Everyone is approaching the ‘Stranger Things’ song challenge incorrectly

Pick your favorite song.

No, not just your favorite song.

Pick a song that’s so good it can bring you out of a funk and restore your soul.

Pick a song that would drive out a demon and prevent you from being dragged to the Upside Down and devoured.

OK, the previous paragraph needs an explanation.

“Stranger Things” is a show on the streaming service Netflix about a bunch of teenage misfits who save the world by basically understanding Dungeons & Dragons and a little bit of high school science.

Many movies in the 1980s worked this way. Pre-adolescent children saved the world while clueless adults watched the news.

“Stranger Things” is in its fourth season. In one episode, the character Max is about to be dragged to the Upside Down — the show’s version of hell — but she’s saved at the last second by her ex-boyfriend remembering her favorite song is ”Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush.

He plays the song on her Walkman cassette, and she avoids a trip to hell.

This is silly, but it tugs at the heartstrings of many people from my generation who were raised on movies, TV, and music.

This plot point inspired scores of columns and news stories about what song people would choose to prevent being dragged to hell by a vampire tree monster.

This is silly, too, but the larger the news outlet is, the sillier its stories are.

But I’ll play along.

Let’s say I buy into this premise that a pop song could save me from a demon.

My first instinct would be the Lord’s Prayer rather than a pop music song.

I was raised Methodist. I don’t practice, but with an actual demon dragging me to the Upside Down, I’ll start reciting the prayer with emphasis.

Alas, this is modern content on a streaming service.

The only way religion can be presented is to be totally ignored, as it is in “Stranger Things,” or alluded to with snide mockery, as it is far too many other places.

So, if religion is off the table, what song would I pick?

I used to have a CD collection that numbered in the high thousands.

Side note: Parents 2.0, the kindly couple who raised me after my parents died, gave me my first CD player and five CDs to fill up the 5-disc changer.

As my collection started to pile up around the house, Dad 2.0 offered a note on frugality that I wish I had considered earlier in my life.

“You can only listen to one at a time,” he said.

Anyway, back to the “Stranger Things” song challenge.

I thought about this for weeks and I don’t have a good answer.

Part of the problem is I’m a middle-aged man. Music doesn’t occupy the same space in my life that it did when I was an adolescent or college kid.

My friend Tracey Doyle always seemed to know about every band and their story before anyone else had heard them play a note.

She might take a while to answer this question because the breadth of her musical knowledge is so huge.

Me? I learned most of my favorite songs from movie soundtracks and commercial radio. The songs I’m fondest of are tied to specific memories.

“Lady in Red” by Chris De Burgh reminds me of my first girlfriend, my first kiss, and a lovely dance at the 12-B formal in 1992.

If the demon’s tendrils were around my ankle, I don’t think a love song that recalls a long-ago-ended relationship will be the thing to inspire me to kick free.

My favorite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival. I constantly play their greatest hits in my car.

Would “Fortunate Son” going to wrest me free from the demon?

I don’t know. I think of CCR as my chill music. I like to put on the headphones, close my eyes, and space out.

My favorite artist is Taylor Swift. I love “No Body, No Crime” from her “Evermore” album, but is a country noir murder ballad going to prevent my murder by demons?

I doubt it.

I think the only thing that would shake the demons out of me is a song I despise more than the idea of being eaten by a tree vampire.

Only one song fits that bill: “Ebony and Ivory,” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.

Two of the greatest songwriters and artists combined to make this simplistic, sentimental pap.

I hate this song. I know others love it. It might even be some poor, lost soul’s favorite song.

That’s fine.

We’re all free to choose which things we love and hate in this world, especially unimportant things like pop music.

And I hate “Ebony and Ivory.”

Just a few notes of it pouring into my ears would have me fist-fighting the devil himself.

By the time they reach the chorus, I would be free of the demon and running down the road.

The only stop I’d make is at church, to say the Lord’s Prayer.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Gazette.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

‘Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness’ places a heavy continuity burden on moviegoers

“Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” is a mouthful of a title.

It’s also a lot for a film.

I liked it.

I’m inclined to like Marvel Studios movies because I grew up reading comic books.

I never imagined big-time Hollywood blockbusters headlined by characters once as obscure as Doctor Strange, played by the genuinely terrific Benedict Cumberbatch.

Now there’s a whole generation of people who’ve grown up knowing nothing but movies and TV shows about superheroes.

What a time to be alive.

Still, I wonder how much continuity Disney can pile on movies before they collapse back into a secret language for nerds.

To understand the events of “Madness,” one needs to have at least a sense of movies dating back to the 1990s and maybe comic books back to 1962.

At a minimum, one should have seen the “WandaVision” series on Disney+ — or at least read the Wikipedia description — and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to even be slightly clued into the underpinnings of the plot.

Oh, yeah, and you should probably watch the cartoon series “What If,” also on Disney+.

I am not cynical enough to say entertainment moguls Disney and the comic book culture are designed to suck you in with one or two good stories and then empty your wallet for the next decade with associated and often lesser associated intellectual property.

But it is a lot of characters and events to keep track of.

The middle of the film is filled with cameos of characters that go back to mediocre-to-terrible movies with Marvel heroes once owned by Fox beginning in 1999.

I’ve seen all these movies.

I get a rush.

But is the rush just for people like me?

“Madness” feels like a tipping point for Marvel movies.

How much will Disney ask the casual moviegoer to know before they show up for their movies will make any kind of sense?

This is the 27th Marvel film. I’m too lazy to count the pre-Marvel Studios movies at Fox, Universal, and other studios.

And I’ve no interest in counting all the TV shows and cartoons.

Is it possible to enjoy “Madness” without all the backstories?

I don’t know.

I’ve watched all the backstories.

I had fun.

That’s all I ask out of a movie.

Director Sam Raimi added all those weird background tricks he does to make his movie’s aesthetics spooky and odd.

“Madness” could be considered a horror movie. There are lots of gross monsters, evil doppelgangers, and at least one zombie.

I don’t want to get into where it ranks against all the other Marvel movies.

There are podcasters and YouTube influencers galore to do that.

I’ll just say this: If you’ve enjoyed all or most of what’s come before in this unprecedented string of cinematic continuity, you’ll likely enjoy this.

But if this is a movie you walked into cold, having only heard about the pop culture phenomenon, it may feel like you got a Twinkie without the cream filling.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

The Oscars just keep getting easier to ignore

They held the Oscars on Sunday.

I didn’t watch.

I played Van Morrison’s greatest hits while I made lesson plans for school.

The Academy nominated Morrison for “Best Original Song.” He didn’t win; that was as close as I came to the Oscars.

I used to watch the Oscars as a boy. I grew up in Winterset in the days before the rehab of the Iowa Theater. My parents and I seldom went to movies in Des Moines.

The kinds of movies I wanted to see weren’t the kinds of movies that won Oscars.

But I liked movies a lot.

I watched the Oscars to see clips of the movies.

I watched “At the Movies” with Chicago movie critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert when it was on PBS for the same reason.

These clips proved cultural crib notes. My friends seemed to see more movies than me, so I would memorize the scenes I saw on Siskel and Ebert or the Oscars and pretend I’d seen the films.

I wanted to fit in more in my younger days.

The watched the Oscars in 1998. I rooted for “As Good as It Gets,” one of my favorite films with Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear.

The three actors took the top awards, but the movie lost to “Titanic,” which I hadn’t seen and still have not seen.

The media, as it often does, beat me senseless with stories about how much people loved “Titanic,” how girls swooned as Leonardo DiCaprio slid off the door and died. The radio lambasted me with that tortuous Celine Dion song, “My Heart Will Go On.”

I hated “Titanic” having not watched a frame. That’s terribly unfair, but when it comes to entertainment, I reserve the right to be irrational.

This leads me to the 2022 edition of the Oscars.

I saw two of the Best Picture nominees, “Nightmare Alley” and “Licorice Pizza,” especially the latter. I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age movie.

The movie that won, “CODA,” I knew nothing about and had heard nothing about before the Oscars.

I probably won’t watch it. It streams on Apple+; I have more pressing financial needs.

I saw Andrew Garfield and Benedict Cumberbatch were up for Best Actor, but it turns out not for the film I saw them in: “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The biggest problem with the Oscars is that it’s boring. I don’t care about what the actors wear on the red carpet nor do I care about their thoughts on Russia’s war against Ukraine or even the evening’s event.

Therein lies the Oscar’s’ other biggest problem: Somebody is always selling their worldview and labeling anyone who disagrees as some kind of hate monger.

Actors are artists and, as such, often passionate. I am a writer, a kind of artist, and I am often passionate.

Actors have aired their political beliefs at the Oscars for decades.

Marlon Brando famously sent a Sacheen Littlefeather to the 1973 awards ceremony to refuse his Oscar for playing crime boss Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.”

Littlefeather spoke against the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans in film and chastised the United States government for its violation of treaties.

This sort of thing started before I was born and continues.

I don’t know what political drumbeats were struck Sunday.

I do know Will Smith punched Chris Rock over Rock’s joke about his wife, which is either a new low or a new high for the Oscars. I really don’t know how to tell the difference.

Before the show, I know Sean Penn threatened to smelt both of his Oscars if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy were not allowed to speak.

I would think Zelenskyy would have better things to do than talk to the swells of Hollywood. My understanding is the Russians are murdering civilians, blowing up hospitals, and waging war against Ukraine.

I fail to see what an appearance on the Oscars does for Ukrainians, other than make a collection of America’s richest and most detached from reality people feel slightly more important.

Russia’s actions in the Ukraine are abhorrent. They make me sad for people displaced and killed for seemingly no reason.

The atrocities scare me. If the U.S. gets directly involved, that raises the threat of nuclear war to its highest point since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

That’s the endgame.

These kind of world events reminds us how small we are. I can empathize, cry, protest, and shake my fist at the sky about what Russia is doing all I want.

But it will do nothing other than shake up my already jangled nerves and blood pressure.

This must be hard for celebrities. People look up to them. They see them as leaders and heroes, even though they really are not.

It must be especially hard for celebrities to face a crisis like the war in Ukraine.

Their outsized fame misleads them into thinking their speechifying can change the world the way their characters do on screen.

They can’t.

They, like the rest of us, can do other things: Donate to the Red Cross, the world’s greatest humanitarian organization or support other groups that help refugees.

Nothing said on the Oscars by celebrities will matter either.

There was a political dust-up at the 1978 Oscars. You can look up the details online, but presenter Paddy Chayefsky, the writer of the excellent movie “Network,” said, in part, “winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.’”

Former journalist and future teacher Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.