A few days ago I asked my Instagram followers what their favorite sad song was and it reminded me of this classic. Hardly anyone thinks of “Lovefool” as a sad song and it’s easy to understand why. The danceable drum beat, the funky guitar, the melodic keyboard lines, the prominent bass, and Nina Persson’s beautiful voice make it sound like more of a party song than a lover’s lament, even though a closer look at this pop masterpiece reveals a significant layer of darkness underneath the energetic disco gloss. The Cardigans were the masters of matching depressing lyrics with catchy melodies (just listen to their first single, “Rise and Shine“, and their first international hit, “Carnival“) and “Lovefool” is one of the best examples of this in the history of pop music. Unsurprisingly, the irony was missed by American audiences, and today they’re mostly remembered as a cutesy one-hit-wonder from the same country that gave the world ABBA. That is not only an enormous shame, but it also pisses me off immensely because every single member of the band is an incredibly talented musician (look up any of their live performances on YouTube and you will be blown away by the sheer mastery of their craft). The acoustic version of “Lovefool” shows their versatility; it’s truly impressive how what was once a sugary neo-disco song works perfectly with a sparse, jazzy, bossa nova-flavored arrangement. If anything, this version makes it easier to notice that it is truly a sad song. With only an acoustic guitar backing up the airy vocals, the self-destructive lyrics are more noticeable and the overall mood is much more melancholic. Still, that main melodic hook is so damn catchy that you just can’t help but cheerfully sing along whenever you hear it!
I recently read “’Christianity will have power’”, a very scary (but important) piece in the New York Times about Donald Trump’s lip service to American Christians named after an alarming quote that the president uttered in a 2016 speech. Various individuals were interviewed for the piece, and they all spoke about how Trump’s hypocritical pandering (because his lifestyle is far from representative of traditional Christian values) gives them hope that their right to oppress others (which they call “religious freedom”) will be protected if he gets reelected. They spoke about how they’re afraid of becoming a minority, which reminded me of that meme that says something like “Why are white people scared of becoming a minority? Are minorities in the U.S. treated badly or something?” As you can imagine, they also repeated all the classic talking points of the religious right: that Christians are “under attack”, that abortion is murder, and that the United States was “built on Christian principles” and by “God-fearing men”. This last point never ceases to amaze me because most of the Founding Fathers were not religious at all. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine were Deists who actively opposed and criticized organized religion in general and Christianity in particular. Had they been born after Charles Darwin, there is no doubt in my mind that they would’ve been atheists. Speaking of Darwin, reading this article reminded me of an interview I saw a few months ago with Richard Dawkins, one of his most brilliant disciples and the most articulate critic of religion I’ve ever heard. I urge everyone reading this to watch this interview – especially if you happen to be religious.
It’s crazy to think about now, but just a few months ago, Elizabeth Warren was the front-runner in the Democratic primary. She was the progressive darling; the one that had everything going for her that Bernie Sanders didn’t. Her supporters constantly said that she was younger and more likable than Bernie, that she would attract the moderates that his extremism would surely alienate, that her policy proposals were more thorough than his, and that it was time for a woman of color to be president (lulz).
What did she do with all this momentum? Fucked it up beautifully by refusing to accept the fact that people just like Bernie more than they like her. Instead of facing the truth and bowing out gracefully, she shifted to the right on health care, foreign policy (although she was already pretty right-wing in that regard), and campaign contributions (eventually using a Super PAC to fund her campaign after previously attacking those who did) in a desperate effort to attract “moderate” voters. When this didn’t work, she reverted to full-on panic mode and started smearing Sanders in a last-ditch effort to win back the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Unsurprisingly, no one believed her accusations, and it tarnished her reputation even further. Her true colors were blatantly exposed: she is an opportunist who is more than willing to compromise her alleged beliefs in order to get ahead (something that I’ve been saying about her for the last FIVE YEARS).
Who are her constituents now? After alienating most left-leaning voters, I really see no place for her on the national scale. Throughout the campaign cycle, the media lumped her in with Bernie when contrasting the “progressive” and the “moderate” (Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar) wings of the Party, a comparison that she herself did not disavow. That, along with the fact that she built her reputation as an anti-Wall Street crusader, means that corporate Democrats will never embrace her. Like songwriter extraordinaire Ray Davies said, she’s on an island, and she’s got nowhere to run.
Today, upon learning that Buttigieg (who was third in the race) and Kloubachar (who was fifth) dropped out to endorse Biden (second), droves of progressives are calling upon Warren (fourth) to leave the race and endorse Sanders, who is leading the field both in votes and delegates. While this would undoubtedly be the most appropriate course of action, I’d be truly shocked if Warren does it. For starters, she has insisted that she will stay in the race all the way until the Democratic convention, where she plans to plead her case to the superdelegates in order to secure the nomination (even if she doesn’t get the most votes). Needless to say, this is spectacularly anti-democratic, but it is completely in line with what we’ve seen from Warren in the past. If she is truly the progressive that she says she is, she will drop out and back Bernie, because he is in a much better position to actually get things done. If she is the egocentric, hypocritical, and contradictory opportunist that I’ve always accused her of being, she will stay in the race and only hurt the causes that she claims to care about.
While browsing on YouTube last night, I stumbled upon a short video of The Rolling Stones working through “Sympathy for the Devil” in the studio. Released on December 6, 1968, it’s an untimely classic that has always been my favorite Stones song, so it was really interesting to see it develop. Watching this video obviously made me want to listen to the finished song, but it also made me seek out the isolated tracks that comprise the final version.
Looking up isolated tracks of songs I love (and listening to them incessantly) is legitimately one of my favorite hobbies. It’s a great way to analyze the various elements that come together to create a musical masterpiece, which almost always ends up making me like the song even more.
Perhaps the best part about listening to isolated tracks is that they allow you to notice subtleties that may be buried underneath the final mix of the finished product. “Sympathy for the Devil’s” bass track reveals that Keith Richards made more than a few mistakes while playing the iconic bassline that drives the song. I’m not sure who decided to have “Keef” play it instead of Bill Wyman, but it was a brilliant decision. “Sympathy for the Devil” is a very percussive song and I don’t think Wyman would’ve played with the aggression Richards did. His picking attack and overall carefree approach give it a sort of “dangerous” vibe that fits the song perfectly – it is about Satan, after all.
Fun fact: that same year, another well-known rhythm guitarist from a pretty famous British band took up bass duties in another legendary song, and his penchant for vigorous picking and general sloppiness also gave that song a uniquely menacing edge. Yes, John Lennon played bass on arguably the first heavy metal song ever recorded: Paul McCartney’s own “Helter Skelter.” Kudos to Paul for recognizing that John’s rudimentary bass skills would be an asset instead of a liability, and I’m sure that the Stones also felt that Wyman’s playing might have been too clean and precise for this particular song.
While looking for Mick Jagger’s vocal track, I stumbled upon something even better: a version of the song with just the vocals, Nicky Hopkins’ piano, and Keith’s guitar solo. There is so much to unpack here (and these three elements sound so good together) that I’ve listened to it dozens of times in just over a day. First of all, it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mick’s vocal performance on this song is one of the best in rock history. This is the voice that influenced pretty much every single hard rock singer that ever lived, and it’s easy to see why. He’s got just the right amount of raspiness in his tone, his emphasizing of certain syllables comes across as both sensual and threatening, and his ad-libs during the final two minutes of the song use screams, moans, falsetto notes, and scatting to create a truly intoxicating atmosphere.
This feeling is only heightened by Hopkin’s energetic piano playing. It’s a testament to his skill that “Sympathy for the Devil” remains an incredibly danceable song after the drums and congas have been removed from the mix. While not an official member of the group, Hopkins was arespected studio musician who had played with The Kinks and The Who and would go on to appear on John Lennon’s solo albums. His propulsive boogie-woogie shuffle on “Sympathy for the Devil” provides the ideal backdrop for Mick’s singing by keeping things fast and loose.
Speaking of fast and loose, Keith’s guitar solo is one of my all-time favorites. Just over 30 seconds long, it’s a perfect example of the “less is more” type of guitar playing that I love. Melodic, lively, perfectly distorted, and straight to the point; it’s a memorable feature on a song loaded with them.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of all in this musical masterpiece is the percussion. Going beyond the usual rock formula of just a drummer playing 4X4 beats, the Stones added congas, bongos, maracas, a cowbell, and a shekere to this track. Even though Mick originally wrote it as a Dylan-esque folk song, it eventually evolved into a samba-rock fusion once he showed it to Keith. Jagger astutely pointed out that the samba rhythm’s African origins make the song sound “very sinister to white people” and all the more powerful as a result. For this, we also need to give credit to session musician Rocky Dzidzornu, who played the congas expertly and complemented the drumming of the Stones’ own Charlie Watts masterfully. A longtime jazz lover, Watts has said that his drum pattern was inspired by Kenny Clarke’s playing on “A Night in Tunisia,” but to me, it more closely resembles Billy Higgins’ drumming at the beginning of Ornette Coleman’s “Jayne.”
It’s easy to see why the Stones are universally considered the second-best rock band of all time just by listening to “Sympathy for the Devil.” In less than 7 minutes, you can hear all the qualities that would go on to define hard rock in the 70s and beyond: the sexiness, the danger, the charisma, the rebelliousness, and the inventiveness.
Isn’t weird that a blog called “A Journalist Who Bleeds Green” barely posts about the Boston Celtics? Half of that is my own interest in other things, especially music, film, and politics. The other half of the blame lies entirely on the shoulders of one man: Kyrie Irving. I did not write a single word about the Celtics last season because it was extremely frustrating to watch, and most of it was his fault. From his excessive dribbling and hero ball tendencies on the court to his constant complaining off the court, it was always clear that this man was not the leader the Celtics hoped he could be. After all, the team performed better without him during the previous season’s playoff run. It’s pretty perplexing that adding a multiple-time All-Star to a team that’s already good can somehow make it worse, but that just goes to show that chemistry is an underrated component of the winning formula.
Thankfully, Kyrie left this offseason, and while he’s putting up ridiculous numbers for the Brooklyn Nets, their record currently stands at 4-6. I just saw them give up a game against the Jazz in which they lead most of the way, and Kyrie turned into his usual ball-hogging self at crunch time and was unable to orchestrate a comeback win.
But enough about the past. This is going to be a happy post, not a bitter one. And how could it not be? Against all odds and predictions, the Celtics are the proud owners of the best record in the NBA. Their only loss was the season opener in Philly and they’ve won 9 in a row since. That game stung a little bit (especially because my beloved Al Horford left the Celtics and signed with the 76ers this offseason), but the C’s will get a chance for redemption when the Sixers visit the TD Garden on December 12 (a game I’m seriously considering attending).
Speaking of Al Horford, perhaps the most shocking development in the Celtics’ season is that their defense has remained solid despite losing him and Aron Baynes (not to mention Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier). Their main rim protectors for the last two years, these guys are big, smart, willing defenders with plenty of playoff experience and veteran savvy. Post defense would now be Daniel Theis’, Robert Williams’, and newly acquired Enes Kanter’s responsibility, so I can understand why most analysts thought the Celtics would regress in this area. Theis is much smaller and less experienced than Horford and Baynes, plus he’s dealt with injury issues for most of his short career and is not known as a defender. Robert Williams is a defensive-minded player and is extremely athletic to boot, but he’s a sophomore who barely played in his rookie year, and his basketball IQ and all-around skills are nowhere near Horford’s or Baynes’. Kanter is a gifted scorer in the post and consistently ranks among the best rebounders in the league, but has been considered a defensive liability in almost every team he’s played for.
So, how did the Celtics overcome this? In a word, effort. Before last night’s game against the Wizards, Brad Stevens reiterated that was the main focus in training camp because they knew their lack of size put them at a defensive disadvantage. If you’ve been watching the games, it’s evident: the team is working together on the defensive end (led by Marcus Smart, as always), and every individual is giving maximum effort (Theis is even among the league leaders in blocks, averaging more than 2 a game this season after averaging less than 1 for his first two years in the league).
This leads me back to Kyrie Irving. I don’t claim to be a body language expert, but if you’ve been paying attention to the Celtics lately, you can see how differently the players carry themselves now that they’re playing with Kemba Walker vs. how they did when Irving was around. They seemed frustrated and disengaged last year, and I can’t really blame them. That is one of the potential drawbacks of having a mesmerizing one-on-one player on your team, and the team’s young players (particularly Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Rozier) had to take on smaller roles in order to accommodate him.
Now that he’s gone, Brown and Tatum are thriving. They are both averaging a career-best 20 points and 7 rebounds per game, and instead of standing around ball-watching (which they had no choice but to do at times, given Irving’s propensity for pointless, flashy dribbling), they are attacking the basket aggressively and intelligently. Ditto for Gordon Hayward, who before going down with a hand injury a few days ago was also averaging 20 and 7.
While the coaching staff and the players themselves deserve a lot of credit for these improvements, a lot of it is directly related to replacing Kyrie with Kemba. Walker might not be as decorated as Irving, but he’s an All-Star in his own right and is known to be a friendly, supportive teammate and a hard-working professional who hardly ever complains. This is a stark contrast to Irving, who has acquired a reputation for moodiness and aloofness.
Watching Walker this season has been a treat. He strikes the perfect balance between distributing and dominating; his shots always come within the flow of the offense and never seem to be just about him getting his numbers. He knows when to turn it up but has never overstepped his boundaries, and that has made the rest of the players a lot more comfortable and allowed them to contribute more.
I know it’s still extremely early, but as a Celtics fan, I’m allowed to be pretty fucking happy with what they have accomplished so far. We’ll have to wait and see how the season progresses, but if they keep sharing the ball and defending with tenacity, I don’t see how they won’t be in an extremely favorable position by the end of the season. The fact that they’ve kept winning despite losing various players to injuries at different points of the year is extremely encouraging, but I am a little worried that this team might be a tad injury prone. Still, the important thing is that everyone is picking up the slack whenever someone else goes down. They’ve proven to be much deeper than we thought before the year started, and now that everyone seems to be happy with their role, I think this team can truly surprise a lot of people.
Those of you who have been reading this blog since I created it five years ago should be well aware of how much I love Los Angeles rap group The Pharcyde. I wrote about their classic debut album “Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde” in what is probably the most popular post on this site – the one about my all-time favorite albums.
Even though that list is not ranked, “Bizarre Ride” has been one of my 10 favorite albums in music history from the moment I discovered it in 2003. That’s why when I heard that their two most talented members, Fatlip and Slim Kid Tre, were going to perform in NYC in October, I did not hesite for a second and bought a ticket immediately. I knew it would be a special night because of how much their music has meant to me throughout the years, but nothing could have prepared me for what actually went down at the show.
After performing a rousing set that included most of the songs from “Bizarre Ride” and other great cuts from their follow-up album, “Labcabincalifornia,” Fatlip and Tre asked if anyone in the audience knew the words to their most popular song, the undisputed hip-hop classic “Passin’ Me By.” I immediately raised my hand, and since I was right in front of the stage, Tre noticed me right away. He asked me what verse did I know, and I confidently replied “all of them.” He then told me to come up to the stage and rap to the crowd, and this is what happened after that:
I can’t even begin to describe what I felt when I stood onstage and looked at the crowd. Even though I play guitar and sing with my friends all the time, I’ve never performed anything onstage, but I was not the slightest bit nervous. The fact that I was standing next to two of the most talented rappers in hip-hop at an iconic NYC venue didn’t faze me one bit; if anything, it pumped me up even more.
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I gotta say that I absolutely killed that shit. Just listen to the crowd as soon as I spit the first line – they went absolutely nuts. Getting that sort of immediate feedback from the audience was highly exhilarating, but seeing the smile on Fatlip’s face while I rapped was such an amazing experience that I can’t even begin to describe it (cut me some slack; this happened fewer than 24 hours ago and I haven’t been able to sleep since then). Just having a legend like him hand me a microphone was pretty unbelievable, but knowing that he enjoyed my performance and getting congratulated by him afterwards is so surreal that I still can’t believe it happened (and I’ve seen the video about 500 times).
Update: A fellow audience member connected with me on Instagram and sent me a very high-quality video that he took of the entire performance. I predict I will watch this approximately 9572153520689243048223462089913561 times before I die.
Election season is upon us and progressive Americans are split between the two most liberal candidates in the race: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The fact that polls show Warren with a slight edge over Sanders is confusing at best and extremely frustrating at worst, so I feel the need to explain why Sanders is the only reasonable choice.
As Sanders pointed out two days ago, the main difference between him and Warren is that she’s a proud capitalist and he’s not. Against all odds, Sanders brought the term “democratic socialism” into the mainstream, defining his ideology as one that creates a system that works for all people and not just a select few (i.e.: the rich).
I never dreamed I’d see the day in which a self-described socialist would garner any kind of support for the U.S. presidency, but what’s truly shocking is that he has been saying the same things for decades. That level of consistency is extremely rare for a politician, but Bernie’s stances have barely changed in over 40 years. Warren? Well, she was a Republican until her late 40s. I’ve heard some so-called progressives claim that this is actually a good thing because it shows an ability to learn and evolve. Fair point, but I’d rather roll with the guy that was always aware of the problem instead of the person who just recently found out about it.
“But, Alex, that’s all in the past! Warren is tough on Wall Street now!” Sure, she talks a big game, but that’s not enough. When it comes to acting in a way that aligns with your purported beliefs, Warren again fails to measure up to Sanders’ standards. Remember when she attacked Hillary Clinton for her ties to Wall Street only to do a complete 180 and endorse her later? I do. I was living in Boston at the time and a lot of people in the city were shocked that their own senator refused to endorse the candidate who said the same things she did about Wall Street (literally). Warren’s deafening silence during the Massachusetts Democratic primary reeked of political opportunism; since Clinton was the runaway favorite to win the nomination, Warren hedged her bets and didn’t endorse anybody until Clinton’s victory was totally inevitable.
Let’s go back to Massachusetts for a second: Bernie went on to lose the primary by a very narrow margin, so we’ll never know how things would’ve played out had he garnered the support of the most well-known senator from that state. And of course, in true Elizabeth Warren fashion, when asked about her decision, she danced around the question with the grace of Fred Astaire. It’s bad enough that the Democratic primaries were rigged in Clinton’s favor—something that Warren herself eventually admitted—but victories from the left become major uphill battles when the few progressives in U.S. politics side with the centrists for their own personal benefit. This is even more maddening when you consider that Bernie polled better against Trump than Clinton ever did!
And no, this isn’t about her “not being nice” to Bernie as a person; this is about serving her constituents and enacting real change. If you claim that your priorities as a politician are putting an end to corporate greed and defending the rights of working people, how can you support the candidate that gets six-figure paychecks from Wall Street over the one who correctly identifies their business model as fraud? It makes no sense at all, which is why Warren herself can’t even explain it.
This affinity towards making morally dubious choices to protect her own interests is, unfortunately, a trend in Warren’s life. Much has been written about how she claimed to be a Native American for many years. Needless to say, this was a blatant lie that she unwittingly exposed when she uploaded a cringe-worthy video to her website (that she subsequently deleted) after taking a DNA test that “strongly support(ed) the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the range of 6 to 10 generations ago,” making her somewhere between 1/32 and 1/512 Native American. Somehow, Warren thought this would go over well, but unsurprisingly, that was not the case. Following a significant amount of backlash, she was forced to go on a not-very-well-received apology tour.
While we’re on the topic of race, I want to point out that Sanders has been lauded by Shaun King for his long history of actively supporting civil rights causes and that Cornel West has even compared him to Martin Luther King. White liberals (i.e.: the majority of Warren’s supporters) might not care that much about these things, but as a person of color, I can tell you these differences matter.
Another major difference between the two, and the one that means the most to me, is their position on the U.S. Empire. As if declaring himself a socialist wasn’t bold enough, Sanders has sternly criticized the 1954 invasion of Guatemala and the 1973 Chilean coup d’état, acknowledged the positive aspects of Fidel Castro’s social programs in post-revolutionary Cuba, and admonished Hillary Clinton for her relationship with Henry Kissinger. Any of these stances would be seen as career suicide by most American politicians, but Bernie’s willingness to discuss the brutal history of the United States military shows that he is truly committed to justice and will not pander to the majority of the population. Meanwhile, Warren has voted to expand the already-inflated-beyond-ridiculous-proportions U.S. military budget and avoided explaining herself when confronted about it. Her far-from-progressive positions on U.S. militarism are bad enough but her vision of a “Green Army” is even worse. It’s utterly baffling why anyone would think that keeping the most destructive and violent organization in human history intact while making it “more environmentally friendly” is a good thing. But hey, Warren has let it be known that her priority is consolidating the U.S. as the #1 global superpower, so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.
Speaking of the environment, one quick look at Sanders’ and Warren’s respective climate proposals tells you all you need to know about which candidate is aware of the urgency of climate reform: Warren’s plan proposes a $2 trillion investment in clean energy and Bernie’s Green New Deal is a $16 trillion juggernaut. This alone should be reason enough to support Sanders; our lives literally depend on it.
As you can see, Warren and Sanders are not cut from the same cloth. They might both stand to the left of the Democratic Party establishment, but that does not mean that the differences between them are insignificant. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: if you’re a true progressive, Bernie Sanders is the only option.
If you’ve read this blog at all over the last few years, you know that music is an extremely important part of my life. That’s why I decided to attend Brooklyn Bowl’s yearly Amy Winehouse tribute as soon as I saw an ad for the show on Facebook. I wasn’t familiar with the musicians slated to perform, but I’ve been to Brooklyn Bowl before, and their shows never disappoint.
For all those reasons, I was absolutely pumped for this event. Plus, I’m a huge Amy Winehouse fan (Who isn’t?). She is inarguably one of the best singers of all time; her voice simultaneously harkened back to a bygone era in music yet still sounded completely unique. I still listen to “Back to Black” regularly and cannot stop recommending the “Amy” documentary to anybody that will listen.
As soon as the band (“Remember Jones”) started playing, my excitement whittled down to disappointment. The musicians were pretty good, but the singer was absolutely terrible – and he was a man, which made absolutely no sense. Technically speaking, he was fine (good range, power, etc.), but his exaggerated vocal affectations and stage mannerisms were annoying as hell. He came across as the worst aspects of Christina Aguilera’s singing and Mick Jagger’s moves cranked up in all the wrong directions.
Pretty bad, right? Yes, but that’s not all. For some unknown reason, he insisted on singing and speaking (when he talked to the crowd between songs) with an obviously put-on “blaccent.” You know what I’m talking about – that silly pseudo-Southern drawl that white people have been appropriating for decades in a pathetic attempt to sound cooler. It was so frustrating to listen to him speak like this because it reminded me of every other white performer that has hijacked elements of black artistic expression for financial benefit. And of course, none of these people ever support black issues or social justice causes. They just want to borrow black culture for a couple of minutes and go back to being their lily-white selves as soon as the show is over. Think I’m being too harsh? Ask yourself these two questions: Do you honestly believe that these dudes use this same voice when talking to their mother on the phone? If they get pulled over by the police, would they say “Dayum, I wasn’t doin’ nuthin’, son,” or “Good evening officer, what seems to be the problem?” That is the literal definition of white privilege – you can use elements of black culture for your own amusement, but you can also drop them whenever you want to and never have to face the consequences of actually being a black person.
Amazingly, the worst offender wasn’t even the band’s lead singer, it was one of the two background singers who stepped up to rap Lauryn Hill’s classic “Doo Wop.” I have no idea why they even performed this song. The show was supposed to be a note-for-note rendering of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” album, not a medley of R&B hits from the 90s and the 2000s. Nevertheless, they broke it out in the middle of the set, and….well…check it out for yourselves:
See what I mean? This is literally a 2019 minstrel show, sans blackface. All the stereotypical “black” mannerisms are on full display: the bugged eyes, the highly demonstrative hand gestures, the tasteless ass-shaking, and of course, the disgusting blaccent.
I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It’s the type of video that 18-year-old white girls record in their dorm room and then goes viral when someone gets their hands on it and realizes how ridiculous they look and sound. The fact that this happened to Lauryn Hill’s masterpiece was even more offensive because both the song and its video are brilliant representations of black American culture.
So there you have it. That was my Thursday night in New York City – “the greatest city in the world,” as the Schuyler sisters say. Hardly what I was expecting, but hey, at least they didn’t say the n-word!
One of my favorite things about art–and this applies to music, film, literature, and visual art–is when a new creation reminds me of previous works without feeling overly derivative. Today I saw a great example of this: Bart Layton’s film “American Animals.” I have to admit I had never heard of Layton before, but his movie (about a misguided book heist that actually happened in 2004) combines elements of some of my all-time favorites and still feels like an original work.
Right off the bat, I thought about Richard Linklater’s “Bernie,” another film that uses fourth-wall breaking interviews from real-life people involved in the events depicted on screen. These interjections provide more insight into the character’s (Should we call them “characters” if they are real people?) motivations and personalities, but Layton is smart enough to not abuse this technique so that the actors and the script can tell the story. Craig Gillespie accomplished a similar feat in “I, Tonya,” albeit with the same actors that appeared throughout the film.
Even if these four young men were planning a heist instead of building a website, the whole “white guys on campus” atmosphere reminded me of David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” Other similarities with that masterful film include themes of peer pressure, youthful arrogance/overambition, upper-class entitlement, and an all-consuming desire to stand out.
Fincher also addressed this last topic in “Fight Club,” another film that I thought about mere minutes after “American Animals” started. These movies tell us that everyone from talented college kids to overworked middle-aged men is looking for a way to feel special and “alive,” and that poor judgment brought on by desperation and hopelessness leads to self-destructive behavior that also endangers innocent people.
Layton also deserves credit for cleverly acknowledging classic heist movies of the past. After all, it would be naive (at best) and presumptuous (at worst) for any director to assume that they’re creating an entirely original work within the heist genre. Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” are referenced directly in “American Animals,” and if you are unfamiliar with this story, those references alone should provide enough clues about what happens later.
However, the film that I consider the direct precursor to “American Animals” is Nick Cassavetes’ “Alpha Dog.” An immensely underrated movie about the kidnapping and murder of a 15-year boy, it’s also a story about real events and its perpetrators were also young men whose sense of invincibility and longing for an extravagant lifestyle made them inflict catastrophic damage on themselves and others.
Although the nature of Anton Yelchin’s and Barry Keoghan’s roles in these films is very different (one being the victim and one being the victimizer), both play confused, scared, and impressionable kids extremely effectively, and you could say they are the main reason behind “Alpha Dog’s” and “American Animals” success. The performances by the other young actors in both of these films (Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Justin Timberlake in “Alpha Dog” and Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, and Jared Abrahamson in “American Animals”) are also noteworthy, and after seeing them bring these people to life, it’s hard to imagine anybody else in those roles.
I suppose all this makes “American Animals” the “Definitely Maybe” of cinema: a fresh, entertaining, and yes, original piece of work that also wears its influences on its sleeve and is completely unashamed of it. I doubt it will become as revered in the cinematic world as Oasis’ debut album is in the music world, but cinephiles everywhere will surely enjoy its references to the past and its engaging storytelling.
Verdict: 4/5 stars
As I’ve mentioned before, I moved from Boston to New York in September, but being the Celtics superfan that I am, I had to go to back to The Bean for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to watch my beloved C’s take on the Cavs (and longtime Celtics rival LeBron James).
The Celtics are undefeated at home this postseason and continue to prove their doubters wrong. Really, how many times is Rachel Nichols going to talk about how counting them out is a mistake? One? Two? Three? A hundred? A thousand? A million? Has Stephen A. Smith finally learned to respect them? Even Zach Lowe–one of ESPN’s most respected basketball writers–was forced to admit he thought the Celtics would lose to the Bucks and the Sixers in a lengthy piece about the team’s current playoff success. And don’t get me started on Charles Barkley and his constant dismissal of the team, which dates back to the KG-Pierce era (he predicted the Cavs would sweep the Celtics in the 2010 playoffs). This tendency to underestimate them only fuels both their players and their fans, so it was a no-brainer to hop on a bus to Boston to watch the game live at the TD Garden on Sunday.
I arrived at the arena about an hour before tip-off, and it was already packed. A few scattered LeBron jerseys were drowning in a sea of green, and the sense of anticipation in the air was very exciting. As if that weren’t enough, I bumped into former Celtics player and current TV analyst Brian Scalabrine, affectionately known as “The White Mamba” (a play on Kobe Bryant’s self-given nickname “The Black Mamba”) to fans.
The C’s hit the ground running from the first possession, an easy Jaylen Brown layup. I’ll spare you most of the gory details, but they took an early lead and never looked back. The Celtics were up 61-35 at the half, the largest first-half deficit in the alleged G.O.A.T.’s postseason career. They ended up winning by 25 (108-83), limiting LeBron to 15 points (on 5-16 shooting), and forcing him to commit seven turnovers.
The day before the game, Marcus Morris’ proclamations about his LeBron-stopping abilities became a big news story. Morris, a veteran player but a newcomer to the C’s this season, is an occasional starter whose primary role is to provide an offensive spark off the bench. He has never been known for his defense, so his words took a lot of people by surprise. Even notorious LeBron critic Skip Bayless said there was “no evidence” to support his claims! However, the record shows that Morris was not being overconfident. Long Story short: he scored 20 points on 7-12 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds, and limited LeBron to 5 points on 2-6 shooting when he defended him one-on-one.
Personally, this game was thrilling to watch for a number of reasons. Aside from the obvious–the Celtics playing without their two best players and still beating teams they’re supposed to lose to–being back in Boston felt right. I spent three wonderful years in this lovely city, and going to the TD Garden to watch the C’s play to the cheers of thousands of Celtics fans was evidently one of my favorite things to do in that time. It was even sweeter than usual on this occasion because they destroyed the team they lost to last year, the team with the guy who Celtics fans love to hate, and the team that so-called experts like Chris Broussard insisted they were no match for. But what really put the icing on the cake was that I was seated next to a family of four pouting Cavs fans for the whole game.
My LeBron-loving neighbors arrived inconspicuously a few minutes after I found my seat. I heard one of them speak and I could tell they were Puerto Rican, so I said that I was too and a cordial conversation ensued. It turns out that the oldest son in the family had graduated from Emerson a few hours earlier and his family decided to celebrate by going to the game. I congratulated the young man and added “let’s hope that the result of the game is favorable so you can keep the celebrations going,” to which he responded “you’re going to hate me, but…” and before he could finish, I knew what was coming. Many of my own friends are unapologetic LeBron supporters, so I am very familiar with the Puerto Rican LeBron worshipper. Of course, our friendship supersedes any disagreements we might have about sports, and the fact that a friendly Puerto Rican family ended up next to me was a pleasant turn of events, but all this just made me wish the Celtics would really take it to the Cavs. The last thing I wanted for my return to Boston was to have the team lose to LeBron of all people, and to hear fellow boricuas cheering for him every step of the way would have made it a million times worse. Thankfully, this didn’t happen, and I am not ashamed to say that the sad look on their faces brought an ear-to-ear smile to mine.
As for the aftermath? Needless to say, the atmosphere in the TD Garden was insane. “Let’s go Celtics” chants permeated through the arena as everyone exited the building, even as a more vulgar (and honestly, funnier) fan did his best to try to replace them with his own mantra of “Fuck the Ca-avs!”. Also unsurprisingly, the excuses from Cavs fans (and non-Celtics fan in general) came out quicker than you can say “LeBron traveled”:
Pretty hilarious stuff considering that LeBron had one of his worst playoff games ever and that the Celtics’ active payroll is less than half of the Cavaliers’. I even read a comment online that said the Celtics had the next best five players in the series after LeBron, ranking Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris above Kevin Love. A statement that preposterous does not even warrant a response, but I’ll simply say that Love’s five All-Star appearances in his 10 years in the NBA are the same amount of All-Star appearances those five guys have accumulated in 23 combined NBA seasons. Never mind that the Cavs’ Kyle Korver is a former All-Star himself (and one of the best shooters of all time), that J.R. Smith is a former Sixth Man of the Year, or that Tristan Thompson has been one of the best offensive rebounders in basketball for years.
Where do the C’s go from here? Game 2 is tomorrow at the TD Garden, and I can’t wait. The Celtics expect LeBron to play better, Brad Stevens is far from complacent, and Celtic Nation is lit. Al Horford’s sister said it best: the team has accomplished a lot more than people expected, but there is still a long way to go. Believe in Boston!