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I didn’t appreciate A$AP Yams while he was alive. I wish I had. I wish I could pretend I stanned for his tumblr and that he became my internet guru like a number of kids who showed up to Yams day in NYC on MLK Monday (a full year after his death) or the ones who celebrated him all over social media. The truth is, I found him to be a pretty cool makeshift record exec who was funny on twitter.

In death, his life came out in full color through people’s reflections on him. He’d touched so many people in so many different ways: through music, through everyday New York living and through social media –all at the young age of 26. He was an internet phenom –the real “pretty muthafucka” who stayed Coogi down to the socks. His tumblr site RealNiggaTumblr blew up by being expertly curated, cared for and unapologetically nerdy about rap music and he parlayed that into a platform for his artist A$AP Rocky that eventually lead to a $3 million record deal. He was a brilliant and hilarious hip-hop nerd that embodied early 90s Puff Daddy’s ingenuity and cunning; and he was also lost in a debilitating drug habit.

Yams wasn’t shy about his drug use or about wanting to quit. He entered rehab in July 2014 with the plan to kick the habit for good. I imagine he gave his all to fight the urges to use heavily again, but life will ruin your plans often. And so it goes: a young, charismatic and talented self-created mogul was taken from the world too soon thanks to drugs –or at least seemingly, thanks to drugs. Drugs are certainly the easiest scapegoats in stories like this; ultimately though, for many, they’re just a release mechanism for a hard world that crushes its inhabitants. Yams had demons and he had pain that he wanted to cope with –he also liked to party hard and the two things often coalesced until he had nothing left. And so, like that, Yams aka Eastside Stevie aka The Puerto Rican R. Kelly was gone, and all we have left is our memories to propel him into an internet martyrdom.

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I lost my uncle January 2013. His name was Samuel. I remember when my sister called to tell me. I was crashing on my friend’s couch, saving money for an apartment I was getting the next month. I was alone, and when my sister told me that he’d passed, I felt even more alone. It’s a curious thing feeling self-centered in the face of a death in the family: you feel bad for the immediate family and the deceased’s siblings and relatives, but you also feel bad for yourself. What am I gonna do without this person in my life? The truth is, my uncle probably felt more peace after death than he’d felt in the past few years prior.

In the summer of 2011: I  graduated college, I was dating a girl I liked a lot and I’d just gotten a job offer in Maryland –about an hour outside of Washington, D.C.. I had gone up there one weekend with my mom to look at apartments. It was a nice break from being stuck in Tallahassee all summer dying of heat. My mom was proud of me and supportive of this big adult move, but she was worried about me. While we were driving around the Hanover area, my mom talked to me about depression and falling into addiction. We’d never talked about my own depression before –she was a Christian woman who felt it was a matter of feelings and circumstances, not a disease. Despite this, she knew enough about her son to know he was prone to volatility.

And so, she told me about my uncle. She told me what happened when he retired from the company he’d spent 20+ years as a faithful employee. She told me about the retirement fund that ran out, the bills that kept piling up, the wife who suddenly had to do all of the work, the kids who still needed money for college and the things he could no longer do for his family as a retired worker. She told me about the alcohol and drugs that began to take over his life, the control he lost, and the money that was spent on his habit. She told me about how he used my cousin’s college money to buy alcohol and about how he finally pushed his family away once and for all. She told me about the people in his life who tried to reach him and help him to no avail. He didn’t want their help because he was ashamed, but more than that because he was sick.

A year and a half later, I stood frozen in my friend’s apartment as I got the news that he had overdosed. They found him, alone and already dead. He was gone and all I could think about was the retirement that started him on this journey like the first domino being pushed over to cause a ripple effect. I should’ve thought about the substance abuse that killed him–that’s what I was supposed to do, like everyone else–but instead I thought about the job he gave his life to doing and the spare change he got in return. I thought about that same fate for myself and others when our time comes to retire from a job that doesn’t love us… and I thought about his brother, my father. Drugs and alcohol took my uncle’s life and yet the bitterest part is that drugs and alcohol was a temporary relief for his pain and his demons.

His name was Samuel. Samuel like in the bible. The story of Samuel is that at a young age he realized that he could talk to God, his name translates to “God has heard”. The cynic in me wishes God had talked to my uncle and helped to save him, yet there’s another part of me that wonders whether or not God did talk to him in his last moments and really did save him the only way God could. I couldn’t tell you which one of these makes me feel better. Maybe none of it is supposed to.

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I don’t know that I’ve ever found any value in “the cautionary tale”. The idea of using the bad things that happen to people as a map for how to better live my own life has never worked for me –less because of its self-centeredness and more because of my own incompetence. My mother told me about my uncle because she wanted to use it as a cautionary tale before I stepped into the real world, but it didn’t work the way she wanted it to. I wasn’t scared away from drugs and especially not from alcohol, instead I was scared of working. I was afraid to give my soul, my youth and my energy to a faceless corporation that had already determined my worth to be close to nil.

Having a 9-5 job hasn’t done much for me except to see why my uncle tried to find peace in a bottle. Other than the occasional joint and maybe taking 1 or 2 pain pills when I’m not actually hurting, I’ve never been much for drugs, but alcohol–a substance that 6 years ago I never thought I’d touch–became the only constant in a time when things seemed to only get worse for me. I was out of a job sooner than I ever expected, I’d lost the only girl I’d ever loved, I’d lost friends and I was miles and miles away from anyone familiar to me. Drinking calmed my nerves until it became my only recourse –spending weekends getting swimming pools full of liquor and then diving in it. It’s then that I knew I was beginning to spiral (self-awareness might be my greatest strength in circumstances like this).

We use all sorts of things to fill the hole in our lives. We all want a little peace in a world that feels too hard to cope with. Sometimes the things we do to escape can become addictions and those addictions can kill us. I didn’t understand drug and alcohol addiction until it made its way into my family. It’s easy to blame the victims for their own problems and get on a pedestal about falling to weakness and routinely poisoning your body with things that are known to do harm but fuck anyone who thinks like that. Self-righteousness is just as addictive as any drug but without the deathly side effects. People will turn to anything to escape from a harsh reality. Addiction is not an overnight creation but a steady building mountain that fills a missing void for awhile before it engulfs an entire life until there’s nothing left.

I wish the drugs hadn’t been the only solution to so many people’s pain. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it happens enough that a real conversation should happen beyond pointless finger-wagging and “afterschool special” sermonizing. I think about my uncle all the time: I think about the sweet man that I used to talk to on the phone. I wish Yams was alive, along with Pimp C and Whitney Houston and so many others lost to addiction. My one hope more than anything though is that in their dying moments, they felt free from their demons.

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As a millennial, excuse me Willennial, I have been a fan of Shia Labeouf since he was on the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. Back then, Shia was all spastic, silly ball of energy in a show that was weird, crass and always funny. I wanted a friend like Louis and, because I was a child, I thought that meant I wanted a friend like Shia.

So I followed his career the whole way: from that awful Dumb and Dumber prequel to Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, from the secret gem of a movie A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints to *shudders* the Transformers series. The movies varied in quality sure, but I felt like his proud best friend the moment he became a movie star and it hurt my heart the most to see what that kind of fame did to him…. at first.

I’ll be the first to admit: I don’t actually get Shia Labeouf. He’s still charming and irreverent in TV interviews, as though he’s still a kid just happy to be there. He seems to resent celebrity but I mean everyone hates celebrity, so it’s not much of anything to note. He has daddy issues which I can relate to, he dresses like your divorced uncle going grocery shopping which is a look I can get with and he does things that feel like purposely sarcastic commentary on life which is also right up my alley.

The whole performance art thing was easy to dismiss at first. The “I’m Not Famous Anymore” stunt was ridiculous and hilarious. When he turned up on a red carpet with the paper bag over his head, it irritated people (which felt like the point) and it seemed to be the latest in a long line of signs that Shia Labeouf was spiraling towards the bottom. Then it became one big performance art piece titled #IAmSorry at an art gallery in Los Angeles, where anyone could come in and interact with Shia in anyway they wanted to. Shia himself had the bag over his head and refused to talk or move. What was sure to be one big joke of an event, where any reporter who could nab the story could go in order to make fun of the ludicrousness of this social experiment, instead turned into an empathetic moment of connecting with a celebrity. The reviews were pretty positive but it didn’t signify much of anything other than people who mocked Shia now hoping he found a little happiness.

After this, there were other stints at performance art, including one in which Shia made a motivational video in front of a green screen reciting statements sent to him by fans, but none of it compared to Shia’s latest production: #AllMyMovies. The idea is simple enough: Shia shows up to an open movie theatre and watches every single movie he’s ever been in reverse chronological order while a camera records his reactions the entire time.

On its face it may seem like a narcissistic endeavor into self-voyeurism, but it only seems that way because it is –in a sense. All of Shia’s performance art seems to be some sort of metamodernist exploration of our self-aggrandizing, internet-fueled and celeb obsessed culture. Where “I’m Not Famous Anymore” put the onus on the people to gauge a reaction, #AllMyMovies was 100% about Shia. In a sense, it’s like watching all your home movies with strangers, in another it’s essentially taking in all you’ve accomplished with your career up to this point and assessing where you came from.

It’s the same sort of fixation we all have with ourselves–our tweets, our instagrams, our bodies, ourselves as brands–exacerbated to a fuller extent. Also, it’s an excuse to go back to the oeuvre of Labeouf: the good, the bad and Eagle Eye. #AllMyMovies has been a hit with critics and has provided the internet with the currency it loves the most: memes. But what was it really?

 “In that room it was egalitarian. Yes, I was being stared at and I’m the focal point and the pointing is happening, but the pointing is happening for me too. If we’re all pointing, then we’re on the same level. Yes it’s a film festival where you’re watching all of my movies, but a lot of this stuff—especially Even Stevens…the Even Stevens Movie was interesting, it’s all of our childhood. It’s mine and it’s yours. It wasn’t just me smiling like that. If you look at the freeze frames, everyone is smiling like wow, I remember Beans. I remember that stupid-ass song. We were all looking at our yearbook together and we’re all in the yearbook. It felt like family, we were sitting there like a high school class.”

This was one of the more insightful statements made by Shia in his Newhive interview with his collaborators Rönkkö and Turner. What he’s ultimately getting across in this and many other portions of the interview is connection. Celebrity is a bubble and being an actor forces you to have a technical outlook on filmmaking; in this moment he was an audience member, especially late into the project when the novelty of Shia in the audience wore off and it just became about the movies.

This response is probably a little disappointing to anyone looking for some sort of detached commentary on modern self-obsession and performing for audiences. But while I’m sure there’s a sliver of this in the formation of the project, isn’t all of that about secretly about connection anyways. Living in a bubble (whether imposed or self-created) is lonely  and being disconnected from people for so long causes you to recede further into yourself to the point that you’re always on defense. It’s short-changing to say that Shia got to be human for 3 days, instead he got put in a position to be communal in a way he’s never had to be. Shia confirms as much, “I just know if I can explain a feeling, I feel lighter today. I feel love today.” 

Shia found love by confronting himself head on and embracing everything that it entails. We should all be so lucky.

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I was 24 the first time it dawned on me that I will never be cool. I don’t mean cool in a general sense of course, but cool in the way that all people want to secretly believe themselves to be: in a way that says I exude attitude and mystery everywhere I go and you can’t help but want to follow. When I was a kid, I knew that when I grew up I was going to Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Denzel Washington and Andre 3000 rolled up into one human being–it was going to be against the law to be me.

No matter how old I got, I always clinged to the belief that at some point I would pull it off eventually. My arms just needed to be a little bigger, I just needed to be a little taller, my beard just needed to connect a little better, my walk had to be just a little more evocative, my one-liners had to be just a little cleaner and sharper; I just needed to be a little more believable. At 24, I accepted that I was who I was and I could be bummed about that or I could embrace it and make it work for me in any way possible: I’ve been trapped somewhere in between these two options for the past two years. Nobody wants to believe they aren’t cool in that old-fashioned Hollywood way but the majority of us just aren’t and, for me, the internet was the first thing to let me know this harsh truth.

When I was a junior in high school, I joined Myspace and my entire reality would shatter before my feet. Before social media, I had no real perspective on my self or my place in people’s lives: I got along with most people and as a result, I considered them all to be close friends of mine. I can look back at this and see how stupid it was but I fancied myself important purely out of my commitment to being incredibly friendly. Then Myspace and the “top 8” came into my life and nothing was the same. The top 8 became my judge and jury, the only authority that could tell me my fate; more than the fact that I was in nobody’s top 8 at first, I was mad at myself for how much power I gave it over me. It meant everything, it dictated my behavior for the rest of high school–be it trying to hard to be friends with people or living with even more resentment–and it was my nightly obsession.

My one saving grace was message boards: more specifically the Simpson’s message boards I was a member of. They ultimately became the friends I always wanted by giving me a safe space to be a true dork, while also putting me onto music, movies and books that would change my life. I had finally achieved a comfortable online existence and tried to use my new knowledge and online confidence in my actual life. I don’t know how successful it truly was but I felt cool and maybe that’s good enough, or it was at least.

Someday we’ll tell our kids that twitter used to be really fun. They’ll laugh and laugh and laugh and you’ll laugh with them because it sounds just as ridiculous to you, even though you know it was fun. Twitter was the heir apparent to the internet message board in a way neither myspace nor facebook ever tried to be; it was fun, goofy, insightful and full of community in a way that was inviting. But then attention became the new preferred currency and being right on the internet was the best high you could get without actually using drugs. Either you were doing the “reading” or you the one being “read” or “blooped” or “dragged for filth”. Corporations took advantage of our lust for attention and used our own hashtags to sell shit to us and then people started getting famous for their tweets which made a whole bunch more people try to get famous for their tweets the same way. Suddenly, this place full of flawed but personable people became a shark pit and what’s most annoying about the whole thing is: nobody actually cares about learning or growing on here. The idea of being the smartest, loudest, funniest, most correct person all the time is so intoxicating for a lot of people that they don’t even bother actually trying to be any of those things. They just declare themselves as such and move on.

I’ve been trapped in this web myself from time to time and I’ve broken out because honestly fuck all of it. Whatever good comes out of it seems to be more of an outlier than the standard. I came to be obsessed with the internet because I was a lonely, uncool kid trying to find some self-confidence and knowledge; ultimately, it turned into all the things I was running from: high school, parental figures, the real world, jobs and people who’d never love me.

In a way, I feel like we let the internet down. This was supposed to be a place for the real people to express themselves and seek a refuge from the depression of real life but where there are enough people, there’s enough confrontation and brands there to sell you shit and turn you into a product for consumption. The internet is not your friend, it doesn’t love you and to be honest, it has no reason to. We take everything wonderful and turn it into trash. Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like to destroy this thing and build something new and better, but then I remember that that would just be another excuse to destroy something beautiful by indulging in our worser selves.

I’ve been thinking about Twin Peaks a lot lately. I finally got around to watching it two months ago and I’ve kicked myself ever since for not watching sooner. David Lynch’s circus of soap opera, mystery, intrigue and nightmares is one of the most unique, weird, heartbreaking and beautiful things I’ve ever watched and it’s amazing that a major TV network even gave this two seasons. I’ve been sad a lot and this show, strangely, brought me a lot of comfort. See a show like this sparked the imagination and experimental switch in my head which has been like a breath of fresh air.

Part of my depression has come about because of my place in life and the fact that I want to make a living writing and make a living filming but I haven’t come close to either. There comes a point where you’re so mired in hopelessness that you question whether or not you really want this. Is it really that I just hate my job or don’t find much excitement in the thing I studied in college? Would I really care as much if I were making enough money? Maybe this really is just a phase that I haven’t quite outgrown yet. Tumblrs with snarky, C-grade humor and wordpress blogs that devolve into narcissistic vents of frustrations don’t exactly make a great writer, and if I’m not actively trying to be better, what exactly am I doing?

Then you watch something like Twin Peaks and it all comes back to you. You remember what great art and great writing can do and you revert to that child that wanted to be guided by imagination before life pounded reality into the mind. It’s the same feeling you get from a great record or a breathtaking film. I am not a great writer but I yearn to be because I obsess over great writers. I don’t strive to have the answers or know the right thing to do, I only strive to learn, keep learning and always want to learn. That’s the feeling I get from a writer like James Baldwin or Toni Morrison, from a Ta-Nahesi Coates essay or from a television show like Twin Peaks. These are people following their mind’s road–wherever that may go. I like that sense of adventure and that effortlessness to take the mind as messy as it is and make something eloquent. A fiery passion can create a hungry min yearning to grow. I hope that fire walks with me.

It dawns on me that I haven’t really spent much time talking about Fruitvale Station, the tragic story of Oscar Grant‘s last day before getting killed by the BART officers in Oakland, CA. It’s a hard movie to watch; it’s eerie, grim and will bring anyone with a conscience close to tears. It’s not exactly perfect: there are scenes that feel shoveled in that may not be accurate and a lot of the emotions it elicits have more to the with the actual story (and its relation to the similar death of Trayvon Martin) but it is important, and sometimes an important movie is enough to overcome any shortcomings. Fruitvale Station opened on the weekend George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon. It’s a eerily familiar reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The problem isn’t with the verdict really–based on the mess that is Florida law, there wasn’t really enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of a crime–the problem was the case itself. Rather than address the killing of Trayvon Martin, the case became the story of the scary black teenager who threatened the nice neighborhood watchmen and how, despite being an unarmed kid who weighed less than the MMA-trained watchmen, you would be just as scared too.

What makes Fruitvale important are all the things that shouldn’t make it important. It’s a story that happens too often and will continue to happen. It’s the story of kids who are born suspects and aren’t allowed to make mistakes or grow up to be better men because of the world they live in. A world where a jury declares a man innocent not because of evidence but because they understand his fear.

The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is interpreted as the story of delving into sin and suffering the repercussions of it. Fair enough; to me though, it’s the story of knowledge. The story of sinking your teeth into what’s really happening in the world around you and finally seeing it for what it is: a complicated, hypocritical mess steeped in violence and power. In Florida right now, you have the Dream Defenders making their voices heard at the governor’s office. You have a post-internet world that deals with racism in the most confrontational, ugly way and you have opinion writers and news personalities engaging and attacking each other in order to prove that their worldview is right. People often say we need to have a discussion on race, but we’ve always been having a discussion on race–and it’s getting louder and louder. It’s rough and hard to swallow at times, yes; but it’s the convo we need. There are people who will justify what’s wrong as there always tends to be but the good will always outweigh them. We are no longer pretending the apple isn’t there hanging from the tree, we’re grabbing it and finally deciding whether to eat it or not (and this is with everything, not just race). There is no place anymore for people like Don Lemon to pretend that being “good negroes” will save us from death. There is no more tolerance for people like Richard Cohen to talk about the justified fear of young black men. Your Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys are nothing more  than passe’ racists yelling at clouds. It’s no longer ok for successful black men like Jay Z to embrace their privilege with arrogance and call their time “charity”. We see the world around us and we can no longer pretend that we don’t.

That’s the world we live in at the time of Fruitvale Station. While this film, by the young, first-time director Ryan Coogler, is a lot of things–warm, lovely, disturbing and actually pretty funny–it’s first and foremost important. It’s the film we need right now to remind us of how much farther we have to go. Who’s bad enough to take a bite.

 

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Chicago is probably my favorite city to look at. Every time I’ve been here, I’ve spent my time taking in scenic views of the city: from the tall buildings and waterfronts to the graffiti-stained, rusty buildings and grimy side streets. It’s Friday morning and I’m on my way to my hotel to freshen up and meet up with my friends before the annual Pitchfork Music festival gets started. This is my second striaght year going to Pitchfork with the same group of friends that I’ve known for at least 4 years through an internet message board and it’s the first time that I’ll actually get to spend all my time here with them.

The day starts with drinking–because of course–and some waffle breakfast tacos (by the way, Taco Bell needs to desperately get on this) and then we finally make our way into Union Green Park to catch the bands for the day. Friday wasn’t my favorite really; I was really only excited for Bjork to get all weird and didn’t much care about anyone else that day. Joanna Newsom was lovely despite the fact that I was way too far away to really enjoy her harp-jamming and subtle and angelic vocals (it says a lot that she could command a crowd of hot, sweaty and intoxicated kids doing this by the way). Meanwhile my friend Katie was still stuck trying to find her appeal or why someone who looks 14 could get so many males to call her hot. Also, I guess it was cool hearing Savages play what sounded like the same song for 45 minutes–at the very least, it’s a good song. For me though,  it was all about Bjork and she didn’t disappoint. Armed with a giant squishie ball helmet and a groovy alien choir backing her up, she put on a great set of noise that people like me somehow think of as music. Of all the sets this weekend, hers was the most technically impressive (M.I..A. was a close second); she had lights and funky screen projections and was all prepared to dazzle until Sharknado showed up to wreak havoc on Chicago and cut her set off early. Afterwards, we braved that hellrain to get to an aftershow featuring Classixx and Chromatics in order to dance ourselves dry and listen to some dreamy dance music. I’m running on almost 48 hours without sleep and still drinking so I’m trying to keep moving and dancing in order to not pass out on the dancefloor (and if you think I’ve never fallen asleep in a club before, you’re sorely mistaken). By the time I made it back to the room I was half-asleep, my feet hurt and at some point me and three people shared a pizza at 2 in the morning: it was a good day.

Saturday was a new day, I’d gotten about 5 hours sleep and I was ready to get the day started and see two of my favorite acts: Solange and Belle & Sebastian. But first we checked out Ryan Hemsworth’s set to dance to hip-hop mashups and donkey kong beats. I’ve never been big on Hemsworth:his mixes are pretty good but I’m not crazy for his original stuff. Still, it is pretty cool that a kid who looks like a castoff from Laguna Beach is playing 3 6 mafia over a Lyfe Jenning’s beat. He also won us over by calling himself Asher Roth and saying to check him out on Datpiff. After that it was on to my mission of getting front and center for Solange and possibly getting a chance to ask her for marriage or at the very least getting to be in her presence long enough to have some of her coolness rub off on me. And she did not disappoint: with a fall of Afro-centric jumpsuit and dance moves that could fit in a Morris Day set, she made the world perfect for 45 minutes. Swoon city. Before long, it was time for me and all my internet friends to get ready for Belle & Sebastian, a band that holds a special place in most of our hearts and also a band that surprisingly put on a really fun, lively set to dance and sing-along to. I wasn’t expect some of these songs to work live as good as they did and singing along to If You’re Feeling Sinister was probably a highlight that it nowhere near as lame as it may seem. That night, we all went to a bar to drink, shoot the shit, drink more, play connect four, sing the Friends theme song with strangers, eat Mcdonalds at 2 am, feel shitty about eating McDonalds at 2 am and then when everyone else had crashed, the few of us that still had energy left made the trek to Millenium Park to watch the sunrise. Easily a top 10 day of my lifetime.

Sunday was probably the only day I wanted to get to the fest early so, naturally, that didn’t happen. Instead I rolled out of bed at 1, grabbed a quick breakfast and went to meet up with everyone and head to the park on what was the busiest day of the festival. I had a debate with a few people about how the R. Kelly set would go with this type of audience. I made the point that there was no way R. Kelly would have a Chicago performance without a typical R. Kelly fanbase showing up in droves and I was mostly right. There in the midst of hipster paradise was what looked like the members of every black person’s family reunion camped out on lawn chairs awaiting Mr. Robert Kelly. I don’t know what racial harmony looks like persay but I imagine that’s the closest we’ll get. It was wonderful. Sunday was probably the most spiritual day of the fest. Between Killer Mike putting on a fun yet conscious show that grappled with faith, the fucked up nature of our country and the violence pervading Chicago. Mike encouraged us all to be decent human beings to each other, which sounds simple but a lot of times simple is what we need the most. I found it especially smart that Killer Mike and El-P used their two separate sets to put on one big show that allowed them to perform their Run The Jewels material–which is a really great record if you didn’t know–but unfortunately, I had to make my way over to the other side of the park to catch Blood Orange who absolutely killed it. Dev Hynes really might just be the new Prince and I’m all for it. R&B is a genre that’s still stuck in a rut musically but slowly it’s making a comeback by pushing it’s sound into different realms and Dev is a big part of that, both with his band and with his production for Solange and Sky Ferreira. Speaking of spiritual, look we can debate the authenticity or musical validity of lil b if you’d like but for me, if nothing else, the music is a lot of fun. Whether it’s genuine or some sort of intense performance art doesn’t really matter much, it’s a misfit kid genuinely enjoying himself making music and taking the time to tell people that they should love each other. That sounds alright to me. Next up was Toro y Moi, who’s actually a whole lot better with a live behind then just behind a keyboard. His show was a fun set to dance around to and enjoy yourself before M.I.A.’s distorted party carnival and R. Kelly’s big close. Speaking of M.I.A., I haven’t been a huge fan for awhile but I’ll give her major props, she puts on one hell of a fun show. The entire crowd was going crazy and she went crazy with them. By the time, She finished with Paper Planes and Bad Girls, it felt like she had the entire festival dancing and singing along.

Ok, so about R. Kelly, look I get that part of this has to do with whatever ironic love he’s gotten from hipsterdom since Trapped In The Closet, Chappelle’s Show and Aziz Ansari jokes, but the thing is 1) He’s actually a really good artist and performer and 2) I’m pretty sure he’s in on it; which is why I had faith he’d put on a really good set. Would there be people who are only there and singing Ignition remix ironically? Sure, but I mean those people obviously don’t have much going on in their lives so why get sour over it. From the moment Kels showed up in all-white and a sparkly T-shirt amongst a choir, I knew this show would be everything. He damn near spent went through the first verse of every song he’s ever done, while also freestyle singing about being hot and needing a towel, performing for 27 years and yes, being a grown ass man. When the set ended with a choir backing him up for I Believe I Can Fly while inflatable doves flew through the sky I knew I was in the right place and I was so happy that I got to share this with my friends before we all made our way back to our respective cities. Thank you Pitchfork and see you next year.

So here we are. After 7 years of persistant purchasing/torrenting/renting; in-jokes amongst friends, message boards and pop culture blog comment sections and whispers of will-they, won’t-they: it’s finally here–new episodes of Arrested Development on Netflix.

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: there was no way that Arrested Development would truly thrive in this type of situation. The fevered anticipation of the series’ return as well as its increased popularity, thanks to the internet, made expectations way too high–not to mention the fact that, due to scheduling conflicts, all of the cast members weren’t able to consistently film together so instead the entire season is full of episodes dedicated to each character. As much as we’ve clamored and dreamed for this, nobody actually believed it would happen… and now that the day is here, it’s hard to know how to feel. There’s excitement in the air, as well as trepidation–even now this unedited babble is merely spilled over glee and conflict over what I’ve just watched and the aching need to write about it. Grantland’s Andy Greenwald posited on his mailbag the past Tuesday two questions (technically three, but only two matters): 1) Will the new season be any good? and 2) Will the new season be good enough?

The first one is an easy one to answer: Yes. It won’t shake up the world and it wasn’t without its duds. One of the things that has always helped AD is that, even in its weaker episodes (i.e. most of season 3),  the show thrived off of B, C or D stories from the other members of the Bluth family. Now, with each episode focused on specific characters, there are no B, C, or D stories and as a result–the duds really stand out. Not every character is meant to carry a full episode–especially full episodes that don’t adhere to a strict time format–and some of the storylines just don’t seem to stick, but the new season is definitely daring in its approach. It’s not just content to provide fan service (although there’s plenty) and it’s admirable that the show would take a risky approach like this. It doesn’t always work and it’s full of over-explanation, in an effort for a more “mainstream” audience to keep up. It gets grating at times–AD has always been great about respecting an audience’s intelligence–but overall it doesn’t get too out of hand. The pacing is a bit off, due to the way the episodes are structured. Most noticeably, the season is really, pretty dark. AD has always been great at balancing the heart of the show along with the dark undercurrent. There’s always a sense that these people love each other–even if it’s only because they have nobody else to turn to–but the new season focuses only on the darkness. At times it can be jarring. A lot of times. And you do get a very real sense that they’re building to something more: whether it’s another season, a movie or who knows (maybe a christmas special). It’s definitely the “empire strikes back” of seasons.

But let me get to the positives: this show is still very funny, very well written and well constructed. The world in which AD lives is a rich one and I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back in it. The standout episodes involve Tobias and Gob and Maeby (who is SERIOUSLY underutilized always). It’s always a joy to see Michael and George-Michael together, their relations goes through a lot of rough patches this season and it’s great watching the dynamic switch around. The season all together is a B+. Even with the duds, there’s enough comedy to make up for at least a few shortcomings.

Alas, now we get to the tough question: is it good enough? In a recent interview, Damon Lindelof (writer; “Lost”, “Prometheus”) stated, “my advice is you can’t win, and just tell your story.” He further added, “…a lot of them are going to be wrong, and it’s very hard for a human being to say, ‘I was wrong. You got me! Your way is better!’ Most people say, like, ‘My way is better, and because my way is better, I know your show better than you know your show.'” There’s no way for Mitch Hurwitz and company to win. There are millions of things that different fans want and feel entitled to receive from the show. There’s no way to meet all of them nor should they feel the need to. All they can really do is make the show they wanna make and see if it can stand up with the rest of the series. It’s pretty clear that–all constraints considered–they made the show they wanted to make. So while the show may not be “good enough”, it’s still fine. There are bits that are amongst the series best and are better than anything else on TV this past season; I’ve already found myself quoting things from the new season and there are plenty of sight gags and callbacks that work effectively.

You can’t please everyone nor should you try. There will be those who absolutely love this season and there will be those who deplore it. There will be debates, arguments, backlashes, backlashes to the backlashes and think pieces much longer, much more eloquent and well-written then mine. Ultimately, it will be time that has the final say so on this season. I think time will be kind to this season–there’s still a lot here to love–and I don’t think it’s far off from its complicated and rushed third season. Hopefully there is still money in the banana stand and we do get that movie but for now this will do: a sometimes good, sometimes underwhelming return to form. It may not be the height of excellence but, for me, I’m so happy to be around the Bluth family again (I’m getting ready for a second run through). Who would’ve thought a lowly rated show that FOX tried to burnoff in a two-hour block on the opening night of the Olympics would make such a huge impact on the lives of so many people. What a fun, sexy time for all of us.

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