Just got off work at midnight, so now I won't be able to sleep for, like, three hours. The retail game gets a little exciting during the third week of December, as the reader can no doubt guess, so those of us out there on the frontlines get pretty fired up. We get home and we’re like Vietnam vets; we can’t fit back into normal society. Our faces are frozen in a pleasant, helpful expression. Our hands shake. Ask Tim Jensen—he saw me today; I was bouncing off the walls.
But school is done for now, so that’s good. I have no comment about my academic performance until my grades are officially posted, but at least now I can try to read books. Of course that means I immediately threw myself headlong into T.R. Pynchon’s new 1100-page monstrosity, Against the Day. The critics were not all kind to this one (some were) but for those of us who are fans it’s still a big deal. It’s weird now, though: we were so used to the idea of Pynchon as bizarre reclusive genius, but now we’ve gotten to know him as Wacky Guy on The Simpsons With a Bag on His Head. It’s like if the Pope went on Conan, or something. I'm sure that this is exactly what he's always wanted, but how will it affect our reading of this doorstop of a book? So far (page 200 or so) I think it’s pretty great, absolutely no surprises, lots of science and very long sentences and evil capitalists and musical numbers.
Got that Pernice Brothers album I was feeling guilty about a while back. Pretty good. If I made you listen to any of their others and you liked them, you should get this one too. If you’re new, here’s the deal: Joe Pernice is a Boston-based singer and songwriter with a small-but-devoted following. He does indeed have a brother, Bob, who sometimes plays on the records, but that’s still sort of a silly name for the band. He’s got a frail-but-pretty voice and he sings glum-but-perfectly-crafted little grown-up pop songs of the kind that some of us can’t get enough of. 2001’s The World Won’t End and 2003’s Yours, Mine & Ours are improbably wonderful little masterpieces. Get them.
Live a Little, the new album, is not quite up there on that level, but it’s got plenty of great moments. “Zero Refills” keeps the spirit of 70’s soft rock alive in winning fashion—and I have to say that title seems to betray a certain fascination with prescription medications that I’ve noticed before. (This is the guy who came up with one of my favorite song titles ever, “Prince Valium.” Great tune, too.) “PCH One” and “B.S. Johnson” are graceful and pretty despite not having good titles at all. "Somerville" is so perfect that you won't realize it until you're singing it three days later. There are some are some dull spots in the middle: Joe is showing a distressing tendency since Discover a Lovelier You towards mannered, overwritten lyrics and tunes that don’t quite make it. Those songs (“Microscopic View,” “Lightheaded”) are still in the minority, but it’s a little troubling when the most affecting moment here is “Grudge Fuck 2006,” which as the title indicates is a retooled version of a song Pernice originally recorded in 1996 with his first band, the Scud Mountain Boys. Direct, melodic, and self-lacerating, it reminds you how great of a songwriter this guy can be, and makes you wish he’d just remember that.
I also got that Joanna Newsom that I was so anxious about. Don’t know what to say yet. This is some crazy-weird stuff. If you’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more harp, this might be for you. It might be as good as everyone says. I’ll let you know.