Pop Culture Diary: February 2024 - Henry Threadgill's "Easily Slip into Another World,' 'Beef,' 'All of Us Strangers,' 'Melvin Monster'

What I've been reading, watching, hearing, etc.

"Easily Slip into Another World," by Henry Threadgill
is one of the best books I've read about music, art and being a creative person. 

Threadgill isn't a name you're likely to hear even in the hippest of households, but his distinctive blend of jazz, Western Classical and world music influences has earned him a following among more adventurous listeners and acclaim. He was awarded an NEA Jazz Master Masters Fellowship in 2021 at the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2016.

And he's done it on his own terms. Threadgill's memoir is a collection of stories and recalled incidents, stretching from his childhood in Chicago; his musical education - both formal and in the city's jazz and blues clubs; his experiences as a Black man in Vietnam, where the forces of American racism were more oppressive and dangerous than anything the Viet Cong could dish out, and as composer committed, without compromise, to his muse.

Threadgill is as masterful a storyteller as he is a musician and composer — funny, insightful, instructive. I don't think you need to know his music to be entertained, moved and inspired by this book, but you'll likely be curious to hear it, and you're likely to hear it with open ears.

There's an undercurrent of seething hostility present in 21st century life that's unique to our time. It's fed by our toxic politics and the insidious, addictive powers of social media, which pits us all against one another in a competition over who has the best opinion, job, vacation, family, life.

The last straw is always at hand, ready to be pulled, particularly when we're behind the wheel of a car. We're already pissed off — often we don't even know why — and if a person dares to cut us off or bend our fender, look out.

This satirical streaming series nails it, forcing us to look at and laugh at ourselves as its excellent leads Steven Yeun and Ali Wong go to Spy Vs. Spy lengths to get back at one another following a parking lot altercation. Over and over again, they dish out violence, destruction and blame to the point where they can barely recollect why they hate one another so much. 

The show is so funny it hurts. We realize we're getting swept up, too, in the conflict, alternately rooting for, and sympathizing, one antagonist or another. But, it's jagged points well made, the show overstays it's welcome. At 10 episodes, it's perhaps four or so too long, which is a pity. With some edits to keep the show sharp, "Beef" might've been a mastepiece commentary on our age. But in it's current form, it's merely very, very good.

"All of Us Strangers"
is a haunting meditation on grief and vulnerability, guised as a love story. 

Andrew Scott (Moriarty on "Sherlock") stars as Adam who can't let go of the memories of his dead parents (Claire Foy ("The Crown" and Jamie Bell) even as he tries to forward in a new relationship with Harry (Paul Mescal), a neighbor in his apartment building.

To reveal more would be to spoil things, but suffice to say this is an emotional, powerful film that deals in its subject in surprising, imaginative, highly moving ways. All of the performances are outstanding, in particular Scott's. It will be exciting to see where his career takes him next.

Melvin Monster: Omnibus
. And now for something completely different: A collection of mid 1960s comics from the masterful John Stanley, best-known for his stellar work on the Little Lulu comics.

Familiar with Stanley's Little Lulu work, I went into this one expecting more of the same: Funny, expertly paced gags and plots that heartwarmingly capture and lampoon the concerns and misadventures of childhood. Melvin does some of that, but not nearly entertainingly as Lulu, I'm afraid.

Despite very much enjoying Stanley's artwork, I was disappointed with the writing here, which relies heavily on Bizarro/Addams Family "logic" for its humor. Melvin's dad is called Baddy and him mom Mummy and they are, of course, a Frankenstein-type monster and a mummy. Their expectations of Melvin is that he'll misbehave at school, blow off his homework and generally be "good" by being bad. 

While that twist is likely enough to entertain a child reader, it wears thin quickly for an adult. An adult, like me, who should recognize that, hey, these comics were written for kids. And those kids who bought the comics five decades ago probably loved them. And that's all good. But, where the charm and humor of Little Lulu carries through the ages, and can be enjoyed by grownups as well as children, Melvin, disappointingly, just doesn't.

No comments:

Post a Comment