Saturday, December 06, 2008
It's a truism that Bonus Tracks aren't necessarily worth your time or money. The songs left over from the recording of an album that turn up on EPs and Special Editions a year after the original album makes a critical or commercial splash. Obviously, if you're a fan you have to buy them, and everybody involved knows that--but those songs got left out for a reason, and everybody knows that too.
The National's Virginia EP is a nice cut above average, in this respect. Took me a while to give it the attention it deserved, but now I'm really happy it's out there. Some live leftovers and unfinished fragments, but a few songs that stand proudly next to the real, known stuff--to "Mistaken For Strangers," and "Secret Meeting," and the rest. When you make a moment-capturing masterpiece like Boxer, you'll have some good stuff to spare. ("Blank Slate" is another dark/funny x-ray of the universal Matt Berninger character--"gonna jump out of a cake with my heart on a string." Full of questionable notions, but luckily too scared to carry them out. I sympathize.)
And "Tall Saint" is terrific--officially a "demo," but it sounds perfectly fine. Got its string part in place and everything. And it's an example of one of the Unacknowledged Secret Genres: the Lost Title Track. It's clear, if you're looking, that "Tall Saint" was meant to make it onto Boxer. It's certainly about the same sort of person, again, and those of us who actually have the physical CD have the textual evidence. No lyric sheet for Boxer, naturally--we have a distant B&W shot of the band apparently frolicking in a meadow. (Perhaps they've returned to Ohio for a Lost Afternoon. We can hope.) Printed, we've just got two cryptic lyric fragments: "Let them all have your neck," from "Ada," and, across from it, the sardonic anononymous advice that the speaker of "Pale Saint" hears as he lies stunned on the pavement. Stay down, champion, stay down. So, really, this guy is the "boxer" of the title, the stand-in for the rest of these haunted losers and for Berninger himself. Taking punishment for a living and getting back up when he probably shouldn't.
(No less a record than OK Computer is my Secret Genre-defining example. That awkward, cryptic title comes from outtake "Palo Alto," which eventually showed up on the Airbag/How's My Driving EP. Not a bad tune, but sounds too much like The Bends--and Radiohead having a song about Silicon Valley is just too literal-minded somehow. Like if Springsteen had a song about Chrysler.)
Thursday, December 04, 2008
"For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti."
You must love Sufjan, even if you are rolling your eyes as you do it. He's ours, after all. Midwestern, sad and sincere. Unapologetic mystic and unapologetic banjo-ist. Sort of arbitrarily elevated to Hip Pantheon four years ago by people who would probably be uncomfortable if a man wearing wings (!) came up to him on the street talking about the various things Sufjan likes to sing about. Saul Bellow and serial killers and the God of Abraham, etc.
This is an early song, from the first of his records to get wide attention. So it's comparatively sparse. Banjo, piano, trumpet, delicate vocal harmonies...wait, did I say sparse? But it's nice. And, naturally, it seems to be sung from God's point of view. Sufjan knows just how He feels.
And place names are their own poetry, of course, and Mr. Stevens knows that as deeply as I do. Even if he were wearing the wings, I know that I could just say Ypsilanti and we both would smile. Wouldn't be awkward at all. Ypsilanti is a frail, mysterious sort of name for a sad and weary sort of place. And I walked there, once. It took a day. I was young and excitable. I pretend to be different now. A long and silly story that is nonetheless so useful that I'm saving it.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Is the title exactly spot-on appropriate? Eh, not so much. The title of the novel/film seems likely to refer to Ed Tom Bell, virtuous sheriff, the Tommy Lee Jones character from the movie, and to the "old-timers" whom he wants to emulate. He's freaked out and unmanned by his world's seemingly arbitrary descent into savagery--it's no longer any country for him, as you can tell from his increasingly haunted expression in the movie. The speaker of "Sailing to Byzantium" seems a bit more conventionally crotchety and snobbish. He just hates the young because they're constantly singing and having sex, and have no respect for Culture in the way that he does. Hence he's getting the hell out the West to go someplace Old and Religious. If you happen to be under sixty and a fan of "sensual music," it'd be easy to snicker at the guy. But that's what poetry is for--it's allowed to just be right, whatever might be absurd about what it's actually saying. Who's gonna argue with freakin' Yeats? Consume my heart away; sick with desire / And fastened to a dying animal / It knows not what it is... Not me. Nice words. Pretty words. Keep saying words, Mr. William Butler sir.
Haven't even said anything about that movie. Pretty fine movie. No Lebowski, certainly. I'll get back to it.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The tragic news casting a pall over the Obama victory last night is the passage of constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage in Florida, Arizona, and, it appears, California. In Florida, a state that went for Obama by a 51-49 percent margin, 62 percent of voters pulled the lever for the gay marriage ban. That means that the hardcore religious right, which fueled the placement of these bans on the ballot in all three states and spearheaded the campaigns for their passage, succeeded in not only mobilizing their followers -- who were led to believe that gay marriage would spell the end of religious liberty for Christians -- but in casting the issue in a way that appealed to more moderate voters as well.
I guess we can hope that this is a healthy slap in the face, a cold reminder, here in our Finest Hour. We might be living in the Future, now, but we can’t pretend it’s an unrecognizable place. They’re all still out there, the hardcore conservative true believers, with all of their vicious banality. The era of their freakishly hypertrophied power is done with, but they’re not going to go quietly or cleanly.
But damn. Think about all those eighty-year-old black people turning out to vote for Obama. They got born into a world where they were the objects of smirking contempt and hysterical fear—but redemption, they knew, was just around the corner. It was gonna be okay; Langston Hughes said so. Then skip forward a few depressing decades, and these same people are still thinking well, maybe in another generation or two it won’t matter so much. The ones who lived to see this morning are happy now, if “happy” is even the word for something like that. But there are other people feeling that bitter resignation all over the country this morning. Oh, well. Maybe our kids will get to marry whomever they feel like.
But to be young was very heaven!
History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
Some Arrogant Jerk
Come on if you think you can take us on…
You forget so easy
We ride tonight.
First thoughts, late:
The triumphalist narrative is that the nation has at last Redeemed Itself for all that slavery stuff—and that’s a bit over-the-top, but I’m all too happy to go with the exuberant moment. (You don’t get too many of them, after all.) But this redemption goes all the way down to the prosaic level, which makes it more satisfying. The popular and electoral vote margins are much higher than either of Bush’s. My state, which was National Shame Ground Zero four Novembers ago, has put the shame behind it—almost matching the national popular vote margin. And though I can barely believe it, my county, as white as the day is long, except on its state university campus, has surpassed the statewide margin of victory, and maybe the national margin. Too soon to tell.
And yeah, of course, like a certain number of other people embarrassed and appalled by the result the last time, I managed to do a couple things this time around to maybe improve that outcome a little. I’m not gonna take all the credit. But I parked cars for Senator Biden. And I canvassed the home of Major League Baseball manager Jim Leyland’s…nephew. There.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Commenter Adm points to the LOLCat Bible, which will of course make you laugh if you're a student of this kind of Intertubes Esoterica, and if you aren't will make you back away in baffled horror like John McCain stumbling into a midnight Rocky Horror screening. E.g. Matthew 7:1, which I trust we're familiar with:
Well, okay then. But I read around the texts, and of course the LOLCat Bible is a community translation project--if one person had done this on their own, it would be enormously disturbing. But of course that means that the quality and tone are all over the place. [Just like in the REAL Bible d00d!!!111 OMG!] I thought Psalm 137 was a bit disappointing. (By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept, etc.) It's even more overused than "Teh Second Coming," but it's been a deeply affecting poem for twenty-five centuries or so--you expect it to deliver the goods. And "Kthx fer teh fluids of Babylon we were all like, n0000000001!11!! when we faut back bout Zion?" OK, maybe.
But this is linguistically complicated. LOLspeak (I CAN HAS CHEESEBURGER?) isn't exactly the same as Message Board-speak which isn't quite the same as Gamer/ Hacker slang (pwnd!!11) which is not quite the same TextmessageSpeak, though obviously they're all closely related. And I'm not fluent in any of them, really. (Hell, when I have to send text messages I use commas and quotation marks and stuff because it hurts my brain not to.) But I guess you could look at this "Bible" as a noble attempt at some kind of Grand Synthesis of Post-Literate Digital Prose Styles.
I can sympathize. After all, I'm a Synthesizer by calling. I know approximately two facts about approximately every subject ever. I guess maybe I'm supposed to explain everybody to everybody else. Sigh.
Monday, October 27, 2008
That said: Dr. Krugman--Paul--this sort of thing must stop.
Economic data rarely inspire poetic thoughts. But as I was contemplating the latest set of numbers, I realized that I had William Butler Yeats running through my head: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”I'm going to right now declare a Mandatory Global Moratorium on the use of "The Second Coming" in any discussion of Current Events. Yes! Of course I've done it. We've all done it! It's so easy, and it always feels horrifyingly appropriate! But that's why it's a cliché! You think oh just this once, it won't hurt anyone; anyone can see that the tragedy is that THE BEST LACK ALL CONVICTION! How true that is! And things falling apart? Hell, that happens to me ALL THE TIME.
Really, anybody who's used that "worst are full of passionate intensity" bit in the past decade--and you know you have!--has to remind themself that they probably don't agree with old W.B., or he wouldn't agree with them, about who exactly the "worst" are. But that's not even the point! We've done him the courtesy of overlooking that whole Unfortunate Politics thing because of the whole Genius thing, and rightly so. But for the sake of decency, we also have to stop beating this creepy poem into the rhetorical ground.
So let's just leave it here. The center cannot hold. Fine. Let's all agree to find another way to point that out. No more blood-dimmed tides! No more mere anarchy loosed upon the world! And for the sake of all that is holy, no more slouching of any kind by anybody towards anywhere! There's a book on my shelf called Slouching Toward Fargo, for the love of god! About minor-league baseball! And of course one-time Supreme Court nominee (and present-day batshit crazy Mitt Romney fan) Robert Bork really did in all seriousness put out a book called Slouching Towards Gomorrah. (For somebody worried about the Decline of the West, that's a spectacularly incoherent mash-up of two different pseudo-Biblical tropes that have long since outlived their usefulness.)
(The same goes for any unironic citing of Polonius's advice to his children. Never do what that guy tells you! Go ahead, kids, be a borrower. It's fun!)
[Footnote: while typing this, I for one brief moment had the title of the poem written as "Teh Second Coming," which should provoke giggles in other online children like myself. That's the perfect shorthand for this kind of Media Yeats Abuse! Yeats r00l1z!!!!11 Ezra Pound is teh suck!]
Friday, October 24, 2008
Anyway, here's a little story I wrote. Hadn't written any fiction since my schoolboy days--i.e. a year ago--and wasn't really sure I still could. But I was happily forced. Friend of a friend was running a Halloween themed art show, and I was told to come up with something seasonally appropriate, so they could maybe have some kind of "spooky" reading. Well, the show seemed to be a success, but the "reading" part apparently fell by the wayside--too loud and too many people, anyway. But I'd dashed off this little thing, just in case. And because it was just a lark, an exercise in creepy surrealism for its own sake, it was easy and fun to write instead of stressful and sickening. This might be the key to something. It still sounds like me, after all. (Aimless youth! Mournful guys making wisecracks!) No reason it couldn't become a "real" story of some kind, eventually.
I'd been reading H.P. Lovecraft at work, and I realized I could just inject that freaked-out paranoid aesthetic into my usual Mournful Inarticulate People world. And I could make it happen at Maumee Bay State Park. So I did.
The Yellow Island
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
(From "The Call of Cthulhu")
We were on the boardwalk at the edge of the lake and it was getting rapidly darker, when L told me the one about the island. L said a great many things that didn't make much sense to me, but I always believed her. I had to. Once she told me that there were gas stations all around the city that didn't sell gas—if you were lucky enough to stumble upon one, what came out of the pumps would be silver and opaque and give off a wild rich odor that you wouldn't recognize, and something would happen to your car that would be hard to put your finger on. It would just run better, somehow, or just feel more like it was yours. She said it had happened to her college roommate, but that she didn't have the girl's phone number any more.
She said you shouldn't let the silver stuff touch your skin. I pointed out that you shouldn't get regular gas all over your skin, either, but she just looked at me with something like pity. She knew things, things that it took a great deal out of you to know, and all I could do was point out the flaws in her peculiar little arguments. She never stopped telling me her stories, though.
Once she told me that her cousin was a werewolf—not the kind you're thinking of, she said, but wouldn't explain what kind she meant. She told me she knew a guy who'd gotten cancer because he used the wrong light bulbs. She told me her father was so nervous sometimes that you could see through him. Literally, she said. He shivers and you can see through the spaces between his atoms. Not much; you couldn't watch TV through him, or anything. But you can make out the color of the wall behind him.
And that day by the lake she told me about the yellow island. The wind was rattling the tall grass, and you couldn't see the lake at all until you were right on top of it. We all lived only a few miles from the lake, L pointed out, but we never saw it—it was hidden behind factories and weeds and ragged useless woods. Things could go on there that nobody knew about—and sure enough, things did.
We were at the end of the boardwalk, where you can climb a few feet up a few wooden stairs to a little platform, where suddenly there the lake is, like you just remembered something important. You can't see a whole lot, really. You can see lights on the shore to the west, getting dimmer as they get further to the north. You can't see the far side at all.
You can't see the yellow island, but L assured me it was there, just out of sight.
"How exactly is it yellow?" I asked, and she just looked at me. It wasn't the look of pity this time, and I knew that I believed every word she told me and that I always would. She was just looking, and her eyes were a sharper and harder green than I remembered.
"It is," she said. "Just yellow. Like some kid's drawing of the sun. Like crayon. You wouldn't know what you were looking at."
"Sounds just adorable," I said. "What a cute little island. I guess I'd like to see that."
"You wouldn't," she said. "You wouldn't like it if you did." I didn't laugh because I couldn't laugh while I looked at her.
"How do you know?" I said.
"I've seen it," she said. "Two summers ago. You didn't know me then. I went out after work with all these people from the bar I was working at. I didn't know anybody that well."
"What bar?" I asked.
"It's not there anymore," she said, simply. "But the owner's kid like to hang out with all of us deadbeats who worked there, sometimes—real asshole, but he had a lot of money to throw around, and he wanted to be cool. And this time he had brought this friend who nobody knew, some other rich kid, but this friend had a boat, and we all went out on the lake at night. Everybody drank a lot. People were telling stories about all the sick shit they and their friends had done—you know, stuff they'd stolen from their neighbors and what drugs you'd never heard of that their older brother could get. You know. I remember this one girl—Emily, I think was her name—she kind of freaked out, but I don't remember why.
"No, I do remember," she said, suddenly, interrupting herself. "It was that guy, the friend of the non-friend, the boat guy. He kept saying weird shit. But he was saying it to me, is what's funny, not to that Emily chick. He kinda fixated on me, and I was letting him. Not because I like him, but because I didn't care. But you know how some guys have to, like, point out constellations and stars and shit when they're out at night with a girl?"
"I do that," I said.
"I know," she said. "But it was like he got stuck. He kept pointing over my head, and saying Algol, like it was the only name he could remember. I still remember it, and I don't know anything about stars. Algol, he kept saying. You know that, right? Algol. The eye of the Gorgon. The winking demon. Winking. You know that, right? And I didn't do anything, but Emily started crying and throwing up over the side of the boat, and then I guess the subject got changed. I guess maybe we were all doing something else for a while, playing some stupid word-association game, or drinking game, or something.
"Then it was getting light," she said, "and I don't remember who noticed it first, but it seemed like really suddenly we could all see the yellow island, maybe a quarter mile away. Hard to tell distance on the water, you know? But the island, you could tell it wasn't supposed to be there, like that. Nothing's really that color, you know? It was just flat and empty, and I couldn't tell how big it was or what it was made of. It didn't look like, you know, dirt. It was—not shiny exactly, but it was reflecting too much light. It was too yellow. It was like all the yellow things that anybody ever lost were getting together in one place, they'd been piling up on the bottom of the lake for years and now they were above the surface. And it was familiar. I thought, oh, right, that. I've heard about that, even though I never had. Nobody knew what to say about it. I could tell we were all scared, sort of, but nobody said anything. The weird guy just turned the motor back on and pointed the boat back toward the city. Everybody was pretty drunk, and the sun really hurt my eyes. We all stumbled off and nobody talked about the island the next day, or any day after that. I couldn't remember the weird guy's name, and he never showed up again, and when I asked the owner's kid about him a couple months later—we were both drunk again, at some stupid party—he acted like he didn't know who I was talking about. And at first I thought he was just playing dumb, that he didn't want me knowing his friend for some reason, but then I sort of believed him."
She wasn't looking at me anymore. Just staring out across the lake. It was totally dark by then, and I couldn't see the horizon. There was one light out in the darkness. I know there's a lighthouse out there somewhere, but I've never seen it.
She looked to the east and pointed at the sky, and I followed her perfect small hand with my eyes.
"Algol," she said. "The winking demon." She sighed.
"So now, since then," she said, "I get sick at yellow traffic lights."
"I think I've heard about that," I said.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Senator McCain pledges to firmly face down the threat posed by, uh, Spain.
Prime Minister Zapatero: Mr. President, my government offers our support in this crisis. I give you my word as a Spaniard.
President McCain, through clenched teeth: No good. I've known too many Spaniards.
McCain also promises to take a firm stand on aggression by the King of Siam, and to take swift and decisive action against the Barbary Pirates.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
But in the importance and noise of tomorrow...
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
"But on this one afternoon, the fan's vibration combined with some set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head...it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner of my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there...it was a bit like a sail, or a small part of the wing of something far too large to be seen in totality. It was total psychic horror: death, decay, dissolution, cold empty black malevolent lonely voided space.
I understood on an intuive level why people killed themselves."
Infinite Jest (1996), 650
Yeah, he knew about this. And we knew he knew. Oddly and horribly, that makes it more shocking--you thought, this guy understands so intimately the stuff a mind can do to itself, and he can write about it more cleanly and funnier and more nakedly than, like, anybody else ever. And that made you think that he was ahead of the game, somehow, that he was smarter than all the awfulness and somehow that made him free from it. That he'd won. Doesn't work like that, and it's always obvious after the fact. Damn.
He never could finish a story, damn it. He was allergic to endings. He was mocking you for ever thinking that everything would ever wrap itself up neatly. This is either one Big Ending or one final Unfininished Story. Seems obscene to think of the end of somebody's life that way, but we're stuck with it. Fiction is what we do.
I wouldn't be writing phrases like "funnier than, like, anybody else ever" if it weren't for him. I also wouldn't have read a fraction of the stuff I've read since 1997, and therefore I wouldn't be here. So there's that.
...fully aware that the cliché that you can't ever truly know what's going on inside someone else is hoary and insipid and yet at the same time trying very consciously to prohibit that awareness from mocking the attempt or sending the whole line of thought into the sort of inbent spiral that keeps you from ever getting anywhere...the realer, more enduring and sentimental part of him commanding that other part to be silent as if looking it levelly in the eye and saying, almost aloud, "Not another word."
"Good Old Neon" (2004)
The board will nod and you will go, and eyes of skin can cross blind into a cloud-blotched sky, punctured light emptying behind sharp stone that is forever. That is forever. Step into the skin and disappear.
"Forever Overhead" (1999)
David Foster Wallace, whose darkly ironic novels, essays and short stories garnered him a large following and made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, was found dead in his California home on Friday, after apparently committing suicide, the authorities said.
Don't know what to say yet. And I have to go to work. Later.
all we gotta do is be brave and be kind...
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Liveblogging Senator McCain's big speech.
Blue screen! When they replay clips of this speech, he'll be on the battlefield of Gettysburg.
Crikey. He even says "Warshington." He probably sits on a "davenport." Senator, do you now or have you ever owned a davenport?
Camera found a black person!
He said "latina." I don't know why that's funny, but it is.
He said "culture of life" really slowly, like the secret code phrase that it is, while looking right at the camera. YES I AM ON YOUR SIDE YOU CRAZY JESUS NUTS. LEAVE ME ALONE.
Obama will raise your taxes. Because he's black.
Scary socialized medicine. Not convincing. He just can't do red meat; he just doesn't care enough. Crowd liked it okay.
Camera found a latino dude!
Obama "wishing away" the global economy? Huh. Why?
Boring clintonian worker retraining stuff.
"Education will be the civil right of this century." Not a bad line, but I don't think we're done getting all the other civil rights yet.
School choice. More demagoguery. But unexceptional.
"Obama" "bureaucrats" "unions" in the same sentence.
Biggest cheer yet--stop sending money to countries that don't like us! What's he even talking about? Foreign aid? A miniscule part of our budget? But nothing gets angry white people more riled up.
Drill! Everybody drill! Even bigger cheers. These people are parodying themselves. Make a joke about Hillary Clinton, John! They'll eat it up!
He will develop "electric horseless carriages."
"Reassembling the Russian Empire." Ooooooooooh. But apparently "our prayers" can help.
Seems a bit defensive. "I know how the world works. I am not afraid. I can handle it." Weird, hectoring tone.
"I hate war." Aw, don't lie, dude. You hate being in wars, everybody does. But planning wars is awesome--and you don't got to pretend for this crowd; they're with you.
Here's the line about the scars that everybody was talking about. They love it. Ecce homo.
"Let's try sharing." Wow. Also in favor of caring and good manners.
"Imperfect servant." Nice, actually. Still pretty messianic, but it works here.
Vietnam. Vietnam. Blah blah blah. "Hadn't any worry that morning." Sure.
Wow. John McCain was in Vietnam? That sounds like it was pretty horrible. What decade was that again?
Oh, it really was a good story the first thousand times. There's no way to say that that wasn't the Real Thing. (Unless he's been lying all along.) But it just...it just doesn't have anything do with the job he wants. There are all different kinds of Character.
Let's see if he tells the lying "cross in the dirt" story. Probably not. People called shenanigans on that one.
"Learned to love this country when I was a prisoner in someone else's." Good line. But has he ever really internalized, or publicly acknowledged the fact that it was, in fact, someone else's country? That even though he did his duty, and did it honorably, anyone looking honestly can now see that he never should have been there at all? Not to my knowledge.
Somebody had a sign with "maverick" spelled wrong. Love the GOP. Love 'em!
Stop saying "fight!" I thought you hated war!
Stand up, you pathetic sons of bitches! Pull yourselves together. We never quit! He needs to grab a weak-looking guy in the front row and slap him silly.
That's enough for me, I think. Really didn't seem all that great, especially by comparison with his opponent's big moment. But who knows how it'll play with the Mysterious Undecided Voters. I just really hope that some of them couldn't help giggling when he did his weird jerky arm gestures.
Anybody notice anything odd about this part of the transcript of the Palin speech released to the press?Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines ... build more new-clear plants ... create jobs with clean coal ... and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative sources.
(See, if only somebody had thought to do that for W ten years ago, this wouldn't be a problem. Oh, who knows? Maybe they did.)
And then somebody went and undid all of their excessive caution and made the situation a hundred times worse--they handed out the WRONG transcript! Thereby announcing that yes, we're pretty sure our candidate ain't too bright.
Jon Stewart better know about this. I want this joke pounded into the ground by the weekend.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
So what I'm saying is that a lot of people are having the best day of their lives. And we haven't even talked about the college guys who are high-fiving and cracking beers around the GIANT MECHANICAL GORILLA in their damned living room. They've never felt so alive! On a day like this one, you feel that there is hope for us all.
Friday, August 29, 2008
So: I've already gotten my jokes in this morning, but let me just say in all seriousness how terrific this McCain VP thing is. My reaction was precisely the same as that of everyone in the world who isn't a conservative blogger. Who? Let this be a lesson: "Thinking Outside the Box" is the last refuge of fools and scoundrels, the sorts of people who say things like "let's Think Outside the Box on this one." The result is inevitably something like this--somebody comically unprepared being thrust into a situation where they're going to be ridiculed.
The sorts of people who worry about these things, who assume that the Democratic Party will always find a way to lose, well, they're worrying already. We can't ridicule her, they're saying. She's young and appealing and a Girl. We'll look mean. And hey, I'm normally as much of a worrier as anybody--but the hand-wringers should realize right away that we don't need to ridicule her. Play it straight, mildly question her experience and possible minor scandal, and let the situation take care of itself. It's Harriet Miers all over again, except that McCain isn't allowed to make her back out. McGovern tried that. Yeesh.
Clearly, this was a way not of countering the choice of Biden, but of making a desperate grab for an Obama-like figure. See? Our party's got a Dynamic Next Generation, too! Take that, you smug liberal elites! But you can see just how pathetically weak that line of attack is, and you can guess just how well it's gonna play. Seriously? You want people to mentally compare this woman to Barack Freakin' Obama? That's a bright idea. Our Dynamic Next Generation is a battle-hardened Chicago pol and US Senator and Blockbuster Author who just happens to also be Bigger Than Jesus at the moment. Theirs is a lightweight whack-job who's run a hick state for a year and a half.
It's Dan Quayle all over again, is what it is. (Hey wouldn't it be funny if Obama had picked Evan Bayh, the Democratic Dan Quayle? Okay, funny to me, maybe. Sigh.) And I know, I'm about the zillionth person to say that in the past few hours, and just as many people have said but...but...Dan Quayle WON! Yeah, but is anybody seriously suggesting that Bush 88 won because of Quayle? He was in the same box that McCain was in--all the viable options either weren't really viable, like Lieberman, or he just couldn't stand them. (Mittens Romney, just like Bob Dole was to Bush Sr.) Quayle was immediately dismissed as a joke, and rightly so.
Nah, Bush 88 won because of vicious race-baiting, as every schoolboy knows, and because Dukakis was sorta inept, which every schoolboy also knows. And hell yes you're gonna see some vicious race-baiting in the coming weeks. It's gonna be Scary Radical Black Celebrity Muslim pretty much non-stop, and McCain will have to cluck his tongue and act like he's Above All That, even though the size of the racist vote has always been his only real hope of winning. But it's not going to work. Because it's twenty years since Willie Horton, and the nation is, honestly, marginally less racist, if only because it's less white. And more importantly, because our guy is most definitely NOT inept. Did you happen to catch him on TV yesterday, addressing a few of his closest friends?
Friday, August 15, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
This one is entirely focused on my occasional workplace, which you might know something about. So the official Target Audience is just my co-workers, but it's perfectly possible that you might find it amusing from time to time. Lots of shop talk and insider politics, but hopefully at least some stuff that's entertaining to anybody. My job is funny. And that blog has exactly the focus and sense and purpose that this one has always lacked. All of us at that job really really hate our boss, you see--which is perfectly normal, but I'm hoping I can raise it to an art form. He fascinates me; we have such astonishingly different ideas about what it means to be a decent human being. I want to explore that; I want to raise my young co-workers' consciousness about the cruelty and absurdity of the working world; and I want to make myself more popular. :)
Of course, I can't ever link to it from this site again, since I don't want it to be any easier to tie all of this to me than it has to be. :-) Though really, anybody to whom I've ever sent an email would instantly recognize my sneering condescension and liberal use of adverbs. I just can't hide! :-)
Sunday, July 27, 2008
The sleeplessness and sedatives.
I know it sounds repetitive.
Every show can't be a benefit...
[bitchin' guitar solo]
Yeah, there's a new Hold Steady album. Yeah, I'm pretty happy.
Look, I won't do a real review here, not yet—what I really want to do is some sort of lengthy, pretentious survey of all four records. But for now I'll just say that when it was over I immediately hit "Play" again. I never do that. Even stuff I really love I have to give a rest after each listen or it just doesn't sound right. Familiarity breeds contempt, musically speaking. But I'm on about my fourth time through Stay Positive, and it's still working. I'll just say that after the Hold Steady followed up the bracing shock of Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday with the lovable-but-spotty Boys and Girls in America, I felt that we couldn't be quite sure—but now there's no doubt that we're in the presence of Greatness. Fist-pumping, lighters-in-the-air, ten-thousand-hands-clapping-in-unison-type Greatness. It's difficult for the cynic in me—how can anybody still sing about teenagers and drugs and cars and Bad Boys in Love With Good Girls Gone Bad and keep a straight face? How can Craig Finn be this smart and still believe all his own Transcendent Power Of Rock and Roll bullshit? Then I remember—oh, yeah! It's all true.
Just a taste: "Let me know when you're ready" is rhymed with "John Cassavetes." And, of course, with "hold steady." Hell, yes.
This was the possibly only thing that could make me stop listening to the Mountain Goats, about whom I didn't even know until this year, except as yet another band with a silly animal-based name. But John Darnielle got there first (unless you count the Monkees.) He's been using that name for over a decade. And lately I've been feeling like the eleven-year-old finding out about Bruce Lee. I feel like I felt after Separation Sunday! And it might seem like a jarring shift—these bands superficially don't sound much alike. But I realize that it makes sense—Finn and John Darnielle may be the two best narrative songwriters in America. (Prove me wrong, Will Sheff! You're in the game, but we'll see how this new one turns out.) Both are drawn to the seamy and the hopeless the way their characters are drawn to opiates and fortified wines. And, of course, they've each got a voice that would peel paint.
Of course, Finn the Catholic badly wants his characters redeemed—he wants to redeem them personally! Darnielle's people are clearly going straight to hell and you can't stop them. But it's easy to imagine a Hold Steady version of the downtrodden-teen-lust anthem "This Year," or the thunderous blues of "See America Right." They totally should do that! But will probably cover "Born in the U.S.A." or "Piano Man," instead. Fair enough.
[Note: I had to change that profile photo. It always seems like it'd be delightfully whimsical to do "mock-thoughtful," but the irony doesn't necessarily translate and it's kind of a lame joke anyway. Like having a moustache that's meant to be funny. This one's a compromise. Not pretty. Not unflattering. Not funny at all.]
Thursday, July 10, 2008
My sister actually told me they were using that song for endorsement purposes at the show she saw a few weeks back, though it's not as if the lyric is really applicable. It's sort of anxious and desperate, like most of their songs. (Though that "great white hope" thing takes on wonderful new comic meaning, doesn't it?) And "the English are waiting?" For what, like, a trans-Atlantic high-level diplomatic summit?
And Atrios made the connection some weeks back--maybe he got the idea from the band, but it'd be cool if it were the other way around. It's the best kind of endorsement, too: the highly qualified kind. Okay, you're the man. Don't blow it.
Best part, of course, is the half-hearted Photoshop job they did at Pitchfork. Obama's eight feet tall! He'll crush you!
Yes, Ken, exactly. You speak for us both. (Except I would never recite epigrammatic rhyming verse to my friends, you hippie hack!)
But anyway, here’s the next song in line. Not a Song of the Day. Just…a Song, I guess.
Some Words About a Random Song
Uh, is that title even a word? I dunno, but it's poetic justice that this is the song to come up for the post immediately following my enthusiastic Anglo-bashing. Which anybody who knows me had to find laughable anyway, since they know that I don't just own Coldplay albums, I own Travis albums. As well as the complete works of Morrissey.
And of course, it goes absolutely without saying that I own Different Class, surely one of the most English albums this side of the Village Green Preservation Society. Along with Oasis' Definitely Maybe and Blur's Parklife, it makes up one third of the Holy Trinity of Nineties Britpop. Though of the three, it's probably the least well-known in this country, since Oasis had their Arena Rock swagger and their tabloid headlines, and Blur, well, Blur had "Girls and Boys." Just try to get that shit out of your head.
So here you've got the opening blast off of the defining record of one of the quintessential Englishmen, Jarvis Cocker, who would soon become a hero to millions through his instantly-legendary public mocking of Michael Jackson. Like any British rock singer worth your time, Jarvis is just as useful as a character as he is for anything he's actually sung. Equal parts brainy misfit, swoony romantic, and leering seducer, and thinner and gawkier than seems physically possible. If he didn't exist, we'd have had to invent him.
Conveniently, this song is something of a call to arms, or manifesto—a wannabe generational anthem for all the "mis-shapes, mistakes, and misfits" who are destined to rise up and overthrow the ignorant, musclebound louts who are running things. Say what you like, the man knows his audience. "What's the point in being rich?" Cocker muses, over the jaunty music-hall verse, "if you can't think what to do with it? / 'Cause you're so bleeding thick?" Then the chorus—a little bit intense, a little bit scary. This guy's pretty witty, but is he really in control of his actions? "We want your homes, we want your lives / We want the things you won't allow us…" Yeah! I'm with the skinny guy!
…and I checked—"mis-shapes" is indeed a legitimate noun, though the OED calls it "obsolete." Shoulda known that overeducated maniac would've done his homework.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Reasons To Hate the British
I'm happy to relate, also, that my adopted town puts on its fireworks display at Fort Meigs, built by General William Henry Harrison during the War of 1812. (Yeah, the future president who died of a cold! We love that guy around here!) So, the entire celebration is centered on a site devoted to the kicking of limey ass. Warms this patriotic heart.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Heh. Cute, huh?
But, as I chuckled, I realized--hey, I get it--but a lot of things in this joke might seem weird, complicated, or just entirely opaque to younger readers. So I'm taking it on myself to be the younger generation's link with history, much as Senator McCain has done for people like me.
Here, in a nutshell, is what's going on:
Those are our two major-party presidential candidates. Sure, you knew that, right? And they're side-by-side, so you're meant to be comparing them in some way, that much is clear. But what, exactly, is the deal? Well, see how Senator McCain--that's the crusty old white guy, kids!--is wearing some sort of odd clothing? Well, that's his uniform. Senator McCain served in the United States Navy a very, very long time ago when he was a young man. (See how that photo's in black and white? Weird!) Anyway, he was in a war and some really terrible things happened to him, and he handled it pretty well, and has thus been trading on it ever since, although it has nothing much to do with any real job he's ever held. And that's not the point of the joke, anyway--the point is that he's wearing a uniform, which makes him seem rugged and manly, and older folks are into that, especially guys. And anyway, the real point is about the other dude, Senator Obama. He looks pretty cool, huh? Well, yeah, but the joke is that he's wearing some kind of Robe Thingy in that picture, which must be the Native Garb of some crazy foreign country or other, where people, like, jump around and throw spears. This is supposed to make you chuckle, first of all, because it's so much less rugged and manly than the Jumpsuit Thingy that McCain's got, but more importantly because it draws attention to the fact that Senator Obama's father came from the continent of Africa. Wait, you're saying. What's that got to do with it? Well, kids, what's funny is that being partly from Africa makes you black--see how he doesn't quite match the other guy? That's not just the color film! He really does look different! Isn't that hilarious?
No, seriously. Some people think that's funny, the kinda folks who don't spell so good. (Where it says "if your still thinking," I'm pretty sure they meant to write "you're." Now that's comedy.) Back in the twentieth century, people thought that was a kinda big deal--they thought folks from Africa were, like, all wild n' crazy, and had lots of sex and committed crimes and stuff. If you were "black" you couldn't even be president, because not enough people would like you. Weird, but true. Luckily, people are smarter these days.
Anyway, here are the two senators currently, just to clarify things:
Thursday, June 19, 2008
But that made me look him up on IMDB to get some details, and I just about had a heart attack. Herzog’s remaking Bad Lieutenant! Supposedly. Or not remaking it, as he insists. He’s making a movie about a character sorta similar to Harvey Keitel’s indelible monster in Abel Ferarra’s cult-classic 1992 sleazefest, but doing different stuff. Yes, well, okay, Werner, but you clearly signed on to that particular title for a reason, and I’m anxious to see what it might be. Something tells me it won’t be wholesome good fun. Too bad it’s Nicolas Cage, but on the other hand, he’s got some skills, and he could atone for a lot with one memorably horrifying performance.
(Funny that Bad Lieutenant and The Piano were only a year apart, now that I’m thinking about it. It was the Golden Age of Naked Keitel!)
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Except when somebody exercises poor judgment. Then you might get something disturbing enough to be entertaining. One of the paying customers for this particular eyesore is some sort of dentist’s office, and he or she or they want to make you feel insecure about your hideous teeth, and think about how much more successful and loved you’d be if they got cleaned up and straightened. But the slogan they’ve chosen is a problem: “Teeth,” it says. “The Ultimate Accessory.” Wait, accessory? Yeah, I guess, if you’re some kind of war criminal, or marauding Viking! And the woman on the sign looks so happy; it’s very unsettling to think about the enormous necklace of molars that she’s wearing, even if you can’t quite see it in the photo.
Song of the Day
“Something to Look Forward To”
I have to say: this is going pretty well! My first two randomly selected songs have been entirely awesome, and the casual reader could very well conclude that I’m just being totally and painfully Hipper Than Thou, at least for Perrysburg OH. But fear not—my hard drive is plenty well-stocked with the bizarre and the determinedly square, and anybody who keeps checking will see some of it eventually. (I’m promising myself that I’m going to exercise the Executive Song Veto only in the direst cases, or what’s the point?) So stick around and you’re bound to see some 10,000 Maniacs, or perhaps “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
So here’s Spoon, meanwhile, with a tight little tune. Probably my favorite song on my least favorite album of theirs, if that makes any sense. Kill the Moonlight is where they stripped their ultra-cool pop down to the bone, and even if you feel forty-seven percent more With It while it’s playing, sometimes you feel like it’s a bit…ungenerous. So it’s appropriate that we’re looking at this particular song, a paean to the pleasures of delayed gratification. Two minutes, seventeen seconds, on an album where no song hits four minutes. Britt Daniel, in his breathy little Soulful White Guy yelp, warns somebody named “Carole” not to get ahead of herself, because he’ll take it “anywhere you let me go.” Not sure if this is meant to be some kind of Reverse Psychology gambit that’s actually supposed to get Mr. Daniel laid sooner rather than later.
But here you’ve got the essence of the Spoon sound, for better or for worse. That beautiful little stripped-down groove, for a few bars with just a little piano and that falsetto croon, then some stinging little guitar hits and you just know it’s building up to something, then at forty seconds it just unfolds for a second, all that funkiness relaxing into the Big Rock arpeggios, and you’re nodding your head, you’re happy, and here’s the chorus, and…wait, that was it? More drum and bass, no melody to speak of, no big payoff, and you’re left wondering if that was supposed to be the point, if you’re a sap for wanting more. “So many things we could say,” as Britt says, but “some things are best left unsaid.”
Also, only a Spoon song would include a line about “your Chicago Manual of Style.” Though at that point Daniel is laying on the Soulfulness so thick that I had absolutely no idea that that was what he was saying until just now. Huh.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Hadn’t done a whole lot of this sort of thing lately. Maybe you’d noticed. I guess you presumably know me, if you’re reading this, so you know that I’m a decent writer but a wildly erratic one. And it seems as if I haven’t written anything that I wasn’t literally forced to write for some months now. I won’t say that I ever had any kind of method or system for any part of my life, let alone for writing, but whatever working compromise I had in place pretty much evaporated after last fall or so. I was making it up pretty much day to day, and this site was the least of my worries.
But I’m on to the next thing, now. No more Undergraduate Studies. (Vast relief.) No more Toledo. (Bittersweet.) Playing music again, reading the occasional novel. (Astounding.) It would be great if I could get some sort of full time job before I have to start paying loans back, but otherwise I have very little to fear or fret over, and I’m calming back down and backing away from my frenetic, chaotic school persona. Trying to reclaim the state of mind where writing stuff like this can be the purest kind of fun.
Anyway, I think I’m going to retool, like a sitcom adding a friendly robot and a cute kid. There’ll be a (much) more regular posting schedule, so it might actually be worth your time to check back here. I’m honestly going to shoot for every day, or at least five times a week or so. And I’ll still write whatever pops into my damned fool head, but as we corporate types like to say, I’m going to focus on my core competency. Which seems to me to be the music writing, though maybe you secretly think my musical taste sucks. (Thank you for sparing my feelings. I am delicate.) I’m always listening to something that I have deeply compelling opinions about, or think that I do. But it wasn’t just laziness that kept me away from sharing them—I’d just get scared by the size of the projects I kept thinking up, and go play video games instead. So I’m going to start with the small things, with the details wherein I’m told the devil is found, with the basic fundamental atoms of the musical universe that I’m stuck in. With the songs, basically.
I pledge to write about a different song every post. I’ll let iTunes select them at random, though I may exercise some kind of executive veto. Since I have about thirteen thousand of them in this lovely little machine, that should last us a while. And I’ll just set out writing in whatever direction the day’s song points me. That could be almost as many directions as I have songs. There are songs in this computer that I love, that are sacred texts to me, that I can subject to note-by-note close reading, and there are songs that I may have never heard before. Of course, there are plenty of songs here that I don’t even particularly like, which might present the most interesting challenges. Why are they here? Did I like them once, or never? What’s my relationship with them? Every one of these tiny little digital texts has intersected with my life in one way or another, and flipping through them in no particular order might leave us with some kind of Autobiography by Record Collection. (Which is all very Nick Hornby, of course. But there’s a reason guys like me read that book. He is Us.)
Right now I’m hearing “Tonight the Sky” from April, the new Sun Kil Moon record. It’s a terrific song, one of the best examples of Mark Kozelek’s Epic Midwestern Sentimentalism; "Tonight the Sky" totally earns its ten minutes and twenty-one seconds of throbbing and droning guitar. But that can’t be my Song of the Day. That would be cheating. Now I’m going to pick one at random, or let the computer pick it for me.
Deep Breath. Here it is.
Song of the Day, Inaugural Edition
“These Days Nothing But Sunshine”
Sigh of relief. I was so worried that the first one would be lame, and make me feel embarrassed about the whole thing. But this is good. I love the Clientele. Frail, literary, melancholic, extremely British. All their records seem to have been recorded on rainy days, which makes it funny that we’ve got the one with sunshine in the title. And it’s a lovely tune, one of the better ones on the somewhat poppier God Save the Clientele. I can’t find the lyric printed anywhere on the Internets, which is unusual, but I guess they aren’t exactly scaling giddy heights of fame. But it seems like a gentle song, a reassuring one, like its title. What stands out the most, really, is the shimmering pedal steel, which the album notes tell me is played by one Pete Finney. Who isn’t actually a member of the Clientele, ironically. But some quick research tells me that he’s apparently a Nashville veteran, appearing on albums by Patty Loveless, Allison Moorer, and somebody named Lonesome Bob. But he’s got one foot in Indie World, too, as we see—he’s on the new Bonnie “Prince” Billy record! I should get that album. Damn. I was at the record store today.
I did buy My Morning Jacket, though, and the new documentary about The National, which is exciting. Even more exciting, it comes with a 12 song bonus disc. So I’ll no doubt have some notes on those in the next week or so. But for now I’ve just decided to be glad to be back.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
President Obama meets with the newly appointed Secretary of Interstellar Good Vibes and Ancillary Coordiator of Soap Bubbles.
...but, actually, Obama looks kinda pissed off, there. You think anybody told him Wayne Coyne was coming? You gotta tell a brother before you spring Wayne Freakin' Coyne!
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
I don't think I'm really the one to do it, but I did have one thought. I may not be the first to consider this. Watching election returns, I see that Jeebus-loving Governor Huckabee continues to do surprisingly well with the Mouth-Breathing Rural Folk Component of the Republican electorate, bless their hearts. And, cinephile that I am, I thought what I'd thought before--how is it possible that none of these people have constructed some sort of campaign theme around the slogan "I (heart) Huckabee?" It just seemed like a no-brainer to me; it's a funny name and you'd think you'd want to play up any association it might have in people's minds.
Then, of course, I realized what an idiot I am. I feel like Pauline Kael in the apocryphal story, utterly confused about how Nixon managed to get elected, since nobody she knew had voted for him. I, to drastically understate the case, am not representative of the GOP base. And even among we decadent coastal-elite fifth-columnists, really very few people saw, and fewer liked, David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabee's. It's entirely possible that the set of people who have both seen that movie and who would consider voting for the jolly slimmed-down Arkansan contains literally no one. It's entirely possible that no Huck voter is aware that there is such a film. And that it contains actual Jewish folks, negroes, French people, and Mark Wahlberg.
Huckabee himself, of course, has seen the movie multiple times. He's a big Jude Law fan. Old school! eXistenZ, baby!
Friday, February 01, 2008
But, on the other hand my laptop is so awesome. It is my friend. It understands me in a way that none of you do. So there. And anyway, am I the only one who wants to punch that hipster "Mac" guy from the commercials? I have a Mac! I just got done mentioning how awesome it is! But geez, just be nice to the pudgy geeky PC guy! Can't you see how uncomfortable he is?
Oh, god. I'm a dork. I admit it. Captain Picard rules!
Anyway, my point here is that now I don't have any excuse not to write stuff, like, all the time. This is serious business--the desk I used to try to work at just isn't very comfortable, and like any writer I will take ANY excuse not to write. But right now I'm literally in a La-Z-Boy recliner, with a cup of coffee. So there's really nowhere else to go, in terms of comfortable working environment--I might as well blog constantly now. So check back.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Werner Herzog’s The Wild Blue Yonder is a decidedly silly piece of work from a guy who’s made a lot of them. I couldn’t bring myself to hate it, though, even it is that rare thing, a movie that’s drastically overlong at seventy-five minutes. Herzog. Space travel. Math! How can that not be fun?
And it is fun, if exasperating, for just enough of the running time. In the opening titles, it calls itself a “science fiction fantasy,” which really just sounds like a shelving area of a chain bookstore, but I guess he had to call it something. It’s not a documentary, although most of it is made up of what you’d call documentary footage. It’s got a plot of sorts, though that’s generously stretching the term—Brad Dourif (you know, the weird looking kid from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? No? Grima Wormtongue? There you go.) who apparently is supposed to be an alien immigrant to Earth (don’t ask) narrates a funny little fable about a space voyage to another galaxy in search of a replacement Earth. (We’ve ruined ours, you see.) But the twist is that there aren’t any other actors—the astronauts are played by…astronauts. Somehow Herzog got a lot of hilariously banal footage from an actual space shuttle mission—the astronauts eat! sleep! exercise! take notes! self-consciously adjust their clothing for the camera!—and edited it along with Dourif’s voiceover to give the vague impression that NASA’s finest are in fact the “characters” on their quixotic journey. And to explain how such a mission is even “possible,” Herzog finds a gloriously oblivious group of real mathematicians who explain very earnestly about something called “chaotic transport”—which seems in real life to be some complicated theory of orbital mechanics, but is described in the narration as some sort of super-science teleportation strategy. The funniest joke in the film comes when Dourif, explaining the scientific breakthrough, intones “it was a rogue mathematician who discovered the secret,”—and we cut to the blank and gentle face of one Martin Lo, who seems decidedly un-rogue-like, and who clearly doesn’t know the camera is on.
The shuttle’s destination turns out to be Antarctica, I think—it’s supposed to be Dourif’s “home planet” in the Andromeda galaxy, but it’s entirely made up of icy underwater footage. A lot of which is quite startling and beautiful, but which goes on. Forever. Overlaid by Herzogian tribal chanting. Again, it’s sort of funny and sort of puzzling. Then the astronauts go home, and everyone else is dead. Except Brad Dourif. Or something.
So, this isn’t Grizzly Man, or Fitzcarraldo, is what I’m saying. But it would be worth a look some afternoon with the fast-forward button, especially if, like me, you watched a lot of space-shuttle footage as a child.
Speaking of Werner Herzog, this footage is way funnier than The Wild Blue Yonder. Herzog gets shot! On camera! In the middle of an interview! Which sounds horrifying, but is awesome because he’s essentially unharmed on account of being some sort of magical German superhero. And it was probably, you know, a BB gun. But still. His weirdly calm reaction—“what was that?”—as the cameramen dive for cover, is lovely. Even better is his confident assertion after the fact that it was not a significant bullet. I’m gonna have a band called Significant Bullet.
…and he saved Joaquin’s life. Just saying.