Monday, March 17, 2014

30 For 30: Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

I turned 30 on February 18th. I want to celebrate this, and get myself back into writing, by spending a few weeks rambling about the 30 things that have meant the most to me over the years. These will be from music, movies, books, videogames, and maybe even art and other things for good measure. I feel like my life has been much more about the things I've experienced than it has the people I've known or the places I've traveled to, and these 30 things have helped to make my 30 years more than worth all the innumerable bad things. Expect heartfelt over-sharing and overly analytical explanations galore! In part 17, learn the true title of what I refer to as "the most beautiful and sad thing I've ever heard."

Back in 2012, I was dating and living with someone who was majoring in trombone performance at a local college. When studying an instrument at the college level, you not only have to be in several performances yourself, but you have to attend those given by other students, too. So in a few months I got a crash course in classical music and associated styles, and I saw way more live music in a few months than I had in my entire life up to that point combined. I even bought my then-girlfriend a huge assortment of vintage classical records. But as much as I learned and as much as I heard, classical music is just not my thing and I know now it never will be. I ended up liking the 'New Music' and experimental stuff way more than the classics, so that was kind of strike one. Strike two was that the music is too intellectual and requires too much reading; even the emotive pieces sound to me like a mathematician plugging in the right formula of notes to simulate emotion instead of it being music as a channel for emotion. And strike three was that my favorite piece of classical music remained the same as it was before I had my education in 2012. To a classical music fan it's such a popular and obvious choice as to be asinine, but I can't help it: Moonlight Sonata is the most beautiful and sad thing I've ever heard.

Except that it's not really called Moonlight Sonata, and it's not all beautiful and sad.

Well, never say that Whiskey Pie isn't educational. For you see, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata isn't actually called that. The official title is most often written as Piano Sonata No. 14 In C-Sharp Minor “Quasi Una Fantasia.” Furthermore, what everyone is familiar with and thinks is the entirety of the song is only the first movement of three. Admittedly there's something to be said for colloquial shorthand so that whenever we hear it we don't have to say the full title and can instead go with a simple question of “that's Moonlight Sonata, right?” For the purposes of the rest of this piece, I'm going to keep saying “Moonlight Sonata” and trust you understand that I really mean Piano Sonata No. 14 In C-Sharp Minor “Quasi Una Fantasia.” Say that three times fast.

I'm fairly sure the first time I heard this song was in a cartoon or movie. It's one of those classical songs that has been used so many times in so many different places that you don't always notice it. Using Moonlight Sonata to indicate that something is sad, or juxtaposing it against something decidedly un-sad for the ironic humor effect, has been done to death in movies, TV shows, and cartoons. I remember even a more modern cartoon like Ren & Stimpy used a lot of classical music, so it's possible that was where I first heard Moonlight Sonata. No matter how or where it's used, though, this song still hits me right in the chest. This is one of the most famous and ubiquitous songs of all time yet it somehow retains every bit of its power even if it's a Muzak version in an elevator or it's in a TV commercial for a car or some god damn thing.

As someone who has always been drawn to the bittersweet and melancholic in life, it only makes sense that I'd love Moonlight Sonata. To my mind it is the origin point of all sad music that came afterward, even though this is only strictly true of that famous first movement of the song. But it's hard to beat that part for establishing a mood, for getting a visceral reaction out of people. On any given day I can listen to all three movements and by the end I am in a totally different state of mind and mood, transported away by a single piano playing a piece from over 200 years ago. While it's very likely that no trace of my time on this Earth will survive 200 years into the future, I know that Moonlight Sonata will.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

30 For 30: Bitches Brew by Miles Davis

I turned 30 on February 18th. I want to celebrate this, and get myself back into writing, by spending a few weeks rambling about the 30 things that have meant the most to me over the years. These will be from music, movies, books, videogames, and maybe even art and other things for good measure. I feel like my life has been much more about the things I've experienced than it has the people I've known or the places I've traveled to, and these 30 things have helped to make my 30 years more than worth all the innumerable bad things. Expect heartfelt over-sharing and overly analytical explanations galore! In part 16, we rap about double albums and use the word 'awesome' a lot.

The double album is a rare beast in today's music. The last modern double album I can remember was The Flaming Lips's Embryonic. However, that one is cheating a bit, since it's only 70 minutes of music spread across two “albums.” In the 90s, because of the way the CD format changed how albums were paced and flowed, it was not uncommon for a band's album to be as long as Embryonic despite being counted as a single album. For example, Spiritualized's Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is 69 minutes long and Adore by the Smashing Pumpkins is actually longer at 73 minutes long (Billy Corgan was never known for being succinct). Of course, two of the first double albums, Frank Zappa's Freak Out! and Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, were only 60 and 72 minutes, respectively, so as the years have gone by the idea of what really constitutes a double album has become a bit muddled. Is it defined by the length of the music or by the whims of the artist?

There is no such gray area with Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. Even without the bonus track often appended to new copies of the album on CD, it runs a sturdy 94 minutes. Bitches Brew is a double album through and through, and anyone who owns it on vinyl knows what I mean by that. Truly only a gatefold sleeve does justice to the cover art, which wraps from the front to the back; truly only a rambling, poetic essay by Ralph J. Gleason and an oddly framed picture of a shirtless Miles Davis could work inside a gatefold sleeve. There is something satisfying about the heft of a double record, especially one that would even take two CDs to contain it. I have a few double albums on vinyl and they put you in a different mindset when listening to them. It feels like something you do on a long weekend afternoon: burn some incense and relax next to the record player while staring at the covers and liner notes and such.

The full cover, albeit a scan of a CD booklet version of it

You need to have patience and focus to sit through double albums, something our increasingly short attention spans have made difficult. It's a different listening experience and a valuable one; compared to how we normally listen to music—in the car, on an iPod at work or while exercising, on a computer with the songs on random shuffle—it feels like meditation. To simply sit by a record player and listen to an album while not doing anything else feels quaint and outdated by today's standards, like something you'd expect Henry David Thoreau to write about in Walden. Even I don't do it as often as I used to but I suppose it makes it more of a special experience when I do. For instance, I had today off of work thanks to a snowstorm, and spent my morning half-awake drinking coffee and listening to Bitches Brew. Somehow it fit the visibility limiting wall of wind and snow outside my window. The experience of giving it a listen first thing in the morning with my full attention has also set the tone for the rest of my day. If you've ever woken up early on the weekend and watched a movie first thing, you might know what I mean by that. But I digress.

'Miles Runs The Voodoo Down'

Awesome” was my response to hearing Bitches Brew for the first time. I was in high school and had finally made friends with someone who also loved music. As usually happens, you end up borrowing a bunch of music from each other and sitting around trading off on albums saying things like “wait'll you hear this one...” Every time I listen to Bitches Brew it takes me back to that mindset, when I was first discovering all that music had to offer beyond the forgettable modern rock and pop music that had been my only musical world since middle school. After Bitches Brew I finally went and listened to some of the records my parents had from their youth. After Bitches Brew I started to listen to jazz in all its forms, and to give other genres of music a chance. And so on.

If I'm ever making a list of my favorite albums of all time, Bitches Brew has to be on it. There are some Miles Davis albums from this same era that I think are more interesting (On The Corner) and some I think do a better job of being a jazz/rock fusion (A Tribute To Jack Johnson), but none of them can match Bitches Brew overall. It has everything in it. Despite being an instrumental album, every human emotion is in there at some point. What's more, it feels like it has every instrument in it, too. While I think most people listen to this record loud on a stereo, it works just as well on headphones since you pick up how much detail is in the production. How Davis and producer Teo Marcero managed to wrangle this many musicians at a time, and to edit the various parts of the numerous performances into the final versions on the album, is beyond me. Again, I implore you to give this a spin with some good headphones if you never have before. It's almost dizzying how many sounds are going on at some points, while at other calmer points the space and separation between instruments reveals how masterful all the musicians were for these recording sessions. If you follow a single instrument through each song, you see points where they step up to let loose and other times where they recede into the background while still contributing to the rhythms, textures, or melodies. There's collective improvisation, and then there's a group that has become a singular unit without an ego steering it. Bitches Brew is ego-less: Miles Davis, whose album this ostensibly is, doesn't even appear on the song 'John McLaughlin.'

'John McLaughlin'

But let us return to that initial “awesome” reaction. You see, I had never really listened to a double album before, and certainly not one with long songs on it. Keep in mind, there is only one song on Bitches Brew that is less than 10 minutes long. You can imagine how much of a 'brave new world' this felt like as I heard it for the first time in my friend's bedroom on a warm Saturday afternoon in Spring. 'Pharaoh's Dance' slowly worked itself up as I was looking through the CD booklet, trying to get some kind of context for the music I was hearing. I had something of an idea of what Bitches Brew might be like, since Radiohead had mentioned Miles Davis's electric fusion era as an influence on OK Computer, but imagining what music will sound like based on written descriptions is not the same as hearing the actual product. Anyway, I recall feeling lost inside 'Pharaoh's Dance', and I had to ask several times if it was still the same song.

Then the title track started and it sounded completely alien to me. I know now it's a trumpet fed through a delay/echo pedal, but at the time, I didn't know much of anything about recording techniques. Despite being a trumpet player for several years in school, I had no idea what I was hearing. And it was awesome. It was weird. It was...indescribable. It was the kind of experience that I repeat whenever I hear music that takes me completely by surprise and warps my expectations of what I thought sound and music could be like. Time and again I find myself muttering “awesome” and loving the challenge of figuring out something novel, making sense of something alien.

Bitches Brew is the album I would take with me to a desert island. It is the album I could listen to all day, talk about for half the day and write about for the other half of the day. Hearing it for the first time around age 17 made me say “awesome” and hearing it for the umpteenth time at age 30 made me feel awesome. So why is Bitches Brew on my list of 30 things that have meant the most to me over the years? Nothing complicated this time: it's because it's awesome.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

30 For 30: The Adventures Of Pete & Pete

I turned 30 on February 18th. I want to celebrate this, and get myself back into writing, by spending a few weeks rambling about the 30 things that have meant the most to me over the years. These will be from music, movies, books, videogames, and maybe even art and other things for good measure. I feel like my life has been much more about the things I've experienced than it has the people I've known or the places I've traveled to, and these 30 things have helped to make my 30 years more than worth all the innumerable bad things. Expect heartfelt over-sharing and overly analytical explanations galore! In part 15, we consider what weird means and why treating children like adults can make for a show that appeals to adults.

When we use the word 'weird' to describe something, it's usually because we can't think of a better descriptor. The first time I heard about Aqua Teen Hunger Force it was described to me as “a weird show”, which doesn't even begin to explain it. What's more, depending on the context, 'weird' can denote something that is good or bad, making it akin to 'interesting' in that regard. For example, I would call Animal Collective's Centipede Hz weird and interesting in bad ways, and I would call Werner Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans weird and interesting in good ways.

Since 'weird' has no inherent positive or negative value, and it can be used in vague ways when you can't think of other better words to use instead, it becomes a little frustrating when I say that I tend to like weird things. What does it really mean to like weird things? After all, each person's idea of what constitutes weird is different, and things can be weird in different ways, too. So before this spirals further into philosophical musings on weirdness, I'd like to take a trip back to the early 90s, when I encountered the first weird thing I can remember loving, a live action TV show that led me to develop a lifelong passion for weird things. I figure if I can't precisely define my idea of weird and why I love weird things, I might as well start at the beginning.

I don't think I would be the person I am today if I hadn't been at just the right age to see The Adventures Of Pete & Pete. It influenced everything from my sense of humor to my skewed way of seeing the world to even my taste in music. I'm not sure that Pete & Pete was influential in terms of impact on other shows around that time or that came after, but it was inarguably influential to a generation who grew up during its brief run on TV. If you're unfamiliar with the show it may seem odd to apply the label “influential” to something aimed at kids, but that's the beauty of it. This was a show that was for children but treated the audience like adults. It didn't need to spell out its moral lessons or spend too much time explaining everything. Most importantly, it was weird, but never in a way that felt cheap or stupid. The characters play it straight, as if everything is normal and expected, which makes everything feel even more weird. A better description than 'weird' might be 'suburban surrealism.' Indeed, there's a very specific tone and feel to Pete & Pete that inevitably led to its short three season run and cult-beloved status. 

Is this a still from a Wes Anderson movie or a kids show? You decide!

Much like other cult TV shows, you either 'get' Pete & Pete or you don't. Cult shows tend to be that way simply because they're unique and can't easily be compared to other shows, and so most TV viewers are less willing to give them a chance. This problem is multiplied when it's a kids show because kids, even more than adults, just want the same familiar things over and over. Maybe this is a gross overgeneralization but hey, real talk: if you think there are too many movie sequels, go take a look at how many sequels there are to kids movies. But I digress. During its time on TV, Pete & Pete was never a show that I remember other kids talking about at school. Even on a kid's channel with some other weird shit like Ren & Stimpy, Pete & Pete was like no other show before or since, and trying to explain to my friends why it was awesome only got me looks of confusion or boredom. As weird as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was when you first heard about it, even little boys can understand its premise which boils down to a simple “cartoon about mutant turtles who fight stuff.” With Pete & Pete there's no simple summation to give. One episode is about surviving a family road trip to the Hoover Dam, another is about trying to break a world record by staying awake for 11 nights, and another is about faking sick to stay home from school and how it gives you a new perspective on everything.

Of all the kids shows from my youth, Pete & Pete has held up the best. Most of the stuff I was watching in the late 80s/early 90s is unwatchable dreck when you have the mind of an adult but if anything I think I enjoy Pete & Pete more now than I did when it was on TV. There were even some jokes I didn't get until I was an adult, like the inspired font jokes in the marching band episode and Iggy Pop calling someone a 'stooge' in another. It says a lot that I could see that kind of thing working on Arrested Development or other cult show for adults, and the episode about the telephone that won't stop ringing vaguely reminds me of the general feel and plot formulas of modern kids shows that appeal to adults like Regular Show and Adventure Time. And maybe even My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

However, none of those is cool enough to have this in their opening title sequence 

Earlier I said the show was influential on me, and that's been true throughout my life. During its initial run on TV, Pete & Pete presented such a different take on the world that its point of view and sense of humor began to rub off on me. It features surreal and absurdist ideas but they're never done in a cloying way or overemphasized to the point of insult. In fact the show has no self-awareness about any of its eccentricities, to the point that children's baseball teams called The Bacon Barn or Prosthetics can slip by you if you aren't paying attention. I think somehow this casual-ness about being weird helped me stop being so self conscious about how odd I was as a kid (and continue to be today). Pete & Pete tells the viewer “just be yourself” without needing a character to literally state this out loud. By not explaining any of its strange elements—Why did parents name both their sons Pete? What is the story with Artie? How did Little Pete get a tattoo when he's only a kid?—the show is implicitly telling you that you don't need to explain yourself, either.

The other way the show has influenced me is more of a subtle, longterm effect. See, one of the best things about Pete & Pete was that the creators were huge music fans. Various musicians appeared as guest stars—whether it was Michael Stipe as an ice cream seller or Iggy Pop as a recurring character—but more crucially the show always used music from various indie rock bands. The main soundtrack was provided by the band Miracle Legion (performing under the name Polaris) and was released as a CD, but there were many other bands who contributed a track or two in various episodes. Being exposed to this kind of music as a kid must've planted a seed that sprouted when I got older. Maybe I would've eventually gone beyond the obvious mainstream pop music even without Pete & Pete, but I think it would've taken longer without hearing 'Tidal Wave' by The Apples In Stereo and 'Satellite' by Luscious Jackson when I was young.

Speaking of music...If I can say with certainty that Radiohead's OK Computer was the key formative discovery of my life that led me to become who I am today, then I can also say that Pete & Pete helped to prepare me for liking weird things. Which, in a way, led me to OK Computer. For that, I'll be forever thankful.

Until next time, my little vikings...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

30 For 30: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

I turned 30 on February 18th. I want to celebrate this, and get myself back into writing, by spending a few weeks rambling about the 30 things that have meant the most to me over the years. These will be from music, movies, books, videogames, and maybe even art and other things for good measure. I feel like my life has been much more about the things I've experienced than it has the people I've known or the places I've traveled to, and these 30 things have helped to make my 30 years more than worth all the innumerable bad things. Expect heartfelt over-sharing and overly analytical explanations galore! In part 14, things maybe get a little too real. And I talk about what the ending is really asking.

It's a good thing that nobody I know in real life reads this blog, because today is about to get pretty real. You see, after a solid five months of clean living, I have fallen off the wagon in spectacular fashion, and the last week has been an almost nightly routine of beer and cigarettes. I don't expect any sympathy for, or tolerance of, my problems; you shouldn't expect any explanation or further details as to why this happened. It's complicated yet I suppose it's very simple, too. And no, it's not something as simple as “I just turned 30, I'm getting old, boo hoo!”

Anyway, I think I'd have to be in the midst of a bender to be able to write about Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind because of how much it brings up for me. This is the one entry in my 30 For 30 series that I dreaded sitting down to write. It's not necessarily that it stirs up memories of ex-girlfriends, though that is part of it. Moreso it's the way the movie makes me examine my own life, the poor choices I've made I wish I could forget and the mistakes I've made I wish I could take back. Though the movie is ostensibly about a troubled couple who erase memories of their relationship, I mostly experience it now as a mirror, by which I mean every time I've watched it for the past three years I barely notice what's happening on screen while instead staring at the stubble on my face and the bags under my eyes. Metaphorically speaking.

Perhaps the strangest thing about my continuing experience with Eternal Sunshine is that, when I saw it for the first time (with my first girlfriend) in the theater, I related to Joel but now I relate to Clementine. Whenever people ask me if I'd ever get a tattoo, and what it would be if I did, I just bluntly say “nah, I'm not a tattoo kind of guy”, although deep down I know I'd get a tattoo of Clem's line: “I'm just a fucked up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me your's.” Would I change it from “girl” to “guy” for my tattoo? No, because I like the idea of confusing the people at the autopsy and/or funeral home someday.

I really can't think of too much more to say about the film without veering into sloppy, rambling stories about ex-girlfriends or explaining in detail why Eternal Sunshine is such a unique, well acted, and astonishing looking movie. And despite mentioning alcohol earlier in this piece, I am actually sober while writing this, so don't expect much sloppy rambling. Rambling maybe, sloppy no. All the same, watching Eternal Sunshine almost does qualify as drinking for me because, like booze, it makes me feel great for awhile before it turns on me and I start to feel guilty about relationships that went bad, or at the very least, to second-guess many things in my life.

One could say that the film's ending argues that certain events are inevitable and that certain people are naturally—perhaps fatefully—drawn to each other. However, this has never been my experience, and I blame Eternal Sunshine for convincing me (for a few years) to believe that way, much to my detriment. Nowadays I'm a realist. Or a cynic. So I'm a big second-guesser and “what if?” question asker, often neurotically convincing myself if I had just done X, Y, and Z, or done them differently, things would have gone the way they were supposed to. Maybe a better way to say it is that I subscribe to the Terminator 2 idea of “no fate but what we make for ourselves” versus the Terminator 3 idea of “you only postponed it, Judgment Day is inevitable.”

Did I really just bring up the Terminator films? I swear I'm not drinking!

All digressions aside, the ending to me has become less about “do you believe in fate?” and morphed into a litmus test for whether you're a romantic or a realist. If you think Joel and Clem will actually stay together and work through their problems, then you're a romantic. If you think they're bound to keep having the same issues over and over and never grow past them, then you're a realist. Or maybe the better term is cynic. Whatever.

All I know is, I don't have an answer anymore. And maybe that's the root of my problem.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

30 For 30: Fallout

I turned 30 on February 18th. I want to celebrate this, and get myself back into writing, by spending a few weeks rambling about the 30 things that have meant the most to me over the years. These will be from music, movies, books, videogames, and maybe even art and other things for good measure. I feel like my life has been much more about the things I've experienced than it has the people I've known or the places I've traveled to, and these 30 things have helped to make my 30 years more than worth all the innumerable bad things. Expect heartfelt over-sharing and overly analytical explanations galore! In part 13, imagine Ron Perlman reading this entry out loud for the authentic Fallout experience.
While RPGs on videogame consoles had gotten better and better throughout the 90s, during the same period the genre had all but stagnated on PCs. Credit is largely given to BioWare for breathing life back into PC RPGs, but it's easy to forget that Fallout and its sequel were both out by the time Baldur's Gate arrived in late 1998. I don't want to diminish the impact that BioWare's classic had though I do think that Fallout deserves more credit than it gets, to say nothing of the Elder Scrolls series. Not so much for its influence on games released in its wake but rather for its originality and replayability, Fallout should be held up as one of those 'exceptions to the rule' games that proves companies don't need to rely on Fantasy or straight up Sci Fi settings to find an audience.

Even though Fallout's world and style borrows liberally from the Wasteland series, as well as other post-apocalyptic media like Mad Max, the addition of a retro-futuristic style gave the game its own personality. The inclusion of the song 'Maybe' by the Ink Spots and the famous Pip-Boy character make Fallout stand out from any other game of its era. Fallout is also a heavily atmospheric game, with a cinematic/ambient soundtrack that perfectly complements the environments of vast desert landscapes and run down post-apocalyptic settlements. This aesthetic and atmosphere is the crucial part of what makes the Fallout series what it is, far more than the overhead camera angle and turn based combat that most diehard fans want developers to bring back. This is why, despite being excited for the original version of what was supposed to be the third Fallout game (dubbed Van Buren), I wasn't worried when we first started to see what Bethesda was doing with their version of Fallout 3. In the midst of complaints that it was going to be a sloppily thrown together “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion but with guns”, I thought the addition of Fallout's aesthetic to a first person open world RPG in Bethesda's trademark style, if done properly, would be genius. Whatever flaws the game might have in the eyes of Fallout purists, I don't think there's any denying that Fallout 3 looks and feels like a Fallout game, which is a hell of a lot more than can be said for the execrable Fallout: Brotherhood Of Steel, a game everyone seems to have agreed to erase from history.

 Pip-Boy reenacts reaction to Brotherhood Of Steel

By today's standards, Fallout holds up pretty well. You might even be able to convince someone it was a modern day labor of love Kickstarter project to explain some of its awkward gameplay quirks as intentional throwbacks. Since character creation allows for a wide range of choices, you can usually find a way around the parts that prove difficult for your specific character because Fallout does a decent job of accounting for different builds and play styles. By contrast, I'd argue that the first Baldur's Gate suffers from close adherence to its license (Dungeons & Dragons, specifically the 2nd edition), so that the first few hours of the game can be ridiculously hard thanks to the random dice roll based combat. And god help you if you've never played the game before and you go for a Mage style character (Mages being notoriously underpowered and weak in the first few levels of any 2nd edition D&D experience). With Fallout, however, once you get over the slightly clunky interface you soon learn how the game is going to work and can adapt accordingly. It does suffer from the common mid-90s PC RPG issue where, unless you look up a FAQ, you won't know how important certain stats and abilities are going to be. For instance, you won't know that Throwing and Unarmed are useless skills unless you're going for a very specific character build. But once you learn how crucial Stimpacks are, the importance of aimed shots, the way the game's economy and barter system works, and how to maximize your AP usage during combat (by doing things like shooting enemies who use melee attacks from as far away as possible, forcing them to spend several turns moving before they can get close enough to hit you), Fallout plays as well as any modern game.

This AP abuse is a necessity against the god damn Deathclaws

I think the main reason it holds up so well, far better than Fallout 2, is that it isn't a terribly long game and encourages experimentation during subsequent replays. You can try to play through Fallout without killing anything, and conversely, you can wait until you have the best weapons and armor and go back through each town and kill everyone in it—including children, shockingly enough. Tired of shooting everything? Try a stealthy character who steals from people and plants explosives in the pockets of unwitting foes. Wonder what will happen if you min/max? Play through it with a low Intelligence stat, and the game accounts for this by giving you different dialogue options. On the flip side, if I recall correctly, you can play a character with high Speech and Science skills and talk the 'end boss' into realizing his plan is doomed to fail, avoiding a fight entirely. Fallout even lets you get a 'bad' ending by agreeing to join forces with the mutant army. Further adding to the replay and experimentation are the random events that happen when traveling on the world map—if you get really lucky, you can find a crashed UFO with the best gun in the game.

All of this aside, what makes Fallout mean something to me is the world that it builds. Which is perhaps ironic because it's not like other fictional worlds I want to escape into when reality has me down. This is why I find the appeal of it, and why it continues to mean something to me, hard to explain. The best I can do is to say that it gives me something that no other games or media can. It has a feel and atmosphere all its own, affecting me in a way that is somewhat dreamlike and yet somewhat nightmarish, too. It's perfect for playing late at night with headphones on, an eeriness seeming to pervade the room while you're wandering through post-apocalyptic ruins and scrounging for supplies in every nook and cranny. Sure, it has some goofy characters and moments that lighten the mood; I don't want to make Fallout seem as unendingly bleak as Silent Hill 2. But you know, it can be just as bleak at times, especially with its bummer of an ending, dooming your character to continue wandering the wasteland instead of returning home to live in the Vault you just saved. I wouldn't call it depressing, it's more melancholic, like the ending of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. And anytime I can compare a game to a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, it has to be worth something.