Sunday, July 31, 2005

And in news that's got nothing to do with anything, I just bought a new bag for my laptop, woo woo

Hey Cleveland--keep an eye open at your local coffee shop for the latest issue of Angle: A Journal of Arts and Culture. It's the third annual literary issue. Yay for literature! Maureen McHugh contributes a short story, "Wicked," which you'll also find in her new collection, Mothers & Other Monsters, which you'll find a copy of on my coffee table.

Also, if you happen to be in Chicago on August 23rd, check out the August edition of the Bookslut Reading Series, where Maureen will be reading, along with Jennifer Stevenson and Charles Blackstone, neither of whom I've read yet, but if you can judge books by titles, Trash Sex Magic and The Week You Weren't Here are, I suspect, both very good books, which you'll probably eventually find copies of on my coffee table, I suspect.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Maybe this is educational, like, for the kids, or something

I have no idea what all this business is about but if you've got spare time I guess it might be something you use to kill some of that time. All I know is that right now, it looks like stock in this blog is dirt cheap, so if you buy it up now and, uh, I, do, uh, whatever it is that makes a blog's stock worth more, you'll be really rich. In fake Internets money. Or something. I don't really know, I failed the money classes in school, and fake money just depresses me. I never did like Monopoly. Mostly because I never got any good money there, either.

For those of you who want something of intellectual value out of a TDAOC post, here's some words to live by, courtesy of The Elegant Variation. Shares of TEV stock, incidentally, are currently approximately 20290.258064516129032258064516129 times more expensive than shares of TDAOC stock. Mmhmm, yeah, that's right. TDAOC: Bargain Basement Blogging at Bargain Basement Fake Internet Money Prices!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

76 brief views of Cleveland: #10

Graffiti on the wall above the urinal in the men's room of the Arabica coffee shop at Case Western Reserve University:

"Why do some women wear glasses?"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

It's an inspirational story, but not in the Left Behind sort of way, though I guess maybe there might be parallels

And finally, to wrap up this overly communicative Tuesday night, here's a little something about lit mag submissions that's been making the rounds.

I just checked my own spreadsheet (though the presence of a spreadsheet on my computer shouldn't lead one to mistake me for being at all organized in a life-wide fashion) and my oldest unanswered submission has been out for about three months. And my spreadsheet hasn't grown flush with new entries in far too long. If my current endeavor would stop gorging on middle-filling-out literary Twinkies and start concerning itself with finding an ending, that situation might change this coming month. One can hope, at least. (And yes, it is the story's fault. Not my fault! No way. Inspiration, man! Inspiration!)

Another lit mag my money will soon be going to, thank you very much, internets

The Emerging Writers Network clues in the unclued (namely, me) about an online lit mag that's about to go paper (and yes, I, too, thought things were supposed to happen in the other direction, these days), OpiumMagazine. In the publication's now four-ish years of online activity, they've published quite a few stories that seem to all be right there, clicks away, for free, and while I haven't read them yet, I do think I'll be digging through the stacks. (Admittedly probably in some part to see if there's any chance anything I write might be attractive to them--looks like they're looking for stories about "tripping over things"; I wonder, do they take sordid autobiography?) OpiumMagazine.print launches in a bit over three weeks, which gives me just enough time to steal enough lunch money from the other kids on the block for the cover price--a price that will result in the delivery of over one-quarter of a thousand pages of lit lit lit wackiness to my doorstep. Seriously! Seems there's going to be a release party in New York City, too, but they don't list a Cleveland-to-NYC subway, so I guess they'll have to get along without me.

The mag stuck out for me because Grant Bailie, whose novel Cloud 8 I recently read and liked, is a contributor to the print publication. Along with 52 other people, some of whose work I'll probably also take a fancy to. And in fact, if you've been thinking to yourself, "I'd sure like to check out that Grant Bailie novel, but isn't there some way I could get a little taste of the guy's work, first?" I'm here to tell you that you can, in fact, get that taste. He has a short-short story called "The Dead" posted at OpiumMagazine's web site. ("The Dead", incidentally, was a title I was just a few hours ago briefly considering for a story I'm working on right now, but I kind of figured maybe someone had already beat me to it. Drats.) Also, if you are into reviews, Grant Bailie offers a review of March 13th. Yeah, I know what he means about sequels. Yep. Sure do. (Sigh.)

One statement, two takes

So Steve Wasserman--some guy, I guess--believes that "The best reading experience is to occupy your time with the worthy dead rather than the ambitious living."

  • Take One: Dan Green, at The Reading Experience, offers an interesting, well-considered deconstruction of Steve-O's statement, in defense of the notion that "The truth is pretty close to exactly the opposite of what Wasserman would have us believe." This sparks an interesting conversation I haven't fully processed yet, so I apologize if Take Two is a rehash of someone else's opinion.

  • Take Two: My own opinion is that Steve Wasserman must be some kind of doodieface to think something so silly. Read deeply, read broadly, my friends: read the dead, read the living; read girls and read boys; read the local and read the foreign; read every genre that crosses your path; read it all and read it often, all for no reason more complicated than, "Yeah, duh?"

Monday, July 25, 2005

Yeah, I think maybe I made Steve's acquaintance once, maybe at a cocktail party, once, in passing, perhaps?

Over at the Emerging Writers Network, Steve Erickson, whose novels, you may or may not recall, I recently developed a slight interest in, takes part in the July 2005 E-panel interview of Literary Journal Editors, part of an ongoing series of such e-panels (click that link then scroll down to the "LitJournals" links). Steve Erickson is editor of the lit mag Black Clock, one of the many lit mags I'm going to subscribe to, ah, any day now. Once that check from my wealthy patron clears. (Right.) In the interview, Erickson reveals that Black Clock, which does not currently hold open submissions, likely will be opening up the slush pile floodgate sometime in the near future; I might as well start working on my cover letter now, because, I imagine, there's bound to be a unique thrill to being rejected by one of your idols. ("He was in the room with the intern who read and rejected my story! My words were in the same room as greatness!") Also taking part in this e-panel is Eli Horowitz of McSweeney's, a mag which I have in fact already been rejected by. My words! Making the tour! Awesome.

So those lit journal editor e-panels have been held monthly this year, and I believe I read somewhere that they're scheduled to take place for the rest of this year. With seven e-panels down, 55 editors have been interviewed on attitudes towards the slush pile, importance of agent representation and simultaneous submissions in getting stories accepted, the business of making a lit journal happen, etc. I say all this more for my own benefit than anyone else's, in that I need a serious reminder-to-the-self to go back and review all those interviews when it comes time to send out my next round of submissions. Once I actually write that total genius story I've just been holding back on until now. (Right.) Lots and lots of good information in there. Which is pretty much scraping the iceberg of what Dan Wickett e-mails out and blogs out via the Emerging Writers Network--I think he generates more worthwhile content in a day than I've created in a lifetime. Worth checking out. (If, uh, you haven't already.)

Saturday, July 23, 2005


So, seems like BookAngst 101, the anonymous blog of an NYC editor spilling the dirt all rant-like on the publishing biz, has gone the way of something or another; I don't really know, I have yet to actually digest the entire final post. Something about narcissism. (On the Internet? I know, it's hard to believe.)

So then, where are we struggling author-wannabes supposed to go for the inside-scoop on the big bad bastards who reject our works of crazy mad genius? Looks like there's two new blogs out there that might be worth keeping an eye on. The first being Agent 007 On Publishing, in which the blogger claims to be a former editor turned agent. The blog seems focused on the relationships between agents and editors--relationships that, I get the sense that, not even most super published authors really get to know that well. The blog's only been around for a week or two so you can easily catch up on the back-posts over your morning coffee or afternoon whiskey. Or morning whiskey. Whatever. (Via Conversational Reading.)

And then there's Miss Snark, the Literary Agent, a blog "in which Miss Snark vents her wrath on the hapless world of writers and crushes them to sand beneath her T.Rexual heels of stiletto snark". So, uh, you can take from that what you will. Miss Snark's been around a few more weeks than Agent 007, but not so long that you couldn't catch up during your second morning whiskey. Not that I have caught up yet. If nothing else so far I did catch a bit of whimsical advice from this post: "I swear if you write a novel you should reverse the gender of all the characters to see if it makes it more interesting." Which, you know, has all the flavor of a goofy literary exercise that you do but never necessarily do anything with, and yet I find it kind of brilliant. (Of course it made a commenter laugh, but hey ho what the hell.) (Via Return of the Reluctant. Or, uh, possibly via Maud Newton's blog, I can't remember.)

I guess the "Hoax! Hoax!" chant has been cast in both blogs' directions already, as will happen with any anonymous blog, I suspect, but it's worth pointing out. Read with grains of salt nearby.

And in conclusion, what is up with Blogger's spell-check not recognizing the words "blog" or "blogger" or "blogxploitation"? I mean, seriously.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Cloud 8 by Grant Bailie

"But always the girl is pretty or beautiful, it seems I am saying, and sooner or later you must question my judgment. But to me it is true; they are always pretty and beautiful." - from Cloud 8 by Grant Bailie

Okay, so not every book I read is pretty or beautiful. Some are annoying and some kind of suck. Some are dull and some are boring. Some, eh, I just don't like. Of course when I only talk about the books I do like, I do wonder if I'm a credible witness to what I see in literature. But, hey, that's not going to stop me from glossing over the unmemorable to focus on the good stuff--wouldn't you rather find books you want to read than wade through the stuff you wouldn't?

Cloud 8, by Grant Bailie, is a pretty good book. It's not astounding. But it's pretty. It's funny in absurd, understated ways, and sad in a delicate sort of fashion. It's the memoir of a dead man, living an afterlife almost as senseless as the life he's left behind. And it's populated by office managers, bartenders, and taxi cab drivers who dress like Abraham Lincoln.

James Broadhurst dies in a car accident to find that the afterlife is a pretty hum-drum place. It's a city. It's full of Abe. The beer is free, and the television is reality at its most real--a one-way conduit to those you've left behind. It's not heaven, but it's not hell, either. It's just a place with senseless office jobs, no weekends, and cigarette butts stomped into the sidewalk. And James has lots of time to think: to think about the life he lost, the people he loved and knew, the marriage that wasn't great, and the software product he proofreads the manual for. (Omega-Beta software: it does everything, but nobody really knows what it is.)

The book is an enjoyable read, written in good old-fashioned clear and concise prose; James our Everyman, narrating us through life in the almost big-city in the sky. It's a bit surreal, but in a sort of "I need something to ease me out of the Steve Erickson canon" sort of way. (Or as just a sort of "I need a good book" sort of way.) Grant Bailie's got an eye for the fun, offbeat detail, the kind of things that elevate a story about the hum-drum above the status of a hum-drum narrative. At one point, I thought of the book as something like Steven Dixon meeting Douglas Adams. Sort of. In a good way.

If you act fast and order the book straight from the publisher, Ig Publishing, you can snap it up for a bargain. Plus, Grant Bailie lives in Cleveland, and if you buy his book and tell all your friends to buy his book, you'll give me hope that Cleveland writers can possibly do okay with the whole "writing" thing. And, the cover is really cool, and will look good in your collection. Ig Publishing is a small, indie press, so, you know: cred points. Who doesn't need a few more of those?


Bullet point rock! Deedly deedly deedly!
  • Chicago was awesome.

  • The concert festival itself was absolutely amazing. So. Much. Fun.

  • The Maureen McHugh/Sarah Willis reading tonight was cool. (Maureen wrote what might be the best thing ever in my copy of Mothers & Other Monsters. It was like an adrenaline shot of writerly encouragement.)

  • I'm still done with Steve Erickson. (And I think I turned Maureen on to Our Ecstatic Days. My reading may be done for a while, but the evangelicism is not!)

  • I am now, coincidentally enough, reading a book by a guy from Cleveland. It's fun. It is, reading-wise, What The Proverbial Doctor Ordered.

  • I'm not sure how I feel about this. (Via BookSlut.)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Steve Erickson's Days Between Stations

I'm done.

And now, Chicago. It feels terrifically appropriate, to finish the journey of these books--each of which deal with journeys, themselves--and to go on a little journey myself. Even if it's only to cross a couple state lines.

But before I go: a little reminder for Clevelanders looking for something to do this coming Tuesday night.

Catch you on the other side.


"Ask someone how to get to this place or that, and she'll sing you the directions."
- Steve Erickson, Our Ecstatic Days. 2005.

"Ask someone how to get to this place or that and he'd sing you the directions."
- Steve Erickson, Rubicon Beach. 1986.

Is Chicago. Is not Chicago! Is Steve Erickson. Is not Steve Erickson!

One hundred pages. (Well, one hundred and change.) Then I'm done.

Because I know that you, dear loyal reader, are biting your nails, wondering the night away: Will he make it?

Yes, I think I will: between a lunch hour snuck off to read a handful of pages, and the couple of hours I'll remain conscious before I pass out tomorrow night, I'll make it. And dammit, I'm still enjoying myself. And dammit, if someone came up to me tomorrow and said, "Hey, we just found a pre-1985 Steve Erickson novel! Wanna copy?", dammit if I wouldn't say, "Yes. Yes I do." And then I'd read it. Though I'm glad that won't happen. Me and Steve's Books, we've had a hell of a fling here, but we've come to an agreement that it's best for all parties if we go see other people and their books for a while. So that someday in the future, we can bump into each other on a lonely moon-lit sidewalk, completely unexpected of course, and then we can head in to a local bar to throw back a few drinks and remember the good old days of July 2005. Maybe, then, we'll make out a little bit, too. A little mind-expansion here, a little fooling around there, a little excess of literary fireworks up against the wall--for old times' sake. But that's for the future to decide.

So a hundred pages, and then: Chicago, for an absolutely ridiculous amount of indie-rawk carnage. Chicago and me, we get along, I think. And checking the weather reports, it's nice to see that I'll be escaping the torrid, sweat-drenched Cleveland heat for a while, replacing it with torrid, sweat-drenched Chicago heat. But see, it's Chicago heat, and that makes it special. (And hey, I hear if you don't like the weather there, just wait five minutes. It'll still be miserable but at least you got to use that five minutes line everyone digs.) Unfortunately, I don't think I'll have the chance to go one-on-one with Michael Jordan down at the park nor will I get to trade coaching truisms with Mike Ditka while I'm there, due largely to lack of available time, and the fact that it's not 1988.

A little something else for you, from the "Darby checks his search engine referrer logs way too much" department: at least as of right now, my incisive, cutting critique of Steve Erickson's Our Ecstatic Days is on the first page of hits on "our ecstatic days" on Google. I'm right up there with the Believer and Bookforum and other greats of the greats, which obviously means that what we've known all along is now official: I'm great! So, you know, if you're joining me from that route, welcome, make yourself at home, but not for too long, because you should really go read the book, since you're obviously interested enough to click any old damn link you find on the topic.

Also, I'm the number one hit on Google for "footnote technology", which, er, makes me greater, I guess.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Steve Erickson's Rubicon Beach

Five of the many possible signs you might be interested in reading some Steve Erickson:

  1. You're interested in literary representations of father/son relationships.
  2. You're interested in literary representations of gender and gender relationships.
  3. You like characters who travel a lot.
  4. You regret.
  5. You need to be surprised.

Finished Rubicon Beach tonight. Six down, one to go. And I have to finish that last one this week, by Friday night. I'm headed to Chicago for the weekend for the Pitchfork-curated Intonation Music Festival, where I fully expect that in a park full of bone-thin tight-shirt-clad indie kids, I will feel like the fattest, oldest man alive. It's going to be awesome. But yeah, this Steve Erickson kick, it's been a great trip, but it's time for it to come to a close. Maybe calling this weekend my deadline for completion is a bit arbitrary, or maybe not. It feels right. It feels like, after setting down the last book, it will be good to hop in a car for six hours to go stand in the sun for two straight days, listening to lots of awesome bands play a whole lot of awesome music. Seems like the best physical external-space way to escape the emotional mental-space I've been wrapped up in for the last three months. Er, excuse me? It's only been about two and a half weeks? That's a bunch of crazy talk, my friend. A whole bunch of crazy talk.

There's a reason why I think you should read some Steve Erickson but not pull a crazy and try to read all of him at one time, and it goes back to reason number five, above. Steve Erickson is a writer who will surprise you: you'll be reading from page to page and then the next page he'll whisk the ground out from beneath your feet, replacing it gradually over the next few pages with a whole new ground, one you'll get a firm footing on just in time for him to crack it open with a literary mallet, sending you hurtling down towards some other ground, buried beneath the second ground and floating right above the first. So it's not that he ever becomes formulaic--by the time I was on my fourth book, Arc d'X, I was still damned amazed at how where I'd started was well after where I was going and how everything in between all meets up at yet some other point seemingly unrelated yet intrinsic and vital all along though I'd never known its existence; the tendrils of dream-knots coming together for brief whispers that send ripples and chasms up and down the lengths of themselves.

But even then there eventually becomes a point where surprise becomes somehow less surprising--however surprised you are by the unexpected, you kind of knew it was coming all along. Which is kind of the headspace I found myself in about midway through Rubicon Beach, when I was reading along and enjoying myself but not letting myself get pulled away by the book. There's a point in the middle when I realized I'd just been seamlessly flown from the story of a girl living in the jungles of South America to the story of a Hollywood screenwriter whose life was success despite his own personal failures. There were plenty of surprises and odd details that had come before that that I'd liked, but it took a certain amount of a conscious mental gasp to realize just how remarkable it all was, right there in front of me the whole time. I enjoyed the story much more after that, having given my mental space a good rattle and a firm shake.

I suppose this is the sort of thing you're likely to run into with any writer or mode of writing you immerse yourself in, which is why I think that experimental fiction alone is not vital. My oft-mentioned friend Chris, having recently read Our Ecstatic Days, is currently reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and I think that's a perfect pairing of novels to be read in succession. I don't know if he knows the surprises in store for him with Ishiguro's book--I sure as hell didn't tell him, but, you know, kids these days with their internets and their freedoms and all. Big surprises of Ishiguro's book known or not--the two books both work in realms of surprise entirely distinct, and, yet, revelatory, I think. One book's "Wow" factor relies on the tricks of the post-modern canon wedded to shocking forms of story-telling; the other relies on good old fashioned narrative and detail. And yet I'll posit that for all their distinctiveness from each other, the two books aren't so far apart in spirit. Like seeing the fireworks as awesome, then looking down to watch them light up the face of someone you love; or, or something. I don't know. I'm very tired.

Point being: I can't wait to see how all this Erickson affects the way I perceive other books, other modes of storytelling. The mental stretching of it, and all that. Also, did I just use the word "posit" in casual blogging? What the deuce? Next thing you know, I'll be all, making interesting points, and stuff. Good grief.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

For Cleveland, a literary event; for everyone else, a reason to be jealous of us

I'm excited.

Why, you ask?

Because Maureen McHugh's short story collection, Mothers & Other Monsters, was recently released. The book has a really cool title. The book has a really cool cover. And, my hunch? The book's got really cool stories inside it, too.

Have I bought the book yet, you ask?

No, I haven't.

And, why not, you ask?

Because I plan picking up my copy next Tuesday, July 19, at 7:00 PM, when I'll be at Mac's Backs, which is where all the cool kids are going to be, because Maureen will be there, bringing on the "2005 I'm Not Dead Tour" practically to your doorstep as she reads from and signs the new book.

Okay, so, disclaimer (yes, I seem full of those tonight): I got a big huge kick in the creative writing ass from Maureen back in college, but that was a really long time ago now, so I hope you trust me when I say it's well beyond the point when I can expect to nudge up any grades through flattery. I've read most of her novels (I think I loaned the one I haven't read to someone and haven't seen it again since), and enjoyed all of them; I'd happily recommend Nekropolis to anyone interested in checking out her stuff. And I've been looking forward to getting a hold of a short story collection for a while now. (Okay, to be totally honest, maybe I'm hoping a little flattery now will mean that someday I'll get to sample her cooking again, because: yum. But food or no food, my statements stand!)

Maureen will be reading with another local writer, Sarah Willis, whose first novel, Some Things That Stay, came out in that long ago time when I was taking Maureen's classes. I think we spent much of a class period dissecting the opening paragraphs of that book. They were really good opening paragraphs. And the rest of the book was really good too. Then I turn around one day and a bunch of years have passed and Sarah Willis is on her fourth novel and I'm wondering how I missed numbers two and three. Seems I have some catching up to do.

From the Mac's Backs newsletter:
Tuesday, July 19th at 7 p.m.

The Sound of Us (Berkley), novelist Sarah Willis' fourth book, is a nuanced and insightful look at foster parenting and racial relationships. Middle-aged and childless, interpreter Alice Marlowe answers a late night phone call that changes the direction of her life. Sarah Willis is a novelist who makes you think about family, friendship, community and society and The Sound of Us will keep you turning pages until the very end. Maureen McHugh's collection of short stories, Mothers and Other Monsters (Small Beer Press) is also out this summer. Maureen has won the prestigious Hugo and Locus awards for her short fiction and acclaim for four novels, including Nekropolis, a New York Times Notable book. This collection, featuring "aging parents, wayward children and nervous stepmothers are all brought to life with graceful restraint and delicacy." The two page story "Wicked" is a good way to sample the intelligent wit contained in all these stories. Join us at Mac's for this reading and booksigning.
So, you know: it's going to be an all around lit-rockin' good time. They're both excellent readers and great fun to listen to. So, you know. Show up, Cleveland. Support your awesome local literary treasures. And then, you know, thank me by buying me a beer. Or a Coke. Whatever.

Stop me if you've heard this one...

...a man drops by a blog, subscribes to a lit mag, and likes it. (No rimshot, sorry.)

One of my unstated and so far largely unfulfilled goals for the year has been to dive head-first into the lit mag scene; the smalls, the indies, the big ones, the ones I've foolishly and blindly submitted my own work to; everything and anything to get a grip on that elusive form called "the short story". I say largely unfulfilled because, uh, I've done little to achieve that goal. I--wait for it--suck.

Somewhere in my lit-blog travels, I became a fan of Gwenda Bond's Shaken & Stirred. Ms. Bond edits fiction for and writes reviews for Say..., a semi-annual lit mag that has the dubious distinction of being one of the zines I've subscribed to. And while I haven't quite finished all the stories contained in issue five ("...have you heard this one?") I can say that I'm certain I like the zine. The cover art is cool, so I've looked real hip-like carrying it into lunchtime coffee shops, and (more importantly) the stories are good. I think I approach story collections as sorts of literary "mix tapes," so there's of course some stand outs in there--"Within this Present Time," by Karen M. Roberts, and "The Last Bee Tree in Lynchburg County," by Catherine M. Morrison, in this case, so far. I think I've especially enjoyed the zine so far because it's been a reliable source of bite-sized pieces of literary non-Steve Erickson goodness for those moments when my brain just needed a little something else.

So if you're looking for some zine goodness, I'd say you'd do alright with Say...; I think you can order the most recent copy here, and I think there's subscription buttons on the Shaken & Stirred sidebar, and there's going to be a website here, soon. Enjoy!

And now, for the disclaimers.

1. (This endorsement is not to be considered a flattery-type response to the fact that Ms. Bond has been kind enough to drop by this humble blog to offer an occasional comment or two. I might not often come out lambasting books I don't like, but that doesn't mean that my I Like Good Books and Zines policy and my I Really Automatically Like People More Who Drop Comments On My Blog policy overlap, at all. Honest.)

2. (Nor does this endorsement have anything to do with the fact that I won the subscription drive prize, though winning my first random drawing since like third grade is way cool, I will admit. Honest. Though I will admit that when I saw I'd won, I kind of did a "Huh!" double-take at the monitor, and then some latent Catholic guilt kicked in when I realized I'd been lazy and I hadn't gotten around to finishing reading the mag or posting my approval/endorsement yet. I, uh, oh, what's the word...four letters, rhymes with duck...oh, yeah. Suck.)

3. (Though okay I will admit that all of this does provide a nice segue and/or hint at my next post topic, cough cough, end of last paragraph, cough cough...)

More on post-rock (music) (*bang bang*)

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a total poser. I like to sometimes talk like I know stuff. But I don't know stuff. This hasn't stopped me from talking about stuff, and it probably won't stop me from talking about stuff any time soon, but hopefully we can still all have some fun despite my ineptitude.

I recently went ahead and rocked the literary world to its very foundations by inventing a brand new literary genre, "post-rock lit". I picked up the music world's "post-rock" movement in one hand and Steve Erickson's oeuvre in the other hand and banged them together as hard as I could until both came out slightly dented, then I dropped them on the table and called it genius. In that post I mentioned a few modern-ish post-rock bands, which I really do think are worth checking out. But for those of you who skipped the opening paragraph of this post, let me fill you in: I'm a poser and an idiot and don't really know anything about anything.

Luckily, the hyper-indie-otakus at Pitchfork immediately came to the rescue with this week's feature article, "The Lost Generation: How UK post-rock fell in love with the moon, and a bunch of bands nobody listened to defined the 1990s".

Excerpt You! Black Emperor:
"They were an indie band that didn't want to be an indie band": That's how Paul Cox, co-founder of the Too Pure label, described Seefeel, one of his acts. That one sentence might be the single best summary of the post-rock project-- a crew of underground guitar bands who suddenly got the idea that they could play much more than rock, and spent the next few years trying to break free into whatever that "much more" might turn out to be.

"Indie bands that didn't want to be indie bands," though-- it's kind of a mouthful of a genre name, and the critic Simon Reynolds quickly stepped in with something more concise. His first use of the term "post-rock" came in a review of a Bark Psychosis record; the one that counted came in a 1994 issue of The Wire. One album does not a genre make, and in that '94 article, Reynolds went about lassoing together the bands that made the scene: Disco Inferno, Seefeel, Stereolab, Pram, Moonshake, and others.
It's a fun article, and it comes complete with a "recommended listening" list, so if you're the kind of person for whom the term "post-rock" holds a certain allure, you know right where to go to find out where it all started. And if you're me, you know right where to go so you can earn yourself some learnin' on the roots of the movement so you can bang art-forms together to greater impact and general non-poser-ness. Elitist nature, here I come!

A very special Tuesday evening edition of TDAOC

So, it's Tuesday night, and it's July 12, and by process of illogical mathematical induction, that means I have all sorts of wacky blog-ish business to conduct tonight. So if you happen to be having a terribly slow night--just you, a nice chilled glass of filtered water, and your browser's refresh button--you might check in here every now and then to see if I actually do accomplish any of the things I've been telling myself for the last week that I should accomplish.

The parentheticals (I've really just gotten too lazy to use Advanced Footnote Technology anymore, if you haven't noticed):

1. (The way I see it, it's common blogger practice to warn you of impending and/or apologize for recent lack of blog activity; so I see no reason why I shouldn't warn you of upcoming and/or apologize for imminent overactive blog activity. So, consider yourself warned. And apologized to. Really. I'm sorry.)

2. (Likely is though, I'll plan on interjecting bits of blogging between chunks of Steve Erickson reading, only to find that I've completely forgetten everything I've meant to blog. But, who knows--maybe I'll scratch out something worth your while. Or at least something that won't really annoy you. Being the proprietor of the crappiest lit/Cleveland blog on this side of the river of your choice, I mostly hope to not annoy you too much. Of course, if you're the type of person easily annoyed by warnings, apologies, parentheticals, or 50x50 abstract images of smoke, then I've already failed you. I won't apologize to you for it though. Unless it would annoy you more if I didn't. In that case, and only in that case, am I sorry.)

Friday, July 08, 2005

Steve Erickson's Tours of the Black Clock

I can not, in good conscience, recommend reading all of Steve Erickson's books in a row. Backwards or otherwise.

You see, when I picked up Our Ecstatic Days from the library, it was random. I'd gone to the library looking for some other books. I'd checked the online catalogue and confirmed that those other books were there, at the library. Of course, they weren't. Or, if they were, they weren't on the shelves, not on any shelves I could find. Our Ecstatic Days (along with another novel that has been sitting on my coffee table, untouched since I brought it home with me) was a sort of consolation prize. An "Oops, your first draft pick got stolen from under your eyes, how about you take home this little black volume with the neat title art and that weird typographic stuff going on" book. A book that began whispering to me, when I set it on the back seat of my car. A book that began to beckon with the seductive dance of promise when I set it on my coffee table while I finished Brave New World. A book that emanated waves of my own desire, every time I picked it up to ask it to be quiet a bit longer, just a little while more. A book that was actually holding me, when I thought I was the one with the hands.

This year wasn't supposed to go this way. I was planning on reading broad, not deep. I was going to let reading go for a while when I had to write and I was going to skip a night or two of writing when the endings of novels demanded to be reached and read. I wasn't supposed to give up half a month, a month's worth of writing, filling my head with the logic of memory and altered time until my brain felt full and my pillows seemed incapable of supporting the weight of so much mentally consumed mass. I wasn't supposed to put one book down with one hand while picking up one other book with one other hand.

But here I am, and here you are, and here is where we're at. And you're wondering what the big deal is.

The deal is this: Steve Erickson writes dream-knots of thistles and thorns, knots that tie into each other--knots, themselves, become the string from which dreams are tied. A tangle of ideas and memories, connections improbable and unlikely prose made harmonic. You put the mass in your hands. Your fingers are compelled to untie. But you're untangling nothing. You're only transferring, from the knots, to your mind.

It's said that Steve Erickson's books are unclassifiable. But. From Wikipedia:

The term post-rock was coined by Simon Reynolds in issue 123 of The Wire (May 1994) to describe a sort of music "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and powerchords."


As with many musical genres, the term is arguably inadequate: it is used for the music of Tortoise as well as that of Mogwai, two bands who have very little in common besides the fact that their music is largely instrumental.


By the early 2000s, the term had started to fall out of favor. It became increasingly controversial as more critics outwardly condemned its use. Even the bands for whom the term was most frequently assigned (for example, Cul de Sac, Tortoise, and Mogwai) rejected the label that it placed on them. The wide range of styles covered by the term most likely robbed it of its usefulness.

That opening line of that article, I've had it stuck in my head for a while now, though the mind and time transformed it to something like: "the use of standard techniques to startling new purposes and effects".

Hold that thought. Now, from a Pitchfork review of an album by Explosions in the Sky (one of my favorite "post-rock" instrumental bands:

Most of us spend our lives sleepwalking through the daily routines, and sometimes it takes the "Jaws of Life" to rip open the perceptive confines that coincide with a life of ritualism. You awake one morning to the braying tone of your alarm clock and drowsily reach over to turn the damn thing off, only to find that the established procedure for doing so causes no reaction. You press the "Off" button two or three more times to make sure you haven't made an error in judgment as your senses become more acute and your emotions inflame. Something has usurped the authority of logic, shattering your rationalizations of many wildly complex and confounding variables, and schooling you in "possibility."


"Greet Death" opens the album innocuously enough with inaudible strumming that surfaces just long enough to be devastated by seething drums and scathing, distorted guitars. Such previously foreign abrasiveness is an immediate indicator that Explosions have rewritten their aesthetic principles while leaving their ability to wield a stark melody virtually unimpaired. As the dust clears and the sonic damage is assessed, the remaining feedback segues into a sober slide guitar, denoting a major transition in the song's emotional appeal. The track ends as a burgeoning riff of apocalyptic proportions is suddenly and unexpectedly smeared across the audio spectrum with digital effects.

These structural inversions are a primary signifier of Those Who Tell the Truth's sound. Arrangements are introduced and then dismantled, as though they're vying with one another for the listener's attention. Mogwai's Young Team is an obvious reference point; both records feature similar instrumentation and soft/loud dynamics. But where Young Team was content to methodically construct its walls of jarring white noise, Those Who Tell the Truth builds more erratically and, upon first listen, illogically. But with every subsequent listen, the internal organization of each song becomes more inviting.

"Structural inversions"? "Usurped the authority of logic"? "Erratically...Illogically...Internal organization"? "Possibility"?

Yeah, I think you can guess where I'm going with this.

Steve Erickson writes post-rock literature. A literature that uses the instrumentation of writing to reach a new purpose: textures, timbres. Moments that shift and change before you. There's almost a (sound-)collage effort at work, the way movements are crammed together, the borders between them whisper-dream thin, like cold wars of ideas. His structures, seen from one angle: sloppy. His structures, seen from another angle: awesome, in the service of more of those moments in any single book than some writers might get over the course of their entire careers. Those moments that leave you staring at the page, a "Wow" left unspoken in your gut. (If I ever get to write something as heartbreaking as the loss of Banning Jainlight's family, remind me I've been blessed.) Steve Erickson's literature is ultimately one of possibility. He proves that writing is, foremost, an act of imagination. And in imagining beyond the bounds of more typical works, he reaches the otherwise ungraspable. (The ungraspable what, you ask? Keep asking.)

Oh, yeah. And he makes your head hurt. A lot.

In the good way, of course.

Of course, I say all this somewhat tongue in cheek. The term, yeah, is inadequate. (Any only shmoe could come along here and slap a couple words together and say it's the signifier of Erickson's signifieds, don't make it so.) And yet, I think there's something to it--Explosions in the Sky, and especially Godspeed You Black Emperor!, the musics these bands make seem like cousins to Erickson's books. In an alternate universe where someone tries to turn his novels into movies, I'd be on the phone in a second, asking these bands to soundtrack Erickson's post-rock lit dream-knots.

And for all that, why can't I say: read them all, read them all now? Because, really, I don't have to. You'll read one. And, then you're going to feel one of two things: the need to read another, or the need to never go back. I don't know you well enough to know which route you'll take.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

If enthusiasm is infectious then I've gone off and made myself sick

My friend Chris, who has been mentioned oh once or twice here, finished Cloud Atlas last night. He liked it. (Understatement.) So, if you haven't read it yet because you don't trust the critics, and you got put off of it because you dislike me as a person, at least now you can say you have to read it, because you can trust Chris, that mystery friend of the guy with the crappy Internet site.

In daily TDAOC Steve Erickson news: I picked up his first three novels from the library today--and yes I know I know I should be buying everything and supporting the business of writing and etc and etc but I am poor and Cleveland's libraries are totally sweet and the two just feed off each other so well, and anyways I know I'll wind up buying them all eventually for underlining and note-taking purposes but right now I just need and there's no time to waste on Amazonian free shipping speeds--along with another book by another writer I'll maybe have the heart to read once I get done with the Steve Erickson oeuvre. I made sure to grab the books today because I figured I might need them this weekend once I finish Arc d'X. Which I did begin reading tonight after work--I got about 50 or 60 pages or so into it, and for those of you who have read it, the transition? Uh, yeah. Could this guy just stop surprising me and amazing me for a while? I mean, I knew that it was coming, I've read some stuff and I know a thing or two about how Erickson's books work by now, but holy hell cow in heat, that was one seriously stupendous page. Gosh. Pit Industrial Light & Magic and Weta Workshop against each other in a dazzling battle to the death and neither of them could have come up with a scene transition so totally that. (I mean, it was mega.) All of which is to say that, yes, I remain obsessed, and probably will remain obsessed until I read the last word of his first novel. And then for a while after that. (I've decided, arbitrarily, to save his heavy-emphasis-on-the-quotes "non-fiction" books for a rainy day, for those of you keeping score at home.) I feel like when I'm done I'm going to want to write this big huge draft of an essay of a paper about the works of Erickson and fill it with every thought he's plopped into my poor, inferior, mush brain (including the fact that I think I've definitively solved the question of "What genre are these books?" by appropriating a genre-name from the music world), but then I think I'm mostly just going to collapse and point at the books and grunt and cower for a while and hope the spectacle will convince a few other people to read some of his stuff, or at the very least that the spectacle won't scare all the people away from me forever. That'd be sad.

Enthusiasm, at least, seems to be infectious here in the literary quarter of Cleveland, the quarter I have loosely defined as "me, my girlfriend, and Chris". (There is of course totally more than us three here who read books--David Sedaris packed the house the other night with 700 people, or so the count went--but I neither make friends easily, being of a class of old-school Internet people who got into the computer-net scene due to shyness, nor do I get out very much.) The GF promises me she'll read Cloud Atlas someday, which is cool; because, she is cool, and because she trusts the opinions of the mysterious friend of that guy with the crappy Internet site. And Chris, who read the Mitchell book shortly after reading Ulysses, is all about the experimental literature right now, so he's mentioned his desire to pick up Our Ecstatic Days. (Well, specifically, he's expressed some hesitant interest in reading some Erickson, and I immediately renewed my library copy of OED and said I'd superglue it to his hands ASAP. I was going to tell him to go read some other stuff and come back to me with reports of its goodness or badness so I might have things to look into after I finish with Erickson, but dammit, I like being a pusher too much; if you need me on Sunday, I'll be down on the corner selling copies of OED to the neighborhood children out of my trenchcoat.) I'm kind of hoping someday I'll find a book to love which Chris will hate so I can invite him aboard to do a guest post in which he can offer up a withering, vicious critique of my pretentious claims of so-called "literary taste", in which post he can call me all the bad names in the world; just so long as he doesn't disagree with my assessment of Our Ecstatic Days because then I'd be forced to replace all instances of his name on this blog with the words "blundering doodoo head", if you get my drift, know what I mean, and etc and etc. (I kid, of course. Except, not really. Well, okay. Really.)

In any case. I might take off from Erickson for the weekend--somehow, "three day weekend" translates into "let's plan six days worth of activities" so reading time might scarcify itself for a while. Which means I probably won't post rambling three word posts about how great Erickson is for at least like 72 hours. Hopefully you'll use the time you'd usually devote to reading this blog to enjoy some food cooked on a grill along with a nice glass of iced tea or what have you. Me, I'm going to inadvertently sleep through everything I've planned on doing this weekend, and then grumble about it a lot. Then I'm going to watch some fireworks, because I do oh so love me some fireworks. America might be a pretty screwed up place sometimes but sometimes we can still make with the damn fine pretty.

Oh! But before I go. Speaking of my friend Chris, and speaking of my crappy Internet site, Chris informed me of something a while back, a something I've meant to mention here since, but have forgotten to do so each time I've meant to do so: he mentioned to me in an e-mail that, in that e-mail, when he'd typed "TDAOC", the spell-checker flagged that as a mis-spelling. He then mentioned that the spell-checker suggested that the possible correct spelling might be "Taco". I think this means that someday, we're all destined to get together and enjoy yummy Mexican food as one big happy crappy Internet site writing and reading family. Or maybe it just means that stoners subconsciously equate my blog with a sating of the munchies. You make the call.

Update: The Blogger spell-checker wants to replace "TDAOC" with..."teats". I will, for once, graciously shut up and leave the remainder of this joke as an excercise to the reader.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Steve Erickson's Amnesiascope

[ Okay first let me note: this isn't going to be terribly coherent. Sorry. Second let me note I might never get as coherent about this stuff as I want to. Which sucks. So. Let's just agree to blame it on the sticky heat of Cleveland and hope for the best. I promise I'll try harder when this is all done and over with. ]


There's moments of impossible beauty in this book. There's stretches of surprising humor. There's periods of obscure essay. There's chunks of, like, whatever, I didn't get it.

But most importantly, there's moments of impossible beauty in this book.

I'm not sure I can recommend everyone do what I think I'm doing right now, which is reading every novel Steve Erickson's published in one stretch, because, really, he's not writing books for everyone; and, based on what I know now, three down and four to go, I really don't think Amnesiascope should be the first novel someone reads by him, though that might be the bias of someone coming back to the book, having read it once who knows when, and reading it again after reading the two books that followed it. Really, I think Our Ecstatic Days is the book I'd say you'd have to read, of the three I've read so far. Of course, if you like that one, I can safely say you'll enjoy The Sea Came In At Midnight, and, then, you might like Amnesiascope which is altogether less experimental (I mean, one consistent narrator!) but still somehow slippery; his ideas like water molecules, rubbing against each other, the physics change the more you put together, the more you scale up.

Sorry if that makes no sense. I'm still kind of dizzy.

What else I'll say though is that I think I've mentioned that I read Amnesiascope a while back and then promptly forgot every single thing about it, which it turns out was a flat-out lie. There's chunks that, ok, seemed like strangers on a bus, for all I knew them. Then there's chunks where I could just about quote the sentences before I read them. Or when I read them I realized I'd been quoting them in my mind ever since, even without having a better understanding of the framework around them. Re-reading this book now convinces me that Steve Erickson, as much or more than most writers whose writings I've read, writes books that benefit, hell, vastly improve with re-reading. And if that's true, god knows what kind of hyperbole I'll be spewing when I someday come back to Our Ecstatic Days.