I don't want to say that I'll never post anything on this site again, so I'll just say that I probably won't post anything on this site again. While I've had a lot of fun here over the past 20 months or so, I'll be moving on to a short-story-oriented site called Popular Fiction. (Yes, the name is entirely wishful thinking.)
I'm sincerely grateful to the select few of you who have made this a semi-regular part of your internet surfing, and I hope you'll continue to follow me at my new joint.
Whenever I read a large number written in full numeric form- something larger than a hundred million, say- I always need to count how many commas there are first before I can go back and read the entire number. So I wish we would substitute the first comma in large numbers with a tiny letter that would indicate what size number we're dealing with. For instance: 376t986,021,552,113- where the tiny "t" immediately tells mewe're in the trillions. Of course, I realize the regular comma system has seemed to work for everyone else for thousands of years, so maybe I'm just terrible at reading big numbers.
Finally saw Avatar, and overall I agree with our apparent general consensus: though I figured out most of the plot points at least 20 minutes before they happened, the visions were like nothing I've ever witnessed before. It's a spectacular must-see, and splurging for the 3D IMAX experience was worth every penny.
The allegory of the story was certainly heavy-handed, but not as oversimplified as it might seem at first. (Some SPOILERS ahead, but again, there are few surprises in this movie, plot-wise.) Take, for instance, the way that the Pandoran animals basically turn the tide of the big climactic battle. Of course, these are probably just my biases talking, but it's like, after two hours of tree-hugging, pro-environmental MESSAGE, James Cameron suddenly becomes Werner Herzog and admits thatthe human race and its puny technologies are ultimately no match for Mother Fucking Nature. Yes, we should treat the environment with respect, and we should never recklessly kill other living things. But really, the worst our pollution and carbon footprints and oil drilling and global warming can do is wound the planet. We can never destroy the planet- not without a Death Star, at least. If the planet ever detects that we humans are a serious threat, it will probably start killing us off like an immune system kills off a cold.
Or: we should be environmentally responsible, but not to "save the earth;" we should be environmentally responsible so the earth doesn't retaliate and kick our ass like a herd of Hammerhead Titanotheres stampeding an army of robot-soldiers.
My Rating: $16 Million out of $20 Million Worth of Unobtanium
Awards I Would Nominate It For: Special Effects, Cinematography, Editing, Sound- basically all the technical stuff
A few weeks ago, award-winning author Lily Hoang was a guest in our apartment, and of course she and I talked a lot about books. Before she left to return home, she was kind enough to leave for me a copy of Steven Millhauser's first novel, Edwin Mullhouse- even though she hadn't read it, she digs some of Millhauser's other work, and thought I might like his style as well.
And I am enjoying Edwin Mullhouse very, very much so far. I'm enjoying it so much that I'm reading it very slowly, savoring it, the way you might savor a happy childhood if you could go back and live it again. It did take me a while to appreciate it, though. The book practically dared me not to like it at first. In its introduction, a character calls the book- which is written as a biography of a child prodigy- "one of the most remarkable documents ever recorded in the annals of biography." While I admired Millhauser's balls for making a statement like that- even by a fictional character that's not technically himself- I also decided that this book would have a lot more to prove because of said balls.
I was also put off at first by the voice of Jeffrey Cartwright- the fictional author of the fictional biography of Edwin Mullhouse- who also happens to be a child prodigy. It's one thing for a ten year-old kid to be precocious, even genius, but no matter how smart they are, kids are always kids at heart. Characters like Lisa Simpson and Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes strike just the right notes in that way, even if they occasionally come across as mouthpieces for the adult writers behind them. For the first few chapters of Edwin Mullhouse, I felt like the boy wonder narrator sounded much too adult. About 2/3 of my way through the book, I still kind of feel that way, but I'm over it. There's far too much about the book to like to let one flaw spoil it all. (I also have the suspicion that there's something else to the story that might explain why Jeffrey writes like a smart adult instead of a smart kid, but of course I'll have to wait and see.)
What I love most about Edwin Mullhouse so far, aside from its beautifully written prose and the vivid characters, is the way it captures the details of childhood. Like the way some kids gradually enter a cold ocean on a hot summer day: "...he rose on his toes or jumped with the advancing waves in order to preserve his waterline." The various catch-phrases and mispronunciations of young tongues: "o-weez," "scaredy pants," "goody goody gumdrops." The way kids will incite jealousy by pretending to tell secrets with "the sounds of feigned whispering: pssh-pssh-pssh-pssh-pssh." The story might take place in the 1940s and 50s, but most of the experiences it describes are timeless. If the rest of Edwin Mullhouse is as great as what I've read so far, then Mr. Millhauser might even deserve the back-patting he indirectly gave himself in the introduction.
By the end of the current television season, Community might belong in the same class (no pun intended) as 30 Rock and Arrested Development. For a taste of why this show is so great, check out Six Candles, a spoof of student filmmaking that's delightfully Dada and surprisingly poignant.
Apparently, the SB's G-F-BDA is also one of Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne's favorite kinds of album, too. "Some of my favorite records," he said, "- thinking Beatles' 'White Album,' Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, and even some of the longer things The Clash have done- part of the reason I like them is that they're not focused. They're kind of like a free-for-all and go everywhere."
One of the many interesting things about Embryonic, though, is that for a free-for-all, go everywhere album, it's relatively cohesive- it doesn't hopscotch through genres like The Beatles or Sandinista!Most of the tracks on Embryonic have similar textures. The basslines are usually huge and superfuzzy with a gravitational pull to rival Jupiter's. The drums (when they're there) strike like Zeus' thunderbolts. The guitars blip and squeak like Morse code on an intergalactic distress signal. Coyne's vocals bounce between his usual fragile Neil Young warble and a ghostly Ian Curtis drone, and they ain't stingy with the reverb. The melodies are fragmented, and they hypnotize more than they hook.
Overall, Emrbyonic is a whimsical, existential space odyssey, not unlike the last few Flaming Lips records (those would be the masterpieces The Soft Bulletinand Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, as well as At War With The Mystics, which is pretty good, but The AV Club was right- it would have been great as an EP). But what sets the new album apart from those others- aside from its length- is its darkness. The Soft Bulletin had some spooky moments, and Yoshimi had a bit of Saturday morning cartoon villainy, but a lot of stretches on Embryonic sound downright menacing, and I love that. I also love the sporadic Bitches Brew-style freak-outs, which make The Flaming Lips sound more spontaneous than they've been since the 1980s.
Embryonic floats in the space between shambolic and symphonic, and if not for the lack of a potential Top 40 hit like "She Don't Use Jelly" or "Do You Realize??", it could have been the epitome of Flaming Lips records. Instead, it will have to settle for induction in the Superstar Band's Go-For-Broke Double Album Hall Of Fame.
That's Tuesday, September 22, starting at 8:30 PM at the Cameo Gallery (inside the Lovin' Cup Cafe) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (93 North 6th Street). Tickets are $8. I've been told that two other bands will be playing as well: Ishmael (at 9:30) and Univox (at 10:30).
There was once a time when music was organized into 45 - 75 minutes chunks-- often a few standout tracks padded with a lot of mediocre filler, but occasionally designed so that the parts built up a larger structure. Used to be, people would sit down and listen to that lengthy piece of music from front to back in one sitting, resisting the urge to jump to their favorite parts or skip over the instrumental interlude that served as grout between two fuller compositions. These antiques were called CDs. Here's a story about the last of its kind.
I'll grant that there's a hint of tongue-in-cheekiness in that paragraph, but that hint is peanuts compared to the globs of pretension heaped upon it; that reviewer really believes he's teaching us a Big Important Musical History Lesson. Let's go over the Big Fat Stupid Holes in that lesson:
Listening to an entire album all the way through has long been just one of many ways in which we listen to music. Is this guy trying to say that during the height of the CD era, we never listened to playlists of singles on the radio, or on MTV, or in clubs, or on jukeboxes, or on our own homemade mixtapes? Did we rarely go to concerts where bands played a mix of their greatest and latest hits? Did we only seldom eject a CD after we heard just the songs we wanted to hear, and then pop in another CD (or cassette, or LP) to do exactly the same thing?
And is Kid A really, seriously "the last of its kind"? Forget how lame-brained that claim would be if Kid A were released yesterday, but it was released nine years ago. Radiohead alone has released three more albums since then that can certainly be enjoyed in one sequential, uninterrupted sitting. (Those albums, in case anyone has forgotten already, are Amnesiac, Hail To The Thief, and In Rainbows, and Pitchfork's own reviews of these allegedly non-existent albums can be found here, here, and here.) And yes, it's true Thom Yorke recently said that the band has no plans to record any more full-length albums, and will instead focus on EPs and singles. But despite what Pitchfork may want to believe, Radiohead is not The Only Band That Matters.
To be fair, Pitchfork later concedes that "albums have persisted, sure," but then adds:
...they're increasingly marginalized or stripped for parts-- release Kid A today, and many might choose to save or stream "Idioteque" and Recycle Bin the rest, missing the contextual build and release that makes the album's demented-disco centerpiece all the more effective.
Again, is strip-mining full-length albums really such a novel concept? Technology has made such strip-mining easier and a bit more widespread, maybe, but remember all those things I mentioned earlier- radio, MTV, club DJs, jukeboxes, mixtapes, live concerts, the track-skip and eject buttons on our CD players? They've been strip-mining albums of their best- or at least most accessible- material for decades. How many times has "Here Comes The Sun" been stripped from Abbey Road, depriving the listener of its original context between "I Want You" and "Because"?
Which leads me to another point- when media technology evolves, it simply creates more contexts and options; it doesn't necessarily signal the death of previous options. Listeners can enjoy "Idioteque" in the context of Kid A, or if they don't like the rest of Kid A they can just enjoy "Idioteque" as a single track. Or they can make their own digital playlist and enjoy "Idioteque" in a context between "American Pie" and "The William Tell Overture." I've made basically this same point a while ago in a post about Kindle critics. I don't see why this is so hard for some people to understand.
Are we really listening to entire albums less than we used to? Maybe Pitchfork has some statistics to prove that that's true. I can't answer for everybody, but if there's a method of listening to music that I don't utilize as often as I did nine years ago, it would be the method of skipping through the "greatest hits" of a single album. Now that my iPod has replaced my walkman and discman, I tend to use "shuffle" as my default listening method, and only rarely do I "skip through" single albums anymore.
Which is not to say that I don't strip-mine some albums once I've heard them a few times and know there are certain tracks I don't care to hear again, context or no context. But I still listen to entire albums just as often as I used to. In recent months, I've sat through new albums by John Frusciante, Green Day, Animal Collective, Wavves, Grizzly Bear, AC Newman, The Avalanches, DOOM, and The Dead Weather, just to name a few. I didn't love all of them, but I listened to all of them from beginning to end at least once, because albums are still alive, and that's what they're there for, and only a music reviewer desperate for a bold angle will tell you otherwise.
So, Pitchfork, even though I agree that Kid A is a brilliant album- a perfect 10 even- I violently disagree that "one of the many ghosts that haunt the corridors of Kid A is The Album itself, it's (sic) death throes an unsettling funeral for a format that, like so much else, was out of time."
And for that, my rating of your review of Kid A is a paltry 1.3.
NOTE: The following post about INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS assumes you have already seen the movie, and contains LOTS AND LOTS OF SPOILERS, right from THE VERY BEGINNING.
When discussing the possible effects of time-travel, people often ask, "If we could go back in time and kill Hitler, should we? What if the world turned out even worse?"
The question is usually about whether we should kill Hitler before the Holocaust and World War II occur. With Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino's first "Alternate History" movie, the writer/director asks a similar question, but with a crucial twist: "If we could kill Hitler (as well as various other Nazis)- after the Holocaust and World War II have already begun, after he's already proven himself to be one of human history's most vile monsters- should we? What if we felt even worse?"
I'm not sure Tarantino spells out his answer, although I have a hunch what it might be. The movie feels like a Rorschach test for the audience. I'd like to think my reaction is the kind Tarantino was hoping to get, but of course, I have no idea...
...but I'm pretty sure the climax of Inglourious Basterds is supposed to be some kind of exhilarating yet icky catharsis. It's not mere "Jewish revenge porn," although one could certainly choose to see it that way. But such a view might ignore the face of Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) grinning demonically, larger than life on the silver screen of her own movie theater as it burns in a tower of vengeful hellfire. The most basic message here seems to be that war can make monsters of us all, and while it may not be the most original message for a war movie, it's certainly more complex than many folks have given Inglourious Basterds credit for so far.
We may sympathize with Shosanna, whose Jewish family was murdered by the SS, but are we really supposed to be getting off on what she's become by the end of the movie? Hitler and Goebbels weren't the only people in that theater; we assume many of the other audience members were innocent- or at least not-quite-evil- people. The Bride from Kill Bill may have been equally vengeful and bloodthirsty, but didn't she only kill people who directly threatened her? And OK, even if Shosanna's (and the Basterds') plan wasn't just revenge, even if they ultimately wanted to end the war and the Holocaust, did the end justify the means? And when we see Hilter's corpse machine-gunned until it's a bloody mess, do we feel satisfaction? Is our bloodlust really sated? Or do we feel more comfortable with our own version of history, where Hitler swallows some cyanide and shoots himself with a single bullet in his temple?
"Alternate History" works typically deal with their parallel universe-creating, course-changing events early on, so that they can explore the possible consequences throughout the rest of the story. But Tarantino never met a genre he couldn't subvert; with Inglourious Basterds, he builds gradually toward the resolution of his Hitler-killing plot with a series of intense, slow-burning set pieces, each fueled by his trademark double-edged dialogue and punctuated by his brand of hilariously shocking violence. (I've heard some folks say that all these scenes start to feel repetitive, but I couldn't disagree more; I think each of these scenes has its own unique tension and purpose.) Then when Hitler dies, it's pretty much the end. One more scene follows, where the most cowardly Nazi of them all gets a serving of poetic justice- but that's it. We don't get to explore our new parallel universe. The credits roll, and the (real-life) audience members are left to ponder how they feel about having their Nazi-bludgeoning fantasies finally fulfilled...
And now for some stray thoughts:
* Christoph Waltz is stunning as the slimy, silver-tongued Hans Landa. As of now, he's the man to beat for this year's Best Supporting Actor awards.
* Mike Myers' cameo isn't exactly a scene-stealer, but it is a pleasant surprise, and a reminder that his talent hasn't completely disappeared up his own sphincter.
* Leave it to Tarantino to reinvent the Mexican Standoff by having three guys pointing guns at each other's nutsacks. Of course, it's quite possible he stole this idea from some obscure Korean gangster movie.
My Rating: 96 out of 100 Nat-zee Scalps
Awards I Would Nominate It For: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing, Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz)
In Chris Salewicz's book Redemption Song, he writes: "In Japan, Joe Strummer was, and is, considered like a fusion of James Dean, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, and bigger than any of them." And of course, Japanese rock n' rollers are the coolest people on planet Earth, and their collective opinion on this matter is exactly right.
Joe Strummer was furious at all the horror and injustice in the world, but he never sank into nihilism, instead embracing a kind of practical optimism. He's famous for saying, "...I haven't got any illusions about anything, right- having said that, I still want to try to change things." If he were still alive, Joe Strummer would have turned 57 years old today.
Courtesy of boingboing.net I learned that in honor of The Coolest Man Who Ever Lived, Jimmy Guterman is offering free downloads of The Sandinista Project for 24 hours. This is the first I've heard of the project- 36 different artists each covering a track from The Clash's overindulgent-but-still-awesome triple album from 1980- and I can't wait to go home and download it.
But first, an ass-kicking live performance of "Clampdown." This song always struck a chord with me more than any other Clash song, particularly when Joe and Mick Jones sing:
...let fury have the hour, anger can be power...d'you know that you can use it? The voices in your head are calling, stop wasting your time, there's nothing coming, only a fool would think someone could save you. The men at the factory are old and cunning, you don't owe nothing, so boy get running! It's the best years of your life they want to steal...
A few weeks ago, the AP ran a story titled, "Japanese Professor Creates Baseball Playing Robots," and the opening lines were:
Look out Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka. A pair of baseball-playing robots that can pitch and hit with incredible results have been developed in Japan.
For now, let's ignore the odd logic which implies that because these baseball-playing robots were invented in Japan, then Japanese players playing in America have to "look out." The biggest problem with the article is actually that it fails to acknowledge that Ichiro Suzuki is a robot himself. Don't believe me? Check out this quote from an ESPN.com story about the Mariners' victory over the Yankees yesterday:
When asked what it means to win No. 61 in Game 118, as opposed to the final game of last season, Suzuki smiled."I think, man, we lost a lot of games last year," Suzuki said through an interpreter. "We also have a lot better human beings on this team."
Sure, maybe it's possible that by "human beings," Ichiro simply meant "people," "guys" or "players," and his meaning might have been tweaked in the translation. But I prefer to think that the above quote is evidence that Ichiro Suzuki is really a baseball-playing robot. Or an alien. Or an alien robot.
I could list about 26 things that my customers do that really make me twitch, but most of that stuff has already been covered by MCC in his "Jack In A Box" internet show - except for this one thing...
...and I think it might be the absolute worst thing that my customers can do- aside from just being rude for no good reason...
...customers often lie to me, and I know they're lying, sometimes just to save a few measly dollars, and yet even the lying doesn't bug me nearly as much as when they pull this crap:
Me: "So are there any particular seats you might like?"
Customer: "Yes, I'd like to sit as close to the stage as possible, please."
Me: "All right, I can get you a seat in the front row-"
Customer: "No I don't want to sit in the front row, that's too close!"
Me: (angry, condescending sigh) "You said you wanted to sit as close as possible. The front row is as close as-"
Customer: "I don't want the front row, give me like the fourth or fifth row..."
That's right, if you're one of the people who pull this crap on me every single day of my working life, then you get the angry, condescending sigh right in your ear. My co-workers and supervisors will hear me do it, and I don't care, and they don't care either. In fact, they'd probably do it to you too if they had the chance, because you're a colossal jackass.
If you pull this crap, you're basically telling the customer service operator who's trying to help you that you have no respect for logic. If the customer service operator was some sort of cyborg, your paradoxical request might have made that operator's cyborg brain explode, and you don't seem to care the slightest bit.
You also don't seem to know what words mean, and therefore you should be banned from communicating with other humans (or cyborgs).
For as long as I can remember, I've had a secret that I've only shared with my most intimate friends and lovers...but now, thanks to this Brazilian public service ad, I'm no longer ashamed to admit it: I pee in the shower.
Michael Jordan, Alfred Hitchcock, and Stephen Hawking all do it! (Or at least people with similar silhouettes.) And each of us is saving over 4000 liters of water per year! No longer will I hide my pride- I'm here, I pee in the shower, get used to it.
If you decide to jump on the shower-whizzing bandwagon, allow me to offer just a couple of quick pointers. One- aim for the drain as much as possible. And two- you can not, I repeat, can not cure your athlete's foot by peeing on the infected area in the shower. It's a myth, no matter what Matt Damon's character in Courage Under Fire says.
Before tonight, my knowledge of Arlo Guthrie was limited to a handful of his most popular songs, although one of those songs has been a significant part of my life for many years.
Like many radio stations across America, New York's Q104.3 plays "Alice's Restaurant" every Thanksgiving Day. I don't know if the other stations make a habit of playing the song at 12 noon, but Q104 does. So almost every year when I was a kid, my family and I would get in the car around noon to make the 20-minute trip to Grandma's house, and our drive would usually contain some or all of "Alice's Restaurant." I came to love that talkin' blues so much that now, if I ever have to drive myself to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving, I make sure to get my lazy butt in the car just before noon.
Tonight I was fortunate enough to see a free Arlo Guthrie show in Battery Park, and now that I'm more familiar with his work, I feel about 730% more American. I will certainly spend the foreseeable future catching up with all the Arlo I've been missing out on all these years.
He didn't play "Alice's Restaurant," but I wasn't disappointed- I hardly expected him to take up 20 minutes of his 90-ish minute set playing one tune. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the show had to do with the fact that he didn't play "Alice's Restaurant." It went a little something like this:
In between songs, during the middle of the set:
Unruly Audience Memebers: "ALICE'S RESTAURANT!"
Arlo Guthrie: (ignores Unruly Audience Members and plays some other song instead.)
I really dig your service. I'm currently a paying customer of yours, and I have been a customer of yours for 5 of the last 6 years. When I wasn't your customer, it wasn't because I was dissatisfied with your company, it was simply because I didn't have much time to watch the movies I was renting.
Now I can't help but wonder- why do your ads still pop up on my laptop when 99.9% of all other pop-up ads are blocked? Don't you guys have some kind of Big Brother-type program that knows that this particular computer belongs to an already satisfied Netflix customer? And if not, could you please develop such a program?
The 6th Harry Potter book was my least favorite- which is not to say I didn't enjoy it- and so it goes that the 6th Harry Potter movie was probably my least favorite (so far), but I still enjoyed it. It looked great, and everyone in the cast performed admirably. But just like the book, most of the time I felt like I was watching the wheels spin idly until the Big Dramatic Ending that sets up Part 7.
My Rating: 3.68 out of 7 Horcruxes
So while I don't quite agree with the inimitable Richard Metzger's review of Half-Blood Prince, I can kind of see where he's coming from. The only thing about that review that really irks me is its headline, which happens to relate to something that's been on my mind recently: the phrase "Tell It Like It Is." To be fair, I doubt Metzger wrote the headline himself. But I still cringe inside when I hear someone say they "Tell It Like It Is." As the late, great Robert Anton Wilson said, "I don't know what anything is. I only know how it seems to me at this moment." Therefore, I wish people wouldn't "Tell It Like It Is"; I wish they'd just "Call It Like They See It."
From now on, when my friends and family ask me how my job is going, or when strangers ask me what I do, I'm going to direct them to this video, written and performed by my friend and colleague Michael Cyril Creighton. This is pretty much what it's like to answer phones at an off-Broadway box office:
Michael Jackson's music has been etched into my consciousness for as long as I can remember. I probably knew "Beat It" and "Thriller" by heart before I knew "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." Some of the first words I remember reading are "Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney - Say Say Say" as that music video aired on MTV. My sister and I both owned flimsy white gloves onto which we glued sparkly faux-rhinestones.
I didn't just own Thriller and Bad and Dangerous, I owned that silly Rockwell song "Somebody's Watching Me" because Michael sang the chorus. I owned the Moonwalker video game for Sega Genesis, which was also rather silly- but in a sublimely surreal way- and I must have played it all the way through several dozen times. My favorite part was when, as Smooth Criminal-era Michael, I used my magic powers to force a horde of zombies to dance the choreography from the "Thriller" video until said zombies collapsed from exhaustion, or something.
I'm glad most reactions to the man's death have been positive- that is, celebrating his music and mourning his passing. Sure, in the later part of his life, he was a weirdo. He could be narcissistic, irresponsible, self-destructive, and the way he related to young boys was unusual to say the least. But let us never forget that Michael Jackson was never convicted of anything- in fact, he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. The only court that ever convicted him was the court of public opinion, with the testimony of gossip and the evidence of rumors. I'm not saying he never touched a young boy inappropriately, and I'm not saying he did. I'm saying it's easy to assume he did, but it's just as easy to assume he was set up. The only people who'll ever know for sure are Michael, his accusers, and any omniscient gods that may exist. The rest of us should remember the principle that people are not guilty until proven otherwise.
To the few who keep shouting "You're mourning a pedophile!", I'd like to know where your videotaped evidence is kept. Otherwise, if you have to shout something as the rest of us groove on "Billie Jean," then shout "You're mourning an alleged pedophile!"
Now that I've finished Ulysses, I've begun reading an English translation of Camus' The Plague. Yeah it's kind of a downer, but hey, its sentences are diagrammable, so I was more than happy to dive in. That is, until the morbid synchronicity...
On the subway this morning I read the first 30 pages. In this section, the people of Oran, Algeria become understandably unsettled when the local rats start dying by the thousands, clogging the streets and hallways and stairwells. The level-headed night watchman aptly notes that the dead rats might be a bad omen, like "When the rats leave a ship..."
Then later today, in the lobby of my box office, I found a dead rat...
Took me over six weeks to finish, and most of the time it positively pummeled my brain. But at least I can finally say I've read every last page of that fat bastard.
Have no idea what to make of it, except that it illustrates the maddening clusterfuck that is consciousness. I do have a feeling that I'll pick it up again some years from now, after I've accumulated more crystallized intelligence, and a lot more of it will make sense to me. I have an equally strong feeling that other parts of Ulysses, no matter how many times I end up reading it, will seem like practical jokes, emperors deliberately wearing no clothes.
Which brings me back to the reason I finally wrestled this post-modern gorilla in the first place: Ben Linus from TV's LOST. Now that I've finished the book, I still think Ben was reading Ulysses to make people believe he's much smarter than he really is. This is not to say that everyone who claims to enjoy the book is not as smart as they seem; just Ben. Because I'm pretty sure everything he does is done to make himself look smarter and/or more powerful than he really is.
Anyway, now that this grueling bout has ended for me, I can't wait to read something new, something written in Plain Freaking English.
I used to take for granted that I'd get smarter as I'd get older, at least until senility kicked in. This week I learned that this is only kind of half-true. Seems only my crystallized intelligence will increase for the next several decades. My fluid intelligence, however, reached its peak about a year ago, sometime after my 27th birthday.
Crystallized intelligence is described as "wisdom," while fluid intelligence is described as "the ability to find meaning in confusion and solve new problems." Well, shit. What good is wisdom when life is little more than one confusing new problem after another?
Many moons ago, as I was playing "Dani California" on Rock Band, I was savoring the sublime harmonies and guitarwork of John Frusciante, and I thought, Man I would totally be into the Red Hot Chili Peppers a lot more if it weren't for Anthony Kiedis going "rip-rap-rock-a-rikki-tikki-ting-tang" all over the place.
Actually I used to be way into the Chili Peppers- when I was 11 years old, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was one of my favorite records, maybe even my #1. But as the years went on, I grew weary of Kiedis's rip-rap-rock, even if he now does it far less than he used to.
Anyway, soon after my Rock Band experience, I downloaded as much of John Frusciante's solo work as I could find, and just as I thought, I dug it. Hell, I fell in love- particularly his 2004 album Shadows Collide With People, which features Flea on bass and Chad Smith on drums, and thus is essentially the Chili Peppers minus Mr. Kiedis.
Frusciante's prolific output between 2004 and 2005- 5 LPs and 1 EP in less than a year- always bridged experimentally, avant-gardey, proggy tendencies with poppy, classic-rocky, singer/songwritery ones, and most of the time, it was the best of all those worlds.
But when I discovered that Frusciante had released his first solo album since the Chili Peppers released Stadium Arcadium, I thought he might have dove completely off the experimental/avant-garde/prog deep end. First of all, just look at that album cover up there. It has "Mars Volta" written all over it. Then take the title: The Empyrean, which is just a fancy, proggy way of saying "heaven." (More specifically, the highest heights of heaven.)
And now a few words from Frusciante himself: "It is a concept record that tells a single story both musically and lyrically. The story takes place within one person and there are two characters."
Not that this kind of Artist's Statement is a deal-breaker for me, but it did make me a bit wary. I'm glad I wasn't scared away completely though, because after only a few days, The Empyrean has come to obsess and possess me like no record since...God I can't even remember...
I have no idea when I'll stop listening to The Empyrean. "It is suited to dark living rooms late at night," Frusciante says, and certainly it is. But that's not all. I want to listen to it as I fall asleep, and I want it to keep playing repeatedly as I dream. I want to take it to the top of a mountain and listen to it as I look upon Creation. I want to take it on a rowboat and listen to it as I circumnavigate the globe. I want to listen to it as I float through deep space. I want to listen to it as I slip into Death.
Hyperbole? No, really, I mean it. Of course I don't expect anyone else to be fascinated with The Empyrean nearly as much as I am. But I just have to tell you...
The whole thing starts out with yet another harbinger of prog-doom: a wordless 9-minute guitar wank titled "Before The Beginning." The first few times I heard it, I'd feel like I was listening to it for 20 minutes, and then I'd discover the song was only half-over. I could've sworn that I heard the drummer getting bored. I'd think, Look, John, I dig "Maggot Brain" too, but this is ridiculous. Now, as I begin to listen to The Empyrean for about the 23rd time, I think, Yes! "Before the Beginning!" What a transcendental piece of music! How sad and lonely and full of mystery and yet so at peace with the universe...what a perfect way to, um, begin...
The rest of the songs are much more immediately accessible, and they only sink themselves deeper with each spin. There's a lot of ethereal drifting, punctuated by propulsive, arena-rock climaxes of Biblical proportions; my favorite is the solo in track 3 ("Unreachable") where aquatic wah-wah fingertapping slowly builds to laser-guided catharsis, and in the process, once again proves why Frusciante is one of the greatest guitarists alive.
I also can't get enough of the fucking great Yeaaaaahhhh! at the 3:10 mark of track 6 ("Heaven"). It's just perfect. And speaking of vocals, listen to track 2, a cover of Tim Buckley's "Song To The Siren," and you might just have your breath taken.
Did I mention how wonderful this record sounds? The production is magical. It embellishes the fluid, elegantly simple melodies with myriad effects and gizmos, but without drowning them out or otherwise feeling like overkill.
Lyrically, The Empyrean swims in a sea of New Agey-spirituality that could be interpreted as hokey madness or profound truth. Or perhaps both. I'll report, you decide:
As life goes by a thousand times, it gets a little better...
We should be grateful to the gods/whoever they're real to, they are
Anything that could one day be is as real as what I'm saying/if something is nothing it must not be something in any possible way
What is anything anyway/but a series of thoughts running through your brain?
What is has always been and will always be...
Whatever you think of the lyrics, it's hard to deny that Frusciante "feels his lines" (that is, he means it, man), or that they sound pretty cool when he sings them.
As for his "two-characters-in-one-person" concept, one of those characters is most definitely an unconditionally loving God, and the other might be Jesus, or Frusciante himself, or just some generic everyman. I don't think it really matters. Ultimately, The Empyrean is about finding solace in the infinite and cyclical nature of time and the universe: If the seasons which change were all still/It's so easy to see life would fail/whatever slips out of our hands/will find its way back to us once again.
My Rating: Eternal and Unconditional Love.
Download the first half here and the second half here
A lot of Bobby Hackney's vocals sound like a conscious emulation of the MC5's Rob Tyner, and guitarist David Hackney's riffs often bring to mind a more restrained version of recently departed Stooge Ron Asheton. Not that those are necessarily drawbacks. Besides, the members of Death- who were between 17 and 21 years old at the time- were just as innovative as they were derivative.
They take the sweaty, rollicking fury of their Motor City heroes and, in songs like "Freakin Out" and "Politicians In My Eyes," add the kind of jittery angst that would surface years later in British punks like the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, and Wire.
There's also a lot more gear-shifting than most early punk, impressively propelled by the drumming of Hackney brother #3, Dannis. By the third track, "Let The World Turn," they've already slowed things down to a Pink Floyd-floating-in-deep-space pace. Until of course they throw it back into hyperdrive, and then there's a 40-second drum freak-out, then the whole process repeats.
Dynamics like that are all over this record, along with solid, hooky riffs and shout-along choruses ideal for car-stereo-blasting. The only weak links are in the lyrics, which aren't embarrassing or anything, just unspectacular.
The worst part about Death's story is not that their legacy was overlooked until now, but that they never got to develop their brand of hard rock. If only the major record labels at the time had shown more interest in the band, maybe they wouldn't have relocated to Vermont and mutated into a gospel-rock outfit. Maybe they would have taken punk into strange and wonderful new realms long before The Clash was even a twinkle in Joe Strummer's eye. Sigh. Well at least we still have ...For The Whole World To See. Rawk.
Page threehundredsomething so far. Reading on the subway, dustjacket removed and spinetitle covered with makeshiftbookmark so fellow straphangers don't think me a pompousshowoff. Truthbetold I'm still lostatsea, the treacheroussea, an odyssey. Shouldn't read this on the hustlybustly subway, but whenelse?
- There are passages which can only be read on the toilet, Henry Miller said, if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content. Joyce recognized dung for dung and angels for angels.
Manymore trustyopinions also say it's great: Robert Anton Wilson, Anthony M. from the Strand...can't think of anymore offtop o'myhead rightnow. Wilson's words shed some light on the mire but evenso this escapade feels hopeless. Not much help from Wiki neither. Gah. Fuh. Mek. Kookookookamuck and a shillelagh upside his eyepatched head for all this mumbojumbojibberjabber. For making me feel abimbo. Shut up about your poetry, subwaybum, you've never won any awards, and now you're distracting my feeblemind from this mindboggler. Want some change? For a whole buck you can translate this for me.
I don't own a Kindle, or any other kind of electronic reader, and probably won't for at least a few more months. But I still have an opinion on the matter... especially because I keep seeing narrow-minded Ludditism like this:
Suppose you bring one book along with you on a trip. Suppose you start it and it’s not really doing much for you — you’re having trouble getting into the mood of it, the swing of it. If you have it on a Kindle, you’re almost certain to give up and turn to one of the dozens of other books you have available. But if it’s the only book you’ve got, you’re more likely to stick with it. And if it’s a good book — if it’s a book that holds real pleasure or instruction for the persistent and non- distracted reader — then later on you’ll be glad that you read it. You’ll be glad that you didn’t have something else to read on that trip. You’ll be glad that you had a book instead of a Kindle.
Generally I’m reading one thing at a time, and I benefit from the finality of that decision, when I leave home with one book. Books have the great built-in advantage of preventing me from surfing away elsewhere when the reading becomes arduous or requires an effort of concentration.
I heard these kinds of arguments when iPods and other mp3 players started catching on: people won't listen to albums anymore! Music will devolve into nothing but catchy pop singles! One giant leap for attention-deficit disorder!
Of course, those kinds of arguments totally ignored the fact that iPods are still able to play entire albums if that's what the listener wants. The random shuffling of individual songs remains an option on all iPods (except the iPod shuffle, naturally).
Likewise, Kindles certainly don't force readers to give up on a book after a few chapters. Neither Kindles nor iPods force their users to do anything they don't want to do. These new technological wonders merely increase the options available to their users. If you want to give up on a book you're reading on the Kindle, now you can give up on it and choose another from the dozens of books you have stored.
And sure, maybe you'd be giving up on a book that might be more rewarding with a little more patience...but it could also keep on sucking...and then where would you be? You could also give up on a difficult book in the privacy of your own home, and choose from one of the other ink-and-paper books on your bookshelf. So, by the logic of Kindle Skeptics, do bookshelves and personal libraries also encourage ADD?
In short, Kindle Skeptics: quit blaming your shitty will power on technological progress.
PS - From now on, I'll try to cut down on the iPod-related analogies.
What the hell are you driving at? I know. Shut up. Blast you! I have reasons.
The lines above come from an interior monologue (dialogue?) from page 207, and that's exactly the spot I'm up to in this beast of a book. Surely, there's another level to this exchange- the average reader is supposed to, at this point if not much earlier, be asking the first line, and the author, perhaps along with Ulysses' numerous champions, is supposed to offer the following line as a reply...right?
Because really, Ulysses, what the hell are you driving at? Somewhere around page 150, I really tried to change this adversarial relationship between us. Like Craig the puppeteer in Being John Malkovich, I tried to stop seeing you as "an enemy that had to be pounded into submission" and instead tried to see you as "a really expensive suit I enjoy wearing." And then before I knew it, you were assaulting me just as hard as ever with your impenetrable poetry-prose, and now I pretty much hate you again.
I hate you, but I will finish you. That will be my victory, however small.
The Avalanches mash that shit up with style on After The Goldrush. It's not just 50-plus minutes of raving in 4/4 time, although when it wants to, it can rave in 4/4 quite hardcore.
It kicks off with a blink of Bob Dylan, then rides 3 minutes of late-70s Beach Boys yacht rock that practically dares us non-tennis players to stick around. But before too long, the Chemical Brothers and The KLF and Q-Tip and some other highly danceable artists show up and get the party started. The samples get hipper and more frequent. After the Goldrush rages, peaks, grooves and struts before it chills out again, this time to another corny late-70s Beach Boys throwaway ("Johnny Carson") as the party whimpers to a close. After The Goldrush isn't great merely because its record collection is much cooler than ours, although that certainly helps. It has one foot in the mainstream and one foot in its own idiosyncratic stream. It doesn't seem to exist simply to make club-hopping Woo Girls go "Woo!" every thirty seconds- and yet it's not necessarily against making club-hopping Woo Girls go "Woo!" on occasion; it offers the Woo Girls Missy Elliot and Destiny's Child, and offers the headphone-wearing record geeks the MC5 and Aphex Twin.
And unlike lesser masher-uppers, After the Goldrush doesn't feel largely like a cut-and-paste affair. The Avalanches enjoy twiddling with the knobs, and it shows. They take hooks both familiar and strange, and they chop, stretch, and syncopate with charming ingenuity.
If the album was available on the Avalanches' official website at a pay-what-you-want price, I certainly would have dropped some of my hard-earned money for it. Alas, I could only find import copies at grossly inflated prices on Amazon and eBay, so I just downloaded it for free here. Maybe I'll make up for it by re-buying their brilliant debut Since I Left Youand donating it to a deserving friend. My Rating, or What I Would Have Paid For a Legit Copy: at least $10, but not more than $20
So I really hope more states continue to cut capital punishment out of their budgets. And when the economy bounces back, if any of those states still misses killing people, it can always reinstate the death penalty. Of course by the time that happens, we'll also have the technology to cost-effectively reanimate the dead. And then it would be like, no harm, no foul, right?
Because I geek out hardcore for LOST, I'm also a member of the Ben Linus Book Club- that is, whenever I see Ben reading a book on the show, said book usually shoots to the top of my to-read list. (Sawyer has interesting taste in books too, but he's too voracious a reader to keep up with.) I don't necessarily read these books expecting big clues about the show's myriad mysteries- though I do like to think about what a fascinating little devil like Ben Linus might take away from VALIS or The Brothers Karamazov.
Anyway, I'm just over 100 pages into Ben's latest reading material: James Joyce's Ulysses, aka The Modern Library's Most Favorite Book of the 20th Century. I knew going in that this would likely be a frustratingly difficult experience. I knew I'd have to know my Odyssey to fully appreciate Ulysses, and I don't really remember much about the Odyssey except the cyclops, the sirens, and Penelope's many suitors. (And I'm sure I remember these things mainly because of O Brother Where Art Thou.) I knew there'd be reams of inscrutable stream-of-consciousness and aggressive post-modernism.
I was also aware of Joyce's claim that "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality." Which struck me as not unlike the famous quote frequently attributed to L. Ron Hubbard: "If you want to get rich, you start a religion." Joyce may have been only half-serious, and of course I can respect that. Yet I can't shake the feeling that his spirit is laughing at me and all the other chumps reading Ulysses nearly 100 years after its publication.
Still, I'm determined to finish the whole book, even if, as with Gravity's Rainbow, I'll be lucky to understand anywhere near half of it. Because it's there, like the Mount Everest of literature.
As for now, Ulysses is not without its charms. I dig the musical way it plays with words, long as it doesn't get too cutesy. I dig and respect the groundbreaking way it plays fast and loose with time and perspective, even if it feels like pointless overkill a lot of the time. And I even kind of dig the way it feels like one big shaggy dog of a practical joke, even if I, as the reader, am the butt of that joke.
Back to Ben: what do I think he would get out of Ulysses? Maybe he relates to it because he himself plays fast and loose with time and perspective. Or maybe he just needs to keep up the appearance of being a mastermind of intimidating intelligence.
Yet isn't the Soul different from the orbits of the spheres, different from the evolution of life? Shouldn't the Soul, like God, be a concept so intangible as to be undetectable by pure science?
Let's say an alien crash-lands on a post-apocalyptic Earth and finds a discarded iPod, conveniently left with earphones intact and several hours of battery life remaining. And the alien turns the iPod on and starts hearing The White Album.
The alien listens to these sounds and thinks (in its alien language), Well these certainly don't sound like any sounds I've ever heard. And it wonders how those weird and beautiful sounds are being made.
So it dissects the iPod and finds that a computer chip is reading a bunch of ones and zeroes and converting them into sound waves, or however iPods work.
Now certainly, the alien now understands a few reasons why it heard the sounds it heard. But does it understand why George's guitar gently weeps? Or why John says Paul is the Walrus? Or a thousand other things that may or may not be knowable by anyone, including The Beatles themselves?
OK so it's not a perfect analogy, but I stand by it.
Science has resurrected the once-extinct Pyrenean Ibex- yep, just like Jurassic Park, only less awesome and terrifying. This news confirms what I've long suspected: that all those "Save the Whales!" type folks, while big-hearted and well-intentioned, were wasting their energy.
I don't smoke a lot of cigarettes anymore, but I'll always consider myself a smoker. Kind of like how I'll probably always consider myself a Catholic, even if I never go to Church and disagree with much of the dogma. It's just something that's born into you and never really leaves. I like to think I even have a sixth sense for knowing who smokes and who's a born Catholic before they tell me.
Anyway, while I know full well that smoking is unhealthy and, for many people, unpleasant, I'll always have a soft spot for cigarettes. In fact, I tend to feel tidal waves of white-hot prickly rage whenever I'm reminded of the increasingly draconian anti-smoking laws and attitudes of the past few years. Not that I expect hospitals and libraries to allow smoking or anything... but if we dare call ourselves a free country, then a privately-owned dive bar on the Lower East Side should be able to have a smoking section if it damn well pleases.
And now in response to the rise of anti-smokerism, it seems the tobacco companies are evolving. In a coup worthy of Don Draper himself, their product is becoming less gross, carcinogenic and addictive. Which is all well and good, I suppose. But I'm going to miss all the smoke.
Because let's be real here: smoke is the coolest part of smoking. The way it dances, especially in high-contrast lighting. It's slow and fast all at once. It's gentle and harsh. It goes pretty much wherever the fuck it wants. It's poetry in motion, and it's sexier than the devil's mistress. Nicotine buzz, schmicotine schmuzz- the buzz is overrated. Ciagrette smoke, on the other hand: underrated for far too many years now.
So the next time I give money to Big Tobacco, you better believe it won't be in exchange for a packet of smokeless pellets that dissolve under my tongue. I'm getting my money's worth: I'm gonna smoke, and I'm gonna look bad-ass doing it.
Talk about going down a rabbit hole- yesterday I spent close to an hour trying to figure out this article on the Boxxy phenomenon and the experience mindfucked me up somethin' good.
The mindfuckery had little to do with Boxxy herself, or why she became such a gargantuan meme in such a relatively minuscule window of time; Kids These Days are always hijacking attention spans by spewing vapidity in wacky voices. This kind of stuff is even logical and inevitable in an evolutionary way (Charlie Callas --> Robin Williams --> Boxxy).
The mindfuckery came when I visited this website they call /b/ (utterly NSFW, by the way). Since I'm old and unhip and haven't even heard a song by Animal Collective in its entirety, this /b/ world was completely alien to me. It was baffling, even frightening- and yet before I knew it, it had sucked me in for God knows how long.
Soon I was laughing, but had no idea why. I felt like I had smoked crack, inhaled a nitrous oxide balloon and stumbled into a virtual Dada museum from 50 years into the future.
So I guess since Kids These Days don't have as many mosh pits as we had back in the 1990s, this /b/ world is how they get primal. This must be how they give enemas to their brains, only without the threat of physical injury. This is how they trip balls without chemistry.
I may revisit this /b/ world again- maybe not on a regular basis, but whenever the need arises. Even if I still feel like what Chris Rock calls "the old guy in the club."
Reading the NY Times' obituary of Andrew Wyeth yesterday, I learned that Christina of "Christina's World" was based on a paraplegic woman who refused to use a wheelchair. And then the painting became so much more bad-ass than I ever realized, because, not having done much research on the subject, I always assumed that Christina either tripped and fell, or was waking up from a siesta in the grass, or maybe even had a serious drinking problem.
And like Bart Simpson when he learned that Johnny Tremain had a deformed hand, I got an idea: they should have called this painting "Christina, Who Refuses To Use a Wheelchair." Not for shock value, or to draw undue attention to Christina's paralysis, of course...but because it seems like that piece of information is kind of important to fully appreciate the painting, no?