Noiseless Chatter Spotlight: “Roll On John,” Bob Dylan (2012)

You burned so bright…

Neither Bob Dylan nor John Lennon survived 1980. And yet, they’re both still with us. Transformed…echoes of the past. One solid, one ethereal…but both of them spokesmen for a time long gone. The major difference, of course, is that only Dylan’s career was buried. It was Lennon’s body.

Tragedy is relative. In somebody’s mind, John Lennon deserved to die. His death, for reasons neither you nor I nor anybody will ever understand, was necessary. We may not have the right as individuals to decide who should live and who should die, but we all have the ability. One finger, one firearm, one bullet. It’s all anybody needs. It happens all the time. It’s usually somebody we don’t know. It’s sometimes a man who changed the world.

That early December gunshot can still be heard, if you listen hard enough. If you concentrate. If you take a moment to think about how the entire world shifted from one state of being to another, from one bright future to an uncertain, poorer, infinitely more frightening one. It’s easy to hear it, when you think like that. It’s easy to hear it still pounding against your eardrums…a violent swing into another time and place…an audible reduction of hope and optimism. A tragedy in New York City that left the world lost and confused. It’s not that hard to imagine now.

John Lennon was a cultural icon…one of very few people — and even fewer musicians — who shaped the planet on which he lived. He was also — and this is a bit harder to imagine — a human being. He’s dead now, though there’s no reason he has to be. He’s dead now because that’s what somebody decided he’d be.

That was almost thirty-two years ago, as of this writing. I’m thirty-one. I never shared the world that John Lennon helped shape. By the time I was born he was already gone. I inherited a world that was already missing him. I can still hear the echo.

Bob Dylan shared a world with John Lennon. And a friendship. And a history. John Lennon and The Beatles changed history, but Bob Dylan changed The Beatles. He broadened their horizons…an intellectual and experimental emissary from America. They became close. They even wrote a song together, though it was never recorded. Dylan spent most of his time with George Harrison, with whom he wrote songs that actually were recorded. For years John and Bob traded barbs in their separate recordings. They were friendly adversaries. They were troubadours pulling us toward a brighter future. They redefined music, and it was up to everybody else to follow along, and behind.

We all, to some extent, lost John Lennon, but a few people lost him in a more substantial way than they can ever articulate.

Now, thirty-two years and fifteen albums later, Dylan closes Tempest with a paean to his lost friend, the circling, haunting “Roll On John.”

I had never wondered before what Bob Dylan must have thought on the night of December 20, 1980. Why would I have? Yet also…why wouldn’t I have?

It’s all too easy to see celebrities as superhuman. The larger they loom, the further detached they are from the world we inhabit. Particularly in the case of figures so massive as John Lennon and Bob Dylan. They don’t appear to us as people, but as presences. As messengers from magical kingdoms we would not be fit to enter. They aren’t real…they are forces beyond our understanding.

And yet…

And yet.

They can be killed. They can be revealed as mortals after all. At which point…it’s too late.

Bob Dylan lost his friend. We may have lost an idol, a hero, a figurehead, but somewhere out there…somewhere, on a cold winter’s night, a confused artist lost a man he loved.

“Roll On John” swims in survivor’s guilt. Bob Dylan is an old man…something John Lennon was fated never to be.

On the last night of his life, though, if anyone would have expected one of them to be around in 2012, it would have been Lennon. Earlier that year, Lennon released Double Fantasy. It met with a fairly universal critical shrug, but went on to win the Grammy for album of the year, and has received retroactive reappraisal elevating some of its tracks to Lennon’s canon of all-time best, such as “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Woman,” and the disarmingly poignant “Watching the Wheels.” Whether he was recording the best music of his career is, was, and must always be up for debate, but there’s no question that he had a great deal left to say, and a still-powerful voice with which to say it.

By contrast, Dylan was a universal joke. An aimless and meandering has-been who was currently in the depths of an embarrassingly public conversion to Christianity. The dangerous Jewish folk-singer who once led millions to challenge the status quo was now unironically and uncreatively singing the praises of Jesus on albums that couldn’t be forgotten soon enough. He had just released Saved, his second disposable album of love songs to Christ (of three). It featured songs such as “Solid Rock,” “Covenant Woman” and “Saving Grace,” all of which were used as ammunition against him by critics and fans alike. He was unquestionably recording the worst music of his career, and it was taken as gospel — ahem — that had nothing left to say, and a failing voice that wouldn’t stop saying it.

It was a stumble Dylan wouldn’t recover from for at least nine years (if your personal resurgence point is Oh! Mercy) and maybe as long as seventeen years (if you’d prefer to go with Time Out of Mind). In 1980, there was no coming back. Dylan was written off. He was dead.

Before the year ended, Lennon joined him. He was dead, too.

Lennon, with a rich and unknowable future before him, was gone. Is gone. Dylan, lost within himself and fumbling to recapture his lost talent, was still alive. Is still alive. I’m not sure that anyone’s pondered the justice of that. Anyone apart from Dylan, that is. Of course.

“I read the news today, oh boy,” Dylan sings in “Roll On John.” Just one of many Lennon lyrics and references that take on a bone-chilling resonance in this new context. This new context of an old man who outlived his usefulness mourning the loss of a young man who never got the chance to fulfill his.

Dylan howls and growls with a voice from beyond the grave…a tormented spirit raging to unburden himself of earthly woe, but to no avail. Bob Dylan started his career by impersonating Woody Guthrie, but seems sometimes to be auditioning now for the part of Jacob Marley.

Lennon’s death was a chance for Dylan — like everybody else — to look inward. If his musical output that followed is any indication, it’s not an opportunity he took seriously. But now, with so many decades separating him from the tragedy, he has the chance to look backward. In fact, “Roll On John” is adapted from a song of the same title Dylan was performing as far back as 1961. As an old man Dylan reflects on a decades-old tragedy, and sees in that reflection himself as a young man, singing a song that wouldn’t yet have meaning for him…wouldn’t yet have meaning until one of his contemporaries, a gentle, love-preaching genius, was shot in the back just before Christmas, and left for dead.

Dylan’s been through his share of tragedies since then, and it’s unlikely that the release of Tempest on September 11 was coincidental. His lovingly tormented remembrance of Lennon is one flavor of New York tragedy…and Dylan knows there are others. In fact, “Roll On John” follows the title track, which is about the sinking of the RMS Titanic. There’s a third flavor. The link is deliberate.

Tragedy is always a term decided by scope, and scope is always personal. The world can change on December 20 or September 11 or April 14 or any other combination of month and day that the calendar will allow. It can change for the better, or it can change for the worst. Waking up one morning does not suggest that you will wake up the next, and it only takes one person to make that decision for you.

Dylan survived, and Dylan survives. His career has been buried and exhumed so many times that keeping the critics satisfied has become exhausting. Instead, Dylan just does what Dylan does…and, sure enough, the critics came around, and are glad he survives.

But Dylan wonders.

If he could have traded places…

…he wonders. How the world would be different. How much he’d be missed, if he was the one gunned down in the street that night instead, at that phase in his career.

What would it mean to people? What could it mean to people? Is it better to die in your prime, loved and beloved, or to age fast and gracelessly, shedding relevance and ticket sales, as the world deteriorates around you?

Which is tragic? What really matters? A sinking ship, a falling tower, a silenced activist. An old man dying alone. A cynical world that can only be shocked back to reality by a major and devastating change. What is tragic? What really matters?

We’re all human, and yet we’re all different. We all hear the same words, and yet process different meanings. We all see the same man, and yet are flooded with different emotions.

Tragedy is what tragedy is. It’s a lesson Dylan waited a long time to learn, apparently. He might still be learning it. We all should be. After all, we’re in this together.

Roll on, Bob.

Steve Zissou Saturdays #2: Right on the Edge

Note: This entry was published in an earlier form as a standalone Anatomy of a Scene feature here. It has been reworked slightly for this series.

Celebrity oceanographer / documentarian Steve Zissou has just premiered his latest and most tragic film to an audience that responds with a distinct lack of interest. Steve emerges from a post-screening Q&A session that has gone no better, and that’s where today’s scene begins. We’re still in the process of setting the film into motion and already we see Anderson — and Mothersbaugh, and Murray — at their indirect best, and absolute strongest. Every line and detail hearkens forward to what’s to come, turning this routine meet-and-green into a brilliantly constructed overture. And yet, viewed out of context, it functions perfectly well as a piece of work unto itself, standing alone as a series of emotional triggers for one man who is having a terrible night…and being forced to suffer in public.

We open on a vast and relatively empty hall, where Antonia Cook (played by the late Isabella Blow) is standing stock-still and dead center, waiting for Steve to come through the door so that she can compliment him on his film — which we can pretty safely assume she wasn’t in the room to see. She’s more interested in positioning herself to flank a celebrity than she is in actually watching the films that make him a celebrity in the first place. It’s a sort of half-aware posturing, an appreciation of fame without consideration for actual merit, that Steve himself suffers from as well.

In the background we can also see the old man who will later ask Steve for his autograph; he can actually be glimpsed several times throughout this sequence before he gets his moment, suggesting that Steve has overlooked him, and, indeed, overlooks as many people as he can afford to, preferring isolation even during this grand event. When the old man eventually does get his chance, he needs to be introduced by Vladimir Wolodarsky, Team Zissou’s physicist / original score composer. As we’ll see later in the film, it really is up to Team Zissou to keep their captain grounded, and rooted to the world beneath him…if not exactly to reality.

The name “Loquasto International Film Festival” is loaded, making oblique reference to Santo Loquasto, a famous production designer who worked on more than 60 Broadway shows, as well as many Woody Allen films — netting him several Academy Awards for his work with that great director. In short, it’s a film festival named for a production designer rather than a director, a writer, or an actor. It passively highlights the importance of design, of construction, of careful assembly…over, say, quality. That’s Steve Zissou’s world in a nutshell.

After Antonia, Steve meets with Oseary Drakoulias, head of the financially-questionable production company that publishes his films. Oseary is speaking with Larry Amin, ostensibly casually, but as Steve correctly intuits, Oseary is both flirting with Amin and angling for money. In more controlled circumstances, Steve might shake hands and move along, but after having to field questions about his closest friend’s death he’s not interested in glad-handing. Oseary immediately berates Steve for his insensitive — though accurate — response to the situation, and this berating doesn’t seem to affect Steve at all. He’s feeling as low as he’s ever been, with Esteban’s death just the latest addition to a massive stack of tragedies he’s never gotten around to dealing with.

We should take a moment to talk about the score before we get too far ahead, and feel free to listen to it in isolation from the scene. It’s a genuine Mothersbaugh masterpiece, holding true to its main theme but allowing itself to drift away periodically, before a crash of strings to pulls it back down to Earth. This piece of music is similar in that regard to Mothersbaugh’s “Sonata for Cello & Piano in F Minor” from The Royal Tenenbaums, and this scene serves a similar purpose to that one in Anderson’s previous film as well. Both scenes show us where the characters are now, in present day, plying us with the basic information we’ll need in order to interpret everything that comes next.

I’d argue that both this scene and this piece of music represent a step forward in artistic merit, however, as the earlier scene relied on narrator Alec Baldwin to keep us focused and attentive to the right details, whereas this scene dumps us disoriented into the great hall, just as Steve is dumped, and requires us to make our way, without assistance, through the onslaught of characters, dynamics, and emotions on display. The score, likewise, has a more organic momentum to its digressions than “Sonata,” what with its abrupt drum solos and reggae breaks.

Steve’s next stop is a photo op with his “nemesis,” Alistair Hennessey (played with gleeful condescension by Jeff Goldblum). Hennessey is, as the film will both now and later prove, exactly what Steve is not: collected, well organized, efficient, and flush with cash. He also used to be married to Eleanor Zissou, Steve’s wife. We see the differences immediately upon Hennessey’s arrival in this scene: he’s smiling, he’s shaking hands, and he’s thronged by reporters. He’s in his element — unlike Steve, who is quite clearly a fish out of water…so to speak… — and this is what he lives for. He’s also — it’s important to note — clutching an award.

He makes friendly overtures toward Steve — even though they’re at least passively adversarial. He repeatedly opens the door to conversation and attempts to engage Steve while the cameras flash all around them, but Steve won’t so much as look at him or smile for the photographers. In fact, Steve doesn’t smile once throughout this entire long scene, slipping instead to varying depths of desperation and dissatisfaction. And that’s the difference between Steve and Hennessey: Hennessey is satisfied with who — and where — he is. He can afford to humorously prod Steve about his film, both because he’s happy with who he is, and because he knows Steve is not. These are two old hands in the same industry, but Steve won’t even give Hennessey a straight answer when he asks the simple — and valid — question of whether or not the jaguar shark even exists.

It’s also worth drawing attention to the Christmas decorations, which sporadically populate the hall. While The Life Aquatic contains no explicit references to Christmas, it does, in several ways, have Christmas in its blood. For starters, it was released in theaters on Christmas Day in 2004. It stars Bill Murray, who can number among his most famous films Scrooged, which is a humorous adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The Life Aquatic also deliberately echoes one of the most famous images in A Christmas Carol by ending the film with Steve hoisting Klaus’s nephew onto his shoulders like Tiny Tim. In fact, the entire sequence at the Loquasto International Film Festival functions in a thematically similar way to the first phase of Scrooge’s rehabilitation: uncomfortable — and unwilling — exposure to the ghosts of the past. In fact, we’ll be returning to this theme of The Life Aquatic functioning as an oblique adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but for now Steve has more pressing matters to attend to.

Next we meet Steve’s wife, Eleanor Zissou. As we’ll learn shortly, she is “the brains behind Team Zissou.” This is important to note, because it explains why he remains in a relationship with her. The two have a mutual dislike for each other that is only infrequently overcome by whatever tenderness survives between them, but she has the money that Steve needs to keep shooting, as well as knowing “the Latin names of all the fish and everything.”

It’s less clear why Eleanor stays with him, though. Steve is quick to point out that Hennessey isn’t much of a threat to their marriage as, in spite of his history with Eleanor, his homosexual tendencies keep him otherwise engaged. Beyond that, though, there’s less incentive for Eleanor to stay married to Steve than for Steve to stay married to Eleanor.

Once Eleanor steps away, Steve is approached by a woman — in attire suitable for a mermaid — who wishes to say hello. Steve leans in to kiss her, but she does not want to be touched by him. (It’s pretty easy to insert the word “anymore” here.) When Eleanor returns he attempts to introduce them, but Eleanor cuts him off by asking if he really wants to put her through this, resulting in both women leaving him in separate directions. Steve, alone, pops a pill.

It’s a loaded moment in many ways, and while we never see the woman again, Steve’s womanizing is absolutely to the fore several times in the future. Here it threatens his relationship with his wife, and before long it will threaten his relationship with his son.

As with everybody tonight, Steve is being exceptionally candid, confessing to Eleanor that he’s “right on the edge,” and that he doesn’t know what comes next. When both women abandon him and he swallows a pill, it’s clear that he does, in fact, know what comes next…he just really wishes he didn’t.

When I said earlier that Steve doesn’t smile in this scene, I was incorrect. I should have said that present-day Steve doesn’t smile in this scene, as we do see some archival footage of an early interview on the film festival’s monitors, presenting a blonde and happier Steve from better times.

The interviewer, Antonio Monda (an interestingly similar name to Antonia Cook’s), asks what Steve is to Team Zissou. Steve chuckles, but is clearly enough at a loss for a reply. Esteban places a hand on him and says, “He’s the Zissou.”

It’s exactly the kind of response that could be interpreted either way, but from Esteban, Steve hears it as a compliment. What is Steve? Esteban’s reply could suggest either that he’s everything to the team — in fact, is the team — or that he’s nothing but a name. Steve interprets it — correctly, I feel — as meaning the former. From Hennessey, it would have been the latter.

But there is no more Esteban. He’s been taken from this world and from Team Zissou by the jaguar shark and Steve’s negligence, and Steve it’s Hennessey who’s here instead. So what, now, is Steve? It’s a question our central character is going to have a lot of trouble answering over the course of them film, and it’s one to which he will go to great lengths in order avoid answering at all.

He reaches out to Esteban and a tiny spark flashes at his fingertip. Bright, urgent…and then gone. A metaphor for both Esteban himself, and also Steve’s celebrity.

Next we meet Klaus (Willem Dafoe), who introduces Steve to his nephew. His nephew has a gift for Steve…a crayon ponyfish. It’s unlikely to be anything Steve hasn’t seen before, and it’s less likely to be anything particularly impressive — the plastic bag suggesting that Werner saved his allowance and purchased it from a pet store — but it’s a tangible reminder of Steve’s youthful ambitions. It’s an image out of his own past, an infatuation with the sea and with those who explore it. Every creature is magical, if you view it through the right lens, which in this case is the innocence of youth.

This is why Anderson created all of his sea creatures from scratch, using stop motion rather than actual, living beings. Everything is invented, and therefore everything is new to us. They need to be, so that they can stand out as magical, and not mundane. Steve’s tired and careless approach to the wondrous worlds that unfold regularly around him is a symptom of a professional and personal malaise…not any shortness of majesty in those worlds themselves. Fresh eyes like Werner’s — and implicitly ours — can still see that. Steve’s eyes are tired, but we see a flash, ever so fleeting, of admiration for the boy who admires him in return…a memory of a simpler time, when Steve really cared about what he was doing.

This is also the first time we see Steve interact with other members of Team Zissou, who, as we saw earlier in the film, don’t particularly have much experience with the sea. Their titles are telling…Steve lists camera men, sound men and script girls, but his crew is tellingly free of oceanographers and marine biologists. Instead, Steve surrounds himself with a crew that can insulate him, artificially, from the world around him. Rather than exploring and discovering the unknown, Steve prefers a life determined by scripts, lighting levels, and carefully managed interactions. He’s comfortable only when he doesn’t have to deal with the unforeseen, but it didn’t used to be this way.

This lack of comfort is on display when he’s finally confronted by the old man in pajamas, who has come to the film festival with a stack of posters advertising Steve’s previous movies. He seeks out an autograph and at first Steve is willing to comply.

Eventually, however, Steve tells him to leave. There are too many posters to sign, and this affects Steve in precisely the opposite way that his encounter with Werner affected him moments before. (“I could go either way” is a very telling line…and, in fact, he ends up going both ways. First one, and then the other.) Here, Steve is confronted with evidence of his past. Not an idealistic reminder as he saw in Werner, but a physical, unchangeable record of what he’s actually done. The films advertised on these posters don’t strike one as being particularly good, as some of them have only the most tenuous connections to the sea at all. The old man may be a genuine fan, or he might just be a collector. Either way, he’s handed Steve a record of his professional — and progressing — degradation, and then asked him to account for every one.

It’s a disappointment that frustrates Steve and brings him immediately back down from the relative high of Werner’s gift. Meanwhile, we can imagine Klaus being particularly happy that things went so well with Steve and his nephew. As morbid as it might seem, Klaus is clearly expecting a battlefield promotion. Esteban is dead, and that’s tragic…but it also leaves a vacancy for Steve’s right hand man. Klaus has been a long-suffering and fragile member of Team Zissou, who thought of both Steve and Esteban as fathers to him. This next voyage will be his chance to step up and impress his father figure…unfortunately, this next voyage will also feature the return of Steve’s prodigal — if not necessarily actual — son Ned, which relegates Klaus again to the sidelines, and sinks him immediately into the depths of aggressive misery.

For now, however, Klaus can look forward to the future…as Steve seeks desperately to isolate himself from the past.

As Steve’s long, dark, wine and cheese party of the soul winds down, he finds a welcome quiet moment as he gazes longingly in Eleanor’s direction. Of course, he’s also gazing off at the Belafonte, his ship, where his life has structure, if not necessarily meaning. It’s a place where he can be safe (where, indeed, he employs a Safety Expert)…it’s the ability to set sail, and leave everything — absolutely everything — in the world behind.

For Anderson, it’s no coincidence that Eleanor is in that shot as well. After all, she’s what keeps Team Zissou afloat. He needs her, whether or not he likes her. In a remarkable bit of restrained cinematography, we linger for a short while on this view, and then return to a very long shot of Steve, silent and unmoving. He ends up being either too intimidated or too disinterested — or both — to approach his wife and speak to her, so he settles instead for raising his hand in a brief, motionless wave.

It’s impossible not to see this as also being the universal gesture for “stop.”

There’s a beautiful swell in Mothersbaugh’s score, and Steve comes back to Earth.

Steve’s night isn’t over yet, however, as there’s one last obstacle between him and the yearned-for safety of his boat: the crowd. Steve has no interest in any of them, any moreso than he had in the old man earlier, but one person gets his attention by suggesting loudly that Steve should be in mourning for Esteban…and then asking who he intends to kill in part two.

This is Steve’s collapse, as the weight of the evening and every conflicting emotion he’s had all night surge to his head, and he attacks the man physically.

It’s interesting that Steve doesn’t snap until after the man takes his picture (an aural “snap” itself), thus recording, yet again, another failure of Steve’s. As a celebrity, Steve must cope with his mistakes in public. He’s recognizable and famous, and as such doesn’t have the luxury of coming to terms with his shortcomings and failures in solitude.

Fascinatingly, in Rushmore Bill Murray’s character also seeks refuge beneath the waterline. It’s a chance to separate, a chance to be of the world and yet also free from it. Here he must face his failings head-on, and he responds to them by lashing out.

We also see Team Zissou come to his aid not by stopping Steve or pulling him out of the fray, but by hopping the barricade and assaulting the heckler themselves. They serve as a wall — in this case literally — between Steve and the consequences of his actions. Their job is to keep their captain safe — physically, mentally, emotionally, howsoever necessary at any given time — which is why he has come to rely on them more than he’d ever be able to rely on a group of competent oceanographers.

In the scuffle, the bag containing Steve’s crayon ponyfish is ruptured. While Steve would have no trouble replacing it and indeed sees more remarkable things daily, he takes a champagne glass from another partygoer and rescues the ponyfish with it, hoisting it above his head like a banner as he walks away.

But it’s not just the ponyfish he rescued — as Steve’s made clearly known, he’s not sentimental enough about sea-life to keep from killing it for personal reasons — it’s Werner’s idealism. It’s youth. It’s a message from the past, one of many he received tonight but the only one he can bear to hold onto. It’s a reminder maybe not of what Steve Zissou is but at least of why Steve Zissou is.

It’s also a small creature. Like Werner. And like Steve was once, too. It’s a creature unable to survive in the environment around him, which requires itself to be kept safe and secure until it can return to its home in the sea. Steve understands.

Next: A strange visitor.

Review: Red Dwarf X Episode 1: “Trojan”

NOTE: Thanks to friend-of-the-website Ridley for the youtube link!

I was excited about the tenth series of Red Dwarf. It immediately became one of my favorite shows when I discovered it in my late teens, and I still look back on nearly every episode with fondness. “Future Echoes,” “Queeg,” “Thanks For the Memory,” “White Hole,” “Holoship”…all front-to-back classics, and that’s just a small sampling of a very long list.

I didn’t need the tenth series to offer up anything as great as those. I didn’t need much from it at all, actually. In fact, I didn’t even need a tenth series. I was perfectly happy with the original eight. (Less thrilled with the “Back to Earth” specials that we now call series nine, but still.) I didn’t need more, but, now, here it is.

And while I wouldn’t dream of writing off an entire series on the basis of one episode, I will say this: I definitely didn’t need “Trojan.”

That’s not to say it’s bad, but for an episode that revolves around delving into an often-danced-around aspect of a main character’s past, it surprisingly feels…well…unnecessary.

The plot ostensibly revolves around Rimmer receiving a distress call from his brother Howard, while the Red Dwarf crew is exploring a derelict spacecraft. Fine. They teleport Howard and another crew member to safety. Okay.

So that’s…that? They transported him to safety more or less immediately, so the danger’s over and there’s nothing at stake. Unless, of course, we manufacture something and clumsily wedge some danger in there at the end, which we do, of course, because that’s easier than sustaining tension throughout.

Plotwise, nothing else really happens, apart from an absurdly unnecessary death which does little more than ensure that Red Dwarf won’t have to worry about integrating Howard into any future story lines.

It’s sloppy plotting, especially when compared to some of the classic episodes listed above, but comparing this to classic episodes isn’t the point; the question is whether or not it stands well enough on its own. I’d have to say it doesn’t.

Too much of the episode feels like padding. Exchanges are protracted when they should be snappy, jokes are repeated multiple times in succession to diminishing returns, and it feels like there were at least five times that we zoomed in on characters making silly faces in lieu of actual comedy.

The worst offender is Lister’s phone call, which I guess constitutes a B-plot. He wants to order something from the all-droid shopping network, which exists so that we can at last mine that totally untapped vein of comedy at the expense of infomercials. (Did you know that some of the products they sell are NOT VERY USEFUL?) Lister’s on hold for the entire episode, and while it leads to some minor chuckles along the way it feels pretty pointless, and becomes extraordinarily mean-spirited during the climax: Lister is warned that the villain will kill them if he picks up the phone, so he throws a tantrum and picks up the phone. Rimmer’s brother is promptly shot to death. Hilarious.

It’s the kind of thing Family Guy has long ago run into the ground. See this guy who doesn’t deserve to be killed? We’ll kill him in a nasty way for a silly reason, and that’ll be funny. Right?

Well, maybe. That’s all subjective. But an episode that could have found so much of interest to say about Rimmer’s struggle for acceptance, his paralyzing sense of resentment, and his formative experiences at the hands of his abusive older brothers, decides instead to make jokes about being on hold (Did you know that sometimes people are on hold FOR A REALLY LONG TIME?), absolutely stupid spinning eyeball gags, and shooting Rimmer’s never-before-seen brother through the chest.

I know I shouldn’t be comparing this to previous episodes, but I couldn’t help but think of “Terrorform.” Rimmer faces his darkest impulses there as well, and it ends in a mean-spirited joke. But in “Terrorform” it feels earned. It feels organic. Rimmer learns something and evolves ever so slightly as a human being…and then the crew snatch it away from him. It wasn’t nice, no…but it was fitting. It was understandable. And it worked.

In “Trojan,” nothing fits, and little works. It feels cobbled together of disparate elements that come together about as beautifully as a bullet through the heart. Again, it wasn’t awful — there was some actual laughter to be had here, so, better than “Back to Earth” at least — but it didn’t really cohere.

Oh well. There are still five episodes left to go, and The Cat was pretty funny at least. He got the biggest laugh out of me simply by walking past an open door.

I know this writeup is pretty uncollected and I’m probably not expressing my opinions as lucidly as I probably should, but that feels thematically appropriate for what I’ve just seen, so there you go. Anyway, there’s a guy standing behind you who told me he’d shoot you through the head if I ate this apple, so I’m going to throw a tantrum and eat this apple. That’s what people do, right?

Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.

The post title here is an observation made by Homer Simpson in “Homerpalooza.” It’s stuck with me because so many times I’ve enjoyed an album, only to notice it was indeed released in 1974. So I figured I’d do a little bit of digging and put together an abbreviated list of truly great stuff released in that ostensibly magical year, and, sure enough, it looks like Homer has a legitimate argument here. I omitted anything that can’t be classified as rock, and a few others that were hugely well-received but with which I have no personal experience, and…well…it’s still a hell of a list.

Diamond Dogs, David Bowie
David Live, David Bowie
Okie, J.J. Cale
Planet Waves, Bob Dylan
Before the Flood, Bob Dylan & The Band
Here Come the Warm Jets, Brian Eno
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Genesis
Dark Horse, George Harrison
Walls and Bridges, John Lennon
Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, Little Feat
Sundown, Gordon Lightfoot
Son of Dracula, Harry Nilsson
Grievous Angel, Graham Parsons
Queen II, Queen
Rock N Roll Animal, Lou Reed
It’s Only Rock N Roll, The Rolling Stones
Country Life, Roxy Music
Live Rhymin’, Paul Simon
Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan
Walking Man, James Taylor
The Heart of Saturday Night, Tom Waits
We Had It All, Scott Walker
Odds & Sods, The Who
On the Beach, Neil Young
Apostrophe, Frank Zappa
Roxy & Elsewhere, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention

No wonder the Simpsons are always in financial trouble. I’d be broke too if I lived through a year that had even a fraction of those records worth buying. Homer, you indeed win this round. If only my adolescence were as culturally rich as yours.