I was moved by Peter Jackson's World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which uses digital wizardry to conjure empathy, not spectacle. I didn't have space to go into it in my NPR review, but I wondered how J.R.R. Tolkien's experience of the war might've shaped Jackson's sense of it. Jackson did spend a sizable chunk of his career adapting Tolkien's novels, for better and for worse.
search for me
Here’s a rainy New Year’s Eve bonus for you, merrymakers: Side D of Blue Wave Christmas, the yule-mitzvah edition of my longstanding Yuletunes Eclectic & Inexplicable series, has arrived, marking the conclusion of the most ambitious mixtape I’ve yet made. It’s long on merriment, long on obscurity, and long on length. That’s why I had to serve it to you incrementally. With this vestigal-tail chapter, some of the familiar voices from prior iterations have returned after mostly keeping mum so far this year. There are by my reckoning at least seven days of Christmas remaining, so I’ll leave you to it. You can find all four sides on this page. I wish for all of us a better 2019.
Look, we didn’t think I’d actually get to interview everyone I had on my to-interview wish list. That never happens.
Only this time it did, which is how I came to have five different voices in my four-and-a-half-minute All Things Considered piece on the animation in Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, a movie I cannot wait to see again.
All of them—producer Chris Miller, producer/co-screenwriter Phil Lord, co-screenwriter/co-director Rodney Rothman, co-director Peter Ramsey, and finally, Eisner Award-winning comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, who (with artist Sara Pichelli), created Miles Morales, the primary hero of Spider-Verse—had smart, illuminating things to say. I spoke to Bendis solo and Lord & Miller and Rothman & Ramsey in pairs, and pretty soon I had something like 75 minutes of good tape for a story that could accommodate mmmmaybe two-and-a-half minutes of that.
It was an epic job of cutting, followed by more frantic cutting, and then more surgical cutting. My editor, Nina Gregory, and news assistant Milton Guevara, showed me how radio pros get things done on deadline. Bob Mondello, who’d suggested the piece in the first place, gave me some vocal coaching in the booth.
I wish we could’ve used more of what all those smart, imaginative people had to say. I wish we could’ve made the segment 15 minutes long. But I’m very happy with what we managed to pack into about 240 seconds.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first good Spider-Man movie in, uh, 18 months! But it's more than that: A fun, warm, visually astonishing omnibus of Spider-lore that elegantly rebukes reactionary fans whose minds are stuck in 1963. I rarely get worked up over animated films—a blind spot I can neither defend nor explain—but I loved this. Here’s my NPR review.
For your Washington City Paper, I reviewed The Panties, the Profit, and the Purse—a series of linked David Ives comedies adapted, with shrinking fidelity, from a trilogy by the 19th century German social critic Carl Sternheim. That sounds awfully highbrow, doesn't it? Ives is better at farce than at satire, and the show is a better document of what he likes than what he thinks. I liked it, but I'd like it more if Ives would—in the words of the 21st century social critic Boots Riley—"Sho[his]Ass." As it were.
I’d say it was the Pop Culture Happy Hour episode for which I’ve been training my entire life, except we just did the Die Hard episode. Anyway, I was glad to be part of the elite panel of holiday song-pickers summoned to the National Public Radio today to argue which Christmas song is the Muhammad Ali Greatest of All Time yulejam, and which one is our individual favorite at this particular moment. The stakes in the latter instance are lower, but that only complicates the emotional work of choosing, because the shackles of convention are all the way off!
It says something about the company I was in—PCHH regular Stephen Thompson, plus two very smart NPR Music staffers, Lyndsey McKenna and Marissa Lorusso—that my selections were somehow the most uptempo of the lot. (They’re all lovely people, whose affection for mopey holiday songs is one I very much share. Click on “Christmas Mixtapes,” above, for years and years of evidence.)
Had this episode been recorded at an earlier or later hour of the day, I might’ve stanned for James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” or “Christmas Love” by Rotary Connection or The Killers' "Great Big Sled" or even the ‘87 U2 version of Darlene Love’s classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” But I chose to stump for the lead track off Blue Wave Christmas, the latest ineffable installment in my generally somewhat effable Yuletunes Eclectic and Inexplicable series. (See here, you.) There’s no promotion like self-promotion. Ebeneezer Scrooge had to learn that the hard way. I don’t know what that means, but if you say it out loud with the inflections in the right places, it sounds like it means something.
FURTHER READING: Since Marissa chose “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as her all-timer, perhaps you’d like to revisit my five-year-old Slate piece trying to puzzle out why this song, from 1994, is the most recent entry to be admitted to the perennial holiday songbook. Or my six-year-old Washington Post story about sad-sack seasonal sounds.
Have mercy! This is just getting ridiculous now. For the lucky thirteenth iteration of my Yuletunes Eclectic and Inexplicable series, I thought that instead of releasing it in two indefensibly long parts, as had been my habit since I stopped burning and printing physical CDs of this thing—a nice bauble to thrust into some unsuspecting person's hand, but expensive—I thought I would do a sort of podcast limited series of four episodes, released weekly, counting down to the Feast of Christmas. Because four is more than two—one hundred percent more, from a numerical perspective. And I believe in always giving one hundred percent, Christmaswise.
So this is merely the first twenty-five percent, right here. And I daresay this is the most eclectic Yuletunes Eclectic entry yet. Do they know it’s Christmastime at all? Do you? Is Santa a B-Boy or a B-Man? Sure, you’ve heard Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”; that’s entry level. But have you heard the flip? These are cuts so deep they’ll give the bends, and yet so Prime that Jeff Bezos would be delivering them to you with free two-day shipping if I hadn’t already dropped ’em on ya instantaneous.
Strap in. Turn on. Light up. Get down. Because to paraphrase Ben Grimm, it’s hall-deckin’ time. Again!