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 happy...it'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 extracts...call 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 more...author-y 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.