Holidays

…in limn of existential meanderings and peripatetic journeys to urban locales (extra-SF), all concerning the inevitable turkey-stuffing grandcentralstat point, as presented on an X-Y axis shakily scrawled upon a napkin (not unlike certain economic theories), placebo effect and drool req. for gorging and collapse and otherwise mature adults transfixed by cartoons (thank you dvd manufacturers for this nostalgia) that form a narcotic which is simultaneously return to childhood and recontextualization of original viewing. Some things to figure out:

1. Is Bugs Bunny the first animated transvestite and why do I find him mildly attractive?
2. Why are animations so enjoyable to watch shortly before gorging on a large meal?
3. Why does my itinerary resemble some third-rate lounge singer’s? And why am I not opening for some glockenspiel player in a dive bar?
4. They’ve jumped the gun again on Xmas. Again. Why do these atrocious carolers with their trumpets and drums sound as if they are playing nationalist anthems from Communist Yugoslavia? Who knew that “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” played at a middling and painfully slow timbre, conjured up a certain martial ode to Tito (not to be confused with this Tito, who I would not expect to consort with the Soviet Red Army)?

…the like.

Anyway, happy Turkey Day and all to Reluctant readers. Will return sometime next week.

Roundup

RIP Link Wray

Link Wray, the father of the power chord, has died. The man who launched a million punk and metal bands through a staggeringly simple concept: top string at set fret, second to top string two frets down. Slide finger formation up and down with sharp strikes of plectrum, feed through loud Marshall amp. Repeat until you stumble upon wonderful noisy song.

Had not Wray come up with this magical concept, I would never have enjoyed so many hours in garages and basements with other like-minded goofballs as a teenager. (Some of the songs I penned during that period include “The Last of My Kind” and “The Cat Must Die.”) Thank you, Mr. Wray, for democratizing rock and roll for those of us whose grasp of pentatonic scales were shaky at best.

The Head Cheese

It’s criminal that it’s taken me this long to stumble across the covers of the appropriately named Richard Cheese. Anyone audacious enough to record a cheery lounge version of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” (“This one’s for the ladies!”) has my immediate respect. That cover (along with covers of Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains,” the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Suck My Kiss,” and even the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia”) appears on Cheese’s first album Lounge Against the Machine. It’s difficult to say whether Cheese is reacting to the doom and gloom embedded within indie pop or he’s celebrating the declasse environment of lounge. Either way, Cheese’s music is cheery, unapologetically politically incorrect and genuinely goofy — provided you can live with own ethical conscience while enjoying his music.

Play

The Bat Segundo Show #14

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Concerned with time and elusive apocalypses.

Subjects Discussed: Mysteries, Susan Isaacs, Zoe Heller, the specific details of murder, inexplicable shame and guilt among the Marina crowd, diapers vs. cloth, whether Matt Lauer should be peed on, the inversion of tough-guy dialogue, first-person voice, observational novels, chicklit, dismissive husbands, the “Free to Be You and Me” generation, feminism, the Young, Roving Correspondent (and other men) perplexed by pink covers, attracting male audiences to chicklit, perspective, the New York Times, Margaret Atwood, Uglydolls, Ann Coulter, Caitlin Flanagan, nannies and motherhood, plotting, Stephen King, the ideal motorized vehicle to be run over by, hands shaking, wedgies, pink book covers, Anne Rice, editorial battles over human moments, Jonathan Franzen, penises, the In Her Shoes film adaptation, Toni Collette, the inexplicable science of film advertising, on writing books that offer consistent messages of happiness, responding to criticism about the People hot tub photo shoot, the next book, closeness to narrative voices, Tony Danza, the dense talk show bookers, Book TV, Jezebel Bright and the influence of manga.

Play

Dawn of the Music

This probably only means something to you if you are either obsessed with music cues or as fanatical as I am about George Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, but these guys have tracked down all the non-Goblin incidental tracks from the movie and thrown them onto an album. (And, incidentally, this may relate in part to the next Segundo show, which should go up tonight.)

In Short, God Dictates That Marital Conflicts Are Best Resolved by Fucking Your Spouse’s Brains Out

Mr. Jared Wilson may be my sworn rival, but this link of his is too unintentionally hilarious to pass up. Under “2. A Sexually fulfilled husband is a scriptural mandate.” (directed to women):

If the marriage is a satisfied one, both parties will see the other’s side. The man may realize his wife needs her sleep and, because of his love for her, lets her get that sleep. Or the wife may sacrificially decide that giving her body with joy to her husband is more important than those few minutes of slumber.

Some of these interludes, although they may start off rocky, can end up being great. But in so many marriages, when a spouse gets turned down, the seeds of bitterness are planted to the point where, later that day, the wife asks the husband to go to the grocery store and he says, “No, I can’t.”

“Why not? You’re just watching the game.”

“I’m busy.”

“You don’t look busy.”

“I don’t care what I look like, I’m busy.”

What’s going on here?

It’s a delayed reaction. Admittedly, while it’s a cheap shot, it happens all the time. The husband thinks, If she turns me down, I’ll turn her down.

And there’s this advice directed to men:

Good sex is an all-day affair. You can’t treat your wife like a servant and expect her to be eager to sleep with you at night. Your wife’s sexual responsiveness will be determined by how willingly you help out with the dishes, the kids’ homework, or that leaky faucet that drips.

This is difficult for many men to understand, in large part because we remove sex from every other part of our life. We think sex fixes things on its own—but it doesn’t do that for a woman. The context, the history, the current level of emotional closeness—all that directly affects your wife’s desire and enjoyment of sexual relations. A good lover works just as hard outside the bedroom as he does inside it.

Husbands, do you want a wife who has less stress, who’s more appreciative and respectful of you? Learn what pleases her sexually.

Who knew that Eisenhower-era views of marriage and sexual “empowerment” could all be tied together in one happy bow of naive resolution? Whacked out, to say the least.

Yes, You Too Might Be Running a Site Relating to Personal and Social Alienation

Haggis received an email. Things that come to mind:

1. What Google criteria did this Zolen Caro enthusiast use to pinpoint “sites related to personal and social alienation?

2. How is any site “trustworthy, linguistically clever and regularly visited,” much less gauged as such? Furthermore, what gets a young man to use such hilariously juxtaposed adverbs? (The influence of Tom Swifties?)

3. Since when does a hyperlink have an expiration date? I had no idea that there was a quid pro quo involved with casual linkage.

4. If anyone can help categorize this website under a completely baffling rubric by Google standards, I would greatly appreciate their advice.

Smoking Songs

Jeff is, quite bravely, quitting smoking. Having started and stopped many times myself and knowing the terrible feelings of nicotine withdrawal and the resultant brain fog, and wanting to see Jeff live on this planet a few extra years, I fully support his decision. Those who would rail against smoking, generally not having smoked themselves, usually have no concept of what quitting smoking entails. But to give you a sense of what it feels like, it involves the entire body screaming at all hours of the day, “I want a cigarette,” and the mind using all of its powers to resist these far from petty impulses. It involves escaping out of routines that were once thought casual but are now discovered to be terribly ingrained and deadly reminders of the previous smoking state (a cigarette after a meal, a cigarette after work, the like) and, if you’re a writer who smokes, it takes considerable time for the brain to adjust to the now nicotine-less environment. Little accident that quitting smoking is often described by methadone patients as “more addictive than heroin.”

Former smokers are often expected to go up against these far from comfy impulses alone, sometimes with the support of friends and family who may not fully comprehend what the smoker is in for. Current society, which is remarkably olfactory and teeth-conscious in the American theatre, would dictate that a certain “tough love” policy should exist. For smokers are often considered to be rapacious addicts who do not even possess beating ventricles. They must, as they snap their head like Gollum at the sight of the Ring, endure other people who smoke cigarettes and the persistent threat of addiction, not permitting themselves to cave into the impulse of “just one.” Even when they have applied patches and nicotine gum.

It seems amusing to me that all of the so-called antismoking PSAs and the like not only fail to understand the problem from the smoker’s perspective, but are punitive in their intent. They give the smoker messages of disapproval, disinterring grainy video images of Yul Brynner telling people not to smoke as he is dying of cancer or, at the more grotesque end of the spectrum, a woman who inserts a cigarette into her tracheotomy opening. I would suggest that a smoker, perhaps silently humiliated by these images, is more inclined to rebel against these disapproving commercials, lighting up rather than staying off the butts, simply because the tone of these commercials transforms smoking into some grisly and over-the-top visual, rather than the commonplace activity that it is. These commercials fail to convey reality to their intended audience. Outside of any bar, you will find habitues firing up their Marlboro Lights with sequential brio. The addiction is treated like a sad, intensely personal thing (it is that and much more) that the recovering smoker can only effect their recovery with a bootstraps mentality that has much in common with the cruel way American government treats the working poor.

Not one of these commercials points out the positive results of not smoking, such as the return of taste and smell after three days. Nor do they note that breathing improves, that sex is better and that a lover’s smell transforms from pleasant to divine. Nor do they point out that the five dollars or so put into cigarettes a day adds up to $1,825/year — truly a colossal savings if the now recovering smoker were to put the money they would spend on cigarettes into a jar. I would suggest that advertisements striking these hopeful notes would perform greater good among the populace at large.

But to get back to Jeff, I’m happy that he’s found another mechanism to contend with the terrible withdrawal he’s no doubt feeling right now. He’s putting together a song list of songs that concern the last cigarette and the like. If you have some ideas, do indeed help the man out.

Bad Poetry Unearthed While Cleaning

The following poem was found while reorganizing some papers. It was written by me circa 2002, it is bad and silly, clearly a desperate effort to imitate Ginsberg, and, most importantly, it saves me from actually having to compose a blog entry. As more bad poetry crops up, I will be post it here. However, to get the full effect of its awfulness, I have recorded an audio version (MP3).

Crystal droplets collide beneath interminable recesses
Ruby flowing ‘gainst untouched crack vials
Amphetamine fury dappling touching his hard physique
Fortified by the Almighty Dollar, corrupt Christian sentiments
The narcotic sting of empathy abandoned
His soul left in a shoebox, his heart sutured sewn sayonara

Bleeding after thirty he an’t be trusted
Encapsulated Capulet, entranced traitor
Sense of the commons, house whored away by ambition
He weeps, reaching for a sole bottle of Walker
Enmeshed engorged obliterated mirrored by the declivity
Corroding his bedside manner

He hopes his character will migrate to a milk carton
Lost in a cubicle farm, loved solely by cardboard
Cunctating coasting before the fllint struck forty

Then She entered. He didn’t ask for a save
Her etioliated skin sucked moonlight like second hand smoke
He asked her questions long short tricky
But her ghostly lips stayed crisp sounding invitations
Beckoning him to a graveyard of lust pulses
The Juliet abandoned held his dainty hand

[NOTE: Thankfully, at this point, it appears that I abandoned the poem, perhaps because of the ridiculous deus ex machina at the end.]

Play

NOCCA in Trouble

Richard Grayson alerts me to current predicament faced by the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). Under Louisiana State Legislature HB156, a cost-cutting measure hoping to balance funds after the impact of Katrina, NOCCA, one of the most pivotal educational institutions for the arts, will be left hung out to dry. The legislative session ends on Monday. So get your phone calls and emails sent off to the following people and urge them to reconsider this bill:

Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco
(866) 366-1121,
fax (225) 342-7099
email through www.gov.state.la.us

Diana Bajoie
websen@legis.state.la.us
(504) 568-7760

Francis C. Heitmeier
heitmeirf@legis.state.la.us
(504) 361-6014

Some Preposterous Things Written by Lev Grossman

It’s official. Lev Grossman is the Uwe Boll of the book reviewing world.

ARTICLE IN QUESTION: “The American Tolkien” (via Locus)

1. “George R.R. Martin is fond of sudden reversals.”

Isn’t every author? It’s called irony.

2. “[T]his is as good a time as any to proclaim him the American Tolkien.”

Why? Because there are no more Lord of the Rings films to look forward to?

3. “an unstable amalgamation of nations caught in the act of vigorously ripping itself to shreds”

Someone needs a copy editor.

4. “Martin shoots the action from many angles.”

Yo, Lev, this ain’t a movie. It’s a book.

5. “Martin may write fantasy, but his politik is all real.”

Since “politik” itself doesn’t exist as a word of its own (perhaps he intended “politick”), the gag’s a bust.

6. “In the wrong hands, a big ensemble like this can be deadly.”

In the wrong hands, a review like this can be unintentionally hilarious.

7. “Martin has an astonishing ability to focus on epic sweep and tiny, touching human drama simultaneously.”

I suppose what Lev meant here is that Martin can on one hand tango on an epic scale, while concentrating on small moments a little later. This is not “simultaneous” by any measure, but might have something to do with these interesting units called paragraphs which must be carefully ordered to balance narrative. But since any good epic novelist is doing this, how does this make Martin “astonishing?” It seems to me that the man’s only doing his job as a storyteller. This is hardly miraculous at all. It comes with the territory. You don’t see professors handing out blue ribbons to MFAs every time they get subect-verb agreement right.

8. “Martin’s wars are multifaceted and ambiguous, as are the men and women who wage them and the gods who watch them and chortle, and somehow that makes them mean more.”

Lev Grossman has one, and only one, novelistic viewpoint that he can recognize. And that’s the whole idea of dualities being perceived in one “simultaneous” blur, without any attempt on Grossman’s part to parse things in even a vaguely structuralist way. Further, it should be clear even to a blindfolded and trigger-happy gunsmith that “multifaceted and ambiguous” characters probably mean a lot more than one-dimensional and unambiguous.

9. “What really distinguishes Martin, and what marks him as a major force for evolution in fantasy, is his refusal to embrace a vision of the world as a Manichaean struggle between Good and Evil.”

This shows outright ignorance of the fantasy genre and religion, and is a preposterous sentence to boot. And again there’s Lev’s obsession with dualities. (Um, isn’t Manichaeism a dualist religion in which a all-powerful force of good does not exist. As a result, would this not discount the many mages, elves, wizards and other assorted characters known to shift continents and overturn campaniles?) As the works of M. John Harrison, China Mieville, Michael Moorcock and Kelly Link will attest, fantasy moved beyond these one-dimensional, black-and-white and often uninteresting milieus quite some time ago.

How Big of a Literary Geek Are You?

New meme. Bold the titles. You know the drill. (via this guy)

Here goes:

1. The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Douglas Adams
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four — George Orwell
.3. Brave New World — Aldous Huxley
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — Philip Dick
5. Neuromancer — William Gibson
6. Dune — Frank Herbert
7. I, Robot — Isaac Asimov
8. Foundation — Isaac Asimov
9. The Colour of Magic — Terry Pratchett
10. Microserfs — Douglas Coupland
11. Snow Crash — Neal Stephenson
12. Watchmen — Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
13. Cryptonomicon — Neal Stephenson
14. Consider Phlebas — Iain M Banks
15. Stranger in a Strange Land — Robert Heinlein
16. The Man in the High Castle — Philip K Dick
17. American Gods — Neil Gaiman
18. The Diamond Age — Neal Stephenson
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy — Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
20. Trouble with Lichen – John Wyndham

At Least They’re Not as Contentious as the Gallagher Brothers

The Goldberg brothers, hot on the heels of their Dean Koontz exposes, have taken over Beatrice’s confines this week. The idea of a pair of brothers taking over the litblogosphere appeals to our nihilistic sensibilities. So we may very well promote all future Goldberg Bros. appearances with half the zeal that we reserve for Jonathan Ames. Simply because we really like the sentence, “My Monk is recognizeable as the TV character but, in some ways, he’s my own Monk.” If only we had our own Monk to play with, to mould, and to otherwise do naughty things to, we’d be just as jocose. Oh well. There’s always Monk/The O.C. slash fan fiction for us. And the hell of it is that we’re neither Catholic nor OCD.

Okay, Cigarettes Are Evil, But This is Getting Ridiculous

EXHIBIT A: Clement Hurd author photo retouched. “HarperCollins said it made the change to avoid the appearance of encouraging smoking and did so with the permission of the illustrator’s estate. But Mr. Hurd’s son, also a children’s book illustrator and author, said he felt pressured to allow it.” (See also Mr. Beck’s hilarious ode.)

EXHIBIT B: Reuters: “The attorneys general of 32 states are asking Hollywood’s major movie studios to place an anti-smoking announcement on DVDs, videos and other home entertainment products to combat teen tobacco use.”

Why should art and cultural heritage be modified or affixed with warnings to “protect” people? We have no problem accepting Falstaff as a loyal companion who has imbibed too much sack. We have no problem glorifying guns (which frankly I find more evil than cigarettes) in action blockbusters. No warnings there. No digital erasures of the bag of sack or the guns (well, save Spielberg’s “restored” E.T., but at least he was decent enough, unlike Lucas, to provide us with the original version).

So why should cigarettes be any different?

Not only does digital erasure or pre-movie warnings take away from a piece of art, but in some cases it utterly destroys it. Can you imagine, for example, Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party without the cigarettes? At one point, Beverly (played by Alison Steadman) browbeats the nonsmoking couple (Angela and Tony) to light up and it’s a brilliant revelation on how Beverly manipulates the people around her to serve her own ends and how susceptible the couple is when they’re trying, like most British middle-class people, to be polite at the most horrid party imaginable.

So leave the photos and the films alone. Let art go where it needs to go and stop imposing limits on what people can and cannot say. People can make those kind of decisions for themselves. Or is it now de rigueur to assume that most contemporary audiences are intellectually bankrupt?

Women Podcasters: Less XXX and More XX Please

Pinky’s Paperhaus attended the Podcasting Expo noting that only 15% of the people who showed up were women. She says the expo was “hype-y and ho-hum.” Why then is the realm of podcasting overwhelmingly male? This Wired article delves into the issue more, pointing out that even the president of Women in Technology International is a man. Further, podcaster Wendy Malley notes in the article, “I don’t know if a guy’s going to download that podcast. They’ll see that it’s two chicks and think, ‘I probably don’t want to hear a bunch of chick talk.'”

Bad enough that we have pejorative and often misleading labels like chick flicks and chick lit. Does this mean that we’ll see a slew of journos and bloggers badmouthing “chickcasts” as well?

Podcasting, I think, has demonstrated that it is less of a novelty and more of a viable possibility than it was a year ago. And I’m curious why women have been reluctant to take the mike and cement themselves in a low-cost medium that encourages alternative voices.

HOLY SHIT!

William Vollmann won the National Book Award for Europe Central. Way to go, Vollmann. It is about time that Mr. Vollmann’s incredible output be recognized.

Between this and Banville winning the Booker, part of me wonders if there is some karmic conspiracy amongst the West Coast litbloggers and these awards.

When Vollmann accepted the award, he said, “I thought I’d lose, so I didn’t prepare a speech.” Ron has a first-hand account of the many “Oh my Gods” shouted over this unexpected win. But what’s also interesting is that many of the news outlets are putting Didion’s nonfiction victory for The Year of Magical Thinking over Vollmann’s win.

BBC: “Didion and Mailer win book prizes.”

Boston Globe: “Didion wins nonfiction Book Award.”

Reuters: “Top US nonfiction prize goes to Joan Didion.”

If Mary Gaitskill or Christopher Sorrentino had won instead of Vollmann, would they have received such secondary billing? Well, likely, given that Didion is the grand dame of nonfiction. But it’s interesting that the coverage, which has in past years valued the fiction winner over the nonfiction winner, has done just the reverse.

Other winners included poet W.S. Merwin for Migration. Merwin has been nominated for seven other awards, but had not won. Jeanne Birdsall won the young people’s literature award for The Penderwicks.

For more information on Vollmann, check out the Vollmann Club.

[UPDATE: And more here from Sarah, noting that the “minor surprise” or the “unsurprising” reactions that seem to have been reported after the fact (Vollmann won? Oh shit! Get that gun-toting nut off Page E1 because middle America isn’t interested in him. And, for god’s sake, play up Didion! Everyone loves Joan!) were very much not in evidence at the actual awards ceremony.]

[UPDATE 2: With associations of Merwin dancing in his head, Litkicks describes the 1975 dustup between Ginsberg and Merwin.]

[UPDATE 3: A good writeup by the Book Standard folks: “Vollmann began his acceptance speech about ten feet to the right of the microphone, and had to be shepherded over by an attendant. Still, in a tuxedo that looked several sizes too big for him, he came off quite charming, saying that he hadn’t expected to win, and so hadn’t prepared a speech, which, from the confused content of his thanks, appeared, for once, to be true….Vollmann’s win, then, may have been in part a big fat raspberry directed at the people who hoped the award would go to someone who sells.”

Wells Done

I can’t find a specific permalink, but it looks as if Jeffrey Wells somehow scored an interview with the highly reclusive Terence Malick back in 1995 and he’s posted the results. If you thought David Foster Wallace was antsy about interviews, he’s got nothing on Malick.

Incidentally, this Sunday Wells is also starting up a live, twice-weekly Internet radio show called Elsewhere Live. Again, no direct link. But apparently there will be a red light that will permit visitors to listen. Wells insists that this isn’t a podcast (strangely enough, Dennis Loy Johnson also eschews that term), but I certainly hope Wells keeps some archives. It’s incredible to see so many figures embracing Internet audio like this.