Here in My Head

A recurring problem: trying to write about a multi-season TV show. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about how TV shows are generally trickier subject matter than movies—more diffuse, more erratic—and those problems are compounded when you’re dealing with three or four or more seasons. Whether trying to catch up—and I can only get through something at a somewhat accelerated pace; I think Mad Men is the only show I’ve ever truly binged in the understood sense of the word—or faithfully keeping up over a number of years, by the time I finish, everything tends to blur together. I probably should have posted something on The Handmaid’s Tale halfway through S2, when X-Ray Spex ended an episode with what was the first really startling musical moment for me, but I also thought that maybe that signaled a new and more important role for music in the show, so I waited. And here I am now, trying to piece together a show that, with S4 just about to begin, sometimes feels like it has wandered far afield from where it began.

I’m not sure if the makers of The Handmaid’s Tale have ever really figured out how prominent they want pop music to be. Every now and again, it’s front and center, but then two or three episodes will go by with nothing of consequence, occasionally with nothing at all. Which is fine; I can appreciate how Mad Men’s rigid episode-ending-song format became tiresome for some viewers. In any event, I’m glad I waited—X-Ray Spex was just prelude to an even greater song cue down the road.

I kept thinking about The Leftovers as I made my way through The Handmaid’s Tale. That similarly had an on/off switch when it came to its soundtrack, and the shows are also linked by the presence of Ann Dowd, memorable in both playing characters whose cruelty is rooted in an anguished past revealed through flashback. And that’s where the two shows really converge: there’s the past and there’s the present, and between them sits a cataclysmic, world-altering event. When I rewatched The Leftovers a year ago, I mentioned on a message-board how eerily it resonated with the then-nascent pandemic. Seemingly stuck in exactly the same place today—but infinitely more exhausted—I’d say the same of The Handmaid’s Tale. And I almost uniformly love the flashbacks to the before world: the banter between June and Luke and Moira, Emily teaching cellular biology back in university, June’s activist mom; even Aunt Lydia is granted a night of karaoke and a glimmer of romance, maybe the only moment of grace for Ann Dowd in either The Handmaid’s Tale or The Leftovers (also an instant addition to the Movie-TV Karaoke Canon I’m presently developing).

The problem I had as things moved along—I’ll get to the music in a moment—was what felt like endless reversals. June: compliant and demoralized one moment, feisty and ready to start a revolution the next, then back and forth a dozen more times. The June and Serena relationship: bitter adversaries one episode, seemingly on the verge of an alliance the next, then back and forth a dozen more times. I asked someone on the message board at one point if the show had moved beyond Margaret Atwood’s novel, and the reply was that had already happened in the first season; it seemed clear to me that they were just making it up as they went along, doubling back on themselves constantly.

And once Bradley Whitford’s Joseph Lawrence entered the picture towards the end of S2, I basically lost any overriding semblance of why the things that were happening were happening. I don’t think I’ve been as perplexed by a TV character since Patricia Clarkson’s Jane Davis in House of Cards, and he seemed to fundamentally change something in the show’s calculus. Soon into S3—I was convinced I’d fallen asleep one episode and missed some crucial transition—June was a behind-the-scenes powerbroker, arranging meetings and bending events to her will, with Lawrence wandering in and out some elliptic, acerbic commentary. Some of it very funny, I should add—like Jane Davis, he operates in some universe entirely his own. (Whitford’s resemblance in both voice and manner to Dennis Hopper helps.) Where it all goes from here, I don’t know. I’ll be watching.

I haven’t read Margaret Atwood’s novel—there should be a “I haven’t read the novel” keyboard shortcut for me—but, first published in 1985, I’m guessing it was originally intended to be as much a response to the emerging “Moral Majority” in Reagan’s America as it was a work of Feminism. The show is tilted towards the latter, perhaps nowhere more militantly than when “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” closes out S2’s “First Blood.” Commander Waterford is addressing a roomful of dignitaries at the opening of the Rachel and Leah Center, designated to be a future training ground for handmaids; out form among those in attendance, lined up at the back of the room, Ofglen #2 (Lillie) emerges with a bomb in hand, which she detonates as the rest of the handmaid’s flee in slow motion. Cut to black and Poly Styrene: “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard/But I say…”

High marks just for its inclusion—it’s hard to adequately convey the monumental thrill of Poly Styrene’s voice in any context, but especially if explosives and carnage are involved (death toll: 31 handmaidens, unfortunately, but also 26 commanders), and that’s why I’m singling it out. When I stepped back and thought about the scene later, though, they may have missed the more obvious way to incorporate the song, more like how Olivier Assayas used “Sonic Reducer” in Carlos: start it up as soon as Ofglen pulls out the bomb, letting the song choreograph the chaos rather than just comment on it. (Synchronicity: when writing about Carlos in the book version of this blog, I said of the “Sonic Reducer” scene that “If you could get Patti Smith’s ‘Gloria’ onto film, it’d play out like this.” In a Tunefind piece on the best musical moments in The Handmaid’s Tale, the show’s music supervisor Maggie Phillips says that they were originally going to go with “Gloria” for the bombing scene.)

Lots else worthy of comment before and after “Oh Bondage!”, but this is where waiting has reduced me to a WhatSong-assisted checklist:

  • “You Don’t Own Me” to finish the first episode; a marker for everything that follows, also a bit too familiar
  • “White Rabbit” as June and Waterford enter Jezebel’s, Gilead’s version of Twin Peaks’ One-Eyed Jacks (The Handmaid’s Tale often plays around with pop-culture history, the Jaws quote that ends one episode the most obvious example; June’s stated preference for the second Aliens film over the original, the most knowing)
  • “American Girl” to end S1 (a nod to The Silence of the Lambs, I would think)
  • June and her mom singing along to “Hollaback Girl” in flashback (another missed chance: they should have brought it back for the end credits)
  • Iris DeMent’s “My Life” for a post-bombing memorial ceremony; a friend told me to watch out for a particularly stunning musical moment before I began the series, and this was it—good, for sure, but I’m not quite the Iris DeMent fan he is (more Leftovers overlap, too)
  • “Venus,” Shocking Blue version, at a moment when June and Serena appear to be in cahoots for good
  • “Itchycoo Park,” with Commander Lawrence in his office doing whatever the hell he does in there
  • “Burning Down the House” to end S2, June going all in on revolution once again (the seventeenth time, I think, by that point)
  • Roy Harper’s “How Does It Feel” as Serena pulls a Norman Maine but has second thoughts—this was the one great song I discovered via the show
  • “Cruel to Be Kind,” Lawrence and his wife listening to music, part of an entire Love Is a Mix-Tape episode
  • “Everyday” to end S3’s “Household,” what has to be a Mad Men reference (I haven’t said anything yet about Elisabeth Moss as June: she’s phenomenal in S1, then gamely does battle with the show’s “Really, again?” wheel-spinning after that)
  • “Que Sera Sera,” Doris Day version, to finish the episode after the next—pure Mad Men*

And on and on—laying it all out in one place, I suppose pop music is a lot more central to the show than I originally indicated. (Yet a few episodes have no songs, and many were limited to one or two not worth mentioning.) Probably the oddest musical interlude was Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” where June accompanied the song with a running commentary on the lyrics, occasionally singing along herself (even though it was used non- diegetically). Someone else could make this whole post just about that one episode. I’d have to like the song more, though—it’s okay.

Very early in S1, I found myself wondering “What kind of soundtrack would most fit this show?” I settled on something I first came into contact with when I started downloading everything in sight from Soulseek almost 20 years ago: British psych-folk from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Not entirely new to me—I’d had the Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter since I discovered it as a teenager in a pile of records we kept in the basement; and I loved a few Fairport Convention songs, of course—but bands like Paramater and the Moths and the Trees were. Roy Harper is tangential to the genre, but “How Does It Feel” has some of the same feeling I get from those bands, and from Bert Jansch, too: Barry Lyndon by way of the Jefferson Airplane, hippie reverie that sounds a thousand years old.

As does, even more tangentially, Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting,” which closes S3’s “Liars.” It’s the morning after June’s clandestine visit to Jezebel’s, where she was trying to make arrangements with Billy, the bartender, to sneak 52 children out of Gilead; cornered by Commander Winslow, they end up taking a room together and June proceeds to brutally murder him (fully justified in context). “Cloudbusting” starts up as some of the Marthas back at Jezebel’s methodically go about erasing all evidence of the murder (shades of Psycho), cleaning blood from the carpet, wiping down surfaces, disposing of the body. June, back home—Lawrence himself chauffeured her to and from Jezebel’s—wakes up, her face visibly bloodied, and she goes into the closet and selects her handmaid’s uniform for the day. “Cloudbusting” continues as we cut back and forth between June and the Marthas: stately, a little sad, but—those violins—suggestive that a corner has been turned, that something new is about to take shape. The scene ends with Lawrence’s best moment thus far—“They’ll be coming for us,” as he hands June a gun—followed by June sitting alone at the window.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had such an overwhelming sense of “Of course—that’s it, that one song is why this show exists” from any comparable moment in any other TV show I’ve written about here.** While there are indeed lyrical fragments scattered throughout “Cloudbusting” that suggest Gilead (“what made it special made it dangerous”; “a threat to the men in power”; “I can’t hide you from the government”), that’s secondary—until I looked them up, I’d never given a second thought to those lyrics. Even less consequential is the fact that “Cloudbusting” and Atwood’s novel appeared within a few months of each other in 1985. The connection is much deeper and more amorphous; it captures something intrinsic about the world of Gilead, of all those handmaids walking the streets silently, of June’s eyes in the many close-ups we get of her at key moments. I’d be hard-pressed to articulate exactly what that something is. It’s also—a lot easier to explain—made to order for the pandemic moment that drags on and on in our own world: “I just know that something good is going to happen/I don’t know when.”

Kate Bush is one of the 15 or so people up for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. When I start mentally filling out the rough checklist I apply to nominees—clearly influential, sold a lot of albums, long career, a decent amount of critical attention—she’s a reasonable pick; there’s also that Creem/“Roadrunner”/Rock and Roll High School part of me that thinks, “Sure, and put in England Dan & John Ford Coley while you’re at it, we don’t want to miss anyone.” She’s not, in other words, someone I naturally gravitate to. But she’s also responsible for three songs I love (“Running Up That Hill” and “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” the others), and I’m surprised I never included “Cloudbusting” in one of the Top 100s I’ve assembled over the years. In part because of The Handmaid’s Tale, I definitely would today.

That’s it. Under his eye, praise be, blessed be the Fruit Loops.

*I often thought of Peggy’s most iconic image from Mad Men—hung over and in shades, carrying her belongings into McCann Erickson—and also of my own favourite Peggy moment, at the elevator as “You Really Got Me” played, whenever June flashed her “I want to break things” look. Also worth mentioning: Emily (Ofglen #1) is played by Alexis Bledel, Beth Dawes on Mad Men, who in the unforgettable “Tomorrow Never Knows” collage drew a heart on her condensed car window.

**Bush showed up earlier, in the fake-hanging scene that opened S2, with “This Woman’s Work”; I don’t know the song, so it probably didn’t even register with me who I was hearing—if it had, I don’t think “Cloudbusting” would have resonated to the degree that it did.

Here in My Head

Planned to Go to Swarthmore

Dead to Me might be the mean of all the TV shows I’ve watched the last few years. Its two seasons and 20 half-hour episodes (almost identical to Atlanta’s run thus far) went by quickly, and I never once thought of bailing; but, at the same time, I kept waiting for it to get better, and it never really did. It started with a clever premise, kept piling on more cleverness and episode-ending twists, and by the time I got a little way into S2 it was like, “Okay, fine—I’m watching for the performances now and ignoring how improbable all this is.” The second season ends with yet one more layer of cleverness, coming back full circle to the beginning (with a title card promising S3).

There are some good supporting players in Dead to Me—Ed Asner and Frances Conroy, especially (loved seeing her, primarily because she reminded me of why I would have been happier watching Six Feet Under); also Brandon Scott and Natalie Morales—but the weight of performance falls squarely on the two leads, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, who between them must be on-screen 90% of the time. I liked Cardellini’s Judy, or at least liked her absurdly likeable character, whose sole purpose in life (as Applegate’s Jen hisses at her in a moment of exasperation) is to be liked. Applegate is often anything but likeable, which may or may not make hers the more difficult role; I can think of famous examples on both sides of that divide. Cardellini’s fine; Applegate…I don’t know. I’m sure she’s gotten lots of praise, so I feel a little less hesitant to say that I don’t think she’s a strong enough actress for the role. She swears a lot. She swears around her kids, too, and soon enough her 15-year-old son Charlie starts swearing back at her. By the end of S2, her youngest son Henry—who most of the time is rather angelic—has joined in. Profanity rarely bothers me, but watching the three of them play De Niro-Pesci did, a little.

Quite a lot of music, the highlight probably being Tiffany’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which closes S2’s sixth episode. Everyone—Jen, Judy, the kids, Judy’s brother-in-law Ben, Judy’s new friend Michelle—is celebrating at some kind of emporium-arcade, with Ben and the kids bonding over video games, Jen and Ben dancing, and Judy and Michelle playing schmoopy. The song sounded better than I remembered, and when the requisite episode-ending twist comes (which I somehow missed—rewatching, it couldn’t have been any clearer), it suddenly slows down to the point of distortion, like what the Pet Shop Boys did with their album version of “Always on My Mind.” Elsewhere, there are famous soul songs (favourite: Brook Benton’s “It’s Just a Matter of Time”), a good running joke involving a Christian Youth dance troupe adapting famous songs (“Oooh, Jesus, here I am—signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours”), and, in the S2 finale, a conversation between Judy and Jen that consists entirely of a series of ‘90s song titles:

Judy: Yep, no more scrubs.
Jen: Okay.
Judy: No more words.
Jen: Nope.
Judy: More than words?
Jen: Nope.

And more. Someone else could probably write a few pages on that sequence.

If all of that accounted for everything of interest musically, I probably wouldn’t be posting about Dead to Me. But something reached critical mass for me at the end of S2’s fourth episode, where Judy sings “Dream a Little Dream of Me” in honor of Henry’s dead bird, followed during the end credits by the real thing: a whole lot of loose ends I’ve been filing away in my mind of Cass Elliot (or, if you prefer, Mama Cass; it’s a difference that had me pondering record-collection alphabetization last week) in the movies and on TV. She hasn’t quite scaled Donovan level yet, but there’s a lot there to mull over, especially recently.

The story starts with Monterey Pop. “Ball and Chain” (punctuated by the very famous reaction shot of Cass Elliot in the audience), Ravi Shankar, the Who and Hendrix, they’re all great, but I think my absolute favourite three minutes in D.A. Pennebaker’s film might be the Mamas & the Papas doing “Got a Feelin’.” First for the song itself, which—along with the Airplane’s “Today”—I count as the pinnacle of sad-hippie reverie, and then for Pennebaker’s montage of all those couples wandering around the grounds, with the occasional lonelyheart mixed in, including this woman, who I think was my desktop background for a few months at one point.

After that, in 1994, a rather famous bit of movie pop-song, “California Dreamin’” in Kar-Wai Wong’s Chunking Express. My recollection was that it turns up more than once, and sure enough, it “plays repeatedly throughout the film’s second half” according to this piece. I think maybe Faye Wong sings it herself at one point? Haven’t seen the film for a while.

There was also a John Phillips documentary called Straight Shooter that I saw on TV a couple of times, with two scenes that stick out in my mind. One, Phillips recounting Elliot’s death, the rare bit of crying (verge-of-crying, to be more precise) in a documentary I find as devastating as it’s supposed to be. It’s like Phillips had never given a thought until that exact moment to just how much Elliot meant to him. Later—and Cass was at least spared participation in this—a painfully awkward late-’70s reunion of sorts on Denny Doherty’s Canadian TV show, where Phillips is so zonked he all but blurts out the name of his dealer on live TV (a nervous-looking Michelle gently steers him away from further damage).

I’m sure the Mamas & the Papas turned up elsewhere in the 40 years after Monterey Pop, but things have picked up considerably in the last decade. In no particular order:

  • “Dedicated to the One I Love” in Mid90s, as some teenagers skateboard down a busy roadway: weirdly right (and the only non-period music in Jonah Hill’s film).
  • Three documentaries related to Laurel Canyon, two of which I saw: Echo in the Canyon, Jakob Dylan’s project, and David Crosby: Remember My Name (there was also Laurel Canyon).
  • In Rocketman, the Elton John film, there’s a party held at Cass Elliot’s place after his famous Troubadour show.
  • One of my favourite moments in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is when Polanski and Tate show up at the Playboy Mansion, and Tate is immediately greeted by Michelle Phillips and Elliot and whisked away onto the dancefloor. Between Hollywood, Rocketman, and the three documentaries (and I assume Elliot is as prominent in Laurel Canyon as she is in the other two), I’m convinced that Cass was the Warhol/Barbara Rubin epicenter of the West Coast pop world of the late ‘60s, and also that she deserves her own film—preferably a great documentary, but maybe even the dreaded biopic (Rachel Redleaf played her in Hollywood).
  • The very first episode of Mrs. America ended with Elliot’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” We were talking in one of the movie Zoomcasts about how post-Sopranos TV series often have a moment where you think “Wow—this is something other than what I thought it was, something much, much better.” That was the Mrs. America moment for me. (Almost put it in the Clipography, but it was edged out in the end by the New Seekers’ “Free to Be You and Me.”)

And now, Dead to Me. Watch any old clip of the Mamas & the Papas on YouTube, especially one of their appearances on Sullivan, and whether you’re in Christgau’s camp (who included a compilation in the ‘60s appendix to his ‘70s book) or Marcus’s (who more or less wrote them off as a footnote in Stranded), it’s hard, I think, not to find Elliot compelling: as she gently sways to whatever she’s singing, her self-confidence and grace are preternatural.

Planned to Go to Swarthmore

Drake’s Mexican

The collector mindset that shapes so many of my habits—and takes up so much space in my house—can manifest itself in odd ways. Posting on this blog, especially once I decided I would take everything and turn it into a book, got taken over by the same mindset in a way: watching movies and (even more so) TV shows became an exercise in collecting musical moments I could write about, and the more I collected, the quicker I’d get the book out.

So when I watched something like The Wire, where it became clear at a certain point that music played next to no role in the show (and I’ve learned more than once that you have to be careful about jumping to that conclusion too soon), that could create almost a feeling of relief, of not feeling I was just waiting around for the next great musical moment, and of wondering if that would eclipse whatever I’d decided was the greatest musical moment thus far. I could just, you know, watch the show. The worst by-product of this was watching a show with very little music and catching myself thinking “Why am I even watching this if I can’t write about it on the blog?” Which is obviously not a great way to watch anything.

Once the book was finished, I honestly thought I’d be free of all that, that I would stop collecting these memorable little bits of cinematic deejaying, stop being forever on the lookout for them—inevitably dividing my attention even when it wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing—and that I’d just settle back and watch stuff for what it was. Didn’t happen: I started an appendix to the clipography this morning, and I’m right back to collecting moments for the blog again.

There’s a lot of music in Atlanta: not the wall-to-wall feeling you get with the occasional movie (Dazed and Confused, Goodfellas), you can’t really do that in a TV show, but when I check WhatSong, the first two seasons average out to five songs per episode. Usually hip-hop (not always), and usually in short little snippets that weave in and out of the proceedings—“flow” I’ll call it, pretending I know what I’m talking about—rather than the big moment. But not always, occasionally you get that too.

I like the show a lot—I’ll stop just short of saying I love it, because of the 21 episodes that make up the first two seasons, I didn’t care for the two that were the most willfully strange, which in a two-season run amounts to 10%. In a way, though, I’m even glad for those two episodes: I don’t know if there’s ever been a TV show where I was so unsure of where they were headed next, and those two episodes (a fake talk-show I thought was modelled on PBS but evidently has something to do with the Adult Swim network, and a somewhat plodding episode inside an old gothic mansion) certainly upped the unpredictability. Atlanta just ambles along, deflecting away from what would be amped-up moments in another series, wandering deadpan from one oddball situation to another—some German-themed festival called Fasnacht, a college dorm where Earn and Al (Paper Boi) sit stoned in front of a Confederate flag and watch white pledges humiliate themselves—and you just kind of let everything wash over you; as Pauline Kael famously wrote of Nashville,  “I’ve never before seen a movie I loved in quite this way: I sat there smiling at the screen, in complete happiness.” (Of course, the people are all wrong for Altman, aren’t they?) Atlanta isn’t quite exactly that—moments of violence and intensity flare up—but having absorbed so many heavily plotted shows in the Mad Men/Sopranos mode, where multiple storylines unfold over several episodes, Atlanta always feels in the moment, even if the moment is often blurry. When Earn gets a cheque near the beginning of Season 2 for a dog he and Darius had delivered to someone in Season 1, I think that was the first time I was aware of a call-back to a previous episode.

The show’s low-key mood—“chill,” I think the kids call it—is reflected in the different shades of stoicism exhibited by the three male leads: Earn (wry stoicism), Al (hangdog stoicism), and, my favourite character, Darius (mystical stoicism). After two seasons, I’m still not sure what Darius’s job exactly is. Vanessa, Earn’s on-again/off-again partner (they have a daughter together, Lottie) doesn’t really share that—I’m tempted to say she’s the adult in the room, but in fact, each in their own way, the three men try to stay as focussed as she is and do the right thing. Al’s temper can be a problem, but the mere fact that he gets through the entirety of “Barbershop” without strangling Bibby suggests superhuman levels of self-restraint when he so desires.

Musically, I’ll put the hip-hop aside for now; it’s all new to me, a measure not of its obscurity but rather—something I’d point annually on my Pazz & Jop ballot when writing about whatever hip-hop song or two caught my attention that year—how poorly I’ve kept up with hip-hop the past decade (at least). I’ve already started collecting all those songs for a mix-CD. My favourite musical moment instead—my latest addition to the collection—was a very familiar voice from the distant past: Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” to close out S1’s “Juneteenth.”

Vanessa has dragged Earn to a party celebrating Juneteenth, hosted by a friend who may be able to give her some needed professional connections. (Van was recently fired from her job as a grade-school teacher for failing a drug test: only in Atlanta would her superior basically say, “Hey, no big deal, relax—rules say I’ve gotta fire you, though.”) Her friend, African-American, is married to a rather preposterous white guy on loan from Jordan Peele’s Get Out—except it’s not an act hiding more sinister motives, this guy really is that preposterous. (To be honest, too much so; he’d be just as effective as a comic prop if they reined him in a bit.) Both Earn and Van struggle through the party as best they can, until Earn’s had enough and he goes off on the hosts as they’re leaving. On the way home, rather than anger or disappointment, whatever love Van still has for Earn returns full force. “Pull over,” she says, and they park in the middle of nowhere, next to a forest; they kiss, Sam Cooke starts up, and the camera slowly pulls back on the car. Beautiful, and beautifully counterintuitive—the more obvious choice would have been “You Send Me,” or maybe even “Having a Party.” (But not “Cupid.”) Cooke’s voice rings.

Season 3 was originally supposed to start in January of 2021, but—like everything these days—it’s been put on hold until I don’t know when. (Supposedly they’ve just started filming S3.) Having just caught up myself, that’s fine—I guess many people have been waiting a long time. I hope they’re able to summon their inner Darius and find that reserve of oceanic calm that softens such disappointments. My favourite exchange of all, at the end of S2’s Drake episode (“Drake episode” in the Atlanta sense of that—he’s only a cardboard phantom):

Vanessa’s very stoned friend: “Can you help me stop thinking?”
Darius: (pause) “Perhaps.”

Drake’s Mexican

Come, Let’s Trod

Not something you’re eager to admit as a teacher: I never really knew (and was able to skate around the fact that I never really knew) how to teach a kid to read. I don’t mean teach language arts, which I did at the grade 6/7 level for 15 years. I could create and implement a novel study, coming up with the right mix of recall/interpret/connect questions; I could teach, as necessary, specific points of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech, etc.; and I could teach various forms of writing—from narrative to letters to poetry, etc.—and how to go about editing and improving your work. I was fine with all of that.

But taking a student who literally couldn’t read, and knowing how to diagnose what was holding him back and fixing that, I really didn’t have a set of strategies for that. My approach would be something like read with the student, sound out words, correct sparingly, and so forth—no more creative or effective than what a student would do himself if trying to teach a younger brother or sister to read. Like I say, I got by: it was extremely rare that a student got to grade 6 in my school without at least rudimentary, survival-level reading skills. And when I again encountered such students at the end of my time in the classroom, one or two per class when I went back to grade 3/4 my final three years, there were now devices and Google Read&Write to help both them and me muddle through.

In Education, my favourite of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series, a non-reader learns to read. It happens right near the end, and—perhaps mirroring my own limitations in making that mysterious process happen—the film elides the details. Twelve-year-old Kingsley is listening to other students read during his first day at a neighborhood West Indian school, a bulwark against the racial profiling of the London school system circa 1977, and then he’s reading to his parents at the dinner table in the next scene, with no indication of how much time has passed. Which is fine. I’ve written many times about how I hate crying in documentaries—the laziness of it, as filmmaking—but it’s never bothered me as a narrative device. When you catch a glimpse of tears welling up in Kingsley’s mother as she listens (dad registers something closer to amazement), an overwhelming scene becomes even more so. I’d like to think it’s much more than residual guilt that makes me feel that way.

One of my two book ideas that I hope to finish before I check out is an encyclopedia-type compendium of films with scenes set in schools. I want to approach the subject as a teacher, but if you were to limit yourself to things where the teacher is front and center, your pool of films would be drastically reduced. I think I have a workable way to organize such a book—I wouldn’t have anywhere near enough time to watch everything relevant, not at the rate I plod through films these days—and part of it would consist of longer pieces on my very favourite school-set films. If it ever happens, Education will be up in that pantheon, along with To Sir with Love, The 400 Blows, School of Rock, and a few others.

Education isn’t the key Small Axe film from a musical standpoint, but McQueen works in a couple of great scenes nonetheless, one of them strictly a joke. When Kingsley is sent to Durrants, a remedial school for “sub-normal” students (not exactly presented to his mother as such by the referring principal), one of his new teachers entertains the students Jack Black-style with an almost four-minute acoustic rendition of “House of the Rising Son.” I use “entertains” as a euphemism for “numbs them into docility”—most everyone in the class is asleep or doodling, with the notable exception of one spellbound girl who is seen earlier communicating solely via animal noises. The scene becomes more and more excruciating (and funny) the longer the song drags on—you mistakenly think the teacher’s finished three or four times—leading to a sublimely deadpan punchline that I hope the still-living Eric Burdon gets to see.

Before that, though, and more in keeping with this blog, the Small Faces’ “Lazy Sunday” for a scene inside the Durrants school bus. “Wouldn’t it be nice/To get on wif me neighbour?” Steve Marriott wonders, in a comically exaggerated Cockney accent inspired, according to Wikipedia, by an argument with the Hollies (all of them or one of them, I’m not sure). Inside the bus, a mosh pit: Kingsley is pushed laughing to the floor, students play-grapple in the aisles, school bags are tossed around. It’s all very reminiscent of the pillow fight in Jean Vigo’s Zéro de conduite, the anarchic impulses of childhood unleashed.* I don’t think I’d ever given much thought to “Lazy Sunday” before—“Itchycoo Park” is the one Small Faces song I swoon over, with one of the greatest videos-before-its-time ever (gone from YouTube, unfortunately)—but it has now been permanently wedded in my mind to this one scene.

I wanted to devote half this entry to Lovers Rock, the second Small Axe film, but Prime only has Education available right now. I’d try to contact them and argue how this makes no sense—it’s a series, no?—but I spent a month last summer banging my head against a wall over a Kindle issue, and I’m not eager to repeat that experience; they wear you down. But based on what I remember, I don’t know if I’ve seen a better example of the Breaking the Waves Rule** of soundtracking since Breaking the Waves itself. Detailed plot summary of Lovers Rock: some people go to a party, music is played, they dance. Maybe a bit more—there’s an attempted rape, and the racial confrontation that frames so much of the Small Axe films flares up briefly. But it’s almost entirely a DJ film, both the DJ spinning the records (can’t seem to find his name) and the DJ behind the camera. Together, they produce at least four musical cues that I’m still thinking about a month later: Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting” (everybody on the floor has special dance moves already worked out, just as they did with “Crocodile Rock” in Killing Eve), Janet Kay’s “Silly Games” (which comes with a lengthy, trance-like coda where the dancers take over the vocals a cappella), the Investigators’ “Turn Out the Light” (my major discovery from the film), and, maybe most memorable of all, the Revolutionaries’ “Kunta Kinte.” The kinship between reggae and punk in late-‘70s Britain have been amply documented, but I’ve never seen that connection illustrated so tangibly as when “Kunta Kinte” transforms one house party’s dancefloor into a CBGB-level war zone—violent, sinister, thrilling.

In terms of awards and year-end lists, Small Axe’s first episode, Mangrove, seemed to get the most attention; if nothing else, at two hours it’s the one that most resembles an actual film (the next four run about an hour each). I thought Mangrove was okay, but it felt a little schematic to me. Lovers Rock is superficially less ambitious, but I found it much richer. And I think McQueen knew exactly what he was doing by putting Education at the end. (The third and fourth episodes—Red, White and Blue, followed by Alex Wheatle—are fine, with musical moments of their own.) Everything that comes before is prologue; Kingsley, having finally gained access to words on a page, is now ready to go out into the world.

*There’s an earlier flash of chaos inside the classroom, when the teacher has stepped out for a few minutes; in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, where Diane Keaton teaches deaf children, there’s a similar scene when Keaton shows up late one day. Filmmakers don’t seem to place much faith in the self-control of students with academic challenges.

**For an explanation of the Breaking the Waves Rule, see the BlacKkKlansman entry elsewhere on this blog.

Come, Let’s Trod

Wanda Watch

I wandered into WandaVision on Disney a week ago with no clue about what it was, I just liked the look of an ad (not a trailer, just a still) which suggested some bizarro multimedia universe with heavy overtones of Pleasantville and maybe The Truman Show—a time travel of some sort through ’50s TV. Turns out it is some of those things and more (the ’50s is merely the start), but I’m so clueless I wasn’t even aware of Wanda’s origins in the world of Marvel superheroes. Oddly enough, the first two episodes didn’t make that at all clear (opening Marvel-themed credits notwithstanding). Continue reading “Wanda Watch”

Wanda Watch

Alexa, Play Some Faith Hill

Soon into Mr. Robot’s second season—I wrote about it way back at the beginning of this blog, five episodes into the first season—I bailed. I think it’s one of only three shows where I can say that: I only got two episodes into Fleabag (couldn’t take any more), and maybe halfway into Chernobyl (which was okay but a little too grim and slow for whatever frame of mind I was in at the time). I almost always find reasons to keep going—sometimes, sheer inertia is enough—and, in the end, I’m almost always glad I did.

You can now knock Mr. Robot off that list. I hadn’t suddenly started hating the show when I abandoned it; it was more that I’d waited too long between S1 and S2 (I was watching bootleg DVDs that surface on their own schedule), and at a certain point I was so lost that even Wikipedia episode summaries weren’t enough. When I came across it on Prime one day a few weeks ago—meaning I’d also have the advantage of closed captioning, something that helps me a lot—I decided it was a good time to make the plunge, and that I’d start over from the beginning and see it through this time no matter what.

Once again: glad I did, even if that feeling of being lost never really went away. I wish there were an overview somewhere that conveniently categorized the show’s entire run into three groups: things that definitely happened, things that didn’t really happen, and things where your guess is as good as ours. My own thumbnail summary, in the broadest strokes possible, would go something like this: S1 happens, S2 and S3 try to make S1 unhappen, and then S4, well, your guess is as good as mine.

One thing that definitely happened is that music became more prominent as S2 went along, producing at least a couple of sequences that I most definitely would have included in You Should’ve Heard Just What I Seen’s (book version) clipography. When I wrote about Mr. Robot five years ago, I settled on Tangerine Dream’s “Love on a Real Train” as the focus of the entry: atmospheric, Elliot and Darlene on the subway (subway imagery recurred throughout the show’s run), a nice allusion to Risky Business, but not especially memorable. The show’s first truly startling moment came the very next episode with Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s “Some Velvet Morning” right at the outset, but it was here and gone in the blink of an eye—promising, but give me more.

The next few episodes, carrying over into S2, had their moments: a few seconds of Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” in S1/E9 (Angela doing some research on Terry Colby, prefaced by Elliot saying “I’m ready to let go” and pushing Mr. Robot out the window—see Hal Hartley’s Simple Men for the full “Kool Thing” experience), Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” in S2/E2 (Scott Knowles setting fire to a bag of money; I’m indifferent to the song, but one of the best moments up to that point in the show’s run), Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” in S2/E3 (dramatically placed under the show’s opening title card), Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” in S2/E4 (barely audible as Darlene is seemingly followed after leaving the subway—loved its inclusion, but such a waste), and the Cramps’ “Garbageman” in S2/E7 (won’t even bother to check, but ditto). As these moments started to accumulate, it felt like the show was on the precipice of something really great. That finally happened in E8: Angela’s karaoke version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” intercut with fsociety (minus Elliot) trying to hack Susan Jacobs’ phone.

I had to check back for the exact details of what prefaces Angela’s karaoke turn…On a date with Andre (an undercover FBI agent), she runs into a friend of her father’s who blindsides her—with extreme disgust and prejudice—over her job with E Corp. “That can’t be an easy pill for him to swallow,” he hisses; “For you, though, swallowing’s not really a problem now, is it?” After a cut back to fsociety as they hash out what to do with Jacobs, a visibly shaken Angela takes the microphone and softly, in a broken, distracted near-whisper, held in close-up for the duration, sings the Tears for Fears song. “Welcome to your life” she begins, immediately cutting to a shot of an unconscious and bound Jacobs, her back to the camera.

Like so many great moments in Mr. Robot—perhaps surprising for such a unique show—the scene has an instantaneously recognizable pedigree, the same one that every karaoke scene from now till the end of time will have: Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. (Elsewhere, there are allusions to Natural Born Killers, The Exorcist, 2001, The Parallax View, Boogie Nights, and others; in the karaoke scene, lurking around the edges, there’s also a bit of Donnie Darko, which uses a cover of “Mad World” for one of those “Wise Up,” checking-in-on-every-character montages.) Murray’s “More Than This” isn’t all that different in tone than Angela’s rendition of “Everybody,” but whereas Murray is in the middle of one of the great nights of his life, Angela is singing from a place of despair and humiliation. She never really emerged from there for the rest of her time on the show, which ended sooner than I ever would have guessed at that point.

That one scene alone would have made this rewatch worth the time, but after a few more episodes, there was another one—two scenes, actually, bookends using the same song—in the third episode of S3. The Dark Army has squirrelled away Tyrell Wellick—the show’s most utterly unfathomable character for me from start to finish—in some rustic cabin retreat to keep him on ice for some undetermined (by me, anyway) reason. Irving (Bobby Cannavale off in his own show—he’s weirdly great), keeping watch over Tyrell, takes him outside and introduces him to the therapeutic value of chopping wood: “This is the best way to get you centered—balance is key.” Turns out Tyrell’s a natural, having done this as a kid. “That’s even better,” mutters Irving, and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” starts up. As the song plays, we cut between Tyrell in front of a computer, looking at images and videos of the wife and the son he’s lost—he doesn’t know yet that both are dead—and more shots of him chopping wood. Sometimes he’s seen sticking push pins into a map. I can’t remember why.

You can only appreciate the brilliantly surreal beauty of this scene in the context of the rest of Mr. Robot. In a universe mostly comprised of shadowy urban settings and computer screens filled with row upon row of impenetrable code, you’re suddenly out in the country chopping wood in the bright sunshine. The song stops, some other stuff happens, and then Lightfoot returns, with Tyrell (now bearded) chopping more wood and pushing more pins. There’s such an imaginative, puzzling disconnect to it all: “If You Could Read My Mind” fits the scene perfectly, while the scene fits nothing.

After that, for the rest of S3 and into S4, there wasn’t anything musically that turned me around like those two songs. Dramatically, S4 was all over the place, with far too much grandiloquent speechifying as Elliot and Whiterose and Mr. Robot were forever trying to find the words that would explain everything: the significance of the hack, the hidden dynamics of power, the meaning of existence. And they flubbed the obvious ending, skating right by it for another two or three episodes. When Darlene and Dom sat in the park and Darlene completed the takedown of the Deus Group (“I want to show you something…”), everything that had been set into motion in S1 came to a complete and satisfying conclusion. The funds are transferred and dispersed, Darlene and Dom board their plane to Budapest, and that’s that—I wouldn’t even care about all the other stuff that would have been left unresolved. That, or else go back for some more Gordon Lightfoot and a final shot of Tyrell chopping wood. I would have been okay with that too.

Alexa, Play Some Faith Hill

A Presidency that haunts my reverie

I was pretty taken by Jimmy Carter, Rock ‘n’ Roll President, a CNN production that played a few weeks back but which I just watched yesterday. My memories of Carter as President (I turned 12 in 1976) do exist but are dim. I recall more about his emergence as a surprise Presidential contender than I do anything in particular about his time in office. There’s a vague recollection, immediately following his victory, of a collective “who’da-thunk?” I know, sounds scarily familiar, but at the time this was a good thing, certainly from my perspective. My parents were down-the-line liberals, and Carter had an air of decency about him (a little cartoonish, too, which never hurts when you’re 12) that seemed slightly unusual, even to someone for whom Watergate was mostly just a weirdly compelling if largely incomprehensible TV drama. Continue reading “A Presidency that haunts my reverie”

A Presidency that haunts my reverie

A Lot Cooler if You Did

Just finished Alright, Alright, Alright, Melissa Maerz’s oral history of Dazed and Confused, a Christmas gift from my sister and brother-in-law. Not my favourite way to tell a story, but there’s a lot in there I liked.

Richard Linklater comes across as extremely thoughtful. That’s to be expected, I guess, it’s his film, but when you set his commentary alongside that of his cast and crew, his consistently stands apart for its insight and understanding. Maerz accentuates the age difference between Linklater and most of the cast (~10 years), and that very much comes through in the way they view the film. The one instance where I thought everyone else was a step or two ahead of Linklater was in the film’s relationship to nostalgia. Linklater wanted to make a film that mocks and debunks the idea of nostalgia, yielding such famous lines as Pink’s “All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.” But as Mark Duplass (an admirer of the film, not a participant) puts it, “It’s a god-awful failure of an anti-nostalgia movie…From the minute Rick goes into slow motion at the moon tower, and you hear that Lynyrd Skynyrd song ‘Tuesday’s Gone,’ it’s like, ‘Come on, Rick. Like it or not you are telling us this party is ending, and you’re feeling melancholic about it, and you miss this.’”

Great chapter on how difficult and disliked Shawn Andrews was, the aspiring-Brando who played Pickford in the film (it’s his party that gets derailed by the too-early keg delivery). He and Milla Jovovich—who were inseparable during the shoot—were the only two prominent non-participants in the book, the reason for which is pretty evident: everyone hated them.

Also good—a staple of any making-of book (I’ve read at least a half-dozen of them, going back to Lillian Ross’s Picture)—is the never-ending, hopelessly short-sighted push-and-pull between Linklater and the studio people overseeing production. The filmmaker sets out to make The Passion of Joan of Arc, the powers that be want to turn it into National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Anybody who’s ever tried to do something creative under watchful eyes from above knows what this is like, and major film studios (Dazed and Confused was made for Universal) are infamously meddlesome. Sometimes Linklater wins, sometimes not—and when he loses, sometimes that works out fine anyway.

Maybe the only part of the book I didn’t like—and it accounts for, I don’t know, 10-15% of the what the cast remembers about the film—are tales of all the drinking and drugging that went on during the shoot. I had the same problem with the Replacements biography Trouble Boys, conceding that such stories felt crucial to that book—the Replacements were still doing the same stuff in 1987 that they were doing in 1982, and that’s what made their implosion so sad. (To the point that you actually felt sympathetic to the watchful eyes from above.) As memorable as such stories might be to the participants (I have a few too), reading them can be quite tedious before long.

The most interesting chapter for me, no surprise, was the one devoted to Dazed and Confused’s soundtrack. (Making this the second consecutive making-of book I’ve read, following Glenn Kenny’s excellent Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas, with a soundtrack chapter. I’m really happy about this. I’m also, I won’t lie, waving forlornly and mumbling, “Hey, over here.”) Lots more of those push-and-pull negotiations—the chapter’s title, “Instead of Led Zeppelin, How About…Jackyl?”, explains all—various reflections on how the music colours the film, and, best of all, the complete songlist for the proposed soundtrack (i.e., including all the songs that were cut for one reason or another), which Linklater assembled and sent out as a double-mixtape to cast members before shooting began. If you’ve seen the film, you know what’s there; here’s what got dropped along the way.

“Thunderbird,” ZZ Top
“D’yer Mak’er,” Led Zeppelin
“Fight the Power,” Isley Brothers
“Dream On,” Aerosmith
“Love Rollercoaster,” Ohio Players
“Radar Love,” Golden Earring
“Rock and Roll,” Led Zeppelin
“Strange Magic,” Electric Light Orchestra
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” Bruce Springsteen
“Love Is the Drug,” Roxy Music
“Golden Years,” David Bowie
“Sky High,” Jigsaw
“Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Woman from Tokyo,” Deep Purple
“Fallin’ in Love,” Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds
“Break Up to Make Up,” Stylistics
“Communication Breakdown,” Led Zeppelin
“You See Me Crying,” Aerosmith
“Evil Woman,” Electric Light Orchestra
“Dazed and Confused,” Led Zeppelin
“Backdoor Medley,” ZZ Top

Where to begin? A year ago on this blog, I was complaining about Tarantino’s soundtrack for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (while also acknowledging the two or three musical cues I loved): basically, that he was narrowly fixated on recreating a playlist from KHJ, L.A.’s most popular Top-40 station at the time—with an emphasis on the station’s quirkier, in-house favourites—and that this caused him to put an idea ahead of the actual music. No “Crimson or Clover” or “Dizzy” or “Bad Moon Rising” or any number of incredible songs that would have defined the summer of ‘69, but instead a mishmash of mostly trifles. (I’m in the minority here: most people seem to have loved Once Upon a Time’s soundtrack.)

Linklater starts from somewhere else: “I didn’t want to make the book retrospectively cooler, based on my adult taste,” he recounts in the book. “Like, I wasn’t gonna put Big Star on there, because I didn’t know who Big Star was when I was in high school.” When I look at that list of songs above, what immediately jumps out is how ubiquitous at least half of them were: “Dream On,” “Love Rollercoaster,” “Love Is the Drug,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” all the Led Zeppelin songs…it’s a complete 180 from Tarantino’s approach, putting all considerations to the side except for what actually was.

Is there a contradiction there? I guess you could just as easily argue that Linklater too was caught up in an idea—stick to the songs that were everywhere—one that led him to a lot of stuff that has been rendered hollow through overplay on classic-rock stations. I can see that—some of those songs I still love, some are dead to me. Further confusing the issue, Dylan’s “Hurricane” did make the cut for the Emporium scene; early in the book someone notes that the song was indeed on the real-life Emporium’s jukebox, and was therefore presumably included for its verisimilitude, but later on the song’s thematic links to the Wooderson character are noted. For me, it’s probably the worst and most anomalous song in the film: if Linklater was adhering to his quest for accuracy, it was a dubious choice in service of that, but if he was more interested in the song as a comment on one of the characters, well, it was still a bad choice. I’m going in circles here, I know.

In the end, I think the film’s soundtrack probably benefited from dodging an overload of uber-familiarity. I would have loved to have heard “Woman from Tokyo” in there (an instance where Linklater did bypass the obvious default and opt for something less familiar; “Highway Star” would have been just as good), but “Love Is the Drug” and “Golden Years” I can happily do without, and “Sweet Home Alabama” already belongs to Nicole Kidman dancing by the light of her car in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. No need to explain why Linklater had to give up on Led Zeppelin, although the chain of events is a little more complicated than just money. But no Jackyl, either. When you lose, sometimes that works out fine anyway.

A Lot Cooler if You Did


cover collage-3

Because I’m very much about cross-platform promotion, this is the Facebook countdown for the “clipography” found in the book that’s based on this blog. I posted the list on Facebook last summer, just after You Should’ve Heard Just What I Seen came out, five posts of 20 songs each (29 in the first one). It was meant to spark interest in the book, obviously, but it was also an addendum to an addendum, because in the book the clipography is organized alphabetically rather than as a countdown. Two reasons: it was the last thing that was finalized, so at that point I just wanted to finish up and not spend another week or two deciding whether I liked #53 better than #52; also—and I’m not sure how consciously I thought about this—I wanted the clipography to look like the discography in Stranded, an alphabetical mix of shorter and longer entries, plus some with no comment at all, if they were already covered inside. So even if you bought the book—maybe especially if you bought the book—the Facebook countdown (which I didn’t in fact fuss over at all; I ranked everything very quickly, in part based on spacing out the accompanying Zoomcasts Scott Woods and I had completed to that point) would have interest.

Well…maybe; Facebook has a way of signaling otherwise. But I should have posted the list here, also—just slipped my mind.

109. Flirting (1991) – “With a Girl Like You,” the Troggs
108. My Friend Dahmer (2017) – “Love Hasn’t Been Here,” Michael Stanley Band
107. Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (1972) – “Hangman Hang My Shell on a Tree,” Spooky Tooth
106. Carrie (1976) – “Heat Wave,” Martha & the Vandellas
105. Breaking the Waves (1996) – “Life on Mars,” David Bowie
104. New Waterford Girl (1999) – “Draggin’ the Line,” Tommy James
103. Girlhood (2014) – “Diamonds,” Rihanna
102. Easy Rider (1969) – “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” the Byrds
101. Melvin and Howard (1980) – “Fortunate Son,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
100. Jesus’ Son (1999) – “Misty Blue,” Dorothy Moore
99. Scorpio Rising (1963) – “I Will Follow Him,” Little Peggy March
98. Killing Eve (“Desperate Times,” 2019) – “Where Evil Grows,” the Poppy Family
97. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) – “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” Thelma Houston
96. Crumb (1994) – “Last Kind Word Blues,” Geeshie Wiley
95. L.I.E. (2001) – “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” Donovan
94. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011) – “She’s a Rainbow,” the Rolling Stones
93. Over the Edge (1979) – “Surrender,” Cheap Trick
92. Stroszek (1977) – “Hootin’ the Blues,” Sonny Terry
91. Mid90s (2018) – “Passin’ Me By,” the Pharcyde
90. Vinyl (1965) – “Nowhere to Run,” Martha & the Vandellas
89. Saturday Night Fever (1977) – “More Than a Woman,” Tavares
88. Pink Flamingos (1972) – “The Girl Can’t Help It,” Little Richard
87. The Big Short (2015) – “When the Levee Breaks,” Led Zeppelin
86. Barbara Rubin and the Exploding NY Underground (2018) – “I Happen to Love You,” the Myddle Class
85. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) – “Rapper’s Delight,” the Sugarhill Gang
84. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) – “Amoreena,” Elton John
83. The Royal Tennenbaums (2001) – “Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” Paul Simon
82. Mrs. America (“Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc,” 2020) – “Free to Be You and Me,” the New Seekers
81. Alice in the Cities (1974) – “On the Road Again,” Canned Heat
80. The Leftovers (“Two Boats and a Helicopter,” 2014) – “Love Will Keep Us Together,” the Captain & Tennille
79. Quadrophenia (1979) – “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” the Who
78. Taxi Driver (1976) – “Late for the Sky,” Jackson Browne
77. Dream Tower (1994) – “Reach Out of the Darkness,” Friend & Lover
76. Something Wild (1986) – “Wild Thing,” The Troggs
75. The Rules of Attraction (2002) – “Colours,” Donovan
74. Mindhunter (“Episode 4,” 2017) – “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” Klaatu
73. Heart Like a Wheel (1983) – “Happy Together,” the Turtles
72. Clueless (1995) – “Tenderness,” General Public
71. Hairspray (1988) – “The Madison Time – Part 1,” Ray Bryant Combo
70. Eighth Grade (2018) – “Orinoco Flow,” Enya
69. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997) – “Time After Time,” Cyndi Lauper
68. Boyz n the Hood (1991) – “O-o-h Child,” the Five Stairsteps
67. I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) – “Do You Believe in Magic,” the Lovin’ Spoonful
66. Jungle Fever (1991) – “Living for the City,” Stevie Wonder
65. American Hustle (2013) – “10538 Overture,” Electric Light Orchestra
64. Jackie Brown (1997) – “Tennessee Stud,” Johnny Cash
63. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” B.J. Thomas
62. Joker (2019) – “Rock and Roll Part 2,” Gary Glitter
61. Baseball (1994) – “Get Together,” the Youngbloods
60. St. Vincent (2014) – “Shelter from the Storm,” Bob Dylan
59. The Squid and the Whale (2005) – “Courting Blues,” Bert Jansch
58. Goin’ Down the Road (1970) – “Goin’ Down the Road,” Bruce Cockburn
57. Something in the Air (2012) – “Decadence,” Kevin Ayers
56. Fargo (“Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” 2015) – “Locomotive Breath,” Jethro Tull
55. To Die For (1995) – “Season of the Witch,” Donovan
54. Malcolm X (1992) – “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke
53. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) – “The Circle Game,” Buffy Sainte-Marie
52. Pose (“Mother of the Year,” 2018) – “Holding Back the Years,” Simply Red
51. Big Little Lies (“Once Bitten,” 2017) – “Ball and Chain,” Big Brother & the Holding Company
50. Ghost World (2001) – “Jaan Pehechan Ho,” Mohammed Rafi
49. 20th Century Women (2016) – “Nervous Breakdown,” Black Flag
48. Ozark (“The Badger,” 2018) – “Wichita Lineman,” Glen Campbell
47. Fish Tank (2009) – “Life’s a Bitch,” Nas
46. American Beauty (1999) – “American Woman,” the Guess Who
45. Dazed and Confused (1993) – “Sweet Emotion,” Aerosmith
44. Better Call Saul (“Mabel,” 2003) – “Sugar Town,” Nancy Sinatra
43. The Color of Money (1986) – “Werewolves of London,” Warren Zevon
42. American Graffiti (1973) – “Book of Love,” the Monotones
41. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – “Sleeping Angel,” Stevie Nicks
40. Wild Palms (“Hungry Ghosts,” 1993) – “No Expectations,” the Rolling Stones
39. Sharp Objects (“Falling,” 2018) – “Down in the Willow Garden,” the Everly Brothers
38. Goodfellas (1990) – “Sunshine of Your Love,” Cream
37. Lost in Translation (2003) – “Just Like Honey,” the Jesus & Mary Chain
36. Up the Junction (1968) – “Need Your Love,” Maureen Lipman & Adrienne Posta
35. Stranger Things (“The Gate,” 2017) – “Time After Time,” Cyndi Lauper
34. Almost Famous (2000) – “Tiny Dancer,” Elton John
33. Simple Men (1992) – “Kool Thing,” Sonic Youth
32. Six Feet Under (“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” 2002) – “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Blue Oyster Cult
31. The Regular Lovers (2005) – “This Time Tomorrow,” the Kinks
30. Reservoir Dogs (1992) – “Stuck in the Middle with You,” Stealers Wheel
29. Freaks and Geeks (“Discos and Dragons,” 2000) – “Box of Rain,” the Grateful Dead
28. The Social Network (2010) – “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” the Beatles
27. Friday Night Lights (“Who Do You Think You Are?” 2008) – “Now That I Know,” Devendra Banhart
26. American Honey (2016) – “Fade into You,” Mazzy Star
25. Mean Streets (1973) – “Rubber Biscuit,” the Chips
24. Marie Antoinette (2006) – “Hong Kong Garden,” Siouxsie & the Banshees
23. BlacKkKlansman (2018) – “Too Late to Turn Back Now,” Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
22. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) – “I Just Want to Have Something to Do,” the Ramones
21. Breaking Bad (“Half Measures,” 2010) – “Windy,” the Association
20. Zodiac (2007) – “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” Donovan
19. Carlos (2010) – “Sonic Reducer,” the Dead Boys
18. The Sopranos (“Stage 5,” 2007) – “Evidently Chickentown,” John Cooper Clarke
17. Boogie Nights (1997) – “Magnet and Steel,” Walter Egan
16. Our Nixon (2013) – “They Don’t Know,” Tracey Ullman
15. Aloha, Bobby and Rose (1975) – “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” Jr. Walker & the All Stars
14. The Graduate (1967) – “April, Come She Will,” Simon & Garfunkel
13. Midnight Cowboy (1969) – “Everybody’s Talkin’,” Harry Nilsson
12. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) – “Winter Lady,” Leonard Cohen
11. Help! (1965) – “Ticket to Ride,” the Beatles
10. Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) – “El Watusi,” Ray Barretto
9. Cold Water (1994) – “Up Around the Bend,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
8. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) – “What the World Needs Now,” Jackie DeShannon
7. To Sir with Love (1967) – “It’s Getting Harder All the Time,” Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders
6. Rushmore (1998) – “Making Time,” the Creation
5. The Virgin Suicides (1999) – “Hello It’s Me,” Todd Rundgren/“Alone Again (Naturally),” Gilbert O’Sullivan/“Run to Me,” the Bee Gees/“So Far Away,” Carole King
4. Mad Men (“In Care Of,” 2013) – “Both Sides Now,” Judy Collins
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – “Heroes,” David Bowie
2. Adventureland (2009) – “Unsatisfied,” the Replacements
1. School of Rock (2003) – “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” the Ramones

I’m going to make this list open-ended and add to it as I come across new things (or remember things I forgot the first time) that I’m pretty sure I would have included in the book. I’ll just tack them on at the end here, numbered chronologically but not ranked.

110. Mr. Robot (“,” 2017) – “If You Could Read My Mind,” Gordon Lightfoot
111. Small Axe (“Education,” 2020) – “Lazy Sunday,” the Small Faces
112. The Last Days of Disco (1998) – “Everybody Dance,” Chic
113. Atlanta (“Juneteenth,” 2016) – “Chain Gang,” Sam Cooke
114. The Handmaid’s Tale (“Liars,” 2019) – “Cloudbusting,” Kate Bush
115. Velvet Goldmine (1998) – “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” Brian Eno
116. Georgy Girl (1966) – “Georgy Girl,” the New Seekers


Making Time

“Making Time”—that was under consideration at one point as a potential name for this blog.

As I mentioned in a couple of those last few entries (going back to March and April), I was in the process of turning the blog into a self-published book. The book came out in late June (You Should’ve Heard Just What I Seen, just like the name we eventually did settle on), and once that happened, Scott—who co-launched the blog with me five years ago—put all the posts into safekeeping, so as not to interfere with sales and undermine the book’s chances at making the New York Times Bestseller List.

The book is available on Amazon, either in Canada or in the U.S. As an ongoing extension to that, I’ve been talking to Scott via Zoom about the 109 songs and movies/shows that are included in the book’s clipography. We’re 30-35 songs into it; you can locate those here. They’re excellent—start with the first minute of the Everybody Wants Some!! to get an idea of why they’re more than just conversations.


Making Time