Friday, November 30, 2007
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
And here's the synsopsis: Holy Fuck!
Apparently, my unconscious decision to read the comics page once a month or so and even then only hitting a few guarantees (Marmaduke, por ejemplo), didn't come at the right time in Style Section History.
Slightly more detailed synopsis: Everyone has died. There's been some kind of apocalyptic voodoo cast down upon Westview and everyone caught a bizarre babycancer and then they all died. Or imagined themselves getting blown up. Or did blow up. Or became the butt of a cranky Crankshaft monologue. And then got thrown into the future, where, presumably, they won't be dead. Unless they're dead. In which case, they might just be dead. Or on a football team that, goshdarnit, just can't win.
I dunno. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.
Bottom line: the next time a student complains about the quote-depressing books that we always read in English class-unquote, I'll just suggest that he spend a couple of hours with Professor Batiuk and His Magical Winkerbeanatorial Fun Factory and get back to me. The Road looks pretty good now, eh kids?
Monday, October 1, 2007
Now, where's that link to "What Marmeduke Really Means"?
Friday, September 28, 2007
All right, I'm simplifying there, but his problem is essentially this: these writers (Eggers, Sebold, Kidd, Chabon, Foer, Kraus) propogate a world in which "History and tragedy foster personal growth" through novels that leave readers with a "surge of sentimental warmth," allowing them to "pretend that they, too, have confronted evil or sorrow and made it through to the other side."
Worse, he says, is the notion that humans can find "growth" in tragedy. "The only thing suffering teaches us," Bukiet writes, "is that we are capable of suffering."
Except not right.
At least, not in the manner in which he writes it. Not in the way that he reaches for some sort of "Reader's Manifesto" for 2007 and succeeds only in flaccid trashing of The Secret Life of Bees and The Lovely Bones. Easy targets: novels that fail in their artistic and narrative ambitions. Novels that pretend to reveal reality but succeed only in affirming shallow fantasy.
But he tries to equate them with the likes of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, with Everything Is Illuminated. That's a problem.
And, like Myers in "A Reader's Manifesto," Burkiet strips his salient passages of every conceivable context they might have in order to paint their writers as shallow, egocentric, naive and their novels as wide-eyed, innocent pablum.
But it doesn't work.
Nor does forcing Mark Helprin into that company, ostensibly for his conservative, nostalgic politics.
Nor does opening with allusions to The Brothers Karamazov. He does this, I guess, to demonstrate the difference between what he might consider the potentially shattering realism of TBK and something like AHWOSG. None of that "depressing Father Zosima's corpse smells stuff" in these new novels, Burkiet writes. But, of course, the corruption of Zosima's corpse is what forces Alyosha out of the monastery, into confrontation with his family and with himself, into confrontation with further pain, and, of course, to redemption. To redemption. To something that he learns through suffering.
Heck, when does Dostoyevsky not argue the redemptive possibilities of suffering?
Why else is Dmitri forced through a ridiculous trial, through an unjust jail sentence, if not to present the possibility that he "find growth in tragedy." What to make of Alyosha's insistence that a single good memory from childhood might be enough to "save" the basest of men? What to make of Dostoyevsky's portrayal of Ivan, the only one of the legitimate brothers to insist, constantly, on seeing reality for what it is, seeing suffering for what it is -- merely reality and merely suffering?
What to make of Helprin's insistence in A Soldier of the Great War that suffering is inexplicable, widespread, and random and that the "value" of any life, in the end, is based not on whether or not a person has "grown" (again, to use Burkiet's language) through tragedy but whether or not a person has embraced a life at all, whether or not a person has lived, loved, and remembered?
There's an intriguing thought or two in the essay (as there were in "A Reader's Manifesto"), and there are some salient comments on Jonathan Lethem and one or two insights into Chabon's work, but, like Myers' piece, it ultimately sustains neither its thesis nor the disparity between its chosen "evidence" and what is left unconsidered or unsaid.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
1. The whole "never end a sentence with a preposition" rule dates from the 18th century, when a British preacher (one Father Lowth), um, decided that it should be so. Huh. More fodder for Sam Harris, I suppose.
2. Meanwhile, our prohibition against split infinitives is, essentially, a holdover from our language's shared start in and obsession with Latin. Latin infinitives (as if I would know) are, as single words, impossible to split. You can see how an early belief in the literate supremacy (and primacy) of Latin would lead folks to conclude that English infinitives (consisting of two words) should not be split. From cannot be split to should not be split.
I like Wallace much more as an essayist than a novelist. Those same discursive tendencies that bug me in his fiction amuse me in his essays. Go figure.
Friday, September 7, 2007
The title sounds awful, but the song is unbelievable.
But his albums are out of print.
And, apparently, Mr. Fox now works as a telemarketer and won't discuss music anymore.
I'm not going to link to the song, but I'll email it to you, if you want.
As Omar says, "Indeed."
85 summer reading papers on my desk, but two different versions of James Brown's "Live at the Apollo" lined up on my CD player, so all can't be not well.
And I re-read Cormac McCarthy's The Road and No Country for Old Men last week in preparation of teaching one (The Road) and offering the other as a choice book. Plus, the Coen's film of No Country comes out in a couple of months.
I liked No Country for the second time, saw it more as a rumination on how terrifying it might be if god actually walked the earth (to say nothing of existed) than as a bitchy complaint of how things are so much worse than they used to be.
That said, as far as I can tell, it takes place in the early '80s, which sets it up well for the Coen's line from Raising Arizona: "I tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn't easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House."
The Road, meanwhile, is deadly. Shattering. One of the best books I've read in a long time, but one of those that I can't honestly recommend to other people. At least not without reservation.
Why am I teaching it, then?
Its material matters, I think.
It's entirely engrossing.
It asks fundamental questions.
It fits in perfectly with The Stranger and Beloved, not because they treat similar material in a similar fashion, but because each takes its own perfect, unique look at hope, death, memory, and -- at least in the case of Beloved and The Road -- love.
It is harrowing, and I did feel a bit odd sitting in my empty classroom last week crying as I finished it, but what it does, I think, is apart from anything else I've read in a long, long time.
Nick Hornby, in the new issue of The Believer, remarks that the book is about suffering. Period. And while the suffering is impressive and affective and effective, he doesn't find (or doesn't seem to find, given how he ends his remarks) much more than that. That, while miserable, it isn't complicated. I disagree. I think there's something incredibly complicated in exploring the possibility that it means as much (if not more) to live with love than with hope.
Plus, there's the matter of memory, of legacy, of movement, of the moment when he finds the sextant on the boat, the can of Coke, of how "He could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was ashes in his own."
Thursday, August 9, 2007
They're all great, all completely worth reading -- even Number9Dream, which is, 75 pages in, definitely my least favorite so far.
They're gimmicky, I guess, and I suppose a pretentious grad student could accuse them of being too circular, too neat, but I like them. A lot.
Cloud Atlas is a series of long stories, moving from the 19th century, to the distant future, and back again, each story written in a dramatically different, but perfectly realized, style, from Melville to Isherwood/Waugh to airport thriller-ish.
Ghostwritten is, sort of like Cloud Atlas, a series of connected stories, again moving freely through time and geography, but this time written in a mostly similar style.
Black Swan Green is a coming-of-age novel disguised as a series of 13 short stories, each one taking a month in the year of a young British adolescent. It's first-person, and the narrator is, like most adolescent first-person narrators, a little too precocious, occasionally, for his own good, but it's always believable in this book as his intelligence is balanced with his pretentiousness (he's a poet who uses the penname Eliot Bolivar) and his insecurity. He keeps his poetry hidden, of course, and worries that if his secret were discovered, "I'd get BUMHOLE PLUMMER scrawled on my locker." And he claims that Neil Young sings like a barn collapsing. And how can you not like that?
So, read Cloud Atlas. And Black Swan Green.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius is a good re-imagining of the Hamlet story, focussing on the parents instead of the child. We see Gertrude's marriage, her growing unhappiness, her frustration with the teenage Hamlet and her eventual infidelity with her brother-in-law. We also spend a lot of time with Polonius, who comes off much better ni Updike's book than in Shakerspeare's play. Like with most Updike, I wound up liking the writing more than the whole of the story (that's sort of been my experience with a lot of books over the last year, I guess), and I still don't feel like Updike should be considered in the same company as, say, Saul Bellow or Phillip Roth or Cormac McCarthy (even if he is probably more consistently funny than any of those others) in the pantheon of the great American writers of the second half of the twentieth century, but it certainly wasn't a waste of time. I'll teach Hamlet again this year, but I won't teach this.
I read William Boyd's Restless because I loved his book Any Human Heart, a look at the intellectual and artistic history of the twentieth century through a fictional journal. Restless is a spy novel, ultimately, and a good one, but it doesn't resonate (for me) like Any Human Heart. Unlike most spy novels, it's not ultimately about moral ambiguity, but more about trust -- and, in the novel's best stroke, about mortality.
Monday, August 6, 2007
1. Bell's. Everywhere.
2. Trees. Everywhere. (Except along 96 between Lansing and Grand Rapids. That's a terrible stretch of roadside nastiness).
3. Lakes and rivers. Everywhere.
4. Lake Michigan. Obviously.
5. I had to travel on a highway at ten in the morning, about 20 miles of road, and it took less than twenty minutes. And the cars in the left lane passed the cars in the right lane. And no one slowed down to 35 mph for inexplicable reasons.
6. People can merge into highway traffic. This is a seriously underrated driving skill and one that, apparently, not all states emphasize in their DMV-sponsored licensure exams.
Clearly, there's a whole lot more, but those were the first seven that I thought of.
Meanwhile, here's the messed-up thing about Michigan: the state done gave me a problem with my teeth. Is it really the state? One temporary filling, one permanent filling, and half a root canal later (all on the same tooth, with the second half of the procedure scheduled for Wednesday), I'm ready to put the blame right here. Right here.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
As Dr. Pava points out, the bond between HSM and Mssrs. Cassidy, Travolta, and Newton-John is strong. And, like always, what happens in one facet of our culture, must happen in all facets of our culture. Thus, we have the return of the 1970s Disney-esque musicals and pinups and, simultaneously, the return of the K-Tel Corporation.
Now, I have no idea what sales of K-Tel compilations were thirty years ago, and maybe they weren't as heavy as sales of the NTWICM sets, but there's a connection, for sure.
Invest in iron-ons. It's all happening without irony, which means that even though ringer-tees and glittery iron-ons might have had a brief resurgence among hipsters, these sales will be huge. Huge. Wal-Mart huge.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I had never read any of Gaiman's prose before this, but, based on this (a recommendation from a former student), now I may. An enjoyable, if somewhat occasionally overwrought romp through what appears, at first, to be a climactic (and probably doomed) battle between aging, forgotten, mostly immigrant gods and the more modern, sleeker gods of the computer, the stripmall, the digital watch. Some great writing, solid pacing, only one or two misshapen speeches, and a whole lot of ideas that high school students are more likely to find new and inspirational. Plus, one character says, "My last girlfriend was Greek... The shit her family ate... Like rice wrapped in leaves. Shit like that."
The Bird Artist, by Howard Norman. Felt like a coming of age story at first, about a kid in early twentieth century Newfoundland getting initiated into art, sex, and family strife. Winds up being much more about transformation (transforming birds into art, for example, or transforming live birds into dead birds into money, or transforming a man into a corpse, or sex into love, or adolescent confusion into vengeance, or events into a story and a story into redemption) and is all the better for it. And Norman can write. And it's got a great female lead who does some serious damage to the world whisky supply over the course of the book.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
And I reacted to it essentially as I reacted to Children of Men, which is to say that I liked it, found a few sequences to be brilliant, but could not understand, in the end, what all the fuss was about, really.
Children of Men had an amazing sense of itself visually. And it was wonderful to see something that understood, for the most part, the power of a single image. But the writing? Awful. I loved the fast car chase, the slow car chase, the broken David, the Pink Floyd pig, the long, long tracking shot in the climactic sequence, the distance that we're forced to keep from the death of Michael Caine's character, and the terrifying madness of the refugee camp, but the dialogue killed me at almost every turn.
Plus, someone seriously needed to scale back the Jesus imagery.
In any case, Pan's Labyrinth has, like Children of Men, a couple of amazing components (the close miking of everything, the eyeball guy, the ambiguity of the treatment of the resistence, the performance of the lead), but lost me with its insistence that El Capitan be completely and worthlessly evil, and, in a mind-boggling reversal of so much that the film seems to espouse in the conclusion when our hero finds paradise to be, in essence, a monarchy.
That's the opposite of fascism? Rule by a king and queen?
Sure, in fairy tales, the kings and queens (when not wicked) tend to take the interests, the hopes, the dreams of their subjects to heart -- but, those subjects, those people, those individuals, are still subjects.
First, I want back the two hours that I spent watching Spike Lee's Inside Man. Not because it's Spike Lee. Not because it's a heist film. (Let's face it: Spike Lee has made at least two good films; and, likewise, there have been some damn good heist films in history). And not even because Willem DeFoe doesn't get enough screen time. But just because it's a lousy Spike Lee movie, a lousy heist movie, and a waste of my two hours.
But, then, I watched it all. Via DVD. So, I have no excuse.
And, then, I want back the 90 minutes that I gave to Borat. Or, if I can't have all 90 back, I'll spot you 10 and take 80. I enjoyed the rodeo. I enjoyed the frat guys in the motorhome. And I enjoyed the last minute of the first prostitute sequence. And I enjoyed an isolated minute or two in other places. But, given everything, I want 80 minutes back.
Selfish, maybe, but I think I deserve them.
Monday, July 9, 2007
I'd call it wisdom, but it extends beyond that.
So, now I'm too distracted to offer anything beyond the following baseline requirements:
1. Find a copy of "Anytime, Anywhere" by Go To Blazes and listen to it. That might prove difficult; I have no idea what the in-print/out-of-print status of their albums might be at this point.
2. See "The Wild Bunch," directed by Sam Peckinpah, paying particular attention to the opening sequence and loving how those kids -- in an almost throw-away moment -- chase each other down the street playing guns. And the closing sequence, in all its fatalistic glory. And the train robbery, in all its silent brilliance. And the presence of Ernest Borgnine in something that isn't "AirWolf."
3. See "Ride the High Country," the best of Peckinpah's more or less traditional westerns. The ending of this is heartbreaking.
4. See "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" and get your Dylan love on. Also, enjoy the death of Slim Pickens and figure that the pathos of that scene makes up for the obvious nature of the scene in which Garrett shoots himself in the mirror.
5. See "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia," not because it's a great film, because it's not, but because it has a sweet premise, an amazing title, and, once you've seen it, you can't imagine a buddy film in which one of the two buddies is not, in fact, a severed head. (Danny Glover eat your heart out, no?)
Friday, June 29, 2007
Okay, so it isn't, like, the second coming of The Brothers Karamazov, or Moby-Dick, or One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Mr. Popper's Penguins, or the May, 1956 issue of Popular Mechanics (pimped-out hovercrafts, yo), but it is mighty fine.
That said, I probably wouldn't have liked it nearly as much if I read it three years ago. Obviously, we all bring our own lives to what we read, relating, or not relating, to novels, poetry, etc, to the extent that what happens makes us reflect on our own lives, so I'll say straight-up that, beyond the frequently beautiful writing, the main reason that I felt -- and feel -- so strongly about this book is that I have a son.
I'll never read it without that being a part of my life, so I have no idea what it's like to read it without a family.
With one, though, it's strong, emotional, and moving.
Or, it was for me, anyway.
Wild Brews, by Jeff Sparrow.
Two things make me happy about this book:
1. It's about crazy wild fermentation -- folks just letting yeast and bacteria float down into their grain-water-mash-stuff to ferment that stuff. Can you see that happening anywhere near the folks at Coors?
2. I bought it with a gift card given to me by a student at the end of the school year, extending my streak of using student money to buy me books about beer.
This is taking into account both the pretensions of the Bad Plus and the pretensions of Mssrs Lee, Lifeson, and Peart.
It should be a glorious meeting of madness, Bruce Dickinson joining Iron Maiden for the third album, or Mark Kozolek bringing his self-absorbed crybaby nonsense to the AC/DC catalogue for an album of open-tuned folk-styled covers.
It should be either perfect or perfectly unlistenable. Instead, it just exists.
And, gawd knows, too much just exists at this point.
Together / Feelings
Can the hand touch you
From across the room?
Can I make feelings
Happen to you
And never have seen you?
Is it not more painful
To be wrong than
To do wrong?
Eat your heart out, Mr. Bukowski. A thousand racetracks ain't going to teach you that shit.
It's All Over
Put that suitcase
Down. You ain't
You can't leave me
Woman. You love me.
And then the song itself. A perfect blend of mid-70s quiet storm and remorse and cocky posturing and pleading "don't tell me that it's over" and more moments of beauty:
"Put that suitcase down, girl
You ain't leavin' town
You know I need you around."
And, the repeated question, "Say what?"
Is there a more universal question than that? Isn't that what Ahab got to by the third day of the chase? Isn't that what he wondered in "The Symphony," maybe the best single chapter in American literature? Isn't that, in essence, what Job asked Gawd?
First: "Mr. Cool" by Rasputin's Stash.
One of the great intros of old soul (1971), up there, probably, with the Ohio Players' intro to "It's All Over" (which features the sheer poetry of this declaration: "Aw, girl, put that suitcase down -- you ain't kiddin' nobody. You can't leave me, woman. You love me... say what?"), as two guys, panned to either speaker, wonder just who "this dude looking like he in something" might be who is walking down the street.
"They call him cool," one says, not needing to specify just who "they" are.
"Who?" The other wonders.
And there you have it. It's not enough, clearly, to be known as Cool. You have to earn enough respect, enough credibility, to attach the Mister to your name. (Thank the gawds teachers get it from day one, right?)
Mr. Cool himself, then, arrives, centered, along with the horns and the fuzz guitar, to let us know that, yes, "They call me cool." You might wonder why. "Because I got more glide in my stride and more dip in my hip."
That's it? Nope.
"And I wear a mean pair of shades. And you can't see my eyes unless my head is bent."
And there you have it. That's how freaking badass Mr. Cool is. You can't see his eyes unless his head is bent.
Plus, as we find out in subsequent verses, he doesn't want to come across as an agitator, but he does want it known that when he gets moving, he's a smooth operator.
Yes, they call him Cool. Mr. Cool.
And then he drops the bomb: he used to fool around with the President's Old Lady.
And he used to call her Sister Sadie.
(And you know he means it because there's a key change).
Oh, and in case you didn't know, he was the first man on the moon, too. You just didn't see him because he left at night.
Damn guy is rewriting my whole sense of American history at this point.
But -- and this is critical -- just when you start to suspect this might be just an eleborate play to, say, pick up a lady or two, we get the outtro: one such lady replaces the original doubter in the left speaker and offers herself to him.
His response? "Go away, baby, I ain't got time right now."
Of course, he might see her later that night, but that's left in the air.
And, in a truly visionary move, he lets us hear the voice of a future acolyte in the right speaker just before the fade, as a voice later copped by Louis Skolnick, wonders, "Can I be as cool as you, Mr. Cool?"
That's an obvious question, really, and I admit that, but, goddamn, so much of life is built on obvious experiences, obvious observations, and obvious questions, that I felt compelled to call it up as part of this spate of back-on-the-horse posts.
I mean, I understand why we care about the Spice Girls. Really. There's entertainment somewhere in there, even if you can't bring yourself to look for irony. Just like there's entertainment somewhere, somewhere, somewhere -- I trust -- in the Street Fighter movie, even if you ignore the Raul Julia irony, but I don't get the Ryan Adams thing.
Heartbreaker had its moments. I can't deny that. "To Be Young" is a great song, no matter the ensuing decade. But, after that?
Proof, I suppose, that everyone has one great something inside him/her. It might be one novel (Confederacy, right?), one album, one song, one fantastic night in a foreign city, one perfect comeback to a dick at the bar. And some have got dozens.
But not this kid. Not this kid.
But, here I am writing about him. Draw your own damn conclusions.
Unibroue is my new favorite Canadian brewery. And that, if nothing else, is a good thing.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Thus, the Honky Oberon is a bit thin.
And that wouldn't necessarily be a problem -- it is, after all, a summer beer -- except that it means that its bitterness is more pronounced, more noticeable. And the Oberon shouldn't be that bitter.
But, hell, maybe the Honky Oberon is. It would make sense, anyway.
Regardless, whenever I get around to bottling this, I'll have a huge batch of Kalamazoo yeast to split between an attempt at the Two Hearted Mojo and maybe some kind of lil' HopSlam thing.
And then I'll hide bottles of Lil' Wayne's HopSlam around Lansing in case anyone finds him or herself questing through the greater metro Lansing area for a bottle or two.
Monday, June 18, 2007
My attempt at making Oberon, complete with Bell's yeast, looks like it's about done fermenting. Maybe bottle it toward the end of the week and get ready to try for the Two Hearted Mojo.
And another amber ale ferments, too.
Half days of school are good for brewing, it turns out.
Monday, June 11, 2007
And, here's the thing: there was a moment, thanks to the steady irrationalizing process that parenting puts you through, when I actually thought, "Shit. Did I leave a box of caterpillars on the backseat? Is Tuffy going to be all traumatized a year from now because I let bugs crawl all over him while on the Capital Beltway?"
Fortunately, reason returned and a quick glance showed that this was some kind of new pretend thing he had going, some kind of new story he wanted to tell us.
A story that we promptly messed up by commenting on how amazing it would be when all of those caterpillars turned into butterflies. "No," he said. "I see a lot of caterpillars on my legs. Not butterflies."
Stay in the present, in other words. Love the present caterpillars instead of worrying about the future butterflies.
On the more positive side of things, I just got an email back from the folks at Bell's in Kalamazoo. I had emailed to ask if they used the same yeast for Oberon as they do, say, for the HopSlam or the Two Hearted Ale. And they do. We'll see whether using yeast straight from Kalamazoo, as recovered from a bottle of Oberon, makes any difference in trying to catch a bit of the LB mojo.
I thought I was catching up on sleep this weekend after a long-ass week of exams and papers and retirement functions for, like, every damn person in the school. But, it turns out that getting two nights of a relatively normal amount of sleep (about seven hours these days, with me unable, in good conscience, to go to bed before eleven and Harper insisting that six is the perfect time to start the day) don't make up for a week of three to four hour nights.
Say la vee, apparently. And kay sirah sirah, too.
But, I gave my Baccalaureate speech last night, and all my grading is done, and report cards don't go out until later this week, so, aside from writing fifteen or twenty hours of content for a new online film study course, this should be a relaxed week. Praise the Great Honky in the Sky.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
But those midnight grading binges are also a great time to continue to sample both HonkyBrew and non-HonkyBrew.
So, here's what I got, with the Non-HonkyBrew up first:
Stone IPA: Good. Bitter. I probably would've liked it with more citrus-y goodness, but I have no complaints, really. I'd certainly take the 2-Hearted Ale over this, but, then, I'd take the 2-Hearted Ale over just about any other IPA.
Green Flash IPA: Except maybe this one. I like. It's full-bodied, bitter up front, and then piney in the middle, and all citrus at the end.
Bell's Oberon: The new crop showed up down here in Virginia a month a month ago. This is a better beer at 6:00 in the evening than it is at 11:30. But that probably should go without saying. One fun thing: thanks to that little yeasty condo development at the bottom of the bottle, I'm now growing my own Bell's yeast. We'll see what happens with that.
North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout: That's a long name. And a great beer. And it's a slow beer, too -- an excellent, excellent way to work through an hour of grading late at night.
And the HonkyBrew:
Belgian Funkness: Getting better. Still has sort of a harsh thing upfront, but it seems to be working it's way through that. When it's cold, it's mediocre. As it warms up, it gets tastier.
New Stout: Came out more like a porter, but that's okay. It's got like a chocolate, coffee, cola thing happening. And, hidden somewhere in there, way in the background, is something a lot like Bell's Double Cream Stout. And I think I can bring that way up to the front in a future batch.
Saison #1: Okay. Not quite dry enough. Too heavy.
Hot as Balls Saison (#2): Much better. Dry, a little fruity, and light.
HAB Saison (#3): Still fermenting, but it tasted good going in to the fermenter.
Amber Ale: It's an amber ale.
Grapefruit Pale Ale: This one continues to get better. Some of the overwhelming grapefruit has receeded, and that's good.
Gorthon's Barleywine: A couple of months old now and it's still too young. Sharp. This thing, to paraphrase one of Professor Nobis' students, is to a plaid suitcase what the racetrack was to Bukowski. Whatever that means.
Not Quite Two Hearted Ale: See, there's a reason why I buy Bell's stuff. They just do it better. Much better.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
And they've been great. I don't know if it's the size or whatever magic you get when you make something from scratch instead of with a bunch of pre-packaged stuff or if I've just gotten lucky with the recipes I've made up, but they've been, almost without exception, really, really tastey.
The best? I don't know. Right now, given how hot and humid it is in Virginia, I might vote for the Saison, which is light and sort of fruity and spicey. Or maybe the Tiny Hop Slam, which is my attempt to make a smaller, less alcohol-y version of the Bell's supermojo.
Ian McEwan's Amsterdam: The first 2/3rds or so of this is quite good. After that, I stopped caring. It got too neat. Up to that point, the echoes, the use of repeating motifs, the way McEwan exploited the fact that one protagonist is a composer to justify and enrich the variations and connections between the various facets of the book, worked. Then, the whole thing just started sounding one note. Again. And again. And even though the conclusion is the fatal flaw of Clive's fictional symphony, I can't bring myself to believe that McEwan intentionally sabotaged the final movement of the novel to echo that failure.
Atonement was better. Saturday was better. The Child in Time was better. But, still, good for a while.
Much trying to crank out this year's literary magazine.
Much trying to write a Baccalaureate speech by June 10.
Much trying to write two units for an online film study course.
But, then, the iPod just shuffled up Eric B. and Rakim's "I Ain't No Joke," so all is, ultimately, pretty damn good. "You like to exaggerate, dream and imaginate," Rakim says. Imaginate. Poetry is, obviously, everywhere.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
But Detroit won.
Before game two, tonight, I must ask: did anyone else catch LeBroN JamEs laying out Mr. Webber with that elbow on a drive? No replay on TNT that I caught, but, dang, something done flattened Chris.
Friday, May 18, 2007
And I'm feeling good about the new basketball rule that I learned during this game: apparently, if you're shooting a three and your shot gets blocked, you can grab the defender's shoulder on your way to the floor and get yourself a foul call. Nice! That's some mad science they never taught me at the YMCA.
Other thing I've learned: Deng is the Bull folks should talk about for the next year.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I figured, Professor Nobis done got his taken out, and right about this time of year, too, I think, and, thus, after enjoying an amazing spring Sunday, a great family get-together, and an evening of deliberately not doing schoolwork, I decided to spend the next 12 hours trying to sleep through increasingly ridiculous pain until I pulled the trigger and went to the hospital.
One day later, one appendix shorter, and I'm back home.
The positives? Got to re-read The Wanderer, almost (finally) finish Pynchon's Against the Day, and listen to a lot of music. And nothing but more reading in store for the next week.
But, I guess I didn't miss that much. At least, not much beyond Kirk Hinrich punching Flip Murray in the groin. See the video here: punch-that-clown.
Lots of crotch shots in the NBA this playoff season.
And, let's make that the last time that phrase pops up here.
Friday, May 11, 2007
I thought this was the best piece of analysis of game three of the Detroit-Chicago series. It comes from the comments section of the Detroit Bad Boys blog.
“You know how — as a kid of the ’80s — sometimes you’d think you pressed pause on the awkward Nintendo controller during Mike Tyson’s Punchout…
and say you were fighting Glass Joe…
But you didn’t really pause the game, so while you were getting some Kool Aid, talking on the phone, or destroying a Micro Magic cheeseburger, Glass Joe was having his way with helpless Little Mac?
You know when you came back to the game, Little Mac had already been knocked down once and his energy level was way down?
You know what I’m talking about?
Well, when you came back to the game, you didn’t press reset, did you? I mean, you were fighting Glass Joe for godsakes. You just grabbed the controller and beat the hell out of him for the remainder of the fight.
And you still won by TKO (or, “eee aaaa uuuu,” according to the ref) just as you would have had you succeeded in pressing pause or been playing since the beginning of the fight.
Well the Bulls are obviously Glass Joe (or glass psyche, in this case), and the Pistons just beat the hell out of them. My guess is that we’ll still see the TKO.”
See, I’m in favor of pretty much anything that uses the NES as a metaphor. Comparing, say, a beer to one of the weapons in Super Contra, or a particular day to a Super Tecmo Bowl player, or even a particular day to that one game, every season, in Tecmo that the NES decides – just straight-up decides – that you are going to lose, no matter who you’re playing or how healthy your players are.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
1. “I Believe in You” by Neil Young. Professor Neil. From After the Gold Rush, of course. Like the best of Neil, it’s beguilingly simple and affecting and perfect. And it’s got a great mix of acoustic guitar (right), piano (center), and electric guitar (left).
2. “Maggie’s Farm,” by Bob Dylan. Bob and Neil back to back. Every once in a while, that little hard drive gets it right. “They say, ‘Sing while you slave,’ but I just get bored” still gets me, no matter how many times I hear it. And how many times have I heard the song? A thousand? Would that be an overly grandiose number?
3. “Animal Sings Gershwin (A Foggy Day)” from one of the Muppet Show albums. Eleven seconds. Animal hits the drums, cries out, “A foggy day in London Town” and the song ends. Who’s going to argue with that? Nada y pues nada.
4. “Donuts (Intro)” by J. Dilla. Okay, I’m not really hip enough to justify this, and the album works better in long chunks than when just one of the little 70-second segments pops up, but, even so, when they do, I feel like Bobby arguing the merits of soul food: “Because it makes me happy.” Plus, it makes for much better hipster listening than, say, the Arcade Fire. I don’t have a particular problem with histrionics, as such, but which old god done decided that what indie rock had really been missing all these years was a disco beat?
5. “Hat and Beard,” by Eric Dolphy. From Out to Lunch, a great, leaping, jarring album with incredibly angular playing and crazy rhythms. And, it’s got vibes. And Tony Williams plays drums on it, kicking all kinds of 1964 rump: over the beat, under the beat, around the beat, up and down the pulse. Rumplestomping of the third degree.
And a bonus, since Animal's number was only eleven seconds long: "Everybody Loves to Cha-Cha-Cha," by Sam Cooke. I have nothing bad to say about Sam Cooke, but, if I tried, I could come up with a few relatively negative things to say about this song. But, then, in the end, it's Sam Cooke, and there's some cowbell, and, if nothing else, it's an excuse to think, for a moment, about Real Genius: "Okay, just take a step back. And a step forward. And now we cha-cha."
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
At the beginning of the story, the man looks at the girl and notes, in a great sentence, how “her skin was a smooth golden brown, her blonde hair was cut short and grew beautifully away from her forehead.” Toward the end, as he sends her away, he looks at her again, noting again her hair and how it grows, but this time without the “beautifully.” And his voice sounds strange to him. And he feels like a different man. And he finds that he has “settled into something.” And he moves to the bar, remarking that, “Vice… is a very strange thing” and joining the couple (are they men?) already sitting there. The “other two” make room for him, “so that he would be quite comfortable.”
In any case, here’s a great moment from near the end of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”
“What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”
You got to admit: that’s fantastic. The whole story is.
Twenty years from now, running for the senate, I’ll destroy my campaign by answering a question about attending church by quoting part of that: “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name…”
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
That said, you know that cliche about how the game wasn't as close as the score might indicate? That applies here -- and the score wasn't even remotely close. The only thing that kept the score as close (if you can call 21 points close) as it came out was the number of free throws Chicago took.
And (damn him and his university-destroying sturm und whine), Webber had a ridiculous game. Ten of eleven shots?
And Prince was everywhere. Everywhere.
And how do you get to pros, get to the playoffs, play a major role in sweeping Miami, and then double-dribble? Mr. Gordon?
Monday, May 7, 2007
1. The beating that Detroit put on Chicago on Saturday night: Billups getting Gordon into foul trouble in the first quarter; no one losing it on questionable calls; focus, focus, and more focus; all of those forced Chicago turnovers, etc.
2. Sly Stone’s album Fresh. It’s like Stone trying to bounce back from the darkness and paranoia of There’s a Riot Goin’ On and only making it halfway. The songs are elastic, his vocals are amazing, and it has, in “If You Want Me to Stay,” one of the best singles Stone released. And that’s saying a lot.
3. Joe Henry’s cover of Sly Stone’s “Let Me Have It All” on Henry’s album Trampoline.
4. Harper, two weeks beyond his second birthday, reminding me, throughout the first quarter of Saturday’s game, that “Chauncey Billups is bald.” And then insisting, as we watched a couple of minutes of the Suns-Spurs game, that every bald player he saw was, in fact, Chauncey Billups.
5. A pale ale that I made a month or so ago. It’s hopped only with Amarillo hops and it’s dry and incredibly citrusy. Like grapefruit beer, kind of. Or like Squirt with less sweet and more bitter. I dunno. But it’s good.
6. Just over a month of school remaining.
7. I've been married for seven years today.
Friday, May 4, 2007
1. "Get to Know You" by the Vandalias. This is from one of the Yellow Pills compilations of power-pop. It's classic late-period crunchy power-pop, and catchy, too, of course. Plus, it has this magic chord in the chorus, the same magic chord that The Beatles use all the time. I don't know what it is, exactly, but you know it when you hear it. It's that transitional chord, that minor-seventh, or something.
2. "Message to the Boys" by the Replacements. One of the two new songs on the Don't You Know collection. I won't argue that this is, like, the equal of "Left of the Dial" or "Alex Chilton" or "Favorite Thing" "Color Me Impressed," but it is good. And it's got a great opening line: "Met her in bar / Like I always say." And maybe that's almost too easy a line for a Westerberg song, but it acknowledges it's own self-mythology, right?
3. "Shake Some Action" by the Flamin' Groovies. This one speaks for itself.
I suppose a real blog-person would go ahead and link to some on-line shop offering those albums for sale. Right.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Here's a poem I wrote that is, I guess, as the title suggests, about that eye.
Jim Harrison’s Eye
A writer I’ve never met
Living in Michigan
Lost an eye as a child
And now sees grace, bones, and spirit in
Immigrants and mountains.
He can sing of oxygen felt
Humming through his heart
On Lake Superior, northern
Lights sent spinning green
Across the sky.
I kept both eyes, grew up easy,
Hunted imaginary deer at dawn,
Pushed slow through November
And crouched behind great rolls of hay,
The straw sharp against my face.
I kept both eyes, tried to forge
Wisdom out of complexity,
Waited for grand visions,
Awe and wonder,
Invented scars to impress the page.
I misled myself and missed
The falling stars and the
Muffled white of winter,
The freedom that rubs
Raw stones, forests, and soil.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
“The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one’s desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair. Perhaps,
After death, the non-physical people, in paradise,
Itself non-physical, may, by chance, observe
The green corn gleaming and experience
The minor of what we feel.”
- Wallace Stevens: from “Esthetique du Mal”
“The conveyor belts bearing hubcaps and loneliness
Were everywhere, and the invisible ruts in the air
Could transport you for a lifetime
If you weren’t careful.”
Nothing particularly surprising there, right? And, actually, on this reading, it struck me as rather pedestrian. Almost predictable. Almost, “Yes, right, here’s a poem about the twentieth century and blah blah blah and we were lonely and we lived monotonous lives and we were sedated by luxuries and we bought and we bought and etc.” The whole first stanza is like that for me: “There was no way / to escape the Day-Glo and boldface” and so forth, the only exception being the line, “Monotony had a hair trigger,” which I love.
But the second stanza: that’s where the poem takes off. That’s where we find this:
“Yet some of us were happy for hours, days, weeks.
Even in the subways there were people to love,
There were children who ripped apart their mothers
To get into the world, and them others called them
Daughter or Son, and the fathers got drunk
And felt they had a say in the universe.
This would happen every day!”
Right. So much there. So much that could be, in the hands of a smaller poet, shrugged off as too easy, as almost contrived (in concept), as the same old ground that’s been worked over countless times by others, whether put down in poems or not. It could go the way of the first stanza. But it doesn’t. Here, it lives. It matters. Notice how perfectly the sentiment at the start of the stanza meshes with the exclamatory statement that follows, reminding us, through the speaker, that, yep, given all we’ve seen in the first stanza, all we’ve seen in our own lives, all the time that we’ve spent railing at imperfection, at inadequacy, at the loss of beauty, at the transformation of our lives into routine and advertisements and slow death by acquisition, we still, occasionally, even every day, sit up with sudden joy, sudden wonder, sudden happiness, sudden laughter.
And I love how Dunn allows the fathers to feel they have a say in the universe only when they’re drunk. As if they can dare hope that they matter, that they are not powerless, only when intoxicated, only when they, paradoxically, can claim less responsibility for their thoughts and actions. As if facing that hope, that belief, that bit of fundamental trust that an individual has a say in his own life, damnit, might be too frightening, particularly if facing it might mean acknowledging it, and as if acknowledging it might mean acting on it. And, I guess if you’re drunk, you get to duck the responsibility that such a hope, such a feeling, might entail.
The poem continues:
“This would happen every day! And for every death
There was a building or a poem. For every
Lame god a rhythm and a hunch, something local
We could possibly trust.”
It celebrates, like so much of Wallace Stevens’ work, our ability to find mystery and goodness in the concrete, in our own lives, in “something local.”
Even in the subways, no less.
There are more lines, six or seven of them, but they’re blah blah Hitler and blah blah Stalin until the very end, when Dunn kills me with this:
“In difficult times, we came to understand,
It’s the personal and only the personal that matters.”
Friday, April 27, 2007
1. Shaq actually got called for his left arm. Twice.
2. A bottle of homebrewed Belgian Funkness.
3. Shaq actually got called for his left arm. Twice.
Game three is game three. It is what it is.
But, dang, Deng...
Because, you know, the ladies love those who work for insurance agencies – to say nothing of those so dedicated to their employment within said agencies that they turn down faculty positions at Harvard in favor of, say, continuing to serve in prominent executive positions.
That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.
That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.
That savage of fire,
Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.
-- Wallace Stevens
It’s raining in Virginia today, and Harper has a snot-fountain cold, and David Lessar, through an obscure government contract, probably owns my left knee and will come collecting on some day when I really, really need it, but it’s spring, Harper’s favorite musician at the moment is Johnny Cash, and Lessar is mostly likely so comfortable in Dubai that he’ll never bother to make a housecall on the East Coast.
Plus, monkey research continues.
And as monkey research goes, thus follow sock monkey findings.
Five points in two seconds at the end of the first half, three of them while Chauncey was off-balance and falling out of bounds and all five of them meaning that Orlando went into halftime down by six instead of having almost pulled even. And that's a good thing.
And Rasheed managed to avoid getting ejected. And that's a good thing.
And Rasheed blocked the bajeezus out of a Turk shot in the third quarter. And gave him the verbal equivalent of the Mutumbo finger-wave. And that's a good thing.
And I know we're only in the first round, but so far not a single game has been reffed quite like game five of last year's finals. And that's a good thing.
Because Professor Nobis has one.
Because the world does not need another one. But I turn off the water when I brush my teeth and I don't live in Las Vegas and I drive a small car and I reuse bottles and my 98 was 87 on the record and "scooters" is apparently as popular a post label as "vacation." So, a little more won't hurt.