Six Damn Fine Degrees #82: Murder

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

It’s an ugly thing to kill someone, and more or less willingly, isn’t it?

There is the sanitized version of murder in countless whodunits, where the rules are clear: someone might be dead by the hand of another, and some clever brain will figure it all out, preferably in a showdown before a chimney fire, holding a long speech that ends in a big revelation. The rules are clear; the culprit, more often than not, is punished by the law, as if this was only slightly more atrocious than any hockey game. And while any sturdily waxed moustaches might have been replaced by squint-eyed scientists, the rules still apply. Miss Marple is never wrong, but science can’t lie.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #77: Kasabian’s Club Foot (2004)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

On the surface, Kasabian’s Club Foot is a macho song: “One, take control of me? – you’re messing with the enemy.” And there is, after the ominous intro, that one-two rattled beat making sure you are paying attention despite yourself. It’s the best use of a bass guitar outside of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage. Yes, it’s possible to love or hate a pop song just because of the pace of its rhythm. The song steps straight on, not paying any attention to the left or the right. It’s wearing silver-studded boots, leaving messy prints behind. There is sweaty leather and unwashed hair in that little tune. The title is a red herring if there ever was one: someone is stepping large, seemingly able-bodied, sartorial and not giving a frigging fuck. In your face, Tony Manero. Club Foot is as subtle as a viking attack.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #73: Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Philosophy? Honestly? Old dudes with beards? Nope, not for me. That was, until I picked up a German soft-cover edition of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). The cover looked good, promising some sort of roadside adventure, the blurb sounded intriguing. Pretty far away from dull old philosophical babbling, I thought.

The book is about Pirsig’s travels by motorcycle with his son Chris. It took me long to realise that the other alter ego in the book, undergoing electroconvulsive therapy because of his schizophrenia, was of course also Pirsig himself. There are some philosophical moments in the book, but by and large, we are witness to the road trip and to Pirsig’s mental illness.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #68: The trouble with Sci-Fi

To quote Harrison Ford: it took me a long, long, long, long, LONG time to warm up to sci-fi.

You travel through space and time and end up with what is supposed to be an exciting new planet with an unknown species – played by clearly human actors standing around in what looks like – oh, I dunno, the Moroccan desert? Yes, I know, there is a limit to every budget, but sci-fi has such promise to dazzle me with something I have never ever seen before, only to disappoint me with the constraints of movie-making and its financial limits. If you want me to follow you to a place where no man has gone before, make sure the make-up department isn’t already there before us, setting up their trailer. Needless to say, I was never a Trekkie and never understood the exuberance of the operatic derring-do of something like Star Wars. To me, A New Hope looked like fun, but it was essentially a western set in space. It was all too familiar because most things and places and beings looked… too close to home. Not strange enough.

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Rubberband… love? Licorice Pizza (2021)

Acolytes of PTA beware: there be spoilers.

There is a barely hidden secret at the heart of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, and it’s just behind the fig-leaf of that tender coming-of-age love story, as whacky as it may be, that we are supposed to take as the main story. It’s that both Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffmann) know pretty well what they want to do with their lives. That might come to us as a surprise, and to them as well, and their next few months are not without pitfalls and mayor changes, but for all their uncertainty, they have their plans and ideas. And if that includes their gravitating towards each other, then yay, all the better.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #60: My daughter, the Marvel fan

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I would have liked to dazzle you with a cool origin story, but I can’t remember how and when my favourite daughter found her love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am pretty sure she saw the first few movies in chronological sequence at home on BluRay, too young to have seen then in the theatres, so Tony Stark, Cap and the Hulk came to her at home, and it was probably the first Avengers movie that she saw in an upholstered seat, ticket in hand, with a bag of popcorn, on the big silver screen. But she was hooked long before that.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #56: J. M. W. Turner, The Fighting Temeraire (1839)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

A year ago, a medical professional recommended that I reserve a spot in my apartment for an object or an image that would just be there for me to look at and enjoy. I made a mental list of possible candidates, getting to my number one by process of elimination, so when a picture of the young Monica Bellucci ended up in second place, it was finally clear what I had suspected all along. I had a framed print of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire leaning against the wall, still unhung. It had been on the list early on, but I never thought it would have made it to the top spot. So up there it went.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #51: Elvis Costello’s I Want You (1986)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I want to say that Elvis Costello’s 1986 song “I Want You” is a love song, but it’s like saying a volcanic eruption is about elevated temperatures. It’s so much a misnomer it is almost a lie. Let’s say that the first few seconds, oh my baby, baby, are some sort of spectacularly failed attempt at a love song, and then the egg shell breaks from the inside, and all the pathos, all the jealousy and obsession of a relationship gone south, burst out, red-hot and seething. Please excuse my French, but that song is a fucking hand-grenade of self-pity.

It’s taken from Blood & Chocolate, one of Costello’s best albums if you ask me, but it’s telling that his band, the Attractions, would not make another album with Costello for the next eight years. It’s not just because of this song, but relationships in the band had soured before that. I don’t know how much of those internal problems have found their way into recording I Want You, but creative adversity might have added to the atmosphere of something having come to a painful close. If you listen to the song on your stereo, Costello’s voice, sometimes jarring, sometimes painfully intimate, sounds like it will spill out of the loudspeakers and make small puddles of poisoned honey on your living-room floor.

Since “I Want You” is not a duet, we only have the male I’s point of view, and none of the woman’s. According to him, she has betrayed him, which, in a heterosexual context, means that she has slept with another man. Is he just jealous that she has found another guy after their breakup, or has she cheated on him? To some men (lesser men at that), this is the same thing, oh no, my darling, not with that clown, because the other guy, in some men’s self-estimation, is always the worse choice, no-one who wants you could want you more. Yeah, I’m the guy for you, can’t you see? But if the song would not be from the I’s point of view, it would not be nearly as good, or as revealing. It’s a six and a half minute whopper of a song; no wonder Michael Winterbottom could make a whole movie out of it.

Costello does not mince words here, but if you have ever read or watched any of his interviews, it cannot come as a surprise to you that Mr McManus does say exactly what he means – even if he means it only in the moment he is saying it. But it is exactly that quality that the song needs: It’s the thought of you undressing him, or you undressing. Apart from the fact that we can only guess what happened between the two, he must lie awake, gnashing his teeth, or smoking and drinking, trying in vain to delete the images of what he thinks has happened – and what he thinks has happened is always stronger of what has really happened. His guesses are probably all wrong (it’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing), but how would that help? The images cannot be unseen, or uncreated. Oh boy, oh boy, us males are so good at feeding our inferiority complexes while maintaining that we are actually caring, considerate and tender when we are not.

I’ll say this for the song: it does not spare the male I any more than it does spare the departed female lover, but since the self-revelation on the side of the male I is so much more telling, it says much more about him than it says about the woman he is addressing, since his view of her is skewered and biased and uttered with the pain of departure at best and vitriolic hatred at worst. Talk about toxic masculinity. Musically, the song stays with you, because it is so slow and contains an absolute joke of a guitar solo while putting all its sensuality in its melody. The music already knows that all is over, while the lyrics still cling to the last vestiges of a relationship that is so over.

Family Anatomy: Kajillionaire (2020)

There is always a moment for me, early in any movie rather than late, where I ask myself if the storytelling is going to be good (or memorable, or quippy, or smart). Sometimes I am fooled into believing that it’s going to be great, as in The United States vs. Billie Holliday, where the movie starts out fine, gets bad and worse the longer I am sitting there, watching it crumble despite Andra Day’s fabulous performance. With Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, I knew that the story it was about to tell me was going to be a keeper, and I was not wrong. If you see Richard Jenkins standing at a downtown L.A. bus station, how can you not think of the pilot of Six Feet Under? The movie could easily be based on a graphic novel along the lines of Ghost World, and three streets along, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia might be unfolding.

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