Category Archives: Pop Culture

Ninja Turtles, Siberian Cities, Supreme Court Rulings, and The Music Of Trees: MidWeek Links To Enlighten


It’s Wednesday, it’s hot, and it feels like summer’s languid ennui is finally settling in for good. So let’s keep it fast and easy by exploring some of the most interesting and entertaining goings on out there on the interwebs these days…

T-U-R-T-L-E Power: The second official trailer for the much (well…kinda) anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles August blockbuster is here. God help us.

As a massive fan of the original cartoon series and the films from 1990 and 1991, I just can’t stand to see yet another Michael Bayification of my childhood. I know I’m not the target audience here, okay. But…seriously? At the risk of sounding all “GET OFF MY LAWN,” why do The Turtles need high-tech weaponry that makes the Call Of Duty dudes look like a bunch of backyard Boyscouts? And why the hell does Shredder have to manifest as some kind of superhuman, Transformers reject that probably needs the entire weight of the United States Armed Forces to give him so much as a sprained ankle? Can’t we just be fine with a badass, evil ninja who wears a menacing (non-CGI) costume and fights a badass mutant rat on the backstreets of New York? Oh, and speaking of Splinter, you’ll notice that he no longer sports an Asian accent. Nothing against Tony Shalhoub (who lends his voice to this most recent iteration) but the anglicization of Splinter not only betrays the series’ roots but is yet another slight to a wealth of Asian-American acting talent, which Hollywood apparently just loves to do. Like I said…God help us all. Check out the trailer below:


Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go: Speaking of The Ninja Turtles, here’s a hilarious video from the geniuses at Screen Junkies highlighting the most embarrassing moments from the entire TMNT franchise (and there are plenty). Remember their touring musical act? Or when they appeared on Oprah? Well, these guys do.


The Silence of Scorsese: Making the transition from hack, trope-laden filmmakers to celebrated sages, here’s a wonderful (and short) video essay from filmmaker Tony Zhou about the ways in which Martin Scorsese uses silence for sublime emotional resonance. From the Vimeo description:

“Even though Martin Scorsese is famous for his use of music, one of his best traits is his deliberate and powerful use of silence. Take a glimpse at fifty years of this simple technique from one of cinema’s masters. For educational purposes only.”

After watching the clip below make sure to check out Zhou’s most excellent Tumblr Every Frame a Painting. Damn, how I wish this guy had been around when I was in film school.


The New “R” Word: No matter where you stand on the whole Washington Redskins name kerfuffle, you should definitely read this short piece from Esquire about the real history of the term. And guess what? It’s not what you think.

The Music Of Trees: Now this is just too damn cool. What you’re about to hear is an excerpt from the record Years, which is the creation of one Bartholomäus Traubeck. It’s seven recordings made from the rings of Austrian trees, including Oak, Maple, Walnut, and Beech. The clip below is the sound of an Ash tree’s “year ring data.” Here’s a nice little descriptive blurb from The Mind Unleashed blog:

Keep in mind that the tree rings are being translated into the language of music, rather than sounding musical in and of themselves. Traubeck’s one-of-a-kind record player uses a PlayStation Eye Camera and a stepper motor attached to its control arm. It relays the data to a computer with a program called Ableton Live. What you end up with is an incredible piano track, and in the case of the Ash, a very eerie one.

We do indeed live in amazing times…


Does The Cold Even Bother Them Anyway? You’ve probably never heard of Norilsk. Located in Siberia, it’s the world’s northernmost city of more than 100,000, and not only does it take home the title for one of the coldest cities on Earth, but its nickel ore smelting industry has also made it one of the most polluted. Check out this beautiful photo essay from io9. Here’s something to whet your appetite:



They Fought The Law, And The Law Won: Finally, in a decision that I had been anticipating for weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Aereo Inc. violated copyrights on programming. This is a huge blow to not only an ambitious and innovative tech startup, but also to the broader evolution of common sense, on-demand television options for discerning American consumers. To avoid getting too technical and long winded, here’s a succinct nuts-and-bolts summary of the case from today’s Wall Street Journal:

The ruling is a potentially deadly blow to Aereo, whose technology promised a new—and cheaper—way of watching television that threatened the broadcast ecosystem. The decision bolsters broadcasters’ leverage over the deployment of new technologies for watching television programming.

The court’s 6-3 ruling blocks a company whose goals were to upend long-standing models for how broadcast programming is delivered to consumers. The service, which appealed to cord cutters seeking Internet-based alternatives to cable TV, allowed subscribers paying as little as $8 a month to watch and record their local over-the-air broadcasts from an array of electronic devices.

Since setting out on my own in 2001, I have never paid (and will never pay) for a cable subscription. Not because I’m one of those “KILL YOUR TV, MAN!” iconoclasts (there’s a lot of fantastic television out there), but because I just never saw the need to fork over $100-plus per month for a bloated bouquet of programing that could just as easily be found either through old-fashioned rabbit ears or new-fashioned streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. To that end, I am Aereo’s prime target consumer. I would have gladly spent $8 per month (was waiting for the option to do so, in fact) for quality local programming that not only allowed me to bypass the tedium of hauling out my shitty digital antenna every time I wanted to catch an Eagles game, but also gave me the option of pre-recording shows and watching them on wireless devices like my phone and iPad at my leisure.

This ruling comes as a great disappointment. Because of antiquated FCC verbiage and an unrelenting desire for cable companies to maintain their gross monopolies, it looks like I’ll just have to continue pirating. Way to go guys. Yet another example of technology being decades ahead of bloated and antiquated bureaucracies.

In closing, here is the unabridged email message sent out today by Aereo CEO and founder, Chet Kanojia, who’s probably feeling pretty much awful right now. I urge you to read it, whether you’re a cable subscriber or not:

“Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry.  It is troubling that the Court states in its decision that, ‘to the extent commercial actors or other interested entities may be concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.’ (Majority, page 17) That begs the question: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?”

“Consumer access to free-to-air broadcast television is an essential part of our country’s fabric. Using an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television is still meaningful for more than 60 million Americans across the United States.  And when new technology enables consumers to use a smarter, easier to use antenna, consumers and the marketplace win. Free-to-air broadcast television should not be available only to those who can afford to pay for the cable or satellite bundle.”

“Justice Scalia’s dissent gets it right. He calls out the majority’s opinion as ‘built on the shakiest of foundations.’ (Dissent, page 7)  Justice Scalia goes on to say that ‘The Court vows that its ruling will not affect cloud-storage providers and cable television systems, see ante, at 16-17, but it cannot deliver on that promise given the imprecision of its results-driven rule.’ (Dissent, page 11)

“We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done.  We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world.”

Is Everything Really Just A Remix: Plagiarism vs. Inspiration


Last week I wrote a post about recent revelations that longtime journalist Chris Hedges has, for some time now, been lifting other writers’ words and passing them off as his own. The whole matter seemed pretty cut and dry. Plagiarism is an ill born of some unknowable combination of laziness, ignorance, and hubris. But then I stumbled upon an interesting (and very well-made) video series called Everything Is A Remix, and I’m curious about where we draw the line between stealing someone else’s work and, well, using previous work as a springboard for (suspiciously identical) inspiration.

I’ve only seen the first two videos in the series so far, but from what I can tell the premise is quite compelling: What do we do when we realize that all art is, in fact, derivative? For instance, fans of Led Zeppelin (myself included) shouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of the band’s most celebrated songs—including “Stairway To Heaven” and  “Dazed and Confused”—are pretty much direct, unattributed ripoffs of songs that came before them. Ever heard of this guy?

A bit more startling was to watch some of the uncanny instances where George Lucas used shots and conceits from several other films in making Star Wars: Episode IV. And he isn’t the only one. As Remix narrator and filmmaker Kirby Ferguson points out, Hollywood (and the music industry, for that matter) has made billions by way of recycling old material, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

To be sure, Everything Is A Remix does not set itself up as a defense of plagiarism—and neither does this blog post. But I think it’s worth exploring some of the nuances between purloining the intellectual property of others and using that property in an interesting (fair?) way to go on and make newer iterations.

What’s more, I’m left wondering how to feel about the issue when I’m confronted with instances wherein artists I love and admire seem to be lifting material quite unapologetically for their own purposes. Consider, for instance, the insanely obvious parallels between Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Ryan Adams’ “Hotel Chelsea Nights.” I mean, shit. It’s like Adams was writing the exact same song with different words.

Or consider this 2012 LA Times article that looks at the many instances where, throughout his career, Bob Dylan has been accused of plagiarizing the songs and lyrics of those who came before him. In response, Dylan made some interesting declarations about the organic and muddied nature of the issue. Like this:

Dylan added: “I’m working within my art form. It’s that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it.”

This issue will never go away. In fact, in the internet age—where so much material is so easily shared and repurposed—I have a suspicion that the conversation will only grow fiercer and more challenging. In the meantime, check out the first two parts of Everything Is A Remix below (and visit the site for more—it’s worth it). I’d love to get your thoughts.

Baseball Tonight: A Reflection On Ken Burns


I went to a Phillies game tonight with my good friend Joe Master. And even though the team isn’t exactly electric right now, it was—as always—a pleasure to spend some time at the ballpark with an old friend, munching on dollar dogs, catching up on all of life’s complexities, and enjoying a sport that holds more innumerable sublimities and subtleties than one could ever hope to know fully in a lifetime.

As I sit here on my porch at the close of the evening, I think back to Ken Burns’ impossibly spectacular documentary Baseball, which I count as one of the most culturally informative pieces of work I have ever seen. I had the pleasure of meeting Burns two years ago when he spoke at Rowan University. Here’s a brief article I wrote about the experience. If you only want a taste, here’s something he said that night. He, like the sport he so beautifully documented, is an American treasure.

Just before showing us an exclusive preview clip from The Roosevelts, a work-in-progress that follows the story of the American political family, Burns said, “Think about the person closest to you in your life. A husband or a wife. They remain inscrutable to the end. There’s always something unknowable about the person closest to us, which makes all biography, in a way, a failure. How can you possibly take someone who has been dead for decades and bring him to life when you don’t even know the person you sleep next to at night? That’s a fact of human beings. But we wouldn’t be human beings if we didn’t try, if we didn’t rage against the dying of the light and try to make stories.”

Doctor Who Marathon: The Krotons


Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: David Maloney
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 47
Number of Episodes: 4
Season: 6

When I first started digging into classic Doctor Who last October (in preparation for the upcoming 50th Anniversary special) I scoured the web for blogs that could help point me in the direction of some of the series’ most essential stories. The goal was to watch at least one episode from every Doctor’s era (including the 1996 TV movie), and with 239 stories from which to choose I needed a little guidance. If you’re interested, here’s a great Doctor-by-Doctor guide from The Nerdist and another from

What I didn’t understand at first was why some of these stories were so universally celebrated. For instance, everyone just raved and raved about “Tomb Of The Cybermen,” but when I got around to watching this Troughton classic I left the story feeling kinda…meh. I just didn’t see the big deal. Now, 43 stories into my marathon, I can officially say that I get it, and “The Krotons” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

This story marks the first effort from writer Robert Holmes, who would go on to pen a host of celebrated classics like “Pyramids of Mars”, “The Deadly Assassin”, and “The Caves of Androzani.” Holmes is widely regarded as one of the show’s most interesting and engaging writers, a fact that gave me a false sense of hope going into “The Krotons.” With Homles’ name attached to it I figured this one had to be pretty good. Alas, my expectations were left sadly unmatched by the story.

The thing is “The Krotons” isn’t a bad story. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot worse. It’s relatively taut (only four episodes long) and the plot moves along at a rather brisk clip. But on the whole it’s a more-or-less mediocre romp that, to my mind, serves to remind us why other stories in the classic Who oeuvre are considered to be veritable masterpieces by comparison. A story like “Tomb of the Cybermen” not only provides us with a haunting plot, menacing villains, and very clever direction, but it also gives us some intriguing new layers to the Doctor’s character and an internal conflict between saving the day and satisfying his insatiable lust for knowledge (a compelling conceit that is often a hallmark of what makes contemporary Doctor Who stories so fascinating). Consider, for instance, this brilliant bit of introspection from “Tomb of the Cybermen”:

“The Krotons”, by comparison, doesn’t have anything of the sort.

The Plot: Coming off a particularly harrowing Earth adventure (the most excellent “The Invasion“) the TARDIS appears on a planet inhabited by the Gonds, a somewhat primitive human-like race ruled and enslaved by aliens called Krotons. As legend has it, the Krotons’ ship—the Dynatrope—crash-landed on the Gonds’ planet thousands of years ago, and they’ve been in charge ever since.

The Krotons (1)

I am a Kroton. If you make any jokes about putting me on a salad I will disperse you immediately!

But no Gond has ever seen a Kroton. Instead, the Krotons maintain control over the planet’s indigenous people by educating them through a mysterious computer that only teaches them as much as the Krotons want them to know (knowledge of advanced weaponry and corrosive chemicals, for instance, is strictly verboten). Every so often two of the best Gond students are chosen to become “companions of the Krotons.” They’re invited into the Dynatrope, which every Gond thinks is a pretty cool honor, but all it really means is that the chosen Gonds are drained of their mental energy and then killed with some kind of insidious gas. Bummer.

After some time The Doctor eventually figures out what’s going on. The Krotons are in a state of suspended animation and are only interested in absorbing mental power from the smartest Gonds. When they’ve built up enough of the brainy stuff they can re-materialize, fix their ship, and get the hell back to Krotonville. But of course their plan goes tits up when The Doctor arrives, eventually destroying the Krotons and their Dynatrope with sulphuric acid.

The Pros: Like so many classic Who stories, this one starts off with a promisingly mysterious premise. Why the hell is everyone so eager to be chosen for a one-way ticket to Kroton companionship? It’s a conceit that drew me in immediately, and it’s not until the third episode—once we get an actual look at the K Monsters—that the mystery unravels and is replaced by a more literal LET’S KILL ‘EM plot. Also, Jamie has a pretty bad ass moment in the first episode when he opts to fight one of the Gonds and dismisses the option to use a weapon. “I won’t be needing that, thank you.” Yeah Jamie. Rock on.

The Cons: I often fall into the trap of assuming these classic stories are going to unfold in a manner that I’ve come to expect from the show’s contemporary iteration. For instance, if this were a Doctor Who story being written today, The Doctor would not merely be content with destroying the Krotons. Sure, they’ve enslaved an entire race for thousands of years and throttled their intellectual evolution at the service of their own needs. But come on. All they want is to go home. Are they not even slightly justified? It would have been much more interesting if The Doctor decided to not only help the Gonds free themselves from bondage but to also assist the Krotons in their effort to get back to where they once belonged (everybody wins!), setting up a fascinating conflict between the Gonds’ justified need for vengeance and The Doctor’s more holistic view on every living creature’s right to survive (well, within reason). For an example of this you should check out the ninth Doctor story “Boom Town,” where The Doctor is forced to contemplate whether or not he has the right to sentence an enemy to death, no matter how grievous their actions.

Final Rating: 5/10 (It’s as middle-of-the-road) as they come.

The Beatles: Let It Be & Yesterday And Today

For today’s entry I’ve posted my evening post from The Spin, a Tumblr blog dedicated to my vinyl record collection. Enjoy.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Spin posts, I haven’t put much conscious effort into adding Beatles records to my collection. Not only are worthwhile copies usually outside my spending threshold on any given day, but I kind of harbor this notion that at some point in the (not too distant?) future I will actually commit to bulking up on these Liverpudlian lads’ library. And when I do I want to do it right. Should I go all mono or all stereo? Should I look for particular pressings (about which I known nothing at this point) or just pursue quality in general? Until I sort all of this out, I sort of just take whatever comes my way. Which is how I came into this rather shoddy copy of Let It Be.

I honestly don’t remember how this came into my possession, but I think it may have been one of several records Cydnee’s mom donated to the cause about two years ago. Which was cool. Despite the rather sad circumstances under which it was recorded, it’s always been one of my favorite Beatles efforts. Sure, you come for classics like “Across the Universe” and the album’s famed title track, but you stay for the more obscure ditties like “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “For You Blue,” and “One After 909.” The whole thing is a testament to the fact that even when the band’s chemistry and endurance was up against the ropes, these guys still managed to put out a collection of kick ass music.

The shame of it all is that this record is practically unlistenable. It’s not warped or scratched, but for some reason the pitch of every song ebbs and flows from start to finish, making it sound like someone is slowing it down and then speeding it up at random intervals. I don’t know why, but it kinda sucks. Still, the album looks pretty cool, which is something. I guess.

It also came with like 20 photocopies that someone decided to make from the album’s iconic cover. I wonder why…

Then there’s Yesterday and Today. Again, I don’t know how it came into my possession (see the above theory for a possible explanation) but I’m glad it did.

Released in 1966, the album is a compilation of tracks from the band’s two most recent British LPs at the time—Help! and Rubber Soul—as well as a few from the upcoming Revolver. Unfortunately the copy I have is not one of the original pressings, which came with an entirely different cover, known in most circles as “The Butcher Cover.” Here’s what it looked like:

Yeah, I know. There’s a very interesting story behind this original cover, as well as the reasons why it was eventually changed. To read all about it click here. Obtaining a “Butcher Cover” copy of Yesterday and Today is considered a Holy Grail in most vinyl collector circles, so until I set out on that particular pilgrimage this one will have to do. Besides, the cover of the one I have still has an interesting little anecdote. Notice who’s sitting inside the trunk? Yup. That image is just one of many supposed “Paul Is Dead” clues littered throughout Beatles lore. And the music isn’t half bad either.

Doctor Who Marathon: The Mind Robber


Writer: Peter Link
Director: David Maloney
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 45
Number of Episodes: 5 (20 minutes each)
Season: 6

Since I first began this Doctor Who marathon mission of mine oh so many months ago, I’ve come to realize something maddening about story titles. Some of the most intriguing ones wind up being absolute rubbish (I’m looking at you Dominators). And that’s why I was cautiously optimistic when I found out the next installment was called “The Mind Robber.” Now doesn’t that sound damn cool? Well, I’m delighted to report that this one lived up to its namesake expectations—exceeded them actually. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say this is one of my favorite classic Who episodes to date.

The Plot: In order to escape a Dulcian volcano of doom (please get off that damn planet A-SAP!), The Doctor has to revert to rather unconventional measures and remove the TARDIS from “normal” time and space. He doesn’t want to do this because, you know, “normal” time and space is where everyone is most cozy. But he has no choice. If he doesn’t, he and his companions will wind up as little more than mummified remains in an intergalactic Pompeii exhibit of the future (or is it the past?).

The plan works. Kind of. The good news is that it gets them off Dulkis. The bad news is that The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie suddenly find themselves floating in a frighteningly empty void that explodes the TARDIS into a dozen pieces and leaves them clinging to the control console, terrified and completely alone. Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool.

The next few minutes unfold with dream-like perplexity as Jamie and Zoe suddenly find themselves surrounded by an unending white expanse where they are each beckoned by illusory temptations from their respective time periods. Then some intimidating white robots show up and escort our heroes into, well, we don’t know where.


The robots! They’re so…white!

Meanwhile The Doctor awakens in a surreal forest of some kind, which he eventually comes to realize is a land of fiction inhabited by creepy wind-up soldiers, Gulliver (ya know, the one who had all the travels), Rapunzel, a smattering of mythological baddies, and a hoard of irritating school boys and girls who speak only in riddles (Are you my mummy?).

To make a long (and fascinating) story short, it turns out that this obtuse universe is presided over by a man known as the Master (no, not that Master…sadly). He’s an English writer from 1926 who is being controlled by something called the Master Brain. Anxious to free himself from the clutches of the Brain, the English writer has devised a cunning plot: Make The Doctor take over his compositional duties so he can get the hell home. Oh yeah, and the Master Brain wants to take over the Earth…but more on that later.

That’s about as far as I’ll go in explaining the plot, because half the fun of this episode is winding through the surreal mystery along with out heroes (and there is a lot of surreal mystery to be had here).

The Pros: Doctor Who is often at its best when the story puts its main characters in terrifying situations that bend everyday perceptions of time and space, especially when those situations are being controlled by an unseen and unknown, outside force. Sadly, I’ve come to realize there is a real dearth of this in the show’s first few seasons (with the exception of gems like The Edge of Destruction, The Time Meddler, and The Invasion). “The Mind Robber”, however, goes further in this regard than any episode I’ve seen thus far, and fans of the show’s modern-day manifestation will not be disappointed, as the story is an undeniable harbinger for contemporary classics like Amy’s Choice, The Girl Who Waited, and Midnight. The direction is fluid and surreal while the story itself (for the most part) employs some truly novel conceits that are at once suspenseful and thought provoking. One can even go so far as to ruminate on some potentially meta-fictive themes going on here. Consider: If The Doctor suddenly finds himself in a world of fiction, does that mean he too is a work of fiction? Because, well, he is…at least to us…I mean, in this world…but he doesn’t know it…I mean, in his world…oh you get the point. It’s a genuinely clever and entertaining story from start to (almost) finish.

The Cons: Well, I probably could have done without Karkus, a fictional (to us) cartoon character from the year 2000 (woah, future!). He’s an unnecessary bit of childish camp thrown into an otherwise taught, mature story.

I am Karkus. Fear my muscles.

I am Karkus. Fear my muscles.

But even more frustrating than Karkus is the way the story ends. After everything we’ve been through we find out that the Master Brain is interested in luring everyone on Earth into this fictitious world, rendering them helpless and leaving the planet free for the taking. Ugh…really? It’s a disappointing and far-too-literal conclusion to a story that was, up to that point, thick, heady, and abstract in all the right ways. It kind of feels like Peter Link got to the last episode and was like, “Hm. I’ve painted myself into a pretty tight fucking corner here, haven’t I? Bullocks. Well, um, yeah. Takeover the Earth. That’s it!” In the hands of someone like Steven Moffat the conclusion would have been far richer and probably involved some kid of plot to make sure literary characters never died, even at the expense of the humans that created them. Or something. But the story’s lackluster denouement is certainly not enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater. All told, “The Mind Robber” is one for the ages, and it’s one of the reasons a chap like myself marches on through such a daunting marathon.

Final Rating: 8/10 (points lost for Karkus and the conclusion)

Charlie Brown (Revisited)

This is awesome. Find the source here:

This is awesome. Find the source here:

So there’s a podcast called Book Fight, and if you have any modicum of love for literature, you should definitely check it out. Hosted by local Philadelphia authors Mike Ingram and Tom McAllister, the podcast is a consistently entertaining conversation about, well, books. According to their website description, Ingram and McAllister taylor their weekly program around “the conversations writers have at the bar, which is to say they’re both unflinchingly honest and open to tangents, misdirection, general silliness.” It’s a joy.

Anyhow, I was listening to a recent episode this afternoon and Ingram and McAllister—who both teach writing at Temple University, my alma mater—were discussing various writing exercises they use in class to spur students’ imaginations. You know, giving them all the same first sentence or asking them to concoct a short story from a single photograph. And it got me thinking back to my days at Temple and similar exercises my creative writing professors would use to elicit interesting material. And that’s when I remembered Charlie.

The task was simple: Take a classic tale of some kind and expand it beyond what we already know. Continue the story, if you will. I think we had just finished reading Donald Barthelme’s Snow White (go ahead and bend your brain a little). I can’t remember why I decided to write the piece I did, but I do remember thinking that it was going to blow the socks off of my professor. Looking back on it now I can of course see how reductive it is and oh-so-full of unearned undergraduate angst (I was reading a lot of Ginsberg and Kerouac, okay!). But there’s something really comforting about the singularity of my vision at the time. I was so insanely confident about my writing and not yet entirely schooled on the virus of cynicism and second guessing that inevitably worms its way into one’s brain. When I wanted to write I just wrote, and as I continue in my pursuits as a writer to this day I think there’s still a lot I can learn from that younger version of myself, despite how much self-absorbed and cliched dreck he occasionally churned out.

And so, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this tale…

“That World With the Funny Dance Re-visited…”
by Nick DiUlio

Charlie was thinking of Christmas again.  He sipped a beer and sat at the small table in his New York City apartment listening to jazz on a countertop radio.  The night blazed on outside his kitchen window, cold, and the neon signs flashed intently with habit to the rhythm of his thoughts.  He lit a cigarette and closed his eyes, letting the bbbblamm…yeaaah…and “oh, how about that” music swing his mind away from the world.  He was thinking about Christmas again.

Clangs and horns and voices brought the streets to life and Charlie felt like getting out.  He quickly finished his beer and threw on an old overcoat his mother had sent him five years ago.  After shutting off the radio he made sure that his mini-cassette recorder was in his pocket.  It was a cold, angel night and Charlie was thinking of Christmas.

Mrs. Fittermall surprisingly greeted Charlie as he stepped out into the hall.  “Oh, Charlie!  How are you sweetie?  I heard about your father.  I am so sorry.”

Good grief, he thought.  “Happens to us all I suppose.”

“But such a shock.  Are you all right?  Is there anything I can do for you darling?”

“No thank you Mrs. Fittermall.”  Charlie didn’t want to talk away the night and his night, his night of screeching lostness, was on the tip of extinction.  He had to leave.

“Well, perhaps I’ll stop by later this week and drop off one of my pound cakes.”

“Alright,” he began walking towards the stairwell.  “Thank you Mrs. Fittermall.”  She turned and left Charlie to his business of getting gone.  So he headed for the streets with his hands in his worn out pockets.

It had started snowing and a lonely wind watered his eyes.  Collar up and there was music…“I heard the bells…silent night…I’ll be home…(and) have yourself a merry little…drummer boy.”  Charlie would stop every so often and stare up at the December sky knowing that his absence of heart was sure to come and go in waves as it had since he was a child—since those times of a tree, a song, and some friends gathered around a snow pile discussing the taste of winter flakes.  Since those times of his sister asking Santa for bills and unmarked generosities in the form of “cold hard cash.”  Since those times of his dog playing tricks with the bird.  Since these and a forever list of fading memories.

And with the city in a circling, voiceless mess of lost ambitions his heart made reference to these times over and over again.  His heart and times passed.  His heart and a look to the ground.  His heart and he kept on walking.

At Times Square he could hear a trumpeter somewhere far off playing “Basin Street Blues” and the movie posters loomed heavy and god-like over the people of New York.  One sight after another—family with a tree, delis with warm soup, tattooed bald headed rockers, empty lights-out rooms, shadows, ghetto poets, gutter deaths, and all under falling snow.  Charlie took out his mini-cassette and hit record.

“When all of this fades and the night falls away fully
To the potential of nothing but a lost and hungry solace,
Where will Christmas be then?  These trees and liquid hopes
And ‘yeah, let’s sing that one again honey’
Just don’t make sense any more.
Christmas.  Oh, you forgotten child…
Was it yesterday that Lucy called and asked me to a party?  Was it
Yesterday that she told me about her new husband (again
And again with that)?  Was it yesterday or three years ago?
Nothing comes together the way it used to and beliefs just fall to pieces
And my dog was not supposed to

Charlie stopped to light another cigarette.  He took a drag, looked around and decided to go see Schroder playing at the Cat Scratch.  He looked for a cab and as he stood on the curb and watched the ghostly faces rush around he realized that he thought passing time would have been easier.  He thought that all of those days in class as a child (trumpet voices, wa wa wa…) would have yielded something greater than this—cold and hungry jazz American Decembers.  He thought about Linus and how he was probably better off in Tangiers anyway.  He thought that happiness was infinitely far away at the age of 25.  He thought and thought and realized that it all came back to thinking of Christmas again.

Let Us Now Praise…Conor Oberst and Dawes



To be honest, it’s been a long day of writing, house tending, dog walking, and all around life-izing—and I don’t really have much blog power left in me this evening. But in the spirit of keeping up with the goal of filing a post every day this month I thought I should at least share something. And that something is Conor Oberst and Dawes.

For those who have been following the ‘ol Twenty Pounds pub since its inception, you know that I’ve written extensively about Conor in the past. And he does indeed deserve all (er, most of?) the digital ink that has been spilled in his name over the past decade. But I don’t think I’ve touched on Dawes all too frequently (if at all). Let me do so…now.


I first came to know about this band about five years ago, courtesy of the incomparable Joseph Master. He sent me an Mp3 of “That Western Skyline,” the first track from their debut record North Hills, and I experienced that exceedingly rare moment when you know you’re listening to a band that is still relatively unknown but perched on the precipice of great acclaim. And they have not let me down since.

To date, I’ve seen Dawes perform live at least five times (the first being a Free At Noon concert in West Philly hosted by 88.5 WXPN), and their live presence only further cemented my confidence in their eventual ascension to greatness. Since the band’s righteous debut they have released two additional studio efforts, Nothing Is Wrong in 2011 and Stories Don’t End in 2013, both of which have not disappointed. So when I found out they were going to be touring this summer with Oberst (who is promoting his current solo effort Upside Down Mountaindig the play on words there?) I knew I couldn’t miss a show if it happened through Philadelphia.

And happen it did. I had the pleasure of seeing both acts perform at Union Transfer (my 100 percent, no joke favorite Philly concert venue of all time) on May 21, and the vibe was unmistakably incendiary. Not only did Dawes come out and rock a 90-minute-plus opening set, but they then returned to the stage less than 30 minutes later to back up Oberst for nearly two juggernaut hours of foot-stomping, hand-clapping musical brilliance. Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith (along with drummer and brother Griffin) leant gorgeous harmonies to Oberst’s originals while also searing into regular guitar solos with the type of piercing nuance practiced by the timeless likes of Mark Knopfler and Robbie Robertson. It was, in short, one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever attended—a fitting tribute to two musical acts that I have respected for many years now.


Dawes backing Oberst. Photo courtesy of yours truly.

Leading up to this summer’s joint tour, Dawes and Oberst released a limited edition Record Store Day seven inch that found each covering the other. The exclusive split featured Dawes covering the Bright Eyes song “Easy/Lucky/Free” and Oberst covering Dawes’ “Million Dollar Bill.” And now, for your listening enjoyment, here are both tracks (and my lord, what they do with each other’s respective work is truly beautiful):

Here’s the original “Easy/Lucky/Free” (and a cool video to boot):

Here’s the Dawes cover:

Here’s the original “Million Dollar Bill”:

And here’s the Oberst cover:

Sonic Sunday Links: An Audio Aggregation for Winding Down


The Sunday evening view from DiUlio cottage.

Sitting on my front porch at the end of a weekend spent camping and carousing in beautiful Lewes, DE, the sun sinks slowly behind the wooded park across the street, begging me to bring light to the interwebs. After all, it’s Sunday night, and who wants anything too heavy? So pour yourself a dram, a pint, a cup, or chalice and sink like the sun as you click through a few interesting sonic links to help you get through the weekending evening:

1) 10 Public Radio Stations You Wish Were In Your Town: Courtesy of the ever-awesome Paste Magazine (did you know I once wrote a story for them?), this list is a testament to the enduring power of radio. Here they’ve curated 10 listener-supported stations “with consistently great programming, great hosts, and even some local flavor.” Do yourself a favor and put a Sunday night soundtrack on the stove.

2) This American Life’s “House On Loon Lake”: What do you get when a group of teenagers sneaks into an old abandoned house in Massachusetts and finds a home that appears to have been left behind in a hurry? One of the most captivating episodes of one of the most captivating programs in radio history. Originally broadcast in 2001 (and rebroadcast this afternoon, much to my listening delight) this is one of those episodes where Ira Glass devotes the entire hour to one tale in particular. And trust me, it doesn’t disappoint, going well beyond Scooby Doo spooks to delve into fascinating ruminations on memory, family, and the things we leave behind.

3) Radiolab’s “Who Are You”: God I love this show. I’ll resist the urge to write 500-plus words enumerating the many virtues of Radiolab (and trust me—There. Are. Many.) and cut to this chase. According to the program’s website, this week’s episode “centers around a chilling question: how well can you ever really know the people around you?” Delving into everything from a baby’s first 1,000 days on the planet to a true-life story about a wife who suddenly thinks her husband is an impostor version of the man she knows, this episode—like all Radiolab episodes—begs the lister to ask some very complex questions with some intensely humanizing answers. Oh, and as a bonus, check out the amazing Radiolab video short below.


4) “Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down”: And of course, this.

Doctor Who Marathon: The Dominators


Writer: Norman Ashby
Director: Morris Barry
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 44
Number of Episodes: 5
Season: 6

Well, out of the 24 classic Who stories I’ve seen so far, The Dominators may be the worst (and that’s saying something when you consider that I’ve suffered through such gems as The Gunfighters and The Sensorites). And I have to say, I’m stunned that this is how the BBC saw fit to kick off season six. Really guys? This was the best you could do?

The Plot: The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive on the peaceful planet Dulkis. The Doctor’s been here before, and he’s delighted to return. Pulling a beach ball and folding chair from the depths of the TARDIS, he and his companions expect to enjoy a nice restful holiday on a planet inhabited by a society that has “outlawed war.” What could possibly go wrong?

Well, just around the bend two dour chaps in ridiculous, swallowing shoulder pads land their spaceship. These are The Dominators, a race that apparently only respects “the authority of superior force” (and enormous shoulder pads). But don’t be fooled. These guys may come armed with a menacing name (and did I mention the shoulder pads?) but they’re almost as dull and tedious as the planet on which they’ve arrived.

Hey, um, do my shoulder pads look smaller than yours? Be honest now.

Hey, um, do my shoulder pads look smaller than yours? Be honest now.

And why are The Dominators here you may ask? Well, apparently Dulkis experienced a nuclear catastrophe almost 200 years ago, and there is now an uninhabitable island that is highly radioactive down to the core—and The Dominators just love radioactivity. It’s what fuels their ship. So yeah, they want it. All of it.

Oh yeah, and The Dominators also brought some friends with them—small robotic servants called Quarks. I’d rather not waste too much brain power describing the Quarks ridiculous design, so here you go:

Man, I thought we were auditioning for Daleks!

Man, I thought we were auditioning for Daleks!

In the end The Doctor must attempt to save the planet because the Dulcians are a bunch of bureaucratic, pacifist weenies who can’t be bothered to so much as leave the couch let alone raise up arms against an invading alien force (they’re the ones who outlawed war, remember?). They’re pretty much the worst. Nonetheless The Doctor, being the righteous dude that he is, decides to save them anyway, even though I’m kinda sure intergalactic Darwinism pretty much demands for their extinction.

Let's uh, just sit this one out. I'll get the Funions.

Let’s uh, just sit this one out. I’ll get the Funions.

The Pros: It’s so maddening when Doctor Who misses the opportunity to delve deeper into a particular plot point or intriguing aside. So is the case here with the Dulcians. At first their pacifism seems like a noble aspect of societal evolution, but it quickly becomes clear that even too much pacifism is, well, bad. There are a handful of delightful scenes involving the council of Dulcian something-or-others debating what should be done about these Dominators (who are hell bent on eradicating the entire planet). In the end they basically decide to just sit it out. “Even non action is a form of action,” declares one Dulcian jamoke. And that’s what they do. They sit. And then they debate some more. And then they sit some more. It’s an intriguing device that forces one to consider the maddening ills of both bureaucracy  and extremism (no matter how seemingly noble the pursuit). Sure, outlawing war and guns and violence sounds great. But when someone comes knocking on your doors and says, “Excuse me, but I’m going to burn your fucking house down if that’s okay,” you should probably step into Plan B. Oh yeah, and Troughton rocks (as per usual).

The Cons: Ugh…I don’t want to waste too much time here because for anyone who has seen this particular story knows all too well what it lacks. The direction is stiff. The villains (both The Dominators and their trash bin servants) are quite possibly the least intimidating and tedious that I’ve seen so far. They don’t seem all that menacing, clever, or even adept at their namesake task. You could probably topple a Quark with a hearty exhale blown through a straw. I’d rather watch Sensorites read the phone book than sit through one more scene involving The Dominators arguing about whether or not they should kill the Dulcians. Also, as is the case with so many Troughton-era stories there are too many episodes. This could have easily been whittled down to three or four at most.

Final Rating: 2/10