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Thursday, January 18, 2007


More Middlebrow Than Frida Kahlo

I have an appreciation for high culture. I swear I do. I love museums. I enjoy classical music. I can get my mind around a work of serious literature.

But I have a deeper appreciation for pop culture. I love the stuff. And I was thinking this week about really, really good pop culture. The kind that hits you in the exact perfect way. Those rare moments when pop culture becomes sort of transcendent.

For me, there aren't that many of those moments. Bear in mind, I'm not talking about just good moments. I'm talking about the ones that actually give you goosebumps.

The moments I can think of off the top of my head are:
  • The moment in Back to the Future when Marty recovers from nearly being wiped out of existence, stands up straight and hits the guitar chord in the crescendo of "Earth Angel". It's just such a great combo of the song, the moment and Michael J. Fox's incredible likability. I love it every damn time I see it.
  • The "Guinevere" sequence in Camelot. It's the scene where Arthur has sentenced Guinevere to death and she's rescued by Lancelot. My dad played Arthur when I was a teenager and I remember that I got chills as soon as the chorus started singing.
  • The last note of "Old Friends" on Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends. A string section finishes the song and a violin holds the last, sad note of the song for a long time before dropping and joining with the guitars of the "Bookends Theme".
  • The death of Dr. Larch in John Irving's Cider House Rules. I've read this frigging book a good half-dozen times and I fucking cry my eyes out every goddamn time Nurse Angela says, "Dr. Larch has found a home. Let us be happy for Dr. Larch."
Now, again, I'm not saying that any of these moments are the pinnacle of artistic achievement. But they get to me. What pop culture moments get to you?

That part at the end of "The Office Special" where Dawn decides to go back to Tim... (actually the whole damn ending is goosebump-inducing -- David Brent telling off Finchy and finding love at last also... perfect.)

The ending Thanksgiving party scene in "Hannah and Her Sisters"...

Spinal Tap... when Nigel reunites with the band on stage...

Led Zeppelin -- "Kashmir"... in general

Lou Reed -- "Street Hassle"... the way the strings just keep going and going...

Frank Sinatra -- that medley of "The Girl That Got Away / It Never Entered My Mind"... esp the transition from the full band to just piano, then back to the band...

Beach Boys... "Lets Go Away For Awhile" on Pet Sounds... totally transfixing...

John Coltrane... when you realize this ain't Julie Andrews but some kind of incredible ecstatic experience...

Johnny Cash... Live at Folsom Prison, when he sings "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" and the crowd goes nuts...

Joni Mitchell... "Little Green" (from Blue)... that's a pull over to the side of the road song...

stuff like that...
Coltrane's "My Favorite Things", I mean... eh... (Julie's version is pretty killer too, but not cathartic...)

another one... when Hugh Grant (of all people) takes the stage at the end of "About A Boy"...
The ultimate pop culture moment takes place during the song "MacArthur Park," when someone leaves the cake out in the rain. I don't think that I can take it...
I'm into pop culture, but not necessarily all the pop culture that everybody else says I should be into. So the only one Joe mentions that I can relate to is the Back To The Future scene. That whole movie makes me happy for some reason.

As for other pop culture moments that hit me...

- Live Aid and the whole "We Are The World" thing
- That Phil Collins song from "Against All Odds" is powerful to me yet very pop-py
- Many moments in many Radiohead songs
- Ben Fold Five song "Brick" gets to me every time mostly because of memories that I associate with that song and when it came out.
- A Christmas Story from beginning to end.
You know the part where there's 12 women in oversized shirts standing in a row of old metal washtubs ankle deep in dull white milk? And there's a guy with a clipboard pacing back and forth with a stopwatch. Then he goes, he, like, stops and scowls and shows them the time on the watch and screams "MORE!" You know that part?

That was cool...
The scene in the Matrix when Neo and Trinity make their way through the building lobby to the elevator.

The Opening Night scenes of Peter Pan in Finding Neverland and the Tinkerbell dying scene.

The Stand by Stephen King

B52s Cosmic Thing

Stevie Wonder's As from Song in the Key of Life

Big Audio Dynamite's Rush (Situation No Win)

The first three give me goosebumps and/or bring tears to my eyes, every goddamn time. The latter three just make me inordinately happy.
I'm not normally a movie crier, but I really blubber whenever I watch "Babe" -- the scene when they take his mom away.

"A Whiter Shade of Pale", especially the line, "I was feeling kinda seasick, but the crowd called out for more..." That's the story of my life and I've designated it to be played at my funeral.

Any contrapuntal (bass) line by ELO. Man, they know their stuff!

Beatle haircuts. I still love them.

And just about everything in the movie, "Office Space". Anyone who works, or has worked in an office that's located in an industrial park or mini-corp strip mall knows what I mean. I've worked at some high corp places too, and it wasn't the same at all.
The relationship between Denny Crane and Alan Shore on Boston Legal speaks to me about modern American man's need for intimacy with other men...

Not that there's anything wrong with that...
Two scenes from 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban' - where he is flying on Buckbeak, and where he realises that he has the power within himself to save himself and his godfather from the dementors.

'You wonder how these things begin' and the duet 'Soon its Gonna Rain' from the musical "The Fantasticks".

Mary Black singing "Shine"

Sting "Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot"
I cry like a baby in Sense and Sensibility when Hugh Grant finally pledges his love to Emma Thompson and she just bursts into tears.

The song "Nightswimming" by REM.

Dumbo saying goodbye to his mother. It slays me.

"As" by Stevie Wonder.

The song in the Color Purple "God is trying to tell you something"

The scene in "Dead Man Walking" when Sean Penn finally admits what he did. It's as though he finally beleived, just the titiest little bit, the he might be forgiven by The nun and by God, even though he was going to die anyways. One of the most vulnreable performances I have ever seen in my life.

When Big Dan and little Ann die in "Where the red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls.

The scene in Good Will Hunting when Robins Williams tells Matt Damon "It's not your fault"

And two from Sesame street: Kermit singing the rainbow connection, and the time Big Bird gave Linda a stereo and realized she couldn't hear it, and he was so terribly sad.
Good call, Kal... (Good Kal, call...?)

Those Boston Legal balcony scenes somehow make me feel like all is right with the world...
Where does one begin? Among the insufferable/special moments in pop culture:

When Henry Rollins and Donita Sparks faked coitus on the Black Flag song "Slip It In."

When Neal Page finds out Del Griffith's wife was deceased in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

The portion of the song "Don't Fear the Reaper" right after the instrumental break, which leads to the last verse.

That part in "More Than a Feeling," when Brad Delp hits that sublime and insane f*cking Hessian falsetto, which melds beautifully with the ensuing guitar lead.

The exchange between Rodney Dangerfield's Thornton Melon character and Kurt Vonnegut in Back to School.

The Triple Lindy, from the same film.

Gram Parson's corpse being ripped off and partially incinerated.

The bathroom scene & "She pees standing up," scene from Bachelor Party.

John Voigt's demise in the Champ...

Sh*t. I need a kleenex.
There are a whole lot of these moments that you folks bring up that I really, really love.

That last scene in Hannah wraps the movie up so perfectly.

Neo & Trinity and the bullets and the spinninhg around. It's just one of the most beautifully violent scenes ever shot.

I love Office Space. I was so very, very pissed when Mike Judge's follow-up, Idiocracy, barely got a release last year. It didn't play anyplace in New York City, for crying out loud.

And I love almost all pre-80s Stevie Wonder, but "As" is an especially special example.
The entirety of Judas' death scene in JCS always gets to me.

Many moments during any TV on The Radio album.

Fela Kuti's "Follow Follow."

Stevie Wonder: "You Haven't Done Nothin'", and the sequence that starts with "New York City, just like I pictured it" in "Livin' for the City."

The last version of King Kong, particularly on the island, but most especially when they're back in NYC.

The climax in Henderson the Rain King (Saul Bellow).

James Ellroy's LA Quintet.

Ditto Stephen King's Gunslinger series.

Lightcycle race in TRON.

Road Warrior.

Mingus' Ah Um.

Buffy, S3 E:20, The Prom, during the awards.
Pop culture highs (and crying jag lows) for me include watching Ocean’s 11 at a loud volume, then taking the husbands car for a drive (V6 engine vs. a Prius) – it’s like robbing my own casino.
The Cole Porter Songbook can get me in a cigarette smoking, Manhattan drinking cryfest in under 20 minutes – so much torch and unrequited love in those lyrics, but still filled with inhuman levels of hope.
In “Love Actually,” at the end when young Sam runs through the airport to tell the American girl he loves her, I have a convenient “near sneeze” which causes my nose to crinkle up as I choke back the tears. And, when Kiera Knightly’s husband’s best friend professes his love to her. Oh, the Colin Firth marriage proposal gets me going too. In fact, most of the movie makes me weepy.
The entire last half of the Matrix gets my blood pumping, and when working out to the soundtrack, I injure myself. Once threw out my back trying to dodge imaginary bullets….
But the most low-brow of my pop culture habits is how I get a secret pleasure in watching people do Karaoke….maybe it’s a Midwestern thing.
--The break at the end of Metallica's "One"..."Land mine has taken my sight...etc..."

--Chris Issak, "Wicked Game" the extended high note

--The Achewood where Roast Beef asks Molly out.

--The episode of South Park where Stan gets dumped by Wendy and Butters gets crushed by the Raisins girl...

--The voiceover of the dead soldier leaving a message for his wife at the end of Black Hawk Down ripped my fucking heart out.
OK, that headline was genius.

Be back in a bit.
Oh great... I haven't been able to get McArthur Park out of my head all day...
Now, if you're talking about the Richard Harris version, that's really friggin' torturous.
Overly articulate kids on welch's grape juice commercials.

Star Wars music.


Station wagons with faux wooden panelling.

Coca Cola.

iPod commercials.

All those pics on the web of cats with funny phrases like im in yr ____ doing something to yr ____
The Doors' "Riders on the storm"

Radar reading the memo about Henry Blakes death on M*A*S*H (I cry everytime)
Joe, the only version of "MacArthur Park" that isn't torturous is the Negro Problem's version, and it's crack, not cake.
The opening theme to The Muppet Show.
It was pop culture in its time, so I'll mention it:

In Mozart's "Magic Flute", when Tamino asks, "When will this darkness ever end?" and the off-stage chorus replies, sotto voce, "Soon...or never."

Goosebumps every time!
Ville--I grew up watching M*A*S*H twice a night pretty much every weeknight. I saw that episode many, many multiple times. I echo your goosebumps.

Sereena--See, I just have a hard time believing anybody would leave crack out in the rain. If I ever heard that version, I wouldn't be able to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy it.

Steph--Mozart? Who's that? Was he the guitarist Aerosmith brought in when Joe Perry went solo for awhile?
Great blog. Great question. Two scenes in Forrest Gump always kill me. The first is when Jenny is a small girl praying in the corn field to be made a bird. The second is when young Forrest first starts to run and the braces come flying off in bits and pieces. Something about their innocence vs. the greater evil in the world just slays me every time.
Lamar's javelin throw on Revenge of the Nerds
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