Saturday, January 31, 2009

Awards Season

You can keep yer Oscars and yer Golden Globes (and yes, even your Razzies): I will proudly accept the Dardos Award bestowed on me by blog pal Bill. Here's the description of the award:

The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."

There are rules, however:
1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

It was very nice of Bill to choose me-- we first met over at the comments section of Dennis's blog (which I'm convinced is the Rick's Cafe Americain of the film blogosphere-- that's where everyone meets), where we discovered a mutual affection for the much-maligned Superman Returns, and we've been fast internet friends ever since. I highly recommend checking out Bill's blog, not only because he had the good sense to recognize me, but because it is a smart, spiffy and stylish model of pop culture writing.

A variety of factors caused me to not follow up on the second part of the award, not the least of which was narrowing the list down to five blogs. I would love to toss Dardos to everyone on my blog roll. But after much time and thought, here's my list...

Actually, before I get to that, I need to mention some other people. These folks have, I believe, all been cited, but if the purpose of this award is to thank and honor those blogging folks who nuture and inspire, I would be remiss if I didn't say hello to:

Jonathan Lapper: I mentioned Jonathan on my blog relatively soon after I started it up, because I'd liked one of his posts in a Jim Emerson comments section. I don't remember the subject of Jim's post, or even the specifics of Jonathan's response, but I described him as "nice guy Jonathan Lapper," to which he responded, "I'm a nice guy? Thanks." Soon after, he said something kind about my post on A Face In The Crowd, and we've been exchanging Internet notes ever since. With its fun games, snarky jokes, fabulous picture scans, and thoughtful analyses (to say nothing of those daily banner changes!), Cinema Styles is easily one of my favorite film blogs, and I especially appreciate Jonathan's attention to Classic Hollywood. I'm not the only one-- Jonathan's posse is wide-ranging, and his comments section is always a hotbed of hoppin' conversation.

Campaspe: Speaking of Classic Hollywood...Is there a more stylish film blogger anywhere than the Self-Styled Siren? It's like reading a blog written by Nora Charles, full of smart, screwball prose that seduces and kicks like a vodka martini, and leaves you just as dazed and giddy. Her posts have the texture and detail of good short story, the insight of a good essay, and the wit of a Preston Sturges comedy, but the most amazing thing is how easy she makes it all look: I don't always agree with James Wolcott, but he got it right when he described Campaspe's blog as "Sophisticated and yet not stuck up about it." She also manages to go straight to so many of my cinephiliac sweet spots ('30s Hollywood, Douglas Sirk, anecdotes), that I'd almost be jealous of her speed, depth and grace if I weren't so grateful and enriched by all she has to say about them.

Dennis Cozzalio: I've mentioned Dennis many times before on this blog, but there's a reason for that: he is the most generous film blogger I've ever encountered, and a piercing and funny critic to boot. His was the first film blog I ever visited (back when he did a series of remarkable posts eulogizing Robert Altman), and I was so drawn in to what he said that I not only wanted to continue to read his blog, but to check out those blogs he linked to, imagining they must be just as cool. Well, a lot of them were, and so I'd like to thank Dennis for his own extraordinary work, for introducing me to the great work of so many others, and for always being such a kind and welcoming soul to newcomers like me.

Girish: Everyone loves Girish. Everyone cites Girish. Everyone is in awe of Girish. These are, of course, the proper responses to someone as thoughtful and almost frighteningly prodigious as Girish. I can't think of a film blogger who combines the popular and the academic with the same skill, or whose tastes seem both so broad and so deep. As Jean-Luc Godard said of Truffaut, "His consistencies make up for all the rest of our inconsistencies."

Cinebeats: Perhaps more than any other film blog, Kimberly's is the one that most inspires me to add movies to my Netflix queue, songs to my I-tunes list, and books to my Amazon cart. That's because she tackles sixties and seventies cinema with such sensuous gusto that she makes every text she's discussing sound like a must-have. Fearlessly retro in her tastes, but also reminding us with great wit and skill that the boundaries between old and new, classic and modern are far more permeable than we're sometimes led to believe.

And now, without further ado...

Well, OK, one more thing. I am chronically incapable of following rules when it comes to memes. So, instead of five blogs, I am offering three pairs of blogs from different subject areas, plus one extra blog, because there's just too much good stuff to cite.

The Dardo For Film Blog
Bob Westal and Larry Aydlette (nee Shamus, nee That Little Rounded-Headed Boy) have both been very kind and supportive blog friends from early on, and both offer the important reminder that a "film blog" doesn't just have to be about film. Bob, like me, is a TV and politics junkie as well as a film geek, and he writes about all three subjects with smarts, earnestness and good humor; whenever I'd worry that maybe I was blogging about the election a little too much, Bob's excellent posts on the primaries would inspire me to write more. The first post of Larry's I ever read was actually about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he's still one of my favorite writers about pop music (he also has great ruminations about writing, newspapers, Florida, the Oscars and anything else he damn well pleases over at "Welcome to L.A."). A month or two ago, Lapper noted that Larry is a model, not only because he's such a good writer and a good guy, but because he's so completely chill about what he does. A week of nothing but image-driven posts? Why not! Change the template again? Of course! While the rest of us worry about comment numbers, subject matter, post length, etc., Larry is over there like Howard Hawks, smoothly running his own show and not too worried about what anyone thinks. "It's just a blog," he seems to be saying-- and that relaxed attitude is what lets his blog be so good.

The Dardo For Comics Blog
I found Mark Engblom's very fun blog, Comic Coverage, a few years ago almost by chance: I was looking for images of some old Marvel Comics covers online, and stumbled across Mark's witty post on "Comic Book Floating Heads." Well, this was like Dr. Donald Blake discovering Thor's hammer-- it may have been a chance meeting, but I knew I was in for some fun adventures in the months ahead. By the way, if you don't get that reference, you might feel a little lost at Mark's place, which is devoted to Silver and Bronze Age superhero comics. But that disorientation will only be temporary: Mark is almost always at pains to make everyone-- newbie or comics veteran-- feel at home, and to remind us of the fun of comics collecting, whether it's the melodramatic pleasure of a particular hero or title, the goofy joy of old-time letters pages, or the even goofier joy of old-time comics ads. Mark and I have had our disagreements, but I can't think of a better starting place for someone who wants to understand just why some of us are obsessed with these 22-page, badly-stapled pamphlets. One of Mark's recurring features is "Highlight Reel," documenting those moments in comics that he thinks are just cool. Well, all of Comic Coverage is a "Highlight Reel," and I thank Mark for his geeky passion and his fun sense of humor.

Ever wonder what it's like to think about comics collecting from the other side of the counter? Over at Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, comic shop manager Mike Sterling offers his stories, opinions, rants and praises about the state of the industry on a daily basis. He has the funniest comics scans on the web, as well as some of the strangest laugh-to-keep-from-crying stories about life in the commercial trenches, from distributor stories to funny customer requests to truly sweet tales of friendship and community. Funny without feeling strained, snarky without being truly mean, and never letting hipster cool get in the way of genuine joy, Sterling's blog is the best virtual comics shop you could ever visit.

The Dardo For Political/Cultural Blog
Some of my earliest blog reading centered around politics-- in the wake of the 2004 nightmare, I started reading Daily Howler, Crooks and Liars, Talking Points Memo, and other blogs for information and, well, solace. Those are good blogs (especially Josh Marshall's), and I also really like what Steve Benen's been doing at Washington Monthly, but those more "official" blogs already get a lot of attention, and can also feel a bit rigid if you read them for extended periods of time. More and more, I find myself drawn to those blogs whose mixtures of politics, culture and personal memoir feel fluid and funnier. No one mixes those modes more skillfully than The Black Snob, whose blog I discovered last summer. From her trenchant Obama analysis to her moving and funny stories about home life to her cyber-stalking of TJ Holmes, Danielle Belton recognizes the ability-- maybe even the necessity-- of the remix to an effective blog-life: we are never only one person (especially) online, but a set of worthwhile paradoxes and contradicitons, and our political life should be just as rich and heterogenous.

Along similar lines, John West's Ich Bin Ein Oberliner, aside from having one of the funniest blog names I've ever heard, locates that elusive spot between academic life, personal time, and politics (with a healthy dose of comics reviews thrown in). West is a smart, savvy analyst of politics (especially from an epistemological point-of-view), but what I most like is that, whatever the topic, you can almost see the thoughts becoming solid as you read them; what I mean is, he makes his process of working out his ideas a living, breathing, thinginess-of-the-thing kind of thing, which makes the posts both more inviting ("Come join me in this process of working it all out") and more exciting (because thought should always be an adventure into the unknown).

The Irving G. Thalberg Dardo
Finally, one more Dardo, to Yellow Dog. Jeff Rice has been running this academic blog for many years, and it's inspired me more than any other blog I can think of. Years before I even started blogging, I would read Jeff's posts to students in comp classes, would be inspired by something he wrote and return to my own writing with renewed purpose, or would recommend posts to friends. I am almost always infuriated or intrigued by what Jeff posts, but I'm rarely bored, and I think that's the sign of a good blogger. What Yellow Dog does, more than anything, is to ask, "Why?" Why this form, this idea, this ideology-that-hides-itself-as-'natural'? Why do we accept this or that shibboleth of writing or thought or teaching? It doesn't matter if you agree or not-- the point is, Jeff has gotten you to rethink your position. In doing so, he reminds you that blogging (and by extension any writing) can be anything-- essay, argument, joke, image, snatch of an idea, beginning of a story. The only limits are those of your courage and your imagination.

Jane Of The Dead

A zombie story I can finally get behind!

(h/t to Andrew Sullivan's site).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike, R.I.P.

How is it that I've gotten this far in my life without reading John Updike? How can I watch Mad Men and The Ice Storm and Carnal Knowledge and not have read John Updike? How can I be passionately interested in F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger and not have followed that thread through to John Updike, their heir in what James Wolcott described yesterday as "the leafy, torpid suburban sublime", with all its attendant pleasures and anxieties? Even stranger, how could I have read The New Yorker off-and-on for twenty years and not read John Updike, who seems so central to its literary ethos?

More to the point, why do I feel like I've read John Updike, without having perused a word, and why did I feel a sense of loss when I read of his passing yesterday? It's a testament to his talent that I can sense his presence in those places named above, can know that his influence has its fingerprints on generations of artists I admire, much like Joyce does on a generation of artists-- you can feel that something is "Joycean" or "Updike-like" even if you've never picked up a copy of Ulyssess or Rabbit, Run. The imprint is there, and the imprint will remain.

Not that this is any excuse, and these sublime remembrances from Julian Barnes, T. Coraghessan Boyle and others makes me determined to dive into the short stories soon, and then move to the Rabbit books, which Barnes describes in his typically elegant fashion as "a distraction from, and a glittering confirmation of, the vast bustling ordinariness of American life."

R.I.P., John Updike.

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life

Brief takes on recent I-Tunes purchases:

TV On The Radio: Dear Science: You know those moments when you hear a great band at the absolute peak of its powers, and you get that giddy feeling of gratitude that you're around to hear it in the moment it's happening? That's what Dear Science feels like all the way through. I avoided the hype on this album for a long time, since I'd found the band's previous record, 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain, to be a boring art-rock mismash that made me wonder if I'd somehow gotten a different record than all the reviewers who praised it. But the constant mention of Dear Science on everyone's year-end "best of" lists finally piqued my curiosity, and my goodness, does it live up to all the praise. The drum machine-bass-synth "ba bum bum's" of "Halfway Home" kick the album off in style, and it only gets better from there, mixing scalding rock guitars, gospel vocals, New Wave keyboards and doo-wop hand claps with surreal lyrics about love, sex and community; as the voices swell up into one majestic chorus on "Golden Age," it sounds like the best album that Fishbone and Depeche Mode never made together.

Kanye West: 808s & Heartbreak: No one's made the romantic ache and paranoia of superstardom sound this good since the mid-80s glory days of Prince and the Revolution; West seems to share the Little Purple Guy's desire to write his every worry, dream or desire-- no matter how opaque or perverse-- into his music (what U2 once called "private thoughts on a public address system"), and the music is all the stronger for it. You can certainly hear Prince here, mashed up with New Order and other 80s pop echoes, driven by drum machines and vocal distortion that only makes West's sense of isolation all the more acute; luckily, it's also very danceable. West has lost none of his gifts for the memorable pop hook, but his willingness to stretch and get all eerie here makes 808s a more haunting experience than his last two albums.

The Killers Day & Age: Thank goodness Brandon Flowers got over the mid-70s Americana obsession that made the last album such a drag: from the growlingly dirty horn section that opens "Losing Touch" to the synth-driven pop of "Human," Day & Age finds Las Vegas' finest re-establishing their talent for ridiculously catchy bubblegum pop with a sharp guitar edge. So few bands do melodrama so well, or have the confidence to locate their meaning in the sublime interplay of bass, keyboard, and Flowers' over-the-top vibrato.

Franz Ferdinand: Tonight: Franz Ferdinand: Scottish disco-punk with a glam rock twist. Is there anything better?

Paul McCartney: Amoeba's Secret (Live EP): Recorded in 2007 at a Los Angeles indie record store of the same name, this is a relaxed bit of pop from the man that all these other bands want to be, in one way or another. The record opens with the pre-recorded strings opening of "Only Mama Knows," but that polish is a red herring-- the playing and singing here is appealingly raw and loose, like a Cavern Club show from 1962, except now that 20-year old bassist has grown up to be the most talented musician of his generation. "Mama Knows" blends rockabillyish instrumentation with one of McCartney's patented tales of memory, parental loss and mystery (think "Let It Be" or "Eleanor Rigby"); from there he takes a right turn into the seldom-played "C Moon," impishly tackling the absurdist reggae song with what sounds like a big grin on his face (he even scats at one point). The four-track disc continues with "That Was Me" (from his then-new album, Memory Almost Full), and ends with the predictable (but no less pleasurable) rave-up of "I Saw Here Standing There." McCartney was 65 when he recorded these tracks, but the evidence here suggests that he has no intention of slowing down; would you, if you sounded like you were having this much fun?

Frank Sinatra: Sinatra & Strings: Hey, if McCartney goes long enough, he might even sound as relaxed as Frank Sinatra does on this 1962 recording. Sublime-- inhumanly, transcendently sublime, and finding that mysterious place where technique and songcraft dissolve into the cinematic heartache of a whiskey-soaked bar at 3 A.M. Essential.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nerd Alert

The Onion reminds us of the dangers of a geeky President.

Actually, what's really sad is how many references I got in that article. And really, why shouldn't our foreign policy be based around Secret Wars?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Songs About Airports IV: "Thank You For Flying US Airways, And We Wish You A Pleasant Life"

I'm in a movie, right?

I know that the ticket says "Charlotte Douglas International Airport," but I've really flown onto the set of an abusrdist comedy, yes? And Jim Carrey or Nicholas Cage or Steve Buscemi's about to walk up, tap me on the shoulder, and take my place?

Five brief travel anecdotes from Sunday's trip back from Auburn, Alabama:

1) While checking in at the counter in Montgomery, they change my departure gate from "4" to "3." So, I head to Gate 3. I sit there for two minutes, until an airport cop moseys over. "Which flight are you on?," he asks.

"This one," I say, pointing to the gate counter (I am the only one sitting in the entire downstairs gate area).

"Which flight?," he says again, and I wonder if I'm doing something wrong. "This one," I respond again, and give the flight number.

"Oh, that's leaving from upstairs," he says pleasantly. "The flights deplane down here, but load up upstairs, so you want to go up to..." and gives me a set of directions that lead me back, naturally enough, to the original Gate 4 that was on my ticket.

Fair enough-- I appreciate his help, and head back upstairs. I sit there for about fifteen minutes, and then see herds of people headed down to Gate 3. My plane is due to board in fifteen minutes, and there's no one at my counter. I ask a flight attendant nearby if she is on my outgoing flight. She is not-- she works for Welta, not US Err-- but kindly suggests that my flight is loading up down at Gate 3, since that's where the US Err flights leave from.

OK. I head back downstairs, where a loud man who reminds me of Buddy Garrity is holding court and talking about his connection times in Charlotte.

2) Twenty minutes to landing in Charlotte, but it feels like an hour (Einstein makes more sense when flying). Night is falling and it's dark, the Lite-Brite set of downtown Charlotte twinkling below us and writing hieroglyphs against the dark land. In my right ear, I suddenly hear the conversation of the man behind me-- some kind of architect, I presume from his words-- and the flight attendant who seems sweet on him. I'll hear this for the rest of the flight, because they don't stop, except when the attendant's call button begrudgingly interrupts her flirtations. They talk about art and designing houses, funding artists and America's future, and the flight attendant mentions her "uppity" nephew who wants to be an architect (I'm not sure how mentioning your "uppity" nephew is a good conversational tactic, but she seems well-versed in the art of passenger chat, so I'll defer to her expertise). Close to landing, she goes to the PA and reads us a quote from Longfellow, then returns to the man with a piece of paper: "Look at this, my nephew drew it," she says in a light southern drawl.

3) I'm two terminals away from my gate, so I dash past the other fliers and down the halls-- until the siren song of the gift shop stops me. Oh, pretty magazines and onboard snacks, why must you sing so beautifully? I grab my magazine and go to the counter. The poor, overworked counter lady (the only one working this shift) is valiantly putting up with a customer who apparently forgot to pay for her T-shirt before leaving the shop. "No, you have to pay for that," the counter lady says, "or else I don't know that you've bought it." The woman seems peeved at this imposition of order, but takes her shirt to the counter. When the price comes up, she slowly gets a stack of credit cards out of her wallet. Yes, she's going to pay this way, as a line of nine people stand behind her (and I suddenly wonder if this magazine was worth it). She meanders through her stack of cards, examining each one before finally settling on her choice. The heroic counter lady swipes the card and the woman slowly signs her name, then slowly returns her cards to their wallet, then slowly puts the wallet back in her purse. She walks away from the counter towards the line of people, causing a slight jostle of the line to let her pass.

4) "Wait," I hear the young man say to the woman next to him in the connecting tube that takes us from the aiport to the plane. "He gave you a bottle of Jamaican rum to take with you, telling you that you had to take it to America. And you did this, and now he's yelling at you, and you think this is OK? Why do you put up with this guy?"

5) Sitting on the runway in Charlotte, the flight already several minutes behind, when the flight attendant's voice comes over the PA: "Is there a [name omitted] on the plane? Your license was just found on the floor. Please ring your call button for assistance." The woman, who sits in front of me in a rakish, pinstriped fedora, does as she's asked. A harried attendant comes over. "Yes?," the flight attendant mutters.

"I'm ***," the woman says, giving her name.

Blank stare.

"Can I help you?," the flight attendant responds.

"Well," the woman says tentatively, "my name was just called, and they said they had my license."

"OK..." replies the attendant.

"I rang my call button like you asked," the woman continues, as if trying to explain a complex physics experiment to Forrest Gump.

"OK," the flight attendant says. "So...Is everything OK?"

"No," the woman says in a slightly exasperated voice. "I want my license!"

Notes On Blogging Aesthetics XVII

All you for your voice to be part of the record, at a particular time and place. You try to be on the right side of history. And maybe some other kid will hear that and go, "Oh, yeah, that sounds like the place I live."
--Bruce Springsteen, in this week's
Rolling Stone cover story

Thursday, January 22, 2009


For three years, twelve hours a day, five days a week, approximately ten months of each year, I functioned as an extraterrestrial.
--Leonard Nimoy,
I Am Not Spock

It was the poster for Star Trek: The Motion Picture that grabbed me, that great image of Kirk, Spock and the gleaming bald head of Persis Khambatta cast in a rainbow light with the vastness of space shimmering behind them. At the tender age of six, I thought it promised a lot-- and was bitterly disappointed when it failed to deliver. I remember going on a wintry day with my father and older brother, and almost falling asleep waiting for something to happen. I was not, it seemed, destined to be a Trekkie.

It may have been a doomed cause, anyway-- Star Wars had already won my geeky heart-- but it made another worthy attempt with The Wrath of Khan three years later. Had the films changed, or had I? I was now a worldly nine-year old, and perhaps more patient, better prepared for Trek's blend of action, character and philosophical exploration. But the movie itself was much tighter, funnier, action-packed and gripping than its predecessor (it remains, I think, the best of all Trek films, due in large part to screenwriter/director Nicholas Meyer, who would be involved in various capacities on most of the good Trek movies). As I headed into adolescence, reading the Trek-friendly Starlog, I was more and more intrigued by the movies, and the show that inspired them. By the time Star Trek IV was released to acclaim in 1986, I knew my Star Trek trivia well, and even had the proper fanboy response of suspicion to IV's humorous take-- laughter? What? This is serious science fiction, dammit!

Heading into high school, my enthusiasm dimmed, and while I watched the first season of the brand-new Next Generation, I wasn't grabbed by it. I let my Starlog subscription lapse. My waning interest felt confirmed by the pallid Star Trek V two years later. Kirk wouldn't officially die for five years, but my passion died as I heard William Shatner declaim, "Why does God need a starship??"

(Two years after, I was in college, and the enjoyable-if-slight Star Trek VI opened. I took delight in my friend Chad's report that, on opening night at the theater he attended, Shatner's name was hissed during the credits: "Boo! He directed V! Boo!").

"I like, I don't like: this is of no importance to anyone; this, apparently, has no meaning. And yet all this means: my body is not the same as yours," Roland Barthes wrote in Barthes par Barthes in 1975. "Hence, in this anarchic foam of tastes and distastes, a kind of listless blur, gradually appears the figure of a bodily enigma, requiring complicity or irritation. Here begins the intimidation of the body, which obliges others to endure me liberally, to remain silent and polite confronted by pleasures or rejections which they do not share."

(I wonder if there were any Star Trek V partisans in that opening night audience in 1991, silently keeping their own counsel for fear of appearing even nerdier than the folks around them).

Barthes was writing of his image-repertoire, crafting not so much an autobiography as a sensuous intellectual self-portrait whose playful fragmentation into alphabetic segments became his entry point for thinking about the he-within-the-text ("Barthes" rather than Barthes). Highlighting his own subjectivity, his own desires and rejections, was one more way to deconstruct the unspoken agreement that "academic discourse" was somehow a scientific and ideologically correct business, rather than one of personal investments.

(Incidentally, when searching for the above quote online-- I'm on the road, and my own copy of Barthes par Barthes is at home--I stumbled across an academic listserv discussion about Barthes, where one participant responded to a claim that Barthes was "laughable" by defending him thus: "Academic discourse is not about likes and dislikes." I like to think Barthes would've appreciated the irony).

I thought of Barthes par Barthes and its deliberate sequence of playful digressions when I stumbled across another self-portrait published in 1975: Leonard Nimoy's I Am Not Spock. I guess the upcoming J.J. Abrams re-imagining has re-sparked my interest, and when I saw it on the shelf I couldn't help but pick it up. Nimoy is not a semiologist, but he was facing a similar dilemma to Barthes' in the mid-1970s: How do you overcome an image that has attached itself to you, that's not you, but is you in some ways? Should you overcome it, or find a way to wrestle with it?

Back to Starlog: I remember reading about this book in that magazine back in the early 1980s. The periodical's readers were shocked at the very title of the thing, and Nimoy's supposed "betrayal" of the fandom that had made him (and, it was implied in their tone, could break him, etc., etc., etc.). I was always curious about it, and I think reading these exchanges
colored my image of the Vulcan, making him seem more imperious and distant than he perhaps really was.

Looking at the book all these years later, I now wonder how many of those angry Starlog correspondents actually read the thing. Nimoy is very clear about his love and gratitude for Trek and its fans, but he's also intrigued about the relationship between the private man and public persona that a popular actor must grapple with. The title becomes a play on this split, the first step into Nimoy's image-repertoire, or what he later calls (paraphrasing Katharine Hepburn), "my box of tricks."

It's fairly clear right from the opening:

I am not Spock.

But I am close to him. Closer than anyone. How much closer can two people be than to stand in the same body, occupy the same space?

He continues:

And it's more complicated than that. Perhaps worse than that. The question is, without Spock, who am I? Do I, or would I, exist at all without him? And without me, who is he? I suspect he might do better without me than I without him. That bothers me. Or more accurately, it concerns me.

That's why I'm writing this book. Maybe if I can get it all down on paper and see the words and the ideas staring me in the face I might understand. I might get a better fix on what I am and who he is. With Spock and me, it's a unique came of "I'm OK. We're OK."

I might get to know something about myself that millions of others know better than I. If I could only see myself as others see me.

Barthes deconstructed and reconstructed himself through fragments; Nimoy does it by interspersing, between more "traditional" biographical passages, an ongoing "dialogue" between himself and Spock on the show, the character and the nature of fame. When I opened the book and saw this, I laughed out loud, thinking it would be the perfect slice of 70s silliness. But it actually turns out to be a really interesting distancing device, allowing Nimoy to access acting theory that might otherwise feel ponderous.

He continues the dialogue in biography #2, I Am Spock, the two titles sitting on the shelf in perfect dialectical order. Why not? As Nimoy says in the first line of the second book (published in 1995), "I hear voices in my head," a self-deprecating acknowledgment of the multiplicity of writerly identity. It's fascinating to read the two books back-to-back: I Am Spock covers some of the same ground as the first book, but does so in a much more relaxed way. If 1975 Nimoy felt anxious to establish himself separately from the Enterprise, his counterpart in the second book seems much more comfortable in his own skin(s) (I suspect that's because of the success of his directing career, from which he shares some nice anecdotes, particularly about The Good Mother). He's also far more generous to his co-stars, and not as determined (as in the first book) to think about Star Trek primarily as The Spock Show.

"This being, this particular being, is still here in a very real sense," Nimoy writes in I Am Not Spock. "Still with me and, through me, with millions of others. He still affects my life and that of many others. Living, because of me, going where I go, doing what I do. Affecting my speech, my walk, my thinking, my life." He's not just speaking for himself (and Spock), of course: that might also be the credo of the Trekkie, or of any fandom whose "geeky" or marginalized nature might cause its denizens to unconsciously split themselves into "fan" or "non-fan" depending on the moment and the place. In creating a relaxed dialogue between his two personalities, Nimoy offers at least one model for negotiating this sense of difference, perhaps recognizing, against Barthes, that irritation and complicity are more intertwined than we might care to admit.

It's also an interesting model for bloggers, who face the same writerly/performative challenges that Barthes and Nimoy face. Am I "Brian" when I'm online? Well, kind of (or, per the Nimoy quote above, "I'm OK. We're OK."). Does this online "Brian" feel embarrassed to admit his boyhood enthusiasms and Starlog subscriptions in the same way that the "real" one does? Or is it just my job to step back, observe, raise my own (very un-Spockian) eyebrow and mutter, "fascinating..."?

Thoughts on "Realism" and "Relatability"

Believability, this fine set reminds us, is a constantly moving goal: it is no sooner reached than it recedes again.

--Dave Kehr, from his fine review of the new Criterion Magnificent Obsession.

And Next-- Brad Pitt in Castaway II !

If only the Academy had watched this video before today's nominations.

Or, maybe they did?

(h/t to Jim Emerson and Brendan's blog).


Another year, another predictable round of nominations. So predictable, in fact, that I'm tempted just to repost this piece, since it once again sums up most of my feelings. I've yet to see any of the Best Picture nominees (although I'm hoping to get to Frost/Nixon this weekend), so I can't really do much but wish them well, and note that they all had "Oscar Bait" scrawled in invisible ink across their cinephilic bodies (I also can't help but think that the Oscars remain the Revenge of the Tradition of Quality; I suspect it will be awhile before we see anything but prestige adaptations and social problem films nominated in the Best Picture category).

Two pleasant surprises: the Best Actor nod for the fabulous Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, which was my favorite film from last year, and Robert Downey, Jr.'s nomination in the Supporting Actor category for Tropic Thunder (even if I was holding out hope that his pitch-perfect combination of quirk and action hero in Iron Man might shake the Academy out of its stuffiness and score a nod). These are wildly different performances-- Jenkins is quiet, low-key and almost immobile in much of the film, while Downey, Jr. is baroquely over-the-top-- but both show a certain amount of courage in their choices, and in their different ways of fully embodying their characters without shame or apology. Bravo to the Academy for recognizing them.

Of course, I'm thrilled that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were both nominated, as those two under-promoted kids need all the publicity they can get.

Oh, and Batman didn't get nominated. Shrug. I liked the film, but think the real push should've been for Aaron Eckhart's multilayered performance as Two-Face, rather than Heath Ledger's skillful impersonation of House. Honestly, I found both Iron Man and Hellboy II to be far richer and more skillfully made superhero movies this year, so I can't be the conduit for fanboy outrage.

Anyway, enough about Dark Knights-- what are your Oscar impressions?

Sergio Leone and The Superhuman Film List

Dennis Cozzalio is not human.

Yes, yes-- I know there's a photo and an adorable drawing of "Dennis Cozzalio" on the "About Me" section of his blog, and this "Dennis" fellow looks like one of us, but c'mon:

1) We all know that there are people who will doctor those things for you and

2) "Dennis" has foolishly stated time and again that he is a Dodgers fan-- as clear an admission of alien sensibilities as you can get.

No, I have it on good authority that "DC" was actually sent from the planet Cinephilia, like Mork or WALL-E or Harlan Ellison, to observe with wide-eyed sincerity what we wretched humans have done with his species' impressive gift of movies, and to report back the evidence.

How else to explain that shimmering landscape he calls "Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule"? Surely, no human could do what Dennis does. He might truly be the most remarkable figure in the film blogosphere: a creature of indefatigable energy and admirably broad tastes who (between family and work and who knows whatever other responsibilities) somehow manages to seemingly see everything, and to write about it with wit, grace, pasion and depth.

On top of which, he is as humble, and good humored as anyone you're likely to encounter on the Internets. Human? Please. Where's the bitterness, the jealously, the petty bitchy sniping at other bloggers? Where are the bad jokes, the uncomfortable TMI moments, the year-long political rants that other blogs don't hesitate to inflict? Honestly, the only time you see Dennis pop up in other folks' comments sections is to offer support, or to thoughtfully-- not childishly or trollishly or snarkily-- engage in a relevant argument.

Really. What the hell is that all about?

Nope, I'm not buying this David Bowie-like attempt to fit in. I'm here to rip the mask off, and to tell you that "Dennis" is our Kal-El, his goodness sent down to us to remind us all of what the blogosphere could be, if we only relaxed and engaged with our peers in a spirit of open, seemingly endless generosity. This "Dennis" fellow makes writing about film seem like a party, and everyone is invited.

As if to prove my point, "Dennis" has just hit another grand slam over at his place, offering up The Lo-o-o-ong Goodbye, his epic recapping of a year of filmgoing. Again, this being doesn't play by human rules-- he offers multiple top twenty and top fifty lists written with his inimitable panache, wrapped in sensuous images and even linked out to lengthier reviews he did of certain films earlier in the year. As if that weren't enough, "Dennis" also gives us his picks for "underrated" and "overrated" films, "Best of" categories for writers and actors, and even his daughter's best-of list. To say nothing of a couple dozen links to other folks' "Best of" lists.

Like I said-- not human. But gosh, are we lucky to have him. Mosey on over to his world, and find out why.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Meet Me In The Sound

Layering a Pixies-ish buzzsaw guitar on top of a conversational litany that recalls "Subterranean Homesick Blues," U2's new single "Get Your Boots On" is a sublime slice of woozy pop-soul whose lyrical optimism and sensuous co-mingling of musical styles make it an apt anthem in this week of the Obama inauguration. Who knew, when the band played the Lincoln Memorial concerts this weekend, that they were about to release a song that, like the Presidential candidate they celebrated, rejects old stylistic binaries in favor of a joy that's at once sincere and sly?

Or maybe that should be Sly, given the way Bono's falsetto evokes early seventies R&B, and the manner in which the tightly knit backing harmonies feel vertiginously psychedelic (in his definitive look at the band, U2 At The End Of The World, music journalist Bill Flanagan described the songs on the band's Zooropa album as sounding like "pop music recorded underwater"; "Get Your Boots On" feels like a bobbing, lurching submarine that's constantly diving down to find new sounds and witty turns of phrase). Early buzz on the forthcoming album made comparisons to the '90s period of innovation that brought forth gems like Pop and Achtung Baby. This first single confirms and dispels those rumors-- it doesn't sound like those records, but it does recall their go-for-broke spirit, and willingness to stretch the band in new directions. I love the forcefulness of Larry Mullen, Jr.'s drumming at the song's beginning, and the pulsing elasticity of Adam Clayton's fuzzed-up bass lines (he's always been the band's secret weapon, the glue that propels the whole project forward, and his work here sounds a little like Paul McCartney's, circa Rubber Soul or "Rain").

It's also a pleasure to hear Bono shift away from the clear, rockish singing that defined the band's last two albums, back towards growling, muffled, muddy vocals (a la "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" or "Hold Me, Thrill Me") that add a real layer of mystery and appealing strangeness to the music. The song references bombs and revolution only to be followed by Bono insistently cooing, "I don't want to talk about the wars between nations." A contradiction? Maybe, but as Sam Shepard wrote in True West, "Right in the middle of a contradiction, that's the place to be." More likely, it's the band remembering that the clear-cut, back-to-basics "authenticity" that was rigidly enforced on the previous two records (All That You Can't Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb) is a theoretical trap: I like both of those records a lot, but I wouldn't want U2 to stay there forever, churning out boomer-friendly hits until they become (as music critic Greg Kot aptly alluded four years ago) the new Rolling Stones.

No, far better to confuse binaries, and play with the rich field of imagery their "boots" open up (the more the song goes on, the less clear it becomes whether they are singing about boots on a runway or boots in a war zone). In this jumble of war and fashion, party and revolution, the band wisely gives itself up to ecstasy, content to embody the observation of Walter Benjamin that "The eternal is in every case far more the ruffle on a dress than an idea.”

Fumbling Towards The New

Chief Justice John Roberts pulled the big boner of the day in his fumbling of the Inaugural oath, but he might have been comforted by the way last night's live Daily Show proved that blowing an historic moment isn't limited to those on the right. Let's see: a triple-barreled attack on poetry whose insistence on hipster cool blinded Stewart and Co. to the fact that Rev. Lowery was weaving in passages from James Weldon Johnson "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a poem that one commentator today described as the "African-American national anthem" (and was it just me, or did the show's jokes there have anti-intellectual bent that made them seem distinctly Bushian?); a witty cross-cutting of Bush and Obama that seemed like a desperate heave in the air (to prove that, per the show's mantra, all politicians are the same), even if it overlooked how much more inclusive Obama's religious allusions were, and how much more contextualized his foreign policy lines felt; and an interesting interview with Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson that had to be cut short for time, apparently because it was more important to spend five minutes earlier in the show on obvious dick/ball jokes that felt like rejects from Carlos Mencia's old show.

I will always love Jon Stewart and Friends, and trust they'll recover from tonight's jitters. But it's possible that Monday night's brilliant final farewell to the Bushies might also end up acting as the show's own benediction.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's A Bright Obama Day

Let Digby and John Amato parse for ideological purity. For the rest of us, today means that our long national nightmare is finally over. Whatever problems we might face, we once again have a leadership that will face them with intelligence, honesty and hope.

And if you want a very cool, offbeat look at Obama's leadership style, check out this piece by Alexander Wolff about the role that basketball has played in his life. It's a breathtaking, behind-the-back pass that connects up stories you might have already heard in some really interesting ways, and I love this passage:

Elizabeth Alexander is handling poetry duties at the Inauguration, but Obama himself could serve ably as bard of the new First Sport. In Dreams from My Father, his 1995 memoir, he captures both the cadences and the beguiling essence of the game: "And something else, too, something nobody talked about: a way of being together when the game was tight and the sweat broke and the best players stopped worrying about their points and the worst players got swept up in the moment and the score only mattered because that's how you sustained the trance. In the middle of which you might make a move or a pass that surprised even you, so that even the guy guarding you had to smile, as if to say, 'Damn....' "

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Browsing Through The Long Boxes

I've been visiting The Lovely Companion in Auburn, Alabama the last few weeks, and yesterday we stopped in at Collector's Corner, a fantastic comics shop hidden away in a mini strip mall on E. Glenn Ave. Run by the genial John Mullins (I can't help it, blogging about comics makes me alliterate like Stan Lee), the store feels like a throwback in an age when a lot of brick-and-mortar stores face declining sales and competition from online services. We'd initially stopped in because I was curious about the Obama Spider-Man comic that was released this week. Unsurprisingly, they'd sold out (which led to a very funny rant from Mr. Mullins about Marvel's marketing practices), but that disappointment was more than made up for by the vast selection of back issues, current issues and odd curios that the store had in abundance (who needs Obama, for instance, when you can find a rare copy of Dennis The Menace Goes To Washington on the shelves?). Here's my favorite find of the day:

I managed to find some well-priced Silver Age Avengers, some offbeat James Bond comics, some Iron Man back issues I'd been looking for, and a gorgeously illustrated issue of Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, among other things (the Lovely Companion also had fun browsing through the back issues). Add that to the new stuff I got, and it was a good comics day.

But mostly, I was impressed with the friendliness and professionalism of Mr. Mullins, whose kindness and conversation made the whole experience worthwhile. His knowledge, passion, and sense of humor took what might have been a good retail experience and made it a very nice one; as he said when we were leaving, "I try to treat everyone the way I'd want to be treated." Nothing will ever replace my regular hometown comics shop (the excellent Infinite Monkey) in my heart, but Collector's Corner was a very pleasant find on a rainy January day. The next time you're in Auburn, stop in and say hello (and be sure to grab that groovy Man From U.N.C.L.E. comic before someone else snatches it up).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Walk Right Through The Door

So, the Lovely Companion and I went to see Australia on New Year's Eve, and ended up walking out with an hour left (it's not a bad film, but one that, as the LC rightly noted, finds its logical ending in two hours--and then decides to go on for another hour).

I will get back to talking about my 2/3 experience of Australia another day, but for now I want to ask my vast readership: have you ever walked out of a film? And if so, which film, and why? It's not something most cinephiles (aside from Pauline Kael) like to admit, but I suspect it happens more often than we think, and I'm curious what inspired the need in you.

TV: Some Good, Some Bad

Is it just me, or has The Office lost its mojo lately?

Maybe it's just because the Lovely Companion and I have been re-watching season two episodes, whose delicate mixture of slapstick, wordplay, romance and pathos seems so perfectly balanced-- it's hard to maintain that kind of groove for five seasons. Nonetheless, the last two episodes have felt messy, and not in a good way. The Christmas episode was well-shot but mean-spirited, with characters like Toby and Daryl acting out-of-character for cheap laughs. It ended well, though, with the Phyllis/Andy/Dwight imbroglio offering the show some real comedic and melancholy possibilities (that last, final moment of the ep, with everyone quietly standing there in pangs of mutual guilt, as the camera nervously darted around them? Pure Office brilliance). Which is why it's unfortunate that this week, instead of following up on that tone, we got a shallow, manic, half-thought-out episode whose two parts (Michael dissembling to his boss in New York, Andy and Dwight facing off in the parking lot) never cohered, or even developed on their own in interesting fashions. I still love the show, but wonder if it's in the middle of the kinds of fifth season, we're-out-of-ideas blues that's taken down many another quality program.

On the other hand, last night's double-barreled return of Friday Night Lights and Battlestar Galactica was TV nirvana at its best. BSG seems fully recovered from its third season slump, and has reverted to that unsettling mixture of gray mise-en-scene, staccato editing and moodily poetic dialogue that makes all of its allegory and conspiracy theorizing interesting. I wouldn't dare spoil it for those waiting to watch on Hulu, but there are some shocking twists, some heart-rending character dialogues, and a series of Adama and Roslin scenes that must be seen to be believed. Thankfully, producers Ron Moore and David Eck seem to be using the Planet of the Apes-style finale from last year less as some portentous reveal than as a mere starting point for the kind of knotty, character-driven philosophical quandries that the show is really good at. And they seem to have left the most important questions-- for instance, what's going to happen to Baltar?-- somewhere in a very tantalizing future.

WIth its poor ratings, and the frankly insulting move by NBC to first air it on DirectTV (NBC can find the money for Howie Do It but not a full season of FNL? Michael Scott really does work there, doesn't he?) Friday Night Lights seems resigned to being a critics' darling, and a low-key media phenomenon. Ironically, that seems to better fit it, anyway. It's a real-life, meta-textual reminder of the show's mission statement: that it's not games or touchdowns or big, dramatic moments that matter (although the show has plenty), but the smaller textures and observations of everyday life that we sometimes overlook. "I need something good to happen," Coach Taylor says at one point, and he might be speaking for TV viewers as a whole. Friday Night Lights certainly seems like it's going to deliver-- from its opening voice-over of radio callers to its final close-up on the face of a determined Smash Williams, the show immediately thrusts us back into the sad, funny, endlessly rich atmosphere of Dillon, Texas, where playful smiles and unspoken glances articulate as much as whole pages of dialogue.

But what dialogue! The Tammy-Buddy Jumbotron face-off was probably the highlight (capturing that mixture of laugh-to-keep-from-crying humor the show is so good at), but there was a wealth of new developments last night that seem certain to keep the show firing all spring. If this is, as is rumored, the last season of Friday Night Lights, it's kind of nice to know they aren't going out with a melodramatic Hail Mary pass, but with the kind of quietly moving, move-the-chains stories that have made the show a must-see for the past three years.

Comics! Comics! Comics!

Good pal Dave mentioned to me (via email) that the world's funnest comics blogger, the fun-fun little stuffed bull known as Bully, is wrapping up his super-fun "Fun Fifty of 2008", and jeepers, is it fun! With his excellent writing and witty voice, Bully remembers (in this age of The Dark Knight and bad Frank Miller movies) that comics are still, well, fun, and that saying so is not only an OK aesthetic choice, but a sign of good taste, of maturity-- I'd almost say an imperative, except that word seems too serious for Bully's delightful adventures. I'm happy to see comics I've enjoyed (Greatest Hits, X-Men First Class, Franklin Richards) on the list, and I'm already adding titles to my pull-list on Bully's recommendation. Reading Bully, one is reminded that "fun" is a broad and diverse term that can encompass everything from Chris Sims to Colleen Coover, and that if we lose that sense of play, we lose the sense of wonder that makes comics-- and indeed any imaginative form--a worthwhile experience.

Aw, but now I'm pontificating again, when what you really should be doing is getting over to Bully's! If you haven't heard yet, it's fun!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Geekpocalypse Now

I think that's what they call it when all your geekeries collide.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bill's Words of Wisdom

One more good reason to go check out The Kind of Face You Hate, run by the illustrious Bill R.:

"The problem is that having a film makes it much easier to not watch it."
-- from Bill's "Resolution Meme" post

Yes. Thanks, Bill!

Three Yards And A Cloud Of Dust


Certainly, Eric Mangini is no Bill Cowher, who was everyone's first choice to replace the deposed Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. But he's also not an overmatched college coach, like Butch Davis, or an assistant/coordinator with no prior head coaching experience, like the too-gentlemanly Crennel.

(A word here for Romeo Crennel, who did many good things with former GM Phil Savage in rebuilding the Browns. He was a smart, tough coach who always carried himself with class and quiet dignity, even as his team fell apart around him. In the end, even with that wonderful 10-6 season last year, he didn't seem like the right man for this most mercurial of teams-- between a profanity-spewing boss, a passive-aggressive set of players and the most rabid fan base in pro football, Crennel's steady low-key nature probably wasn't aggressive enough to put it all back together. But he is a good man who deserves another chance with a more stable team, and I wouldn't mind if the rumor in this article was true, and he stayed on as the Browns' defensive coordinator, although for the life of me I can't imagine why he'd want to).

Back to Mangini-- he's young, he's smart, and he's already shown he can deal with coach-killing prima donnas. He did good things with the Jets, and if that team's ownership hadn't been seduced by the Favre press hype and had stuck with the more productive Chad Pennington, Mangini might still be the Jets' coach. I think he'll be a good fit for young quarterback Brady Quinn. In other words, he's not a glamorous choice, but he might be a strong, solid one-- less a gorgeous touchdown pass than a tough shove forward that gains a few yards. In the current world of the Browns, that certainly counts as progress, and if the team can avoid the injury-and-illness plague that took out so many key starters this year, 2009 could be a good year for the Brownies.

Same Time, Next Year

What will be the excuse this year? A fellow teammate stepping on a star player's leg and taking him out of the game on the first play (as in 2007)? Complaints about having to travel further than the competition (as in 2008)? I'm sure some blame will fall on freshman QB Terrelle Pryor, and equally sure that no blame (in Ohio, at least) will fall on the sainted Jim Tressel, whose PR machine is so fabulous that he manages to suck up all the credit for his team's wins, while catching little of the flack for their numerous losses and character flaws.

Well, whatever the response, I will say that it is never truly a new year until Ohio State blows its bowl game. In a time of economic stress and national uncertainty, certainly such a happy event is something the whole country can rally around and enjoy. So, as much as it pains me to say it-- thanks, Buckeyes! Let's all meet again here next year, too, OK?

Guys and Dolls

One of these days, I will eventually return to doing some regular TV blogging (I mean, I can't be the only one waiting for the resolution of the Angela-Phyllis smackdown), but in the meantime, here's another delectable preview of this spring's most eagerly awaited new show (no, not the 80th season of 24, and put down that Ron Paul manifesto!). Whedon's excitement and passion, and his talk of action, mythology and office politics is interesting enough that it's almost enough to forgive Fox Entertainment for American Idol.

Production Note: Wondering about the lack of images on the last two posts? Me, too! Blogger is apparently experiencing "internal errors" that make uploading images impossible at the moment, which means some relatively naked posts for the time being. I am sure, however, that Blogger will attend to the problem with their usual timeliness and care (*snort!*).

Doubling Down On Teh Stupid

Wow, and I thought putting Jay Leno on five nights a week in prime time was a bad idea.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I-Pod Shuffle: Pop Grace

(An ongoing, occasional series inspired by the strange and random juxtapositions called up by my I-tunes function.)

Close your eyes long enough, and you could almost believe that Q-Tip's "Getttin' Up" was a time machine taking you back to 1993. Sampling a tasty keyboard riff from Black Ivory's "You & I," the first single from the rapper's most recent album, The Renaissance, uses that ten-note repetition as a groovilicious launching pad for a lyric that acts as a "welcome home" for fans who might have forgotten Tip's brilliance after the quiet implosion of A Tribe Called Quest in the late '90s:

Sent you a message, sent you an email
Hasty decisions we may still prevail
Both needed breaks, we both needed to bail
Walking thru the corridors of my mind
The hideaways, the nooks, there filled with good times
Memories certainly yes they still bind
Still a common man and yeah that's for sure
Still a bankroll and yeah still can tour
The madness, the thing we had was much more
Come back home, don't be out in the world

Relaxed, witty and generous, the song acts as both mea culpa and mission statement for a musician whose voice sounds renewed after nearly a decade away from our ears. Truthfully, Tip's quirky timbre and jazzy flow-- like a tap dancer bopping across words rather than throwing them down-- mean he could rap the phone book and I'd still probably find it interesting. But given his importance to that early 90s moment of hip-hop that was so formative for me, his return to brilliant form is deeply heartening (besides, you have to appreciate a rapper whose lyrical interests encompass couture, Native American struggles, and comic book hero Luke Cage).

Aimee Mann shies away from that kind of kaleidoscopic vision, often choosing to focus on matters of the heart so personal that you almost feel like a voyeur for putting on the album. But the passive-aggressive depression of "Save Me"'s lyrical flow is always juxtaposed with Mann's melodic genius, and the wryness of her Joni Mitchell-ish delivery: the instrumentation, and the rise and fall off her double-tracked vocal harmonies, are a lifeline pulling both protagonist and listener away from the edge, and towards a transcendent pop grace.

Pop grace is offered on a consistent basis by tweenybopper favorites the Jonas Brothers, and only our curmudgeonly hipsterism prevents us from hearing it. Cultural tastemakers seem determined to cast Les Bros as millenial Herman's Hermits (who, after all, wouldn't have been out of place in something like Camp Rock), but listening to the sugary bliss of tracks like "Tonight" (with its frantic, New Wavy wall of guitars) or "Burnin' Up", it seems apparent that the Jonas Brothers are skipping down a bubblegum path that's far richer, and less the Archies than, say, early '64 Beatles or mid-90s Matthew Sweet. Like many great pop songsmiths, they're not only unafraid of melodramatic vocal choruses, perfectly placed guitar breaks and delectable musical bridges-- they rush towards them with open arms. Listening to their perfectly crafted singles, you're reminded that toe-tapping and head-bopping are some of the best forms of pop prayer.