January 2006 Archives

doing myself a favor

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I was in a miserable, irritable mood most of today, for reasons I don't entirely understand--even winning We Love Katamari made me think "oh, dammit, I won already, I wanted to draw it out longer." But I did manage to do something I'd promised myself I'd do for a while. For the last year or so, the main audio playback in my office has been either my laptop or a $19 CD boombox; I decided at the beginning of this year that it was important to get myself a real audio system for, you know, what I do for a living. So today I bought a used receiver off some guy on Craigslist (although I do need to find a sticker to cover up the "ROCK SHOK" sticker on the side), and hooked it up to the $5 CD player I'd bought at a garage sale and the pretty good speakers I'd mail-ordered (best advice on buying audio equipment anybody ever gave me: get the best stylus and speakers you can justify, and go ultra-cheap on everything between them). I put on a Dolly Parton CD to test it, and all of a sudden the sun was out and little cartoon bluebirds were chirping in the corners. Stereo! Real stereo! Real bass! I do have ears for a reason!

On top of that, Melt-Banana's master for an upcoming dbc singles-club single showed up, and I am playing it over and over, helplessly.


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New books! Geeta on Another Green World! Daphne on Two Inch Nails! Drew on Throbbing Gristle! Ann and Eric on Kate and Axl! Carl on Celine Dion! LD on his own band...! Happy days ahead!

new heat

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Things I'm happy to note:

1) My new favorite comic-geek blog, The Absorbascon--specifically a DC Universe geek blog. If you know what an Absorbascon is, you will probably find it hilarious. If you don't, it will probably make no sense to you.

2) Two rather wonderful albums by Homosexuals side projects just turned up at Insect & Individual. Which also reminds me: the first This Heat album finally got reissued, I've finally gotten to hear it, and it's as good as people have told me for ages.

3) Primo week for comics, including a fine Bendis threefer (a great conclusion to his Daredevil run with a twist that actually didn't get spoilered, solid character stuff in New Avengers, and... um, we finally meet Jessica and Luke's baby in The Pulse), but the treat of the week is Kevin Huizenga's Ganges #1--the first of a new series by a cartoonist whose beat is interior life, and whose imagination seems to work in a way I like a lot and value in some of my friends.

4) Not two days after I was whining to a couple of friends of mine about how awesome Letta Mbulu's 1970 album Letta is and why hasn't it been reissued anyway?, I get an advance copy of BBE's comp Hugh Masekela Presents the Chisa Years, which features four Mbulu tracks, plus a few tracks she sang with the Zulus, and includes my favorite song from the album in question, "U Se Mcani."

5) Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers is all that I hoped it would be. And I finally have a functional and easy recipe for chapchae--I'd somehow never understood that the crucial ingredient is bean thread noodles, which aren't stocked at local supermarket-type supermarkets, but turned out to be available for pennies at the Asian grocery on Hawthorne.

you almost had me there

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Watched part of the DVD for DEV2.O, the 10-to-14-year-old A*Teens-style Devo cover band (overseen by Gerald Casale) whose album will be coming out from Walt Disney Records. I thought: this could be a really bad idea, but it's actually pretty funny. "Boy U Want"; okay, I can deal with that. "Jerkin' Back 'n' Forth" rewritten as a song about dancing ("the reason that I move like this is all because of you"); cute.

The way-too-eager kid who's their guitarist talks in his interview segment about how Devo were 20 years ahead of their time. As Lisa points out, that would mean that their time was 1996 or so. But Disney hyping 12-year-olds with flowerpot hats and animated potatoes flying around their heads--I know this is paradise everyone of a certain age and subculture has dreamed of all their lives.

Then I heard their "Freedom of Choice." (A song I'm slightly sentimentally attached to--I loved playing it during my brief guest stint with Crowns on 45.) No no no no--this is a bad idea after all, I thought. The lyric at the end is "Freedom of choice is what you got/Freedom from choice is what you want." They sing it as "of," both times. NO.

And, as I was typing this, I noticed that the last song on their CD is "Beautiful World." I thought: I will forgive them everything if the lyrics are intact--that magnificent moment at the end where Devo finally lets the song's hammer fall: "It's a beautiful world/For you/For you/For you/It's not for me." I will forgive them nothing if they're changed. So I played it. "I guess me too," it ends.

How is it that the 2006 synth settings they're using are seven times chintzier than the ones they used in 1980? Don't say "de-evolution."

so that good news, then

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I'm very happy to announce that I'm writing a book of comics theory and criticism, tentatively called Reading Comics, to be published by Da Capo next spring. "Very happy," actually, is understating it--I can't even tell you how psyched I am about this. But if you notice a chain connecting my ankle to my laptop over the next six months, that's why.

In an entirely different order of good news: welcome to the world, Nathan Miles Bennett Burt! You're going to like it here.

disguised as Roy G. Bivolo

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Eric Konigsberg's article "Prairie Fire" in this week's New Yorker freaked me right straight out--it's about a super-gifted Nebraska teenager who committed suicide last spring. When I was 13, Northwestern University's Midwest Talent Search program, as it was then known, pretty much saved my sanity and maybe my life--I was one totally alienated, depressed kid and couldn't relate to almost anyone my age, and getting to spend time with other, um, "academically precocious youth," as they were calling them in those days, was one of the only things that made me think the future would be bearable. And then I spent the next few years living for those weeks in the summer when I could go back to the MTS program (or its big sister CTY). I wasn't in anything like Brandenn Bremmer's league of oh-my-God-you-did-what-at-eleven?, but I read his story and kept recognizing points of congruence. And I'm really glad I didn't have access to any guns when I was his age.

While I'm at it: the whole "indigo children" thing annoys me so much I can barely think straight about it, especially when it gets shoehorned into discussions of people like Bremmer. Everyone wants to think they (or their kids) are the X-Men, but here's a secret: nobody's the X-Men. And the very last thing gifted kids need is any kind of association in anyone's mind with "an entity called Kryon."

I've been keeping a handwritten journal again, for the first time in a while--bought myself one of those beautiful Moleskine datebooks, a device so pretty that I know I will be tormented with guilt if I don't keep up with it. The problem with handwritten-journal-keeping, for me, has always been: when do I write in it? At the end of the day I'm usually chasing down a deadline, or doing something distracting, or so tired I can't write anything of value. The thing that's made it work for, hey, two whole entire weeks already is writing in it as soon as I wake up--instead of my customary adjustment-to-awakeness, I recap the previous day and any dreams I can remember.

The side benefit is that I find I'm now remembering more dreams than I have in forever--I was convinced that I didn't even dream any more. The nightmare quotient is still way too high for comfort, but I'm getting some useful details. Highlight from last night's multi-scene epic (I'll spare you most of the part with the motorized, wheeled trireme clumsily approaching a McDonald's) involved a library whose grand staircase had been replaced by an old-fashioned wooden escalator (the kind one sometimes sees in old department stores) that had been stretched out and converted into a sort of enclosed waterless-water-slide-like thing, leading to the checkout desk and security; along the way one could see scenes from a documentary about the period of Bob Dylan's career where he attempted to perform standup comedy rather than music as his encores.

Totally unrelatedly: The National Trust's "Shapes & Sizes" is the first time I've heard someone specifically trying to sound like Arthur Russell, which is admirable, but there has to be a more graceful way of doing it than just quoting the keyboard part from "Is It All Over My Face."

pax du crop

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As some of you know, there's a piece of good news, although I won't be able to announce it officially for another week. But if you see me looking kind of happy, there's at least a reason for it. And if you see me looking snappish and distracted--well, that's just me being me. (Actually, it's probably because my ear popped into "blocked" position as our plane was descending last night, and has not yet unblocked.)

While I was in New York (killing time while Sterling dozed next to his new present, a stuffed life-size komodo dragon in brilliant metallic red, courtesy of Liz Gorinsky--it's at least four times his size), I read Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex, vol. 1, a fat paperback collection of the early-'70s stories starring a horribly scarred bounty hunter in the post-Civil War West. (Jonah Hex's series has just been revived, doubtless because of Deadwood--same reason Loveless-the-comic exists. DC/Vertigo seems to be taking a lot of cues these days from HBO's original programming. The pitch for The Exterminators is "Six Feet Under but with cockroaches." The Sopranos = Bite Club, Oz = Hard Time, Sex and the City = DMZ, etc.)

Anyway: it's patchy and repetitive and formulaic and the troweled-on dialect bounced up and down on my nerves, and I couldn't stop reading it anyway. I love how John Albano and Michael Fleischer set up big revelations and then switch them out at the last second for other big revelations or decide they aren't important, and I really love how dusty and grubby the artwork looks. I really hope the reprint series continues--I want to find out the rest of the life story Fleischer keeps hinting at (let's just ignore Hex, shall we?), & have never read the Jonah Hex Spectacular I've heard so much about.

But I also hope the reprint series concentrates on the actual Jonah Hex stories from now on. The last hundred-odd pages of this one are reprints of a couple of ill-conceived, short-lived series from, I think, All-Star Western around the time Jonah was introduced. "Outlaw" only lasted four or five episodes, and I can't tell if the twist three pages before the end of the final one was planned from the beginning--it might've been, but by that point the premise has worn so thin that it collapses more than it really concludes. And "Billy the Kid"--well, there were only ever three episodes of that one, probably because someone realized that every episode was going to end with exactly the same twist.


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Thanks for all the responses. Not that I have any idea how I'm going to act on them.

I was wandering around my old favorite parts of the East Village today, understanding more than I had before that I don't really belong to them any more. (The really hard part was seeing books and stores such that I know I would've been very interested in 14 years ago, when I moved to the city, and rolled my eyes at now: old soda, new bottles.) When I came home, I wanted to listen to music with something missing from it, so I put on the J.B.'s' Groove Machine album. It was released in 1979 by the T.K. Records subsidiary Drive; the band is, and is not, those J.B.'s. Which is to say that James Brown is involved on some level (he's credited as the producer and songwriter, with a co-writing credit on one track to his old associate Lee/Leon Austin), but it's hard to hear exactly where--he's not singing, there are none of his two-trick keyboard solos, there's not even Brownian yelping in the background. And, by 1979, the members of the J.B.'s who made the records that are still in print between 1970 and 1975 were long gone, except I think Jimmy Nolen, still on guitar, and St. Clair Pinckney, who'd switched to keyboards.

What Groove Machine sounds like, actually, is JB-outlined grooves, or backing tracks, for an album that he lost interest in before he could add lead vocals or actual song titles. (The titles: "Rock Groove Machine," "Georgia Peach Disco," "Just Wanna Make You Dance," "Rock Disco #1," "Rock.") Or maybe he just realized that it sounded fine the way it was. There are backing vocals sometimes; there are a few tricky horn fills and percussion details. And there's one sketch-for-something that I love so much I keep thinking it's a song, "Just Wanna Make You Dance," featuring a discoette or group of discoettes called Maxxi. The lyrics, aside from a perfunctory verse, go "Just wanna make you dance/Forget about romance/'Cause we can make love when the party's over"; the discoettes sing mostly in unison, but fan out for "love."

Cover art, by one Katheryn Holt: a dancing abstract geometrical graffiti-art female robot with high-heeled shoes made of stacks of rings, cloudy tubular beams for hair, and straight or shriveled neon snaky things surrounding her on the front cover, a mirror-image photographic negative of same on the back.

I can't tell if Groove Machine was finished or not, or whether someone decided that it was best unfinished. (There were a few other J.B.'s singles around the same time that later appeared as full-on James Brown album tracks, with him singing.) The only other album I know like it is Royal House's Come Over Here, Baby, which is a whole other subject.

Lisa suggests that she'd like "Rock Groove Machine" (a hybrid of the "Payback" groove, "It's Not the Express It's the J.B.'s Monaurail" and the beginning of "Blow Your Head," led by what I think is an out-of-control cuica) even more if the lyrics weren't "all aboard, all aboard, all aboard this groove machine" but "I want I want I want a smoochie!," which they sound like.

a new year's poll

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New year = time to think a little about what, exactly, I'm doing with lacunae. This partly has to do with the fact that I simply don't know who's reading this thing these days. So I'm asking everybody who's reading (and isn't related to me) to give me a little feedback about who you are and what you want from this site--comments or email are fine. And I'm going to make it easy for you--you can just pick a letter...

a. You used to act like a real MP3 blog. Where the hell are the vintage indie-vinyl MP3s? Start putting them up again, please.

b. You are somebody I've actually met at some point, and I use this site to keep track of you, not pop-culture trivia. Could you say some stuff about your life every so often? Or do you even have a life beyond your mass-produced fetish items, geek boy?

c. I'm a comics person, and I don't really care much about the music stuff or your home life, but do you think you could maybe put up a few more 12,000-word essays on X-Force? Thank you.

d. I'm a music person, and find that there isn't enough stuff about music and its blogosphere here. I am discontented, and need to know your thoughts about Devendra Banhart. Also, could you please list absolutely everything you listen to? That would be riveting.

e. I have been thinking about hiring you for a writing gig for enormous amounts of money, but I just don't feel like there's enough of your work on the Web yet. Could you be a little more scrupulous about linking to everything you publish anywhere?

f. Now that NaSoAlMo is over my life feels empty. When's the next one?

g. It is all about the recipes. You used to tell us what you were cooking all the time. Did you stop eating?

h. I have never met you, but I have decided to stalk you. Please post more deeply personal information. What's your social security number, again?

i. I am one of your son's groupies, the pictures at his site are simply not enough for me, and in general I find the lack of discussion of cute babies by their proud parents on the Internet distressing. More photos! More anecdotes!

j. You posted that one really funny thing that one time, I think.

k. Jesus, I don't know. I got this site in my RSS reader by accident, and I can't figure out how to get it out of my list.

l. Other (please explain).