Saturday, March 31, 2007

Current music: Amiina, Kurr; Current mood: intricate and intimate and charming and delicate

[ Editor's note: an early draft of this post may have leaked to the net prematurely. Someone, somewhere, is going to be fired over this. ]

Jim asked me what music I'm digging right now. That's one of those questions I'm likely to change my answer to not just from week to week but day to day. Hour to hour, some of those days. It's true, as I think I've mentioned in passing this week, that I'm sort of zany for the new Modest Mouse disc, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, which I think ranks up there with the most exciting rock records released this decade. Putting "Dashboard" and "Parting of the Sensory" and "Spitting Venom" all on one disc is the curve-breaking move that pisses off the other kids in class. And if you'd told me a couple weeks ago I'd soon fall for a Modest Mouse ballad, I'd have ordered you off my land. But then I heard "Little Motel" and well there you go, a Modest Mouse ballad, and I've fallen for it.

But enough of this malarkey: let's talk about Amiina.

They're an Icelandic four piece who are somehow so underground they don't yet rank a description on All Music. At heart, they're a string quartet; they've done back-up duty for Sigur Ros (whose album Takk I think is about the best thing Sigur Ros has ever done). On their own, Amiina play all other sorts of noise-makers, laptops and bells and harps and musical saws and that wineglass-rim trick (which they use to great effect) and things I can't identify but which look totally sweet when played live. The compositions they build up from these elements are intricate and intimate and charming and delicate. Pretty, if you don't let pretty connote dull.

I saw them open for Sigur Ros when the Hopelandic boys came through town, and it was obvious they had game, but just how much game I didn't recognize until I caught them headlining their own show last Sunday. They made so much more sense in an intimate small-club environment. I'll go so far as to call it one of my favorite concerts in recent memory--which is saying something, since I drove to DC to see Explosions in the Sky a couple weeks ago, who now own two of the four best concerts I've ever seen (Sleater-Kinney having walked off into the sunset with the other two).

I picked up a copy of Kurr, their debut album, after the show, and I'm pleased to say that while it can't match the strange intensity of their live performance, it does make for excellent home listening. Listening to it makes life feel nicer. Downright blissful, at moments. A mighty purchase, yes.

And, well, I mean, let's be honest here: they're Icelandic girls. Which, I don't know which ways your tastes run, but I for one am into that sort of thing.

As it is, I'm considering driving down to Cincinnati after work on Friday to hear them play again at the MusicNow festival. On the one hand, three and a half hours is a long time to drive to see girls who I have no hope of dating. On the other hand, looks like they're going to open for--and, I believe, play as the backup band for?--My Brightest Diamond. Shara Worden is one of my newest favorite singers, like, ever; check out Bring Me The Workhorse if you haven't yet; your reaction to the opening track, "Something of an End," will be used as a litmus test to determine whether you stay on my holiday card list. Really, there's some serious equation-balance-tipping action going on there, combining these two acts into one show. My car is begging me not to make that drive, but I think my brain is going to win that debate. Stupid brain. Stupid, awesome brain.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The cold

The universe has seen it fit to reward my Angry Week with a not particularly evil but still just nasty enough head cold. Achy, sleepy, sniffly, all that jazz. This is sad to me because it comes at the tail end of what was my Healthiest Winter. Unemployment, and the ensuing sleep-filled nights and relative lack of daytime contact with The Outside World, was totally awesome for keeping me in the clear. Yeah, unemployment was awesome.

Meanwhile: I totally dropped the ball (ha ha) this month on plugging The Morning News Tournament of Books. The final match was just called in favor of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. So if you're wondering if you want to get involved in all this Oprah business, and you're looking for lots of small little commentaries about the book, head that way. I'll excerpt my favorite Judge's Decision here, which is, yes, hilarious and awesome:

DAN CHAON: I’ll go for The Road, at least in part because it includes some excellent recipes.

There's plenty of other Antics over there, for the diligent link-diver. Me, I'm still bitter about last year's elimination of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which probably partially explains why I paid so little attention this year. Grudge much? Yes: much.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Three ways to quickly rid oneself of bad mojo

Because I've been all wugga wugagaga GRR! this week, I feel it is only just and right to offer up three heart-zapper-paddle fast ways to cheer up:

  1. Watch the video for Sleater-Kinney's "You're No Rock 'n Roll Fun." Seriously, Corin's eye moves? Quickest imaginable way to sooth the angry indie boy's jaded heart. I melt a little bit each time I catch one. (Blogflexive hat-tip to Carolyn for digging that up out of You-Tube.)

  2. Look at James Murphy's goofy mug. Seriously, dude's goofy looking. In a sort of indie-rocker David Lynch way.

  3. Scroll down on the James Murphy guest list page linked above, and read his thoughts on Pynchon. Pynchon! I suppose it would not hurt things much if you read that while listening to the new LCD Soundsystem album, which is sort of an ultra-insta-party disc.

Back to less angsty bookish shenanigans in due time.

...and so long as I'm doing the bitter and angry thing this week I might as well go ahead and politely ask you to...

...shut the fuck up about Jonathan Franzen, already, because you know what, it's not about Jonathan Franzen, it's about Cormac McCarthy, and it's about his fine novel The Road, and it's about a lot of people reading it now who might not have otherwise read it ever in a million years, and it's about some of those heads getting fucked in the process, and it's about how we're going to get to see Cormac McCarthy be interviewed on television and that's going to be pretty cool because you don't see that every day, and it's about all of that being totally awesome in real throw-the-horns and bang-your-head sorts of ways, absolutely none of which preceding material has anything to do with the fact that once upon a time years ago Jonathan Franzen handled a situation more poorly than maybe he would have liked, especially if he had had the opportunity to look into the future and see how you people can't let it the fuck go already.

End of story. Done. Move on. Go read The Road. It's a really great book. Go read The Corrections. It's a really great book. I loved them both, for different reasons. Me? I'm going to step away from the Internet before I start adding links to this post. It would take all night, and I've got a concert to go catch.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I'm going to go practice my karate kicks and windmill powerchord attacks; but first, a question

Am I the only person who blogs in order to attract mates?

I mean, I thought we all came here to get laid, right? Getting laid is good. Some might even call it hot. But lately it feels like every time I look at the lit-blog-o-sphere somebody is going on and on and on and on and on about how we're all here to be self-important elements in the continuing discourse of the critical culture who people better pay attention to because we're the irreversible new media vanguards of incorruptible content and blah...blah...yawn-blah. Never mind the fact that when I signed my name on that lit-blogger-for-life contract I was doing it specifically to get corrupted, if you know what I mean. Did I miss a memo? Damn, why am I always missing the memo?

But oh well, whatever. People will do what people will do, right? Some people are going to blog because it's serious business. I'll keep blogging because it's rock 'n roll fun. I hope I won't be alone.

If you know what I mean.

The funny thing about frantic cred-grabbing is that sometimes it works. You go, O

Oprah's Book Club is reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. That is...awesome, and hilarious, and awesome. And well yeah, sort of hilarious. But, yet? Awesome.

No, I mean, I really, really like that album, a lot

So I unleash a little music-snob blog bile and then I get paid an incredibly kind (via round-about ensued hilarity) compliment and then I feel all sorts of guilty for being bilious and blog-lazy. For my laziness, I apologize, a heartfelt plea for mercy hanging ready on my fatigued lips; for my music-snob smarm, I can only note that in war, there are victims, and if the only murdered prisoner in this case is my usual sense of restraint, then I think the world remains an overall worth-it sort of place.

Books! Ah, books. I'm still reading them, though slowly, and in fits and starts. I polished off the debut issue of Avery last night. I read almost every word in there. Naturally, not all of the words I read were of equal value. Which is only to be expected. There were some stories I'd like to mention as being ones I particularly enjoyed; I'll do that sometime when my copy of the book is less over there, and more over here, near where you are, you sweet, sweet Internet people, you. As for the words I did not read--they were simply too much, too elusive, too allusive, too recursive, too asterisk-sive for me to handle the moment I came to them. The astute Avery reader will, I suspect, know of whose story I speak, and shall admonish me for my ineptitude. But there's only so much coffee a man can justify in the pursuit of artistic revelation, you know? I mean no snoot in this; I only speak of where I am, right now.

I've decided to devote my lunch hours to short stories. Today I resumed reading selections from Stephen Dixon's collection Sleep, which I've picked up now and then over the last few months. There's great stories in there. The book as a whole has confirmed my suspicion that there are gems to be found in the stupendous number of Dixon's short stories. There's an story early in the book (which, again, the title is in the book which is way over there, out of my arm's immediate reach) that I'll dare to suggest might be one of my favorite short stories ever. I'll get back to that. Eventually. Some day. Oh, Time, oh, Sleep; you fickle, fleeting mistresses.

At night I'm still trekking through The Children's Hospital. I think when I last left it, some crazy shit had just happened. So I'm looking forward to getting back to it, about five to ten minutes from right now. Of course, I'm also looking forward to setting it down a few hours later, my eyes heavy and my body weary, only for my best laid plans to lay for the best night's sleep ever soon to be shattered by irrelevant wakefulness. This does, you are right, define good times.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Not that I sort of like the album maybe a tiny bit or anything

After reading this review of the new Modest Mouse record, I'm forced to conclude that Peter Hepburn has no soul. If you opened up the guy's chest, you would find a gaping sphincter where most people store their immortal ethereal beings. I think that might explain how he could write such a horribly gray, soggy, boring, prideless, safe, stable, stale, rote, terrible, nebulous, over-long, formless, repetitive, pointless, annoying, poorly written, overproduced, smelly music review.

To quote Dom Sinacola (whose idea of a good time, after reading his track review of "Parting of the Sensory," I suspect must involve sitting at home having absolutely no fun at all, ever): "I seem angry. I am angry, and I get cheap when I'm mad." Well, yeah, you boys went cheap; consider this your change: hang it up and call it quits while you can still remember the memory of a time you could consider now and then cracking your critical faces with smiles.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Five alternate titles for Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9

  1. Moby Dick II: reAhab

  2. Flubber!: The Musical!

  3. In Lieu of Meaning, Check Out My Girlfriend's Ass

  4. In the Ocean, the Mighty Ocean, the Audience Sleeps During the Tea Ceremony (A-weem-o-whale, A-weem-o-whale)

  5. Matthew Barney's Delicate Purple Dinosaur

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Also: No, Dickens did not last. Yeah, I know. I'm such a spaz. Instead I'm now making a valiant pass at The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian, which is good and all, but not as good as fourteen uninterrupted hours of sleep would be. Like on the one hand it's got that cool apocalypse and angels thing going on, and that's cool. But on the other hand it's got that McSweeney's McSweeney'sishness thing going on. And I like the McSweeney's vibe and all, I'm cool with it. But it's sort of weird in this case. Sort of.

Also I am reading stories from the debut issue of Avery. I really like some of the stories. And the ones I haven't liked as much have not morally or aesthetically offended me. So I'd call that a pretty healthy start for the upstart literary anthologists over there at Avery HQ. But why take my word for it when you can get all the words in the book for your own self?

Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng, Akron-Summit County Public Library, Wednesday, April 11, 7 p.m.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: you're thinking, "Akron?" Ah, but don't be fooled, it's not that far away. Well, it's not that far away from my new employer's office building, at least. The one I drive like forty minutes to get to every morning. Which takes me about halfway to Akron.

Okay, so, yeah: Akron. Yeah.

From the library's Web site:

Dave Eggers, one of the most engaging and acclaimed authors of this generation will speak the Auditorium of the Akron-Summit County Public Library on Wednesday April 11, at 7pm. Dave Eggers won critical acclaim in 2000 for his memories: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. His most recent book What Is the What, follows Valentino Achak, Deng one of the lost boys during the Sudanese civil war. Not only will Dave Eggers discuss his latest book, but the subject of his latest book will be his special guest. Do not miss this unforgettable evening. The event is free and open to the public, with question and answer period and book signing following the event.

Also following the event? Me standing in the parking lot, looking around with my hands thrust into my pockets and a look of disdain and despair smeared across my face, and my speech, just before I traipse off to my car to begin the long journey north, being all like, "Akron? ...Akron?"

(Thanks to Amy for the tip.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Five synonyms for "good times"

Things, randomly:

  • Blackout: Last week, inspired by the efforts of Austin Kleon, I did my first Newspaper Blackout Poem. This week, you can see it on the Internet! Oh, Internet! And seriously, it was fun to do, and I intend to keep doing them. Here's the current challenge.

  • Thinking: Thanks, Imani! I'm quite flattered. (Especially what with being listed right under The Reading Experience which, were I to put together a list of five of my own, would most likely be included. I mean, damn, Dan Green smarts.)

  • Ishiguro: The two comments added to my last post on Kazuo Ishiguro are very fine comments, and are worth going back to read, if you are digging the recent Ishiguro-ness of this blog. I swear I will respond in kind, and shall continue that post's topics, once I manage to land a full night's sleep right before a day in which I have some time to put some thoughts into not-so-crappy words.

  • Contact: I've abandoned my gmail spam folder. It's closing in on a thousand messages. I'm unwilling to sort through that, and I'm also unwilling to check it on a regular basis. Life is too short. So if you send me e-mail and I do not reply within a week or so (I am so terrible at replying to e-mail) and a response was required or generally expected, feel free to nudge me. Maybe you got spam-foldered, or maybe I'm just being a huge e-mail flake. Likely the latter, of course.

  • Reading: I'm about to start reading some Dickens. Why? Why, when I said I wanted to spend this year reading short books, would I start reading Dickens? It's because I'm in that super-fussy/ultra-futzy mood when nothing on my bookshelf is right and I just finished the book I was reading (The Diviners by Rick Moody which, jeez, that wasn't so bad, the way I think people wanted to make it out to be; it wasn't particularly great, either, I mean, I think I liked Purple America more, but it was still generally fun to read, until maybe the last chunk, when I sort of just wanted to move on) and now I don't know what to read next and and and and and my brain is a spaz. So I'm going to read some Dickens because if you're going to default, you can default to far worse authors than Dickens. (I mean, I almost decided to go with Delillo? Which would have just been a huge mental brainwreck. If you know what I mean, then oh boy, do you know what I mean. Maybe.)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kazuo Ishiguro and knowledge

Scott Esposito's latest Friday Column at Conversational Reading addresses a subject that you might guess I might find slightly interesting: Kazuo Ishiguro. Well played, sir!

Scott makes some good points about Ishiguro's writing, and provides a good introduction to what makes Ishiguro Ishiguro. Worth clicking over to read. General spoiler warning in effect, both for Scott's post, and then, when you come back, for my own, if you're into knowing about that sort of thing.

Back? Good. There's a few points from Scott's post I'd like to respectfully disagree with. Here's the first point. (I'm saving additional discussion for additional posts.) This one's on the nature of missing information (the fact that we tend to know things that Ishiguro's narrators do not, which Scott rightly points out is a technique Ishiguro has sort of mastered):

Ishiguro's narrators tend to be ignorant of certain, fundamental facts about themselves: For instance, in Never Let Me Go the narrator is missing out on the fact that she's a clone, and then later on the role in society that she is destined to play.

Maybe I'm being picky, but I don't think this accurately represents the novel. It's my understanding that the narrator understands quite well who she is and what she's been put there to do. It's true that she does not know this as a young child, at the beginning of the actual story, that this information is attained by her during her time at the English boarding school Halisham. But as the novel is plotted, the present-tense narrator, the one who is telling the story, looking back at and recounting the events of her life, she knows the facts. She has long since learned what we learn gradually as we read her story.

Which I think is important because it's in there, that realm of knowledge, where I believe the story's pathos lies. I think the tension between what the reader knows and what the character knows is of a far more emotional than factual nature than compared with the other Ishiguro novels that I have read. (This is where I'll step back and note that I'm still trying to place The Unconsoled in terms of this dynamic--I mean, damn, does anybody in that book know anything at all?--and my memories of When We Were Orphans are a bit rough and will bear serious revision after having read The Unconsoled again after so long. Not that I've plans to re-read this novel any time soon, or to pretty much re-read Ishiguro's work repeatedly over the course of my natural life, oh no. Maybe he's a writer I'm sort of completely retarded for. Maybe just a little bit. Maybe. Anyway, point is I don't want to seem as if I'm trying to pass myself off as some all-knowing expert. Yet. Give me another couple re-reads.)

What I'm trying to point at here is the fact that if you compare Never Let Me Go with The Remains of the Day (for the most obvious and, to me, right now, in a coffee shop, away from my books, easiest example), that tension in the latter book arises from the fact that we possess factual information that the narrator does not (or refuses to) have (the chick wants him and his boss is a Nazi), whereas in the former book, we the readers know exactly what the narrator knows (that she is a clone, destined to die). The tragic response of the latter novel is in how we react to that information in a vastly different way than the narrator does. Kathy H. is pretty much okay with things, while we're stuck wanting nothing more than to scream at her that she doesn't have to think that way.

It's like--if you don't mind getting deconstructive with me; don't worry, you'll only feel a bit of a pinch here--if you look at the first verbs of the opening sentences of these two books, you've got a mile-high view of the difference between the two narrators. Take Remains of the Day's "Tonight, I find myself here in a guest house in the city of Salisbury." Then look at Never Let Me Go's "My name is Kathy H." Find versus is. Discovery versus assertion. Surprise versus understanding. Transition versus knowledge. Journey (if you will), versus (if you don't mind) arrival.

Yes, that previous paragraph? Hot-ass decon lit-crit sexy. It's okay if you have to pause here, perhaps to fan a quick breeze over your flushed face, before reading on.

Back to the point: It doesn't have to be that way, that way it is, is what we conclude, when we read the novel. But it does, it is this way, is what Kathy H. concludes, is what she knows. We are reacting to the same information in different ways, and I think one real challenge of this novel is that we need to set aside what we know (or think, or believe) and see things the way the narrator does. It's at that point that the nature of our response is challenged, our assumptions (if you post-modernly will) questioned, and it's then that we might find that it is not Kathy H. who comes up psychologically lacking, but us, stuck here in our lives of quiet desperation, going to jobs and looking out at a cultural landscape riddled with meaninglessness and pointlessness. For it is Kathy H., not us, who knows exactly what she is there to do. She knows her purpose in a literal way we never can, or can only hope to construct for ourselves in the way we lead our lives, the people we surround ourselves with, the things we choose to do or believe in, the families we (are allowed to) create, the knowledge never far from out conscious minds that it's all so much construction that can be blown apart at any time. That what we are is in no way how it must be.

For me, though the novel is tragic in that I want Kathy H. to come to a moment of realization, to see that things can be different for her, that she could escape her fate, I am also alternately drawn into her story and the comfort she has in knowing what she does and why she does it. This fantasy of Ishiguro's, it is, I believe, simultaneously pleasing and depressing. That he evokes this reader's envy of a tragic character may be one of his greatest writerly masterstrokes.

(Next up, sometime soonish: on Ishiguro's being "fully formed" as a novelist.)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Usually blacking out and winding up famous in a foreign land involves a lot more heavy, heavy drinking

Austin Kleon is famous in Canada. (It's the analogue version of being famous on the Internet!)

But seriously, do check out the first round of Blackout Poetry winners. Then do your own poem for this week's challenge. Time to break out my Sharpie. And something to clean my monitor screen with.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Are you...accessible?

Maureen McHugh has a great pair of posts (one and two) about accessibility and writing (and all sorts of other related fun stuff, much of which spills over into the comments) over at group blog Eat Our Brains.

Not that these posts are well-timed to any coincidental recent interest in artistic accessibility of my own, what with my reading of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled and my seeing David Lynch's Inland Empire twice in the last week. I mean, not at all, really, no connection in the slightest. It's certainly not like either of these works raise any interesting questions about artistic intent, or about how works of art can use of familiar language or imagery and through (seemingly?) careful assembly generate hugely disorienting effects. Pft. Pshaw. Next in line, please!

Well, okay, maybe there are one or two small questions you might consider asking, something to get you going down that train of thought. Maybe if you were maybe really bored, or on a desert island, or, you know. If you were me. Or whatever. (If only I was unemployed again and had gobs and gobs of time to write intense, astute pieces of criticism for this blog all the time, I might actually get some of these thoughts up here into something like a readable format. Because I did that so often and so well when I was unemployed. Really! The posts are there. In the archives. Of my secret imaginary blog.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

The unconwhat?

You know what I really don't get about The Unconsoled? The title. I didn't get it the first time I read it and I didn't get it this time I read it. Though I definitely liked the book about a thousand times more than I did this time through than I did the first time I read it. So maybe if I read it again in another 15 years I'll understand a thousand times more things than I did this time through, and maybe I'll get the title, that time? Maybe? Or not.

Which is all my way of saying I want to say more but I'm still not sure what to say. I'm pondering the mental illness theory, mentioned in a comment here, a theory which I think has something going for it, but which doesn't quite click for me. Or at least not in a reductive "Oh that makes everything make sense" way, which, well, I think I want very much not to find that kind of theory to explain the book. I think the book actively wants to tease the reader with the potential existence of such a theory, a theory that doesn't actually after all exist. I suspect it's sort of more fun that way. Lynchian, but not. (Did I mention I liked Inland Empire? Did I mention that dreamlike reality is pretty much the only way I'm seeing things this week? Right? Okay.)

But anyway, the mentally ill thing, I think...I think if the narrator is mentally ill, or suffers a mental illness, then it's sort of like Ishiguro is trying to write an Everyman sort of story. Like, if Mr Ryder is mentally ill, then so are we all. This is a very unbaked thought of mine. I think my thoughts are swimming somewhere in the realm of the idea that the line between external psychology and external reality is not just non-existent but actually, like...take that line and turn it into a pipe, between those two realms. One in which the two are forced to flow into and out of each other. Or...


I'm going to go think some more. Also I'm going to read some more of The Diviners by Rick Moody which I just started last night because you know, sometimes, you just need some Rick Moody, right? It's like, PBR, or something. Sometimes you just need to get down and dirty with the heightened significance of signifiers. Oh and I mean dirty.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Inland Empire

Oh holy hell. (I do so so so look forward to seeing it again sometime this week.)