Cultural Consumption: 1/1/24

Cultural Consumption: 1/1/24
A pair of Jerry Jeff Walkers

Unsure of what to listen to next and let down by whichever bits of code are supposed to help Spotify and Apple Music point me toward stuff I'll like, I decided to try Gnoosic, a discovery engine that works by asking you to give it the names of three artists you like and responds with a recommendation. Gnoosic told me I might enjoy the music of Pony Bradshaw, so I started with his 2023 release, North Georgia Rounder.

Based on that pick, I'm not sure how much I trust Gnoosic — there's nothing wrong with this record, but I didn't hear anything particularly memorable either. Squarely three-star stuff to these ears, but your mileage may vary. Here's the title track:

Pony Bradshaw, "North Georgia Rounder"

Anyway. Thus foiled, I continued flailing about for useful recommendations, at one point briefly availing myself of Allmusic's "Albums Like This" feature, which led to me spending a thoroughly pleasant and utterly unmemorable half hour and change with Snowball, the 1989 debut LP from the Field Mice. Because you are most likely cooler than me, you've probably already heard of the Field Mice; I had not, so today's the day I learned that they're essentially the twee pop version of the Velvet Underground, at least insofar as the huge disconnect between their influence and their album sales.

Still seeking something that'd scratch a genuine musical itch, I took a shot at Music-Map, seeding its recommendation cloud by telling it I wanted to hear something like Little Feat. Ry Cooder and John Hiatt were the closest matches, but just a few pixels further away waited Jerry Jeff Walker, an artist whose name I've read a million times and whose discography has largely remained a mystery to me along the way. I may not be very bright, but I can often recognize an invitation when I see one, so I jumped into the Jerry Jeff experience by listening to his 1969 release, Driftin' Way of Life. Short review: This is good shit! Some of it slides a little further down the country axis than I'd prefer, but I think I'll probably dive into the rest of his records before long. Until then, here's a favorite from Driftin' Way of Life:

Jerry Jeff Walker, "Morning Song to Sally"

Watching: After taking the last week of December off from running, I jumped on the treadmill with every intention of settling in for a long, slow two-and-a-half-hour run while watching Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Fifteen minutes in, I was already thinking about all the shit I wouldn't have time to do with the rest of my day if I kept going past half an hour, and anyway, this movie isn't that great. I mean, it's fine. It's fine! It's fine. But much like Solo: A Star Wars Story, it's done no favors by its connection to a beloved character and a handful of classic films. If this had been a brand new rip-roaring serial-inspired adventure starring an old man punching Nazis, I bet people would have been a lot more enthusiastic about it (and Disney could have saved all the millions it must have cost to put together 20 minutes of Harrison Ford looking vaguely like he did in 1981). Maybe I'll go back at some point and finish the final two hours. Maybe not.

Reading: Not long before the end of the year, I decided to re-read a handful of books by William Diehl, who's most widely known as the author of Sharky's Machine (which became a hit film starring Burt Reynolds) and Primal Fear (which became a hit film starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton). I came to Diehl's work through neither of those books, but instead through his 1981 release Chameleon, a deeply convoluted action thriller about an ex-CIA agent-turned-Pulitzer-winning reporter who's coaxed out of his fugitive status by a wealthy newspaper publisher in order to track down the elusive leader of a shadowy crime syndicate. I ate that shit up in early 1990, when I found it in my math teacher's book basket and grabbed for our newly mandated 15-minute block of sustained silent reading; it led me quickly to 1984's Hooligans, a sort of Mafia-fueled neo-noir about a federal agent whose long-running investigation of the Cincinnati mob leads him back to the Georgia town where he spent the last golden summer of his youth. Having finished my revisits to both of those books, I'm now on to 1987's Thai Horse, about a former federal agent-turned-art thief who's blackmailed into one last mission by the handler who framed him for a crime and had him sent upriver to a nightmarish Central American prison for three years.

This is, as you have likely already surmised, extremely pulpy stuff. It will not surprise you to know that some of it (maybe a lot of it) hasn't aged particularly well. It sure is fun, though. Utterly ridiculous fun, but fun nonetheless.