Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Obama Takes Over the Colbert Report: The Nadir of Satire?

I'm a huge fan of the Colbert Report, but this strikes me as a new low for political satire. If satire is a weapon to be used against the powerful, then why hand over the reins to (arguably) the most powerful person in the world?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On the Stones Below

My favorite living poet is, as of today, no longer alive. I met Mark Strand back in 1992 or so, when he came to my college for a reading--the only poet I ever remember reading there, aside from those of us who haunted the halls as students.

I'm transcribing this poem here, in part because I could not find it elsewhere online. I'll be out back feeling...feelings.

by Mark Strand

I am not thinking of Death, but Death is thinking of me.
He leans back in his chair, rubs his hands, strokes
his beard, and says, "I'm thinking of Strand, I'm thinking
that one of these days I'll be out back, swinging my scythe
or holding my hourglass up to the moon, an Strand will appear
in a jacket and tie, and together under the boulevards'
leafless trees we'll stroll into the city of souls. And when
we get to the Great Piazza with its marble mansions, the crowd
that had been waiting there will welcome us with delirious cries,
and their tears, turned hard and cold as glass from having been
held back so long, will fall and clatter on the stones below.
                  O let it be soon. Let it be soon."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ableist Grammar Snobs Unite!

Over the next few days, pretty much everyone on the Internet will have seen and/or heard "Weird Al" Yankovic's funny/not-funny new parody song, "Word Crimes." In his lyric, Yankovic appeals to the grammar snob in each of us. Or in most of us. Some of us? A few? And that's all good and well, but I'll be looking for backlash against the song for its callous use of a term for people with cerebral palsy to put down someone by saying "you write like a spastic."

"What's wrong with that?" you ask. Google answers with this and this and this and this, for starters. Ciao!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Working on a Novel

Yours truly, rocking pink headphones. 
I've come to the conclusion that the computer is a sort of "threshold guardian," standing between where I am and where I will find my finished novel. I have to learn to work with it, to trick it, to get around it, to answer its riddles and resist its temptations. Today I'm inordinately proud of the fact that it is 1 p.m. and I've only just now turned on the computer for the first time. I spent the morning writing notes, reading about the structure of "the Hero's Journey," and brainstorming the shape and meaning of this book.

Before you and I both roll our eyes at this mythic journey business, I'd like to remind us that I am writing a fantasy novel to fulfill my daughter's desire for an adventure/quest story with female characters who kick ass. I'm taking the project very seriously, and I'm using it as an opportunity to explore some of the conventions of storytelling that I've resisted learning about over the years in some (probably misguided) effort to maintain something like artistic integrity.

Anyway, yeah. Hello, Internet. I'm giving myself a fifteen minute reward for those 3.5 hours of focus.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Peter Murphy's New Album

This is a reaction, not a review.

On first listen, Lion is incredible--it feels like the Peter Murphy album his fans have been waiting for twenty years. I gather that others appreciated Ninth a lot more than I, but I feel his last wall-to-wall solid album was 1995's Cascade. Until now, that is.

And, for the record, there are songs I love on Dust, Ninth, and even Unshattered, which I feel rivals Holy Smoke for his weakest record. A lot of devoted fans consider it a duty to revere everything their favorite artists do. I'm not one of those. My standard has always been to stay devoted to my rock gods but realistic about their new music. Is this one good enough to draw skeptical former fans back into the fold? In Lion's case, yes.

Honestly, I do not expect much from Murphy anymore, and last year's legal troubles didn't bode well. I was also a bit concerned that this record was produced by Youth--who failed to rescue Echo & the Bunnymen from old age on their so-so new record, Meteorites.

But Lion rocks the hell out. I don't know which of these songs will take hold and grow on me, but this is the best and wildest album I've encountered since last year's Savages debut. And--though it's too soon to say--I suspect this may wind up in my top three favorite Peter Murphy solo albums. That said, Lions would have to surpass Cascade and/or Should the World Fail to Fall Apart. Deep is untouchable. Come to think of it, I'm not yet convinced this is as good as Love Hysteria, fourth on my list.

What's with this ranking business? Old habits die hard. Or don't die.

Bottom line: so far this lamb loves this Lion.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Your Troubled Young Life

(Trigger warnings: death, depression, drugs, suicide)

I'm not generally a big Neil Young fan--he's fine, really talented, etc., but not my cup of tea--yet this new low-fi recording he's made of the Bert Jansch song "Needle of Death" is powerful:

And here's the original:

And here's a beautiful song in a similar (though perhaps even darker) vein:

So last night I was reminded, by my wife, that a few years ago my mother received a small settlement from a drug company because my niece, who was raised primarily by my mother, hung herself with an extension cord while being treated with an anti-depression drug that did not (yet) have suicide listed among its side effects.

And this morning I'm standing at the edge of a gaping hole in my life that I'd been walking around, blissfully unaware, for a few years. I had forgotten this twist of the knife in the heart. I had steered clear of this pain, somehow, for a good long time. But how?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Up to Things

Oh yeah. I have a blog. Hi, blog! Hi, reader! Is there a reader? I'll assume so. The site gets traffic still, anyway. I assume some of it is human traffic.

I'll probably blog a bit more this summer. Right now, I plan to withdraw (almost entirely) from Facebook for May through July (except to notify local friends of our yard sale shortly before we move to an on-campus apartment, a few blocks away). This morning I started writing an essay. I do that often: I start essays that don't get finished. Personal essays. Oh, and I learned the chords for a song. I haven't done that in ages. Here's the song:

I probably won't sing it like that, though. As beautiful as this and a few other renditions are, I still don't feel the song has been done in a way that captures the coldness and brokenness of it. Most singers lay it on too thick. Sorry. That's how I feel. It's a beautiful song, but it's a broken one…and it should sound broken.

Anyway, what have I been up to? Things. I recently made a video for a friend's song. The friend is Neal Koga, and his performing name is Jamal. The video is here. For some reason, Blogger won't let me embed it. Corporate incompetence, I suspect.

And I've landed a short-short story in New World Writing: "The Day I Came Home."


Sunday, February 16, 2014

White Privilege in the News

For the moment (Sunday 16 February 2014 at around noon, my time), the top headline on says this:

Gunman 'in disbelief' over loud-music verdict: He could spend rest of life in prison.

But how can he be in disbelief? He doesn't deny his involvement. He held the gun. He aimed it into a car full of kids. He injured three and killed one.

And, more importantly, why does CNN believe his shock is the story here? I have a hard time imagining the editors would go with a headline as sympathetic to the astonishment of a shooter who killed a teenager while firing into a car full of teens if the shooter weren't a middle-aged white dude who just wanted those damn kids to turn down their damn hip-hop.


In case you haven't found it already, here's a surprisingly entertaining blog on this topic: Yo, Is This Racist? 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I Get So Happy When You Wish Me Dead

A couple years ago I converted some aging cassette tape recordings of my early-nineties band, Balance, to digital files. After letting those float in the recesses of my hard drive, I finally decided to compile and sort. I'll eventually put together a selection of the best recordings of the best songs, but for now I've posted one song, with lyrics, on Youtube.

We were called Balance over my objection. I wanted a more interesting name, but it was the guitarist's band before I joined and apparently again years after I left. But we were pretty good, I think. If there was a weak link, it was my struggle to find my voice in the p.a. system when things got loud. I sang, wrote lyrics, wrote some of the music, and played acoustic guitar. Kevin Otis was our virtuoso electric guitar player--sometimes a little too virtuosic for the good of the songs, in my opinion. I'd keep that to myself if I hadn't told him just that at the time, and if I didn't know he passed away several years ago. I found his obituary online, and it still fills me with sadness to know he's gone. He was very talented, but more importantly he was a kind, gentle, decent human being. I loved him and loved working with him, despite artistic differences that ultimately split up the band.

Over the years I've lost my memory of the last names of our other band members. We had a great, heavy-footed drummer named Brad, and a rich, melodic bass player whose name I think/hope/believe was Matt. It's so strange how this information has fallen away. I'd love to get back in touch, if they're out there.

Anyway, we played at least one weekend a month at the Deluxe Tavern in Colorado Springs for a couple years. We played other gigs around town, too, and once or twice up in Denver. We got our start opening for The Auto-No and another band called Squishin' Bugs, but soon enough Jeremy, the music booker at The Deluxe, recruited us for their rotation of bands. We played every fourth weekend, all original songs (with the occasional punked out cover of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone"). Those were good times.

Here's one of the songs that I wrote on my guitar. Of course, everyone else wrote their own parts. Usually songs started with me or Kevin, but our best sounds probably came from tunes laid down by our bass player. Lyrics were my strength, melodies weren't. Here goes nothing:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In Defense of Woody Allen

In light of the disturbing testimony in "An Open Letter from Dylan Farrow," I put together a short film in the style of Woody Allen, wherein I offer every single argument I can come up with in defense of the writer/director/actor/comedian/clarinetist. It's not what you think.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dachsund Orientalism

While in Texas over the holidays, we came upon these two German dogs committing an act of blatant cultural appropriation: 

They may have mastered the surface appearance of yin and yang, but I doubt they possess a true, deep, meaningful understanding of the concept. 

The Only Life You Could Save

A thing I learned over winter break is that one can be a good parent for almost a decade, give care along the way to a spouse and children with health challenges, teach at a major university for seven years, be trusted by that university to lead groups of students on educational trips abroad, earn the most advanced degree in one's family, win awards while doing so, publish many stories and a book, and do a bunch of other things that might arguably indicate competence and reliability, yet still be deemed insufficiently reliable to handle commonplace responsibilities within one's extended family. I won't go into details here, because griping isn't my point. It's this:

Sometimes, in some people's eyes, you may never win, never succeed, never stand on your own; so it's crucial not to view yourself through those eyes.


This poem is on my mind:

"The Journey"
by Mary Oliver.

One day you finally knew 
what you had to do, and began, 
though the voices around you 
kept shouting 
their bad advice—
though the whole house 
began to tremble 
and you felt the old tug 
at your ankles. 
"Mend my life!" 
each voice cried. 
But you didn't stop. 
You knew what you had to do, 
though the wind pried 
with its stiff fingers 
at the very foundations, 
though their melancholy 
was terrible. 
It was already late 
enough, and a wild night, 
and the road full of fallen 
branches and stones. 
But little by little, 
as you left their voices behind, 
the stars began to burn 
through the sheets of clouds, 
and there was a new voice 
which you slowly 
recognized as your own, 
that kept you company 
as you strode deeper and deeper 
into the world 
determined to do 
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.