Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Sacred Now

There's something really obvious and profoundly American being missed in all this coverage of the TSA's pointless molestation of the traveling public. Everyone agrees that it's grossly excessive and an unacceptable invasion of privacy........but the real story here is that it apparently IS acceptable. It's being accepted every single day. There was no "opt out" day, there is no nationwide refusal to fly. I'm not judging anyone for laziness or hypocrisy. People gotta fly. I'm just pointing it out the reality of things. We're like Smokey and the government is Deebo. We got mind control. When we get on the plane, we be talkin' again.

To me this proves that, for Americans at least if not modern humans in general, there is literally nothing that can trump convenience. It's easy for us to raise our voices on call-in radio talk shows about our civil liberties...........but it's a little harder to stand yards away from a huge pressurized space shuttle that's fueling up to fire us through the air from San Diego to Sicily in 14 seconds flat and say "No, go ahead without me, I'd rather spend the next five hours standing in this musty ass airport terminal arguing some existential point with fat high school dropouts in blue uniforms who probably agree with me anyway." Very few people are willing to sacrifice convenience to make a point, even if the point is that they don't deserve to get finger-banged before they're allowed to enjoy Christmas vacation. And really.......who can enjoy anything when their stool smells like latex gloves? 2010 will go down in history as the year that a whole nation opened up presents and sang "jingle bells" while sobbing and shaking like teen hookers after their first sado-masochist client, but hey...........at least we got to our destinations fast.

The obvious other point that's being missed is that you're more likely to be named King of Saipan than end up on a goddamn hijacked plane, and that really not even the tiniest shred of your dignity or liberty is worth giving up to protect for such a statistical anomaly. But then we'd have to admit that the global war on terrorism might be based on some pretty shaky premises and questionable budget choices, which nobody is ready to do.

Anyway, don't listen to me. I'm only able to sit here and spout my nonsense because I'm a poor piece of shit who can't afford to fly. Give me a real corporate job with a frequent flyer card and I'll go through the scanners smiling ear to radiated ear.

After many years of searching.......

.....I finally found it. The entire decade of the 1980's encapsulated in one single image.

Monday, December 6, 2010

That. Just. Happened.

Forget I was ever gone.

2010 has been an insane year for music, so much amazing stuff. It was like the musical equivalent of a chicken cordon bleu stuffed inside a super-burrito and dipped in a vat of mescaline.............awesome, but it's gonna take a while to digest. I sat down and tried to write a top 10, but I was forced to do a top 20 instead. FORCED. I included some links here and there as well.

These were my favorite albums of 2010..................

Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
Janelle Monae- The ArchAndroid
Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Earl Sweatshirt- EARL
Phantogram- Eyelid Movies
High on Fire- Snakes for the Divine
Royce Da 5'9- Bar Exam 3
Teenage Fanclub- Shadows
Lightspeed Champion- Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You
Tame Impala- Innerspeaker
Twin Shadow- Forget
The Black Keys- Brothers
Radio Dept- Clinging to a Scheme
Gil-Scott Heron- I'm New Here
Black Breath- Heavy Breathing
The Roots- How I Got Over
Rick Ross- Teflon Don
The Depreciation Guild- Spirit Youth
Warpaint- The Fool
Arial Pink's Haunted Graffiti- Before Today

For me, the best album of the year wasn't even a contest. The Suburbs. 30 years from now I'll be listening to that masterpiece. And I wasn't even generally an Arcade Fire fan before this album. They've matured by leaps and bounds, and really done something that very few artists manage to do every decade, which is find the sound that captures the time.

Anyway, I'm back on the blogspot for good now. Tumblr is cool and I'll keep mine, but ultimately it just a) moves too fast for me, and b) is full of teens, and while they are far more artistic and creative than I'll ever be, they are still teens, and therefore shitty awkward human beings who don't make any sense.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Podcast Episode 3: \m/(><)\m/

The Basshead Jazz Podcast- Episode 3

Download Here


The Sword- March of the Lor
Meshuggah- Rational Gaze
Eyehategod- Peace Thru War (Thru Peace and War)
Mastodon- Iron Tusk
Judas Priest- Desert Plains
Lamb of God- Terror and Hubris in the House
Candlemass- Black Dwarf
Slayer- Cult
Dethklok- Bloodlines
Probot- I Am the Warlock
Pantera- By Demons be Driven
System of a Down- Shimmy
High on Fire- Nemisis
Acrassicauda- Garden of Stones

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ghosts of Nevada.....

Podcast Episode 2: Cool Chicks and Heartless Bastards

The Basshead Jazz Podcast- Episode 2

Download Here


Sia- Death By Chocolate
Heartless Bastards- The Mountain
Band of Skulls- Hollywood Bowl

Gun Club- Ghost on the Highway
Yoko Ono- Death of Samantha
The Dears- Fear Made the World Go Round
Iggy and the Stooges- Gimme Danger
The Depreciation Guild- Dream About Me
Joey Ramone- Like a Drug I Never Did Before
Teenage Fanclub- Baby Lee
Witchcraft- Leva
The Smiths- This Night Has Opened My Eyes
Idiot Pilot- A Day in the Life of a Poolshark

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

When you figure this comic out........

............you will know the meaning of life.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Random thoughts and brain misfires...............

- Louis C. K.'s new show on FX called "Louie" is already one of the best TV shows I've ever seen in my life, and it's only a few episodes in. The way they piece it together is amazing and hilarious. DVR that shit!

- If there was ever an expert on the look of disappointment on people's faces, it's the guy who stands at the exit door of a wax museum.

- A random amazing sentence from the Louise Erdrich novel I'm reading......."The clouds cover the horizon and within the mass, as the thing opens over us, we see the heart of the storm, the dark side of the anvil shot through with an electric lacery of light." I like her.

- I feel like I should own a cactus. I live in the desert. I feel like when you live in the desert you should have a cactus somewhere in your house, and maybe a southwestern style native-american blanket hanging over your couch. I think I'm gonna go get a cactus.

- Love is amazing. And by "Love" I mean the Aurther Lee 60's rock band. Actual love will ruin your life and murder everything you are inside. Which is usually when you start listening to down-tempo 60's psychedelic rock music like Love.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

3:10 to Nowhere.............

Sleep is the Cousin of Death......

The Most Slept On Movies of the Last 30 Years (according to me)

The Science of Sleep
The Quiet American
The Last Supper
Altered States
House of Games
Punch-Drunk Love
The Fountain
Night on Earth
Bubba Ho-Tep
The Darjeeling Limited
Stairway to Heaven (also called: A Matter of Life and Death)
Last Life in the Universe

Whatever on that list you haven't seen, rush out immediately and find. DIRECT ORDER!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

What is Cool?: A Haiku........

Cool is Rod Serling

Smoking While Telling His Fans

Martians Should Eat Them.

(My artist rendering of what Cool may look like)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Synthetic shipmates............

Happy 4th of July. Thoughts go out to my boys Jason Stoddard and Joseph Bell spending today somewhere in Afghanistan.

A "friendlier" God?

By far, one of my favorite people living today is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is an amazing woman who actually lived through all of the worst third-world fascist theocracy we hear about only through the news, and she came out of it a champion of freedom and human rights. She literally has a fatwa on her head across the Muslim world for saying things like.............well...........like what she says in the video above.

She is now an atheist who has officially denounced her former religion of Islam. But even among atheists she is controversial in some ways. Especially in America and Britain where we are not at daily risk of being murdered for our beliefs, or lack thereof, and so we have the luxury of over-exaggeration. We atheists in the west really only have one outlet of flexing our mind grapes [(c) Tracy Jordan].............which of course is fuckin' with our moderate Christian friends. We push their buttons. We get in over-the-top arguments in highly inappropriate places, like work or baby shower parties, where we accuse American christian fundamentalists of being "just as bad" as muslim terrorists. We point to the shooting of abortion doctors, mothers drowning their children, half-retarded presidents who think stem-cells are the devil's Lego blocks. And all that IS obviously out there and worth criticizing.................but isn't it a little offensive to people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and those who have actually suffered through religious oppression when we equate those fringe aspects of American life that, at the end of the day, are pretty few and far between, to entire regions of the world where beheading, slavery, honor killings, amputation, genetic mutilation, public stoning, martyrdom, rape, domestic violence, and suicide bombings are literally EVERYDAY occurrences and completely sanctioned by whole governments?

Just a little offensive, maybe?

And this is why many atheists in this country have a problem with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, because they don't want to give up that intellectual argument. In her new book Nomad, Ali suggests that not only is Christianity BETTER than Islam in it's practice and it's practitioners, but she goes so far as to say that "enlightened moderate Christians" should be more active in the Muslim regions, spreading their good word and trying to convert people. Why? Because she believes (and I would say rightly so) that while some of us can clearly do without God or religious belief.......................most people in the world cannot. And so her proposition is that for the time being, while we are forced to live with the religious, we might as well promote the "friendlier" religions over the less friendly ones. At one point in the interview I posted above, she makes the point that in a whole region of the world, Islamic fundamentalists have a monopoly on the marketplace of ideas.

On face value, I am one of those atheists who basically disagrees with her. I believe that as time goes on, the world will only continue to become more and more secular. Development and wealth are the solutions. Technology, access to information, comfortable living conditions.............these are what drive young men away from strapping bombs to their chest or killing their sisters to protect family honor, not introducing new gods. Christians aren't better people than Muslims at heart, and god knows (pun intended) that their holy book isn't any less violent or oppressive. If American Christians really believed in a literal translation of their book and truly lived by its word..........I don't think anyone could disagree that we would also have beheadings, slavery, subjugation of women, etc, because all of these things overlap both the Bible and the Quran. In my opinion, Ali's solution is very much like the one we hear every 4 years in political elections when folks try to rationalize their reasoning for not voting for third party candidates who are clearly better.

It's the "lesser evil" argument. And personally, I don't see why we need to settle for any lesser evil. Evolutionary theory is less than 2 centuries old......................of COURSE it's gonna take a while to embed itself and compete with religious superstitions that possibly go back as far as a THOUSANDS of centuries (which if you are decent at math, is a few more than 2). What I'm sayin' is.....................so what, we're in a rough patch? Atheism is not some flash-in-the-pan trend that needs to be coddled, like Scientology or MGMT's career. It's basic logic. And besides, Islamic fundamentalists can be physically fought. I have a couple ribbons on my military uniform that say I'm supposedly fighting them right now, although that's up for debate. My point is that you can't fight fire with fire, unless you're that little bald kid from Avatar, in which case you'd have bigger things to worry about than Islamic terrorism. Like for instance, firing your agent and picking better scripts.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on all this?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

She smiles and melts all math and logic.......

ON AIR...........

It's okay, you can sit down if you need to, I understand how exciting this must be for everyone. Sandman has a new podcast! And he's, uhh.............he's by himself? WHY NOT!! Is it gonna be any good? WHO CARES!!! Just take the pill and ride the wave, people. We don't have much time.

The Basshead Jazz Podcast- Episode 1

Download Here


Lightspeed Champion- I Could Have Done This Myself
Local Natives- Wide Eyes
Queens of the Stone Age- Mexicola
Guided By Voices- Surgical Focus
Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Charlie Daniels- Ghost Riders on the Storm
Ian Brown- Keep What You Got
The Shins- Saint Simon
Cee-lo Green- You Don't Shock Me Anymore
Janelle Monae- Oh, Maker

Thank you for listening, seriously. Leave feedback and tips, large bills only. For all the old Speaker Madness fans, welcome back. To the new fans who have no idea what Speaker Madness was.............welcome to the shit.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Furthermore on the topic of time travel.........

Inspired by my last post.

Top 7 Women from the 1960's I would travel back in time and allow to fall in love with me

1. Ronnie Spector.

2. Lucille, the car-washing girl from Cool Hand Luke. Don't know her real name, but you know..........."Anything so innocent and built like dat just gotta be named Lucille." Word, Dragline. Word.

3. Pam Grier. Technically not a 60's star, but I would go back in time to get her pregnant in 1969, one year before her first movie. Why? Because I'm a selfish asshole.

4. Francoise Hardy.

5. Shirley McClaine. Mainly in the movie The Apartment.

6. Ruby Dee. Yes....Mother Sister. Contrary to popular belief, she wasn't always old. Back in all those old 50's and 60's flicks she seemed like a cool ass wife to have. Smart, sexy, and always a little sweaty for some unexplained reason.


The Time Traveler's Old Lady......

If (when) I get a time machine, the first thing I'll probably do is go back to 1965 and allow Ronnie Spector to fall in love with me. I figure I'll walk up to her and say something super cool like, "Hey baby, I can hear music...........in your pants!" See what I did? I took one of her famous songs, and made it about her vagina. That's pretty romantic. And if Phil Spector's little nerdy ass has anything to say about it I'll just punch him in his tiny chest and yell "FUTURE MURDERER" and run away, and everyone will be confused because it's 1965.

It's a working plan.

Editors Note: Yes, I realize Ronnie Spector is still alive. But now she's all old and blotchy and weird. At best, my love affair with her ends somewhere in the late 80's. So keep your smartass comments to yourself.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Everyone Lies, Nobody Minds..............

I've spent most of my life being annoyed by pretentious hipsters who almost pathologically lie when you ask them what movies/music they've been enjoying lately. They usually pull the most obscure local synth pop band that opened for New Order once in 1984, or some indie doc they claim they saw at some Palestinian film festival that never happened. In reality.........they've mostly just been listening to Jay-Z and watching America's Got Talent like everyone else. Maybe it's genetic, maybe it's habit, but they've developed this skill for building up their own legend with white lies.

I don't have that. At all.

Maybe it's out of spite of the aforementioned hipsters that I hate, but if you ask me what I've been watching and listening to lately, I'm gonna fucking tell you. For better or worse. Like now, I'll tell you straight up the last movie I watched was Land of the Lost with Will Ferrel (which I thought was hilarious), and as I type I've been listening to Cocteau Twins and Morrissey solo albums. The entire time. Pretty gay, right? See? You're already calling me a loser in your heads. Silently judging me. Even the name of this post came from Morrissey lyrics. So why the hell did I tell the truth? I could have said anything. I could have just as easily told you the last movie I watched was some newly restored Kurosawa masterpiece, and while I was typing I was listening to a Bob Dylan/Iggy Pop jam session bootleg that nobody knew existed but me (mainly because I just invented it, but also because it's INCREDIBLY RARE).

But I didn't. And that is the textbook definition of "honest to a fault". White lies can clearly help you look cool, but for some dumb reason I choose to opt out of coolness in the name of some misguided integrity.

Another example.

I watch the Turner Classic Movie channel. A lot. And not in some nostalgic "they don't make 'em like they used to!" kinda way. We've already established that I think post-Anchorman Will Ferrel movies are funny. Trust me, I don't own any high horses. I just watch a shitload of movies and have absolutely no filter for what is acceptable viewing. Old, new, foreign, whatever. It's all worth a try. And my late discovery of the miracle that is DVR technology has only made this unhealthy obsession worse. I'll press record on pretty much anything that sounds halfway interesting or features Sidney Poitier. The sad fact is that this means I end up watching an uncomfortable amount of musicals every month. I don't know if Ted Turner just has a soft spot for motherfuckers tap-dancing in kilts or what, but the regular programming schedule for any given week on TCM will lead you to believe that roughly 83% of all movies released from 1929 to 1959 were sweeping set-piece musicals.

Don't get me wrong...........not all of them are terrible. Road to Bali for instance, the old Bing Crosby/Bob Hope comedy, is pretty hilarious and dumb and I watch it anytime it's on. And I don't think anyone who's actually seen Singing In the Rain could bring themselves to say anything bad about it. It's a legitimate classic. But still............there's really no cool way to tell someone the last movie you watched involved choreographers and costumes. And yet, I put myself in that position more often than anyone should.

Most recently, I saw an old musical on TCM starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy called "New Moon". It's about a French revolutionary who escapes on a ship headed for New Orleans posing as a petty criminal to be sold into slavery. Falls in love with a wealthy debutante who owns a plantation. Becomes her man-servant in New Orleans. Reveals his identity when the French come looking for him. Leads a slave revolt. I know, it sounds boring. But it's really a fucking awesome movie, I promise. Well written, funny, action packed. There's one scene deep in the Louisiana swamp where Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald are singing to eachother romantically, and outta nowhere they get interrupted by this weird voodoo ritual involving slaves dancing around an ancient tree and calling to dead spirits, and it all can very easily be taken as racist or a product of the time in which the movie was made (1940)............but really it's a beautiful and haunting scene, no matter how you slice it.

Anyway, so it was a great movie and I enjoyed it. The next day at work (and remember, I'm in the military, I don't work in some curtain store where this kinda shit is acceptable) a friend of mine says "Hey Mike, you have pretty good taste in movies, what's the last one you watched?" Instead of doing what I should have done, which was lie my ass off, I said "Oh, last night I watched this one called New Moon". He says, "What.........that fucking Twilight vampire movie?" I had totally forgot that was even a thing. Never seen those movies. So I quickly corrected him, "Hell no, I don't watch that bullshit. No, this is an old movie from the 40's I saw on TCM, a musical about the french revolution." No sooner did the words leave my mouth than I realized this made me seem a million times gayer than if I HAD been watching Twilight, and had been literally drooling over Robert Pattinson in a room full of teenage girls. While licking an oversized candy lollipop.

So my mid-year's resolution is to be a liar from now on. And next time when you ask me what I'm listening to on my Ipod and I tell you Black Sabbath or Clipse, please don't grab the headphones and call me on it, cuz neither of us will feel comfortable when the truth comes out.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The late, late blues............

I've been pretty busy lately what with HAVING THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN THE WORLD and all. I also took the 3rd class petty officer exam last week, which I only realize now that I've typed it all out on the screen is of absolutely no interest whatsoever to anyone on planet earth. If I pass, I move up a rank, that's all you need to know. But I have still been faithfully reading a book a week. Here's a quick rundown of the last 4 weeks..............

"The Artificial White Man" by Stanley Crouch

Probably the most talented "black intellectual" when it comes to pure novelistic prose, he also manages to be the most controversial, just because he has the nuts to point out that gangster rap might be full of overblown stereotypes of murderers and whores. As a rapper, and a kid who grew up on gangster rap, do I agree? Well................yeah. It's kinda hard not to. Especially when he writes like this.............

"As people of the western hemisphere, we are a mix and a mess and given to reinventing something more important than the truth, which is the poetry of our connections, above and below, in the heavens and the sewers, the happy blues, the plaintive blues, and the hilarious blues."


Anyway, the book is a collection of essays on race and authenticity in popular american cutlure, and I highly recommend it. Whether you agree with him or not, if you are not reading Stanley Crouch, you are wrong.

"Pygmy" by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck's last 5 or 6 books have gotten mixed reviews at best, if not universally bad ones. Sometimes it has been warranted (Haunted, Snuff), and other times it has not (Rant, Lullaby). And yet we still all race out to read anything he puts out, which has to say something about the guy. Either way Pygmy is no exception to the mixed reviews.....critics and readers have been pretty dismissive of it so far. But I have to say, I loved it. I thought it was his best book since Invisible Monsters. And it's probably his funniest book, period. It has a real slapstick feel to it, mixed in with the usual Palahniuk topics.............you know............anal rape, zombie consumerism, and love.

The plot follows Pygmy, a foreign exchange student from an unnamed asian communist regime, who is secretly a member of an impending terrorist plot against the United States. Pygmy speaks a broken english, which to some can come off as borderline racist, but if you just let go and accept the joke premise it's really hilarious and impressive how Palahniuk uses this speech pattern to play with prose. Pygmy sees nothing but evil and ugly in Americans and their culture, especially his host family. Much of the story takes place in three settings that even to the most staunch patriots could be seen as the biggest representations of anything and everything wrong with America............walmart, church, and high school. But Pygmy doesn't see Americans as frigid right-wing puritans. The America he sees is a world where high schools are unsupervised orgies, and batteries are in short supply because all the oversexed adults walk around with sex toys lodged inside them.

Even with all the judgment being passed on western culture, make no mistake............this is not Fight Club 2. Whereas in Fight Club you felt like Palahniuk was, for better or worse, assaulting you with his own personal views, in Pygmy you get these high-minded socialist rants from a brainwashed terrorist fresh from the reeducation camps, and you never feel that it's Palahniuk speaking through the character. In a weird backhanded way, this is a very pro-american book.

"A Man Without a Country"- Kurt Vonnegut

No explanation needed really. The genius of the second half of the 20th century talks about stuff, and things.

"More Information Than You Require"- John Hodgeman

If you don't know who John Hodgeman is, you are missing out. He's probably most known as the "PC" in the PC vs Mac commercials, opposite Justin Long. He also is a regular contributor on the Daily Show, which is a pretty good representation of his style of humor. Nerdy. This is a sequel to his first book, "The Areas of My Expertise", which was basically a book of fake facts written in the style of those old timey almanacs from the 1800's. But it's so much more than that, and you really have to read it for yourself to understand. Areas of My Expertise was by far the funniest book I have ever read. At the time I remember being amazed that one human being could fit that much hilariousness into every single page. Even the JACKET of the book was funny. Little did I know he had enough for a whole new book, and what's more he has hinted that this will be a trilogy.

I'm about halfway through the new one, and already it's even better than the first. So you can get a basic grasp on what kind of thing these books are filled with, here's Hodgeman's description of Ulysseys S. Grant, 18th president of the United States.............

"Financial scandals plagued the Grant administration, though historians debate how much Grant knew about it due to his fondness for whiskey and for not knowing things. We do know that when the robber baron Jay Gould proposed to take all of the nation's gold and hide it in his private mountain, he invited Grant to join his heist as a grappling-hook man. But Grant declined. His skill with a grappling hook may have won the Civil War, but he was not corrupt. He saw the White House as a brief chance at drunken peace and an opportunity to work on his many hobbies, such as throat cancer."

That's just a random passage I picked. Seriously, get both books immediately if you haven't read them yet.

I'll try to stay on top of the blog now that I have some free time again.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Week 5- Paper Tigers

This week I read "The Book of Lost Books" by Stuart Kelly...........

The title says it all, it's a loose and wildly speculative journey through the history of what could have been, books that are either lost forever or were never completed. Instead of making it a straight-forward list of individual books, Kelly has the chapters broken down by author, starting with Homer and ending in the 20th century, which gives him a lot more leg-room. And he kicks a lot. Some chapters are about one lost book, some about multiple. Often a chapter will be less about a book than the circumstances of the author's life that led to it being lost, in particular those that were censored or burned. In these cases, the political and social atmosphere surrounding the author is, admittedly, much more interesting than whatever fiction might have survived. The result is a series of biographies chopped to shreds, with only the most insane and eccentric parts of the authors' lives left in.

The big surprise for me in reading this was that Stuart Kelly is such a wonderful writer himself. I mean, this is essentially a toilet-book for literature nerds, so it's not like he had to be too poetic about it. He could have easily just let the stories speak for themselves. But at times it's hard not to notice that his own style and prose is better even than the author he's covering. Kelly is consistently witty, with the kind of dense flowing vocabulary you would expect from a veteran novelist, not a first-time amateur historian.

The biggest problem I had with the book also concerns Kelly's style, though. Halfway through the book it started to bother me that he has a kind of balls-out final authority about every topic. The tone he presents is basically "THIS is how it was, no matter what hundreds of historians have written about these people over centuries, what I say now about them is law." He has a habit of belittling biographers, for what seems to be the purpose of propping up his own (more interesting, maybe) version of events in an author's life that contradict a popular consensus. When you take into account the fact that most biographers are fanatic experts of the personalities they write about, it's hard not to find more than a little egomania in the picture Kelly paints of them as naive and lazy.

But at the end of the day, that's a small criticism for such an interesting and unique piece of work. Kelly's enthusiasm for the topic bleeds through the pages, and if you share even a fraction of his love of reading then you will love it. Personally I got excited just to learn that something like this even existed. And you can, if you want, treat this as a toilet-book, skipping around the vignettes in any order you please.

One point that Kelly constantly hammers home is that, given the long history of wars between nations, natural disasters, and self-destructive tendencies of authors themselves, it's a downright miracle that any of our greatest literature exists at all. After reading this book, it's hard to disagree, and even harder to not harbor a little more appreciation for the rest of your bookshelf as well.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Week 3.......and 4. Sue me.

Okay, what had happened was............

I work a lot. I'm a Navy air traffic controller. There's gonna be some weeks when I literally have no free time whatsoever, from sunrise until midnight. Last week was one of those times, and so the book I was reading necessarily spilled over into this week. To make up for it, I read another one in a day. So technically, I read two books in two weeks. That's called math, folks.

Sometimes you come across a book that changes the way you look at the world. It might not be life-changing in the sense of some college student reading Ishmael and being inspired to eat leaves and grow douchebag dreadlocks. Maybe it just changes the way you think about a certain period in history, or challenges what you thought you knew about a topic. The first book I read was one of those experiences for me. It was Neil Postman's "The Disappearance of Childhood", an amazing and entertaining piece of pop scholarship that deserves it's own Ken Burn's documentary. I really can't say enough good things about this book.

Like I said, the revelations I had reading this aren't of the kind that are gonna change my daily life in any way, they weren't some dramatic Deepak Chopra epiphany............but it was a huge paradigm shift for me in the terms of how I view children, childhood, and the history of western culture. I just always took for granted that childhood and human nature were a package deal. That the idea of childhood had always been here, in the same conceptual form it is now. But Postman argues (very persuasively) that the modern concept of childhood has NOT always been with us, that children were NOT always viewed as a special and separate class of people apart from adults, and finally, that the concept is on the decline once again thanks to mass media treatment of children as both consumers and sexual beings (ie: kiddie pageants).

His basic thesis is that the age of the printing press ushered in a new kind of knowledge, and that the ability to read and write became a cultural line in the sand between adults and children, something that didn't exist prior to that time. He gives evidence that before the printing press came along, children were viewed as "little adults". For example there was no such thing as children's clothes, and regardless of age children were not shielded from grown-up talk about sex, death, curse words, and anything else that we say "earmuffs" for today. There was no public school system before the printing press, and so kid's went to work at a much (MUCH) earlier age.

And that's just the first chapter. I'll let you read the book for the rest of the "journey of childhood" and why Postman believes it is declining.

The book did leave me with my doubts...........I mean, it's a little difficult to imagine that there was NO concept of childhood as we view it today prior to the 17th century, when every museum I've ever been to features wooden toys and dolls from virtually every time period in human history, going back to ancient african, native american and mayan civilizations. I mean, I would think that the idea of a toy itself points to some separation between adult and child. But the book mainly defines childhood as those ages between 7 and 17, so maybe it's a moot point anyway.

I highly, highly recommend this book. It's one of the most fascinating non-fiction books I've read in a very long time.

The second book I read...........or in this case, re-read............is a personal favorite of mine. "Mao II" by the ridiculously talented Don Delillo.

I'll say it, I think the guy is a certified genius. His way with words is unequaled in modern American writers, followed closely only by Tom Robbins and Cormac McCarthy at their best. And even they would have a hard time digging as deeply into the human condition as Dellilo does with one paragraph from any of his classic novels (Libra, White Noise, the list goes on).

Mao II is my favorite book by Delillo, and this is my second time reading it. Ostensibly it tells the story of a reclusive writer struggling to finish his long-awaited third novel. But between the lines it's a rumination on the nature of genius, art, terrorism, terrorism as art, and maybe most of all, mobs and crowds and cults as social phenomena. From the first page onward this book digs into your gray matter and doesn't let go, and I don't think any other novel has more deeply influenced my own writing, or at least ambitions of writing.

Check both of these books immediately.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book-A-Week-A-Thon-Fest...........Week 2: the Weekening

You like what I did there?

So for week 2, I grabbed somethin' from my large library of unread books I've bought over the years, or as I like to call it, the hall of great financial decisions. This is what I just finished reading.............

The cover says "a novel", but really it's a collection of short stories by Neil Jordan, including Night in Tunisia.

Now, I'm a fan of Neil Jordan as a filmmaker. Michael Collins, The Brave One, and of course The Crying Game, which was only recently dethroned as the ultimate haha-you-watched-a-gay-movie movie by Brokeback Mountain. In my opinion, Mona Lisa with Bob Hoskins is one of the most underrated flicks of all time. So Jordan is cool with me. But I had never read any of his fiction before, and barely was even aware that he was known as an author, until sometime last year when I found this collection of short stories at a goodwill. But I never got around to reading it. So now I read it.

I was not very impressed.

It's not that he's a horrible writer..............although he is incredibly pretentious and definitely clunky with prose. But he's still not horrible. He knows how to paint a vivid picture and build believable characters. The main problem I had with his stories is not his technique. It's that as a writer, he is (and I know this will come as a shock based on his filmmaking career) obsessed with sex. And not in the guilty pleasure "who/what will Chuck Palahnuik make his characters fuck next" kinda way. In a really awkward "what does this have to do with anything" kinda way. To illustrate this, I've come up with a few examples of what a normal fiction passage may look like, next to how Neil Jordan might write the same passage.

Normal Passage:

"It was then on his deathbed that he realized how much he loved the girl, his only daughter, and as they held hands he knew she would one day become a kind woman in spite of his absence."

Neil Jordan Version:

"It was then on his deathbed that he realized how much he loved the girl, his only daughter, and as he saw her growing breasts he knew she would one day be a woman. And like all other women she would find that after years of dancing at the town pub for any and all sexual attention, her eyes would soon show the deadness that he was about to feel in mere moments."

Normal Passage:

"The boy rode the horse on the beach."

Neil Jordan Version:

"The boy rode the horse on the beach, fully erect."

You get the idea. Dude likes to color his commentary with unnecessary filth flarn filth. And the few times when it's NOT unnecessary, it's usually because the entire story itself is about awkward sex.

The book also contains the original screenplay of The Crying Game, which I skipped partly because I've already seen the movie, but mostly because I'm not Brian fuckin' Grazer. What do I need with a screenplay? When I read a story I don't wanna know where the camera pans, followed by 8 pages of straight dialogue.

Sandman exits room.

Blog page slowly fades to black, with Danny Elfman score.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Reading is fun......damental.........ly gay

Last year a friend of mine, a school teacher from Wisconsin named Mike Strusz (whose blog can be found here) made a goal in 2009 to read a book a week for the whole year, 52 in total. According to him he came up 13 short from his goal, but that's still nothin' to sneeze at*.

Now,.........I read a lot. Too much, according to my wife everytime she stares blankly at the full bookshelf in her living room, fantasizing about all the other things she wishes were there instead. I don't think there's been a time in the last 6-7 years when I wasn't in the middle of a book. Once I'm done with one, I pick up another the same day. Sometimes I will even read a whole book in one day. But mostly "reading a book" means I've been reading 3 pages a day of some Graham Greene novel exclusively on the toilet for 2 months. So even for an avid reader like me, 52 books in a year is a lofty goal.

It would have been especially lofty if I would have tried it in 2009, a year the majority of which I spent in boot camp or Navy A-school, places where outside literature is treated the same as a bottle of Jim Beam in 1920's Chicago. Coincidentally, Navy boot camp is also in Chicago. It's like that city can't function unless it's prohibiting shit.

At any rate, Mr. Strusz has made the same goal for 2010, and since I have a lot more free time now that I'm done with training and out in the mythical fleet, I can finally attempt to run this nerd marathon with him.

So, I'm startin' the first week off with a book from my favorite cynical conservative irish asshole (more than enough of those out there for me to choose a favorite) P.J. O'Rourke.

"Eat The Rich" is his hilarious take on Economics, with chapter titles like "How (or how not) to reform (maybe) an economy (if there is one)". He traveled pretty extensively to research this book, and uses some obvious countries as extreme examples of economic situations. The breakdown is something like this:

Good capitalism- United States
Bad capitalism- Albania
Good socialism- Sweden
Bad socialism- Cuba

O'Rourke is a libertarian and unapologetically pro-capitalism, as any sane person should be, but he really doesn't pull any more punches from the US than he does from Cuba, Sweden, or Russia. The overall thesis of the book seems to be "nobody knows what the hell they're talking about when it comes to economics, including the experts". I'm about 2/3rds of the way through it, and it might be O'Rourke's best book, which is saying something for the guy who wrote a book called "Parliament of Whores", maybe the best analysis of the fucked up Washington DC party power structure ever written. I still quote that book.

So every week on the blog from now on I'll post what book I read, and a quick review of it.

*Unless you're a dapper dan 1940's TV ad executive, or a crusty old black delta bluesman named "Smokestack Willie", nobody should ever use the phrase "nothin' to sneeze at" as frequently as I do.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Onward through the fog and whatnot...........

Well.............it was a good decade, folks. Maybe not for you. But nobody wants to hear your stupid problems. This blog is about me and my incredible life. A time capsule, if you will, to be discovered in the future by aliens or Viggo Mortenson. And for me it was a good decade. I did what every American white male does in their teens and early 20's.........made a shitload of rap albums.

I also did other far less interesting things, like get married and have children. BOOOORING. Somewhere in between there I went to disneyworld too, I think.

I was a lot of things in the 00's. A fast food fry flipper, a photographer, a semi-successful semi-underground local rapper, a TX state employee, and most recently an air traffic controller in the US Navy. All of which put me in places I probably had no business being. As a state employee I frequently took "bathroom breaks" and snuck my way into Senate sessions, chillin' in the mezzanine looking about as out of place as Pat Buchanan at a Quincenera. As an usher for the Frank Erwin Center, I got to watch UT Longhorn football games ON the field, occasionally pretending to do my job. As a rapper I was able to open up for some of my childhood gangster rap heroes, like Bun B, Method Man, and the Hanson brothers. Don't ask me to explain that one. Now I spend my days in an air traffic control tower, telling planes full of people what to do, which should probably scare you into driving wherever you travel from now on.

I've lived in many places this decade. Austin, Jacksonville, Ship 11 in Great Lakes Navy boot camp, Pensacola, and Nevada. Coincidentally all places where far too many rednecks are walking around with guns.

In conclusion, I sincerely hope the 2010's bring us many new and exciting things. New friendships, inspiring art, better relations between cultures and nations, and............you know...............robots we can have sex with.

Happy new year.