A Playlist For the Apocalypse

So here we are, no longer at the precipice of something awful, but fully immersed in it. No, the world didn’t end and yes, the sun still rises everyday, but we’ve gone backwards.

That sneaking existential dread that many of us felt as this election approached was well-founded. The next few years are going to be interesting, but most importantly, those of us that care need to do more than just be upset. As an artist I’m going to do my damnedest to just create, to make sure that I do my part in contributing towards the positive.

All of this has me listening to music and wanting to share it, so here is my late night playlist of existential dread.

Prince – Avalanche – From One Nite Alone and is one of those times when Prince traded in talking about the physical or spiritual to talk race. The few times when he took the gloves off to discuss race it felt important.

Neurosis – Stones From the Sky – Perhaps one of those songs that helped to best define my 20’s. Neurosis always understood that feeling that something was wrong with the world and how the hell do we cope with it. “You’ve been shown, over and over, don’t you know?”

Neil Young – Rockin’ in the Free World – Do I even need to explain this one?

Kyuss -Whitewater – A lot about what appeals about music to me is the feel. The idea of creating something that through music and lyrics (even without delving into the meaning behind the words) can evoke a strong feeling. This is that.

David Bowie – Man Who Sold the World – Truthfully, I’m not a huge fan of this album. It’s okay, but not his strongest by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, this song feels relevant to now.

Pink Floyd – In the Flesh – Perhaps the easiest connection to Trump is Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Not only does Donald want to build a literal wall to keep “Mexican rapists” out, but it’s easy to make parallels between this very personal look into being famous and building up emotional walls to keep everyone from hurting you.

In The Flesh is, well, the culmination of that insanity and shows a lot of the fears that many of us have of what Trump means to people manifesting itself in truly shameful ways. “Are there any queers in the theater tonight? Get them up against the wall.”

Night Terrain – American Dream – Well what the hell, I can be proud of my own stuff here and there, right? Not only am I dashingly handsome, but I can play guitar pretty well. I’m proud of this song and all of the work we put in to make it what it was and say what it said.

maudlin of the Well – Geography – Written through lucid dreams and astral projection, it’s hard not to love maudlin of the Well. Bath is a concept album about giving a kid a bath, but not really. “Your art is like your grin. It delivers me.”

David Bowie – It’s No Game (Part 1) – “To be insulted by these fascists, it’s so degrading.”

I chose part one because part one is still raw and angry, while part two is resigned and subdued.

Seasons Change; or, Neoliberalism, White Nationalism and the Brooding Hero Doldrums

Tracking change in one’s self can be a bit of a stumbling block at times. How can I know when I’ve underwent a change? Is there any sort of clear sign that I’ve changed directions, or is it much more subtle that one day I wake up to find myself unsure of many of the ideas and things that I held dear previously? This is something that I’ve been grappling with on both a personal and professional level of late.

Personally because of the birth of my two boys, professionally because personal growth is linked directly with growth and change as a writer. Not only have I focused on some of the holes in my writing, but story concepts and what I tend to focus and and treat as important has changed drastically. This year has been quite a year for a lot of this change considering that it’s an election year and perhaps one of the oddest, most contentious that I’ve seen in my life thus far. 

Breaking things down to simply “liberal” or “conservative” feels crass to me, because there’s so much more to life than either A or B, and there always has been. When it comes down to it, do I favor one side? Absolutely, but this election in particular feels a lot less about that binary choice and instead an ideological landmine. The one side of the coin represents the resurgence in neoliberalism, which may indeed have some merits and shared concepts with the core of liberalism, but a lot of deviance from the core tenants and things that I surely don’t support. The other represents a whole plethora of things which is almost difficult to unwrap at times.

Voting for one side means letting corporations continue to reign supreme in this the age of Late Capitalism, but it also means continuing important social services, the rights of women, people of color, LGBTQA+ people, religious folk outside of Christians or Jews and many, many other things. On the other hand, it also means that the war machine will have no end in sight and siding with what has proven itself unable to defend off the claims of being “crooked” because, at their core, they are simply working a system that is broken much like many before them, but they know that most of it is shitty.

I can’t even fathom diving into everything about Donald Trump. No, not all Trump supporters are overall-clad hillbillies looking to lynch anyone different from them while waving the Confederate flag and blasting off their guns. At the same time someone like Trump has an appeal to people who feel marginalized and underrepresented, sick of things getting worse (at least for their perception) and who yearn for the days of old, where America was a nation of producers and not simply consumers and servicepeople. It’s the people who watch South Park and see the P.C. Principal and say, “Yeah! Why can’t I say what I want?” and entirely do so without irony or empathy towards other human beings. It’s the people who may not be overtly racist, bigoted or xenophobic, but can’t understand how life is for people other than themselves. We all live in the same country, right? We all have the same opportunities and live under the same laws, right?

At least to me, those are very, very flawed lines of thought and ignore the hardships that people outside of the white, middle class have experienced. If America is to be a great place, it needs to be a place of understanding and opportunity, even if it means that us white guys might find ourselves making concessions and that life might be a bit more difficult. No, I don’t have the same boundless opportunities that my grandfather or even my father had and no, my college education didn’t give me a step up over anyone (even though it was drilled in my head that it would) and that’s okay. The reality is that there are people that are just as smart, driven and talented as myself out there who haven’t been given as fair of a shake as I have; women, people of color, people of different religions or sexual orientation and that’s a bummer.

So while you might be wondering how this diatribe on modern politics links up with my own personal and professional growth, I’m getting there. Like I said before, I’ve got two kids to worry about now and the world is a weird place, which has caused me to do a lot of self-reflection. Part of caring for kids is watching TV. As much as most of us who have kids would like to pretend otherwise, feedings are tedious and not that interesting affairs that involve sitting in one place, holding a bottle and running through mechanical motions. There’s also the fact that after they go to sleep the idea of just how daunting and exhausting the whole thing is creeps up on my subconscious. After re-discovering the soundtrack to the show Cowboy Bebop I decided to repurchase the show in a digital, HD format and watch it again. That show meant a lot to me at one point in my life (or perhaps it was just the soundtrack) and I was wondering if it held up.

It didn’t.

Now wait, before you decide that I’m the worst and that Cowboy Bebop was awesome, hear me out. The whole show is essentially based on the whole idea of the lonesome, stoic hero and his journey of self-discovery, badassdom and his feeeeeeelings. The thing is, in retrospect, it’s not all-that deep and was just a kind of fun show about kung fu, spaceships, guns and dysfunctional people in ridiculous situations. A character like Spike may have appealed to a younger me, a loner me who felt disenfranchised and lost in the world, but for adult me it feels so alien. I have a family now, I have concerns beyond being some sort of complicated man who broods and tries to appear deeper than I really am. The episode where Spike confronts Vicious in the church at one point felt meaningful to me, now it just seemed comical. 

But that song, right? At least I still have Yoko Kanno, I guess.

This kind of reflection can be a bummer, but also enlightening. I’ve been working on diversifying a lot of what I write and trying to not only appeal to broader audiences, but to tell more interesting stories. The book that I’m working on was fun, but sort of derivative. That was kind of the point, but really, it was another story about another loner of a man living in a cruel world with a bone to pick. If Max Rockatansky could take a backseat to Imperator Furiosa to break the doldrums of the silent, cool hero, I could do that in my work as well. That meant taking a lead character that in a lot of ways was built off of the archetype of the Clint Eastwood/Mad Max mold, and shifting focus away from him.

I began the story over 12 years ago and picked it up as a bit of a vacation from my other books, then got wrapped up in it. Along the way I decided to add other characters to share the stage with their point-of-view, but he was still very much the focal point. That all changed when one day I was sitting there, staring at a revision of one of his chapters and said “Why am I focused on him at all?” The truth was, I had no idea. My favorite character wasn’t some heroic badass, it was the female engineer who had a complicated relationship with a rather simple, brutal idiot of a man.

So I decided to scrap his chapters, but keep him as a driving force of the action. He still exists, his badass fights and one-liners are still there, but seen through a different character’s perspective. So while he might be pushing the plot along, the story has morphed from a tale of sordid revenge and nihilistic views on humanity to the strength of a few people to survive the worst of conditions in a cruel, unforgiving world. The thing is, I enjoy this so much more and it has been a paradigm shift of my work of late.

For years the whole male power fantasy has been something for me to deride, but now I’ve finally found a way to write action without getting lost in those concepts. It also shows in what I consume now when it comes to media and art. Books like Daniel Abraham’s “Dagger and Coin” series have become far more interesting to me than the stuff that I used to read. I mean, it’s a book series that yes, features a brooding merc of a man with a complicated past who does heroic stuff, but it’s not his story, instead it’s the story of Cithrin, an orphan girl who was adopted by a banker at a young age who found her own path in a war-torn world through cunning over violence. It’s also very much about a chubby nerd who has a power fantasy, gets that power, but only to those looking from the outside, with him a prisoner in his own sad life and the pawn of the men who stood behind him in the shadows.

That’s the kind of stuff that we need more of, not the brooding hero with the murdered wife and kid being lost in the world. We’ve heard that story before and while it might resonate with a younger male, there’s enough of that for them already.

In a way, it’s very similar to why the new Ghostbusters movie wasn’t some awful affront to good taste that ruined childhoods. In fact, it was a fun movie that poked fun at itself and took a goofy concept that people grew up loving and put its own stamp on it. Sure, it was a remake/reboot in a world with too many of them, but if that movie alone has destroyed your childhood you are far more fragile than the people you jab at for being “SJWs” or whatever.

As much as I love Blade Runner, it was a simplified, overstylized adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep with a ton of the meat of the story cut out in lieu of beautiful, futuristic wide shots and for Harrison Ford to brood. I, Robot became a Will Smith summer blockbuster with zero real understanding of Asimov’s laws of robotics or what made his stories compelling. What I’m saying is; get over it, you aren’t special.

I’m not saying that I am, either, I’m just a guy that chooses to write about it all.

The Low Stakes and Lack of Emotional Connection of Westworld

On this here blog I posted reviews of Westworld episode one and two, with the intent of continuing forward and doing those weekly. The week three review is half-finished and has been sitting there, unfinished for well over a week now and I just watched episode four last night. Newborn twins are tough at times and finding time to watch a show then sit down and blog about it isn’t always easy. Plus, nobody really cares about Westworld in the face of The Walking Dead coming back, which, yeah, I won’t even get into that.

Anyway, what’s the matter with Westworld? We’re four episodes deep and there are fan theories, subreddits and comment sections degrade to obsessing about the minutiae of detail that is buried beneath the surface of this Jonathan Nolan-based show. I’m tossing in brother Nolan’s name because I feel like the work that he and his brother have done is important to understanding Westworld and why it’s just not that engaging.

Westworld isn’t very good. I really want to enjoy it, to find it to be the most awesome thing around and get obsessed with it. The thing is, I’m older now than I was when Christopher Nolan was churning out high-concept movies with big twists and I’ve grown a lot as a writer. This means that things stick out to me more now than they did back then. Where I would’ve been one of those people on an easter egg hunt prior, instead I’m saying, “Okay, but what about the plot? What about the characters?”

Because those are the things that matter. I’ll ask you this; which character do you care about the most now that we are about halfway through season one? Is it Teddy? William? Dolores? Maeve? The Man in Black? Bernard? If your answer is none of the above then we are in agreement. The problem with doing multiple point-of-views in writing is that in the beginning it’ll be difficult for the audience to really latch onto anyone and form an emotional bond with them.

Westworld has eschewed having a main character for having like eight main characters, which wouldn’t usually be a problem, except for that fact that this is the first season and there hasn’t been enough time to form an emotional bond with any of the characters. Maybe Dolores? I’m not sure, because she gets screen time, but in this last episode it felt minimal. Here’s the thing, you can absolutely build a story around an ensemble crew of protagonists, it’s been done before, but without an emotional hook it simply can’t work.

Let’s compare to HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, the show that HBO is desperately hoping Westworld can replace. Game of Thrones follows a ton of characters and we care about just all of them at this point. The thing is, how did we get to this point? The answer is simple; Ned Stark was our anchor in season one.

Think about it for a minute and reflect on that first season and how Ned-centric it really was. The whole first season was about Ned being visited by the King, Ned being named the Hand of the King, Ned moving his family from their ancestral home to King’s Landing to serve his good friend, the King. Much of season one is the Stark family on the road to King’s Landing learning just how shifty and shitty the Lannister’s are, getting a lay of the land on some of the politics involves and growing to see Ned Stark through his own deeds and through the eyes of his children, friends and adversaries. That’s why near the end Ned’s (THIS IS A HUGE SPOILER, OBVIOUSLY) execution is so amazingly jarring; he was our anchor and guide to Westeros, he set out expectations, introduced us to a set of values and endeared the audience to his way of life.

It’d be like if Rick from The Walking Dead died before the end of the first season. Since that first season we’ve all had time to adjust to the lack of Ned, even saw Robb as the replacement Ned that we pulled for only for it to go horribly wrong, all the while the other characters and the world had been firmly established and there was no way that we’d stop reading or watching just because we lost our precious Ned. We had his family still, we had Dany and her dragons, we had the sharp-tongue Tyrian and the conflicted Jaime.

All of this because we were slyly focused on Ned Stark for most of the first book/season. Hell, I think of James SA Corey’s novel series (and now television series) The Expanse and how the first book focused just on two characters; Miller and Holden. Later on it branches out into a whole ton of different characters, including the crew of the Rocinante that have been established throughout the series.

You could make the “slow start” argument with Westworld, as shows like Breaking Bad for sure had a very slow start. In fact, while that show went down as one of the best in history, the entire first season is just a bit, well, whatever. The thing is, Walter White was your established protagonist early on and you were given reasons to care about him; he’s dying, he wants to provide for his family, he’s desperate. While the story moved slowly, there were still emotional hooks to keep the viewer somewhat engaged.

But none of that exists in Westworld. There is an ensemble of characters, but we see such little glimpses of each that their struggles, emotions and quests have no real value. So, the Man in Black wants to solve the puzzle, to find the “end game” of Westworld, but apparently all that we’ve learned about him over four episodes is that he’s sadistic inside of the park and that he’s incredibly wealthy and his company was involved in saving lives. This is all that we know, but the concept of the puzzle that he’s trying to solve is supposed to be the hook.

The Nolans have a history of style-over-substance and the whole, almost comical M. Night Shymlalan-style plot twist that is meant to BLOW YOUR FUCKING MIIIIIIND, MAAAN. That’s fine, plot twists are a real thing, but at a certain point it’s a gimmick. The whole reason that Christopher Nolan’s movies have done as well as they have is not only the MIND-BLOWING TWIST, but also that there is a story built there as well. Inception was all about the mind-fuck of dream-inside-of-a-dream and “what is really real,” but you had some reason to care about Leo’s character and his losses.

The same can be said for the rest of his movies, even Interstellar was based around the relationship of a father and daughter. But what is Westworld’s hook? There is a lot of meta-game sort of stuff buried in there, for sure. Everyone is talking about Dr. Ford’s ability to stop the hosts with a seemingly hidden trigger, debating if his little finger movement was the trigger, if it was a set of words or if it was telepathy. Perhaps there are trigger phrases and perhaps these have caused the androids having awakenings? While that’s great and all, it’s a trail of breadcrumbs that is meant to give deeper meaning to the world while there is absolutely nothing but surface-level stuff in the show.

This is HBO, which means ten episode seasons and we are halfway through. There’s nothing, no stakes, no characters to latch onto, no main story arc that matters. The story that has been established is that the hosts have a consciousness, even if they aren’t supposed to, and that there is inner turmoil within the park’s staff that may or may not be affecting all of this. Writing is not easy, especially when expectations are this high, but this is stuff that could’ve been established within an episode or two, not four.

So while everyone is so focused on finding the secrets of Westworld, they are missing the fact that there isn’t anything else beyond those secrets, just a thin veneer of a show without much going for it, much like Westworld the park, which is just a bunch of androids there for amusement but can’t actually have any impact on the guests whatsoever. Maybe that was what they were going for, but I sincerely doubt they’d invest this much money on a show that was meant to be worthless.

The Princess in the Distant Castle

The aging plumber stood at a slouch, an artifact from the decades of mushroom-hopping, ingesting and turtle smashing in a bespoke suit. The subtle pinstripes of said suit were only visible to the discerning eye at extreme close range, watching as Timmy sat disinterested on an old, broken down couch. Their relationship had existed — much like many of his relationships — for dozens of years, dating back to their childhoods and extending deep into the throes of adulthood. Timmy, like many before, had changed. A lot had changed, including the Plumber himself.

“So,” Timmy said, breaking the silence.

“So?” The plumber sheepishly replied.

“You look good.”

“Oh,” he said, patting his white gloved hand on the breast of the suit. “Thank you.”

“Yeah.”

Timmy wasn’t a boy anymore, he was a man just barely into his thirties. His childlike, devil-may-care smile had been replaced by a frown and a five o’clock shadow that persisted throughout the days like a symbol of his disdain. The Plumber had changed since those early days as well, those times that they shared in the late 80’s. Everything was so fast and loose then, concerns weren’t of the narrative or existential kind, simply the shared thrill of the chase, the contentment in the princess being in another castle meaning more time together.

Things changed, though, for the both of them. The world lost its core innocence while they both grew, their once immeasurable bond slipped while the years of wear and tear battered at their hull like the unrelenting sea. The Plumber knew his role, but also knew that there was a world outside of Timmy and his like, even if it was difficult for him to fathom. This hurt Timmy, he could see it in his eyes, in the way that he glanced at the Plumber longingly before the look of betrayal sunk in. Sometimes that was what happens when two friends grew apart; their worlds once converged, but over time diverged and grew on their own, only for future meetings to become painful and strained.

“Hey,” Timmy said, “you think that we could break out a turtle, you know, for old time’s sake?”

“Oh wow,” the Plumber said. “I’d really like to, but I don’t do that anymore. My back, you know?”

“Right,” Timmy said, crestfallen. “I forgot about that.”

“I’m sorry, I know that we shared some good times, but a lot has changed since then. Look at yourself, Timmy, you’ve grown into a fine man. What about Patty?”

“She’s out of town and you know how she thinks that you are kind of, well… childish,” he said. “I just thought that we could get together again, old time’s sake?”

“I’ve just moved on is all. Patty is a smart girl, you know, she might be right. I’ve changed as well, Timmy.”

“I get it, I get it. Fine,” Timmy said.

“I’m getting older, the world is changing, this isn’t the mushroom-stomping 90’s anymore. We can’t delude ourselves. You are grown up now, Timmy. You’re starting a family. You two are trying, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, we are,” Timmy said. “And I know all of this, but I just… Remember the good times?”

“Of course I do, but I’m not that person anymore, neither are you.”

A tense silence fell between the two men, the Plumber burying his hands into his pockets and searching for something to say to lessen the blow of the inevitable. This was a terrible idea and he knew it going in, but still felt a sense of responsibility towards this kid, just like the rest of the kids, and it ate him alive knowing that he couldn’t be that avatar for their childhood anymore. The gravity of his influence hadn’t eluded him over the years, but instead weighed heavily around his neck like an albatross in the calm seas. Everyone wanted him to be something different; to freeze himself in time at whatever period they wished and to never change, but change was inevitable, and in a lot of cases, the Plumber was happy with his own evolution.

“Oh hey,” Timmy said. “How about this?”

He was trying, which the Plumber appreciated to some degree, but he did wish that he’d just let the Plumber move on, without these painful reprieves to delve into past history. With a sigh he lifted his gaze from his shoes only to see a turtle next to Timmy’s couch, crawling along the tile floor with its red shell glistening under the soft white overhead light. Red shell, fire, it all flooded back to him like a fever dream. It looked up at him with its cartoonish, bugged eyes that had no mal intent behind them. He couldn’t bear the thought of hurting such a creature again, especially after all of those years.

“Oh, wow,” the Plumber reacted. “Hi there, little fella.”

“Don’t you just wanna hop on his shell, for old time’s sake?”

A swell of emotions overtook him while staring down at the hapless turtle, conjured from the nether for nothing but simple amusement. What was that turtle but his sad reflection? It drove him crazy. Tears began to streak down his weathered cheeks, catching at his carefully manicured mustache while he turned his back to the boy that he once knew and the man that he couldn’t stomach and walked towards the door.

“Hey, wait,” Timmy said. “Where are you going?”

The Plumber paused briefly, considering the range of emotions tumbling through his consciousness and the many things that he wanted — no needed — to say, before realizing that none of it mattered anymore. He stepped through the door one last time, the stark realization that there would need to be another castle and another princess for both men.

Westworld Episode Two: Chestnut; or, Introducing Another Protagonist

I’ll be the first to admit that my initial review of the first episode of Westworld was a bit on the brutal side. Truth be told, I wasn’t trying to tear the show apart, but I felt that analyzing a lot of the shows, movies and books with similar content was important to understand what HBO’s latest big-budget hypefest needed to live up to. Originality isn’t a must when it comes to a new piece of media, because, really, just about everything has been done before, it’s mostly about execution and the content itself.

The whole concept of Game of Thrones (or A Song of Ice and Fire) isn’t exactly wholly original; a high fantasy epic featuring multiple families and interwoven storylines. That isn’t new, it’s been done and it’s been done a lot. Hell, Martin’s inspiration for the show was history, it was the War of the Roses. Yet, he created rich, interesting characters, engaging storylines and the show built off of his work in the books and became a cultural phenomenon.

Westworld is at a disadvantage in that they are building this whole, huge world-within-a-world of a show with multiple protagonists and story threads while the original film was quite a bit more compact in scope. Make no bones about it, they are trying to create a new Game of Thrones for HBO and it’s not entirely clear yet if they’re stretching or not. All of this is happening without a backbone of a series of in depth novels to serve as a guide into this world.

This episode finally introduced what would be the original protagonist from the first film in the apprehensive visitor along with his over eager friend, William and Logan. The main character of the show is still probably Dolores. Probably. I don’t know. That’s a part of the issue here; they keep zipping between characters without giving them much room to breathe or develop yet. The first episode endeared us Teddy Flood and while he was a part of this episode, most of what he served as a guttural reaction to him being shot point-blank by a guest for no reason outside of pure fun before seeing his mangled, bullet-filled corpse in one of the diagnostic rooms afterwards.

In the first episode Ed Harris’s man in black was painted solely as a villain, but his quest to delve deeper into the inner-workings of Westworld and find this mysterious maze paints him in perhaps a different picture as a sort of antihero. Why? Because the park is, in and of itself, an oppressive apparatus that is holding back our dear hosts from being fully-actualized, sentient beings. They are there to be raped, murdered and berated before having their minds wiped. Sure, Ed Harris is killing them and being a sadistic asshole, but they are being wiped anyway, right?

The park overseers don’t want to get in his way, either. In fact, one of them even says “That man can do whatever he wants.” We continually hear that he’s been going to the park for over 30 years and that he’s seen and done it all, that this maze is his last secret to unlock. What they are trying to say with his character still isn’t entirely clear yet, but I’m still not ready to say that he’s anything but a sadistic asshole on a park-built adventure, the only kind that could interest a guy who is running around as an immortal being of sorts just killing and raping whomever he wants without having to worry about any danger at all.

Oh yeah, and the androids are becoming more sentient. Maeve put herself to sleep, then woke up on the operating table with everything in tact. This still seems like the main plotline, with Bernard and Dr. Ford believing themselves to be gods of some sort. Dr. Ford hints at the most immersive storyline to date at the end, with everything fading out to a cross. Is Ed Harris involved in this secret plot? Does Dr. Ford’s shunning of Sizemore’s latest hedonistic, sadistic, yet cookie-cutter adventure lead to more tampering with the AI’s?

The seeds have been planted for what will be going haywire in the coming episodes and chances are we’ll see everything converge by the eighth episode or so, but here’s hoping to not introducing any new characters or plots next week. They need to get these main threads moving or else who cares where they are heading?

Westworld Episode One: The Originals; or, Do Androids Dream of Flies On Cheeks?

For the past few months I had a big ole’ platform to write about stuff like pop culture, entertainment and news. Since I no longer have that platform (along with quite a few of my former coworkers), I don’t have anywhere to talk about the debut of Westworld. Sure, I’d probably only sneak in a little fragment of a thought here and there, but it would still go somewhere. Westworld is one of those shows that had some hype behind it, trailer-after-trailer, interview-after-interview with the anticipation growing.

Westworld is based upon the ’73 Michael Crichton film that he both wrote and directed. Needless to say, while Crichton has a place in pop culture due to film adaptations of his novels, I’m not sure that Crichton should be considered one of the masters of science fiction by any stretch of the imagination. A topic like artificial intelligence is one that has been hashed and rehashed so many times that it’s increasingly rare for anything to actually be worth consuming.

Yeah, we get it, the stuff that we build rebels and is our sad reflection. Cool. These androids can also have internal struggles that mirror the struggles that certain groups of people go through. We’ve seen that, as well.

Even by ’70s standards I’m not sure that Westworld has the same level of depth that we’ve come to expect for such a topic. To wit, in 1968 Philip K. Dick published Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which explored the concept of artificial intelligence, human empathy and our own existential grief. Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robots had existed for over twenty years at this point. What I’m trying to say is that it had already been done and done better prior, which isn’t a bad thing, just a fact.

The premiere episode of HBO’s Westworld was a 72-minute long slog through a muddled retread of a narrative concept, but with that HBO shine. Perhaps it’s simply how HBO shows are; they show promise, show slick production, big names are attached to the project, then the show flounders on its own until HBO decides to pull the plug. While I know some fans of Boardwalk Empire, that show was the perfect example of that HBO bloat, and recently Vinyl is probably an even better example of that.

It isn’t that Westworld is inherently bad — or not interesting –, it’s that the very core of the concept feels dated. By now we’ve seen the Terminators rise up against humanity, we’ve seen Wall-E be the sad little robot on a destroyed planet, we’ve seen the Reapers wipe out humanity in cycles when humans get too advanced in AI and we’ve seen Replicants try to extend their lives.

In a case like this, the marketing and presentation only helps to make this show seem more important than it really can be. Recent films like Her and Ex Machina did a stellar job of taking a different approach to artificial intelligence, while still touching on those core chords of human fragility reflected in its need to play god and recreate itself. Westworld is presented as something important, like a television event, when it wasn’t.

I’m not entirely sure what purpose this episode had outside of making eyes roll. They established about a million characters, hinted at the park’s true nature earlier on before revealing all, made allusions to things about to go haywire and showed the evolution of a few of the characters within this animatronic world. But the worst sin is that it dragged on. We get it, Ed Harris is a bad, bad dude, but his character is borderline comical within the framing of this episode.

Anthony Hopkins is creepy and just wants his creations to be more and more real, Liz Lemon’s husband is actually a robot but he’s got those feeeeeeeels and his girlfriend — who was programmed to never harm a living thing — can hurt a fly now. It was as boldfaced of a plot point as there could be, with the sheriff malfunctioning earlier on in the episode because a fly landed on his cheek and he was unable to kill it, so he just twitched until the patrons took off.

The thing is, not everything needs to be new and exciting, conceptually. The film 28 Days Later took one of the most tired and trite genres in modern day entertainment that is the zombie film and owned it. The follow-up, 28 Weeks Later was the polar opposite and settled into the mundanity of the genre conventions, helping to drive what could have been a franchise into the toilet. Ex Machina touched on a lot of the conventions that come up with AI stuff, but focused so much on intimate, human emotions over blockbuster action that it felt fresh in the face of this convention.

A show like Westworld could embrace the pulp of being a western along with the retread sci-fi allure of rogue androids — and perhaps it will — but instead this first episode felt like they laid out a rather clear road map for where the show is headed and that it’ll just be another one of those shows that will get hyped early, only for viewers to lose interest after a while. All of it neatly packaged with big names in the credits, a few familiar faces on the screen, a whole lot of tits and even more blood and gore.

LDW And OPW

There is, at times, a fine line between taking a personal site and making it into just a blog. This site mainly exists for me to express myself, share my writing and update everyone on my writing projects. The thing is, there’s been a lot of stuff going on for me.

A lot.

The biggest thing is Lennox David Walsh and Owen Prince Walsh.

Tired dad chronicles with Big Len and Little O.

A photo posted by Dave Walsh (@dvewlsh) on

These are my little dudes and, needless to say, while my next few projects are still being worked on, this is why I haven’t been working as much on them and why I probably won’t be releasing anything in 2016. Probably. Who knows, right?

‘All I ever wanted, to be left alone’

Sometimes there are just these strange, lucid moments of utter clarity and perfection. These are the moments that we all live for, no matter what you do, what your talent is, how much money you have or where you live. Clarity is beautiful. The past week I’ve been obsessed with a Prince song called “Way Back Home.” It’s a song off of ART OFFICIAL  AGE, which like most of Prince’s later work, has been completely dismissed.

I get it, I really do. Prince had some rough times when it comes to official releases. He had issues with his identity on every level, from his sexual, spiritual, artistic and even personal identity. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen an artist be as truly conflicted as he was. He struggled with religious convictions from the mid-80’s forward, before he finally became a Jehovah’s Witness and his whole outlook changed.

A good portion of his career was spent alternating between running away from and attempting to recapture the song Purple Rain. In a way, it was a work that was simply so many things to so many people that everyone wanted him to recreate it for the rest of his life, while he would go through phases where he rejected that and other times when he yearned to be loved again and would try to create a new Purple Rain.

Listening to ART OFFICIAL AGE it’s pretty clear that by the time that 2014 came around he was starting to feel more comfortable with his identity, or he was at least comfortable speaking about it. While PLECTRUMELECTRUM with 3rdEyeGirl was Prince enjoying himself through some of the best guitar rock imaginable alongside the talented backing band, ART OFFICIAL AGE was Prince reaching out to the world and making himself more vulnerable than perhaps he ever has been.

While ART OFFICIAL AGE is nowhere near his best album, it features a suite of songs that I find it impossible to ignore. Without anything else to call it, I’ll call it his “affirmations.” That’s what my playlist on Tidal is named.

There are four tracks that just fall short of twelve minutes, featuring British singers Lianne La Havas and Delilah (La Havas on Clouds and affirmation I & II, Delilah on Way Back Home, both on affirmation III). In a way, it feels like Prince is doing what he always did throughout his career by lambasting the commoners for their ways. It starts with Clouds.

“When life’s a stage, in this brand new age
How do we engage?
Bullying just for fun
No wonder there’s so many guns
Maybe we’re better off in space”

Life is sort of a stage. The song ponders if there is value in a slight romantic gesture if its done in private and not on a “stage,” such as an Instagram, Twitter or Facebook post. If the world can’t see it, did it really happen? Prince, is all of his, well, Prince-ness then has Lianne act as a voice speaking to him about being put in suspended animation and revived 45 years later in a time without all of the superficiality.

Interestingly enough, the next time we hear Lianne she warns him of what he’ll have to do to interact with women again. Affirmation #1 is “There are no such words as me or mine.” They are explained as control mechanisms created by mankind for essentially enslavement. The song bleeds over into Way Back Home, which was actually released by Warner Bros. as a single.

Take a second to process that, because this was his return to Warner Bros. and he selected a song that was not only not much of a catchy pop or funk song, it wasn’t a ballad and the song felt like the most honest that we’ve heard him talk in ages. It’s a threadbare song in many respects, with the only constants being a waning kick drum, a seven note (alternates between six) melody in F minor on guitar and a background whooshing. There are other parts of the composition, such as a cameo from his famous drum machine, a bit of a synth here and there, but what makes this song powerful are the words and delivery.

Delilah’s vocal-fried delivery of the chorus add another voice to what is otherwise a stark appeal to the listener, explaining his struggles with being who he is, dealing with expectations — both internal and external — and how he’s failed. My god, he talks about how he failed without ever saying it, but this song is about him picking himself up, about not letting failure define him.

The last song, affirmation III, is him being forgiven amidst the ending of this strange, four-track sci-fi arc where Prince gains telepathy powers. In fact, he accepts who he is.

“You’ve probably felt many years in your former life, u were separate from not only only others, but even yourself.
Now u can see that was never the case
U are actually everything and anything that u can think of.
All of it is U”

As a writer, all of this strikes a major chord with me and just reminds me of how devastating of a loss his death was. Famous people — people that I don’t know — die all of the time. I can enjoy their work still, appreciate it, but usually without the accompanying pangs of defeat and sorrow that came this time around. Growing up I always had a deep connection with music, to the point where I’d search out music that understood where I was and what I was feeling. I’d express myself through the lyrics, finding power and strength through them.

I’ve always seeked sadder, darker music. In a way, it’s just a reflection of how I’ve lived. Part of being a writer is wanting to express yourself to the world, to be able to just tear out a part of your essence, put it onto the page and show it off to the world. It’s being able to finally do this after feeling like being unable to properly do it any other way for so long. Prince was always different. His music could be sad, it could be fun, it could be deep, it could be surface or downright insane.

But that is what art has always been for me; it has been an outlet. Other people’s art has been inspiration, it has told me that I’m not alone. Yes, I think differently sometimes, I get depressed, I get upset and I turn inward to try to figure it all out. This four-song arc is, simply stated, exactly what I was looking for right now. In part it’s because I see myself in these lyrics. I am searching, I am dealing with a lot of these same thoughts, insecurities and the inner turmoil. 

I’m trying to find exactly what my voice should be. I’ve done a lot of things for the sake of being “commercial” and to make money, but the reality is that isn’t why I write. I don’t write to make money, although I do make a living as a writer right now and couldn’t be more proud. I’m writing because I want to say something, I want to have an impact on someone else and I want to let people inside. I never wanted all of the bullshit that comes with being “successful” — although I’d gladly accept it — I just always wanted people to know me. At the same time, I have always found solace in my self. Writing is a way to simply get all of this out of me, at the end of the day, I really just want to be left alone to be me.

Not always, but sometimes, that is all that I want. I get it. I absolutely, 1,000% get it.

When I find myself having a difficult time dealing with other people — with trying to express myself to them only to be unable to find that common ground to start from — I turn inward. Not everyone is going to understand me, nor is everyone going to get or like me. That will always hurt and I’ll always try, but at the end of the day, while I’m in no way going to compare myself with anyone else, put myself anywhere near anyone else’s level, I’m different. I think differently, act differently, want different things.

Things are going extremely well right now, with us just a few weeks out from the pending birth of our twin boys. I have a new job writing for Uproxx’s front page — which is fantastic — and I’m currently juggling between a few different book projects. I’m not sure how I feel about them yet, but one is out to readers, another is just starting while another is forming itself in my mind. If any of these are actually what I want to express to the world is another question, but I’ll get there.

I need to go easier on myself. Even Prince had his misses. Some people aren’t meant to only release limited, solely genius work. It’s a mythos built up by a few exceptional people and not a standard to hold other people to.

All-in-all I should be proud. I’ve taken myself for the misshapen peg that I am and found a way to make it all work. I’ve done it on my own terms.

“I never wanted a typical life
Scripted role, huh a trophy wife
All I ever wanted, to be left alone
See my bed’s made up at night
‘Cause in my dreams I roam
Just trying to find, trying to find
My way back, back home

So many reasons why
There’s so many reasons why
I don’t belong here
But now that I am I
Without fear I am
Gonna conquer with no fear
Until I find my way back home
Until I find my way back home
(Find my way back home)

Most people in this world (Most people in this world)are born dead
But I was born alive
(I was born with this dream)
With a dream outside my head (outside my head)
That I could find my way back home
My, my, way way back home

Is this the way? (Is this the way?)

Power to the ones who could raise a child like me
The path was set
But if you look the truth will set us free
I’ve heard about those happy endings
But it’s still a mystery
Lemme tell you about me
I’m happiest when I can see
My way back home
Can you see
My way back, my way back home”

Tracy Died Soon After a Long Fought Civil War

I’m not even sure how to process all of this.

The year 2016 has felt like one punch in the gut after the other, although I keep reminding myself that there are good things happening and good things to come. I’ve always tried to avoid the whole “public mourning over a public figure” thing because, really, I didn’t know them personally. I did have a personal loss this year of my grandfather and trust me, that one hurt. But that’s personal and family, so I handle it in different ways. The impact of my grandfather on myself and my world is a known quantity and something that I don’t really feel needs to be shared with the world.

This year I lost two of my heroes and it sucks. I’m not sure that there is a more eloquent way to put that or to express how awful it feels. I, like many others, grew up a weird kid. I was an angry kid most of the time and I grew up listening to heavier music because of that. I liked to brood. I was at time pigheaded in my views of what made music “good,” and if it didn’t come from certain parts of Scandinavia I simply wasn’t interested.

I’m not sure what it was about Prince that drew me to him, honestly. Maybe it was that he did the Batman soundtrack in ‘89 and I grew up obsessed with that movie? I don’t know, but somewhere along the way Purple Rain became a part of my regular life. But I always thought that it was weird, something that other kids didn’t like or care about, hell, even made fun of, so I didn’t talk about it. We were all image conscious and my image was that of an angry kid who liked angry things, so I didn’t want to change that. I’m not entirely sure why.

But I remember one day when I was at my friend Ryan’s house with our friend Thom in high school. Thom was always a bit more worldly in his views and wasn’t afraid of it, which is always something that I admired about him. We were talking about music, as we were prone to do, and an offhand comment he made made me stop. “Sign ‘O the Times is one of the best albums ever.” This was an age where the internet was still really early, mind you, life wasn’t soaked in thinkpieces and social media influence and arguments. All that I knew about Prince were the few albums that I had and that most people thought that he was weird, effeminate or that liking him was “gay,” which at the time felt like a death sentence.

My dad was a source of a lot of my musical influence, but he never cared for Prince or Bowie, who turned into two of my biggest influences and artistic heroes. But that one day when Thom talked about just how good Prince was something clicked. Was Prince really that great? I started buying up whatever Prince that I could, even the weird, obscure stuff that people didn’t seem to like much, and I loved all of it.

Name me a Prince album and I’ll find you something to love about it. Chaos and Disorder? I Rock, Therefore I am. Graffiti Bridge? Love Machine. The Gold Experience? Dolphin. I could keep going. You get the picture. I even loved (and I mean LOVED) Rainbow Children. The message was something that I really was unhappy and uncomfortable with, but the music was just incredible.

There are so many milestones in my life that can be measured through Prince, even. From my first girlfriend, overcoming severe depression in my teens to my college years to going to see the Musicology tour and so much of my adulthood. The first movie that Lori and I watched on what was probably our second or third date? Purple Rain. That was also the song that we danced to at our wedding reception. As much as I wanted to, I held back on playing the overly-cheeky “Wedding Feast” from Rainbow Children at our wedding.

As a guitar player Prince influenced me in so many ways. He was brilliant, sometimes more brilliant than anyone would ever give him credit for. He wrote pop music, sure, he did some simple stuff, but as a guitar player he was beyond impressive. Sure, he was a genius at just about every instrument that he played, but when he played guitar it felt like the world stopped to hear what he had to say. He expressed himself via piano brilliantly, but the guitar is where he bared his soul.

This wasn’t his best, but it’s probably up there.

I feel like there is a stigma with latching onto “celebrities” and caring about them. Undoubtedly whenever someone dies and there is a social media outpouring there are the people shouting “THAT IS FAKE.” Sometimes I agree with it, but other times it’s David Bowie and Prince in one year and I’m not sure what to do with myself. Prince was a brilliant in so many ways, troubled in so many ways. He wrote a lot of music and while a lot of it, on the surface, sounded fun and happy, there was a certain melancholy to it. He always seemed to be having fun, but there was a deep, inner sadness that was deeply embedded in his music, even if he attempted to eschew it. So no, all of his music wasn’t about fucking and love, it was usually about that, but also how alone he truly was. Growing up that was something that I picked up on right away and never let go of.

Everyone has a Prince song that they love and I’m not sure that I could ever just pick one. From every era, every album I have a favorite, but the only one that I find fitting for his passing is Sometimes it Snows in April. Parade is one of those albums that holds a place in my heart. Sure, Under a Cherry Moon was not a good movie, but the soundtrack was perhaps one of his best overall works. I can’t help but listen to this and cry.

“Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war,
Just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend
Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again,
But sometimes sometimes life ain’t always the way

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

Springtime was always my favorite time of year,
A time for lovers holding hands in the rain
Now springtime only reminds me of Tracy’s tears
Always cry for love, never cry for pain
He used to say so strong unafraid to die
Unafraid of the death that left me hypnotized
No, staring at his picture I realized
No one could cry the way my Tracy cried

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

I often dream of heaven and I know that Tracy’s there
I know that he has found another friend
Maybe he’s found the answer to all the April snow
Maybe one day I’ll see my Tracy again

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last

All good things that say, never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past”

Please, go do yourself a favor and listen to Parade.

Rogue One Trailer Drops annnnd People Get Upset

I feel like I’ve put up a lot of stuff about Star Wars on my blog in the last year or so. In a way it’s sort of odd because my Star Wars fandom peaked when I was younger and as an adult I don’t have that same pull towards the franchise that I did before. I still really enjoy it for what it is, but the original trilogy don’t really do it for me like they used to. That doesn’t mean that I can’t have fond memories and that The Force Awakens didn’t give me goosebumps or make me emotional at times, because it did.

The trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out this week. Since it isn’t a continuation of the main story like The Force Awakens was there isn’t as much of that whole, initial ZOMFGOMGOMGOMG reaction. The trailer serves to introduce the lead character in the upcoming prequel to A New Hope and shows what the main plotline will be; following the character who stole the plans to the original Death Star. Along the way you see stormtroopers, rebels, hear klaxons, see a lot of capes, AT-ATs and hear a familiar, if not muted melody.

Essentially, we are getting another glimpse into the Star Wars universe and it’ll follow another kick ass female lead — Jyn — on her journey. Cool, right? Apparently not. A simple Google search of Rogue One right now brings up alleged “controversies” and a brief look at the YouTube comments on the trailer show the kind of shit that we’ve grown accustomed to; people being shitlords.

A tweet that I saw from Kumail Nanjiani of Silicon Valley fame on April 7th really kinda hammered home the whole thing for me.

He breaks it down so simply and eloquently. When he was a kid all of the stuff that he saw had kickass white guys as the leads and he, as a kid, had to wish that he was like the lead character. I’m a white dude, which puts me in a privileged class of people. No, my life hasn’t always been easy and I still have a lot of struggles that I deal with on a daily basis. That being said, I’ve never been left wanting or feeling left out when I want to escape into a movie, television show or book. I’m always represented.

In a way, I’m bummed that other kids didn’t get the same experience as I did growing up. I’m bummed that girls growing up had Disney princesses but didn’t have their own Luke Skywalker or Han Solo to play as. Sure, there was Princess Leia and she had her moments, but she still felt like an afterthought a lot of the time and like a built in love interest for first Luke, then Han. I could aspire to be a hero who fended off the bad guys because I was shown it, while female characters have historically been on the sidelines cheering for the hero and waiting for his manly return to plant a kiss on his cheek.

Being excluded feels crummy, we’ve all been excluded at one time or another, and having films, television, books and more excluding less and less people isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing. It isn’t a sign of an overly-PC society looking to simply not rock the boat or make people upset, it’s a sign of progress and trying to reach broader audiences. Nor is it a sign of some sort of strange, dystopian future brooding over the horizon of a female-dominated society where men are castrated and forced to do dishes in high heels at the whim of their amazonian female overlords.

Women have been doing the same shit as men for a long time now, sometimes without the same amount of credit or acceptance. Maybe instead of simply having a knee-jerk reaction of “WELL FUCK THIS SHIT, THIS ISN’T FOR ME, YOU JUST LOST A LOYAL FAN,” those who have such reactions should hold back a bit and reflect on how they feel. Those feelings are very real and are not actually wrong. It sucks feeling left out. Instead those people should stop and think about how everyone else felt while the straight white male rode roughshod over popular culture and society and everyone else was left feeling that way, but were told that their opinion didn’t matter.

There will still be kickass dudes in Rogue One, no doubt. There are a few top-billed guys in the movie who no doubt will do some cool stuff, not all of them are white, either. Because really, in what sort of future will there only be kickass white guys? I for one and excited about Rogue One and will do my damnedest to go see it when it opens just like I would for any other Star Wars movie.

It is Star Wars after all, right?

I write things, you read them. Pretty simple.

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