Monday, August 31, 2020

'Cobra Kai' is suddenly everywhere!

I am fascinated by the stunning success of Cobra Kai since it started running on Netflix. While many viewers are discovering a show they didn't know existed, and the timing couldn't be more perfect for reviving a classic, the show has actually been out there in the wild since 2018.

Most pieces I read about the show when it debuted in 2018 framed it as a sentimental piece of IP with some interesting story arcs that complicated the binary approach of good vs. evil in the original movie.* And that is all absolutely true, but was less than persuasive when convincing critics and fans the show was worth paying for.**

So why is the show an amazing success now since it was viewed more as a curiosity when it originally aired?

The obvious answer is timing. Duh. Sentimental IP updated for our times is exactly the prescription for escapist pandemic viewing.

But I think the actual answer has more to do with Cobra Kai's relative freedom in finding its storytelling legs within the format of a (relatively) little viewed YouTube program. Seeing it as as a bingeable whole, many of those earlier episodes make much more sense as the series found its stride. In other words, it had the luxury of faltering outside of the intense gaze of the mainstream and was able to find its way more naturally. You know, just like TV shows used to be allowed to do—ha!

Whatever the reason, it's a huge hit and it's starting to approach, if it hasn't already surpassed, that "everyone is talking about it" level of social discourse. The really great thing about this show though? It's one of those viral successes that took a long time to get there, so there's a lot to support its continued relevance in the public eye instead of fading away in a week.


*Another unintended bonus of the current moment is that since the show has been around a few years, you can dig through pieces to learn more at your leisure and don't have to depend on a handful of sites rushing out with their definitive hot takes.

**I am definitely in the cohort that originally missed the series because I was too cheap to pay for a YouTube subscription, despite the positive word-of-mouth at the time.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Making waves on the future Oceanator.

If anyone can guess the reference in the title, you get a cookie.

Also, you clearly need some fine tunes to see you into the weekend. So allow me to introduce Oceanator to your ears! Elise Okusami's music project is directly rooted in '90s indie guitar rock, often reminding me of Bettie Serveert, with enough of a promising new voice to separate not from sheer tribute.

I've been sitting on this album for a few months, so I can confirm that it does hold up under repeated listens and its charms grow stronger instead of fading.* So throw this on, sit outside, and enjoy he weekend!

*Seriously, having time to actually digest new music and figure out whether it holds up over a span of weeks vs. a 24-hour turnaround for a post makes a huge difference when it comes to confidently recommending something.**
**I almost reflexively added a smiling face emoji here!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Who else recently found themselves in this situation?

I know I got very close to doing this exact thing about two months ago, but held out for an actual appointment with my stylist. Next time around I may follow in Jack Black's footsteps...*

*I mean, if the majority of my human contact is still video conference calls and rare trips to the supermarket in a few months, I may as well!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Awakening old passions.

Sketch by me circa 1995-ish?
I've been getting really into comic books lately. Back in prehistoric times I was a huge comic book fan, amassed a rather large collection over the years, and even originally intended on becoming a cartoonist, believe it or not. I was lucky enough to work in a comic book store during the '80s explosion—roughly from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blowing up through the whole Watchmen / Dark Knight / comics-for-grownups revolution—but my interest fell as the '90s came in and the scene looked far different.

I kept up with old loves between then and now, picking up books collecting various runs or storylines and occasionally sampling new content to see where things were going in general. But from 1990-2020 most of the new books I read were the indies and not the mainstream superhero stuff. I didn't suddenly turn into a snob, it's just that the superheroes had gotten so convoluted they no longer spoke to me. No judgement!

Over the last year or so I've gradually been exploring more and more new stuff, and when the pandemic hit it only took a few months for that spark to catch and turn  into a new, fiery passion.

More on that later, as well as what Ive been reading that really blows my mind, but it's been nice to return to familiar ground no longer feeling the itch of the collector, instead occupying the mental space of the inspired observer. It's also spurred me to return to ancient sketchbooks to try and remember how I got to the point I was then, artistically, and how much of that I can still salvage and how much has been replaced by decades by new muscle memory when it comes to sketching.

Blah blah blah to most of you, I know. But this is exciting news to me!

Monday, August 24, 2020

A mystery with some bite to it!

I made an alarming discovery recently: my dentist has disappeared.

Strike that: BOTH my dentists have disappeared!

It's true! I went to my 6-month dental check-up—after rescheduling it numerous times since last Spring for obvious reasons—and found the office now consists of 2 dentists I've never seen before supported by what appears to be an entirely new staff. True, in modern medicine practices change hands and that is to be expected,  but when this happened no one thought to update the practice's patients of the change.

"He's on the case!"
At first I didn't notice. I had a different tech doing my teeth cleaning, but I figured with a pandemic going on that in itself wasn't all that strange. When the tech asked me if I grind my teeth in my sleep and had ever considered getting a mouthguard to wear at night ... I informed them I did grind my teeth, and did have a mouthguard, and that it was created by their dental practice.

But hey, sometimes the tech doesn't read your history and that's also understandable. I keep the same doctors the same over the years for most of my healthcare needs because I want at last one person who's aware of my history to see me each time.

When the dentist came in and wasn't either of the people I've seen there in the past, I asked where they were and was told rather abruptly they were no longer with the practice. The new dentist poked around my mouth, conveyed a few notes to the tech, and said it was nice to meet me and left the room. When the tech asked if I wanted to schedule my next cleaning I said I'd wait. Then they asked when I wanted to schedule a filling for my cavity and I said, "Wait. What cavity?"

Apparently the new dentist had identified a cavity that needed filling but neglected to tell me about it. I said I'd call to schedule that later since it was news to me.

So, what happened?

The whole thing seemed hinky and after some anecdotal stories from friends I decided this situation was not on the up-and-up.

As I mentioned, the main reason I've used the same dental practice for over a decade is to track my oral health over time, and the main dentist was just the absolute best. One of those rare practitioners that blended down-home charm with wicked smarts. As time went on, I'd occasionally see a different dentist in the practice if mine was out, and that's how I discovered my second dentist, who was essentially a younger version of my main dentist. when it came to being up-to-date on the latest medical practices and still maintaining an excellent bedside manner.

And now both those dentists were gone. I have to do some digging and get some answers!

POTENTIAL SPOILER: In the interest of full transparency, I wrote this draft 2 weeks ago, just after the this alarming discovery came to my attention! Since then I have done some digging, and have gotten. a few answers, so this is a mystery that will have a conclusion. I'm not just yanking your collective chain with a quandary that will never yield answers! So ... stay tuned!

UPDATE 10/26/2020: All has been answered! And I have an appointment with my original dentist next week, and couldn't be happier. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Breaking the tedium.

I'm taking tomorrow off work, and am determined to do something that will finally break the tedium of every single day feeling exactly the same. I woke up Sunday and flipped open my computer, ready to work, because I honestly thought it was Monday. I didn't do anything over the weekend any different than any other day, so I guess it's no surprise that actually happened.other than me (and Pickle) for over three months, and I can count the number of in-person interactions with friends and family on one hand since this whole thing began in March.

This shocked me.

This shocked me primarily because time is passing and I feel I'm having no impact on the world outside my 9-to-5 responsibilities. Heck, I'm barely even watching much TV any longer. It's mostly reading books, walking, or listening to music. Or sitting still for minutes at a time at night before I realize I've been stuck in neutral as I tried to decide on the next thing to do. And deciding doing nothing is actually not all that terrible in that moment.

But I am so used to doing something. Lots of things, in fact. So many things!

But I'm getting used to slowing it all down and managing my pace since I'm in it to win it in the long run, now. And I'm thankful for the time I've had to reflect and focus on making myself the best person I can be.

But it is getting a little lonely, lately.

Monday, August 17, 2020

An inspirational Monday tune for you.

Art by Chadwick.
I listened to my copy of situationchicago last week, the massive double album whose proceeds will go to help support the survival of live music venues in Chicago. It is an eclectic mix of acts that covers all the terrain from free jazz to R&B to anthemic indie rock to just about everything you can imagine squeezed wherever it will fit. So that means everyone will walk away finding at least a few (though I predict it will actually be a lot) of good tunes to expand their musical horizons.

For me the outta-left-field sleeper track of a contribution comes in the form of Anthony Gravino's "Oh My God," which manages to feel simultaneously desperate and hopeful at the same time. I don't know much of anything about Gravino beyond his name as a recording studio talent I've seen on quite a few local releases, but this song certainly makes me wish he'd record more of his own stuff!*

Happy Monday!

*Huge apologies if we've met, sir, since we run in the same circles, but my memory ain't always the greatest in instances like this.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

I still believe we can come out the other side of all of this a better society.

I’m parking this here because I want to expand upon it later. But I’ve been trying to find any positive outcomes of the tribulations that have landed on everyone due to the pandemic. I admit that  “finding the positive” in an event that has killed hundreds of thousands and upended the lives of 99.9% of the world’s population seems impossible. But I had to find something to hold onto, so…

If things hadn’t grounded to a halt in March we all would have kept on the non-stop treadmill of work/home/school/what-have-you; too busy to really take stock of the world around us. The routine so many of us undergo just to maintain daily living is relentless, isn’t it? And even though the pandemic added hours to my own work day, the steep decline of entertainment options outside the house left me with lots more free time to think about actually changing the things I see wrong around me than I used to.*

People who depend on the old way of doing things want to keep the status quo. The notion of taking advantage of this pause to make positive change is anathema to them. That’s why so many people in power are so desperate to ignore the health catastrophe around us, hoping that if they just open everything up, and fill people’s lives with their old routines, things will eventually get back to normal.

That’s just evil, since it’s built on the supposition that additional deaths are regrettable but necessary sacrifices for the greater good. That’s just not true. At all.

So let’s take advantage of what have become clearer lines of action to improve the world around us. This is a truly dark moment in U.S. history, but I believe we can emerge from this ordeal as a stronger community, focused on supporting each other rather than continue to throw up barriers between each other. I have to believe that.

RANDOM THOUGHT: When news of the coronavirus started to break, I and so many others took no real note of it because we've lived through a number of similar health scares in just the last two decades, and each came and went without disrupting so many lives because the people n power did their jobs and kept on top of any outbreak. Virus outbreaks never seemed like a big deal—always landing in that mind frame of "I wish other countries had as good a system to keep people safe as we do so they suffered less during these things." It was simply unfathomable to me that the U.S. even had the potential to bungle a response top an outbreak as thoroughly as the current administration in power. But here we are.

*I also am aware that people who are out of work right now are spending as much or more time looking for another job or just trying to eke out benefits from the antiquated unemployment system of whichever state they live in.

Monday, August 10, 2020

'In The Air Tonight' is the reminder you need we can all be genuinely and pleasantly surprised by the most unexpected things and that's terrific.

I was woken at 3:56 a.m. by a NotifyChicago text alert there was ongoing police activity in the Loop, Mag Mile and Gold Coast. And today's news in general, across many topics including that one, has only gotten worse since then. So I'm sharing this video, on the off-chance you either missed it (in which case you are in for a real treat) or you've seen it and just need a reminder of the authentic joy and wonder that can accompany genuine discovery,

Friday, August 07, 2020

Revisiting a familiar feeling long thought lost.

Something odd happened this morning—I woke up really excited for it to be a new music release Friday!

Two of my favorite musical artists, Hushdrops and Ryan Allen (of Extra Arms), had both earlier announced new music drops for this morning, and they just happen to be on Bandcamp on a Friday that the platform is not taking its cut of music sales, so all dough goes to the artists. The Bandcamp thing is just icing on the cake though. I still woke up excited.

I was so excited that Allen hadn't even made his album available yet when I purchased the first new Hushdrops EP, Endless Summer, in 6 years. Luckily but the time I had finished downloading that, Allen's solo debut Song Snacks Vol. 1 was available as well. So zip, zoom, bang that vinyl was purchased and the download began!

Clearly I'm not reviewing either album right now since I've barely had time to listen to them, much less fully digest them, but so far both are excellent. And for once My anticipation and expectation were both paid off, handsomely.

And since it's a Bandcamp Friday, I also took the opportunity to buy the vinyl compilation situationchicago since its jam-packed with groups both big and small dedicated to raising money to save the independent music venues in town.

After it was all over I was left with a feeling similar to the one I used to get when I'd grab a bunch of albums I'd been looking forward to at a midnight record store release party. So, since I can't celebrate this with people IRL like that, this will do, for now.

A few protracted moments of zen.

I've found a renewed sense of patience when it comes to watching video content lately. After years of running at full speed, nowadays I actually enjoy sinking deep into something as captivating as a few popcorn kernels displaying the hidden flowering beauty that explodes for only a few milliseconds as a kernel transforms into popcorn.

[Via Kottke]

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Unexpected connections with worlds greatest dad.

Last weekend I discovered I had created a playlist of all the worlds greatest dad albums available on Bandcamp, only I couldn't remember why. I searched my email but there were no press releases in there for the band, so I figured I must've read a post / tweet / Facebook post / suggestion from a friend, snagged the tunes, and saved them for later listening.*

At first listen, worlds greatest dad sounds like they grew up on Matador '90s indie records. An obvious soft spot for me. But as the songs went on that superficial comparison fell away as I was enthralled by Maddie Duncan's emotionally drenched vocals. The chords inside her throat bend and shred to her will, revealing a raw honesty that can literally make your head whip around in wonder. The band's secret weapon in that Duncan is a raw conduit for delivering lyrics with a weight that punches straight through your brain and deep into your heart.

Case in point, and the moment I realized I now loved this band, is one plaintive yowl of a lyric delivered with shuddering effect starting 0:37 seconds into "A Song For Mogis." Duncan sings, "And goddamn I’m almost 25 / I thought i’d feel a little better a quarter through my life."

And when Duncan hit that "better" and then that "quarter" in my headphones I felt the connection and a plaintive longing blanketed me as that lyric became a universal reality that I suddenly felt through to my bones. It's just so, so ... sad. And relatable. Even to an old guy like me.

Speaking of old, Duncan does look into the future later in the song, updating her potential situation to "goddamn I’ll be 35 / sleeping in somebody's basement the rest of my life" and it's at that point I want to reach out and say a lot can change in ten years, just you wait. But then again, you may be right.

Only one way to find out.

*I looked, and it was Kip (of course, because he has excellent taste) who clued me into the band at the end of April via a bunch of texts. So that answers that!

Monday, August 03, 2020

The repetition of "Requirements" is a Monday stopgap to help soothe the mind.

I noticed it'd been almost a week since my last post (?!) and while that wasn't the plan—I've learned to be pretty flexible with "plans" these days, as have you, I'm sure—I can't be the only one who feels there weird tension between feeling like there is so much to do, you'll never get it done, while simultaneously struggling to fill "free" time in the classic sense of that practice.

So anyway, yesterday I was listening to random songs on the tankPHONE, looking for something surprising that might fit my indeterminate mood at the time. And Operator Music Band's "Requirements" rose from the depths of history (and long-forgotten playlists on my phone) to perfectly fill that need.

I've noticed I've been gravitating towards music that has soothing, repetitive qualities—anything from choral singing to exploratory prog-rock—and Operator Music Band's tune fits that inclination (with more than a nod to Stereolab, their obvious heaviest influence on this song). Simple and driving, with lyrics that serve more as brief stabs of color instead of prolonged or coherent messaging, the song had a profound calming effect on me when I rediscovered it yesterday. I'm hoping it has a similar effect on you.