Archive for the ‘Nicholson Baker’ Category


12 Bar Bruise is the first full-length album from KGATLW.  It sounds even rawer than their EP.  But there’s no drop in intensity.  It’s an intense mix of punk, psychedelic blues, surf rock and boogie all filtered through a buzzing, fuzzy sound.  Distortion rules this album, but never enough to obscure what are remarkably simple but catchy riffs.  Most songs are just around 3 minutes long.

Once again, lyrics take a lesser place than great music. So “Elbow” has some bad words in it, but you can’t tell.  It’s more about whoops and tricked out guitar solos and chants of “ey ey ey.”  “Muckraker” introduces the surf punk elements and “Nein” has my favorite lyric thus far: “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, Nein, Nein, Nein, Nein, Nein”

“12 Bar Bruise” is the longest song on the disc at 3:47.  It is indeed a simple blues with muffled vocals.  “Garage Liddiard” introduces the concept of surf rock in a garage.  The guitar slides like a surf rock song but the whole vibe is garage with “ooh ooh” backing vocals and a harmonica solo that sounds like someone singing at the same time.

“Sam Cherry’s Last Shot” is the one very different song on this record.   It is played like a Western and it features spoken word.   Broderick Smith [of The Dingoes] is harmonica player Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s father.  He is an absolute Western nut so he narrated page 521 and 522 of the book “Our Wild Indians: Thirty-Three Years’ Personal Experience among the Red Men of the Great West” by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, Aid-de-Camp to General Sherman.  This is certainly the set up for their next album, Eyes Like the Sky which is a full album of Western music with narration from Smith.

“High Hopes” is almost as long as “12 Bar,” but it has an intro of electronic drums and video game sounds before it switches back to the standard rocking sound.  There’s a lengthy, wickedly distorted harmonica solo.  “Cut Throat Boogie” features a different vocalist (I think Ambrose Kenny-Smith).  It’s a garage rock boogie.

Despite the title, “Bloody Ripper” is a slower, quieter less frenetic and really catchy song.  “Uh oh, I Called Mum” wins for best song title.  It opens with everyone chanting “mum” and lots of backing vocals.  The lyrics: “I bought a funny glob / I put it in my gob.”  “Sea of Trees” is the least distorted track.  It’s a catchy swinging song with a cool harmonica solo.

The disc ends with “Footy Footy,” a two-minute stomper dedicated to playing footy.  The chorus:
Footy footy, all I wanna do is
Footy footy, all I wanna kick is
Footy footy, they catch the ball, kick, play on!
Footy footy, footy footy footy!

But the verses are presumable great players:

Ang Christou / Che Cockatoo-Collins / Phillip Matera / Gavin Wanganeen / Gary Moorcroft / Aussie Jones / Bruce Doull, the ‘Flying Doormat’ / ‘Spida’ Everitt / ‘Spider’ Burton / Craig Bradley / The 1995 Carlton football team


‘Diesel’ Williams / Dale Kickett / ‘Sticks’ Kernahan / Darren Jarman / Chad Rintoul / Ashley Sampi / Mick Martyn / Dean [?] / Clint Bizzell / The Brisbane Bears / Aaron Hamill / Everyone

with the final line: “I hate what this game has become.”

It’s a lot of fun crammed into 35 minutes.

[READ: February 1, 2019] Checkpoint

This book was a pretty controversial work back in 2004.

Released before the re-election of George W. Bush, this book is, very simply, a dialogue between two men.

The topic?  Jay wants to assassinate President Bush.  Ben, his oldest friend, wants to talk him out of it.

There was a lot of discussion about the merits of this book–regardless of the politics–and I didn’t want to read it because of all of that.

In the real world, it’s fifteen years later and we are suffering through a trump–far worse than Bush could have even imagined being–although clearly Bush marched the Republican party off the cliff that had trump at the bottom of it.

So, how does one come down on this spicy subject fifteen years later? (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist

organistThe final 10 episodes of The Organist’s second season were of the same caliber of podcast.  I was surprised to see that it ended in March.  And, in a recent Kickstarter from McSweeney’s, the talk about getting funding to make more episodes.  I’d be bummed if they ran out of money to make more of these. Even if I have griped about the repeating, the quality of each episode is really quite good.

Episode 40: Cosmo’s Factory (December 30, 2014)
I was fascinated by this piece because I found the drumming in the song to be nothing special.  I never would have noticed all of the nuances that he fixated on.  And the song really isn’t that interesting.  Drummer Neal Morgan, who has supported Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, Robin Pecknold, and others, sat down with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Doug Clifford to dive into ecstatic detail on the arrangement of “Long as I Can See The Light.”

Episode 41: A Funeral for Everyone I Knew (January 6, 2015)
This week they finally get around to the Greta Gerwig piece they mentioned in Episode 38.  It is Funeral for Everyone I Knew, a new radio play by novelist Jesse Ball.  Starring Greta Gerwig and Whip Hubley, the play follows the dark machinations of a dying man, and his elaborate plans for his own funeral.  Frankly it wasn’t really worth the wait, and Gerwig isn’t in it enough. (more…)

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harper septSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Junta (1989).

juntaI’ve been listening to a lot of live Phish as of late and thought it would be interesting to see if there was truth to the adage that Phish is great live but not so great in the studio.  So here is their first official album.  It was released as a double album, and when it was reissued on CD some bonus material was added.  Incidentally, I just found out that the album if pronounced “juhnta” and not “hoonta” because of the engineer they worked with.

The album starts with “Fee” which is a fun song (the lyrics are wonderfully weird) and they don’t play it all that much so it’s a treat to listen to.  I enjoy the way the verses sound compressed and distant but the choruses are nice and full.  There’s also some funny and interesting sound effects (some of which accentuate the action) throughout the song. This sound effects and noises processing has been with Phish from the beginning and they kept it up through many of their earlier, less mature albums. “You Enjoy Myself” is a live favorite so it’s fun to hear it in this version.  As with a lot of their earlier records, this song sounds a little stiff, especially if you’ve heard the wild live versions. It’s not bad at all, indeed, it has a perfectionist quality to it—the time changes are perfect, the solos are flawless.  Indeed, it’s quite an achievement (and in this more polished version it sounds more like Yes than their live versions ever did).  Interestingly when we finally get to the lyrical section (about 5 minutes in) it’s quite a bit slower than they play live.

“Esther” sounds much more theatrical here.  The music is gorgeous and there are lots of effects and backing vocals which bring a bit more menace to the song than the live version possesses. This also had a very prog rock sensibility to it.  “Golgi Apparatus” has a lot more in the way of backing vocals than the live version.  And “Foam” has some changes: the bass is especially loud and funky and yet the pace is so much slower than I’m used to.  The odd thing is the kind of stiff way that the lead vocals enunciate everything.  And the deep voice (Mike?) is quite amusing at the end of the song.  “Dinner and a Movie” is a fun and silly song and this version is especially enjoyable because of the backing voices and chatter and laughter which illustrate the dinner (and presumably the movie).

“Divided Sky” has a beautiful melody and it’s nice to hear it played so pretty and simply here.  But again the remarkable thing is how much slower the song is here.  “David Bowie” also sounds great (there’s all kinds of weird sounds effects in the background of the (very long) soloing section—I have no idea why or what they might be).  The solo sounds like it was maybe done in one take as there’s a couple spots where it’s not “right,” (whether flubs or intentional is hard to say) but it still sounds terrific.  In fact a number of tracks have some little flubs which makes it seem like they either didn’t mind or tried for a more live feel.

“Fluffhead” sounds solid and like the live versions.  What I never realized until I actually paid attention is that the bulk of the music (the extended jam session) is called “Fluff’s Travels.”  “Flulfhead is only 3 and a half minutes, while “Fluff’s Travels” is over 11 minutes (it opens with the beginning of the guitar solo–the catchy riff that starts the lengthy jam).  “Contact” is a delightfully silly song about tires and cars that I’ve always enjoyed and find myself singing often because the melody is so simple.

What’s funny is that the end of “Contact” kind of bleeds into “Union Federal” which is listed as a live song (and clocks in at over 25 minutes long).  This “Union Federal” is an improvisational jam (or an Oh Kee Pah Ceremony—where the guys would get together with instruments (and other things) and jam for a time.  This song is weird with many layers—and is rather typical of one of Phish’s weirder jazz –flavored improv sections (meaning that there is a lot of dissonance and noise).  It’s quite jarring especially after all of the melodies and prettiness of the album proper.  And I can see a lot of people not being happy about its inclusion.  “Sanity” on the other hand is a fun song.  In the intro, they keep claiming the song is by Jimmy Buffett. They are clearly very silly in this setting, especially at the end of the song.  The final track is a live version of “Icculus” the song which is pretty much all buildup.  In the intro they quote U2 “This is red rocks, this is the edge.”  But the “joke” of this version is that Trey keeps postponing the name of the person who wrote the name of the Helping Friendly Book–stalling in any way he can.  As the song gets louder and louder and more absurd, the guys are even more frenetic.  It takes over 3 and a half minutes to get to the proper lyrics of the song.   And then the song itself is about 15 seconds.  Absurd nonsense.  But very amusing.

So this is quite a solid debut album, and the amount of songs that they still play live shows how fond everyone is of it.

[READ: October 2, 2013]  “Wrong Answer”

I didn’t hate Algebra.  I rather like solving puzzles so I enjoyed solving for x.  Algebra II I recall being more daunting and less fun with lots of formulae to memorize.  And, unlike everything promised, I have never used any of it in my adult life (geometry and angles, sure, but not logarithms).  According to this article the new United States CORE curriculum (which I know my son is dealing with already in 3rd grade) says that high school graduates must have Algebra II.

The reasons for this intensification in the studying of math are many (starting around the time of Ronald Reagan) but the current push comes from Arne Duncane, the U.S. secretary of education.  He believes that “algebra is a key, maybe the key to success in college.  Students who have completed Algebra II in high school are twice as likely to earn degree as those who didn’t.”  Whether or not that is true, those of us who earned a degree in nonmathematical  subjects certainly were not aided by this class.  But Nicholson Baker explains that the reason this might be true is that for most colleges, Algebra II is a prerequisite.  Ergo: if you don’t take Algebra II you can’t get into college because colleges require Algebra II.  That, for those who may not have taken logic–a far more useful course than Algebra II in daily life–is called a tautological fallacy.  [Indeed, I maintain that all high school students should have to take a course in logic because they would then be able to see through all of the builshit that politicians spill and claim to be logic.  Like the current (as I type this) government shutdown in which Republicans are claiming they didn’t want to shut down the government when they in fact signed papers saying they were going to shut down the government).]

The real problem with Duncan’s postulate that everyone should take Algebra II (“airplane mechanics do complex measurements and work with proportions and ratios…X-ray technicians calculate time exposures to capture the cleanest possible image.  Most factory workers need to understand Algebra II or even some trigonometry to operate complex manufacturing electronic equipment”) is that even if that were true (I don’t have any idea of it is or not), most people do not do those kinds of jobs.  And even if they did know higher math, they would still be salesmen, graphic artists, librarians, preschool teachers, custodians and many many other jobs that in no way require math. (more…)

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questionableshapeSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait Vol 09 (2013).

live bait 9I just recently realized that Live Bait 9 has been released.  So I grabbed it just in time.  Vol 9 is full of long jams.  The shortest track here is 10 and a half minutes and there are three over 30 minutes (true, some of them are actually multiple songs melding into one track, but they still retain that long jam feel).

What I especially liked about this set was that it included a few songs that I feel like aren’t represented all that well in the Live Bait catalog.  Like “Foam” from 1994—a solid rocking jam (at 10:47).  And “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” (from 2004—I like how they splice the cuts together, so in this case they jump a decade but it doesn’t sound it).  I feel like this song is not played as much, so it’s nice to hear.  And then there’s a lively “The Moma Dance” from 2000.

There are a number of quirky moments in many of the songs.  Like “Split Open and Melt” which comes in at 31 minutes.  Around 11 minutes, they morph into “Kung,” and what’s weird about this version (aside from the fact that the song itself is bizarre) is that instead of it just being them making noise and shouting, there’s actually music behind it—mostly drums—I’ve not heard it done like that before.  During the jam, at around 15 minutes, Mike plays Collective Soul’s “Shine” riff on the bass, but the rest of the guys don’t join in.

“Mike’s Song” (from 1999) begins a 40 minute jam.  The song seems slower than usual, which I find odd.  But it works well for the very mellow jam that constitute the big instrumental section—they even use the echoey guitar the runs for a few minutes keeping the beat and setting a pace.  At 17 minutes the song morphs into a rousing version of “Twist”.  Then at 31 minutes they morph into “Weekapaug Groove” (with Gordon’s great bass opening.  At 36 minutes Trey starts playing the Macarena, although not exactly right, which is pretty funny in and of itself.

“David Bowie” (from 1995) is a 25 minute jam that gets pretty dark in the middle.  Then comes the most interesting juxtaposition of songs jam.  From “AC/DC Bag” one of their earliest songs to “Ghost” one of their then newest ones.  “Tube” a, to my mind, underplayed song is next.  It has a funky jam and is appreciated.

This free set ends with “Undermind,” one of my favorite new songs (this one recorded n 2012). It opens with a staccato riff which gives it a kind of reggae feel.  But it soon returns to its normal sound and proves to be a great ender to this “set.”

I can’t say enough good things about the Live Bait series.  I’m not one to buy many concert sets, but having free samples is really cool.

[READ: July 28, 2013] A Questionable Shape

Karen read this book and not only raved about it, she personally recommended it to me. So imagine my surprise to find out that it’s a zombie novel!  But it is a zombie novel like no other.  If Colson Whitehead (in Zone One) made a zombie novel that was literary, Sims has gone one step further, making a zombie novel that is philosophical.

The story is set in Baton Rouge and takes place some time after a zombie epidemic has broken out. In the time since the zombies started appearing (worldwide, it is suggested), the police and emergency teams have managed to contain the worst of it (already that’s something new).  Panic has subsided somewhat and the government has even released a pamphlet on how to deal with everything that’s been going on (called Fight the Bite–I never checked to see if there was a version online, it would make a great “online extra” (having now read Karen’s review, I’m glad to see she agrees)).

The book focuses on two primary characters: the narrator (Michael Vermaelen–referred to mostly as Vermaelen whose name is not given until very long into the story) and Matt Mazoch.  There is a third important character–the narrator’s live-in girlfriend, Rachel, who plays as something of a foil.

The simple plot takes place over a week.  Mazoch is searching for his father.  Mr Mazoch died just before the epidemic and Matt believes that he is among the walking dead.  And so Matt has asked Michael to go with him to try to find him.  There’s a couple things to note right off the bat (the pun was not intended, although Matt carries a bat with him as his line of defense and who knows what else).  Matt and Mr. Mazoch had a weird relationship, one which fell apart considerably over the last few years. Mr Mazoch let himself go completely and seems opposed to everything that Matt believed in–physical fitness and intellectual pursuits (or, as Michael points out, perhaps Matt pursued them to be the exact opposite of his father). The second is that while Michael is happy to go along with Matt, he has no idea and is even afraid to ask what Matt plans to do should he find his father.  And this issue comes to a head later with Rachel.

Matt has given them exactly one week to find his father, with the explicit instructions that after a week thy give up pursuit so that it doesn’t drag on indefinitely.

Okay so far so good–they are going zombie hunting.  But the thing is, the zombies have become a part of the landscape, but they have been tamed.  It is illegal to kill them (what an interesting twist).  Despite their zombie-ness (it’s actually considered an insult to call them zombies), and their desire for human flesh, rather than eradicating them, they are being rounded up and put in camps.  Naturally there are still a number of stragglers (zombies get everywhere), but there is a hotline to call if you see one and within minutes the police come and quarantine them.

So, what’s one to do on a day long adventure hunting zombies–or more specifically, one zombie–if you aren’t actually hunting them?  Well, mostly, you talk.  Michael is a philosophy student (he intended to read all of the important philosophical works although the outbreak has taken him off his goal somewhat), Matt is a literature student (Rachel is an art history major), so the discussions get very philosophical.  In addition to quoting Heidegger, Kant, Nietzsche and many other big names, they also talk video games and seek for metaphors for the zombie invasion.  The video game discussion was quite fascinating–Matt imagines the grid of zombie takeovers to be like a video game–going into blank nothingness. But Michael imagines it more like a filmy haze.

Indeed, since this is all told from Michael’s first person point of view, we learn a lot about what is in his head.  And it turns out that Michael is obsessed with the zombies (which is understandable, really).  But his obsession is different.  When the outbreak first happened he, like everyone else, refused to go outside.  But soon, when the government gave the all clear, Rachel not only went outside, she volunteered at the facilities. But Michael refused–seeing potential contamination everywhere. Indeed, even though he goes out with Matt every day, he still imagines and worries what would happen if and when someone he knows is infected. When they go to a diner, Michael won’t even eat the food, imagining some kind of contamination.

He even tries demilitarization exercises with Rachel (which she is understandably freaked out by).  But as the story moves on Michael’ footnotes (did I say there were footnotes? There are–almost one per page) spend more and more time wondering what the zombies are experiencing–he seems to be trying to pick the best one.  And he goes over and over these ideas in great detail.

After a few days (each chapter is a day) Rachel needs to know what Matt is intending to do if (when) he finds Mr Mazoch, especially since Matt suddenly believes he has some “evidence.”  Michael doesn’t want to know, which enrages Rachel.  She assumes the worst (that he wants to kill his father).  She assumes he would kill him out of malice towards zombies, but Michael suggests it would be to put him out of his misery).

Rachel has a personal stake in this issue.  Her father died before the epidemic, but she was convinced that he would be turned (before they proved that the longer-dead weren’t rising, it was only the recently dead).  So she waited at his graveyard, with the intent of digging him up if need be.  She proves to be a real bleeding heart on the issue.  To make her case, she gives the recent example of a scientist training a  zombie to speak.  She discusses the emotions of the woman whose father was the zombie.  She says this shows that these creatures still have humanity in them and to kill them all would be genocide.

By the end of the book, Matt has taken a polar opposite position–hurricane season is coming and these things are a security risk for all the living.   They should all just be killed.  For the safety of everyone.   Michael–always the intellectual–has a somewhat more nuanced position–he feels that perhaps they should be spared because we have so much to learn from them. And each case is made rather convincingly.

There are some wonderful passages–the discussion about leaves and greenery and the amazing description of Michael’s first encounter with a zombie (not at all frightening, just chilling) show what a great writer Sims is.

The strange thing about this book (aside from the whole “it’s about zombies, but not” premise) is that for such a short book (just over 200 pages), it’s a pretty slow read.  Between the footnotes and the philosophy, the book doesn’t exactly flow quickly.  It’s not light reading by any stretch.  And at times it’s a little…dull?  too in its own head?  Something?  But those moments seem few and far between, because ultimately the language is so interesting and fulfilling.

The end is one of those endings that’s not a real ending–it’s more of a “what would you, the reader, do?” kind of ending.  That’s always unsatisfying.  And yet at the same time, I have not stopped thinking about what I would do in his case.  And so it almost becomes the perfect ending.

Bennett Sims was a student of David Foster Wallace and although this book does have footnotes, the author he resembles most is Nicholson Baker–where not much happens in the body of the work and all of the “action” (which is really thought) is in the notes.

Karen put Bennett Sims along  with Seth Fried and Manuel Gonzales on her “magnificently weird” list, a list that I am intrigued enough by to hunt down these other two authors (and Sims’ story “House-Sitting” which i don’t seem to be able to find online.  So thanks Karen, i wouldn’t have found this one on my own.

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gigglerSOUNDTRACK: SCRUBS-“Everything Comes Down to Poo” (2007).

Iscrubsn season 7 of Scrubs, they created a musical episode (trendy yes, but pretty much always funny) called “My Musical.”  One of the highlights was the song “Everything Comes Down to Poo” in which Turk and JD sing to a patient that they need a stool sample.  The song is full of a ton of different terms for poo and where it comes out (and it’s all rated PG).

It’s very funny and quite clever, given the subject.  Who doesn’t love seeing a chorus of doctors and nurses high kicking down a hospital corridor singing “Everything comes down to poo.”


[READ: January 30, 2013] The Giggler Treatment

Who knew that Roddy Doyle, humorist of Barrytown and very serious chronicler of women’s pain would write an outrageously silly children’s book about dog poo?  I don’t know what prompted him to write this book (he has written several children’s books since), but he manages the chapter book format with aplomb and a slight (hilarious) disrespect for the genre.

So The Giggler Treatment is structured in a manner not unlike Nicholson Baker’s early novels in that pretty much all of the action takes place over the span of about a minute.  Mister Mack is about to step in a huge pile of dog poo.  And  the story flashes around to different pieces of information as we watch with bated breath for his shoe to inch its way closer to fate.

Mister Mack is a decent bloke, a good father, a hardworking biscuit taster (a different biscuit every day from the factory where he works).  [Incidentally, I assume that these details are extra for the American edition, but Doyle includes a warning that explains that biscuits are what they call cookies in Ireland. There’s also a hilarious glossary which translate rudies, bums, knickers and other things for young U.S readers.]  Mister Mack is on his way to work, but is distracted by a talking seagull (who hates fish) and while his head is turned his foot is headed right Rover’s poo. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUKE AND GASS-Tiny Desk Concert #95 (December 6, 2010).

Buke and Gass’ album Riposte made the NPR’s 50 Favorites of 2010.  I listened to a track and liked it but I wasn’t blown away by it.  Nevertheless, I wanted to check out this Tiny Desk concert because I was sure it would be interesting.  And so it is.  And it makes me like them infinitely more–enough to check out their whole album.

The initial attraction to Buke and Gass is their homemade instruments (and if you watch the video, you can kind of see how they work, except I want to know more details (there must be foot pedals of all kinds to make these exquisite sounds)).  Arone Dyer sings and plays a modified baritone ukulele (who even knew such a thing existed) and makes incredibly squalling, cool effects come from it.  Aron Sanchez plays a modified guitar/bass hybrid (there’s bass and guitar strings-the bass are filtered through one amp, while the guitar goes through another).  And someone is playing a tambourine and a bass drum (I think it’s Sanchez with his (unseen) feet).

The songs are weird but incredibly catchy.  Dyer’s voice is wonderful, and perhaps the most amazing thing is that she seems to be playing guitar harmonies to complement her voice and it makes it sound like there are two singers.  It’s also amazing how much noise they make with these two instruments.

The whole set is wonderful and if they can do this on live, I can’t wait to see what the can do with studio magic. Now, just what the hell does their name mean?

[READ: April 15, 2011] “Why I’m a Pacifist”

I enjoyed Nicholson Baker’s earlier works quit a bit, but I have missed a lot of his more recent releases.  Nevertheless, Baker is unafraid of controversy and I enjoy reading what he has to say.

In this article he defends his belief in pacifism. What’ surprising to me is that in his biographical introduction he talks  about his earlier life as a red-blooded Young Republican.  I never would have figured that Baker has such a past, but he evidently did. When he grew out of that phase, he opened himself up to the possibilities of pacifism (which his wife thoroughly supported). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A HOUSE: On Our Big Fat Merry-Go-Round (1988).

I first heard of A House when “Call Me Blue” came on a Sire records sampler (Just Say Yo).  This was a good sampler of college rock music circa 1987, and “Call Me Blue” stood out for me.

I had kind of forgotten about them until I Am the Greatest came out, which I enjoyed very much.  I have since gone back and bought their back catalog.  This first album sounds so very much like college music circa 1987.   It’s not anywhere near as weird as I Am the Greatest.  In fact, it’s almost quaint in its college (or Modern as they called it back then) rock sound.

I think that if I had gotten it back then, it would have been a favorite of mine.  Listening to it today, it brought back memories of that era, even though this album wasn’t part of that era for me–it just evokes that time so perfectly.

“Call Me Blue” is still a great track.

[READ: August 20, 2010] The Mezzanine

I learned about this book from my friend Rich.  He raved about the minimalism of it. (1)

(1. My copy is dated from 1994.  Clearly back then I thought it was a great idea to sign and date all of the books I bought.  Since then, while working at a library, I find the practice kind of foolish.  However, I do appreciate the fact that I know when I bought it.  In some ways I wish that I had put a post it note with the date of purchase on all of my books).

I read it back in 1994 and enjoyed it. And since I am in the middle of Ulysses, I thought it would be a nice chaser. (2)

(2. In the comments for Ulysses here, the other readers mention that they are reading other books, too.  And I like the idea of the word “chaser” in describing it).

The reason I thought it would make a good chaser is that it is only 135 pages long.  And as I remembered, the action of the book takes place entirely on an escalator ride from the ground floor to the mezzanine of the narrator’s office. (3).

(3. Although that is literally true, the narrator reflects back upon many many events in his life, and almost all of them have taken place some time in the past–going back as far as to when he was a kid). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BBC Sessions (various).

Many many bands that I like have recorded tracks for the BBC.  And after several sessions, they tend to get released as BBC Live or BBC Sessions discs.  In the last few years, I’ve gotten discs from the Cocteau Twins, Tindersticks, The Beautiful South, Belle and Sebastian and Therapy?  One of the first ones I’d every gotten was The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow.

I’ve always loved these releases.  The recordings are “live,” even though they’re not in front of an audience.  For the most part they don’t vary greatly from the originals (that’s not always the case, mind you, but most of the time it’s true.)

What makes these releases so great is that by the time the bands do these recordings for the BBC, the original album has been out a while and the band has toured a bit.  So, they know the song backwards at this point, and they usually record a version that’s faithful to the original but a little more playful.  I always thought that the Hatful of Hollow versions of songs were better than the originals.  It was many years before I understood why there were two “official” releases of the same songs.

There are so many BBC recordings out there (this is an incomplete list).  If you like a British band, chances are they recorded some sessions.  And I don’t know if the BBC is hard pressed for money or what, but they seem to be releasing them by the handful lately.  The biggest problem of course is that most of them are not available in the States (at least for a reasonable price).  And that’s a drag.  So find them used and enjoy!

[READ: May 19, 2010] Girl with Curious Hair

This is DFW’s first collection of short stories.  I clearly bought this copy soon after finishing Infinite Jest.  I was delighted to find as a bookmark an old stub from a sub shop that I used to go to all the time when I worked in Cambridge, Ma.  I wonder if that sub shop is still open.  It was in Brighton, was more or less on my way to work, had a predominance of Irish products and had delicious subs that were almost cheaper than buying the stuff yourself.  I had checked off a few stories in the table of contents (most of the shorter ones) but that stub brought back more memories than the stories did.  I didn’t even recognize the ones that I had apparently read.

And the stories are pretty memorable.  So I wonder if I didn’t read them at all.

The first story is “Little Expressionless Animals” (or, the Jeopardy! story).  In fact, if I may back up, the whole collection is really rife with pop culture, especially television references.  In David Lipsky’s book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself , DFW states matter-of-factly that he has an obsession with TV and pop culture, so this shouldn’t be surprising.  But for me it was disconcerting to have the pop culture not incidental or as a set dressing, but absolutely central to the stories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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