The best shit I saw this year

My favorite and least favorite stuff of 2019.

Hello and welcome to the last REPLY ALT of 2019 but probably not.

In case you missed it I dropped my very good and possibly very perfect list of Albums of the Decade. I also sent my very generous paying subscribers a playlist that crammed ten years of music into ten hours. So if you’ve been making it your New Year’s resolution to get a paid subscription to REPLY ALT, I support your decision and would like to offer you 15% off to help you follow your dreams.

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Anyway so here are a few things I liked and didn’t like in 2019 that I can remember at least, as well as some thoughts about writing that you can just skip past if you’re not interested or you’ve had enough of me.

The Best Live Music I Saw

I got to see a lot of my favorite bands this year, many of whom were playing material from new albums that I really liked. I got to see AVAIL perform again which is not something I thought I’d ever say. I got to see my favorite album of the decade played in full, twice. I even got to see Green Day and Weezer in a tiny lil club. But whenever I think of the best live music I saw this year, my brain keeps going back to one very specific set.

This summer, noted TV personality Jonah Ray asked me personally (not bragging, just what happened) if I would DJ the record release show for his album of punk Weird Al covers and I said sure why not. One of the openers was Thomas Lennon from The State which sort of blew my mind because that show was incredibly influential on my comedy brain in my formative years. Another opener was Tim Kasher, who was not influential on my comedy brain but whose music I still like nonetheless.

So Tim gets up there with nothing but his acoustic guitar, plays one song, and then says to the crowd, “Thank you, that was a Cyndi Lauper song.” Then he plays another song and says, “That was also a Cyndi Lauper song.” Then he prefaces his next song by saying, “OK, this is a song by Celine Dion… originally made famous by Cyndi Lauper.” That ended up being “I Drove All Night.” He did the same thing with Cyndi Lauper’s cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” Slowly it started to hit everyone in the room: This motherfucker right here is doing an all-Cyndi Lauper covers set. Not one original song in the bunch. Tim Kasher, man. What a legend.

The Best TV I Saw

I Think You Should Leave

I wrote a bit about how this show hit me at a time when it was very much needed. I can barely remember my life before jokes from this show were part of my everyday vernacular. I think of it every time I pull a door that was meant to be pushed. I think of it when I see someone flip a water bottle. I think of it when I’m looking up a funny Youtube video to show someone. I think of it when I adjust my t-shirt. I think of it when Santa brought something early. I think of it when I go to my friend’s house, which she purchased—fully furnished—from Garfield creator Jim Davis. I kept telling myself I was gonna take a crack at ranking all the sketches because every website I saw that made an attempt at it was fucking dogshit. I don’t feel like going through all 29, but here are my top 5 (excluding Tim Robinson’s episode of The Characters) and holy LORD this was some real Sophie’s Choice shit:

5. “Game Night”

4. “Choking”

3. “Brooks Brothers”

2. “Focus Group”

1. “The Day Robert Palins Murdered Me”

The Righteous Gemstones

I watched a bunch of HBO shows that I really liked this year. Succession was good although I’m sure I’ll lose the desire to continue when it comes back. I am a real stickler for series finales and am almost never satisfied with them, but I thought Silicon Valley did a decent job of wrapping things up. And Barry of course is dark and funny and gave the world Noho Hank (I thought this was a nice little profile of the actor who plays him). But godDAMN did I love The Righteous Gemstones above all. I think part of this show’s appeal is that since it’s about a family of megachurch pastors, the sets look so opulent and it’s so lush and visually stimulating. It also manages to combine a dark storyline about blackmail with some truly bonkers humor. Judy’s monologue at Outback Steakhouse is one of the most deranged things I’ve seen on TV this year. The show is funny in a myriad of deeper ways, but I absolutely lose my shit every time one of the characters says “car pranks.” Also, if “Misbehavin’” wasn’t on your Songs of the Year list, you dun goofed.

The Best Movies I Saw

Uncut Gems

I don’t follow film as closely as music, and typically wait until December to binge on all the movies I missed over the year. But I was counting down the days until Uncut Gems came out. Good Time was my favorite movie of 2017 so I was onboard with pretty much anything the Safdie brothers had planned from there. Then I heard they’d cast Adam Sandler and released photos of him in character where he looks, as the internet described it, like he sells blow at the bowling alley. And that was all I needed to hear. I absolutely love Serious Sandler. I love when he spends a decade charging up his acting meter by doing half-assed comedies with Rob Schneider and then unloads it all on something amazing like Punch Drunk Love. So this was a pretty guaranteed can’t-fail pairing for ol’ Dan.

Fortunately, I got to attend an early screening of the movie due to my incredibly popular and influential email newsletter (Maggie Gyllenhaal was on line for water in front of me no big deal), and while Good Time was a claustrophobic viewing experience with tight shots and obnoxious fluorescent lighting, Uncut Gems was just STRESSFUL. For two hours, it attaches you to a slimeball gambling addict who cannot make a good decision to save his life and you’re just begrudgingly along for the dark ride through areas of New York that never get depicted in movies because they’re so gross and gaudy and unremarkable. I’ve since rewatched it twice and I’m not gonna lie—I’ll probably watch it once more before the year ends.

After the screening I met The Sandman briefly and told him he was great in the movie and he said thanks and that he was a big fan of REPLY ALT, music’s only email newsletter, and I said that was very kind of him to say. If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo of us together which should corroborate everything:

December 4, 2019

Dolemite Is My Name

One of the many, many ways the internet has corroded my brain is that I’ll see people talking something up online and I’ll just disregard it because there are people out there who will talk any dumb shit up and as a result I end up watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for two seasons before I stop and ask myself what the fuck I’m doing. I knew Dolemite Is My Name was one of those things the internet had deemed worthy of watching, so I pressed play with a grain of salt. But midway through, the realization hit me: Wait, this is actually good—it’s actually very good. Eddie Murphy has also got the aforementioned Sandleritis where he’ll fart out 18 movies about him in a fat suit called shit like Mr. Plunkenbutter and then drop a truly great film like this. It also made me realize how much I’d missed watching Wesley Snipes in movies. His physical posturing and comedic timing in Dolemite is UNREAL good. Mr. Snipes, please continue to pay your taxes so that you don’t have to go to jail and can star in more movies, thank you.

The Irishman

What can I say. I love watching Scorsese play with his guido action figures for three hours. (Please note: I am 100% Italian and don’t cancel me for dropping the above G word thank you.)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Every day for weeks this summer I walked past a movie theater near Hollywood where Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was playing and thought, “I should see that here. That’d be appropriate.” But I didn’t, and instead saw whatever the fuck Marvel movie where they do laser fights over space jewelry and ended up watching Once Upon months later on a plane, exactly how Tarantino intended it. But I still enjoyed it because it’s about, as my friend Luke O’Neil put it, two dumb idiots who love each other. Amen, brother.

The Best Thing I Read

All 29 REPLY ALT emails, each one perfect in its own way.

The Shit I Hated

That Netflix show where there are two Paul Rudds

I can’t remember the name of the show and refuse to look it up but as far as I know Netflix only made one show about there being two Paul Rudds so that’s the one I’m talking about. Despite the fact that Paul Rudd has pretty decent comedic chops, this show didn’t make much of an attempt at being funny, which is totally fine, except that the show offers nothing else. It’s not otherwise interesting or engaging so it just feels like you’re watching nothing. It takes a halfway decent premise that could’ve filled a 90-minute movie and stretches it out across an entire season. Also, it is painfully obvious that no one who worked on this show has ever had an actual job before. Most of the storyline is Paul Rudd trying to land The Big Client which is some sort of internet provider with his big important work pitch meeting that he prepares for with documents and presentations and says things like, “I gotta prepare tonight so I can land the big account!” The whole thing comes off, ironically, like that episode of Stella where the guys work at Paul Rudd’s office and steal The Big Account from him. I realize that’s a very niche reference and I can’t find it online but here’s the Stella skit where they find Paul Rudd in the woods and he throws a baby like a football

The Dead Don’t Die

Completely useless. Nothing added to an already overdone genre, an underwhelming misuse of Bill Murray, confusing attempts at being meta, and heavy handed morality lessons forced in at the end. But Tilda Swinton chopped a bunch of motherfuckers up with a samurai sword and some fake-as-hell CGI black blood came out so that’s cool I guess? 

That movie where the guy is the only person alive who has heard of The Beatles

I don’t think there’s a more direct way for a movie to frustrate me than to take a reasonably interesting hypothetical premise—what if a guy invented lying, what if a guy was the only person who’d heard of The Beatles, what if there were two Paul Rudds, etc.—and then build an entire world around it until I’ve invested almost an hour of my time into it and then blow it all with some hokey love story between two characters who no one cares if they fall in love or get hit by a bus. Which I guess did happen in this movie, to be fair.

A Tip For Aspiring Writers During the Holidays

OK, shifting gears. This is my first holiday season in many years where I’m not working for a website, but if you’re looking to break into the exciting world of online journalisms I have a timely tip for you. 

If you can believe it, website editors have families, some of whom even love them. This is surprising, I know. Around the holidays, these editors like to spend time with their families and play with their dogs and avoid thinking about the internet. Most of them are just praying that no one famous dies or drops a surprise album on Christmas that might force them to fire up their work laptop that they dragged all the way to Hartford, Connecticut, just in case. Usually they’re fine. But once in a while Beyoncé will drop an album or George Michael will drop dead and then oh goddammit better check the work Slack to see if anyone’s got this. And then they have to sit up in their childhood bedroom blogging which is a very sobering reminder of how far they’ve not come in life.

Anyway my tip is this: Since editors are very eager to kick off and forget about work in the last days of December, they often come back to the office in January and think O Fuck. They realize that it’s a new year and they need new stories because what kind of Type-A kissass nerd plans their work out weeks in advance? So as someone who is terrible at thinking ahead, I was always open to more pitches in the first days of the new year as I scrambled to find new projects so that I wasn’t just staring at my computer and pretending I was busy.

So if you’re making it your resolution to get published more in the new year, spend some time this holiday week crafting some pitches and have them ready to go. Then once January 3 hits, fire away. Don’t send pitch emails on weekends or holidays.

On Writing Eventually 

And lastly, speaking of writing tips, an exciting and sort of scary thing happened to me this weekend that I thought I’d share here because where else am I gonna share it. 

I’ve been going through some ~*personal stuff*~ over the last few months as most people do. Nothing dire, just the kind of normal stuff that happens in life that you have to deal with and say well what can you do am I right. I don’t go to therapy and I’ve got to imagine my friends are sick of hearing about my pathetic baby problems at this point so I’ve been letting all of these thoughts incubate in my subconscious like a well that’s too deep to dip my toe into while I’ve worked on my book. My book is a non-fiction work about music and has absolutely nothing to do with my personal life so whenever I sit down to write I’m focusing on the stories of other people and I don’t often consider committing my own feelings to paper. 

Then Saturday morning I woke up with a vague idea planted in my head of how a short story could begin. So I opened my notebook and wrote the beginning and then I wrote the next part and the next and then before I knew it ten pages had dropped out of my brain. I inputted it into my computer and fixed a few small things and it is… perfect? It so succinctly captures everything I’ve been ruminating on for months and dissects several larger issues in ways that are engaging and kind of funny and also kind of deranged. Unlike most things I write which I either hate or I think are fine at best, I don’t mind bragging about this story because it truly feels like I didn’t write it. It feels like someone much smarter than me climbed into my brain and scraped all my half-thoughts out and arranged them into a perfect little story for me. 

The experience reminds me of this video I watch sometimes of a seven-year-old kid trying to solve a Rubik’s cube in under two and a half minutes. For the first 30 seconds he doesn’t spin the cube at all. He just stares at it, examining every side and every color. A full minute goes by and he hasn’t spun a single side and you start to get stressed out for him. But he remains calm and just looks and memorizes and works things out in his head. After a minute and a half goes by you start to think ok little dude you gotta start solving this frigging thing or you’re not gonna make it. But instead he just keeps staring. Then, finally, at the 1:40 mark, he pulls down a blindfold and his little fingers go to town on the cube and within 40 seconds he is done. Solved. So sure is he that it’s correct that he doesn’t even look at the cube when he finishes.

This is not usually the way I write and this has never happened to me. I’ve had good ideas strike like lightning before, but I’ve never had a fully formed work pour out of me whole like this. It feels like I’ve done a drug for the first time, and has been motivating me to get more work out this way. It’s hard to force it but knowing that it’s possible is exciting. I want to live for these effortless moments of creativity. 

I’m trying to compile a collection of more work like this and put it all out into the world. Will people be interested in reading things I’ve written that have nothing to do with music? I have no idea and I don’t really care. I feel powerless to the work and that is the greatest, scariest, most thrilling feeling I’ve had in a long while.

I often get emails from aspiring writery-type people looking for advice or guidance or other things I can’t really provide because I don’t know what I’m doing myself and am just making it up as I go along. But if there’s a lesson this experience has taught me that I can impart here, it’s that sometimes your brain is doing more work than you realize. Let thoughts ruminate. Don’t force things out when they’re not coming. Allow yourself time in the quiet moments to reflect on the things that cause your heart to ache. Carry your notebook everywhere you go and when something has decided that it’s ready to jump out of your brain, stand there with a big open net and catch it. Don’t think about whether it’s right or wrong, just let it out.