In Rotation — Friday 4th August 2017

Jay: Greetings, friends! Another week of our fleeting lives has passed. I’m feeling pretty good about how I spent it, and I hope you’re feeling good about your time, too. Our illustrious colleague Mark feels so good about it, in fact, that he’s out living it instead of writing here. How about you, Josh? What did you get up to?

Josh: I finally got around to tackling the Starz show American Gods on Amazon Prime Video. The show is based on the apparently not unfilmable Neil Gaiman novel, which I read when I was 19 and quite liked. The brief 8 episode first season is a lot of fun despite a pace that feels unsure of where the show wants to go. It’s a road trip show loosely based around an attempt to assemble a team of gods for a coming war. But it’s the sheer weirdness of it that makes it feel unlike anything else on TV: the way it dedicates lengthy sequences to seemingly unconnected stories of gods “somewhere in America,” and the way it rarely spells out what’s going on. The jazz-scored opening to the second episode, which features a suit-clad Anansi convincing a ship full of transatlantic slaves to overthrow their oppressors by setting fire to the ship and themselves, is a great example of the unexpected places the show is willing to go. I love the way American Gods digs into the mythic roots of American identity as a hodgepodge of belief systems from all over the world, an Americana built from layers upon layers of conflicting and overlapping worldviews. I can’t wait for season 2.

Jay: As a lover of Gaiman’s world’s and stories, but sometimes not his prose (as in the case of Gods), I’m pretty interested in watching this. I do wish we didn’t live in an era where content was hidden behind different services (I don’t have this Amazon video thing), but maybe I should just be grateful that it allows more content to be made.

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I spent the better part of the week in Toronto, and something about that city has really sparked my love of Harry Belafonte. If you’ve seen the movie Beetlejuice, you’ll probably remember that there are two great musical scenes, one for “Day-O“, and the finale of “Jump in the Line“. A month back or so I had a peak-Beetlejuice night (don’t ask; it was fun), and looked up that music when I got home. Turns out they were both by the same artist, Harry Belafonte!

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As with a lot of the music recorded in the mid-twentieth century, there’s a charm to Belafonte’s tracks that comes from the limitations of music technology at the time. The horns are brittle, the stereo panning is extreme, and the performances feel very “live” (which is to say, not very tight or controlled). Altogether, there’s an exuberance and genuineness that complements Belafonte’s excellent vocal performances. Not every track is a winner, of course, but so much of it makes for enjoyable party music that avoids the relentlessness of modern pop music.

Plus, there’s this perfect track, which, from the songwriting to the subdued performances to the recording, I just can’t get enough of:

Couple all this with the fact that Belafonte has spent his life actively caring about humanity, and was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s closest friends, and I’m really impressed.

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On my last night in Toronto, some dear friends (including one Fraudster) and I hit up Tilt, a bar / arcade. There’s a cover at the door (on Tuesdays it’s only $2), and all the video games, pinball machines, and other vintage ephemera are free play after that. And while “unlimited pinball plus drinking” sounds like a perfect night to me, we found ourselves most drawn to a 1983 cabinet called Ice Cold Beer. The goal of the game is simple, to lift a pinball into specific holes using a bar that you control on the left and right sides. But it was deviously difficult, really fun, and extraordinarily tense. My heart was pounding in my chest, and not just because I had to leave the city the next day.

That’s it for this week, friends! Have a fantastic weekend, and I’m sure we’ll be griping about things again soon. Until then, enjoy, enjoy.

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