It’s a double dose of holiday musical oddities this year, as I plumb forgot to release the 2020 edition when it was time. So please enjoy these two new volumes!
As far as the 2020 volume goes, one surprise was finding out that Harvey Danger (the one-hit wonders who did “Flagpole Sitta” in 1997) actually made some great music and deserved a better career than they got. I really like their Christmas song here and hope you do too. I was also pleased to find a nice J-pop song by the wonderful Mariya Takeuchi as well as an unreleased Christmas jam by the English band Gene, a group I used to enjoy playing on my college radio show back in the 90s. Also, if you enjoy the Julia Mattison & Joel Waggoner ditty, I highly recommend all of the hilarious videos on their “adventcarolnder” Instagram account.
01 Santarchy 2020 intro 02 Dum Dum Girls – On Christmas (2014) 03 Scott Weiland – Happy Christmas and Many More (2011) 04 Jellies – Candy Cane Lane (2020) 05 Make Like Monkeys – Christmas Doesn’t Last (2018) 06 Seasons Greetings From Weird Al Yankovic (1987) 07 Arthur Treacher – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1966) 08 Sheb Wooley – Santa Claus Meets The Purple People Eater (1958) 09 Julia Mattison & Joel Waggoner – Christmas Fondue (2020) 10 Harvey Danger – Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas (Sometimes) (2004) 11 Tik Tok user slim_shitty – Crabs Intro (2021) 12 David DeBoy – Crabs for Christmas (1981) 13 Kate Nash – I Hate You This Christmas (2013) 14 Kenny Burrell – The Little Drummer Boy (1967) 15 Mariya Takeuchi – Suteki Na Holiday (2001) 16 Ice Choir w Kristin Kontrol – Last Christmas (2013) 17 The Futureheads – Christmas Was Better in the 80’s (2010) 18 Merry Christmas from Peter Capaldi & Doctor Who (2016) 19 Mary Schneider – Yodelling Jingle Bells (2017) 20 Dr. Noose – A Very Gremlin Christmas (2018) 21 Sofia – Shitty Xmas (2020) 22 Gene – Someone For Everyone (1998 unreleased Christmas song) 23 Frank Woehrle – Auld Lang Syne (1990s)
This 2021 volume has all kinds of fun surprises in it. More J-pop, a funky couple of tracks at the end to kick the New Year off right, an ancient Simpsons clip from their Tracey Ullman Show days, heavy metal jocularity from Megadeth, and much more. Enjoy, friends!
01 NBC Friday Night Videos Christmas Special w Whitney Houston & Pebbles (1990) 02 Fast Food Rockers – I Love Christmas (2003) 03 Laurence Made Me Cry – It’s Not You, It’s Christmas (2017) 04 Sparks – Thank God It’s Not Christmas (1974) 05 Merry Christmas from Captain Sensible (1982) 06 Kate Bush – December Will Be Magic Again (1980) 07 Tatsuro Yamashita – Christmas Eve (1983) 08 Tom Cardy – Not Quite Almost Christmas Time (2021) 09 Jim Tews & Mike Polk – Oh Christmas Ale (Tribute to Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale) (2009) 10 Season’s Greetings From Megadeth (1989) 11 Megadeth – Thrashing Through the Snow (2013) 12 King Diamond – No Presents for Christmas (1985) 13 Fascinating Aida – Try Not To Be a Cunt, It’s Christmas (2021) 14 Vincent LaGuardia Gambini – If It Doesn’t Snow For Christmas (1998) 15 Big Freedia – Smoked Out Santa (2020) 16 The Simpsons – The Night Before Christmas (1988) 17 Bev & Bob – Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time 18 Spike Jones & The Bell Sisters – Socko the Smallest Snowball (1952) 19 Vera Lynn – Jolly Jolly Jingle (1952) 20 Paul Winchell – Roly Poly Snowman (1960) 21 Rachel Sweet – Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day (live 1979) 22 Christmas Message from Donnie Wahlberg of NKOTB (1989) 23 Skratch Bastid – Merry Christmas & Happy New Year (2019) 24 The Black On White Affair – Auld Lang Syne (1970)
It’s no secret in my family that both Chris and I were snack hounds as kids. If there was a single sugary morsel in the house, one or both of us would find it. During the week we lived with our Mom and Stepdad Bob, and our diet was kept more or less healthy there. But on weekends we’d be unleashed upon my biological Dad and he was the definition of the Permissive Weekend Parent. We could talk him into just about anything at the grocery store and he knew we’d descend on his stash of goodies at home like a plague of locusts devouring crops. Our favorite soda back then was a local Pennsylvania/New Jersey brand called A-Treat and we quaffed can after can of their sarasparilla, lemon-lime, orange and grape varieties.
Knowing this, Dad tried buying A-Treat’s grapefruit variety, hoping we’d turn up our noses at it. Needless to say, we didn’t. And on those occasions when Mom or Bob baked cookies or some other treat, it had to be hidden very carefully somewhere in the back of a cupboard on the very top shelf with explicit warnings that snooping would be swiftly punished. As we grew up things got slightly more laissez faire at home and my folks started buying ice cream sometimes. But even as an adult Chris had a talent for nosing it out, so it had to be hidden away in the back of the freeer by any means necessary, usually wrapping it inside a bag that used to hold frozen peas or something. “Let’s have some mixed vegetables” became code for my parents digging out the ice cream and having themselves a frozen treat when Chris wasn’t around.
This next memory’s pretty esoteric but bear with me. Back in the 1980s when dystopian futures really got popular in fiction, a comic book character called Johnny Nemo appeared and I snapped it up at my local comic shop. This hard-boiled punk detective from 2921 AD had a half-shaved head and geometric shapes on his suit jacket, and the comic had all sorts of silly future-speak words and phrases. If I recall correctly there was a drug called “death-juice” and the standard drug dealer offer to passersby was, “Wanna die?” After reading this, it became an in-joke between me and Chris, especially when he was in surly, big brother, faux-bullying mode. He’d walk past me in the hallway, bump into my shoulder and growl, “Wanna die?!” To which I’d respond, “I’m not Johnny Nemo!” And he’d chuckle in spite of himself. Hey like I said, it’s esoteric. But it gives me a big smile to think about now. We bickered alot as kids so little dumb moments like that and playing baseball together are amongst the rare times we actually bonded until we grew up and started liking each other.
My Mom can tell this particular tale better than I can because I obviously don’t remember it. But apparently when I was a baby, one early morning after my parents had spent all night wrapping gifts and artfully arranging them under the Christmas tree, Chris came and retrieved me from my crib without waking my parents up. We then proceeded to go into the living room and he got at least part of the way through unwrapping our Christmas bounty before the adults arrived on the scene. Maybe the idea of clandestine gifts rubbed off on me because when I was in kindergarten I grabbed a stack of comic books from Chris’ sacred collection and handed them out to my classmates in school. As you can see, I more than held my own in the battle of Who Could Provoke the Other Brother Quicker.
There were some things we could agree and collaborate on as kids like building things with Lego bricks. But the thing that looms largest in my memory from my early years is Matchbox and Hot Wheels toy cars. Chris and I shared our collection and would often take them outside to play. One of the places we brought them was over to Chris’ friend John Gran’s house. We played in his backyard with them and I remember one time a sudden downpour arrived out of nowhere and we ran for home wthout collecting our cars. The next day we found they’d gone missing and some nearby kids had made off with them. I don’t remember the specifics but I know it was a pain in the butt getting them back and parents may have been involved.
The other place we played with our cars was in The Foxhole. Again I plead being young but I don’t remember the origin of this dirt hole in our side yard. I know my Dad dug it for us and it was a rectangular hole about 4-5 feet long and maybe 3 feet wide. Considering we called it The Foxhole it was probably requested by us so we could play soldiers but we also used it to build roads and caves for our toy cars and I have such happy memories of that. As an adult I’ve divested myself of most of my childhood toys but certain ones like that I held onto because he was so much a co-owner of them. Now that he’s gone I’ve taken the tough emotional steps of selling off our shared collections like those cars and our Star Wars toys, but I’ll always hold on to those memories.
For a few years as kids Mom and Bob drove us out to Ohio for annual visits to see my great-grandmother Flood at her ancestral home in Attica. That side of the family had lived there for many years and there were lots of fun nooks and crannies to explore. When we discovered that one part of the wooden bannister on the stairs came apart, we were overjoyed and went about the business of creating our very own hidden treasure. We found a brick that moved in the outside of the house and behind it we placed an old medicine bottle filled with little trinkets and some pocket change. Then under that piece of wooden bannister we left a cryptic note or map leading to the “treasure.” I can’t remember if we left it there or grabbed it the next year but for all I know the current owners still have a little surprise waiting for them to discover.
Chris was always into sports card collecting from an early age but around the time I reached junior high, baseball fever gripped me as well and the two of us started feverishly collecting Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck, Sportsflics, Fleer, and every other baseball card set we could get our hands on. One year for my birthday or Christmas, Chris gave me a little set of homemade cards he created himself. I also played in little league for a year and Chris dutifully kept track of all my stats on graph paper, though I fear he had little to report as the only time I reached first base was when I got hit in the arm by a wild pitch. Our baseball excitement culminated in a trip to Cooperstown, NY with our Dad to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We were beside ourselves at seeing the uniforms and signatures of our favorite classic players. And you can bet we pawed through the collections at Cooperstown’s local baseball card shops.
Chris was a classic meat and potatoes guy. His favorite meal was meatloaf and mashed potatoes and it was usually his request for a birthday meal at my parents’ house. I’m really grateful that we not only made peace and loved each as adults, but that we also lived in the same city of Keene, NH for so many years and would see each other at least once a week at my parents’ house for Family Nights. I always knew if Chris was already there because his backpack would be on the floor when I came in. Chris never went anywhere without a backpack full of everything he might need, from medications and water to reams of paper collecting his latest thoughts on music, or albums on CD he’d purchased recently and wanted to talk about with me. If I gave Chris a ride somewhere, the backpack came too.
I mentioned earlier that we both collected Star Wars toys as kids and like many people our age the first three movies (now known as episodes 4-6) became touchstones we could return to over and over again. When we were kids we devoured the minutiae of the Star Wars universe in books and Chris never forgot seeing the infamously bad Star Wars Holiday Special on TV when he was a kid. He’d always tell me how excited he and his friends were at the bus stop the next morning discussing it, and one of the things that made a huge impression on him was a miniature aquarium one of the charactes had. He made his own from a little clear Tic Tac mints container filled with water and gravel.
That was the kind of stuff we reminisced about in Chris’ last years, especially once Chris discovered the joy of a good brunch. Nearly every weekend Chris wanted to go grab brunch on a Saturday or Sunday, usually at Lindy’s Diner where we’d see our Aunt Cindi working a morning shift. Adulthood hadn’t exactly brought Chris an embarrassment of riches as far as new experiences go. His anxiety and other factors meant he didn’t leave town much and so the topics were either “Hey, remember that time…” or music he’d heard on the radio recently. I’m really glad we had those times together, just the two of us chatting and kidding around over eggs and home fries.
I’m sure as time goes by I’ll continue to remember other good memories of my big brother but I suppose this will do for now. Thanks so much for reading this and spending some time getting to know Chris a bit better. Much love to everybody!
What’s a three-year gap between friends? Please enjoy this “annual” (insert laugh track here) selection of non-traditional Christmas songs, with love from me to you. As always, if you hear a song you like on here, please track it down online and pay for it. Artists need all the help they can get. Happy Holidays to one and all!
01 – Homer Rodeheaver – A Warm Welcome (1955) 02 – Groovie Ghoulies – Christmas On Mars (1992) 03 – The Buzz of Delight – Christmas (1983) 04 – The Police – Merry Christmas from Andy & Stewart (1982) 05 – Thee Mightees – Christmas Song (2018) 06 – Billy Idol – Yellin’ At the Xmas Tree (2005) 07 – REO Speedwagon – Season’s Greetings (1988) 08 – Andre Kostelanetz – Christmas Chopsticks (1972) 09 – Arcade Fire – Jingle Bell Rock (2002) 10 – Breakestra – Let the Bells Ring (2009) 11 – Fitz & the Tantrums – Santa Stole My Lady (2010) 12 – Bugle Podcast – Christmas News (2017) 13 – Susan Kay – I Won’t Let You Lick My Candy Bar (1969) 14 – Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones – Twinkletoes (1966) 15 – Duran Duran – Christmas Greeting (1982) 16 – Hot Dad – Christmas Pain in Christmas Town feat. Dave Pino (2019) 17 – Fred Schneider & the Superions – Fruitcake (2010) 18 – Paul F. Tompkins & Scott Aukerman – Please Don’t Joke About ‘I, Robot’ This Christmas (2016) 19 – Frankie & the Lake County Collective – I’m So Over Christmas (2018) 20 – Ozzy Osbourne – Season’s Greetings (1987) 21 – Joey Ramone – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (2002) 22 – Parry Gripp – I Wanna Guinea Pig For Christmas (2017) 23 – Aloe Blacc – I Got Your Christmas Right Here (2018) 24 – Musical Youth – Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (1982) 25 – Wendy Rose – We Need a Little Christmas (1999) 26 – Max Headroom – Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy) (1986) 27 – Stompin’ Tom Connors – Kiss Me the New Year In (1970) 28 – Homer Rodeheaver – A Fond Farewell (1955)
In the beginning there was my brother Chris, and a little over three years later my Mom decided, “Let there be Tim.” I’m told Chris liked me right off the bat, even showed me off to his class for show & tell. He read books to me and helped me learn to read, taught me to be gentle with our toys, and sometimes if I was lucky he’d take me on adventures around the neighborhood.
I followed him around like a puppy dog. Before I was old enough to be in school myself, I waited for his bus to arrive in the afternoon. On summer trips to the Jersey shore, we scoured the shallows for sea life, interrogated the fishermen on the jetty about their days’ catch, and rode our styrofoam body boards in the surf until sundown.
But if you grow up with siblings, especially a big brother, there’s a decent chance you’ll butt heads from time to time and we were no exception. We went back and forth from friendly to antagonistic, taking turns instigating and reconciling. I once took his comic book collection to first grade and handed out issues to all the kids. Another time he chased me out of his room and I ran face first into a door jamb where I split my lip open. There were a hundred different episodes back and forth like this but deep down we were still close in our sibling rivalry kind of way.
We changed schools and homes a few times during the early years in NJ, and friends came and went but we were each other’s constants. Maybe it was that closeness that fed our incessant teasing and kept us in a state of tension. Arguments and blood flowed from time to time. If we went near the other one’s bedroom sanctuary it raised shouts of indignation. I have no idea how my parents raised us without going crazy from the screaming in the back seat of the car.
“He’s on my side!”
“No I’m not!”
“He touched my side!”
“No I didn’t!”
We went to the same summer camps and shared interests like fishing and exploring the woods. When I was 12 and Chris was 15 we moved to NH. Chris started at Monadnock High School in Swanzey. Being in the throes of puberty did nothing to help our occasional spats and if anything the tension mounted. Slamming doors and more shouting, both of us trying to assert our independence any way we could under the same roof. But despite all of it we still played catch in the yard, built snow forts together, and shared some of the same neighborhood friends.
And it was around this time that we really started to pay closer attention to what would become Chris’ greatest passion, music. We always liked the radio and listening to records and tapes since we were little, but in my memory this is when it started to get more serious. We each had our own little stereos and were taping songs off of the radio, making mix tapes of our favorites. Chris would give me a cassette copy of an album he liked. And I would pretend to turn my nose up before listening to it in private and digesting it fully.
With our family now in Keene and me in high school, our interest in music continued as we explored different genres. Chris, now graduated, found British rock and alternative artists like They Might Be Giants and he voraciously devoured magazines and different radio programs, making notes of what he liked and wanted to hunt down. Chris introduced me to the Keene State College radio station WKNH. I fell in love with dance music and rap, and sometimes while I was at school Chris would record my favorite hip hop show so I could listen when I got home.
Pretty soon we were both obsessed with radio and before I was even out of high school I was learning how to DJ at WKNH. A couple years later I’d be a Keene State student and all four members of our family would be DJs at the station. Chris had shows like Inertia, where he curated the best alternative rock to the absolute limit of his ability. While I would stack a bunch of CDs of bands I liked and play things randomly, Chris would spend all week carefully choosing just the right songs to make sure they flowed properly into one another. He’d read up on bands in his beloved Trouser Press Record Guide and other books so he could tell listeners more about what he was playing. He listened back to his shows and reprimanded himself for every missed segue or mispronunciation. And the whole time, whether I listened or not, I was picking up on his tastes.
I owe nearly all of my musical taste to Chris. The good parts, anyway. Throughout my teenage years Chris would wax rhapsodic about some band from England and even though I was too much of a brat to admit it, my curiosity would be piqued. Sure enough, I’d listen to some “strange” new band like Blur and pretty soon I’d be totally hooked. Nobody ever has or ever will share my musical taste like my brother. From our time sharing music with each other at home and our years at the radio station we developed eerily similar instincts about what was good, what was bad, and what was just plain ugly.
Even though our time at WKNH didn’t last much beyond the early 2000s, Chris never stopped loving the station and listening to it. He certainly never stopped reminiscing about it. In recent years Chris seemed to be more nostalgic than ever. We’d have a music chat with Chris telling me how the move to digital music meant kids at the station were playing songs from an internet playlist with no segues between songs. Then he’d fill me in on who was still on the air from our time there and what they were playing. He’d bring up some little in-joke we had from the old days, like the time in the 90s when I accused A&M Records of having “Tax write-off bands” with no redeeming value. There are a thousand silly things like that that I can’t share with anyone else.
I could go on talking about Chris’ incredible passion for music, like the notes he wrote about genres and influences that seem as detailed and meticulously researched as a Music Theory student. Or the fact that he had synesthesia and saw colors when he heard certain songs. I haven’t even touched on his deep love for photography (he only took a few college courses but he took Photography twice). But I need to address the other side of Chris’ life. It wouldn’t be a full picture of the man without it.
You see, Chris was still in high school when it became apparent to my folks that something needed to be addressed. Certain behaviors of his and the problems he was describing indicated something was wrong. Who wants to say something like that out loud? To see your child in pain is an excruciating pain in itself. Chris was taken to a doctor and the diagnosis came back. Among his early illnesses were BDD — Body Dysmorphic Disorder — and depression. And something that was just being studied more closely and discussed in the medical community: OCD.
Chris would struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for the rest of his life in varying amounts. This is one of the frustrating things about Chris’ ongoing treatment. Through the years of early adulthood my brother was struck with a litany of different symptoms that wove in and out, sometimes with one taking center stage, then another coming on strong.
Chris had a few short-lived jobs over the years but it seemed like there was always a new issue wreaking havoc with his ability to function. At one point he spent years fighting severe paranoia, to the point where his brain told him his therapist had a team of students helping monitor him 24 hours a day, laughing at his problems. He had times of darkness so deep he couldn’t get out of bed.
And bit by bit, the worst thing of all was worming its way into his life. Sometime in the 1990s Chris was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Years of my parents driving him to various doctors, years of different medical opinions and different prescriptions, years of my brother in torment. When he was going through a good period, maybe the medication could handle the worst of it and some of the symptoms would abate. Other times it seemed like nothing could stop his mind from destroying itself. There were times he could handle an apartment and years he needed to be in a halfway house with other adults, helping each other and sharing chores.
There were times when the voices — or “signals” as he described them — were so strong he couldn’t do anything but obey. He’d stop eating and drop to a dangerously low weight. Or the voices would tell him he had to sit in a chair in the dark for hours on end. When it was at its worst, he’d be cut off not only from the world outside but from the very thing that gave him joy: his music. There were long periods when the voices wouldn’t allow him to listen to anything. There were years we spent Christmas with him in at NH Hospital in Concord.
Here was a fiercely intelligent man, described by those who knew him as sweet and caring, someone with a burning curiosity about the world, held hostage by brain chemistry.
Mental illness took nearly everything from my brother. He didn’t have a spouse, and he didn’t have children. As far as I know he only went on a couple dates in his life, decades ago. He didn’t have a driver’s license. He missed out on so many of the things we take for granted in life.
But despite all of this pain and suffering, this litany of pain wasn’t who my brother was. He wasn’t just a broken shell of a human being lost in the system, alone and uncared for, like so many folks we met over the years of his treatment. Because every step of the way, even in the worst of times when it seemed like hope was a bad joke, Chris had his family. We loved Chris with every iota of our beings.
My parents drove him to other states for treatment more times than I can count. They stood by his side no matter the odds or the situation. They hugged him, they read books to better understand his issues, and they listened to every word the doctors said and every word Chris said, be it daytime or three in the morning. My parents have strength I can’t even begin to fathom. For thirty years they did everything humanly possible to help Chris and their hard work kept him from vanishing inside his illness.
And they weren’t alone in their fight. I’m in awe of the tireless staff at Monadnock Family Services, especially the ACT Team. Working in an area of service woefully underfunded in our country, they too were there for Chris, checking on him multiple times each week, making sure he was properly medicated and caring for himself, getting him to important appointments and of course, spending time with him. They treated Chris like a friend and I can’t ever thank them enough.
Thank you also to everyone who ever met Chris and offered a smile, wave, or conversation. Chris spent his life reaching out to everyone to share the things he loved and all of you meant so much to him.
I’m happy to say that Chris’ last year or two were good ones. He would never be free completely but his meds seemed well-balanced and he was actually enjoying life at last. The voices were mercifully quiet and despite some serious bouts of anxiety we spent so many wonderful nights at my parents’ house, our Family Nights. Chris could laugh again and crack jokes, he could watch movies and TV like his favorites Miami Vice, Twilight Zone, and Star Trek. He could read books and come out to restaurants sometimes. Most importantly, he had his music again.
The last couple years Chris was never far from his vast music collection and listening to the radio. Every time we met up he would tell me the latest music being played on The River or what he’d heard on good old WKNH. He was spending time buying and trading in music and movies at his favorite shop Bull Moose and writing to old friends. And I’d chide him for getting my folks to watch a science fiction movie he just bought when it really isn’t their genre. “You should know they weren’t going to like that one!” I’d say. He’d smile and say, “I know, I know…I just thought maybe they’d get a kick out of it.”
He was a man with a place of his own, an apartment he really grew to love, living his life and enjoying it.
Losing Chris like this isn’t fair but I take comfort in knowing he finally got to experience some genuine pleasure again after a lot of tough times. I hope it brings some sense of comfort to the rest of his friends and family, too.
The next time you hear one of your favorite songs, I hope you sing along and think of Chris. Better yet, find someone who never heard it before and play it for them. Because the only thing Chris liked better than listening to his favorite music was sharing it with someone else.
Ever since Ernest Cline’s book READY PLAYER ONE was announced as a forthcoming film directed by Steven Spielberg, speculation ran rampant: would all of the ham-fisted 1980s pop culture references be dragged onto the screen as poorly as they were done on paper? Would protagonist Wade still be a chubby weirdo who spends a portion of the book alone and depressed in his room, engaging in virtual reality porn with his full-body gaming rig? Would we still have to sit through entire chapters of a game built around Canadian prog-rock band Rush? Well the movie is here and I can honest say…it’s not a disaster.
Yes I know, believe me, I never thought I’d type those words either. Yet here we are on the cusp of April 2018 and the movie I watched last night wasn’t a steaming cat turd served on a damp paper plate. Taking time out of his busy schedule of American history biopic films, Spielberg has returned to genre work and delivered an entertaining, if workman-like, production that will likely please casual fans of their parents’ childhoods and disappoint those of us who really wanted to have a good time hating other people’s hard work. Such is life!
Let’s start with the good stuff. First of all, Zak Penn (whose credits include work on superhero movies like THE AVENGERS and the X-MEN film series) has managed to improve some of the worst things about the book. Cline receives co-screenwriting credit but it’s hard to imagine he really did much here, since a lot of the clunky dialogue is missing. Gone are the painfully unfunny banter sessions between gamer dudes in a virtual replica of an 80s finished basement. Villainous CEO Nolan Sorrento has an expanded role here after feeling almost like an afterthought in the book. He doggedly pursues our heroes across The OASIS, a virtual reality video game world created by departed incel genius James Halliday.
The racism, sexism and transphobia of the book are toned down too, thankfully. Daito and Shoto in the book were Long Duk Dong-level caricatures, Japanese characters who speak humorlessly about honor and duty. In the movie they’re Daito and Sho, two kids as thinly-drawn as the other supporting cast but at least they get to smile and crack wise from time to time. Gone is the part of the book where Wade endlessly badgers his love interest Art3mis to discover her gender outside the game and tells her she can’t stop him from emailing her. The movie even gives her a backstory about why she hates Sorrento’s company IOI.
Unfortunately, she still feels like a trophy in many ways and she gets stuck in a creaky old scenario where she insists Wade wouldn’t find her attractive in real life because she’s hideous, yet she turns out to be a conventionally attractive young woman with a pale birthmark across her eye. It’s as though they took inspiration from that godawful One Direction lyric, “You don’t know you’re beautiful / and that’s what makes you beautiful.” She hates her own appearance and needs validation from Wade to accept herself.
But I promised to highlight the positives first so let’s move on. The book is built on a world in which Halliday adored 1980s film, music, and TV, and he has filled his game with references to these things. It’s insane to think that teens in 2045 would obsessively pore over pop culture from the 1980s, no matter how big the prize they might win by knowing that Mike Seaver’s best friend on GROWING PAINS was named “Boner”. It’s glaringly obvious that the entire book is Cline’s own wish fulfillment that the world would somehow recognize that the entertainment from his own 80s childhood was objectively the best ever. I mean, can you imagine the kids of 2018 eagerly trading facts about Perry Como’s best album or which Gidget movie is the ginchiest?
My positive point here is that it’s not as painful in the movie. That may be because they toned it down a bit (there’s no monologue like that painful section of the book that made the rounds on social media where Wade rattles off random pop culture properties he studied for three whole pages). It could also be that it’s just not as jarring to have a thousand pop culture items mentioned when you can actually see them instead of just reading their names in a list. Either way, it works a bit better here.
As for the negatives, I’ll try to keep this fairly short. It’s still a story chock full of nostalgia porn for middle-aged gamers. And there’s still plenty of sexist crap like one of Halliday’s puzzles involving the player having to find a woman he dated one time and asking her to dance because he was too scared to do it in real life before he died. When this virtual Damsel In Distress looked into the character’s eyes and said something along the lines of, “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for you to ask,” I had to cringe, imagining Halliday feverishly working through the night to program the likeness of a woman he had a crush on into his video game, presumably without her permission.
Also, while I said some of the dialogue has been improved from the source material, some parts feel like vintage awkward Cline prose. At one point Wade’s Aunt gets blown up by Sorrento’s hench-drones and Wade’s big line is, “You killed my mother’s sister!” At another point, Wade is searching video of Halliday for a clue to winning a big race and Halliday more or less looks into the camera and says, “Don’t you wish we could just…go backwards? Like put it in reverse and put the pedal to the metal?!” Naturally the secret to winning is revealed to be driving backwards instead of forward.
The world-building of the movie isn’t much better than the book. We still have stacks of mobile homes in Columbus, Ohio, “the fastest-growing city in the world.” We still have a poorly-explained dystopian future where everything is supposedly falling apart but everyone has strong wi-fi and a virtual reality to play with. And now we have some weird system of corporate slavery where you owe money to Sorrento’s IOI corporation and get confined in a little prison cell to work off your debt, and apparently that’s legal??
The cast is fine but there aren’t any particularly noteworthy performances. Ben Mendelsohn does his best with a predictable “Evil Corporate Guy” villain but can’t come close to the greatness of someone like William Atherton in Die Hard and Ghostbusters, if I may namecheck a couple of 80s pop cultural artifacts. Simon Pegg is wasted as Halliday’s BFF and business partner Og. At the end of the movie he reveals that he was watching Wade all along as the Curator, a robot character who watches over the archives of Halliday’s life achievements and memories. In that moment I was stricken by the sad thought of a guy who’s spent YEARS logged into virtual reality all day every day, just so he can lead thousands of gamers around to see his buddy Halliday using the toilet at age 28 or taking the dog for a walk at age 43.
Speaking of the ending, as Wade makes his way to the final puzzle Halliday left behind, he’s playing the game in the back of an old postal truck driven by his friends while Sorrento pursues them through the city streets. When they finally come to a halt, Sorrento advances on the truck and is confronted by a group of hundreds of civilians who’ve been following Wade’s progress with admiration. Sorrento pulls out a pistol and the crowd slowly parts to make way for him. As he heads for the truck with his back to the crowd, clearly intent on gunning down their folk hero, not a SINGLE person in the crowd makes a move to tackle him or otherwise impede his progress. If my eyes could have rolled back any further the optic nerves would have detached.
Ultimately, if you have an opinion already, the movie isn’t likely to change it. If you like the book or just thought the trailers looked cool, you’ll probably like the movie. If you hated the book, I doubt you’re going to come out of the film as a born-again fan. But Spielberg and crew built the best DeLorean they could out of some extremely rusty parts, so I doff my Vader helmet to them. 3.5 out of 5.
It’s back! Time to say a not-so-fond farewell to 2016 with my annual collection of holiday oddities. Disco, retro, beatnik power-pop for everyone. Don you now your gay apparel and dig this track listing:
01 Seasons Greetings From Krystol
02 Mr. Little Jeans – Dear Santa (2014)
03 Anita Kerr Singers – Snowbound (1962)
04 Kylie & Danii Minogue – 100 Degrees (2015)
05 Raindolls – Disco Santa Claus (1978)
06 Sheila E. – The Belle Of St. Mark (1984)
07 Ice Choir – It’s Different Now (2014)
08 Computer Music All-Stars – O Holy Night (2015)
09 ShiSho – Get Behind Me Santa (Original Version, 2005)
10 Seasons Greetings From Weird Al Yankovic
11 Rudy Ray Moore – Merry Christmas Baby (1986)
12 Dustin the Turkey – Christmas Tree (1996)
13 Conan O’Brien – Santa’s Secrets (2016)
14 Nuclears, The – Nuclear Winter Wonderland (2011)
15 Shadowy Men On a Shadowy Planet – Faster Santa Claus, Ho Ho Ho (1988)
16 Shake Some Action! – Christmas In the Sun (2015)
17 Ryan Adams – Hey Parker It’s Christmas (2003)
18 Seasons Greetings From MC Hammer
19 Patsy Raye & the Beatniks – Beatnik’s Wish (1958)
20 Judith Owen & Harry Shearer – Christmas With the Devil (2004)
21 Saturday’s Children – Christmas Sounds (1966)
22 The Stylers – Frosty the Snowman Medley (1960s, Singapore)
23 Seasons Greetings From Lloyd Cole
24 The Gasoline Brothers – Hungover Boxing Day (2013)
I recentlydrew and colored the gatefold cover for the new album “Zagreb” by Omoo Omoo. I love the band so I was really pleased to work on this project. If you’re a fan of instrumental rock / post-rock, please check them out!
Hello again! We had such a wonderful time this past January when we visited. Can’t thank you enough for accomodating my son Mike’s dietary restriction. I know it’s rare but he can truly only eat beef. The doctors say he may have overlapping DNA with jaguars. But I digress.
I’m writing to ask if we can please reorder a print we purchased in your gift shop. It’s the one with the dogs relieving themselves against a wall. Not the one with the german shepherd taking a dump on the dandelion. Ours is the one with the Scottish terrier taking a leak onto a drawing of two lovers’ hearts, and the boxer pissing so hard at the wall that his pee is splashing off and a little bit is going into the pekingese’s mouth. So cute!
Please don’t ask what happened to the first one we bought. The less said, the better.