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The Insect Who Lived

Odd how listening to satellite radio this morning, and observing a small bug crawling across a tiled bathroom floor later in the day, could evoke similar thoughts about the same subject, but then the mind works in it's own peculiar way sometimes. The subject is life after death, or, to be more precise, the existence (or not) of a soul. Contemplating such a topic is not unique to yours truly. It has vexed humankind for eons. This morning, however, gave me pause.

Pride Playlist

For better or worse, I associate certain songs and genres of music with being gay. Or at least with me being gay. This goes to having gone to the local LGBT club after coming out in the 1990s, and enjoying the music and atmosphere there. I've never lost my penchant for synth/dance music during the intervening years, and that's the sort of stuff I listen to during LGBT Pride months.
It's PrideFest weekend in my hometown, so of course I've been listening to a self-curated playlist of songs that put me in mind of the joys, sorrows, ups and downs of being an out and proud gay man. Here are a few music videos of those songs, should you care to take a gander into the world of Matt's Pride Playlist. Hope you enjoy.

Memory of the Future

September 11, 2001 was also a Tuesday. Hopefully today will be far less memorable. Tuesdays tend to be fairly innocuous. Not a dreaded a Monday, a hump day Wednesday, an anticipatory Thursday, or a fun Friday. Tuesdays are supposed to be fairly routine during the traditional work week. People certainly aren't supposed to lose their lives, violently, en masse. Yet, that is what happened seventeen years ago today, a day that no one who lived through it will be likely to forget.
That Tuesday began just as seemingly innocent as this Tuesday. When it was over, so many were dead, others in mourning, a nation sent reeling, and those of us -- the supremely vast majority -- who'd survived the day were left in a state of fear, despair and even anger. I remember going to bed that night thankful to be alive, but also frightened for how long that might be for. The day had, among other things, been a reminder of how quickly and violently life can be ended.

Visitations

I think about death, from time to time, and everything that flows from it; sadness, grief, contemplation, major and minor life changes, and life. I've known a fair amount of people who have died and, with all of them, there is a commonality: I don't like seeing them dead. As in, physically, I do not like looking at someone in a coffin, or simply looking at their coffin knowing they are in it, or standing over their grave, or next to their marker in a mausoleum.
Indeed, I never go through life seriously contemplating what it would be like if someone close to me died. The only exception to this was my dad, who survived for ten months after his cancer diagnosis. With every visit, I studied him closely, silently, snatching a glance when he wasn't looking, thinking to myself: 'Right now, he's alive, with breath in his lungs and blood pulsing in his veins. His brain is functioning and alert. His voice works. I can talk with him. At some point, sooner rather than later, …

Midpoint

We're halfway through 2018, and I wanted to compile a list of my Top 20 favorite movies of the year (so far). I've seen about 40 2018 films, so this is roughly half of them, ranked. I've enjoyed all of them, for varying reasons.

Right, here we go...

1. Lean on Pete
2. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
3. Ready Player One
4. Black Panther
5. Annihilation
6. First Reformed
7. Book Club
8. Love, Simon
9. Paddington 2
10. Oh Lucy!
11. Game Night
12. Beast
13. The Party
14. Hereditary
15. Unsane
16. Hotel Artemis
17. Tully
18. Avengers: Infinity War
19. Ocean's 8
20. Deadpool 2

It should be interesting to see what the rest of 2018 has in store at the box office.


When Johnny Comes Marching Home

I do my best not to be bogged-down in the news. Much of this is a defense mechanism, necessitated by my depression. Wallowing in too much negativity (which much of the news is these days) is certainly a trigger for a full-on breakdown. I about had one of those earlier in the week, in fact, partly brought on by being overwhelmed with too much ingestion of daily accounts of what's going on in our country and the world. I'm not a hermit. I take-in enough to stay informed, but try not to over-indulge in things like comments sections, or Twitter feeds that are incessantly outraged.
As mentioned earlier, I overdid it this past week, and partook in all of the things I try not to do. Indeed, one simply can't ignore the reality of children being detained in cages away from their parents. I read the comments, I scrolled through Twitter constantly. The anger, the bewilderment, the fear, the resentment, the arguments, my own struggle with trying to comprehend a world seemingly gone m…

The Author In Spite of Himself

On a wintry December night in 1990, I entered WEFT studios for the first time. Secluded along a narrow portion of Market Street in downtown Champaign, it was a radio station comprised mostly of volunteers, with an eclectic schedule and a homey interior full of CDs, records and the requisite equipment necessary to run a radio station. It was the glorious antithesis of modern radio, and I was immediately intrigued.
It was in those funky walls of WEFT that I soon met Christopher Stasheff. He was one of the many talented and unique individuals I encountered while partaking in the local radio theatre troupe. We often met, rehearsed and recorded at the radio station, and our director, Joel, would host the weekly radio theatre time slot on WEFT, wherein our efforts were broadcast. I was part of the performing group from that fateful night in December 1990, until early 1994.
During those years (which coincided with my time at high school), I would sometimes spend time at the Stasheff abode, …

Sweet Land of Liberty

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple for their wedding. Though the ruling is fairly limited, our society -- being what it is -- will not pay attention to the nuance, and therefore sides will be drawn, celebrations and angry reactions alike will be had, and our culture war will continue to be stoked. I think I understand the majority ruling, but I do not agree with it.
Back in December, former blogger Andrew Sullivan (himself a longtime gay rights activist, though also an admitted conservative) wrote a piece wherein he thought that the Colorado gay couple had gone too far in suing the baker, and that they (and by extension LGBT people) should just "live and let live." In other words, it was a 'pick your battles' argument. I thought about this particular train of thought for quite awhile, but, in the end, decided it is wrong.

Cinematic Universes' Divine Decline and Fall

It is my contention that the lackluster box office performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the boffo reception for Avengers: Infinity War are potentially harbingers of the same future for what is now termed the 'cinematic universe' existence for both the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. That may sound odd, so of course some explanation is in order. Part of what follows necessitate going back a few years.
As is well-publicized, Marvel has different "phases" of its cinematic universe. Everything is planned-out (something which Star Wars could benefit from greatly). It could be (and has been) argued that Marvel's template is very much rote by this point, even with the inclusion of fresh directorial blood with recent films. Nevertheless, the process seems to have done well for them. The movies have almost always done well at the box office, and the average moviegoer seems genuinely invested in what happens with the characters.

Love Song

"It is when he thinks he's past love It is then he meets his last love"
I once knew a man who went through relationships like they were going out of style When yet another connection with someone had broken down, he'd say something along the lines of how he was really too busy to be with someone, anyway, so it was probably for the best they were splitting-up. And, yes, he was a very busy man, of that there was no doubt.
What I always asked myself -- but never the friend directly -- was, "Why do you keep entering new relationships, then? If you know you're too busy for them, then why do you engaging in these Sisyphean undertakings? You're not only hurting yourself." Alas, that friend was not unique. There are plenty of people who sometimes seem to be on emotional auto-pilot, never thinking much about what it is they want or need when it comes to romantic involvement.
Of course, there are the opposite folk, the people who will sometimes proudly procl…

Neighborhood by Night

I've been walking a lot lately. It is part of my goal for better overall health, and has helped me lose sa quarter of my body weight to date. If the destination is close enough, and weather and time permits, then I'll walk there and back.
Sometimes, there doesn't need to be a destination. Sometimes, I'll walk for the pleasure of it, or to shore-up some daily goals. You see, I wear an Apple Watch that monitors how many steps I've taken, calories burned, hours standing, and heart rate. Sometimes, on days where I haven't quite met all my goals, I will head out of the house for a bit, taking a walk around the neighborhood to burn more calories and get some additional steps in.
A few months ago, one of the aforementioned days occurred, where I wanted to take a walk toward the end of the day in order to meet some walking goals. Ashley and I headed out around 10:30pm, and began a stroll around the neighborhood. Halloween had been earlier that week, and houses were st…

"Because you dance to disco, and you don't like rock"

We've arrived at our #1 favorite album of all-time. Thank you for taking the time to read about this, and the other nine albums that comprise my Top 10. It's been fun to revisit these gems, and it's compelled me to start re-listening to them throughout each day.
Here, then, is # 1:
Pet Shop Boys / Very (1993)
A friend once relayed a conversation he'd had with someone about me. The someone, knowing I was biracial (Caucasian and African-American), asked my friend: "Do you know if Matt considers himself white or black?" My friend replied, "I think that Matt considers himself gay."
I'm relaying that conversation just now because, though humorous, it is true that coming out and living my life as an out gay man has probably been more defining that most other aspects of my life, and the album Very came along at a crucial juncture in that regard. Very was, in many ways, like a rudimentary therapist. Listening to it (over and over again), beginning at a…

"... but I've no passion for this hate"

We're down to the final two, and today's entry in the Top 10 Albums list is so good, aside from being rather nostalgic for yours truly.
#2 - New Order / Republic (1993)
1993 opened the floodgates for me when it came to music as an late-teen/young adult. A lot of great music was released that year, and I was paying attention to it. I devotedly listened to the radio, watched MTV, VH1, Friday Night Videos on NBC, and even recorded a sort of countdown show with a friend, of our favorite songs of the week.
Friday Night Videos is where I first became aware of Regret, the lead single off of New Order's Republic album. I came late to New Order. They rose from the ashes of Joy Division in the early 1980s, after Ian Curtis' suicide, and Bernard Sumner took over lead vocals. The group evolved over the years and I have, in retrospect, enjoyed most of their work.

"Electric eyes are everywhere"

On the eighth day of our Top 10 Albums of All-Time experience, we give some well-deserved love to  the late King of Pop.
#3 - Michael Jackson / Thriller (1982)
From production by the great Quincy Jones, to a rap by horror master Vincent Price, to a duet with a former Beatle, Thriller has it all. It can be debated whether or not Off the Wall is the better album, but there's no denying that this was the zenith of Michaels' popularity. He easily navigates various styles, all the while maintaining a constant sound throughout.
Thoughts of Thriller take me back to my little bedroom on Draper St. during the '80s, when I'd wear down the cassette tape listening to it night and day. Thriller was always on, whether I was making a small city out of construction paper, writing a short story, reading a Doctor Who novel, or simply (break)dancing by myself.
There's not much more I can say about this album that hasn't already been said. It was great. Full stop.

"... and it was raining"

You sometimes hear about concept albums. Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours is purportedly one of the first of that category. I've often heard it applied to albums that, frankly, don't seem to warrant the label. Our 4th best album of all-time, however, most certainly does.
#4 - Art of Noise - The Seduction of Claude Debussy (1999)
The last studio album of the Art of Noise finds them exploring the concept of the life and work of composer Claude Debussy, concentrated into a one hour, thirteen track album of synth, rap, hip hop, drum n bass, classical, and opera. It is unlike any recording I have heard before or since. And, if anecdotal conversations are anything to go on, during the nearly twenty years since its release, not enough people have heard of it.

"Kelly watch the stars"

The Top 10 Albums of All-Time Challenge continues over the weekend with the chill-out synth band from France.
#5 - Air / Moon Safari (1998)
This album came out a year after an earlier entry, Polydistortion, and carried on my appreciation during the late-nineties of laid back electronic music. It is, perhaps, the greatest album of its genre ever produced, and very much deserves its place on this list. Twenty years on, Moon Safari is still solid.


"This is what the lonely heart must know..."

Everyone always chuckles when I say I like the Bee Gees. Maybe it's their disco period? Regardless, they were a solid recording act for several decades, and deserve much respect. Truthfully, I view their Saturday Night Fever era with nostalgia, more than anything. And not real nostalgia. I was too young to be aware of the disco phenomenon when it was happening. The nostalgia I feel for disco is akin to the kind I feel whenever watching film noir from the '40s, if that makes any sense.
The 1990s is when I truly appreciated the Bee Gees' work. They released three albums that decade, and the second is our focus for today's entry in Matt's Top 10 Albums of All-Time.
#6 - Bee Gees / Size Isn't Everything (1993)
We already know that 1993 was the best year for music, ever. Size Isn't Everything was certainly a part of that. While subsequent re-listens have lowered it slightly on my list of all-time favorite albums, it's still a classic.

"Do you call out his name, when your conscience is shivering?"

An album is (for yours truly, anyway) a complete experience. Sure, there can be some standout tracks, but in order for me to consider something a great album, I have to enjoy listening it to it all the way through. Occasionally, that may be the only way for me to truly appreciate it. Such is the case with the focus of our fourth day of Top 10 Albums.
#7 - GusGus / Polydistortion (1997)
While there are some tracks of note on Polydistortion -- Is Jesus Your Pal? and Purple come to mind -- it is mostly an experience. This is an album where you turn down the lights, and just chill. While it evokes the type of happening where you'd likely hear it played in the white-walled room of a young person talking about the meaning of life and the universe for the first time, with one of those multi-colored, psychedelic blankety-things pinned to the wall, I never listened to it that way. I always heard it alone, in the dark of my bedroom, on nights when I just wanted to shut out the world and let…

"If I could melt your heart... "

Day three of the Top 10 Albums Challenge is upon us! Without further adieu, here is our latest entry:
#8 - Madonna / Ray of Light (1998)
Consisting of great singles and solid deep cuts, Ray of Light is not only my favorite Madonna album, it's one of my favorite albums of all-time. Led by the haunting hit single Frozen, I was immediately enraptured by this release.
In early 1998, some friends and I drove over to Indianapolis for a night. There we went to one of the gay dance clubs, and it was having a Ray of Light release party. They had limited edition copies of the CD, and were playing some tracks off it. The one that I remember most was the Victor Calderon's extended remix of Frozen, and the DJ played almost all 11 minutes of it, which retains the song's stirring quality, while turning it into a dance-floor stomper.

"What do you want from me?"

Day two of the 10 Best Albums countdown is our # 9 pick: Monaco's debut album, Music for Pleasure.
Released in 1997, during New Order's extended break, Monaco was made up of David Potts, and legendary New Order bassist Peter Hook. In all, Monaco would have only one more release, in 2000, but this was their masterpiece.
I love the sound of Music for Pleasure. Not every song is necessarily single material, but they all come together to create a certain feeling. There is a passion to this music, yet also some reserve. Perhaps it is how -- no matter how loud or crashing the synths and guitars become -- their is a clear and distinct rhythm and melody. Everything is precise about this album.
Music for Pleasure also weaved its way into my heart and brain by manner of its lead single, What Do You Want From Me? As the music soars and the synths rise, the chorus of the song kicks in:
What do you want from me?
It's not how it used to be
You've taken my life away
Ruining everythin…

"Just wanna sing, 'Do you love me, baby?'"

One of the latest social media things is to 'challenge' someone to talk about their Top 10 favorite albums over a period of ten days. I was recently challenged by a friend for this, and of course it's right up my alley. Here, then, is the first of my Top 10 favorite albums of all-time.
10. ELO / Alone in the Universe (2015)
What will be the most recent album on the list is the latest work by Jeff Lynne, here acting as his old, successful band ELO (Electric Light Orchestra). Alone in the Universe wastes none of its time. Its songs are just as long as they need to be, and are melodic, melancholy, and hopeful. The songs feature chord changes that you can predict (I don't mean that as a slam), and it even manages to make a bitter song sound beautiful (Dirty to the Bone).
Alone in the Universe was a pleasant surprise from an ageing rock artist. Here's hoping he has more stuff like to share with us in future.

You Choose

A recent ruling by a judge allows for bar owners (among others, I'd guess) to remove Trump supporters from their establishment because there is not, apparently, protection under the law for political discrimination. Whatever side of the political aisle you fall on, that surely has to be a somewhat eye-opening factoid. More so than the ruling, itself, I've been intrigued by the online chatter about why certain folks have been okay with the decision.
Discussions I have read seem to center themselves around why it is okay to allow political exclusion, but not okay to ban someone from someplace because of their ethnicity, or sexuality. The latter two factors are, many argue, not a choice, while someone's politics are most certainly chosen. The aspect of choice, it would seem, is what dictates punishment or praise. It is also, I would argue, not a great way of determining what we accept, or don't accept, about people.

Thoughts & Feelings

In last night's dream, the friend came over and we watched TV. At one point, when we were getting hungry, he enthusiastically volunteered to go pick something up. We agreed on a place, sent in our order, and he bounced off the couch and left, soon to return with a bag of our food. We snacked on the couch, watching various things on Netflix and what not, late into the evening.
At times, I worried that he was staying too long, that his family would be expecting him. This concern rose to a verbal question, and he was quick to dismiss it. "Don't worry," he said, "I've told them I'll be with you today." The business world likes to say that time is a precious resource, but that is an applicable statement to every facet of our lives, perhaps most importantly to our personal lives. I was touched that he was spending his time that day focusing on our friendship. Of course, the time came to an end and, around midnight, he went home.
I was thinking about that…

The Best Superhero Movies of All-Time, Revisited

We are just a few days away from the North American release of Avengers:Infinity War. While I am dutifully going to see it opening night, it's not a film I'm looking forward to. It is (spoiler) part one of two, which means we can expect plenty of plot threads left dangling when the credits roll. In other words, part two will probably be better, and provide some actual resolution. Also, Thanos looks like a CGI yawn-fest. Hopefully, I'll be proved wrong.
Nevertheless, this is a good opportunity to rank (again) the major superhero movies (Marvel and otherwise) that we've had so far. As you know, I love making a list, and this one is going to be a definitive one! If you don't see a film on here, it's because I haven't seen it (the first two Thors, Iron Man 2, some of the X-Men features, etc.).   Alright, here we go.

Walk and Chew Gum

Yesterday marked a touchstone moment in the U.S., as students across the country participated in "walkouts." This was an occasion for students to express an array of thoughts and emotions, ranging from a desire for stricter gun control, to simply sorrow over the loss of so many of their peers to school shootings. They were peaceful protests, but protests nonetheless. Where you're at on the spectrum of agreeing or disagreeing with what they did may vary, though not wanting to get shot in your school seems pretty reasonable to me.
Some folks have taken to sharing a meme on social media platforms this week -- in direct anticipation and response to the walkouts -- that encourages students to "walk up, not out." Following are suggestions provided for the walk ups:

Walk UP to the kid who sits ALONE and ask him to join your groupWalk UP to the kid who never has a voluntary partner and offer to be hersWalk UP to your teachers and thank them!Walk UP to someone and JUST …

Wonder Women

It's International Women's Day, certainly a time to reflect upon, admire and support the women in our lives and across the world. Sometimes folks scoff at these special days, or months, where we choose to focus on and celebrate gender, race and sexuality, but such occasions are often necessary, if only -- at the very least -- to remind us to appreciate the people who we inhabit this planet with.
Looking back on my life, it is the women to whom I always bonded with most often, who tended to welcome me more, who were simply more relatable. Part of that, of course, has to do with me, and the rest is down to either a quality innate to womanhood, or our particular societal gender norms. Or something else. Regardless, women are awesome (as if that needs saying, though sometimes -- unfortunately -- it does).

The Films of 2017

The Oscars are one week away, so what better time for the 21st annual Matt Awards?
I've always loved movies, and have always disagreed -- to a greater or lesser extent -- with the choices of the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. Therefore, The Matt Awards are here to showcase what I consider to be the best in cinema every year.
2017 was perhaps one of the best years for movies in quite some time. With so many solid films to choose from, we were really spoilt for choice. I highly recommend the following selections, everything on the Top 10 list (though, admittedly, they may not be everyone's cup of tea), and especially the Best Picture winner.
So, without further adieu....

Pic of the Week

Here is Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet, nominated for his awesome performance in 2017's Call Me By Your Name. Here's wishing him luck at next week's Academy Awards.


The Ice Storm

Twenty-eight years ago today was, of course, another Valentine's Day. It was also the day that a great ice storm swept through Champaign County, laying waste to the urban centers of Champaign-Urbana. I was a resident of Champaign at the time, and remember it (mostly) well, though certain exact details are now lost to memory.
February of 1990 saw me living on the north side of town. Mom and I (and her then-partner and step-kids) had moved over to a house in north Champaign. My maternal grandmother, Gummy, having recently moved back to town from Wisconsin, rented a small, cozy house in Urbana. My father still lived in Champaign, in a condo in the south part of town.

Numbers Game

"Recently, I've become aware that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind."
- Jean-Luc Picard

Back in December, I pontificated on what my 42nd birthday meant to me at the time. Turns out those were more immediate thoughts. During the intervening month-and-half since that birthday, a more long-term state of mind has come to the fore. Thoughts of life and of death, time behind and time ahead, have been been swirling in my mind of late. At this point, it is unclear if they are temporary, or if they're here to stay, perhaps needing to be dislodged by some sort of life-decisions?

My father died aged 52. I was 21 at the time, and remember -- during those hazy days between his death and the flurry of visitation and funereal proceedings -- that would give me another 31 years, if I were to make it to his age before life ended. It's one of those things we can't help but do, comparing ourselves to our parents, in all our -- and their -- facets. Or is it just me?…

The Presidents of the United States

Tonight is the State of the Union, where the President of the United States addresses Congress and the nation about where the county's at, and where it's going. Sometimes I watch, sometimes not. Regardless, I've been fascinated by the office of president for over thirty years.
In kindergarten, I had slim volume titled The Book of the Presidents, and it featured lush, color paintings and photographs -- along with bios -- of every president up through Reagan (then the current office holder). I read it for days.
In honor of that book, of my long-time interest in the presidency, and of the State of the Union, here are my rankings of the Top 10 presidents of the United States, presented without comment.
1. Abraham Lincoln 2. Franklin D. Roosevelt 3. Thomas Jefferson 4. James Madison 5. Dwight D. Eisenhower 6. Barack Obama 7. George Washington 8. Theodore Roosevelt 9. John F. Kennedy 10. John Adams

I almost included LBJ instead of Adams, but these lists are all a bit haphazard,…

Apologies and Thank Yous

We live our lives with gratitude and regret. Well, perhaps not everyone does, but I certainly do. So often I will replay events in my mind, thinking how they could have been handled better. Even when there are seemingly positive, successful episodes, it doesn't take long to stop and wonder if there was something I'd missed that could have made them worse than I remember. Perhaps I fall too far on one of the spectrum when it comes to self-doubt, though, if we're being honest, I wish it were more widespread.
It feels like, all too often, we go through life without giving enough thought to others around us, and the impact we have upon them. Of course, we are almost always cognizant of when others treat us poorly or well, but how often are we truly self-aware? How often do we stop, reflect, and think, 'I could have handled that situation better?' Taking it a step further, how often do we apologize to someone for something we've done to them? How often do we actual…

Busy Bees

Recently I was talking with a friend who all but apologized for referring to themselves as "busy," when there were other people out there doing more things than they were. I sometimes feel the same way, or, perhaps worse, will find myself judging others who -- in my jaded opinion -- aren't doing as much as they could be. It's a vicious cycle of internalized comparisons that, frankly should probably stop.
From an early age we're taught (well, most of us) that it is good to be busy. There's that old saying: The devil finds work for idle hands. You'll hear about some folks doing more in the early morning hours than others -- who aren't even awake yet -- do in an entire day. We nod our heads approvingly, standing back in admiration at the awesome productivity of our fellow humans. We'll look at someone who juggles (the word "juggles" is almost always used) a plethora of different things in their daily life. Busyness, dear reader, is to be a…

Podcastin'

It's time for another edition of our Mashley at the Movies film review podcast! Episode 3 sees us discuss the new horror movie Insidious: The Last Key, with our friend Garret. You can listen to the podcast here. Hope you enjoy.

Pic of the Week

Our first Pic of the Week for 2018 is UK diver Daniel Goodfellow.



Podcastin'

It's a new year, and time for a new medium. Regular readers of this blog will know how much I enjoy watching movies. I am forever ranking films, across all genres and sub-genres, and one of my longtime goals has been to present a more immediate, accessible version of (my) film opinion. Enter the Mashley at the Movies podcast!
Ashley & I are trying out this new (for us) format, and time will tell how it does. Our inaugural podcast is a review for the exquisite film Call Me By Your Name, and it can be found here. We've done more, to kick things off, for All the Money In the World. That review can be found here.
It is unclear how frequent these podcasts will be. Last year, we saw over fifty movies, so one per week wouldn't -- with that number -- be out of the question. But, every year is different. And, of course, the podcast will need to be somewhat good for us to continue. There will need to be value for the listener.
At any rate, please give a listen to the first two …