Sunday, December 19, 2010

FreeDarko's New Book Is the 801: It Is the Central Shaft

FreeDarko's New Book Is the 801: It Is the Central Shaft

We made it. We won.

0. By way of an introduction

Back when Reviewiera was a going concern, we loved us some pro basketball. Over the years, the Tinzeroes-hometown Blazers went from insane congeries to dull competence to injury-dominated semi-tragedy; a trajectory only sensical when plotted on axes of time advancing and relevance declining, as they now slot niftily into unfathomably stock narratives of opportunity equally missed and denied. I moved to Oakland, where the Warriors' appeal is that of miso: a thin soup that may nourish but will never satisfy. And yet, though I'm undeniably estranged from the league these days, and from the game herself, there is that with which I must contend, always: premierishly, FreeDarko: an collective.

Fat Lever

We've made no bones about that in the middle of the last decade, Bill Simmons and FreeDarko male-enhanced our NBAppreciative endeavours; indeed they seem twinned/entwined--though perhaps this is merely an artifact of (my) biography: one would churlishly negate any connect, the other, having fucking well won the war, modestly, modishly, shyly withdraws to the unassailable fortress (Mt. Critical Acclaim? only partly--mostly it's Mt. Fuck, We're Like a Lot Smarter Than This Guy) of the high ground. And yet I still have trouble reading one without the other. Often I want to call one punk, the other metal: Simmons:Metallica::FreeDarko:Nirvana, but this is likely inapt. Christgau/Bangs, perhaps, one airily contextual, issuing forth pronuncianatos, the other doubling back, changing position and revising claims, listening--always listening--and seeming actually interested in both the matter under discussion and the world as such. All this is oblique strategy (at best).

But the point: there's now room for both. That Simmons is now the de facto mainstream1 represents a real, and qualitative, change from before, say, 2001 or -2.3 Think of Hunter Thompson's off-the-cuff hit piece on sportswriting of the Grantland Rice school4, a school, that, when it comes to roundball, seems now without an exponent. Or anyways 'tis in eclipse.5 To come with a brutally apt pun: though Simmons is now the establishment, FreeDarko is at least thoroughly established.

0.5 May I disclosure?

  1. I still:
    • read skim Simmons
    • check in on the occasional podcast (depending upon guest/mood/whim/degree to which work has flayed & denuded soul & spirit)
    • find him unutterably lazy
    • recognize he's trying to get away from writing as such and transition into other mediums (& good luck to you, sir)
    • can't remember the last thing he did I actually cared about or that made me laugh/think--okay, the Elgin Baylor piece and the Donald Sterling article6
    • acknowledge the power of the gesture he made to anoint Kareem the 2nd-best player of all's time
      But note! That gesture's potency depends precisely upon the extent that 1 is familiar with his shtick: a face turn only works when you bought the character as a heel.
  2. I have been an occasional gadfly of the FreeDarko cats. The time Shoals told me "I actually think I hate you, Fat." thrilled and sickened me (srsly: I was horripilated & my stomach was weird all day that day) and I think comecleanwise I should explicit the following: I think that:
    • I consider them [FD] to be fellow travellers of ours [R]
    • they prolly think I'm a (n old) putz who often misses the point7
    • I only ever argued with them because I was so impressed by their project (and their product). And, occasionally I would beak them b/c I found their analyses genuinely lacking or problematic; mostly of course I was jealous and slay-the-fatherish, which they gracefully never called me on.

1. Reviewing The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, 2010, FreeDarko High Council, Bloomsbury: New York

A person could say

"saying 'we made it; we won' really amounts to saying the once-revolutionary FreeDarko maxims of (1) Liberated Fandom + (2) style/psychology have both become axioms (viz, of fandom)"
without being wrong.

So now here's this book.

(I didn't read the first.) Partly I acquired it because, fuck, when one of your peers hits, you gotta support that shit. (YES I usually pay to see my friends' bands--call me an idiot if you will: I care not.) Partly as a look back as I walk (finally?) away from basketball.

It's a history, and it's a good one. If you're steeped in lore, it'll seem like a sherpa-guided trek through mainly peaks, high point after high point indicated, depths and valleys nodded allusively to but rarely penetrated. I claim I am steeped in lore. 1 year we moved and we knew we were moving again after that year, (so) I had/made no friends & would go afternoons to the downtown Reno library & read their entire shelf of basketball books, including, among the ones used by FreeDarko, Willis Reed's, Halberstam's epoch-defining The Breaks of the Game and the gave-me-a-chill-to-see-namechecked God, Man, and Basketball Jones--which I discovered only recently had Charly "Phil's Axes to Grind" Rosen's imprimatur.

Like any guide, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will invariably occasionally baffle or infuriate a native.

  • With full, rich sections devoted to both Charles Barkley and the 1992 Dream Team, it's unfathomable that nowhere is it noted that Barkley--not Bird, Magic, Jordan--was the dominant performer on the squad.
  • Though facial hair gets a couple arty pages (96-8), nobody notes the greatest quote like ever in the history of the NBA: primordial Duke big white stiff, while a Net, showed up with a beard somewhere between '84 and '87; when asked, Mike Gminski did quip "black guys are afraid of white guys with beards".

Alex English

I devoured this book; this is not the proper approach. I think it will bear coming back to, will reward return(s). It's not quite a reference, neither a snapshot; it's just a book you come back to because it's heartening, and interesting.

Impressive but a little disappointing is the degree to which this is a real history, one which plays it straight. There's not a whole lot of the interpretive flights--Eric Hobsbawm on playbyplay, Fredric Jameson on color and a breathless, starfucking Pierre Bourdieu roaming the sidelines--that made FreeDarko's bones. Here they prove they can get the facts down, get "the" story straight; they play the game according to the (man's) rules, & argue by means of facts you've overlooked, not by more-compelling-than-yours subjectivisms in & of interpretation. & it's undeniable, the skill of their argumentation, the quality of their research. Some will want to quibble, saying "that's not what I'm here for, not what I expect from them" & I say noted, & perhaps not unreasonable, but--metaphor fail alert!--going electric didn't kill Dylan stagnancy is revolting.

1.1 There are glories
1.1.1 Books

  • Kareem's brilliant Giant Steps goes maybe a little underrepresented--and maybe it's too obvious/pedestrian for the collective to note the Coltrane nod, despite an explicit engagement with the notion of NBA's relating to jazz?
  • Like I said: God, Man, and Basketball Jones, which I had long thought long-forgotten.
  • The Walt Frazier book--which, several years ago, I found being sold on the sidewalk (hardly common in Portland), & gave to Tinzeroes, who found it without merit in style or substance.
  • The Debusschere book--which I remember reading, but little else of.
These references and callbacks warm.

1.1.2 Race

Particularly important is the quiet but firm insistence on the importance of racism in Oscar Robertson's life (and career). Particularly enjoyable is the sidelong debunking of the pernicious myth of the 'soft Euro'--this reader hopes that this wonderful Guest Lecture is included as an appendix in the second edition. Particularly inspiring is the accounting of Bill Russell: Robertson + Russell here would form an excellent supplement to Eyes on the Prize: it's real history, it's important, and it's done well.

1.2 There are cavils

On cocaine, the narrative is that by this powder was the league ravaged and rejected.

"blame it on narcotics" (99)
"cocaine scourge" (92)
"rampant powder sniffing" (108)
But this drug had a hold on the culture of the time, and again explicitly over the last couple years. Hell, even Simmons--property of Disney, remember--gets to let his mailbags have stories about doing blow. James Crumley said somewhere "the judges and the lawyers, they never gave up cocaine", so I'm not sure the league was threatened by much more than standard sportswriter punditry. One last note on this: the Phoenix Suns had a massive coke scandal in like 84 or 85--apparently Walter Davis rolled over on literally half the team--and that's a story I'd like to see told somewhere, with a larger-scale examination of the actuals of coke in NBAmerica...

The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) discussion (104-9), while sober and detailed, would benefit muchly from context. The following sentence makes a union man like me Deeply Upset:

Collective bargaining agreements don't exist solely in the world of sports. (109)
And the discussion of the "equitable NBA trade" that's used to illustrate the CBA manifests little power for a reader who knows that:
  • the NBA CBA dictates that every trade must exchange salaries that are roughly equivalent (within 10% +/- $100,000 or something, if my Ripple-ravaged memory serves)
  • every team must on player salaries spend between a specified minimum and specified maximum amount of money
  • the second bullet point logically obviates the necessity of the first, given that, if a GM has to spend above the salary floor and under the salary ceiling, she has to accomodate salary exchanges anyway, and thus
  • player trades are radically reduced/constrained by the first bullet point, along with GM flexibility, since, say, a savvy GM with a low payroll and (thus) lot of dough to spend under the cap could take on a bunch of salary from a cap-strapped team for a low-cost asset; helping both teams, possibly
Which is all to say that the NBA's business practices demand some interrogation; this is not FreeDarko's favorite mode of analysis; I wish it were.

1.3 More goods and greats

One must note the production values. As an artifact, this is an attractive and thoroughly appealing book. I know the corners will one day crumble, the pages crease; soil is always everywhere and nothing good can stay, but out of the box? this is a triumph. The art is lovely. I wonder if it will date. I have no clear idea. The Knicks and Celtics pieces are both quite wittily observed and executed; the ABA poster I would put on my wall.

I note one large wish. A few times, there are lengthy--and, yes, clear--references to photographs that do not appear. While their descriptive gifts and ekphrastic skills are undeniable, some of these passages left me desperate to turn the page and see the image.

The graphical displays of information I have given short shrift here: I will be working with those for quite some time; they are magnificent, and valuably high-content. A small wish. Wish there had been one chart of the rise and preponderance of the 3-pointer, perhaps with a small explication of "true shooting percentage" (going 2-6 from 3-point-land = 3-6 from two = 1-6 + 4-4 [from the line]).

2. Let us now praise famous bloggers

The book isn't authoritative--more a quiet off-campus one-on-one with your favorite professor than a lecture--but it's so gravely assured that the occasional misstep or mistake8 hits hard: more than a distraction, each one seems to founder the whole project, or threaten to--this, the peril of playing history straight. But really, these are easily forgiven, as the book, and indeed the entire FreeDarko enterprise, are so intelligent, earnestly playful, warm-hearted and fine-spirited.9 Just some smart boys men realizing (in the sense of making real) that some kinds of dumb fun can actually be smart fun. Or, to use their words, the men's,

The NBA is a far more interesting place when we also take the time to both note these similarities and be accurate about their differences. (132)
Fuckin' A.

This booki is the Spurs, taking a challengej and beating itj on itsj own terms by being exactly what what iti is in the right way for that circumstance. & if that--beating somebody, their way, at their own game, by bringing yourself maximally to bear--isn't one kind of greatness, then what the fuck is?

I took myself down to a local bookstore and paid full retail for this book: you should do the same.


1At the same time, both FreeDarko and Voice of the Mouse Ric [sic] Bucher (on Simmons' worst podcast since his last bad one) anointed Contradiction-favorite Monta Ellis a "sublime" and "unique" (respectively) and a must-watch. Well...duh: people who like basketball have to like Monta Ellis; and yet I claim it is a modern affectation of weakness development that supreme talents on off-the-radar rosters relegated to the second rank of the standings are non-condescendingly celebrated.2

2Nobody really took latter-day Saint Dominique Wilkins seriously until he had a playoff run cum head-to-head duel with Larry Bird's almsot unfathomably superior Celtics. Only then was it okay to like The Human Highlight Film, having attained (brief) competitive bona fides. It's the acquisition of strictly competitive achievement that used to matter, seems. Cf the standard hip-hop argument: who-sold-more-records AKA shouting "scoreboard", versus punk rock's "no sellout--integrity maaaaaan" yawp.

3I first heard of him when college buddy fellow traveller Day Sleeper Erin P. forwarded me "Basebrawl Fever--Catch It!". I think, actually, she may have printed it out and put it on my desk. Selah.

4A school now represented only by Sports Illustrated's redoubtable in that I doubt him every time he opens his mouth corny but not ineffective Michael Farber (nee Dickie Dunn), who truly captures the spirit of the thing. I actually like his het-up prose, and failed in an attempt to channel it t'other day.

5Some possibility "school in eclipse" is not my load-bearingest metaphor.

6Why I remembered this excellent article as by Simmons I will never know.

7My shoulder'd hurt with the effort required to type "they think of me" save for the one time I done got namechecked--after a dick move, natch. (Let me say publicly now that I regret the dickishness of my presentation there while sticking with the argument I was advancing.)

8A few mistakes, cataloged:
"strength" spelt wrong (111)
claiming Robert Horry checked Steve Nash into the scorer's table here (191) and that 'twas Bruce Bowen here (204)
The man was hardly always "World B. Free" (101)--he began Lloyd Free, went for the bog-standard brag "Lloyd 'All-World' Free", and only after that made the move to call for universal liberation.

9Stolen, this phrasing, from David Foster Wallace "large-hearted and fine" (169), from "David Lynch Keeps His Head" [1996] reprinted in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again 1997: 146-212.10
10Photo credits:
Fat Lever
Alex English

Sunday, October 17, 2010


by Katsuhiro Otomo (1982-1995)

The first three volumes of Akira are more than impressive artistically, both at face-value and as "sequential art" or whatever comic-lit-crit hot-button term you prefer, but they also comprise the main source material for the animated feature film (1988), so if you seen the movie, or, if you're like me and have watched the movie repeatedly, with religious attention and devotion (this would be about 1993-1995), then the first three volumes are not going to do a lot for you.  Rather, they read more like curio, as there's a constant meta-narrative at play in your head comparing the pages to their filmic counterparts, both in terms of accuracy as well as elements dropped from the film.

Its not until you transition into the final three volumes that Otomo gets his hooks in you.  The film, it turns out, only really covers the first half of this really, truly fantastic story.  Furthermore, the second half ramps up  Akira's radical sci-fi cred.  What starts as an excellent cyberpunkian conspiracy story about telekinetics (with a great melodramatic backdrop) shifts to a post-apocalyptic struggle of a demi-god's half-baked empire against black-ops spooks and telekinetic templars leading to a revolutionary twist ending (with a great melodramatic backdrop), complete with destruction writ large of Tokyo, an Olympic stadium, a U.S. carrier group, and the moon.  I read the first three volumes piecemeal over the course of a week or so.  I read the last three in one sitting in one night.

Furthermore, the Kaneda character, the clear protaganist in the film, takes on added depth in the manga.  It seems absurd at times but Kaneda's drive to stop Tetsuo has little to do with saving the city or stopping Tetsuo's sociopathic Imperial aspirations, but has everything to do with a sort of teen-gang violation of a code of honor.  Kaneda's use of a stolen special-ops laser rifle is one of the most memorable scenes from the film.  What's more memorable in the manga is Kaneda making no bones of setting out to simply beat Tetsuo with his own two fists.  The absurdity is of course that these attacks should be meaningless to Tetsuo by virtue of his telekinesis, yet there Kaneda stands before on the pages, surviving Tetsuo's wake of destruction again and again.  Kaneda's continuous horn-dog pursuit of Kai throughout the pages of the epic further underscore the degree to which this entire story might actually just be about teenage boys gaining the upperhand in what was originally an adult spook conspiracy. 

Little surprise the film is as good as it is, seeing as its ink-and-paper basis is an exemplar of the form.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

City of Saints and Madmen

by Jeff Vandermeer (20061)

City of Saints and Madmen collects 16 novellas, short stories, phamphlets, adverts, guidebooks, and notes sharing the setting or subject matters of the merchant city of Ambergris (the most valuable part of a whale), including its festivals, its original inhabitants (a strange race called the Gray Caps, or Mushroom Dwellers), its history, the giant freshwater squid native to the River Moth, the Silence (a epochal event wherein 25,000 citizens vanished without a trace while the whaling fleet was out of port), the death of Voss Bender (the city's composer-dictator, kinda) and subsequent unrest, authors who insist Ambergris is a work of thier own fiction, the Hoegbottoms - the city's preeminient merchant family, and much and many more details regarding this Queen of Fantastical Cities for the reader's delight. Quite unfairly sets an impossibly high standard for the depiction of urban environments in a fantasy setting, and may well come assume a sort of biblical status in one's mind for the myriad ways in which the simple exploration of a place can be a sum experience using different styles, approaches, tone, voice, etc.

The collection starts wonderfully strong with the novella "Dradin, In Love" followed by an about-face in style with the novella-length phamphlet "The Hoegbottom Guide to the Early History of Ambergris." A third novella-length story, "The Transformation of Martin Lake," rounds out what I consider the three pillars of the book as a whole, the remaining short stories informing (and countering!) the novellas and the other stories. "The Strange Case of X" is a veiled auto-biographical novella by Vandermeer about writing about Ambergris and a fantastic valentine (and hate mail?) to the creative writing life.  Then follow 11 shorter pieces which approach Ambergreis from any which angle, concluding with a 71-page glossary.

As each story hits your reset button its easy to forget how much you enjoyed an earlier installment. As mentioned, "Dradin, In Love" is a great kickoff, giving you a first-person seat to the major elements of Ambergris: Albumuth Boulevard, the Religious Quarter and the Living Saints, the Mushroom Dwellers, the Festival of the Freshwater Squid, Hoegbottom & Sons, Ambergris' industrial past (this is one of many subtexts - the presence of great, derelict railyards littered with engines, and other allusions to a lost 'modern' era), but this followed up with the indepth background of "Early History" and by the time you finish the marvellous "Martin Lake" (regarding a painter and the passing of Voss Bender) you've forgotten how much you liked 'Dradin.'

You will leave City of Saints and Madmen with a ripe image of Ambergris' damp, muddled, dispicable-history-laden winding streets and dumpy, moldy buildings.  You will be left with lingering questions about the gray caps, the Silence, and the equally everpresent freshwater squid.  Its violent festivals and art-intwined-politics will leave you more than a little mystified.  But forever after the words "Albumuth Boulevard" will bring a smile to your face.

Required reading from a perspective of another-way-to-do-it, and from world-creation-101.  Highly recommended to anyone needing a shot in the arm of faith in the viability of fantasy.  Best if served with Mieville's Perdido Street Station and Swainston's The Year of Our War.


1 City of Saints and Madmen has enjoyed multiple printings under different publishers, the first few go-arounds seeing the addition of content.  This review is of the 2006 Bantam paperback editiion, considered the final edition.  The first edition was published in 2002 by Prime Books.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Borribles

by Michael de Larribeiti (1976)

I became aware of de Larribeiti's Borribles trilogy when I saw that China Mieville called it an influential favorite.  Borribles are children who leave home and never come back.  As they become self-sufficient and street smart thier ears become pointy and they cease to age.  They live exclusively in abandoned buildings and steal for a living.  They despise adults, material wealth, and the police (called the "Woolies").  They are fiercely independent and frown on the idea of leaders, but also have a strong code of honor usually cited in the form of quotes from a book of proverbs.

Borribles have to earn thier names by completing or participating in some sort of notable adventure, and some older (as it were) Borribles actually possess more than one name.  The telling of name-stories is highly valued.

The first book involves the discovery that the Borrible's rivals, the Rumbles (a play on the at-the-time popular children's TV show "The Wombles"), a race of child-size mole or hedgehog-type things, who live in 'Rumbledon,' (Wimbledon) have been making incursions into the Borrible's London territories (Battersea, in this case).  Multi-named and famous Borrible Knocker decides to assemble a 'magnificent eight' elite squad of Borribles to strike out to Rumbledon and slay the Rumble 'High Command' (of which there are also eight).  These eight are given names correlating to the High Command member they are supposed to slay.

The trek to Rumbledom is a gritty journey across London, featuring real locations (see this Flickr set of Borrible locations, right down to particular houses!).  As such its a lovely valentine to both London and to cities in general, from hoity-toity neighborhoods to industrial scraglands.  The Borribles, in turn, are revealed to be city creatures born and bred - and are in turn made ineasy in open places such as parks, or underground - where one 'tribe' of Borribles called the Wendles live.  The Wendles live on the borders with Rumble territory and are as a result barely considered Borribles at all, living as they do in the sewers, being fiercely warlike, and doing such un-Borrible things as having a chief.

There's a flippant disregard for authority running throughout which gives The Borribles its deeper appeal.  Although all Borribles are technically children, they curse, drink beer, and wreak creative and violent deaths upon thier enemies.  Still, make no mistake, the Borribles possess a very strong moral compass, one which is tested as the book draws to a close.

Keeping in mind this is a young adult book (no doubt part of the cause for relatively recent republication), I want to recommend The Borribles to adult readers generally because of the above-stated reasons, but the Rumbles/Wombles gag (A) was totally lost on me because I'm American and not British, and (B) seems to have aged poorly to begin with. This recurring joke constantly threatens to undermine the story's credibility, even though it forms the clearest intention of de Larribeiti's intentions: slaying lame-ass commerical children's television with his rough-edged Borribles.

Followed-up by the far superior The Borribles Go for Broke.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

"I'm not used to being's funny--it hurts!"

The first scene in the film gives a look into the lives of Chico (Charles Farrell) and Rat (George Stone), which finds the two men tending refuse floating downstream in a vaulted underground sewage system known as “The Hole in the Sock”. Here the production design by Harry Oliver may be appreciated along with Ernest Palmer’s cinematography, sublimely capturing the labyrinthine gauzy, high contrast imagery created with the contours of the perspective set’s cobblestone tunnels, steel-bar grates, flowing river of sewage, and the luminance of the manhole—ceiling as peephole to civilization.

This bygone era of filmmaking owes the advent of sound for its demise. But this 1927 film has left an indelible, high water mark in the Love Story genre which no modern motion picture has yet to achieve. Released the same year as The Jazz Singer, Underworld (Josef von Sternberg), Napoléon (Abel Gance), Metropolis (Fritz Lang), Sunrise (FW Murnau) and King of Kings (Cecil B DeMille), Borzage has distinguished his own personal masterpiece by finding themes which were universal for contemporary audiences still reeling from the devastation of WWI yet also timeless due to an effusive, expertly-crafted romanticism which should be the envy of any aspiring filmmaker.

As the opening scene proceeds, Rat, whom Chico loathes, gawks up the skirts of women who pass above the manhole cover under which the two work. Rat also appears to have been so named due to a crooked overbite and other rodent features (eating habits? scraggily whiskers?) So when Rat invites Chico to share a glimpse, Chico becomes outraged and it is this virtue which identifies his character. Perhaps stereotypical, this opening scene is of immense interest because it literally casts characters “from the sewer”.

And it is at this point what becomes clear about 7th Heaven, as hinted by the opening intertitle:

For those who will climb it, there is a ladder leading from the depths to the heights—from the sewer to the stars—the ladder of Courage

What potency! Borzage’s mapping out of his themes, in this telegraphing fashion, proves his awareness of what emotional manipulation is going on from the outset. It is soon learned that the film’s central protagonist, Chico, has a singular motive, or external desire, or more commonly referred to as a “want” (vs a “need”): to make the career jump from sewer worker to street cleaner. Who else but the Coens1 have ever given a central protagonist such a dire existence?

It is Borzage’s nurturing of society’s dregs which is what gives his romanticism such uniqueness. But Borzage’s idiosyncratic charities extend into the realm of morality even further. He has not only gone to the sewers for his principal leads, he’s given them the only hope—courage—and simultaneously skewed his entire representation of Parisian society throughout the rest of the film to include nothing but impoverished stereotypes who are either “all good” or “all bad”; and the “bad” are identified so due to avarice, invariably.

Onscreen, the couple who finds romance is sewer worker, Chico, and Diane (Janet Gaynor), a prostitute. Diane may be Hollywood’s first hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold. Again, to describe the power of the themes’ universality in 7th Heaven, it is the couple, Chico and Diane, whom the audience finds as the quintessential embodiment of maudlin heartbreak. Society has shit on Diane. Everyone thinks she’s worthless. Even after Diane cops absinthe for her alcoholic-whore sister, Nana, her earlier transgressions (honesty) result in Nana chasing Diane through the streets, lashing her with a bull whip! So, Diane the prostitute is literally on the brink of death once she’s introduced, and even though Chico saves her life, his first words after are “[her life] wasn’t worth saving, Papa Boul, [a] creature like that is better off dead.” This is about as manipulative a tearjerker as movies can get2.

It is the film’s archetypal protagonists, again, which are the emphasis of this article. So, Diane, it should be said, actually carries the drama and embodies the greater moral lesson: virtue alone will not provide a solution to a horrible, impoverished existence3. Diane is the one to pay attention to.

If one rides along with Diane for the ride, life is made to be comprehensible and there are lessons: do not abandon virtue for money; if you are good, SOMEONE will value you; as long as you have courage, you can make it. Chico, on the other hand, does not value Diane initially, or even Rat for that matter; Rat even saves Chico’s life, and doesn’t even get a thank you! Chico only wants Diane eventually when she proves her worth—that’s inexcusably selfish—and learns how much she can do for him.

After the dust settles, it becomes apparent that women are virtuous, beautiful, long-suffering creatures and men are bullheaded brutes who better appreciate what they’ve got before it’s gone. Ahhh, romance. Furthermore, the film’s message, if the viewer is attempting to read for one, is not only will courage take you from the sewer to the stars, but that there’s nothing in between. Most of the audience is meant to learn that they can climb up out of their own respective “sewers” and manage to win over life’s unfair limitations—but these limitations need to be identified, and it is here where monetary affluence unduly colors the possessor with a greedy spirit of avarice. Can rich people be virtuous? Yes, but in the discourse of 7th Heaven, as is the case in The Bible, it’s the age old “easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle…” logic which becomes priority. (Are Col Brissac and Nana anything more than evil? And aren’t they the only characters who seem to afford comfortable qualities of living?)

Indeed 7th Heaven’s success is as a Love Story. While Diane, the film’s heroine, carries the entire arc of the narrative, it is actress Janet Gaynor who transcends the average performance and establishes verisimilitude for viewers. Yes, she won the first Oscar for this role, but it is her reaction to hearing about the news from The Front near the end of the third act which proves Gaynor’s talent. Gaynor’s projection of raw emotion in two particular scenes after receiving devastating news about her husband’s fate on The Front is a feat to behold. Here also, it should be mentioned that the film dares to mount some very ambitious WWI battle scenes.

Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities as of the writing of this article to watch 7th Heaven on a big screen in a theatre. It is to our disadvantage, because one only has to imagine what the taxi scene would look like on the big screen to get a sense of how inferior TV viewings are equipped for appreciating a film like this. Also let it be argued here that usually the miniature sets look BETTER on the big screen. (Personally, I discovered this phenomenon only six days ago, watching Metropolis on a big screen and it seemed counter-intuitive.) Since the film depicts the end of WWI in Paris, the film features utterly magnificent large-scale unit photography of epic battles where all Parisians use their own automobiles to transport every available garrison to The Front. The endless ant-trails of model Ts choreographed on their way into battle are striking.

Ultimately the discovery of 7th Heaven reveals a tearjerker Love Story adorned with an ambitious, technically formidable command of epic battle sequences and perspective sets photographed with the same ambition as UFA. There is also an illustration of the overlying sewers-to-stars theme which is boldly expressed visually in the subtle affinity of Chico and Gobin going from hose washers to hosing napalm in WWI. Borzage makes the lowliest people believe they are destined to be heroes through his commitment to the entire craft of this film. Bums are born to be War Heroes. Prostitutes are the most delicate flowers, and should be loved.

Borzage’s visuals truly must be attributed to the symbiotic nature of what he is able to achieve with Palmer’s cinematography through Harry Oliver’s sets. This film is entirely set-piece driven. Compared to John Ford’s silents of the same era, also filmed at Fox Film Corpotation’s Edendale lot, Borzage’s superiority is revealed. Ford’s compositions are wooden and clumsy, his priority is dramatic realism, whereas Borzage’s priority is the set and he dramatizes within the space. Paying attention to 7th Heaven’s set pieces will prove this point. Oliver’s sets include: The Hole in the Sock sewer network, the titular seven-story high flight of stairs leading to Chico’s apartment overlooking the stars, and finally, The Front or “Maginot line” battle in the film’s third act.

Ernest Palmer’s tracking shots are similarly marvelous. Imagine an early twentieth century Paris in black and white with people walking down a cobblestone street, if they were filmed with a Steadicam the size of VW Bug, and you may begin to appreciate what the effect is like.

In closing, the film’s finale is always the most important aspect of a film, and here we have one of the greatest—Borzage really raised the bar. But, the characterization of WWI Parisians at the bottom of their luck who end up saving each other through romance is noticeably as, if not more important to this film’s power. And the way God is dealt with cynically is also important. God, or, as is more common the term used to denote a higher power in this film, Bon Dieu, is indicted and held responsible for the hardships of the couple from the beginning. Most often the characters are avowed atheists, and at the end no one thanks God. This is more realistic than a heavy handed Christian tendency to establish causality of fulfillment to God and God alone.

I guess in a sense I applaud Borzage’s Heaven, as opposed to the usual heaven associated with Christian dogma. And I admire his optimism and faith in individual worth. What these characters wanted was salvation, but what they learned they needed more was courage. Frank Borzage has caused me to learn what power the Love Story has, but more importantly who can have it. And Borzage isn’t a coward—while indicting God and society, he still gives his heroes the courage to make it. (And we all know “courage” is Borzagespeak for True Love.)

1On the commentary track for The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001, Coens) Billy Bob Thornton emotionlessly describes his character as “a barber considering going into the dry-cleaning business”.

2This plot is one of my favorites. For other instances of a brute having a loyal, waif, love interest who he abuses for the duration of the film, until it’s too late and she’s gone, upon which moment the schlub is devastated and broken internally, see Anthony Quinn in La Strada (1954, Federico Fellini) or Sean Penn in Sweet and Lowdown (1999, Woody Allen).

3Diane reminds me of Justine, the central protagonist in the novel I’ve called my #1 favorite my entire adult life—Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue (1791 by Marquis de Sade)—which depicts a similar premise involving a virtuous sister and a sister who leads a life full of vice who are both left to fend for themselves after they lose their parents.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Liquid Solution is decadent and depraved

Around here, we pledge allegiance to Some Stuff Is Better Than Other Stuff. That's old news. We pledge thus, though, with a purpose:

Axl Does It with a Porpoise

we want to identify that Better Stuff, because it helps us live a better life. When it comes to living a better life, I drink coffee. A lot of coffee. And I never--ever--make coffee at home, because it's not just the drug I crave and require, it's the being not at home of it all.

Since I don't hate our mother the Earth--much--I don't support the cutting down of like every single fucking tree in the entire world. So I carry--everywhere I go--a go-cup. Been carrying them since around '98. Usually they get replaced after I lose one, or lose the lid. Occasionally, I'll flat-out break one. But I always have one on me.

Couple months ago, I decided to retire my old model. A battle-scarred old soldier, I'd had 'er since since at least 04. She needed replacing because...well, I'd become uncomfortable showing up at job interviews with a toothless, incoherent old veteran. Same principle as wearing long-sleeved shirts to work: it's not whether or not they see that I have a bunch of tattoos, it's about whether or not I have enough savvy to make the right moves, send the right signals in and for the environment. So I did betake myself down to the Berkeley Bowl, after striking out at like three drugstores, and ended up with a luminous little number from Liquid Solution.

How is the Liquid Solution? Let me be as clear as I can be:
• Liquid Solution Travel Mugs Are Wretched Products
• The Company Making Liquid Solution Travel Mugs Is a Criminal Enterprise
• Avoid Buying This Product

The main problem is the lid. I would describe its fit as "poor". Or anyway, I would if I were a better person. As I am not a better, or even good, person, I would describe the lid's fit as "incredibly fucking sloppy" and "entirely unacceptable"; I would further suggest that a "Liquid Solution" is precisely what you will have spilling down your chin and onto your shirt if you trust this cup's lid to keep liquids from exiting the cup except at and from the duly appointed portals.

Your expectations for a cup may mirror mine. I want the device to: contain liquids; release liquids; do these things in predictable ways that are controlled by me. This Liquid Solution cup, being garbage, fails to meet my expectations. Therefore, it is garbage.1 Somehow, there is always some coffee2 left in the mug, which cannot be gotten out of it by normal use or special attentions on my part. No, the only way I can get that last bit of brew out is by tossing the mug into my bag and riding my bike around for a while. That procedure invariably it a metric fuckload of coffee from the apparently empty vessel, then deposits that substantial quantity of load onto my papers, my clothes, my drugs, whatever happens to be in my bag that day.

Oh, also the handle is already inexplicably cracking.

Liquid Solution, you are either inept makers of things or you are savage, chiseling monsters of fraud. For ten fucking bucks, do I have the buyer's remorse? No. I have the buyer's rage.

Would not buy again; would not recommend to friends.

Four stars out of five.

Rest in peace, old mug, ancient warrior. You were twice the cup at half the price today's world e'er will know.

1This is a Warlock Pinchers joke. About mimes and France, originally.

2"Coffee. Black coffee. Then I do some pull-ups and masturbate."
Matt Scandrol, after Henry Rollins (circa 1994)

pale kings and princes

Pale Kings and Princes
Fat reviews everyday life
(an illustrated and illustrative diversionary tactic)

0. Introduction

It appears as though @todf and I are completely correct: we are in fact living in the world of They Live.

Work, leisure, work, leisure: a surly administrative assistant shoving a binder clip into my cheek, forever; botched, aborted weekends spent getting called into work, first as tragedy, then as farce; a sad struggle on my part to appropriate the existing totality of my productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but also merely to safeguard my very existence.

1. Leisure

The other week, The World's Best Girlfriend in the World and I went and saw William Gibson do a reading from his new book, Zero History.

It was a pretty good time. The selection--though I haven't read the book yet--was a little odd, as it was heavy exposition, with a lot of plot-advancing recap and a ton of dialogue. Some of Gibson's recent obsessions were trotted out: pho, clothes, obsessive feds and their interactions with civilians. The book sounds more Spook Country than Pattern Recognition, and the reading was frustratingly without any Q&A session, but I look forward to reading it.

And, just like the last time, it was fun to hear Gibson run through his own work. Particularly charming: he's getting up there, and he has that half-mushy voice that hints at needing a little more dental work1, very soothing and engaging; one of the characters he was reading had a distinctive kind of government-work hard-boiled world-weary speech pattern, acronym-heavy and abrupt, insistently authoritative, and Gibson's manner could not be less suited to delivering material like that. This disconnect was oddly endearing.

The passage he read some years back for Pattern Recognition was basically just single-character-passing-thru-milieu-and-reflecting-on-it stuff, which was great, and he read it beautifully. It might not have served well to sell the novel, since the material was a little abstract and musing, but it made for a great time.

I didn't have him sign anything. I've almost never had anything signed. Getting a book signed seems particularly weird: is it somehow if the writer touches it with a pen? They made the whole thing with a pen! (or something similar). I've never quite grokked how their formalized scribble is supposed to make it mean more.2

Gibson, however, of course, is accommodating and patient on the topic.

2. Work

My new job had me working at different desks every day for a week or so. I had a thought to do a little photoessay about desks before I get to them, while I'm using them, then the cleanup. My desk environments are notoriously a nightmare. Co-workers flinch when they walk by my desk (it's probably not because of me).

This is the only picture I actually got around to taking, I think. It was taken around an hour after I got to a stranger's perfectly clean desk for the first time. The situation worsened considerably thereafter, clutterwise.

3. Leisure

I went to a baseball game.

I got a hat. The hat is a gimmie hat, therefore a meshback. In my bag, it got stained with coffee before I even made it home. For fuck's sake.

4. Work

I have a new co-worker. She doesn't think she needs to deploy footwear when we're in company-wide meetings.

You know, because it's totally appropriate and acceptable to have bare feet in public.

5. Appropriating the Totality of Productive Forces

I spend a lot of time at work untangling my headphone cords, every couple weeks.

I broke a cable on my computer, when it locked up worse than I've ever had a laptop lock up before. Seriously, it was a snow crash, if that's a real thing, but a different kind, without the random spray of electrons onto a screen on account of how that's not how laptop screens work. Among other nightclustermarefuck shit the thing pulled, it was making a hideous squealing noise I couldn't stifle--I started yanking cords out with passion and alacrity.

When I started shoving the plugs back in, after a couple-three hard reboots, apparently I was ungentle at least once. On a mission to replace the cable, I ended up at Radio Shack.

Radio Shack hurled me back to the Christmas of 1984. I'd started expressing an interest in music, I guess. My mom kicked me four tapes3, and her dad gave me a tape deck.

Unfortunately, the Old Man did one hundred percent of my Christmas shopping every year--every year--at Radio Shack, so what I ended up with was a mono-playing chimera, suited well neither for recording nor for playback. It was this and a clock radio for me well into high school, as far as music consumption went. The main surprise here is that the modern, or anyway current, version of the device costs forty wing-wangs. That's a lot of wing-wangs.


1Okay, sure, he's Southern, and gentle of manner, and the sound system wasn't great. I am very very much not trying to insult the man: he is one of my favorite writers and one of my favorite humans. I wish at no time ever to insult him.

2I exclude here the base commercial value-increase, but that actually only moves the problem to someone else's valuation. While introducing the "I'm a colossal cocksucker" factor, if you're getting it signed deliberately to sell.

3For completeness' sake:
Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA
AC/DC, Flick of the Switch
Ric Ocasek, Beatitude
Richard Pryor, Something or Other

4Half of the point here was to show my terrible photo of Gibson from the reading, and the picture I snuck of my co-worker, Shoeless Lisa Jackson, in a meeting, but apparently those photos have gone to live with a nice family upstate. Will update when these images are available.


Update! Here you go.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land

by John Crowley (2005)

Lord Byron never wrote a novel - although there's reference in a letter to him starting one and then tossing it in the fire. John Crowley has written that unwritten novel (called "The Evening Land") in accurate and accessible Byronic-style. Background info to enrich subtleties of the Evening Land are provided by annotations written Byron's daughter, Ada Lovelace (a familiar character to readers of Gibson/Sterling's Difference Engine, which also features a quite different Byron, as well as to Steampunkania). Both texts are in turn supported by a third string - contemporary e-mails and letters detailing the discovery and deciphering of the novel (Ada had put it in a cipher) and further historical and academic insight Byron and Ada.

Crowley's prose is fluid and strong and the chapters jump from string to string without ever lingering too long. Each string has a very distinct period voice yet Crowley keeps you jumping from one to the other without disorientation.

My only complaint is that I felt that the last chapter was pointless, following the last chapter of "The Evening Land" with the modern-day introduction to the first-printing of the Evening Land, which I felt simply put all the aforementioned historical and academic info you'd picked up throughout the book in one place.

This is the first piece by Crowley I've read and I confess I see why his reputation is well deserved. I look forward to grabbing a copy of Little, Big soonish.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

'Tales of the Gold Monkey' or 'How I Hate My Eyes' or 'Why Would I Spend an Evening Like This, Much Less Write About It?'

The other day, a memory drifted into my head from some unknown place, like an unaddressed letter whose only contents were fragile fragments of information: a seaplane, a bomber jacket, the 30’s, mysterious adventures... a TV show! “To the internet!”, I yelled and furiously typed ‘indiana jones ripoff tv show’ into google. Twenty seconds of searching around provided satisfaction: Tales of the Gold Monkey, producer Donald Bellisario’s (Magnum P.I., Airwolf, Quantum Leap) 1982 adventure show set in 1938 on the fictional South Pacific island of Bora Gora. Memories flooded back in; I HAD to have it. It was available on Netflix but not ‘Watch Instantly’ so I obtained it from a LEGAL and REPUTABLE source.

I cracked a beer and threw it on. The First thing that struck me was the theme, a sort of combination of ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Growing Pains’ themes, it left me apprehensive. The Second thing that struck me was the actor playing the lead role of (awesomely named) Jake Cutter: Stephen Collins. Sci-fi fans will know him as one of the many, many things that made ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ so very, very terrible. Idiots will know him as the Reverend/father from ‘7th Heaven’. Considering his place in history, one might call him ‘Scott BakulaBeta‘. My apprehension did not lessen.

The plot centers around the aforementioned (awesomely named) Jake Cutter: a Cornell educated, Army Air Corps trained pilot, who runs a cargo service on Bora Gora (which, I have learned through shitty research is probably near New Caledonia, which is very interesting). He hangs out with Corky, an alcoholic mechanic with slight Buddy Hackett tendencies, Sarah, an American spy-woman posing as an entertainer and Jack, his very SMART and FUNNY one-eyed Jack Russell terrier. The local bar owner, Bon Chance Louie is played by Roddy McDowell! Let me tell you, this crew gets into all sorts of wacky adventures!

It would be very easy to dismiss this show as an Indiana Jones ripoff, I mean, the whole two hour pilot is about this guy trying to get a mythical, mystical object before the NAZIS do, but Bellisario had been pitching an adventure show set in the 30’s or thereabouts for several years before Raiders came out (not to mention the derivative nature of Indiana Jones) and it was the success of Raiders that caused the show to be picked up. Granted, the show probably saw a retooling to fit the salivating networks need for a knockoff, but let’s give ol’ Don a little credit for coming up with the idea of ripping off old adventure serials independent of Lucas and Spielberg’s same ripoff. Also, the show has another thing going for it, one far more important than ‘who came up with what and when’: it’s watchable. It has great locations, good sets and is fairly well written with coherent plotting, serviceable dialogue and some character development. Collins pulls off the action hero surprisingly well, and the rest of the cast is fairly good. I’m not saying it’s amazing, but it’s fun and, Jesus, each episode is a fuck of a lot better than the Crystal Skullfuck, PLUS there is a Nazi on the island who looks a lot like a poor man’s Rutger Hauer and who masquerades as the local priest.

It only lasted one season; low-ish ratings and high production costs led ABC to dump it. I’ll watch all 22. Color me pleasantly surprised at this one. Tales of the Gold Monkey is available on DVD here.

-pierre idiot trudeau

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart

by Jesse Bullington (2009)

Medieval graverobbing twins Hegel and Manfried Grossbart return to thier native village somewhere in the Holy Roman Empire and decide to deliver some payback to a farmer who whipped them as children. Luring him out into the rain and dark they proceed to rough him up. Then his wife comes at them with a woodax. One thing leads to another and the brothers end up massacring the farmers entire family (a daughter and a son, and two baby girls) and then taking to the mountains with the intention of heading south to "Gyptland" where they firmly believe thier grandfather went and made his fortune graverobbing. They are pursued into the mountains by a medieval posse which they sucessfully ambush and kill all of but one man (at this point, I thought to myself "this is the most violent book I've ever read!"). Of course, using bizarre-to-modern-morality vendetta-based justice, they firmly believe from the get go that it is THEM who have been wronged.

Encounters with the supernatural, the proper place of Mary in the Christian religion, pope-costumed brigands, hallicinations, the Venetian doge, the ethics of cannibalism, and the Alexandrian crusade all follow, the Grossbarts leaving an ever-widening swath of death and heresy in thier wake.

This is a marvellously researched book, swimming in nice pieces of authenticity. When I was reading this on vacation, several of my brothers-in-law mistook it for non-fiction based on perusing the cover, the opening chapter (a faux-academic intro), and my descriptions.

Highly recommended.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Dr. Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen

These Dr. Who novels have hardcore sleaze bubbling under the surface - I did a double take after reading the following, checked the cover and back flap of the book to make sure I was in the right place.
Commander Stevenson had been hammering away at Kellman for what seemed ages now, but the prisoner showed no signs of breaking down. He sat slumped on a stool, gazing straight ahead, either ignoring the Commander's questions, or at best making some brief, sneering reply. The Doctor was lounging in a corner of the control-room, following the interrogation keenly, but taking no part in it. Lester looked on impatiently. The brawy crewman was wishing that the Commander would turn Kellman over to him for a few minutes, let him thump some answers out of the man.
I know. Totally juvenile on my part.

By Terrance Dicks, 1976.


Monday, September 06, 2010

The City of Dreaming Books

by Walter Moers (2004)

Walter Moers is a German comicbook artist and writer who also writes fantasy fiction (mostly set in Zamonia, his version of the Atlantean continent) which are in turn populated by illustrations by himself.  I've been wanting to try some of his stuff out but its a bit hard to come by and not super-cheap on the used market either - so I was excited when I acquired a slightly water-damaged copy of The City of Dreaming Books while out treasure-hunting one day.

This is the story of Optimus Yarnspinner, a dinosaur-type creature who leaves his home of Lindworm Castle (renowned for thier authorial prowess) to go to Bookholm, ancient seat of the Zamonian publishing industry.  Like much of the recent fantasy I've found myself drawn to of late, there is a story and some characters, but the real star is the city of Bookholm (and its bookshops and literate populace) and the expansive and near-infinite catacombs beneath the city (with its massive and ancient storage halls, troves, and tombs of... books!).  Yarnspinner goes from one to the other and back again, encoutering book-hunters, poisonous books, creatures which subsist off the act of reading, living books, and a man transformed into a book.

The prose is fairly light and easy but ackward in a way I can't describe which I have to chalk up to reading the book in translation from the German.  Also, lets be honest, this is a fantasy-adventure about books - for it to be as lively as it is represents a fundamental victory by Moers.

And what do books dream of? To be found, and to be read, of course!


Saturday, September 04, 2010

if you weren't there, you don't know

"THAT WAS MY FAVORITE SONG...whatever. My grandma likes us better than Nirvana."

It's 1992 or -3. Probably the Gothic Theater. A cold night, not enough people in the big concrete cavern to warm it up much, but I'm drunk-sweaty and high on live rock. The few people at the show are all dancing wildly, but not making too much noiise--surely not much compared to the Fluid's legendarily loud shows. (Their logo for some years was the Ford logo, detourned to read The Fluid--Volume Is Job #1.)

Their frontman, by far the prettiest and most charismatic figure I'll ever see on stage, spreads his arms and declaims "THAT WAS MY FAVORITE SONG". The crowd doesn't respond. "Whatever. My grandma likes us better than Nirvana." Heart full, I yelled "so do I!" but it went unheard. Two songs later, the frontman, John Robinson, still strutting, graciously offers a chance to pick the next song. Somebody shouts something. Robinson turns cold instantly, snaps "We already played that one" and the band surges into another number. Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a rock prince extending largesse to his subjects when those subjects cannot match songs to titles.

Pick your icon--Bowie, Jagger, David Johansen, Darby Crash--but in that time and place, John Robinson was rock. Still the only rock star who ever made me want to use words like "preen" and "strut" with non-perjorative connotations.

Sometimes I think I'm still in an envelope of that time and place, an envelope created by the band's terrific assault of, and by means of, volume. My ears are damaged, probably beyond repair, now ringing for days after any given show, incapable of parsing muddly slurries of voice into articulated words unless I can see the speaker's mouth.

Everybody in Denver knew--absolutely knew--that the Fluid were the town's best live act, and the town's best live act made a fetish of volume. So all the bands followed suit, piling amps to the rafters and gluing the knobs all the way to the right. I once saw the (rather brilliant) Denver twee-pop band Dressy Bessy1 play in Portland. They were wedged into the back of 17 Nautical Miles, a shoe-box-shaped club, and between me and the band was a thick clot of backpack-wearing bespectacled Elephant 6 weenies.2 Before the first chorus, the sheer impact of Dressy Bessy's sound had those soft coastal kids shoving to get to the back of the room, away from the onslaught.

Volume was the primary exponent of the Fluid's ethic, a position holding that rock and roll was primarily a live idiom, that records were a secondary artifact. The ethic allowed them to tap into apocrapha like the ubiquitous story about playing a bar gig in some impossibly far-flung locale--my memory says Iowa--at which only four people showed up. The band, according to the legend, played "their full set" and at the end? they "sold four records, t-shirts and stickers". This blend of passion and professionalism sank in; I can't imagine loving an artist with any other approach.3, 4

In all the years since, I've never met anybody who had an actual opinion about Denver bands in general, or about "the Denver scene". Your bigger record-store junkies might know 16 Horsepower or Apples in Stereo, the city's two biggest exports over the past decade or so5, but those bands literally never played in town. So the half-dozen people I've met who have any knowledge of the milieu in which I was formed have an image that's wildly discrepant from mine.

This is what it's like, being from the hinterlands. Even in a place as occasionally central as Minneapolis--the weenies in the Hold Steady always say their favorite band was Soul Asylum, not the Replacements. Half of that makes sad sense: the Hold Steady are lame weenies with bad taste; but half of it I can't begrudge. I wasn't there: I don't know. Maybe the Replacements just weren't ever there and you got to see Soul Asylum a million times with your friends and have an amazing night, eight people crammed into somebody's mom's car and something to do other than go drink coffee and wonder about sex. I know that that's what it was like in the shitty times and towns I'm from.

I wonder sometimes about the real hubs--in L.A., was there some band the real heads loved more than Germs / X / Guns / whoever, depending on the era? Or is the whole point of being from a center, a metropole, that your image most transparently projects reality?

Whatever. One thing I do know for sure is that the aging rocker dudes from the Capitals of Rock aren't sitting around writing thousand-word posts about what cats from the hinterlands think about them. Or whether or not they've got an incorrect picture of the Denver rock scene from say 1989 to 1998.

I don't begrudge those dudes their elevated status, nor do I claim I'm secretly an important man. I'm just from a place not so much forgotten or ignored as simply irrelevant. But I loved the Fluid. Sometimes I still do; it's where I'm from.


1How do I know they were brilliant? When asked if they were afraid of getting sued for trademark infringement, they'd shrug and say "We'll just change our name to Pissy Missy". Also they wrote some great songs: extra-ordinary is some of the best pop I'll ever hear. Full disclosure: my band once opened up for them, and they were super-nice to us. They gave us their drink tickets! And my old buddy played with them for a long time.

2Minus the "Elephant 6", that description fit me perfectly at the time.

3I am 100% sure that the Iowa story trope is shared by every touring band of that rough vintage--surely Our Band Could Be Your Life's Black Flag chapter hints at that...

4In all the years since, I've never met anybody who agreed with me about the relative status of records and shows. It's nice to know where I picked that up.

5Ignoring 3 Oh! 3 and Planes Mistaken for Stars b/c: they suck; that name pours negative ideation into my head. I literally want to cut myself when I think about that band name.

Works Referenced
Usually I'd work these in a bit more better-like. One thing I want to note: Michael Roberts has been working the Denver rock scene beat for like my entire musical life. His book would probably break my heart.

John Robinson interview

good page on nobody from Denver ever amounting to anything
note: 16 Horsepower
Apples in Stereo
good page on touring from Denver

on Spell

Matt Bischoff
barely mentions Andy6

Fluid break up

the Fluid get back together

on the shirt and the touring legend

6I don't want to make a big thing about this: Andy was my friend, and he was the drummer for 57 Lesbian for a long time, he was on their record and everything. He died a long time ago.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Perdido Street Station

by China Mieville (2000).

The book which, if not launched, then anchored the sub-genre "urban fantasy." I've also seen this book categorized as "cyberpunk" elsewhere, as well as the slightly more understandable "steampunk." Guess this a book everyone wants under their banner, then. This forms, along with The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston and City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer, one of the key texts of the "New Weird" fantasy fiction "New Weird" style-movement.  And, by virtue of having some canon authors and a nickname, I suppose its the 00s version of the 80/90s cyberpunks and the 60s/70s new wave (I still find the Cyberpunk literary putsch the most compelling, mainly because its core writers most resembled an old school "literary circle" - friends first, perhaps, before genre-mates. I feel this is born-out by the divergent paths the key five have taken since roughly the mid-80s).


Perdido has a really lush setting in the city of New Crobuzon, a bustling, crowded, powerful, industrial city-state full of all the problems which are indemic to such places.  There are immigrant populations (who are ghettoized), labor disputes, government oppression and spying and the fear thereof and resistance thereto thereon.  All of this comes completely unraveled with the unleashing of a batch of nightmarish, unstoppable Slake Moths via a combination of government experiment and the underworld drug trade.

By far my favorite part involves the government's attempt to combat the Slake Moth crisis once its underway.  A plan is concocted which involves two people, each controlled by a symbiotic host which resembles a big slug, strapped back to back, flying, one blindfolded and the other looking backwards via a helmet mounted with rear-facing mirrors.  Sound strange?  Well, yeah.  But Mieville makes it work.

Anyways, a good chunk of a chapter goes by detailing this plan and launching its first patrol to go and kill some Slake Moths, and you're kinda saying to yourself, "yeah, hey, this is a pretty good plan," and then its like OOPS, SHIT, OH SHIT, MAYBE?, NOPE, SHIT.  A total fucking failure.

This book has this reputation as somehow having a radical socialist political bent to it.  And besides sequences such as the above (government's most elaborate scheme to stop crisis of its own doing results in hapless disaster), I'm kind of at a loss to see the radical edges.  Maybe I'm too lefty to begin with? That's my conclusion.  That, or most sci-fi/fantasy fans are more righty than they'd care to admit.  I guess the lead character being in love with a lady with a giant beetle for a head might put people on edge, but I found that love story quite sweet and compelling (and heartbreaking, in the end).

Required reading.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals: The Evil Monkey Dialogues

by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer (2010)

Descriptions of 36 fantastical creature in about 90 pages, usual a page of description followed by a brief back-and-forth dialogue between Ann Vandermeer (the editor of Weird Tales) and Evil Monkey (her husband Jeff Vandermeer's jackass mouthpiece). To put it simply, there's a pretty clever joke on every page, and this entire little book is very clever and makes you want to lend it to people.

My favorite is still the entry for the Biblical Behemoth, which includes the following snippet of dialog:
Evil Monkey: "Surely this think is kosher, though?"

Ann: "As a matter of fact, it is, but only under certain conditions."

Evil Monkey: "What conditions?"

Ann: "The end of the world."
A fun, light-read-without-being-dumb addition to any library.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Old Men Bickering Like Old Queens Since 2006

Digging the Neilsen-background I put together (for all that you can see it) - but not totally sold on the Robida-professors babbling amongst themselves on the masthead up there...

Neilsen Background

New reviews on the way soon!

Reviewiera still plugging along since 2006. Wow.


Friday, August 06, 2010

this is hip-hop

If I had any--and I mean ANY--ability to make beats, I would make some beats and sample her heavily over the top of them, the beats, and I would make what the kids are almost certainly not calling a club banger out of the beats and her samples and I would become very, very famous and I would buy myself and my awesome girlfriend some plane tickets to exciting and interesting places and I would struggle hard with coming up with a followup club banger and my difficult second album wouldn't sell for shit and we'd be half-broke again and I'd try to return to my roots with the third record and it wouldn't work and it would just be sad sad sad and it would get terrible reviews and eventually I'd give up music and occasionally somebody would wonder hey what happened to that guy and they wouldn't know but I'd be happy, my career reversals notwithstanding.

A couple full-disclosure moments.

  • The video link up there came from William Gibson's Twitter feed.
    Gibson is my favorite living writer and, based on his social media and his incredible gentleness with bad questions at a reading in Portland a couple years back, a truly nice guy.

    Kind of my life model, except that he's a brilliant writer, very, very smart and a nice guy.
  • Speaking of hip-hop: my buddy Abe got me into Aesop Rock a couple years back. The following are three of my alltime favorite pieces of art, followed by a couple great songs. Okay, one great song, on account of my battery is dying and the competition for outlets here at the coffee shop is fierce and tending toward the extinction of me.
  • 9-5ers Anthem
  • None Shall Pass
    Dig that Alan Parsons Project sample!
  • Pigs
    A video of seriously untouchable brilliance and a song that's pretty dope also.
    Can I pull off calling things "dope"? No, not really.
  • "one large coffee fuck you please" goes through my head like a lot.
    Fun fact! The first thousand times I heard this song I thought the voice at the end was some awful horrible neo-soul singer chick. Apparently I'm not hip enough to identify a Mountain Goat by voice.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

is this as bad as it's ever been?

Eternally adolescent, I still sleep on a mattress on the floor, grumble hard about not compromising and never owning anything I can't lift and refuse to cover my (mostly asinine) tattoos when I go to a job interview. But, as Seneca argued, you don't have to be a dick just because you refuse either to have a career or to succumb to responsibilities. Among the few things I think I know about the world are these:

  • being nice to the people around you is a good move

  • making an effort in relationships is good on a lot of levels


This latter point means in practical terms that, because right now I have The Awesomest Girlfriend in the World, I spend a lot more time trying to keep my room clean than I used to. I mean, sure, I hate living in filth as much as the next ageing rocker dude with a half-ton of indispensable media crammed into a tiny space, but I have never minded navigating piles of paper trash. Clutter doesn't bother me. Items are for accumulating; horizontal surfaces are for harbouring items. Piles of shirts on the couch both bolster* the cushioning properties of the cushions of/on the couch and facilitate shirt-selection activities in the early afternoons that plague me by superheating my hovel such that without hesitation or recourse I must find clothes and flee a space that's often comfortable and pleasant but that in the afternoons is basically just a goddamned oven except how it's big enough for a man.

For some reason, I have an incredible ability to sleep in an imaginary cylinder that's exactly one Collision Contradiction long by one Collision Collision shoulder-span in diameter, so it never bothers me that the vast swathes of bed-space that I'm not sleeping in are covered in discarded magazines, comic books, manuals for over-challenging video games or whatever. And let's not even get into why I can't use my turntable. (Okay, okay: it's because it's absolutely covered in shit. Usually shit=unpaid bills & other unopened mail + empty cases for non-vinyl media + 2 empties + in years past a spit cup.)

Clean ALL the Things by Allie Brosh

Most of the time, this bothers me not at all. Then one day a couple times any given year it bothers me and I, like Allie Brosh, decide to clean ALL the things. In practice, cleaning means a savage sortie into the kitchen, with angry counter-swipes, fridge-detritus-annihilation, and usually a half-dozen trips out to the garbage/recycling. Half-dozen trips is, for the record, in no wise an exaggeration. My roommate and I generate a lot of recycling.

After the dishes end up piled high and drippy, clean as they'll ever be, after the counters glister pristine under no empty tuna cans and littering wrappers, after the apartment again has a supply of clean forks, I turn to my own space. I'm usually pretty beat by this point. My endurance is legendary, but that's the kind of endurance that allows me to stay up drinking really really late or the kind of endurance that allows me to plan to sit through the entire Cremaster cycle in a single day: it's the kind of endurance that's endurance for good and pleasant things. When it comes to cleaning, if I can manage to fight past my ADD-fueled brain hunger for an hour or so, that's pretty good.

That's why the kitchen or the bathroom are pretty easy: you crank the HEAVY TUNES and you just fucking scrape the schmutz off shit. You can't get too distracted when you're naked in the shower, grimly grinding a half a salted grapefruit around the brown Pangaea shapes and soap scum--at least, not as distracted as you can get when you're like "I'm going to pile up these magazines somewhere other than on my floor-mattress no wait I should actually put them in that cardboard box over there but if I do that I should put them in order and I don't remember this cover story so I better read that real quick because after all I already paid for the goddamned magazine and if I don't read it it's like they're ripping me off" and then it's 2 and a half hours later and you've moved the pile of magazines from the bed into the only clear floorspace you had before you started cleaning.

Your legs are stiff and sore b/c you've been sitting cross-legged on the floor for 150 minutes, in strict contravention of anything that resembles a good idea for your 35-year-old ass and it's all of a sudden late enough in the day to start drinking without any guilt at all. 12 hours later, you pass out on your mattress on the floor, magazines still festooning the once-clear floorspace, four videogame cases newly strewn and a metric shit-ton of empties generated and discarded, abandoned soldiers leaking where they fell.

Morning comes, about 3 hours after you pass out. You ignore it, lumpish, inert and miserable on the mattress. Luckily, you're pretty together this year, so you've been mostly on top of your laundry situation, rather than sleeping mostly on top of your actual laundry. And it's summer, so you're just sheet+blanketed, instead of sleeping in your sleeping bag on the mattress, like you do all winter every winter because you threw away your comforter when you moved to California, because: hey, it's California! Eventually you manage to secure the remote and wave it around in despair until your Sony-pile starts cooperating and filling your room with whatever nightmarish skronk will actually get you off of mattress. You get off of mattress.

You slip on a glossy magazine cover, noticing that you managed to pull your hamstring a little bit by sitting crosslegged the day before and you begin to feel a quiet itch atop your mouth's roof, the kind of itch that only the barrel of a revolver can scratch.

Before medicating yourself with a lead pill, however, you finish the inch and a half of beer that's left over from last night. After pissing thickly (you can just tell it's sickly sweet from all the yellow beer) you wander into the kitchen. It's clean! It's wonderful. You decide to celebrate with a fantastic and huge breakfast because it's clean and you are a world-class cooker of breakfast.

You quickly discover that while you're possessed of a clean and inviting kitchen with no festering piles of empties or anything, you haven't bought anything except Queso Ruffles and beer for a couple weeks. You have 2 eggs and an onion left. You drink one of your roommate's beers while you contemplate whether or not you can go to the store to buy groceries without a breakfast.

You totally can't.

You crack another one of your roommate's beers and fry half an onion. Halfway through the process you fuck it and crack the two eggs onto the onion-bits and start burning the stale corn tortilla you found on your shelf in the fridge over the open flame of a burner. Half the tortilla will crumble away because it's stale. The other half will be unevenly distributed between carbonized and clammily moist/raw. Cover the tortilla fragments in egg/onion goop and take a couple sad bites. Drench it in hot sauce. At least you still have hot sauce.

Drink a huge amount of water and feel kinda water-balloony. Remind yourself that you've got a LOT to do today; you can't just grab a beer and watch one of your Star Trek DVDs.

Grab one of your roommate's beers and put on a Star Trek DVD. Just in the background--it's better than the radio and you'll seriously never manage to sort through all your records to find something to listen to. Watch the first 20 minutes of Nemesis, remembering that everybody thinks it sucks but that some bits of it are actually pretty okay. Go back to the kitchen to reload your water. The cutting board is balanced on the sink under a half an onion and your dull knife. Your water filter pitcher is empty. Use your roommate's. Refill yours but not his. Go back to your room.

Sweep all the magazines into one undifferentiated pile and shove them in a cardboard box. Take out all the empties, including the two that you peed in the night before because you couldn't be bothered to go all the way to the bathroom. Put all the videogames back in their cases, and stow those. You have now restored your room to the condition it was in before you started cleaning. You have also destroyed the kitchen.

When you get back from peeing again, you realize your room has a really weird scent to it. Open the blackout curtain and shove the window all the way open. Realize there's so much work to do that you seriously can't contemplate doing it without a cup of coffee. There's no coffee in the house. Realize you can't leave the house looking like you do.

When was that last shower, anyways? Anyways. Rummage and root for a black t-shirt that looks clean and doesn't smell because you're not going to put a clean shirt on your dirty body but you're not going to the coffee shop reeking of beersweat, covered in headgrease. While rummaging and rooting, create huge pile of needs-to-be-washed on the couch. Realize you're not as on top of laundry as maybe you'd thought. You're totally fucking doing laundry today. You've got a plan: grab your coffee, clean the room, take all the laundry down to the laundromat, wash the shit out of that laundry, come home to your super-clean room with a whole mess of clean laundry and put that shit away.

It's going to be so awesome. You could even probably do some pushups at the laundromat while your entire life gets sudsy and appealing. Grab your mammoth bag and bike and roll down to the coffee shop.

Better check your email. What's going on on Twitter? Any earth-shaking hockey news? Is today one of the days when the comics get updated? What day is it, anyhow?

Better get a refill.

Write a couple emails. Delete a shit-ton more. Poke around on your hard drive for unfinished projects. Think about moving images from your phone to your hard drive. Don't. Wonder why you take pictures with your phone anyway because it's such a savagely useless piece of shit that generates almost unlookatable images. Now you're hungry.


You decide to go someplace where you can grab a beer with lunch. Then you grab like five more beers after lunch and you're solidly buzzed and have read like half a mystery novel and you feel pretty accomplished as you ride home wobbily.

You walk into a room that appears--yes--to be a teenaged boy's room exploding into yours. Media everywhere. Filthy black tshirts moulder. The smell has not dissipated. It may have concentrated.

Somehow a four-hour sojourn into the wide world has plucked the scales from your eyes: your entire life looks and feels like a disaster.

It's too late for laundry.

The only thing to be done, the only thing that can salvage this worthless failcluster of a day, is playing some videogames. Finishing something will give you something to write about, and you could really use that. You never even hit STOP on the DVD player when you left. What the hell. What the hell is wrong with you? You think about firing up the Wii, but that's not going to work because your brain is way too hungry for that little stimulus.

You grab the DS. Restart Nemesis in the background with the radio providing the soundtrack. Fiddle with the DS for a while. Get to some point in like three separate goddamned games where you had to quit because you couldn't get any farther. Be frustrated that not playing the game for six months or whatever didn't make you good enough at the game to beat the hard thing. End up just dicking around with some stupid puzzle game for an hour before getting disgusted with life and disgusted with everyone and disgusted with yourself and tossing the DS onto the bed and firing up the Wii and playing some game for a couple hours that everybody in the entire world except for you thinks is complete garbage. Go to bed mattress kinda satisfied because you made some progress in your game and you have taste and discernment that others don't have and so if you ever finish this one you're gonna be able to write a really really good blog post about it.

Grab a magazine and hop onto mattress. Read a paragraph. This magazine is stupid, so you'll want to abandon it. Do. Roll your eyes at the radio. Stand half-naked in front of your huge tower of uncategorized CDs until your shivering forces you to grab something off the top that you put away because you were sick of it because it was on the top and you've been listening to it and nothing else for three weeks. Put it in. Grab your video game's manual to study up so you can finish it quickly and tuck it and yourself snugly into mattress.

The unit interactions are kinda complicated in this game. Get up and find a pad of graph paper. Find a pencil. Start making charts. Chart-making is some thirsty work, so you'll definitely need a beer for that.

Shit. You're out of beer. That's probably why you knocked off playing your game and started moving towards mattress, hunh. Well, grab another beer of your roommate's. You'll totally buy him a 12pack in the morning.

Once you're back in your room, it's a good idea to pass out with the light still on. Nosweat: you'll probably wake up in a couple hours--that's when you can throw your glasses onto the graph paper and pencil and manual and magazine. Wake up like 5 hours later and ruthlessly triage the mounds of life-generated kipple choking off your room like arterial plaque. All the dirty laundry? Into the laundromat-journey bags. Empties? You--are--out--of--here!

Giant pile of paperbacks in front of the bookcase because there's no room on the shelves for more books? Tidied! Put a couple of them into a box of to-be-given-away, then put that box under the remaining books. Get all that shit off your stupid turntable** and play a record. Whoa. How many records do you have in that box, anyway? Because that's the box of records you bought at shows and never listened to. Shit. That's a lot of records. You should totally record a couple of those onto CDs, so you can dig out your old laptop, the one w/ the CD drive, so you can rip those CDs and put them on your .mp3 player so you can listen to them on your bike.

You start in on this project.

Shit, now you have to pee. Are your sideburns too long? Too wide? Shit. What's Genevieve gonna think of your sideburns? Shove the to-be-recorded albums in between the bags of to-be-done laundry on the couch. Be thereby reminded that you've got bags of to-be-done laundry. Cram those mounds of bagged laundry onto your bike's rack and tie them down there. Prop the heaps of records in front of a speaker. Look around. Gaze in wide wonder.

You've cleaned your room!

*You'll get that in the morning.

**Oh, fuck. That's your get-your-check unemployment paperwork, and it's...three weeks overdue. Well, that's no good.