Sunday, February 28, 2010

Addendum to "Final Score"

Some of my American readers may not be fully aware of just what a big deal this is. Never mind that revelers are taking to the streets in every Canadian city: this win has saved me countless hours of parsing over — with former jocks, thirsty cafe patrons, moms and their strollers — what we did wrong. Now, when I'm greeted with, "Did you see that game?!" I can say, "Killer, eh?" follow that up with a satisfied grin, and be done with it.

Final Score

I am as thrilled as any Canadian over the Gold Medal for Men's Hockey. I thought it was an exciting game — an exciting series — and that Sydney Crosby redeemed the team from the three (or so) minutes of "Let's just dog it, boys" that nearly gave it up to the Americans. I very much want Zach Parise to defect to Canada.

A gratifying and memorable series, to be sure. Various Facebook friends (Canadians all, natch) are speculating that this is the new 1972, but I'm not so sure. Will my daughters (ages 11 and 13) really remember 2010 the way I (aged seven, when I'm not 44) remember 1972?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Movie Catch-Up: It Might Get Loud

I've been hankering for some time to see It Might Get Loud. Alas, a plethora of wacky alternative titles tumbled through my mind as the show wore on ....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wither Insularity?

Each culture is primarily interested in its own subject, plus whatever is coming out of America. With that arithmetic, we are even with everyone else. We just don't have a market larger than our own to aspire to. We'll occasionally look to Britain, mostly as something to simultaneously aspire to and rebel against, sort of like our father — but for the most part, we honestly believe we are making the great contributions to culture.

Jessa Crispin (aka Bookslut) addresses insularity, and a few other issues, as she reviews Best European Fiction 2010 ed. Aleksandar Hemon (A), here. Weirdly enough, I can't help but wonder if this "Yo: Dad" posture she describes doesn't mirror Canadian novelists' attitude toward their American counterparts.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Movie Catch-Up: Knowing, Inglourious Basterds

My wife has gone international again (Haiti, of course). Solo nights + exacerbated insomnia = perfect opportunity to catch up on the movies we'd rather not waste our “together time” on. Today's cases in point:

Knowing, the infamous Alex Proyas/Nicolas Cage vehicle that Roger Ebert loved, despite the nearly universal chorus of contempt sung by the rest of his cohort. Braced for my own indifference, I was instead pleased to find myself beguiled by a story that was emotionally unsettling from beginning to end. Comparisons have been made, appropriately, to M. Night Shyamalan's Signs — both films attempt to explain the ways of God to men — but Knowing is the better film for its use of ambiguous biblical metaphors that raise deeper, more nettlesome questions than the superficial ones they settle. Having said that, neither film is one I'd care to add to my library: a single viewing with friends, family (or youth group) is enough to generate the desired dinner conversation.

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds — if your idea of a well-rounded meal is Skittles and Beef Jerky, this is probably your idea of a great movie. Well-seasoned moviegoers don't need me to articulate just what a po-mo white trash meta-referencing geek Tarantino is — and if that sounds like a bad thing, I don't necessarily mean it to. It's just that by now Quentin's entire ouevre, with only one exception, has the collective feel of a marathon session of, “Why don't you come over to my back yard, and we'll all play 'Let's Pretend'?” (sorry, correction: “Lett's Pritend”) The tropes are all there: the cheery perambulations around a subject of deadly consequence, the Mexican Stand-Offs, etc. Tarantino's true gift lies in who he entices out to play. Say what you will about Tarantino's little-boy games, he sure knows how to get the girls involved: Mélanie Laurent and Diane Kruger bring the emotional content for Chritoph Waltz to endanger. Waltz deserves Oscars and more, as does Robert Richardson for framing it all so beautifully, and Sally Menke for working miracles in the editing room. But none of these people can rescue Tarantino from the grim fact that he was a wunderkind, whose wunder is fading with his status as kind.

Final verdict: Michael Blowhard used to rate the success of a movie by its lack of “fast-forward moments.” Neither flick prompted me to FF, but I was content to leave Basterds running for a few minutes while I took a bathroom break.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Olympic Mystery

How does a guy from Russell, Manitoba get gold-medal training for an event like the skeleton? For those who have yet to visit the Keystone Province, most of Manitoba looks like this.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Taking Inordinate "Freude" in Vancouver's "Schaden"

I've usually taken pleasure in the Winter Olympic Games, but this year the task seems to require my concentration. Right from the git-go, when the bid was won by Vancouver, I've borne little but ill-will toward IOC and VanOC. Why? Because by awarding Vancouver the games, both committees reaffirmed their innate stupidity: Texas gets more snow than Vancouver does. Personally, I would have bid for Anchorage, if only to see Sarah's Bridge completed.

Adding to my difficulties is CTV's attempt at "hipper-than-thou" television coverage -- the "thou" in this case being the CBC, who used to cover the Olympics with predictable (and repetitive) hokeyness. Stalwarts Brian Williams and Rod Black are about as offensive as soft ice cream, but their various cohorts are insufferable. Yesterday afternoon I caught Elvis Stojko stifling contempt as Dan Levy and Jessi Cruickshank cajoled him into declaring the most sensational figure skating spills of the games thus far. And last night's hockey game, the first event I was actually anticipating with some eagerness, was similarly marred by CTV's "bad boy" approach to commentary. With a united chorus of, "We need 'greasy' goals!" the entire panel looked and sounded like defective Don Cherry clones.

Feh. A pox on all your houses.

Link love: Salon to Canada: "Nice try, but you're fired." More! Canadians get angry (bad idea) while Vancouver mishaps and misjudgments continue. With a tip o' the hat to Rob in Victoria, who, I hope, is having fun.

Roger Ebert

Chris Jones profiles Roger Ebert, for Esquire. Ethan Hill's photograph of Ebert is equally compelling. "The melancholia of everything completed," does not pertain to this man.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Soundtrack In Search Of An Early Spring

To my godson:

This compilation continues the grand tradition (initiated at the request of your father) of selecting songs that (hopefully) thrill us all. To that end I whipsaw between songs with content I wholly approve of, and songs with content that, frankly, makes me nervous when I give it serious consideration. I happen to think one gift the arts offer us is a safe “play-zone” in which we can give license to, and take full responsibility for, our most primal impulses and haunting questions, before we have to return to the dinner table and talk nicely to each other. God knows we need that. Enjoy!

1. Reverend Dan Smith speaks — you'll have to do some scrounging to find this guy, but he was the real deal when he opened his mouth. A Bluesman-turned-Gospel Singer, if Reverend Dan Smith didn't believe it, he didn't sing it. (A)

2. R.L. Burnside, “Someday Baby” (feat. Lyrics Born) From A Bothered Mind. (A, e)

3. David Wilcox, “The Natural Edge” — the Canadian Rodney Dangerfield of kick-ass rock. From Greatest Hits Too.

4. Ted Nugent, “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”oooh, I never thought I'd ever include something from “The Nuge” but you can't argue with a song this, um, “meticulously crafted.” It's also the embodiment of what made Kurt Cobain's dress such a deliriously welcome sight.

5. wax.on, “The Night That Joey Died” — my elder daughter loves this track (thank you, DV). A surprisingly fitting tribute to the first Ramone to leave us. (A, e)

6. The Trashmen, “Surfin' Bird” — a song I will forever associate with Full Metal Jacket, which lends it a disturbing air.

7. Dropkick Murphys, “Famous For Nothing” — I don't think these lyrics would work if these boys didn't take their Catholicism very seriously. Still, you'll want to be judicious about playing this song around certain family members. (A)

8. “The Green Hornet” — TV theme-songs are usually a signal that we're about to change gears.

9. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, “A Taste Of Honey” (e)

10. Jimmy McGriff, “The Bird”

11. The Stranglers, “Skin Deep” — I recently heard this song in a mall, and had to wonder if its original success didn't change the direction of music almost as much as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” did. (A)

12. Len, “Steal My Sunshine” — an omnipresent pop song, for good reason.

13. R.L. Burnside, “Nothin' Man” — from I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down. Just remember my caveat about taking full responsibility, please. (A, e)

14. Mavis Staples, “Eyes On The Prize” — a heartening corrective to the previous track. (A, A)

15. Tom Waits, “Way Down In The Hole” — from Big Time. This has been my favorite Tom Waits song since long before The Wire was even a concept. (A)

16. Johnny Cash, “Tennessee Stud” — for your dad (mostly). (A)

17. AC/DC, “Hard As A Rock”
— the Young Brothers' post-Bon Scott ability to cook up an honest-to-God Rock song is debatable. But “catchy” they can do.

18. Major Lazer, “Hold The Line”
— here's to music without borders! (e, A)

19. Sarah Vaughn, “Fever” (Adam Freeland Remix) — just when I think this song is desperate for retirement, someone comes along and forces me to rethink.

20. Ashley Cleveland, “You Gotta Move”
— for the past several decades Blind Willie Johnson (w) seems to have given the most desperate of us a reason to believe. Performers like Ms. Cleveland make the world a better place. (e, A)

21. wax.on, “(I Know I'll End Up Being The School's) Janitor” — there may come a day when I no longer sing along to this song. You might try to avoid that fate. Or not.

22. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, “Reason To Believe”ibid.

23. Reverend Dan Smith, “Down Through The Years”

24. Jane's Addiction, “Ripple” — I love the way Jane's covered other people's songs (the Grateful Dead in this case). As pointedly debauched as Perry Farrell could be, I believe he followed the Reverend Dan Smith code: if he didn't believe it, he didn't sing it.

Literary Journals: "What Is The Future? Death?"

What is the future of the literary journal? This piece by Carolyn Kellogg tentatively posits McSweeney's as a successful model for literary journals. Confession: even though I am a regular purchaser and reader of The Believer I have yet to find anything compelling about McSweeney's. I'm also ambivalent toward the fiction issues of The New Yorker and The Atlantic. n+1, on the other hand? Big fan. I think n+1 pretty much embodies Ted Genoways' plea for "an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world worthy and in need of the attention of intelligent, sensitive writers."

Genoways and his fellow ranters, however, lose me with their elitist strategies. "For Christ's sake, write something we might want to read," is a punchy ending. But it elicits different responses from different readers. I happen to miss the sort of fiction that GQ and Esquire used to publish: "Guy Fic", if you will. (Seek out "Until Gwen" by Dennis Lehane (originally published in The Atlantic(!)) for the most recent example I can think of.)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Quick Thoughts On Quick Reads

How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, Toby Young (A): I gobbled this memoir down like a box of Morden's Russian Mints over Christmas week. Young hops the pond to take up an internship at Graydon Carter's revitalized Vanity Fair, with visions of storming celebrity ramparts a la Spy Magazine (Carter's earlier rag). Anyone who's leafed through VF in the last 10 years is assured exactly which direction this story is going to go. Young gets all his signals crossed, grossly misreads the rigid Manhattan/Hollywood class system, offends pretty much everyone and confesses to multiple booze-induced acts of shamefulness. Although I thought he played the "I never expected Mother Britain to be more enlightened on this issue" card a little too frequently, I enjoyed the book from beginning to end and have become a regular visitor to his blog.

When I was finished How To Lose Friends, my appetite was roused for yet more servings of contemporary British shame. To that end, I finally dusted off my old remaindered copy of Robert Harris' The Ghost (A), a thriller in which a cocky ghost writer agrees to a last-minute request to ghost a former Prime Minister's memoirs. Said writer is just intelligent enough to get on the fast track to more trouble than he can handle -- rather like Toby Young -- and the ex-Prime Minister and his wife are just oily enough to skid the rails for everyone in their immediate vicinity -- rather like Tony and Cheri Blair. Harris has built up a considerable reserve of bile in his reassessing the Blairs, which was fine by me. But The Ghost is first and foremost a taut page-turner -- the grim sort of fun that keeps me returning to British writers.

Finally, long-time readers know of my fondness for James Lee Burke. With Rain Gods (A) there is little need for me to add another verse to my hymn of praise, except to say that Burke restricts his narrative mode to third-person limited, eliminating a narrative quirk (or lapse) I've sometimes found trying in his earlier novels: a first-person narrator who slips into omniscience about a course of events he hasn't witnessed. If you still haven't given Burke a try, this is one of the better books to start with.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Indie Music, RIP

A provocative question, posed (and tentatively answered) by Rachael Maddux of Paste: Is Indie Dead?

My take? There's no such thing as "indie" music; there never was. The closest you'll get to independent music is me, strumming my guitar in the bedroom with the door closed. Performers, whether they're stand-up comedians, musicians, fiction writers, etc., depend on their audience. When an artist messes with that relationship, they becomes "independent" -- and obscure, if not irrelevant.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Reclusive Artist Speaks!

J.D. Salinger, on the astonishing popularity of his slender ouevre:

I can't explain why [it] caught on the way it did, and I don't think I could ever duplicate it. A lot of things have to go right all at once.

Oh, wait. That's not Salinger; it's the reclusive Bill Watterson, summing up his thoughts on Calvin & Hobbes in his first interview in 15 years, here.