Monday, March 31, 2008

It's on your side. You know as much as it to you reveals. It flies, is money, and waits for no man. And it's our Super-Special Topic for The High Hat No. 10: It's Time.

Yes, 10! Can you believe it? Ten issues of America's little webzine that could! And we want YOU to be a part of this Ultra-Special Issue.

Of course, if you're not interested in writing about our Extra-Special Topic (Had we but world enough and it...), we're also interested in your thoughts on movies, music, tv, books and arts, and life itself.

Please send your pitches to by April 30th. We're looking for finished articles by May 15 so we can go to press in June. It is of the essence, so be on it!

Ever yours,
The Editors

FACT: I'm not going to read 50 books this year.

FACT: I am going to read some books this year.

RESOLVED: I will abandon the 50 books project, but will continue to review books here.

RESOLVED: Since I've been reading a lot of 33 1/3 books, I will talk about their pros and cons on the Shoot Out The Lights blog, where 33 1/3 books are of interest.

UNDER CONSIDERATION: Moving the music library posts to their own blog. Not quite sure whether it will be worth it, although the project has been fun so far (and needs updating).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

If The Perfect Could Lie Down With The Good

The Wire is over. Like millions (okay, thousands) of Wireheads, I am having a hard time facing a post-Wire world. It was the best series that television has ever produced, combining consistently engaging interconnected plots, impeccable acting, impeccable writing, a finite time to tell the stories (rather than dragging things out to meet network tv standards), a willingness to assume that watchers have enough intellect to infer certain plot developments, meaningful insight into its topics, and an enormous amount of heart for its subjects, ugly though they may often have been. It didn't have or need the dream-logic of The Sopranos, as great as that was. It didn't have or need the constant florid filth-poetry of Deadwood, as great as that was. It had the other kind of poetry, the everyday kind, and the other kind of logic, the Chinese puzzle-box kind.

This isn't to say that it didn't have its flaws. The final three episodes were fantastic, especially the penultimate one, but I wonder if their excellence would have shone quite so bright without the lackluster beginnings of the season. In the last season, the Sun story, in particular, never gelled, and the serial killer story could have worked better with a little bit more of a slow burn into it.

And this is where I'm going to do something stupid to prove my love for the show. I know The Wire made a point of rewarding hubris with downfall, but I'm going to offer my too-late suggestions to fix the final season, hubristic though it may be for do-nothing me to offer suggestions to those who drove The Wire. If you haven't seen Season Five yet, you may wish to stop here.

I get what Simon et al. were saying about the media. The Sun leadership was focused on the personal success to the point of indifference to the truth, the owners cut personnel without recognizing that higher-paid staff was paid more for a reason, and those who were left often missed the real story because they didn't have the necessarily knowledge and reach. However, by focusing on the fabulist Templeton and the saintly editor Gus to the exclusion of many of the other characters, Simon et al. missed an opportunity to dramatize some of the larger issues facing the media in the 21st century.

They needed several more characters, first off. They needed an ambitious TV reporter delivering stories both serious and light with the same lack of depth. They needed a blogger trying to write real news, but uncommitted to following through to ensure accuracy. I think by adding in those characters, even in the background, The Wire could have turned their indictment of the media's failings into a better story. I think they needed another couple of episodes for the story to gel. I think the Sun story should have focused more on Alma and given Templeton, Whiting, and Klebanow more depth. I don't have all the solutions, but here's some scenes that could have changed my take on the story:
  1. Somewhere in the beginning of the season, McNulty sitting in a bar by himself, watching TV. The TV reporter is talking with a director filming in Baltimore. He says his movie is about a serial killer stalking people around the Edgar Allan Poe House. Among the banter, one of them drops that serial killer movies make decent money.
  2. McNulty and Bunk catch a body near the Poe House. McNulty catches sight of the movie being filmed a block or two away. Bunk is bitching about the lack of pay for real murders.
  3. A young Carcetti staffer is talking to his friend at a bar about how he overheard his boss looking forward to Clay Davis's indictment. His friend goes home and updates his blog about Baltimore politics.
  4. Alma is reading the blog, Gus looking over her shoulder. He wants to know if they have a story about this. They mention that their online content is subscriber-only, anyway.
  5. More scenes with Alma and Twigg. She is the one who should realize that his sources have been carefully cultivated over time. Twigg shouldn't be forced out until a few episodes later, because Alma should feel out of her league without him.
  6. Templeton should have a crush on Alma. The early episodes should establish that Templeton is trying to be a good reporter, but he's not likable enough to get people to talk with him. When he decides to embellish something the first time, it should be a major moment.
  7. Alma should be flattered by Templeton's obvious crush, but unwilling to do anything about it. Their dynamic should allow for scenes where Templeton admits his secret ambitions and exudes a need to impress her. His first embellishment should have something to do with impressing her. Whatever it is, he needs to make some sort of note in his pad that will eventually lead to her realizing that he's a fabulist.
  8. Klebanow and Whiting should have a conference call with the Tribune where they fight for their budget and only reluctantly give in. It should be clear that they're both interested in the awards, but want to keep around the old-timers to help them achieve the prizes. Like Burrell with his ambitions, they're not at the Sun to dismantle it, but to use it for personal glory.
  9. When the serial killer thing breaks, the tv reporter should scoop the Sun at every turn until Scott starts making shit up. In fact, they should have McNulty more attracted to the tv reporter than to Alma, and not shift his focus to the paper until Templeton forces him to.
  10. When the Clay Davis thing starts to break, Tony Gray should reappear running for Davis's State Senate seat. Carcetti's staffer should quit his office to work on Gray's campaign, which feeds the blogger mostly true stories, but often obviously fake ones, about Davis and Carcetti.
  11. The Sun should kill a story for lack of sources that the blogger publishes. It should be clear that some of his stories wouldn't pass the institutional review.
  12. Templeton's notepad shouldn't be empty, but demonstrably false. By the end, Alma should want to believe the best about Templeton despite her doubts. Although Gus has the most doubts about Templeton, he should have confided in Alma beforehand. She should have stuck up for Templeton, but when Templeton throws the notepad at the desk, she should flip it open to the page from earlier where he's written something that she and she alone will know means that he's been embellishing the news.
  13. Earlier, Whiting and Klebanow should be under pressure from the Tribune to increase sales. The Tribune mentions the tv reporter's serial killer coverage and the blogger scooping them on local politics. This leads to Twigg's being let go. It should be clear that when they decide to back Templeton, they're doing so because they've already submitted his work for prize consideration. Someone other than Gus should bring this to their attention.
  14. Alma should work on a story that threatens to expose or contradict Templeton. Klebanow should get wind of this, and threaten her with dire consequences if she continues her research. She should end up passing the story to the blogger, who publishes it. Someone at the tv station should see the story and consider covering it, only to be discouraged because one of the Tribune's partners owns the tv station.
  15. When Alma is shipped off to the county, it should parallel Jimmy riding the boat as much as possible. We should see the blogger being hired as the Sun's online editor.
  16. At some point, Gus should be given a Sophie's Choice between saving Alma's career and saving something equally valuable to him. Just because his righteous indignation needs to be tempered by a little damnation.

I think that's it. More Twigg, more Alma, a bit less St. Gus. A more-nuanced motive for Templeton, Whiting, and Klebanow. Rival media sources providing shallower news coverage with less verification. The Sun's mistakes shouldn't merely be backing the fabulist, but cutting competent reporters with institutional knowledge, having little idea of how to do online content, and not appreciating that verifying news stories is more important than getting there first. Also, Jimmy should have gotten the serial killer idea from the media.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Music Library: Alex Chilton, Alex de Grassi, Alexander "Skip" Spence, Alison Krauss, Allman Brothers Band

Music library post!

Alex Chilton's collection 19 Years was the last album I listened to, so I'm up to:

Alex Chilton - 1970. Tracks from an aborted album between Chilton's period as the singer of the Box Tops and his time in Big Star. Very influenced by Gram Parsons and the Stones. Some good tracks and a little b.s.

Alex de Grassi - A Windham Hill Retrospective. This was a gift. De Grassi's a decent guitarist, but a little dull and technical for my tastes. A lot of these songs sound like more precise versions of dicking around on an acoustic guitar. I don't think there's a hummable melody throughout.

Alexander "Skip" Spence - Oar. Great damaged-hippie album. If this had come out in the last couple of years, they'd call it "freak folk." I bought this years ago on the recommendation of my old friend Andy, and I've never regretted it for a second. Hmm. A couple of tracks are damaged themselves through what sounds like a poor rip. Reminder to self: fix that.

Alison Krauss - Now That I've Found You: A Collection. This is my beloved wife's album, which both excuses me from listening to it or posting my thoughts on it. I will say that I generally like bluegrass, and some of these songs would qualify as bluegrass.

Alison Krauss - "Jesus Help Me To Stand" from Every Time You Say Goodbye. This is bluegrass gospel, but it's a little too finely sanded for my tastes.

Allman Brothers Band - Eat A Peach. I love the ABB from this period. I don't know what happened to my discs of the first album and Idlewild South, but I'm going to have to pick those up again soon. Eat A Peach is more perfect for its messiness. Duane Allman died with only a few tracks recorded, and this album is meant to capture the emotional highs and lows and pay tribute to him, too. His death haunts the whole affair, but it's not an especially sad collection of songs, but an affirmation of life in the face of death. Plus, between Dickey Betts's contributions and Duane's final recordings, there's a shitload of great guitarwork.

Next time: ABB - Complete Live At Fillmore East. Actually, as long as those songs are, that album may be covered in both the next time and the time after.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Maybe you heard there was a primary vote here in Texas the other night? I voted early, but went down to the precinct house (in my case, a Lutheran church) to vote in the caucus for my Presidential candidate of choice, Barack Obama. 400 of my neighbors also turned out, and we had a nearly two-hour wait to get into the room to sign our names. We could have stayed around to do more - vote for delegates, offer platform positions - but it was late, and I had to get home to help put the kids to bed. I'd say well over half - maybe up to 75% - of the people who turned out were Obama supporters. You may have heard that Hillary Clinton took Texas by about 100K votes, but it certainly appears that Obama will end up with more delegates from the state, thanks to our arcane delegate apportionment rules. There's two possible reasons for this I can see, and they aren't mutually exclusive. 1) Although there's more Clinton supporters, they don't feel strongly enough to go back to the precinct house and vote again. 2) Many of Clinton's supporters lived along the border and out in West Texas, meaning that a lot of them work heavy industrial or agricultural jobs, the type of jobs where your leisure time is at a far greater premium than it is for the middle-class Obama supporters I saw in my district.

For me, although I agree with many of Clinton's policy positions, I think Clinton's going to have a harder time beating McCain than Obama would. It's stupid and high-schoolish, but I think a lot of voters are swayed by stupid and high-schoolish ideas. Clinton's not very likeable, even though she's smart. She's more than a little brittle, and she's shown a tendency to belittle Obama and her other D opponents as if they were the worst people she's ever encountered, and then later she will act like it is nothing to talk this way. To her, perhaps, it is nothing. She's been saying lately that Obama is all talk, saying that his speeches are "just words." Words, she seems to say, are nothing but tools to carry a person forward, a part of the game, if you will. Perhaps that is true in her mind, but clearly, I disagree. A President is a captain of a ship. Knowing how to steer and knowing the direction are important, but it's even more important to know how to lead a crew. You do that with words, Ms. Clinton.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Music Library: Alejandro Escovedo, Alex Chilton

More endless minutiae from my iTunes!

Alejandro Escovedo - More Miles Than Money. I like his songs live, sometimes better than the studio versions, but the version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" on here is sad.

Alejandro Escovedo - Bourbonitis Blues. "I Was Drunk" is great. Everything else isn't. Many of these covers should have left well enough alone. One of these songs doesn't even feature Escovedo on lead vocals. I think it's Jonboy Langford.

Alejandro Escovedo - Gravity. S'okay.

Alex Chilton - Bach's Bottom. What a glorious mess! Trying to pull it together after the insanity of Big Star's Third, Chilton documents his utter failure and collapse. There's some sublime moments, but overall, this is the sound of everything falling apart.

Alex Chilton - 19 Years: A Collection. A best-of covering the man's best solo work (read: mid-80s and before) plus a bunch of Big Star.

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