Friday, June 29, 2007

Book Reviews II: Electric Boogaloo

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.


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.

Book Reviews

Because why not hit it on more time.

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.

iPod Wisdom (Part Four)

The cover of "Tom Sawyer" by the Bad Plus is not nearly as good as it should be.

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.

iPod Wisdom (Part Three)

Oh, lord, more poetry, via the Ohio Players:

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.

iPod Wisdom (Part Two)

In case you missed the sheer poetry of the Ohio Players when they first layed this shit down in 1975:

It's All Over

Aw girl
Put that suitcase
Down. You ain't
Kiddin' nobody.
You can't leave me
Woman. You love me.
Say what?

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?

Who Counts the Minutes? (Part Two)

And something has to be done about Chet Baker, too.

Can anyone, bar Markus, tell me why anyone cares about Chet Baker?

iPod Wisdom: Part One

Things I heard and learned while Harper took a nap next to me today and I worked through (and wrote ridiculous off-topic notes in) the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Anna Karenina:

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.

"Mr. Cool."

"Oh. Dig."

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?"

Who Keeps Track of the Minutes?

Why is the New York Times writing about Ryan Adams? Why is anyone writing about Ryan Adams? Why does anyone care?

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

Honky Oberon

Checked the Honky Oberon last night and discovered that while it's essentially done fermenting and just about ready to bottle, it's also probably over-fermented. I left this one mashing while I attended graduation last week and I guess the extra time led to more easily fermented sugars.

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


Ass-Saison still smells a little bit like, well, ass. Saissasson? Dunno. But the stank is slowly dissipating, so maybe I'll still bottle it. I kind of hope so, because, aside from the whiteboy funk, it's got this sweet fruity peachy thing happening that the previous Saison didn't. Probably from fermenting at mad Virginia temperatures.

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

No Shaking Rumps In This One

Saturday night, Lisa, Harper, and I drove up to Bethesda to have dinner with a large contingent of extended family members -- Israelis, attorneys, Libertarians, etc -- and on the way, Harper said, from the backseat, "Whoah. I see a lot of caterpillars on my legs. A hundred caterpillars on my legs."

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.

HAB Saison #3 -- Fermenting

Exam week has meant no new brewing, but there's a batch of Saison still fermenting that tasted fine going in with the yeast but has spent the last week smelling vaguely like ass as it bubbled away.


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.

Winding Down

Tired. Tired. Tired.

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

Monkey Fun

A brief from The Onion:

Fermentables During Exam Week

Okay, it's exam week. It's final paper week. It's portfolio week. It's a week of late nights, a lot of music, a lot of stiff necks, a lot of "Dear Lord, can we just hold the graduation ceremony right now and be done with it?"

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.