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Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth….

I was dropping my son off at school when the news at the top of the hour announced David Bowie’s death.

Last year I’d considered – as a writing experiment and nothing more – writing obituaries for the living and discussing how they’d impacted me. Of course I wouldn’t be discussing them as people. That would be presumptuous. I’d never met them. Probably never even seen them in person, live. Nevermind that published obituaries are written (in many cases, pre-written with just a few details to be filled in) by people with no personal connection and not even the impersonal connection I felt.

I never wrote anything on paper, just toyed with structure and language during trips in the car. But I thought about Bowie quite a bit, and frankly there are only a handful of other really interesting entertainers alive today.

My second thought on hearing the news was … hey, this is David Fucking Bowie. AKA Davy Jones aka Ziggy Stardust aka Aladdin Sane aka The Thin White Duke aka Thomas Newton aka Jareth Goblinking and many more. A man who re-invented himself every year or two, who rarely showed his true face to the world. So obviously he’s faked his own death, and won’t it be amazing when he reveals it? But he’s probably dead, I imagine. This feels too gimmicky for the current man.

No, if David Bowie has faked his death it’s because he’s immortal and he’ll never reveal that fact. Certainly not to us.

I am left with my thoughts and the illusion of intimacy that I imagine we had.

I haven’t been this affected by a celebrity death since Jim Henson’s. I remember catching a glimpse of his lovely funeral on the nightly news and just being haunted and devastated, feeling like my childhood had died and wondering about the man who had taken pains during his last months to try and replace the sadness he knew we’d feel with joy and awe and beauty.

If you are of my age (roughly) the Muppets represent childhood, and Jim Henson’s death — coming as I left graduate school and entered the world — felt too on the nose, like time grounding my face in the sand to impress his girlfriend, not because of any particular animus towards me.

Time and Death are powerful bullies who didn’t really want to hurt me: I’m no threat to them. They bully because that’s what the universe does. Just playing to the crowd by rubbing our faces in gritty sandy reality.

I missed Bowie’s huge output in the 70s. I was too young. It was only when he reinvented himself (again) with the Plastic Pop (not to be confused with Plastic Soul) of Let’s Dance that I discovered him as a teenager. And then another shock of discovery when I realized he sang with Queen (in a song they knocked out in a day or two, I imagine). Then, another shock, I recognized the same man singing the Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth with Bing Crosby (who my parents had identified, but they had no idea who the other guy was).

Just another afternoon. Just another beautiful song knocked out.

To me, Bowie never really went away even as his fame flickered. He kept popping up in my life. Before college, he showed up in Labyrinth (working with Jim Henson, now that I think about it). And to, my surprise, this pop singer wasn’t terrible in the movie and his songs mixed pop and gospel (I’m thinking of Underground) and showed an interesting range of ideas. And he wasn’t a horrible actor, even if it was just a cheesy movie.

It was only in college that I started going back to the 70s Bowie, and it felt like he sang my every mood before I experienced them, in rapid succession. I discovered that his range of styles had always been expansive. The demo for Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (the eventual B-side of Space Oddity) included a cello and a small gospel-like section.

Bowie’s Chimerical nature included style, not just show.

During college, my life spun on a CD player to a series of Bowie’s greatest hits and deep cuts on love, loss, partying, depression, insecurity, rage and peacock strutting. He told me everything, and as far as I can tell he was right. (I’ve never been famous, so I’ll just take his word for that, since he was right on everything else). Was I projecting my emotions on songs?

Of course. Probably. Everyone does that.

But only Bowie had the right range and depth of emotions to be the screen I could project on. Other groups I loved  could capture but a small part of my range.

Eventually, I’d go back and watch The Man Who Fell To Earth Is Bowie the only rock star who has starred in a Criterion Collection movie? Probably. This is also a man who apparently wrote art and painting reviews under a psuedonym (and if that’s not true I don’t want to know about it). I’d read the Sandman and say to myself, “Huh, Lucifer looks like David Bowie” and then later find out that it wasn’t a coincidence at all. Neil Gaiman had written explicit instructions that Lucifer should look like this, presumably to allow the Morningstar to bask in Bowie’s reflected glory.

Even when others tuned out, there was stilll the music. I haven’t picked up a lot of Bowie’s earlier albums, but I liked the torch-song phase of Heathen, and the later works of Reality and The Next Day. For years, when I have a long trip, I typically rotate, about 1/2 to 1/3rd Bowie, and everyone else can split the rest.

I found myself in my last trip thinking that practically every song on the Reality live album would actually work as a song that Lucifer would sing to the damned to alternately comfort and mock them at the same time. (“There is no hell; There is no shame; There is no hell, like an old hell…”).
And now he’s gone.

My informal definition of art is “Something that you can take in repeatedly, with new and different thoughts each time.” By my definition, Bowie was the greatest artist I’ve encountered, someone I’ve revisited time and again throughout my life. I’ve listened to his songs, gnashed my teeth trying to learn guitar to them, laughing at parties as his records play, listening to endless covers as other generations discover him. The lady on the news said that Space Oddity was the first music video made in space, by Chris Hadfield. And that was the only real fact she mentioned. He’s reduced to one headline.

I wasn’t even that annoyed. I don’t own David Bowie. His music wasn’t a gift to the world, we paid for it. Gladly. We paid in money and fame and I suspect that 1960s and 1970s Bowie desperately wanted those, then got jaded as he understood the depth of what he’d wished for. Then — only then, as he aged — he accepted our offerings with grace yet retained his mercenary and mercurial nature.

But he also allowed the security in his position to allow him to experiment. I was planning on buying Blackstar, even thought it’s long noodling jazz. Probably it will be terrible (Jazz is hard, people), but he has earned enough goodwill and has succeeded — or at least failed in new ways –at so many things that I think the risk is worth it.

Today David Bowie is gone, and I find myself thinking of the joyful triumphant ending to Rock and Roll Suicide, the song whose opening line graces this post.

Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if i could only
Make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone!

A song I’ve consoled myself with for years, a simple ballad that I was shocked to learn had way too many obscure chords for me to play (aren’t rock songs supposed to have only 4 chords?). The closing song to Ziggy Stardust, and also the last song on Sound and Vision (where they have the live version from his final Ziggy Stardust show), a song I’ve found growing on my through the years.

David Bowie is gone, and I feel sad, but not alone.

Update — I wrote this early this morning, prior to reading much about it, but now it seems clear that Bowie did intend Blackstar as his final album and knew death was imminent, which makes me think back to Jim Henson even more….

Written by taogaming

January 11, 2016 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Non-Gaming, Rant

Tagged with

Art, theme, coincidence and cartharsis

Monday I played a rather pedestrian card game, full of workmanlike mechanisms. The players have to collectively (its a coop) deal with a deck of bad cards and empty it. Most of the cards do something horrible, but in a defined way. So it’s got hand management, some cards cause a random card to be added, so it’s got some press your luck. And, of course, it has a bomb (in the technical sense of game design,  as used by Jonathon Degann): If you trigger some card combination, disaster.

At some point, players can pause, which sweeps the board and (possibly) lets them get rid of a few permanent bad things, gain a new positive action, etc. etc. But it’s also the timer, and if you pause too often, you’ll trigger a game ending loss.

In all honesty, it’s been done better so many times, but the game does have an elegant simplicity. In some ways, its like someone took the challenge of trimming Knizia’s Lord of the Rings down to 60-ish cards. A well done minimalist co-op.

Which would not normally intrigue me, except that The Grizzled is one of the most compelling pieces of art in recent memory. On looking at the box and hearing it’s a co-op set in World War I, I asked (semi-jokingly, but also hopefully) “is this about the Christmas Truce?”

I wasn’t far off. The Grizzled sees a bunch of young foolish boys volunteering for glory and country, with the goal of all making it out alive together. Over a deck of cards, you’ll see them age from clean shaven teenagers to scruffy young adults, and they’ll gain neurosis from the stress of war: fear of loud noises, anxiety about being ordered over the top. Some will crack and curl up in a ball when they could make play that could help their team.

He can’t help it anymore, he’s suffering from shell shock.

You could abandon him, of course, but you’ll honor the oath: Everyone goes home together.

At the bottom of one deck is rests the Monument, etched with the names of the six characters.

The Grizzled boasts stunning artwork. The desolate scenes of snow cover- no man’s land. The destroyed buildings, barbed wire in the foreground and birds in the distance mix beauty with implied horror. The cards convey some information via background. You might not notice it’s a game, except for an icon or two. The art’s clean style  reminds me of Sergio Aragonés, although the muted colors create a sombre mood.

Then on Tuesday, I looked up the artist Tignous and discovered that the brilliant artist who drew this inspiring peon to the pointlessness horrors of war was murdered by radicals during the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Such a horrific  coincidence struck me as poetic, a thought instantly followed by self loathing for judging a death aesthetically. (Judging any death based on aesthetics is bad enough, but a terrorist murder?)

I’d already considered The Grizzled haunting in conception and execution before I discovered that the artist was a member of Cartoonists for Peace and literally executed for his associations and beliefs.

Now, I can’t shake the thought that Tignous’ murder is symbolic, he was another idealist who marched off to war and was ground into a mulch, as war all too often does to idealists and realists alike. And I wonder, was Tignous the latest victim of the Great War, or the first victim in a new war, or (sadly and most likely) simply one of all-too-many during the infinite Clash of Cultures.

My only excuse is that these thoughts came unbidden. And I remember a phrase that I’ve heard and don’t think I invented, but I can’t remember the author. The mind can do what it wants, but it can’t want what it wants. I think it’s a german philosopher.

So while I forgive myself for thinking unclean thoughts, now I sit here and look at this post and wonder if I should publish it. Is it right to let others know information that may make them consider a death poetic, instead of tragic? Would they be better off in ignorance? I cannot bring Tignous back, but would he prefer this to be known or unknown? Can I exorcise them by publishing (as I am able to do in other writing)?

I do not want to investigate anymore, and that is a sign of moral weakness.

I doubt I am the only one thinking of this, and for a second I am annoyed at this game for bringing me back into the world, instead of distracting me from it.

I am reminded of that line by Wordsworth, that The World is Too Much With Us.

And then, again, I am not sure.

Written by taogaming

November 7, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Non-Gaming, Rant

Tagged with ,

My impression of the ACBL’s position

The ACBL recently has been tweeting up a storm about the New York Time’s completely rational decision to end it’s bridge column. (My local rag has had a poker column in the sports pages for the last several years). The ACBL’s basic strategy is begging the NYT to reverse its decision. But bridge is apparently doing just fine in the rest of the world, but it’s dying here … probably just a coincidence.

We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas

Perhaps I should be actively working against the ACBL, so that a better organization arises in its place. But I’m lazy.

Written by taogaming

April 29, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Bridge, Rant

Getting Old

Upside — I know quite a bit of trivia. For example, a trivia game asked the artist for the 2008 Grammy winning album “River: The Joni Letters.” And I was the only one who knew it.

Downside — I could have sworn that came out at least 5 years earlier. The really odd thing is that I could have sworn I bought it before I moved back to Texas, because I think I remember which store I bought it at, and that wasn’t in Texas. But I may be confusing it with the store I bought Heathen in.

Double Downside — I just revealed that I buy music in physical locations, so I’m truly old.

Answer at Wikipedia.

Written by taogaming

April 27, 2015 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Rant, TV & Media

Miskatonic School For Girls

In Miskatonic School for Girls, players suffer intensely while slogging through an interminable schedule. The “winner” merely kept their sanity longer than the others.

That’s also the theme.

This. Was. Terrible. Perhaps something can be salvaged if future designers view this as a cautionary tale. To be fair, MS4G reveals how many good decisions Donald X. made on Dominion, based on the sheer number of things gotten wrong.

  • Cards give you friendship and nightmare points. And cards give two types of defense points (multiple currencies). But you only use the first two when you draw cards, and you use the latter two when you flip for combat. So draw a 4 friendship and flip a 2 defense, pretty good. But if those cards were randomly reversed, you get no friendship and no defense (because a card good in one thing is often terrible at another).
  • So that means that the core feature of a deckbuilder is broken, because you randomly skip some cards each time for combat.  (It’s actually worse than that, because some cards have special abilities that only happen if they are drawn or flipped randomly).
  • Like Ascension, cards are randomly available to purchase. That turn I got 0 friendship and 7 nightmare points? The best nightmare card cost 3. The turn I get 4 nightmare points, the worst nightmare card costs 5.
  • But don’t feel sorry for me, because it’s so random I almost won.
  • Wait, that meant I had to play on to the very last turn, instead of embracing defeat’s sweet release.
  • The game wasn’t even funny. Even Munchkin was funny the first time or two through the deck. This had bad naming puns and one semi-funny card I noticed.
  • It clocked in at nearly two hours. Excruciating.

This is exhibit A-F in the argument against kickstarter.

Rating — Avoid.

Written by taogaming

March 26, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Posted in Rant, Reviews

Tagged with

Vegas Thoughts and slightly back

In no particular order:

  • My “Don’t broadcast vacations” strategy backfired, when at least one couple I know was also in Vegas a block away for most of my first day there. Oops.
  • The Bellagio didn’t mention the “resort” fee when we booked. (In fact, we know this because we had paid in full in advance, except for the resort fee). The next time I go, I may call the Bellagio and see if they mention it. If they don’t I definitely won’t book there. Tacking on fees at check in is scummy, more like a used car salesman. (If I cared about the $20/day, I wouldn’t have been staying there anyway, but transparency is important).
  • Bally’s had posters saying “F*#k Resort Fees”. Apparently I’m not alone.
  • Apart from that, the Bellagio was nice.
  • The Penn and Teller and Cirque de Soliel shows were pretty much exactly what you’d expect. You’ll like them if you like that sort of thing. (Leaving P&T I overheard a 65-ish woman who clearly didn’t know what to expect and was annoyed at P&Ts less showy tricks).
  • I’m pretty sure I saw Dan Hedaya’s gay twin.
  • The airport security line at McCarran’s has gotten much better since the last time I went.
  • I lost a fair bit of money in the poker room.  I should have lost (no pair and only 1 AK in 3 hours), but only about half of what I did. I tried to steal the pot with my AK (suited) after missing the flop, and tried again on the turn. I left when I realized I’d totally misread a board and that even if my opponent had the (weaker) hand I was hoping for (instead of the 2nd nuts she had), then I still would have lost. Ugh.
  • I went over to Pai Gow Poker, which is (in my mind) like a slow version of Blackjack. That doesn’t require card counting. I lost money, but it’s expected. Also a much better atmosphere than the poker room.
  • I was thinking of the Simpson’s Cirque parody during the show. “They always pick the guy wearing a wire.”
  • There are a ton of new games I don’t remember … many more poker variants as table games (Crazy 4, Let it Ride, Carribean Stud). Even just War. Sic-bo is roulette with 3d6, an idea I’m shocked is more recent. (Can’t you just see the casino pitch. “It’s like Roulette, but most people can’t figure out the odds of rolling both a 1 and 5 on three dice! Hell, most people think rolling a 1 is 50-50!“) If I wanted a high-variance game I’d possibly pick this.
  • Many of my engineering coworkers (previous job) were Craps fiends, they liked the fact that the house had an edge on the main roll, but they could get actual odds rolls after that. I still haven’t tried that.
  • Also surprised to find a “points card” that works in poker rooms (Mlife).
  • Just to annoy the Gambling Industry, I’m filing this under non-gaming.  “Gaming” instead of “Gambling” always struck me as doubleplus ungood newspeak. (I mean, I know why Lobbyists do it, but why do people who aren’t getting payed play along?)

Anyway, I doubt I’ll be back in the near future;  but who knows.

How was your vacation?

Written by taogaming

August 1, 2011 at 10:35 am

Posted in Non-Gaming, Rant

Tagged with

Rock Band Update

Annoying — I’m getting to the point where I can play a passable version of Space Oddity (using the sheet music as a guide); but I’m nowhere close to beating Space Oddity on Rock Band in hard. (Partially because they are using Barre chords for the famous riff and I’m not). I can do every song on Medium (with a bit of time to watch it), but I’m nowhere near advancing on Hard.

Guitar is hard, let’s go shopping at My Geeklist.

Written by taogaming

June 18, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Rant

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