Some Kind of Mojo

Last night, after a long day spent mostly outside, I settled in to watch The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir, a documentary about the Grateful Dead guitarist that’s now on Netflix. I’ve been, I guess, a casual Grateful Dead fan since I was in high school (you can read something about that here) and found the film to be equal parts entertaining and enlightening. Weir will never have the legacy and cult status of Jerry Garcia – the title of the film alludes to that – but he remains an incredibly talented and dedicated musician who had just as much to do with the development and ultimate success of the Grateful Dead as any other member. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been revisiting some old favorites today and thought about sharing something from History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One, an album that was very important to me as a teenager. Or perhaps “Sugar Magnolia,” which is probably the best-known Dead song penned by Weir. But then I remembered one thing that struck me while watching the documentary last night: images and footage from the Dead’s three-night stand near the pyramids in Giza, Egypt in 1978.

Basically, the idea for the trip evolved from the band’s – specifically bassist Phil Lesh’s – fascination with “playing at places of power,” i.e. locations that had more cosmic energy that the musicians and their audience could tap into. Lesh reported that he felt that there was “some kind of mojo about the pyramids.” In 1976, with the help of concert promoter Bill Graham, the band started to work on a plan to get into Egypt. They ended up using other contacts, well-connected Americans who had worked at the American University in Beirut, to help them present their proposal to play at the pyramids to the Egyptian government. Lesh spoke with a deputy culture minister, who as it turned out, completely understood his feeling that “music changes when you play in different places.” And so, that’s how the Dead ended up rocking the pyramids in April 1978, with all of the shows’ proceeds going to Egypt’s Department of Antiquities.

I think this event was a particularly cool moment in the history of the band, an example of how they used history and mysticism to further their own sound and image. I’m looking forward to researching it some more this week. (And listening to the live album covering the shows from April 15 and 16 – Rocking the Cradle, Egypt 1978 – which was released in 2008.)

Finally, here is a very good cover of the magazine Relix from February 1979 with an image of Bob Weir in front of a pyramid.


Sources Consulted:
Haas, Charlie. “Still Grateful After All These Years: In Which the Grateful Dead of the Haight-Ashbury Become the House Band of the Certain Age of Doom.” The Grateful Dead Reader. Ed. Davide G. Dodd and Diana Spaulding. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. 133-134.

Spiral v. Scandal

engrenages scandal

I talk about my Netflix-watching habits a lot on here. Probably more than I should. It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I watch on Netflix. It’s just that I think I could probably devote my energy to writing about things that matter. But, then again, Netflix is a thing that matters to me. I guess it shouldn’t matter me so much but whatever, I like watching things on TV in my spare time, so there. I have been watching two series recently: Spiral and Scandal. Spiral is kind of like French Law and Order – its French title is Engrenages – but with season-long story arcs and subtitles. Scandal is kind of like…ugh, you all know what Scandal is kind of like because you probably read the internet and also you probably have seen a Shonda Rhimes show before. Both of these shows are great for binge-watching.

I watched the entire first season of Spiral in one weekend. I swear, by the end of the weekend, my French comprehension was back where it had been when I was taking college French classes. (I’m not sure what this says about me or the Northwestern French department.) Anyway, Spiral is dark and gloomy and filled with the kind of wonderfully flawed characters that have made modern television so great. Police Captain Laure Berthaud shares much with a female law enforcement officer who is also one of my favorite television characters, Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison, played by Helen Mirren. Both are women who struggle to maintain power in a male-dominated field, while they barely keep their dysfunctional personal lives from reaching a state of complete disaster. However, you learn much less about Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) in the first season of Spiral than you do about Jane Tennison in the first season of Prime Suspect. Because the show isn’t entirely about Laure. It’s also about Assistant Prosecutor Pierre Clement (Gregory Fitoussi), whose story dominates most of the first season, as his personal life becomes entangled in the season’s main story, that of a murdered Romanian prostitute with high-ranking connections. Supporting characters on the police force and in the judicial system – Audrey Fleurot brilliantly plays a young, corrupt lawyer named Josephine Karlsson – are fully realized, and their individual motives take the first, and then the second, seasons to places I didn’t expect. But, the themes of the show and the stories told aren’t all that different from the police and legal dramas we’ve seen before, and there’s something about that familiarity that’s comforting. You know that even if the road to the end of the season is a winding one, they’ll probably catch the bad guys and everyone will learn some kind of lesson.

Watching Scandal gives me a different kind of satisfaction. Unlike Spiral, which not only boasts a comparatively complicated plot, but also requires one to read subtitles and figure out how the French legal system works, Scandal requires little attention paid in order to follow along. I watched the first season this winter, after hearing from several friends that  the show, in which Kerry Washington plays the #1 Washington fixer who is also having an affair with the president, is the best kind of soapy fun. I found that it was pretty much exactly how they described it. It is literally CRAZY, full of conspiracies and secret presidential sex and Kerry Washington wearing a series of beautiful white cashmere outfits. Women (and men, but I’m more fascinated by the women, I guess) struggle for power in the show, but the tone is such that these struggles are much less realistic and interesting than the character arcs of Spiral.

I started watching the second season of Scandal immediately after finishing the first, but stopped after one of the stories carried over from the first season was resolved. I recently picked up where I left off in an effort to catch up with the third season, which premiered a few weeks ago. I can report that, two-thirds into the second season, the show is still insane and satisfying in the same unchallenging manner and I really, really hope it doesn’t get as bonkers as Grey’s Anatomy did back in the day, with all of the ghost sex and runaway grooms. At this point, I’m invested but not sure that I’ll continue to be so into it that I will live tweet the show along with every other woman in America.

Two more seasons of Spiral await me on Netflix. I’ll probably wait a little bit before watching them. It’s not quite a thing here, not having reached the same level of fame as Borgen and Danish television, which has been the subject of trend pieces in the New Yorker and elsewhere. (I started watching Borgen this summer and then fell behind and wasn’t able to catch up, which I’m a bit sad about.) However, there was this New York Times article about French TV recently. I hope it inspires streaming services to start carrying more of these shows. I could see myself getting caught up in more foreign language television, especially if they make me feel like maybe I could speak better-than-terrible French again at some point in my life.

My Queue Is A Curious Thing

Currently, there are 71 items in my Netflix queue. Though my queue was a very important part of my Netflix experience back when I had DVD service, I find that I use it less and less now that I’m only a simple streaming customer. Actually, I almost never use it unless I am very bored and not interested in whatever Netflix suggests to me on the main page. Yet I still add things to my queue occasionally. I took a look at it recently and decided to categorize what I want to watch, much like Netflix categorizes the things that I might like to watch.




Films That Everyone Has Seen That Have Been Lingering on My Queue For At Least Two Years, Which Means I Will Probably Never Watch Them in My Lifetime

Being John Malkovich
The Hours
Midnight Cowboy

Recent (Well, Let’s Say Post-1995) French Films

Blame It on Fidel
Goodbye, First Love
Happily Ever After
The Hedgehog
The Intouchables
The Kid With a Bike*
Monsieur Lazhar
The Piano Teacher
Romantics Anonymous
Water Lilies

Recent Non-French Foreign Films

Bread and Tulips
Oslo, August 31st

Classic, Mostly Foreign, Films

8 1/2
A Woman Is a Woman
The Bicycle Thief
His Girl Friday

British Miniseries Based On Classic Novels

The Buccaneers**
Great Expectations
Mansfield Park
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

British Films Based On Classic Novels

Cold Comfort Farm
Enchanted April

Mostly British Films or Miniseries About Detectives and/or Murder

George Gently
Ripper Street
The Snowtown Murders

British Films to Watch When I Run Out of Other British Films and Television

Nowhere Boy

Irish Stuff That I Almost Lumped in With the British Stuff (Before I Thought Better of It)

Albert Nobbs
My Left Foot
The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Films Starring Ryan Gosling

All Good Things
Blue Valentine
Lars and the Real Girl

Confused Young-ish Women

Dirty Girl
Kissing Jessica Stein
Sleeping Beauty
Slums of Beverly Hills
Valley of the Dolls
Young Adult

Indie Dramas (Plus One Comedy and One Sci-Fi Film) That I Can’t Seem to Specifically Categorize

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Helena From the Wedding
Me and You and Everyone We Know
The Messenger
Upstream Color

My Friend Told Me to Watch This

Holy Motors
Let the Right One In (Swedish)

The Only Music Documentaries I Didn’t Watch During My Very Intense ‘Music Doc’ Phase

Classic Albums: Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Who Is Harry Nilsson
You’re Gonna Miss Me

General Documentaries That I Have Never Been/Will Never Be in the Mood to Watch

The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie
Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement
How to Survive a Plague
Last Train Home
Stephen Fry in America

Ken Burns Joints

Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl
Ken Burns: Prohibition


A Late Quartet
White Chicks


I still have some desire to watch all of these…I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. (Well, I actually have gotten around to some of them. I realized that I’ve seen a few of these already.) Also, I’d like to point out the reason that there are so many foreign films on this list: I actually have to concentrate for a decent period of time while watching them, because I need to read the subtitles. Even the French ones. (My French abilities are abysmal these days.)

Does anybody still use their queue on a regular basis? I’m afraid it’s just become a place I send films/shows to linger until they’re almost expired, when I feel bad and watch them in a rush like I did with Broadway Danny Rose last weekend.

*Actually, this is Belgian but…it’s in French.
**Based on an American novel but produced by the BBC and also similar to most non-detective BBC/Masterpiece miniseries.

A Few Things to Do When You Have a Stomach Virus

– Begin watching Orange Is The New Black – even though you feel like a tiny, invisible demon is stabbing your abdomen with a tiny, invisible knife over and over again – not because you heard it was good but because you are deeply competitive and see that your roommates have already watched ten episodes while you were on vacation. Then, of course, realize that it’s really good and watch all 13 episodes in a little over 24 hours.

– Lay on the couch all day, sweating, with a fan set on the highest possible level blowing almost but not quite directly on you. Do not wear pants.

– Spend so much time in your closet of a bathroom that you begin to think of it as more than a bathroom. The bathroom is your friend. Your friend who you tolerate in spite of his many flaws – he is at least 20 degrees hotter than the rest of your apartment, he doesn’t have enough floor space for you to dramatically writhe in pain, his window overlooks someone’s little backyard that you wish was yours – because you really, really need him for his toilet.

– Google all of your symptoms. Diagnose yourself with gastroenteritis.

– Drink a lot of water even though you’ve become convinced that it’s poisoning your body.

– Strap an athletic ice pack to your head.

– Google all of your symptoms again. Decide that you’re experiencing the early stages of sepsis and check your body for some type of rash that you’re supposed to get that you are pretty sure signals the early stages of death.

– Mentally write a will but stop yourself before you write it out for real.

– Watch the second half of the first season of New Girl and ask yourself the following questions: How did this show actually pull off a great second season? Am I really sexually attracted to Schmidt? What if I die at the exact moment when Zooey Deschanel sings “It’s Jess!” in the opening?

– Take like seven naps a day because you get tired every time you sit up for more than ten minutes.

– If you are feeling sort of OK, put on a sports bra and some gym clothes so you look normal (like you’re going to the gym) and walk two blocks to the grocery store. Buy the essentials of the BART diet (bananas, applesauce, rice and bread (for toast)) and as much Gatorade as you can carry because you forgot that it’s not actually that great for you when you’ve lost a lot of fluids.

– Discover that Lemonade Gatorade might have unseated Blue Frost as your favorite flavor.

– Read an entire book in a day. (I read The Middlesteins, but you might like to read something else.)

– Watch The Hunger Games for the first time since you saw it, drunk, the night it came out. Realize you remember a lot less about the movie than you thought.

– Read this amazing New Yorker piece on wily British egg collectors.

– Think a lot about the mysterious pain in your elbow. Is it tennis elbow? Is it a blood clot? Is it the pain in your joints you may feel before you die of sepsis? Google it but don’t self-diagnose because you’ve been taking your pulse and your temperature every hour for two days and you’re FINE.

– Watch The Fall on Netflix. Gillian Anderson with a British accent is the only kind of Gillian Anderson you need these days. (Briefly consider watching Bleak House (2005) for the ninth time but don’t because that would be a bit much.)

– Fall asleep every night hoping you’ll feel better the next day. And then, little by little, start to feel better. Also, come to the conclusion that you are not dying of sepsis as you didn’t really have any of the symptoms.

Childish Things: Or, How I Learned to Love Adventure Time

OK, so,  Adventure Time is my favorite TV series currently on the air that I’m not totally caught up on. (I’m in the middle of watching Season 3 right now, though this isn’t really a show where watching all of the episodes totally matters.)  When I first told some friends about my new obsession, they were skeptical. I’m not a known cartoon fan and the animated shows I do watch – Archer and Bob’s Burgers – are meant for adults. Also, I guess, some people just grow up and forget that animated shows exist and/or can be great. Anyway, I don’t think I really believed just how much I was into Adventure Time when I first started watching it. I hadn’t even heard of the show until I saw two dudes dressed up as Finn and Jake at a Halloween party last year and I asked my friend what they were supposed to be. But I ended up blowing through the first season on Netflix shortly after it appeared there and now I’m addicted.

If you haven’t watched the show, here’s the deal: It’s about two adventuring best friends and brothers, Jake (the Dog) and Finn (the Human), who are hanging out and having adventures around the land of Ooo episode after episode. That sounds like it could get lame pretty fast, but I promise you that it doesn’t. The show has a wonderful mixture of gross/silly/weird/sometimes biting humor that keeps it fresh. (So far, I mean. It could get old by the time I start watching the fifth season, but somehow I doubt it?) As long as you’re not offended by fart jokes, I’d venture to say you’ll think it’s pretty funny.

The cast of characters is fantastic and well-rounded for a show primarily meant for children. While I think that anyone who’s a fan would agree that Jake is just the fucking coolest ever and that Princess Bubblegum is an awesome supernerd role model (girls can be smart and girly!), my favorite character is Finn. I like Finn because he’s not afraid to be sincere. He feels responsible for everyone around him, always wants to do the best he can, and wants his fellow Ooo-inhabitants to get along. But when he has trouble achieving his goals or senses injustice, he gets really, really pissed. (I relate to him a lot in this sense.) I love watching a kid character who is totally badass but also totally a kid still learning the way the world works. The show also has enough episodes that many of the quirky and hilarious recurring characters – try not to fall in love with Lumpy Space Princess or the main villain, the Ice King – feel fully fleshed out and not just good or evil or annoying.

Finn and Jake are also different from many questing characters I’ve encountered in my years of reading children’s or young adult books* in that it seems they’re adventuring because they like it and it’s an awesome way to spend time together, rather than out of a sense of duty to something or someone that is much, much greater than them. And I think that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, I meant for this to be a shorter “In Brief” post, so I’ll stop here. But I will say that when I was originally thinking about how to frame this post, I was going to talk about some of the “childish” things I enjoy, from my Hello Kitty calendar to reading (and re-reading and re-re-reading ) young adult novels. I need a little figure out how to write about that, but I hope to share something in longer form soon.

In the meantime, is there anything else out there that’s meant for kids that you, as an adult, are/were into? I want to hear about it!