Thursday, June 26, 2008

Places I Would Like To Go

I got my teeth cleaned today. It was pretty cool. I got to ride in an elevator the seventh floor of a building. When I was a kid, I imagined that I would be riding elevators all the time in my adult life. Not so. So that was the best part of my dental appointment.

The other best part was reading a travel magazine in the waiting room. There was a feature on Antarctic cruises. I have a very short list of places on this planet I would like to go and visit, and Antarctica is on it. So much so that I willingly watched the film Eight Below, even though I think that was actually filmed in B.C.

I would also like to visit the Arctic. I like cold places, especially now that I don't live in one. I have long entertained a dream of spending a year preparing for and then completing (or at least attempting) a major dog sled race. I was dog sledding once, and it was one of the best things I've ever done. Hey, if Green Arrow can do it, why not me?

mp3: "Hawaii" by Unicycle Loves You
mp3: "Green Arrow" by Yo La Tengo

Across Town from Easy Street

The other day I was in a coffee shop, getting the one cup of coffee I drink per day. Sometimes I drink more than one cup, but man do I feel it. Not like the old days when I was downing five, six, seven, eight cups a day. Was I irritable? Was I ever!

Anyway, while I was waiting for my Americano, the coffee shop was playing "Emotional Weather Report" by Tom Waits from his fake live album, Nighthawks at the Diner. What a song! What an album! I hadn't heard it in years, but I was glad I was hearing it then and there. It's been said that Bruce Springsteen, especially in the 70s, affected a nostalgia for a 50s that never was. But on Nighthawks, Waits not only evokes, but surpasses a false ideal of a 1950s Beat/Jazz sound. If you heard it when you were 13 in Saskatoon, it would set you up for disappointment when you'd eventually hear (on tape) real Beat Poets at 18 in Wawa. When you hear Polaris-nominee (and next year's Bill Richardson) Buck 65 rapping about 1957, he's not channelling Ferlinghetti, he's riffing on Nighthawks at the Diner. The album creates an appetite for a spoken word genre that would never live up to the hype. Likewise, it created unrealized expectations for jazz music.

The best part of the album isn't even the songs, but the interstitial interludes where Waits tells dirty jokes, tall tales, and sometimes just says things that might not even mean anything but sure as hell sound cool.

Waits would evolve into a more interesting artist, and even an Important Artist (whatever that's worth), but he'd never more entertaining (though you should for sure check out his story about the Civil War bullet on the Big Time album).

mp3: "Nighthawk Postcards" by Tom Waits

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bruce Wayne: Idle Rich or Corporate Whiz Kid?

Okay, I know I said I was done with The Dark Knight previews, but I AM WEAK! Here's a docu-news piece on Bruce Wayne (via io9, which is quickly becoming the online place to be for nerds).


Last night we saw The Thing with Ken Vandermark at the Roundhouse. Hoo-ah. I went in fully prepared to be blown away by Vandermark (as you've no doubt figured), but was equally if not more blown away by The Thing!
The set started with Vandermark on tenor and The Thing's Mats Gustaffson on baritone sax. Gustaffson is kinda built like Ben Grimm and plays approximately as if it were, indeed, clobberin' time! Barely as tall as his horn, but wide in the chest, Gustaffson was blowing this deep foghorn tone, like baun-n-n-n-n! Baun-n-n-n-n! And Vandermark was doot-doo-duh-loo-loo! And Ingebrigt H. Flaten on the bass: a-thrumb-bumb-a-lumbum. And then Paal Nilssen-Love (pronounced lew-vuh) on a tiny little drum kit, doing things I can't even spell! Like, usual drums sounds but also, he did this thing at one point, rubbing the skins and making them squal like a soprano sax or something.
Throughout the set, Gustaffson switched off to an alto sax, and Vandermark blew his own baritone, as well as a clarinet. At one point, both Vandermark and Gustaffson were laying it down on baritone and, I swear to god, my teeth rattled.
Suffice to say, I walked in a Vandermark fan and walked out a Thing fan.
Earlier, in the same room, the Parker/Guy/Lytton/Fernandez fourpiece played a set of even freer jazz. I don't mind free jazz, and I really like improvisation, but this--this was not my thing. It was four guys doing their own thing independent of one another, I mean, they weren't playing together, they seemed barely aware of one another. I dunno. Evan Parker is a big name, he even played on a Scott Walker album, but it was not my thing. Which is not to say that I couldn't see the merit in it. I think it's good to see and hear things you don't understand or necessarily like. If for nothing else than to be able to not just be an ignorant playa hata.

In other news, George Carlin died earlier this week. I interviewed Carlin in 2003 (the story ran on Saturday, November 15, 2003, if anyone has a subscription to Infomart and wants to send me the text, that would be awesome) for the Leader-Post, and Carlin was a great interview. A lot of times, comedians are terrible interviews, but Carlin was sharp and he told me a great story about when he was still coming up and got booked for an extended stay (sometimes I wish I had kept better records of my interviews and articles, but alas!) in Regina during the winter, and the thing he remembered most about Regina was walking up Albert St. and all of the moisture in his nostrils froze solid. I remember writing a lukewarm review of his show for his over-reliance on four-letter words and shocking language. Having grown up with all the folks who followed in Carlin and Pryor's footsteps as far as that goes, I was well-versed in foul language long before I even understand the metaphors behind most of it.

mp3: "Better Living" by The Thing

Thursday, June 19, 2008

If this be Thursday...

It must be jazz time!
I'm five sleeps away from seeing Ken Vandermark (with The Thing) and I'm so excited, it'll probably only be four sleeps. Vandermark's main group, the Vandermark 5, released their 12th album earlier this year, called Beat Reader and it is smoking hot.
The Vanderman himself is going to be doing a workshop on Saturday, here in Vancouver, at Tom Lee Music on Granville at 1 p.m. I'm sure it will be 100% edifying.
I'm kinda bummed that I missed all of Vandermark's shows outside of Vancouver, but I'm definitely going to be at the show on Monday night, so I'm not heartbroken.
If Vandermark is a little too free for your jazz tastes, you don't have to feel left out on Monday night. The remarkable Molly Johnson will be at the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts performing her inimitable brand of steamy vocal jazz with a pop bent. Aside from being an awesome lady with a great voice and sharp musical instincts, she's also the sister of one my all-time favourite tv detectives, Meldrick Lewis. Er, I mean of the actor who played him, Clark Johnson, utterer of such memorable lines as "You know, you live in your own little world cause don't nobody wanna live there with you."
Speaking of Beat Reader (see top), what's a Jazz Thursday without beat poetry? Sure, Ginsburg's okay and he hung out with Bob Dylan, but if you want the good stuff, dig some Gregory Corso or Lew Welch (who was quasi-step-father to none other than Huey Lewis: small world!).
Speaking of reading, in a moment of weakness I bought the current issue of Details. Yeesh. I used to read Details fairly regularly when I was a teenager, and in fact, an article in a fall 1995 issue about a Balkan sniper really energized my writing ambitions. I hardly read any print mags anymore, except old ones in waiting rooms and laundromats. But Batman's on the cover, so I figured why not? This is what happens when I'm between novels.
The Christian Bale profile was pretty trite, but I get the impression that's as much Bale's doing as the writer's. Bale seems like an arrogant a-hole, but y'know what? If I was as good and successful at my chosen lifework as he is--AND got to dress up as Batman without being called immature--I'd probably come across as a twat too. Also inside: a brief rant about nobody wants to hear how tired you are, claiming tiredness is the new status symbol, nevermind that the US economy is far down the crapper that, yeah, people are exhausted, it's unsustainable, we're all doomed, etc.; a profile titled "Josh Groban is Not a Tool", which sets out to prove that Groban is at least as hep as John Mayer, and that, like Mayer, even though his music sucks you should still respect him, because he's a dude; a pretty objectifying piece on "Hollywood Gross Out Girls", which claims that hot chicks shouldn't have personalities. Throw in a bunch of aspirational claptrap about unattainable manliness, and I'm feeling bad about the five dollars I spent, and even worse about the 45 minutes I lost reading the mag. Howev, there's a redeeming piece from my man Michael Chabon on talking to your kids about marijuana without being a hypocrite. FIVE DOLLARS WELL SPENT!

mp3: "New Acrylic (for Andreas Gursky)" by Vandermark 5
mp3: "Ode to the West Wind" by Gregory Corso
mp3: "Sleep in Late" by Molly Johnson

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

He-ey, Hermano!

Hey Duder,

Sorry I haven't called you back. It's not so much that I've been busy, but I've been not busy at all the wrong times. Time zones, that crazy Sandford Fleming.

I've been thinking about what you said, about the Cold War Kids sounding like the Black Keys. I don't know if I hear it. The only song on the new BK album that sounds anything like CWK to me is "Psychotic Girl", and that might even be due more to Danger Mouse, and doesn't prove anything, since Attack & Release came out after the CWK album. I haven't checked out Bon Iver yet, but I probably will, now that I've said I would.

Jesse and I saw Iron Man together, just after it came out. Rad. The other day I was in the comic shop, and the dudes there were talking about it. They were going on about the dude from S.H.I.E.L.D., and I was like, "Oh yeah, the guy from Old Christine. He's great. I love his flat delivery."

And everybody just looked at me.

"Um, The New Adventures of Old Christine? With, um, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Wanda Sykes? It's a TV show?"

Blank stares. Okay. Sometimes I feel like a giant comic nerd who has a tenuous relationship with the world beyond Batman. This was not one of those times. I had merely been trying to join in on the camaraderie of my supposed fellow geeks and instead was exposed as someone with something resembling outside interests. I paid for my mags and slunk out, humbled.

New Adv. of Old Christine is actually a pretty decent TV show. First of all, WANDA SYKES (did I tell you we saw her this spring? AWESOME.). Second of all, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Third...what's his face, the guy with the great delivery who's also in Iron Man. Fourth, when it's on, it's on Monday nights. So that's four reasons to watch a show. None of which involve unhealthy power fantasies, surrealist anatomy, or Harvey Pekar.

Context is everything, I guess.

I still haven't seen the new Hulk flick. Not feeling any huge desire to. I'll probably see Get Smart first. The Dark Knight's almost here, though. YES. I read some interview somewhere where they asked Gary (Jim Gordon) Oldman if it was true that Heath Ledger's Joker was inspired by Johnny Rotten. I rolled my eyes and blamed Johnny Depp. Then I remembered that Oldman was also Sid Vicious. Oldman. Old man. Old man Gordon.

Remember Dover? That weird-o female-fronted metal-pop band from Spain? I got some tracks in the email from a band that reminds me of them. Lemuria. They're from Buffalo. The one in New York.

Yeah. So that's what's happening. I can't believe it's almost 18 months since I last saw you. Probably won't even see you again until Christmas, and that's gonna be a gong show, believe you me. Be well, say hey to B. and I'll talk to you soon.

mp3: "Pants" by Lemuria

mp3: "Dog - Dogs" by Lemuria

mp3: "Four Graves" by Dover

Almost forgot!

Most excellent new video from The Dark Knight! Though I must say, I'm pretty much at the point where I don't wanna see anymore until I see the full thing. And, yea, though I plan on watching it for the first time in Vancouver with my own special lady, I'm gonna be in Regina in the first week of August for a wedding, and will probably be ready for a second viewing by then.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I read a book this morning

What do Jonathan Richman, cheeseburgers and Larry David have in common? YES, they are three of my all time favourite things, thank you for asking.

But wait! There's more!

All three also figure into the book I read between midnight and 6:30 this morning, The Comedy Writer, by Peter Farrelly (first chapter!).

I read the book because I went to the library on Sunday afternoon, expecting to pick up my latest request, Charles Willeford's Wild Wives. Even though my online VPL account told me the book was waiting to be picked-up, it wasn't yet on the shelf. I asked at the information desk, and they said the book was in the building, but not yet on the shelf. I would get a phone call when the book was ready to be picked-up.

So I ventured out into library to see what was ready for me to take home. I checked the New Releases shelf first, but it's mostly genre books like fantasy and romance. Pffffff. Into the Mystery section, under the R. I'm still #4 on the waiting list for my next Rebus book, Mortal Causes, but, y'know, I don't necessarily trust the library's computer system. A good detective follows up. A good detective follows through. I'm not really anything of the sort, I just had time on my hands.

So, conclusively, Mortal Causes was not on the shelf on the main floor of the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library at 2:37 p.m. on Sunday. There were however three copies of Fleshmarket Close, including a (presumably) rare North American edition under the title Fleshmarket Alley.

Next I checked the F's under Fiction. Looking for Dan Fesperman's Lie in the Dark. Not there. But The Comedy Writer was on the shelf right above Fesperman's The Prisoner of Guantanamo, and I pulled it down. It took a minute for the author's name to register, particularly since I rarely consider the Farrelly Brothers as seperate entities, if I consider them at all. And it's been a while since I've even seen a Farrelly Bros movie, let alone wanted to. Stuck On You, maybe?

Regardless of what he's done lately, Peter Farrelly wrote an excellent novel. Maybe he should write another, except The Comedy Writer feels pretty autobiographical, so maybe he could write a book about a guy who made a few great movies, and then a bunch of pretty dull ones.

Farrelly's author photo on the back cover (you can tell he's a bigshot, because he gets THE WHOLE back cover) impressed me as well. He kinda looks like a soul singer, a blue-eyed soul singer. Like a less-goofy Paul Young. At first glance, it looks like he's wearing a thick-striped suit, the kind blue-eyed soul singers woulda worn in 1998 (the year the book came out). But a closer look reveals that he's actually wearing pyjamas. Which is what blue-eyed soul singers will be wearing in the year 2112! But what really struck me about the photo was the way Farrelly's wedding band looks totally badass. Even though he's wearing pyjamas.

So, The Comedy Writer. Henry Halloran leaves a stable life and career in Boston to become a Hollywood scriptwriter. "If you open yourself up to things, things happen," he says. So Halloran opens himself up to things. And things happen. And he eats a lot of cheeseburgers. This is the part I identified with the most.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Same Old, Quiet Man

(Before I forget, check out WFMU's Beware of the Blog's collection of found images. BOTB is a consistently great blog in general, and pretty much always has something interesting going on.)

I don't know if it's just a coincidence that John Hiatt has a new album out and it's basically Father's Day. Of all the music I've picked up on by spending time with my dad, Hiatt's one of two artists who always reminds me of Dad, even though I don't think he started listening to Hiatt until I was a teenager and totally too cool to be into the same things as my dad.
My sister and I reminisced at lunch earlier this week about how my dad used to come home from work every other Friday with a new record or two. His record collection was vast and varied, and I used to spend entire Saturday afternoons pulling out albums, examining their cover art and sometimes even playing them. There was some stuff I'd heard on the radio, like Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen, sometimes it would be genuinely wild like Clifton Chenier's Zydeco Boogie, but a lot of it was obscure singer-songwriters like Keith Sykes and Steve Goodman. Looking back, I marvel at how broad my dad's tastes were, and how willing he was to try something new. I still don't know how he managed to stay on top of music the way he did, aside from regular (and no doubt thorough) readings of Rolling Stone.
My enthusiasm for and curiosity toward music, clearly, was learned from my dad's example, along with many other things I've picked up either directly or indirectly (like the box of paperbacks I found in the basement when I was about 14: Lenny Bruce, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Richard Brautigan and Emmett Grogan! Talk about mindblowing!).
So today (or tomorrow) being what it is, let's celebrate Dad with a couple of songs from two of my favourite artists that I was introduced to by him. We've got the title cut from John Hiatt's new album Same Old Man, and my favourite song from John Prine's self-titled debut.

Starring Eva Mendes as Me!

If you're curious about what I get up to when I'm not working on this thing, reading comics, or eating pecan pie, this will give you the basic gist of what a typical night in my life would be like if I looked just like Eva Mendes! Hey, we have the same initials, so we're practically the same person anyway!

Thomas Bryan Eaton lives in Brooklyn, where he maintains a MySpace page and makes folk-rock music. His new album, called Dreams, Demons & Butterflies, comes out in July and if you're in the New York area, you can probably make the time to see him live this summer. He has the same initials as arctic explorer Tyson Bradford Emerson, failed karaoke host Thelma Brenda Ellis, science fiction convention pioneer Thundarr Braintree Earache, shoe repairman (cobbler) Tennessee Bob Eggers, inventor of the painted rock Tuesday Brooke Eeling (pronounced "Oolong"), ten-time International Body of Sanctioned Bumper Pool Tournaments champ Theodore Banacek Edamame, and "Seventh Beatle" Tybold Brannigan Eisenhauer.

mp3: "Meant To Last (Radio Edit)" by Thomas Bryan Eaton
mp3: "Naked Ear" by Thomas Bryan Eaton

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Things to remember, things to forget, the end of content and the start of summer

I dunno if you read my previous post, but if you did, you probably noticed that I had the word "antiheroes" in the title, but nothing about it in the actual post.

That's because I forgot that I wanted to talk about antiheroes or, more specifically, how a free commuter tabloid ran an article declaring "Summer of the anti-hero". Well, you get what you pay for as far as the daily tabloids go, but this article was particularly agitating. I don't know why I let bad, lazy writing bother me so much? I read Newsarama nearly every day, and, I mean, look at this blog! It's a veritable Aztec Tomb of bad, lazy writing!

So Steve Gow, former singer for the Jesus Lizard, takes us to school in this article:

"While anti-heroes have been prevalent in cinema since the days of pulp fiction (think Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon), they only continue to increase in popularity."

Nevermind Macbeth or Oedipus, nevermind the atrocious sentence construction, nevermind that pulp fiction necessarily refers to books, there's simply no reason for this article other than it's always a good idea to run a photo from a potential summer blockbuster whose studio may or may not be shovelling piles of advertising dollars down the publisher's cavernous yaptrap. What information it contains is marginal, the misinformation is ridiculous, and the insight is insulting.

"Vengeance is often an attribute of anti-heroism. This summer, it’s best represented with The Dark Knight. Not only does that film feature the vigilante justice of Batman but it introduces an even more dubious anti-hero in Harvey Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart), a district attorney who transforms into a savage killer. Two-Face is the consummate anti-hero in that, being on the side of justice, he only kills the bad dudes — a morally complex question to be sure."

Aside from the fact that the above paragraph barely makes sense, since when does Two-Face (I loathe the sobriquet "Harvey Two-Face"--I don't know why, I just do. Interesting trivia, when the character was first introduced, Two-Face's real name was Harvey Kent, not Dent.) only kill "the bad dudes"? I've read approximately one million Batman comics, and I've yet to see any where Two-Face (one of my favourite Batman villains, btw) exclusively metes out justice. I mean, that hardly reflects the duplicity implied in his name, amirite??? Elsewhere in the 'bloid, they dutifully report that some obscure website is reporting that a long irrelevant men's glossy has named Christian Bale (aka "Bruce Batman") "one of the best dressed men in the world." I'm not even sure which part of it is News. That Bale dresses well, that Esquire recognized him for dressing well, or that reported that Esquire recognized Bale for dressing well. I should really stop reading the free tabloids. But they're ubiquitous, and I'm curious. A morally complex combination to be sure!

I remember the beginning of the mainstream internet, circa 1996, when there was the promise of limitless content! Having just settled on living my life as a writer, I believed that the info highway would create such a demand for writers writing that I would be a famous and award-winning author by my 25th birthday. I believed in what would eventually become known as the Long Tail. That mass-communication as we knew it would end, and the wealth of online options would once and for drive out cultural homogenity, and force the creators of content to raise their game in the face of an increasingly sophisticated audience. Talk about naive.
What we have instead is third-hand celebrity gossip and ridiculous features about antiheroes that assumes 1941 was the dawn of time!

But there's better things happening. I've tickets to see KEN VANDERMARK in less than two weeks, and then we're going to see JONATHAN RICHMAN at Richard's on Richards on July 2. (Nevermind all the other amazing things I've got lined up for this summer, believe you me!) I've never seen Vandermark before, so I'm super excited about that. I've seen Richman once, about 14 years ago, in Regina, at Channel One. It was then that I discovered there were better things about being able to get into bars underage than getting hammered.

mp3: "My Jeans" by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
mp3: "I'm Just Beginning to Live" by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers

NOTE: The Modern Lovers credited on the album Rockin' & Romance, from which the above two songs are taken, bear no relation to the original Modern Lovers of Velvets-inspired hits like "Roadrunner" and "Hospital" other than name.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I am the crosswalk avenger! antiheroes and books

Motorists of Vancouver be warned!

I will no longer tolerate your attempts at assassination. If you fail to show me the basic respect afforded me by the laws of BC, you will face my wrath. Earlier tonight, on my way to work, I was crossing Main Street eastward with the light on the north side of Broadway. As I approached the curb, a black SUV roughly the size of Manitoba squealed into my path, making a right turn off Broadway. I leaned back to avoid being clipped by the side rearview mirror. Then I smacked the back window with the palm of my hand. THWACK!

The truck screeched to a stop as I hit the corner and began walking north to the bus stop. The driver put down his cell phone and motioned vaguely toward me. I stopped and looked him in the eyes as he rolled down the window.
"What's your problem?"
"You almost ran me down is my problem! I was in the crosswalk. I had the right of way."
"It's not like I hit you--"
"It's not like you were watching the road, either."
"I wasn't trying to hit you!"
"Oh, maybe you can deliver the eulogy at my funeral, next time, asshole."
"Fuck you. Get a life."
"I'm working on it!"

Nicole worries about my pedestrian acts of vigilantism, and rightly so. Vancouver has its share of violent thugs, and they're probably among those who could care less about crosswalks. Once I spit on a car as it narrowly missed running me down. I coulda been shot.

Jack Kerouac never drove, so he never drove alone (and he never almost ran me down in a crosswalk!). At least that's what Richard Meltzer told Robert Pollard. In some ways, it's the last word on Kerouac, really. At least I thought it would be for me. But Canadian writer Ray Robertson wrote a book called What Happened Later, and I read it. Robertson wrote a pretty okay book called Moody Food about a reclusive country singer and we seem to like a lot of the same music. Once I saw him on one of those atrocious BOOK TV shows where the cut a bunch of interviews with Canadian writers together and try to make them seem interesting. The most interesting thing (I should note here that I was watching with the volume off) about the Robertson clips was the sweet leather chair he was sitting in. I had never desired a leather before, and now, it's all I want. I have decided that only once I have a leather chair like Ray Robertson, only then will I really and truly be a novelist.
Robertson also wrote a pretty excellent book called Mental Hygiene: Essays on Writers and Writing. Well, in truth, he didn't so much write as he had it collected, since it's mostly book reviews from his sideline as one of Canada's most prolific broadsheet book reviewist. I mean, sure, he wrote it first, and he says he rewrote most of the essays/reviews, but all the same, it's a collection of writing, y'know.
So, there we go, I'm, like, mostly predisposed to liking Ray Robertson. And I'm certainly predisposed to liking Jack Kerouac and What Happened Later is halfway about Kerouac, and halfway about a young Robertson trying to get his greasy teenaged hands on On The Road, on the recommendation of one Jim Morrison, or rather one Jim Morrison biog. So, hey, how do I like What Happened Later?

'Salright. I thought, going in, that I'd be more into the Kerouac parts and just sorta skim over the young Ray parts. But just the opposite! The Kerouac stuff is sorta boring old retreads of previous Keraouac biogs and is probably just as thunderingly dull as it musta been to hang out with Jack during the last few years of his life. Like an all-day red wine hangover. The young Ray stuff, about the kids at his school who were rewarded socially for playing hockey and about spilling donut jelly on the upholstery of his dad's car, that stuff is interesting in a Wonder Years sorta way. That's the fun stuff. The Kerouac slowly boozing himself to death is an old story, often told. While the parallel narratives serve their purpose, sometimes it feels like Robertson is just writing Kerouac fan-fiction to pad out his own memoirs.
You probably can't read it on the above image, but the cover of What Happened Later features a blurb from Chuck Kinder that reads: "Ray Robertson is the Jerry Lee Lewis of North American letters." I don't really know what that means, but it ain't no how true. Robertson's prose is way too polite (Canadian much?). He's not even the Buddy Holly of NAL. Maybe more like the Tom Petty of NAL, not doing anything new, but plays the old sound as if he might've been there when it was new.

mp3: "Corduroy" by Richard Meltzer, Robert Pollard, Smegma + Antler
mp3: "Hard Hearted Old Farmer" by Jack Kerouac, feat. Al Cohn & Zoot Sims

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This is the way we write now.

Behold the wonder that is Charles Willeford:
"The bank digital temperature gauge down the street had registered ninety degrees. Hoke knew that Florida bank clocks were correct, but they always set their temperature guages lower to avoid upsetting passing tourists, so it was at least ten degrees higher inside the un-air-conditioned cafeteria."

From his 1988 novel, The Way We Die Now. Willeford--who wrote about a thousand books between 1953 and 1988, when he died of a heart attack--has been a revelation. The way Kerouac was a revelation. The way Hiaasen was a revelation. The way Richler, Meltzer, and Rankin were revelations. Reading Willeford is changing the way I write and the way I look at the novel.
I've only read one and a half of his books (I'm right in the middle of The Way We Die Now and have successfully completed Sideswipe, which were his final two novels and the second half of his Hoke Moseley series that started with 1984's Miami Blues), but I recognize his disciples in Carl Hiaasen, Brad Smith, and others. The way his books meander along, seemingly just a series of excellently delivered character pieces, the plot creeping forward imperceptibly until it explodes. The courage to build a series around a schlub like Hoke Moseley, pot-bellied, toothless, and not exactly the keen mind we've come to expect from dime novel detectives. Sherlock Holmes, he ain't. But he's likable. He's the kind of guy who probably really does work for the Miami Police Homicide Dept.

I'm sitting here reassessing the pages and pages of notes and sketches that may someday become my first novel. I'm thinking that I'm going about it all wrong, that I'm putting too much upfront. It's a novel, damn it, give it some room.

I'm sitting here, wishing I was at home writing my novel.

mp3: "Dumbo Wins Again" by Ghosty

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Beach Party!

outside my door
One way or another, I will be at the beach this weekend. I've got to, got to get away from the urban squalor outside my window. Whether it's a sunny day out at Deep Cove with a good book (I'm in between good books right now, having finished The Black Book earlier this week, and still on the waiting list for Mortal Causes--But I've got another Willeford book ready to go! It's fascinating how my mood worsens when I'm not reading something I enjoy.) and the New York Times Crossword Puzzle or at Jericho Sailing Club Saturday night watching the Neins Circa. There will be waves in my future.
I'm also hoping to hit Krazy! at the Vancouver Art Gallery and see the life-sized John A. MacDonald!

mp3: "Bentley Hills" by the Neins Circa
mp3: "Pineapple Shoes" by John Southworth

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Thursday Jazz: new(ish) Inhabitants, plus Vandermark!

It was last July 1 that we went to Rime (now Lime) and saw Vancouver's the Inhabitants play a blistering set of skronked out space jazz/noise rock awesomeness. JP Carter's trumpet work is the centrepiece of this boffo combo, but Dave Sikula's guitar playing is nothing to shrug about either. Pete Schmitt and Skye Brooks are the rhythm section, and, y'know, they probably get short shrift, but they're awesome too.
It turns out that while I wasn't looking, the Inhabitants released a new album last November. I finally got my hands on The Furniture Moves Underneath and it kicks all kinds of ass. From loose, cosmic numbers to wild, kinda funked-over stomps, it's everything you want in an Inhabitants record. Even Downbeat loves it (4-star review in the May ish).
The Inhabs are gonna be playing at Ironworks in Vancouver on June 25 as part of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

mp3: "Kurt's Dirt" by the Inhabitants

Also part of the Jazz Festival, my Jazz Hero #1, Ken Vandermark is going to be here. And not just here, but he's got several Vandermark dates in the PNW. It looks like the 1999 recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship is going to be in my general neighbourhood for about a week, and I plan on seeing and hearing as much of him as I can. Even if it means ignoring my job and my loved ones. I'm talking about Ken Vandermark, dammit. Cut me some slack.

Vandermark's key appearance at the Jazz Fest will be June 23 at the Roundhouse as under the billing The Thing with Ken Vandermark, who recently released the four-cut extended improv recording Immediate Sounds on the Smalltown Superjazz label.

mp3: "Immediate Sounds" by The Thing with Ken Vandermark

But he's also going to playing shows as the Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love Duo, which sounds tempting (especially the show in Roberts Creek, since I know how to get there). In the spirit of all that, here are some of the Vandermark tracks ABWAWBA has brought you in the past.

mp3: "Late Night Wait Around" by Portastatic with Ken Vandermark and Tim Mulvenna

mp3: "Jack Kirby Was Ripped Off" by the Ken Vandermark Quartet

mp3: "Rip, Rig & Panic Suite" by the Vandermark 5

Did you know...

...that you can download almost every single episode of the BBC Radio 4 series Jon Ronson On... from at Jon Ronson's website?

I've actually known for over a year, and I feel bad for not telling you sooner. I'm sorry. Here's my favourite one:

Speaking of Jon Ronson, and speaking of me (amn't I always?), if you want to buy me something that I really, really want, I would love to have one copy each of Ronson's Out Of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness and What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness. Neither of which seems to be available in the North American continent.

In related news, George Clooney is reportedly going to stare, er, star in the filmic adaptation of Ronson's The Men Who Stare At Goats.

(You didn't think I just posted a giant photo of Batman for nothing, did you???)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Just how final will Final Crisis be?

And so the Final Crisis has begun...
If you don't dig on comic books, you might wanna just skip this post and wait for Thursday's special JAZZ edition.
I'm not going to get too in depth on the actual series here, let's leave that to our ol' pal Douglas Wolk, but I do want to touch on it.
Final Crisis is a new monthly (or thereabouts) miniseries from DC Comics that promises, well, to be the final Crisis. It's written by Grant Morrison with art by J.G. Jones, both of whom you might remember as being key players in the enormously enjoyable weekly series 52 from a year or so back. Morrison, of course, is also the current writer on both Batman and All Star Superman, two excellent comics. So it's got that going for it. As well, it promises to be a grand superhero epic spanning the entire history of the DC Universe. So, like, score.
It's been plugged under the tagline, "Heroes die. Legends live forever." So, um, we can probably expect some sort of Götterdämmerung where, y'know, our favourite four-colour heroes go the way of the dinosaur, only to be born anew, fresh and vital for a new heroic age!
All this AND major Kirby content, as Grant Morrison taps into the Fourth World mythology Kirby built at DC in the 70s (Morrison's recent Seven Soldiers opus not only built on the format of modal storytelling, it also drew heavily on Kirby concepts like the New Gods and Klarion the Witch Boy--no Don Rickles guest appearance, though).
The final issue of Final Crisis (according to current estimates--it seems like the more anticipated a title is, the lmore likely it is to slip behind schedule) is due in December of this year, and that seems as good a time as any to finally step off the mountain of reading comics by the issue and let the Sisyphean rock roll on down the slope.
I do still love the comics. Don't get me wrong. I'm just running out space in my life for them. They're cumbersome and fragile at the same time. And most of them don't really merit a second-reading, so why hold on to them??? I wish I knew other kids my age I could swap comics with so that I could a) read every comic ever and b) give the comics I've already read to a good home.
mp3: "I'm a Machine" by Slaraffenland

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Magic Beans, Indiana Jones, Rambow & Son + Commissioner Gordon

ITEM: If you've ever done any freelance, work-for-hire, or contract work in the creative field (and I mean the field of creativity, not "creative services"), you should have a look at Bryan Lee O'Malley's excoriation of the ol-buddy-ol-pal legalese manga publisher Tokyopop is using in their new talent search. Yee-ow. I've signed quite a few freelance contracts in my day, and I can only remember one that was even close to being that exploitative.

Most of the contracts I've worked on were pretty straightforward and basically said, "you deliver this work, we pay this money" and first rights and all that jazz. But this other contract, for a company I'd already heard some pretty sketchy things about, had some interesting terms which I eventually came to understand meant that I wasn't getting paid beyond the initial signing fee. I shoulda negotiated an hourly rate or at least billed 'em for meetings.
It's not a very exciting story (as I just learned when I wrote up a draft), so let's just say I've been hosed by a bad contract with a nebulous definition of deliverable.

ITEM: Another video from the 90s showing a politician's true colours.

ITEM: It's almost here. Can you feel it? It's like 1989 all over again. Indiana Jones, reminding us that we're none of us as youthful as we were in 1981. And me, half interested in Indy, but mostly I've got Batman on the brain.

My sister and I went to see the new Indy the other night (we also saw the first one together at the drive-in--I was 3 or 4 and bored enough by the first half hour to fall asleep. I saw it again a couple of years later on VHS and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.). I've got nothing to say about it that Roger Ebert didn't say better. Sausage.

The movie I've seen lately that really threw me back to those pre-adolescent days was Son of Rambow. More or less, that was what my childhood was like, only I was both characters in one. I was friendless, daydreamy and out of step with my peers at school like Will Proudfoot, and I was friendless, unruly and bullheaded like Lee Carter.

All of these movies (along with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk) are just appetizers for this summer's main cinematic event: THE DARK KNIGHT (aka Batman Continues To Begin)!

Yes, I loves me some Batman. In all of his many incarnations, from chummy Adam West to Neal Adam's "hairy chested love god" to the crypto-fascist anti-hero of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Back. He is among my top five favourite fictional characters. The others would be: Jim Rockford, Lt. Columbo, Det. Meldrick Lewis, and, most importantly today, James Gordon of the Gotham Police Dept.

Typically known as Commissioner Gordon, in some of his best appearances he's Lieutenant, Captain, or just plain civilian Jim Gordon. Probably the best Jim Gordon story of all time is also one of the best Batman stories of all time, Batman: Year One. That's Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's update on Batman's origins for the 1980s. In it, we're treated to parallel narratives as both Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon come to Gotham and take on, in their own ways, a city rotten with crime and corruption. Bruce Wayne's journey into Batman is partly a riff on 70s action staples like Taxi Driver (there's even a scene in the first chapter where Bruce Wayne dresses up like Travis Bickle) and Death Wish. The Jim Gordon narrative, however, is a little juicier, and reveals a more complex and nuanced side to Frank Miller as a writer than he decides to show us these days. Frank Miller's (hopefully) satirical takes on machismo aside, I'm actually very conflicted about my Batman-obsession, and Miller's portrayal of Gordon in Batman: Year One justifies that.

Where Batman is fervidly driven in his crusade by personal tragedy, Jim Gordon represents a more tempered view. Gordon is a cop, paid and trained by the municipality of Gotham to uphold the law. Batman is ultimately about revenge, even if only on a metaphoric level. He is punishing all criminals in the absence of the actual gunman who killed his parents for taking his family away from him, for taking his childhood away from him. Bruce Wayne's time, effort and money might be more effectively spent attacking the root causes of crime and lobbying for stronger gun control measures. But the young boy who watched his parents gunned down before him has the overriding need to actually, physically punish criminals. Gordon, meanwhile, serves the actual ideal of justice. Though the mechanations of those who would subvert and pervert justice bring the fight into Gordon's own home, for the most part, he's an impartial officer of the law, following due process and the Constitution.

Batman: Year One even raises, if subtly, the possibility that Gordon could have weeded out Gotham's rampant corruption without Batman's help, and maybe even wouldn't have paid such a high personal price for it.

Further reading: Batman: Roomful of Strangers by Scott Morse

mp3: "Batman to the Rescue" by LaVern Baker
mp3: "The Escape" by Burgess Meredith