Friday, December 31, 2010

Books from A to Z

To ring out the old year, I thought i'd participate in the ABC Book Meme.
For this meme, you list a favorite book that starts with each letter of the alphabet. If you don’t have a book for a letter (such as Z or X) then you can substitute a favorite book that simply has that letter in the title (ex. The Lost City of Z or Hot Six by Janet Evanovich). However, you can only do this a maximum of 3 times. (Z, X, and Q. But not Z, X, Q, and V.) Books can be of any genre from fiction to non-fiction to poetry to textbooks.

Here's mine:
A – After the First Death, Robert Cormier. My favorite book when I was 14.
B – The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
C – Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. The man's a prose magician.
D – Diamond Age, Neil Stephenson
E – Elementals, Bill Willingham. One of the titles that showed me how mature comix could really be.
F – Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk. But I won't talk about it, so don't ask.
G – Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon. The most impressive thing I've ever read, hands down.
H – Hellboy, Mike Mignolta. Pure, pulpy fun. And the art is do die for.
I – It, Stephen King. Reading this book as a teenager made be part of who I am today. King created an amazing world, parts of which I recognized in my own rural upbringing. And it scared the crap out of me.
J – Stone Junction, Jim Dodge.
K – Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami. I could have chosen any number of Murakami's novels, but this one really stuck with me.
L – Love & Rockets, by Los Bros Hernandez. Jamie and Gilbert have been so good for son long that it's hard to conceive of a world without them. Jamie's art alone is worth the price of admission.
M – Mao II, Don Delillo. Could have gone with Underworld, but I read Mao II first and it had a bigger influence on me. Plus I like to think the main character is Thomas Pynchon.
N – Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes. I find Russia fascinating, and this book will tell you everything you want to know about that large, cold, mysterious place.
O – Oryx and Crake, Maraget Atwood. Intelligent SciFi done right. An excellent book on every level.
P – Promethia, Alan Moore. The tarot and kaballah in a superhero wrapper. A lot more fun then it sounds. I love how the artist used a different drawing style for almost every issue.
Q – Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Jorge Luis Borges
R - 2666, Roberto Bolano
S – Solaris, Stanisław Lem
T – The Complete Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway
U – Ubik, Philip K. Dick
V – Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
W – War and Peace, Leo Tolstoi. A classic that really lives up to the hype. Not all of it is good, but it really is riveting for a majority of its 1000 pages.
X – X-Ray, Ray Davies. A rock biography that manages to add true mystery and drama. Surprisingly good!
Y – “Ylla” from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. One of the best days of my life was sitting listening to the White Album while reading this book.
Z – Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger


Others that I love, but that didn't make the cut include:
Cats Cradle, Margaret Atwood; Stranger Things Happen, Kelly Link; Watchmen, Alan Moore; An Encounter with Medusa, Arthur C. Clarke; The Master of Petersburg, J.M. Coetzee. It was also tough to make room for poetry and short stories.

So what would be your list?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodbye, de Zoet!

Spent the last few days in a dreamlike fugue as i recovered from a bad virus and plowed through the last 250 pages of David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. What a ride that book was! I'll have more to say about it later, but for now, the journey was half the fun. I'm sorry it had to end.

A Good Idea

Michael Chabon's Lesson 5 for good writing: "Marry a strong, talented, vocal, articulate and above all persuasive reader."

The Most Professional Way

This is the best quote i've heard in a long time. Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was asked if he had anything to say to his previous teams, and he replied:
...I want to say, "Fuck you." And I mean that in the most professional way.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Lonely Troubadour

I've always enjoyed the songs of Phil Ochs, and so perked up when I heard of a new documentary about the man. It's called Phil Ochs - There But For Fortune and sounds like a great story. Ochs's one of those minor figures of an era that I find fascinating because their humanity usually tells me more about the time then does a history book. Anyways, I learned by this review that Ochs suffered from bipolar disorder, and, three years before he took his own life, was mugged so brutally that his voice was damaged. Imagine being a singer who loses his voice!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We are Technology

Some typically fascinating thoughts from a William Gibson interview:
So if someone is born now into this global world, do you think they even have a native culture?
One of the things that’s unknowable is how humanity will use any new technology. ... Emergent technology is the most powerful single driver of change in the world, and it has been forever. Technology trumps politics. Technology trumps religion. It just does. And that’s why we are where we are now. It seems so self-evident to me that I can never go to that Technology: threat or menace? position. Okay, well, if we don’t do this, what are we going to do? This is not only what we do, it’s literally who we are as a species. We’ve become something other than what our ancestors were.
I’m sitting here at age 52 with almost all of my own teeth. That didn’t used to happen. I’m a cyborg. I’m immune to any number of lethal diseases by virtue of technology. I’m sitting on top of this enormous pyramid of technology that starts with flint hand-axes and finds me in a hotel in Austin, Texas, talking to someone thousands of miles away on a telephone and that’s just what we do. At this point, we don’t have the option of not being technological creatures.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Why the Greeks Matter

Because they questioned authority:
The divine word is a mystery; it can mean everything or nothing. Zeus neither speaks nor holds his tongue but makes a sign, as Heraclitus said. Man discovers that he himself is responsible for giving meaning to this sign. The word from above, or from elsewhere, must be deciphered. This is the Greek genius: the separation of heaven and earth.

When Parents Text

My new favorite site.

Nothing to see here...

... Except that I've caught the plague and have been really sick for about a week now. Hoping to be back on my feet sometime shortly. Continued radio silence until then. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You Must Unlearn What You Already Know

Reading an old Economist this morning (7/10/10 issue), I found this:
The 7th Forum of Eurpoean Neuroscience... heard that learning to read requires the brain's visual system to undergo profound changes, including unlearning the ancient ability to recognize an object and its mirror images as identical.
This might explain why so many kids draw their letters backward when their learning how to write. Hunter in particular likes to include backward Es and Rs when writing his name.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deep Thought

Cleaning vomit off of a white rug at 2:30 in the morning is not the most pleasant way to spend a night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Skiing Dogs!

This one's a lot of fun. Makes me wish I was a snow dog...

Quote of the Day

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” - Bertolt Brecht

Friday, December 17, 2010

Poem of the Day

After pondering Suzanne Vega's "Penitent" the other day, my head started playing The Church's "Radiance", another musical take on a confrontation with God. Although this song is much more focused on the enigma of God's signs, rather than the personal emotions that Vega presented.

Radiance, by Kilbey/Willson-Piper/Koppes/Powles

When a cloudy morning rain touched our little town
Three small sisters and a friend walking in the fields
A strange light in the sky blotting out the sun
Whatever happens next changes all our lives

And the children ran home sobbing and half blind
Said our lady has a message for mankind
Frightened and bewildered, not making any sense
Dazzled by the virgin's radiance

And the icons in the church crying tears of blood
The water in the wells curing all who drank
Pilgrim lunatics arrive in a ragged stream

In the fields around the village sprang up tents
People from the outside world want more evidence
Four tired children questioned day and night
All they can remember is her blinding light

So the circus drifts away and the noise dies down
Life goes on as before all the people came
And the children never say what her message was

And the children ran home sobbing and half blind
Said our lady has a message for mankind
Frightened and bewildered, not making any sense
Dazzled by the virgin in her radiance

People from the outside world want more evidence
People from the outside world want more evidence
People from the outside world want more evidence

Too Much Leisure?

An interesting take on why so many people think that things were easier in the past.

Money quote: "One reason we feel harried and stressed despite an increase in total leisure time is that there are more competing uses for leisure time in an affluent society."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Video of the Day

This. Extra trippy, and probably the most interesting thing I've seen in some time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Poem of the Day

For varied reasons, Suzanne Vega's Penitent has been playing over and over in my head these last few days. It's a rather cutting query to God, sung in her characteristically insightful and cutting way (it's even more powerful in song than it is as a poem, in cold black words on a page). I particularly like the lines about the mother and matador, which I think add a powerfully timeless element to (what I see as) the personal elements of the song (she wrote it after her divorce and as an NYCer after 9/11). I enjoy the image of mystics and a matadors staring down God in their own ways, one by daring to ponder mysteries greater than themselves and another by facing down death as an occupation (albeit in a ritualized fashion). Anyways, onto our main event:

Once I stood alone so proud
Held myself above the crowd
Now I am low on the ground

From here I look around to see
What avenues belong to me
I can’t tell what I’ve found now

What would you have me do... I ask you please?
I wait to hear

The mother, and the matador
The mystic, each were here before
Like me, to stare

You down you appear without a face
Disappear, but leave your trace
I feel your unseen frown

Now what would you have me do... I ask you please?

I wait to hear/Your voice
The word/You say
I wait/To see/Your sign
Would I/Obey?

I look for you in heathered moor
The desert, and the ocean floor
How low does one heart go

Looking for your fingerprints
I find them in coincidence
And make my faith to grow

Forgive me all my blindnesses
My weakness and unkindnesses
As yet unbending still

Struggling so hard to see
My fist against eternity
And will you break my will?

Now what would you have me do... I ask you please?
I wait to hear/Your voice
The word/You say
I wait/To see/Your sign
Could I/Obey?

Just As It Really Is

Liked this quote from John Updike when he was 15 (!) writing about the Little Orphan Annie comic strip:
I admire the magnificent plotting of Annie’s adventures. They are just as adventure strips should be—fast moving, slightly macabre (witness Mr. Am), occasionally humorous, and above all, they show a great deal of the viciousness of human nature. I am very fond of the gossip-in-the-street scenes you frequently use. Contrary to comic-strip tradition, the people are not pleasantly benign, but gossiping, sadistic, and stupid, which is just as it really is.

Just as it really is. I don't want to believe it, but alas, I find it to be true more often than not.
Hat tip: Alan Jacobs

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Steve Kilbey's The Slow Crack


SK’s third solo album – The Slow Crack, released in 1989 – doesn’t have a theme running through it's 57 minutes. Part of the reason for this is that the CD, in its current form, is a collection of songs that were originally released in three formats: 1) the original The Slow Crack that ended with “Starling St., 2) the Transaction EP ("Transaction" to “Song of Solomon”) and 3) "The Asphalt Eden" single with extra tracks (the rest of the CD). Regardless, even the original The Slow Crack album was a grab-bag of songs recorded during the 1986-7 time frame and was all over the map. What's this mean? At times the songs work, at times they don’t, and absent any overarching lyrical or musical theme making it into a cohesive album, the CD really can only be judged by the strength of the songs upon it. So here they are:

"Fireman": Dig that 80s sax! At least SK had the taste to leave it in the background. A fun little song that was a minor hit for our hero.

"Woman with Reason": A cover (of an old company caine song) that starts out sounding like an unplugged version (SK says that he wanted to “do a “harvest” like version of the song”) but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Does have great bass.

"Favorite Pack of Lies". This song is simply Earthed’s “The Dawn Poems” expanded with vocals, and it works much better in this format. It doesn’t hurt that the lyrics and singing is excellent – I love his halting delivery on “I am not… the kind of man… given to… extravagance/ Even so… I must confess… a weakness for… your elegance”

"Something that Means Something": Sounds just like a Church song with the chiming
guitars and chugging bass pulse underneath it. Something about this song sounds lightweight, tho I’m not sure what it is – perhaps the drum machine! In short, it’s a nice lilting ditty, but nothing special.

"Ariel Sings": Short, dull, droning instrumental. Skippable.

"A Minute Without You": A stream-of-consciousness tune with a driving, propulsive beat.

"Surrealist Woman Blues": Interesting Jazz-like piano with mood keys in the background. SK does Tom Waits but with his trademark acid imagery and mind-fuck plotting. Easily the best song on the album.

"Starling St.": Aching, lovely and lonely Westerberg-type song. Separated at birth from Liz Phair’s “Canary” with simple piano melodies with strange muted feedback sounds off in the distance. You don’t normally think of SK’s voice as vulnerable, but he really achieves it here.

"Transaction": Holy big drums! Belew-type guitar. Good lyrics ("The Voice in your ear that says anything it can find/enter this transaction blind") and fun guitar in the background. However, this song suffers from the drum machine. I can’t help but think that with a real drummer the song would kick into the higher gear that the song demands - especially in the bridges, and at the end where the drums are trying (and failing!) to reach some kind of crescendo. It really lets down the rest of the song, so this is one of those instances where I like the tune more for its promise then what it really is.

"Consider Yourself Conquered". Dated keyboards set the rhythm behind an interesting melody. But the cheesy chorus of “consider yourself… CONQUERED!” where “conquered” is all echoey and dramatic and thus is too silly to take seriously. Perhaps that's the point...

"Like a Ghost". Now this is a melody! Catchy as hell, this one’ll stick with you. After a descending key intro, SK sings over a simplistic piano piece before launching into the chorus where the counterpoint keeps the driving energy going. The drum machine kicks in an inadequate contribution, but the melody is so strong that the song drives right past it. Probably the second best song on the album.

SK writes "'Song of Solomon' is me once again trying to play the bible as rocknroll/ wondering what the music these cats listened to was like.” I don’t think its particularly successful.

"The Asphalt Eden". Big ol’ 80s drums and abrasive horn fills. SK says that “everything got quantized and it very much works to the songs detriment” There’s a decent melody in here somewhere.

"Never Come Back". A downbeat folksy tune. This one doesn’t do much for me.

"Shell". Angelic keyboards fill out this sensitive song. A nice soft closing to the festivities.

Note: I’m planning on writing up my reaction to all of SK’s solo albums included in the Monsters n Mirages box set. Previous post: Earthed. Next up: 1990’s Remindlessness.

Quote of the Day

They knew, as Lars himself knew, that their destiny lay in the hands of halfwits. It was as simple at that. Halfwits in both East and West, halfwits like Marshal Paponovich and General Nitz... halfwits he realized, and felt his ears sear and flame red, like himself. It was the sheer mortality of the leadership that frightened the ruling circles. The last “superman,” the final Man of Iron, had been Josef Stalin. Since then—puny mortals, job-holders who made deals.

And yet, the alternative was frightfully worse—and they all, including even the pursaps, knew this on some level.
- Philip K. Dick, The Zap Gun

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't You Know How to Dress Yourself?

As the parent to two young boys, I find myself thinking about what’s appropriate for them. There’s many levels of this, but recently I’ve been struggling with the proper level of instruction should I be providing. For instance, we’ve started to insist that Hunter start to dress himself. Now, I can sit there and walk him through the process – which right now he needs, even though he’s fully aware how to put on his own clothes – or I can just inform him that he needs to get dress himself and act as an adviser. I’m trying to do the latter, but that means that either that he chooses sweatpants and a striped shirt (regardless of the weather or situation), or he stalls and complains that he doesn’t know what he wants to wear and the whole process takes forever and we’re late for day care drop-off and I’m late for work (and can’t get in my morning exercise among other annoying things). In theory, of course, the best course of action is whatever it takes to teach him independence, as frustrating as it may be in the short term. After all, what does it matter if I’m late to work for a week, or that he wears nothing but sweatpants; the important thing is that he’s learning how to dress himself. That’s the goal.

Do accomplish this, you’ve got to remain patient, not let your extra baggage get in the way, and ensure that you respect the child’s feelings. It’s trickier than you think! This morning in the midst of a clothes-related tantrum, I was sorely tempted to do a bit of yelling (“What’s the problem? You need to get dressed anyways!”) or just dress him myself so that we could get moving… but doing so would negate the lesson. So the tantrum continued for a while and we left the house 20 minutes late. I missed the opportunity to get some exercise and I had to cut the dog’s walk short. But by sticking to my guns, hopefully tomorrow will be easier and the day after that even easier until Hunter not only wants to dress himself but is proud about it. Here’s hoping!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

The aim of an artist is not to resolve a question irrefutably, but to compel one to love life in all its manifestations, and these are inexhaustible.
- Leo Tolstoi

Monday, December 6, 2010

Believeland

Just read an excellent article about Cleveland, sports passion, and LeBron James that also had some great thoughts from Dennis Kucinich:
"The word character comes from the Greek word kharassein, which means markings. There are indelible markings we have, so aspects of character will be with us throughout our life, no matter what office we hold, no matter how good we may be in sports. There are some things we carry with us in life."
"That proves something that takes us from baseball into quantum physics," he says. "That is that the creation of segmented time created a false construct of past, present and future. In human experience, what we call the past, present and future exist simultaneously. So when you talk about sports memories, it's very real. It's a false distinction to say that was yesterday."

Deep Thought

I sure wish that Safari on my iPhone would remember where I was on a page, rather than reloading the entire page again when I reopen it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tortured for Singing

Fascinating:
Did you know that the Tibetans have a traditional song for milking your yak? And yet another to sing while churning said milk into butter? That might sound like the setup for a bad joke, but it’s not. Far from it-especially if you know this: if the Chinese government got wind that you were warbling the yak-milking song (or any traditional Tibetan music) in public, you could be imprisoned. Or maybe tortured. Or killed. Or-how about all three?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Robotech Movie: Make It Happen!

Browsing around the internet for a good picture of Rick Hunter, I found this site which pondered which actors would work for a movie adaptation of the Macross Saga portion of the original Robotech series. I love their ideas - although I think Eastwood is too gruff for the role of Gloval (he needs more compassion and a kick ass mustasche - think Sam Elliott instead) - and wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a Robotech movie. Alas, the article was from 2007, which means that How can we make this happen?

Particles Matter

According to Quantum Mechanics, empty space is anything but empty. Rather, it is a roiling, seething cauldron of evanescent particles. For brief periods of time, these particles pop into existence from pure nothingness, leaving behind holes in the nothingness -- or antiparticles, as physicists label them. A short time later, particle and hole recombine, and the nothingness resumes.
If, however, the pair appears on the edge of [a black hole's] event horizon, either particle or hole may wander across the horizon, never to return. Deprived of it's partner, the particle or the hole has no "choice" but to become real.
- The Economist, "Dr. Hawking's bright idea", 10/02/10 issue
I've always been fascinated with the crazy phenomena that occurs around black holes. This description of Stephen Hawking's "Hawkins Radiation" is both pithy and accurate. The absolute chaos of what seems like dead and lifeless space is a dichotomy that's ripe for exploration, and I like to think that The Church's epic jam "Particles Matter" (off of the Operetta EP) is about this. While it might just be the title, the 35 minute jam's noisy and messy and - to me - creates form out of random energy. It's pretentious, sure, but it fits the idea so I'm running with it. Any songs remind you of space phenomena?

Scenes from an Aquarium

Fun images from the huge aquarium in Atlanta.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Line of "The Zap Gun"

"'I'm afraid I only have a moment to talk to your viewers. Sorry.' He started on, but the autonomic TV interviewer, camera in its hand, blocked his path. The metal smile of the creature glittered confidently."
- Philip K. Dick, The Ray Gun
After reading Bolaño's "The Part About the Crimes," I needed something a bit lighter to clear my palate before tackling the rest of 2666, so I'm starting on PKD's little ditty about an arms race two 21st Century super-states where each produces a flood of terror weapons, then promptly "plowshares" them into consumer goods. Fun!

First Line of 2666's "The Part About the Crimes"

"The girl's body turned up in a vacant lot in Colonia Las Flores. She was dressed in a white long-sleeved T-shirt and a yellow knee-length skirt, a size too big."
- Roberto Bolaño, 2666, p. 353
Yes, it's not the first line of the book, but the book is just so damned long and Bolaño himself was pondering releasing each section of the book as a seperate novel just before he died. So you get the first line of a 284 page "chapter" that just blew me away. I've got some thoughts I need to put down about it, but "The Part About the Crimes" was brutally entertaining. Some of the best writing i've had the pleasure to read in a long, long time.

Quote of the Day

Only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.
- Milton Friedman

So Much Unbearable Talent!

Finally got a chance to watch Steve Kilbey's acceptance speech at the ARIA awards (basically the Austrialian Rock n' Roll hall of fame). Vintage modern Kilbey, off the wall and entertaining and unpredicable and a touch unhinged. The ending was the best touch, so make sure you fast forward to the end of Marty's thanks before stopping.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yea Baby!

On our way to daycare every morning, there's one light that I have to drive through. It's a relatively busy intersection, but that early in the morning there's not always a lot of traffic, so sometimes we actually make it through the light without having to stop. When this happens, Hunter has started yelling "yea, baby!"

I have no idea where he picked this up, but it's hysterical.

Keef!

A few weeks ago, Liz Phair wrote a very entertaining review of Keith Richards autobiography Life for the NYTimes Book Review.

Incredible Numbers

Gregg Easterbrook via the Dish:
This year, the United States will spend at least $700 billion on defense and security. Adjusting for inflation, that's more than America has spent on defense in any year since World War II -- more than during the Korean war, the Vietnam war, or the Reagan military buildup. Much of that enormous sum results from spending increases under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Since 2001, military and security expenditures have soared by 119 percent.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Deep Thought

I am an earplug connoisseur.

I'll Never Retire!

The title of this post is being a tad glib, but it's hard not to believe it when you read facts like these in Erza Klein's excellent post about the "Retirement-Security Problem":
The failure [of the 401(k)], experts say, basically, is this: The typical worker approaching retirement needs about $250,000 in a 401(k). Most don't come close. The average is closer to $98,000 - only a bit more than a third of the recommended amount.
... On average, baby boomers can expect to subsist on an income of about 77 percent of what they earned in their peak working years. For Gen-Xers, it's 65 percent. And if they have the bad fortune to retire during a market slump, well, it's not clear what they'll do.
Sigh. Building up a 401(k) requires you to have been playing in the stock market casino for a LONG time. And for those of you who, like me, have had to jump from job to job and also work as independent contractors for a while, you know that a constant presence in the job market is not a luxury that's easy to afford.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Time Keeps on Ticking, Ticking, Ticking...

As I get older, time has developed a different meaning then it used to. Sometimes it moves faster than ever before: it's an obvious cliche because with kids there's more crap to do, more to think about, and yet you're stuck with the same amount of hours. But the flip side of this is that it make free time all the more precious - the time you get to yourself at night means so much more that you're willing to forgo sleep to do what you love (like read another chapter in a book, for example).
Also, time patterns itself differently. When I was younger, weekdays would have a certain rhythm and weekend days would fall into different patterns. Now the patterns are read by weeks or even months - and, at times, I don't even recognize them because i'm just too damned busy. Regardless, time's different structure makes me think and act differently then I would when I was younger.

The War on Raw Cheese

Not content with its bizarre effort to eradicate raw milk, the FDA is now focusing its resources on raw milk cheese. The whole effort is bizarre. As Harper's Index notes:
Number of Americans who have died since 1998 from drinking unpasturized milk: 2
Estimated number of U.S. children hospitalized last year after hurting themselves on monkey bars, swings, or slides: 173,000
You can't ediricate risk and if people want to enjoy unpasteurized milk or the swings, they should be able to do so without worrying about the government. Of course, the big milk companies are the ones with the money and thus are the ones writing the laws and directing the FDA's agenda. As David Gumpert notes:
The FDA has never been known to take such niceties as consumer taste and nutritional preferences into account in its approaches to such matters, though.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Quote of the Day

The healthy can't understand the emptied, the broken.
- David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, page 469.
How I envy Kelly that she's reading this book for the first time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Quote of the Day

He always seemed to be going to bed. It was always bedtime. The day came and went and it was time to go to bed again.
He went around turning off lights, checking the front and back doors. ... He checked to see that the oven was off. The last thing downstairs was the oven.
- Don DeLillo, Libra, page 75

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pluto Ascendant

The big point I never see acknowledged when arguing about why people are so upset that removing Pluto from the pantheon of planets is that Pluto plays a huge part in astrology. The new solar system disregards the age old need for order expressed thru astrology. Plus, how to realign the star charts based on the new order?

File Under "Cool Things I Will Never Do"

Speedflying. Holy Crap.

Quote of the Day

"What more do they want? She asks this seriously, as if there's a real conversion factor between information and lives. Well, strange to say, there is. Written down in the Manual, on file at the War Department. Don't forget the real business of the War is buying and selling. The murdering and violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals. The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as a spectacle, as a diversion from the real movements of the War. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught History as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death's a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try 'n' grab a piece of that Pie while they're still here to gobble it up. The true war is a celebration of markets. Organic markets, carefully styled "black" by the professionals, spring up everywhere. Scrip, Sterling, Reichsmarks, continue to move, severe as classical ballet, inside their antiseptic marble chambers. But out here, down here among the people, the truer currencies come into being. So, Jews are negotiable. Every bit as negotiable as cigarettes, ****, or Hersey bars."
— Thomas Pynchon, astute and abrasive as ever, writing in Gravity's Rainbow

Domestic PKD

Anne R. Dick, one of PKD's wives, has written a memoir about him that sounds really interesting as it was during his marriage to her that he wrote some of his most memorable books, and, after their divorce, his eccentric traits began to take over. Among many good observations in this NYTimes interview are these:
“I think he’s what you might call a psychomorph,” Ms. Dick said... “He was quite different with each person. He had this enormous gift of empathy, and he used it to woo and please and control. I’m not saying he wasn’t a very nice person too; he was. He just had a very dark shadow.”
...
Ms. Dick says that while Dick was both agoraphobic and shy, he was a man of enormous personal magnetism. “He knew how to talk to people, to move their emotions and thoughts,” she said. “But he was too shy to go out into public. He could have been a great F.B.I. agent and a great actor.”
...
“He gave a lot. Maybe too much. He tied himself in knots, and then exploded, like a balloon.”

Stupid Pet Tricks

This was fun to watch.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

It's always important to ask questions, and it's important to ask yourself why you ask the questions you ask. And do you know why? Because just one slip and our questions take us places that we don't want to go. Do you see what I'm getting at, Harry? Our questions are, by definition, suspect. But we have to ask them. And that's the most fucked-up thing of all.
- Roberto Bolaño, 2666, page 442.
His writing is simplistic, yet completely absorbing. I'm about 250 pages into the "The Part About the Crimes" section of 2666 which is a relentless depiction of an endless series of brutal murders in a border town in Mexico. It's repetative but also absorbing in the new details that he presents which continually makes each victim a unique person, and all the more chilling for the lack of attention and humanity of their ending circumstances.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thinking of the Dark Scanner

I liked Bob Einstein's write up of PKD's A Scanner Darkly, mainly because it made me feel as if I should give the book another shot. It's wasn't one of my favorite PKD novels, and I'm not sure I could ever articulate why. The story was brilliant enough: in a nutshell, a drug addicted undercover cop with a split identity is assigned to spy on himself. If I remember correctly, my main issues with the story were the unrelentingly grim paranoia combined with an increasingly unhinged writing style (which here Einstein describes as "valuing the cultivation of uncertain aspects of the story from the vantage of writer as artist, free from the convolution of a pre-established conclusion and the plot points building to that (showcased with devices like foreshadowing)"). Regardless, I really should give it another go, given how much I love the twisted ideas and brain-fucks of his other novels. (If you want a real brain twister, pick up UBIK. Like, yesterday.) It was also made into an interpolated-rotoscoping animation movie made by Richard Linklater, which always intrigued me, since it's hard enough to follow the plot in the book, much less a movie.

Anyways, Einstein has some thought provoking things to say about the book, including this gem, which IMO is spot on:
"A Scanner Darkly" tells the story of a motley group of bums and burn outs the likes of which I've never seen before. Think if The Whole Sick Crew of Thomas Pynchon's "V." were given a follow up, set somewhere ambiguous in the future.




Quote of the Day

The call of the wild is not a difficult song.
- David Byrne, "The Call of the Wild" off of Rei Momo

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sick of Politics

Part of the reason I try not to pay attention to politics these days is that I hear too much of this:
Political commentators have largely explained this opposition [Republican opposition to the New START treaty with Russia] neither in terms of nuclear defense, which is decreasingly important in the era of terrorism, nor in terms of U.S.-Russian relations, which are at an all-time high since the first such agreement was penned in 1991, but in terms of domestic partisan politics. That is, Republicans appear to be motivated by a desire to turn what would have been a victory for President Barack Obama into a defeat, thus raising their party's relative stature and improving their odds for winning the White House in 2012. But whether or not defeating New START would in fact be a domestic political win for the Republican party, it would be a significant defeat for U.S. foreign policy. ...
If New START fails then heads of state, foreign ministers, diplomats, and negotiators from around the world will be forced to think twice before making a difficult deal with the U.S. They will have to consider the possibility that any political sacrifices they make in the course of negotiating could very well be wasted. That will shift foreign leaders' calculus, if only slightly, away from deal-making with the United States. Why even bother?

Not Looking Forward To It

I'm traveling through Logan for Thanksgiving, and i'm not looking forward to my first grope.
Bonus fun (but overlong) video explaining the absurdity of this security theater here.

Superheros Should Not Be Part of the Real World

There are many things I love about Jamie Hernandez, and his love of fun comix is one of them. You see that in his mixture of realism and pure cartooning in his art, and in the way that he approaches the problem of superheros. In part three of this fascinating interview on The Daily Cross Hatch, Xamie talks about his fun two part return to superhero comix (in Love and Rockets Volume 3, #1-2):
Those things [like The Dark Knight movie] are fine, because I still look at them as fantasy. They have hoodlums that steal money and go in the alley to count it. That’s still old school criminals. Things like that. For me, when they bring it more into the real world, it loses it’s charm. I do like superheroes.
I guess I should say, I like superheroes with their own rules. Not our rules. And I think that was cool when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko changed the rules. I think that was cool, but it kind of—they created a monster to me. I think you should go by your own set of rules. It was kind of like we were the intruders, instead of them.
It’s kind of like I say at the end of the Ti-Girl story, where Maggie says she always felt that Penny was this drawing cut from a comic and pasted on earth, but one of the characters says, “yes, but in this situation, you’re the fake.” And Maggie goes, “yeah, I figured that.” So Maggie was the weird visitor in their world.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Highlight of my Weekend

I've been trying to get Hunter interested in doing chores around the house, or at least engaged in outdoor activities while I take care of them. We've also been doing some bird watching. Combine the two, and my favorite moment this weekend was raking while Hunter held a stale piece of popcorn we found in the car (don't ask) and screamed "Birds! I have some popcorn for you!"

Alas, no birds took him up on the offer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

...the ventriloquist, who looked back and forth between her and his dummy, as if he had no idea what was going on but he could smell danger, the moment of revelation, unsolicited and afterward uncomprehended, the kind of revelation that flashes past and leaves us with only the certainty of a void, a void that very quickly escapes even the word that contains it. And the ventriloquist knew this was dangerous. Dangerous especially for people like him, hypersensitive, of artistic temperament, their wounds still open.
Roberto Bolano, 2666, Page 436.
This book continues to absorb and amaze me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

'cause I'm Your Brother...

I always knew the Davies brothers had a tempestuous relationship (Hatred is the only thing that keeps us together), but this Dave interview is quite shocking. Check this:
‘You’ve heard of vampires,’ says Dave. ‘Well, Ray sucks me dry of ideas, emotions and ­creativity. It’s toxic for me to be with him. He’s a control freak.
‘I hate to say it, but it’s got worse since he met the Queen [Ray received a CBE in 2004]. In his mind, it’s given him more validity, more “I’m better than you”, more “I’m superior”. With him, it’s “me, me, me”. He thinks he is The Kinks.
and this:
‘The last time we were all together was at my 50th birthday party. Ray had the money and I didn’t, so he offered to throw it for me.

‘Just as I was about to cut the cake, Ray jumped on the table and made a speech about how wonderful he was. He then stamped on the cake.’
But the amazing thing is that Dave concludes with:
"[I said to Ray]: "You’re not having any hits any more." Ray said: "I don’t care what people think. I write songs for my dad."
‘That’s the real Ray. I believe he’s still in there somewhere. I could never not love Ray.
He’s my brother.'
Note: Title taken from "Brother," a track from 1977's underrated Sleepwalker album.

What's Playing Now

Despite what it might say on the left, i've been listening to some of David Byrne's solo music (sans Talking Heads of course). After a a good friend's brother-in-law played me some of Byrne's Latin-influenced pop-rock at a bachelor party, I wasn't able to get it out of my head, and so I finally picked up 1989's Rei Romo and 1992's Uh-Oh. Rei Romo in particular is killing me. I don't know the musical forms that he's using but its fun as hell, makes me want to dance, and has those typical Byrne lyrics that really make you stop and think.

I'll have more to say about it when I have more time to put down my thoughts. For now, i'm just shaking it, baby.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Moulds Thoughts

I love this interview with Eric Moulds by Buffalo Sports Daily. Best quote:
BSD: It was years ago, but I have to ask you now. Be honest, how did you feel about the team’s decision to bench Doug Flutie and go with Rob Johnson in the 1999 playoffs?
EM: I thought it was the dumbest decision made in history of pro sports. Here you have my good friend Doug, who just took us from 0 and 3 to nine or 10 straight wins to the playoffs, and then we start the quarterback (Johnson) that got us off to a three game losing streak to start the season. It’s a story that I wish ended differently.
Hard to argue with that!

Modern Politics: A Blueprint

Rick Perlstein points out the current dynamic at play with the Democrats and Republicans, where the Democrats are too afraid to play hard ball and thus suffer accordingly. Here it is in short:
The vector worked, and works, like this:

(a) A mountebank (i.e., Rush Limbaugh) teaches his millions of followers that everything the president says is a priori a lie;

b) The mainstream media that acts as if anything his millions of followers believe is a priori deserving of respect as heartland folk wisdom (note the cover article lionizing Limbaugh in this week's Newsweek);

(c) The president unilaterally renders himself constitutionally incapable of breaking the chain between (a) and (b), such that, (d), the assumption that Obama raised taxes when he really lowered them becomes hegemonic for a majority of the electorate, and even a large plurality of Democrats.

Q.E.D.: Governing has become impossible.

More Cheese!

TPM pointed me towards a very interesting NYTimes article regarding the government efforts to simultaneously eat less fatty foods and also eat more cheese. That's the problem when you're so big that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing... or is simply getting too much money to care. Money quote:
Dairy Management ... is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.
Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. ...
Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.
The organization’s activities, revealed through interviews and records, provide a stark example of inherent conflicts in the Agriculture Department’s historical roles as both marketer of agriculture products and America’s nutrition police.
In one instance, Dairy Management spent millions of dollars on research to support a national advertising campaign promoting the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, records and interviews show. The campaign went on for four years, ending in 2007, even though other researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Poem For the Weekend

Wallace Stephens' Man Carrying Thing
The poem must resist the intelligence
Almost successfully. Illustration:

A brune figure in winter evening resists
Identity. The thing he carries resists

The most necessitous sense. Accept them, then,
As secondary (parts not quite perceived

Of the obvious while, uncertain particles
Of the certain solid, the primary free from doubt,

Things floating like the first hundred flakes of snow
Out of a storm we must endure all night,

Out of a storm of secondary things),
A horror of thoughts that are suddenly real.

We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.
In Stephens vague way, he describes the most effective poetry (and I'm including song lyrics in this as well,) which consists of hints and issuniation, the painting of shadows on the wall of a cave. Painting the truth in too strong of a light diffuses its power, negating the universal power of the image.

The trick to me was always making the individual details work in the context of this vague universality. It's not easy to do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hellboy: The Storm

I've been pondering this one for a while after reading The Storm, but I'm sorry, it's true: Hellboy's become boring. Sure, Duncan Fegredo's art - while not being as good as Mignola - is still pretty good, and the series still has some interestingly dramatic moments (represented here by the surprise attack in ish #1), the overall story seems to be coasting. Leaving aside the absurd idea that Hellboy is the heir to King Arthur, each of these mini-series feels formulaic: a first ish that sets up the plot with a brief summary of whats come before, a few issues in the middle where information is doled out slowly amongst much myth mongering and monster fighting, and then the grande finale, but which is constructed in such a way that its merely a step in a much grander plot/war. Hellboy is now series in which the storm is always threatening, but never breaks.

Having said this, I'm impressed that Mignola has remained so true to his vision of Hellboy. Part of the lack of drama in the book is due to the fact that Hellboy always disengages from the plots that are set afoot to ensnare him in evil messiah roles: Hellboy is, of course, a humanist at heart. He is the true "monster with a heart of gold," presented with such honesty that its hard to disparage the stories.

But it's just not as enjoyable as a read as I think it could be. I enjoy reading the short stories - such as last year's "In The Chapel of Moloch" - much more than the series now. Its like the last few seasons of the X-Files when the "one off"'shows were so much better than the "conspiracy" shows because they weren't carrying the baggage and could just have fun with itself. Hellboy was built to be fun, in a brooding, pop-art kinda way, but recent events have made it morose, like The Storm's ish #2's heavy handed "you suck" reprimand to the demon hedgehog. I still love the ironic, over-heavy b-movie mythological setups, but some essential spark seems to be missing, taking with it the series' joy de vivre.

I have every faith that Mignola will entertain me again. I'm also very curious to see how the Nimue's threat will be dispersed. I'm invested here and have faith that the story will continue hold up to its promise. I just hope it steps up sooner rather than later.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Poem of the Day

I love this poem, despite not knowing what some of it (douce campagna?) means:
The Well Dressed Man with a Beard by Wallace Stephens
After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket's horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing!
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house...

It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.
Despite its rather dark tone, I find the poem affirming. If only one thing, no matter how ephemeral, survives, then things are not as dark as they seem. And that's all that really matters at the end of the day.

Quote of the Day

I was doing something useful. Something useful no matter how you look at it. Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people's ideas, like listening to music (oh yes), like looking at the view, like talking a walk on the beach.
- Roberto Bolaño, 2666, page 258

Grotesque Finale

I loved the first three issues of Sergio Ponchione's Grotesque (published as part of Fantagraphics lovingly over sized Ignatz series). The series started out with a bang, with a surrealist examination of three protagonists and their quests for the meaning of life, all connected by tenuous connections with a mysterious figure called Mr. O'blique. Issues 2-3 took a sharp turn from the events of issue 1, painting a picture of a hard-boiled town under the rule of a group of thugs that got their power indirectly from O'blique. The surrealistic imagery carries the story as we see how Professor Hackensack teams up with Inspector Doppiofaccio to liberate the town. All three issues are extremely entertaining, and lavishly drawn. You can find yourself - and I was - lost in the details of Ponchione's drawings.

So I was excited to get issue #4 recently. However, despite the return of the four protagonists from issue one, the conclusion of Grotesque was highly disappointing. The detailed surrealistic scenes were mainly missing along with the intricate plots. Instead, we're presented with a conversation between O'blique and Hackensack about the meaning of life and how the different characters in the story have found it. It feels perfunctory, like Ponchione lost funding for the series and was forced to conclude it before it's time (a fate that unfortunately befalls a large number of independent comix). Despite this, I'll definably keep my eye out for more work by Ponchione, and I highly recommend the first three issues of Grotesque to anyone... just don't pick up issue #4 so you can keep dreaming about potential endings to the stories.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

First Line of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

"Miss Kawasemi?" Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. "Can you hear me?"
Boring, I know, but it's David-Fucking-Mitchell and it quickly gets underway with a bang. Check this, from page 9:
"He inhales once, twice, three times; his crinkled face crumples...
...and the shuddering newborn boiled-pink despot howls at Life."
Now that's a line. In a book sure to be chock full of them. Very excited about this one, a gem in what was a bumper-crop of books that arrived for my birthday this year. Thanks all!

Musical Theatre

The other day I was playing David Bowie's Station to Station album and, during one of the more dramatic songs (probably either "Word on a Wing" or "Wild is the Wind"), my wife turned it off and said "this is way too music theatre for me." And she's right! It's funny how I never recognized this before, but Bowie's drama does veer dangerously into musical drama. The difference being that Bowie's solid rock grounding and strong voice usually save his songs from schmaltz. However, it's been hard for me to listen to these tunes lately without hearing shades of over-dramatic Rent-style "rock opera."
(Bonus: Team America's awesome Rent parody: Leased.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Biking to Work

I love this article about Bills Safety Byron Scott biking to work every day. It's fun and enlightening but also disturbing in how his mode of transportation is viewed with ridicule by his teammates. But its in actions like his that changes are made: in small but steady individual voices are opinions changed.

Late Update: Forgot to include the link to the article!

Dream, Dream Away

As the big dreamer's 70th birthday arrives, this article by Hampton Stephens is a good summary of why John Lennon remains such a big figure in our society. Myself, I can't stop playing his music - either with the Beatles or solo. I can't stop myself from grooving anytime "Nobody Told Me" or "Watching the Wheels" starts playing. And "Beautiful Boy" resonates very powerfully with me now that i'm a father twice over.

Money quote from the article:
Who didn't want to be John Lennon? Lennon did it all. First. He was the leader of the best rock band ever. He wrote sweeping anthems and breathtakingly fragile love songs. He had a savage wit, yet epic compassion. He went from teeny-bopper superstar to global icon to conceptual artist, activist, and revolutionary—toying with the machinery of fame while supposed pioneers of postmodern media manipulation like Madonna and Bono were in diapers. Lennon was spied on by the Nixon administration, fought to stay in the country, and won. He detoxed decades before it was fashionable, going from a self-described terrible father to an exemplary one—the world's most famous househusband, pioneering again.

Yo, where you at?

I'm over here...

Just busy as hell at work and at home. Working and living big, right? Not enough time to think the deep thoughts, much less act or write about them. Hopefully that will change as the weather gets colder, because thinking the big thoughts is one of the things that keeps me going.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Night Video

Springsteen's farewell to Zevon. IMO, anyone who has ever contemplated dying old should had what the rocker, doomed to an early death (via cancer), has to say and play about it. To me, it's an honest admission and a spit int the eye at the same time in the tradition of the best Rock music. Inspires me every time I hear it; just keep in mind that Zevon's lack of singing power is due to his cancer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thank God for APX

It's been a stressful week - and it's only Tuesday!

The only things keeping me (relatively) relaxed are hot tea and Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II.

Here's hoping things mellow out soon!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Steve Kilbey's Earthed


Despite their complete absence from mainstream culture, there’s nothing inherently wrong with "rock" instrumentals. You can do a lot with them – the two instrumentals in Quadrophenia are, IMO, quite possibly some of the most moving music on that excellent album. Booker T & the MGs made an entire career riding a groove and replacing the singer with an organ. It’s really a neglected art form, as opposed to the electronic instrumental, which makes up a large chunk of that type of music. To name just a few of the highlights, look at the emotions that the Boards of Canada generate without any sung words.

Steve Kilbey combines these two genres in his 1987 album Earthed. Despite the similar name to his solo debut Unearthed, the two albums couldn’t be more disparate. Earthed is an entire album of instrumentals meant to be played while reading the book of poetry of the same name. Where Unearthed was unforced and organic, Earthed shows Kilbey straining a bit. The music here is interesting, but much of it feels undeveloped, or at least contains interesting ideas that should have been developed more rather then being left as is. I also have to mention that the album does suffer from its time – like listening to old Tangerine Dream albums or Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick, excellent music can be hidden by the primitive technology that produced it. What I mean by that is some of the sounds here sound a bit cheesy to the modern ear just because we’re so used to more advanced electronic techniques. Having said all of that, there’s much to enjoy here, especially if you can get past the dated production and hear the songs for what they want to be. Given that, here’s my impression of the album’s high and low lights:

Robert Lurie writes in his SK biography that the more successful pieces here are the "organic sounding ones," but I disagree. For instance, "The Dawn Poems" starts off well enough, with the deep keys playing a repeating riff, but once the chiming (organic) guitars come in, those interesting keys disappear and the song becomes simple strumming. It’s fun to listen to, and sounds great, but it goes nowhere as a song until the very end, when the guitar disappears and the keys and piano take over for a fleeting moment before the guitar enters again and strums us off into the sunset without having taught us anything. After listening to it a few times it’s got nothing left to offer.

"Newman" – the hero of the Earthed poetry – is treated musically here by a pondering bassline. It’s relatively static for a while before taking off into a walking melody with simplicato keys washing the background. It’s decidedly low-tech, and like most of the touches of this in the album, not for everyone, but I like it. Even more effective is the bridge here which injects a sense of climbing drama to the proceedings. It’s not a highlight but a solid song: as SK puts it: "it's what youd expect from sk trying to write a german spy theme."

"Dreambeings" does a lot in its 40 seconds. There are many different instruments, each one telling a different melody. It’s playful and fun and I wish there were more tunes like it on the album.

"The White Plague" – a pulsing, static bass note contrasted by the music-box keys playing naively above it. Not much going on here.

"A Loveletter from Sydney." One of the "organic" tunes. This one could have been turned into a pop-song with no problems. It’s a fun little ditty, distinguished by a fun guitar line that plays the vocals, and Kilbey’s fretless bass swooping and diving along.

"Carthage" has a pondering dignity about it, but also sounds like a traveling tune – Kilbey’s muted take on an ill-fated trip through the desert (like a soundtrack of to cowboys riding across the American West, but without the optimism) – no here, there’s a somber note, as if foreseeing the sacking of the town. Kilbey also successfully winds in some Arabic-sounding melodies and bass chanting, all of which successfully adds to a mood piece that is reminiscent of that ancient world.

"City of Women." Wonderfully melancholy. A piano riff in minor chords over an eerie woman’s voice wailing ghostlike over a ravaged town as the wind whips down the abandoned streets and small animals cower in the moonlight. Evocative, as you can tell. Continuing the theme of the shorter songs being the more effective.

"The Empire Mourns Her Sun Without Tears" sounds extremely dated, mainly because the main focus of the song is a keyboard riff that sounds like it’s straight from the 70s. It makes me think of Tangerine Dream, and not in a good way. The key washes here also sound dated. What’s interesting is that it sounds like a regular piano is playing underneath the keys, adding weight to them, but over all I can’t get past the cheesy-sounds in this tune.

"Cornucopia" sounds like it could have been on Unearthed. It’s a fun melody, presented as a bit of a nursery rhyme, and doesn’t overdo any of its elements. There’s an acoustic guitar that strums occasionally that adds to the song, but doesn’t overwhelm it did "The Dawn Poems." Some thunderstorm sounds in the background also add texture, but this is a sound experiment that’s just a fun listen.

"Memory" – this song does nothing for me. It starts off as an experimental sound collage with backward sound loops and a woman speaking in French before introducing an ominous rhythm and chugging industrial-style noise that builds up to overwhelm the speakers. Eventually, this all crashes into a gong-like crescendo, presenting the listener with a wind-swept plain where the camera tracks to a surprisingly green oasis painted by some very pleasant keyboard melodies. The second half of the song is extremely relaxing, and made me think of one of those Japanese gardens in the middle of the city where wind chimes are playing over an orderly nature scene. If you can get past the beginning, the ending is worth the journey.

"Aphrodite" is all tom-tom drums with the same kind of plodding keys that Carthage gave us. It’s a similar song, but doesn’t tell as much of a story.

"...The Reality Generators Malfunctioned" starts up with interesting "machines running down" sounds (that must represent the "malfunctioning") is followed by a dark piano riff and raindrop keyboard sounds before the tom toms kick in again and build the song up. After the first minute, there’s a lot going on – sounds everywhere competing for space, but also contributing to the whole – before the whole thing stops. Perhaps the repairman arrived?

"Napoleon’s Army, Christmas Eve, Outside Moscow." Pure sad nostalgia piano music. Sounds like something Deckard might hear in Bladerunner as the bar closes after a few too many whiskeys.

"Sad Little Piano Piece." Just as it sounds. No more, no less.

"Atlantis." Another of the "organic" songs. A typical rock instrumental in that the guitar plays the melody that would typically be sung.

The carnival rhythm of "The Woman Who was Married to Love" carries this song (minus the bizarre musical dithering of the bridge).

The album closes with Kilbey reading a series of poems. They’re evocative of a certain quizzical mindset, of the idea that everything is connected, and really an extension of Kilbey’s songwriting. It’s hard to describe the effect of these poems on me – I find them very entertaining and moving, even the ones that expound upon the idea that everything’s connected by simply presenting lists (along the lines of Church song "Welcome"). It did inspire this poem of my own that was a lot of fun to write.

In conclusion, it's an interesting album, but not one that I would recommend to anyone who didn't want to spend the time listening through the album's limitations. It's an oddity, to be sure - who would have thought that the verbose Kilbey would put out an album of instrumentals! - but one that, for me, is worth the listen.

Note: I’m planning on writing up my reaction to all of SK’s solo albums included in the Monsters n Mirages box set. Previous post: Unearthed. Next up: 1989’s The Slow Crack.

Seperated at Birth?

Steve Kilbey's "Starling St." and Liz Phair's "Gunshy"

also...

The intro to Belka and Strelka's "Unreal" vs. Stereolab's "Flute"

Friday, October 15, 2010

Property Fraud

Thank goodness it's not affecting me, but there's rampant property fraud going on around the country, as banks are foreclosing on properties that they can't even prove are theirs, and in rates that prove that they are not being properly reviewed. The Big Picture has the grimy details.

Poem for the Weekend

The older I get, the more I appreciate the great rocker John Hiatt. This one's a great getting older song called Slow Turning:
When I was a boy,
I thought it just came to ya'
But I never could tell what's mine
So it didn't matter anyway

I always thought our house was haunted
But nobody said boo to me
I never did get what I wanted
Now I get what I need

Chorus:
It's been a slow turnin'
From the inside out
A slow turnin'
But you come about
Slow learnin'
But you learn to sway
A slow turnin' baby
Not fade away

Now I'm in my car
I got the radio on
I'm yellin' at the kids in the back seat
'cause they're bangin' like Charlie Watts

You think you've come so far
In this one horse town
Then she's laughin' that crazy laugh
'cause you haven't left the parkin' lot

Time is short and here's the damn thing about it
You're gonna die, gonna die for sure
And you can learn to live with love or without it
But there ain't no cure

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their own satisfactions. They turned the pain of others into memories of one’s own. They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memories, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive. They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility. They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more than the perpetuation of flight. They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity.
Roberto Bolaño, 2666, page 189
Man, Bolaño knows how to write! In the first 200 pages of 2666, he's mesmerized me by being unpredictably entertaining. I don't even know what it's all about and I still can't wait to pick it up again.

Xamie's Latest

I spent a wonderful evening last night reading Jaime's portion of the latest Love and Rockets. It was incredible. As usual, the artwork was sublime, but i've come to expect nothing less from Xamie's drawing. What made New Stories #3 stand out was the story. It was funny, moving, touching without being sappy (he rarely resorts to cliche), and actually heartbreaking. I pretty much know no one who reads L&R - which is a damned shame - so I don't feel like it's a spoiler to say that when Ray walked away from Maggie, and his explanation for doing so, I felt emotions as complex as I ever have when reading. It's a masterful story, and well worth checking out. You can do so here!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Poem for the Weekend

TNC pointed me at this great Frederick Seidel poem called "October" a week or two ago:
It is time to lose your life,
Even if it isn't over.
It is time to say goodbye and try to die.
It is October.

The mellow cello
Allee of trees is almost lost in sweetness and mist
When you take off your watch at sunrise
To lose your life.

You catch the plane.
You land again.
You arrive in the place.
You speak the language.

You will live in a new house,
Even if it is old.
You will live with a new wife,
Even if she is too young.

Your slender new husband will love you.
He will walk the dog in the cold.
He will cook a meal on the stove.
He will bring you your medication in bed.

Dawn at the city flower market downtown.
The vendors have just opened.
The flowers are so fresh.
The restaurants are there to decorate their tables.

Your husband rollerblades past, whizzing,
Making a whirring sound, winged like an angel--
But stops and spins around and skates back
To buy some cut flowers in the early morning frost.

I am buying them for you.
I am buying them for your blond hair at dawn.
I am buying them for your beautiful breasts.
I am buying them for your beautiful heart.

The “Weaponization” of Classical Music

This observation by Colon Weatock made me laugh:
As a classical music lover, I’d like to believe that my favourite music has some kind of magical effect on people – that it soothes the savage breast in some unique way. I’d like to think that classical music somehow inspires nobler aspirations in the mind of the purse-snatcher, causing him to abandon his line of work for something more upstanding and socially beneficial.

But I know better. The hard, cold truth is that classical music in public places is often deliberately intended to make certain kinds of people feel unwelcome. Its use has been described as “musical bug spray,” and as the “weaponization” of classical music.

Scary Kid Facts

In a Wired discussion about if multitasking is ruining our brains, Brian Chen drops this bombshell:
Kids are indeed distracting: A British study found that for drivers, the distraction of squabbling kids can slow down brake-reaction times by 13 percent — as much as alcohol.
I do not disagree one bit.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

... He saw Lola's fingers, Lola's wrists, Lola's blank eyes, he saw another Lola reflected in the quicksilver of the window, floating weightless in the skies of Paris, ... weary, sending messages from the coldest, iciest realms of passion.
- Roberto Bolano, 2666, page 182

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

We're In Trouble!

Little Trey just started crawling. He immediately went over to a game that Hunter was playing and wrecked havoc. The next few months are going to be an adventure!

Quote of the Day

Facts are but the Play-things of lawyers,—Tops and Hoops, forever a-spin.... Alas, the Historian may indulge no such idle Rotating. History is not Chronology, for that is left to lawyers,—nor is Remembrance, for Remembrance belongs to the People. History can as little pretend to the Veracity of the one, as claim the Power of the other,—her Practitioners, to survive, must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc, spy and Taproom Wit,—that there may ever continue more than one life-line back into a Past we risk, each day, losing our forbears in forever,— not a Chain of single Links, for one broken Link could lose us All,—rather, a great disorderly Tangle of Lines, long and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in common.
- Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, page 349

Arbitrary Movie Ratings

Movie rateings have always seemed kind of bizarre to me. This article somewhat expands upon the reasoning behind the proliferation in the PG-13 rating being the main driver behind movie decisions today:
The insidious thing about this is that movies that should be rated R are emasculated in order to get a PG-13 rating. Nudity is obscured, sex becomes implied, and no more than one "fuck" is allowed. (How dumb is that? Say "fuck" once and it’s a PG-13; say it two or three times, and it’s an R. I know that if I’m in a PG-13 movie and someone says "fuck," I can relax safe in the realization that I won’t be subjected to the word again until the movie is over.) People can be murdered, but their deaths can’t be bloody. It works the other way, too. In order to avoid a PG rating, some filmmakers intentionally add profanity, mild sexual content, and a little violence to attain a PG-13.
Now I realize that movies are an art form that involve a lot of compromise - it's the rare director that has access to the funding needed to pull together a solid movie without having to make compromises - but the items on which a director appears to be compromising here are really quite petty. And don't get me started on what kind of nudity and sexuality are allowed to be shown about women as opposed to men...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Time for Autumn

It's my favorite time of year, and is why I appreciated Morgan Meis' write up of the season with regards to Pieter Bruegel's painting "Return of the Herd." She begins:
The cool wind coming in from the north, the piles of dead leaves crunching under foot, the sun that hangs lower in the sky with each passing day. It is easy to forget that all these changes used to point to something. The approach of autumn was the transformation in a mode of life, moving us from the work of the last days of the harvest to the hunkering down in preparation for winter.

It is amazing, even now, how quickly the shift in seasons stimulates a transformation of mood. The mind is pulled along by forces lurking in the weather—in the sun and the moon, in the otherwise-unnoticed messages from the grass and the trees. We are changing, they say, and so shall you. You simply can’t feel the same on an autumn day as you might feel on one of those bright, intrusive days of early spring.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Poem of the Day

Loved this poem found on the Daily Dish:
Accept the things you cannot change:
the bleating clock,
the nightly go
—dog leash in tow—
around the block,

neural chemistry,
patchy hair,
a longing stare
and X-ray eye,

and the niggling fact
that things will stay
roughly this way,
to be exact.

Forgive the things you cannot have:
the supple bod,
taut undergrads,
a nicer pad,
long chats with God,

an older name,
your peers’ respect,
the oll korrect,
unbridled fame,

a sense of ease
in your own skin,
a lighter burden
by degrees.

The life you’d swap for on the train
(sight unseen)
is much like yours
though it appears
more green.

So, why this pain
that shorts the breath
and spoils your health?
You grow serene—

not yet, but after
your will resigns
a few more times
with heavy laughter.
- "Acceptance Speech" by David Yezzi

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Quote of the Day

All investigations of Time, however sophisticated or abstract, have at their true base the human fear of mortality.
Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, p. 622

Friday, October 1, 2010

Where Your Taxes Go

An excellent breakdown.

Early Morning Browsing

This long, rambling blog is a bit of a mess, but it contains a lot of really interesting writing about where ideas come from, how to nurture them, and how these ideas are often treated in the marketplace (with a particular focus on Hollywood).

Here's a representative sample:
The big gaping difference between the amateur and the professional writer is not whether you make actual money off your words, but rather whether you understand the mechanism inside you that produces Ideas.

Pondering Hughes

I've been intreaqued by Ted Hughes' poetry ever since I listened to Pete Townshend's entertaining but deeply flawed Iron Man album, based in part on a Hughes children's story. I haven't followed through on this for various reasons, but I think that may be corrected sometime zoom: this blog makes his poetry sound just fascinating.
Any advice on where I should start?

Music Break

This music video of some kinda automated music machine is a lot of fun. Plus, it has a xylophone solo!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Groove Night

Quick hit: If you're a fan of electronic music, you have to listen to Thomas Fehlmann's Honigpumpe. Awful cover, incredible album.

Fehlmann specializes in a minimalist four-square kinda funk. (I hear elements of krautrock in it too, but that might just be me.) It's hard to describe, and seems like it might feel cold to people upon their first listen. But stick with it. There's a lot of subtleties in the Honigpumpe toons, including:
- The funky-German dub-march of "T.R.N.T.T.F."
- The cozy couch paranoia of a "Little Big Horn (Liegend)," which builds up about a thousand little rhythm tracks all tapping away at your subconscious, like nervous spider fingers tapping the blues on a magazine cover in a waiting room
- The giant walking on the moon of "Atlas"

As the above may tell you, I don't have the words to describe these sounds - although people try - but it engages my hips and my mind, and whatever does that can't be all that bad.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly convinced that only the normal and the positive - in short, only prosperity - is to the advantage of man?
- Fydor Dostoevsky, in Notes from the Underground

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things That Make You Say "Ahhhh..."

Paid off the car today. No more car payments... for a few months at least.

State of the Bills

This.
Money quote:
Even when they're logical, they're illogical. Ladies and gentlemen: the Buffalo Bills.
Adding: Also this. Chris Kelsay is an average OLB, at best, and constantly being beat by Tight Ends. And now he's one of the highest paid members of the team. Sigh.

Monday, September 27, 2010

File Under "Wrong"

This is just disturbing.

Adding: "Sassy" is apparently marketing-speak for sexy-but-we're-trying-to-sell-to-kids-so-can't-use-sexy.

So Much Failed Change

This article from AMA provides a staggering statistic: "...about 70% of changes in organizations fail." That's an incredible number!
The article details reasons why this might be, but is a bit vague in the "what can you do about it" area. I've been through a few company reorganizations and the following are a few things that seem to work to me:
- Leadership has a clear vision and transition plan for the change
- Employees are kept in the loop and every effort is made to ensure their buy-in. Often, this means involving them in the change process, or at least soliciting their feedback.
- Once the change is announced, detailed communications about everyone's new responsibilities are sent from above so that there's no ambiguity.
- Change management! How exactly will the transition occur so that nothing falls through the cracks as people move from one responsibility to the other.

A Birthday, Yesterday

I was too busy to mention this yesterday, but Hunter turned four years old on September 26th. He's turning into quite the little man, and I hope that he keeps me laughing and running round for the rest of my life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Changing the Color of Table Borders in PowerPoint

Don't know about you, but I spend a majority of my time at work using Microsoft PowerPoint 2007. This morning, I was attempting to change the color of the borders in a PowerPoint table - I wanted the borders for the border cells to have a different color then the table's main body (to match the different fill colors). Well, this task was incredibly difficult and unintuitive, and there was no information on how to perform this task in the PowerPoint help system.

Luckily, there’s the internet! I found this MSMVPs site that detailed how to change table borders. If you're one of the lucky few who might find this useful: enjoy!

Get Up! Get On Your Feet!

I ask you to think on the hours when one sleeps. Did you know what happens then? The body may lie still in bed, but what happens to the thoughts - the spirit? With what ancient demons does it spend its time? And in what deeds?
- Ardel Wray & Josef Mischel, from the Isle of the Dead.

Have you noticed how many movies recently have focused upon dreams or virtual reality? I can name three blockbusters right off the top of my head: the Matrix trilogy, Avatar and Inception. Now Art, and the movies in particular, have always had an element of the escapist in them; people go to the movies or watch TV in order to be entertained. And the movies I've mentioned above are all very entertaining (with the possible exception of the final Matrix movie). What I don't understand is why the stories are all about people that are essentially just laying there. Yes, their virtual life - their dreams, literally in Inception - are every entertaining, but why stories about these dreams? Why are we not seeing large stories about real life, or actions and adventures that literally happen?
I could wildly speculate, but I don’t have anything profound to add here. I just think the trend is interesting. What do you think?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers.

- James Baldwin

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Love this Picture

Quote of the Day

"Solitaire", by Suzanne Vega
Black on the red and the red on the black.
It's a tic of a tired mind.
Come and sit down, won't you try your luck.
See if you unwind.

Never use your threes and twos.
Follow superstition.
Otherwise you are going to lose.
Compulsion makes you listen.

Take what's wrong, and make it go right.
Weave it like a prayer.
Wonder if you you'll spend the night?
Playing solitaire?

Do it again, when you find you're all done.
Like an idiot savant.
Shuffle up your luck. You see, you almost won.
Now wrestle down what you want.

Jack on the Queen, and the ten on the Jack.
It's a happy repetition.
You and your fate in a kind of check-mate.
And you are your only competition.

Take what's wrong, and make it go right.
Weave it like a prayer.
Wonder if you you'll spend the night?
Playing solitaire?