This post means I completed NaBloPoMo: December edition!  Was it worth it?  I really don’t know! But it was fun.  I’m going out of town for a few days so will be breaking my blogging streak immediately.  However, I would like to continue posting regularly (though daily is a stretch, particularly in January, which is busy).  We’ll see how this pans out.

For the last post of the month/year, I thought I would recap 2010.  It was something of an eventful year.  The highlights:

  • Got married.  Holy whoa.  K is awesome and I’m a lucky dude.
    • 2011 follow-up: finish eating cake.  Make sure K continues to like me.
  • Bought a house. It was expensive!  But at least I’ll only have to toil for thirty more years to have it paid off in 2040.  Assuming civilization hasn’t ended.  Although in that case I probably can just have the house and not have to make payments anymore.  Of course, in that case I will have to defend it with a shotgun from hordes of bandits and/or zombies, and it may no longer have power or workable plumbing.
    • 2011 follow-up: do best to remain employed in case of necessity of continued payment-making. Consider obtaining shotgun.
  • New cat: Bea.  That means two cats, and will probably complete the set.
    • 2011 follow-up: possible dog.  Continue to feed and care for cats in order to butter them up for possible dog.
  • Did not fly one time!  I wish that was true every year.
    • 2011 follow-up: ugh, at least two trips requiring flying.  Maybe more.
  • Finally figured out the nuances of my waffle iron and became good at making waffles
    • 2011: make waffles, eat waffles.

Have a good 2011, internet! Come over for some waffles sometime.

I’ve been trying to identify this particular niche of pop culture interest that I am (for now) dubbing the Stray Cats Zone (or, SCZ).  The origination of this concept comes from a theory I have that no one would ever cite the Stray Cats as their favorite band.  Sure, many people are at least passingly familiar with them, and many people like what they’ve heard just fine, but if asked to name their favorite music, the Stray Cats wouldn’t come to mind.  So similar artists will match similar criteria.

It will further help to define counterexamples:

  • The Rolling Stones are not in the SCZ because plenty of people would identify them as a favorite band right off the top of their head.
  • Dexy’s Midnight Runners are not in the SCZ because a one-hit wonder doesn’t really have the staying power to be widely familiar.  You wouldn’t expect anyone to cite a one-hit wonder as an all-time favorite.
  • Someone pretty obscure (i.e., not even a one-hit wonder) that would not be widely recognized does not qualify.

The Stray Cats happen to occupy this particular niche, to my mind.  They are plenty popular, of course.  They have lots of hits and a few platinum albums.  They were the posterkids for a short-lived rockabilly revival fad.  But for some reason, I have trouble picturing someone who latched onto them and decided that was their favorite band.  Maybe for a short time, but wouldn’t such a person move on to something else pretty soon?  If rockabilly was really your thing, wouldn’t you go back to the actual stuff and get into Elvis or Johnny Cash?  And wouldn’t you eventually like them better?  It seems to me that: yes, you would.  I could be wrong, but a cursory internet search for Stray Cats fan sites didn’t turn up much – a couple of abandoned (and hilariously haphazard) MySpace pages and a few more general rockabilly sites.

So I guess what this comes down to is a short list of artists that manage to maintain a steady but unspectacular popularity.  And it’s been hard to identify others.  I think they have to be things that ultimately didn’t seem too unique in retrospect.  They’re like a great compromise: a little something for everyone but no one is ultimately entirely pleased.  I have been discussing this with K endlessly, because that’s the kind of thing we do.  We can think of only a few others so far:

  • Huey Lewis and the News – I like Huey Lewis.  You like Huey Lewis.  Lots of people liked Sports.  When “Heart of Rock & Roll” comes on, people are happy.  But what happened?  Why don’t people wear ironic t-shirts with the Sports album cover on it?  I think there just isn’t much for people to latch onto that they can’t find in a lot of other places.
  • The Gin Blossoms – a quintessential pleasing but frankly unremarkable 90s band.  I like them.  K really likes a few of their songs.  But aren’t there like a million others like them?  Does anyone wish they’d have put out more records?  Once you’ve got all of them, you don’t go: “What now?  There’s nothing else like this.”  You go: “Well, got all of those.  Hey, here are some more Paul Westerberg albums I don’t have.”
  • Soundgarden – I used to be a grunge nut.  Every time I heard a Soundgarden song I reminded myself to go pick up Superunknown.  Well, I never actually did.  I think maybe Soundgarden fits that compromising criteria particularly well.  You might like their sound but Chris Cornell’s voice bugs you after a while.  You might dig that voice, but then you’d probably just end up liking Nirvana or Metallica more.

(Here is where a dozen Stray Cats lovers write to comment about how wrong I am…)

Here are two things.

First, I have been listening to some Cream lately and continue to enjoy the inclusion of this advertising gem in their complete set:

Pity the video doesn’t have the intro the disc version does, where a serious announcer guy says: “Falstaff, the clear beer from St. Louis, brings you Cream, from London.” Mostly it kills me because of the over-reliance on the concept of “slaking” (and further, thirst-slaking reminds me of soul-taking).  But really, it’s just kind of bad and embarrassing for one of the greatest bands ever. Enjoy!

Second, entirely unrelated, here is a picture a friend posted on Facebook the other day that for some reason just totally killed me:

Baking advice from insane wolf

Do the thing with your fingers42. Obsession. Sometimes I think the show’s writers challenged themselves to steer William Shatner through as many different extreme emotional states as possible over the course of an episode.  The plot can be straightforward, you just let Shatner go and stand back.  Here, a landing party is victimized by a killer cloud-like creature Kirk has encountered before, early in his career.  In fact, Kirk blames himself for a failure to act in time to have stopped the creature from killing much of his fellow crew.  With another chance to face it and set things right, Kirk becomes obsessed with figuring out its weakness and destroying it once and for all.  This one is a Shatner showcase, no doubt, as the story is really about some of what drives Kirk and his occasional overflowing humanity.  Lots of emoting: guilt, anger, frustration.  The delicate command path that Kirk follows to feed his obsession while other pressures are put on him (setting a good example for a young officer; dealing with an approaching deadline to meet another ship) is mostly well-done.  (There is one plot hole: the Enterprise needs to rendezvous with another ship to pick up some perishable medical supplies, but then they don’t, and it ultimately doesn’t matter.  And it even takes a while to establish that there is any reason they can’t just come back for the creature after dealing with the other problem.  Anyway.)  Like “The Deadly Years” this episode gives the crew a forum to be concerned about Kirk’s fitness for command, only this time it’s much more delicate and believable.  Killer Spock line: (after he manages to retrieve Kirk and another officer from a dicey transporter situation, and Scotty exclaims, “Thank God!”) “Mr. Scott, there was no deity involved.  It was my cross-circuiting to B that recovered them.”  This was a strong episode with a lot going for it: good ideas and suspense. 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Anonymous redshirt killed (five times!) (2)
  • Shatner showcase (2)
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway (3)

43. Wolf in the Fold. The Next Generation had a lot of solid mystery episodes, but TOS tends to focus on other things (like diplomacy, or fistfights).  Here though, we get a good one (and since it’s a mystery my discussing it will naturally be extra spoiler-y).  Kirk and McCoy take Scotty to some sort of cabaret planet to relax him after a recent accident.  We get some sort of backstory about how Scotty has no respect for women, so maybe if he sleeps with one anonymously that will help.  I guess?  I’m actually not sure, there’s a lot of double entendre and saying just enough to make a point without being too explicit for 1960s TV.  Anyway, Scotty leaves with a woman and shortly afterward is found with a bloody knife in his hands and his companion murdered.  Scotty doesn’t remember anything.  Local law enforcement corrals him, but while trying to wrangle the story out of him through mystical and technological means, two more girls are killed and Scotty again seems guilty.  But the facts don’t add up so they return to the Enterprise to subject Scotty to a futuristic lie detector, and his innocent story checks out.  Through some brilliant computer queries Spock and Kirk deduce what has happened, and the planetary administrator helps them out by acting way too weird and giving away the truth: that he is possessed by the evil spirit of Jack the Ripper!  Things get a little crazy at this point as the entity jumps from person to person to computer.  It’s genuinely scary, actually, as it inhabits the ship and tries to freak everyone out.  Knowing that it feeds on fear, Kirk, McCoy, and Spock have everyone on the ship take a mild tranquilizer to keep things mellow.  So we get a fair stretch of goofy ’60s style drug humor, too, until Kirk and Spock are able to get the thing back into the killer’s body and transport him out into deep space.  Spock’s killer line: no great lines but I like when he shoves the drugged-up transporter officer out of the way to get the killer beamed out. Overall it ends up being an interesting science-fictional turn on a traditional mystery, if you can forgive some sketchy computer magic (e.g., that future computers can make brilliant deductions AND be inhabited by killer entities).  2 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant (1)
  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds (1)
  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions (2)

Do the thing with your fingers40. Friday’s Child. Trek is pretty good at showing alternative societies and using an episode’s framework as a discussion of such a society’s good and bad points.  In this case, the Enterprise crew visits the Capellans, a warlike tribe with ownership of some valuable mining commodities. Complicating matters is the involvement of the Klingons (Klingons!) who also want in on the mine.  The episode centers on the internal politics of the Capellans, whose violent nature gives them some affinity for the Klingon lifestyle.  The show takes an interesting turn when a coup results in a new tribal leader.  The former leader’s pregnant wife is sentenced to death rather than carry the ousted leader’s offspring.  The Prime Directive would say: sorry, lady.  In true Kirk fashion, Kirk decides otherwise and rescues her, mucking up things for the new leader.  Mostly this ends up being a character episode.  We see Kirk’s excellent negotiating skills in action in turning the tables on the Klingons and their Capellan stooge, including plenty of fistfights and running around. We see McCoy’s skill as an old country doctor in handling the pregnant woman who’d rather not have any help.  Spock’s killer line: “Fortunately this bark has suitable tensile cohesion.” Kirk: “You mean it makes good bowstring.” Spock: “I believe I said that.” A thing McCoy is not: an escalator. Overall, a good episode, important to the canon and characters, but not too worried about plot in favor of a lot of action. 3 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Anonymous redshirt killed (1)
  • Violation of Prime Directive (1)
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode (2)

41. The Deadly Years. I think this will be the kind of episode that seems more memorable than it actually is.  Checking out a planetary research station, the crew discovers everyone on the surface has unnaturally aged and the few remaining survivors are close to death.  Returning to the ship to figure out what’s going on, all the members of the landing party save for Chekov start showing signs of rapid aging as well.  Over the course of the show, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, and Kirk all grow painfully old and hope to figure out the cause before it’s too late!  (They do.  Whew!)  So here was my problem with this episode: all the drama is mis-aimed.  Most of the time is devoted to Kirk’s waning ability to command, and the hearing that is held to determine his competency.  For some reason there is a totally ineffectual Starfleet administrator on board who, even though he outranks Kirk and is healthy, cannot assume command, and convinces Spock to hold this hearing.  Of course Old Kirk steadfastly argues he’s fine and there is an earnest attempt to derive some drama out of this.  But what was the point?  Of course he’s not competent.  He’s suffering from an aging disease!  As are several other principals.  All sorts of time is wasted on this procedure instead of trying to figure out what’s causing it.  Then at the end they are hanging out in sick bay with time running out, and suddenly it occurs to them why Chekov wasn’t afflicted and they are, and it’s frankly a little sketchy, but OK.  So they are cured, and Kirk boots the Starfleet dude out of his chair and does some serious commanding.  Spock’s killer line: not really anything.  He spent most of the episode moping around being old and tired. Overall, a disappointment.  Memorable in the sense that it will be “the one where they all get old” but the episode itself is largely a misfire.  It’s fun to see them get old, true, but there is a lot of misdirected time here. 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Kirk meets up with an old flame (1)
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway (2)
  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions (1)
  • Shatner showcase (1)