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Monday, August 26, 2013

More random thoughts (Breaking Bad and RUSH edition)

Brief snippets of my life recently, in lieu of an actual detailed, long post. (Ed: This post actually ended up considerably longer than I expected).

Finished reading, and thoroughly enjoyed, Detroit Rock City. I've been working on a blog post about it, but obviously it hasn't yet seen the light of day.


I'm still running, and am happy to report that I'm slowly but steadily recovering from my nagging shin splints in my left leg. Sunday morning, I ran 32 minutes (with no walking breaks), which I hadn't done since the Ele's Race 5K. That's a step in the right direction.


College football starts in less than a week! And that means my favorite season (Fall) will also soon be here. Leaves turning color, cooler weather, Halloween. It just doesn't get much better than that. The only aspect of Fall that I dislike is raking leaves. We have several large trees in and around our yard, so leaf raking tends to be an ongoing battle from early October until late November and even early December.


Yesterday, helped my niece move into her residence hall at Michigan State. She's a freshman and I can't believe she's in college already. I was surprised that I got a little emotional, almost as if she was my own kid. I remember her mom (my sister-in-law) bringing her to Schuler Books (where I worked with my later-to-be wife) when she was a newborn. She was almost four years old when my wife and I started dating--now suddenly she's an adult.

It's trite, but where does the time go? Seriously, where the heck does it go and how does it disappear with such swiftness?


I'm currently obsessed with the TV show Breaking Bad and the band RUSH, in that order. Catching up with Breaking Bad on Netflix,, what an amazing television program that is. All great drama needs to be built on strong characters, and Breaking Bad has that. Walter White is one of the most intriguing protagonists/anti-heroes I've ever seen on television, and the peripheral characters are equally compelling. The writing is top notch, there is plenty of sly dark humor to balance out the more intense subject matter, and each episode is filmed in an artful manner that makes them look like mini-movies.

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston)

Breaking Bad may be the best television show I have ever seen. I am thoroughly invested in the story and characters in a way I have not been since HBO's Six Feet Under. I actually dream about the show. (I also dreamt about Six Feet Under). I think about the show while I'm taking walks during break time at work. What will be the endgame for Walter White? Who wins the final confrontation between Walt and his DEA officer brother-in-law (and nemesis) Hank Schrader? Will Walt's long-suffering and emotionally damaged partner Jesse Pinkman emerge unscathed?

Breaking Bad works on so many levels. On the surface, it is a suspenseful crime drama in the mold of Martin Scorsese's best work. But the show also has complex psychological elements. And it's also about family and the lengths we will go to in order to protect and provide for them--(even if the means to achieve this are misguided at best and morally repugnant at worst). Whether it's Walt becoming a crystal meth kingpin so as to ensure his wife and family financial security after his (presumed) inevitable death from cancer, or the sometimes smothering protection that Marie Schrader has for her tough-as-nails but emotionally vulnerable husband Hank. Then there is Jesse Pinkman, who transforms from a spaced-out druggie (and below-average high school chemistry student of Walter White) to a competent meth cook and somewhat bad-ass and savvy assistant to both Walt and drug lord Gustavo Fring. As the show has progressed, Jesse has gained more confidence in himself and is quite cunning. However, he does have his own inner demons with which to contend--like almost every character on the show.

Then there is the Walter White/Jesse Pinkman dynamic. Father and surrogate son? Or is Walter just "playing" Jesse? (as Jesse believes is the case).

Almost every character on the show is morally ambiguous, another element that adds to the show's appeal. Unlike many other movies or TV shows, where there are clearly defined "good" characters and "bad" characters--this dichotomy doesn't exist on Breaking Bad. (I suppose that in recent years, it's not that unusual for television shows to have morally ambiguous characters at their core. Look at such shows as The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Justified as additional examples).

Breaking Bad also has its humorous elements. For the first several seasons, Walter drove around in a bland Pontiac Aztek with one missing hub cap and a constantly cracked windshield. A running gag in the show is that Walt's windshield is constantly cracking or shattering from one mishap or another, whether its debris from an airplane crash or a rock thrown by an angry Jesse.

Then there is Walt's huckster attorney Saul Goodman. Saul changed his last name from McGill to the "Jewish-sounding" Goodman in order to gain more "credibility" with his largely underworld clientele. He's the comic relief of the show, though he is a quite competent (if unscrupulous) lawyer. His cheap and tacky law office is also one of the show's great visual jokes.

The law office of Saul Goodman
Walter White and wife Skyler discuss money laundering options with Saul in his gaudy office. 


Now on to my mercurial and ever-changing music habits: I'm just in a RUSH mood right now. I've had 2112 playing in my head for days. The way I am though, it could be something completely different next week. (It all started after a chance viewing of RUSH Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland, which appeared on cable TV).

Rock's most self-effacing band

Though the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a sham, I'm happy that RUSH finally made it in. They may not have the "hipster cred" that is generally necessary to gain admittance to that institution, but there has been a ground swell of love and appreciation for them in recent years, so the RnR HoF was forced to relent.

RUSH's lack of "cool quotient" comes down to several factors:

1. The whole Ayn Rand-as-lyrical-inspiration thing, which upon close inspection I find to be overblown. (First of all, Neil Peart was in his 20s when he wrote the bulk of his Ayn Rand-inspired stuff, and many, many people of that age are taken by Ayn Rand. Plus, Peart seems to have been moved more by Rand's championing of artistic freedom more than her objectivist philosophy--then again, I could be completely full of shit on this point. It's not as if I'm any expert on Ayn Rand or Neil Peart, for that matter).

2. Then there's the whole "prog rock" thing, and we all know how much the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hates anything that smacks of prog rock. (And RUSH only has periodically flirted with proginess, anyway)

3. The three guys in the band are, without a doubt, the nicest guys in rock. Self effacing and with a good sense of humor about themselves. Unfortunately, politeness and modesty don't generally rate very high among rock's hip circles.

4. Science fiction/fantasy-related lyrics. I don't think Neil Peart (or Geddy Lee) have written about sex and/or drugs in their lives. There is also not a single song about romantic love in the RUSH canon, as far as I can tell. Another strike against the band.

5. Geddy Lee's voice. Yep, couldn't leave that off the list. The oft-criticized "hamster in a blender" vocal stylings of the band's lead singer. Once again, this is overblown. Yes, on the earlier albums, Geddy did tend to shriek. However, as the years have gone by, Geddy has harnessed his singing, entered a slightly deeper register, and the shrieking is a thing of the past.


Well that's about it for now. That was my random collection of thoughts and I hope it wasn't too boring.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lessons learned from watching "Goodfellas" for the 30th time (give or take)

"Goodfellas" is one of my all-time favorite movies. Heck, it may be my number one favorite movie. Last night, it made an appearance in its uncut glory on the cable station, Encore. I caught about the last 2/3 of it, and I have to say it's a movie I never tire of seeing. I suppose part, if not most, of its appeal is that the gangster life is a side of life I will NEVER see and, quite frankly, hope to never see. Still, it's extremely fun to live vicariously through a gangster, and imagine what that existence might be like. Mainly, though, "Goodfellas" is just a hell of a great movie with brilliant acting, glorious direction from Martin Scorsese, and some of the best dialogue ever written for film.

Just for kicks, I compiled a few lessons learned from my 30th (give or take) viewing of “Goodfellas”:

1.       Don’t “bust a guy’s balls” asking for money you think is owed you. You will probably end up dead.

2.       If you insist on brazenly cheating on your wife, make sure none of your firearms are left out in the open or otherwise within her easy access.

3.       If you can help it, never sit in in a car’s passenger seat with a guy sitting behind you, particularly if the guy is known to have a penchant for extreme violence.

4.       If your bosses offer to bestow upon you “made man” status, politely decline (if possible)—particularly if you’ve already “whacked” another “made man” without permission.

5.       If you’re a gangster, liberal use of the “f-word” is permitted. Go ahead and use it all you want.

6.       If you and your friends/acquaintances/co-workers suddenly find yourselves the lucky beneficiaries of a multi-million dollar heist, do not immediately spend your share excessively on frivolous items. This could end badly for you.