Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Speaking of Zoetrope

This story will show up in Magnificent Mistakes:

"Endangered Species"
(Zoetrope All-Story: Extra, February 2001)

For the book, I've tightened it in spots, of course, and loosened it in others.

Not my style, usually, but...

The sweetness of this is so...:



It's perfect here at the end of another decade. Enjoy.

e.

I Still Love This Story

In 2000, I guest-edited two issues of Zoetrope All-Story: Extra. The first of the two stories I published was Bob Thurber's "Blue Light," which opens with this:

My father was up, pacing in the shadows. The whole house was dark except for a hall lamp. Through the archway I saw the red dot of his cigarette floating above the piano. I took off my shoes and hooked the heels on the shoulder strap of my bag; I shut the door softly then headed for the stairs. I was wearing one of Mom's summer dresses and I had dribbled tequila on the front; I didn't want to get into anything over ruining old clothes.

"Not so fast, Missy."

I wasn't moving very fast or very well. With my hair pinned up off my neck, I suddenly felt chilled to the bone, and a lot less steady than I'd felt getting out of Robert's family mini-van. Robert was a child. I was a two-time college dropout dating a high school junior on the basketball team and the whole town knew.

Dad moved into the light, but I kept going.

"Hey. Whoa. Hold on a minute."

I slid on the tiles. My bag fell, both shoes went flying. He got to the stairs before I did, stopped me from tumbling head-first into the rail. He straightened me up, held me awkwardly beneath my breasts a moment; then he made himself big and blew smoke at my head.

"Inside," he said.

He guided me two robot steps in the right direction, but when he took his hands away, I turned back. I frowned at his feet. He was barefoot like me.


That opening hooked me the moment I first laid eyes on it, and it has held me ever since. I must have read "Blue Light" twenty times. It remains among my favorites of the decade.

You'll find the rest here.

And you'll find more from Bob Thurber here. He was one of the most handsome and talented and generally well dressed undiscovered fiction writers of our time--and he may still be, for all I know.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Dedicated to all the little boys who've run away from home"

If you let a little compassion into your day sometimes you get hurt. This song leaves me in tears, and this performance is one of the best:



I think of my niece who killed herself this year. I think of the boys I worked with when I taught at a residential treatment center (the modern day orphanage). I think of kids begging on the streets, and old men, and girls, and the women....

It's good to hurt, I suppose.

-----

Oh, and there's this:



Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out.

New New Model Army

Consider this a preview of a review.

The video below is two or three albums old now, but NMA is still going strong. I downloaded the new album (Today is a Good Day), and after two listens I'm pretty sure it's the best New Model Army album since Thunder and Consolation. If you have ever loved this great band, you'll want to tune in again. Simply amazing, what they're doing now.

I'll post a full review on the blog later this week.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Femme Fatale"

I have irrational love for this video clip of Nico playing some noisy punk rock club in the early eighties:



Hope I can someday get my hands on the DVD.
-

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BMFA

The first of these two songs has been on my mind lately.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Vacation

I'll resume blogging later this week. In the meantime, here's an acoustic rendition of the most underappreciated pop song of the past few years--The Guillemots' "Trains to Brazil":

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Homophobia

The Conservapedia entry on "fear of homophobia" may be the most homophobic thing ever written:
It may be speculated that the widespread response to labeling all who oppose homosexuals "homophobic" may itself be driven by an irrational fear of those who oppose them, in which homosexuals imagine that most or all of those who oppose them are motivated by irrational fears, and wish to do them harm, and from which type of people they must be especially protected. Homophobia has also been stated to be the real cause of AIDS[24] Such fears may explain the perception that "the nuclear family is a microcosm of the fascist state...", [25] and similar attacks on heteronormativity. It has also been stated by preeminent pro homosexual psychotherapist, John J. McNeill, that "Interiorized self-hatred is the sin of gay people, and we must learn to see it that way."

Uh, sic.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

EVERYTHING MATTERS!


Hello, person who stumbled upon this blog while investigating the epitaph in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. While you're here, permit me to recommend a book you (as a Vonnegut reader) will no doubt enjoy. You may even fall in love with it.

It's Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr. The book was published by Viking last summer, so it's still warm off the presses. And, though it has gotten far less than the attention it deserved, several critics named Everything Matters! in their year-end best lists. Also, E.M.! was nominated for a handful of literary awards, and its film rights were optioned by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the director of The Lives of Others.

So, if you have the chance, read Everything Matters!

Ron Currie Jr.'s first book--God Is Dead (a collection of linked stories, or a novel in stories, depending on whom you believe)--won major awards. Everything Matters! is Currie's second book, and it garnered rave reviews in major newspapers.

And, as I mentioned, it's really, beautifully, compellingly good.

Sorry for repeating myself. And sorry for gushing. But nope, I have never met Ron Currie Jr., though we have corresponded. He's a good guy.

Let me add that I've read all of Kurt Vonnegut's novels, including his first two or three. They're pretty good, but they don't compare in quality or ambition to what Currie is doing at this stage in his career.

Read this book. It will change your life.

New Model Army, "Love Songs" (live)

Here is someone's personal video, posted on Youtube, of New Model Army performing "Love Songs" (one of my favorites) at a German music festival this summer:



I've never fully understood it, but NMA is apparently very popular in Germany. Or, rather, I've never fully understood their lack of popularity in the rest of the world. Apparently the Germans get it. Oh how I'd love to see the band there someday--or anywhere, again.

And, for good measure, here's an NMA song I'm not familiar with--"Autumn":



Click here for NMA's 2009 North American tour dates, thus far.

New Decemberists Songs

Via You Ain't No Picasso, here's a pair of new Decemberists songs that made their debut at the Newport Folk Festival:

MP3: The Decemberists "Rox in the Box" (live)
MP3: The Decemberists "Down by the Water" (live)

Have we seen the end of their misguided prog-rock experimentation? Fingers crossed.

For good measure, here's Colin Meloy and the band re-enacting Bob Dylan's historical "going electric" fiasco:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Woody Allen's First Stumble

Alice is the first mediocre Woody Allen movie of his later, faltering years, bringing an end to a solid run of good and great films that begins with Sleeper in 1973 and ends with Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989 (though I'm sure I'd dislike 1987's second Allen movie, September, if I had the stomach for it now). It's also Mia Farrow's first outright awful performance in an Allen movie. I know some hate her work and most are indifferent to it. I've always been a fan, myself, but her performance in the title role here is embarrassing. There's a scene when she takes secret Chinese herbs that supposedly make her bold and seductive; instead, she comes off as utterly, pathetically goofy. I suspect she was imitating some schtick Woody asked her to give, a la his flirtation scene in Love and Death:



Consider yourself lucky I couldn't find a youtube clip of Farrow's Alice pulling those faces. It gives me shudders to think of it.

But Farrow's empty performance is not the only problem here. Alice, herself, is the only semi-believable character. The rest are static. They're stereotypes: the wise Chinese herbalist, the rich gossip, the aggressive TV executive, the ne'er-do-well musician. Judy Davis is squandered in this, though she gives the only passable secondary performance. Even William Hurt is wasted as the stuffed shirt husband, despite his best efforts. That's because this movie lacks warmth and humanity. It's all flights of fantasy, dream visions, and cheesy special effects--A Christmas Carol for the uber-wealthy. We get none of the heart, none of the wit we've come to expect from Allen (and, for that matter, from Dickens), and dumb contrivances are apparently supposed to show us it's better to give your kids an experience of real life and real love than to raise them in some sanitized cocoon of wealth. I don't know, and don't care, what Allen wanted to say here.

I only finished watching Alice because back when it came out I thought it was all right. I don't remember why I felt that way. Of course, our Woody Allen comes back strong after this, with a few more good films (especially Husbands and Wives, Bullets Over Broadway, and Deconstructing Harry--the last of which works similarly to Alice but gets better every time I see it). Still, with Alice, we see the beginning of the end.

I'm not saying Allen is finished, but this is where he begins to lose his grip on what works--and what works is definitely not "whatever works." I need to watch Husbands and Wives again soon, to cleanse my palate.

(As an aside, I'm happy to note that Woody's next project is another movie set in London.)

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner left me bawling, but for personal reasons that had little to do with the quality of the movie. You see, I lost a niece earlier this year, and the movie's protagonist has a chance to rescue a long lost relative of his. So, for me, the story hit home. Beyond that unhappy (if cathartic) coincidence, though--or perhaps because of it--I came away disappointed.

This is one of those movies that amounts to less than the sum of its parts. It's a sweeping, dramatic story, played out by an excellent cast and shot quite beautifully in most scenes. The story is very human, and it certainly does manage to evoke compassion for the people of Afghanistan in general and the two boys at the heart of the piece in particular. Yet the film turns on a couple of baffling decisions made by the main character (trying to avoid a spoiler here), and it lacks a comfortable intimacy with the boys. Somehow, too, the movie manages to show its big Hollywood budget at almost every delicate moment, usually with oddly timed crane shots and poorly done CGI effects. And significant chunks of the story take place in California. Those scenes sap the power out of the story.

I wanted much more. In fact, I probably wanted the impossible: a film made by and for Afghans. This is not that film.

This is just a movie.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My Life According to Momus (the Facebook meme)

(Posted this on Facebook, but it fits here too. By the way, Momus--whom I mentioned the other day, has made all of these MP3 files available for free via his website.)

Using only song titles from ONE ARTIST/BAND/COMPOSER, cleverly answer these questions. Pass your answers on to 4,962 people you like, 17 you dislike, and think fondly of me. You can't use the artist I used, not that you've ever heard of him. Try not to repeat a song title, because that would make this meme even more boring. It's a good way to waste half an hour! Repost as "My Life According To (Artist/Band/Composer Name)," or whatever. Or don't.

Pick your Artist:
MOMUS

Are you a male or female:
“Ice King”

Describe yourself:
“I Was a Maoist Intellectual”

How do you feel:
“Made of Rubber”

Describe where you currently live?
“In the Sanatorium”

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
“Closer to You”

Your favorite form of transportation:
“The Cabriolet”

Your best friend is:
“The Marquis of Sadness”

You and your best friends are:
“Murderers, the Hope of Women”

What's the weather like:
“Hairstyle of the Devil”

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
“A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24)”

What is life to you:
“A Dull Documentary”

Your relationship:
“I Ate a Girl Right Up”

What is the best advice you have to give:
“Flame Into Being”

Thought for the Day:
“What Will Death Be Like?”

How I would like to die:
“Amongst Women Only”

My soul's present condition:
“Breathless”

My motto:
“Trust Me, I’m a Doctor”

Friday, July 31, 2009

Where should I start with Scott Walker?

OK, OK, I get it. I've read of his greatness enough times now, and in comparison to other artists I love (Mark Hollis and David Sylvian, primarily, but also Momus and anyone else who's done Jacques Brel) that the time has come: I'm ready for Scott Walker. The obvious starting point, as far as I can tell, is the compilation 5 Easy Pieces, but I prefer to get to know an artist album by album rather than through an anthology. Chances are I won't enjoy his early works as much as the later ones. So, random Walker fan who fond your way to this blog, which is Scott Walker's best album?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

XTC "Yacht Dance"

I'm in a nautical mood tonight.



XTC "Yacht Dance" (MP3)

Outtakes, B-Sides, and Rarities #2: Echo & the Bunnymen "Angels and Devils"

Echo & the Bunnymen was, without question, my favorite band in high school. That, right there, should be enough to make you stop reading. Click away, quick! I won't mind. Hell, I won't even know.

So, granted, the fact that I'm writing about my favorite band from high school twenty-plus years on means I'm incapable of rational consideration of the band's music. Enough has been said elsewhere about the Bunnymen's trailblazing, its passion, its updating of sixties rock sounds, and its rollicking live performances. A couple of the old guys (singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sargeant) are still going strong--if by "going strong" I can mean "showing occasional flickers of the brilliance that once roared like a bonfire on their records." And I mean just that. They still call themselves "Echo & the Bunnymen," but without Les Pattinson on bass and Pete DeFrietas on drums, they'll never be half as good as they once were. McCulloch could help things along by singing like he gives a damn, but I'll save that rant for another day. You can hear clips from four of their newest songs ("Think I Need It Too," "Do You Know Who I Am?,"Proxy," and "Drivetime") at the band's official MySpace page. These come from their upcoming October release, The Fountain. None sounds particularly exciting, but it's hard to judge from snippets. I'll include the best song from their most recent album below, for good measure.

In any case, here's a B-side the Bunnymen tossed off in some studio in San Francisco while on tour supporting the Ocean Rain album. The song is "Angels and Devils." Rather than describe it, make pronouncements of its genius, or tell you what the song means to me, I'll say only this: The guitars on "Angels and Devils" are exactly the guitar sounds I'd make in my wildest art-rock-star dreams, if only I could play.

DOWNLOAD: "Angels and Devils" by Echo & the Bunnymen
ALSO: "Scissors in the Sand" from the 2005 album Siberia

Here's a performance of "Angels and Devils" from 2001, when they made it a staple of their live shows:


And here's the original band, circa 1985, in a live-acoustic-on-camera performance of the still new single that was backed with "Angels and Devils," "Silver":

To Shoot or Not to Shoot; to Mock or Not to Mock

Lately I feel an urge to make a movie. I have no project in mind, but I've got a talent for working with whatever limited equipment, resources, actors, and locations may be at hand. And a talent neglected will wither away or gnaw at the edges of your days. Or both.

So, I may audit a filmmaking course at my university, assuming such auditing lies within the bounds of etiquette. I have no camera, but then I never did. The Mac G4 I bought in 2000 is obsolete and, with its original processor limping along, surely incapable of handling video files. I know no actors in Oklahoma. I find the regional architecture and geography generally uninspiring, save a few buildings on campus*--where I don't really want to shoot, precisely because they're on campus. But, for me, story generates itself. I never run short of ideas. All I need is a camera.

Without one for seven years, I've left unfinished business in the mockumentary genre. Though The Office has pretty well done mockumentary to death in recent years, that show (as done by NBC) is both narrow in approach and lacking in fidelity to the genre. For instance, no matter where the characters go, the cameras follow with implausible consistency. When characters visit restaurants, other businesses, and the odd outdoor setting, no one they meet responds awkwardly, as if cameras are present. And when cast stays in the office, the editors often cut from one angle to another in a way that should reveal a camera. If the show were a real documentary, you'd see the other cameras and their operators. In other words, it would be impossible to have cameras everywhere that The Office does without seeing one onscreen. Furthermore, the writers omit all meta-considerations of the "documentarists" themselves. Who is making that documentary? What is their agenda? How is their massive project funded? Where and when does the program air? What are the effects of its airing on the office staff? Are they famous? Do viewers recognize them on the street? And so forth.

As you can see, I've given the genre a lot of thought. Despite the success and ubiquity of The Office--and don't get me wrong, I enjoy it, especially the original BBC version--there are many stones that remain unturned. Or unmocked.

But do I aspire to a career in filmmaking? Nah, not anymore. I'm not sure I ever did. Movie-making would be, perhaps, more than a hobby for me; and it would certainly answer my artistic impulse. But this would not be my vocation. Oh no, I wouldn't risk life, limb, nor pocketbook to do it. And besides, I have no idea how I'd cast my movies, should I ever get my hands on a camera. That's no small obstacle.

Just thinking aloud here....

-----

You can view my 45-minute mockumentary, MOCK, on Youtube (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). And here's a short I acted in, directed by Robert Vaughn:


* For whatever reason, some of the campus buildings...


...remind me of Siena, Italy:


Do you see it? Wishful thinking? Am I crazy?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

MOMUS "Hairstyle of the Devil"

Here's the great, neglected, coldhearted, intellectual genius of pop at his peak, tossing off a single the Pet Shop Boys couldn't have made in their wildest dreams.



Download: MOMUS "Hairstyle of the Damned"
Donate: iMomus

Outtakes, B-Sides, and Rarities #1: Talk Talk, "It's Getting Late in the Evening"

I've long intended to add MP3 files to the irregular rotation of things I post on this blog. To inaugurate the feature, I will post a series of ten or so favorite outtakes, B-sides, rarities, and lost (or otherwise lesser known) songs.

First up--and probably my favorite--Talk Talk's "It's Getting Late in the Evening" from 1986:

This arrived as a B-side for the "Life's What You Make It" 7" and 12" singles, and was later (much later) included on Asides Besides (a spotty retrospective of dance mixes and previously uncollected tracks released by Caroline Records in 2000). Though recorded during sessions for the bestselling album The Colour of Spring, "It's Getting Late in the Evening" foreshadows the moves Talk Talk would make with their next album--the band's creative breakthrough into something entirely new--The Spirit of Eden. Everyone and his sister who writes about Talk Talk mentions Mark Hollis's heroin addiction as both a creative influence and obstacle. I don't care to explore the connections between drug use and the music he made. After all, the music is all I can experience firsthand. And what sublime music it is.

"It's Getting Late in the Evening" opens softly. A tentative organ and tambourine rhythm is shadowed by distant electric guitar scrapes. Hollis sings, "Everybody's laughing," and we don't know if they're laughing in pleasure or mockery. The effect disorients us until the song ebbs into a poetic (and characteristically unintelligible) verse about redemption followed by what amounts to a chorus: "The tide shall turn to shelter us from storm,/ the seas of charity shall overflow and bathe us all." The whole affair feels fragile, if hopeful, as the song shifts into a slow orchestral swell that, twenty-plus years later, might sound vaguely familiar to fans of Bjork, the Cocteau Twins, or Sigur Ros. Yet, at the time, the gradual progression toward a luminous flash--a flash that never quite arrives--proved breathtaking. This swell plays more as a gentle ascent to heaven than some wild, abandoned, rock-star-testosterone-driven release. Now and then someone laughs in the background or drops something, and the wash of strings and woodwinds takes over. And the wave does indeed bathe us all.

In the second verse--more stark and fragile than the first, twisting through the quiet wake of the near-climax--Hollis makes believe his exile (our exile?) comes by choice. He hasn't been lifted to heaven, after all. He has merely raised his eyes and arms heavenward with nothing more substantial than tattered hope.

Considering the music Hollis would later make, he (and we) had much to hope for. It's tragic that he ended his solo career a decade later, shortly after it began.

-----

Download: TALK TALK - "It's Getting Late in the Evening"
Buy: TALK TALK Asides Besides

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Was Meant for the Stage

I've surveyed youtube, and this is far and away the best video of my favorite song of the decade, so far:

The Decemberists, "I Was Meant for the Stage." Enjoy!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Beloved Stranger

If you listened to my shows on KRCC way back when, you might remember hearing the songs of Cindy Lee Berryhill. I've never heard anyone else play her songs on the air, but she's a musical hero of mine--and I've only just discovered her as a Facebook friend and gotten to know a sliver of what she's been up to in recent years. A couple nights ago in San Francisco, there was a benefit concert to help pay for the care of her husband, Paul Williams. Here's a video from that concert, featuring her beautiful song "Beloved Stranger":



And here's the link to a biographical/donation site. Check it out.

Paul Williams

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How do you like your blue eyed girl now, Mister Death?

Is it possible to overstate the crush I had on Farrah Fawcett when I was ten? No. It is not.

If I could pluck that little boy from the late seventies and plop him into the seat across from me now, I would not tell him Farah had just died after a long and valiant struggle against cancer, because I wouldn't have the heart. I couldn't bear to see his eyes just then, the crushed look on his face.

I also would not tell him his beautiful Farrah would, in later decades, go on to prove herself both a gifted actress and an inspiration to many. This news would simply bore him.

Instead, I would tell Little Me that, in 1995 or so, Farrah will generously pose for a feature in Playboy Magazine.

For a moment, I'd take in the grin on that little boy's face. Then I'd send him right back where he came from.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Still kicking around ideas for this blog.

It's been a long, long time (nearly two years), and I have no illusions that anyone but me even thinks about this blog anymore--yet I find myself imagining new directions for it, from time to time. Maybe I'll write more about my own writing. Maybe I'll jot down some thoughts on the state of satire in the aftermath of the Bush administration. Or maybe I'll focus on the novel.

Anyway, hi.