PoMo Picks

What to Read, Watch, and Listen to to Take Your Mind Off the Apocalypse: Week of April 22

The Portland Monthly staff shares the non-pandemic content getting us through the week.

By Portland Monthly Staff April 23, 2020

ESPN's The Last Dance

News about coronavirus is coming hard and fast, and the Portland Monthly staff is working to bring you up-to-date information about how the crisis is affecting Portlanders. It’s vital we all stay informed and figure out how to help each other through this surreal, challenging moment.

It’s also vital that we take some breaths. Every week, in lieu of a “top things to do this weekend” post, we’re going to pause and share the pandemic-free content that’s keeping us sane (or somewhere close).     

Stand on the Top of Mount Tabor at 7 p.m.

Need a reminder you are not alone in this vast, isolating, contagious world? Get to the top of Southeast Portland’s extinct volcanic butte by 7 p.m.—the regularly scheduled applause time for first responders. From Tabor’s “peak” you’ll experience a 360-degree cacophony of cheers, claps, honking brass, drumrolls, (a shofar?), and howling canines echoing across the metro area in honor of the city’s frontline workers. —Benjamin Tepler, senior editor

Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple knows how to open an album. On Fetch the Bolt Cutters, released Friday and already cemented as my most-listened-to record of 2020 so far, she roars back after eight years off the grid with a mission statement: “I’ve waited many years / Every print I left upon the track has led me here.” The rest of opener “I Want You to Love Me,” a stunning cabaret number that sounds like it was recorded on the top of a crisp-aired mountain, sees her walk a jaw-dropping tightrope between unbothered, assured, desperate, and devastated. She keeps the balance up—and then some—for the next 50 minutes.

This album, recorded across five years almost entirely inside Apple’s home, triggered the same emotional reaction as my first rewatch of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women: baffled joy mixed with a soul-deep ache that eventually manifested as a steady stream of unstoppable tears. If  2012's singular, perfect The Idler Wheel ... saw her strip away her maximalist tendencies for raw, homemade instrumentation, here she takes that homemade instrumentation—most songs are about 85 percent percussion, with Apple playing things like a chair, the stove, a metal butterfly, a box of her dead dog’s bones—and makes it maximal. These are massive songs, booming and borderless, each a little sonic universe unto itself, bolstered by always-perfect words from the pen of a genuine, inarguable genius. (Also by dog barks and smatterings of chunky upright bass.)

Apple covers a lot of ground on Bolt Cutters, but the general theme seems to be, “Yell, break shit, demand space, and apologize when you have to.” On the hilarious "Under the Table," she tells a stiflingly polite dinner party: “I would beg to disagree / But begging disagrees with me.” On the bone-chilling “For Her,” she indicts a remorseless Hollywood abuser with his own vernacular, sampling “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain to remind him of his crimes; it’s the most instantly memorable moment on an album full of them. “Heavy Balloon,” a driving, Graceland-by-way-of-Lynch number about depression, is punctuated by Apple’s shredded alto chanting, “I spread like strawberries / I climb like peas and beans / I’ve been sucking it in so long that I’m busting at the seams.”

So is this album. So am I when I listen to it. Watching the rollout on Twitter last Thursday night—seeing critics like Ann Powers get reduced to giddy fans, live-tweeting every bizarre sonic flourish and eviscerating line—was as communal an experience as I’ve had in a long time. Remembering that Fiona Apple made this album—this restless, righteous, pissed-off, perfect album—while she was locked in her own home, tortured by her own thoughts, is more motivating than one thousand tweets about writing King Lear. I want to tattoo most of these songs on my body. I want to run outside and ask my neighbors if they’ve heard it yet. I want to make anything, ANYTHING, a fraction this unbound before I die.

Thanks, Fiona. I’ll wait another eight years for the next one if I have to. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor

Dog Man

Having done nothing this week but listen to Fiona Apple (see Conner Reed’s stellar review above, to which I would add ‘what he said’), clean dishes and rooms over and over (soundtracked gloriously by Fiona Apple), and read to my children, I’m taking this moment for Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man. Having cavalierly dismissed this series as a poor substitute for *prim, school marm voice* proper chapter books, I was forced into submission by a 6-year-old supa-fan and have found more points of connection with Petey the cat (and the constant interruptions from his son clone), and more to enjoy about people falling in holes, hyperaffectionate face-licking, and jokes for which the punchline is always diarrhea than I ever thought possible. COVID-time memes may remind us all of how much we’re aging right now, but I’m regressing to kindergarten humor, and feeling all the feels about a story that starts tragically—Dog’s body dies! Man’s head dies!—and ends with a whole new breed of hero. Props to Pilkey for reminding me that from sad circumstances, new champions can emerge, and happy endings are still possible if you’re ready to toss out your antiquated notions of normalcy. –Fiona McCann, Senior Editor-at-Large

The Last Dance

Few NBA teams are as revered as the ’90s Chicago Bulls. In 10 years, after having never won an NBA championship, the Bulls took home six titles (in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998). At the helm of the Bulls Dynasty was a cast of truly unique characters—Michael Jordan, the charismatic, show-stopping, highly competitive shooting guard; Scottie Pippen, the quiet and sharply focused number two; Dennis Rodman, an eccentric personality on an off the court, but a fierce defender; and Phil Jackson, the unwavering coach, near-spiritual in his dedication to the game and its rituals. The dynasty, it seemed, could never be broken. But as the Bulls entered their 1997-98 season, the team fractured. Jackson was to be replaced at the end of the season, even after Jordan said he would never play for another team that’s not under Jackson. Pippen was disenchanted with his abhorrently low salary. Trust between the players and Bulls general manager Jerry Krause frayed.
All this makes for one pretty damn interesting watch, as the first two episodes of The Last Dance, a new docu-series by ESPN, makes clear. Viewers get insight into not only Jordan and his journey to the NBA, but the journeys of his teammates and the incredibly unlikely forces that brought that cast of characters together. It’s like an episode of Game of Thrones as we watch Krause pull strings, Jordan rebel against his GM, mutiny from within, the clashing of enemies and friends. Along the way, we’re getting insight from the Bulls themselves, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and even former Chicago resident Barack Obama.
Originally scheduled for release later this year, EPSN pushed its 10-part docu-series (episodes one and day debuted on Sunday; three and four will release this Sunday) up, and we are ever so thankful. –Gabriel Granillo, Digital Editor

Monterey Pop 

It was conjured as “the greatest festival in the history of rock and roll” and billed as a celebration of “music, loves, and flowers,” bringing together San Francisco's new pop royalty, British band upstarts, and rising stars. But 1967's three-day Monterey Pop Festival, counter culture's answer to the iconic Monterrey Jazz Festival, is best remembered as the moment that music and culture changed forever, captured by the great documentary film maker D.A. Pennebaker and now streaming on the Criterion Channel.

Among the now-legendary performances: a little-known Janis Joplin, looking like a wild child from Missouri, belting out her breakthrough, soul-ripping rendition of "Ball and Chain." As Pennebaker scans the audience, it's clear; the sea had parted. Who can forget The Who? No frenetic molecule was left out of the band's first major American appearance, down to guitarist Pete Townshend murdering his guitar with sledgehammer force at the end of "My Generation," neck shards flying everywhere, as alarmed stage hands rush onstage to recover expensive microphones. Then there's Jimi Hendrix, making his first major appearance—not as just a performer but a new planet, redefining the very notion of groove while slowly enunciating "Wild Thing" (or is it thang?). Mid-chord, the dude literally does a somersault. What? That's before he humps his amp and makes air love to his guitar, set aflame with lighter fluid.

If you can beat this for a night to sit out the pandemic, I salute you. –Karen Brooks, Food Critic

Diary of a Future President

My husband and I sometimes scare our children with a threat to cut them off from the extreme privilege of Netflix and the like and re-create the televised entertainment offerings of our own youth: Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, Electric Company, and other limited public TV programming, and cartoons on Saturday mornings only, always interspersed with commercials and preachy “One to Grow On” public service announcements. Maybe after a few years of that we’d introduce “cable” and show them some early Nickelodeon. To really drive home the terror this would involve, I’ve been known to follow them around singing the nonsense theme from the “Chapi Chapo” French stop-motion short that was part of Nickelodeon’s Pinwheel.

This might be our adult revenge for what we’ve had to endure, being forced to discuss steam vs. diesel at length thanks to Thomas the Tank Engine, or smothering our murderous feelings toward Dora the Explorer and her backpack and her map that sang about being a map—all of which could be watched anytime, over and over again. They’re old enough now to recognize some of what their early taste put us through (they even tell your-mama jokes about Caillou sometimes: Caillou’s so dumb, he believes everything he reads on Wikipedia!), but their current tastes aren’t much better. Even things that sound interesting (like Disney’s Descendants franchise, at its core a nature/nurture socioeconomic study of generational prejudice and school equity) are really just barely watchable strings of choreographed dance performances and way-too-young marriage proposals.

 That’s why a show like Disney+’s Diary of a Future President has me shouting from the rooftops of the world. It is ... not terrible. The gentle family sitcom is nothing earth-shaking, but its characters generally behave like real people with human motivations and reactions. Released this winter, the 10-episode first season is told as one long flashback spurred when President Elena Cañero-Reed's sixth-grade diary comes in the mail. (Elena is played by Gina Rodriguez, a.k.a. Jane on Jane the Virgin. Rodriguez is also an executive producer of the show, and, yes, the actor turned 35 last year and is thus old enough to be president—actually, can we skip ahead to this era in which the country is led by a competent young woman of color, please?) We then meet 12-year-old Elena (Tess Romero) in the present day, navigating middle school, friend-group shifts, staggered puberty timelines, a first school dance, a righteously earned week in detention, her mom’s endearing new boyfriend (Michael Weaver) and his endless bad puns, and more as she figures out who she is and her raison d’être (or her “raisin,” as her friend Sasha calls it—I don’t think these girls take French). Elena loves a wizard show and a boy band, nails the lit category on Jeopardy!, protests an out-of-date school mascot, and nurses a years-long crush on a charmingly nonthreatening boy in her class.

Meanwhile her brother, Bobby, has his own eighth-grade-level problems, while her widowed mom, Gabi (Selenis Leyva, who played Gloria on Orange Is the New Black), wonders if her heart has room to love another. The busy Jessica Marie Garcia (How to Get Away With Murder, Netflix’s On My Block, Disney’s tolerable-but-not-as-good-as-this Liv & Maddie), Transparent’s Alexandra Billings, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom all show up. Jokes are cracked about Gloria Estefan’s extended family. (The Miami Sound Machine legend’s daughter wrote the theme song.) Sandwiches and video games become deep metaphors.

Maybe we’re just easily entertained during the stay-at-home order, but at the moment it looks like Diary of a Future President has joined that short list of TV shows that will be willingly watched by our entire household, multiple generations and genders, putting it in such revered company as The Simpsons, Black-ish, The Good Place, and Saturday Night Live. Margaret Seiler, Managing Editor

Jodorowsky's Dune

Yes, we’re all very excited about the first still images released from the set of the new Dune movie, starring Timotheeeeee Chalamet. I have no doubt visionary director Denis Villeneuve will do Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novels justice. His resumé speaks for itself. Prisoners? Underrated. Sicario? Great. Arrival? Brilliant. Blade Runner 2049? The best sci-fi movie in the last two decades, change my mind.

But before we get too carried away about Villeneuve’s vision of a desert planet filled with men wearing codpieces, put this in your weekend pipe and smoke it: Jodorowsky’s Dune (rentable on Amazon), the 2013 documentary about a too-crazy-to-believe-it-almost-happened attempt to make Dune in the 1970s by cult Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. (Quick primer on Jodorowsky: he brings the crazy.) His sprawling, psychedelic, ambitions for Dune have to be seen to be believed. Sadly, it was before its time: the film(s) he storyboarded needed modern CGI and a Disney-Marvel level investment. Eventually, since the spice must, inevitably, flow, David Lynch was tasked with making the movie instead. But let’s all retreat to our mind-palaces and imagine what could’ve been!

(Fun fact: Herbert’s desert planet of Arrakis was originally inspired by the Oregon dunes near Florence.) Marty Patail, Editor in Chief

Hatred, a Musical

Some backstory. In the Before Times, arts editor Conner Reed and I shared a downtown office together with a window perfect for writers, gazing down at Powell’s. There we were, two editors who both grew up as Oregon farm kids, adding more pics of Catherine O’Hara and Julio Torres to our shared inspiration wall. Then the virus hit. And now our daily Slack video calls are not nearly enough time to really go into depth about Tom Hooper’s Cats or the intricacies of Fiona Apple’s new album (see above) we would surely have in office.
But all of that is to explain why I am beyond thrilled at the shenanigans that kid is about to pull off. When he was a 12-year-old living in a log cabin in Banks, Oregon, he wrote a musical called Hatred, a Musical. Now, a dozen years later, he and a pile of other cool young people are set to perform Baby Conner’s magnum opus live Sunday night on Zoom. Is the poster designed by the same man who designed the movie poster for Hustlers? Yes. Will a musical about love written by a 12-year-old be a journey? Oh yeah it will. Will I spend Sunday night in front of the computer, martini in hand, screaming at the screen in joyful support of my office roomie? You bet I will. Come on and join me. —Eden Dawn, style editor
Show Comments