Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Dis-Ease

I think it's fair to say that, in my Mennonite prairie-town circa 1974, my family's relationship with Halloween was ... conflicted. On the one hand: dressing up the kids, walking door to door and getting tasty treats was good, innocent fun. On the other hand: wizards, ghosts, goblins, witches ... doesn't God take a dim view of such things? (Deut. 18:9-14, 1 Cor. 10:21, etc.)

I suspect my parents, like most parents (including myself) followed an intuitive moral line in this regard. The kids were allowed to dress up and get candy, but usually in sweet, good-natured costumes (the "Hobo" being a frequent motif). When I was a kid, nothing would have given me more pleasure than dressing up as Batman, but that was just a step or two over the wrong side of the line. I was smart enough not to complain; I was still getting the candy, and I had friends who were denied that pleasure, too.

Cut to the present. My girls plan all year for Halloween. Thanks to their actress (and seamstress) mother, their costume whims are fully indulged. Three years ago, the elder daughter knew how to tug at the old man's heartstrings when she requested a Princess Leia costume.



This year she's an all-too-convincing punk (no picture, sorry. Rest assured she'll come to your door). Her younger sister, meanwhile, is a mommy mummy:



That costume is probably the trickiest one my wife has yet assembled. The picture was taken in our church basement, by the way: we held a big Halloween party, and lots of kids from the community attended. I thought it was a super idea, and quickly retrieved my old motorbike leathers and Greasy-Kid Stuff to make myself up like Squiggy.

Notice the ceiling. The tile was smoke damaged from the firebomb, so it's gone. The nursery has been gutted and thoroughly cleaned. The supporting timbers remain sound, and the nursery will be rebuilt. But I have to admit: even though the kid who was chiefly responsible for all this damage is in custody, I'm still more than a little nervous.

There is at least one house in the neighborhood that freely admits to doing voodoo-type activities on Halloween night. One doesn't have to believe in the existence of a paranormal occult world* to acknowledge that if a person is angry, or desperate, or just plain foolish enough to summon something Dark, they will be obliged. It may only be manifest in a person's character, but the daily news should convince anyone that that is phenomenon enough to do a great deal of harm to a great many people.

I'm not sure what else to add to that. It's a hokey thing to say, but I do believe we have to work at bringing what light we can to our particular corner of the world. Since the fires, I've pushed myself out of my own comfort zone by pointedly smiling and saying hello to every sullen youth who slouches across my path. I'm not sure that's enough to counter anyone's dark impulses, but it'll have to do until I identify the next discomfort-zone I need to breech.

*Although you should count me among the believers, I expect that most adolescents drawn to experiment with the occult wind up experiencing something similar to Bobby Hill in The Witches of East Arlen.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Turn And Face The Strange

I've been somewhat unsettled to note a gradual slip in my blogular standards ("Cooking With Pooh," fer crying out loud!). Coincidentally, here I am at this mid-lifey moment, with a brain intent on worrying over the standard set of failing biological applications. In the past I've found mental stimulation on this mighty worldwide web, but here too I've been trading stimulation for distraction ("Cooking With Pooh" ... sheesh!). My consciousness seems reluctant to leave its cluttered attic of dusty divertissements, and almost determined to avoid any search for the coveted Third Way through -- art, spirituality, mental health, community, what have you. Yah, you old bum, get out and look fer a job already! "Cooking With Pooh," ... mutter, mutter.

Add to this my own personal Monster In A Box -- a heap of paper in which there are some truly beautiful moments, but mostly a collection of embarrassments that I simply do NOT want to burden my daughters with. I need to cull the beauty into a smaller, cohesive form, and drop the rest through a shredder. As my former aikido sensei once admonished, a person has to choose their particular discipline and learn to let go of the distractions.

With regards to this blog, I believe two roads have diverged. Route 1: frequent, shorter postings of lesser quality. Route 2: fewer postings, but (hopefully) better quality. Being the amiable, indecisive guy I am, I believe I'll give 'em both a try. November is, I'm told, National Blog Posting Month and we in the blogosphere are encouraged to post every day for that month. But once December hits, I believe I'll slow that down to once a week (every Thursday sounds doable).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Night Headphone Music

Rhino Records is slowly moving to the head of the class as my CD label of choice. I clear my throat and shuffle my feet a bit when I say this, because Rhino trades almost exclusively in nostalgia. My first glance over their list of Rhino Music Artists I quickly realized I didn't come here to discover the next Marah or Galactic: I came to re-collect all those old LPs I threw away, the ones I listened to with headphones, after midnight, on a Friday, in a vain effort to ignore what a loser I was for not finding a party to crash.

*Cough* But what music that was! I'm particularly drawn to the reissues of the early X, Ramones, Talking Heads and Television, but when I scroll down their list I wind up clicking all sorts of unexpected names. What's John Coltrane doing here? Or Little Feat? Say, is that The Blasters? And the BoDeans? Suddenly I'm reveling in memories of Friday nights pleasantly spent being out and about.

Now that my Friday nights are taken up with Daddy Duty, I typically close the night with a splash of scotch, a comfy chair next to the glowing stereo and ... headphones. I've come full circle, so why not embrace it? I figure I'll start with Donald Fagen's forthcoming Nightfly trilogy.

Speaking of which, Mr. Fagen seems taken with this Music Video Interactive rig. Having neither the required SurroundSound outfit or the desire to travel down that road, I'm sure I'll be entirely oblivious to its better qualities. Have you exposed your ears to this format at all? What do you think?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's an über-geek's world -- the rest of us are just cluttering it up like so much botched code

Scott linked me up with this interview with Kristen Bell. The quote that caught my (and his) eye is near the end: "The New Beverly in Los Angeles had a double feature the other night of Tron and the Last Starfighter. So I was like I kind of needed to see that at least just once in my life because that seemed like an awesome double feature, you know?"

My immediate response to that statement was contemptuous disbelief. "I miss playing Veronica Mars, but I went to Comic-Con to fish for a role on Heroes because it's just, like, SO KEWL!" You're just telling the fans what they want to hear, you shameless hussy!!

Then I thought back to this photo (SFW, link via Yahmdallah) of "The Slave Leia Appreciation Society" that showed up at a Star Wars con ... and the penny dropped.

I was a young man back in the days when a Tron and Last Starfighter double bill was a "males without wheels" feature. In those days, the women that mustered up the courage to attend a Sci-Fi con tended to look more like Doris Lessing than Carrie Fisher on a stay-trim-with-cocaine regimen. Back then "Asperger's" was just a clever name for what the REAL Alpha-Males made out of the geeks among us.

Brother, but the ground has shifted below our feet....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who Is To Blame For The Leafs?

Damien Cox says we should stop booing the players (or GM John Ferguson) and start booing these guys for the Leafs' abysmal hockey. I can picture it now: Ivan Fecan wheels his Escalade into the CTV parking lot, is stopped briefly at the gate for the mandatory security clearance. The security guy gives Fecan the once-over, nods him through, then adds, "Hey, Fecan -- you suck! Where'd you learn to own a team anyway, you moron?"

Yeah, go on and boo the owners. They're just doing what any owner of the most financially successful hockey franchise in the world would do: stay the course and rake in the mega-bucks. If I lived a little to the west, or to the south, I wouldn't care because I'd be out-of-range of Leafs-dominated network television. But since I am where I am, I'll just keep booing the fans who pay so willingly for this garbage hockey.

Shades of genius in Idiocracy?

"The Costco of the future has aisles numbering in the tens of thousands. There are rail stations to help shoppers get around. Racks soar overhead till they're lost in darkness, and a long shot reveals a field of neatly ranked red sofas stretching to the horizon. Joe's new friend Frito is nostalgic visiting Costco, because he went to law school there. And at the entrance stands a greeter, a young man the size of a sumo wrestler, who morosely tells each shopper, 'Welcome to Costco. I love you.'

Now, there are plenty of jokes circulating about Costco's vastness, but the greeter's 'I love you' is a bit of genius."


Even though I am a fan of King of the Hill and, to a lesser extent, Beavis & Butthead, I believe I'll take a pass on watching Mike Judge's Idiocracy. But I'm sure glad Frederica Mathewes-Green didn't.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Fillsome" Foods

My wife returns from Milan in a couple of days. Yesterday at the grocery store I stopped by the ice cream freezer and considered purchasing a tub of Häagen-Dazs (Vanilla Swiss Almond being my comfort food of choice). Then I considered how crappy I'd feel after consuming the ice cream. Then I wondered how crappy I'd feel if I made, from scratch, and ate my childhood comfort food: tapioca pudding. I bought some tapioca beads from the local bulk foods store, went home and got to work.

Tapioca custard is ridiculously easy to make. The beads have to soak in water for two hours, but that's as fussy as it gets. After that, you scald two cups of milk, stir in 1/3 cup of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, two eggs and the drained tapioca. It gets thick pretty quickly, and smells wonderful. The girls were curious, so I let them dip a spoon into the mix. "I want extra much!" said the younger.

I gave each of them about a third of a cup, and myself about a half cup. They tucked in, but were unable to finish. "Sorry dad," said the one who'd asked for extra much. "It's really good, but it's also really fillsome."

It certainly is. I had no trouble finishing my portion, but I also had no desire for more. Contrast this with the ice cream. Man, when I get started on the HD, it's difficult to quit before I finish the little tub.

The more I think about that, the stranger it all seems. The basic ingredients, if the HD label is to be believed, are more or less identical: milk, sugar, eggs, flavoring. Tapioca is a glutinous thickening agent, but it doesn't add that much body to the custard. How is it that something I make on the stove is more filling than something made in a factory? What, exactly, is the "process" that makes processed foods more binge-able?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Artless Ensembles

Are there any star-studded ensemble movies that actually work as drama? The ones that come to my mind are typically comedies: It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the original Ocean's 11, Star Trek IV, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen. You could argue that of the bunch, only Mad World set out to be an actual go-for-the-jocular-vein comedy, but the others all have a light touch and a shared sense of How can we possibly take this seriously? When it comes to epic dramas, though, the vehicle gets awfully creaky.

The question occurs to me after watching Serenity, the movie finale of Joss Whedon's Firefly. I'm under the impression that Whedon hoped the movie would pull in enough money to inspire a serial, a la Star Trek, but that clearly did not happen. And no wonder: Serenity is a mess.

There's plenty for hardcore Firefly fans to enjoy, mind you. The movie tidies up a few story lines the series had left open-ended, particularly regarding the origins of those ubiquitous baddies, The Reavers. Chiwetel Ejiofor does a terrific job at being a cultured killer -- the type that sips tea, then uses the cup and saucer to take out an entire room full of goons. Set his imperial swagger against Nathan Fillion's Oklahoma swagger, and you've got the kind of hero/villain chemistry that only Hollywood can generate.

But if you're not of the "Browncoat" persuasion, this movie will leave feeling very alienated. Since it is an extension of a television series, everyone in the carry-over cast is required to say something, so each character inserts the sort of catch-phrase that he or she has come to be known for. And since this is a movie, with a running time that's been set in stone, the catch-phrase is all they get. It's difficult for a viewer to work up emotional interest under such conditions, and Whedon seemed to think the best way to counter this impediment was to kill off a few secondary, but important, characters -- Wrath of Khan times two, basically. I couldn't quite buy into it, especially when the hero (Fillion) was kicked, pounded, stretched and squashed like so much silly putty, only to bounce back and conquer. When the secondary characters started dropping, so did my interest.

I'm guessing the chief difficulty with ensemble dramas is big name actors will only sign on to a project if they get to deliver a memorable moment. So long as the film is a comedy, the star will happily rise to the occasion and play the fool. But no-one can guarantee a memorable moment in a drama -- at least, not the way a star prefers to be memorable (I'll certainly never forget Gene Hackman's Pepé Le Pew accent in A Bridge Too Far).

It strikes me that Robert Altman figured out the best way to circumnavigate this difficulty by just letting the big names do what they were going to do. So long as the movie was an enormous pastiche (Short Cuts, Prêt-à-Porter, Kansas City, A Prairie Home Companion) he and his editors would find someplace to insert the moment. Narratively speaking, it might even make intuitive sense. In fact, now that I think of it, you wouldn't have to work too hard to define these pastiche films as being comedies of a peculiarly dark and cynical stripe. Hey -- what would Altman have done with Serenity, or, for that matter the up-and-coming Star Trek movie (which shows every indication of turning into the largest train wreck of the bunch -- and that's no small feat, given how Rick Berman reduced the series to flashy warp core breaches and Jean-Luc Picard in a fruity little muscle shirt).

What do you think? Could Altman have pulled another Popeye with Star Trek, or the X-Men? What does it take to make a successful comic book ensemble action flick? Or is Brad Bird the only one who knows the answer to these questions?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Graphite vs. Wood

Ringette season has returned. It's a popular sport around here, but not nearly so popular as hockey, so I had to do some driving to get my daughter a new stick. The gent who sold it to me tried to persuade me of the virtues of graphite, but all I could see was the $75 price tag. I said, "When my daughter can play a $75 game, I'll buy her the $75 stick."

I relayed this exchange to the local sporting goods guy. He shook his head. "I can't get over the kids who say they won't play hockey with anything less than graphite. So far all the hockey records were established by guys who used wood. What's graphite got that's going to beat wood?"

He was just warming up. "And golf clubs! You can pay $1000 for a driver that hits the ball farther, straighter, higher. But if all this research and technology and money has gone into the science of the club, why are the pars still the same? The course just up the road here has been a par 3 course for the last 50 years. The clubs some guys use, you could buy a car with that money. But they still play a par 3 game.

"Of course," he added, "if you want to spend the money, I'm not going to stop you." And he was talking to a guy who clearly was not going to spend the money.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kids and Vintage TV

One of my daughters reported that her friends regularly grill her on her television viewing, because the shows she watches seem so exotic in contrast to the everyday fare (Cartoon Network, basically) they're exposed to. I laughed nervously. We don't watch "shows" at all, really. We don't have cable, and regular TV reception is spotty, so we resort to DVDs. Star Trek, Get Smart, the occasional Gilligan's Island episode ... that's the weird, exotic stuff my daughters are watching.

I sometimes worry I might be embalming our household into a permanent "Nick At Night" stasis. Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily. If I were to make a massive generalization about kids these days and their viewing habits, I'd have two complaints: (1) the advertising (little has changed over the years, but who really needs it?); (2) the manic, zany pacing and chiefly cynical tone of most kids' shows. The latter really irritates me. Stream-of-consciousness Anime (Martin Mystery, or Sailor Moon) I can handle, but the current crop of North American cartooning strikes me as way too hip for its own good. Flash, zap, exaggerated emotional response followed by cool, half-lidded sideways glances ... feh. I'll take wide-eyed actors laboring over shop-weary plot-lines, thank you.

After I was told about this, I eavesdropped a little. Near as I can tell, what my daughters' friends are seeking out are stories that fit the Aristotelian mold. Garnish these with a few surprises (Agent 86 pulls a ladder out of his briefcase), and the imagination really takes off.

This can backfire, of course. We've held sleep-overs in which some of these sought-after shows are finally played to an all-new audience. It's not uncommon to get a "It's not as good as I was expecting" response. That's fine, too: television should never be as good as a kid expects. If it was, they'd never leave the house.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

DEVO, 1978

Speaking of DEVO, I know I've given them the odd razzberry here. But, honestly -- how cool is this?

Gets me feeling like I'm 14 again ... *sigh*

Proof Through The Night & The Complete Trap Door by T Bone Burnett

"I still know what I was talking about in 'Hefner & Disney.' None of that has changed. Same with 'Pressure' -- only the pressure has gotten worse. And 'Hula Hoop,' the slide has continued. The fabrication of celebrity. The girls going wild. The insane war. It has all gotten increasingly and ceaselessly worse." -- T Bone Burnett

I can't remember how I stumbled across it, but my discovery of Rhino Records' reissue of Proof Through The Night & The Complete Trap Door by T Bone Burnett was purely accidental. I was at Amazon, who informed me they had only one copy left. I quickly dropped plastic; two days later the discs were at my doorstep.

Ah, T Bone: American Protestantism's very own Grocer of Gloom! If the above quote from the liner notes doesn't give the reader some insight into Burnett's uneasy relationship with this archival material from his creative past, he spells it out: "I was beginning to go through a rough personal time, as were a lot of people around me"; "It was such a difficult process for me. I made so many mistakes making it"; "I was just starting to come out of a dark personal time ... My original title was Beneath The Trap Door. That's how it felt."

The artist's relationship to his material doesn't often mirror his audience's relationship to it, and that's certainly the case with Proof Through The Night. Unlike some T Bone fans, I'm split on Proof -- at the time of its release I thought the album was uneven, and my opinion hasn't shifted very far in the intervening years. When listened to sequentially (Trap Door, Proof, Behind The Trap Door) the albums give testimony to an artist finding his sound (curious: I originally typed "wound," which might not be too far from the truth, either). In Trap Door Burnett plays with rockabilly and experiments further with the bass drum and two-string guitar set-up that worked so spectacularly for him in "House Of Mirrors." And if he introduces Devo to The Beatles ("A Ridiculous Man"), it's nothing the song can't handle, because Burnett is confident of who will come out on top. The EP was recorded in a buddy's garage, and has a loose playfulness that invites the neighbors to come join the fun.

Cut to Proof, and suddenly we're in the world of Big Studios, Huge Talent, Big Money ... Big People who like to meddle. If the album doesn't quite work as a whole, there's no denying each song its individual power. And some of those have a grasp that far exceeds the album's own reach. In concert Burnett won't hesitate to perform "After All These Years" or "Hula Hoop" -- just two of six Proof songs he went back into the studio to re-record for his "Best Of" collection Twenty Twenty.

When it comes to production, there are moments on Proof when the studio seems intent on throwing in the kitchen sink, and some songs veer off in directions that suggest a mule-team Burnett is struggling to control. So it's no wonder that Behind The Trap Door is more than just a return to the EP format, the roots music and the garage that kicked out Trap Door. Burnett takes the body of Trap Door, strips off the flesh and polishes the bones and marrow. This time when he digs his pick into the heavy strings, it's with an angry, dogged intensity. He closed Proof with the declaration, "I ain't gonna quit until they lay me in my tomb/And even then they'd better shut it tight." Behind is the sound of a man clearing his way from the detritus of his own grave.

A quick word on the re-issue production: terrific. Music to my ears. Rhino brings forward some of the bass, but keeps the overall sound balanced and bright -- the way music in the 80s tended to sound. I don't quite "get" the current penchant for muffled production. When I first spun Nick Lowe's At This Time, I wondered if my hearing wasn't going on me; I had a similar reaction to John Hiatt's Beneath This Gruff Exterior. My hearing ain't what it used to be, but neither are the current production values. Very strange.

Nuffadat. Get your numbered limited (5000) edition of these discs here. And yeah, it comes in cardboard chintz that no-one seems to like, but it's still worth the bucks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Girls' Book: How To Be The Best At Everything

My older daughter came home from school and announced that a book fair was on, and there was this book she simply had to have. Nothing new about any of this. Scholastic Press has worked out a deal with schools; "Book Fairs" are Scholastic sales events that the beleaguered librarian usually takes charge of. He puts a few hundred books on display, takes in all manner of change and does what he can to keep track of the final sales. Profits go to the school's coffers, and I'm guessing Scholastic is making a decent buck from it all, too.

The girls know I'm a soft touch when it comes to letting them buy books. What am I going to say: "Do as I say, not as I do"? The best I can muster is, "Show a little more restraint than your old man and pick the one title you really, really want."

My daughter's choice was The Girls' Book: How To Be The Best At Everything. In fact, it hadn't just caught her eye but the collective eyes of all the girls in her class, so she hid a copy behind another title until she came back with the money.

I did the right thing and bought it for her. And doggone it if it isn't a terrific little bomb of a book for girls in the 8-to-11-years-old range. It's set up in an old-school Boy Scout Manual fashion, but is filled with up-to-the-minute good advice, and plenty of pleasant distractions besides. The reader is shown how to hold chopsticks, do sudoku puzzles, knit with her fingers, make a fake mess, cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope alongside such truly helpful chapters as how to study for exams, or deal with bullies.

My daughters take turns reading chapters to each other. And if my quick glance at the school yard is any indication, it looks like most of their friends are in possession of these handy bright red books. There's a book for boys, too, but I can't vouch for it. I only know girls -- and so do the creators of The Girls' Book. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sanctuaries: Thanksgiving Weekend 2007

It's Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada. At four this morning my wife and I were woken up by a loud thump. We raced to the windows to see if we could figure out what had just happened. Another sounded, so I put on some clothes and went outside.

Two vehicles in our neighbor's drive were on fire.

I stayed around long enough to make sure my neighbor wasn't in danger, and to see the fire department get the blazes under control. Then I went back to my house, reported to my wife and went back to bed.

The action had only just started. Our church was hit with a molotov cocktail. So was the Presbyterian church. And the people who own and run the Chinese restaurant had their family van torched.

Their restaurant and home were not damaged, and no-one was hurt, thankfully. Our church is just steps away from our neighbor, so the fire department was able to put out the fire without structural damage to the building (so far as we know). But the Presbyterian church is a gutted ruin.


As of this morning one arrest was made and another was pending. I can't imagine a person does something like this figuring they'll get away with it. But it feels as if our village has been under siege this summer. In August a beautiful old home (same vintage as the church, roughly 130 years old) burned to the ground. There were two bodies inside it, in what was either a double homicide or a murder/suicide. The police haven't announced any closure to that case. I don't think last night was related to the earlier crime, except in a sick tangential way. This is a crazy town for fires.

Several thoughts, in the heat of the moment: (1) the strike against the churches seems like a sad irony. These churches are hardly a symbol of any sort of power -- both congregations have been in steady decline; the Presbyterian church drew Sunday gatherings that numbered below 50. As is typically the case with old churches in languishing towns, the needs of children and the elderly were of chief concern to the pastors and congregations. If torching a church is some sort of "I'M BIGGER THAN GOD!" statement, well ... what could be more pathetic?

(2) Anyone who's been in the vicinity of a burning car knows it is a terrible, toxic stench. In contrast to the burning vehicles, I have to say that by fire's end, the Presbyterian ruins were emanating something far sweeter. The wood was all untreated ... not a lot of plastic or even rubber was going up in smoke. Had this been a fire in the hearth, the odor would have been welcome.

(3) Everyone in town is walking by with their families. Faces are dark. The elderly ladies who go to these churches are in their Sunday clothes, holding each other by the arm. I saw one kid walk by who's earned the reputation of being a troublemaker. He's 17 or 18 years old. His head was ducked low and he wasn't making eye contact with anyone, except one of these elderly ladies. Her face broke into this wide smile of sunshine, and she held her arms out to him, hugged him and kissed him on both cheeks. I'm not making this up; I teared up when I saw it, and I'm crying still.

Our little family stood and watched the final efforts of the firemen at the Presbyterian church. I said, "You know this church isn't really the building, don't you? It's the people." I try to believe that pretty much every day of my life.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

On The Platter

Late in the actor's life a reporter approached Charles Laughton with a seemingly innocent question: why hadn't he ever done Falstaff? Laughton replied that thanks to his father's trade as a hotelier, he'd grown up among plenty of people who were the real deal, and there was nothing comic, wise or even unintentionally amusing about them. In saying this, Laughton all but explicitly condemned Shakespeare for bestowing these virtues on his beloved alcoholic.

Alright, cue The Yayhoos:



I'm gettin' DRUNK
Gettin' NAKED
Gettin' LAAAAAAID
And Gettin' OUT!!

Man, there's nothing redeeming about a song like that. When I was a pious young lad the pleasures of just such a song would cause me all manner of soul-searching. After years of moral consideration, the only conclusion I've reached is there is a particular tone of guitar, usually played in an open E, that will accommodate one message only: I'm drunk and horny and darlin' that's all the foreplay I got in me! If there's a Devil's Triad, this must be the Dionysian Dual-Tone -- and the Yayhoos play it to perfection.

Actually, there's more breadth and depth to the Yayhoos' songcraft than "humping and booze" (to borrow another band's self-description). But these are veterans of the rock & roll circuit, and their chief concern is keeping the audience on their feet. To that end they pull off some incredible covers of unsuspecting material: the O-Jays "Love Train" gets reverent treatment, while ABBA's "Dancing Queen" turns raucous and celebratory. When the guitars attack in the latter, the listener is having too much fun to concern herself with questions of irony. It's just ... fun! For those of us who have inner Laughtons to answer to, the best tack is to enjoy the Yayhoos first and sheepishly point to the irony of it all later.

The Yayhoos' site is here (Amazon here & here. eMusic here. And an appreciative hat-tip goes to my GG Award-Winning New Testament Scholar Buddy for making the introductions).

I'm a little surprised at the critical garlands being thrown at Nick Lowe's At My Age. It's not that it's a bad album -- not at all. The songs are all straightforward and neatly groomed, most of them clocking in at just under three minutes. The production is understated, befitting Lowe's quiet meditative mood. The guy who gave us "Cruel To Be Kind" still has it in him to deliver the cruel ("I Trained Her To Love Me"), but like the other 11 songs the message is ... "straightforward" is the word that keeps coming to mind. Returning to the earlier chart-topper for a moment, "Cruel To Be Kind" was a snappy little number that got a person singing along, only to inspire some troubled head-scratching when it was finished. There's not as much of that happening here, but, hey: I'm fond of At My Age, too. The current pop-clime seems determinedly set on delivering either angst or nonsense, and in such an environment "straightforward" is truly a welcome delight.

Nick Lowe's site is here. Amazon, eMusic.

Finally, I'm not at all sure what to say about From The Corner To The Block by Galactic, except this is music (hip-hop, funk, what have you) I wouldn't normally have touched with a ten-foot pole ... and I'm thoroughly digging it. DarkoV turned me on to these guys with this posting, and as persuasive as his words of praise are, what really pulled me in was the photo (album cover?) of the drummer. Who doesn't want to hear what this sounds like? From the little bit of surfing I've done, it looks like Galactic is a band that loves to play and invites the rappers of the day to come in and contribute. I'm happy to say none of it is of the chest-thumping variety that brings out my inner Charles Laughton: this is all finely observed material that even the big man from Britain might have appreciated.

Galactic's site is here. Amazon here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The surest sign of autumn

Pick-up trucks in the parking lot of the liquor store, men in their camos lining up, waiting for the doors to unlock, then peeling out loaded. Sober citizens are advised to stay away from the marshes, the woods, fields and streams....

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Fool me twice ... well, that's just not going to happen. Unless your name is Indiana Jones. Then it can happen three times. Or four. Or...."

Steven Spielberg reportedly made the third Indiana Jones movie as an apology for the second one. Gee, thanks. So what was Bruce Willis apologizing for this summer? I think if Spielberg felt truly penitent he'd have left the whole mess for George Lucas to make toe jam with.

Now comes word that Sylvester Stallone is trying to figure out some way to integrate the current Myanmar body count into his latest installment of Rambo. Great: now we have another a fourth movie we really don't need.

Doc Savage vs. The Zombies

Perhaps the purchase was inspired by my enjoyable re-encounter with Leigh Brackett's fiction. Perhaps I was simply responding to another ever-dimming echo from my adolescence. Perhaps I needed to top up my Amazon order so I could qualify for free shipping, and this little item fit to a "T." Whatever the case may be, the purchase proved to be a lapse in good judgment.

It's tempting to blame the tempter -- those carefree guys at the tastefully named Bookgasm site, a place devoted to the pleasures of low-brow reading. (Even Bookslut gives these fellas a wide berth -- heh!) Following a link from Michael Blowhard, I caught up on all my favorite "authors" from adolescence: Nick Carter, Don Pendleton, et al ... books that enticed me toward their content chiefly because of the eye-candy on the cover. Rod Lott and his crew remain enthusiastic consumers of this genre, and if you spend an hour at the site their attitude becomes infectious.

Still, I knew better than to buy a Doc Savage adventure. This was pulp fiction I'd been introduced to at the age of 11 (perfect age), but had wearied of by the age of 15. In those four years I'd somehow persuaded myself that I should be collecting something, so I went to work on the Doc Savage novels and comic books. The habit stayed with me for several years after I'd stopped reading them. At some point the penny finally dropped that this passion of mine was, in William Shatner's words, "a colossal waste of time," so I kicked the habit and moved on.

I got a life. Or so I told myself.

There are always ways to lure an addict back, of course, and Bookgasm did it by announcing that Doc Savage adventures were being re-released in their original pulp format, via a publisher named Nostalgia Ventures.

As Captain Kirk's personal hero once said, "People who like this sort of thing, will find this the sort of thing they like." I guess meticulous re-creations of first editions aren't my sort of thing. My first thought, after giving the magazine a quick once-over, was, "How incredibly gay." The front cover of The Lost Oasis presents Doc in a loincloth, chained to a post with at least three of his buddies. Flip it over, and we get a glimpse of the original cover to The Sargasso Ogre (my childhood favorite): Doc, swimming starkers in seaweed. Gentler stuff than the bondage scene on the front, but still: skinny-dipping in the Sargasso?! The Golden Press hardcover I'd read in my childhood at least had the decency to depict Doc swimming fully-clothed in jodhpurs and safari boots.

Mind you, when I was 11 I wouldn't have thought it strange to see a portrait of Doc skinny-dipping, even if the picture had included all five of his "chums." At that age, I still thought a boys-only club that met in a tree-house was a swell idea: the concept of six grown men who met on the 86th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper was simply an extension of that. Thirty years later, however, I have to admit this is not a book I want the Post Office Ladies to see me with. And I haven't even touched on the prose, which includes such howlers as (I'm not making this up) "'Holy cow!' Renny ejaculated."

Perhaps there's a reason why zombies have become predominant figures in Western adolescent culture. In a pornified age when a person can't read or watch or hear anything without thinking first of the unintended double-entendre, zombies are blissfully uncomplicated. There's nothing sexual about a zombie: it's just dead meat that wants you to join the club. After a while, the life of no life starts to look pretty good. Which gets me wondering if maybe this isn't the legitimate reincarnation of Doc and his five fellow adventurers: