Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It gets better, according to Glee.

This is the quintessential 2012 phenomenon: a blog post about Glee addressing the issue of bullying. And you were there.

As an full-on Dave Karofsky fan, I was kinda bummed to see Max Adler be shuffled off the Glee set last season. His quick cameo about four episodes ago, wherein he showed up at a gay bar dressed like his corny good ol' boy self, suddenly enlightened and happy because he now had an identity: he was a cub! The scene was glib and tied the loose ends way too neatly. I considered it a failed opportunity.

Then last week hit, and we saw Karofsky suddenly re-entering the picture as an actual gorilla (because subtlety never struck the Glee writers' minds), all ga-ga over Kurt. And again, I rolled my eyes. Not believable in the slightest. Doesn't matter that if I were in Kurt's place, I'd be awfully torn between the big lug and Mr. Johnny Angel Blaine. But my stomach tightened painfully when one of Karofsky's football teammates saw the two of 'em sitting at a restaurant together on VD, and called him out on it. It was all over the blogs the next day. A set up for a gay teen bullying suicide episode! And the commentariat rose up as one: the writers had better not fuck it up. Expectations were low, since Glee has been so wan this season.

Well, I'm thrilled to say that the "teen suicide episode" didn't suck. This episode was epic in its ambition. In its worst, most heavy-handed moments, Glee hits after-school-special territory. Not to say that this episode wasn't heavy-handed. But let's call a spade a spade: we are in the midst of a culture war, replete with taking sides, full-fledged attacks, and numerous injuries and casualties. Tonight, Glee fired a powerful salvo against those who maim and kill with hatred, intolerance, and homophobia. Since people who take this stance often don't think highly of Hollywood, the actual effects of this episode remain to be seen. But that it was shown on prime-time TV is astounding, and its message will resonate. (Keep in mind...it's only been 15 years since Ellen came out on her show, the first character to do so, and ABC had to place a parental warning at the beginning of that episode. Now, out gay characters are commonplace, even boring sometimes.)

So let's start off with what went right. This is Glee, so of course, you're gonna have the soundtrack to life's big moments. Including killing yourself, apparently. As tacky as that sounds, this moment was hit out of the park. Karofsky's fright upon seeing "FAG" spray-painted in pink on his football locker while his teammates looked on in derision was palpable, and played perfectly. The scene lasted long enough to make you squirm...and just sit in that for what felt like an eternity. Darren Criss singing his lungs out on "Cough Syrup" was a beautiful white boy teen angst moment courtesy of Coldplay channeled through Young the Giant. It provided a great foil to Karofsky's tears and anguish on seeing his Facebook page hijacked by classmates outing him and telling him to go back into the closet (which he ultimately did...to step on a chair and stick his neck through a noose made from his belt).

It was also really tough to see that Karofsky came up against rejection everywhere he went. His friends (assumedly all jocks) were his worst enemies. (Not much help that he was at a new school and probably had few friends there.) His best friend told him he never wanted to talk to him again. Kurt rejected him out of hand, then refused to answer his phone calls. And when he tried to hit on a guy during this episode, he was flatly dismissed because he happened to be overweight, and was even told to just stay in the closet. High school football linemen in Lima, Ohio can't run to their parents asking for help with this dilemma, because they will be told they have a disease that hopefully can be cured.

On the other hand, there's always the Hollywood risk that issues will be resolved in one neat, 30-minute episode, and life will go on. Here, everyone felt remorse, shock, all the appropriate emotions. Kurt went to the hospital to atone for the sin of turning Karofsky down when he asked him out, then not returning his (nine!) phone calls. But in the eyes of Glee, apparently all it takes to make yourself feel better after a suicide attempt is to click your heels three times, say "there's no place like the future," and imagine yourself there. Cue holding hands, smiling through tears, and pledges to be friends, and...scene. (I can't be totally cynical about it though...that scene did effectively wring a few tears from me. And yes, people in that scenario need all the help and hope they can get. But it should be a bit more realistic. Oh...except this is Glee. GAAAH!)

The "peanut butter" scene was also too trite and set the stage for the aforementioned tidy ending. Schu's admittance that he had also tried to commit suicide did have some merit: yeah, it was simply for being caught cheating on a test, but that was his weak point; everybody has one, and they should be respected.

And the music during sectionals? Not much really hit me, aside from the madrigal singers...I'm such a sucker for polyphony. Seriously. Also, I gotta give it up to Amber Riley for some great acting during "Stronger." I'm biased, but bitch can do no wrong in my eyes.

So...on to the next hot topic of 2012: teenage texting while driving! Again, wielded with the grace of an elephant attempting pliƩs.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In A Daydream - The Freddy Jones Band

While in college in the mid '90s, I was ensconced in my world of alternative rock, just as the term was losing its grip on being meaningful. Nirvana had changed the landscape for better and worse, effectively imploding pop culture and forcing it to start all over again. R.E.M. decided to become ironic noise rockers with varying degrees of success. Pearl Jam was defiantly following its muse down the rabbit path, willingly putting out music that would be sure not to achieve the commercial highs of its debut album. Live and Counting Crows had their moments, but man, talk about your flashes in the pan. And Stone Temple Pilots...well, the less said, the better. It was a rough time for popular music. And it mirrored my life at the time.

My younger brother, on the other hand, was enjoying his last few years with friends at home before shipping off to Boston for college. And his music reflected that as well. For him, the Dave Matthews Band was the big influence, along with all the music it spawned...Tom Cochrane, the Samples, Jackopierce, and a few years down the line, Hooter and the Blowtwads (uh...or something like that). With just a few exceptions, it all seemed so facile, shallow, and meaningless to me. Then again, I was striving for Significance, learning about the Nazi resistance and reading Nietzsche. While my brother was thriving and laying the groundwork for future success, I was busy killing myself with nihilistic existentialism. At the end of my first year of college, I couldn't think of a single thing I wanted to learn or experience. Fat lot of good that did me.

So when I went away to Russia a few years later for 6 months, my brother took it upon himself to make me a tape of some of his favorite music. I graciously accepted it, pretty sure I wouldn't listen to it much. And I really didn't. But one song stuck out, far above all others in that genre I'd knocked for years. It was mellow. It was simple. And it was utterly transcendent.

When I first heard "In A Daydream," I was immediately taken back to the powdery ski slopes of the back bowls of Vail (yeah, I was a rich kid). I imagined myself coasting along the outer boundaries of Sun Down Bowl, turning effortlessly down acres of champagne powder while sparkling diamond crystals floated down beneath an opalescent sky with the Mount of the Holy Cross in the distance. I heard and felt the wind whooshing past and the smooth hiss of the snow beneath my skis. And I immediately exulted in the type of joy that makes your skin nearly burst. It was the most delirious, fantastic freedom I'd known.

Years later, I was fighting the powers that be in chiropractic school, utterly hating life. At some point, I remembered this song and how it had made me feel, so I downloaded it and enjoyed a few minutes of respite from hell every now and again. It never failed to help me feel better.

Leaving Chicago for good was an experience I'll never forget. The night before I left, I had suddenly and unwittingly alienated about the last friend I had there. The next morning, while moving things out of the house, a wicker basket viciously slashed my hand, as if to remind me one last time how unwelcome I was in Chicago. But on that plane, ascending to 35,000 feet, I put this song on, and knew that I was coming home, for good. It felt, again, like sweet freedom. But the most amusing part of this happened an hour after I landed. My mom picked me up from the airport, and we immediately went to lunch at a fancy country club. And here, I heard a Muzak rendition of "In A Daydream" come quietly over the speakers. And I felt that I was finally home...both the home that I had with my man, and the home I had with my family. It was a Tuesday morning, and the lyrics could not have been more apropos: "Tuesday morning never looked so good."

Years later, I recognize how important it is to surround yourself with things that support you, that encourage you toward success, that help make life better. I've long since given up trying to delve into the deepest thoughts of the greatest thinkers, thinking that will somehow make me a better person. My experience taught me that it could be painful and tremendously destructive. I've decided that there are too many destructive forces in the world already; if life is to be fully lived, it's to be enjoyed as much as possible. And "In A Daydream" helped lay the groundwork for this view.

(Oh, and because life has a sense of humor, I should mention that the Freddy Jones Band is from Chicago.)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Simply: why Bally('s) sucks.

So, today: woke up to the 36th hour of nonstop snow falling in our fair city, slightly hoping I would hear my patients had cancelled before I left for my 25-mile commute. No such luck...but they did cancel before I got to work. So I turned around 5 miles shy, headed back north, and decided to stop in for a workout before breakfast. New place: the Bally Sport gym that just opened a month ago and replaced the more industrial-looking, smaller place a mile away. I walked through it a week ago just for fun, and it looked pretty damned nice. The music that was pumping was awesome too. I felt it could turn my mind away from ending my membership there and going to 24 Hour instead.

Today ended up being the big challenge for this place. The carpeted locker room area and wood-paneled lockers with new-fangled combo locks certainly pushed the upscale-posh-country club feel. Great new equipment, too. And I figured that since I had forgotten my headphones, I could depend on that awesome music to pull me through. But instead of adrenaline-pumping sounds, I got to get my hard-core, testosterone-fueled workout on with the help of those bone-crushing stalwarts, Coldplay, Train, and Selena.

Folks, this ain't the first time I've had to suffer the slings and arrows of shitty music while trying to unleash my inner monster. Daniel Powter (he of American Idol-closing-song "Bad Day" infamy) has shared in this. As have numerous guys bopping along to a beat that had made its way through at least one focus group. (One clueless dolt sang about how sad he was at losing his girlfriend with the feeling usually reserved for reading a grocery list out loud. Man card revoked.) You all know the type. This music well may have been why iPods were invented. And it is like kryptonite to my soul. So bad is this music, that I have threatened to leave Bally many times before. (Crappy, CRAPPY name, by the way...it begs to be called "Bally's," which isn't right.)

Compounding today's journey into workout hell were the television monitors around the weight area. People, I don't CARE that it's Saturday morning. I don't WANT to watch the Flintstones while doing squats! Nor do I want to watch the newest incarnation of Barney (the purple dinosaur, not Rubble), nor Spongebob Squarepants. I'm gonna take a guess and say that if you're a dad at a gym on a Saturday morning, this is precisely the drool-inspiring pap you wanted to get away from in the first place. And if you're not, you still want to avoid this stuff because...well, if you wanted to watch it, there's a couch a lot closer than this place, right? (For the record, the sole sports event on any television monitor was a basketball game on the exact opposite end of the gym, by the cardio equipment.)

Why, people of Bally? Why the everlovin' fuck? Are you trying to coddle the resolutionists until they finally give up of their own accord? Or are you trying to actively drive people out of the gym on their own? It's certainly working well for me. I swear, as God is my witness, I shall never enter another awkwardly-named Bally again without a set of trusty headphones again. Makes me actually want to build a home gym where I can blast as much Helmet, Black Sabbath, and Metallica as I want. And the TV monitor (if there is one) will show World's Strongest Man competitions. I'm not much for cardio machines or the circuit machines, for which some of that music seems ideal. Give me free weights, plain and simple. I became one of those meathead guys this past year who derives great joy from picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, cheerfully grunting all the while. Wish I'd discovered this years ago. But oh well, better late than never.

Bally, you are on notice. Again. GRR...