Monday, November 30, 2009

Steady as She Ohs

There are things I know I shouldn't like, but do. Or at least think I shouldn't like. Mostly because you, yes, you, like them. And I don't want to be like you or at least so many of yous. I assume, perhaps very wrongly, that quality is inverse to popularity. (Yes, perhaps this is an excuse for my self in the world, sure.) Of course I mostly mean yous who don't read this blog, but that's most of the yous in the known universe. So the majority of you are safe, if philistines.

And I can see I already need to start again. (How many of my entries begin this way? You readers are so patient with me. Both of you.)

I like the Eurythmics. There, it's in print. Don't love them, but have to admit they put on one of the best live shows I've ever seen about 1983 or so and here I am for the second time blogging about one of the best moments from that evening, a rising, ecstatic, SST of a solo by Dave Stewart to close the song. Yes, the silly YouTube of a performance of the song semi-similiar to the one I experienced isn't really a video but space shots backed with a bootleg. But it's quite a bootleg. Out of this world, you might say.

One of the best parts about "Jennifer" (beyond it being the name of the lovely lass who plucked my virginity) is its simplicity (and I'm talking about the song, not the lovely lass or my virginity)--so few words, so few notes, it might as well be Steve Reich and roll. But that steady as she goes just makes the ever-lifting end solo all the more needed, all the more damn right and lovely. And then there's the Laurie Anderson toss-off "ohohohohs" that are the line where the human and mechanical make the coldly beautiful, and therefore all the more unexpected, as we tend to like our beauty warm, don't we. (Digression: And who better for Annie Lennox to channel than Laurie Anderson, a fellow traveler on the androgynous express, which reminds me of the time as a graduate student instructor when I made the kids go see Home of the Brave, indeed I was one of those teachers, and one stunned and protected mid-West coed wrote in her viewing log "she's not very ladylike.")

Then again, that's the whole point of this entry--you never know what life might throw on your plate for your delectation. Things can be steady and patterns emerge but when they break--like the clever clicking of the drumsticks bit you can see starting at about 3:17 in this concert footage (plus odd claymation and too much ad for my liking but...) --at the least you end up with a smile on your face. At most you get transported. And to quote Laurie Anderson:

And you you're no one
And you, you're falling
And you, you're traveling
Traveling at the speed of light.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Nowadays a Walk Involves Some Sit, Too

For Dog Blog Friday: Still looking mighty spiffy at 12, Mooks!


Friday Non-Randon Ten

Alex Chilton "Thank You John"
Big Star "Thank You Friends"
Fairport Convention "Now Be Thankful"
Holmes Brothers "Thank You Jesus"
Luna "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel"
Talking Heads "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel"
Same & Dave "I Thank You"
Yo La Tengo "Be Thankful for What You Got"
William DeVaughn "Be Thankful for What You Got"
Sly & The Family Stone "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)"

The Three Wise Men "Thanks for Christmas"

Spot the theme, or, they call it a smart playlist for a reason. And yes there are duplicates, but you can't say thanks for an angel too many times, or be too thankful for what you got. And you know who you are, friends.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Twelve Years of Mook-a-liciousness

Not the highest quality image, but that's memory for you, so all the more fitting. It's Mookie's 12th birthday today, and at least for now I want to think of him again as the fastest dog in the park, the one other dogs would chase and then they would cry, realizing how quick he was, how it broke their heart to witness such swiftness and point them out as the plodders they were. I want to hang to all the joy in that speed, that sense of singleminded purpose. To the lift of moving with all of you in the air. Young Mooks had that and more.

So here's to the wonder he was and the sweet old hobbler he is now, no doubt still lightning quick in the dreams he dreams in his daily snoozes, so often guarding a Milkbone he's not even sure he wants, he just knows Nigel doesn't deserve.


Monday, November 23, 2009

I Do Love a New Purchase, a Market of the Senses

Sorry but don't have enough time to say enough about this one with the holiday weekend closing in on my time and crazy things all due Dec 1 (who's idea was that?). But here's one of the best songs of all time. I'd have loved to have found a vintage clip but couldn't--the good news is the gang still really feels it, as far as the performance seems to show.

And it goes like this--I need to say thanks to music. Meant so much in so many ways but in particular I want to visit high school senior me holding Entertainment! in his hands, reading those liner notes about cowboys and Indians, taking in the lyrics that made Marxism dance in a suitably herky-jerky way. I want to say to him, "Don't be so confused, these guys from Leeds have it right. You'll see."

But maybe I don't have to. Instead I don't have to offer embarrassment and my usual excuses when someone asks me what the use is mixing pop and politics. I can just point. Something stirred in my little suburban brain as that guitar slashed and that bass insinuated its sly self into my still awfully angular white boy dancing. And years later when I finally read Horkheimer and Adorno, I already knew a soundtrack. (And do know how much they'd hate to hear me say that, but as Theodor wrote, the essence of the essay is heresy so I'll pull down my gods as I worship them.)


Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Crooked Fingers "Under Pressure" Reservoir Songs
Portastatic "Cheers and Applause" Be Still Please
Orlando Cachaito "Oracion Lucumi" Cachaito
Loretta Lynn "Family Tree" Van Lear Rose
Los Lobos "Estoy Sentado Aqui" Just Another Band from East L.A.
Brian Eno "Taking Tiger Mountain" Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
Les Negresses Vertes "C'est Pas la Mer a Boire" Mlah
Les Negresses Vertes "Le Pere Magloire" Mlah
Chris Mars "Outer Limits" Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Tom Waits "Fannin Street" Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards

Billy Bragg "Accident Waiting to Happen" Don't Try this at Home

Sorry I'm a bit late this week--actually did the list on Friday morning for a change. Fun little wide-ranging mix. And it really did play two from Mlah back to back. Glad I wanted to point out how fun that album is--French Pogues indeed.


Consider All the Pupsibilities

For Dog Blog Friday: Whatever it is, I promise I didn't do it, Nigel thinks. (Quit laughing, he does to think.)


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Presenting This Year's Miss Timed

In case you've ever wondered if you can be both hated and forgotten, consider the case of Willard Bundy, who is to Bundy-dom as Gummo is to the Marx Brothers, although you have to admit Ted makes for a lousy Harpo. It seems our forgotten Bundy invented the punch clock on November 20, 1888, thereby turning us all into more efficient wage slaves, at least till we all got internet connections at work and figured out cats say the funniest misspelled things. Makes me want to say rats, Willard. By the way, the invention was originally called a time clock, thereby joining the day calendar, automotive car, and look-and-hear television as early phrases for things so astounding they had to be named twice. You can probably imagine how the invention got the name punch clock.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Do the Standing Still

Haven't pointed and nodded in Pierce's direction for awhile, partially, I have to sadly admit, because he seems of late mostly to cryptically cackle and link to his source of derision, but he nailed what I'm thinking about health care so well, I will quote him verbatim:

I'm sorry but while both Ezra KLEIN and Jon COHN have done great work on this issue, they are talking here about a country and a political system that no longer exist. And their responses to Marcia Angell's CRI DE COEUR are largely political, and not really to the point of her piece, which is that no substantive reform of the system is possible until the control that the insurance industry exercises over the practice of medicine is broken forever. The now-familiar argument is that the House bill--even if it had a snowball's chance in hell of surviving the Senate intact, which it doesn't--represents a good first step. When exactly was the last time our political system--to say nothing of the Congress--did anything in "steps"? We don't progress. We move a step ahead, and then there's an election, and then we move another step in the opposite direction. The idea that the current debate will produce a system that will somehow be immune to our febrile and idiotic politics is naive to the point of translucence. [emphasis mine] For this to have worked at all, it had to be so huge and transformative as to immunize itself thoroughly in the event that Congress or the White House--or both--change hands. It had to be so immense as to be unmovable so that it would be permanent enough for enough people out in the country to become invested in it that the political danger would be to monkey with it at all. (Which is pretty much the way things are in Canada now. Their system, for all its flaws, is politically sacrosanct.) It also had to be a big enough change to overcome the fact that one of our two parties will be completely off its head for the foreseeable future. Whatever comes out of this process is going to be far too fragile to survive the kind of boneheaded thinking that produced this NONSENSE this week. And Social Security has a more solid constituency than whatever the new healthcare plan will have.

Or, let's just rename the Democrats the Something Is Better than Nothing Party.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Totally Dishy

Some fun stuff going on over at the New York Times blog, where a guy who is opening up a restaurant on Long Island listed 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do. There are already pages and pages of comments, ranging from agreement to shock anyone would suggest such a detailed list. Of course, the list sort of begs the question--what is dining out for? And starting at that beginning seems much more interesting to me, but I like to complicate things, don't I? (For what it's worth, I think it's a pretty good list that I might quibble about--yes, the muted flugelhorn line seems worth of Niles Crane--but it's mostly lover's quarrels.)

One step behind even that question, of course, is noticing how the people most upset about the list seems to be waiters. The list kind of hides the implied master-servant nature of the restaurant dynamic, and how we can overcome that without making the waiter the master (and that does happen sometimes, let's face it--conventions of fine dining can oppress the diner into meek obsequiousness, hoping merely not to faux pas one's way through a tangle of too much silverware and the grand theater of tasting the wine). For I have seen patrons treat waiters like crap, and one could easily compile a list of "how to be a good person at a restaurant," but, alas, much of that would also make the list, "here's how not to be an asshole anywhere, but you can't seem to do that, can you." Too many folks think since they're paying money for the evening they're buying the person, and therefore anything goes. (Parallel problem: People who give big money to non-profits and then think the non-profit staff works for them as part of their hefty donation. Sorry, not true. Your dollars don't trump the 13th amendment.)

Back to why we eat out (and get your mind out of the gutter)...true, just a part of it is food. It's often always social (unless one is a "singleton"--hey, no judgment in that term, is there? and can I be the mayor of singleton?), and an engaging waiter can be one bit of that party, but of course, a bit player, no more than an Edward Everett Horton or Thelma Ritter. The trick is reading the situation. Is it a couple clearly lovey-dovey? Don't get tangled in their roost. Etc. I like to think of dining as rhetorical, all about audiences and needs, attitudes, and knowledge. Read the table. Proceed.

So that's rule 1 at my place. How about yours?


Monday, November 16, 2009

A Summons to All My Foolish Blood

First, all apologies that this is really just an audio track, and yes there are live versions of the recent Posies-fueled Big Star doing the song, but I wanted the original. Second, it's fitting I'm counting for something about this song leaves me doing math. It was released in 1972, and Alex Chilton, with Chris Bell's help we can assume, wrote it when he was 22. It's about being, of course, "Thirteen," but Chilton was 13 in 1963 (the year of my birth, which doesn't mean much but I like that things fall that way). "Paint It Black," which gets name-checked, was released in 1966, so that complicates the timeline a bit (of course, I've got a theory).

Third, I can see I've started all wrong. So sweet and seemingly simple "Thirteen" is, that to analyze it is akin to explaining a gorgeous dawn, which if it talked would say, "Shut up and just enjoy, dummy. Ray beam ray beam ray beam." The song totally nails the adolescent sexual ache, even better one sorta pure--those rhyming, chiming acoustic guitars are the poor boy's heartstrings, aren't they? So dads are bad and the Rolling Stones are good (we have something we worked out to say about it, pop's sweet puzzle telling us things we don't yet know) and it's a life that runs from the school to the pool to the dance, and asking someone to be an outlaw for your love sounds terribly romantic, even if you don't quite know what you even mean (but no doubt pop will tell us someday, and we don't mean dad). So much tenderness, the darn kid even thinks in harmonies.

But it's a vision of 13 we want to believe more than ever live, isn't it. Nine years out at 22 Chilton can wrap things up with a nostalgia that's utterly appealing. But how often is living 13 charming? Don't lie to yourself, or let a song lie to you. Note that Chilton isn't really singing about himself at 13, either, as he was 16 when "Paint It Black" got released. But memories, and pop songs, they pull tricks on us, allow us to create the narrative we call our lives. I'd like mine served up this pretty and wistful, wouldn't you?

For I'm a goddam liar too. No way was I a proto-hip nine-year-old buying #1 Record when it got released in 1972 (assuming the distribution snafu that killed the record didn't happen and I cold find it in a record store, of course). In fact, I first bought it as the twofer with Radio City CD that got released in 1992. Hoping to feel at least a bit cool, I want to remember it was one of my first compact disc purchases, from that upstairs place that existed on Iowa Avenue in Iowa City whose name I'm totally blanking on. But I didn't even live in Iowa City in 1992 and had had a CD player since at least 1988--so had to have CDs out the shelf's wazoo at that point.

How are all these years and memories not in harmony to me? I can't begin to fathom, but I can singalong with "Thirteen" again and somehow find some belonging.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Random Ten

The Music Tapes "Cumulonimbus (Magnetic Tapes for Clouds)" Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes
Elbow "Snooks (Progress Report)" Cast of Thousands
Big Star "What's Going Ahn" Keep an Eye on the Sky
Steve Earle "Some Dreams" Sidetracks
Ollie & the Nightingales "I Got a Sure Thing" The Complete Stax/Volt Singles
Brian Eno "Put a Straw Under Baby" Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
Roger Dean Young & the Tin Cup "Ravenna" Pilgrim
Heavenly "Atta Girl" P.U.N.K. Girl
Rilo Kiley "Does He Love You?" More Adventurous
10,000 Maniacs "Candy Everybody Wants" Our Time in Eden

The Decemberists "The Perfect Crime #2" The Crane Wife

Not half bad, from wonderfully depressing Big Star to Eno's fine lullabye to Rilo Kiley getting all un-mellowly dramatic.


Pants While He Belts Out

For Dog Blog Friday: He doesn't belt it out anymore, but he gives it his mouthy, miming best for everyone's birthday.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

I've Got You, Under My Hudson

I'm probably going to dig a hole with this one, but Friday is the 82nd anniversary of the opening of the Holland Tunnel, about which Manhattan is no doubt still bitter as it made it easier for New Jerseyites (as in parasites) to invade. Notice there is no toll to leave NYC and go to NJ. And people born in NJ like to make jokes about terms like "tube diameter, it's not just for tunnels anymore." But no lie can pass from my two lips, so I must say the Holland Tunnel (woo-hoo, got tulips into the Holland entry!) is named after its original chief engineer, who dies before it was completed. The second person to have the position died after being on the job only a few months; I believe his name was John Paul I (they even referred to him as I from the beginning, for the just had this uneasy feeling). It was quite a feat, building the tunnel and not just because the digging workers had to be sure not to get the bends, which you think would have been easy as it was decades before Radiohead even recorded the album. At the time, they weren't sure how to clear the carbon monoxide from a tunnel. So they experimented on Yale students (true story) to see how much CO they could take. Alas, this was years before George W. Bush was a student there, so it explains nothing.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Blog That Stares at the Men Who Stare at Goats

I don't think it just makes me old and crotchety to say they don't make stars like they used to, since the ones I'm thinking of--the Gary Coopers and Marlene Dietrichs and Cary Grants and Katharine Hepburns--existed or at least starred before I was even born (guess that makes me a crotchety gleam in my parents' eyes, but that assumes they enjoyed the three times they had sex to have me and my sisters). That digression is more than fitting, actually, since what I'm trying to do is write a review of The Men Who Stare at Goats, and it, like my intro sentence, has tonal problems. So I sympathize. But I also didn't ask you for nine and a quarter from your wallet and an hour and a half of your life.

You see, I think that George Clooney might be one of our possible stars. (And another digression--Harrison Ford was one, why he could pull off Indiana Jones so effortlessly, back in the day, like Grant in Gunga Din, but something happened. I'm trying not to blame Calista Flockhart.) It doesn't hurt Clooney's Gable-esque and gorgeous, but there's a certain magnanimity of character he effuses. And while he never seems too full of himself, he isn't yet a parody of himself, either, like Nicholson or DeNiro, say. All that helps us want to like him a whole bunch, and that good will carries us through much of Goats, as we keep thinking it has to be better than it is. That's a star up there, after all.

Alas, even with a story that seems ripe for much--the film proudly announces "more of this is true than you would believe"--about an actual U.S. Army project to create a group of mind warriors, as it were, Jedi (this is from the Stars Wars era) who could bust clouds or goats with one mighty psychic stare. Clooney, as Lyn Cassady, is perhaps the best man from that unit, and if he's the best, well, you can see as the movie goes on there's going to be problems. For here we are with him and Ohioan reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, stuck playing straightman, Crosby to Clooney's Hope), trying to win his wife back by going to the Iraq War and being a man. Lots of desert hi-jinks ensue.

And suddenly intimations of Abu Ghraib. For what is often a very silly picture (c'mon, jokes about McGregor maybe being a Jedi? the person who steals Wilton's wife away has a prosthetic arm, just so we get a smidgen of Strangelove into the picture?) right down to the obligatory ass shots of the two leading men in hospital gowns that don't close (a little something for the ladies...) really wants to be about the darkside and those who want to profit from war and the torturing of prisoners. What's more, the nastiest character is played by the as usual mild-manneredly menacing Kevin Spacey. And if you bring in Keyser Soze to be your evil, you've got to mean it.

The wild tonal shifts just don't work, so what's supposed to be powerful and gut-wrenching seems shocking and misplaced and then the humor seems inappropriate. And it's not that I'm a prude--I'm more willing than most to make a sick joke at the wrong time just to let out the air of solemnity and sadness--it's just the jokes aren't that good. And the seriousness seems unearned, too.

There is plenty to enjoy, like the ever fine Stephen Root in an early cameo, and especially Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, the leader/guru of the New Earth Army, who even walks funny and has an amusingly blissed out look for most of the film. It's just that you keep hoping it might be funnier, or more powerful, and it can't pull either off. You keep wishing it could go all out satire (the Strangelove route) or suddenly pull you up with the sense of the danger and darkness in all of us (to stick with Kubrick, the Paths of Glory route, maybe?). Instead, the movie will just get your goat trying to be all things at a muddled once.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fits and Starts

I was doing so well for awhile there, having that daily entry ready to run at 8:01 every am, and now, thank god for the archives. Here's something that was just getting to the meat of the matter, but turns out to be mostly butter sizzling in the pan, a-waiting. Still, it certainly contains all sorts of themes I've kicked around this year, even if it's from 10 years ago, so, for what it's worth....

Lili Taylor, who has always beguiled me despite her never really getting to play a babe (except, tellingly, in Bright Angel, a film that proves the hard-edged prose of Richard Ford, another kind of beauty that has always beguiled me, seems so odd when spoken by real people and not the page), made her first impression, way before she was queen of the indies, in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. If you’ve seen the film you must remember her as the sweet and moony girl with a guitar who has written 65 songs for the boy who has dumped her. She could be laughed at. But we, and here I hope I have earned the plural first person, can’t, really. The knitting and re-knitting of obsession we all know a thing or two about, especially when music is the thread we use to sew up our dreams. After all, how does John Cusack finally woo and win Ione Skye? With a boombox held high over his head, and Peter Gabriel singing his thoughts for him, and without even knowing it making “In Your Eyes” an anthem for high school proms for half a decade.

But that’s pop music for you, or me, or us. And pop, although short for popular, perhaps only works its magic when it speaks to us, whispers to us, crooks its finger in our direction, one stained-with-sadness heart at a time. That we follow, lost and in love, and soon notice we follow others, that there’s a line of lovers, well, that’s what makes pop pop. Choose any song that chose you, that held you in its chords, that played its clichés like strings just for you, and you’ll see what I mean.

Ain’t love, life, grand. That’s all, and one gigantic three letter word that is, and all pop hopes to attest to. No, that’s not right, either, for attest is one of those hedge words with time written all over it, intellect too busy with a spray can in its hand. The best pop is-es. Present tense in a way even writing can never be, as the sentence winds its way by its very accumulative nature off into short term memory. Why does rock and roll matter? It’s the rare place America lets art and entertainment be one, it lets the venal and spiritual (or the economic and sexual, if you prefer) collapse--the old melting pot--or better yet, expand into something bigger than us, a collective experience, if that isn’t too much to ask of three minutes, two guitars, bass, and drums. But the real thing (and try to use that phrase without thinking Coca-Cola) is never too much: “Jailhouse Rock” is the real “We Are the World.”

Or, to start again (and again and again, a juke box’s, that is a real one that still plays 45s, series of drops, a DJ’s segues from tune to tune), rock ‘n’ roll, and religion all talk the same language of ecstasy and damnation, stairways to heaven and free-fallin’ to hell. What the greatest songs do is enforce this, which is why we get scared and excited and confused and contradictory, and love and hate like a coin toss. It’s all about life closing down while it opens up, about projection and unity, about communion--there, I’ve said it--and the way rock is beyond academia, literary journals, and this very blather I can’t help but tease through. The stubborn streak of true-blue-American anti-intellectual venom is on the mark: fuck thinking, let’s dance, or go one better, fuck dancing, let’s fuck. Even the caring, careful appreciation of a thinker like Peter Guralnick or Greil Marcus is too much; you want to just seize the moment, after all, and thinking is always kind of past tense, isn’t it?

It’s sad, then, that with CDs one of the things we’ve lost beyond the elusive “warmth” audiophiles go on about, and perhaps means something else all together, is the very term “record.” Let’s make a record. We’re a real band now, we’re going to record. That’s what music is, or can be, the mark, the memory, the moment written out in space. Like the Buzzcocks sang, it feels so real, but why can’t I touch it? Getting back to Cameron Crowe, again, a failed director of fine moments (which is an achievement, really it is), and to his film Singles (and how could the pun not be intended), there’s the seduction moment, with Campbell Scott alone at last with Kyra Sedgwick in his apartment, and he’s got LP’s and by the way he holds them you know he loves them, which means he can love, which means he’s been sold the whole bill of goods and the two of them are destined for each other, she cannot resist, particularly in a movie, the only thing that hypes love more than music, as it’s the only thing bigger, even in the tinniest of mall theatres. Scott’s character says without saying, If I let you see this much of me, what can I have in return, what will you hum for me, what can you share, and how could you not? Because it is vinyl, and it is my heart.

Of course here I romance an age, my past, romance itself. But doing it and recognizing I’m doing it takes nothing away from it as a fact. An attempt at ironic detachment only attaches me more, for now I lavish attention on the ephemeral, which I realize, as a collector of LPs and now CDs, as a one-time disc jockey and a long-time music critic, has been my life.

But then again, we’re all ephemera if you take the long look at it.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Hey Two Ways

You can listen to it crunchy (from back in the day):

Or listen to it sweet (as a song with many uhs and whores and screams will allow):

And since the Pixies are doing Doolittle in its entirety live for its 20th anniversary, I get one more chance to feel the old fart I am. Thanks, Pixies.

So 1989 was pretty much set to the soundtrack of Doolittle, as I'm sure it was for many folks my age (+/- 3),the last blast of a decade that has too bad a rap given it offered up glories like the Replacements and Husker Du, and that's not even leaving MN (then there's Tom Waits' best, fine T-Heads, the early stirring of YLT, perhaps the Mekons' two best--the '80s weren't just MTV, ok?). Deliciously snotty and snarly set to sneaky tunes, it's the perfect disc for someone trying not to be a productive worker in society while still making enough money to get by. My first year out of grad school, 88-89, and my reward for those multiple masters was teaching comp at Penn State, three course per semester, "earning" a wondrous $19K. And we wonder why we are a nation of illiterates (we certainly don't pay people to teach us out of that hole).

So something that let me play-act feeling, really feeling, well, bring it on. Of course it seems Black Francis is doing the same, tipping his hand writing a song to kick off the album whose images he steals from Bunuel, both arty enough and at enough remove to seem safe even when shouting about "slicing up eyeballs." Surrealism is a romp in comparison to Dada, which, after all, rose within WW I's European ruin; rock n roll surrealism 60 years on is nearly quaint. (Off-topic subject--what if Bunuel started a band?)

Maybe that's why I don't listen to the album much anymore. Grown too comfortable to even feel the need for the fake fight, the miming at windmill tilting. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the simplicity of the line "Uh, says the man to the lady." Let's just boil this sucker down, what do you say? Plus the guitar gets to go where air quotes fear to tread.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Nice Dog Day at Work If you Can Get It

For Dog Blog Friday: Next time I'm bringing a bed for me, too, and joining them. I doubt anyone at work would complain.


Friday Random Ten

East River Pipe "My Life Is Wrong" Shining Hours in a Can
Liz Phair "Crater Lake" Whip-Smart
Cheb Khaled "Hana-Hana" Kutché
PJ Harvey "Who the Fuck?" Uh Huh Her
The Band "Don't Do It" Heaven Must Have Sent You--The Holland Dozier Holland Story
Neil Young "War of Man" Harvest Moon
Belle & Sebastian "Act of the Apostle" The Life Pursuit
Yo La Tengo "By the Time It Gets Dark" Little Honda ep
Sonny Landreth "South of I-10" Big Ol' Box of New Orleans
Coward Brothers "The People's Limousine" Twenty Twenty: The Essential T Bone Burnett

Nick Lowe "Heart" Basher--The Best of Nick Lowe

Plenty of good stuff, today, from all over, starting with one of the best sad laments of all time. I do have to admit, though, I like the jaunty Rockpile version of "Heart" way better than Nick's lazy reggae.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

All the New Thinking Is about Loss

I thought for sure that I'd written about this, but here we are again, endings. Hate 'em, despite all the practice, small and bigger than I could have ever hoped. Right now it seems something simple, another baseball season over. But that means Friday, nary a box score, but even they are going the way of dodos and doubleheaders and memory and parents and newspapers. The other day in a bookstore, of all probably doomed places, I ran across a book called Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By, and thumbed through it, only to find listing after listing for things I once cherished, from mixed tapes to writing letters. Perhaps I am a once common thing passing myself by.

And when people wonder why baseball matters to me so, it's for reasons like this, that it seems not just a beautiful game with feats of physical prowess a shlub like me can barely dream of thinking of doing, but also a way into the world that seems innocent but is anything but.

Of course I'm lying, pretending I'd never figure out life without baseball. (I probably won't ever figure it out anyway.) This was supposed to be a simple entry, at least earlier in the day when I imagined it, about straightforward things, like Phillie manager Charlie Manuel saying about Brett Myers, "What happened between [Hamels and Myers], they're friends and that was more 'Brett being Brett.' He likes to throw a jab at you. People hear that sometimes, they don't know how to take it," about a guy who was once charged with beating his wife. We love ourselves some brutish athletes, just as long as they don't do steroids. That might fuck up the children.

And about this, in the same LA Times article we learn that "Alex Rodriguez, hitting .360, has 18 RBIs in this postseason, one short of the record shared by David Ortiz, Scott Spiezio and Sandy Alomar Jr." Despite this news, there are over 600,000 Google hits for A-Rod not clutch, since he had such a terrible streak in the postseason for a bit and people want to hate him as he does seem sort of a, well, to get high school about it, a douche. (And it's not just because I got caught up on Glee episodes tonight that I go to high school for a reference point, but that I think most of us, athletes and non, form our notions about the sporting life then and never get beyond them.) We like bending the evidence to figure what we so assuredly already know--and a jerk like A-Rod mustn't have any character, and therefore, well, point to that small sample size that says just that. But note well the other postseason RBI record holders--Mr. Clutch himself, one of the best-loved men in baseball Big Papi (why are A-Rod and Manny so reviled as dopers, but Ortiz seems to get it easy?), but then two mostly nobodies, Scott "Ridiculous Goatee" Spiezio and Sandy Alomar Jr. How much of RBIing is the luck of being in the right place at the right time? How much of life is luck?

Baseball, at least for this year, won't tell. But with any luck spring will bring some new hope, but that's spring's job, after all. We've all got jobs to do, if only we could hear them call, something distinct like an ump shouting safe.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Now the Boot Is on the Other Footnote, Isn't It?*

And now it seems Wednesday will always be one from the vaults, as Tuesday night is write my hobby job ass off night. (Note: if you don't want to go crazy, don't ask 6 different chefs for recipes for one story and then have to try to make them all look uniform. You will go Tbs. v Tsp. crazy.) At some point I will run out of old things to run, and then, well, I guess I won't publish here as much. But in the meantime, here's one that I can remember going over big years ago at a live reading, especially when I held up an asterisk to read all the footnotes. Or especially after we had all been drinking. Thank you Eliot, Nabokov, Barth, Yuengling. Oh, and that title is the real title, despite its protestations.

Working Title: Is It Perfume from a Dress?

It began, well, I’m not exactly sure when, but in my youth, my preteen years or so. I developed a nagging theory that would often overwhelm me: I feared that I was an exceptional child, but in the odd meaning of the word.[1] The horrible thing was that I convinced myself of a conspiracy: everyone was too polite, or mean, perhaps, to call attention to my problem. Nonetheless, my dubious distinction, whatever it was (the actual malady didn’t even seem to matter), preceded me like a leper’s death rattle. I did not belong; everyone knew; they treated me like everyone else.

Now I’m puzzled by the denotation of paranoia. The dictionary[2] comforts me by claiming the problem is “nondegenerative” and “limited.” Yet, the dictionary assails me with terms like “chronic” and “psychosis,” too. Which words should I believe? Who developed this definition?

Ask a person on the street, and they’d claim paranoia is organized worrying or a persecution complex. I prefer these connotations, for they avoid the overtly psychological. (After all, one might slip and imagine a Perry Mason episode featuring a witness for the persecution.) My mind, when it begins this happy trail of association, almost never ends. Paranoid sounds like a gland problem. Part of me (which part?) wonders if there is such a thing as mononoia. Then there’s the bathroom graffiti line: “I used to be paranoid, but now I’m just annoyed.” (That’s not as good as the graffiti in an oriental restaurant’s bathroom: “All employees must wash hands before returning to wok”--but that line merely digresses while proving humor is a mean-spirited thing.)[3]

I am still paranoid today, about many things. Part of me (probably not the part mentioned previously) thinks this paranoia is a life-coping device and a way to prove I’m from the East Coast.[4] People from the East Coast worry about living because they have more ways to die. One friend actually saw a knifing in New York City because the knifee accidentally bumped into the knifer. True, the killer was probably the paranoid one of this pair, but he surely gave us clumsy folk something to think about. However, paranoia is not merely life-preserving. It’s being convinced the check-out girl says, “Do you want that pop in a sack,” so my ear will bridle at her colloquialism. I have yet to say, “No, but put the soda in a bag, dummy.” I do not carry a knife. The Midwest might be safe.

Paranoia, of this sort, is a two-way street, or a too way street, as I almost wrote. I’m puzzled if paranoia can truly be privately owned. We can all share Murphy’s Law, so even he’s not very special, although his name gets bandied about a lot. I am sure we are all paranoid about love. I, personally, have suffered the crashing breaker’s of love’s high-tide-paranoiac-swim-without- the-life guard. It’s easy to drown doubly here: not sure which other swimmer to swim for, whether any are in reach anyway, whether the shore--where one can be dry and alone--is the only place to be. (I’ve grown rather to like this metaphor.)[5] Does she love me? Do I love her? Or her? Or do I only love myself, so who am I trying to kid anyway? Plato wrote an entire Symposium on the issue, and while he made great fun of the people he didn’t like, I’m not sure Socrates’ spiritual love is what I have in mind, either. It does seem love goes from the physical to the spiritual, but then becomes so unreal or ethereal (the similarities make me screw up the pronunciation) that I (and who else, might I add?) desire some of the physical again. Which is to say I know nothing more now than I did at the paragraph’s beginning.

People were once so paranoid that they had to make a flourish after their signatures to prevent forgeries. A professor I once knew said at a seminar that he held in his home that Laurence Sterne took to signing copies of Tristram Shandy to prevent bootlegs. To prove this point, the professor took an authentic, signed copy of the book from his own shelves. This made me paranoid; I would rather not be sure who wrote the book I’m reading than have such a professor, who was actually a nice guy, really.[6] Still, there seems to need to be some bounds. I’m not sure whether Sterne needed to use a paraph after his signature to prove his book’s authenticity even further (imagine an 18th century huckster with fobs and Shandys under his ample waistcoat, corner-waiting). What worries me is that paraph and paragraph come from the same etymological roots, and I never knew it until I looked up paranoid. You’d think it was a plan; at least I would.

I cannot get my mind to stop working this twisted way. I’m on the verge of a deeper paranoia here, not of man versus man, but of man versus . (Fill-in your own all-purpose world belief, but make sure it allows for a good cosmic guffaw every now and then.)[7] One day I was busily writing notes about my major movie-going experiences and got to my first PG movie, The Poseidon Adventure. The boat turns upsidedown; people try to escape by going up to the bottom of the ship. The film is entirely un-noteworthy, but I wound up quoting John Ashbery by the time I was done scribbling a page. Every thought explodes into another like a good breakshot in a billiard game with an infinite number of balls. So right now, I’m thinking of The Color of Money, which I despise,[8] and my own pitiful pool skills, and how it’s fun to diddle with the chalk to have something to do, and how we’ve created such time-possessing insanity to fill-up our lives.[9] If we don’t distract ourselves, the balls might bust right out of our heads, probably leaving each of us alive, but killing everyone near us. As Bryan Ferry once sang, “I can talk talk talk talk talk talk myself to death.”[10] (It sounds better with the music, but here I go again. People won’t understand. They’ve told me the essay is the form that most desires to be understood.)

If I stripped away the veil of pretense, I’d abandon the Latin and head straight for the Old English--fear. I am scared, senseless, and about everything. (Oddly, I write senseless now, when paranoia comes from roots meaning “beyond mind,” which doesn’t leave me much, does it?) I am even more scared that others feel the same way. No, I have to change that. I’m even more scared some people aren’t afraid (I believe many of these people are called Republicans, but that’s a different essay) (and a cheap shot). Paranoia is a way to hold my own insanity at arm’s length and turn it over like a rock with ugly squigglies beneath it. Maybe I can throw the rock far (with my arm?) away, but the lousy worms will drop at my feet. I’d probably just break a window with the rock, anyway. Now what? Maybe I can drop the rock hard enough to crush the worms, at least. But then the rock’s left, and that’s the problem, really. It is the metaphor I have to up and live with, or else drop, and then go running into the hills, hoping for a scratch of land where lonesome is usual and only.

I either end here or on and on.

At least one of us is spared the other.

[1] At one point my parents nearly (well, not so nearly, but they did discuss) sent me to a place called Educational Insights. This institution was an alternative school that for some reason also ran bus trips to Jets games. I never went to the school, but did go to the Jets games. Several years later, Educational Insights was busted: it turns out there was no school at all.

[2] The American Heritage Dictionary, to be precise.

[3] Banzai, Rt. 46, Dover, NJ. Banzai is a Japanese restaurant known for sushi and those funny Benihana-famed chop-at-your-table productions; I’m not really sure anything is woked there. It seems the graffiti artist liked the line as much as I did, and felt the urge to scribble away anyway.

[4] East Hanover, NJ, pop. 9926 as of the 1990 census. Twenty-five miles due west of Manhattan.

[5] A sneaky way to allude to an essay I’ll probably never (be able to) write. There is safety in a metaphor.

[6] Dr. Richard Macksey, professor of Humanities, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore. Macksey is independently wealthy, so this occurrence is par for the course. Once, when I was fortunate to have dinner with Edward Albee, Albee commented on Macksey’s son arriving at a book signing with first editions of all of Albee’s plays. The talk moved on to Macksey’s wealth, for which we all offered opinions: inheritance, a scientific invention, and Albee’s refinement of the latter, that the good professor had invented the Macksey (sic) pad. (It’s not polite to name-drop in the body of an essay, and since no one reads notes anyway....Notes are to essays as the Bridge column is to the newspaper.)

[7] For me, Catholicism, even, on very rare occasions, church-going (a kind of Bridge column), but more for the sense of a larger world, a sense that a Big Love should be worshiped, a sense that some kind of muse, maybe mere meditation with a ritual backbone, can help me along with poems and essays. Besides, Catholicism allows for much humor, simply ask Isaac or Job or Judas (the one given to us by James Wright, that is).

[8] Sorry, Marty.

[9] Checking one’s split ends is a friend’s pastime. As for me, I watch HBO I haven’t paid for, but receive better than all the other channels. I can sit through an entire fiction film about the tribulations of attempting to make the U.S. Olympic volleyball team.

[10] “Re-make/Re-model” from Roxy Music, Atco, 1972.

*Reference to Jon Langford getting to review one of Robert Christgau's decade collection books and giving it an A-.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Mistah Kurtz, He Dead

I realize I'm supposed to do some victory dance or pen some biting entry about Travis Armstrong finally biting the dust at the News-Press, but I just don't have it in me. The biggest part of that is that the N-P sort of seems like--and pardon me for going all 1970s Jersey on you--Karen Ann Quinlan to me. You mean that rag is still around?

And while one more vile suck-up minion shuffles off into the sunset (aka Palm Springs), the real problem doesn't go away, does it. We're still stuck with Wendy McCaw, and surely some new vile suck-up minion will show up for she's certainly still got the bucks. As long as there's a corporate model, there will be toadies. Some will even convince themselves they are a force for good, either by actually buying into the corporate-think (and McCaw is one freaky corp of one) as Armstrong did or by assuming they can mitigate things a bit. Perhaps those people are the worst, for they then can be pointed to by the corp as evidence it's not all bad. Remember the cover you provide, folks. Just saying.

I'd also like to assume that Armstrong is now a journalist no one would hire, but I know better. I know FOX is out there, say, and if even "real" tv networks can trot out the like of Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin as if they know anything about something beyond their own cretinous hearts, there will be a place for lesser evils and dimmer fools.

I would like to assume this would make Santa Barbara a better place, but it's sort of like removing cancer cells from a corpse. Time we all move on, as so many of us have, and find our news elsewhere. It isn't going to be coming from the south end of DLG Plaza.

While I'm at it, as it's election day without the chance to vote (does anyone else feel cheated by vote by mail, like civic duty just got too friendly?), here's hoping that the east side of DLG Plaza isn't soon over-run by those backed by a billionaire no one knows anything about. Things like that tend not to turn out so well around these parts.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Never for Ever Land

And in this week's episode...what happens when artists you love (or at least loved once upon a time) do things that embarrass you deeply. For while this song is beautiful on its own, if for nothing else than the fretless bass work and how that plays against the chorus in-outs that work more as sound than meaning, well, there's the rub isn't it? For the meaning is the big problem here. Yeah, it's sweet of Kate to care about a fetus worried not just about mom's smoking but also about nuclear fall out (talk about your prenatal worrywort!), but to literalize that, especially as Kate in the plastic bubble--that's just too much.

Then again, perhaps I react so strongly to this video because it's so dang earnest. She just means it all so much. Just see it in how her eyes roll from side to side. But it's hard not to imagine a growing up Kate as the girl in class who wrote the name of the boy for whom she pined in her notebook and then drew over the letters so often that she then obliterated what she wrote. By definition a crush must hurt, sure, as some other women would later sing, but you don't have to bring the pain yourself.

Bush tends to do this in video after video, each one seemingly directed by a mime who has learned the joys of props. These props get even more spectacular, and can include Donald Sutherland.

It's not that her songs aren't grand, of course. They have to be to fit that voice. But I guess I come from the school where you want to cut that grand, not make it grander. Where you don't gild the lily or bronze the orchid. Where just wonder should be enough.

Instead I'm left to wonder how one can be talented enough to come up with the song but not wise enough to know when to stop. But who am I to say anything, holding onto these memories and snippets of videos for decades, turning them about in my head as if figuring out why I hold them matters, as if they will help solve me for who I am someday, bits and pieces of fretless bass--something that should be grounding but yet seems to float--and images I know are wrong but can't get past, either.

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