The issue is, of course, that people die on TV
constantly.If I were to turn on my
television now and start flipping, I could probably find someone in the act of
dying, or recently dead, within a few minutes.
It reminds me of the commentary made by Tom Hanks in the
movie Splash.The mermaid is crying
because someone has died on TV and she doesn’t realize it’s not real.So he explains that it’s just a story and
that same actor who just pretended to die will probably die again on some other
show next week.
Subsequently, it’s hard to made death on TV really count.
It’s been done before.Probably one of the most famous is when the actor who played Mr. Hooper
on Sesame Street passed away.Rather
than just pretend that it hadn’t happened, a special episode was produced
wherein Mr. Hooper had died, and everyone had to explain it to Big Bird.
I don’t recall seeing it.I was probably a little too old to be watching Sesame Street at the
time, since I was in the first grade by then.But it’s one of those cultural events that reverberates.People remember seeing it, both kids and
adults, and I expect that it still sticks with some people.
Back in 1998, I remember very well hearing that Phil Hartman
had been shot and killed, leaving behind not one character, but three or four,
if you count all the people he played on The Simpsons.
Of the shows Phil was on, the only memorial I really recall
was on Newsradio, where they tried very hard to send his character off in a
fitting manner.Obviously, I never knew
Phil personally, but it was clear that everyone on the screen cared about him,
missed him, and getting through that episode was tough for them.
Which brings me around to Finn.
I felt, at first, that I wouldn’t have much to say about
Finn’s death, but it came at such a strange time for me that I felt I needed to
say more.I’m not sure what, but more.
The Finn episode came just one day after a good friend
passed away.He wasn’t Finn young, but
he was too young, and many of my fondest memories of my friend were (and are)
of him singing.So I was a little afraid
to queue up the DVR.I even offered my
wife an out.But she was good with it,
so we proceeded.
And ultimately, it was Glee.
Glee trucks in big emotions, but all too often it feels like
it’s being created by magicians who don’t understand how their tricks work and
can only get them to function half the time.
So when they took a page from Rent and opened with a song, I
thought maybe they could nail this one.
And as it turns out… they couldn’t.
Ultimately, I think the best thing they could have done was
locked everyone in a room for 45 minutes and just let them talk.Put whatever they were feeling into dialogue
and pick songs to match.I think that
could have been perfect.
Instead, they set up a mystery with Finn’s jacket.And Tina whined about dressing Goth
again.And other moments fell with a
painful, crushing, unimpressive thud, sometimes because of the painfully
on-the-nose dialogue, and sometimes because the actors just didn’t have the range
to make their grief feel real.
Which is strange, because it was.
Truthfully, I put that on the writing, and not on the
actors, as the episode tried to be all things to all people, and show every
possible reaction you can have to a death.
Though sometimes they nailed it.
Finn’s parents?Perfect.Even though their
dialogue sometimes slid towards the clumsy, they sold those feelings
completely.If they don’t get Emmys just
handed to them next year, it’ll be a crying shame.(Literally, now that I think about it.)
But much of the rest of the episode only worked in
half-measures and it took me a little while to figure out what flawed the
episode so completely.
It was two things.
First, the show flat-out refused to say why Finn was dead,
claiming it doesn’t matter.
And you know what?That’s a bald-faced lie, because it does matter.I’ve had friends die from cancer.I’ve had acquaintances die from suicide.I had one friend die from pneumonia, which is
absolutely something that should never happen and part of the reason I support
the affordable care act so strongly, even with its flaws
I had one family member die in a motorcycle accident that
was wholly preventable.A poor choice
was made and family member’s hearts were broken because of that choice.That person could be alive today.
And the thing of it is, they tried to show every reaction a
person could have to a death, and they attempted to render the death generic
But you know what?That felt false as well.At least
one person being interviewed (a cast member) stated that it was hard to act in
spots, because they had to pretend they were in denial about the death, and
NONE of them were in denial about the death.
And I realize that “acting” is part of TV, but they weren’t
just memorializing a fake person, they were also memorializing a real person,
and that requires much more honesty.
And, in some ways even more painfully, they took time out to
point out that the cast was on a show that could be phenomenally stupid.By talking about Finn singing to the sonogram
of a baby that wasn’t his.
I mean… really?
Perhaps it was flat-out desperation to pick that song, as
Finn didn’t have a ton of solos.At
least, nothing that felt even slightly appropriate.But then, why not sing a Journey song?I mean, I know they’ve done Don’t Stop
Believing a LOT on this show, but why not ballad it up?Do something really bold with it?
Does it matter now?Perhaps not.But I spent that
hour feeling awkward, feeling the characters being forced into dialogue that
didn’t really work, and I rarely felt moved by anything that wasn’t singing or
Because that’s where the real grief lay, I felt.
I felt compelled to complete this essay by, of all things,
The Vampire Diaries.A character had
died (which happens… a LOT on this show) and it was a shock to everyone, and
even though the character who was dead appeared in the scene (because she is
not actually deceased)?It moved
me.Because it showed genuine loss.Because it showed those moments where you
kind of hear your lost friend in your head, and hope that they’re happy where
they are, and hope that how you are can or does bring them joy.
There’s talk that Finn’s death will continue to reverberate
throughout the year, and maybe that’s the case.But I’ve seen Glee abandon story after story over the years, and I
suspect that the impact will end up being minor.Rachel will move on emotionally and start a
new relationship, and they’ll state that it’s hard for her twice… and then
she’ll just move on, because Glee does.
Or perhaps I’m just too cynical.
To want more from Glee at this time is, surely, too much to
ask.I get that.It’s a show that has to make it 41 more
episodes and then shutter, and it sounds like the showrunners are already tired
and unsteady on their feet.
The truth is, if they really want Finn to be remembered
fondly, now is the time to double down and make sure the show actually works,
not just 50% of the time, but 90 or 100% of the time.
Because if they don’t, the show won’t go into that endless
loop of syndication that keep shows like Cheers and MASH alive.And Finn’s legacy will vanish that much
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent the better part of the
last year not-writing, mostly because of lack of time and a variety of other
issues in my life.
I’ve been working on this post, off and on, for most of the
year, and in this year alone, Brendan has published two books, which tells me
that if I’m ever going to write this, it needs to be now.
I’ve created and recreated this introduction a dozen times,
always getting bogged down in minute details that don’t really get to the meat
of the piece.
And mostly related to John Green.
Here’s the deal, in very, very short.You’ve heard of John Green.You’ve heard of his massive bestseller, The
Fault In Our Stars.I’m sure of this
because you can’t wander past any place that sells books right now and NOT see
four dozen copies of it in three different editions.
And this part, right here, is where I’d got off on a
four-paragraph rant how if you’ve read and enjoyed John Green, you really,
really need to be reading Brendan Halpin.
I call it a rant because it wandered off on long tangents
based mainly on my disappointment that Green is a total juggernaut of sales,
while Halpin had to get his last book release funded by Kickstarter.
Here, by the way, is there I confess that I wanted to
mention John Green (John Green, John Green) for the purely selfish reason that
I hope people click on this link after looking him up on Google and
subsequently discover one of my favorite authors.
Okay: Link-baiting John Green/Brendan Halpin discussion
What makes writing about Brendan Halpin difficult is…
Well, a few things.
First, he’s a Facebook friend.And what’s more, he blurbed my first
novel.(I asked him to, because I love
his work and getting his stamp of approval is one of the highlights of my
Second, I know he Googles himself (all authors do), so I’m
sure he’ll read this at some point.Probably a few days after I post it.(Hey Brendan!)
Third, breaking his work up into discreet sections is an
absolute bear, because the man (unlike John Green, who writes rom-com indie
movies in book form, mostly with sad endings) keeps shifting his genres just
enough to avoid easy classification.
And what makes it worse is, I think some of his books are
absolutely essential, and they fall into a few different groupings (YA, adult
So I’ve developed some of my own groupings, outside of genre
trappings, and, well, hopefully, this list will take you somewhere you want to
be.(Like a John Green novel.Except at the end, where someone dies or the
romantic entanglement falls apart.)
For lack of a better way of saying it, these are the best of
the best.Most of these are not just
Halpin’s best books, they are among my favorite books, period, and I’ve read
all of them at least twice.
Forever Changes – If you only read one Brendan Halpin novel,
it should be this one.(Especially if
you’re into John Green.)I suspect the
only reason it didn’t sell better (and eventually went out of print, Brendan has
re-released it as an ebook) is because it’s a sad and scary subject matter.It follows a girl who has cystic
fibrosis.She knows she’s only going to
live another year, or two, or three.So
does she apply to college?Does she fall
in love?What’s the point?And how does she deal with her forthcoming
death in the meantime?
I cannot state too emphatically that I think everyone should
read this novel.I made my book club
read it, and of the ten or so people who came, more than half of them said it
was the best book we ever read as a group.
And as for me, personally, I’ve never been able to think
about death and dying in the same way.
It’s a sad novel, yes, but it’s also a hopeful one. You
should read it.(Especially if you
enjoyed The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green.)
It Takes a Worried Man – This is Brendan’s memoir of his
wife’s breast cancer.It was his first
book (it was started as a journal, and reads that way) and it details much of
the fight.The book originally ended in
a place of uncertainty (they didn’t really know whether they were winning or
losing) but his newly released version (the book went out of print and he
re-released it himself) features a wrap-up that talks about the fate of
Long Way Back – A man’s wife dies, and he joins a gay punk
band in an effort to help himself cope.Once again, this has a certain John Green-y quality to it, but it’s
about adults instead of kids.Even
though it’s fiction, it serves as a strange kind of semi-sequel to It Takes a
Worried Man.It’s about what comes next
when you lose someone you love.
Losing My Faculties – This was Brendan’s second memoir, this
time covering his life as a teacher.As
a teacher myself (and a child of a teacher, and a friend to teachers) I’m going
to tell you this: You need to read it.You need to read it today, and you need to realize what teachers are up
against (kids, the school itself, and other teachers) and why education is more
than a bit of a mess.
I honestly believe it should be part of every teaching
curriculum in every university.
Then Go Here (Mostly YA):
Whereas the first group of books were the greats, these are
the merely very goods.I liked them, I
would share them with people, and I would almost certainly read them again if I
had unlimited time to do so.
Donorboy – In which a girl’s two moms die, and she goes to
live with the man who contributed half her DNA.This one picked up an award for being good for young adults even though
it was written for adults, and it put it on this second plateau mostly because
it hits some of the same themes as his other books, but it also has a strange
little sense of humor (the moms are crushed by turduckens, for example) that I
suspect might sit not sit well with some readers.
It also introduces a couple of Halpin pet themes that appear
in a lot of his fiction.Being a
vegetarian and gay acceptance.
A Really Awesome Mess – Over the last few years, Halpin has
written a handful of books with female cowriters.They each take one character, his male and
hers female, and they alternate chapters.Most of them are good.This is
the best of them.
In this one, the boy and girl end up in a mental health
facility in order to deal with problems ranging from anger to depression to
adoption to eating disorders, and those are the ones you learn about right
away.It’s the best book I’ve read this
year (2013) and it contains the single best description of depression I’ve ever
read in a novel.
The ending bends a little too far towards the fairytale, but
overall, it’s so good I’m willing to let it slide.
Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom – A guy realizes he’s in
love with his best female friend, only it turns out that she’s gay, and, yes,
her name is Tessa and her town doesn’t want her to go to prom with a girl.
I think that, in life, we encounter a lot of people who we
think of as an “other.”This book is, I
feel, about discovering someone you really care about is an other, and about
how that changes you.Again, it’s a
co-write, and again, it’s got a fairy-tale ending.
The Half-Life of Planets – I think the tag line was
something like: A boy with Asperger’s meets a girl with a reputation, and that
sums it up pretty well.Mostly it’s
about two people trying to navigate each other, and it’s a sweet little story
that has issues sitting in the background, but which aren’t really the
Notes from a Blender: Once again, a co-write, in which a boy
who likes a girl suddenly learns that she’s about to be his step-sibling.
This one has the pet themes out in force, and adds blended
families and a few other items that will be familiar to anyone who knows
anything about Halpin’s life.
I realize as I’m creating these categories that I’m leaving
out a certain subset of Halpin’s work – namely his genre stuff.Halpin wrote two books as Seamus Cooper, both
of them HP Lovecraft comic horror novels.
I think they’re all worth a read, but they’re so off the
beaten path of Halpin’s usual work that I have a hard time sticking them in a
particular “spot.”So I’m putting them
here, pretty much in the middle, which is where I put them on my “favorites”
Mall of Cthulhu (as Seamus Cooper) – In which our hero
learns that Lovecraft’s monsters are real, and tries to fight them.
Brendan is a fan of Lovecraft, and he takes a few hundred
pages to snap him on the tail end with a towel.But, you know, in a loving way.Mostly, if you read the reviews, he didn’t really please anyone all that
much.Hardcore Lovecraft people seemed
to want something else, and people looking for a comic novel didn’t quite get
into it either.
As a person who is sorta “eh” about Lovecraft, I thought
this worked pretty well.
Terror at the Short (Seamus Cooper) – Here, Halpin takes a
few short stories, and links them together into a novel.This one tries to tip more towards the horror
and less towards the funny, and I enjoyed it.This was also Brendan’s first attempt to DIY publish a “new” novel, in
this case another Lovecraft novel that takes place on the Jersey Shore (and has
nothing to do with MTV and that show at all).
I suspect this one would work better for Lovecraft junkies,
as it leans a little harder on the scary.
Enter the Bluebird – This was Halpin first solo novel in
years (outside of Terror) and he chose to Kickstarter it in order to get a
better cover and a copyeditor.
In it, we meet a girl with superpowers whose mom, a
non-powered superhero, has gone missing. She makes friends, starts a war with the local
crime syndicate, and meets a cute boy.And…
Really, I owe this one a longer review, but I’ve only sat
with it for a day and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.(Sorry Brendan.)
Mostly I feel like I want to take my time with it because it
has a lot of things in it that are new for Halpin as a writer.It’s a superhero story, but it’s told in noir
fashion.It’s also a YA book, more or
less.He’s talked about writing a second
one, and I’m curious to see what comes of that, as a lot of this book felt like
the pilot for a TV series – it sets up a main character, yes, but it also
builds up a “team” that, by the end, would certainly make for an interesting
For what it’s worth, I’d put my money down a second time
just to see where it goes.
For lack of a better way to put it, these are some of the
lighter Halpin books.I don’t think
there’s anything wrong with them, and I think if they found just the right
audience, they could have been huge hits (though I don’t think any of them
However, the key issue here is: Right Audience. So I’ll talk
about that as I go along.
Shutout –Shutout is
a story about teen girls who play soccer.There’s boy stuff, and friendship drama.And I think it’s the kind of thing that would make for a cute TV movie
starring a few upcoming tween girls.
But it’s a light book, and deliberately so, and I don’t know
that I was the “right” audience for this one.But if you know a girl who plays soccer, you should give it to her.Like, yesterday.
Jenna and Jonah’s Fauxmance – This is another co-write,
about two TV costars who pretend to love each other, but actually loathe each
other.You can probably guess how it
Honestly, I remain SHOCKED that this one wasn’t picked up by
Disney and converted into their next High School Musical franchise.Truly.It’s light and fluffy and fun, and I think it would be a huge hit.
How Ya Like Me Now? – This was Brendan’s first crack at YA,
and for a while I tried to get it turned into a movie.(I had a few connections at the time, all of
which failed me.)I remember liking it
quite a bit, but I suspect it fell into a strange gap where it wasn’t dark
enough to find a grim audience and wasn’t light enough to find a non-grim
Thinking back on it now, it feels like a more racially
diverse episode of Degrassi.And I like
Degrassi.And if you like that kind of
thing, this book will almost certainly work for you.
The Few, The Proud, The Ones I Won’t Reread:
Brendan Halpin sits in my top three authors list – the other
two are Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.
Here’s what I’ll say for Brendan.He’s never written a book I just flat-out
hated, and/or couldn’t read.King has
written a few.Gaiman has written a
But I should note, these books aren’t bad, they just didn’t
appeal to me all that much, and my interest in rereading them is pretty much
However, I need to add that they might work for YOU.I just wouldn’t start here:
I Can See Clearly Now – This was Brendan’s last book for
adults, and I remember reading it and knowing that there was no way it could be
a hit.The premise isn’t bad, really,
but… Okay, here’s the premise:
A bunch of people come together to create the songs for a
show that might as well be called Schoolhouse Rock, but isn’t because it would
probably cost money to do so.
As novels go, it’s basically a light soap opera.It’s an easy, breezy read.But it’s not something that would ever, in a
million years, become a New York Times bestseller.As it is, I think the “Schoolhouse” angle was
probably the idea that sold it.
It’s not a hard read.It’s not a bad read.It’s just an
interesting premise that I don’t think could ever be “great” in execution.
Dear Catastrophe Waitress – This book, also, suffers from an
interesting idea that doesn’t really work.I think it’s possible it might have come together if it were a short
story, but in this case…
Here’s the gist: Two people, one male and one female, have
their lives ruined when their ex-significant other writes a big hit songs about
This notoriety causes them no end of grief.
Again, it’s not a bad book.But it felt long, as these two people go through something like a decade
of life before they meet and commiserate over what was done to them.It marks the first and only time a Halpin
book felt “long” to me.
Odd and Ends:
Halpin has written a handful of screenplays in an effort to
try something different.Here’s a quick
rundown of the results.
Don’t You Forget About Me – Halpin wrote a sequel to The
Breakfast Club.As far as I know, it
never went anywhere or did anything, and since you can get it on his web site
I’m guessing he never got sued over it.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Breakfast Club (I think I
was too old when I saw it, and perhaps too cynical) so my opinion doesn’t count
for much.But I felt like people who
loved the first movie probably would have loved this, wherein all the gang gets
back together and we catch up with them.
Baby, I Love Your Way – In this, a guy loses everything, and
becomes a busker who only sings the title song, over and over.There are fairies, but they play a VERY small
role in the story.And it shouldn’t
really work, but it sort of does.For
what it’s worth, I liked it more than the books listed in “The Few.”
Notes from a Blender: The Sitcom – In which Brendan tried to
make Notes into a sitcom.I remember I
had comments for him at the time, though I can’t for the life of me remember
what they were.If I remember right, I
think I was under the impression that it would have worked better as a
comedy/drama, not unlike Gilmore Girls.
There’s fun stuff to be had in the script, though.
Donorboy: The TV Show – This one, on the other hand, didn’t
really work for me.I think when it
comes to TV, that both of these books could have been good TV, but I think they
needed someone with an expert hand to co-write them.
And there it is – 3,000 words just to tell you to read
Brendan Halpin.Because you should.Start today!
It’s clear that my writing ability has taken a bit of a hit,
as lately it’s been harder for me to write pieces like this.
To wit, this is the third time I’ve started this
essay/review, and I’m still not sure I’ve nailed it.But I’ll leave that for you to decide.
The Lost Boys
Let’s just get this out of the way – The Lost Boys is a
classic of 80s horror cinema, and perhaps of horror cinema, period.Sit down and watch it today, and you can see
the DNA of all the self-referential horror that came after it.
Unlike, say, The Walking Dead, which seems to exist in a
world where no one has ever heard of zombies, in The Lost Boys, people have
heard of, fear, loathe, and actually know how to fight vampires, more or
less.And as you watch it roll by, you
can see things like Scream and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a few other progeny
as a gleam in the movie’s eye.
If you’ve never seen it, here’s the setup:
A mom and two brothers move to an odd little town in
California, where they crash with their eccentric grandfather.The older brother accidentally falls in with
a group of vampires, and is half-turned into one.His younger brother and his new frenemies,
the Frog Brothers, try to help the younger brother locate and kill the master
vampire, which will allow the older brother to revert to human.
It falls into a weird crack, in a sense, because it was a
horror comedy.Bits were scary, and bits
were funny, and in the middle of it there was even some actual drama, as the
mom tries to figure out just what is going on with her son.
Most horror comedies don’t really work all that well, as
they can’t quite get the mix between horror and comedy to come out.Either the funny undercuts the suspense, or
the horror just kind of takes hold and there’s no more funny to be found.
But The Lost Boys doesn’t have that problem, and the reasons
are many.It’s an impressive cast, for
Jason Patric - He never got to major stardom, but he was
certainly a known and reasonably respected entity.
Corey Haim- A sad
end to his life, but a solid acting career that went for maybe ten years.
Dianne Wiest - Academy Award nominated.
Barnard Hughes - Not a huge name, but if you look through
his credits, he was around just about forever, and did quality work.
Edward Herrmann - Still well-liked and well-respected.
Aside from some personal issues, he's had a long and well-respected career.
Jami Gertz- Still
around, still acting, still pretty well-liked.
Corey Feldman- Had
some years of rough road (and seems to be headed back that way) but at the
time, he was coming off several years of really respected kid acting.(Check out his work in Stand By Me, if you’ve
never seen it.)
Then there’s the script, which in addition to catching that
rare balance I mentioned gets some other things very much right.The characters are well drawn.The “jokes” are rarely jokey, or dopey
one-liners that you used in find in action movies in the 80s.Instead they sprout out of character.
Watching it 25 years down the pike, there are a couple of
flaws.The female characters are, for
the most part, pretty inert.They have
little moments of mom-ness style protection, but none of them ever pick up a
weapon and fight back, and in a post-Buffy world that doesn’t quite work.
The other issue is that the fashions are, at times, so
comically 80s-esque that today they feel like a parody of the 80s.
But overall?This is
one of those movies that keeps getting released on VHS and DVD and Blu Ray and
will probably eventually be released in a version you can attach to your brain
stem, and it deserves it.
The Lost Boys: The Tribe
This one, on the other hand…
Okay, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – people
HATE this movie.I mean really, actively,
But let’s back up and examine, for a moment, what the movie
By… uh… looking at another movie.
Okay, let us consider the movie Terminator.A great movie, made for little money, and it
still works all these years later.Terminator 2 is also a straight-up classic.A flawless film that anyone who enjoys action
and/or sci-fi will almost certainly love.
And then there’s Terminator 3.
Here’s the truth: Terminator 3 is not a bad movie.It’s well written and well-directed, and the
cast is a solid plus.The movie works,
and if 1 and 2 didn’t exist, it would be a well-respected flick that bounces
around on cable from time to time.
But compared to 1 and 2?It’s a retread with an exceptionally good ending.
Now.I am not going
to say that The Lost Boys:The Tribe, is
anywhere near that good.Terminator 3
had a massive budget, really talented actors, and a returning actor who was, at
the time, still a big star.
Tribe, on the other hand, has… Corey Feldman.And Kiefer Sutherland’s brother, who has a
really strange accent for reasons I don’t understand.
But the movie is competently directed by P.J. Pesce, who has
done a few direct to video movies and some good TV work.
And when it comes down to it, this movie was one of those
things that was going to come out, no matter what.Warner Brothers wanted a sequel, and they
wanted it cheap and they wanted it done by a certain date, so quality was not
really of the utmost importance.
And it’s mostly a retread.A brother and sister come to town to stay with their aunt, and they
encounter, yep, vampires.The sister
becomes a half-vampire, and the brother turns to one half of the former Frog
brothers team (Edgar, Alan is MIA) for help.
The big difference here is that it takes longer for everyone
to accept that there are really vampires, and when they put together a plan to
beat them… they try it, and it works.In
contrast to the original movie, wherein they kept failing.
My suspicion is that if people saw this first, without the
original Lost Boys, it’d be one of those movies that’s watched and forgotten,
but not really loved or hated.(With the
possible exception of a water balloon gag that comes off so perfectly I laughed
in delight for almost a full minute.)
I’d say if you’re curious, it’s worth a look, but go in with
very low expectations, and be aware that you’re looking at a sketchy photocopy
of a near-perfect original.
The Lost Boys: The Thirst
Thirst, on the other hand, got nicer reviews, and watching
it, it’s easy to see why.Whereas the
second movie was basically the first one done over again, this one at least
shoots off and tries hard to go its own way.
And honestly, it mostly works.Edgar is still on his own, but Alan is
around, though he’s been half-turned into a vampire.Edgar is given an opportunity (or so it
seems) to kill the Alpha vampire, thereby allowing Alan to revert back to his
There are other subplots, and more importantly, this movie
adopts a bit of a team-building atmosphere, as Edgar adds more people to his
caravan of vampire hunters.
Which is to say, we could have gotten the same movie a third
time, and instead we started to head somewhere.
More importantly, there are actual surprises to be had in
the flick.There are a few cases of
concealed identity.And when you find
out the big bad’s plans, it isn’t a very good one, but if you squint it makes
just enough sense to pass in an action movie.
And finally, the movie works overtime to try to tie itself
to the first flick.Footage is pulled
from the original movie, and little ideas (mainly based around a Batman comic)
from that first flick infiltrate this one and try to give it some depth.
Roughly two-thirds of the way through the movie, I remarked
to my wife, “It’s not exactly good, but it has a certain charm…”and really, that sums it up pretty
succinctly.I suspect that hardcore fans
of the original don’t like this movie much, but…
Here’s a quick metaphor.
Back in the day, there were two Halloween movies, and then a
third that had nothing to do with the series, and then a fourth…
And the fourth should really be terrible.It was written at the last minute, just
before a writer’s strike, and there’s really no reason that the movie should be
passable, let alone good.
And yet, it’s a pretty good entry, complete with a solid
closing scene that wraps up the story, but provides an open-ended option for
It shouldn’t work, but it does.
And Thirst is much the same.If you go in with reasonable expectations, you can (and should, really)
Am I hoping for a fourth?Or, as has been hinted at, a TV series?
Truthfully, it’s not the worst idea, but anything they do
with likely feel like a retread.There’s
a hint at the end of the movie that they might try to take on werewolves next,
and in a movie context, I think that wanders too far off the central spine of
And honestly, if they went the TV show route, it would
likely come off as a lesser version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or, more
I feel like I’ve spent a lot of this year talking about Mike
Doughty.Whether he’s a good human being
has come into question.Whether his last
few albums were decent has come into question.
And really, I’ve given more of my headspace to the guy than
anyone who isn’t at least a personal acquaintance deserves.
Yet I’ve spent the better part of the last month listening
to Mike pretty much all the time I’m listening to music.
Why is that?I’m not
sure, but it brings to mind the first time my parents made Cajun chicken.
I was in college, as I recall, and for years my parents had
been in a pretty firm rut as to what they were going to make, week in and week
Like most parents I know, they had probably a dozen recipes
that were cycled and recycled.When your
cooking and eating time is limited, that’s just what you do – sit down and make
what you know how to make as fast as you can make it.
And then one day, they decided to make Cajun chicken
This sounds complex, but it’s actually a pretty simple
process.Thaw some chicken breasts, chop
up some onions and red peppers.Pan-fry
the whole mess in butter and Cajun seasoning.Cut two large slices of bread and shove the mixture between them.
Like most of the best food in the world, it isn’t elegant,
but it’s the kind of thing that makes you keep eating just because it tastes so
good when it hits your mouth.
The meal was so good, and so relatively simple, that they
replicated it the next day.I should
clarify: there were no leftovers.They
simply made an all-new batch of food.
As far as I know this has never happened before or since.
And that’s where I’m at with Mike.Something about him is making me need to
revisit the experience of listening to his music.
Earlier this year, I pulled out his albums again, and I
discovered that while I had let his newer music pass me by, I was just loving
his older stuff.Haughty Melodic is a
tremendous record (of which I’ll say more in a moment) and Skittish/Rockity
Roll is a fantastic little collection that demonstrates just what you can do
with a lo-fi setup and some free time.
But I felt like I was missing something, and his new
collection of old Soul Coughing songs really brought that home for me.Fully two-thirds of the songs on that record
were remakes of tunes I wasn’t familiar with.
And while the critics had warned me away from his newer
records, I just thought it was time to find out for myself.
Ultimately, it came down to a question of cash, and looking
into these lost artifacts was cheap.Three of his newer albums were available at my local library.And I only required two more Soul Coughing
albums, both of which could be acquired for seventy-five cents each online.
Duly stacked up, I started trying to put together a handle
that I could put on all this music.
I considered doing individual reviews for all of them, but
in the end, I’m not sure I need to.I
have some very specific thoughts about each album, but I don’t know that I need
500 or a 1000 words to detail them.
So here they are in order.With a caveat that I skipped over most/all of his live records, and also
Golden Delicious, a studio album I couldn’t pick up cheap or free.
But I suspect I will soon.And here is, more or less, why:
Soul Coughing: Ruby Vroom
A lot of the time even if I don’t really like something, I
can see why other people might.
But when it comes to Ruby Vroom, I’m genuinely uncertain how
these boys got themselves a record contract.
Well… okay, I guess I can see how they might have gotten
onto a small label, the kind of place that puts out spoken word records, or
poetry, or jazz.What blows my mind is
that this group, and this record, got themselves onto a Warner Brothers label
and got their music out the door.
I’m not saying that the record is bad, per se.But unlike their later records, there’s no
handle to grab onto.There are no catchy
songs that might serve as singles.There’s a lot of talking that isn’t quite rapping.There are a lot of samples that kind of work
in the context of the song, but sometimes don’t (though that’s clearly
It might be one of the most off-putting records put out by a
major label since Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention snuck Freak Out!
into the world.
I think there’s catchy stuff there, and the band really gets
to demonstrate their chops on the record but… I have a hard time believing they
got it into records stores, and I’m even more amazed they were able to release
Soul Coughing: Irresistible Bliss
In contrast, Bliss opens up with Super Bon Bon, which, while
still kind of weird, at least sounds like the kind of thing that could be a
And it was.
That’s the thing about Bliss, really.While some of it is forgettable, this time
around the band appears to want you to hear their record.There are easy songs to listen to here, and
even the stuff that just appears to be flat out oddball poetry (White Girl, for
example) is at least somewhat catchy underneath.
You can follow along and not get a headache.
It’s not a pop record, exactly, but it does give up a few of
those spoonfuls of sugar that help the rest of the medicine go down.
Soul Coughing: El Oso
I once heard Soul Coughing described as one of pop music’s
most interesting dead ends.
I would have agreed with him, I think, if these records had
been released in the opposite order.Ruby Vroom, to be honest, feels like a dead end.A concept that goes about as far as you can
take it, jamming jazz and funk and poetry together.
You could do more of it, but you can’t really do it “better”
than it was done there.
To be honest, had the group stayed in that lane, I suspect I
wouldn’t be writing about them now.
But instead, as the records went on, they wandered out of
that dead end and pulled into a much more regular lane.If Ruby Vroom was a series of crazy sonic
experiments, El Oso is a pop record with occasional nods back at their oddball
Consider: There are three songs on the record that could be,
and to some extent were, hit singles.Circles, St Louise is Listening, and Rolling might sound a little
off-kilter from what you hear on the radio, but put up against other big hits
of the day, and you don’t really have to squint to see how they could butt up
next to one another.
Heck, the year ended with Cher’s Believe at the top of the
charts.A little sonic flutter-pop was
to be expected, and Soul Coughing delivered.
Although these weren’t actually released together until
later in their existence, I think it’s worth lumping them the way they’re
They were, in a sense, meant to be anti-Soul Coughing songs,
in particular Skittish, which is mostly just Mike and a guitar.
What the songs reveal is mostly, in my estimation, what Soul
Coughing eventually revealed.Mike has a
gift for a twisty-turn melody that bounces above his underlying simple chord
What does that mean?Well, I’ll come back to it.Suffice to say that a lot of critics complain that all his songs sound
the same after a while, and in a lot of cases, the critics are correct.
It’s been said that Johnny Cash only knew three chords and
that all his songs only had six notes in them, and maybe that’s true.But Cash released almost two hundred records
in his lifetime, and 50 of them were made up of fresh material.
Which is to say, you can do a lot with a little.
Of course, on the other side of things, there are stories of
Mike starting to play a song, people cheering, and Mike stopping and going,
“Wait, this is a new song.”
So limitations have their issues as well.
But still, this seems to go in the direction Soul Coughing
was going.Even though there is still
some obtuseness, this stuff feels more like songs.You don’t have to create your own handle,
it’s there for you when you turn the record on.
Someday, Mike Doughty will be deceased, and people will
mention Soul Coughing and Haughty Melodic in their opening paragraphs.
This is not to say that what came after was bad, in my
estimation.But Haughty is one of those
rare records with no real flaws.You
might find things you don’t like, yes, but those are personal and not based on
the actual material presented.
Or, as I said about Ruby Vroom – I can appreciate something
without liking it.And I love
Haughty.And I think people that don’t
can at least acknowledge that it does what it wants to do very, very well.
It gets that entire mixture right.Mike’s playing is often simple, but the
arrangements, so key to the success of Soul Coughing, are even more sublime
here.Listen to Busting of a Starbucks
as performed by Mike, and it’s a two-chord song with a chunka-chunka strum.
But on this record, there’s cello.And banjo.And a bunch of other little things popping up, surprising you, carrying
you along on sonic waves of excellence.
His lyrics are also first-rate, nailing little emotions of
life with clever wordplay and surprising vulnerability.It all comes together in songs like “Your
Misfortune,” which flat-out states that I, yes, me, I am your friend no matter
what the world does to you.
Songs like that are a little nothing, and yet they are
Sad Man, Happy Man
People didn’t much care for Golden Delicious, the album that
came before this one.I have no real
feelings about it myself, except that it bothered me a bit to learn that Mike
had recycled 27 Jennifers off of Rockity Roll.
And by all accounts, it was the best song to be found on the
Sad removed all the band and fiddling around that I enjoyed
so much on Haughty and broke it down to Mike, a cellist, and a drum machine.
It’s a short record, a little over 30 minutes, and even the
cover has an odd handmade feel.I’m not
sure what he was going for, but it feels like he tried to pull a Beck.
Because you remember the old days, when Beck had a major
label deal, but was also able to put out his teeny-tiny oddball records on
This feels like that. A funky and weird little return to
Critics didn’t really dig on the record, and while I get why
they didn’t, it felt okay to me.
But what it really reminded me of were the days when Prince
wanted out of his record contract.
In the midst of all that kerfuffle, Prince put out a record
called Chaos and Disorder, and it felt like what it was – cobbled together
scraps which only true fans would want and everyone else would shrug at.
And shrug they did, and Prince was allowed to go on his way.
As did Mike.
Am I right about this?Did he revisit his weird little avenue so he could be a free agent
again, now that he was just famous enough to not need a label, and perhaps more
importantly, not need to share his money with a label?
Yes and Also Yes
I think Yes was the first record where Mike really tried to
split the difference between the two Mikes in question.
After all, he was a free agent now, and he could do whatever
he wanted.And what it sounds like is,
he wanted to make some money.
I’m not saying this record is a cash grab, but it does
feature something you couldn’t really find on the album before it – attempts at
a hit song.
Read his notes on the record, for example, and you’ll find
that Drive Into the Un, which is catchy as all get-out, was meant for a
Twilight Soundtrack (though it didn’t make it).Na Na Nothing has “single” written all over it, and yeah, you can find
it on YouTube complete with video.
By the time you hit the back half of the record, well, there
some more silly and some more experiments (including a song sung in German, for
whatever reason) But it’s clear he’s splitting a deliberate difference here.
Unfortunately, I doubt Mike pleased all that many folks with
this particular album.It’s not busy
enough to be Haughty and it’s not simple enough to be Skittish, and much of the
criticism fell on Mike for not writing “songs.”
Which is too bad, really.Of the later albums, this is easily my favorite.And if he kept producing records like this, I
think I’d be all right with it.
The Flip is Another Honey
It’s strange to think that Mike has now released two albums
of cover versions, but that’s what the Soul Coughing record was, and that’s
what this record is too.
That worries me, really, because Mike really is on his own
now.There’s no big money backing him,
and that means everything he puts out from here on in is on his own dime and his
And while I am more or less okay with his little sonic
experiments, records like this make me suspect that Mike takes a long time to
fill up the songwriting gas tank.
And I don’t think he has that kind of time anymore.
There’s nothing wrong with the record, and I guess I give
the guy props for mostly playing a deep cuts game.People cover Cheap Trick, yes, but Mike does
so twice here, and never once grabs I Want You to Want Me.He also gloms onto John Denver and does a
serviceable job, and then he takes Sunshine and raps over it and…
And it’s all fine, really.
He even digs up a couple of other songs I just plain didn’t
expect.Randy Newman’s Mankind is nicely
served by Mike’s gravelly throat.And Ta
Douleur is a song I’m pretty sure I would never have encountered if I wasn’t a
fan of Mike’s.
And then there’s Send in the Clowns, which features no
singing.And I like Mike, but I don’t
think anyone would argue that his guitar playing is why they buy his stuff.
But like the Soul Coughing record, it’s good but doesn’t
give us more Mike.Some songs are better
than the originals, and some are worse, but most are just the same.
Just this morning, I pulled out Haughty Melodic again for
the second or third time this year, and I queued it up and let it go and, yeah,
if I was ever going to make a case for Mike, it’s right there.
I said before that Mike takes a while to fill the tank, but
more than that, what I think Mike needs is some time to himself.He needs to plink and plunk and create and
then invite someone in and collaborate them.He doesn’t need someone to do what he dictates, he needs something to