at times but this last season feels like a stretch.

White Collar – Time filler. Sometimes quite entertaining. I like the characters but it’s a fairly straightforward show.

Veep – Caught up on this a few months ago and loved it. Laughed a lot at the awkwardness.

The Walking Dead – When it comes back, I wonder where the gang will go. I have always been happy that the show was not afraid to kill people off as they went – that’s realistic.

American Horror Story – Enjoying. I love the big ensemble cast and like that each season brings back the same people in different roles. I never used to like Jessica Lange but this has put a few points in her column. Angela Bassett is, for lack of a better word, amazing. She always is.

Treme – An abbreviated final season. Interested in seeing how it all turns out, even though things never quite “turn out” – I don’t expect finality.

Girls – Clever at first. Eventually just annoying as all fuck. The article above wants Marnie to die. I would not mind if they all did.

Top of the LakeJane Campion is a complicated filmmaker, and she is no different when introducing her storytelling to the small screen. Visually arresting backdrop to a complicated and ugly story, Elisabeth Moss takes center stage as a New Zealander/detective who goes home for the first time in years, dredging up some of the horrors of her own past. Excellent viewing.

Luther – The story is often really outlandish and unbelievable but we can’t help loving Idris Elba, can we? Or the troubled John Luther that he portrays.

Game of Thrones – I resisted. I tried to watch once but did not get far. I tried again and got sucked in this time. Much better. I am a Peter Dinklage fan anyway but came to appreciate the whole thing (even if I still acknowledge that he’s the best thing about the show)

Bron – Swedish/Danish original of the police show – great characters.

The Bridge – US version of Swedish/Danish police show. It took a while to accept Diane Kruger and her character, but I loved Demian Bichir’s character immediately. Also appreciated Ted Levine as the lieutenant – as I loved him in Monk – and Thomas M. Wright as Steven Linder – he also figured prominently into Top of the Lake.

Orange is the New Black – Binge watched. Mostly really enjoyed this – of course it’s not perfect but it was different from most of what else is out there. More accolades for Netflix taking a chance on its own programming.

Longmire – Just renewed for a third season. Can you argue with a show that has Lou Diamond Phillips in it? No.

Ray Donovan – Not sure about this show still. I like most of the characters, but all I can think of when I watch this is that the whole plot development is advanced almost entirely by people making phone calls on their mobiles – way too much time on the phone for everyone involved. Character development suffers a bit…

Homeland – Ok, this show went off the rails many times. I still enjoy it, largely because I have enjoyed the performances of Mandy Patinkin and F Murray Abraham (he will always be Salieri to me). But let’s hope that the next season takes a new direction in light of some of what transpired in the end of the latest season.

Masters of Sex – One of the best things to come along in the last round of shows. Excellent and likeable cast, a sensitive subject handled with sensitivity and a deft hand. Beautifully done. A lot of accolades have gone to star Lizzy Caplan (well-deserved), but other cast members, including virtually unrecognizable Julianne Nicholson and, as the repressed housewife discovering sexual secrets about her husband, the always great Allison Janney.

The Newsroom – My opinion is tipping toward dislike. The background music playing in many scenes tells too much of the story – soaring music that somehow betrays that Jeff Daniels’s character is going to do something liberal and benevolent that no one expects. Too much of the annoying Maggie (played by Alison Pill) and a whole stupid storyline there. I know this is Aaron Sorkin and his famous fast-talking, wordy spiels for all the characters, but I don’t buy the characters here. Mac (Emily Mortimer) is especially out there – someone is unlikely to ascend to her position if this insecure and flighty. Best characters – Sam Waterston, Jane Fonda, Hamish Linklater (a few episodes in the most recent season). They kept the thing grounded.

True Blood – End already? The recent season was a bit more entertaining than the previous two but I could do without this one.

Boardwalk Empire – One of my all-time favorites. I don’t actually know many people who like it, but I love it. I think it becomes more engrossing each season and love the actors they bring in. Somehow the vast ensemble does not get muddled – each character is distinct, even if it does mean that one needs to pay close attention to every moment of the show. Definitely a show not afraid to kill off important characters and fan favorites, which is sad but perhaps necessary to keep it going at the same level. (Actresses I have never liked, such as Patricia Arquette and Julianne Nicholson, turn in fabulous performances here.)

Sons of Anarchy – Also look forward to this ending. It has just become ridiculous. More ridiculous than it already was.

Revolution – Time filler-killer

Grimm – Time filler – like that it is set in Portland, though, so we get references to Portland’s weirdness and Voodoo Doughnut.

Hell on Wheels – I watch this almost entirely to see the performance of Christopher Heyerdahl as “The Swede”. That alone is worth the time.

Sweet TV

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