What It Is: 10/4/10

What I’m reading: That Iliad. Patroklos just went down, so things are about to get out of hand.

What I’m listening to: Sir Lucious Left Foot, A Friend of a Friend, In Our Nature, and some Steve Earle.

What I’m watching: Boardwalk Empire, Bored to Death, and Eastbound & Down. That’s a pretty sweet Sunday night lineup by HBO (not that we stay up to watch ’em). Oh, and the stupidest finish of a college football game I’ve ever seen (not that I watch much college football): LSU beating Tennessee when too many Volunteers volunteered to make the goal-line stand on the last play of the game. I mean, I’ve seen teams called for 12 players on the field, but FOURTEEN PLAYERS, all lined up? We “joke” that LSU coach Les Miles may be a slow adult, but to see his idiocy get trumped by another coach? I should make a “Special Olympics Bowl” joke here, but I’m not that mean. Oh, wait . . .

What I’m drinking: Dry Fly & Q-Tonic, although I spent most of the week dry, in hopes of getting off the stress-induced cycle of drinking and/or taking a Xanax in order to get to sleep. Why I chose to do this during a heavy-duty production week, I don’t know. I should’ve waited till this week, when there’s less work stress to pervade my brain.

What Rufus & Otis are up to: Going on another long-ass hike on Sunday. On Saturday, Ru pulled his R. Kelly trick and peed on Otis’ head when they were out for their morning walk. Oh, and they played grab-ass.

Where I’m going: Kansas City for the wedding of one of Amy’s pals

What I’m happy about: Finishing my October issue (pretty much) on time.

What I’m sad about: The Ultimate Trailer Show on HDNet got cancelled. This is a serious problem, because Robert Wilonsky’s show was just about the only way I found out about good upcoming movies. If it weren’t for that show, we’d never have heard about Louis, and I’d have missed out on one of the best musical experiences of my life. So, grr. Basically, we’d just open Netflix when Wilonsky’s show was on, and plug in movie after movie. In fact, our next Netflix delivery comes from a UTS episode: The Good, The Bad and the Weird. (UPDATE: and, my wife reminds me, without UTS & Wilonsky, we’d never have discovered In the Loop, which is among my favorite comedies.)

What I’m worried about: That I’m forgetting something. I’ve been pretty stressed lately, and my memory’s been addled as a result. Friday, walking the dogs, I had some song lyrics in my head, but couldn’t recall the song they were from. It took a day or two before it came back to me: Babylon Sisters. But that made me sad because that’s also the title of a book for which my pal Sang, who died in January, designed the cover.

What I’m pondering: Achilles and fate (again). I hope to write at length about a couple of thoughts on the subject, but I need to finish the poem again first. I love how each re-read finds me focusing on a different key; last time (2007), I made a muddled attempt at figuring out the role of the gods in the action & the characters’ lives. Now that doesn’t seem like too much of an issue to me.

What I Love and What I Don’t Like

I had a sort of crappy end-of-day at work. I tend to internalize my frustration and play out phantom conversations endlessly. This tendency gets exacerbated by the fact that I don’t talk to friends very much. I drive home from work, IM with my wife for a few minutes to find out how she’s doing and see when she expects to get home from work, then take the dogs for a walk usually about half an hour or so.

Rufus & Otis are great, but their conversation skills are lacking, so I tend to keep talking silently to myself and letting these frustrations fester. The weather’s so lovely this evening that I it would sooth my soul, but I kept slipping back into little tirades. I should’ve called one of my old pals, but it’s just not in my nature anymore. Don’t know when that changed.

got in and fed them, checked work e-mail and some other work-related stuff, which only fuels my nonsense. Then I decided to go downstairs to my library sprawl out on the couch, and read the new issue of Love & Rockets. And that’s when I got out of myself. Jaime Hernandez’ stories in the new book flat-out transported me. The moment young Perla saw the girl-mechanic on the parade float, I had a grin from ear to ear. My heart was broken after the story of her brother. I lost myself in his amazing storytelling, and I’m thankful for that.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 by The Hernandez Brothers - Jaime detail
(I also may be the last reader of theirs to realize that Beto Hernandez is this generation’s Russ Meyer.)

In other news, Barking, a new Underworld record, came out yesterday. I love a lot of their music, but I’m just befuddled by this new stuff. I gather they used outside producers for the first time, and the result is really . . . pedestrian. Which is a funny term to apply to dance music, but there it is. It’s almost like reading a serial comic book with a new creative team that fails to Get It.

To me, Underworld’s best music is like having drug-crazed nanobots devouring the language and motion sections of your brain, so that words don’t really make sense and you’re possessed with an urge to dance/thrash. This new record, on the other hand, has a lot of shimmery keys, banal disco beats and sensical lyrics.

Worst of all, the decision was made to have Karl Hyde sing, despite the fact that he doesn’t have much of a singing voice. Oh, and there’s a ballad. Except it’s not absurd/surreal, like Good Morning Cockerel, a song from their previous album, Oblivion With Bells, about which I’m rather ambivalent. I’ll give this one another try or two, but it’s a very disappointing record.

So that’s a little of what’s going on. I also spend a lot of time thinking about Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad.

What It Is: 6/28/10

What I’m reading: Imperial Bedrooms, by Bret Easton Ellis. Blech. Also, I read a really wonderful interview with Bob Colacello, the former editor of Interview. I’d like to it, but it’s from the new ish of Fantastic Man, and they don’t post content online. (!?) But Colacello was so interesting that I ordered a copy of Imperial Bedrooms, his book about Andy Warhol.

What I’m listening to: We Are Born, in which Sia goes adorably disco. Also, Blood Like Lemonade, in which Morcheeba was so happy to have Skye singing for them again that they made a record that sounds an awful lot like Skye’s 2 solo albums. Meh. And Walking Wounded. Guess I oughtta check out those Tracey Thorn solo records sometime.

What I’m watching: 44 Inch Chest (it’s no Sexy Beast), Michael Jackson: This is It, and Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. The MJ pic was okay, but that Rush documentary was A-W-E-S-O-M-E. Go grab the DVD on Netflix. NownowNOW!

What I’m drinking: DH Krahn’s & Q-Tonic.

What I’m smoking: I had an Arturo Fuente Single Chateau during our company picnic on Friday (I had to get work done and showed up around 4 hours late, but I still got to spend 2-3 hours at the picnic). It was the first cigar I smoked in years and, boy, was it good.

What Rufus & Otis are up to: The usual: discovering a snake, charging a deer, and otherwise just trying to stay cool.

Where I’m going: A couple of July 4th weekend parties.

What I’m happy about: The end of my big-ass Top 20 Pharma / Top 10 Biopharma issue is in sight! Only 3 more profiles to write, after which I’ve gotta lay out all the pages, but it’s actually coming together! I think I’ll actually be able to finish it by Thursday! Whew!

What I’m sad about: The state of the pharma industry.

What I’m worried about: What effect the above is going to have on my livelihood in the next few years.

What I’m pondering: Why Rush isn’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That’s a goddamned embarrassment.

Man Out Of Time: Music

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I think music is the one field where “the decade” really is a delineator. I try not to extrapolate broader trends from my own experience, but this is one case where I think I’m just part of the new shape of things.

Which is to say, my music-listening habits were flat-out transformed over the course of this decade. The changeover to digital began in the 1990’s, but went bananas in the past 10 years. My iTunes library contains around 45,000 songs, incorporating my and my wife’s CD libraries, the songs I stole back when that was cool, and other friends’ libraries, copied in toto. In fact, that’s why I didn’t get an iPod for the first 18 months or so after their introduction; I was waiting for one with large enough storage capacity to handle my library. (Okay, I was also on a PC and hadn’t yet drunk the Apple Kool-Aid.)

Sure, my music library today is filled with songs I’ll never listen to — such as my IT manager’s collection of German industrial aggro-something (rock?) or my pal Fink’s collection of, um, every single thing that Robyn Hitchcock ever recorded — but with storage space plummeting in price, why not keep it all?

I tend to just set iTunes and my iPod to shuffle, so I can discover unfamiliar music or recontextualize music I’m familiar with, but that carries the downside of missing out on albums qua albums. Add to that the fact that I rarely sit still long enough to listen to a 40- or 50-minute collection of music, and I’m left in a position where I can barely think of ten albums that I’d put on a “faves of the decade” list. We can download everything, so why listen to a single collection of songs by an artist?

On top of this, I have to make the embarrassing admission that I really don’t know much contemporary pop music. I don’t listen to the radio, don’t go to a gym, and don’t have, um, friends. My only experiences with Kanye West were his two awesome ad libs: blowing up Taylor Swift (who?) at that awards show and The Greatest Live TV Moment Of All Time, when he declared, “George Bush hates black people” during a Katrina benefit broadcast.

Similarly, I’d heard OF Lady Gaga for a while, but I never heard a song of hers until an episode of Parks & Recreation a month or two back. (It was fine, but I’m putting her in the same boat where I keep John Waters and Andy Warhol, the S.S. Love It In Theory, Not So Much In Practice.) Of course, the snob in me would reply would be that contemporary music sucks and I’m not missing anything, but that attitude’s gotten me in trouble in the past.

On my trip to Los Angeles in November, I decided to turn off my 120gb iPod’s shuffle setting and listen to albums in their entirety. I’ve stuck with that since my return, doing my best to go through entire records over the course of my commute and on drives out to the train station to pick up my wife. I’m so used to randomization, to the infinite jukebox, that it’s a real test for me to just let an album go to the end. Maybe it’ll help me to slow down.

Favorite Albums of the Decade

Time (The Revelator) (2001) – Gillian Welch – I wrote about this (finally!) for this year’s 9/11 post, so go back there and check out what I had to say. This is my favorite record of the decade, hands down. Nothing else comes close. The 9/11 context is a big factor for my attachment this album, the same way other people find Kid A or Is This It to be The Album of the Decade. (I’ve never made it through either of those records, so hey.)

Boxer (2007) – The National – I stumbled across a song from this in my iTunes library in 2008 (not sure who I got it from), tried out the album, and fell in love with it. I’m no good at describing genres, so you’re outta luck. I tried telling someone it’s “this sorta mellow modern rock sound,” and that’s about all I can do for you. This album, with its not-quite-sensical lyrics, unobtrusive orchestral additions, and Bowie-esque baritone, has become a key piece of my traveling soundtrack. I tried some of The National’s earlier music but didn’t dig them: things were a little too harsh, too fuzzy, too hip rock-‘n’-roll.

Simple Things / When It Falls / The Garden (2001 / 2004 / 2006) – Zero 7 – My go-to for chillout. I first heard their breakout single, Destiny, on the radio near the end of a 400-mile driving day in 2002. I was still 45 minutes from home, so I kept repeating the band and the song to myself. I stole the single the next day, fell in love with it, and bought the CD. I don’t love any of Zero 7’s first three albums on their own enough to put them on this list, but the combo of all of them has meant a lot to me this decade. I find their soul-chillout sound a lot more engaging than records by Moby, Blue 6, Photek, etc. Their sound evolved over the course of the first three records, with vocalists coming and going. Sia Furler is the mainstay/anchor for those albums. The fourth record, from which she’s absent, is a disaster.

Everything, Everything (2000) – Underworld – My affinity for Underworld’s pounding techno beats and chopped-up lyrics boggles my wife’s mind (as does their music), because of my utter lack of drug-taking and club-hopping. Still, something about their work utterly possesses me. Maybe it’s just a “this is who I could’ve been” if I had taken drugs and went to clubs. Everything, Everything is a live album and most of the songs are actually better than their album versions, bursting with a vital force that I didn’t even realize was lacking on their studio releases. Only one — Pearl’s Girl — fails to live up to the studio, for reasons that are too technical for me to get into.

Sea Change (2002) – Beck – One of my favorite contemporary writers told me he listened to this album incessantly to get over a heartbreak, just like I did. I later discovered that we may both have been getting over the same girl. Beck apparently recorded the songs to get over a breakup, too, but not with the same girl (as far as I know). This album is a change of pace for him: the sound is more acoustic, the lyrics are less non-sequitur-ing, and the overall result has a lot more heart than Beck’s other music.

Honorable mention

Give Up (2003) – The Postal Service – A friend of mine played me this record when I was traveling, so I picked up the CD before going home. When I tried to import it into iTunes, I discovered that I already owned the whole album, courtesy of a cloned library. That’s the only time this has happened; I swear. It’s a twee album, but what can I tell you? If you’ve made it this far in my blog, you know I’m a big geek.

Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (2003) – Outkast – Embarrassing admission: I’d never heard Outkast until this 2003 double-album. Then I heard Hey Ya!, was blown away, declared it the best pop single I’d heard in a bazillion years, and started checking out their stuff. I had no idea music like this was being made, and was flabbergasted by the stylistic leaps the duo was making. In part, this was due to my sad-ass racist stereotyping of hip-hop. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent post about Outkast’s album-to-album growth left me comparing it with the Beatles’ progression throughout the ’60’s. Outkast really made some remarkable music. Of course, I showed up just when the party was ending.

St. Elsewhere (2006) – Gnarls BarkleyCrazy was one of the greatest singles of the decade, matched only by the aforementioned Hey Ya! The rest of this album is awfully good, but I don’t find myself listening to it too often.

A Friend of a Friend (2009) – Dave Rawlings Machine – This was released in November 2009, so perhaps it’s too new for me to consider it a fave. But it’s the closest thing I’ll have to a new Gillian Welch album, it’s been on heavy rotation since I bought it, and a couple of songs will likely make their way onto my next Mad Mix CDs (yeah, I still make mix-CDs for people), so it’s at least an Honorable Mention.

I Was Only Just a Chorus Girl (2002) – Ari Scott – We dated for a while, and I still enjoy listening to her first record. It’s (generally) bouncy, catchy, piano-driven singer-songwriter sorta stuff.

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Man Out Of Time: Introduction

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I imagine “future generations” will consider the decade to begin with the contested election of 2000 and end with “man, they messed up the country so badly, people were willing to vote a black guy president.” Maybe they’ll take 9/11 as the thematic starting point instead. Whatever. What I’m saying is, I think the decade’s outward/historical manifestation is The Bush Years, but I’m hard put to understand what my inner/hysterical manifestation of it is.

As the decade progressed, I found myself writing less about politics, finance/business and international relations, and more about my own life. There was no changeover moment; it must’ve occurred to me at some point that there are plenty of other blogs to turn to for commentary on those topics. I still care deeply about those fields, and spend a lot of time reading up on them. Maybe it was my time with Montaigne that taught me about the value of looking inside to get a perspective on the outside. As far as I know, no one else is writing about my love, my dogs, my travels, my friends, my photos, my work, etc., except for my wife, and she focuses much more on my eats. So I’m my niche and welcome to it.

(Also, there’s less chance I’ll offend someone with an, um, off-color joke like the one in the first sentence of this post.)

Still, with all the decade-mania going on, I thought it would be interesting if I wrote about movies, books, comics and music for a “decade-retrospective” post. Trying to assemble my own lists for each category — “favorites,” mind you, not “bests” — was more daunting than I expected. I keep a running list of the books in my life, but not those other art forms, so much of this has to be painted from memory.

(I considered adding TV as a category, but realized that the drop-off from The Wire to whatever came in second was too steep.)

Compiling lists — fun though it is — hasn’t helped me reach a deeper understanding about what this decade “meant,” but I’m fine with that. I’ve spent almost seven years writing here and maybe that’s the story in itself: digital distribution has transformed the way we experience/consume all forms of art and how we share our thoughts with others. I’m not going to wax rhapsodic or elegiac about Facebook, Twitter, Kindles or iTunes (okay, a little about iTunes), so much as writing about some artworks that were created or published in the past 10 years and why I like them.

Welcome to my Virtual Memories. On with the show!

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