Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Book Review: Bob Mehr's Trouble Boys

The Replacements are an odd band. I feel that they're both over and under rated. They created some absolutely melodic and powerful that, underpinned by Paul Westerberg’s clever word play, provided a template for many to both express sensitivity and disguise it with loud distortion and bluster. On the other hand, they could be sloppy and in desperate need of editing – some of their music and lyrics sound tossed together at the last minute.

Trouble Boys explores this dynamic and much more. Bob Mehr spins a comprehensive (and well documented) look at the band, painting a vivid picture of early 80s Minneapolis, and the often heartbreaking background of the ‘mats – especially Bob Stinton, who had a truly horrific childhood. It’s almost enough to excuse how often the ‘mats sabotaged their career by falling (drunk) on the wrong side of the fine line between good ol’ rock n’ roll rebellion and plain old assholery. I knew they behaved badly, but I wasn’t expecting them to be as horrible and offensive as they come off here.

All this lead me to read Trouble Boys as an addiction book. The drinking and drugging stories – and there are a LOT of them – can be amusing, but the more they pile up, the more difficult it is to see them self-destructing. They were fucked up drunk addicts and I left the book pondering what their lives would have been like if the band could have coped – even just a little bit! – with their talent and success.

But they myth is all about that they couldn’t – that they felt too much, and had to drown it in booze, and they paid a heavy price. Poor Bob didn’t make it, Tommy grew up to be a professional musician (and member of Guns n' Roses!), Chris (a strangely vacant presence in the book) faded away into visual art, and Paul never found that illusive balance of improvisation and polish that could endear him to the masses. While Bob’s story is interesting, Paul’s story is riveting, from watching him struggle to come up with his moments of musical genius to the story of him clean and sober (the tale of him coaching little league with a SpongeBob hat is priceless).  I also appreciated Mehr’s insights into the music, which let me hear their albums – especially Tim and their requiem All Shook Down – in a newly revelatory light.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book Review: China Mieville's Kracken

China Mieville’s Kracken is an odd duck of a book. Quickly summarized, when a giant squid disappears from London’s Natural History museum, curator Billy becomes entrapped into a wild labyrinth of magical forces trying to bring about – or to prevent – the end of the world. Billy takes a classic hero’s journey, but Kracken’s real hero is the world Mieville builds up: a complex web of mythologies, all striving for the mystical powers of the giant squid. It was all very interesting, but I found the novel falling short of excellence. Mieville is too erudite for his own good, with wordplay so obscure that it overshadows the story. And while plotted like a thriller – entertaining and fast-paced – the book felt surprisingly lightweight, with thin characters who never resonated with me. Take Collinsworth – a snappy, punkish cop who I pictured as Amy Winehouse (a perfect comparison I read somewhere). She’s everything that I should like in a character, but she never really fell into place for me.  Likewise Goss and Subby – malevolent agents of mayhem that just seemed silly to me.

So why did I stick with all 529 pages? Because of sections like Chapter 25, where we’re introduced to shabtis - small figures placed inscribed with a task they need to perform for the famous Egyptian mummies with whom they are buried. Mieville’s shabtis decide to strike and demand compensation for their labor, led by "Wati" who changes his inscription to read "I shall NOT do it.” His journey backwards out of the underworld to become a magical organizer in "the new Unionism" is a brilliant and moving mash-up of mythologies. This why you read Mieville, and I longed for more of it. What is the capitalism of this union of magical familiars? What are their politics? Unfortunately, we never get past Wati’s amazing origin story as he becomes just another player in Billy’s journey.

It’s obvious that Mieville had high hopes for this book; he strives to build up a complex London mythology as he combines cultural myths and pulp fiction plotting. But in the end the characters and rapid-fire plotting didn’t speak to me. Regardless, I’m glad I read it - for while this wasn’t Mieville’s best work, I continue to admire how high he aims. Even when he falls short, he still ends up with a high mark.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Remembering Thought Ambience

Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.
- Yoko Ono
Winter seems to be ending early this year, and while New England will always surprise you (I bet we've got at least one more major snowstorm coming) the warm weather and budding trees are turning my mind towards spring. As Ono wrote above, i'm thinking about perseverance - and how i've neglected this online journal. Expect to see a few more posts in this space as the ice jams of my online presence start to melt.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Door

A lot of my work these days involves fostering transformational change. With that in mind, I find this poem both inspirational and a warning. It also seems apropos given the current political climate.

"Prospective Immigrants Please Note"

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through 
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name 

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen 
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely but much will blind you
much will evade you
at what cost who knows? 

The door itself
makes no promises
It is only a door. 

Adrienne Rich

Friday, September 23, 2016

"The Guest House"

Someone I know sent along this poem to a friend during a moment of self-questioning. It captures well one of the tricks i'm trying to master, which is to accept and deal with whatever reality is in front of you at the moment rather than wastefully wishing things were otherwise.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

By Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks. Original version located here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Approaching Ceres

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory just did something really cool: they plugged images from Dawn's approach to Ceres and generated a 3D video of the spacecraft's approach to the dwarf planet. It's a fascinating short movie with lots of amazing detail. You should watch it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Church at SXSW

I'm so happy that a recording of The Church's electronic show from this year's SXSW show is online. I'm listening to it now and having very pleasant flashbacks to the show I attended in March. Damn these guys are good. And listening to them live gives you a sense for the dynamic kick-ass guitar interplay, Powles' modern-day Bonham-style drumming, and sheer joy of their music. My favorite is their update of You Took (skip ahead to ~21:00).

Related Posts:
You Took