Beautiful things from this past weekend:
~LK and I finished watching the first season of The Wire, and gah. I have nothing critical or intelligent to say about it; I'm just completely awestruck. And from what I understand, it only gets better. How is this even possible?
~Man on Wire on DVD. Yeah, I know it won big at the Oscars on Sunday (missed 'em again this year, more on which soon), but watching it on Saturday afternoon, curled up on my couch while the snow fell and the wind blew like a maniac outside, I was utterly transfixed, captivated. I was also loving its parallels to, of all things, Chappelle's Block Party: there's the New York setting on a superficial level, of course, but also the charismatic Pied Piper that sets everything in motion and keeps everyone inspired, the rag-tag, ad-libbed nature of it all, and the fact that they spent so much time and effort to create a moment of fleeting beauty that can never be repeated or recaptured. I was totally dissolved in tears by the end of it. Such a magical little film. I loved its philosophical/existential Frenchness and its very intentional heist film structure--with the "heist" being benevolent mischief and a contemplation of the ineffable. It would be like if, at the climax of Soderbergh's Out of Sight, after all the goofiness and flashbacks, there were no uncut diamonds in the fish tank, just fish. And rather than it being a big letdown (for both the characters and the audience), it was actually a solemn moment of meditation on the sublime, on the mysteries of the sea and the ephemeral nature of the fishes' lives and how that relates to our own mortality. And then everybody goes home and never speaks to each other again. (Thought of in this way, I guess it's almost like the emotional obverse of The Limey, actually, with speechless joy and delight standing in for slowly dawning horror and the full weight of homicidal complicity.) Check it out before Philippe Petit gets annoying and overexposed.
~Juana Molina live at the Morse Theatre on Sunday night. (Yes, instead of the Oscars. It was an infinitely more rewarding way to spend the evening.) It's rare that a concert is so good that it actually makes me want to be a better person, but I left the show completely in awe of how balanced she seems to be as a person (at least on stage) and wishing I could find a way to integrate all the weird, misshapen quirks of my own personality into a similarly satisfying whole. She was really relaxed, really focused, really funny, really serious, really talented, really committed to her art--I kept waiting for her to shed her skin, revealing this glowing orb of harmony and perfection. But instead, she's just this tiny lady with perfect pitch and an army of looping pedals. Her fixation on her guitar being in tune actually read less as an obsessive diva thing than as a literalization of what her main project as a musician seems to be--working really hard to hit that razor-thin sweet spot where an intricate confluence of factors joins together to appear inevitable and effortless. (She also told a musical "joke" at one point when she started playing her guitar, then singing slightly flat; no one even picked up on it until she started cracking herself up and exclaimed, "if I were totally out of tune, no one would care!") But, of course, what she's doing is nowhere near effortless; it's demonstrably effort-ful. All it took was a slight tempo shift, and one of her songs nearly catapulted into chaos. She shot a look full of lasers at her bassist and drummer, and then they careened off into a wild improvised section built around the weird distortion in the time signature before segueing gently back into the original song. The audience cheered like she'd just landed a plane in the Hudson River.
I'm so deeply grateful to have first been introduced to Molina through the brief interview in the June/July 2006 music issue of The Believer because it's really informed the way I approach her music. Her discussion of being both a talented mimic as well as a really good listener helps me pay better attention to all the tiny sounds folded into her songs, above and beyond just the pleasantness of her melodies and grooves. In a broader sense, though, she also plays right into the thing in me that responds so much to Joanna Newsom, Laura Veirs, and even the author Annie Dillard. They all share a beguiling combination of power, femininity, reverence for the natural world, and an oddball sensibility that they're completely comfortable with, almost oblivious to. I really wish I would have had more time to live with Un Dia before I made my 2008 year-end mix; surely something from that album would have found its way on there.
~Birthday, birthday, birthday! That's right, kittens, I turned 30 last week and was lucky enough to be able to celebrate the event with a huge cross-section of my very favorite people in Chicago. Big, big thanks to all of you who were able to make it; you've warmed this February for me immeasurably.