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Jan

4

2016

Cribbed from my monthly newsletter The Smoke Signal, your guide to consuming pop culture smarter. 

 
December is the month of Best of 2015 lists, all 7 million of them. It can be crazy intimating which ones to pay attention to, how much and what to do with the three dozen, "ohh I missed that's" these lists are meant to stir up. So this issue's Pop! Hacks! will be all about how to make Best of Lists work for you. 

 

Music:  

 

 NPR Music's Best of The Year coverage is both thorough, varied and beautifully organized, by genrecurator, by song or album. Their website also has an app which will play their favorite songs of the year in random order. Let it run for a half hour while returning emails and see what new music you discover. Rule of thumb (ear?): Look to discover 2-4 new artists, half in your favorite genres, half in genres you  know less well. If you're music skews toward one genre, focus there. I usually take 30 seconds and crosscheck the artists I discover with the Village Voice's legendary Pazz & Jop poll, just to see if I'm being an over-40 white guy cliche' and swallowing whatever NPR hands me.

Once you've found 2-4 new artists you like, stop looking. Explore the other work of those artists on the  streaming music service of your choice. Make new friends not new music you say hello to in the hallway.    

 
Sit-down meals not snacking. 
 
 
Books: 
 
 
If reading 2015's "big books everyone talked about" is your priority, the New York Times Notable Books of the Year coverage will more than suffice. Again, 3-5 titles that stir your interest. More than that and by the time you finish them, it'll be March and 2016 bookish temptations will already be clawing at the front door. 
 
For a more personal  take, Maris Kreizman, who runs publishing projects over at Kickstarter does a magnificent Best Books list that I return to year after year.  

Drilling into genres, the NPR Book Concierge does a great job overall. Paste Magazine usually picks a few categories to dig into each year with great flair. The AV Club's best of coverage of comics and graphic novels is as dependable as an old friend. The folks at Book Riot do both great 30,000- foot Best-of-Every- Book-You-Can-Imagine reporting and strong by-genre lists as well. I also dig these Best Books by Women lists over at LitHub
 
 
Movies: 
 
Tempting here to just wait and see what gets nominated for your Oscars or Golden Globes's and catch up on films you missed. Don't. Award nominations too often focus on movies released after Thanksgiving and whose studios spend a king's ransom on publicity campaigns. Instead of catching up on great movies, you'll be wasting time catching up on 2015's Best Movies at Stuffing the Ballet Box. 
 
Instead, make a quick trip through Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 movies of 2015 or Roger Ebert.com's annual  Four Star Reviews feature. Focus on movies you've heard of but didn't get a chance to see. Then for films you haven't heard of but would like to try, watch their trailer on Apple Trailers.
 
If you like something, add it to your queue of record (Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, a legal pad) immediately to remember it.  
 
 


Aug

5

2015

Back_to_the_future

 

Had I felt about the Civil War as I felt about “Back to the Future,” this was my visit to Fort Sumter, Gettysburg and the Appomattox Courthouse all at once. And it was the first time I realized that although we see movies as distant, expensive objects made the year before by people we will never know, they were often born in the same world that we pass through every day — they weren’t beamed to us from a far-off kingdom, but lived here, among us, in places that belonged to us, too. Their permanence could be on celluloid or server farm, in the culture at large and in our own memory, but also in concrete, soil and steel.

On the occasion of the great movie's 30th birthday, I look at the time I tried to find the real Hill Valley



Aug

5

2015

An actor playing a real-life criminal adds a loud asterisk, not so much for how we then imagine them as John Dillinger or Aileen Wuornos but how we’ll perceive them afterward. The choice to play not just evil but infamy on screen may only extend as far as that movie. But when you look at an actor’s filmography, his or her performance as the engine of a true-crime movie never stays quiet; it always says something about their body of work as a whole. 

What happens when we see a performer we recognize in the skin of an infamous person we recognize? The answer is never “It didn’t really matter.” The five outcomes we’ve seen and outlined below are how it did.

Sarah D. Bunting, a writer I admire very much, asked me to contribute to a true crime publication she edits called The Blotter. Given those conditions, how could I say no?

Above then is a piece of an essay I filed called "Criminal Career Moves" i.e. what happens to an actor's when they play a real life thug.

Here the whole bloody thing.  

 



Jun

22

2015

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In February of last year, I mentioned I'd started on a new book called Brat Pack America, about locations made famous by 80s teen movies (Shermer Illinois, the Galleria Mall, the Goondocks and so forth). I predicted that book would be out by this fall. In actuality, it will come out next summer. 

That does mean, however, that it's done. At least the initial draft. Written, sent, and being edited as we speak. I'll get it back soon and be revising and editing this summer. 

Much work left to be done but the hard part's over. And I couldn't be happier



Jun

22

2015

Goonies

 

It is estimated that 10,000 fans will arrive for “The Goonies’” 30th anniversary celebration this weekend, effectively doubling the population of Astoria. No one quite remembers how Donner and executive producer Steven Spielberg chose the town as the film’s primary location — one story involves a childhood friend of Spielberg’s, another Donner’s co-producer, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest — but “no one remembers when it wasn’t going to be filmed here either,” Derek Hoffman, current vice president of Donners Company, told me.

Astoria is only mentioned once or twice in “The Goonies” and lives on-screen for about 20 minutes of a movie that takes place almost entirely in underground caves re-created on sound stages. Knowing Astoria = the Goondocks and coming here (the town is two hours from the nearest major airport in Portland) represent a kind of super merit badge of fandom.

I wrote about The Goonies 30th Anniversary for Salon. The movie was shot on location in Astoria, Oregon, a former fishing village at the mouth of the Columbia River, in November of 1984. 



Mar

23

2015

Breakfast_club

 

Try this: Watch “The Breakfast Club,” think about how much you have to do this week and then consider the last time you spent eight uninterrupted hours with a stranger and emerged the better for it? Maybe it’s by definition a rare occurrence. Or it only happens when we are young and open to it. Or it happens against our will, like when we’re stranded at an airport. Or maybe uninterrupted time in another’s presence, even for the young, the willing or the stranded feels as anachronistic in 2015 as Principal Vernon’s sharkskin suit.

In honor of its 30th birthday this spring, I wrote about The Breakfast Club and uninterrupted time for Salon

 



Mar

4

2015

"As life goes on it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself.”  

--Agatha Christie 



Feb

19

2015

“Writing is a job, a craft, and you learn it by trying to write every day and by facing the page with humility and gall. And you have to love to read books, all kinds of books, good books. You are not looking for anything in particular; you are just letting stuff seep in.” 

 

-- Stephen Dobyns  (via The Writers Almanac)



Jan

30

2015

 

Each January I make a playlist of 50 songs I  discovered that year. They can be from any genre and any time in music history with only prerequisite that I first heard them in that calendar year.

Usually I "discover" around 600 new songs. I'd like to share my 50 favorite from 2014 with you. 

Playlists for 21032012 if you're curious or inclined.

You can hear them on the playlist window above. And I'd love to hear about your favorites/least favorites when you're done. 



Jan

20

2015

Dave_goelz_muppets

 

I recently spoke to Dave Goelz, the mind, voice and puppet hand behind The Great Gonzo, Zoot the Sax Player, and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew about his history with Jim Henson and his merry band of puppet pranksters.

The interview ran in Salon this past wekeend.  My favorite question:

What is Gonzo?

[laughs] We didn’t know. [Muppet head writer] Jerry Juhl wanted to answer the question, so he wrote “Muppets from Space” (1999), which revealed that Gonzo was an alien. Later, Frank Oz insisted that was just a movie, and we still don’t know what he is.

Read the whole interview