Okay, I’m not moving quite as quickly as I’d like in checking items off my ‘List.’ That said, I am making some progress. Here’s a little of what I’ve been up to in the month and a half since my last update.
Listen to 52 albums from the past ten years
Janelle Monáe was at the top of my list of artists to explore so I started by watching the video companion (or “emotion picture”) to her 2018 album Dirty Computer. Here, in keeping with literally everything I’ve heard or read about her work, Monáe delivers on all fronts: production, performance, choreography, cinematography, and so on. The sci-fi premise — the conflict between free will and the human spirit and repressive techno-societies — is well-trod territory in movies and on other concept albums but Monáe uses it to excellent effect to serve her Afrofuturist vision.
Speaking of which, maybe a day or two before I watched the video, I listened to an Imaginary Worlds podcast about Afrofuturism — particularly about the work of Sun Ra, an avant-garde jazz composer and bandleader and an Afrofuturist long before writer Mark Derry coined the term in 1993. The podcast led me to the utterly fascinating A Joyful Noise, a 1980 movie about Sun Ra and his “Arkestra” documenting several performances in and around his home base of Philadelphia and exploring the cosmic persona and philosophy he adopted and espoused throughout his career. Good stuff there as well.
More recently, I checked out the 2021 release Blood by Boston-based Juliana Hatfield. Hatfield has been around since the 1980s, when she formed the indie rock group Blake Babies while at Berklee College of Music. But despite her decades of success — and despite the fact that a neighbor in my college dorm, who happened to be her cousin, talked her up to me as early as 1990 — I never actually listened to her until now. I’m totally glad I did. The album is punchy and quirky musically and, lyrically, more than a touch sardonic. What more could you ask for, right?
Blood led me to the 2018 release Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, which might well be my new favorite thing in the universe. Certainly, it’s my new favorite album of un-ironic covers of songs by the Australian chanteuse.
Watch 12 classic film noirs
Make 12 different cocktails and complementary appetizers
My friend Ramon, who is also my cocktail guru, recently moved back to the States from Colombia and is staying with me for a couple of weeks before he continues west to his hometown of Ithaca, N.Y. Within days after he arrived, we started tackling the pair of list items above. Thus far, we’ve watched two noirs and made two drink-appetizer combos.
First up was The Big Sleep, the classic 1946 Howard Hawks film featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and based on a novel by Raymond Chandler. I loved the snappy dialogue and the interplay between the two stars but, I’ll be honest, the plot didn’t make a lick of sense to me. I was relieved to learn later that it didn’t make a lick of sense to Roger Ebert either, and he said as much in a 1997 essay.
Chinatown, in contrast, was a master class in laconic delivery and the very definition of a taut thriller. I’d never seen this 1974 Roman Polanski film starring Jack Nicholson (hence the laconic delivery) and Faye Dunaway. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and now I’m a tad more culturally literate than I was a few days ago.
The cocktails for the two movies were gin martinis (The Big Sleep) and Negronis (Chinatown). Turns out I’m a big fan of both. Otherwise, well, if you know me you’ll know I don’t have the vocabulary to talk about food in any detail. So I’ll just say Ramon whipped up a couple of entirely satisfying appetizers to accompany the drinks.
Importantly, none of the above was strenuous to make: a good lesson for my food- and cocktail-phobic self.