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"


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

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!