Friday, December 28, 2007

Online today: High Hat Issue 9.5: the 2007 Year-End Best-Of Supplemental. Go forth and read. Or don't, and spend your life wondering.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I don't know how long it would have taken me to get back to blogging if Mr. Emlyn Lewis had not tagged me with a meme. How could I resist?

I am to tell you several (7? 8?) random facts about myself, potentially tied to brushes with people of fame. I am a sadly boring man, so I'll play up the brushes with fame.

1. Once when I was a child, my parents and grandparents took me after church to a brunch at a fancy hotel in downtown Mobile, Alabama (or, at least, what passed for a fancy hotel in Mobile at the time). Although they were certainly trying to keep me on my best behavior, I must have escaped their clutches at one point, because I remember running around the lobby all willy-nilly like children do. What makes this memorable was that I rounded a corner and ran smack into the crotch of Kenny Rogers. I knew who he was. He'd been on the Muppet Show, and here he was, doubled over in pain, looking at me as if I was less a misbehaving little boy than the horrific demon spawn of some countywide-known coward. I tore-ass out of there as fast as I could, but now, of course, I wish someone had been taping the event. It would have ruled one of those Schadenfreudiest Home Video shows.

2. I met Robbie Fulks at a party. I like his synthesis of ironic detachment with heartfelt country (even if he does get carried away sometimes), and I liked him as a person. Great guy, with a similar geeky love of music esoterica. This was only a few years ago, and this party was less than a week before my wife and I were leaving for a two-week vacation in the Northeast. I had just enough vacation time saved up at work and an early morning the next day, so when Fulks asked if I wanted to go with him to the Continental Club to catch Redd Volkaert's set, instead of saying "hell yes" like a smart or normal person, I said, "Man, I have to work in the morning. I have a real job, y'know." It took me several minutes to realize what a phenomenal placement of foot in mouth that was, as if I'd said Fulks' job, which involves schlupping all of the country to play music for people who will criticize to the skies the slightest hint of a lack of enthusiasm, isn't real work, right? By the time I'd apologized, I'd lost him. He was polite but detached, and instead of being Robbie Fulks' friend today, I'm a distant well-wisher. Do I suck? Yes. Yes, I do.

3. All the other brushes with famous or semi-famous people that I can recall at the moment were not good stories. I shook Robert Jr. Lockwood's hand (he's the son of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson). I passed on a joint from Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Paul Westerburg was a dick to me when I was supposed to interview him for the university paper, but Slim Dunlop was a nice, low-key guy. My friend Sue in North Carolina is married to Mike Dean from Corrosion of Conformity, which was the first hardcore band I ever saw back when I was 15 or so. I met the novelist Larry Brown, who was on a book tour and tired as he could be. I rode in the back of a pickup carrying the poet Michael Harper to a reading. My old friend Jeff played in the underrated Remy Zero, who appeared on Smallville quite a bit, which had something to do with the lead singer's short-lived marriage to Alyssa Milano, I think. I got drunk with the cult musician Col. Bruce Hampton one night, and he read my Tarot cards, but I forgot what he said. Britt Daniel liked my GBV t-shirt in the line to the pisser after a Spoon show in 1996 (where they'd covered "A Good Flying Bird"). I spoke briefly with J. Mascis at a Consonant show. There may be a few others, but I can't think of them.

4. So, random facts. I broke my collarbone in a fight in 9th grade, the last fight I was ever in. The guy was named Chad, and he was being a jerk in the weight room, stealing weights, pushing people around, other jock bullshit. I told him he couldn't treat people that way, and he challenged me to prove it to him. You know how they tell you bullies are all talk? Lies. I managed to bruise his eye and bloody his nose. He broke my damn collarbone. By the time I got the brace off a month later, you couldn't tell he'd been in a fight at any point in his life. I still have a knot of bone near my left shoulder.

5. My bachelor's is a joint degree in philosophy and creative writing from the New College of the University of Alabama, which exists only in a diminished half-life now. People have joked to me about studying philosophy in Alabama (because, I presume, we studied ontological approaches to possum stew or the historical dialectic involved in catfish noodling?), but state schools are state schools. You get out of them what you put in. I was mainly interested in the crossover between quantum mechanics and philosophical systems of being at the time, but now that seems much less important than the grounding I got in history of philosophy. You can really retain that sort of knowledge. At least you can retain enough to fuck you up for the rest of your life.

6. I've been playing in bands since I was 15. I love to play music with other people. I've never had a shared creative experience in any other context that could even compare. True, I've never had a threesome, but the logistics of group sex seem confusing, whereas the roles you play in a band are well-defined and presumably a lot less messy.

7. I finished the manuscript for Shoot Out The Lights about a month ago. According to the 33 1/3 blog, it will be released in April 2008. Despite the description in the promo materials, it is not the definitive Mojo article on the album, but a novella about a man obsessed with the album and its parallels with his life. It will be my first mass-market published work of fiction, although it is only a little bit fictional. All of the hardcore analysis of the album and the context around its creation is nonfiction and fairly heartfelt for me. Immediately after finishing the manuscript, I started writing a novel. If I finish it, it will be the second novel I've written. The first was a piece of shit I wrote as an undergrad. No copies of that novel exist, which is best for everyone. I hope to publish this new novel, though. I hope it is good.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

While I was out of town at my parents' farm near Samson, Alabama, the other editors of The High Hat, aka the best damn magazine on the web, managed to pull together Issue No. 9 without any help from yours truly at all. This goes without saying, but I'm going to say it, anyway: they are mindblowingly, forkbendingly, breathtakingly, worldshakingly awesome people, and it's due to their smarts and diligence that every issue of the Hat is better than the last.

This one is dedicated to places, and is chock-full of stand-out articles, including Erika Jahneke on the ghosts of 9/11 in Rescue Me and World Trade Center, Shauna McKenna on Roma and Tokyo-Ga, and tons of brilliance, especially from the extra-prolific Phil Nugent and Steve Hicken.

I contributed a semi-considered article on the films Gerry and Grizzly Man and the tv shows Survivorman and Man Vs. Wild, all of which deal with little people lost in the huge indifference of Nature. Go check it out.

On another note, if you left me a comment asking for an email and haven't received one yet, please let me know. I've tried to answer all the emails, but I've been a bit extra-scattered and smothered and even a little covered lately, what with my book in endgame plus stress of family tragedy and distractions related to our little nuclear family.

Monday, October 22, 2007

My baby brother Michael died yesterday.

He was profoundly retarded. When he was born, the doctors told us it would be a miracle if he lived to be 16. But he did, and then he went on living another 7 years.

Michael was a baby all his life. He didn't walk. He needed to be fed. He wore diapers. He was mostly blind, but he loved to have the sunshine on his face. He loved to hear people talk to him and loved having people fawn over him. He loved music. He hated to be held, but there was no other way to move him around. He may have been my brother, but he was heavy. He hated loud noises. He hated having to wait for his dinner and would make an awful racket.

Michael was lucky that my parents shouldered the burden of taking care of him. My parents chose to sacrifice everything they could to make Michael happy, and they succeeded. Michael was happy almost every day of his life. What more could anyone ask out of this wicked world?

And I miss him terribly. Even though I knew it was going to happen soon. Even though I've been expecting that call for years. It's hard to realize exactly how much you love someone like that until they're gone, and now he's gone, my sweet baby brother Michael.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I've long thought Deborah Solomon was a terrible interviewer. Her short fluffy NYT Magazine interviews have a strangely aloof quality to them, as if there is a disconnect between what is asked and what is answered. As it turns out, that appears to be the case. This is ok for satirists like Colbert and the Daily Show guys, but it's not so great for the Grey Lady.

I also want to point out Phil Nugent's clear-eyed analysis of the Bush Administration's weird ethical gymnastics. It's a thing of truth and beauty.

Last, but definitely not least, the 33 1/3 blog has an excerpt from David Smay's upcoming book on Swordfishtrombones. Smay is not just a good friend and a hell of a writer; he's the guy who first gave me a break when he and Kim Cooper accepted my submissions to Lost In The Grooves. This excerpt excites me quite a bit. I think it's going to be a hell of a great book, and I'm looking forward to seeing any parallels between his work and my own.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Great New Yorker article about David Simon, the genius behind "The Wire". It's long but absolutely necessary for fans.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"I'm not trashing your book. I'm trashing your philosophy of life."

This may be the best Jon Stewart interview yet. Watch him deconstruct Chris Matthews.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Who has time to maintain a blog? Not me!

I just wanted to pop in and mention that my friend Phil Freeman has an excellent opinion piece in today's LA Times on the continued viability of the album as a coherent artwork. But he says it better. He'd almost have to.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Geneva Elise Barrett Childs

Born 5:35 am, 8/2. 8 lbs 1 oz.

She came about ~30 seconds after the water broke with no one in the room but a very surprised nurse (who'd just arrived), the doula, and me. The nurse was next to me, struggling to pull on her glove, cursing, maybe stressed. I was telling her to calm down, but then I looked down and saw my little girl's head, already out. I reached down and caught her as she was born into the world, and that was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

This makes me incredibly happy. The song is Can's "Vitamin C". Krautrock for the b-boys!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Y'all remember when I used to blog regularly? Neither do I.

Lots has happened in the last... month? Really? Damn, it's been a while.

Most of these guys who I memed below have done that thing that I asked them to do. Sorry for the vagueness, but it's easy to forget what the hell I'm talking about.

The Bush Admin has completely gone off the deep end with the Scooter Libby pardons, man-sized safes, repeal of desegregation laws, that sort of thing. But you know all that.

Most importantly, our baby is imminent! She's head-down and low (and I say "she" knowing full well that she could be a he) and could show up, like, any minute now. We have carseats at the ready.

What we don't have yet is a crib. That's gotta happen.

Our son's new room is almost done. I've spent the last month painting and building IKEA furniture (thanks, Scott & Kathy, for your contributions to that effort!) and turning the garage into a guest bedroom/study/storage area (before, it was just a junk room, basically).

I'm sure I have more to gas on about, but I've got too much to do right now. Next post could be notice about the birth, so check back periodically (so I say to all none of you who read this stupid blog).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Our Man In Boston, aka Emlyn Lewis, the guy I thought least-likely to do the meme thing below, has turned out to be the only one to do so. Huzzah, I say. I know it was a stroll through the Hell of the past, but those are best done when accompanied by friends.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the greatest modern philosopher, Richard Rorty, passed away a couple of days ago. Slate has collected a few of his colleagues' eulogies of the man. Please read them and think on how wonderful it is that his friends and admirers could have included not just the noxious Richard Posner and the difficult-but-angelic Stanley Fish, but also the beatific Jurgen Habermas and Brian Eno. Rorty made a better person of me, and hopefully you, too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Our good friend Scott, proprietor of Moonshine Mountain, has tagged this blog with a meme. Part of the assignment includes the instruction to "get nostalgic" regarding the music from the year I turned 18 (that's 1990, for the record), so being the great Method actor I am, I must carefully prepare myself for the approximation of nostalgia. Ahem. Ah, the good old days.

So, here's the list I'm working from. Sweet nostalgia! Sweet days of youth! There, that should get me in the mood. I'm going to pick five, starting at the end of the list.

74. Faith No More - "Epic".
What a weird song for a hit! Considering the miserable sub-genre of rap/metal that it spawned, the world would have been much better without this little ditty, but ok. Anyway, nostalgia. My most keen remembrance associated with this song was my sophomore dorm room (so this would have been Fall 1991), which I shared with a certain Alan Jolly. Our place was the drop-in/drop-out room, always filled with a mysterious haze and reeking of booze. It's fair to say we were far more interested in screwing around than classes. I had a shitty stereo, one of those all-in-one boxes that wasn't a jambox but a faux-component stereo, and, even though it made the whole thing (relatively) more expensive, this semi-stereo also had my first CD player. I can't remember who owned the Faith No More album, but I do remember that it was a frequent choice. Man, those days. So much drama, but so much fun.

61. Tom Petty - "Free Fallin'"
This one goes back to high school. I remember learning how to play it on guitar because a girl I had the hots for really liked it. I had a neat-but-crappy old Eko guitar, a 12-string that belonged to my uncle, that I strung up with 6 strings. I don't remember which girl liked it, but I'm guessing it was Melissa Moore, who was a physician in Dallas the last time I spoke to her, almost a decade ago. Melissa was definitely the most interesting girl in high school, gorgeous and arty and super-smart and self-possessed enough to know that she was my unrequited love, but selfish (I mean, she was younger than 18 when we first started hanging out) enough to keep stringing me along year after year. Nostalgia is better when flavored with regret, right?

29. Concrete Blonde - "Joey"
I don't remember what the deal with Concrete Blonde was, nor that they had a hit before their vampire song "Bloodletting". I guess I sorta remember this song being in the background during my first semester of college, but I don't have as many sharp memories of it as I do for "Bloodletting." So... that's the comment. Let's move on.

6. Dee-Lite - "Groove Is In The Heart"
No two ways about this one. It was everywhere my first semester. I got along great with most everyone on my dorm floor, especially Matt Martin (now a chef in Huntsville, AL) and Chris Shaw (who is god-knows-where), and we'd have loud funk (or semi-funk, like this song) blaring in the halls most nights. This was in the U of Alabama's infamous Mallet Assembly, which was self-governing and free of RAs. A couple of girls from Fitts, the girl's honor dorm, would come over to partake in the revelry, dance, and accompanying mind-expansion devices. I remember having to explain to everyone who Bootsy Collins was one night. I remember one of the girls, whose name was Audrey, I think, who loved to dance to this song with maximum contact, if you know what I mean and I think you do, with many of the guys, but refused to go any further than that, which got her quite the little reputation in our dorm in the Fall of 1990.

I should pull one more song out, but most of the rest of these meant nothing to me at the time. But these were just the most-requested songs. Scrolling down to the No. 1 songs gives me:

April 21 - May 18: Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor
So this lost the No. 1 position to Madonna on my 18th birthday, May 19, 1990. This song reminds me of the house parties we used to have at Laura Walker's place. She lived with her grandparents, who went out of town all the time, bless their souls. We drank and swam (skinny-dipped, even!) and stayed up all night and generally acted like kids with raging hormones and all the time in the world. It was heavenly. My first real girlfriend, Vanessa, was part of this scene. Once when this song was on the stereo, I made out with a girl (name lost to history) who was dating a good friend, which was really my first taste of being an asshole to someone I cared about. I didn't like it much when I thought on it later, but man, I was young and selfish then. I guess I could blame the music, because my emotions were so easily controlled by external stimula then, and any 18-yr-old in 1990 who could resist making out with an attractive partner when this song played had a heart of lead.

OK, that's memory lane! I'm not sure how many of my compatriots actually read this blog, but should they happen to catch the nod, I'm going to assign:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Phil Nugent takes Sam Brownback out to the woodshed in one of the best deconstructions of modern political realities I've ever read.

Also, Dana Stevens brings up some good points about her knock on Knocked Up. Unfortunately, I still don't buy the central premise that because Roe vs. Wade is under attack, a filmmaker with a pregnant character has an obligation to address abortion head-on. I think she's right in saying that too many movies give it short shrift as an option, and probably so because of concerns about turning off a certain segment of their audience. However, there's a huge leap from the notion that movies in general should be more mindful about what abortion rights mean to women and that this movie in particular should have tried to deal with it. The fact that this character in this movie didn't seriously mull over aborting this (fictional) fetus doesn't justify a bizarro inverse theory that any woman who has had an abortion has committed a horrible act. The mopes she mentions over at the National Review and the Atlantic Monthly who are politicizing a fictional young woman's choice in a fictional comedy of manners that is, as I might have mentioned, a work of fiction: these are the jokers committing an act of regrettable behavior.

Friday, June 01, 2007

We saw a preview of Knocked Up last night. This is sure to be a classic.

On Salon, Stephanie Zacharek is explicitly comparing Knocked Up to Preston Sturges comedies.

That uncertainty is what links it to the great American romantic comedies: It's not as elegant as, say, "Holiday" or "The Lady Eve" or "The Palm Beach Story," but it's wise enough to know that the false promise of happily ever after is more depressing than it is uplifting. Better to acknowledge the bumpiness of the road ahead than to fool yourself into believing you can iron out its kinks.
I think she's dead-on here. Knocked Up is too raunchy to work like The Lady Eve or The Palm Beach Story, both of which were sex comedies of a different sort, but it shares the sex-with-consequences sensibility of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek with the broad pleasures of 80s sex comedies (I'm thinking Porky's), but also with a grown-up take on parenthood that I can't recall seeing in any movie before. There's a very warm embrace of humanity in the movie that reminds me of the greatest humanist director, Renoir, specifically the hijinks of Boudu Saved From Drowning. I think that's where I am: half Preston Sturges, one quarter Porky's, and one quarter Renoir.

I don't want to ruin anything for anyone, but since it's a comedy about pregnancy, I'm going to assume that y'all know it winds up in a delivery room. That scene was just incredible, somehow combining slapstick with the very real confusion and beautiful grossness (by which I mean everyone is born in blood and struggle) of natural childbirth. It has an unwavering belief in the realness and decency of even the most minor of supporting cast, and the overall effect is profound. I'm a sap these days, I know, because when my family is expecting a baby, any images of childbirth cut straight to my weepy emotional place, and that's exactly what this incredible scene does.

There's several other points where the character's reality are realized in a way that few comedies could handle. My favorite is a moment where Paul Rudd's character, holding a ridiculous fairy-tale castle-shaped ice-cream cake for his daughter's birthday, learns what his wife and sister-in-law really think of him, and in, like, three seconds, he registers the incredible hurt of this and moves on. If the movie weren't so insanely funny and light on its toes, it could easily play like an agonizingly detailed examination of marriage and relationships. That's a rare and awesome thing.

In Slate, Dana Stevens thinks that Judd Apatow doesn't write convincing women.

I can only read this moment as Judd Apatow's tribute to the awe of childbirth and the cult of the eternal feminine. It's a lovely impulse, but in his next film, maybe he could honor women by striving to create female characters with the depth of humor and humanity he gives to men.
She might have a point, although I don't think it's enough of one to justify her spending a good third of her review on this. Almost all of the guys in the movie are slacker wise-asses. At least one minor female character also is a slacker wise-ass. The major female characters rarely are deliberately funny, but it happens a couple of times. But it's wrong to say they aren't human. I thought the two female leads were both well-written and well-acted as a little high-strung (or a lot high-strung, but they're supposed to be sisters, and the one scene with their mother demonstrates exactly why they were so high-strung) with a similar bewilderment about men. Is it inhuman that they weren't as zingy as the men in the movie?

Stevens' other major point was:
It's just not believable that, in Alison and Ben's upper-middle-class, secular L.A. milieu, abortion would not be matter-of-factly discussed as a possibility in the case of a pregnancy this accidental.
I think this is complete bullshit. Alison talks about abortion with her sister and her mother. Ben explicitly doesn't want to tell her what to do because it is her choice. And when she makes the choice, she doesn't spell it out for anyone, which seemed good writing rather than bad: why would a woman ennumerate her reasons out loud to have a child rather than terminate a pregnancy? If she had done so, THAT would have sounded fake.

Finally, for your amusement, here's Michael Cera and Judd Apatow riffing on the famous Lily Tomlin/David O. Russell blowout.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I am older and arguably wiser than I was a year ago at this time. And yet I feel the same. How does that work? Anyway, I'm 35 years into this life as of last Saturday.

Monday, May 14, 2007

If I had the power to require people to read something, Phil Nugent's Mother's Day post would be this required reading.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Almost all that's on my mind lately is the book. With that in mind, here's the first random 10 songs from my iPod when I hit shuffle.

  1. The Mountain Goats - "Pale Green Things" (The Sunset Tree)
    This is the kiss-off final track from The Sunset Tree, a downer of a song cycle (so says the author of the forthcoming 33 1/3 book Shoot Out The Lights) about, presumably, John Darnielle's abusive step-father. The elegaic feel of this song, both a curse and promise, is unbelievably poignant, a way of making a semi-fond farewell to someone hated more than loved. The lyrics talk of a trip to the racetrack, and end with these lines: "My sister called at 3 a.m./Just last december/She told me how you'd died at last, at last/And that morning at the race track was one thing I remembered/I turned it over in my mind/like a living chinese finger trap/seaweed and Indiana sawgrass." My poetry professor used to say that most song lyrics are doggerel made more meaningful by the way they are sung, and I think he was mostly correct about this. This is the exception.
  2. The Embarrassment - "Song For Val" (Blister Pop)
    Just over a minute of a poorly recorded little punk anthem. "I don't care for old people," goes the lyric.
  3. Dinosaur Jr - "Start Choppin'" (Where You Been)
    Man, this is a surprising collection of songs! This is a post-Lou power-pop song layered with a couple of dozen J. Mascis guitars. I'm not a huge fan of later Dinosaur Jr, but this is one of the keepers.
  4. The Mountain Goats - "Woke Up New" (From a free eMusic Pitchfork Festival sampler)
    This song also appears on Get Lonely, which I also have, so hey, it's a duplicate and I can delete it to make room for new music. Yay! I must have my random factor set to be more likely to repeat artists, because I can't believe I'd have enough Mountain Goats out of the 4,178 songs currently stored on my iPod to bring them up twice in the first five songs otherwise. Get Lonely is an ok album, but the lyrics never rise to the poetic heights of the previous few albums and the artiface of the songs actually seems to distance me from Darnielle's characters, rather than drawing me towards them, also unlike the 2-3 immediately preceeding albums.
  5. Isis - "Backlit" (Panopticon)
    I think Darnielle, a metal fiend currently working on a 33 1/3 book on Master of Reality, would dig this transition. Isis plays trippy, expansive metal. I understand many of their longtime fans dislike this album, but I like it a lot, almost as much as the classic Oceanic. See, I love long post-rock tracks (meaning that the music relies on jazz-like textures and moves through suites rather than verse-chorus-verse structure), and this sounds like the metal version of that. As much as I like Isis, I wish they'd join Mastodon in dropping the cookie monster vocals, although I think that may be the primary way that metal fans identify Isis as a metal band these days. Did I mention that this song is nearly 8 minutes long and features as great stripped-back bridge part? Like it.
  6. Tom Ze - "Dulcineia Popular Brasileira" (Tom Ze)
    From the master of mindbending tropicalia, this is a somewhat unsuccessful early fusion of 60s-era radio pop with Ze's distinctly odd sensibilities. There's better examples of what Ze can do when he's cooking with grease.
  7. Devendra Banhart - "Anchor" (Cripple Crow)
    A short burst of sweetness that may also be called "Canela". I put this on a bedtime mix I made for my 2-yr-old.
  8. Bill Evans Trio - "Peace Piece" (Everybody Digs Bill Evans)
    I'm taking this as proof that my iPod would rather be laying in a shady hammock in a cool breeze. This track, a slow sort of ur-New Age ivory tinkling, but with, y'know, tons of heart (unlike George Winston, f'rinstance), always sounds like it should score the inevitable final compromise between the protagonists and antagonists in a Miyazaki flick.
  9. The Mekons - "Cocaine Lil" (Mekons Rock 'N Roll)
    A spacey, sing-song tale of a coke addict. The lyrics read like a Victorian morality tale.
  10. Prince - "New Position" (Parade)
    Wow, I had no idea I had any songs from Parade in my iTunes at all. I'm completely unfamiliar with this song. It ain't Prince at his maximum brilliance, though.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I downloaded Joanna Newsom's new EP Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band a couple of days ago from eMusic, and I finally sat down last night to listen to it.

And it's a freaking revelation. All you Joanna Newsom-haters who want to know why I love her so much must - nay, MUST - hear this version of "Cosmia". All the songs on the EP are live arrangements, but they've brought some serious intensity here.

First of all, she's obviously taken some sort of voice lessons, because all the little-girl tone is gone, and she's somehow taken her voice, which I always thought interesting and sweet, and brought a level of passion and power to her singing that just blows me away. I say this as a person who rarely gets excited about the human voice.

Then, there's the arrangements. Let me say briefly why I liked Ys. so much: where some Joanna-haters just heard self-indulgence, I heard an attempt to recast American folk music as a much older artform. To explain, consider that The Band was a reflection of American folk and country by a mostly Canadian rock band that took elements of this artform and combined them with a sort of art-rock lens to make music that was completely new but sounded centuries old. Now, over in England, the Fairport Convention, inspired by The Band, decided to do the same with British folk music, only they had, y'know, almost a millenium of music tradition to draw upon. Liege and Lief, their answer to The Band, also blended the old and new in a completely original way, recasting the past as a vital component of folk music moving forward. With this in mind, I think Joanna Newsom's Ys. is a similar work to Susanna Clarke's book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Clarke took the literary trappings of Dickens and Trollope, and recast British history as one of fantasy with near-realistic (at least in terms of Victorian literature) terms. Ys. is to American folk music what Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is to British literature and Liege and Lief is to British folk music, an attempt to recast American history as if it had 1,000 years and a folkway of fantasy to draw upon.

Now, Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band takes one of the songs from Ys., "Cosmia", and re-arranges it to play up the Appalachian sound. The result is just flat-out gripping, and I barely breathed through its 13 minutes. It starts similar to the album version, just quiet voice and harp, but the other musicians, at first building on Van Dyke Parks' album arrangements before abandoning them, slowly add intensity until by the final chorus, Newsom is almost hollering, a drum is pounding, and the musicians sound like they are about to break their instruments. As I lay in bed last night, listening to this, breathless, I felt like I was discovering her music all over again, with all due excitement.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

This past weekend, I watched the documentary Danielson: A Family Movie, which is about the band/musician also called The Danielson Famile, Brother Danielson, and Danielsonship. I have been a tepid fan of the band for a little while, liking some of the aspects of their music but finding the overall sound a bit offputting. The documentary made a convert of me, and this is language the band might appreciate, as most of its songs are overtly Christian.

The documentary focuses on the discomfort many of the band's fans, who are primarily indie music people, have with the band's explicitly Christian message. Some acknowledge that they have no problem when gospel or country singers sing about their faith, but they find it strange when indie bands do so, especially bands as oddball as Danielson. I should take a minute to describe the band and the sound.

The Danielson Famile is primarily composed of Daniel Smith on vocals and guitar with his siblings singing and playing flute, glockenspiel, or drums. One of his oldest friends plays keyboards, and marriage to any member of the band seems to bring along band membership. His friend's wife plays violin and sings. Daniel Smith's wife comes aboard as a singer. One of his sisters' husband joins the band late in the movie as a bassist. His friend Sufjan Stevens, who is a brilliant artist in his own right and many times more successful in finding an audience than Danielson, passes in and out of the band (and as a fan, I could have lived without learning of Stevens' nebbishy/needy personality, but what are you going to do?).

There's a scene in which Daniel Smith's parents joke about how the indie music press always compares the Danielson Famile with bands they've never heard of. With that in mind, the math formula I have for the Famile would be (The Shaggs + Pere Ubu + The Pixies) covering (early Talking Heads + Deerhoof) fronted by (the guy from The Flaming Lips screeching at the top of his lungs + the Partridge Family). Odd, odd, odd music. Did I mention that they all used to dress in modified nurse's uniforms, that Daniel Smith occasionally performs solo in an elaborate tree outfit, or that they've constructed an elaborate mythology around the symbols of the band?

Anyway, the documentary was thought-provoking, tackling not just the band for the band's fans' sake, but also the band's faith and acceptance by pop culture mavens and indie rock fans. There's a subtle suggestion in the movie - maybe not even a suggestion, but just a hint - that Sufjan Stevens stole ideas from Danielson to achieve his success, but I have to say that I don't hear a lot of Danielson in Stevens' music. And Stevens' support of his friend appears to be heartfelt, so I don't think the archetypical theme of the hanger-on who steals the real genius's work and makes it more mainstream really applies in this case.

Oh, and a final note. My friend Michael Sherer of the band Padre Pio appears in the background of a scene in which Daniel Smith's artwork has a showing at a gallery in Brooklyn. He appears to be representing the way in which Brooklyn hipsters dig Danielson, although he assures me via email that he isn't really a fan of the band, but was there to check the artwork of Tim Rutili (of Califone). But it's extra-cool, anyway!

Monday, April 16, 2007

I've been sickly with a cold since late last week, meaning that I spent a good portion of the weekend vegging on the couch (as opposed to my usual large portion of the weekend). Anyway, I watched both The Departed and The Devil and Daniel Johnston.

I thought the former ok at best. It made about as much sense as Infernal Affairs, which will never win an award for making sense, but felt bloated and unsatisfying. In Infernal Affairs, part of the pleasure was the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads, but The Departed downplayed this to focus on Jack Fucking Nicholson playing the same guy he always plays, except in Boston (and here's a query: if you play the same person everytime a camera is rolling, whether or not you are appearing in a film or at an awards show or wherever, can you legitimately be called an actor or are you, in fact, just some guy?). Marty can do better, but, to be fair, he can certainly do worse.

Phil Nugent hated The Devil and Daniel Johnston, but I didn't. I seem to remember that Phil thought Daniel an annoying person who insisted that everyone cater to his eccentricities, but I think it's a little more accurate to call him an person indulged as a child whose mental illness requires that same indulgence in his adulthood. I'm a big fan of Johnston's songwriting, which maybe makes a difference (and I note that one detractor on Netflix was kind enough to point out that he wouldn't pass the first round on American Idol). I mean, yes, Johnston's approach to his songs is primitive at best, but like in that lovely moment where Kathy McCarty demonstrates the complexity of his melodies in a little a capella burst, his lyrics and the craft in his songs are quite sophisticated. As in Crumb, the tragedy of his life is on display, especially in a wrenching segment where his father bursts into tears while describing Daniel's attempt to crash their tiny plane during a nasty psychotic episode. Unlike Crumb, the filmmakers do not damn Johnston for his illness and eccentricities.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Warning: The following post is mostly content-free and full of boring minutiae! Buy a case and share with your friends!

I shaved off my moustache this morning, and now I have a clean-shaven upper lip for the first time in 13-14 years. I first grew a moustache two years earlier to that, and the last time I was 'stasheless lasted one week. It was odd to see my face in the mirror, all moony and sometimes reflecting back at me what appeared to be a bad photocopy of my teenage face. I'm thinking muttonchops are next.

In other news, my eMusic downloads of the month are:

  • Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha (+ eMusic bonus track)
  • Danielson - Brother Is To Son
  • The For Carnation - s/t
  • Isaac Hayes - To Be Continued
  • Opeth - Blackwater Park
  • Panda Bear - Person Pitch
  • Red House Painters - Down Colorful Hill
  • Sonny Rollins - Freedom Suite
  • Marnie Stern - In Advance of the Broken Arm
  • Tortoise - TNT
  • David S. Ware - The Freedom Suite
  • Young People - Five Sunsets in Four Days

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Let me draw your attention to two of my favorite links over there on the right.

Over at Clown Central Station, Leonard Pierce (aka The Kong of Clowns) makes right-wing punditry look like the clown car that it is by (and get this, because it's brilliant) taking the blowhards at their word. He treats them like the words they write actually mean what they say, and instantly - poof! - they are revealed as petty half-wits. The man is in the same league as Colbert or the Daily Show, which I don't say lightly.

Meanwhile, over at Boy On A Stick And Slither, Steven L. Cloud has created the most thoughtful and funny comic strip since Calvin & Hobbes. OK, since I'm out on a limb, I think it's actually better than Calvin & Hobbes in some ways. Take some time and flip through the archives.

Li'l Sphere has written a song that goes:

(to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star")

No-no no-no no-no NO!/No-no no-no no-no NO!

You can imagine the rest.

In other news, I emailed my editor at Continuum today to ask for yet another extension to my deadline for my 33 1/3 book. I've been rewriting it since February and really, really like my current direction. I described it for him and hope that he sees it as a valid way to go.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Friday Quiz from Prof. Irwin Corey:

1) What movie did you have to see multiple times before deciding whether you liked or disliked it?
Mulholland Drive
2) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated
Jules et Jim
3) Favorite sly or not-so-sly reference to another film or bit of pop culture within another film.
The scene from CQ which is a note-for-note remake of the Nico portion of La Dolce Vita from another angle.
4) Favorite Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger movie
Never seen one.
5) Your favorite Oscar moment
I don't watch the Oscars.
6) Hugo Weaving or Guy Pearce?
Weaving, because I am a geek.
7) Movie that you feel gave you the greatest insight into a world/culture/person/place/event that you had no understanding of before seeing it
F For Fake, which interested me in art forgery, and the saga of Elmyr de Hory & Clifford Irving in particular.
8) Favorite Samuel Fuller movie
The Big Red One
9) Monica Bellucci or Maria Grazia Cucinotta?
10) What movie can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Anything starring Mary Tyler Moore. Actually, The Big Lebowski does better.
11) Conversely, what movie can destroy a day’s worth of good humor just by catching a glimpse of it while channel surfing?
Anything starring Adam Sandler.
12) Favorite John Boorman movie
13) Warren Oates or Bruce Dern?
Oates, easy.
14) Your favorite aspect ratio
15) Before he died in 1984, Francois Truffaut once said: “The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it.” Is there any evidence that Truffaut was right? Is it Truffaut’s tomorrow yet?
For auteur directors like Altman, yes.
16) Favorite Werner Herzog movie
Either Fitzcarraldo or Grizzly Man.
17) Favorite movie featuring a rampaging, oversized or otherwise mutated beast, or beasts
18) Sandra Bernhard or Sarah Silverman?
Can I choose death?
19) Your favorite, or most despised, movie cliché
Favorite: car chase. Most despised: car chase.
20) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-- yes or no?
21) Favorite Nicholas Ray movie
In A Lonely Place
22) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Underrated
The Iron Giant
23) Your favorite movie dealing with the subject of television
Battle Royale was my initial answer, but seeing others reply The King of Comedy made me realize that was probably more true.
24) Bruno Ganz or Patrick Bauchau?
Bauchau. Ganz is great, but I'd rather have a slice of ham right now.
25) Your favorite documentary, or non-fiction, film
Gimme Shelter
26) According to Orson Welles, the director’s job is to “preside over accidents.” Name a favorite moment from a movie that seems like an accident, or a unintended, privileged moment. How did it enhance or distract from the total experience of the movie?
The fleck of blood in Children of Men: enhanced for me, even though it was not supposed to be a documentary, because it flipped the movie through the mirror for me and felt more real than fiction. Others, my wife for example, felt differently.
27) Favorite Wim Wenders movie
I don't like Wenders very much, but I could say The Buena Vista Social Club.
28) Elizabeth Pena or Penelope Cruz?
Pena, I guess.
29) Your favorite movie tag line (Thanks, Jim!)
This time it's personal.
30) As a reader, filmgoer, or film critic, what do you want from a film critic, or from film criticism? And where do you see film criticism in general headed?
A personal connection with universal implications, well thought and well-argued. Where it's generally headed is the opposite of that.
EXTRA CREDIT: Do movies still matter?
When did they ever matter? Which is to say: yes, to me they matter; no, to history, they don't really matter; and maybe, because I can only speak for myself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

This is from May 1982, after Richard and Linda Thompson had divorced. With the unexpected success of Shoot Out The Lights in the U.S., they toured America to try to salvage a career in the wake of their divorce. This was not an easy tour on either of them or their bandmates.

Look how Linda is holding on to the mic stand as if her life depends on it. Richard is his usual insanely talented self, but Linda tears the shit out of this. Well, ok, Richard is above-and-beyond on the solo. Have you ever loved a song so much that you want to tear your heart out?

I didn't realize I would have to add this, but HOLY CRAP! How does the guitar not break?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Things that happened in the last week:

  • My sister had a birthday. Happy birthday, Jenn!;
  • She called from Brazil, where she is visiting her husband's family;
  • SXSW rolled through Austin, bringing many out-of-town friends;
  • I ate bbq twice with some of these out-of-town friends, including the ultra-cool Maud Newton and the mysterious man known only as Mr. Maud;
  • My parents visited and we played Cities and Knights of Catan not once, but twice;
  • My in-laws visited and gave/sold us a brand-new Prius;
  • We spent time with in-town friends who we don't see nearly as often as we should;
  • We watched Borat;
  • I worked on the book.

I think that's it. All of these deserve more words, but my words are all committed to other projects at the moment.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Oh yeah: Happy birthday to my little brother Patrick, who is 28 today!

Being a bit clueless about cool new things, I've only yesterday heard about Library Thing, which is an online database of your books. I've only added a couple of shelves from home and my two shelves of history and public policy books from work to my online library, but I sorta love this chance to put my taste and refinement (or lack thereof) on display. I'm not an extrovert, but I am inordinately proud of the things I like. The books and CDs and movies I love and the songs I've written and the little articles I've published here and there are all little lights of mine, and I'm going to let them shine. Self-indulgence, thy name is me.

My position is a little naive, to be sure, but I believe that if you are a person interested in the arts, your aesthetic preferences indicate something about your character and your humanity. This isn't a blanket truth; the best point of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity is that there are many wonderful people out there who are utterly unconcerned with the value of art. Their choices of, say, Celine Dion or John Grisham say very little about their character and humanity. However, if you found out that a rock critic, someone who has essentially appointed himself or herself as a public philosopher of aesthetics, thinks that all guitar solos, and in fact, all extended pieces of music by rock bands, are masturbatory and pretentious, shouldn't this ear-blindness call this person's viewpoint into question? I'm willing to cut Noel Murray some slack, because although he's overly concerned with how his opinions fit in with critical hegemony, he's willing to point out that his tastes change and that he's willing to try to appreciate music that may be outside of his comfort zone. Kyle Ryan, however, comes across as a bit of a douche, lumping any instrumental music with a long running time together, as if Can = The Grateful Dead = Tortoise = Funkadelic = Rhys Chatham = Sleep = Sonic Youth. Although I'd guess that he'd claim that his aesthetics are formed in punk (which may be true), he took the most conservative (and worst possible) lesson from punk. Punk bands had a lot of different flavors. They weren't all the Ramones, and they didn't all hate prog-rock. Many of the first- and second-wave punk bands were art-bands, as likely to find influence in King Crimson as in the Stooges. Any music critic for a 'zine with a national footprint ought to know his history well enough to know that.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My friend John's band the Dexateens playing a song that John wrote 12 years back when we were in a band together. My various bands since have always covered this song and my current band, Parks & Wildlife has, in fact, recorded it for an upcoming ep. John, who sings the song, does not appear in this video.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Went to see my friend Che's new band the other night. Just great stuff, riding the wave between dissonant and melodic in all the right places. The new album, Iron, is also brilliant, and the only place to get it right now is at a live show. The man's going on tour, so go see him when he comes to your town.

Feb 28 2007 8:00P Club Congress Tucson, Arizona
Mar 1 2007 8:00P Modified Phoenix, Arizona
Mar 2 2007 8:00P Scolari's Office San Diego, California
Mar 3 2007 8:00P Scene Bar Los Angeles, California
Mar 4 2007 8:00P The Smell Los Angeles, California
Mar 5 2007 8:00P Thee Parkside San Francisco, California
Mar 7 2007 8:00P Sunset Tavern Seattle, Washington
Mar 8 2007 8:00P Towne Lounge Portland, Oregon
Mar 9 2007 8:00P Neurolux Boise, Idaho
Mar 10 2007 8:00P Kilby Court Salt Lake City, Utah
Mar 11 2007 8:00P Hi-Dive Denver, Colorado
Mar 12 2007 8:00P Launchpad Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mar 14 2007 8:00P (SXSW) Habana Calle 6 Patio Austin, Texas
Mar 17 2007 12:00P Epoch Coffee (Sick Room SXSW Day Party) Austin, Texas
Mar 22 2007 8:00P WC Dons Jackson, Mississippi
Mar 23 2007 8:00P Bottletree Birmingham, Alabama
Mar 24 2007 8:00P Drunken Unicorn Atlanta, Georgia
Mar 26 2007 8:00P Pilot Light Knoxville, Tennessee
Mar 28 2007 9:00P Alley Katz Richmond, Virginia
Mar 29 2007 8:00P North Star Bar Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mar 30 2007 8:00P Guero New York, New York
Mar 31 2007 8:00P Rudy's New Haven, Connecticut
Apr 2 2007 8:00P Gooski's Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Apr 5 2007 8:00P Empty Bottle Chicago, Illinois
Apr 6 2007 8:00P Kryptonite Rockford, Illinois

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In a pay-it-forward interview meme-scheme, our good friend Leonard asks:

1. Who's your favorite historian, and why?

C. Vann Woodward is my favorite, by a nose. The guy wrote history like a good novelist, with an eye for detail, ear for narrative, and tasty turn of phrase always at the ready. He took the South seriously, and thought hard about what great sweeping historical movements like populism and Jim Crow meant for little guys at the bottom, and that's what it means to be a good historian. Lawrence Goodwyn, who would probably not balk much (but definitely a smidgen) to be called a follower of Woodward, is my second favorite, because he took Woodward's humanism and curiosity (along with his own experiences as a left-wing journalist involved in the Civil Rights Movement) and applied them to mass movements like the Farmer's Alliance (from whence the Populists sprang) and Solidarity. Smart, smart guy.

2. How in God's name do you support a huge state like Texas with no income tax?

It's impossible. I'm not just being flippant. The state is constantly struggling to figure out how to finance some of the sloppiest social service offerings and lousiest public schools in the country. And basically, what happens is that standards fall and Texas's huge population (check out how many of our cities are in the Top 25 most populous cities in the country, keeping in mind that the Dallas Metroplex is represented twice) struggles to get by more or less with minimal or no state support. It's a ridiculous situation.

3. What's the hardest thing about parenting? What's the most fun?

The hardest thing is not losing my temper, especially when my son is being extra-stubborn about something at 2 am. I'm not very good at this, and it shames me. The most fun thing is hearing his sounds of joy when he's playing (by himself or with one of us) or singing or some other something that he's just discovered is really, really fun.

4. What have you learned from the process of writing a book?

That I'm a slack motherfucker. I've let minor setbacks set me off my work for major swaths of time. I've gotten derailed on a chapter and not revisited for months, at which point I want to start over with a new focus instead of finishing it in current form. I've second-guessed myself into reflexivity. I've chosen to let some leads lie fallow rather than admitting that I'm a terrible interviewer. Fiction is easier.

5. When are we gonna play some damn poker? Or failing that, Catan?

To Leonard: You wanna come up this weekend or next? I'm not a poker fan, but I love me some Catan. If it's the following weekend, I might go ahead & buy the Cities & Knights expansion set. Wait, that's the weekend I'm going to see Richard Thompson. Maybe the weekend after would be better.

To everyone else: leave me a comment and I'll post 5 questions for you to answer at your own little corner of the world.

Check out High Hat contributors Tom Block and Chris Lanier talking about violence on the radio! Well, not "violence on the radio" but "talking on the radio about fighting."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

You're a with-it kind of person. I know this because you're reading my blog, and by "with-it" I mean "reader-of-my-blog." Admittedly, this stretches the the ordinary definition of the word.

Anyway, you, dear reader, my with-it kind of person, should know that there is a new High Hat, a valentine to you, with the theme of First Loves. And Love is the key. I cannot read it without getting all soft-focus vaseline-eyed. It's just that wonderful and romantic.

There's too much goodness to recommend any particular article over another, but I will single out two. First, Phil Nugent's remembrance of New Orleans and his friend Helen Hill, who was murdered there last month, is a breathtaking essay of such scope that the editors took the unprecendented move of presenting it outside of any of our little departments. Second, and I mention this not because it is a high quality essay, but because this is my blog which I write, necessitating a bit of occasional egotism to stay in the spirit of things, my first love article is on an embarrassing youthful indiscretion with the band Styx. Read it at your own peril. Or don't and still think well of me (presuming that, in fact, some of you think well of me in the first place).

Go and be loved.

Monday, February 12, 2007

News! From the blog that promises you the rare glimpse into the life of some guy.

My stack of to-be-read books currently includes:

  • The Believer Back Issue Bundle Jumble: 10 back issues for $20 (I've read some issues in bits and pieces when I've had time);
  • Thomas Pynchon's Against The Day;
  • John Banville's The Sea; and
  • Elizabeth Green-Musselman's Nervous Conditions.
I'm trying to finish my manuscript for Shoot Out The Lights by the end of the month. We've also entered into my busiest season at work. Consequently, I am tired.

My son's 2nd birthday was this past weekend and it was delightful. We gave him a play kitchen that he adores, some age-appropriate legos, and a Huffy tricycle that refused to stay upright (so back to the store it went). He also got some cowboy boots from his Aunt Jen, a Leapfrog doll from his grandparents, and some wonderful books from some of his friends. Yay!

Oh, yeah. eMusic downloads this month included:
  • Jens Lekman - Oh You're So Silent Jens
  • Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus
  • El-P - High Water
  • Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity
  • a bunch of Deerhoof contributions to compilation albums
  • cLOUDDEAD - Ten
  • cLOUDDEAD - Dead Dogs Two EP
  • The Woggles - Wailin' With The Woggles
  • The Mountain Goats - We Shall All Be Healed
  • Red House Painters - Red House Painters (II)
  • Tortoise - s/t
  • The Spinanes - Imp Years
  • Love Tractor - This Ain't No Outer Space Ship
  • Acid Mothers Temple - Starless and Bible Black Sabbath
  • Rhys Chatham - A Crimson Grail (for 400 guitars)

If you know me and decide to sign up for eMusic, please tell 'em I recommended it to you. I like free downloads!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

There's not enough gloom in the world to convey what the loss of Molly Ivins means to this state and this country. She was a gadfly in the best sense of the world, a truly witty person who could lay bare political childishness and hypocrisy with a couple of well-placed words, all delivered with so much warmth and humor that only a withered fig would could refrain from laughing. I don't know whether she loved or hated her clear predecessor H.L. Mencken, who had a similar way with words but fell on the other end of the political scales, but I hope she loved him. I know she loved Ann Richards, another witty Texas woman with a Texas-sized personality. Here's what she wrote in her obituary for Governor Richards:

She was so generous with her responses to other people. If you told Ann Richards something really funny, she wouldn't just smile or laugh, she would stop and break up completely. She taught us all so much -- she was a great campfire cook. Her wit was a constant delight. One night on the river on a canoe trip, while we all listened to the next rapid, which sounded like certain death, Ann drawled, "It sounds like every whore in El Paso just flushed her john."

From every story I've heard and from the meager two times I got to meet her, all of this could apply to Molly Ivins, too.

Salon has been kind enough to compile a few choice quotes, including:

On the recent campaign: "It's like having Ted Baxter of the old 'Mary Tyler Moore' show running for president: Gore has Ted's manner, and Bush has his brain." (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/25/2000)

On George Bush Sr.: "Calling George Bush shallow is like calling a dwarf short." (Mother Jones, February 1990)

"The next person who refers to David Duke as a populist ought to be Bushururued, as they now say in Japan, meaning to have someone puke in your lap." (Mother Jones, May/June 1992)

On Ronald Reagan: "You have to ignore a lot of stuff in order to laugh about Reagan - dead babies and such -- but years of practice with the Texas Lege is just what a body needs to get in shape for the concept of Edwin Meese as attorney general. Beer also helps." (Progressive, March 1986)

(Responding to the Reagan warning that "The Red Tide will lap at our very borders.") "These sneaky bastards from Nicaragua -- there's 3 million of 'em down there, there's only 16 million Texans, and they've got us cornered between the Rio Grande and the North Pole." (Progressive, May 1986)

"I have been collecting euphemisms used on television to suggest that our only president is so dumb that if you put his brains in a bee, it would fly backwards." (Progressive, August 1987)

On Texas: "I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults." (Fort Worth Star-Telegram column, March 1, 1992)

On H. Ross Perot: "It's hard to envision a seriously short guy who sounds like a Chihuahua as a charismatic threat to democracy, but it is delicious to watch the thrills of horror running through the Establishment at the mere thought." (Time, June 1992)

Here's a lovely obituary in the NY Times, full of bon mots that you, dear reader, should steal and use often. The Nation, sadly but predictably, is a bit drier, but gives you a scope of the struggles that defined her life. And last, but certainly not least, The Texas Observer, the famous lighthouse in the fog of Texas politics that Ivins edited for 6 years back in the 70s, is chock full of information, with articles, some wonderful tributes, and pictures of Ivins at work and play. She asked that people not waste their money on flowers for her, but donate to the Observer instead. This is the woman who dubbed our President "Shrub" and said of his father that "real Texans do not use 'summer' as a verb." That's worth at least $10, right?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I barely remember how to do this. Anyway, life/busy/stuff is keeping me elsewhere for the time being. However, I must unabashedly recommend Children of Men. This movie, this movie, this movie. The imagery was gorgeous, smart-alecky Christ-story, but the story itself, a near-primeval mythographic story about the trip through hell to deliver the pregnant woman who will save humanity into the hands of safety, resonated throughout me as though I were a bell being struck. The world it takes place in, a future England that is like Iraq as the last outpost of civilization (rather than the cradle), is a horrific vision of xenophobia, homeland security, the breakdown of government functions (see the trash strewn everywhere), terrorist factions, and authoritarian crackdowns. The message was crystal clear and as old as, well, the story: what is coming will seem like the end of everything, but there's always room for hope. The movie's verisimilitude is so raw that you'll find yourself gasping at the end of the action sequences (two, prominently, are single-takes, which is a wow of a realization), unaware that you'd been holding your breath. I wept and I laughed, and the movie still has a hold on me, days later.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

As better said by Leonard Pierce:

So, you though we were done, huh? You thought we'd quit? You thought our widely celebrated and lethally well-timed Robert Altman issue (#7 of the High Hat) was all you were going to get out of us this season?

Nah. Nah. We don't dance no mo' at the High Hat. We're right back up in your business with a specially supplemental issue #7.5, where ten of our sexiest contributors expound on ten of their favorite cultural thingamadoos of 2006.

Simply by pointing your browser thisaway, you'll get:
  • Founder & editor Hayden Childs on ten things you should have paid attention to this year.
  • Composer & classical music blogger Steve Hicken on ten significant developments in concert music.
  • Film prof and High Hat editor Gary Mairs on ten of YouTube's finest.
  • Writer, editor and literary gal about town Shauna McKenna on the ten best websites for fiction.
  • Cartoonist and raconteur "Calamity" Jon Morris on the ten best -- and worst -- superhero comics of the year.
  • Writer, thinker and author of "Against Polemics" David Nordstrom on the year's essential films and DVDs.
  • Semi-professional arbiter of everything Phil Nugent tells us what movies made it okay to laugh again.
  • Blogger, High Hat editor and freelance what-have-you Leonard Pierce on
    the year's best bests.
  • Film critic and America's movie janitor Scott Von Doviak on the year's worst worsts.
  • Culture vulture and movie death match referee George Wu on what he was watching in 2006.

Please take a moment from your busy schedules to use your spare eyeballs and brain cells on the latest offering from what we like to think is one of the more consistently snappy journals of arts and cultural criticism on this big truck called the internet, won't you? And stay tuned; issue #8 will be coming your way this February. (We're also still taking pitches for the next issue; contact us at highhatsubmissions at gmail dot com if you're interested.)

Our Robert Altman issue was one of the best yet, thanks to the hard work of our editors and some amazing contributions from our always-excellent writers. We're getting a higher profile with every edition, and we have you to thank for that. As always, we appreciate your support and kindness.

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