How Many Comebacks Can You Have? – Elton John’s “The Diving Board”

During the Emmy Awards, a show which was not merely a train wreck but a train-crashing-through-the-walls-of-the-station disaster, one of the most glaringly WTF moments came when Michael Douglas and Matt Damon strained credulity by insisting that Elton John’s new single “Home Again” fit in so thematically well with their film about Liberace. Not that “Home Again” is a bad song.  Far from it. It’s actually a gorgeous ballad with elegant music, strongly impressionistic lyrics, and a haunting arrangement which allows touches of horns and choir to sneak in like the memories of the past Sir Elton sings about. And the performance was superb, as one could expect from one of the world’s premier showmen. It just had nothing to do with anything being honored on stage that night. WHY it was there seems to stem, in my opinion, from a tsunami of positive reactions, mostly from middle-aged critics at all of the major media sources, regarding his new album The Diving Board, released this past week.

I was intrigued by The Diving Board mostly because of the tone of these reviews; over and over again from Rolling Stone to The Wall Street Journal the aforementioned critics declared it “a comeback…his best album since the seventies” and variations thereof over and over again.

This worried me.

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A Visit to the Circus

Travis isn’t the only one with associates.

I’m the one member of the staff here without a degree from Bowling Green. I fell in with these other motley characters when Alex and I met at grad school at the University of Chicago. And I still remember the first day our precept groups convened–there was a tall, thin, earnest man in my group who discoursed at length but so wisely, never with a trace of boredom, about all of our discussion topics that in a single moment I realized I had to step up my intellectual game more than ever, if he represented the standard for our program.

Later, he told me he just talked a lot when he got nervous.

That was after Adam Osborn and I had become friends. He actually lived in the Addison vicinity after we all finished school, only moving for the greener, brighter pastures of Auburn for doctoral work, but we have never lost touch and I’ve followed his work with much pleasure.

Recently, I read a book partly on his recommendation which captivated me in ways I didn’t expect. For certain reasons you’re about to hear, it is a book designed to be a very personal experience…and for that reason I wanted to discuss it with one who had also gotten enraptured by its magic. So on what happened to be my parents’ 34th anniversary, we hopped on GChat and had a three-hour conversation on Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

What follows is a transcription, slightly edited…particularly our tangential expression of frustrations over George R. R. Martin.

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Andrew’s Odds and Ends on the Music of Summer 2013

Last year, our readers may remember my ventures to listen to Bruce Springsteen from my front porch and attend Riot Fest to see Elvis Costello and sundry others. This year, big concerts were not in the budget as I am saving for a lot of book-related activities, and the Wrigley Field free concerts were not on the same excitement level as Springsteen, yet it’s hard for me to pass up the chance to hear terrific A-List music. Armed with a case of Shiner Bock in my cooler, I went out to hear some tunes and also observe the audiences.

The Wrigley Field music this year brought back a lot of nostalgia for my days at the Ohio Department of Transportation, cruising along the Mahoning County highways picking up litter and listening to whatever was on the driver’s preferred station, and our drivers preferred the hard rock/heavy metal and country stations without exception. As a strong proponent for melody in music, I developed an unexpected taste for country during those summers as a type of music which thrives on crafting infectious tunes you can hum, and while I did not acquire a similar love for a musical style that seemed to involve screaming out the words half the time, the modern rock station gave me a healthy appreciation for Pearl Jam: the songwriting without the necessity of rhyme, the roaring emotion of Eddie Vedder’s voice, the way Stone Gossard and Mike McCready’s guitar lines never resolved the way you expected. To this day, “Black” remains one of the most impressive and moving—and excellent—rock songs of my lifetime. So I had high hopes for these two evenings.

How much the audience shared these hopes was revealed only with the passage of time. The key takeaway of my pre-show people watching was how corporate these audiences were: while a significant number were in T-shirts and jeans (including about 70 different Pearl Jam shirts from various tours), there were many men in button-down shirts, and many women in dresses, done hair, full make-up, for outdoor concerts on very warm July nights. There was much complaining about scalping, and much discontent whenever someone saw me writing things down in my pocket Moleskine. These did not seem to be people who were enjoying themselves but people who viewed the shows as commodities, presentations of particular things which they deemed fit of occupying a few hours of their time, and treating them as any other event.

This impression was wrong.


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Lucy Knisley’s “Relish” and Andrew Rostan’s “Apologia Pro Vita Sua”

Some of you who have read my work here may wonder why I chose the graphic novel as my preferred form of literary expression as opposed to the classic prose novel, more Recorder-type essays, dramas of stage and screen, or sundry others. I will admit that comics present some surface challenges, especially for those who write but do not draw: the necessity of working on a combined schedule with a partner and fulfilling their expectations as much as yours, the need for conciseness and absolute control over your expression, and so on. However, the rewards of comics writing surpass all the potential drawbacks, at least in the opinion of one who likes collaboration and craves a way to structure and rein in an unbridled imagination.

But an even more specific answer came to me during a conversation on a train.

At the end of May, Lisa Huberman came to Chicago for a visit. Lisa has been one of my best friends for twelve years and is a remarkably gifted writer herself. (She was just published in The Dramatist.) We were taking the Red Line up north and in between the rattle of the wheels I was describing the latest developments with my books when she asked during a natural pause in the telling the question which inspired this piece: “Why comics? What makes comics different and appealing?”

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Bryan Ferry’s Whistle: An Observation on an Aspect of Millennial Culture

You do not have to click on the links to fully appreciate this post. But it may help.


Last weekend, after much awaiting with bated breath by we at the Addison Recorder, Baz Luhrmann’s film version (version being the key word) of The Great Gatsby opened in cinemas. This piece is not about The Great Gatsby as a movie, especially since none of us have seen it, although I will return to the subject before the end. It is about the soundtrack to a degree, for while the soundtrack is on the surface as misguided as the film, there is one thing the music gets right.  For a few minutes, the film’s score gives way to a singer whose suave, languid, sophisticated persona was made for Fitzgerald, and who has in all likelihood inspired many of his fellow Gatsby contributors, including Florence + the Machine, Lana Del Rey, and even the tuxedo-clad master of ceremonies Jay-Z, with his theatrical, high-art musical stylings—Bryan Ferry.

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Democracy In Action: Memories of Culture in Boston

According to our records, this will be the 100th post on the Addison Recorder. Hard to believe we’ve done so much since that night in Julius Meinl when Travis concocted this idea.

Speaking of “we,” I’m almost positive that we, like so many of our friends and loved ones in our age group, spent the past week glued to televisions, web sites, and above all a startlingly dynamic Twitter to mourn, follow, and ultimately rejoice over the tumultuous week in Boston. A piece on just how much Twitter replaced media as our major source of information and our shaper of reactions may be due once we have a little more time and distance. But during the entire week, as I was doing all of the above actions with tears and laughter alike, the most significant rush of memories came about what that city means to me.

I went to Emerson College to study film, with a bit of writing and philosophy, and lived in Boston from 2003 to the very end of 2006. For the last two of those years, including the summer of ’06, Boylston Street was actually my home; I lived at the beaux-arts Little Building, the main Emerson dormitory, on the corner of Boylston and Tremont, right next to Boston Common, the Green Line stop, a CVS and a 7-11, a Dunkin’ Donuts (though that’s not surprising since there’s one on every corner), a little Chinese restaurant which had the best Crab Rangoon you could ask for, a magnificent dive of a New York style pizza establishment, and a Loew’s multiplex.

Even on Newbury Street, the fanciest in town…they use how many Dunkin’ Donuts are here to stump people on tour buses.

In short, everything a college student needed. Especially a slightly withdrawn college student trying to absorb everything he could in terms of art and culture, trying to learn from the masters of every art.

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How to Tell Another Person’s Story

My excellent colleagues have all published equally excellent articles since our endorsement by the AV Club, and I have regrettably been the last to the party. I’m upset about this; the Recorder is one of the finest things I do in my life and the company I keep with it is wonderfully rewarding. That being said, I have an excuse: I spent the past month and a half hard at work on my second graphic novel.

(For those interested, and I don’t think the guys would mind me making a little plug, I’ll be signing copies of my first graphic novel, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, at the Archaia Comics booth at C2E2 in two weeks. Come by and say hello!)

In the process of writing this work, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading which led me to a particular observation.

My new comic is modeled on the (auto)biography, the life story, and as an aide and inspiration to the writing process I dove headlong into a variety of renowned books from the genre, some of which I’d read before, most of which I hadn’t. Those who remember my piece on Lytton Strachey know that part of the article involved chronicling Strachey’s variations on the traditional model of the biography: treating it as a closely-structured satire, heavily-detailed series of specific impressions, and stagelike grand romance. But further reading has shown me that there are variations within variations, and the traditional model itself, the straightforward life-to-death narrative, is not that straightforward.

Indeed, given its popularity on the bookstore shelves in subsets ranging from scholarly historical documents to more salacious memoirs, the biography at first glance seems an easier task than the novel: you have a ready-made structure and you get to work with known facts instead of making things up. But writing a biography is a messy task, especially when you don’t know the subject, especially when the subject is long dead, and even those who did know the subject may be hindered by agendas, excessive reverence or disdain, or just a plain inability to write. (James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson becomes more and more, in my eyes, the most miraculous book ever written every time I think about it: a writer very close to the subject who could write within the conventions of his time while still slipping harder truths between the lines, and writing with a magnificent, inviting, yet still complex style.)

Equally amazing that a man who had at least fifteen cases of gonorrhea in his life found the energy to write a masterpiece

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The Academy Awards Live Blog…by Andrew and Company


Sorry. that was just way too surprising.

The way Jack Nicholson says “Amour” is beautiful.

Argo wins Best Picture. Travis takes ten hard-earned dollars from me. And…I have no problem with this. There were three/four better movies this year, but this film is going to be studied better and more in years to come…and why is Kristen Stewart sitting behind Spielberg?…and Affleck, who does not get played off…I’m sorry, he is so humble, and he is an outstanding director who ranks with Bigelow…who wore the dress everyone should have worn tonight…

The final number: MacFarlane and Chenoweth sing about the losers. It’s very astounding that they never cut to the audience (who might be leaving) and I still think that Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty should have WAY MORE OSCARS than they did. But that’s for posterity.

Good night, everybody!
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Andrew and Alex Talk Oscar Nominations, Part Two


So with ten days to the Oscars and voting for the actual awards almost over, I am absolutely confident in saying…Daniel Day-Lewis will win Best Actor.

And that’s it.

Here’s why I’m completely unprepared to go any further, Alex. It has to do with my top five movies of the year, as I had gone on record stating that Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty were two masterpieces, almost flawless. But a few weeks after that pronouncement, this is how my Best of 2012 list finished, and this does not include Amour, Holy Motors, or Life of Pi, none of which I’ve gotten to see yet…

1. Lincoln

2. Silver Linings Playbook

3. Argo/Zero Dark Thirty

4. The Master

In short, Hollywood unveiled four of the greatest movies I’ve seen in my lifetime (plus one of the most complex and intelligent artistic mind**ks ever in one season), and they’re all up for Best Picture.

Now I breathe with excitement about the 24th…good…then continue.

The brilliance of Silver Linings Playbook and Argo has to do with their meeting one of my favorite cinematic maxims, as pronounced by Robert McKee: “Give the audience what they want, but do it in a way they don’t expect.” Zero Dark Thirty was a film that brilliantly met every expectation of mine. Lincoln met them, then surpassed them. David O. Russell, Ben Affleck, and Chris Terrio flipped my expectations on their heads with the intelligence and emotion they poured into their films, especially the former quality. These are two very, very smart motion pictures, which adhere to conventions of style and genre while traveling to places not many movies go.

Saying more inappropriate things than appropriate things.

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Not Just Anybody: A Reflection on “Zero Dark Thirty”

(This piece should only be read by people who have either a, seen the movie, or b, don’t particularly care. It will cover the plot from beginning to end, so be forewarned.)


“Do you think I’m just anybody, Ali? Do you?”  – T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), Lawrence of Arabia, 1962


“I’m the motherfucker who found this place.” – Maya (Jessica Chastain), Zero Dark Thirty, 2012



Zero Dark Thirty is a film at once thoroughly of its time and promising an enduring timelessness, the sort of picture which will be taught in colleges and universities for decades to come as a model to aspire to, but will also be enjoyed and remembered by those who see it. “Enjoy” may not be the right word, for the level of positive feeling in the film is minimal and even when it comes carries with it a sense of uncertainty over whether we the audience should be unequivocally happy by the events. Zero Dark Thirty is riveting…it holds attention from the very first sounds we hear and keeps one gripped until the concluding image, an almost terrifying calmness over two and a half hours of storm. [Read more…]