July 2005 Archives

the Ace explains it all to you

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Heidi MacDonald explains this year's Comic-Con better than I ever could.

don't send me no letters, sis

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Let me be (among) the first to say it: that new Big Star record that's coming out at the end of August, "In Space," is awful. Awful. Apparently the conditions of recording it was that they had to find a label that would let them write the whole thing in the studio, and... well, I like spontaneous/"process" records just fine, but that's not what Big Star is good at. (Let's not even get into the "is this really Big Star with just Chilton and Stephens" thing; this interview with Andy Hummel suggests that he'd have been into playing with them if they'd been "willing to work real hard at home.") In fact, I suspect that when bands that have previously written songs, practiced them, maybe played them live, etc., start trying to write in the studio, that almost always becomes a shark to jump. The only counterexample I can think of offhand is the Ex's Instant, which doesn't quite count.

Otherwise: this is not a new trend, but this weekend I was going through a stack from the slush pile, & more struck than usual by the number of talked-about new bands who are almost entirely recycling things from 20 or 25 or 35 years ago. What's weird is that it's always the same movements & styles & specific bands (Gang of 4/Can/Tyrannosaurus Rex [MISTER DEVENDRA BANHART I AM LOOKING AT YOU]/The Beatles/Duran Duran/The Sonics/The Sonics/The Sonics...) that are getting recycled, especially by rock bands--nobody's looking sideways or diagonally. Would it kill someone to steal a little inspiration from Willie Mitchell instead? Ruth Brown? Cerrone, anyone? Slapp Happy?

Nob Dylan and his Nobsoletes' Positively 12 Stiff Dylans! is pretty much like what you'd guess from the premise: Rev. Norb from Boris the Sprinkler doing a bunch of Dylan covers, almost all from 1965, in a sort of punked-up semi-generic Lookout! style (actually it's on Alternative Tentacles, but you see what I mean), for no particular reason. But, you say, that's not really what you'd call a significant reinterpretation! Well, yeah. But if "Desolation Twist" were a single, I'd be leaping around about it anyway. (Rev. Norb, bless him, changes every verse's penultimate line to rhyme with "twist.")

How did it take me this long to go to the Laurelhurst Theater? I must go there more.

con and confidence

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Back from this year's Comic-Con International, and attempting to catch up on domesticity (this mostly involves hanging out with Sterling, playing the sorts of games 4-month-olds like to play and surreptitiously sneaking sniffs of the top of his head). Some notes on it:

I always forget that Con is just incredibly physically taxing. The air conditioning held up this year, but it's still total sensory overload, and there's not much good food or peace 'n' quiet around to get one through it. Too many meals at Horton Plaza's food court, too little time around foliage. But: COMICS! At the Eisner Awards ceremony on Friday (very long, very emotional w/ tributes to the Will Eisner from virtually everyone who got up on stage), it seemed like half the people accepting awards said something about how much they love comics. Which is extraordinary: you don't hear Oscar winners talking about their deep love for movies so much, right?

Thing I wanted to find for Sterling's (eventual) delectation and couldn't: those Uncle $crooge and Donald Duck trade paperbacks that you tripped over everywhere a few years ago. Interesting. Also fascinated to see that a lot of the hot double-digit-price comics of years past were well-represented in the dollar bins--the McFarlane Spider-Man #1, etc. There is apparently a great deal of discussion of the "ages" of comics right now. Gold we know (started with maybe Famous Funnies, ended with Showcase #4); Silver we sort of know (if it's ended, when did it end?); but after that--Bronze? Tin? Platinum? Iron? What, and when? What is our age, right now?

As Heidi has noted, there didn't seem to be "buzz books" this year, particularly--well, there was one, but it was by J.K. Rowling. (I spent Saturday morning counting bleary-eyed kids with a copy in one hand, bookmarked by a finger.) A lot of the big art-comics publishers didn't have major new releases timed to this show--was hoping for the new Drawn & Quarterly Showcase, but they didn't get it in time. I loved Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle #1, but that's just a floppy.

I think DC was hoping to have everyone talking about All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, but most of the talk I heard about it was "well, that wasn't so hot, was it?" (Finally read it on the plane home, and I agree--if something like this is going to be hyped as a crossover to the public, it has to be awesome from page 1, panel 1. And it would help if they were far enough ahead of schedule to be able to print the cover to the second issue. Also, it's strange that Frank Miller--who contributed the idea of Martha Wayne's pearl necklace to the canon--should have had the Flying Graysons shot to death while on the ground after their act, instead of the more familiar and more dramatic ropes doctored to break midair...)

So the pleasures I was able to get from this Con were mostly geek pleasures--this is the place where nobody gets to snicker at anybody else for being Comic Book Guy or Girl. Like the fellow in the immaculate John Stewart costume, complete with bright green contact lenses. Or the seven-dollar copy I found of Amazing Adult Fantasy #11 (with half its cover torn away--I had to explain what Amazing Adult Fantasy was to the amused and baffled non-comics friends I visited in SD--it's an early-'60s anthology of short science fiction and horror stories, all by the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko team, subtitled "The Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence," as if; its final issue, #15, changed the title to Amazing Fantasy and introduced Spider-Man). Or the traditional Fans Vs. Pros Trivia Challenge, which gets really trivial--this year, the topic was Silver Age villains (the Silver Age defined as having ended with Crisis on Infinite Earths #12), at least two writers couldn't answer questions about comics they'd written, and the answer to one question was "Leonardo da Vinci's Pistol of Power." As a T-shirt I bought put it: "Stuff is AWESOME."

And one reliable and not-quite-so-geeky pleasure: the traditional Saturday night beach party, this time mellower than usual (a lot of the regulars weren't there this year) but well-supplied with firewood and the gentle non-laminated smell of the ocean. From the location of this year's bonfire, we could see in the window of an apartment nearby, in which there were three people swing-dancing (not a euphemism). Enthusiastically. For about an hour and a half. It was very sweet.

meme mailbag

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Okay, it's been more than a week. Let's do this. Sorry if I neglected anybody's questions--I think somebody might have mailed me one that I misplaced. Remember, if you asked me one of these questions, you now have to answer all of them on your own blog...

What is the oldest article of clothing still in active use in your wardrobe?

I'm guessing the T-shirt from the New Order/PiL/Sugarcubes tour of 1989, with the day-glo American flag. Sadly, the amazing purple plaid flannel shirt I bought at Canal Jean in 1986 has given up the ghost, and the Cure T-shirt from the "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" tour in 1987 is still intact but probably too fragile to be worn very often.

If you were to pass along to a child (offspring, godchild, favorite young person you hope to influence for the better) a lifelong passion for one thing, what would it be?

Not to get all meta-, but being passionate about stuff in general: being engaged in whatever interests them, not just passively experiencing it. People who like to figure out how things work and think about them and argue about them and make stuff themselves based on what they've learned tend to be happier, I suspect.

What's the one website or periodical that you read which nobody would expect you to?

The question presumes that there is one. I suspect I am entirely predictable in my tastes--I don't think my reading habits have surprised anyone in a while. Although a friend of mine was alarmed last year to see a copy of Stuff in our house (Edie briefly had a subscription--it's a lot weirder and funnier than you'd guess).

Does there ever come a point when [insert interviewee's occupation] becomes kind of arbitrary to you?

Only in the sense that my job as an interviewer is always first to shut up and listen, and second to cue the interviewee to go on at length about whatever s/he finds interesting. But that usually means I need to find out a lot about the interviewee first.

What is one album/book/movie you have not heard/read/seen but which you really should to be doing what you do, and how do you work around that?

Again, a question that presumes that there is one; I don't think there is. Occasionally I meet someone who's amazed that I haven't seen Almost Famous, but I think I get along just fine that way. I used to get the same reaction to never having seen Chasing Amy. Then I did; two hours of my life I'll never get back.

What superstitions do you follow or have you made up for yourself?

Oh, my God. So many. The first that leaps to mind is that if I find a penny, not only is it lucky, but the luck will have something to do with something that happened in the year the penny was minted. Also that I can tell whether something is a good idea or not by holding it in my mind and attempting to crack my thumbs; if they both make a sound, that's a green light. (Note that in practice this is a good way of checking whether I think something is a good idea or not.)

What happened the first time you danced?

My cousin's bar mitzvah party. I'm not sure if he's ever entirely forgiven me.

What was the first piece of art (book, song, film, painting, building, etc.) that changed your life? What happened? How do you regard that work now?

One that changed my life, as opposed to really really liking it a lot? Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach was a thunderbolt when I was 12 or so: the first book that I had to struggle to keep up with, and that eventually gave me some enormous "now I get it!" moments. Haven't read it in many years--it's not the sort of book one needs to have a lifelong relationship with, if you see what I mean--but I'd be curious to. (Music-wise, it was probably Into Battle with the Art of Noise.)

If you could choose to understand one thing in much greater depth than the other, what would it be -- your roots or your current surroundings, and why?

My current surroundings, because I can act on them.

How do you like your eggs?

French-style omelet, preferably with onions. Who was it who said that if onions were rare and hard to grow, they'd be considered a great delicacy?

...this is really cute.

Get those meme-questions in! (You can email them to me if you don't want to deal with TypePad.)

rampage with strapped-back wings

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Are there recording techniques that have actually been lost? I ask this because I'm listening to Judee Sill's Dreams Come True, and the piano sound is one that first appeared on record with Carole King's Tapestry and was last heard sometime around 1975. Sill recorded this stuff in 1974, and I've heard plenty of singer-pianist records that are just itching for that particular piano tone, some of them recorded with millions of dollars, and none of them can get it. Haven't been able to pay attention to the actual songwriting nearly enough yet, just luxuriating in the tone.

That Alarm Will Sound album of Aphex Twin covers on acoustic instruments--not loving it. The smaller problem is that the point of it is not much more than that it could be done at all. Yes, you can approximate the timbres and rhythms of one set of soundmakers with another; dog bites man, and the Williams Fairey Brass Band's Acid Brass was the same central idea and a lot more fun, because the material sounded so unexpectely appropriate. The larger problem is that I keep running into altered versions of songs or recordings I know and love already, where the selling point is that they have been altered, period--not that somebody's found anything new in there. That's why, for instance, I don't have much time for the Nouvelle Vague project either: right, it's funny to play new wave songs as bossa nova, but how many of them actually look as good or better dressed up in bossa nova couture?

Of course, if I ever wrote a memoir it'd have to be called "Derivative Works." (Which makes me think of Trevor Inchmale, the hapless rent collector from The Bojeffries Saga, who spends his life thinking of things to call his memoirs: "'The Rentman Cometh.' 'One Hundred Twenty Days in Sodom, Collecting the Rent.'")

diagonal campaigning

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A couple of good questions in the last entry's comments--keep 'em coming!

The handwritten sticker on the Peppermints' Jesüs Chryst called it "an eye-blackening blend of Melt-Banana, Joan Jett & the Fall," so honestly there was no way for me to not buy it. It's not that good, on a first listen, but it's good enough that I want to listen a few more times. And definitely to see them live. If they make it to a second album, I bet the songs are going to improve--they've already got the style most of the way there.

I have instituted the regime of Reading For An Hour Before I Sleep--originally intended to be Reading For An Hour When I Wake Up, but given that I'm on the West Coast and most of my editors are on the East, I couldn't justify that. Plus by that time I'm usually too addled to write well and end up surfing dubious Civil-War-reenactment and Shakira fan sites. So I'm presently reading a galley of Bret Easton Ellis's forthcoming Lunar Park--50 pages or so in and I'm happy I started it. I really liked his first three novels (The Rules of Attraction = way underrated), and the new one's the metafictional Belmont-Stakes-championing of his one-trick pony prose style that I've been hoping he'd write for a while. Which is to say that a lot of the first few chapters are about Ellis doing mountains of blow with Jay McInerny, and that he is pretty clearly lying about it. No idea if he's going to be able to sustain this for the rest of the novel, or if he'll ever be able to write another novel without repeating himself (fake memoir seems to be the last square left on the part of the floor he's painted himself into), but I'm enjoying it so far.

lightly influenced weasels

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Happy half-year. I've been checking over the things-to-do-this-year list I made at the beginning of the year; let's just say I'm behind schedule. (Out of 101, I've got six down, and I'm well on my way to, um, three more.) Also wondering what to do to make lacunae more entertaining for the few dozen repeat visitors StatCounter tells me keep showing up. Suggestions are welcome.

Actually, here's one: I tend to avoid the how-many-books-have-you-owned-type memes. I like them in theory, but the questions tend to get unthrilling in a hurry. So here's my challenge to people who are still reading lacunae: make up ONE original question you think would be part of a really satisfying meme--that is, a question whose answer might tell you something interesting about somebody--and post it in the comments here. Questions must be open-ended (that is, no yes-or-no or a-or-b answers) and of your own devising (that is, not copied from some other personality-quiz-type thing). I will compile them at the end of the week (assuming that there are any...) and answer them all. Then you get to do the same. (If there are oh let's say fewer than three, this offer is void.)