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The Protomen, Bill Shakespeare, and One Shining Moment
An ode to camp, in all its forms.
STICK TO MUSIC
Light up the Night
Here’s a concept for you: a bunch of music students at Middle Tennessee State University, in order to fulfill course requirements, put together a band where they write rock operas inspired by the Nintendo “Mega Man” game series. You know, this one.
They paint themselves like robots and give themselves names like Cobra T. Washington, Lazer, and Raul Panther III. The idea’s starting to warm on you already, isn’t it?
As a gimmick goes, it’s sublime, but the novelty of gimmicks wears off very quickly — gimmicks are but artistic lighter fluid. And fortunately, the Mega Man stuff is only obvious in rare, fleeting winks toward the listener; mostly, it’s dystopian sturm und drang with power chords and synths galore, and thank goodness.
Indeed, our friends make Future Islands look like Steven Wright, letting the cataclysmic dramas of life and death, good and evil, order and chaos all course through their lyrics and voices in their albums. It’s campy as all hell, but deliciously and intentionally so, as such the subject matter commands.
The band itself is only cult-famous, no doubt, but if you’re a Cobra Kai enthusiast, you’ll recognize their cover of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” from the final scene of Season 3 (no spoilers):
That The Cover Up album, by the way, is a 2015 cover album disguised as a “soundtrack” from a totally nonexistent film. Their covers of Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” and the Kenny Rogers anthem “Danger Zone” are high notes, as are the so-cliche-it’s-great fictional interstitials of the “movie” the album purports to score. “I don’t want excuses, I want results!”
Indeed, the band’s influences are obvious, from Springsteen to opera to all sorts of those Rocky-era action films — the Protomen even did a shockingly competent live cover album of Queen, and it honestly would have been more surprising if it didn’t start with a “Flash” adaption. Such is the commitment to melodrama. Pastiche is a blanket that’s only warm if you embrace it tightly, and the Protomen do it better than nearly anyone.
For a band whose output suggests it’s not even a day job to anybody involved, it has engendered a cult following in the Tennessee area — presumably Nashvillians know a thing or two about music — and last fall, they blessed us with a 2011-recorded live show from that great city. The crowd is loyal, amped up from the jump, and willing to throw as much energy back to the band as they know they’re going to get from the performance. It’s not the first album I’d recommend to a listener (The Protomen and Act II, in that order, before you get to the covers and live stuff), but it really might be the perfect representation of exactly how that band wanted to peak.
But that’s not why I’m writing this.
Share it before you find out! Actually share it afterward, it’s worth it. But also share it before.
T-1000 Also Cometh
Also tucked into the Protomen’s discography is an album called “William Shakespeare Presents: Terminator the Second,” which is quite the tantalizing string of words, in that order. The album itself is little more than background noise, both for you and for the performance for which it serves as the official score.
Indeed, the Protomen composed the score for a stage performance (in Nashville, natch) of Terminator 2, but delivered entirely in lines from Shakespearean plays. As the prologue explains, certain plot elements like Terminators and Skynet have to be wedged into the dialogue, but it is overwhelmingly faithful to the Bard’s words and turns James Cameron’s popcorn-muncher into an even more epic, timeless struggle between man and steel.
And rest assured, the Terminator’s one-liners — a hallmark of both the franchise and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career — get Shakespeareanized to delightful effect, and there’s no fewer than three lines that will have you howl — howl I say — with the level of laughter that affirms that this entire enterprise was worth it. I won’t spoil any of them.
(Also, shout out to the Shakespearean nod of giving the part of a young boy to a smaller woman; Jamie Bradley would have singlehandedly stolen the show as John if it weren’t for Kahle Reardon as Sarah Connor throwing as much into it as Linda Hamilton did for the screen.)
Shockingly, at the time of writing this, the performance has only about 7,000 views on YouTube, and the official webpage doesn’t have the movie available for purchase any longer. That’s a dire shame.
Give yourself 90 minutes to watch the performance, and trust that you’ll only need a small fraction of that to convince yourself it’ll be a worthwhile time investment. It’s so clever, so self-awarely low-budget, so reverent to both seemingly disparate genres. I’m sure Cameron himself would approve, while Shakespeare would scream in terror at this magical flat tableau showing us such terrifying visions and sounds.
(Can you even imagine bringing an iPad back to 15th-century London? They’d definitely kill you and call you an alien, right? Did they have aliens back then? Did I even get Shakespeare’s century right? Why am I attaching any of these questions to a prompt to subscribe now? You should still subscribe if you haven’t yet, by the way.)
STICK TO SPORTS
Make Less Money, You Cowards
I didn’t watch a second of this year’s NBA All-Star Game festivities. No disrespect to Team LeBron, or All-Star MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, or skills contest winner Domantas Sabonis, or dunk contest winner Anfernee Simons, or me for spelling all but one of those names right on the first try, but the All-Star festivities are all about the live fan reactions. What’s the point of a dunk contest if Shaq and Dikembe aren’t there to act like they’re witnessing aliens visiting the earth?
Besides, for my money, the best entertainment of early March is conference tournaments, especially the small-conference affairs that act as de-facto play-in tourneys for the Big Dance. Do I know a thing about the Colonial Athletic Association? No, never. Am I suddenly interested when two sub-.500 conference teams are playing for the automatic bid while I write this? CLEAR MY SCHEDULE.
It’s high drama on small courts, almost always a more apt pinnacle for the championship team than the actual end to its season, when the players get mashed by 40+ on a Thursday morning by whatever 1-seed they get fed to.
Several Shining Moments
Speaking of the tourney, I’m extremely excited for this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, as Iowa’s nearly a lock for its second-ever top-2 seed of the at-large era, and its first since 1987. The team has earned it, no doubt, and Luka Garza is poised to take Iowa’s first-ever Naismith Men's College Player of the Year Award, two years after Megan Gustafson delivered the first-ever Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year Award to Iowa City.
The University of Iowa has been important to me for most of my life, on account of the proximity and the athletics, but I’ve always been a Cubs fan for that same period of time, so I understand that sports fans in general only care so much about teams that don’t contend for titles.
But we’ve got Garza. Joe Wieskamp’s availability is suddenly a story point. Jordan Bohannon is shooting for his career. There are so many dramatic story lines… right as Iowa’s peaking for the NCAA Tournament. Win or lose, Iowa’s in The Narrative now.
And that means Iowa’s likely to have multiple spots in probably the best tradition in sports television: the “One Shining Moment” montage.
Type in any year from 1987 on and “one shining moment” into YouTube; they’re all there, and they’re all so, so good — a perfect celebration of the stakes, the emotion, the pageantry and the chaos that only college basketball can call its own.
Obviously, I’d rather hope that Garza and the Hawkeyes make a deep run in the tourney more than I hope that they get attention in CBS’ stirring montage after the tourney’s done. It’s not like NBA-quality recruits go sifting through One Shining Moment clips from 20 years prior, and then flip their commitment on that.
But months, years and decades from now, I want people to know that in 2020 and 2021, Iowa had Luka Garza, and he was very important, and that made Iowa very important, and you couldn’t have told the story of this tournament or this season without talking about the Iowa Hawkeyes. I’m looking forward to that.
STICK TO AFFIRMATIONS
Thanks for joining me today. We’ll always end on a kind word.
Perfection doesn’t exist in the world. The sun can burn you. The Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich costs money. Rumours has what can only be described as a mouth-guitar solo during “Second Hand News.” Even the Mona Lisa could use some eyebrows.
The point is, our smaller shortcomings don’t have to negate our greater goodness, and that applies to you too. Do you spend most of your time and energy looking for reasons to discredit the ones you love? That sounds heartless, right? Make sure not to do the same thing to yourself. You’re a human being who is beloved — flaws and all — by countless people, just as you love countless people yourself, no matter how many flaws you know about them. We’re all in this together, and I believe in you, just like you believed in me well enough to stick through this newsletter until now.