Saturday, August 24, 2019

Subscription by conviction

“I’m thinking about resubscribing to The Atlantic,” said my father. “But I’m not sure if I should do that, or give The New Yorker a try.”

I was surprised. “My last magazine subscription expired just over a year ago,” I said. “Maclean’s Magazine.”

“Well, I’ve been convicted to do it, really. I read a piece by a Christian writer who argued against the expectation of ‘free content.’ We should be willing to pay for what we read — ‘The laborers who mowed your fields,’ and all that. I visit both those sites with some regularity, so they’re the ones getting my money currently.”

Now I’m the one convicted.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Book of Weirdo

The Book of Weirdo: A Retrospective of R. Crumb's Legendary Humor Comics AnthologyThe Book of Weirdo: A Retrospective of R. Crumb's Legendary Humor Comics Anthology by Jon B Cooke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book is light on art, heavy on “my interactions with Crumb.”

There are good reasons for both. Crumb, who prior to this magazine had never edited anything more commercial than his brothers’ homemade comic books, put himself at the helm of Weirdo and declared that all contributing artists would retain complete and exclusive rights to their work. FWIW I am fully on board with this element of the Weirdo credo. Unfortunately, that means the book I would love to read — an anthology of Weirdo anthologies — would be prohibitively expensive. Instead, this lovely bound book of high-stock glossy paper offers us little more than (heh!) crumbs of what made Weirdo weird.

We get photos of the various contributors, some samples of the work, more than a few brand-spanking-new artistic tributes to the magazine and the people who made it. And lots and lots of stories about what it was like to work for and with Robert Crumb.

Crumb’s a legitimate draw — larger-than-life and twice as charming/galling. But anyone who has followed his grotesquely confessional work or watched Terry Zwigoff’s documentary is already intimately familiar with the direction these accounts take.

In the best of all possible worlds the magazine rack would be regularly larded with anthologies of Weirdo, the way MAD re-packaged and saturated the market with content from the 60s to the early 90s. In this world, Gaines was the savvier publisher, who paid his artists top-market value — and not a penny more. We make do with this, because we have to.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 16, 2019

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee seems to be having (another) moment.
It's 1974, and suddenly the nation's coffee tables are missing two legs...
The South China Morning Post reports that the Hong Kong protesters are consciously heeding Lee’s oracular advice: “Be water, my friend.”*

Quartz picked up on this and devoted yesterdays daily bulletin to Lee. It’s quite entertaining and typically chock-full of interesting tangential links. Even this 70s kid** who kung-fued up a storm with everybody else in the schoolyard picked up some historical tidbits hitherto unknown.

Lee’s legacy is front-and-centre for another reason, of course: Quentin Tarantino’s brief, less-than-woke Bruce Lee vs. Cliff Booth skit, in Once Upon a Time...  in Hollywood.

It’s not for me to answer the racism charge, but Walter Chaw’s take on the scene strikes me as remarkably generous.*** Full disclosure: there were maybe a dozen of us at the afternoon matinee I caught, and nobody laughed at Lee’s comeuppance. Which raises another reason why I dislike the film — it is grievously low on giggles.****

As for the Lee family’s complaint that Tarantino has supplied us with a caricature of the man — it’s a fair enough assessment. In fact everyone in this movie is a caricature — doe-eyed Sharon Tate, resentful out-played-player Steve McQueen, hustler Marvin Schwarz, etc. As for Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), it’s hard to locate whether it’s a caricature of a sixties swaggering stunt-man, or of the actor who’s portraying him. The only character who (momentarily) slips the bonds of caricature is Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), a Hollywood has-been who rediscovers his soul, such as it is, when he finally settles down, digs deep, and does the work he’s paid for. Once that’s out of the way, it’s back to caricature for him, too.

No doubt I’d be discomfited with seeing a caricature of my own beloved pop. But as both Chaw and the Quartz selection of links make clear, Lee was an indefatigable self-promoter, who could talk trash with the best of them. Hey, the dude was a human being — gentle acknowledgement of same is a good thing.

Wait — did I just defend Tarantino? (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn't buying it.)

*My friend John Longhurst points out an element to the protests unremarked upon by MSM: protesters are singing a Christian praise anthem from the 70s.

**I never owned the poster, but I had plenty of friends who did. They also bought the Lee bio-pulps that seemed to show up in the drugstore magazine stand every month or so.

***Turns out there was indeed a stunt-man/Bruce Lee dust-up that Lee conceded.

****Still in the interest of full disclosure: I will admit the prolonged agony of Dalton’s well-earned pre-shoot hangover had me in stitches. What can I say? I’m a fool for slapstick.

Sunburn, Laura Lippman

She has a plan, of sorts — but her feelings for him are an unanticipated complication.

He has a boss who hired him to stick close to her and get the dirt. Well he’s “close,” alright.

They both know the noose is getting tighter. What are they going to do? What are they capable of?

Laura Lippman’s Sunburn is a masterclass in the anatomy of human desire. Like most readers, Lippman’s protagonists and secondary characters are convinced they’ve got just about everything figured out. People are predictable, right? Almost pathetically so.

But then someone comes along who tilts the heart and subsequent motivations in an unexpected direction, and nobody’s too sure about anything anymore.

Wielding a unique subtlety of insight, Lippman deftly proves it is the familiar stories that can yield the greatest surprises.

Friday, August 09, 2019

The Blues: To Deal With

Last night I got home, peeled the celophane off Peter Frampton, All Blues and introduced it to the media player while I prepped supper.

It’s accomplished stuff, of course — Frampton still has chops, and he’s assembled some old hands who have done good work for a long time. But midway through “She Caught The Katy” my thoughts turned glum, as they seem so prone to do these days.

He approaches the American Songbook with a laudable admixture of curiosity and respect, and the results are solid. And yet . . . look at what once was.

In his youth he wrote and performed songs everyone wanted to hear. He was glorious. And sure, he remains remarkably trim, but there’s no mistaking the voice has aged along with the rest of him. Now he is, as Bonnie Raitt sings, “standing with the rest of us/who used to rule the world.”

Circle of life, baby. And I was taking it personally. To hold off the inner torpor, I shifted my focus to identifying what I could learn to love. Frampton’s solos are good — no, great (dude, c’mon!). He favours slow-hand over shredding, which immediately earns my unwavering respect. With some diligence I could probably pick up a few licks and use 'em for my personal explorations next to the piano, always a welcome element for the others living in this . . .

Then the brush-work began, followed by a familiar three-note progression. I left the cutting board and re-consulted the CD jewel box. Track six . . . wait: this is “All Blues”? 'Cos this “All Blues” is actually THAT “All Blues” — from Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue.

I’d never heard it done on guitar before. This was sharp.

Suddenly my mood did a complete about-face.

I realized I was feeling . . . grateful.

Grateful that Frampton was still at it, that he went and did this particular song, foolhardy though that might appear. Grateful to have my morose self-absorption interrupted by something beautiful and unexpected. Grateful to still appreciate, in this day and at my age, actual grace-notes.

Grateful for the gift. Thank you, sir.

*****

It is a unique thrill watching young talent come into its own, no?

So many youngsters take flight and stay in a holding pattern just a few feet off the floor, until boredom with the road takes over and they find their way back to less sensational jobs. But every once in a while a kid comes along who keeps reaching and stretching until (holy cow!) suddenly they’re in a feedback chamber where everything makes sonic sense in a way nobody expected. Now everything around them sounds new.

That seems to be where Samantha Fish is at right now. She is an absolute power-house vocalist and guitarist, who, in the last decade or so has taken complete command of the stage. She gets better with every album, and her newest, Kill Or Be Kind, seems poised to become THAT album.

When “Bullet-Proof” got its internet release I gave it a listen and thought, “How great would it be to watch her do her thing at this particular moment?” I checked her site for tour dates and . . .

. . . she was due to take the stage at the Tremblant Blues Festival in just a few hours.

It was too short notice. But now Tremblant is on my radar. Though I’m not much for festivals anymore — I did enough sitting on a blanket in a mosquito-infested field when I was in my 20s, thank you — Tremblant might actually be in my purview of interest. Blues acts from all over Canada, sharing the stage with international headliners. Book early enough and lodging will be comfortable.

Next year in Tremblant?

Links:

Old white fellas singing the Blues:
Still alive: a good thing.
Still young:
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band, someone I’d definitely pay to see. I recently picked up Live From The Fox Oakland. I’m loving the music, and saving the DVD for an evening when I can put on the headphones and disappear into my faux-Eames chair.
Not blues:
  • The Bird & The Bee cover Van Halen. Strictly Diamond Dave material (of course!).


Friday, August 02, 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Three of us attended. And three of us thought it was a nearly complete waste of time.

A story-beat-free picture populated by dozens of mostly-pallid caricatures and one character.* I have coffee table books with more zip in 'em — and fewer feet.
"Dude, THIS is what the people are PAYING FOR!"
How three leaden hours of self-indulgent bloat could somehow manage to twitterpate so many critics-on-a-paycheque is beyond my ken. Maybe I am (could it be??) the one who's off-base?

*Leonardo DiCaprio applies an uncommon focus that, it must be said, salvages his role (if not the movie).

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The End of Weird

The local hardware store used to rent out DVDs. Once, when I was lining up at cash, the teenage girl ahead of me handed over the card for Ouija. “Not gonna see THAT,” said the teenage girl who took the card. “My Ouija experience was freaky enough, thank you!”

“Mine too!” said her co-worker, and there followed an animated discussion amongst the three young women.

I came home and mentioned the exchange to my (then) teenage daughters. Was this a common motif among their classmates?

Indeed it was all but universal.

I cleared my throat and encouraged them (yet again) to give this sort of thing a wide berth. Reassurances were made. Then one daughter piped up, “They think you and mom are members of a religious cult, you know.”

Who? Your friends?

“No — their parents.”

This village, which once hosted three robust Protestant congregations with towering brick edifices, plus a Baptist congregation in its more staid mid-20th Century house of worship, is now predominantly populated by assured “Nones.” Here, if the kids dust off the parental board-and-planchette for some Friday night frights, nobody remarks on it. However, tying your shoelaces and joining the Sunday remnant at your local mainline Protestant church?
Kinda culty.
Anyway, I’m reading Erik Davis’ High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience In The Seventies, and I’m . . . digging . . . it . . .

. . . more or less.

Some days more.

Other days less.

I listened to a bit of this podcast, and within the first 15 minutes Davis and his host reached the locus of my discontent with his entire project.

Cannabis is legal, but it’s strictly squaresville — for The Olds, daddy-o; meanwhile we’re microdosing our kids with LSD to ease their off-the-charts anxiety; mushroom tea? whatevs; Ayahuasca is a punchline; the One Percent have taken over Burning Man; gender and sexuality are increasingly splintered and specialized concerns — not only are kids not getting stoned, they’re not getting laid, the primary activity they are genetically hardwired to do at their age; comic book movies rule the cinema; our two leading public intellectuals are Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan . . .

Et fucking cetera.

If Fukuyama can pin “The End of History” to 1991, I will pin The End of Weird to a quarter-century later: 2016.

Davis’ book remains engaging and will be an easy finish, at which point I will speak further (furthur?). So far I’ve read the first third, dealing primarily with the McKenna brothers, whose psychonautic narratives whipsawed from free-association psychedelic imagery to super-precise “It’s Science!” deconstruction.

At some point between my grumpy jottings in the margins, I began mulling over the story of Fritz Gerlich.

Ron Rosenbaum devotes an entire chapter of Explaining Hitler to the story of “Fritz Gerlich and the Trial of Hitler’s Nose: In which we unearth a lost classic of Hitler explanation by a murdered explainer:
It still has the power to shock: Adolf Hitler married to a black bride. More than six decades after this extraordinary photocomposite image of Hitler in top hat and wedding tails, arm in arm with a black bride in a scene of wedding-day bliss, appeared on the front page of one of Munich’s leading newspapers, this mocking representation of Hitler — in a context of decapitation, miscegenation, transgressive sex, and violent defacement — still gives off an aura of recklessness, of danger. 
And, in fact, there can be little doubt that this sensational visual and verbal attack on Hitler did turn out to be dangerous, fatally so, to its creator, the courageous, possessed anti-Hitler journalist, Dr. Fritz Gerlich.
It is, like the rest of Rosenbaum’s book, a ripping read.
You want 'High Weirdness'?
But midway through the telling Rosenbaum recounts how Gerlich “the skeptical, Protestant, rationalist historian . . . the no-nonsense newspaper editor” gets “taken in by [a] primitive, bedridden, Catholic mystic whose own church was skeptical, who claimed she lived for years on no food but Eucharist wafers, who produced great gouts of blood in the pattern of Christ’s wounds,” etc.

Gerlich did indeed fall — deeply — under the sway of Therese Neumann, a Bavarian stigmatic who vigorously encouraged Gerlich’s antagonism of the Führer, to the point where Gerlich actually converted, shortly before his murder in Dachau.

Rosenbaum is flummoxed by this seemingly apparent con which lead to Gerlich’s very public change of heart, and asks Walter Schaber, a survivor of the Weimar press wars, if he has any explanation. Schaber’s reply is sobering.

Anyway, we haven’t really arrived at The End of Weird — indeed, things seem poised to become a great deal weirder. It is just that what used to be weird — the sex, the drugs, the rock ‘n’ roll and woo-woo stuff — now in hindsight seems fixedly bourgeois: little more than a tawdry scrim that distracted us from the true weirdness taking root all around, and within.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Rutger Hauer, 1944-2019

My favourite Rutger Hauer story comes from Jason Eisener, who directed Hauer in Hobo With A Shotgun (“A better poster than movie,” sez MZS, and I agree).

Eisener admits that once he landed Hauer for the title role, he basically blew his budget for the movie. Consequently most of the shooting was a fly-by-the-seat-of-everyone’s-pants exercise in minute-to-minute problem-solving.

Hauer, says Eisener, was completely into it. Difficulties with lighting and camera perspective were frequently solved by Hauer — “Oh, I’ve seen how you do this. Give me a second” — who gamely clambered into the rig and adjusted lights, reflectors, camera angles, etc etc etc.

Hauer’s thumbprint is probably larger in Hobo than it is in Blade Runner, but he will quite rightly be remembered for “Tears in the rain — time to die.”

I’m not sure why, but it gives me some pleasure to know he had a grandson. RIP, Rutger Hauer.

Favourite Rutger Hauer YouTube moments: Rutger Hauer keeps Max Headroom on his (non-existent) toes. Rutger Hauer shills for Guinness.
OK, now I'm not just thirsty, I'm ready to re-grow my mullet!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Your “quiet time”

It’s pretty important. But if you need help with that, this 40-second clip from Cornerstone Festival ‘03 should do the trick:

I had a dream recently where I kissed you on the forehead, and touched my hand to the side of your face.

I imparted advice as well, but it was pretty general stuff — basically, you have the capacity to invest more deeply in the lives of the people you love. Don’t be afraid, go on.

Truly, if you’ve ever commented here you were in it — or some version of you. Well — my SUBCONSCIOUS’ version of you, really. Which is my subconscious version of me, ergo advice to myself, which I would do well to heed, etc.

But I’m still going to make it about you. This internet web-thing — anyone who still has enough self-possession to take a half-step back can see it is thoroughly torqued to make every one of its users crazy angry.

Shut it off. Hang with a friend. Commit to your Quiet Time.

OR:

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Leonard Cohen, agony aunt

It is remarkable to me how (some) rock stars from my youth have aged into elder statespeople. Patti Smith, David Byrne and (especially) Nick Cave were super-edgy at one time — now they embody the calming voice of compassionate consideration.

More to be said, possibly, but for now here is a link to a complete transcription of the single “agony aunt” column Leonard Cohen wrote for Details magazine, in 1993 (shortly after releasing The Future).

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Larry Norman — here we go. Again.

On a bitterly cold winter night in 1984 Larry Norman gave a concert to a packed gymnasium at the Winkler Bible Institute. Today Winkler is a thriving agri-industrial city in southern Manitoba, roughly a 90 minute drive from the Winnipeg International Airport. At that time, however, it was a small Mennonite enclave.

Norman had performed there before, a year earlier. The first concert was stock Larry Norman — a standard setlist peppered with the usual Norman anecdotes (“I played for the President. It was nice. He smiled.” (Flashes toothy Jimmy Carter rictus, audience laughs); reads ingredients off a packet of artificial creamer, (audience laughs) etc. He’d given a version of the same concert at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre in Winnipeg the summer of ‘82.

This night was different. Norman came out with his nylon-stringed guitar and launched the show with familiar toe-tapping crowd pleasers. But when he moved to the piano he seemed determined to stay there, singing one after another of his oddball dirges — including “Pardon Me.”

Late in the concert he took the mic and said, “I heard some rumours. About me.” There followed quite a list of behaviours that this group of mostly Mennonites would indeed have considered scandalous — “That I divorced my wife. That I divorced my wife, after she took off her clothes and posed for pictures in a magazine,” etc. The list grew longer and more tawdry. He pointedly never addressed any of the allegations, but went on at length excoriating The Church (sic) for trading in gossip and slander.

Finally someone in the audience piped up. “Hey Larry — how about some more music?”

“This IS music,” Norman insisted. “This is music for the soul.”

Norman did eventually return to actual music. He wrapped up the night with a few more songs and a “Thank you.” People in attendance applauded politely, and left with the impression that the entire concert had been about something other than the concert.

I was a Larry Norman devotee at the time. This was the first I’d heard any of these crazy stories. If Gregory Thornbury’s biography of Norman is to be believed, pretty much every “rumour” Norman trotted out that night was a fact.

Which is all to say: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music: Larry Norman & The Perils Of Christian Rock is one weird trip.

But before I get into the text let me be candid.

My wife and I have been married for just over a quarter-century. And — here comes the candour, get ready — in those years we have had some tense discussions about household finance.

Now: how many of those discussions do you suppose I or my wife felt compelled to record on a reel-to-reel tape recorder?

Thornbury was given access to the fabled Norman “archives,” including at least one such tape where Larry beseeches his then-wife Pam to take responsibility for her spending — among other fraught, potentially marriage-ending, behaviours.

Norman was a notorious hoarder. In amongst the piles of ephemera and detritus of Norman’s lived life — epistolary exchanges, napkin scrawlings, and press clippings by the bale — are these reels of recorded conversation. Apparently Norman brought this monster to every discussion that could potentially conclude in being chiseled out of his fiduciary due — or any other scenario that could benefit from a Larry Norman performance.

From this bloat of self-obsession Thornbury pulls together a portrait of a man whose ambition and artistry and depth of cultural penetration was truly remarkable. Thornbury’s portrait argues against  Norman’s cultural legacy amounting to little more than a quickly forgotten footnote. That this is nevertheless so is due chiefly, Thornbury posits, to the milieu Norman stubbornly worked in and with — American “John 3:16” Evangelicalism.

Norman devoted his life to the cause, whilst rubbing the fur the wrong way and putting a two-handed grip on Evangelical third-rails like integration, the environment, GOP loyalty, etc. Evangelicals never troubled themselves to return the devotion, instead pillorying Norman whenever he stepped outside the box. Sure, he had his faults — his need for control occasionally resulted in overreach, and it appears there may have been at least one indiscretion that, uh, occurred after years of frustration with his reckless peers, perhaps borne (an attentive reader might suspect) out of jealousy over former-BFF Randy Stonehill’s effortless way with the ladies. But Norman's insistence on being a prophet in his own house was finally the element that did him in.

Eyeh — Norman's attitude won't have helped cement the legacy he was hoping for, I will agree. But another portrait emerges from Thornbury’s telling — unconsciously, I suspect — which lies closer to the shadow-portrait Norman painted of himself 35 years ago in Winkler, Manitoba. The dude wanted desperately to believe his own press. All of it — the uncompromising evangelist; the cultural pioneer; the “close, personal friend to the stars”; the reckless lover; the scamp who, broken, crept back to the foot of the cross; the mysterious figure at the centre of unseemly rumours we hadn't heard about until he showed up in town, alone; the beleaguered soul who begged The Church to stop gossiping; hey, over there — the cross! repeat. In other words, The Compleat Larry Norman Myth.

Two-thirds into the book I was wondering why anyone not invested in this scene would be the least bit interested in this perpetually self-aggrandizing clown. MSM gave Thornbury a lot of lurv, but while the book is competently written I had to force myself to finish it. One major reason — it’s not 1984 anymore. And brother, there is a shit-ton of Larry Norman rumours. Characterising the man as “occasionally difficult” is a kindness beyond absurdity.

But the music! Bob Dylan digs it — he said so, right to Norman’s face, in an airport! Black Francis is a fan! Attention must be paid!
Guy in the middle's a fan -- that's worth something, no?
Hey, that is an argument I am up for. My three favourite Norman albums are (in descending order) Only Visiting This Planet, Something New Under The Son (Norman flat-out apes post-Exile Stones here, but he does it well, it’s catchy) and In Another Land. If you're new to the man, see if you can make it through any of those.

Or stream the singles. Start with “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” If you want to quit after that, go ahead. That one song right there is the grand total of Larry Norman’s legacy on American — indeed, Global  Culture At Large. It is a superficial reading of a miniscule clipping from a first-century Christian text. Yahoos like Norman have been interpreting it this way for 2000 years, and for 2000 years Christian theologians have decried that interpretation as crap theology, but it is the most contagiously viral religious meme you will encounter anywhere.

If that’s your idea of art you’re welcome to it. I prefer “Song To A Small Circle Of [Really Glamorous] Friends,” but never mind. Either way I call this sort of thing “religious kitsch” and Evangelical Protestants produce a staggering abundance of it. So it goes — the firmware they opted into renders them, as it did Norman, incapable of better.

Footnote it is.

End-notes: my reaction to Larry Norman's passing; my review of David DiSabatino's Norman doc Fallen Angel, which summoned a prompt "schooling" from one of Norman's toadies.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Vintage Whisky, 2017

If I have a stand-out favourite in this bunch, it’s my profile of Georgia O’Keeffe at the AGO.
But do stay for the noodles.

Music:
Movies:
Miscellaneous:
  • The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Car.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe at the AGO.
  • TV Dinner alternatives, one and two.
Religion:
As ever, if you'd like something included that I have somehow overlooked, lemme know, woncha?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Vintage Whisky, 2016

We do what we can...
“Dumpster Fire” apparently entered public vernacular sometime in 2008, fittingly enough. However, “dumpster fire” pretty much feels like a permanent condition since 2016.

Let’s get the dismal out of the way.

The election of the 45th President of the USA:
And then November:
Movies:
Music:
Miscellaneous:
And finally: Mennonites!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

“Come — let us reason!” Or “discuss,” if you’d rather.

Wup — the incomparable folks at Blue Heron have cheerfully added to my night-table.
“Carrot”? Sez you!
Truthfully, Mr. Heinrichs’s book has been there for a while now. I keep meaning to delve into his bag of rhetorical tricks — which should have been a natural draw for the last two years. Alas, the cover makes the book look like work. Good luck competing with flashier covers — to say nothing of comic books.

Maybe there’s no point to it. Richard Geuss argues that liberal faith in “discussion” as a means of persuasion is misplaced. Quote:
Discussions, even discussions that take place under reasonably favorable conditions, are not necessarily enlightening, clarifying or conducive to fostering consensus. In fact, they just as often foster polemics, and generate further bitterness, rancor and division. Just think of Brexit. I get along with most people better the less I know about what they really think and feel. Anyone who has had any experience of discussions in the real world knows that they can get nowhere and peter out, they can cause people to become even more confused than they were at the outset and that they can lead to the hardening of opinion and the formation of increasingly rigid and impenetrable fronts between different parties. The longer and more intense the discussion, the worse it can get.
It’s a heady and entertaining piece, with lots of name-dropping and sound-biting. I couldn’t recall encountering Geuss before this piece, so I did the summary internet search. He seems to favour Hegel over Kant, for those who keep track of such things. I no longer have the mental stamina to read something like his “little book” from 1980 — but this survey looks snappy. I might just pick it up after I finish Alan Jacobs’ book.

Yup — that Alan Jacobs.

In April of last year I posted that link to my FB feed, with the caveat:
“[*deep sigh*] Why the hesitancy to post? Some reluctance to identify with Jacobs, whose opinions I often disagree with. Reluctance to identify as this sort of Christian  a reluctance to identify as any sort of Christian, frankly. To be even more candid, I am also not a little envious  of his output, abilities, audience(s), public recognition, etc. 
Scrub away some of the envy, though, and I admire Jacobs' spirit, his intellectual ethic, even his appeal. And anyone who loves Jacques Ellul is someone with whom I share significant common cause.”
I’ve been meaning to dig a bit into Jacobs’ off-line output. The Year Of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism In An Age Of Crisis is curious to me for the people Jacobs assembles — particularly Simone Weil, whom I do not claim to comprehend but who nevertheless is a compelling person in David and daughter Kate Cayley’s radio portrait, Enlightened By Love. This shouldn’t be difficult to finish.

Finally, there is Erik DavisHigh Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience In The Seventies. I get quite a kick out of Davis, and have been anticipating this book for some time. But I have to admit — I feel a little uneasy going in. He chiefly profiles three figures — mushroom man Terrence McKenna, the now omnipresent Philip K. Dick, and Robert Anton Wilson. I’m up for it, but RAW gives me pause, because . . . well, Crowley. I’m not sure if I take Crowley too seriously, or not seriously enough. Both, probably. Here are some earlier thoughts I’ve had about the man.

Also related: here is a podcast interview Davis had with Gary Lachman, discussing Lachman’s book Dark Star Rising: Magick & Power In The Age Of Trump. Lachman makes pointed note of how American Evangelicals have adopted, without the slightest alteration, the rhetoric of Chaos Magicians. And no, that’s not “nuthin’ up my sleeve” magic we’re talking about — that’s “summoning things that (IMMO*) should not be summoned” magick.

Hey, we’re back to rhetoric. Maybe I’ll crack open that book by Heinrichs after all. Heinrichs . . . Mennonite name, no?

*IMMO: “In My Mennonite Opinion

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Full-stack persuasion?

Persuasion, continued. Two cheers for me — I managed to persuade one kid to watch the video!

We agreed the metaphor of “voodoo dolls” (as opposed to the more widely-used and user-embiggening “avatar” or “user profile”) was both apt and thoroughly chilling, as excavated.
And twice as cute as Wicker Man!
She figured the speaker to be older Millennial, and his physical audience primarily Gen X. I had to mull on that for a bit, but I believe she’s right. She thought the audience responded in ways that revealed their susceptibility to suggestion — a trait I’d rather not ascribe to my generation (‘cos, you know, that’s MY generation we’re talking about). But when the shoe fits — and we are the generation that taped magazine photos of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to our workplace lockers — you gotta wear it.
There you go: "awesome" "quote"
Can coding engineers save us from the perils of the extractive attention economy and restore and buttress proper “Full-stack socioergonomics”? I have my doubts — and a presenter who resorts to presidential rhetoric, referring to the other side as “crazy town,” doesn’t help. But I truly wish them well.

I think the larger point is spot-on, and urgent. In fact, full-stack socioergonomics is what parenting is all about — by the time the urchins reach the age of majority a parent is looking rather anxiously for signs that the individual has acquired some skills at developing such.

‘Cos we don’t stop with the kids, do we? If you need one (very small) sign that you, personally, are doing a halfway decent job of assembling and contributing to your own full-stack socioergonomics — i.e., socially responsible adult life — pay some attention to those scary little voodoo dolls. If they’re pointing you toward someplace with no ground floor, you’ve got some non-screentime work to do.
To wit: full-stack socioergonomics, Amazon-style.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Persuade me: the Full-Stack Socioergonomics edition!

God save me — I have spent the last 12 years behind the blue-and-white velvet rope.

Back then, an early meme that came and went pretty quickly was this quote, attributed to E.O. Wilson (“father of socio-biology”):
Jinkers, the medium truly is the massage.
It has been toned down a touch and re-used to launch this video, which succinctly outlines the techniques, penetration and perils of digital persuasion. It also makes an impassioned bid for engineering full-stack socioergonomic solutions — about which, more later.

The video is 43 minutes long. While I don’t usually watch anything longer than 30 minutes, unless it is devoted to guitar technique, I easily made the exception here. A friend (a former drone from the Apple hive) passed it along with his highest recommendation. It has provided considerable food for thought. Check it out:


Thoughts to follow — but why not beat me to the punch and throw down a few of your own first?

Friday, June 14, 2019

For I am persuaded...

I’ve been mulling over what I find persuasive. The deeper stuff is a little too slippery to get much of a grasp on, so why not start with the superficial?

Brian Tallerico persuaded me to buy Dragged Across Concrete, a movie I hadn’t heard of before his blurb over here. The element that intrigued me was Tallerico’s opening gambit:
The turnaround time from theatrical to VOD to physical media gets faster every year. Take the latest from S. Craig Zahler, a film that didn't even have a release date a couple months ago, but has already spun through arthouse theaters and is now available on the home market. As the line between film and television gets blurrier, one wonders if things like this will even get any theatrical at all in the near future.
Oof — I feel that. Speaking as someone parked in the boonies, critics like Tallerico are regaining status for exactly this reason — slobs like me don’t have access to arthouse theatres. It has to capture Tallerico’s attention for it to capture mine.

Anyway, he segues from this to his closure, in which he describes the movie — twice — as “divisive.”

And that’s it.

I looked at the cast list — Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Michael Jai White, Don Johnson. Perversely intriguing if not especially promising. What sort of director would gamble a studio film on a pariah like Gibson in this day and age? Check the director — S. Craig Zahler, who he? Brawl In Cell Block 99 I’d heard of and had meant to follow up on. Okay then ... add to cart.

After an umpteenth day of rain with a spotlessly clean house all to myself, I finally took off the cellophane, popped in Dragged and hit play.
"One more 'Bare in the Big Blue House' pun, and so help me..."
For two and a half hours I felt like I was caught in a very unpleasant dream — one I absolutely had to follow to conclusion. The ten minutes that followed those two-and-a-half hours were the only real disappointment, but not fatally so. I will definitely watch this again.

The less you know before you go in, the better, so I will save my short and mildly spoilery critique for the very end of this series.

I next went to MetaCritic to see what was “dividing” movie critics. Short version: the concern was less is it a poorly made movie but more is Zahler trying to gin up a little sympathy for the troglodyte MAGA POV?

That was not my experience, but if your nerve endings are more frayed than mine your results might vary. I have some further thoughts on the matter which I hope to get to, but first:
Again with the blue...
“FULL-STACK SOCIOERGONOMICS!” — oh, you are so going to want to come back for this! Tomorrow, hopefully...

Friday, June 07, 2019

“You used to be good-looking!”

My favourite version of iTunes was 7. If I remember right, it introduced the “cover flow.”
Such a handsome devil!
My friend gave me a tour of it, the same day he gave me a tour of his new apartment. He was just recovering from a divorce that had been nothing short of apocalyptic. In his trim new abode he had a burnished wooden desk, with a large-screen Mac flanked by Bose speakers.

He undocked iTunes, scrolled through his music collection — “Heard this?” — queued the album, then bade me sit. Perched within that sweetspot, beholding the austere minimalism of the iTunes GUI which jived so perfectly with my friend’s liberated aesthetic, I found myself deep inside the music — a sonic space I had not experienced in many, many years.

I had iTunes at home — for Windoze — but it was strictly for syncing the various family iPods. Still, I loved that cover flow. It brought me back to my friend’s apartment, where the music sounded so good.

A year or two later my friend introduced me to his Chromebook. “Apple’s in trouble,” he said. “Google’s outflanked them. The browser is the OS.”

I could see the appeal — better functionality across (nearly) all platforms. “What’s the Google version of iTunes look like?”

He showed me Google Play — a grid.
Music selection could stand some work...
I winced. “I dunno, man.”

“Just wait.”

Sure enough, Apple ditched the cover flow for a grid.

I have an old version of iTunes that I use to sync up my one surviving Infernal Device. I’ve stopped purchasing media from Apple. If it can’t be avoided I will resort to Google or one of the other content highwaymen. And I’ve taken to buying CDs again, directly from the artists wherever possible.

RIP, iTunes. You used to be good-looking.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

D-Day, 75 years later

Juno Beach
I had a great-uncle who landed on Juno, 75 years ago. He and his buddy made it through the fire and hunkered down behind the retaining wall, staring at each other in disbelief. I don’t know about his friend, but my uncle fought right into Berlin.

He had a million stories, most of them ghastly. When Berlin fell he signed up for service in the Pacific theatre, believing himself unfit for civilian life.

Back home he was fastidious about joining his fellow veterans for public remembrance. His first Remembrance Day a neighbour shook his hand then mused that he was actually sorry the war was over, as it had been good for his particular business. My uncle’s hands twitched, and he realised to his own horror he was reflexively reaching for his gun to kill this moron.

I don’t know when he gave up alcohol, but I only ever knew him as quiet, gentle and sober.

He was of Ukrainian origin, and married into our Mennonite family. I had two other great-uncles, however — Mennonite  who also served. They were both younger and enlisted later, a source of pique to the D-Day vet. If asked, at an opportune moment, he would suggest they came to Europe to party. Both launched respectable careers with their veterans’ benefits, but died early — one by his own hand, the other by cancer brought on by incessant drink and tobacco consumption.

My uncle was moved whenever someone stopped to thank him for his service. Really, this only accounted for three early years of his life — he accrued piles of achievements in the civilian decades that followed. But the echoes of those three years . . . not every night was plagued with nightmares, but they did indeed haunt him to his final day.

His official obituary is here. I also recommend Tony Hillerman’s account of post-war life.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

C’mon baby, light my fire...

June 5, and I am still resorting to one of these in the evening.
Yes, it has been just that rainy and cool up our way. And I’m not complaining — am grateful, rather, for this cast-iron buddy of ours. It saves us from the alternative — turning up the heat, firing up the boiler, and warming up the whole dang house when really just one room will do, thank you very much.

That said, if this summer ever turns warm, or even hot, I will be well and truly conditioned to not complain about that, either.

****

What would your teenage self think of you now? Over at Medium Tim Kreider asks the question.

I gather Mr. Kreider thinks more of his teenage self than I do mine.

I wonder how long I’d be able to hang out with the prat — my teenage self, that is (Mr. Kreider would be fun, I suspect — we have Tomi Ungerer in common, for starters). I live with my teenage memories, which is as much of my teenage self as I care to brook. I could have been so very much worse, I know that. I also suspect I could not have been much better — a thought that would throw me into a depression, were I to meditate on it.

Moving on, then...

****

Maude Newton has a new newsletter which I’m digging in a big way — Ancestor Hunger. Sez Ms. Newton: “You might want to subscribe to Ancestor Hunger if the name makes intuitive sense to you.” She lists other, cheekier reasons why her newsletter might be of interest, but she had me at intuitive sense. To my mind I have more than a few ancestors who died in a hungry state, and I am not altogether persuaded that condition has been sated.

Anyway, check it out for yourself. Ms. Newton’s dispatches roam in attitude and tone from charmingly woo-woo to earnestly scientific, sometimes within the same letter. Give it a look, and see if your dreams don’t get a bit messed up.

****

I used to dream about Everest, when I first read Krakauer’s blockbuster. He made the ascent seem so pedestrian and anticlimactic and Beckettian in its inscrutable proximity to the other side of this existence, my psyche was utterly seized by the thought of actually climbing the peak.

Rather than acting on the impulse (which I could in no way afford), I read more books. Joe Simpson’s Touching The Void, for starters. Dark Shadows Falling, his next book, illustrated just what an appalling gong show Everest had become. And now we have this headline: Traffic Jam on Everest.

The nearest mountain you’ll find me queueing up for is Wonder Mountain — IF I have a daughter keen to go.

****

I was tempted to type “Space Mountain” but right now Star Wars is the feature attraction to Disneyland. I’d be keen to check it out, but am afraid it might disappoint when contrasted with a truly immersive video game. But here are some tips, if you’re heading in that direction. Myself, I’ll stick with the advice I was given back in '77, and which erstwhile Everest ascenders would do well to heed — wait until the lineups have subsided.

****

It is the Age of the Fan — over 30,000 people sign petition to keep Game of Thrones showrunners away from Star Wars.

I haven’t watched a single episode, so I don’t have an opinion one way or the other. BUT. Disney and Marvel are (consensually) strapped into the same bed — Given how the comics are breathing new life into the most tired of SWU properties, why not send the GoT dudes home and give Marvel’s comics team the job(s)?

Oof. A lot of words, a lot of links. Hopefully they fuel a few thoughts of your own, and make up for last month’s Mulligan!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Sly, (still) beyond recovery?

The trailer has dropped for Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo V: Last Blood, and Sly is treading the boards in Cannes (money quote: “I’m almost a political atheist”). Over at Consequence of Sound Michael Roffman dubs this an “R-Rated Home Alone and, more damningly, “porn for the MAGA crowd.”
"Who do I gotta kill for people to like me?"
Perhaps there is no more fitting time to recall the subversive movie that started it all, Sly’s personal Last Tango In Paris, from which he never truly recovered — First Blood.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Freshly recalled embarrasments: Haywire

Pinterest-prompted flashback du jour — a poster for Haywire, a DC comic for “mature readers” circa 1988.
Kyle Baker, whose work I adore, inked the first three issues before splitting the scene to team up again with Andrew Helfer for Justice Inc. — a miniseries that better engaged his mischievous sensibilities.

Haywire was not about subtle mischief — not by a long-shot. Right out of the gate it was all about the unsubtle body count.
And the onomatopeoia.
DC’s abrupt shift in publishing standards was prompted by the launch of Wolverine’s new monthly series at Marvel, the premier issue of which boasted the largest body count in comic book history to that point. Needless to say, Wolverine was a huge hit.
How this garnered the CCA seal remains a mystery.
DC’s answer was a hastily-scripted and just-as-hastily-rendered affair that began with carnage and quickly progressed to pulpy S&M tropes.
This oughtta bring in the "mature readers"!
DC wasn’t just competing with the regular Marvel line but with Epic Comics — the Marvel imprint producing decidedly non-CCA material like Elektra: Assassin. Haywire was launched as primo “mature reader” content, but one year later there was no longer any denying the bald facts — the only readers still buying the title were burgeoning fetishists, or misguided OCD completists (I am sure there’s little doubt which category I fall into).

In fairness to myself, I was goaded on by a friend who claimed to love the books. At the time I was a salaried writer with income at my disposal, he a university student with considerably less. He borrowed the new issues as soon as I bought them. I should have known something was amiss when he returned them just as promptly.

Also, this was an era when comics were accruing value at an unheard of rate. That initial issue of Wolverine, for instance — just one year later I traded it for the entire first run of Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Who knew what outrageous values these books would command in a few years' time? (Answer: once inflation is accounted for, fractions-of-pennies-on-the-dollar.)

Anyway, no need to go any further with this — the series is lamentable, full stop.

I’m not even sure why I mention it at all. Confession is good for the soul, I suppose.

Monday, May 27, 2019

My bad

No post last week, not even so much as a promissory notice ... tsk. I shall endeavor to do better this week. Thank you for checking in.

Monday, May 13, 2019

“...try to write a good life”

A weekend of the sads for me — the first Mother's Day of my life I have been under no obligation to call me mum.

Also this was the weekend we finally finished watching The Americans. Initially I thought myself disappointed with the exposition-heavy finale. Worse, I bitterly resented having my emotions twisted into a pretzel by the gratuitous use of U2.

But the more I brooded over it all the more deeply I understood just how unremittingly bleak the finale was. Days later there is one single scene from that episode, the memory of which is still enough to move me to tears. I can't say more without spoiling it, so I'll reserve further commentary for the end of this post.

*****
“When I was much younger, one of the few prayers/mantras that remained interesting to me was asking God to make my life a work of art. Maybe it was just my way of wondering out loud, If I could write a good song, why not also try to write a good life?”
Linford Detweiler of Over The Rhine movingly discusses his mother-in-law's recent passing, over here. I read it aloud to my wife last night. After I'd hankied away my personal watershed, she asked, “So what are we doing that weekend?”

“Arg . . . commitments, babe. And they don't include Ohio.” Alas. Looks like it should be an incredible — even necessary — gathering.

*****

One of the cruelest pranks I ever played on my mother was to (mis)inform my friends she used the water she boiled weiners in for soup stock. One friend passed this tidbit along to her father. “Those poor kids!” was his response. I was then in my 20s, and realized my mischief had gone too far, but I did not inform my mother of it until many years later. She gave me a pained look, then burst into laughter.

Turns out “Is weiner-water soup stock?” is an actual question. I take full responsibility.

*****

“Why not also try to write a good life?”

Alright, on to The Americans — here come the spoilers.
"That's right, honey: it is soup stock."
Throughout the episode, and particularly during the agonizingly long, final face off with Stan Beeman, I kept thinking, It's not fair — you don't get to get away with this.

On a superficial level Philip and Elizabeth do “get away with it.” But in every way that counts, there is a terrible toll to pay, and the people who made this series did an outstanding job of getting the viewer to mull over the ramifications of everything that's gone on.

The “Jennings” do make it back to Moscow, but there is no doubt for the viewer that these people are little more than used up husks of humanity. And of all the many betrayals they have committed over the years, the worst were to their children who are now utterly without hope of recovering anything meaningful from their parents.

It's a kick in the gut — no parent can watch this without conjuring moments they've wounded their own children. But we're not the Jennings, right? For most of us there is a wider and deeper buffer of grace than Philip or Elizabeth could ever appeal to.

So be good to each other — try to write a good life.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

A Star Wars retcon I can get behind.

Via Digg:


Manages to add value to '77 and the notorious prequels, does it not?

"Somehow Ewan McGregor ended up the unsung hero of the franchise," laments my friend Scott. "It's criminal when he truly was the soul of those prequels." Indeed, this exercise has me re-thinking some of my initial reactions to the epic retcons that have, more often than not, made SWU continuity a laughable bollix. With some diligence and empathy, a retcon of the prequels could possibly elevate them above the initial trio of films. Make it so, Mr. Spock!

Post-script: Topher Grace famously edited the three prequels into an 85-minute film that rocked harder than did their initial six hours and fifty-five minutes. Maybe it looks like this?

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Whither the TRUE “City of God”?

If you are the sort to enjoy eavesdropping on a couple of continental blowhards twirling their non-existent mustaches and pondering, “Whither Catholicism?” knock yerself out.

The only reason this gasbaggery is of any public interest is one of the voices belongs to Michel Houllebecq, France's reigning “literary bad boy.”
The other belongs to Geoffroy Lejeune (left) whom I hereby accuse of Lejeunosity.
It's curious how “literary bad boys” frequently seem to harbour a nostalgia for the days when the Mother Church of Rome was the acknowledged common organizing principle.* We have no shortage of “literary it girls” (sic) writing novels and the like, but I've yet to encounter any who express wistfulness for pre-Vatican II Rome. I'm sure they have their reasons.

Maybe it's a Parisian thing. Morley Callaghan noted, with some pique, how the literary bad boys of his day developed a sudden fondness for things Catholic while enjoying their chosen exile in Paris. Cradle Catholics like Callaghan and James Joyce watched with bemusement as Hemingway and Fitzgerald and a wide array of also-rans converted and became loud (usually temporary) advocates of the blessed HRCC. Again, this wasn't a passion that seemed to inflame any of the women in their orbit — cause for pious vexation, I expect, if not marriage annulment.

Anyway, I don't think much of this sort of nostalgia (can you tell?). Besides, people who are truly in the know about these matters are in agreement that there was no finer City of God than the Molochna Colony, under the aegis of Catherine The Great.

*It's also curious how these two in particular can't seem to muster up much curiosity for the Russian Orthodox Church, Dostoevsky's religion from cradle to grave, which remains a powerful organizing principle in that country to this day.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

What does it take for me to finish a Big Studio/Big Money/Big Platform video game?

In the nine years since I was given my first PlayStation I've purchased roughly two-dozen big studio games. Of those, my rate of completion is (shamefully?) low. Near as I can tell, I've made it to the end of 12 of these narratives — averaging one-and-a-quarter games a year.

Here's the list of games completed, divided into two categories — see if you can spot what makes the second category unique from the first.


Category 2:

  • FallOuts 3, New Vegas, 4
  • Oblivion, Skyrim

I will throw in one more title I am on-track to completing in the next month or so: Horizon Zero Dawn, which, although it is not a Bethesda Studios property, almost has the criterion necessary to make it to the second list. Stay tuned...
"You hear that? He's going to finish!"