Weekend Reads: Satoshi Kon, Post-Brexit Post-Punk, Disco, Movie Theaters, Patriotism

Recommended weekend reading material for July 3, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

10 year ago, the world lost a major talent with the death of animator Satoshi Kon. A documentary chronicling his work and influence will premier at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Ten years after the death of manga-ka and animation director Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue), his loved ones and collaborators put their memories, anecdotes and insights on record in this long awaited documentary. Vincent (Give Me Your Hand, Miwa: Looking for Black Lizard) sought out Kon’s contemporaries and the next-gen filmmakers he inspired across Japan, France, the U.K. and U.S. to reflect on his subject’s artistic legacy. Interviewees include directors Mamoru Hosoda, Darren Aronofsky, Jérémy Clapin, Mamoru Oshii, and many more.

The documentary will also include footage from Kon’s unfinished final film, Dreaming Machine. Via Animation Obsessive.

Related: All of my Satoshi Kon reviews.

NPR’s Matthew Perpetua covers a new crop of hard-to-describe post-punk bands who are emerging from the chaos of post-Brexit England.

The post-punk era echoing anew makes a lot of sense in this moment. If the original post-punk bands of the early 1980s grew from the disillusionment and alienation of Margaret Thatcher's austere government and The Troubles, it’s only logical that a similar set of aesthetics would be useful in responding to the cultural identity crisis brought on by Brexit. The combination of jagged, jerky music and wry monologues simultaneously express a need for exorcising raw anger as well as working through more nuanced anxieties… The energy of these songs feels startling in the context of the past 10 to 15 years of indie rock, many corners of which have receded into a low-energy malaise of gentle depression and an internalized suspicion that rock might have run its course.

Via Delic.

Luke T. Harrington explores the tumultuous history of the original disco craze.

So now you had a nationwide craze over a genre of music that barely existed (having just broken off from Motown and R&B), based on a piece of long-form journalism that was entirely fictional and a movie made by people with no real connections to the original disco scene. Given all this, the backlash to the disco craze was almost inevitable — but maybe the actual, literal chaos wasn’t.

Robert Rackley on music as teenage cultural capital:

If you were not careful (not many teenagers are too careful), you could build up a sense of superiority over knowing what others would only come to find out later. It was easy to look down upon the johnny-come-lately crowd as mere posers. I shamefully remember the feeling of disdain. Once, in the twelfth grade, I had a fairly heated argument with one of my classmates in the library about what music was cool. A year later, she had died, a victim of a vicious asthma attack, and I laid in a hospital bed awaiting my first round of chemotherapy. After that point, I no longer had the will to make music a thing by which I judged others. It all seemed so pointless.

I’m a lot better about this than I was in my 20s — hoo boy, you should’ve heard me and my friends when we started getting snarky about music, thanks to the influence of Pitchfork and Buddyhead — but I still fight that urge from time to time. Which is one of the reasons why I’ve turned Opus into a platform to focus primarily on music, etc. that I love, rather than slag stuff I don’t like.

In addition to offering an excellent playlist, this recent article from Tales From The Dork Web is a fascinating overview of how our methods for recording, purchasing, and listening to music have evolved over the years. For example, the A note hasn’t always been the same.

In the 19th century Orchestras increased musical tension by tuning string instruments higher. They associated higher with ‘better’. It was not. In fact music would often end up shifted by entire keys. In 1859 the French government chose 435hz as the official A note reference frequency. Tuning forks were built to the new standard. Somehow the UK misinterpreted the French standard and chose 439hz. Other countries went from 413hz to over 470hz for the same A note.

By the late 30s, the BBC’s World Service led International radio broadcasting. British orchestras used 439hz. Electronic clocks used in radio at the time generated frequencies using multipliers and dividers. 439 Is a prime number, meaning it’s indivisible by anything other than itself or 1. This made a 439hz signal more complicated to broadcast than a 440hz signal. At a 1939 international conference in London the UK pushed hard for 440hz, and the world was stuck with an A note at 440hz.

In a move that might annoy some Star Wars purists, Boba Fett’s iconic ship is no longer being called Slave 1. This “revisionism” should surprise exactly no one, though, given the character’s recent return via The Mandalorian.

While slaves and slavery still exist as part of the Star Wars universe’s narrative (two examples that touch upon the subject matter: Anakin Skywalker’s backstory in The Phantom Menace, and The Bad Batch revisiting Clone Wars slaver villains the Zygerrians), distancing from the Slave 1 name in merchandise perhaps makes sense from Lucasfilm’s perspective. The awkwardness of it been the butt of a few jokes over the years, but now Boba Fett is once again a major player in Star Wars continuity, even more so than he was at the height of his Expanded Universe popularity perhaps, thanks to his return in The Mandalorian. With his own live action series to come later this year (and, inextricably linked to Star Wars as always, the reams of merchandise that will come out of that show), having a starring hero’s — well, anti-hero’s — main vessel named Slave 1 is going to be problematic.

The recent success of F9 — the latest installment in the redoubtable Fast & Furious franchise — shows that people are increasingly comfortable with returning to movie theaters. I can’t wait to return myself, but there is a down side to watching movies with lots of other people. (And yes, there’s an up side, too.)

In honor of Conan O’Brien’s signing off, Vulture has published tributes from 12 comedians and actors — including Eric Andre, D’Arcy Carden, Bill Hader, and Sarah Silverman — who appeared on his late night shows over the years.

Several themes emerged during these conversations: O’Brien is one of the funniest, if not the funniest, people on the planet. His mix of Harvard smarts and crass bits made them feel that they were seen and less alone in the world for being a bit weird. As a host, he’s one of the most generous that guests have ever encountered, elevating them to a higher level of comedy, often at his own expense. Some are still in awe of the things he and his extremely talented writing team were able to get on network TV in his early years, not to mention his evolution as a host and an interviewer. Some, to be sure, are still quite pissed off at NBC’s handling of his brief time as the host of The Tonight Show. All of them sing his praises as being one of the sharpest, kindest people away from the camera.

This one’s for all of my fellow ‘80s evangelical church kids/comic book nerds: WandaVision’s Kathryn Hahn got her start as Psalty the Singing Songbook.

In a lengthy and very fun conversation with Conan O’Brien on the Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast, Hahn revealed the very first bullet point on her acting resume was a gig with the beloved(?) anthropomorphic hymnbook familiar to Christian kids of a certain age. Psalty and his family (also talking hymnbooks) would gather kids around and sing all sorts of songs about God in a manner that was either sweet or terrifying, depending on the costume.

Fun fact: I was actually listening to an honest-to-goodness Psalty CD earlier this week while running errands with my kids.

If you’d like to get outside more, reduce stress, and contribute to science, then consider birding.

It’s a four-season activity that will not only extend the amount of time you spend in parks or other green spaces, but also make you feel a little bit like a treasure seeker as you try to spot birds you know should be around (and find others you may not expect).

My wife and son have become avid birders in the last year or so. Most mornings can find them in one of our city’s parks, looking for their feathered friends.

It’s tempting to laugh at Tucker Carlson’s claims that he’s being targeted by the NSA because, well, he’s Tucker Carlson. But make no mistake, American intelligence agencies are not your friends.

In truth, our country’s national security state is completely and utterly out of control — and it always has been. Since the 1970s, there’s been a public understanding — albeit one that is often swept under the rug — that our spies have basically been given carte blanche to run roughshod over legal and constitutional barriers if they think it will help them do their job better. And, if history’s taught us anything, the light taps on the wrist they occasionally catch when their misdeeds stumble clumsily out into public view are not a strong enough deterrent to force them to change their ways.

Finally, with the Fourth of July right around the corner, I wanted to share this recent David French column on history and patriotism.

We should approach history with a sense of curiosity and security. You won’t make me hate my home. You can, however, motivate me to preserve what is pristine and repair what is broken. You can make me proud of the beauty and sorry for the injustice.

French’s words seem particularly appropriate given our nation’s current levels of social and political division.

From the Blog

One of my most anticipated albums of 2021 was ISON’s Aurora. But it’s their first release following the departure of Heike Langhans, whose mournful voice and existential lyrics were so integral to the band’s “cosmic metal.” So how does Aurora compare to ISON’s previous releases?

The album’s lyrics and themes might be the hardest sell for some folks, not to mention the various spoken word bits about tuning energies, opening up to the universe, embracing the light within, radiating love, and so on. In most contexts, such New Age-isms would probably merit an eye roll or three. But in Aurora’s context, when surrounded by Änghede’s celestial compositions — imagine Alcest, Lycia, Slowdive, and Vangelis swept up together in a supernova’s shockwave — it can make for some rather potent, compelling stuff.

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