Every so often I like to go through what has accumulated on my desk. These are things that I meant to write about but didn't get around to for whatever reason, and some of the reasons that I didn't.
BoJack Horseman, season five, now streaming on Netflix (along with all the other seasons) -- Television is genuinely bad for you; it's an artificial hearth that replaces genuine human interaction. It makes us fat, probably inhibits the cognitive development of children, and offers us a seductively reductive view of how the world operates. But the existence of little wonders like this remarkably nuanced show about a depressed celebrity -- as its theme song says, back in the '90s he was in a very famous TV show -- going through midlife motions of crisis and denial almost redeem the medium.
The proper way to treat a series like this one -- an animated comedy-drama (with some elements of psychological horror) created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and designed by Lisa Hanawalt, is probably through episode-by-episode recaps that would ideally be filed soon after the given episode has aired. This strategy is confounded by Netflix's strategy of dumping full seasons on the market on the premiere date and allowing the obsessive to binge through them in a single evening/morning. Lots of people, probably some of you, had already watched season five, which was released in mid-September, before I got around to watching the first one. I've still got two shows to go.
So if you know BoJack (voiced by Will Arnette, he's a "horse-man" in that he walks upright, wears clothes and, this season, stars in Philbert, a gritty crime procedural within the show, but anatomically, he's still a horse), you likely know more than I do about where he's heading. And if you don't know BoJack, you're likely just angry and confused -- which, according to The Good Place, another series that I discovered through (though it didn't originate with) Netflix -- is all the emotional range you're ever going to need anyway.
While I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea that anyone who aspires to engage (as opposed to simply consume) our pop culture is better off with a quick hot take than considered reflection, the fact is the world sometimes seems to move too fast to genuinely appreciate a show like this one, an emotionally annihilating critique of the way most of us live now disguised as a goofy, surrealistic cartoon. There's not a character on this show that I don't care about, and not one who doesn't have the power to disappoint me.
Given enough time and space I might be able to figure out why Princess Caroline (a pink Persian cat voiced by Amy Sedaris) breaks my heart or why I root for Diane (a Vietnamese-American human voiced by Alison Brie) even though I recognize her as a toxic presence whose idealism is a cover for her own insecurity. (She's a self-righteous female version of BoJack who lacks some of the self-awareness of the title character.)
Even the most superficially positive character, the yellow Labrador retriever sidekick Mr. Peanut Butter (voiced by Paul F. Tompkins), who first appeared as sort of a sunnier BoJack manque -- a kind of argument for ignorance as bliss -- has deepened into the show's most interesting and perhaps only genuinely admirable character. Mr. Peanut Butter is always pushing forward, faking it to make it, but with a fool's grace.
. . .
Making Poor Man's Guitars: Cigar Box Guitars, the Frying Pan Banjo, and Other DIY Instruments by Shane Speal (Fox Chapel, $19.99) -- I built a guitar once. It was a copy of a Fender Telecaster, which is just about the simplest electric guitar around.
By "built," that means I assembled it from a kit, did some sanding, finished and lacquered the body, put the pickups where they were supposed to be and attached the neck and the tuners. When done, you could play it -- the intonation isn't perfect but then it never really is -- and if you're looking for a cheap way to acquire an electric guitar you might save a little money going this route. But in the end it wasn't something I really wanted to hold onto, so after a while I disassembled it and re-purposed the parts.
But the project wasn't a useless exercise; it gave me a real appreciation of how difficult it is to make a viable musical instrument, how much engineering and math goes into the art. (Consider the one-of-a-kind stringed instruments made by Arkansas folk artist Ed Stilley who, while not grasping the basics of scale length, was able to build playable devices through trial and error.) It's not difficult to make a noisemaker. It takes skill and inspiration to make a guitar.
If I was planning to build any more guitars, I'd start by reading this fascinating and uncategorizable book by musician Shane Speal, who bills himself as the "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and regularly gigs with his handmade instruments. (North Little Rock's Bill Jagitsch, who performs under the name Blues Boy Jag, is also a well-known player, maker and retailer of these instruments -- you can browse his inventory online at jagshouse.com.)
Making Poor Man's Guitars is part do-it-yourself guide, part cultural history (there are chapters devoted to specific instruments and how to re-create them), part coffee table picture book and part social manifesto. Poverty should not inhibit music-making, Speal believes.
"We didn't build our first cigar box guitars to play nice things," he writes. "We wanted to play primal, gritty, salt-of-the-earth music."
Fair enough. There's an aesthetic to these instruments, a backlash against the $3,000 Les Paul. But Speal is an entrepreneur too -- if you don't have the time or patience to build an instrument, he'll sell you one.
. . .
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society -- I could have spent this entire year writing about things that happened 50 years before. Such as on Nov. 22, 1968, the release of this remarkable album, the sixth from the British rock group and the last with the original classic lineup of frontman Ray Davies, lead guitarist Dave Davies, bassist Pete Quaife and drummer Mick Avory.
The record was a critical darling and notorious flop at the time of its release. Thanks in large part to the special 50th anniversary boxed set edition released last month, it only recently passed the 100,000 units-sold mark needed to certify it as a gold record in the U.K. So while it's talked about as if it's one of those classic '60s albums like Sgt. Pepper and Aftermath, it's really more esoteric, like Nick Drake's albums. What most people know about the Kinks is "Your Really Got Me," "Lola" and maybe "Come Dancing." Which is a shame, but hardly a tragedy.
Part of the reason the Kinks remain more obscure than, say, The Who, who occupy as similar place in my private rock 'n' roll pantheon, is because they were, somewhat ironically given Ray Davies' later Americana albums, the most British of the British bands. Nowhere is this British-ness more piquantly expressed than in this gentle folk rock record, which explores a nostalgic Victorian dream (which might have been the same nightmare experienced by Elvis Costello when, 20 years later, he came out with "Little Palaces"). While Davies is singing about "preserving the old ways from being abused," you can detect a touch of scorn in his voice. (Who is it for? All the lovely people?)
In "Village Green" he sings:
And now all the houses
Are rare antiquities.
American tourists flock to see the village green.
They snap their photographs and say "gawd darn it,
Isn't it a pretty scene?"
In any case, the Kinks couldn't tour the U.S. for four years in the '60s after Ray made the mistake of punching someone who wasn't in the band. (Intramural dust-ups were common.) By the time Village Green came out, America had largely stopped caring about what was seen as the least important of the big four British Invasion bands. (After the Beatles, the Stones and the aforementioned Who.)
It probably didn't help that it was released the same week as The Beatles' The Beatles, the "White Album" that all these years later continues to bear fruit.
But so does Village Green, an album with which you might think yourself familiar but only reveals itself with repeated listening. When the album didn't sell well, Davies feigned indifference, saying the album wasn't really intended for mass consumption anyway. They moved on. So did most of us.
Which means it's ripe for rediscovery. God save Donald Duck, Vaudeville and variety.
Style on 11/25/2018
Print Headline: BoJack, DIY guitars and other loose ends