During the Grammy Awards tribute to Levon Helm last week, featuring The Band song “The Weight,” Mavis Staples was singing from the place between an old Volvo making a sudden stop on a wet road and a wolf caught in a trash compacter — the place from whence the sound of an honest soul radiates. She effortlessly schooled Alabama Shakes belter-in-residence Brittany Howard in how to fill the void with joyful noise rather than slick ululating. The seventy-three year old Staples embodied aging gracefully and powerfully such that putting her in front of Elton John made him look like a blinged-out Mr. Burns — he should have just said “release the hounds” and relinquished the stage to Mavis. To be fair, Mavis pwns “The Weight.” She has been singing it for longer than the Alabama Shakes have been shaking or the Zac Brown Band has been manscaping. (Here she is in 1978, about a minute in.) At the 2013 Grammys, Mavis was in mid yeah-yeah-yeah when they killed her microphone and cut to Johnny Depp. Do not go gentle, Mavis.
Ms. Staples fieriness bodes well for the concert I am attending this evening: Mavis Staples with opener Ruthie Foster. Ruthie Foster is worth a listen too. Her latest album Let it Burn features some great cover songs — none better than her cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Slowing down the song allows the space, the oxygen, to feed the flames of the song. Ruthie Foster knows that “love is a burning thing” and a slow burn burns more deeply.
When I was in San Francisco last summer, I waited for 30 minutes in three different lines to get an ice cream cone at Bi-Rite. And it was… good. It was good, okay? Very good. But since all California ice cream has to use a pre-prepared, pasteurized base (rather than fresh eggs and cream), well, let’s say I felt it was more of a 10-minute-wait ice cream.
But for the Super Bowl, I churned up two different ice creams from their book, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones. And I should have made my friends wait outside because that shit was the real deal. Since I got to start from scratch, my coffee ice cream turned out incredibly rich and deeply flavored. (Also, I totally didn’t realize that coffee ice cream gets its flavor because you just throw grounds into the custard and MAKE COFFEE in there as it heats up.) But the real winner was their malted chocolate. Plain chocolate ice cream is delicious but rarely memorable. Here, though, the complexity of the malt turns a one-note taste into layers of earthy sweetness. Plus, the only sweetener is the malt powder itself, which gives the other flavors more space to shine through. It was maybe the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever eaten.
I checked the book out from the library, and there’s still like ten flavors I want to make in it, so I’m going to buy it. If you’ve got an ice cream maker at home, you probably should too.
I have a hard time understanding what about Kentucky Route Zero delighted me so much. The indie game is like a cross between Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP and Twin Peaks with a touch of Southern Gothic flavor. Its eerie atmosphere and gorgeous art direction beg to be explored. You play as Conway, a man who delivers antiques in rural Kentucky, looking for The Zero, a mysterious highway that may or may not exist.
In all the darkness of KRZ‘s set pieces, there’s a strange warmth and familiarity in the way it plays. Perhaps it’s because the game is a bit of an homage to point-and-click adventures of the LucasArts era, without the frustrating puzzles. In fact, the game seems to move forward with minimal interaction. Dialogue options feel more like poetic expressions than they do discrete, game-influencing choices. This sort of thing usually bothers me, but good writing in games will carry you a long way.
Kentucky Route Zero was originally Kickstarter’d (nice to know you can back something other than iPhone docks and minimalist wallets these days) and will be released episodically. You can snag the first act for $7 or pre-purchase all five for $25 on Mac or PC (I regret not committing to the series).
Since Netflix debuted House of Cards, there has been an overwhelming amount of writing about episodic media. Kentucky Route Zero, though, feels like it’s meant to be played in two-hour intervals, with long gaps in between, to leave you with your thoughts, your curiosities.
For the past week I’ve been regularly listening to a weight-loss podcast called Cut the Fat. While I’ve successfully lost weight before, I generally abhor dieting programs and surrounding media for their relentless positivity. I’m a lifelong cynic, and find the constant prompting to look on the bright side, keep smiling, and love yourself to be unbearably abrasive. That being said, I’m also sure that without a change I’ll die from weight-related illness, a death almost as embarrassingly avoidable as failing to wear a seatbelt.
Cut the Fat doesn’t avoid this optimism, but it’s admirably muted. Perhaps even more important than the message is the podcast format. With a large backlog of episodes, the show can be played on repeat while you work or run errands, and while each episode’s specific message may not sink in, the overall effect is a resolved will: the very act of repeated listening validates the message and its resonance in your life.
I just appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy!, so I guess my recommendation would be to set your DVRs for June 27, when that episode airs. (For those less organized, don’t worry, I’ll remind you again later.)
Has everyone caught up on Mike White’s HBO series Enlightened? Good. Has everyone caught up on Enlightened twice? If not, the next few days are your golden window to do so. Because Todd Haynes is directing this week’s episode — under the appropriately Haynes-y title “All I Ever Wanted” no less (sounds like a Douglas Sirk film, yes?). This is the first thing Haynes has directed since his shatteringly gorgeous HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce, and who knows what will come next, or when. SAVOUR. Plus Haynes and White? I almost can’t take it.
If you’re looking to become a wiser (possibly more enlightened?) person: watch Enlightened, now with direct reason to imagine what Haynes might have imagined when he watched it in preparation for his spot. The show is like a contemporary, televisual descendent of Safe (with the intertextual garden scenes of Far From Heaven and Poison), where its heroine Amy Jellicoe tells everyone, like Carol White before her, “I love you”. We’re never quite sure exactly what our heroine means — or if she does — but for both White and Haynes, truth lies in that ambivalence. Oh just watch the show. You’ll love it back.