February 2004 Archives
Back in PDX at last--gained three hours today and still feel like I haven't done much (though I did read about six books on the plane, all for an article I have to write this week). Returned to the very sad news that La Palabra, my very favorite Portland hangout and a convenient three-minute walk from our apartment, is closing in a week.
I am spacy; that is all. Tomorrow, though, watch out.
Lisa and I drove to the county fair here today, because I realized I'd never actually been to a county fair before (despite growing up in Agriculture Central) and she had nostalgic memories of them. I'm curious how much of it was unique to this particular county and how much simply goes from fair to fair--the rides (many of which had signs saying how much they'd cost to build), the funnel-cake stands (and other fried foods--the only non-fried, non-meat things for sale outdoors were roasted ears of corn), the Smallest Horse in the World ("Tiny Tina is so small that a cup of water and a handful of straw is a mighty big meal for Tiny Tina! Ten inches high when she was born, Tiny Tina is not even as small as a bale of hay!" (sic)--another sideshow-type attraction also advertised that they had the Smallest Horse in the World--I wonder if there's some kind of tiny-horse rivalry going on there?).
But there were a couple of indoor "pavilions," too--I expected to see 4-H projects, and was not disappointed. One of them had a few local vendors' wares, notably somebody who was selling very good homemade citrus/jalapeno preserves. Which made me wonder: was there a time when county fairs actually concentrated on locally-made goods, and if so how long ago was that time?
We also got to feed the small, friendly goats and sheep (sheep's tongues are silky!), and admire some kind of local tree that has green leaves up top and peculiar gray twinelike clusters lower down. And now Lisa's been turning backwards somersaults in the pool while I stretch out and read. Right: we're on vacation. How did I not notice that for a few days?
Currently in North Fort Myers, FL, at Lisa's mom's place, enjoying the quiet golf-course green of everything, the presence of her friendly cat Sami, and the general calmness of the state--our big thrill for today was going to the Thomas Edison/Henry Ford winter estates and seeing the biggest banyan tree in the United States. This followed a few days of feverish writing activity (turned in the last major dollops at 3:30 AM, fixed some problems this morning). I feel like I need to be attached to my recharger unit for a few hours, undisturbed. What my recharger unit actually is is unclear, but I bet it resembles a big stack of Silver Age comics, a Fleetwood Mac album or two, and maybe some really good pad thai.
On the plane out here, I finished the last of the "theory" volumes of Rising Up and Rising Down (neglected to bring the first "practice" volume, foolishly)--the most fascinating chapters of this one are the shortest ones, actually: a chapter on nonconsensual sadism (he's agin it, as they say), a chapter on consensual sadism & masochism (he's for it, & also likes it), a chapter on violence committed on the grounds of "moral yellowness" (i.e. you look at somebody and you just know they're bad; he points out that this is always used to justify some other kind of reason to want to think somebody is bad, and is prima facie unjustifiable, & calls out Rebecca West for using it in her writing about the Nuremberg trials--though I would have loved to see him talk more about the great early photographic experiments in finding what body types corresponded to what kinds of criminality, which naturally didn't come up with any kind of workable evidence, but about which Coco Fusco had some scathing things to say in my class with her last year), a chapter on inevitability as a justification for violence (that is, inevitability in the "it had to happen sooner or later" sense, which is unjustifiable, as opposed to imminence, which usually is, he says), a description of "Four Safeguards" against unjustifiable violence (which I suspect would have been much more strongly phrased if it'd come earlier in the book--he describes a situation in which the justification for violence is fully within the bounds of his book's permissibility, and still sickens him), and finally a short section called "Remember the Victim!"--which feels sort of vestigial, like something that would have become its own book if he could bear it, but in any case has to at least be honored with a few agonizing pages. Which are followed by a gallery of photos he took of mourners and memorials after the Columbine massacre. This is, apparently, my idea of light plane reading these days.
In the dept. of We Love It When Our Friends Become Successful: Tim and Peter of Cordelia's Dad, one of my absolute favorite live bands, are performing on the Oscars this weekend--Tim organized the group of Sacred Harp singers who'll be backing up Alison Krauss and singing another song.
In the dept. of Don't Believe that Everything You Read Is the Whole Story: Big piece in today's NY Times about how Clear Channel is getting all righteous about dropping Howard Stern's show. It doesn't mention that only six CC stations carried Stern's show, which is syndicated by their competitor Infinity Broadcasting. Business attack spun as a PR move, basically.
Off to Florida tomorrow morning for a couple of days with the in-laws (and mopping up the last of the outstanding writing assignments for this week). I have been Mr. Tension Torque Grinder the last few days, multitasking as much as possible and permitting myself minimal time outside the apartment. (How minimal? The first issue of The Pulse has been out for over a week and I still haven't gotten my copy, that's how minimal.) The couch/computer sandwich knows me too well at this point, and various pleasure-art things I've been working on have been cast aside like the overcooked glutinous buckwheat soba noodles I made for dinner a couple of nights ago. Every so often I lie down on our lovely wooden floor to try to calm myself by applying equal pressure to as much of my back as I can squeeze down on it at once. And then Edie comes over and bats me in the head.
My big clever Portland plan will have to wait until the big bubbles of the froth of necessity subside a little next week, I suspect.
Back from APE, deluged with stuffIgottado, but just to recap ever so briefly:
Most time-consuming-in-a-good-way new discovery: Jason Shiga's Hello World, a Choose Your Own Adventure-influenced graphic novel/exercise in elementary combinatorics, by the guy who did the rather remarkable Fleep.
Heaviest indulgence: the Coldcut Distribution 45-cents-an-ounce ding-and-dent table, where I stocked up on a bunch of copies of things I mostly already own but will probably give people as presents eventually.
Most expensive indulgence: vol. 6 of David B.'s phenomenal "L'Ascension de Haut Mal." My French isn't quite good enough to understand it, BUT I CAN LOOK AT THE PICTURES.
People I was surprised and a little delighted to meet for the first time: Alison Bechdel, Carol Lay, Deni Loubert. Alison B. is working on a full-on graphic novel, which makes me very happy--my favorite stuff by her is the longer narrative pieces at the end of her recent books.
Gracious dinner companions, first-night division: Stacy Wakefield, Amber Gayle and Windy Chien.
Thing I'm sorry isn't a public museum: the gallery of curiosities in the Last Gasp offices.
Moment that made me really wish I could draw: going out to dinner at Bissap Baobab with Leela and Tom and a bunch of their cartooning friends, and watching them pass around a sketchbook (my Moleskine notebook, which was the only one available) and all make wonderful little pictures in it, drawing cleanly and without hesitation--you know, this is what cartoonists do when they get together. Writers don't do stuff like that--!
So much music I need to listen to for work! So much music I want to hear! So little overlap!... hence, no updates on Collating Bones today, and probably for a couple of days--currently outstanding reviews include Amps for Christ, the Four Tops, Baby Dayliner, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Belle & Sebastian, Death Comet Crew, Serge Gainsbourg, Fleetwood Mac, Mission of Burma and the Magnetic Fields, plus a dozen more albums for Chickfactor, and that's not counting the four Camper Van Beethoven reissues I dispatched this morning, and as much as I love most of that stuff (it's not letting the cat out of the bag, I suspect, to mention that the Burma is tremendous), there are other more casual ear-obligations piling up quickly. Like the Act anthology I bought yesterday, on the principle that a three-CD best-of for a band that put out exactly one middling album with a couple of good singles on it was such a stupid idea it had to be a good idea too (note: my logic may be flawed here). And the Bob Wills and Smokey Robinson collections I just borrowed from the library. The past is waiting for me what's my problem...?
In the interest of calling attention to stuff I write that's not about music, even if it's not Web-accessible: I've got a long review of Chris Ware's Quimby the Mouse and Acme Novelty Datebook, and George Herriman's A Mice, a Brick, a Lovely Night, in the new issue of Print magazine.
Got to play bass again this afternoon--it'd been way too long. Lisa and Amy and Jane and I are hoping to do an "indieoke" show--you know, for people who want to get up in front of their pals and sing indie-rock standards with a live band--so this afternoon we groped our way through "Love Vigilantes," "Vertical Slum," "You Made Me Realise," "Fell In Love With a Girl," "Cannonball," "I Am the Fly" and "Letter From an Occupant." Suggestions for further songs are welcome. Suggestions for further songs are, in fact, mandatory if you live in Portland. And then we'll make you sing them with us.
The library is gradually trickling West, though it appears FedEx managed to lose a biggish chunk of it en route, most lamentably a lot of my Krazy Kat books. Aargh. But the comics shelf is filling up with old favorites: "From Hell," Marvel Masterworks vol. 23 (the one with all the Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange stories that everyone who's dealt with the character for the past 40 years is still wrestling with--I have a particularly deep love for catherine yronwode's attempt to make profound sense of something she knew perfectly well had no sense to it--read at least her prolepsis), the first four volumes of Promethea, all of The Invisibles except for the final volume that's gone mysteriously missing in its many lendings-out, same situation with the absence of Finder's "Talisman" collection, a Jack Kirby book I'm saving to read sometime when I need some extra loopiness in my life.
And the beautiful hardcovers are living on the shelf above it: Everett Fox's translation of The Five Books of Moses (the really beautiful Bible inherited from my mother's side of the family isn't going anywhere except in my sight; the cheap but solid QPB editions of the Bible, Koran, Dhammapeda, etc. await the next New York-to-Portland shipment, probably), the Robert Fagles translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey (the Pope translations, lovely 19th-century editions, are likewise still in NYC), Borges' Collected Fictions (the poems and non-fictions won't be joining me for a bit yet), Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters (nestled, appropriately, by a solid blue-covered paperback of the complete Emily Dickinson--a month or so ago, I wanted to introduce Dickinson to a German woman who'd never heard of her, and simply didn't know where to begin), Alasdair Gray's The Book of Prefaces (which I'll read someday, honest).
And then a few shelves down are the old paperback standards that I thought it'd be good to have on hand for one reason or another: Joanna Russ's mercilessly argued How to Suppress Women's Writing; the Keith Bosley translation of the Kalevala; Rebecca West's mighty Black Lamb and Grey Falcon; Ben Marcus's The Age of Wire and String; Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style, which on my more devious days I think of using as a manual toward world domination; Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred, which tastes as if I'm drinking directly from the spring from which water itself emerges.
And then of course there are the shelves that taunt me: the ones with the books I mean to read. Friends, I'm being good. I've been very careful to avoid buying books since I got here (I've only bought a couple of little ones). Today, on hourlong bus rides to and from an insurance agent's office, I polished off a few more sections of Rising Up and Rising Down: "Defense of Animals," "Defense of Gender," "Defense Against Traitors." Once I'm done with that, I'll finally allow myself to read the autographed script I bought at auction from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, for the never-published third issue of Big Numbers, which I still like to call my favorite comic book ever. ("Only inarticulate people use language.")
And then? Back to business. The confessions of St. Augustine, "Nine Greek Dramas," The Wealth of Nations. Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon, lent to me a couple of weeks ago by Brandy, maybe, to break up the heavy old-time seriousness. (By then the final Cerebus will be out, and it'll be time for an intent re-read of all 6000+ pages, in preparation for a gigantic article I'm writing about it.) The Count of Monte Cristo, which I started idly a few months ago and loved before I was distracted by a shiny thing, or a deadline. A novel by a friend that's been quietly chirping my name for months; I am too embarrassed to name names, especially since other people I know have told me it's terrific. (Maybe a peek at the two Dangerous Visions anthologies I just ordered, ostensibly for Lisa's benefit--after all, I haven't read them since I was ten or twelve, passing the summers in Lake Luzerne with whatever old SF books I could find at the Hadley-Luzerne Library--E.E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensman" books hadn't been checked out since the '50s, I think, and I wanted to read what I'd heard had been the inspiration for Green Lantern. They weren't there any more when I visited the library summer before last.)
And then, and THEN, maybe, a trip to Powell's: my reward for being so good for so long. That new translation of Swann's Way. That new translation of Don Quixote. A shopping basket that I'll fill, and come home with my backpack and arms overflowing. I will try as hard as I can to wait.
L. and I went to Hazel's "12th anniversary show" tonight at the Meow Meow--never mind that they hadn't really been together for half of that time! Davies vs. Dresch opened--their first show with their new drummer and "first real show," Donna Dresch explained to me. (I had seen a Team Dresch show back in the mid-'90s, but I don't think I'd talked to her in person since she stayed at my house for a bit back in 1992 or so, when she was rehearsing for Fifth Column's tour. I wore my Fifth Column shirt in her honor (a reproduction of Tom of Finland-style biker girls--this will give you the idea) tonight; she didn't recognize me at first, but it turns out she's actually moving in a couple of weeks to a house a few blocks from here! Anyway, D vs. D are awesome--the energy and speed of early Team Dresch stuff, really catchy, really precise. Hadn't heard (singer/guitarist) Kristina Davies' old band Half Seas Over before, but now I'm very curious.
Tara Jane O'Neil played next--I like her playing a lot, I like almost all the musicians I know that she's ever played with, I've always felt like I ought to enjoy her songs by rights, but both her solo & Retsin stuff has never quite clicked with me; the same held tonight (despite all-star band, inc. Miggy from Ida playing keyboards etc.). For an encore, she & her band did "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," and of course sounded fabulous.
Hazel were awesome. I loved their dynamic with each other (playing and otherwise) and with the people they knew in the audience (Jodi trying to convince Pete to play a particular song: "That's a a beautiful song! If you didn't want to have to play it, you shouldn't have written such a beautiful song!"), I was happy to hear "Blank Florida" second in the set, and oh my, Fred. Fred's the guy who runs the art space Pacific Switchboard here in PDX; he is also Hazel's designated dancer (and is older than them by probably a good 25 years). He came on at the beginning of the show in a business suit with newspaper; pulled out a pair of scissors and started cutting the suit he was wearing to pieces, then hurled the scissors upward (they landed in the rafters and stayed there), ripped off the rest of the suit to reveal a sort of garish muu-muu and a pink wig, etc. Kept coming on for almost every song with a new prop or outfit; the best was the large jug of water he balanced on his forehead, while dancing.
So for months now I've been talking up this show that Sun City Girls did for Brian Turner's show on WFMU a year or so back--when it comes out for real it's going to really turn some heads around about the SCGs, I told everyone. And, behold, it's out--as Radio One & Two, volumes 11 and 12 of their "Carnival Folklore Resurrection" series, in a mail-order-only edition of 400 copies. It's great--up there with 330,003 Crossdressers From Beyond the Rig-Veda and Live from Planet Boomerang in their discography, as far as I'm concerned, and one of their most all-over-the-place records (best segue: a hilarious/tasteless/confusing spoken-word bit about Carl Palmer and 9/11, which is also a WFMU ID, sails over the plate and gets smashed full-on by the opening snare drum of a screeching cover of the "Batman" theme).
In other originally-aired-on-WFMU news, Ronald Thomas Clontle's masterpiece has been reissued on CD; it is necessary for everyone who owns more than three books of rock criticism to hear it. It is doubly necessary for anyone who owns more than five rock reference books to hear "The Music Scholar", from a CD released by the same company.
Sorry not to have updated lately--I've been sipping delicately from the firehose of NYC. Lisa bought me a 7-train T-shirt, which I'd never have dared to own while I was living there full-time, and am oddly delighted to have in PDX, but one doesn't exactly need to represent in one's own home town, right? Same reason I'd wear a Powell's T-shirt there (well, once they work out a new contract with their staff) but not here.
Highlights included: seeing many, many people I love dearly; a kind-of-awful art opening at which I ran into a couple of folks I hadn't seen in ages, a friend of a friend gave Lee Ranaldo a concrete lollipop she'd made, and Lisa was recognized by her college roommate's college boyfriend and a guy she'd sat next to on an airplane two years ago; Emily Operator's birthday karaoke party, at which I achieved a cathartic conclusion of my fascination with "Kaw-Liga" by performing it in the style of Bright Eyes (voice trembling! spitting out the "wishes he was still an old pine tree!" etc.); dutifully reading about 600 more pages on the morality of the war aims of Julius Caesar & Cortez, etc., which don't get me wrong is great but was building up a certain amount of pressure inside my skull, and then grabbing an enormous stack of Batman and Sleeper and Tom Strong comics, which relieved it better than any aspirin ever; assisting Lisa with a day-long photo shoot in a shabby midtown hotel room with 9 of our friends as models that left her exhausted but very excited about some of the stuff she'd gotten on film.
A little piece from Alan Moore's "Voice of the Fire," specifically the first chapter, which is narrated by a man in 4000 B.C, who in this scene has just happened across a stone with "markings like to worms and net-mites" scratched onto it:
"I's people say as is no good in it, to make of markings. Markings take they shape from tree and dog and like, and make that they is tree, that they is dog, yet is they no thing only markings. If man look on they, he's gleanings is all come to queer, that he may glean not which is world and which is mark... It is not good, to look on markings."
...country and western. It is a world-class no-duh to announce that Hank Williams was really, really good, but having spent the last couple of weeks listening to The Complete Hank Williams (I finished today), I don't think I can say anything much more eloquent than that. That could be the effect of listening to a bunch of Hank, who's as plain-spoken as almost any great lyricist I can think of. I don't know if there's a line I'd think of as "clever" up until, I don't know, "Too stubborn to ever show a sign/Because his heart is made of knotty pine" from "Kaw-Liga" (and that's VERY late Hank--it was released posthumously, and the box's booklet reproduces the review of it from I think Billboard, which is roughly "HOLY CRAP THIS IS GREAT"). (Hearing it sent me back to the Residents' version of "Kaw-Liga," which I've heard turn more than one party out.) But the simplest lines are the best ones with him. "I saw the light/I saw the light/No more darkness/No more night."
He treated every fourth-rate songlet that came his way like it was the most profound jolly thing he'd ever gotten to sing (and I'm still not sure why anyone would agree to perform some of that stuff in public). There's a two-minute chunk of ridiculousness called "Roly Poly" that I think his mentor Fred Rose wrote: "Roly poly/Daddy's little fatty/Think you're gonna be a man someday," etc. He totally Hank-izes it; when he sings it, it's a good song. In my weaker moments, I wonder if that should make it tougher for me to take, say, "You Win Again" seriously: maybe it's just his delivery that's selling it? (No. Duh, again. Note that "Roly Poly" didn't become a standard, e.g.)
I'd known a lot of the really famous songs from a 40-greatest-hits set I'd had for a while. So the Hank original that jumped out at me from the box when I wasn't paying attention was "I Could Never Be Ashamed of You"--looking at Amazon reveals that it's a little bit of a country standard (and how many of his songs aren't?), and that Johnny Cash's version has appeared on a bunch of records. But why have no women recorded it (or have they)? It's a kind of much more vicious second-person "Stand By Your Man"--the sexual dynamics are complicated enough that it could be spun as a doormat song, or as a... really bitter doormat song.
Also noted: he had his persona, voice, everything down from jumpstreet. The earliest recording in the box is a radio transcription of "Happy Rollin' Cowboy" (is that where the Du-Tels got it?) from 1939--when Hank was 16 years old. Or maybe 15. It sounds almost exactly like he did 13 years later. When Hank Williams was my age, he'd been dead for five years, as they say.
And now I've been seeing echoes of Hank in everything--there was a headline in a paper I was looking at on the bus today that riffed on "Cold Cold Heart." Simplicity will do that.
"Hitler was a bad man. Hitler was a very bad man in the Bible. You know? He tried to crucify all the Jews. But I stopped him--I blew up his bus! He wouldn't even stop for me at the bus stop, so I blew up Hitler's bus. He's dead now. He's gone. He'll never threaten us Jews again. I've been blowing up Hitler's bus since I was a little bitty baby, back when I didn't even know what I was doing. That was before I reached the age of maturity and discovered my exorcism powers.
"Angel? Angel? You know, tomorrow's Groundhog Day. At seven o'clock in the morning, if that groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, we're gonna have a long, hot Indian summer."