What I like most about Joe Casey & Tom Scioli’s Godland is just how unbelievably happy it is to be a comic book. I remember reading the first trade years ago and not really getting it. The Kirby influence put me off, I think, and I wasn’t quite a full-fledged member of the Joe Casey Fanclub yet. I read the series front to back recently, though, and greatly enjoyed it.
A big part of the reason why Godland is so delightful is stuff like this from issue 18:
Casey’s dialogue pretty much never stops being straight out of the modern comics industry. The inconsistent censorship makes me think of that first wave of Image books back in the day. For the most part, he’s putting a 21st century spin on concepts that have their roots in things like Stan Lee’s verbose and tortured Silver Surfer or Kirby’s remarkably petty Darkseid.
The captions keep drawing my attention, though. Sometimes, he plays it straight Stan Lee, with a lovable huckster nudging you in the ribs and pointing out how genius he is. At other points, he goes straight Jim Starlin, throwing cosmic language at you and expecting you to keep up.
And then, right here, he splits the difference between the two and comes up with something sublime.
I did this Q&A thing on Tumblr the other day, probably because I was both bored and felt starved for attention. It was neat. I liked this question below a lot, so I’m going to repost it here and expand on my answer some:
Anonymous asked: Had you ever posted anything about Mos Def’s “Rock’N’Roll” from Blackstar?
I haven’t. I listen to Black On Both Sides every couple of months, and I’m always happy that it’s aged so well. “Umi Says” is as weird as anything Blu has done, “Mathematics” is still fire, and “Mr. Nigga” still goes in.
I loved “Rock ‘n’ Roll” in high school, mostly because it preaches a point of view I was really fond of. I feel like a lot of my time growing up and figuring out who I am wasn’t about taking a position so much as taking a position opposite from another position. The idea that rock was stolen from black people was an attractive and emotionally valuable one when discovering what being black is all about (which I’ve learned is mostly your white friends going “What do you mean you never listened to The Beatles growing up?! How is that possible?!” and cops looking at you funny).
“Rock’n’Roll” is not just about how rock music was stolen, but how modern rock sucks and classic black music is better. “You may dig on the Rolling Stones, but they could never ever rock like Nina Simone.” “Elvis Presley ain’t got no soul, Little Richard is rock and roll!” I was all about that back then. Stealing back the culture, maybe, or demanding to be heard by being as strident as possible. One part attention-getting spite to one part sincerity.
Now that I’m grown, I still like the song a whole lot. I can and still do sing along with the whole joint, even. Mos’s flow is great and unbalanced, the beat goes, the Bar-Kays sample sounds so much like “Nautilus” at first listen it isn’t even funny, and I’ll never not love that Mobb Deep sample. The difference between now and then is that I disagree with parts of it now. I think he’s pretty much correct when talking about who gave birth to what and who’s specifically iller than who, but the main position of the song, the white versus black thing, doesn’t work for me any more. I mean, I understand nuance now, for one thing, and know a little more about rock history. I’m also less concerned with proving the worth of what I choose to enjoy or the lack of worth of something someone else likes.
The song still bangs, though. The transition from slow flow lazy raps to bang your head clatter is a good one. It’s only now that I’m older that I can appreciate what the progression the music takes from blues to punk rock represents and the seamless switch, if there is one, from punk to rap between “Get your punk ass up!” and “Company — MOVE!” on through “Rock and roll for the black people.”
I get the song better now, if that makes sense, as a statement, than I did when I believed the statement behind it. I probably actually like it better now that I disagree with that tiny bit of it.
It’s still not the best Mos Def song with the word “rock” in it, though. That would be “Body Rock” off that Lyricist Lounge Vol 1:
Tash basically steals the show (“but I’m doper than sherm, plus the way I put it down could burn the perm off Big Worm” yooooo), but Mos gets it in with that “Barkin that you want a bout, but son you know the comeabout.”
Aragonés may well be my favorite funnyman in comics. He can do shaggy dog jokes, long and funny stories, and then just sorta basic high concept-y stuff like this. I like how mean this gag is, man. There’s not really any jokes in it until the very last panel, just cold police brutality, and then wham, tears in my eyes. I read it right before bed and late at night, so maybe that was a factor, but c’mon–this is funny.
I was thinking the other day about how someone should put together a nice archival collection of this guy’s work, since he’s been in the biz for decades and has remained funny throughout. Turns out MAD’s Greatest Artists: Sergio Aragones: Five Decades of His Finest Works came out in 2010. 272 pages worth of Sergio. Feels like a must-buy, considering how much I enjoy his jokes.
I took some time off from the internet late last year. It was nice. I went on an actual vacation, played a lot of NBA 2k12 with a friend (we ball so hard his fiancee wanna find me), and then I got home and played through Saints Row: The Third. It was nice. You should’ve come along.
NBA 2k12, despite its various flaws (no classic jerseys online? weird difficulty spikes for no good reason?) is the best game that came out last year. At this point, I’ve done just under one hundred matches online with my friend (I’m 49-45, what what, but he’s up on points at 5497-5481), over one hundred games in My Player, and probably… honestly, we probably did something like 60 games over Christmas break. It was absurd. Appalling, really. But fun. That game never gets old. Infinite replayability.
The only other contender for Game of the Year, by a long sight, is Saints Row The Third, an open world published by THQ, developed by Volition, and sequel to the stellar Saints Row 2. Here’s the opening trailer:
First, the trailer is immaculate. Excellent use of Kanye’s “Power,” one of the most undeniable songs that dude has ever made, to begin with, and then the trailer actually starts running through the characters you see in the game. Angel comes through with the Tornado DDT, Oleg slings a dude off the roof, Johnny Gat protects his boss… it’s good. Tremendously effective.
The thing about Saints Row the Third is that it understands why you played Vice City and San Andreas. It knows that the story was part of it, sure, but the real draw to GTA-style games is in the gameplay. GTA has spent the past few iterations building itself up into a real Hollywood production. The plot has taken over as prime mover from the gameplay, and that’s part of why I’ve backed down from that series. It isn’t as fun as Saints Row, not by a long shot. The story’s nice, but I’m long past the days when I would play a game just for the story.
In contrast to the over-serious and surprisingly humorless stuff that put me off GTA IV, here’s the second mission of Saints Row the Third:
The video is eight minutes long, but essentially, you get captured, you fight your way off an airplane, and then your mid-air dogfight gives way to you rocketing through the cockpit of an airplane and out the back end. In-between and during all of this, there’s a lot of dialogue.
Saints Row the Third is GOTY because it front-loads the mayhem that made Grand Theft Auto such a success. Rather than making the mayhem something to be avoided, or setting up mayhem as a diversion from the real gameplay, SR3 understands that working your way up to a five-star wanted level is why you play sandbox games. It incorporates that into the story by giving you a (completely customizable) main character who makes the same choices you would. Do you need to take over a penthouse so you can have a new hideout? Well good news: you’re going to parachute in and kill your way to victory. None of this sneaking around business or working your way up from the bottom floor. You go all in, and you do it every single time. Laws and rules don’t apply to you.
The mayhem in SR3 is glorious. You can escort tigers or hookers around town, try to cause as much damage as you can in a set amount of time, basejump, grab a plane with VTOL capabilities and go wild, or knock down entire buildings in your quest for more cash and dominance. A floppy sex toy makes for a killer melee weapon. Upgrade your guns enough and you can dual-wield fire-spitting submachine guns. I spent a large portion of the game Supermanning them hoes and then hitting them with a Ric Flair strut after I took out their entire gang. I got into a gunfight with something like sixty or seventy fur suiters. I robbed a bank dressed as my best friend. I stormed a penthouse over online co-op with a friend and we made mincemeat of the enemy while an incredibly well-timed music cue rang in our ears.
Saints Row The Third approaches storytelling from a gameplay perspective first. “How can we make this mission, which is essentially follow someone in a car and shoot them, more fun?” How is storming this building going to be different from storming the penthouse? They find a new answer every time, and that’s delightful. Your character consistently makes bad decisions that make for great gameplay, whether it involves jumping out of one airplane and into another or suiting up for the only good VR mission to appear in a non-Metal Gear Solid game. They even make fighting zombies fun by couching the battle in one of the most amazing lead-in cinemas I’ve ever seen.
The gameplay informs the story, but that doesn’t mean that the story is shallow. It’s heightened to allow for the gameplay, but it’s really a very familiar tale. A gang of criminals hit town and start setting up shop. They take over a few strongholds, buy out local businesses, eliminate the competition, run girls and drugs (or maybe not drugs?), and embark on a campaign to show the cops and rival gangs that they are the wrong people to test.
The cast is diverse, from the adorable ex-FBI agent who does your computer hacking to Hulk Hogan as Angel da la Muerte, disgraced luchador. Jane Valderama, the local news lady, reports on your missions on the radio right after you do them. Citizens react to you with awe or hate, depending on where you are. Steelport is a big city, and littered with minigames and opportunities for some serious mayhem.
Here’s a video of all seven main character voice actors singing a Sublime song, a compilation of something that actually happens in the game while you’re shooting dudes:
Somehow, in the end, it all comes together. The combined effect of the insane gameplay, the story and its constantly escalating transgressions, and the unbelievably charming cast of pimps, thieves, and murderers had me alternating between crying with laughter, texting friends about how amazing the game is right now you just don’t understand it’s so beautiful, and being genuinely bummed out by a few plot twists. The last mission, which leads to one of two endings, features a music cue so unbelievably appropriate that I couldn’t help but be happy with how the game wraps up, even if my ending was probably the lesser of the two. I don’t want to ruin it for you–you can probably youtube it if you’re curious, but it’s worth waiting for and experiencing in context–but the cue ratchets up the drama in a very classic way, and gives the last mission a momentum that a lot of final stages lack (whattup MW3 and an ending that attempts to be a crowd-pleaser but is actually just pretty gross).
Shoving the mayhem into the forefront of the story seems like it would turn your character into an anarchistic terrorist monster, and I guess you make several decisions that are basically on that level, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wall to wall murder. You get to know the entire cast really well, thanks to them being in constant radio contact. They’re all weird in their way. Kinzie is a typically frazzled and innocent computer hacker (though a ludicrously well-timed joke about sex toys suggests otherwise!), Z is your friendly neighborhood autotuned pimp, Oleg is a giant mass of muscle but scarily smart, and Pierce really likes chess. Every character has their own quirk and motivations for getting down with the Saints, and the glimpses into their stories are great.
Saints Row the Third is fun, in the fullest sense of the word. The story, the gameplay, the tone, all of it. It’s a very smart game, despite the constant onslaught of felonies and treasonous actions. It understands the expectations of the audience and then does its level best to not fulfill, but exceed those expectations. I was expecting great things after playing through “Freefalling.” I was surprised and totally in love by the end of the game. I got the game for forty bucks on sale at Amazon. After watching the two endings, I went ahead and dropped twenty bucks on the Season Pass for DLC, something I have never done before. I more than got my money’s worth out of it, and there’s still plenty of gameplay left to go.
It’s very rare that I get into a game like I did with Saints Row The Third, but yo, it happened. I got hooked hard. And tomorrow, the first wave of DLC hits: Genkibowl VII. I still haven’t found Professor Genki in-game, but I’ve been looking. I want that three hundred thousand dollars.
Also, real talk, the only game with better sound direction is Child of Eden, which is in an entirely different genre.
I grew up on or around Air Force bases. Shepherd, Langley, and most of all, Robins AFB. A grip of my family members served, and I gave some real thought to enlisting while I was in high school. A side effect of being surrounded by the USAF is that I love airplanes. I built a bunch of models as a kid. The SR-71 Blackbird was my favorite, probably because that was where the X-Men and the Air Force venn diagrams intersected, but I built bombers, fighters, whatever I could find. I actually built an F-14 model late last year when I got a model kit as a gift from a client. It was weird, exercising those muscles again, but sorta comforting, too. I remember killing like five hours on a lazy Saturday with the TV off, music on, and laser-focused on my task.
I like the stories surrounding planes, too. I remember really liking the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. It’s a great story, kinda the flipside of the Tuskegee Experiments, but it’s inspirational. It’s “The sky’s the limit” translated to real life. They were just one of several inspirational black figures people pointed out to me, from high level cats like Martin and Malcolm to less famous people like Ben Carson. I didn’t learn any of this in school, I don’t think. It came from family and church more than anything. It was a tonic. George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and was too honorable to lie about it, but Ben Carson separated conjoined twins.
Red Tails, produced by George Lucas, drops 01/20. It’s about the Tuskegee Airmen, and despite my love of the subject matter, I was a little skeptical. I don’t hate George Lucas (I definitely like him better than modern-era Spielberg, for whatever that’s worth), so him producing wasn’t really a downside. Cuba Gooding Jr and Terrence Howard, two of my least favorite actors. Gooding has a history of starring in movies that I loathe (save for American Gangster, where he played Nicky Barnes to the hilt) and Howard is… that dude grates man, I couldn’t even tell you. There’s just something about that guy.
They were enough for me to feel some kinda way about Red Tails. My thinking was that if they put these dudes into the flick, then the rest of it was somehow compromised or tainted. I don’t know that I had any defensible train of thought about it, to be perfectly frank, just a gut feeling. What turned me around was George Lucas on the Daily Show.
While some of what he says is bunk (by what metric is Red Tails the first black anything? Wouldn’t Three the Hard Way count for something? At the very least, Bad Boys did gangbusters), he’s got a lot of interesting things going on. He talks about how studios wouldn’t fund it, and how he’s been trying to get it made for the past twenty-some years.
What got me were two things. First: he financed the movie himself. He believed in it enough to chip in more money than I will ever make in my entire life to get it done. Second: he said that “[t]his is not a movie about victims. This is a movie about heroes.” Which is basically exactly the approach I want to see. I don’t need more stories about how terrible racism is. I know how bad it was. The story of blacks and racism and being held back is, no joke, the one story I have heard the most over the course of my entire life. It is old.
The fact that Lucas and them approached this movie like an action film first, and Rosewood sixteenth or lower, goes real far with me. So I’m probably going to get over my big crybaby complaints about a couple of actors and check it out on opening weekend. The approach feels true, and Lucas says he has sequels planned, and I’d kinda like to see them. I doubt if it’ll take off the way I’d like it to, but I wouldn’t mind owning a gang of movies of black dudes in amazing mid-air dogfights. It’s one of those things I’ve imagined since I was a kid. It’ll be nice to see them realized.
I liked Spike Lee’s Miracle At St. Anna enough to buy the Blu-ray, despite it being a little overlong. How often do you see black people in actual roles in World War II pictures? Too rarely. I’m willing to support efforts like this, because they’re what I want to see more of. Black director, black screenwriter, majority black cast… I like this.
I just hope it’s good. The trailer is pretty straight, and the cast actually has a gang of people whose work I enjoy (Bryan Cranston, Method Man, Andre Royo, couple others). Fingers crossed, right?
This is a book with lots of Alan Grofield, too. Grofield is easily the best supporting character in these novels. He’s a thespian slash thief, and each of his interests informs the other. He pulls heists to keep his theater going, and he tends to think of his jobs as being excerpts from exciting films. He’s suave, but he’s all about his business. He’s not unlike Lupin III or Gambit in certain ways, to be honest, which is probably part of the attraction. He really enjoys acting and stealing, and that makes him an incredibly enjoyable character to read. There’s this great bit in Butcher’s Moon where he takes up with this librarian who thinks she’s too big for the town she’s in that’s just wonderful, a sublime mix of Grofield being able to spot a type, adjust to that type, and then lose interest as soon as he gets focused on the actual job at hand. He’s a romantic, but he knows how and when to turn it off.
Here’s a couple of bits from that chapter in Butcher’s Moon:
“Very nice library you have here,” Grofield said.
The girl walking through the stacks ahead of him turned her head to twinkle over her shoulder in his direction. “Well, thank you,” she said, as though he’d told her she had good legs, which she had.
They went through a section of reading tables, all unoccupied. “You don’t seem to get much of a business,” he said. She gave a dramatic sigh and an elaborate shrug. “I suppose it’s all you can expect from a town like this,” she said.
Oh ho, thought Grofield, one of those. Self-image: a rose growing on a dungheap. A rose worth plucking? “What other attractions are there in a town like this?” he asked.
“Hardly anything. Here we are.” A small alcove held a battered microfilm reader on a table, with a wooden chair in front of it. Smiling at it, Grofield said, “Elegant. Very nice.”
She smiled broadly in appreciation, and he knew she knew they were artistic soulmates. “You should see the room with the LPs,” she said.
He looked at her, unsure for just a second, but her expression told him she hadn’t after all been suggesting a quiet corner in which they could bump about together. The idea, in fact, hadn’t occurred to her; she was really a very simple straightforward girl, appropriate to the town and the library.
The girl was on the lookout for him, and came tripping out from behind the main desk as he was going by. She gave violent hand signals to attract his attention, and when he stopped she hurried over and whispered, “It turns out I’m free tonight after all.”
She’d broken her date; headache, no doubt. Feeling vaguely sorry for the young man, and both irritated and guilty toward the girl, Grofield said, “That’s wonderful.”
It was Tucker who got me to finally pick up Butcher’s Moon. I read something like thirteen Parker novels in a shot a couple years ago, so I’d been on a bit of a break, but his review got me back on the horse. I had no idea that Slayground got a sequel, and I love that book. It was my #3 before I read Butcher’s Moon.
University of Chicago Press is continuing their Richard Stark reprint series with three Grofield novels in April. In order: The Damsel, The Dame, and The Blackbird. I’m looking forward to reading them.
The crux of the American Dream, of America as a concept, is that we are required to be better. Not born better, because the idea of hereditary quality/morality or divine right inevitably results in corruption. The better I’m talking about is a struggle to become better. A need to be better. We need to be better than our enemies, better than our past, and better than the darker aspects of our minds. We are here. We need to be there. We need to work at being better. It isn’t a static state. It’s a constant struggle. We choose to go against our baser natures for the greater good. We avoid the easy routes to fame or fortune in favor of a more honest and rewarding path. That’s the dream. But when people talk about America the Beautiful, that’s what they’re talking about. The American Dream is about being a good person and having that be paid forward throughout every level of society. Sometimes it works out. A lot of times it doesn’t. It’s always worth believing in and striving for, though. It’s a goal, not a status quo or an end point.
Captain America, my favorite interpretation of him anyway, represents that Dream. As a result, he’s often disappointed with the actions of the country as a whole, from its government to its people. Cap represents the best of us, and that’s the source of his disappointment. There’s a Superman scene that I like a lot, created by Garth Ennis and John McCrea in JLA/Hitman. He flies up to Earth orbit and looks down at his planet. “If you knew how you are loved,” he thinks, “not one of you would raise a hand in rage again.”
It’s Superman, but it fits for Cap, too. He knows the heights humanity and America are capable of, and he’s often disappointed in the fact that the country and her people fall so short of the mark so frequently. The Falcon isn’t someone to be coddled or emancipated or attacked or guarded against. He’s Cap’s brother, someone he loves dearly and treats like family. The flag isn’t a scrap of cloth. It’s a symbol of what unity can do. And on and on and on. He’s a good man, and he represents a good thing.
Here’s a page from Secret Avengers 21, by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, Dave Lanphear, and Chris Sotomayor. Drops this week.
Torture. It’s been a big deal over the past few years. The US has engaged in torture for ages, from slavery to the Cold War, but now that it’s public, it’s a lot harder to ignore. The behavior of the US government in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere has been deplorable on that front. Torture is a pretty simple concept. Even a child can define it. “I am going to hurt you until you give me what I want.”
But at some point, the government redefined it so that things like making someone think they’re drowning don’t count as torture. Waterboarding is something that Japanese soldiers were hanged for back in the World War II days, was defined as illegal in the Vietnam War, was used in apartheid South Africa on political prisoners, and was a favored tactic of both the Khmer Rouge (who murdered over a million people for unbelievably stupid and petty reasons) and Pinochet’s Chile.
Waterboarding, torture in general really, is indefensible, but the defense usually involves the words “necessity” and “protection” and other scaremongering ideas. We have to hurt them before they can hurt us.
If there is any one thing that it is important that 2012 America should be better than, it’s torture. It is an actual evil, and people who engage in it have no right to call themselves good people. Being better is about being better, not lowering yourself to the level of Pol Pot or Augusto Pinochet because you’re afraid of someone or something. Being better is about finding better ways to solve problems. Being better is about not hurting unarmed, defenseless men and women. Torture is vile.
“I don’t believe in torture. It’s ugly, dishonorable, and unreliable. So I’m going to let my colleagues do it.”
And here we meet the 2012 Captain America. He’s the antithesis of the Captain America that I enjoy reading about. He’s exactly what America should stand against. He’s a coward. This isn’t a momentary lapse in judgment. This is a man who knows better, who explains that he knows better even as he goes against what he believes, turns his back in the face of actual evil. He allows the existence of evil because it is convenient, which may well be worse than the evil itself.
There’s that axiom about all evil needing to prosper is for good men to do nothing, but I don’t agree with that at all. Good men don’t do nothing. Good men stop evil when it rears its head in their presence. They stamp it out and refuse to allow it to exist. Good men do better.
It’s 2012, and Captain America turns his back and tacitly endorses one of the worst crimes of the US government in recent memory. He turns his back on everything he should stand for and approves the use of everything America should not be. Captain America broke.
That’s vile. Maybe it’s a cynical statement on American politics and hypocrisy. Maybe not. It’s still vile. Reject it.
I recently read Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece 62, which means that I’ve read over 12400 pages of this series, far more than anything but maybe Amazing Spider-Man, which I’ve read almost front to back, barring an extended break when it went sour in 1996. But yeah: 12400 pages, minimum. It’s as good as it ever was. It’s not at the emotional heights of Water 7 (I called it “a complete and utter emotional apocalypse” a while back, and I stand by that), but it’s still plenty enjoyable and better than most books.
Here’s a couple pages from it that I like a lot:
Oda does that thing at the top of page two a few times throughout the series, and it never fails to slay me. Someone starts to explain something related to the plot or science and Luffy listens, nods, and goes “Ah hah! So it’s a mysterious _______!” It emphasizes how dumb he is, but it’s also a good joke. He doesn’t have to know how things work, because he’s just going to barrel his way through anyway.
I dunno a lot about Japanese pop culture. Actual pop culture, I mean, not just manga or anime or movies. Maybe this “Ah, a mysterious _____” is a reference to a Japanese comedy show, or the “That’s what she said!” of Japan. But this gag works for me in a way a lot of equally dumb jokes normally wouldn’t.
Part of it is Oda’s cartooning. The contented smile, lazily closed eyes, mugs of tea, and body language elevate the dumb joke. I don’t even know that I can really articulate why I find this so funny. It’s like–you get it or you don’t. The earnestness, which is mirrored on the preceding page by Luffy aggressively wondering about the conditions required to sail underwater and then immediately pretending like he knows what “salinity” means, is crucial. (One day I’ll write a really salinity post.) Nami’s the eternal straight man for the antics of the rest of the crew, even Nico Robin, and is alternately horrified and exasperated with the rest of the crew.
I never get tired of watching her bounce off the rest of the crew, in part because Oda has created clearly-defined characters with their own comedic hooks. Luffy is endearingly stupid, Chopper is unbelievably naive, Sanji is Pepe LePew, Zolo gets lost, Nico Robin is morbid, Franky is strange and really into building fancy things, Usopp is a coward, and Brook is a pervert. Once you start combining the cast and creating combinations, you’re looking at differing types of humor. Zolo and Sanji are aggressively and absurdly competitive. Robin has no time for Franky’s strange antics. There’s a great bit in the “Thriller Bark” arc where Franky comes up with a combining robot (think Voltron with humans) for the crew to pilot. Robin refuses because it would be undignified, which pisses off the giant they were fighting, who thought the finished product would look really cool.
There isn’t endless potential here, but there are so many different hooks and combinations that no type of joke overstays its welcome, so each joke comes off fresh and funny.
I tripped over a reference to the video for El-P’s “Time Won’t Tell” off his Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3, directed by Shan Nicholson, by accident the other day and thought to myself, “Oh, it’s my favorite video from last year.” I don’t know when I decided that, or if I’d ever been consciously aware of that fact before now, but it’s true. I watch a lot of music videos, and this is the one this year that grabbed me the most.
Part of it is El-P’s production. El is easily the best at making sinister sounding tracks. A lot of classic songs sound like impending violence, like somebody’s about to get his whole head bust outside of the club. El-P makes joints that sound like the beginning of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia or the cityscapes from Blade Runner or Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira look. They sound like impending doom on a level far beyond DMX barking in your ear about how you didn’t ride, so you must wanna die arf arf arf.
It’s the way the bass pulses and buzzes under the track, and just how dirty and dusty everything sounds. It sounds processed, but like it was fed through a meat grinder, not Pro Tools. The drums are messy, there’s a throbbing horn infesting the middle part of the track, and a wail that hints at something horrible. And then, at 2:10, the track takes a breath and comes back majestic.
Nicholson’s direction clinches the deal, though. The beginning is a tour, as we follow this kid around town and check out foreclosed homes, decrepit section 8 homes, the presence of authority figures as something to fear, and generally just life in the projects. It feels lonely, because this kid never interacts with anyone and looks uncomfortable around the people he does run into. The long shots of him walking alone push that loneliness even further, begging you to extrapolate a little.
He walks past four kids who then follow him around town and the suspense kicks up. The first thought to come to mind was one of danger, of kids who goose step over innocence. He grabs the mattress, the kids follow, and you know something bad is going to happen. And then it doesn’t, it’s just some kids playing together and having a good time. The first kid has something dope and the other kids appreciate it.
And jeez, man, I can relate. Boy, can I relate. We’re trained to think of other humans as possible threats. You stand real close to the ATM, you ignore strangers in public, you don’t wear short skirts, you practice defensive driving, you don’t make eye contact in the street, you get told to stay away from that white girl, you wonder if that guy is really talking about monkeys or if he’s just dog-whistling, you push forward on the sidewalk with your head down and dare people to not get out of your way, you sign a pre-nup when you get married, and your heart skips a beat when you hear footsteps behind you on a dark night, all because “what if something happened???”
I know what it’s like to be a lonely, skinny black kid. I went to two elementary schools, four middle schools, and three high schools. The longest time I spent in one house after elementary school was my last two years of high school. I’ve been the new guy, the guy who doesn’t get to hang because he wasn’t there when the group formed. I’ve been the guy who didn’t want the new guy in the crew.
But sometimes you connect to other people off the back of stupid things like comic books or music or jumping on a mattress out where the factories used to be and just vibe and things are wonderful. I remember as a kid, there was this big mound of red clay that the neighborhood boys would use as a bike ramp. I never did it–the thought of going in the air on my bike terrified me, and I’d had a bad bike wreck shortly after moving in–but we would hang out and that would be our sun. I have other memories–the woods between our school and our hood or the filthy creek near the dumpster where we found a gang of playboys or the youth center on base–where the “we” involved is different every time.
It’s nice when people actually connect with each other, no matter the catalyst. This video is as good a depiction of what it looks and feels and sounds like to let other people in as you’ll ever see.
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