Foxified Culture: Incurable Optimist Michael J. Fox

How can I start an honest discussion about what Fox has meant to me? How can I pull him apart from my 28 years of experience in this world?

“Hope is optimism informed by knowledge.”

-- Christopher Reeve

For all my witticisms, for all my analysis of the cultural icon Michael J. Fox had become, his evolution from acting heartthrob to stem cell research activist to author and family man, and now reflecting on what his life has meant to me and how I might react to the tragic news of his death, I can’t help but fall speechless, neither a witty remark nor a smarmy pun to save my life. (Well, there’s a small one, but I’ll need humor to get through this article.)

Silence is perhaps the start, because however much I try to imagine that lackluster world, I always hit an almost insurmountable mental brick wall, lost at the shoreline of my vague emotions, like awaking in a dark, unfamiliar room, suddenly possessed by existential despair, no idea where the switch waits to light the way into the future. Silence offers a chance to think, to process. Silence gives us the opportunity to accept these celebrity tragedies, to grieve for a moment before we pull ourselves from the bed of depression and conquer the new day. Just as Fox writes about his experience waking each morning in his newest memoir Always Looking Up:

At the turn from our bedroom into the hallway, there is an old full-length mirror in a wooden frame. I can’t help but catch a glimpse of myself as I pass. Turning fully toward the glass, I consider what I see. This reflected version of myself, wet, shaking, rumpled, pinched, and slightly stooped, would be alarming were it not for the self-satisfied expression pasted across my face. I would ask the obvious question, “What are you smiling about?” but I already know the answer: “It just gets better from here.”

It’s that optimism, that smile that I will remember, mourn, and emulate (or at least try to emulate). Unfortunately, this piece isn’t about silence; it’s about Michael J. Fox, or more accurately, how Fox has been somehow woven into the fabric of this writer outside the spotlight named Justin Dimos. How can I start an honest discussion about what Fox has meant to me? How can I pull him apart from my 28 years of experience in this world? (He isn’t just an appendage of mine that I can study and somehow rationalize on a therapist’s couch after all.) And more to the point, how can I hope to imagine a world -- even my small world -- without him, especially now that he’s planted the seed of modern optimism and brave scientific innovation is so many of us 20-something folks who have watched him blossom over the decades?

After much silence -- and staring at my blank computer screen for hours, unable to articulate the reasons why I’ve invested so much emotion is this public figure named Michael J. Fox, a man whom I’ve never met in person, a man I will probably never meet face-to-face -- there comes only possibilities. There are no answers, no quick logical fixes to the mourning I know will suddenly surge to the surface when I hear the NPR announcement of his death one morning, but only misty, fragmented possibilities that will inevitably contribute to my quiet desperation; and though I don’t myself suffer from Parkinson’s, I’m positive that my friends and family will happen upon me and notice the “mask face” I can’t seem to budge, a bradykinesia of the heart.

* * *

“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.”

-- Muhammad Ali

Perhaps you could attribute this celebrity attachment of mine to Fox’s presence throughout my lifetime. Though I can’t seem to remember much from my childhood, what I can remember are countless afternoons at my grandmother’s house, my brother and I huddled around the television watching reruns of Family Ties, Alex P. Keaton somehow connecting with family as he attempted yet another get-rich-quick scheme, usually (and often satirically) involving the republican party. I can remember watching Marty McFly charging the time circuits of the flux capacitor and driving his DeLorean back to 1955 as Doc Brown is gunned down, my parents prattling on about Christopher Llyod, all the while mesmerized by Fox’s charisma -- I was just a kid back then after all. Let’s not forget about Teen Wolf (1985) and Doc Hollywood (1991) and The Frighteners (1996) and Spin City (1996–2000) and the dozen other movies and television shows that kept him constantly present in my daily existence (at least cinematically).

Thing is, I never once considered how his death would affect me back then. Even while my parents mourned the deaths of celebrities like James Cagney (1986) and Frank Sinatra (1998) as I was graduating high school, my idols weren’t the same, and I was far too young to bolster my emotions for their inevitable demise. Yet now, as I read and research more about Fox’s life achievements for this article, I find myself reminiscing about those cult classics that acted as markers in my life: basketball tryouts after watching Teen Wolf or that first date with an ex-girlfriend watching For Love or Money. Logically, I know Fox didn’t intentionally mean to punctuate the chapters of my life -- why would he? -- but since he moved to Los Angeles at 18 (before graduating high school even), found an agent, and landed his infamous television gig, he’s somehow acted as a kind of pop cultural guardian angel, lifting my spirits with his seemingly overzealous, keen acting ability.

* * *

“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”

-- Lance Armstrong

And perhaps my connection to Fox can be attributed to how impressed I’ve been by the fortitude with which he’s made his decisions, too. One minute an actor drowning in a drinking problem, the next a sober, loving father and husband -- he has never whined or complained about the cards he’s been dealt. He simply accepts his responsibilities and adjusts his life accordingly, and how many times I’ve skirted such hard decisions, instead choosing the path of least resistance? How many times have I envied Fox’s determination?

Especially now! Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, his brain sporadically electrifying his nerves, jumpstarting his limbs uncontrollably, he manages a smile; he continues to make guest appearances on shows like Scrubs and Rescue Me; he had become a superb example of husbandry and fatherhood despite his disease (and maybe because of his disease); and he’s even published two memoirs now, both of which have proven themselves to be two of the most honest, sincere, and inspirational books I’ve ever read (and I’ve read thousands of books!).

Personally speaking, just the idea of continuing ahead with my life as I struggle with a degenerative disease (say Alzheimer’s, for example) terrifies me. Part of myself constantly slipping away, forever lost, who wouldn’t be terrified? And yet Fox proceeds forward, unashamed, writing about his devotion to human development in Always Looking Up, neither flaunting nor denying his condition. Interview after interview, democratic commercial after commercial, he refuses to hide behind his Parkinson’s, but rather continues to educate and work towards a practical cure. How can you not love him?

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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