I had a boss in the 1970s who once told me, when he wasn’t yelling at me or grabbing the ass of his favorite female subordinate, that every night he emptied the change from his pockets into empty tuna fish cans on his bureau. He claimed he harvested two or three hundred dollars a year from this happy system.

Remembering what I do of this gentleman, I’d guess that his hundreds of dollars went straight up his nose. I wish that Mr. Boss Man had said “Buy a U.S. savings bond every payday” or “Someday, everyone will have a computer in their home” or even “Yoga.” But he said to save your change, and it sounded like something I could do, and it involved money, which I like, so I did.

Humans are generally bad at long-term projects. We lack experience. We’re too easily distracted. But throwing coins every day into an empty tuna fish can is something any human can do. That includes me.

I eventually grew tired of the empty tuna fish can aesthetic and graduated to an empty mayonnaise jar. In the ’70s and early ’80s I paid for most things with cash, so my mayonnaise jar filled three or four times a year.

(It was difficult to get a credit card in the 1970s. The banks feared that we cardholders would fall into debt and not be able to repay what we owed. They hadn’t figured out that they’d make more money if they pushed us into debt and we never repaid them.)

I collected about as much money as the boss said I would. I took my coins to the bank, the bank handed me the cash, and I immediately spent it on books or music or my favorite female subordinate.

(Editor’s note: She’s not actually my subordinate. That is a literary construction. #Justkidding #Nothimtoo)

Futurists have long predicted the paperless office and the cashless society

If you work in an office, you know paper isn’t going anywhere. But we’ve made progress toward a cashless society. It now takes me almost two years to fill the jar, even with the help of my wife and sometimes my Dad, a kid from the Depression who never met a penny he didn’t like.

Last month, I decided my jar was full. I took it to my credit union, Unitus, the one bank in town that still offers the use of a no-fee coin-counting machine to its depositors. I poured in the metal tide, the machine funneled everything through a series of sluices, channels, and gates, ejecting Canadian coins and anything that had been beaten flat by a truck or a train, and spat out a receipt. I took the receipt to the teller, who handed me cash on the barrelhead. As they sang on Portlandia, the dream of the 1890s is alive in Portland.

It occurs to me that my habit of dropping coins in a jar and spending the jarful might be a metaphor or a psychodrama. I grew up in a family where our unofficial mission was to stockpile objects (in Latin, “Multa res accumulare,” or literally, “If I get rid of this, I know I’ll need it in 20 years, and then where will I be?”). You stockpiled objects until they disappeared and were forgotten, and then you had the pleasure of stockpiling the same objects all over again.

Maybe filling and purging my jar is my way of undoing the family chaos. Then again, sometimes a jar of coins is just a jar of coins.

Tonight’s challenge: How much money does my empty mayonnaise jar hold? The person who comes the closest to the average figure will be mercilessly interviewed for this blog.

Random Pick of the Day
Stevie Wonder, Talking Book (1972)

You will never tire of blasting “Superstition” out of your boombox, your stereo, your computer, your tablet, your phone, your gramophone, your car, your scooter, your bike, your Segway, your yacht, your car ferry, your jet pack, or the nanoprobes Google implanted in your neural core while you were downloading that cat video. Talking Book belongs in every music library between here and the Kuiper Belt.

If you were a teenager in the 1970s, this record was part of the soundtrack of your life, as every song in this set made it to AM and FM radio. A couple of the ballads are slow; “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love” occupies what would shortly become Billy Joel territory, if not Tony Orlando & Dawn territory. But any complaints melt away before the majesty of the closing track: “I believe when I fall in love with you/it’ll be forever.” C’mon, let’s fall in love.

Random Pan of the Day
Bell Biv Devoe, Three Stripes (2017)

Their first album since Bell Biv Devoe in 2001. The first few tracks rock hard. The rest of the album is mostly crooning. The one thematic element that unites their material is their refusal to stop saying their own name. They’re really just a gospel group that likes loud music.

 

For Christmas, my dear and honored friend Joy was given a $300 gift certificate to the best record store in Portland, Oregon: Music Millennium, home of new and used CDs, vinyl, and tapes. They also host concerts by bands that are so cool, they won’t tell me when they’re coming to the store.

If someone had given me a $300 gift certificate to the best record store in Portland, Oregon, I would’ve shoved the 10 essentials into my backpack and disappeared for the day. Not Joy. She had the store divide this bounty into six equal parts, one of which she gave to me. She may have been trying to teach me a lesson.

People say the compact disc is dead. Fuck you.

Or at best on life support, according to Fivethirtyeight. OK, statheads, tell that to the barbarian armies, with an average age of 30, who every day reenact the sacking of Rome at Music Millennium. I had to compete with them as I flew through the store with my want list in one hand and my wife in the other. We had to stay longer than I’d planned because the refs gave me 2 minutes for tripping, 2 minutes for elbowing, 2 minutes for slashing, 2 minutes for high-sticking, 2 minutes for charging, 2 minutes for holding, 2 minutes for cross-checking, 5 minutes for board-checking, and a 10-minute misconduct.

(This happened in December, so it doesn’t count toward my improved behavior in 2018.)

With Deborah’s help, I found six CDs and went over my limit by only $4. An average of 67¢ per CD beats yard-sale prices, plus I can finally use the ¢ symbol. Here’s what I hauled home!

The Bad Plus, Prog (2007)

I dug this one out of the jazz section. I never made it as far as the classical bunker. Prog was the only record I bought that day that I hadn’t heard something from, and the only one that the hip Portlandia cashier was thrilled by. After one spin, I was thrilled, too. I love Prog, even the parts I don’t understand.

Their cover of Rush’s 1981 epic, “Tom Sawyer,” smacked me like a sneaker wave. And I’ve been smacked by a sneaker wave. Forgive me, Bob and Doug McKenzie, because I know Rush is your favorite band, but The Bad Plus’ decision to strip “Tom Sawyer” of its substandard lyrics and Geddy Lee’s puny human vocal improved this thing 1,000% before they even started playing.

There are only three musicians in The Bad Plus – Reid Anderson on bass, Ethan Iverson on piano, David King on drums – and yet they produce a ferocious attack. David King must’ve been spitting sticks in the studio. If Gene Krupa and Keith Moon came back to life and listened to this tsunami of beats, they’d drop dead. To paraphrase my Grandma Bella, “They’d drop dead twice.”

I haven’t heard drumming like this since Buddy Rich battled Animal on The Muppets.

Consumer warning: If you hate jazz, nothing on Prog will change your mind, particularly the piano break at the 2-minute mark of “Tom Sawyer,” which almost sent me to the ER.

This disc is screamingly good…minus a few misfires. Like their cover of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.” The music never detonates or even fizzes. Frankly, any song traveling this slow should have a damn stripper in front of it.

Diana Ross, Icon (2012)

A greatest-hits album masquerading as a studio album. I fell for it. What strikes me about this set is how it showcases Ross at her very best (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Remember Me”) and her very worst (“Touch Me in the Morning”) in the years 1970-1981. The difference between the highs and lows is about as far as from my desk to Star Base 12, but Ross’ voice and delivery are magnificent throughout. (Maybe not on “Love Hangover.” Disco was the record company’s idea, not Diana’s.)

Some of the best writers of the era wrote for Ross – Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Gerry Goffin, Carole Bayer Sager, Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers…and Lionel Richie (“Endless Love”). Too bad they couldn’t swap that joker for Springsteen, Bowie, Gil Scott-Heron, Joan Armatrading, or Patti Smith.

Happy Mondays, Double Easy: The U.S. Singles (1993)

If you haven’t already, watch the definitive account of the Manchester (“Madchester”) music scene of the late 1980s/early 1990s, 24 Hour Party People. The title comes from a Happy Mondays song. If you’re too proud to admit you like electronic dance music and that you’d like to go to a rave and not come back, Happy Mondays are the band for you. They take that rave aesthetic of dance beats, Ecstasy, and waving your hands in the air like you just don’t care and camouflage it with rock ’n’ roll. Top-notch driving music, too.

(Editor’s note: Run-DMSteve hasn’t been to a rave since the week after Thomas Edison invented music.)

Beck, Mellow Gold (1993)

I stand by my statement that Beck is a god, but when I listen to Mellow Gold I wonder if he’s also a moron. On this disc, words mean whatever Beck thinks they mean, and the music is not so much composed as dumped in a blender. Still, you can’t argue with “Beercan,” and then there’s that thing about a loser, and anyway, Beck was right when he said, “You can’t write if you can’t relate,” so there we are.

Gary Numan, Savages (2017)

I haven’t listened to a Gary Numan album since Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, both from 1979. I don’t know why. I guess I got busy. I play both of those a lot, though.

Then I read a review of Savages on Verian’s blog, Thirty Three And A Third, where he reviewed every album released in 2017 from every continent and at least three planets. Verian. Don’t you have a job? Is this your job? How do I get your job?

Gary Numan 40 years on is a revelation. Gone is the interstellar frostiness I fell in love with in the ’70s. Now he sounds as if he has lived among humans. He also sounds as if he’s accepted Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails as his personal savior. Savages is repetitive, but the repetition builds into something so dark and dramatic, a killer burger topped with mushrooms and doom, that when I arrive at the office after listening to this on my commute I want to make a music video in the conference room in which civilizations collapse and are reborn, not trade anecdotes in the kitchen about what we did this weekend.

You could get drunk on this record – drunk as in too much bloodwine at a Klingon funeral – and yet in the midst of songs such as “My Name Is Ruin” and “When the World Comes Apart” there’s an honest love song, “And It All Began with You.” Oh My God of Love.

On the album cover, Numan is dressed like a resident of a desert planet who’s about to steal the Millennium Falcon. What else do you need to know?

David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

Bowie took the glam-rock rage of his era (Mott the Hoople, Queen, Marc Bolan, New York Dolls, Elton John), added it to his hard-rock bag of tricks, and then performed everything as if he had just fallen to Earth. Ziggy Stardust is one of the more difficult classic albums to listen to. The highlights are “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman,” and “Suffragette City,” but there’s plenty to enjoy or puzzle over. The Ramones got their one guitar riff from this record, and if you wasted your teen years playing Space Invaders, you can sacrifice a lamb to Bowie, because this is where he invented the name.

Thank you for so much fun, my dear and honored friend Joy. Inspired by your good example, I’m going to start right now being a better person in 2018. (I gave myself January to gear up for this.) Let me begin by saying to whatever low-life borrowed my Ziggy Stardust CD years ago and never gave it back: I love you, man!

 

In 1980, one of my stories appeared in a science fiction anthology called New Dimensions. I was a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America at the time, and the following year I learned that two people had recommended my story for a Nebula Award.

I never got anywhere in this process, so I don’t know the details, but I believe it ran approximately like this: If you collected enough recommendations, your story was entered in the playoff bracket. There followed a series of competitions, involving singing, dancing, evening wear, swimsuits, and hand-to-hand combat with erasers and typewriter ribbons. The stories that survived the playoffs entered the medal round. One story eventually won a Nebula. It all started with someone taking the trouble to say that she or he liked your story.

One of my two recommenders was Marta Randall. I’ve always appreciated this, Marta, wherever you are today, but since you’re the editor who bought the story for New Dimensions this was not a surprise.

The surprise was the other person: Ursula K. Le Guin.

What? The author of The Left Hand of Darkness, which taught this teenage boy that science fiction could be about something other than rockets and robots and fearless North American white men defeating dark-skinned alien hordes with the help of a few comic Irishmen, liked something I wrote?

“The only sensible ends of literature,” Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one’s family and friends; and lastly, the solid cash.” Not bad, Nat, but you forgot something: The otherworldly feeling you experience when something you wrote speaks to someone you don’t know.

Eventually I met Ursula and spent some time with her. I’m unsure how this began. Deborah had taken three of her writing workshops in Oregon – in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, on the McKenzie River, and at Cannon Beach; Ursula had a fine sense of place – so it must’ve been in the wake of the first one.

We had dinner a couple of times with Ursula and her husband, Charles. We met their cats. We stayed overnight at their Cannon Beach beach house, where our dog Emma, who had her moods, totally charmed them. Ursula thought that Emma, racing around us on the beach, looked like Isadora Duncan, her scarf jauntily thrown over one shoulder.

Benjamin Franklin said it best in his Autobiography: “When first you wish to make a favorable impression on a new acquaintance, send in your dog.”

In a discussion with Ursula about writing I referred to my challenges in getting published. I was probably making a joke, but she listened seriously and said, “I’ve never understood that.” She wasn’t being nice. Making nice was not her thing. Ursula could be quite sharp. In her presence, you never wanted to say something stupid (my forte). These four words were enough to make me worship her, but of course I already did.

We never saw them often, and in this century even less. An occasional email. Christmas cards. She drew pictures of funny cats and dogs in the style of Thurber. She called herself “Buntho.” She called Deborah “Gort” because she’s tall. She called me “Dominant Male” (misspelled “Donimant”) because I am. (Shut up.) She was there in the background of our lives, writing another book I want to read (Lavinia, Buffalo Gals), giving another interview or talk.

How lucky we all were.

Au revoir, Ursula. Thanks for the vote of confidence in me. If I had gotten as far as the swimsuit competition, I would’ve given it my best.

 

 

In the past few years, someone I loved, someone millions of people loved, died in January. Sadly, this January is no exception. Ursula K. Le Guin died on Sunday.

Unlike the other gods who have left us to muddle through life as best we can here on Earth Prime, I knew Ursula, a little. Deborah knew her far better than me. If our first corgi, Emma, was still around, she might be able to add something, as she once took a nap on Ursula’s feet. I’m upset, and this will take me a couple of days to find something intelligent to say. Until then, I leave you with the paper of record.

Here’s your guide to Run-DMSteve: Year Seven. What Year Eight will hold for this blog, I can’t imagine, but I thank you as always for reading along and for not accusing me of sexual misconduct.

Bands

Chuck Berry

The Righteous Brothers

Level 42 and P.M. Dawn

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, R.E.M., The Killers, Ray Charles

Jazz ghetto

U2 and The Beatles

Movies

Blade Runner 2049

Thor: Ragnarok

Absent friends and ancient family

Karrie Dunning

My Dad and the Kennedys

All the rest

My brilliant career

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after five years

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after one week

Ode to Half.com

Random Pick of the Day
Joni Mitchell, For the Roses (1972)

Joni Mitchell is one of pop music’s best writers, but her stratospheric soprano voice makes it difficult for me to understand her words. Compared to For the Roses, Kurt Cobain is giving elocution lessons on Nevermind.

The instrumental backing on For the Roses is spare, mostly Mitchell on the piano, but not as spare as on her previous release, the unsparing Blue. “You Turn Me on I’m a Radio” and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” got the airplay. Those are great songs, but over the years, I’ve gravitated toward “Blonde in the Bleachers”:

She tapes her regrets
To the microphone stand
She says, “You can’t hold the hand
Of a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Or count on your plans
With a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Compete with the fans
For your rock ’n’ roll man
For very long
The girls and the bands
And the rock ’n’ roll man”

Forty years later, Pete Yorn tried to explain the rock ’n’ roll man in “Rock Crowd”:

Rock crowd throw your arms around me
I feel glad when you all surround me
It’s you, it’s you who grounds me
When you’re done put me back where you found me

There’s no hint on For the Roses to the direction Mitchell would take on her next release, Court and Spark, the album that defines her as surely Tapestry defines Carole King.

Random Pan of the Day
Marvin Gaye, In Our Lifetime (1981)

The title has nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time.

By this point in his career, Gaye was singing all the parts, playing most of the instruments, and writing most of the songs. But he wasn’t in a happy state of mind, as he was fighting with his ex-wives and trying to compete with upstarts Prince and Rick James. He was living in exile in Belgium. No offense to Belgium, but that’s my idea of an anonymous country. The man’s mood was reflected in the cover art: Angel Marvin and Devil Marvin face off above exploding A-bombs. I guess Prince really pissed him off.

The songs are non-stop party jams. Slow party jams. You can’t dance to them unless you’re one of these arrhythmic people who always go to the same dances I go to and who spend the night swanning around as if somebody had injected them with Lorazepam. If you played this at a party, you’d only get about three tracks in before somebody swapped it for a more exciting set. This is a clear case of the parts not adding up to a whole. You’ll remember some of the grooves days later, but none of the songs.

Gaye redeemed himself in 1982 with Midnight Love and his last hit, “Sexual Healing,” and then he was murdered. We can’t know what his third decade in the music business would’ve given us, but I’m sure it would’ve been worth hearing.

Mercy mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be.

 

Everyone is always looking for the next Beatles. From The Monkees to The Arctic Monkees, we salivate over any upstart new band that threatens to upset the world as we know it.

They never do. We ain’t gonna see anything like The Beatles and Beatlemania again. There will never be another moment in the Earth Prime timeline as there was in 1963, when unlimited talent met universal need and when there were so few media channels that one message could smack every human in existence.

However, there has been one band that’s come close: U2.

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!

I’m not suggesting that The Beatles and U2 are equivalent. They are nothing like each other. The Beatles, for example, displayed more humor on any afternoon in 1964 than U2 have in their entire career. The Beatles, for another example, never tried to be rock’s answer to Wagner.

What I am suggesting is that the two bands have similar career trajectories. Here’s my evidence. Ready Steady Go!

The Beatles 1963-64
The Beatles’ catalog in their early years is like the cellar of my parents’ house: Good luck finding two things that match. Different Beatles albums with different lineups of songs appeared in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Sea of Tranquility, etc.

Here in the U.S., we had Introducing…The Beatles, then Meet the Beatles! even though we’d already been introduced, then The Beatles Are on the Grass, The Beatles Are in My Hall, The Beatles Are in My Head, etc.

Get rid of all these random collections of songs, hold off on the two soundtracks, and you’re left with Please Please Me, With the Beatles, and Beatles for Sale. This is where The Beatles reimagined pop and changed the world.

U2 1980-83
U2 released Boy, October, and War. This is where they reimagined arena rock and tried to change the world, one cause at a time.

The Beatles 1964-65
A Hard Day’s Night: The perfect soundtrack.

U2 1983
Under a Blood Red Sky: The perfect live album.

The Beatles 1965-66
Rubber Soul and Revolver were a great leap forward.

U2 1984
The Unforgettable Fire was a great leap forward.

The Beatles 1967
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Their masterpiece.

U2 1987
The Joshua Tree: Their masterpiece.

The Beatles 1967
Magical Mystery Tour was a serious expedition into psychedelia.

U2 1993
I have to mix up U2’s chronology by one album to make this work. Zooropa was a serious expedition into electronica. You think if The Beatles had lasted into the 1990s, they wouldn’t have explored electronica? Tell that to Paul McCartney, one of the two men behind Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest (1993).

The Beatles 1968
The White Album was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

U2 1988
Rattle & Hum was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

The Beatles 1969
U2 has nothing like Yellow Submarine. Since there were only four new songs on this disc and of those I only like “It’s All Too Much,” I don’t see this as relevant.

The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after Sgt. Pepper.

U2 1991
Achtung Baby demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after The Joshua Tree.

The Beatles 1969-70
After Abbey Road and Let It Be, the Beatles ceased to exist.

U2 1995-97
After Original Soundtracks and Pop, which were not as good as This Is Spinal Tap or Meet the Rutles, U2 almost ceased to exist.

That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is too.

Bonus: U2 go into extra innings

U2 is a fading empire that refuses to die without a fight. As a service to my loyal readers (all three of them), and because I did the same for Duran Duran, here’s my guide to the 10 essential U2 songs since Zooropa. You can conveniently forget everything else they’ve done since 1993.

“All Because of You”
U2’s version of playing “Get Back” on the roof of Apple Studios. Bono kisses a girl!

“Beautiful Day”
This song belongs in a temple to a new religion. Features the first-ever Bono double. He’s good-bad, but he’s not evil (see “Elevation” below).

“Do You Feel Loved”
Curtis Mayfield funky. This is one ballpark I didn’t think they could play in.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
The first cut from the Batman Forever soundtrack. If you love comics, you’ll swoon over this video. The music could knock your croquet ball over the house and down the street.

“Elevation”
Good U2 battle Evil U2 while The Edge tries to survive in a Tomb Raider movie!

“Magnificent”
One of their bombastic anthems. Awesome.

“Mofo”
The rhythm sections rips your garage door off its hinges and paints “Mama never loved me” on your car.

“Original of the Species”
The horns are straight out of Magical Mystery Tour. Unfortunately, the video is dull and, well, pretentious.

“Unknown Caller”
The only U2 song I know where they chant the lyrics. Kind of pretentious, but that’s their natural habitat. It’s grown on me.

“You’re the Best Thing About Me”
It’s not a great song – it sounds as if it were recorded by four guys who’ve listened to a lot of U2 – but I include it because it’s the happiest U2 video of all time. And almost none of them are happy.

Dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Judy, whose ambition in her 50s was to jump out of a cake on The Edge’s birthday.

 

Life in the 90s

Posted: November 17, 2017 in music
Tags: , ,

We just visited my parents in the little town in Massachusetts where I grew up and learned not to trust the Red Sox. You have to make some adjustments in Massachusetts. A regular coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts is coffee, milk, and two sugahs. A milkshake doesn’t have ice cream, but a frappe does. If you go down Cape, you’re heading north on Cape Cod, but if you go up Cape, you’re heading south. Traffic circles are called “rotaries,” a sub is a “grinduh,” and my name is forever Stevie.

My Mom lives in a nursing home. My Dad is still hanging on in the house they’ve lived in since 1957. These are the real adjustments.

While we were there, the town put on their annual breakfast to honor veterans. Every place in Massachusetts that can hold itself together long enough to form a government and print pahking stickuhs for the beach is required to have a Veterans Service Officer. Our VSO did a fantastic job with this breakfast. Five hundred veterans and their friends and families filled the hall where I attended my high school prom back in 1493. We had speeches, commemorative pins, a fire department honor guard, and food that beats Army chow any day.

Dad is 90 and increasingly immobile, but he was game to go. After all, he served in World War II. He came home with medals for good conduct and sharpshooting and one he never showed us that he claimed he got for goldbricking.

It took Deborah and me awhile to organize and transport him. By the time we arrived, there was only one table with available seats. Fortunately, our tablemates were Miss Bristol County and Miss Bristol County Teen and their mothers. The four of them were delighted to have a World War II veteran drop in. This gave the two beauty queens a chance to represent. They brought Dad his breakfast from the buffet line and made a fuss over him.

BC2

Our featured speaker was Rep. Joe Kennedy III. He’s the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a politician work a room with greater enthusiasm. After his speech he went to every table, looked everyone in the eye, listened respectfully, spoke sincerely. I was impressed. He meant it.

As the event ended, people began to leave the hall, and we were concerned that Joe 3.0 wouldn’t make it to our far corner. Deborah sought him out and asked him if he would come to our table and say hello to her father-in-law, who served in the Army Air Force and kept Texas safe for democracy.

Kennedy said he would, and though he still had a gauntlet to run, he soon appeared at Dad’s side. (Deborah said she had never had anyone reassuringly touch her arm so many times as he followed her while simultaneously greeting people.) Kennedy realized that Dad couldn’t stand, so he took a knee beside him. Dad took his hand and cried as he talked about meeting John F. Kennedy in 1960 when he was running for president.

K5

After Dad calmed down, they had a good talk, and then Dad made a prediction: “Joe, you’re 37 now. In 15 years, you’re going to run for president, and you’re going to make it.”

K4

Kennedy replied, “Don’t hold your breath!”

K6

At that moment, my father closed a circle. The circle began on a blustery winter day in early 1960 when Dad, younger than Joe Kennedy is now, was walking into his favorite hardware store and met a hatless JFK striding down the sidewalk, the whole world and Schwartz Lumber in front of them.

There’s no lesson here, just a family that’s lucky enough to make a new story after so many years together. Mom has Alzheimer’s, but she still can still follow a five-sentence narrative, and when we saw her next she laughed when she heard that Dad had cried. “Of course!” she said. She would’ve expected nothing else.

Dad is in the hospital as I write this. He’s 90, so who knows. Mom is dreaming in her nursing home, waiting for Dad’s next visit. Until they meet again, here are two photos of the honeymooners taken 50 years apart.

The Honeymooners 1964

1964

Happy cat roommates

2014

In case youve read this far: Miss Bristol County Teen is a freshman at the high school. When Dad told her that I had gone there, she asked, Did you know my grandfather? He was a math teacher. I thought, come on, kid, how old do you think I am?! But then she told me his name and I thought, shoot, I did know him.

 

I just saw Thor: Ragnarok. The studio chose “Ragnarok” instead of “Ragamuffin” or “Turmoil in Asgard!” or “Domestic Disturbance, Call 9-1-1” because Ragnarok sounds like an evil Norwegian metal band plus it ends with “rock” so you know this film is going to RAWK!

Ragnarok didn’t, though it was far better than I feared, thanks primarily to everyone in the cast who isn’t Chris Hemsworth. Chris’ older brother, Luke, was particularly good at playing an actor playing a big blubbering God of Thunder.

But Ragnarok did display the usual trends in superhero and sci-fi movies. Like how they all resemble The Lord of the Rings. Ragnarok comes complete with orcs, a Balrog, the Army of the Dead, and thousands of Australians with perfectly feathered hair.

These films also resemble Star Wars. “Asgard is not a place,” Odin tells us, in his best Obi-Wan-explaining-The-Force-voice. “Asgard is its people.” It is not. You spent the first two Thor movies convincing us that Asgard is a special place because it’s the crossroads of the universe and the home of the gods. Now you say it was just an address and you’re going to find a new home on Earth? That’s so original, not counting Battlestar Galactica. I suppose the next movie in the series will pit Thor against Trump over immigration.

But let’s set these resemblances aside and ask why superhero movies are always about the fate of the world. Doesn’t that make them all the same movie? Can’t superheroes take on criminal masterminds who rob banks or steal identities? No, sorry. Gotta build a big spaceship. But whatever spaceship we build, the villain will build a bigger one in the next movie. He’ll name his ship Endowedbadguy1177.

I love you, man
Speaking of men, of which this film has too many, Ragnarok proudly maintains the science fiction tradition of fractured father-son relationships that miraculously resolve in the final scenes. Yes, this time around, Thor and Loki find out they have a sister, Hela, the Goddess of Death. I don’t know where you seat the Goddess of Death when she comes over for Thanksgiving. But even though Hela is out to rule the cosmos, and even though you can dress Cate Blanchett up as anything and she’ll be smashing, it’s all just a plot device that forces Thor to admit to Odin, “I’m not as strong as you,” so Odin can tell him, “You’re stronger,” which finally teaches that blond dickhead a few things about relationships and responsibilities.

Odin can now die in peace, but of course he’s already dead. He’ll reappear with an encouraging word whenever Thor is once again trying to stop Mr. Wrong from destroying the world, which locates us comfortably back in Star Wars.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor showed some talent at physical comedy, but without his hammer and hair he’s just another doofus in a cape, and as usual he was outplayed by almost every other actor in Ragnarok. This includes Jeff Goldblum’s hybrid Bill Murray/Stanley-Tucci-in-Hunger-Games dictator and Mark Ruffalo’s impersonation of Woody Allen. Praise the costumers for dressing Ruffalo in Tony Stark’s Duran Duran T-shirt and the Hulk fans in green. Almost everyone else in this film wears black. Almost everyone in outer space wears black. When everyone wears black, wearing black means nothing. Give me a Star Fleet uniform any day.

I unexpectedly enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, though I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been half an hour shorter. As it stands, it’s way shorter than Blade Runner: 2049 and light years funnier. Go see it? Why not. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Need a bathroom break at the halfway point? You won’t miss a thing!

Tip of the day
Stay through the credits – all the credits; there’s about a kilometer of them – for the best speech in the movie. It rawks.