Jamie York is a producer for On the Media.
OTM Staff Picks Volume 47
Monday, March 11, 2013 - 04:42 PM
A few of our favorite things this week.
I seem to recall that when we inaugurated this “Staff Picks” post, my first contribution was a rave for the BBC series Sherlock. Now I’m back again, though late, with a rousing recommendation for Parade’s End, which you can still see on HBO on demand. The common thread obviously is actor Benedict Cumberbatch (one of the strangest names in British entertainment since, oh I dunno, Engelbert Humperdinck.) He plays a very different character here, Christopher Tietjens is all morality where Sherlock had none, all reverence for the passing grandeur of ancient institutions at which Sherlock sneered. What they do share are unruly passions that they keep tightly battened down. Some have called Parade’s End (based on Ford Maddox Ford’s World War One trilogy) Downton Abbey for grown-ups. That’s probably unfair – I’ve seen season one of Downton and liked it well enough. But Parade’s End, which I saw a couple weeks ago in a fit of binge viewing, is still with me. It’s not so much about the war – but about the end of a world – a world like an old, loved, but painfully ailing uncle, had run out of time, and run his course. There’s sex, as fair amount of blood, degradation and heroism, beautiful people in beautiful clothes, all those elements of compelling drama, but they combine to create five hours of profoundly moving, thought-provoking television.
I really think you should see it.
There are probably a bunch of you that only know Devo as those doofuses who sang “Whip It” and jumped around in radiation suits. That’s fine. I ain’t mad atcha. But I feel compelled to let you know that Devo are unheralded geniuses of contemporary music and give you a taste of what you’ve been missing.
Devo started out as a project launched by a bunch of college dweebs (Jerry Casale, a fella named Bob Lewis, and the Mothersbaugh brothers – Jim, Bob and Mark) in the wake of the Kent State shootings. The whole experience was so disheartening for them, they chose to tackle it with a sense of humor, and embrace what they saw was a society devolving. Devo herald and welcome de-evolution and conformity. They lovingly refer to their fans as spuds, huboons (Human Baboons), etc.
Their musical aesthetic is decidedly weird. Jim Mothersbaugh was a tinkerer, playing with synthesizers and building early drum machines. Bob wails on guitar, but he’s a minimalist, preferring tightly wound riffs and ring modulation. Mark has a weird voice (he kinda sounds like Kermit) and Casale sings like a snotty teenager, but it works.
They are called punks, even though they hate being called punks. They end up being punker than just about all the punks out there, playing music that essentially has no precedent.
Their visual aesthetic is equally weird. Dimestore masks, cheap rubber toys, factory suits, a pastiche of pointless American consumerism. It’s garish, it’s ugly, it’s almost irresistible.
The band toiled away for 5 or 6 years in Akron, releasing short films and records on their own. It’s not until one of their movies, The Truth About De-Evolution, wins a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival that they come to the attention of the record industry. Their first album was produced by Brian Eno (David Bowie wanted to do it, but he was busy with other projects). The result is incredible, 1978’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo.
Devo’s first album contains 11 songs, to the exclusion of the dozens of songs they’ve written in their first six years. A couple of the songs pop up on Toni Basil’s (“Hey Mickey!”) first album Word of Mouth. Here’s her take on Devo’s Be Stiff, with Devo backing her up.
Devo breaks up in 1991, and in a twist of delicious irony, the brain trust of the band (Casale, Mark, Bob) all go into scoring and sometimes directing movies, music and advertisements. You can hear Mark’s work in tons of stuff, most recently in the TV show Enlightened. In 2003, the band recorded a version of “Whip It” for a Swiffer commercial because, as Mark says, "It was so absurd, We like messing with the boundaries between art and commerce." They still tour, and are still awesome, and even reunited to record an album in 2010. There are about 100 songs in the Devo catalog worth hearing, memorizing and listening to over and over again. Get to work, spud.
I haven’t been consuming a lot of media lately, but I HAVE been consuming a lot of these Chobani yogurt flip things that have recently been appearing at my grocery store. My favorite is this coconut, almond and dark chocolate one:
In preparation for an interview for this week’s show I’m in the midst of reading Helaine Olen’s fascinating book Pound Foolish about the personal finance industry. Olen argues that personal finance’s message of personal responsibility has been sold to anxious Americans battered by declining incomes, increased debt, rising core expenses, an erosion of pensions and runaway income inequality. The details are stark and alarming and I’d urge you to read the book. But if you can’t, because you’re, say, working longer hours for less money trying to pay runaway health insurance rates – well perhaps you could watch this instead:
If you’ve got another minute, this is an interesting analysis of how we Americans cope with our economic plight.
And I guess if you’re still unconvinced, this is a more technical framing of the yawning income gap.
I've been told that consuming enough of this information about our collective financial realities can make one angry. A kind of dumb, useless anger. Just FYI.
Last night LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan threw down the most ferocious dunk of the season.
The play dominated Twitter for half the night (my Twitter feed at any rate) and this morning SportsCenter replayed it into the ground as only SportsCenter can. (It's too bad that this moment came at the expense of OTM producer Alex Goldman's Detroit Pistons.)
I recently had a baby and I’m a wreck and don’t get to read or watch anything much. I change diapers, pick up toys and yell at the 5 year old then after all that I collapse in front of Project Runway or some such crap. BUT I did read “Are You My Mother” by Alison Bechdel and I have been clinging to this one idea that she describes. In the book Alison is obsessing over her own therapy and reading about psychoanalysis; one guy she is particularly taken with is British psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott. I’m not even going to begin to try and explain his theories of motherhood and child rearing only to say that his concept of “the good enough mother” struck a chord with me. My interpretation of what he wrote is that in the natural course of mothering (which includes sometimes being too busy or tired to respond to every cry and need) we exhausted mothers are not only “good enough” but actually GOOD. Now I’m off to change diapers.