Pieces of my Brain

It’s the good anger: My two favorite movies of the December “let’s release all the good movies at once” season were “Spotlight” and “The Big Short.”  Both involve a serious issue that remains a stain on the national  conscience, its perpetrators unpunished, its victims uncompensated. (Yes, OK, some people got money. Not. Good. Enough.) Interestingly, both films end with simple white type on a black background detailing the damage done and the uncertain future. The real world intrudes, and it disorients us. You mean, it all doesn’t end when we leave the theater?

Both are angry movies, but the anger is processed in very different ways. “Spotlight” is a quiet movie; when evil-doers are confronted, nobody yells and nobody shoots. And yet the reporters are driven by a explosive sense of outrage and shame.

Newspaper people are hard to surprise. Every school board meeting, every political press conference, is another opportunity to see cupidity and stupidity in action. But the systematic abuse of children by priests, and the Roman Catholic church’s shameful refusal to deal with the issue, made the cynics mad. Reporters hate to be surprised by the extent of human depravity; when people who have “seen it all” see something new, they get really pissed off. And when they’re pissed off, they’ll never stop digging. This movie is a hymn to research.

“Spotlight” also gets the details right, including the deplorable fashion choices that seem to be the dominant mode in all newsrooms. Even when reporters go on television –the same dweeby jackets, the same unconvincing scarves.

“The Big Short” is not a quiet movie. Everybody yells; everybody walks fast. Director Adam McKay likes the razzamatazz; he throws in celebrities and cameos and drum solos. He wants to suck you in so you’ll understand viscerally how badly you were screwed. Somehow, he makes us root for the very guys who saw the fraud and decided to profit from it. There are people we like in the movie, but there are no heroes. Everyone is in on the con.

Only you, you poor bastard, missed out.

Still the Undisputed Champion: So Laurie Anderson gave a concert for dogs in Times Square. Dogs like very low tones, so there wasn’t much for humans to hear. And it was outdoors in January. Still, it was art. Anderson has a movie out about her beloved dog so perhaps she wanted to promote the movie. That is the way of the world.

But it was officially art, because Yoko Ono said so. She also said that a silent concert for dogs was something “only Laurie could get away with.”

Friends, this is Yoko Ono. She’s a living icon. She’s a link with the past. She’s the naked woman on the John Lennon album. She invented bagism. She and John Lennon climbed inside a large bag and stayed there for quite a long time, moving only slightly. Members of the audience largely stayed put and stared at the bag, hoping perhaps to see a glimpse of celebrity limbs. It was supposed to be a parody of stereotyping and prejudice, because you’re in a bag and nobody can see what color your skin is.  Or something.

So, in fact, she could easily get away with a silent concert for dogs. She’s the queen of getting away with stuff. All hail Yoko Ono! And imagine peace.

Wait, penguins:

20150418-Antarctica  (7 of 34)

The music of my life: About five years ago, I began noticing that the music of “my era” (roughly 1960-1975) was being used disproportionately in films. I thought maybe it was because the directors were all elderly. Marty Scorsese and I (I call him Marty) have essentially the same tastes, but it’s not just him. It’s younger guys, guys who listened to the Dylan records their Daddy played.

The trailer for “The Big Short” used “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. I remember them. The film “Joy” used songs by the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, the Bee Gees and Ella Fitzgerald. (Indeed, the whole Great American Songbook has never been more popular). The music of Van Morrison has, interestingly enough, been featured in a wide variety of rom-coms. And Motown! It’s the fallback choice for practically everything from murder to making out.

So, maybe my suspicions are right, and my music is being used because it’s BETTER than other music. Just as I thought.

Because I care: I feel it is my responsibility to alert you to cultural matters of interest. So let me recommend “Girl Waits With Gun,” by Amy Stewart, a true tale of dastardly deeds and virtue triumphant. Also coming up: Sebastian Boswell III at the Fog City Magic Fest, doing his shocking, mysterious mentalism — a skill he learned, as I understand it, from Marcel Duchamp.

The fact that I am friendly with both of these people in no way influences my judgment on these matters. All my friends are people of great talent. If they’re not, I cut them off without a word.

So read that book and go to that show.

Wait, more penguins:


Oh my God it’s…: I sense a conspiracy, an unspoken benign conspiracy with thousands of participants. I am sure that somewhere on the Internet there are spoilers for the new Star Wars movie. But they’re not very frequent. I didn’t have to dodge any before I saw the movie, nor was I tempted to post any afterward.

There are of course fake spoilers (Carrie Fisher is in it! She  even has the same old double-bun hairstyle, except modernized! Not really a secret).  But there are also secret  secrets, and somehow there’s not a whispering campaign.

Maybe everyone is really rooting for the new movie, and they’re afraid people won’t like it as much if they know what’s coming. I didn’t, and I was real happy that I didn’t.

Not even “The Crying Game” had so many secret-keepers.

The Lithograph Gambit: Because of ethics rules at my old job, I have not contributed money to a political candidate in over 30 years. This has kept me off a lot of mailing lists, making cleaning my email box much easier, and leaving my snail mail box free to accommodate catalogues from American Girl (grandchild) and Dover Saddlery (other grandchild).

But lately I’ve been getting mail from Ben Carson. Yes, his shrinking and impoverished campaign has somehow found the wherewithal to mail me a large envelope with the intriguing announcement “Lithograph Enclosed.”

I believe that the Carson campaign has identified me as an old white guy. I don’t think the campaign’s metric gets any more granular than that. Hey, Ben — I live in Barbara Lee’s congressional district. She’s leftier than Jean-Paul Sartre.

So now I have a lithograph of Dr. Ben looking soulful. He  looks soulful the way Matthias Schoenaerts looked soulful in “Far From the Madding Crowd.” Like you’d want to take him into the sheep barn and fuck him.

If you’re into that.


Photography by Tracy Johnston
Mailchimp expertise and phone advice by Michelle Mizera

38 thoughts on “Pieces of my Brain

  1. THANK YOU! Just what I needed this evening. Of course. I miss my daily dose, but this is more than sufficient sustenance ! Fondly, Claudette Bergman

    Sent from my iPad



  2. I noticed recently that a huge % of the titles listed in Rolling Stone’s best 100 albums or Best 500 Songs of All Time are from 1966 – 1975. On the one hand, it’s Rolling Stone. On the other hand, it’s when all the best music was made. Apparently.


  3. My New Year miracle was discovering you on WordPress. I now can crawl out from under the covers and rejoin the human race. Jon is back.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Dogs like very low tones, so there wasn’t much for humans to hear.”

    Low? But dog whistles are so high.


      1. I think dog whistles are high because the high sounds annoy dogs, causing them to yelp and making them easier to find. I have no scientific back-up for this theory.

        I like the new length, and that you don’t have to justify the all-over-the-placidness with connective tissue.

        I got embarrassed about the length I went to in another comment to relate a personal anecdote, so I will spare you my John and Yoko story.


      1. Well, now, could one not go to this blog’s Contact page and send an email message to the proprietor, asking to be added to the list of email subscribers? I did it, and now I never worry about missing a word. Technology is grand.


  5. It’s true that music from that era has made a resurgance in the movies… It’s funny how younger guys like Quentin Tarantino have used music from that era as an homage in his movies…By the way, Van Morrison even put out a CD a few years back called “Van Morrison at the Movies: Soundatrack Hits.”

    And since you like penguins, I would recommend “One Cool Dude” for any kids you know. It’s a children’s book about a kid who brings a penguin home from an aquarium he vists. Lots of fun. My two nephews made me read it to them three times in a row last summer when I gave it as a gift.
    As always, thaks for sharing peices of your brain.



  6. Just to add a huzzah to having JC available to make my day brighter after your retirement. Dear Kate, or should it be @Kate (whatever that means), bookmark the home page. PS, JC, I hope Pancho gets more stories than one paragraph in your “what you missed.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You are so f’ing funny (don’t know if I can swear here, even though you did)…thanks for a good start to the day…and f’ing a beautiful guy in the sheep barn?? Priceless….but only if you’re into that…


  8. Echos…

    Speaking of Yoko…

    This morning on Forum one of the guests said: “I’ve seen people do things with digital images so that they look like real art.”

    Look like?

    Real art?

    I’ve read what some people do with words that make them look like real…

    SFChron price has gone up AGAIN!

    Any way to pay you instead Jon?


  9. Content aside (you always satisfy, although I didn’t see anything about Jennifer Lawrence -my girl crush- here, ya big tease!), I love your turns of phrases…always have… “see cupidity and stupidity in action”. <<<>>>


  10. Hi Jon, I love this: “Reporters hate to be surprised by the extent of human depravity; when people who have “seen it all” see something new, they get really pissed off. And when they’re pissed off, they’ll never stop digging.” It’s so true of the Chronicle, Oakland Tribune reporters I’ve known and loved. I felt very at home watching Spotlight; it felt like I was watching my colleagues at work.

    Blogging tip. Make ’em shorter. I’ll spend an hour reading my paper newspaper, but only seconds on a blog post.


    1. No! Think of all the poor little bytes that are perishing as a result of your incessant verbiage! Think of the excess clicks the short-attention-spanned reader must exercise to end being subjected to your musings!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for the laughs – I do wish I had your inbox – “Barry” seems to send me an email daily, along with the DNC and others.


  12. In my local Trader Joe’s here in LA the other day, the young woman behind the check-out counter mumbled the total of my bill. I couldn’t quite make out what she said, and since this particular Trader Joe’s does not orient the check-out screen so as to be visible to customers, I leaned forward, cupped one ear, and said “Excuse me?”

    She spoke up, and as I surrendered the requisite currency, I offered my standard 65-years-old-going-on-66 disclaimer: “They say the legs are the first to go when you get old, but take it from me — it’s your ears.”

    The young lady smiled, leaned forward, and replied: “I think it’s because your generation had the best music — and you liked it loud.”

    A very smart young lady, that…


  13. Just finished “Girl Waits with Gun” based on your recommendation, what an amazing job Amy Stewart did breathing life into a story gleaned from old newspaper accounts.

    And you think we don’t read what you recommend, ha! I read that theremin book!

    Did you know the theremin is featured in the theme song of Midsummer Murders?


    1. For those who don’t “read” “books”, I strongly recommend the documentary on Theremin — an anything-but-classic rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-I-lost-count story.


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