Friday, March 8, 2019

Road House

I drafted this post in December, but it felt insane to add one more thing to anyone’s life at that time - even something as lovely and relaxing as a Sut Nam post (wink!).

So now it’s March, post-Valentine’s Day, post-birthdays, and here we are: right on time, with the speediness, glitz, and glamour you’ve come to associate with this blog (wink, wink!).

Like the rest of the country, I've fallen into a pit of podcasts.  One night in December, at a rare yoga class, I silently asked myself, Why aren’t we walking around the neighborhood listening to a podcast right now? Instead, a blond instructor blasted techno music and blabbered on about finding my true self. I was pretty sure my true self much preferred ogling people’s Christmas lights and breathing in the frosty air.

I did a crazy thing, which was to go out and watch Road House starring, yes, Patrick Swayze.  I mean, while I'm revisiting Footloose, why not do a deep dive on Patrick Swayze? The tagline for Road House is "A tough bouncer is hired to tame a dirty bar."  Don’t you kind of want that tagline for your entire life?  Even if you aren't ever going to watch it, here are six things to appreciate about Road House.

1. Tai Chi at Dawn

There's a bizarre scene early in the movie where a glistening Patrick Swayze does Tai Chi al fresco in the warm morning light.  He’s in a pair of white pants, natch, and all the men around him, including his landlord - a mild-mannered farmer - and the villain who lives across the river from him (obviously), can't take their eyes off him.  I think they are supposed to be wondering what sort of tough guy does something so wondrous as Tai Chi first thing in the morning, but after revisiting the homoeroticism of Footloose, I appreciate Road House's male gaze on what the rest of the world frankly can't take its eyes off, either. That is, Patrick Swayze in his prime.

2. Mock turlenecks (in black and taupe)

This movie makes me wonder if I’ve missed out on a whole life by not embracing mock turtlenecks or, more specifically, mock turtleneck tees.  It also takes high-waisted chinos, wraps them around Swayze, and elevates them to high art.

3. What. Is. That. Even.

More than any other throwback I’ve watched lately, Road House makes me realize that Patrick Swayze’s hair was its own galaxy of wonder and delight.  If any of us had one-eighteenth the confidence that man’s hair had, we’d be more than fine.

4. Scene-Stealing

However much Patrick Swayze masters late 80’s style in this movie, Sam Elliot swoops in and beats him at his own game.

By the way, did you know Sam Elliot was married to Katharine Ross, of The Graduate and Butch Cassidy fame?  I did not, until I saw them together in an Oscars photo this year.  Do the mirrors in their house just burst into flames when those two walk by?  That's a good-looking pair. 

I'm pretty sure that's Kelly Lynch's mega-teased mane by Elliot's right shoulder in the photo above, but it looks like he's carrying backup
hair, just in case, doesn't it?

5. Jim Harrison!

There’s one scene where Swayze sort of spies on a party at the villain's house across the river.  Reading in his barn/loft - which has open windows with no screens or doors but no mosquitos or vagrancy? -  what is the shirtless Swayze reading but none other than Harrison’s 1979 collection of novellas, Legends of the Fall.

Any state of undress is absolutely the way Harrison would prefer all his work to be read, by the way.

In other news, the barn/loft is the future setting for one of the grossest love scenes I’ve seen in a while, with none other than Kelly Lynch who makes another appearance later in this post.

6. Future Lebowski co-stars

Finally, the late actor Ben Gazzara, who played Jackie Treehorn in The Big Lebowski, plays the villain in Road House, though it took me awhile to figure this out.  One day, you’re lazily watching an 80’s cult classic and the next, you’re driving home from daycare when you realize the bad guy in Road House is that affable pornographer with the sunken living room in The Big Lebowski

As for other things I’ve done with my life since December, I finished My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie, the memoir written by Debbie Reynold’s son and Carrie Fisher’s brother, Todd Fisher.  According to Tim, My Girls was an even worse cover to wake to every morning than Jeff Tweedy’s memoir.  I accidentally left it on his nightstand when I fell asleep after reading so he is, I suppose, the expert.  I don’t mean to be disrespectful.  The cover of My Girls isn’t bad, but Fisher is sort of creeping out from the side of his mother’s hat on it, and during the period I was reading the book we kept re-enacting the stance around the house, yelling out Yoohoo! from around the corner because we’re very mature people.

In all seriousness, Fisher’s dedication to his mother—and his mother’s devotion to her children—was moving, and I was also impressed by some of the details of Debbie Reynold’s work life.  Her love life was an unmitigated disaster with crooked, philandering husband after crooked, philandering husband bankrupting her multiple times, but her vision for a Hollywood museum, while never successfully realized, was her passion.  Despite incredible sexism against her as an entrepreneur, she preserved a lot of movie history in private collections until, sadly, she had to auction them.  In short, I basically read the book to learn why I should care about Debbie Reynolds, and now I know and now I do.

I read a book of interviews and illustrations called The Wes Anderson Collection and really enjoyed it.  It seems I wasn’t the only one.

I also re-watched The Royal Tenenbaums and cried SEVERAL times.  When I was younger, I could barely stand how stylish, funny, and satisfying it was.  When I watched it this time, I was covered in goosebumps, especially the first time we see Richie Tenenbaum’s falcon, Mordecai, fly after all the characters have been introduced in what has to be one of the longest opening sequences in film. 

I also watched Drugstore Cowboy for the first time and was worried because I don’t like narratives of drug addiction.  They make me nervous for obvious reasons, and the seediness that accompanies most addiction really gets to me.  I don’t like being in fast-moving environments in life and in film.  But Drugstore Cowboy had appropriate gravity and grittiness, and while it was not at all sermonizing, had a sobering effect I appreciated.  It took me awhile to realize the brunette heroine was played by Kelly Lynch, whom I had just watched as a Jeep-driving blonde in Road House.  It was also trippy to see such a young Matt Dillon, and made me appreciate the glamour I associated with his name as a kid.

Speaking of names and shimmering youth, I’ve fallen down a bit of an Ethan Hawke rabbit hole lately and I feel the only thing you can really feel about a run like that: shame, wonder, and intermittent faith that there’s a good reason for all this nonsense. 

I saw Reality Bites for the first time in February, weirdly on the day the film turned twenty-five.  I did this out of nowhere – just picked it up for the heck of it and watched it while Ellis napped one day, spending most of it wondering why anyone still knows the movie’s name. Then I became possessed and didn’t stop thinking about it for weeks.  I was mad I was supposed to sweat Ethan Hawke over Ben Stiller, who made me laugh out loud several times with his awkwardness and who, hello!, plays a man with a job, a shower, and knowledge of how to communicate his feelings.  I also started sweating Ethan Hawke three seconds after the film ended, as if something radioactive had been planted in my skin by the last scene which is, frankly, not good by any stretch. 

Bad dialogue aside, let’s revisit the look of Ethan Hawke’s character’s in the last scene, shall we?

If you can find something redeeming there, please call my psyche, which has some explaining to do.

Last week I watched Woman in the Fifth, written and directed by the Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, and while I understand why someone could be annoyed by it, I liked it.  After all this, I may have worked up the courage for First Reformed, which looked so intense in the first preview I saw for it I was basically like, Yeah, I will never see that, ever.

I honestly can’t tell if Ethan Hawke is a good actor or not, which feels like a rude thing to say.  He also married his former nanny, so there’s that.  I liked him in Juliet, Naked, which I picked up a couple months ago because I like Chris O’Dowd and Rose Byrne, whom I especially like in This Is Where I Leave You. Re: Hawke’s character in Juliet, Naked, which is based on a Nick Hornby novel, I sort of love a rascal with a heart of gold and have a special fondness for bad dads who make good in the end.  Is that weird?

I saw BlacKkKlansman and thought Topher Grace was great in it. I also enjoyed John David Washington and was amused to find out he’s Denzel’s son.  I don’t think I would have put that together on my own.  Sometimes – okay, most of the time - I feel clubbed over the head by Spike Lee, but I genuinely loved his acceptance speech at the Oscars. His outfit was great and I can’t stop thinking about how he told everyone his grandma called him Spikey Poo. 

That’s it.  Or, in the words of my dad, when a cashier at McDonald’s asked if he wanted anything else, after he had ordered an enormous amount of food for his family of five: Isn't that enough?  Seriously, I keep thinking I’m going to write shorter posts more frequently, but it doesn’t happen, and I’m mostly okay with that.  If you’re feeling spritely, let me know what you really want from Sut Nam sometime – via paper, email, or if you must, a nasty, incendiary tweet about why there aren’t more pictures of baby pigs.  I’m being serious here.  What do you people want?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Always in Love

I read Jeff Tweedy's memoir, Let's Go So We Can Get Back, over Thanksgiving. It wasn't as strange as the year I read Chris Offutt's book My Father the Pornographer, a compelling, empathetic read, but as discussed last month, Let's Go So We Can Get Back has a stark cover that telegraphs a bit of what's inside. I used to bring a little pep to social situations. Now I just sneak away to read books about drug addiction and mood disorders.

Let's Go So We Can Get Back starts with an anecdote about a cat or, more specifically, a cat portrait. In other words, I wasn't sure it would be worth the read. Turns out, it was. 

In Petty, by Warren Zanes, Tom Petty says when he hears the album Southern Accents, he can taste the cocaine that went into it. Apparently it went from a deeply-felt, personal project to something finished carelessly by a producer who sort of ruined it.  For some reason, I think about that line - I can taste the cocaine - all the time, and I thought of it when Tweedy talked about making Summerteeth, the most painful Wilco album for him to listen to now.  I came of age to Summerteeth in my twenties, and the person I was then is so different from the person I am today (hellelujah) that I relate to that sentiment a lot.  

I don't want to get bogged down in an album-by-album analysis or an analysis of my past selves, for that matter, so I'll just say: I really enjoyed Let's Go.  If I weren't such a fan of Tweedy, I might not have enjoyed it, but I am and I did, and I appreciate why he wrote the book - so others might feel less alone with addiction.  The book covers standard biographical territory - who Tweedy's parents were, how he got started in music, etc., - and veers toward addiction and recovery in the second half, but it isn't exhaustive by any means and I'm sort of hoping he writes another.  There's certainly room for that.  

My favorite line comes from a passage where Tweedy talks about how he used to try out songs on his mom.  She was, he said, a tough audience - not because she was harsh, but because he knew if he choked up while singing something to her, then he had to keep it. He writes:

"That's what made me feel like I could be a songwriter. . . . It was realizing that I'm okay being vulnerable. . . . I wasn't the cool kid. I wasn't the strongest. I wasn't the one you could depend on if things went wrong. . . . I was the guy who could burst into tears in front of his peers and not care what they thought. I had a bone-crushing earnestness, a weaponized sincerity, and I was learning how to put all those feelings into songs."

It reminds me of something else in the book, something Rick Danko from The Band told him once: that when Tweedy sings he sounds desperate, and he should never try to sound any other way.

Let's Go So We Can Get Back chronicles the start of Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy's first band (which was almost named Black Shampoo!), and in a satisfying, graceful way discusses the dynamics of Tweedy's relationship with Jay Farrar, including how Farrar quit the band. It covers the beginning and end of guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett's time in Wilco, including how he and Tweedy were estranged at the time of Bennett's overdose in 2001. Basically, the book has a lot of what you want to hear and is thankfully devoid of boring exposition about concerts and technical play-by-plays. It goes into how Tweedy writes lyrics and how Wilco has recorded some of their crazy sounds, but what I like about is what I love about the band itself, which is the sincerity and devotion lurking behind it all.

Of the album Sky Blue Sky, Tweedy writes:

"I found myself actively avoiding my instinct to hide. In a lot of ways I can see it now as a fairly typical recovery-themed record. 'Either Way' is basically a rewording of the Serenity Prayer, for crying out loud." 

I was happy to hear that, because I've always found Sky Blue Sky full of comforting songs. I was in graduate school when it came out and weirdly stressed.  I played it over and over in my airy ranch house and sometimes practiced yoga to it in the kitchen. I still write to it today, and somewhere in the back of my mind is that time in my life, a time when my older brother once visited with his wife, and my whole family came to hear me and Tim read from our theses.  It's funny what sticks in your mind through the years. 

Speaking of back in the day, I finally saw the Whitney Houston documentary Whitney, and sort of held my breath through the whole thing. I don't think I ever understood that she drowned in a bathtub at the end of her life. I guess I just heard the word "overdose" and left it at that, but drowning due to an overdose is so much more gruesome to me, so much more of an Elvis way to go: alone, in a bathroom. The documentary made me sad, but more than anything, it made me feel the way I want every film to make me feel: which is more understanding of the whole story. The movie describes Whitney's origins in the neighborhoods of Newark, New Jersey, and breaks down her marriage to Bobby Brown who, the film states, was basically her two older brothers rolled into one person.  As the youngest child and only girl in my family, I could certainly relate to wanting that sort of comraderie in your life at all times.  The film also reveals Whitney's relationship with a woman and basically hypothesizes that her drug use stemmed back to childhood molestation, an event that scarred her psychologically and prevented her from living a life more true to herself.

There are so many jokes about Bobby Brown in our culture, many of them problematic, but holy cow, when I saw a young BB dance in Whitney, I felt like I could watch it on loop, forever.  I was too young when Bobby Brown got famous to understand him as a breakout artist from New Edition and later I wasn't paying enough attention to understand why he was in the news all the time, but now all I can think is, the man may have 99 problems, but dancing sure ain't one of them. 

Also, why don't we all have spandex with our last name down the side?  If you don't remember the video for Brown's hit song "Every Little Step," see minute 1:00 of this video and paralyze yourself for the day.

In other news, did we have to put a lock on the trash drawer after Ellis reached in, grabbed an apple core, and ran to the other room while happily eating it? Yes, we did.  And does Tim accuse me of playing Bon Iver every day while it snows and I'm home alone, sipping coffee, staring out the window? Why yes, he does and yes, I do.

Finally, I checked out a memoir called My Girls about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, written by Carrie's brother, Eddie Fisher, and it's pretty good.  I also watched Won't You Be My Neighbor, the Mr. Rogers documentary, which was beautiful because of the subject itself, but ultimately a little bit plain.  I also finally watched Unzipped, per my nod to Amelia's epic 2014 gift guide. May we all have mothers who believe in us like Isaac Mizrahi's mama believes in him! And may we all have Mr. Rogers sitting on our shoulders all day long, saying: Love your neighbor and love yourself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


While the title of this post could describe some of my autumn, I finally read Nora Ephron's novel of the same name, about being seven months pregnant and finding out your husband is cheating on you.

Heartburn is the first book I've read of Ephron's and now I understand what all the fuss is about.  While it's accurate to say that anyone with Ephron's hairstyle has me at hello, a hairstyle featured prominently on the whole back cover, the book was worth the wait/procrastination/whatever the word is for my stubborn refusal to read things until I'm good and ready.  However long it took me to get here, I'm a fan.

Except for one thing. At the start of the novel, Ephron refers to her husband's analyst, a Guatamalen woman, with all sorts of questionable names: Chiquita Banana, Central American shrinkette, Our Lady of the Castanets among them. I think it's supposed to be humorous, with all the ire pointed at her philandering husband (boy, that's becoming a real theme on this blog), but, I thought to myself every time I read one and flinched: what do all her fans have to say about these jokes now?  

So I have to say that. I was uncomfortable reading sometimes, as I often am when visiting past hits. Tommy Boy, for instance, is nearly unwatchable now because of all the sexism. Okay, that's not a great example. There's no Criterion Collection for Tommy Boy, I realize. But if there were, would it address the work's horrible - or intentional - blind spots?

Moving on! All my friends who turned me onto Heartburn are admitted foodies, and while I knew Ephron had something to do with food and food-writing, the unassuming way recipes are threaded through the text is genius. If you don't want to eat crispy potatoes after reading this book, your name is either Samantha and you don't appreciate the potato enough in any form outside of a french fry, or you are no friend of mine.

Finally, my notes for this book have the word brutal written after a bullet point about the ending. I couldn't remember why I wrote that, so I just re-read the ending and was covered head to toe in goose bumps. Now I remember why I wrote it, and boy does it stand. The ending is heartbreaking and, at the same time, so beautiful I wanted to turn around and start the whole book over again.

Instead, before heading to bed I searched "Is Ephron's novel Heartburn true" and read an online article corroborating that Heartburn is indeed a near-account of something that happened to her. But I learned something that blew my mind then: the offending husband was none other than Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter who covered the Watergate scandal.
They look perfect together, I don't know what you're talking about.
You guys!! Is my subconscious crazy or what?! How did I know to read the next book in my unofficial study of All the President's Men and everything I never knew I cared about in Washington politics?  Is life weird or WHAT?

That indulgence aside, I heard in an interview with Harry Goldblatt, Editor in Chief of Entertainment Weekly, that When Harry Met Sally is still one of his all-time favorite movies and I basically fist-pumped in the dark, with a sleeping, nuzzling Ellis next to me. When Harry Met Sally is in my top three movies, and since I wrote about Tommy Boy above, you might as well know that Wayne's World used to be in my top three, too. 

And Footloose. There. It's out. 

All jokes aside - if you're even still here (it wouldn't be the first time I lost someone at Footloose) Tim deserves public credit for watching Footloose with me a few weeks ago. We were trying to find a Tig Notaro special and, of all the pivots to make, right before we turned off the TV in failure, were offered the chance to watch Footloose. "Is this a sign?" said Tim, who had never seen it and knew I had watched it again and again in my youth. His verdict? You'll have to ask him. I was too busy declaring that certain songs were the best ones ("I Need a Hero") and others were gross mis-steps (Anything Sammy Hagar-related). I do know Tim was disturbed that the first kiss between the main characters happens just after the female lead is given a black eye by her ex-boyfriend, and while Tim is certainly right to be horrified from a feminist perspective, I was too busy wondering if I had to tell him that I once made my friend watch that scene in slow motion.

Aren't inner selves ridiculous?

Truthfully, I think an amazing essay, or at the very least, article, could be written about the overwhelming bromance in Footloose, and how gymnastics, dancing, and tight jeans combine in the character of Ren McCormack. Am I up for it? The night after we watched it I was, but now it's disappeared down the same hole I pour most of my ideas - a hole that Samantha, Ellis, and I peer down while eating peanut butter toast and granola bars on a daily basis. Tim and I did agree, however, that in retrospect the main character in Footloose is really the one played by John Lithgow.
I searched the phrase "angry dance scene footloose" looking for this

I watched a documentary called One Track Heart about a musician named Krishna Das, a kirtan singer I like, and I enjoyed it. I also checked out Jeff Tweedy's new book, a memoir about the bands he's started and played in, and while I've already lol'd a bunch of times, and I appreciate his humor and playfulness, I sort of wish the whole back-of-cover, celebrity treatment had been skipped for this one. There's really no way to rest this book in my house where I'm not startled when I come into the room. Which Tweedy would you rather have greet you, when you aren't thinking about him?

Orrrrrrrr this one?,h_630,c_limit/t-Jeff-Tweedy-Interview.jpg

Okay, that's not the actual photo from the back of the book, but it's got a similar mood except the real one is closer up and his head is cocked and it basically feels like he's creeping around a corner, sneaking up to say peek-a-boo. Point being, the cover is challenging my devotion to this artist, something I didn't know was possible. But I'll probably still read it.

Some of this post was written while Ellis stood next to my desk, crying with a runny nose. There were tissues everywhere and my desk looked like Sally's apartment the night Joe tells her he's marrying someone else.

For more Nora Ephron love, here's a piece about her excellent dialogue, and feel free to take a moment this Thanksgiving to reflect on the real origins of this holiday

Finally, a shout out to Amelia's 2014 gift guide featuring Meg Ryan in a classic sweatsuit.

P.S. Go here for another picture of Tim in a bathtub - not what you're thinking but for the best bearded man in a bathtub scene, please watch Kelly Reichardt's film Old Joy.

Related posts you might like:

Sloane Crosley, Peter Carey, and more importantly, Birds

The Diarist and Me: A Love Song in Three Parts

More Jackie (Please Don't Judge) and Some Good Old Public Shaming

Happy Birthday, Ellis