Friday Evening Videos: “Night Moves”

This week’s FEV isn’t a music video in the usual sense; rather, it’s a clip from today’s episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show in which the legendary rocker Bob Seger performs his classic hit “Night Moves.”

I had the Night Moves album on cassette when I was a teenager, and I have vibrant memories of listening to it on my old Walkman as I slouched in the back of my French classroom before the bell rang (I was a good kid and didn’t listen during class, but the interval in between classes? That was my time, Mr. Hand!) And even though there’s not a bum track on that album, this song, the title track, was always my favorite, the reason I’d bought the tape in the first place.

First and foremost, I’ve always responded somehow to the basic sonic quality of it: the acoustic guitar, the melody, the pause toward the end and the slow pickup that builds to a crescendo. Something about that sound just activates my nervous system in a pleasant way, I guess. And the lyrics have always spoken to me in personal ways, too. Back in high school, the bit about working on mysteries without any clues in the backseat of an old Chevy held a certain — how shall I say this? — aspirational appeal. Later on, I came to understand the melancholy heart of the tune. And now, as the years have piled on top of each other, the verse about waking in the middle of the night and the dramatic pause that follows have acquired an almost shocking degree of truth.

As for this particular performance, well, Seger’s getting old… and that lends the song even more poignancy than it already possessed. It’s no longer the song of a thirtysomething grappling with the specter of approaching middle age, but the reflection of a man who’s well into his own autumn. Give it a listen… and stay through the end to hear Ellen’s fond remembrance of the time Seger did something decent for her. He’s a good guy, old Bob… well, aside from his confounding refusal to ever come to Salt Lake when he’s on tour. What the hell, Bob?

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Got Our Boarding Passes!

If you haven’t heard, NASA recently awarded commercial contracts to two private companies, SpaceX and Boeing, to begin ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Assuming, of course, that their Dragon and CST-100 spacecraft, respectively, prove themselves safe for human occupants during the upcoming certification tests. But I don’t think anyone has much doubt that they will. The goal is for this “space taxi” service to begin within two years, by 2017.

This is a major deal for a couple of reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, it will break the current U.S. reliance on the Russians to get our people into space, and given how shaky relations with Russia have been recently, the sooner we can do that, the better. But the other big thing is that, for the first time in the 50-some years since Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight, people will be going into orbit on spaceships designed, built, and operated by commercial entities rather than a government agency. (SpaceShipOne and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic tourism business don’t count, as they don’t go high enough to achieve orbit.) This is a major shift of paradigm, and potentially tantamount to the genuine opening of the Final Frontier.

However, that doesn’t mean NASA is getting out of the sending-humans-to-space business. While the commercial efforts (SpaceX’s Dragon, in particular) have drawn everyone’s attention in recent years, the agency has quietly continued development of its own next-generation spaceship, the Orion Crew Vehicle. And now Orion is about ready to make its debut, with an unmanned test flight scheduled for December 4. The capsule — which basically looks like a scaled-up version of the old Apollo command modules and is intended to carry astronauts deeper into space than ever before, possibly even to Mars — will be blasted into orbit aboard a Delta-IV heavy-lift booster rocket. It will circle the Earth twice, rising far above the space station’s altitude and passing twice through the Van Allen radiation belts, and then re-enter the atmosphere for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, all to confirm that the ship’s critical systems function as expected. (This is explained in more detail in a dramatic new video released by NASA last week.)

Now here’s the fun part: The venerable old space agency wants people to feel invested somehow in Orion, to give them a sense of participation in its flights, up to and including that trip to Mars, so it’s offering a chance for us all to ride along by proxy. Simply go to the “Send Your Name to Mars” website and register your name, country of origin, postal code, and an email address. The collected names will be encoded on a microchip that will travel aboard the Orion on this first flight as well as future missions. With each trip into the black, you’ll accrue “frequent flyer miles,” which I suspect will probably arrive in your inbox as part of a newsletter or something. Yeah, it’s a gimmick, and kind of a cheesy one at that, but I like it. I like the idea that some little part of me — even something as inconsequential as a few bits of data that represent the string of letters by which I identify myself — is going up there. I’ve done this before — my name and Anne’s are aboard the New Horizons probe that is now less than a year away from Pluto — and now my name and hers will be on Orion too. And just to prove it, here are our “boarding passes”:

I think you’ll probably be able to continue submitting names throughout the duration of the Orion program, however long that turns out to be, but if you want your name aboard the first test flight, you’ll need to register by Halloween, October 31.

Let the countdown commence!

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My Dad on The Walking Dead

On most mornings these days, my dad wanders up to my place from the other side of the Bennion Compound, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, and spends a few minutes chatting with me in the driveway before I leave for work. Today’s conversation was all about the TV show he’s recently discovered, The Walking Dead. Here’s his take on it:

“Yeah, so there’s these dead guys that come after you and the only way to stop ‘em is to shoot ‘em in the head… which doesn’t make any damn sense to me, because they’re already dead, right? How do you kill something that’s already dead? For that matter, why are they walking around if they’re dead, anyhow?”

He took a sip of his coffee, then chuckled.

“It’s pretty stupid, really.”

Good thing he’s not paid by the word for his reviews…

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Looking for Something to Read, Revisited

Hey, folks, another little PSA on behalf of one of my friends:

My old college buddy Jaren Rencher just announced (with no small measure of well-deserved pride) that his short story “Hunger” has been accepted by the Utah Horror Writers for inclusion in their anthology Old Scratch and Owl Hoots: A Collection of Utah Horror. I read the story a couple weeks back and thought it was a wonderfully creepy piece that utilized familiar Old West story tropes for good effect, as well as playing very nicely off the reputation of one of Utah’s more notorious historical figures, Porter Rockwell, a.k.a. Brigham Young’s “Destroying Angel.”

If this sounds like it might be up your alley, the anthology is currently available for pre-order until October 31st at the suitably Halloween-ish price of $6.66 — half off the suggested retail price — with publication set for January 2015. I’ve already ordered my copy!

Incidentally, if anyone reading this is not from Utah and thus doesn’t know Porter Rockwell from porter beer, you ought to read up on him; he was a fascinating guy. One of my favorite anecdotes involving him is the time the Victorian explorer Richard Burton — another fascinating guy, no relation to the film actor who married Elizabeth Taylor multiple times — was camping in the Salt Lake Valley not far from where I grew up, and encountered Rockwell. These two supreme badasses knew each other by reputation, and spent the evening passing a jug of whiskey around the campfire and trading war stories. (In my imagination, they also compared scars, talked of women they’d had, and generally tried to out-macho each other.) This is all recounted in Burton’s book The City of the Saints, which is a thorough travelogue and ethnography of what was at that time — 1865 — an exotic and mysterious people, i.e., the Mormons.

 

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Friday Evening Videos: “I’m on Fire”

In case you’ve forgotten (or never knew), Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. was an incredible powerhouse of an album. Not only did it mark a change toward a more commercial sound for The Boss, it generated a mind-boggling seven top-10 singles (out of 12 total tracks on the album) and kept Springsteen’s name on the Billboard Hot 100 for nearly two years, from May 1984 to March of 1986. It remains Bruce’s best-selling album, even though he’s one of the more prolific artists out there (he’s released 11 other records in the decades since Born in the U.S.A., up to and including this year’s High Hopes), and it is one of my personal favorites by any artist.

This week’s selection for Friday Evening Videos is a song called “I’m on Fire,” which was the fourth single from Born in the U.S.A. It was kind of an odd candidate for a single, in my opinion, but perhaps its quiet wistfulness was calculated to be a palate cleanser following the upbeat pop sound of “Dancing in the Dark,” the urgency of “Cover Me,” and the outraged social commentary of the album’s title track.

I don’t have any particular anecdote or memory connected to this song; it’s simply one I have always liked, especially in the wee hours when I’m the only one awake in the house and something deep inside me is crying out for something that I often can’t even name. Surely I’m wasn’t the only angsty young man back in the Awesome ’80s who thought the line about a knife, edgy and dull, cutting a six-inch valley through the middle of someone’s soul, was written specifically about him. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my relationship to the song has changed, but if anything, that relationship has only grown deeper and richer. It speaks to me now of a much wider range of things I feel angsty about… and that damn knife cuts more deeply than ever during those long, dark hours between midnight and dawn.

One quick thought on the video: like the song, it’s simple and no-frills, and it, too, has long been a favorite of mine, largely because of the car Bruce is driving. That’s a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, if you don’t know your vintage steel. My dad has a red ’57, which he bought when I was in middle school. It was the first of our “collector fleet,” and is the only one I still feel nervous about driving…

 

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Takin’ It Easy

The morning sun is in my eyes, a white glare risen not far above the lavender silhouettes of the Wasatch mountains. Every tree and telephone pole throws a slanting shadow across the road, and the farm stand at the top of the river bottoms is all gold and orange, dried corn stalks and pumpkins shining with dew. On the radio, The Eagles sing about a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and I have a sudden restless impulse to steer onto the southbound freeway ramp and just go.

But no. I can’t. I have places to be, and responsibilities, a commuter train to catch and a PowerPoint slide deck waiting to be proofread…

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Quote of the Day

From a piece about the early ’90s TV series Twin Peaks, which is apparently going to be revisited soon on Showtime:

Nostalgia is never only nostalgia, but the raw, reflexive appetite for something we can no longer access.

I confess, I’m not entirely sure what the author means by the first clause of that sentence, “Nostalgia is never only nostalgia,” but I really like the language she comes up with to describe the phenomenon: “the raw, reflexive appetite for something we can no longer access.” That certainly sounds like my emotional experience. The word “reflexive,” in particular, is… enlightening.

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Friday Evening Videos: “Somebody Like You”

She was a high-school boy’s dream and my mother’s worst nightmare, a five-foot-three gymnast who styled herself after the “Like a Virgin”-era Madonna. I can’t remember how or when we first met — in fact, I really only remember a handful of moments I shared with her — but there was chemistry between us.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of other things between us, too, and somehow that blistering-hot love affair that I always felt certain was about to take off… didn’t. Oh, we tried to get together. But one or the other of us was always dating someone, or just recovering from breaking up with someone, or the timing was otherwise off somehow. And there were other things as well that I really should keep to myself. Let’s just leave it with we tried. Oh brother, did we try! We flirted and we enjoyed the crackle in the air when the other was around, and occasionally when that electric buzzing got to be too much to ignore, we grabbed each other and ducked into a dark corner to see how breathless we could make each other before the next bell rang, and we really didn’t care if we were supposedly going with someone else. And then one day she caught up to me in the middle of a class period, when the halls were empty and we both should’ve been someplace else, and she delivered the news that she was moving away… the final obstacle that we would never be able to overcome. We kissed and necked a little, and as I remember it, we even cried a bit for the love that we’d never quite found together. And then she was gone.

It felt like we’d had a relationship, and it felt like we were breaking up. But in fact, we’d only managed to go on one actual date. I took her to see 38 Special when they played Salt Lake’s old Salt Palace Arena during the band’s 1986 Strength in Numbers tour. There was a lot of pot being smoked in the arena that night, and even though neither of us imbibed directly, I remember feeling giddy all during the show, and for hours afterward, even after I got home and was alone in my room with my ringing ears. I’ve always blamed the secondhand, but maybe it was really the feeling of being young and alive. Maybe it was the feeling of being with her.

Funny how a melody or even just a simple guitar chord can bring back so much of something you experienced for a brief time 30 years in the past. The big hit from Strength in Numbers was a song called “Like No Other Night,” but I always preferred the album’s second single, “Somebody Like You,” with its relentlessly catchy, upbeat throughline. It came up on my iPod today while I was out of the office for my afternoon walk. The early-autumn sunshine was warm and mellow on my face, and I felt my speed picking up to the song’s beat and my hands unconsciously beginning to strum an invisible guitar. And then I started lip-synching the lyrics that I recall singing along with the band when they played the song in 1986. I remember singing it for the girl in the Madonna-style lace gloves and bangles as she swayed at my side. And I remember singing it to her again after the show, in the leather-upholstered privacy of my monstrous old 1970 T-Bird as we waited for the parking lot to clear out.

I couldn’t find a traditional music video for the song, and I’m wondering if perhaps there wasn’t one made. But the one I did find is probably a better choice anyway, because it gives a flavor of the performance I saw that night so long ago and still remember so fondly:

 

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Land of the Paranoid

Andrew Sullivan echoes some of my own thinking about the mood of the country these days:

America, my adopted home, is a place of wonder, of energy, of enterprise, of compassion, of risk and diversity. But it is now and always has been a place where deep-seated fear and paranoia have always simmered below the surface – where McCarthyism once stalked the land, where recent hysteria justified the American president authorizing appalling torture of hundreds of people (with complete impunity), where civil liberties were shredded in a period when more people were killed by lightning than by terrorism, where refugee children as young as eight or nine are treated as terrible dangers to the republic, where undocumented immigrants are left in permanent limbo and where legal immigrants are treated as threats first and assets second, and where our leaders, whom one might expect to calm the public, instead fan the flames of panic for short-term political gain.

 

The great achievement of those maniacs in Iraq and Syria is to have ignited this strain in American life, exploited the PTSD of 9/11, and brilliantly baited this country into another unwinnable, bankrupting war which will only deepen the polarization that leads to more terror – a war in which what’s left of democratic accountability and constitutional norms are once again under threat. I see no one in our elites, including the president, doing anything to calm this down. And I see a Republican landslide coming in the Congress this fall, with all the consequences of more war and more hysteria ahead.

 

Welcome to America, no longer the land of the free or the brave, but the land of the paranoid and terrified. I haven’t felt this glum since the Bush-Cheney years. Because, it appears, they never really ended.

 

I don’t know about Sully’s prediction of a Republican landslide. Given my philosophies, I would of course consider that a very bad thing. But the truth is I’m not following the campaign news very closely — frankly the last six years have left me pretty exasperated with political chatter, and I find myself skimming instead of actually reading it more and more these days — so I really have no idea which way that wind is blowing. However, I agree with the rest of his statement. I do detect a renewed level of anxiety in the air that, for a time anyhow, seemed to be on the wane, and which I hoped would dissipate entirely before the end of the current president’s term.

I should’ve known better. I should’ve been wiser than to hope that this country, this culture, might somehow claw its way back to something resembling the normalcy — or whatever passed for it, at least — that we enjoyed prior to 9/11/2001. But there are too many forces out there that profit too much from everybody being constantly nervous — politicians wanting to score points against their rivals, news media wanting to attract eyeballs, and God knows who else — and they’re not going to allow us to go back.

Conservatives are fond of saying they want their country back. Well so do I… a country that believed FDR when he said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A country that wasn’t constantly itching to bomb the shit out of something just to make ourselves feel “safer.” A country where we didn’t willingly subject ourselves to all manner of indignities just to get on a damn airplane, and there weren’t cameras all over the place watching us constantly, and where the cops looked more like Andy Taylor than Imperial stormtroopers.

I’m sick to death of the fear and fear-mongering that infest our culture. Fear of everything from perverts kidnapping our kids if we don’t watch them every second to hackers stealing our precious data to brown people sneaking across the border to kill us in our sleep. I’m sick of the xenophobia and the homophobia and the conspiracy theories and the way everybody ends up being compared to Hitler. I’m sick of the constant drumbeat of murder on television — how many forensic procedurals are on the air right now anyhow? We’re afraid to go out in the sun or to eat the food we buy at the grocery store or breathe the air in the wintertime. We’re afraid we’re too strict with our kids, or too lenient. We’re afraid of what might happen when we get old, whether we’ll have to eat catfood to survive. And now we have the Ebola crisis to be afraid of too. I’m already seeing hysterical nonsense on Facebook about the disease being airborne — pro tip: it’s NOT — and how we’re all going to die (no, we’re NOT). Is it any wonder than I live in a more-or-less permanent state of nostalgia? Yeah, we were afraid of Global Thermonuclear War back in the ’80s, but I think most people managed to hold it together most of the time. Now it seems like everybody’s losing their shit pretty much constantly. And that’s just plain exhausting.

Honestly, I hate the 21st century. What I wouldn’t give to be debating over presidential blowjobs again.

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Looking for Something New to Read?

A couple years ago, my friend Kelly Sedinger — better known in these parts as “Jaquandor” — decided it was time to stop thinking about that novel he wanted to write and get busy actually writing the thing. So he did, in a display of dedication I can’t help but find enviable, given my own ineffectiveness in such matters. He assigned the project a tongue-in-cheek (but actually quite appropriate) working title, Princesses In SPACE!!!, and he documented the whole process of writing, editing, and shopping the manuscript around to agents and publishers on his blog, Byzantium’s Shores. And then he wrote a sequel. And now he’s in the planning stages for a third volume, with some thoughts on extending his trilogy into an entire series. And he’s also got a couple of unrelated book-length projects in the works. Go, Kelly.

I was privileged to be asked to read drafts of the first two Princesses books, and I enjoyed them immensely. They’re rollicking space-opera adventures whose trappings echo many of the landmark movies and stories we genre fans of, shall we say, a certain age grew up with: vast galactic empires, fallen civilizations, ancient mysteries, an unknown world to explore, and at the center of it all, two young girls beginning to discover abilities they didn’t know they had and a heritage they couldn’t have imagined. Kelly very deliberately planned this story to be an antidote to the anti-heroic, downbeat tone that has had popular culture in a headlock for the past decade or so, which I call “grim ‘n’ gritty” and he has dubbed (rather more colorfully) “the grimdark”; in other words, the Princesses saga is old-fashioned fun, with noble (if flawed) heroes who want to do the right thing, even when it’s not always so clear what that is. It’s a story that makes you feel better about people rather than worse.

After much exploration of his options, Kelly’s decided to go the independent route and self-publish his saga. To wit, he’s set up an official author website (ForgottenStars.net) that is separate from his regular blog, and he’s releasing tidbits of information about the first book, building toward its actual release on November 12. The site went live yesterday, with a post about the difficulties of naming one’s creation and a clever book trailer that reveals, at long last, the actual title of both the series and the first individual volume. (I’ve known the real title for several weeks… but I have to admit, it will always be Princesses In SPACE!!! to me. Hope you don’t mind, Kelly!)

It’s an exciting time for him. He’s betting that the monstrous box-office success of Guardians of the Galaxy this summer might signal that the time is right for more lighthearted (but not necessarily lightweight) sci-fi storytelling, and I hope he’s correct, both because I’d like to see more of the sort of stories I actually like, but also because it would be great to see a friend of mine be in the right place at the right time and succeed in a major way. (And also, if I may toot my own horn a little, to know that I had some small part in making it happen, since I was one of his beta readers!)

If any of this has piqued your interest at all, why don’t you hop over to ForgottenStars.net right now and take a look around. And for your convenient reference, here’s a schedule of what materials he’s planning to release and when:

 

 

 

 

 

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