Why you don’t want to be a Tim

I said I wasn’t going to write a lot about politics on this here blog, but the Tims of the world went and pissed me off.

Tim was one of several in a New York magazine article featuring young people who say they probably won’t vote in next week’s primaries.

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How did not voting work out for everyone who skipped 2016? 

I first voted in a US election in 1992. I first voted in a New Zealand election in 2008, and because I’m a dual citizen, I get to vote in both countries now (New Zealand has national elections every three years; America’s presidential elections are every four, and the ‘mid-terms’ every two, so I get to vote a lot of years). 

I’m pretty happy in New Zealand, where I’ve lived for 12 years now, nearly 1/4th of my entire life. We’ve got an awesome Prime Minister right now in charge who’s way cooler than I’ll ever be, and I like having a leader I respect and feel like I can root for. But I still vote in the US, too. I even vote for the sheriff and council in the little mountain county I grew up in and I vote on the 40 or so bizarre and incomprehensible propositions California loves to put on each ballot. 

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The voter turnout difference between New Zealand and the US depresses the heck out of me. In New Zealand’s 2017 national election, 79% of enrolled voters voted. In the United States, 55.5% of the voting age population showed up. In New Zealand, you’re required to enrol to vote at age 18 (or when you become a citizen). In the US, you’re not. 

Despite wanting to keep this blog a T—p-free zone, I don’t hide my political leanings and my feelings on the current direction of the US. I regularly get New Zealanders and others telling me they’re horrified about what’s happened to my country. But I still vote. Even when they make it kinda hard for me to vote overseas – this year, for some reason I had to re-register in California again – I vote. I never quite know if my vote gets there or if it “counts” or “matters”. In my voting lifetime, I think I’ve backed a lot more losers than winners. But I still vote. 

It should be easier in America, I fully admit. There’s gerrymandering, there’s voter suppression efforts that reek of racism, there’s about a dozen different ways to cast your vote depending on what state you live in, not all of them foolproof, and for some reason, America still thinks having Election Day be on a Tuesday, a regular work day, instead of a weekend or even a public holiday, makes sense.  

The pendulum swings a lot in the US. It swung one way in 2008, another in 2016. Who knows which way it will go next? I don’t have time for anybody living in America in 2018 who doesn’t have time to vote this year. Who thinks it won’t matter. It may not change things – I’ve given up election forecasting for good after the last couple of years – but what the hell else will? 

I mean, seriously, Tims of the world. Just do it.

Movies: ‘John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness’ – Transmissions from the void

“I’ve got a message for you. And you’re not going to like it.” 

It’s the time of year to get scared, and few movies scare me more than John Carpenter’s 1987 apocalyptic fantasy, “Prince of Darkness.”

Mild spoilers ahead: “Darkness” is about a mysterious container that the Catholic church has been hiding for thousands of years, now kept in the basement of a Los Angeles church. Inside it might just be the devil. 

A priest (Carpenter mainstay Donald Pleasance) reaches out to a college professor (Victor Wong) and his students to analyse the container and dissect its mysteries. From there, things go horrifyingly wrong. 

The scariest horror movies, to me, are the ones that, HP Lovecraft-style, rip away the veil of reality as we know it to reveal unknowable things beneath. “Prince of Darkness” is not so much filled with jump scares as it is with a growing sense of unease, of the void, and the malign mysteries it may contain. 

“Darkness” is talky, and while there’s definitely some gory, horrifying moments in it, it’s a more thoughtful horror movie than some, with its debates between science and religion. But in its depiction of evil as an actual tangible substance bleeding its way into the world, and the terrifying way it corrupts the hapless college students studying it, it’s gripping. 

And man, while the plot has holes in it and the ‘80s fashion can be distracting (bonus points to leading man Jameson Parker’s moustache, which deserves a Best Supporting Actor honour), it’s packed with moments that haunt me every time I watch it again. 

John-Carpenter-Prince-of-Darkness-1987-Alice-Cooper-homeless-zombiesA dead man, delivering a horrifying message as his body crumbles away into the shadows. Zombie-like homeless (featuring a never-more-creepy Alice Cooper) converging upon the church menacingly. Static-filled transmissions from a bleak future beamed directly into dreams. Glimpses into a murky mirror world behind ours that culminate in one of the most disturbing images of any film. 

John Carpenter is having a moment right now, thanks to the latest remake of his seminal classic “Halloween.” And that’s because in his horror classics he has a knack for landing horror scares that linger. Carpenter relies on stillness more than many frenetic horror movies do – think Michael Myers, always vacantly lurking in the backgrounds, or the eerie silences that punctuate the frenzied body-horror of “The Thing”. 

This stillness, punctuated by his distinctive thrumming musical scores, animates the sheer dread of “Prince of Darkness” and makes it what might be my favourite of his movies. It doesn’t tie everything together neatly at the end, and the final 10 minutes or so are a rising crescendo of WRONGNESS, a feeling that the frames of the film themselves may fall apart into the void. In the best and worst sense, it’s haunting. 

“…We’ve discovered something very surprising: while order DOES exist in the universe, it is not at all what we had in mind!”

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Review: Peter Murphy/Bauhaus, October 20, Auckland

Sometimes, you just want to get dark. 

Peter Murphy and Bauhaus were progenitors of a lot of what’s called goth – black-clad attire, grimly themed lyrics and a thrumming dark atmosphere. Murphy passed through Auckland’s Powerstation Saturday night with his old Bauhaus bandmate David J to play a nearly sold-out crowd. 

They played the band’s epic first album, 1980’s “In The Flat Field,” in its entirety, and then a sprawling second set of Bauhaus numbers including what’s their best known number by far, the none-more-goth tune “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Fittingly, the show was on what would’ve been Bela’s 136th birthday. 

I’ve loved Murphy’s gloomy rock for years – his breakthrough solo album after Bauhaus broke up, 1989’s “Deep,” was in heavy, heavy rotation when I was a gloomy would-be-goth teenager. (Spoiler: I was never a very successful goth.) 

But I’ll tell you what – I feel a hell of a lot more goth at 40-something than I did at 19. You know more about life’s twists and turns by 46 and how dark it can get. So why not sometimes embrace the melancholy, lean into the comforting charms of the void? Why not listen to Bauhaus sing that “the passion of lovers is for de-a-a-a-ath”? And have fun doing it? 

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So to be in a crowd full of people dressed in black, some in outlandish makeup, and singing along with a chorus of “Undead / undead / undead!” – that felt like my tribe. Seen today, “In The Flat Field” looks like a fierce, uncompromising classic, and not-quite-Bauhaus performed the hell out of it, hitting high notes like “A God In An Alcove,” the creepy “The Spy In The Cab”, the frenzied “St. Vitus Dance.” 

It was a terrific show that Murphy is still in fine voice 38 years after Bauhaus’ debut album – his rich baritone contains caverns. Sure, he looks less like one of Anne Rice’s vampires than he once did, but he’s got a magnificent, strutting, slightly camp stage presence. 

For the encore, he pulled on a red scarf, looking more than a little bit like Bela Lugosi did as Dracula, and sang about poor dead Bela. It was dark, and it was wonderful, and as the show ended nobody wanted to go back into the light. 

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Pictures by me

 

TV: ‘The Deuce’ – sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

In ‘The Deuce,’ everybody is dirty. But there’s a lot of different colours of dirt in the world. 

The latest addictively complex drama from the creators of ‘The Wire,’ ‘The Deuce’ chronicles the gritty, sleazy world of the 1970s New York sex industry. 

‘The Deuce’ balances an enormous cast and talented actors by giving everyone a moment to shine – from the prostitutes doing the dirty work to the detectives working the street to the pimps rapidly getting rolled by a changing world – but in the end, ‘The Deuce’ is mostly the story of Eileen, aka ‘Candy,’ (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a street girl turned porn film entrepreneur. 

It’s not for the tame – and quite possibly the most sexually explicit show I’ve ever seen on TV, with equal opportunity male-and-female nudity galore (seriously, this show features a LOT of penis, folks). But while sex is the currency of ‘The Deuce,’ like ‘The Wire’, the show is really about the use of power, with an added theme of oppressed women finding their voice in a world of overbearing men. 

Season 2, which is now airing, bounds into 1977 with a fiery on-the-nose take of Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Girl” anchoring the opening credits – “You think you all own little pieces of this year’s girl,” the song goes. It (mostly) leaves the street-level struggles of Season 1 behind for a cast dealing with a changing world and morality, and sex moving from the shadows into the mainstream.  

As the camera rolls on ‘Red Hot,’ Candy’s feminised pornographic take on the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ fairy tale, we’re rooting for Candy. Some of the hardest scenes to watch in season 1 of ‘The Deuce’ showed how brutally women were treated by men, by pimps, johns, cops. The show leverages that pain into power in Season 2.

Maggie Gyllenhaal has always been an actor whose eyes are her strongest strength. They have a default melancholy cast to them, a sadness that makes her smile in moments of triumph shine even brighter. This is by far her best work yet. 

The biggest pleasure of ‘The Deuce,’ besides the dazzling allure of its debauched swinging ‘70s style, is watching Candy grow from a compromised object with tattered but firm principles into a budding creator turning her life’s pains into art. More than halfway into the show’s planned three-season run, who knows where she might go? 

It’s a dirty world, ‘The Deuce’ tells us, but unlike the more fatalistic view of ‘The Wire,’ it holds out a glimmer of hope that things can change, too. Maybe.

“Never knowing it’s a real attraction

All these promises of satisfaction

While she’s being bored to distraction being this year’s girl”

– Elvis Costello

Review: William Shatner, Auckland, Oct. 13

William Shatner is 87 years old. 

I kept telling myself this over and over because watching him live in Auckland for his Shatner’s World one-man show, this seemed a man 20-30 years younger than that. He laughed, he danced, he even sang in his patented Shat-scat fashion a bit. Shatner still has a volcanic energy that is a force of nature. 

What a life Shatner has lived – over nearly two hours he took the audience on a meandering journey from his Canadian stage beginnings to his early TV days on through his ‘Star Trek’ success and later works like ‘Boston Legal.’ He could be hilarious one moment, but then touchingly human and self-aware the next, musing on his parents, family, beloved horses, and death, the final frontier itself. It was refreshingly intimate for a show by an actor known for his bombastic swagger, but a man who’s also engagingly self-aware. 

For a while, it was fashionable for snobbier Trek fans to bash Shatner – he was seen as too egotistical, dominating the room and overshadowing great talents like Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and the rest of the crew. But Shatner is the spice that made classic Trek soar. 

Would Star Trek truly have endured these past 50 years if you’d subtracted Shatner’s distinctive hammy charm as Kirk from the equation? Watch the original ‘The Cage’ pilot with the amiable but bland Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike to see what a Kirk-less Trek would be like. 

Is he larger than life? Sure. I wouldn’t have him any other way. I took Mr 14 – a huge Star Trek fan who was born years after all the original TV series ended – and he had a blast. 

Shatner is a showman – one of the great showmen of our time – and as he tours Australia and New Zealand and the rest of the world at an age when a lot of blokes would be happy to give it a rest, he’s kind of inspirational. Live long and prosper, indeed. 

So where were we?

My name is Nik, and I’m ready to blog again. 

I’ve been a journalist in one form or another for 25 years now, and wrote a blog* for about 8 years from 2004-2012, spewing thousands of words about this, that and the other thing. 

Starting a blog again may seem so 2007, but I’m tired of the other options. Social media’s been good and terrible for the written word in equal measure. Hey, I tweet, I facebook, I instagram (but no selfies, please), but I’m looking to something more than endless scrolling for that dopamine hit. I’m coming back to blogging because it trains me to write more than a few pithy sentences.

Since I got tired of regular blogging in 2012, I’ve gradually come to realise how important it was to me to write more. It’s a safety valve for the brain. I want to stop feeling distracted and anxious all the time and these days, that problem feels worse than ever. 

I won’t blog about current politics, because if I did it’d just be one inchoate scream echoing over and over into the infinite, and I’ll avoid weighing in with the hot take on the outrage of the day like every other person with a keyboard. I’ll get personal from time to time but I won’t talk about what I had for lunch. 

Instead, I’ll focus on what keeps me going in this tattered world. Usually that’s art in any of its forms – an old movie I’m digging, a classic Elvis Costello single, a Jack Kirby comic book that blew my mind, a book that’s subtly skewed my brain in interesting ways. I’ll write sometimes about my travels and what it’s been like living as an American in New Zealand for more than a decade now.

I’ll try to get my scattered words on here once a week or so. Follow along if you like, bookmark or swipe right or whatever the cool kids do now to keep in touch, and thanks for reading. 

* I named my original blog “Spatula Forum” because it was the name of a newspaper column I did for years and years and I have no idea why I thought those two words were cool together, but I was stuck with it. Blog Mark II takes its tip from a terrific 1994 song by Guided By Voices of the same name. And that’s pretty much what I have to offer here … my impression now, of whatever shiny object has caught my eye.