Y Marks the Spot: Drink to Win and the Ponderous Punches

 

I have this weird mental game that I’ve played since I was a little kid.  Odds are that if you’ve ever been around me, I may have played it with you.

It goes like this: while sitting around with someone, I sometimes wonder how my relationship with that person would change if I suddenly threw a punch.

Sounds like the musings of a psychopath, no?  Well, it was created during my childhood, a time in my life when I was swirling in a Lord of the Flies-like maelstrom of violence, locked in combat with my fellow child-savages.  The game certainly comes from a place of anger.  Still, the game which I’ve just now named The Ponderous Punches isn’t about running around and smacking people in the face.  It’s not about transferring my questions on the fragility of human relationships into any bruising reality.  In any event, I’ve never played it to that point.

But I may have recently come close.

The Friday before last, a group of my various friends congregated at a house in the mountains at the edge of town.  Our goals, beyond the basic one of being around each other for the first time in weeks, were to play board games and watch bad movies.  Along with the awesome He-Man movie, I came armed with an especially heavy screwdriver, and I proceeded upon the path to an additional, time-honored goal: to Drink to Win.

I woke up in my bed the next morning, feeling bright and vibrant and ready to go to work.  There was some confusion as I stumbled around, checking my things and making sure that everything taken to the gathering had returned with me.  Besides a jacket I’d later reclaim, everything had made it.  I remembered little beyond the point in the night when three of us had put on tutus and pranced about like idiots; the only flash of consciousness to follow happened as I sat in my backseat and had friends drive my car home and drop me off, after which I pranced through my doorway and grinned like a physicist.  But I’ve long known that, even while balls to the wall blacked out, I’m kind of brilliant.

Work was not the usual desperate hangover fare in which desperate guarantees of good behavior are made to distant deities in exchange for metaphysical aspirin.  It went fine.  I wasn’t thrilled about walking through the rain to my friends’ house to pick up my car, but I made the trip well enough.

After my friends handed me my keys, I asked them if I had done anything too embarrassing over the course of the evening.  Embarrassing, yes, they answered, but nothing too horrible.  It was good enough for me.  I drove home, wondering why I was such a joyful drunk.

It was a few days later when I logged onto the internet and found the first indications that this sense of joy might not have been entirely accurate.  Entering the Facebook group page of the film group which encompasses most of the people at Friday’s party, I saw a cryptic, rambling, freaked out message from one of the members.  It said that he wasn’t quitting, but that he didn’t want to hang out with us while we were drinking anymore.  He also invited us to shut the hell up if we had any questions.

Almost at the same time, I sent a text to the party’s hostess asking what had happened and posted a comment on the page hoping that the poster was okay.  Almost at the same time, I got responses from both targets.  The hostess said that the poster had accidentally been elbowed in the face.  In the five seconds between reading that answer and being instant messaged by the poster, I had a sinking certainty that I was responsible for whatever had happened.

The poster’s IM confirmed this.  It also said that the hit was a punch, and that it hadn’t been an accident.  My initial reaction was disbelief; the closest I’ve ever come to drunken violence before had been Three Stooges-style slapstick fighting with my friends.  But as the story was told to me, I had gotten pissed and laid the poster out.

Apparently the more sober people among us had made the mistake of playing Jenga in a house full of raving barbarian drunkards.  As I’ve heard it, my reaction to this architectural audacity was to rush over and knock them over at any opportunity.  The poster, who doesn’t drink, was assigned the dubious honor of keeping us savages away from the playing field.  After my last attempt at destroying the tower, he lured me away with false promises of seeing something amazing.

When he showed me a passed-out friend not doing anything amazing at all, my bullshit detector flashed on.  Yes, I have a bullshit detector, even while blacked out.

“You don’t have anything to show me,” I said.  The poster nodded.  Without another word, I punched him in the face.

Standing over him, I apparently said: “That’ll teach you to lie.”

Nobody else witnessed this bizarrely principled explosion.  When I asked about it, everyone – my victim included – said that the rest of the night was awesome, but nobody else saw me throwing a punch.  The recipient told me that he went into meltdown, refusing to leave his apartment for days, but we talked it out, I apologized, and we are back to normal, I think.

Oddly enough, I proposed a get-together last Friday night, an affair with the goal of Drink to Achieve a Modest Moral Victory.  The recipient of my blackout punch, who said he didn’t want to hang around us when we drank, showed up with a gigantic duffel bag full of liquor.  I’m not sure what that means.

I didn’t throw a Ponderous Punch, but maybe I played the game, all the same.

The Designer’s Drugs: Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

 

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials (Deluxe)

Anno: 2011

 

The thought that ran through my head as I listened to this amazing album was that this is the sort of music that wins Grammys and deserves them.  Ceremonials is a mixture of the ambition of an orchestra, the aggression of rock, the hooks of pop, and the pipes of Florence Welch, a vocalist who could sing the phone book and make it sound like an erotic awakening.  The total product is easily the best album I’ve heard this year.

In fact, it may also have the year’s best track.  “What the Water Gave Me” starts as a steady pace of gloom and pieces of harp, pushing through the introductions before dropping into a hook of subterranean organs, shards of guitars, and a swelling choir that gathers its strength as the song progresses and soon explodes everything.  The song’s titanic conclusion isn’t the usual bitchy distorted guitar angst that typically characterizes rock, but it’s about as powerfully rock as anything I’ve ever heard.

And still, it’s only one song in a great series.  “Shake It Out” is a beaming sadjoy pop tune which carries the right sort of pretentious messianic overtones.  “No Light, No Light” is run by an organ and a smashing drum pulse operating alongside words which might not have been as catching if they weren’t delivered in Welch’s towering wails.  “Heartlines” is in the same percussive orchestral vein, though it has more of an esoteric beat and Welch is even more impressive at the helm.  The electronic R&B of “Spectrum” swings from the subdued intensity of the verses to blasts of voice and harp.  “Bedroom Hymns” closes the album with a frenzied swing rush of drums and piano while Welch does a little bit of the old erotic religion dirty talk.

There’s absolutely nothing on Ceremonials that comes within a light year of bad.  The very worst thing I could say about it is that there’s a song called “Never Let Me Go” that comes off as a slow, minimalist love ballad from the 80s, which isn’t my style.  If you’re into slow, minimalist love ballads from the 80s, however, this thing will spin your wheels.  There are shortcomings to be found throughout the album, to be sure, but the orchestration is so tightly woven in each and every song that any weakness is compensated for with a dozen strengths.

So yeah.  I severely doubt that I’m going to hear anything as good as this for a long, long while.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Stephen King’s The Shining

 

Film: Stephen King’s The Shining (1997)

Director: Mick Garris

Starring: Rebecca De Mornay, Steven Weber

Written by: Stephen King

 

I’ve made it no secret that I really dislike Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  By the time I watched it all its horror moments had become cliché, but after reading Stephen King’s much better source material I’ve come to hate it pretty thoroughly.  What was supposed to be a story about a family trying to keep itself together and a father trying to overcome alcoholism and pull his life together became in Kubrick’s hands an artsy horror shitshow featuring Jack Nicholson as Wolfman Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a mousy, goggle-eyed fashion atrocity.  If Nicholson’s Joker and Duvall’s Olive Oyl were swapped in for their characters in The Shining, no one would be the wiser.  Sure, it’s fun to watch Nicholson go nuts and abuse his family, but he’s not exactly my go-to actor for sympathetic characters, which was what his role should have been.

I’m not the only one who thought that Kubrick crapped all over Stephen King’s book.  King himself had a lot of hate for the film.  Years later, this culminated in his creation of a better, fuller miniseries version.  The miniseries form, usually about three or four times as long as a feature film, has usually been better suited for adapting King’s better-known books, and this version of The Shining maintains that trend.

Still, casting, not length, makes this version superior.  The decidedly not wolfish Steven Weber makes for a great Jack Torrance, and watching him descend from flawed but well-meaning dad to grinning, bloody monster (appropriately enough, he’d have made an awesome Joker) is more gripping than Nicholson playing Nicholson.  Rebecca De Mornay plays Wendy Torrance as she was written: a young, good-looking mother whose default setting wasn’t as her husband’s emotional punching bag.  Their psychic son is still played by a creepy kid, in this case a chubby, bowl-cutted kid who seems incapable of closing his mouth (I ended up referring to him as Cheeks).  Still, I’ll take this kid over the shaggy creep from the original who talked through his finger and had all the acting chops of a stroke victim.

I also really liked the horror elements in this version.  In addition to actually explaining why the Overlook Hotel was a hellish purgatory (instead of Kubrick’s waving his dick around and cramming random spooky shots together), the ghosts in the place are both restrained and horrifying when allowed to break loose.  The rotting chick in the forbidden room is actually kind of terrifying, as opposed to the old hag who tricks Nicholson into making out with her and laughing at him afterwards (it was pretty funny).  The head ghoul is an awesome shade of Dracula who owns any scene he’s in and is genuinely menacing.  I’m also really glad that the evil hedge animals made the cut, instead of being replaced by a lame hedge maze in which Nicholson gets tricked (again!) and freezes to death.  Oh yeah, the ending is a little better, too, which is to say that it actually has one (even if it is pretty sappy).

Suck it, Kubrick.