Thursday, September 29, 2005

This is the best thing since sliced bread. Heck, it's better than sliced bread.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Great article in the Washington Post about the life and legacy of Melville.

Monday, September 26, 2005

My current gear configuration.

Tokai '62 Strat replica

Catalinbread Chili Picoso Clean Boost (with fringe)

Loooper 2 Loop with Tuner Mute

Loop A 6
Danelectro Daddy-O
mid-70s MXR Distortion +
5back to Loooper

Loop B 6
Danelectro Rocky Road Rotating Speaker Effect

5back to Loooper

Morley A/B/Y Router

Loop A 6
1965 Fender Princeton Reverb

Loop B 6
Boomerang Phrase Sampler

mid-70s Sunn Alpha 112R

Book No. 30: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Like many of us, I read this when I was a kid shortly after reading Tom Sawyer for my 6th or 7th grade English class. I imagine that my school didn't consider the repeated use of the word "nigger" to be much of an issue, seeing as how I grew up in Alabama in pre-politically correct times (I believe that finally reached Alabama last March).

Anyway, much of the significance of this novel was lost on me at the time. I recognized that Huck changed, and changed a lot, over the course of the story, but I didn't have the history or maturity to recognize quite how drastic his change was or quite how cutting Twain's sarcasm was in his day and age. I'd seen Huck's decision to rescue Jim mentioned occasionally as a phenomenal point in American literature, but I'd forgotten that Huck thought that helping an escaped slave meant that he was damned. I'd forgotten - or never realized in the first place - how monstrous Tom Sawyer is at the end of the book, with his frivolous, idiotic insistence on making Jim's escape into a game and his fundamental lack of respect for Jim's humanity to never even mention that Jim's been already freed so that Jim and Huck will play his game. Tom Sawyer is a child, yes, mostly unaware of the consequences of his actions, and it's fairly clear that in allowing Sawyer to do evil as part of his game, Twain is indicting a culture that values life so poorly as to create a game of slavery.

The points leading up to Jim's bondage and freedom are, of course, magnificent. The novel is about games and deceit, from the idyllic Jackson Island interlude, where Huck and Jim first form their friendship, to the danger of the fog on the river, where Huck learns in perfectly terse prose what it is to have a conscience, to the bloody feud, which further builds on Huck's knowledge of consequences, to the Dauphin and the Duke, where Huck learns how quickly deceivers will betray their comrades. Hemingway, who championed this book as the best of American literature, supposedly hated the final section, and I certainly found it frustrating. However, I think it was necessary for Twain to demonize Sawyer to make his narrative complete.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I stole this link from the inimitably wonderful Maud Newton. I hope it brings as much pleasure to y'all as it did to me.


For starters, I have watched your goings-on for some time now. The fin de siecle appearance of your administration, especially after the rampant degeneracy of that satyr Clinton and his panting ilk, was a most welcome disruption of the general malaise of things. You effected revolutionary and deleterious change on the rosy status quo. How I hated that corrupt, fallen status quo. (Incidentally, this falls rather in line with a scheme I posited—which you no doubt have noticed in your readings—wherein pederasts and degenerates would be encouraged to gain high office—the presidency, perhaps—which station they would then neglect as they attended to their sexual and narcotic appetites. There would be no more war, because there would be no one to start the wars—everyone flitting off to parties and such. Your scheme, however, one of sustained, systemic breakdown, appears to be the work of quiet genius, even if it has had the regretful, short-term effect of increasing the
incidence of war.)

You stemmed this people’s lemming-like rush after prosperity, you marshaled lagging school children, and you brought zealous religiosity again to the national discourse. You rebuked the Old World! You felled Babylon the Great! (The lazy asses, the picayune media [those bankrupt souls], might raise captious and frivolous objections to these deeds, but, Sir, say to you [as even God himself might say]: WELL DONE.)


In the meantime, Mr. President, I offer you my jubilant, shining hand of friendship. Together, liveried in the costly apparel of high station, and much as Joseph of Egypt and his trusty servant boy, Tut-tut, long ago once did do, we shall step down from our aerie to bid Louisiana and parts of Mississippi gather at our feet. We shall tell them to rise up and thrive! Be industrious! And they shall do so, and be so.

So long, Big Pardner (a little Texan, in honor of your noble heritage)!

Yours most ardently,

Ignatius J. Reilly

Monday, September 19, 2005

Book #29: The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq

Perhaps I am an idiot. I don't understand why Houellebecq is constantly compared to Camus in reviews of this book. Both men are French and interested in ethics, but that's where the comparisons end. Houellebecq is more similar to Celine in his repulsion towards society and overriding disgust with humanity, but his muse is Nietzsche, pure and simple.

The half-brothers of this book, Michel and Bruno, appear to represent Nietzsche's intellect and physicality, respectively. Michel is barely in the world, a mostly asexual scientist who will ultimately destroy mankind in favor of an immortal, psychologically-superior über-man. He is interested (vaguely) in the world, but his opinions (which he mostly keeps to himself) revolve around the causes of pain, sex, and death, to which he blames uncertainty in an overly liberal, overly permissive society. His primary model is Bruno, a former teacher with a raging sex addiction. Bruno longs to be an alpha male, bringing his will to power to bear on the world around him, but he is instead a sad sack, constantly hesitating at crucial moments or acting out his fantasies inappropriately. He achieves happiness during the novel when he meets another sex addict, Christaine, at an intentionally grotesque hippy-dippy retreat, and travels with her to a permissive sex retreat that would inspire de Sade.

Both brothers were abandoned by their criminally negligent mother, a self-obsessed proto-hippie, and were raised by their grandmothers on their fathers' side. Both tend to give speeches rather than communicate, a writing tic somewhat explained by the epilogue (perhaps they are intentionally bad, but perhaps they are just a problem with Houellebecq's writing - I reserve judgment), as are the somewhat funny asides throughout the prose (such as a digression on mating rituals in rats juxtaposed with Michel's crucial inability to kiss the young woman who loves him).

Despite the graphic descriptions of sex and late 20th century anomie, the novel has the sensibility of an earlier age. Each brother tells his history in the type of detail often found in Victorian novels and there's a distinct pre-modern feel in all of the interactions, as if realism never happened in fiction, which is carried through to the sudden sci-fi ending, more like the jarring early fantasy-based sci-fi of H.P. Lovecraft or H.G. Wells rather than the modernist-influenced, "realistic" sci-fi of the 20th century.

My understanding is that this novel was quite controversial in France when it was published 8 years ago, which sort of makes sense, given its unrelenting assault on the state of emotional lives in the modern world, but sort of doesn't, given that most of Houellebecq's points have been around for over a century, given his tendency to echo Nietzsche and Celine. Houellebecq is also apparently playing the literary bad-boy to the hilt in interviews, but I really could not care less about the guy himself. Hm, I think I'm out of comments about the book, so I'll leave it here.

The only review I've thus far read that a) doesn't resort to hyperbolic rhetoric and b) has a grasp of literary history. I'm deeply disappointed in the NY Times reviewers in particular, but also saddened that J. Hoberman's review in the Village Voice was so much weak tea.

This article from Salon talks about the reprehensible actions of my Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn, who are trying to make second-class students of the Katrina refugees. Way to show your Christian charity, you two! Maybe y'all can joke about in the future when you're hanging out on Trent Lott's new porch.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Book No. 28: Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

I had never read this before. Now I have.

I was originally going to elaborate, but I believe that I have passed my quotient of bitching for the week, so I'll just say that I would probably have found this book shocking, funny, and true as a teenager or perhaps if I had been born in the 30s and read this when it came out in the mid 1960s. However, I read it as an adult in the double-aughts, and found only a mild chuckle or two for Portnoy's histrionics. Oh well.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Wanna feed your righteous anger? Here you go.

In other news, I'm sure that Nero didn't want to play the blame game about his musical proclivities during that little fire in Rome, either.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Books No. 26 and 27:
Where Dead Voices Gather by Nick Tosches
Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or by Barney Hoskins

First, lemme ask: does anyone else feel like re-reading The Wild Palms? For some obscure (ahem) reason, it's been on my mind since last Monday. Something about the dual grace and evil of man in the face of a natural disaster of tremendous import, a flood even, something about this topic seems altogether appropriate to how I feel this week. I need to find my copy post-haste.

Maybe it's just me.

OK, onward to the topic at hand.

These two books are polar opposites. Tosches's book is an examination of the life of Emmett Miller, the blackface minstrel who, as Tosches argues, was a fundamental influence on such country luminaries as Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as an examination of the history of blackface minstrelsy and how it informed the pop music that dominated the 20th century. My friend Dutcher advised me to avoid this book as being overly well-researched. This turns out to be an accurate summary of the book's strengths and weaknesses: it is jam-packed full of information, often tangential at best to the central argument, sometimes fascinating and sometimes just tiring. Central to the book is the twist of race at the heart of 20th century pop music: white men (Elvis et al.) mimicking black men (blues artists of the early 20th century) mimicking white men mimicking black men (blackface minstrels).

Hoskins's book, on the other hand, is about a black man (Arthur Lee) who made some of the most interesting "white music" (that is, late 60s psychedelic rock stew, which, historiocity be damned, is usually considered white music) ever recorded. Unfortunately, unlike Tosches's book, Hoskins has contented himself with cursory research, easy (and sometimes unanswered) questions, and no challenges to the conventional wisdom regarding the band Love or their masterpiece Forever Changes.

All of which is quite a shame, as Hoskins writes for Mojo Magazine, the magazine for thinking rock fans, which also endorses this book. One would expect from the cover that it would be brilliant and illuminating. Too bad. I did learn a few things, such as What Happened To Bryan MacLean (he became a bitter born-again surfer dude and hey, did you know that he was Maria McKee's half-brother?) and that Arthur Lee didn't fire the gun that got him thrown in jail. However, almost no mention is made of Lee's very obvious mental problems or the fate of the other members of Love, nor are deeper questions asked about how Lee's race played into his fall from grace.

Tosches did ask the uncomfortable questions, and sometimes he even labored to answer them (and did a fine job at that). It's too bad that he (and his editors) are so close to this subject that they couldn't figure out that there's several books' worth of material lying uneasily together within these chapters, making large sections of the book uneasily redundant or hopelessly divorced from the central point Tosches was trying to make. Maybe the topic itself is so large that Tosches literally could not get his head around it; there's no shame in that. Either way, Where Dead Voices Gather should have either been broken into at least three other books or enlarged to 800+ pages. A co-author may have helped sort the material. A decent editor could have also helped to organize and cut out redundancies (several times, Tosches repeated near-verbatim the same piece of information only several pages apart).

However, Where Dead Voices Gather is a major work of pop-culture scholarship. Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or is most decidedly not.

And The Wild Palms, which consists of two novellas, the second of which is about a nameless convict who rescues a pregnant woman from the flooding Mississippi River, is one of the greatest books of all time, packed with so much truth that it makes grown men weep.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

There's various articles I should link to about New Orleans, but I'm going economical here.

This is what hell is. You ever read Saramago's Blindness? He was right.

This is only one example of why my friend Leonard deserves a MacArthur Grant. I regularly wish I had half of his smarts.

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Cary, NC, United States
reachable at firstname lastname (all run together) at gmail dot com

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From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

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