Hello, everyone.

We here at Spectrum Culture understand that the world is a scary place right now. With the spread of the novel coronavirus, it’s time to stay home. As one meme states:

We’re here to help. This feature is a running list of all music, film and books that we’re consuming while housebound. We’ll be updating it daily and hopefully giving you some ideas of how to pass the time.

Feel free to recommend what you’ve been listening to, watching and reading. We’re all in this together.

Beck – Morning Phase

I’m so tired of being alone,” sings Beck at the opening of “Blue Moon,” one of a dozen gorgeous melodies on his 2014 masterpiece, Morning Phase, and I’ve never related more. It’s amazing that an album of nothing but slow songs can sound so varied and take so many surprising turns. Beck is in acoustic crooner mode here, and his backup band is as tight as a clock. After doing some wizardly production work on records by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Thurston Moore and Childish Gambino, Morning Phase showcases everything he’s refined about the interplay of brushed percussion, crystalline steel-strings, and vocal reverb you can melt into. None of the songs exceed the 120 beats-per-minute of an average moderate-tempo pop song, and yet nothing about this album feels slow or sluggish. Acoustic instruments layer themselves like bands of sunlight over gently pulsing rhythms, and the arrival of every chorus is like a surprise ray of sunlight. Morning Phase rewards repeated plays, and takes the edge off of being alone. – A.C. Koch

Booksmart [Streaming on Hulu]

It is reasonable but unjust to call Booksmart the girl version of Superbad. Reasonable because both films are set over the course of a day and feature characters on the verge of graduating high school wilding out. And, of course, Booksmart features Beanie Feldstein, the younger sister of Superbad’s Jonah Hill. But it is also an unjust comparison, because Booksmart is much more sophisticated and specific, and because it is its own film and should be allowed to exist on its own. Judged on its own, it is sharp, funny and pleasant enough to distract viewers in these tense times, though at times—dare I say it, similarly to Superbad!—Booksmart’s wonderful plot outruns its dialogue, so that many of the situations the characters are plunged into are funnier than their lines about what is happening. – Ryne Clos

Kelsea Ballerini – Unapologetically

Last Friday, I was listening to Kelsea Ballerini’s new album Kelsea, but it only ended up reminding me of how much I love her last album from 2017, Unapologetically. People are often surprised to hear that I like some country music, since it’s a widespread fact that I’m a pop music enthusiast. But I’ve always liked a little country, specifically done by women – I grew up listening to Shania Twain and she remains one of my all-time favorite artists, so why would I be against seeking out similar sounds? Country music also has a bit of a reputation for sexism, misogyny and toxic masculinity, so when female artists like Twain, the Dixie Chicks, Kacey Musgraves and Ballerini come along to turn that narrative on its head, I’m definitely here for it. Unapologetically, an album whose themes include growing up and letting go, came into my life at a time when I was realizing it was time to let go of some youthful anxieties and learn how to have more faith in adulthood. “Miss Me More,” “Get Over Yourself” and “Machine Heart” might be songs about reclaiming your voice within romantic relationships, but for me, they’re about learning how to define yourself outside of anxiety and fear. So it only feels appropriate that I’m returning to this album once again during a time of global uncertainty and fear for a bit of reassurance that sometimes, with a bit of faith and trust, things will work out in our favor. – Jeffrey Davies

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

When I first read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes the transition from child to teenager was purely theoretical. All I saw was a story about two boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, defeating the evil Mr. Dark and his carnival of soul eaters. Being a child younger than the 13-year-old protagonists, the themes of mortality and transformation escaped me. Bradbury was a magic man, and what I consumed was an adventure story with a horror overlay that left me anticipating my own passage to young adulthood where I could be a hero. Like too many children I was in too much of a hurry to leave a time when my only real concerns were homework and stickball.

Reading the book now, I am awed by Bradbury and worried he’s getting lost in the conversation of great American writers. While clearly a novel, he plays with the form throughout, often turning his descriptions of small town childhood into exhilarating prose poetry. But, it is also a lamentation on choice and the compromises one makes in adulthood that shutter notions of childish ambitions. Mr. Dark is a predator who uses these regrets as a charm, stealing the life force from the townsfolk lured by his seductive sideshow. But, it is Will’s father, Charles, the janitor at the local library, who Bradbury embodies with the weight of lost possibility. He is an old man with a young son, a blessing and a burden when you feel that the world has passed you by. Both father and son have to settle their hearts before the novel ends.

Though set a week before Halloween, this was my summertime book, and it brings to mind a time cicada chirps, empty hours, and the ring of the telephone that preceded the hatching of plans. It is a personal artifact of joy, something we all need to find right now, but the catharsis Bradbury offers is transferrable to anyone who needs their fears of the outside world ordered and extinguished through the form of the horror novel. – Don Kelly

A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick

My high school students and I recently watched Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly in one of the last classes we had together before the coronavirus shut down our school. We have been cherry-picking our way through the director’s filmography, hitting all the high points (no pun) and skipping over the misfires. Though the class has diverse opinions, most of the kids really loved {A Scanner Darkly}, wowed not only by the rotoscoping but also by the inherently dark source material.

Even though I’ve seen Linklater’s 2006 film multiple times, I’ve never read Philip K. Dick’s 1977 novel of the same name. Written after many years of drug experimentation, A Scanner Darkly is a dystopian parable about addiction and the culture that surrounds it. Dick balances moments of humor with an inherently bleak tale. It was interesting to see which parts of the book Linklater included and which he jettisoned in the film version which stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder. Much of the dialogue is taken directly from the novel, some sections wholesale, keeping the author’s feel in place and allowing Linklater to get the blessing of Dick’s estate.

What haunted my students most is Dick’s postscript, from which Linklater includes an excerpt at the end of the film. Dick dedicates the novel to his friends, those who have suffered or have died from drug addiction. The author lists them by name and the type of tragedy that befell them, including his own pancreatic failure. In a time where so many people are dying for simply living, let us remember Dick’s words: “These were comrades whom I had; there are no better. They remain in my mind, and the enemy will never be forgiven. The “enemy” was their mistake in playing. Let them all play again, in some other way, and let them be happy.”

Let us all be happy and play again. Someday soon. God help us. – David Harris

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