Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fat's best HEAVY TUNES of 2011

Malverde, Red Fang, Murder the Mountains
Short Version, Wild Flag, Wild Flag
running on nothing, Fucked Up, David Comes to Life
TNK, 801, 801 Live
Woke up Near Chelsea, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, the Brutalist Bricks
Black Captain, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Wolfroy Goes to Town
The Czar: Usurper/Escape/Martyr/Spiral, Mastodon, Crack the Skye
(), the Men, Leave Home
Boring Girls (live), Pissed Jeans, WFMU Comp
We Left the Apes to Rot, but Find the Fang Grows Within, Red Sparowes, Aphorisms
jigsaw puzzle, Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet
always never know when to quit, Big Business, Quadruple Single
Miss Two Knives, Single Bullet Theory, Single Bullet Theory
Estate Sale Sign, the Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck
Jacket (orchestral), Shallow Gravy, Jacket EP
keep pushin', Pierced Arrows, 45

All Eternals Deck

Tied with David Comes to Life as the record that meant the most to me in 2011. Only misses were "the Autopsy Garland" (a fine song, but the Steely Dan references were a turnoff), "Age of Kings" (too much whispering, too much quavery violin), "Sourdoire Valley Song" (too slow, too much falsetto, but the lyrics might be the album's best), & "for Charles Bronson" (just too on the nose).

Though there's not one song that does it for me every-note/every-word, "Beautiful Gas Mask", "Birth of Serpents", "Prowl Great Cain", are damn close, and "Damn These Vampires" is as close to absolutely perfect as any song I've ever heard; I only left it off the best-song list to try to avoid being completely trite. "Birth of Serpents" and, oddly, "Liza Forever Minelli" have two or three lines that make me misty every single time. "High Hawk Season" makes me sing along with my nothing voice every single time. "Never Quite Free" might have the album's best arrangements, and even though I have no idea what it's 'about', the way the song is put together makes me happy every time I hear it.

David Comes to Life

Almost certainly too long, and with some weak spots like dry rot, but a hell-week when I couldn't go/be home, my lady was four time zones away, all I had was this record through the sub-thumbnail-sized speakers in my netbook, and even though I was kind of crying a lot, everything seemed okay whenever I heard something like "hello my name is David" or "where the fuck is the other shoe", or the spit-shout hoarse desperation of "it's all been worth it it's all been worth it it's all been worth it it's all been worth it".

The drums are obliteratingly good, the guitars sound as good as any record you've ever owned, the bass is mixed just a hair too low for me, and the entire album sounds/feels like a heart-full teary-eyed smile-cry confession about how much you like really like somebody and just have to tell them about it all about it right now now now it hurts and goddamnit I had to do it and live/die/lose/win/walk/run/cry/laugh I'll never regret a second of this moment.

My sophomore year, I bought Quadrophenia on tape, used at the Buckingham Mall, a many-mile walk from my house, and I spent untold hours walking around Aurora listening to it again and again--David Comes to Life is less ambitious, less over-done, and slightly less successful, but it rocks a lot harder, and I'm not in my sophomore year anymore.

The stupidest thing I did at a show this year was leave during the encore.

Picked "running on nothing" more or less at random. It's great. "life in paper" would have worked about as well and I'm going to stop adding to this list, b/c if I don't, I'm going to list all but like three tunes.

Pissed Jeans

Old song, probably, but I never heard it, and this specific version is the greatest thing ever. Extra-special bonus points go to the drummer for being incredibly game.

Everything about this track is perfect.

Short Version

This record is only middling, but it makes a lot more sense after seeing them live. On the album, you just get a lot of fairly restrained pop-prog, but live you get a couple of Sleater-Kinney alums with as much raw charisma as anybody playing music, Mary Timony's virtuosity and sly hamminess and a more-than-the-sum-of-the-considerable-parts let's-fucking-go-for-it ethos that made the long, long, version of "racehorse" one of the four or five best live moments I had this year. Real players in the service of an improvisational, incantory, Patti-Smith-like tune: my brain & body were both annihilated.

But on record, "short version" was the best executed pop song with riffs and explosions and "Oh-KAY! Awl-RITE!" and bliss.


I don't remember why I went to this show alone; I do remember that I went to see Milk Music, who I love, and who played a very, very good set, and who were absolutely occluded in my memory by the savage brilliance of The Men. I had to leave (home) early, to catch BART, b/c living in the East Bay is a nightmare, and the last thing I heard was a phenomenal rendition of (). As untouchably brilliant as it is on record, hearing it live added a layer of repetition-build, 10 layers of dynamics, and 23 layers of intensity. The definitional HEAVY TUNE of 2011.

I just found out there's another record coming in early 2012, and that's the best culture news I've had since Chinese Democracy came out.


Took me a long, long time to warm to this record. Two main obstacles: the first single, "Wires", sounds like (the) tepid gruel (typically) expectorated by Queens of the Stone Age; the first time I saw Red Fang was one of the greatest live moments of my life, with a couple drone-riff & groove-stomp burners they seem to have retired. Compared to "humans remain human remains" and "suicide", a lot of their material has lacked a certain luster--but this song is flawless like a mammoth-sized emerald avalanching down a steep hill, here and there bounding up and catching air, but it doesn't spare anybody, it only builds more tension before flattening whatever's in its way.

Red Sparowes

This band is a long-time favorite--I was loving their shit when I was still getting tattoos--and this EP adds substantial and nasty edge to the band's drone-flow style. Minute per minute, by far the best thing I bought this year. Takes me places every time.


Fuck it, I can't help it: this melody really works for me. Venture Brothers is the best show on TV, partly because its creators are legit polymaths.

Woke up Near Chelsea

A toss-up: I only discovered Ted Leo this year, and I've already had a deeply weird relationship with his records. At least three times in 2011, I've been on camping trips with no music and Shake the Sheets stuck irremovably in my head--I shit you not! So for now, I'm not letting myself listen to that record, and I'm holding myself to the Brutalist Bricks.

I had a conversation with David Roth once, and he argued that the production on these records is unovercomably offputting. And there are moments of Bricks where that's almost true*: the drums all sound enh and the bass production is frankly repellent (nowhere more so than on "mourning in America" and the way-too-compressed "the mighty sparrow"), but on this number, Leo's songwriting/arranging genius takes over and rumble-tumbles big riffs over and around seizing melodies. In a way, choosing this song is a cop-out, but these two records spent a huge amount of time in my rotation this year, and will next year too, and this tune might be the easiest one to access if you're not me. (I came fucking close to picking "Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop", because I fucking love that song, but I thought it better to stick with a straight number.)

Only songs I can't seem to enjoy are "gimmie the wire", which is musically great but I can't get past the "Tipper" line, and "one Polaroid a day", with a creepily in-your-ear soul whisper-growl that I don't like from anybody. The way Leo & his band put a song together--which is songwriting far more than lyric-writing is--is one of the best things I've discovered in the past couple years. Lots of parts! And malproduced or not, the drummer is tight as fuck.

Black Captain

As good a song as Will Oldham has ever written--which inarguably means that it's as good a song as anybody has ever written.


Heard this on KALX, ran it down mere days later at a time when I was too broke to be buying records. It's by a wide margin the best tune on the record, unfortunately, but I like Eno well enough, and, per my gushing over live Wild Flag, have a lot of fondness for soloy pop-prog, which this is. (There was a BBC recording of Eno's band that turns all the still, measured perfection of Taking Tiger Mountain into slipshod boogie--no shit: avoid that one. Avoid it hard.)

jigsaw puzzle

Beggars Banquet is now my go-to Stones record. Not as scathing as Exile nor as studio-overreaching as Let it Bleed, it's just a perfectly executed collection of surprisingly varied songs--with essentially no idiot missteps (think "Brown Sugar"). I picked "jigsaw puzzle" because I think it probably has more verses than all other Stones songs I love combined.

Open question: did anyone ever take "salt of the earth" at face value?

The Czar: Usurper/Escape/Martyr/Spiral

Not a huge fan of Mastodon. They're radically overproduced, and the vocals are probably the worst of any major band in any genre. But sometimes the guy stops his atonal keening and the band goes off. They're a lot like Jane's Addiction, in other words, in that their one-trick fake virtuosity is only compelling because they spend so much time fucking around trying to pull off things they're not good at. But at 3:45 or so of this one, when the acoustics & vocals fade away and we get a couple seconds of stolen-from-High-on-Fire Sabbath-saw riffage, nothing could make more sense or be more satisfying: at least until 5:25, when it gets even better for a minute.

Bonus points for the worst lyric any heavy band ever wrote: "wasting valuable time". Hey, dude: your moron B-school ambitions are showing. If you actually want people to think you're a metal band, you follow "wasting" with "my foes" or something. You don't write paeans to efficiency (FFS).

Miss Two Knives

Far the best song on the record, but there's only so many Cheap Trick records in this worthless, degraded world, so sometimes a man just has to shove two knives into the power-pop hole in his soul.

always never know when to quit

I put this on Noodles' .mp3 player and she called me one day to say "this is funny--it makes me laugh". That's half the reason I love Big Business. The other half is that the power of their fuzz & Jared's Axl-like ability to harmonize with himself is heart-squeezingly powerful.

keep pushin'

Saw Pierced Arrows a lot this year, for some reason. Kelly's drumming has gotten better and better, and the pre-Halloween show Noodles & I caught at Thee Parkside was as good as any Dead Moon show ever was. They also opened up for Dinosaur Jr. at the Fillmore, and garnered more than a few fans from the shockingly young crowd. That's where I first heard this peppy little number, which makes me smile.

*I should note explicitly that I think the Pharmacists are sounding on record exactly like they want to: the production Roth finds so problematic is deliberate, not incompetent.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Killer of Sheep

0. Pointlessly Long Introduction (new day rising)

Not to step on Dregs' toes here, but I got to scratch several movie itches simultaneously last night. I moved to Oakland almost exactly three and a half years ago, and for the first few months, out of work and aimless, wrestling with life-challenged depression1 as a decided departure from my Portland-based stasis-stifled-self-centered depression2, I spent most of my time drinking daylight coffee by the quart and reading the Times. It was there, probably, that I first heard of a 1977 student film called Killer of Sheep that had (a) blown minds upon its release and (b) gone unreleased & undistributed for decades due to music-rights issues.

Some years later, TWBGITW mentioned the film--I believe in the context of boys receiving bike-directed violence--as something I literally had to see.

Combine these two itches--either surely sufficient--with my oft-voiced one-liner about living in Oakland:

I like it partly because I get to use Berkeley & SF as resources without having to live in either one of them.
One of the key Berkeley resources is the Pacific Film Archive, which has expensive tickets and a tiny screen, but superb taste.

1. Killer of Sheep (everything falls apart)

PFA's presentation was stark and transitionless: no trailers, no promotional materials. They turned the lights off and rolled the film.

Deliberate or not, it was a flaw-free introduction to the experience: with no buffer, you're thrown into deep intimacy: tight closeup on a boy's face, with a bellowing voice dressing him down. Slowly you become aware the source of the voice is an undershirt-clad trunk in the foreground.

The words concern loyalty, solidarity, violence, and threat. The boy is told to stand up for himself and his brother right or wrong, or face consequences at home.

Another unbuffered transition: children at play. Now and throughout the film you see that this play is in ruins environmentally, essentially prop-free in terms of equipment, and constantly, constantly, violent.

The next transition feels less jarring, perhaps because the film's rhythms and stylistic unity are asserting themselves by now. You're in a kitchen, watching a man work from a deeply odd camera angle. Eventually the man knocks off and joins his friend for some coffee, talk, and dominoes. He's half-haunted, he says he doesn't sleep, he says he's done wrong, but "nothing that would make the Devil blush". And it is this man we mostly follow for the next hour and change, as he goes to work, mopping up offal in an abbatoir, as he endures a Sisyphian odyssey to secure a motor for his car, as he moves through and is completely enmeshed in a run-down world without resources of any discernable kind.

This is a poverty never seen on film, made rawer and rougher by the man--Stan, we discover--'s insistence that he's not poor, not really: he gives to the Salvation Army--gives--and..."you want to see go look at Winston's place..." where they're eating wild greens from a vacant lot and huddling around the oven for heat.

2. Killer of Sheep (hardly getting over it)

Plot and character play a significant role in this picture. The greatest impacts, though, came from three aspects of theme or mood.

  • Stan's quiet and isolation is so profound, and so intimately presented, that his immobility, his almost unmoved and unresponsive countenance in the face of his wife's sexual needs, is painful to watch. It cuts even deeper as you watch his wife's determined, practiced primping.
  • The primping of the mother is recapitulated in the film's many daughters--and half the movie is seemingly given over to meticulously detailed ramifications of Wordsworth's "the child is father to the man". Jocular jockeying among the men mirrors the everpresent wrestling and horseplay between the boys; though all the children we see are sexless, the genders are pretty thoroughly divided and already battering away at one another--as when a group of girls drive off a single boy, hurling his bike wheel and venom at his sob-wracked fleeing back. Watching the somewhat aimless kids slowly congeal into their parents, with a newly pregnant, shy young woman toward the end of the piece, or when Stan's son snarls at his tiny sister "I need some money", chills, freezes, saddens.
  • Hardest yet to take throughought the near-total grimness and deprivation of the film and its milieu is the hammered-thin but not annihilated hope maintained. The primping counts here, and Stan's insistence that he's not poor, and these moments find endless echoes, as a handout is politely, sadly, turned down, or as everybody gets dressed up and heads out in a finally-repaired car for an afternoon in the country, an endeavour exactly parallel to Stan's grinding, doomed, quest for an engine. Or when Stan's little girl says to another, who's been missing a lot of school "but you'll fall behind". Exhaustion and effort are everywhere in the movie, and more than a little abdication and abandonment. The experience of watching this is split raggedly between wanting to cry "it's futile, you're doomed, give up" and gasping "you can't stop there".

3. Killer of Sheep (you can live at home now)

Maybe it's not hard to sum up Killer of Sheep:

if you like movies, black people, or true things, you need to see this film

Which probably explains why it went unseen for three decades.

4. Outro (keep hanging on)

Further reading:
New Yorker DVD of the Week
New Yorker reissue notice
NYT DVD notice
NYT reissue notes

--Fat, seeing Badlands & Mean Streets tonight, too

1Three representative pieces. And one example of my mind absolutely splintering with isolation and frenzied self-directed fury: hard for me to read this one.

2In lieu of citing this, I will merely gesture toward this.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

how you will know

Camping is, perhaps, part of human life, and to the extent that it is, it--like everything else--is received as a half-spiced mulligatawney, equal parts semi-sensical slogans grooved into your brain, your thoughts a needle running along them, the grooves' exponents echoes spilling out and dominating your practice for years of a life, only revealed after infinite mental repetitions to be just a nonce-rule, just a string of words once spilled out a mouth, nothing that could or should justifiably govern action--equal parts, I said--and the kinds of hard-won factoids that, given any opportunity whatever, will inevitably fly forth from your face like some kind of moral law every man jack must know instanter and follow for now & forever: one thing I know in the first sense about camping is that a person ought always to keep tidy, as a sloppy camp makes all operations shoddy and difficult (though I'm willing to pay certain prices, after all: once hiking a fastidious and entirely correct friend asked me to adjust my pack/sleeping-mat interface, based on "it's driving me nuts looking at the slovenly way you've attached it there"; he received only a snarl "if you don't want to look at my pack, all you need do is hike faster than me") and another the unexpected unpleasant lurks all places anytime but these are lessons essentially merely loitering in me, shibboleths to which I nominally subscribe/adhere but pay no mind, sets of thought but nearly empty ones, comprising the kind of code a man might abandon with nothing but a nag flickering at the nape of his neck, to, say, snag a few comestibles and accompany the world's best girlfriend in the world from a campsite to an adjoining beach for a sunset food/wine pairing not carelessly to be described nor quickly to be abandoned, the kind of code nagging that might make a man deeply paranoid and anxious upon the moment of a return to the campsite to find Rank Violation, the kind of code demanding the response to Rank Violation be infinite mental repeats of the notion "everything into the bear box before you walk away every time idiot", the kind of code that makes instant and complete sense out of bags torn and scattered, wrappers gnawed and spitty, vile pawprints tainting every item, nothing safe, nothing secure because nothing was (properly) secured, ruins strewn and surrounding and a sad self-rage imbuing every endeavour with an inalienable knowledge of failure.

Fucking raccoon incursion. Never leave your campsite alone. Never leave anything out and unattended. There's probably raccoon jizz on two-thirds of my belongings. Fucking raccoon incursion.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

scenes from a relationship: poor pegsmanship

The world's best girlfriend in the world & I went camping in an undisclosed because it's fucking awesomely cool stay out of it so next time we don't have to go on a pig-friggin' Monday night location. In our preparations, it was revealed to us that our planned date had been declared a spare-the-air day, which meant: no campfire. This is not a huge problem, since our primary camp recipes don't require fire, and since I'm never not willing to call it a night a little early and retire to the tent for a lengthy bout of cribbage.

Bushmills(Primary camp recipe for Fat Contradiction/TWBGITW.)

That said, it was clear that we were going to need to supplement our light situation. I'm a huge fan of my new headlamp, but TWBGITW has made it clear that a lamp will grace her unruffl'd brow exactly never. Plus holding a flashlight all the time is awkward--to say nothing of holding a fleshlight all the time--and what the hell: there is a robust tradition in the human race of having a central light source around which most activities can be arrayed/arranged--and who exactly is Fat Contradiction to buck tradition?

Nobody, that's who.

As I banged the confounding box around my prospective purchase on a handy toddler, attempting to extract/assess the item ('s battery requirements, listed exactly one tiny place in a miniscule font for fuck's sake), my phone rang and I did proceed to have the following conversation.

TWBGITW: So, you picking up anything else?
Fat: Yah, I figured we'll need some extra light, so I'm getting a bug candle and a lantern.
TWBGITW: Oh, what kind of lantern?
Fat: It's the one that looks like a rocketship.
TWBGITW: Is it a good one?
Fat: ...
TWBGITW: Is it a good brand?
Fat: It's the one that looks like a rocketship. I'm getting the one that looks like a rocketship.
TWBGITW: (Patiently.) Oh, sure, of course. Well, see you later.

Kelty lantern that looks like a rocketship

--Fat, pretty happy with the lantern that looks like a rocketship

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Spy Who Shagged Me

Josef von Sternberg made six more films with Marlene Dietrich, after directing her 1930 debut, Der blaue Engel. While her supporting role in Der blaue Engel showcased Dietrich's confident and empowered on-screen sex appeal, Dishonored (1931) further capitalizes on that breakthrough by featuring her as the star of a Spy Film where her missions all require her to "use her body as a weapon."
Von Sternberg's legacy is sex and glamour. Typically he also uses exotic settings, such as Austria in Dishonored. And it is in this film where one may observe his innovative medium close-ups of his lead actress, which show the woman backlit and filmed in soft focus. The backlight (sometimes called a hairlight) gives Dietrich a halo effect, accentuating her swirling tresses with silver. But another effect of the backlight, which is placed above and behind the actress, is to leave a deep shadow under her chin. This shadow gives her face a quality that makes it look like a porcelain mask, and it's funny that this film's central motif is the masquerade.
Dishonored opens with the iconic image of a formally attired Agent X-27 (Dietrich), veiled, pulling up one of her thigh high silk stockings--this image also bookends the film. Like Lola Lola, there is absolutely nothing life can throw at this woman that could even come close to cracking her icy cool veneer. X-27 is more though. She's "not afraid of life, of course [she's] not afraid of death either." And she's fearlessly clever, always up for a party, a master of disguise and just so happens to have a pet black cat with her at all times.
The film's romantic cynicism is embodied in the recompense the Austrian military gives X-27 for all of her service. In one of the more bizarre climaxes of classic Hollywood, we await the execution of X-27 before a firing squad while she smugly defies any sense of panic, glammed up and applying lipstick as she (and we) wonder if anyone would actually be able to shoot a woman who looked this good (and who, it is subtly suggested, fucked most of, if not all, the men who are raising their rifles at her--the prurient subtext abounds throughout the film).
Victor McLaglen has real chemistry opposite Dietrich. And his Russian military uniform maintains the masquerade motif--I forgot to mention, von Sternberg also spares no detail with costumes.
If von Sternberg's influence seems to pop up in some of Kubrick's (or Ophüls') costume dramas regarding mise en scène, then Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" played during the party scene may have been partly responsible for the space ballet sequences in 2001: A Space Oddyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick). But there's no way to know--I'm probably reaching. The party is what ultimately caused my appreciation for von Sternber's delirious, baroque decorative touch. The frame is crowded with streamers and elbow to elbow party guests masked, continuously blowing party favors erect. And somehow, in spite of all of this clutter, the camera omnisciently sweeps up and down as it cranes and pans.
For me this artifact is timeless. But in a way, it's almost more risque than anything else I can think of from modern films. For instance, the scene where X-27 seduces the adjutant is uncomfortably kinky. After we follow a cut and find them drunk in his room, X-27 pretends she's a child as foreplay. Was this a request on the adjutant's part? An offer? It's a little creepy.
Finally, I'd just like to point out one more instance of how far this film goes in its unabashed camp sensibilities. In addition to the vagina as weapon of mass destruction, and the spy who somehow always gets to have her black cat with her (even when imprisoned for treasonous acts), the central plot device here is also one of the classic screen maguffens. X-27 has to find a piece of music that the Russians have that will potentially kill thousands of Austrians (Umm, how exactly?).
And I wish I could say more about the lighting in this movie. Some directors just got that knack--the play between light and shadow here are wonderfully displayed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

what's good in life

Further to my notes of last week sometime, the Completely Un(re)searchable & Myfterious SE, purveyors of RoHs Quality, have proven themselves worthy enough. At press time, this writer had not mastered the striking of sparks with the steel/magnesium; but the headlamp had proved on the instant of its deployment the superior form of light dispersal.

Particularly indispensable is the oft'-elided red LED option. In field tests, this writer frequently found himself grinding his teeth as others without the red LED option blinded the everloving [redacted] out of him by training their candlepower-supplemented gaze 'pon his face. Whereas projecting the field of one's vision in cool long red waves is, at least, less annoying and abusive than other alternatives. To say nothing of the lack of crippling jaw/neck pain often earlier occasioned by lengthy interlucdes of holding one's two-AA Maglite uniformly between one's lips, or more firmly and enamel-abradingly between chipped front teeth. If you want to camp, you want a headlamp. This one works fine.

Other Thing

An aging rocker dude of the DIY persuasion once had a long, frustrating couple of weeks. His enjoyment of doing hobbies had palled somewhat. In part because DIY practices can infect all processes/products with what Kipling termed the "rather more-or-less" and what everybody else calls the "half-assed". In part because DIY techniques often focus on the accessible or attainable at the expense of the (task-) appropriate and specialized.

Anyway, in his badly-patched skinny jeans the aging rocker dude making nachos in his filthy ruin of a kitchen spat to no-one (not even the chair)

I'm DONE using shoddy shit, I'm done half-assing it, I'm done fucking around and doing things badly just for the sake of doing them myself. Life's too short. Here on out, I'm using good things, I'm sticking to what I'm good at, & I'm insisting on high quality in myself, my activities, and my surroundings.

Then the aging rocker got excited by his new load of surplus and he used his new Army-style can opener to open a can of refrieds for his nachos.

It worked quite well.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fat hearts American Science & Surplus

It's a small list of brands still worth caring about in this world. One of the few that will reliably bring some magic into your world is American Science & Surplus, self-bestowers of the basically irrefutable tagline "incredible stuff, unbelievable prices".

I get a catalog from these guys every 6 months or so, order something about every year, basically just so I keep getting that catalog, a minor miracle of the copywriter's trade. Pun-filled and crackling with line-drawing illustrations, it's not unreasonable to assert that the only product manufactured by AS&S is of higher quality than the panoply of products they distribute. --Not that the goods on offer here are necessarily shoddy or disappointing: they're just invariably presented both amusingly and in their best light.

For example, picked literally at random from a number I discovered while trying desperately to dig my way out from under what appears to be seven (7) London Review of Books, four (4) Harper's, and a lot (sigh) of New Yorkers to get through:

Wind-up Vehicular Fridge Magnet
From our Unlikely Combination Division comes our first-ever wind-up vehicle capable of climbing any vertical ferrous-metal surface, like your filing cabinet or (non-stainless) fridge, thanks to tiny embedded magnets. Also chugs along on the horizontal. Measures 1-7/8" x 1-1/2" x 1-3/4" tall with the winder. In assorted colors that we'll decide on, thank you very much.


You get some good gifts out of this catalog: a little penknife with a built-in flashlight, a life-sized white plastic skull, an inflatable moose head... And you can score some useful prizes with a sharp eye: as illustrated, I just ended up with a couple nice little funnels, some of those Army-style can openers, and a firestarter--all just in time for a quick camping trip in the redwoods! Sure, my Swiss Army knife does a creditable job on cans, when necessary, and I already had one metal funnel exactly the size of my new one, and I'm a little unsure about the quality of that headlamp, and maybe graph paper has proved to be the only sure-fire way to induce writer's block I've so far discovered...but that little glass funnel? Pretty. And a cheapo headlamp is something I'll not be afraid to use/abuse the hell out of, which is exactly what a man wants/needs on a camping trip...

And, writer's block or no, the AS&S stock of graph paper takes ink better than any comparable product I've ever owned--fun to scrape a stylus on. Anyway, if you like small boxes of pleasing things &/or advertising produced with a light heart & lighter touch, AS&S is well worth your time.

Side note: As for camping gear, I've spent half my life on Coleman products--they're cheap, but they're not very good. Sort of what you buy when you don't want to step all the way up to Stansport (to say nothing of outfitting oneself primarily in Coughlan's kit). I note, however, that all the camping items in this latest batch were from some company called, helpfully, SE. I suspect these will turn out to be a step down from Coleman. To put it another way, I suspect they will turn out to be useable, if perhaps occasionally frustrating. As for the quality, I shall defer to the text on the headlamp: "RoHs Quality", which, I mean...I really shouldn't have to explain RoHs Quality by this point. Reviewiera has been cranking out the finest in objective subjectivisms since 2006, for fuck's sake. To help guide me discover the uses of these SE items--of RoHs Quality--I shall turn to the packaging:

Stainless Steel Funnel
Great for Pouring Liquids into Flasks, Small Containers, Jars, etc..
Nylon Shafts
Flexible yet durable glass filled nylon shafts resist fracturing
Magnesium Fire Starter
Gently Shave [always, always good advice, there] a Small Quality of Magnesium [less good, but worth a shot]
8 LED Headlamp
Adjust inclination if needed.

--Fat, adjusting his inclination

Friday, August 05, 2011

Bitch Problem

Often I have compared movies to women; a whirlpool from which my gaze cannot escape; a search for understanding.
Personally, I wonder if I go too far seeing things in binary terms. (Like, I like girls and movies.) But I feel Der blaue Engel (1930, Josef von Sternberg) has just cause for this perspective. The plot centers around Rath (Emil Jannings), an aging college professor, and his tragic downfall after falling helplessly over travelling cabaret star Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich). These two principal characters depict a pair of one of the most extreme generalizations of how to live life. She is sharp, tough and cynical--takes the hand she's dealt. He is a bitch, weak and sentimental--he curls into a slobbering mess and cries. This distinction alone suffices to cement this film's place in the canon of feminist cinema.
I can't believe when I first saw this movie I empathized with Rath. To identify with his docile victimization is naive and masochistic. Furthermore, I am dismayed to have scorned the Lola character, reproaching her betrayal of this man who loved her so dearly. Lola has real problems, but doesn't let them get to her. She's also a victim, but by fighting, instead of giving up like Rath, she's actually the more virtuous. This brings me to another pair of themes.
The film's title comes from the name of the nightclub Lola first performs in where Rath sees her--The Blue Angel. As a woman, Lola is a contradiction of just these terms. She's an angel onstage and in public; while she's blue in her private life. That's my guess, anyway.
Rath doesn't see Lola for the woman she is, and that is his undoing. It's also evident in the songbird that dies during the film's introductory Rath sequence. Rath doesn't even comprehend that the bird is dead. It is as though he is incapable of appreciating that the bird is mortal--he just expects it to sing and keep him company. Although I don't empathize with Rath, I feel sorry for the tragic ending he represents and hold it as a warning of what can happen if you act like a bitch.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

America: where unhappiness counts as good

I got something to say
I killed your baby today
and it doesn't matter much to me
as long as it's dead

I assume I will not be the first to point out the horrifying addiction American media has to the asinine notion that "there's always two sides to a story", and the policy of "equal time" it has lead to, which policy ensures that a filthy liar will always, always, have a powerful public platform from which to holler nonsense.

I may be the first to point out, however, the way that pathetic non sequitur--clearly false on the face of it--leads our beloved, trusted, chosen repeaters of others' falsehoods to find the following nostrum peculiarly pleasing:

I always find, even going back to the days that I practiced law, if people walk out of the room and parties are all disatisfied, that's a pretty good settlement.

I don't mean to pick on Harry Reid, except that he's a noxious shill for (other) rich, powerful wretches--it's far from his fault that his idiot formulation is catnip to NPR*. It's an important part of his very job to ensure that he is not asked to answer substantive questions. It's up to him to throw out savory distractions, to say things his putative interlocutors will find irresistably quotatious, and my beef's not with him. Rather, it's with grown-ass people whose job is nominally to exhibit curiousity, even cynicism, about the words and deeds of others.

*Where I get most of my news.

But since I am not read by any actual journalists, and since I am a complete goddamned hack, I will try to illustrate the idiocy of the idea that when everybody's unhappy, the deal's been a good one by means of a brief encounter between Glenn Danzig and Harry Reid.

Glenn Danzig: I got something to say
I killed your baby today
and it doesn't matter much to me
as long as it's dead

Harry Reid: I do not like that. I wish you had killed someone else.

Glenn Danzig: I do not care.

An Arbitrator: Glenn, you must pay Harry Reid three dollars and 87 cents as restitution for killing his baby.

Glenn Danzig: :(

Harry Reid: :(

Note here that everybody is unhappy, therefore the deal is good. Go fuck yourself, Harry Reid, and pull your goddamned heads out of your asses, NPR, and swab the shit from your ears, so you can actually tell when somebody is feeding you a stinking load of self-serving lies that are obviously false and stupid.

--Fat, loathing this country

This one goes out to the redoubtable Tyrrany of Tradition blog, which is all killer and no filler. And to the HC Headlines twitter feed, which helped remind me today that I never stopped loving some hardcore records, probably mainly because I am now & forever predisposed to a genre encouraging me to respond to every event or emotion with STRIDENT, INCOHERENT REPETITION. And thanks to my main man Mr. Forklift Jihad for providing the title. No thanks to Harry "bootlicking" Reid, and not much thanks to Glenn "fucking mortals" Danzig.

(Thanks to Can't Stop the Bleeding for that one.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

the Mountain Goats, 20jun2011, Great American Music Hall

This is for Genevieve, who is, and this is not a joke, the world's best girlfriend.

Mountain Goats I came late--real late--to. I'd seen the name kick around, and hadn't had much use for any of the people gushing. I think I had a dim awareness that he'd followed Colin Meloy's lead and written a 33 1/3 book that was an album review by means of piece of fiction. I naturally--probably better to say "I fatuously"--combined these facts and decided that the Mountain Goats sucked.

Somewhere around the summer of 2009, though, hungover and overfed, I dragged myself back to my bedroom after breakfast. KALX was on, and the second I walked into the room, I heard the first words of "last year".

I stood in front of my stereo, not sitting down, not setting my breakfast beer down, not focussing my eyes, cuffed and buffeted by the song, pinned like a butterfly, pinned like the wretched wrestler I was for a couple years. I sent a bitchy text to a friend "I was just reduced to tears by a Mountain Goats song, what's all wrong w/ me lol hrrr".

Ever since then, I've had work hours where I'll youtube that song a half-dozen times in a row and just really really bum myself the fuck out.*

*(If you want to go ahead and explain that it's a hopeful song like Dream Weaver--Stinky Puffs reference!!--feel free, champ. Something about it takes the cheese grater to my normally effervescent soul.)

And for a while I was a dick to Mountain Goats main man John Darnielle on Twitter.

(What can I say: when I late-bloom, I hold off on blooming until the very last available second.)

But there was something there: a song serrated like "this year" can't under any circumstances be made by somebody who isn't worth paying attention to. To put that more hammer: The person who makes that song? you must attend to; that song is capital-g Great and any person responsible for it deserves your time, attention, and financial support.

I read up a little, and the guy seemed right-on. I poked around and everything he wrote that I read I liked: some of it was hilarious, some of it was thoughtful, some of it made me fighting mad (on account of it was literally righteous). Some of it was really hilarious. Christ, I sent my mom links to stuff the guy wrote.* What can I say: when I get smitten by somebody's work, I like to go hard. I came around to his generous, slightly manic Twitter persona, too.

*(Not as weird as it sounds: my mom makes Smiths jokes it takes me months to get.)

Poked around for more songs. Never did find anything I liked as much as "this year". Never did pick my ass up off the couch and go to the record store, either--and then came the promo single "damn these vampires" which is the floundering, drowning sad-rage give-up complement to the damn-the-torpedoes you'll-have-to-kill-me-to-keep-me-down anthem "this year" and I was in. All the way in. A day or two later I preordered the album (thereby scoring the cassette pack-in, which is, for the record, excellent.) It took months to come.

It's great. You should buy it.

The show came in one of the odd clumps tWBGitW & I seem prone to, 2 shows in 3 days, 3 in 7, a lot for people with jobs, friends, bullshit obligations, hobbies & no cars. But there was no chance I wasn't going to see the show. My credit card sighs reproachfully from across the room.

The show itself...was far more of a spectacle than I'd expected.* I knew people would be into it. I suspected people would be into it. I didn't predict some other things:

  • the JoeyChad next to me would treat the night like a weirdly specific opportunity for karaoke, matching every breath, every pause, drowning out several songs (ruined for G.) with his total identification with every note that rebounded & bizounded around the room
  • John Darnielle's joy-skipping & mid-song giggles, also that the man would give me a very specific impression of Stephen Colbert doing Bruce Springsteen and thrilled to be doing it
  • quite as much singing along as happened

*(Not here using "spectacle" in the situationist sense for once. Few experiences have been less alienating than this show.)

There are folks for whom the show would have been cheesy or "a little much". Indeed there was a revival-tent vibe for some folks that I find/found offputting; but there's a word for somebody who bags on somebody else's good time when that good time doesn't actually involve or affect him, and it's a bad, bad word. As long as you're not drowning out the band or trying to get me to dance/not dance in a way I don't dig, you get on with your show--and I hope you're having as much fun as I am. Everybody went nuts and got blissy at the end, when there was a long version of, yes, "this year", complete with singalong, opening band coming out to rock out, and what can only be described as communally ecstatic behavior. There were some encores, duh, and one of them featured a rousing (ahem) rendition of Jawbreaker's "boxcar", which normally I don't like all that much*, but that night, I was too happy to demur, and I sang along, and I sang along loud, and I sang along happily, and John Darnielle pointed at me for a second and laughed and I kept on singing.

*(Great song, sure, but it doesn't make my top 10 Jawbreaker songs. Was however funny when after that he said "thanks, we've been the Mountain Goats...I've been Blake Shwartzenbach." Zing.)

I should talk about the band: I don't really want to. The show is a real rock show, where the record is not a real rock record. At times (forgive me), the record left me wondering "what is it about every guy with an acoustic guitar that forces him eventually to front a goddamned bar band?". The show proves that this band is nothing of the kind. Recommended. Bring your capacity for real happiness and satisfaction.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Never thought much about broke things until I got smashed up myself"

The source material Lucky Star (1929, Frank Borzage) is based on is called Three Episodes in the Life of Timothy Osborn. In the film the first episode resembles the other late silent era films Borzage made while at Fox, but the rest turns out to be a disappointment.

The German expressionist influence gives the opening dairy farm the Gothic semblance of a domestic black hole of a nightmare for Mary (Janet Gaynor). This is expressionism in one of its most enjoyable forms: she has to milk cows, but the low-key lighting and foggy production design make it look like she's in hell. Of course, the mundane is a living hell to many.

It is early dawn as the film begins and soon Mary has to go deliver milk to a crew of blue collar types. She travels down to their work site where Tim (Charles Farrell) has to take the job none of his other co-workers want because he's a pussy. So it's repairing high tension power lines for him while the others loiter down on the ground where it's safe.

Aesthetically the power lines work site looks amazing. Every time I watch it I think about how some sets just work way better than others and the backlot set is even more exotic than the sewers we first encounter the Farrell character working down in during the beginning of 7th Heaven (1927, Borzage).

The next episode is a hurried obligatory tour over to some unnamed WWI battle with no where near the level of attention given to the set piece as of those in 7th Heaven. And Tim's time as a soldier is no different from his civilian life. While back home Tim was pushed around and bullied to do all the hard work by his supervisor Wrenn (Guinn Williams), on the front lines Wrenn acts as Tim's commanding officer and similarly cons him into doing all the dangerous work while he goes off to look for girls with another soldier (played by Jack Pennick, the extra with that face you can't forget from countless John Ford movies).

After all this, about twenty-five minutes into the movie, the narrative plays out as a sentimental story about a crippled vet and his physical rehabilitation during which time he emotionally "rehabilitates" the poor farm girl Mary.

The first time I watched this film I wondered what happened to all of Borzage's creative camerawork. Why no dollies? No cranes? At first I mistakenly presumed it was a brilliant decision designed to depict the immobility of the wheelchair bound Tim. Now I doubt that it was anything that intentional. I am guessing that it is more likely because the film was shot with a camera that could record sound (even though I am reviewing the silent version, I've read that a part-sound version was produced simultaneously and a very common practice during these years) and was so big that it was not possible to move it the way Borzage had during the prior years up to this point.

Anyhow Tim pines over Mary. This script is based on a story by the same author who wrote the story The River (1929, Borzage) was based on, Tristram Tupper. And like The River this film is obviously an erotic male fantasy where a simpleton lusts over a girl he encounters all alone in a cabin in the woods somewhere. The difference is that instead of being seduced by a wanton sexpot, like in The River, the guy transforms a teenage girl from a broken home into a knockout whom he wants to domesticate--disturbingly, like a pet or object--employing the hokey subtext of fixing broken junk he finds as his objective with her.

There is also a hilarious scene where Tim bathes Mary near the brook outside his home. As he talks her into it, she undresses and he concernedly asks "just how old are you?" and after she replies "almost eighteen," he quickly decides not to look. This scene is funny in the context of pre-code Hollywood and because he was planning something in the way of foreplay apparently, but also because soon after this he ridiculously uses egg wash to turn her hair from mousy brown into a blond bouffant in the matter of a single conspicuous elliptical cut.

The ending is very predictable considering that Borzage is the quintessential romantic, especially when he's working with Gaynor and Farrell.

And finally, the title does not in any way relate to the film itself--something that always bugs me.


Monday, May 30, 2011

ol' Tin Ear rides again

Getting pretty sick of this beat, but my first trip to ESPN in a couple weeks has me scratching my head for the millionth time about the long leash given Bill Simmons. Best content-moment in his recent drivel about wrestling is this:

The Birdman also did a dead-on Savage impersonation, even better than mine,

That was Randy Savage. Signal features of his voice include "husky growl" and "chest voice".

There's your Bill Simmons speaking voice, just as throatily resonant and rough-hewn as you could ever wish to hear. Hard to believe he could find somebody to do a Savage impression that was even better than the one his golden pipes could pull off. That he found such a gifted mimic just one dorm room over simply beggars the imagination.

Special note for those of you who, like me, have a background in linguistics: that headline is the weirdest construction I think I've ever read.

At its apex, Macho Man was wrestling

I've never seen this, I don't think, a cataphoric reference in a topicalizing construction referring to a matrix clause object. Compare "at its sweetest, kids like food". It's not ungrammatical or anything, but it's sure a non-standard way to package this information. As always, the lesson here: Bill Simmons--underrated prose stylist.

If you want to read something less idiotic about the meaning of the Macho Man, the Masked Man did maybe his best work yet on the topic. The Masked Man is great. Even if he didn't ever respond to the HILARIOUS dick joke I sent him.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

it's still warm; it still moves; they're still here

no-one wants to pay me for my broken heart

In dickhead mode, when I can't keep myself from arguing tastes with people, I occasionally have said "I could make you a Dramarama mix tape that would make you forget about the Replacements.".

That's probably false. I probably can't make you that tape. But I can claim that Dramarama has been more important to me than the Replacements, and that for my money, the two bands' top and second tiers are comparable.

Unfortunately, this Rhino/Elektra Traditions comp on my lap is doing a fairly shitty of bolstering my second claim. Sure, there's the world-beating single "anything, anything", now so well-established as great that it probably bores most people who were around when it was fresh. There's the late semi-hit "last cigarette", which is probably when I climbed on board, full of knowing that side two of Tim and most of Pleased to Meet Me were about as good as songs got. (Seriously: in 1987, it was not uncommon for me to lie on the shitty carpet on my bedroom in front of my tiny boom box, singing along to "here comes a regular" and nearing tears. In 1987, I was 13, and not terribly acquainted with the growing-old-in-a-bar scene described in that tune.)

And there's are a couple other songs here on 18 Big Ones that were frankly revelatory for me. Since I'd never succumbed to my completist fetish with Dramarama, I'd only known "scenario" from youtubing it at work the last 2 years, and I'd never heard the essentially perfect moved-to-California lament "it's still warm", which is my favorite song about me in close to 10 years. Having those tunes to hand justifies the purchase entirely for me; if you like good things, they might justify the purchase for you, too.

I picked up Stuck in Wonderamaland and fell in love with it when it was new. 1989. It doesn't excerpt as well as I'd like. The album is a start-to-finish kind of piece. A little moody, a little diffuse, but that's a frame I fit in well anyways. On the comp, though, it's represented only by "wonderamaland", "no regrets" and "last cigarette", the more-or-less hits, the mid-tempo rockers I guess you'd call 'em. These are good songs. Their selection helps the compilation. I bitterly miss the cover of "I wish I was your mother", though, and the pitch-perfect "'70s TV". (Maybe the Platonic ideal of the B-side.) And while Dramarama could well be accused of a degree of over-consistency, inclusion of a couple of the fragments off of this record (onepart ballad slivers like "pumps on a hill" or "stuck in wonderamaland") would have helped fill out the diversity quotient a little bit.

Vinyl was even more important to me, a few years later, and was in my headphones the day I first got fired. It's criminally underrepresented here, with only the long and dull "train going backwards" and the lovely catchy singalong screed "classic rot" to back up the two singles, which (a) aren't as great as the band's other singles and (b) aren't as good as the other songs on the record. Want to know why Vinyl wasn't a hit album? Because the best songs on it are things like the bouncy, ebullient "until the next time" and the stingingly specific "ain't it the truth", which weren't singles and didn't make the cut onto this comp.

One of the great skills of Dramarama is their ability to do pointed portraits of suburban life--particularly of women's experiences in suburban life--that contain but never succumb to sentimentality and condescension. "No regrets" and "scenario" hit those notes on this comp, but Vinyl's "in quiet rooms" really needed to be here alongside them. Missing are the untouchably great Stones rarity "memo from Turner", psychedelic-Who nod "I've got spies" and, again, variety-contributing "(I'd like to) volunteer please".

If you care to, you can spend a lot--like, a lot--of time with Dramarama playing Spot the Reference. A band of fans, collector/historian types, they context artists in a way, blending in snippets and snatches and swathes of what they liked, loved, grew up on. I spend more time with John Easdale's lyrics, though, than with the band-as-collage. And that's a maneuver that gives with one hand and takes with another, I'm afraid. Don't get me wrong: Easdale is one of my favorite lyricists of all time, and I will defend him against anyone you care to name.

But that defense will require me occasionally to acknowledge a filler rhyme that made it wax (Easdale's Achilles heel). Personally, I think they work (and nobody bitches when Dylan does it, for hell's sake) and I prefer them to the slightly over-common "yeah yeah yeah"s that waft across the soundscape, but, yeah: what I am literally saying is that one of rock and roll's best lyricists started off one of his best songs:

hey hey it's been so long since I have written with a pen
and though it's sharper than a saber, I don't feel like Errol Flynn
got no computer, I can't type the letter "m"
you're not responding right, I guess I better start again

I see I've been mostly critical of this record, and of the band. That was not exactly my intention. Dramarama is one of my most reliable musical pleasures, and has been for long enough to buy a beer anywhere in America. John Easdale is, again, maybe straight rock's most underrated songwriter, and one of the rock dudes I'd most like to say "thank you for making stuff that made my life better" to. His work touches greatness often, and in uncommon ways: he may be better with specific-detail-creating-universally-shared-emotion lines than anybody else. If you have room only for one Dramarama record, I'd suggest one the ones before Hi-Fi Sci-Fi. You'll miss some songs, but, then, if you only buy one record, you're going to anyway, right? If you want just all the ones you heard twice on shitty pre-alt-radio, 18 Big Ones will do that for you, and will throw in one or two you missed along the way, like the strangely affecting "work for food". I just wish it better represented the tunes that were, in some better world, big enough hits for these guys to retire on. Fully paid for their broken hearts.

Like the band, this comp comes really close to greatness and blows it. I like it: I'm glad I bought it. But I love this band, and a much, much better case for them could have been made.

Monday, April 25, 2011

nor are we out of it

we are out of it

Still those barely conscious years in Lawrence (909 E. Rhode Island. Weird how some things stick in your head.) some evenings I'd while with our next-door neighbor, Kerry, referred to in my house invariably with the epithet short-order fry cook. Mostly in those pre-video days we'd play board games--Dogfight, maybe Risk, Battleship, squares on lined notebook paper.

Sometimes I'd burn out on the novelty of somebody to interact with and just veg in the corner with a book.

I have no idea why Kerry had Alan Dean Foster's novelization of Dan O'Bannon's not-particularly-significant first feature Dark Star, but something about the cover--tattered 'star suit', waves of orange-red flame, frayed debris pressed into service as a surf board--captivated me. So I stole it.

In my leaden, dogged way, I plowed through it again and again, a rereader even then. Most of it I naturally didn't get--phenomenology jokes were over the head of a boy who, that summer, was so scared of the poster for Christine that he had to take the long way home from the Varsity so he didn't have to walk by the used car lot.1 I did get some of the jokes, though--the isolation and loneliness somehow butted up against the claustrophobia and contempt of being around the same people in the same place day after day. And I really liked the idea of killing yourself burning up entering a planet's atmosphere on a surfboard fashioned from your shattered ship's ruined hull. I really liked that death.

The movie holds up okay. Impressive technical achievement for what started as a student film--as we'll see later, nobody did better sets than Dan O'Bannon. Great tone--Kafka in space--funny--absurd--redolent-of-doom. The premise is great: four men on a ship whose mission is to find planets with unstable orbits and destroy them. That's it! The backstory is that they've been out for three subjective years--20 back home--and have minimal contact with Earth. The captain is dead, killed by a short-circuit in his chair. (May all our leaders be electrocuted in the ass.) One survivor is in complete retreat already, isolated from the others, fully checked out. The other three are in various degrees of withdrawal. Everybody is constantly subjected to indignities: eating "ham" as a purplish fluid in a flat plastic tube; a cargo hold self-destructs, destroying the ship's entire complement of toilet paper.

This is not one in which the metaphors are terribly...metaphorical.

Everything's falling apart; nobody likes you; nobody knows who you are--or who they are; nobody cares; you can't escape them; eventually, the device you constructed to blow up and annihilate blows up and annihilates. There are consequences.

It's not heavy-handed, though, just blunted and stunted and paranoid, and style counts. There should always be room for an apocalypse heavy on idiots in avid pursuit of their petty agendas, oblivious to their impeding oblivion. There should always be room for lines like this one: "Don't give me any of that intelligent life stuff--find me something I can blow up!"

Star Trek this ain't. Afghanistan it might be.

I will leave you with a found poem. It's the protagonist's lament, delivered to his video diary.3

I do not like the men
on this spaceship
They are uncouth
& fail to appreciate my better qualities.
I have something to contribute to this mission if they
would only recognize it. Today,
over lunch, I tried
to improve morale & build a sense of camaraderie among the men by holding a humorous round-robin discussion
of the early days of the mission.
My overtures
were brutally rejected. These men
do not want a happy ship.
They are deeply sick
& try to compensate by making me
feel miserable.
Last week was my birthday.
Nobody even said happy birthday to me.
Someday this tape'll be played
& then they'll be sorry.

1 (I was just a little kid--those years, I was often possessed by a full-body terror when walking anywhere after dark. I'd start imagining some silent, stealthy monster2 following me, towering over me. So if you were across the street and you saw me inexplicably start running home? That's why.)
2 Frequently this monster was a spider whose belly would just clear my head as it walked. I knew instinctively that the behemoth spider was exactly the size of all the spiders I'd ever killed, and that it would kill me.
3 Relevant that the protagonist is played by writer/director/editor Dan O'Bannon? Possibly.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fright Night

A talisman of my childhood and a representation of it at the same time. Fright Night has a callow dipshit love the late-night host of horror movies on local TV; then the callow dipshit flips out when two wafting men move in next door--because when two men live together at night next door they bring sinister elements of menace and contagion to your suburban idyll.

When I saw this again--as an adult--maybe five years ago, I was gobsmacked: I'd remembered it as a rompy paean to latenight movie madness turning into a quite good kid-against-the-vampire-evil picture--with real loss!--but it was actually a meditation on Gay Dudes Living Next to You. This is a film where the Gay Subtext is actually drawn so clearly and so thoroughly that it very nearly becomes just the text.

The vampires recruit both the girlfriend and the best friend. The elder with his big swinging cross and his fine robes proves little help, if any. This really isn't subtle at all.

The rewatch beyond the gobsmack didn't do much for me. Something like what John Carpenter once called 'taking a tour of your living room'. I found myself thinking

yeah, it's all here...movies are artifice and sometimes cheesy but still influence us/ dudes walk among us, sometimes you get let down, sometimes people come through for you, heavy shit changes everything, even if you're okay on the far side.

These are trite messages, all of them. I knew that five years ago. Growing up gay is trite, dirt-common and dull, and loving the movies is as controversial as liking food, and sharing those things that are cool with your child? that's just flat square. Or so do scaly aging eyes see. I did not always look through such eyes. I don't look through them now, either--Richard Hugo once said1

Is this corny? Okay, it's corny. But so what? All great art has some corn in it.

Fright Night is not great art. It has some corn in it. But it has sincerity and generosity, it tries hard to be good without being humorless, and there's a lot of talent, a lot of craft snuck into the genre exercise.2

My dad is dead. He was gay, and he loved movies. It was because of him that I saw Fright Night: he picked it out, put it on, played it. A child celebrated it, an angry depressive sneered at it, and now I nearly cherish it. It was because of my dad that I watched locally hosted horror movies on TV. It is because of him that I understand that the gays next door--or the otherwise different anywhere--pose no threat and deserve no fear or loathing. I loved my dad. This movie Fright Night reminds me of him.

1 From memory. In his lovely The Real West Marginal Way.
2 Mostly speaking of the cast here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

everyone is here

When I was a kid, every kid had seen Poltergeist. We had only three moments to our horripilated appreciation.

  1. ghastly grinning man all in black
  2. "they're heeeeere"
  3. a man and a mirror, idly, then intently, then desperately picking and digging at his own skin, pulling his face roughly, pulling his face off

Not sure how this movie got its hold on the entire country: kids on the playground shared "they're heeere" not just with each other but with the entire culture in 1982. What is sure is that this movie bridges the gap between my first two--it's the secret world bursting into ours, it's the evil in us spilling out, manifest and unavoidable forever.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

all this doom

all this doom
god damn these vampires
happy death men

Manhattan, Kansas, 1984. Crematia Mortem on channel 41 out of Kansas City. I'm watching something sunbaked, vaguely Italian with reddish browns and clay. Oppression.

Slow. Doom. I'm tucked into the far corner of the room, in bed for a change, not sleeping on my beanbag chair, beside the bed, 'way closer to the TV. I want to be far away from this.

After years, all I really remembered was blood-in-milk-cartons, walking down smalltown streets, and an image of horror--more than horror, an image of dread--consisting of a woman huddled, hugging her knees and screaming in a room's corner, as...something pushes the walls in, not caving them in, just dimpling them somehow, closing in on her. Literal depiction of those things behind the walls coming after you? Helpless soul-scathing scream I can still hear. This entire town is vampires; and now so am I.

Crematia Mortem I've written about before. Cute microinterview here. All praise to dB for figuring out what movie I was half-assedly describing.

Monday, April 18, 2011


When I was a kid, my dad ran movie theatres. Since he was was a whiz at cheapo promotions, I got to witness things like Scrap the Caddy night, where, in honor of a double feature of Any Which Way You Can and Every Which Way but Loose, people got to whack at a junkyard Cadillac with a sledgehammer. Since I was a hammy little boy, and easily pressed into service, I got to stand around downtown Lawrence wearing one of my dad's many masks, handing out flyers. Since he was an alcoholic, he got transferred/demoted/moved around a lot. After his stint managing the Varsity, he spent some time at the drive-in. I didn't make it out there very much--it was way the hell out of town, and my clanking blue Schwinn with the clouds on the chain guard wasn't great for my chubby legs on a long jaunt. I remember getting screamed at for whining that I couldn't keep up one muggy summer afternoon; probably the last time I tried to get out there by bike.

But when I did make it out past the edge of town, there was always something awesome going on. I could barely swing the sledgehammer, but I gave the Caddy a couple feeble thumps. I thrilled to Megaforce, and sat gape-jawed at Escape from New York--so agape that the next day I went to Woolworth's downtown, bought a pirate's plastic eyepatch, and wore it for a week or so, until the headaches got too crippling. A bully named Chad--absolute scourge of my year in second grade--shoved me off a light-speed merry-go-round. Deft, I managed to get my hands completely behind me so that I could absorb the impact with my face; neither the first nor last time my face would be home to the mud & the blood & the tears.

Sitting on the grey gravel staring at the screen in cooling air. A lot of moments got under my skin--maybe none so much as this one, from Alien ripoff Galaxy of Terror:

Shards moving beneath the surface, body invaded and turning against you. Anything even close to this revolts and disturbs me to this day.

(The movie is remembered--more or less--now only for a giant-worm-humps-a-woman's-clothes-off-and-then-to-death scene that you can look up for yourself. Even as a larva, I remember being nonplussed. My favorite Alien ripoff: George R. R. Martin's Haviland Tuf story, "The Plague Star".)

Friday, April 15, 2011

resume the resume

Great moment from another media outlet failing to question an agent moving into a front office.

Riley, 66, has more than two decades of NBA experience as an executive, scout or coach with Milwaukee, Vancouver, Dallas and Golden State.

You know, model franchises.

Why bother worrying about this seemingly lateral career move? I dunno, but it seems like a junior-grade version of our nation's seemingly insatiable appetite for setting the wolves to guard the henhouse.

Okay, I won't actually just phone this one in. Besides the gratuitous diss of the general manager, we find the following unquestioned glinting gems:

"Plus, no one knows talent and understands contracts like the agents."

Now...that's not an unreasonable thing for Warrior Dorell Wright to say. A player needs to believe in his agent's understanding of contracts and talent in exactly the way a defendant needs to believe in his lawyer's understanding of the law and commitment to the case.

But it's absurd for anybody else to hew to this line. The purpose of an agent is to extract maximum possible compensation for his client. Period. This means that a correcter version of the above would be something like:

Nobody knows overstating talent and understands exploiting contract loopholes like an agent.

It's an adversarial system, by design and by practice, and expecting a specialist on one side to make a seamless transition to the other side is about as sensical as promoting your shotblocking center to point guard. Expect to see former clients signed to slightly head-scratching contracts.

From former UCLA coach Jim Harrick:

He was a B student with an A character, rather than an A student with B character.

I guess it would be out of character for the Warriors to shoot for an A student with A character. And I guess it would be out of character for the SF Chronicle to ask any of these crushingly obvious questions.

Monday, April 11, 2011


As of today, FreeDarko is shutting down. There's a big final post--I had a (small, angry) hand in it--so make double-sure you head over there and help Haverford College's finest get the ship-on-fire finale they've earned.


Friday, April 01, 2011

sloppy and stupid: Bill Simmons needs an editor

Far be it from me to suggest that ESPN front-dude Bill Simmons is far beyond driven the vagaries of the editorial process, but his latest cut-&-paste from his Twitter feed, supplemented with occasional bits that by now must just be Word macros

Uh-oh, I think I just exploded the Blazers Edge message board.
is even more error-ridden & unreadable than usual. Sure, it's not quite as bad as his 10,000 words on middle-aged dudes riding low in Vegas, but it's a rough, rough read.

The lede is his patented semi-controversial move that fails for me b/c it's just plain too easy to shrug and say "no, not really".

We'll remember this as The Best NBA Regular Season Ever.

But, then, maybe 150 words later, he's already given up on his hook (because it was stupid?):

It feels like one of those seasons like 2007 when there just wasn't a most valuable player, so we had to talk ourselves into someone. ... I hate those seasons.

And then we're back to standard-issue recycling and lazy, lazy writing choices.

a USSR-like villain in the MoHeatos
I am, apparently, the only person who finds Rocky IV references played out.

Why not open his arena for Miami playoff games and have "Miami Hate" Viewing parties?
Sure, why not? Why not start capitalizing Viewing?

they evolved into a semi-juggernaut
Semi-juggernaut. Possibly Peter King is ghosting Simmons now? Anyway a semi-juggernaut is what you use to assault a quasi-ziggurat.

and the other owner said, "Screw the money, trade me your best player for a second-round pick, we'd have this exchange:
Is there a reason there's no closing quote here? I had to read this twice to parse it and believe me, I don't want to read Simmons columns twice.

Owner: What do you mean? You have to have someone good."
Well, at least there's no opening quote here. Guess it all evens out.

Simmons is underrated as a stylist.

But it's basketball: a sport in which five guys have to mesh the right way (a process that often defies statistics), and also, they have to collectively give a crap about the sport and each other.

Yup. It's official: starting a sentence with a conjunction; introducing a dependent clause with a colon; then introducing a new independent clause with another conjunction, which contains a pronominal reference to something in the dependent clause--Bill Simmons is either parodying Peter King or being ghostwritten by the man. And I concluded that before reading the couple hundred words about fantasy baseball--Bill Simmons on the NBA: where fantasy baseball happens.

They need to expand the NBA Awards Process beyond MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc. and hand out additional awards.
"They" need to expand the ESPN copy editing Process. Christ. I would have been fired from my entry-level copywriting gig if I turned in copy like this.

The Mokeski: Given annually to the league's best white American player.
You know...if I had to name an NBA award after a great white American player...from the 80s...I might not go straight for Mokeski. None of the other award names are jokes--Erving for most exciting player, Petrovic for best Euro--so why go for a punchline on one and only one of these? Christ, it's not even that good a punchline.

Some end-of-sentence punctuation choices by your man, Bill Simmons:

Underrated as a stylist.

And my favorite bit of rhetoric ever:

We're headed towards a lockout because NBA "character actors" should be paid like what they are -- character actors -- and because the dopey owners need to be saved from themselves.

Yes, billionaires must be saved from themselves. Good point.

In Hollywood, you don't pay "character actors" like Mike Miller or Travis Outlaw $30-35 million to appear in your next five movies. Why? Because it's bad business!!!
Right. Hollywood: where good business practices reign o'er all. Why is this guy still working?

--Fat, annoyed

(I don't have the energy to figure out the capitalization after a colon inconsistency in this column. Here's just one inconsistency, for the record.)

I have an idea to save the Warriors: You know how his Knicks experience exposed Mike D'Antoni as the Mike Martz of the NFL?
Anyway, I stand by my stance when the 'Melo trade happened: you always trade coins for paper in the NBA.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

FreeDarko RIP

Ed note: This is my original FreeDarko final post. Shoals' call had been for one paragraph, so I went long-winded, and he broke it in a place I misliked at the time. He was probably right, though, and in the end, I'm more unhappy with the piece I wrote than I was at the time with his edit.

I remember when we shared a vision, you and I.
--the Mountain Goats, "Estate Sale Sign", All Eternals Deck, 2011

I'm not even sure I should be here. I'll bellow about having been a fellow traveller, but in point of fact I contributed exactly one piece to the FreeDarko oeuvre, and it came at an end-stage moment, when the site qua site could probably best have been described as "moribund" (neither dissing nor dismissing the many triumphs of Yago Colas). I know it is neither appropriate nor accurate to bemoan the shutdown frozen loss of the site: young men with free time become married men whose musings need to turn into words that can be exchanged for cash money, and I do not begrudge that (of the men, anyway: the world yet must answer for its wrongs). I do not begrudge it and yet I fear that the FreeDarko content (superstructure)--spread out into the wider world, perhaps not even tendrils anymore, perhaps just diffuse, atomized...vibes--will suffer from not having a hub (base). The smart and wise components of FreeDarko are in the world, to be sure, and sure they comprise a genre won't be lost. My fear is that without a locus and emblem, the genre'll end up more marginalized and largely forgotten power pop, rather than here-vital, there-misappropriated punk. There's no retreat or surrender. The future will always hold a space for making a detailed and passionate case for interpretation and analysis beyond brute wins/losses, for arguing that these athletic exhibitions can mean on levels biographical and historical, for championing engagement beyond jingoism, for all the intelligence and joy, all the ferocity and levity, the in-group pandering and the friendly winking, for strident insistence and patient hints and for, maybe most of all, celebrating overlooked wonders in the face of the oppressive hegemonic dullardry that constitutes most public talking-and-thinking-about-sports. There will always, always (now) be a space for FreeDarko. But there are things only happen on the playground and never in the marketplace. That's why I'm frankly angry and sad about the closing off of the FreeDarko site as a venue for FreeDarko work. Maybe I shouldn't be here on this day, but this is a funeral, and you can't ask me to act like it isn't.

--Fat Contradiction, townsman of a stiller town

Monday, March 21, 2011

it's not my imagination

"A gentleman carries a pocketknife."
--Chris Collision Fat Contradiction, talking to one of the three cops it took to pull him over in Shasta County, late 2010

Not sure when it started, but I've had a knife in my back pocket for years upon years. (We'll pass over in silence those awkward years where, like a common Rush fan, I had a Leatherman & a flashlight on my belt all day every day.) Many of these years, it's been one or another Swiss Army knife. They're ubiquitous, not terribly expensive, and seem a little classier than your Gerber or your Benchmade.

As someone, then, with such extensive experience with blades, their use, care, and meaning, I feel uniquely qualified to solve this massive problem: the loss of the toothpick/tweezer.

Do not ever take the toothpick or tweezer out of the toothpick or tweezer slot.

Hope it helps!

Monday, February 28, 2011

dumbphone vacation

I'd come from a simple land. My home had been Nokia candy-bar phones--rugged numbers with intense battery life and a raft of little features (timers, alarms) that don't sound like much but sure made my cooking projects a little easier.

Then came the last days in May a sojourn into Motorola country. The Motorola COMPLTGAYWAD MOTOACTV sounded like sex itself. The box was...alluring.

The MOTOACTV blends a rugged style, added durability and desirable features to create a handset perfect for an active lifestyle.

I'm active! I don't want anything more than I want desirable features! I think everything should have durability added to it! Stylish is my favorite kind of rugged and vice versa! THIS PHONE WILL BE FUCKING PERFECT!

This phone was not fucking perfect. The Motorola W450, as I will call it, on account of every time I type MOTOACTV, a little more blood leaks out my eyes, though it's worth noting that the phone's camera anyway thinks that it's in a phone 395 which is 55 worse than a 450 and what in this sodden universe of HATE am I paying for here, 395 phone units or 450 of them? offered a music player, a camera, an SD card slot for expansion--and it looked like a Tonka truck! At the time, sitting at work and caressing my credit cards, it was difficult to see how this could possibly go badly.

This did go badly.

The second I took the unit out of its box (TWSS!), I thought "this hinge feels flimsy". My fantasy about carrying one less thing, using the phone as my mp3 player was thwarted in three separate ways--a lot, even for one of my fantasies.

  1. The headphone jack is non-standard; if I want to use headphones in a computer at work, I have to have multiple sets of headphones. This kicks the shit out of my desire to have and carry One Less Thing.
  2. The media player takes on the close order of five minutes to start and load.
  3. The battery life when you're not using the phone at all in any way is very nearly eight (8) entire hours. One hesitates to burn off these hours listening to America, Bread, or even Creedence.

I had to carry a charger at all times. Otherwise, I might well find that my phone had died in the time it took me to unplug it, ride to work, and then put in a standard genius' day of genuising. The order form claimed the box'd contain an SD card: this was a fucking lie by cocksuckers misunderstanding on my part, as no such SD card was provided. So I had to part with a few more shekels.

I did use the shit out of the camera, generating hundreds and hundreds of grainy, reddish snapshots.

In general, though, my jaunt thru Motorola country was a trip marked by anger at lack and limitation. The promised features underdelivered spectacularly. Without the Nokia geegaws, the timers and alarums and stopwatches, the phone didn't help me cook, with shit battery performance, it stranded me, with unusable "extras", it taunted. A gummy, unresponsive keypad made texting a chore (tho' I did perservere).

Everything about using the phone was, I thought, a slog. So one day I lost all restraint and rolled to the Phone Store and dropped three hundred of my own dollars on a new phone. Cash on the barrelhead got me my first smartphone.

It's a Nokia E73--bascially a Blackberry knockoff. I installed a Twitter app that very nearly works and set up my email, I used the really quite great keyboard to pound out scores of usually unanswered emails, I marvelled at the work-week battery life, and gazed fondly at high-quality pictures I took while women gasped and wanted me and men grunted grumpily and wanted to be me. I freely downloaded podcasts and saved them to the enclosed and included SD card, and listened to them with my normal headphones.

I've read .pdfs on the fucking thing--happily. The calendar has been one of the most useful additions to my adult life ever and I haven't even mentioned the web browsing or the terrific map feature (it works offline! Sorta!).

So why am I writing this with the E73 slung into a corner of the room & the W450 parked on the couch next to me?

Because I'm on a dumbphone vacation. Sayonara, Twitter. Email? See you when I'm at a computer. Maps? Hope I remember to shove the paper ones in my bag before I leave the house. Texts? I could stand to send fewer of those anyways. I do miss the calendar when I don't have it.

But I have found that the E73 has a dramatically substandard antenna, speaker and microphone. It is shitty at being a phone. I don't talk much on the phone--I sort of hate it--but the E73 refuses 5 calls from my lady for every 1 that it accepts. That is...unacceptable.

Also I'm increasingly maddened by the inescapability of glowing screens. Shows, people look at phones held between them and the band. Lines, people stare at squares instead of getting their money out or making eye contact with the counter worker. Don't even get me started on public transit.

So there's a positive and a negative benefit to my dumbphone vacation. I can make and receive calls better, because the 450 has an immensely stout antenna and speaker--and I think its mic is probably much better, b/c I get a lot less static about noise around me when I'm on that phone. And I can be where I am without constantly conjuring tiny portals to the internet--checking for texts upon waking is bad enough; checking Twitter before I reach for my glasses is wholly worthless behavior.

I'm on my second dumbphone vacation of the week, and I like it. And I'm not alone: life model William Gibson mentioned going back to a dumbphone the other week and linked to a stupid, pretentious instance of "design" as a noun overwhelming the verb-process of designing something. (Am I being hard on the phone? I don't fucking know. Ask yourself: how much fun is it to enter in a number when you can't see the number being displayed. Or how much fun it is to look at a phone's display when it's ringing and not be able to see the button you're supposed to hit to accept or reject the call. Then ask yourself why nobody on the "design" team asked themselves this question. I will answer what you have asked: because this "design" team is a bunch of nincompoops in advertising who previously sold wildly overpriced water in, uh, a funky box, and a really stunningly overpriced tshirt line. They have, like the rest of this worthless world, replaced making good things--fuck you, a tshirt is a tshirt is a tshirt, I have store-brand shirts that have lasted two decades--with branding things of no worth whatever.) And Pierre Idiot Trudeau is making do with a RAZR while he waits out his contract. Back to the John's Phone for a second: those icons for "pick up" and "hang up" make me want to drown a kitten. Cloying. I won't link to them because I hate them.

While the John's Phone is garbage for idiots, the dumbphone vacation is a moderately delightful reality check. I recommend this experience. Yes. I do.