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“Hey Ya”

A few years ago (more than two, less than 10) I was at a wedding. The groom was a friend of a friend and I lived in the town where the wedding was. Pretty and fun and the exact balance of people you know a little and people you don’t know at all so that you have a pretty good time and aren’t self-conscious.

Anyway, most of the night I spent on the dance floor or at the bar (obviously) and I remember one song from the whole night. And I know the DJ played EVERYTHING. I know he played the typical wedding Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding and the dance floor was generally full, with well-intended friends and family casually getting their dance on, but I remember one song only.

The DJ put on “Hey Ya.” And everybody lost. their. shit.

Seriously.

Moms, cousins, aunties, sisters, EVERY SINGLE PERSON hit the dance floor. In an instant. We were a unified party force and nothing was a problem at all anywhere ever for about four minutes.

Grantland (readers, voting) just picked “Hey Ya” as the song of the millennium. “Hey Ya” won Grammys. “Hey Ya” was number one for nine weeks. “Hey Ya” is a dependable floor-filler on every DJ’s iPod. The video was an instant classic. And if anybody had doubted that Speakerboxxx/The Love Below would be good (because of the double-album format with Andre and Big Boi working on separate discs), they were quickly silenced when “Hey Ya” and “The Way You Move” were released as the singles.

When I think about great party dance songs — Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Miami Sound Machine, Quad City DJs, the magnificent Isley Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joan Jett, C&C Music Factory, Cheryl Lynn, Donna Summer, The GoGos, The Gap Band, Los Lobos, Michael Jackson, Blues Brothers, Sinatra, Clarence Carter, Sly and the Family Stone, seriously I could keep this list going for another list of a thousand or so — the songs that when they play on the car radio or the club or the wedding reception that make you yell to your friends and grab them and pull them out on the dance floor for four minutes of just having the best time ever, well, “Hey Ya” is at the top for me.

“Hey Ya” is ten years old today. Everybody get on the floor and celebrate.

I’mma be all the way real with y’all

OK, everybody, a lot is going on right now. Like, a LOT. I will now combine my limited public-school education with my limited talent and unoriginal opinions to give a little of my take on it. You know, cause that’s what people do on their personal blogs.

First, though, let’s acknowledge all the shit going down around the world that I’m not going to pontificate on, because generally, I don’t feel qualified. There’s Brazil, where people are upset because their government is kicking people out of their houses and spending a gazillion dollars to host a soccer tournament when people suffer from lack of education, lack of health care and the kind of poverty that prevents basic human rights. There’s Turkey, where people are protesting their rights to some of the same things (though their government is not even trying to host a soccer tournament to say, sorry, this is where your money went, they’re just, you know, taking away rights). Paula Deen, India, Trayvon Martin, Nelson Mandela, voter ID laws, immigration, and you know, like a million other things.

I feel compelled to talk about two things, and really, qualified not by much.

First, gay marriage. Which, I’d like to point out, I’m neither gay nor married, nor plan to get married. Second, abortion. (And I’m not calling it something nice like “a woman’s right to choose” cause to me that’s always sounded like, to choose what? Lipstick? Earning 77 cents for every dollar a man makes? Slut-shaming and body-shaming and victim-blaming? Seriously, ladies, every choice is our right, not just these really crappy ones.)

Fundamentally, though, I see these two issues from the same point of view, and justified by the same document that is pretty straightforward as I see it. You may have heard of it. We like to call it the U.S. Constitution.

Wait, you say, you mean that thing that I hate because I checked a box next to a D one time on a voter registration form? Because it says we can have guns? NO, jerkoffs. That thing I love because it says we can have guns and privacy and free speech and due process. I love all of those things, even guns. Those rights are what make this country awesome and other countries less awesome. And I don’t mean awesome in like the “cool story bro” way, but awesome in like the I AM IN AWE that some dudes in wigs more than 237 years ago decided that these were the things they wanted when they got to make up their own dream society way.

Let’s talk about some of that. The fourth amendment recognizes that citizens have a right to privacy against governmental intrusion. This means that things about me that I don’t want people to know, nobody gets to know but me and the people I tell. Like I might tell my doctor or my lawyer, or that my doctor or lawyer might tell me. The fourteenth amendment says all citizens get equal protection under the law. (And then the nineteenth amendment comes along and specifically reiterates what equal protection means for women and voting.) I am a naturally born U.S. citizen, which I began to be on December 14, 1981 in Sumter, S.C. and which I will continue to be until the day I die. Under the constitution, myself and every other U.S. citizen is to be treated equally under the law.

So, I honestly don’t even see an argument here. Equal protection under the law means gay citizens should legally get to do whatever straight citizens do. And black citizens, and brand-new citizens and woman citizens and transsexual citizens and EVERY KIND of citizen. Exercise all their legal privileges how they want to! Legally vote how they want to and legally marry who they want to and own the legal gun they want to and legally say or publish what they want to and legally consent to the medical procedures they want to and the legal actions they want to. And, right to privacy means it’s none of your business and none of the government’s business.

Frankly, I’m stunned that it’s actually so clear. And clear to me, as a public-college graduate who took three undergraduate law courses (out of the 90 or so classes I took in college). (And, I took those classes at the expense of John Q. South-Carolina-Taxpayer! Call me a welfare queen!)

Shouldn’t we all, as U.S. citizens, be hurt and threatened when anybody tries to restrict any citizen’s rights? Obviously I am. My citizenship, by the very definition of the term citizenship, means I am part of a group, and if one of us is limited, if one link in the chain is threatened, we are all threatened. That’s what patriotism means. That’s how I can be pro-soldier but anti-war. That’s how I’m pro-Head Start and kindergarten and public college and streets and firefighters and air traffic control and my in this one nation under God I am thrilled whenever I get the privilege of paying for those things for myself and my fellow citizens. I am honored to be a citizen if that’s what it means I get to do to protect the other links in my chain and therefore protect myself. How is it not treason to think otherwise?

Also, as a note, on the Wendy Davis filibuster, which when she ran out of things to say, more than 400 people, ordinary citizens who were in their state government building at midnight on a Tuesday, started cheering and would not stop. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst says they staged a “people’s filibuster.” To which I would quote Abraham Lincoln, who so rightfully said, that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” And that before he calls that gathering of concerned citizens an “unruly mob” again, he familiarize himself with the first amendment, which eloquently defines the right we have, as citizens, to “petition the government for redress of grievances.”

On Bond: From Russia With Love

I like a lot of violent movies. Yesterday, I was randomly grabbing a DVD to test my DVD player (which is not working), and just casually ended up grabbing “From Dusk Till Dawn.” It’s a good movie, and it’s violent as all get out. I love “Reservoir Dogs,” I love any Gamera movie. I remember watching the first “Kill Bill” with my mom and thinking she was going to hate the teahouse fight scene, but you know what, she loved it. It was like a big choreographed dance scene but with blood.

I’m not saying I like violence, but I like a well-choreographed, clever, movie-stylized violent scene in a movie where it belongs.

Typically, Bond films do stylized-movie-violence well, either by knocking it off with a cheeseball line, a wacky gadget Q cooked up, not a lot of blood and some great instant death. For example, in one scene in “From Russia with Love,” Bond shoots a helicopter co-pilot from the ground, hits him in the shoulder and he bleeds a little bit and then slumps over dead.

There is one violent moment in this movie that makes me cringe. During the movie, Bond is having an on-again-off-again with the Soviet intel agent Tatiana Romanova. She seduces Bond in his hotel, he seduces her on a train (and not just any train, the ever-so-romantic Orient Express). The beautiful Daniela Bianchi just glows. She was only 21 when the film was shot. And in between where they’re deciding among themselves whether to trust each other or whether or not one is about to double-double-cross the other, in a fit of anger, Bond hits her in the face when he finds out she lied to him. It’s totally uncomfortable and unnecessary, and with an extra weirdness in that they’re pretending to be a married couple on the train.

I’m always quick to romanticize the 1960s. Lush colors, modernism, civil rights and social revolution, but I always forget that it was a different time, and domestic violence was viewed very differently. Women had only been able to vote for forty years in the U.S. and in some places couldn’t establish credit or own property in the same ways men could. No-fault divorces didn’t exist until the 1970s, so if a woman wanted to divorce her husband, she had to prove fault or legal culpability. In some states, cruelty wasn’t even allowed as an allegation. Marital rape wasn’t even considered illegal until the 80s/90s.

In the slick, stylish, charming way that I always think about James Bond, and James Bond movies, this two or three seconds of film always stands out to me as the most off-putting, out-of-character moment. Yes, she’s a KGB spy, and yeah, we/he never really know when she’s being honest or not, and yes, I imagine in the real world of espionage there comes times where real male operatives have no choice but to be violent to other operatives, female or male. But in the twisted fake-marriage fantasy/cover story they have going, it’s a moment that doesn’t work.

Apparently, when they air this movie on TV sometimes, they edit out this whole scene where Bond visits a Romani camp and sees a belly dancer, stops a girl-on-girl fight (the women are fighting to win the hand of a prince in marriage) and walks away with both women. TV censors determined it was too salacious, sent the wrong message and was overly sexual. But the hit stays in, and something about that is unsettling to me. Rape is a violent act, not a sexual one, so why is the sex cut but the sexual violence kept? Why, in a film series that has always been associated with adventurous and consensual sexual forays, glamourous and romantic encounters with some damsels-in-distress types and some really great early sex-positive role models for women, would something like this go in? Because it’s accurate to the time period?

And why now, days after I rewatched it, is this the only scene I can really remember? “From Russia with Love” is one of the best-plotted movies, and always ends up on top of those “Best of Bond” lists, and it still is one of the best for me, too, but this one three-second reminder of 1960s reality, stuck in the middle of such an engaging and wonderful fantasy universe (Bond’s world is oh so fantasy), keeps it off my list of favorites.

 
(An aside: Would bother me as badly if Bond were in a homosexual relationship with a man, who was the double-crossing Soviet, and Bond hit him, and I think it would. It’s that the violence is of a sexually charged nature, not because it’s a man hitting a woman. Would I feel the same way if it was a woman hitting a man? Sure. Hell hath no fury, and all that, and a properly trained Soviet spy, male or female, is probably dangerous and lethal.)

If I could see all my friends tonight

There is a part of my job that I hate. Loathe. Just can’t stand.

I work as the adviser to a college radio station, magazine and online student news site. I help about 100 students update a daily news website, program and operate a 24/7 web-based radio station and publish a quarterly magazine.

And every year, at the end of the spring quarter, one fourth of them leave. Some of them only worked with one group a little bit, and others have been hanging out in my office two or three or five days a week for the entire four years they were in college, and that means something. That’s time.

It’s an inherent problem for the environment. I work at a college, and most people don’t stay in college indefinitely. They come, they do their course requirements, and then they graduate. And then some of them leave forever. And some of them are doing that next week. And I’m pretty bummed about it.

So today, after one of them played his very last radio show of his college radio career, a show where he was allowed to play anything he wanted and played amazing, great, fun, incredible stuff, some of us went to have a snack and I was driving in my car and following them and listening to LCD Soundsystem “All My Friends” and I had sort of a … weep. I had a little weepy moment.

I held it down, kept it in, but it’s still a feeling. And it’s still sad. And my chest hurts and I’m tired and thinking ahead, in that all these people, all these people I spend so much time with doing cool stuff, well, guess what, they’re all gonna leave. In fact, if I’m doing a good job with them being good students and all, they all have to leave, and because it’s an accomplishment, I have to be happy and proud.

And I am proud, I mean, but also bummed.

And that’s why I had to sit in my car for an extra minute in the parking lot so my eyes could just un-moisten and I wouldn’t be, you know, crying when I got out to go get a funnel cake.

I wish you all could stay forever, and play all the Afrika Baambaata you want. The end.

On Bond: ‘Dr. No’

April 13, 1953: “Casino Royale,” the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming is published.

April, 2013: I decide I will re-watch each Bond film and write an essay on it. Not necessarily a review, not a necessarily a contextualization or analysis, but just an essay. Sort of like those books that are collections of essays on an album that sometimes have nothing to do with the album and sometimes do.

I will start at the beginning, 1962 with “Dr. No.”

Last December, my mom and I took a trip and visited England, Wales and Scotland. In Wales, we went to Cardiff, and in Cardiff we went to the “Doctor Who Experience,” this giant-yet-temporary exhibition/Disney-style interactive bit all about the history and sets and props and things for “Doctor Who,” the popular BBC children’s television drama series.

However, my mother, nearly until the day we got to Cardiff, thought we were going to an exhibition about the movie, “Dr. No.” She confessed later that she was a bit worried about how an entire exhibition space could be filled with just information and memorabilia from one single film (running time: 110 minutes), but she had let me plan the entire trip and wasn’t going to argue. She was doing what I like to call “Napoleon Style,” which just means show up and see what happens.

Inside the “Doctor Who” exhibition (called, officially, the “Doctor Who Experience,” but I refuse to call things like that words like that), there was a fun interactive part (you fly the Tardis, run from weeping angels, Daleks roll at you slowly in a semi-threatening way, sorry if this is spoilers, but I think if you’ve imagined the possibilities for a “Doctor Who” “Experience” these would be sort of necessary bits of it), and then a huge exhibition hall of sets and props and creatures and things. Huge. Thousands of square feet. Because when you have 50 years of a TV show to draw on, there’s going to be warehouses and warehouses worth of stuff, even the really obscure stuff that only the really nutto hardcore fans remember (and they do, because it’s “Doctor Who”).

And how would “Dr. No” have gone about this? Who knows cause it’s one movie and it’s 110 minutes long.

Anyway, on to the movie. “Dr. No” is undoubtedly great. Super 60s style opening credits and if you think about it, a movie that has spawned 24 sequels. But, while some first-of-a-series films, it doesn’t bother with a lengthy background or origin story. Bond is already a double-0, and when we first see him, already in a tuxedo. You know what they say, every epic has to start in the middle.

For a British film, I think what strikes me so much is how colorful it is. Exotic, sun-drenched Jamaica is a whirl of pink, blue and green, of course, but the opening in the Circle Club are all bright technicolor. London in the movies is usually a gray amorphous bore, but not Bond’s London.

The only sense I get of actual London is Bond himself, walking around in Jamaica in a gray suit, and Sean Connery is so old-school he just comes out looking old. He’s only in his early thirties when this was shot, but something about the suits and the hair (it’s a wig) and the just general Britishness of him makes him seem older. And he should be. He’s believable as a guy in his mid-thirties. Enough experience to know what he’s doing but still young enough to be believably quick and charming.

Even though we’re spared the lengthy openings, there’s still plenty of charm in getting to know Bond. He introduces himself, delivers the famous “Bond. James Bond,” totally unaware of how famous it’ll be. We see a room service guy making a martini, “Just like you ordered,” but don’t hear him order it. We get the entire makeup of his and Moneypenny’s relationship in just two lines:

“Moneypenny, what gives?”
“Me, given an ounce of encouragement.”

It’s hard to judge the pioneer of a genre. “Dr. No” set the tone for hundreds of spy movies to follow. So much of what we now consider thematic genre tropes are really just “Dr. No” rehashed. The innuendo, the smoking, the femme fatale with the satin bedspread. It’s all right there. And the unanswered questions inherent to movie-reality. How do men in 1960s movies wear hats in convertibles? How does that CIA agent get away with wearing those terrible women’s sunglasses? Why is that double-crossing secretary’s bath towel cuter than some of my prom dresses?

Outside of the natural Jamaican gorgeousness, there are also some really fantastic sets. Not MI6, which looks like a leftover office set from a not-great TV show. Not the Jamaican hotel, which also, looks like a castoff from something else, or Dick Van Dyke’s living room. But when they get to Crab Key, to Dr. No’s lair, it’s amazing. Another trope-setter for villain-lairs. Lots of concrete, marble, bearskin rugs and Barcelona chairs. I looked it up, and this film was made for $1.1 million. In today’s dollars, that’s just $8.2 million. The budget for “Skyfall” was $150-200 million. My point here is set designers knew how to get a lot for their money back then. (I researched, and the same set designer was hired to do “Dr. Strangelove” by Stanley Kubrick based on what Kubrick saw in “Dr. No.”)

The actual plot, about sabotaging a Mercury launch from Cape Canaveral, is there, but so obviously not the main attraction. It doesn’t matter. Couldn’t matter less, actually. Setting the tone for the entire Bond universe, in “Dr. No,” style is more important than substance. But with style like this, nobody’s complaining.