Friday, March 30, 2007
[via Bars and Guitars, an excellent blog for music, and occasionally other things]
Why is something funny is generally a stupid question to ask and a difficult one to answer. Slate.com poses this question about Will Ferrell, while also panning his new movie. The clips presented aren't that great, but Will Ferrell is simply such a pleasure to watch, that I can't help but post this.
Monday, March 26, 2007
SC had the marvelous idea of creating a mix-tape sharing group among some music-loving friends, with refined taste. Since I've been a bit itinerant this last year, I haven't received too many mix-tapes. Maybe we stopped. I don't know. But since I'm reveling in my unemployment, I made my mix, for April. Notes on the tracklist follow. Enjoy.
If you would like a copy of this on CD, I'd be happy to burn and send you one. Email me.
Since I’m not trying to romance you, this tape ain’t romantic. So don’t spend too many evenings with headphones on, lying on your bed, ankles crossed, poring over the liner notes or listening intently to the lyrics. There are no hidden messages of love and devotion. Just so that’s clear. What it’s got are a bunch of songs I like, by a bunch of bands I like, some older, some newer, hopefully some songs you haven’t heard before, and some bands that, just maybe, you’ve forgotten how good they were.
The mixtape is basically split into two stanzas. The first, running from “Hip Straights” to “Terrified,” should be played while you are cleaning your apartment, or driving; the second, starting with “Looking Down At The Great Wall of China” and ending with “If We Can Land A Man On The Moon…” is for when you need to take a break. The mixtape should be played loud, although it is, clearly, since it’s coming from me, pretty mellow fare throughout. I hope you enjoy it. Let’s get started.
I would not fuck around with Ted Leo. Chisel is Ted Leo’s band, from the early 90s D.C. scene. “Hip Straights,” with its angular guitar lines and signature yelps, is one of the standouts from 8 AM All Day. “Looking Down at the Great Wall Of China,” also from 8 AM All Day, opens up the second half of the mixtape.
The brown-eyed renaissance in Sweden is utterly charming. They apparently find love boring, funny, and joyous, all at once. Why more bands don’t use a great, simple beat as the foundation for their “pop” songs is beyond me. Peter, Bjorn & John sure can make you want to punch them in the face from time to time (“I laugh more often now / I cry more often now”), but “Young Folks” caught my attention the first time I heard it, and despite the whistling, I still enjoy it. The rest of Writer’s Block is pretty good, too. Jens Lekman is one of the funnier and more sloppily sentimental songwriters working these days. “You Are the Light’ is a buoyant song, and the video is equally charming.
Tucked between these two tracks is Portland, Oregon’s Viva Voce. The husband-wife band has released some up and down albums, but I enjoy the “sweet groove of “Alive With Pleasure” and “High Highs,” included later on the mixtape. Both songs are off of The Heat Can Melt Your Brain.
Honeycut, on DJ Shadow’s Quannum Projects, is a San Francisco-based, what, white boy soul group? I don’t really know. “Shadows” is catchy, though.
Dr. Dog has the worst band name of any band I’ve seen in the last two years. They also write lyrics that don’t mean anything at all. Not in the Stephen Malkmus, cryptically-don’t-mean- anything-but-fuck-you-whatever sort of way, but in the perfectly plain and simple these lyrics are stupid (“Ain’t it strange how everybody says I love you / Ain’t it a shame how a word can tell you more than words can say”) sort of way. Normally, two massive strikes against. But the band is endearing, like Animal from the Muppets, and “Ain’t It Strange” is a pretty little song.
I’m of two minds about Of Montreal, but “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” gives me triple happiness, with its fuzzed out introduction, it’s joyous pop bursts, and the lyrics “You’re just some faggy girl / And I need a lover with soul power/ And you ain’t got no soul power.” Winner!
Au Revoir Simone and Fur Cups For Teeth provide a triple-punch of sassy hot Brooklyn nerd-girl synth and iMac action. Five years ago, you could have found them at Cokie’s. Now they are all probably married. Full disclosure, FCFT are good, old friends of mine, but they get props, as it were, for “Darling, Darling / Your love is like a mystery train,” which is surprisingly clear, given that there is no such thing as a mystery train, and choosing against the obvious rhyme with “Wherever it goes, it goes / It’s never coming back-ack-ack.” “The Disco Song” and “The Winter Song” are off the ponderously titled Verses of Comfort, Assurance, and Salvation while FCFT keep it real with Allergic 2 Fur, where you can find “Mystery Train.”
Beulah is a California band, and man, do I miss them. Beaming melancholy through the sunshine, they were a band after my own heart, and Miles Kurosky’s lyrics were more charming than most (“I heard he wrote you a song/ Well, so what?/ Some guy wrote sixty nine/ And one just isn’t enough”). I’m waving the flag, I guess, by including three Beulah tracks, just in case you forgot about the band. “Popular Mechanics for Lovers” and “A Good Man Is Easy to Kill” off of The Coast Is Never Clear and “If We Can Land a Man on the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart” from When Your Heartstrings Break. If he’s not doing anything else these days, Miles Kurosky should teach a course for the kids, on the difference between being clever and trying too hard.
The Walkmen and Lambchop are two fairly different bands that I like a lot, and everyone else is pretty ho-hum about. I guess it’s the New England talking, at the end of the day, that files the cashmere-sweater, prep-school assholism under charming. “Louisiana,” with horns, wanders just slightly off the cold-winter night tracks of previous Walkmen records. I like it. Lambchop are another story, the favorite of tortoise-shell frame wearing, library-card toting girls in stockings, their design school boyfriends, and me. “I Have Been Lonely For So Long” is a cover of a Frederick Knight song, showing off Kurt Wagner’s falsetto and good taste.
Norfolk & Western are massively under-appreciated. Fronted by one Adam Selzer, and comprised of members of the bands that back such folks as M. Ward and the Decembrists, and play beautiful and hushed little songs about love and wandering. “Terrified” from Dusk in Cold Parlours is one of my favorites.
Dump is the solo side-project of James McNew, from Yo La Tengo. The cover art A Grown-Ass Man, is a cute and funny drawing by Archer Prewitt, about a rabbit wearing a business suit, going to work. “Cowboy Song” is a Thin Lizzy cover, I believe.
Malkmus gets in with “Baby C’Mon.”
William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful for What You Got” was supposedly a gospel track released in the service of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s what I heard on B101 the other day. Yo La Tengo cover it on the Little Honda EP.
Track listing, for April 2007 mixtape :
2 Young Folks Peter, Bjorn & John
3 Alive With Pleasure Viva Voce
4 You Are The Light Jens Lekman
5 Shadows Honeycut
6 Ain't It Strange Dr. Dog
7 Bunny Ain't No Kind Of Rider Of Montreal
8 The Disco Song Au Revoir Simone
9 Mystery Train Fur Cups For Teeth
10 The Winter Song Au Revoir Simone
11 Popular Mechanics For Lovers Beulah
12 Louisiana The Walkmen
13 I've Been Lonely For So Long Lambchop
14 Terrified Norfolk & Western
15 Looking Down At The Great Wall of China Chisel
16 A Good Man Is Easy To Kill Beulah
17 Cowboy Song Dump
18 High Highs Viva Voce
19 Baby C'Mon Stephen Malkmus
20 Be Thankful For What You've Got
21 If We Can Land A Man On The Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart Beulah
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Beau Brummell. Apparently, he's responsible for the suit and tie. Quoting from the Wikipedia entry:
- He claimed to take five hours to dress, and recommended that boots be polished with champagne.
- He embarked upon a military career, but abandoned it when he learned that his regiment had been ordered to Manchester.
- A falling-out with the Prince of Wales was Brummell's downfall; his famous remark, "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?" (referring to Prince George, who had snubbed him shortly beforehand) probably didn't help
Friday, March 23, 2007
BLVR: Where, as a little kid, did you get a gorilla suit?
DM: No, no, no. I did that in law school.
BLVR: You need to explain that.
DM: Oh, I had it in college, too. I had the gorilla suit in college because when I was a little kid, I always thought it would be funny to ski in a gorilla suit. Because when you’re wearing an animal costume and something bad happens, your facial expression doesn’t change. The animal is deadpan the whole time. If you’re skiing in a gorilla suit and you fall, you just see a gorilla who has no emotion. It’s just a stoic gorilla, wildly falling down a hill, out of control. I was like, “That’s fucking hilarious.” I love Buster Keaton and I love physical comedy when it’s done in an emotionally understated way. I just like to play it, and I needed the attention. So I got the gorilla suit in college and I’d wear it when I went skiing.
BLVR: So this isn’t something you rented? You owned this.
DM: Yeah, I got it for Christmas. That was my ski suit. The head, the hands, everything. A full gorilla ski suit. You couldn’t see my face and I could barely see. There’s no peripheral vision because I’m looking through gorilla eyeholes. The best thing about it was when I was in the lift line with my friend and this guy said, “Hey, Willy! You want a banana? Ha, ha!” I got really irritated and I told my friend, “These people are assholes. They won’t leave me alone.” And he said, “You’re the asshole in the gorilla suit, man! You chose to wear a gorilla suit on a snowy mountain.”
BLVR: So you wore it to law school?
DM: Yeah, I was bored. It was probably nearing the end for me in law school. One day I was skipping class and I had my gorilla suit on and I was like, “Fuck it. I’ll go down to school.” So I started walking around campus and I went into classrooms. I didn’t jump in and go, “Hey!” I would just open the door in a subtle way. I’d walk in and be like, “Oh, this is the wrong room,” and then just leave. Once I looked at the professor and she stopped, like “What the fuck?” And I left. The door closed behind me and I could hear the laughter as I walked away. It was so fun.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Angels, Denis Johnson
Time's Arrow, Martin Amis
A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul
Appointment in Samarra, John O'Hara
I'm sorry to admit that I decided to re-read Kerouac's On the Road based on a rock lyric. The first time I read On the Road was sometime in high school, and all I can remember about that read was that I didn't like it. I'm not categorically against Kerouac - I rather like Dharma Bums - but I do recall being put off by both the writing itself, as well as the beat ethic itself, most puzzlingly portrayed by Sal Paradise's adoration of Dean Moriarty. Puzzling because Dean Moriarty is a complete asshole.
On second read, my opinion of On the Road hasn't changed much. I still don't care for the writing itself - it's much too ragged and unfocused for my tastes. Of the four journeys that form the chapters of the book, only Sal and Dean's trip into Mexico has enough momentum and spectacle to really sustain interest. Aside from Sal and Dean, few of the many people we meet on the road are made real - some stand out as interesting caricatures (Old Bull Lee), but the more engaging are left on the sidelines (Remy, Galatea, Sal's aunt, the various jazzmen that Sal describes). The only departures for me, from my initial reading, was noticing how much of the novel took place in Denver and the midwest, as opposed to San Francisco and New York, and how often Sal Paradise felt it necessary to comment on how sad everything was.
On the Road is more interesting in its historical context, partly as the herald for the beat ethic itself, with Kerouac banging out the novel in one long, three-week go on a single roll of typewriter paper, and partly for the sketches it offers of prominent figures from 1950's counter-culture. Central among these characters is, of course, Dean, Kerouac's Neal Cassady character. Dean's start in life is tough, clearly, and he is a transcendent son-of-a-bitch - hustling, on the make, lanky and larger than life. Criss-crossing the country, raising hell, and charming women, Dean provides only the slightest picture into the phenomenon of Neal Cassady, I'm sure. A key figure in both the Beat movement, and later, as part of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, the psychedelic era, Cassady is fascinating.
But it doesn't take away from the fact that Dean is an asshole, and aside from re-paying Sal's aunt fifteen dollars ten years later, and maybe returning to Inez, it's hard to say that Dean did a right turn the whole novel through. PB rightly pointed out that, even if On the Road is about Dean, it had to be narrated by Sal, and Dean had to be adored by Sal, because otherwise Dean is an utterly unsympathetic character. The counterpoint is necessary. This insight was reinforced when RM and I were watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off on TV on a Friday afternoon. Ferris, though charming, is also an asshole.
Denis Johnson is probably my favorite American writer. If you haven't read him, start with any of California Gothic, Jesus' Son, or The Name of the World. Having read most of Johnson's work, I tracked back to Angels, his debut novel. Admittedly, I am a sucker for first efforts, particularly novels and films. Angels, while a fine, light read is skippable. Like most of Johnson's work, you can almost hear the sound track while reading - and the novel's opening sequences (up through Jamie's troubles in Chicago) can be soundtracked to Sympathy for the Devil. The rest reads like Reservoir Dogs, cool writing about uncomfortable situations, but in the end, leaving a couple of memorable scenes, and none of the deeper resonance of his later work.
I can recommend Time's Arrow by Martin Amis in so far as it is a brisk read, and an inventively written novel. A story told backwards by a narrator physically experiencing another man's life, the conceits of storytelling are engaging. The larger moral problems with which the novel proposes to grapple, were not. But then again, I'm not a doctor. Or a Nazi.
The paperback edition of Naipaul's A Bend in the River has one of the more memorable covers that I've recently come across. The novel itself was good, although I had a problem with it that I am increasingly having with a lot of novels - the beginning was great, the middle good, and the end left a lot to be desired. And I have this problem, disproportionately, with novels about the experience of Indians in the diaspora.
A Bend in the River relates the story of Salim, a young Indian raised in East Africa, and his move to a river outpost in central Africa (presumably the Congo), where he runs a market and establishes his personal independence from his family and their expectations. Echoing Heart of Darkness, as well as more contemporary novels like Things Fall Apart, Salim watches and is eventually swept up in the tide of change that re-shapes post-colonial Africa. The story's opening, relating Salim's personal and cultural dislocation, as a stranger in a strange land - a changing East Africa, and then an utterly foreign central Africa - is clear and compelling. The tension and turmoil are muted, but palpable. As the revolution comes, Salim reflects the changes in the country through his own life. Political changes slowly encroach upon his personal life, eventually distorting and consuming it. He recounts experiences, the loss of ownership of his store, his changed relationship with his servant, a love affair with a white European from the university, that are increasingly charged - politically, culturally, racially. As Salim's world is falling apart, counterpoints with his past life, in East Africa, and a potential, future life, in London provide no compass -- as his village and its nation convulses towards an uncertain future, Salim must make his way forward into his own uncertain life.
Writing about dislocation appears to be easy, and then hard. The initial experience, the dislocation itself, provides all of the guts of compelling writing - contrast and conflict, in the smallest detail or writ large. The settling, the integration, the water finding its level proves more difficult, but generally still compelling -- it is also a fluid act. Finding certainty, a conclusion, a resolution always seems to be the failing point. Either certainty does not exist, such is life, and the novel is uncompelling; or the author articulates some conclusion, either an acceptance of the place in which we find ourselves, or that we'll never find ourselves in the place we want to be. Either way, these are tough outs.
You can always finish a novel with disillusionment, destruction, and then death. John O'Hara does so spectacularly, in the person of Julian English in Appointment in Samarra. Prior to this reading, O'Hara was a blindspot for me, and a sore miss on my part. Appointment in Samarra is excellent. I love the documents of alienation, isolation, self-destruction, alcoholism, madness, death in the American upper middle class, from Fitzgerald, through Yates, to Carver and on, so take this with a grain of salt.
Per John Updike's introduction, "[w]hen he began to write this novel in mid-December of 1933, John O'Hara was a twenty-eight-year-old, recently divorced journalist distinguished chiefly by the lateness of the hours he kept, the amount of liquor he could absorb, and the number of jobs he had been fired from." To some of us, that's romance. Such a life, and another such is the subject of Appointment in Samarra.
Canvassing the lives of a cast of characters in Gibbsville, PA, from gangsters and bootleggers, working class stiffs, society types, and Catholics, the story focuses on the well-placed and stylish couple of Julian English and his wife Caroline. Tracing Julian's impulsive and self-destructive behavior over three winter days, the story briskly lays bear the lives of a prohibition-era WASP town, drawing tautly around the relationship of Caroline and Julian as their marriage falls apart, collapsing in Julian's final, shameful evening of desperate acts, ending in his inevitable suicide. An incredibly direct and engaging novel, Appointment in Samarra provides wonderful pedigree for Updike, Cheever, Yates and the lot of post-war writers, and is on par with Fitzgerald as a great read documenting the rollicking desperation of Depression-era America.
If you feel like picking up a great, literate rock and roll album documenting the rollicking desperation of post-Millennial America, The Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America comes highly recommended.
What follows is a set of notes/travelogue from this trip. For the full text, please click here. I hope you enjoy.
- Ritik Dholakia, March 2007
---- Notes on India travel ----
An Impossible Town
Darjeeling is an impossible town, located at some 7000 feet, in the Himalayan foothills. To get to Darjeeling, my friend Indranil and I took an overnight train to Siliguri, a sprawling mess of a city located in the forested North Bengal Hills. We spent a few days in the forest before starting our ascent into the Himalaya. Unlike Hillary and Norgay, we charted a course up the southern face of the mountains, in an SUV. We left in the mid-afternoon, on a bright sunny day. In the mountains, men drive like goats, careening around hairpin turns, passing lorries on narrow roads, driving through cloud-ensconced hamlets at forty miles an hour, and interrupting the occasional rag-tag cricket match, where one boundary line is a cliff face, and the other, a thousand foot drop. Maybe they've known these roads all their lives, maybe that's an excuse. But still, SUVs tip over.
Three hours up, and the sun has abandoned us, and we're dropped off at the foot of Darjeeling town, on a dark, gray afternoon, in the middle of a hailstorm. And it's cold outside. We have a short walk up a hill to get to our hotel, the Old Bellevue, not to be confused with the New Bellevue, located across the street, under different management.
The Old Bellevue, we'll come to find, is a charming place. Set at the top of central Darjeeling, on the Mall (pronounced "Maal"), we are provided a panoramic view of the hills surrounding the town. Or so we are told. On days one and two in Darjeeling, we see nothing but freezing cold, inching out from in front of our faces, with the wonderful mountain people ghosting in and out of the fog on their daily business. There is nothing to do but drink.
The one thing that is noticeable, as we wander through the fog, is that Darjeeling is a town built on the sheer face of the mountain. It's the sort of town that makes me thankful that I wasn't involved in its construction. Because it would've been a steady chorus of "Well, why don't we just build the town down there?" "Where?" "Down there, in the plains. Where it's flat. And our homes won't look like they constantly want to just tilt over and fall down the mountain. And where it's easier." The mountain people are tougher than me, and I'm sure I would've annoyed them. But now that the town is built, we get along fine. They are sweet and very generous.
To continue reading, please click here.
We'll start with a slur, then, and welcome. This blog is a playground for me, to exercise the writerly affects, and toss about half-baked ideas. For you, amusement and intrigue is the most I can offer. I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.
- Ritik Dholakia