Monday, December 26, 2005

The Booty

I know Christmas is about love, and family and giving. But sappy stories about sharing hot cocoa with my honey make for bad copy. Here, in all it's glory is all the cool crap my wife got me for Christmas.



DVD Burner. I think I'll write a seperate blog on this. I finally got a DVD burner and it has done nothing but drive me crazy. The procedures to be able to burna DVD are mind boggling.



Frasier: Complete First Season - I stopped watching this Cheers spinoff after about the third season. It wasn't that it got bad, but I got busy with other things, mainly college. My brother continues to tell me how great it is, and my sister-in-law got it for me for Christmas. Five episodes in and it feels like a first season of a good show. So far there is a lot of character development and the growing pains of a show trying to get a feel for itself. But its funny, and Frasier is one of the great characters of TV.




Iomega 120 Gig external hard drive. Sweet, baby Sweet! I'll never worry about deleting a thing again.



Digital Ash in a Digital Urn: Bright Eyes - My friend the Duke de Mondo has been raving about this band for ages. This is a more electronic outing than I understand the band generally does, but after one listen I really dig it. Lots of Radioheadesque blips and beeps, but some strong songwriting with intelligent lyrics.




Cold Roses: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - I've slowly been becoming a Ryan Adams fan. I've really enjoyed some of his singles and other songs I've heard hear and there. Lately some friends have really been raving about him, and specifically this album. A killer live shows I downloaded from archive.org sealed the deal. So far this album is brilliant.




The Final Solution by Michael Chabon - I've read a couple of Chabon's books and found them to be very well written and rather delightful reads. This is his modern take on the classic detective novel, using an unnamed character that acts suspiciously like Sherlock Holmes




The Losers' Club by Richard Perez - I had never heard of the book or the author until I was looking for books I wanted to add to my Christmas list. Someone on Amazon recommended it and it looked interesting.






Looney Tunes: Golden Collection - The first in a series of DVD collections covering the best of Looney Tunes. This one has a disk devoted to Bugs Bunny and another for Daffy Duck, with two disks covering the best of all the other characters. Best movie? The classic send-up of the Barber of Seville with Buggs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.




Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip - A lovely coffee table book detailing the Grateful Dead's 35 year career. Filled with loads of full color pictures, song details, tour highlights and a whole lot more.

There were lots of clothes as well.

More will be forthcoming as I have Christmas on New Years with my wife's folks, and Christmas in mid-January with mine in Oklahoma.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Confessions of An Easy Listener

I have been listening to a lot of internet radio of late. Time and time again, much to my dismay, I have found that the station I tune into is labeled as “Adult Alternative” or as I like to call it “Easy Listening for Generation X.”

How did this happen? I used to be hip, I used to rock. My CD collection was once filled with ripping guitars, pounding bass and plenty of punk attitude. I should have known it was over when I began humming along to Bruce Hornsby while at the bank. Bruce Hornsby? I love Bruce Hornsby, he freaking rocks. Um, no, they play him at banks, anyone played in a bank most assuredly doesn’t rock.

But really, how did this happen? How could my musical tastes go from The Edge to the old man? As usual, the answer lies in Willie Nelson.

I grew up in with hair metal: Def Leppard, Whitesnake, and Poison. Loud guitars, lyrics about sexy chicks and power ballads. I remember playing hide and seek with my cousins while taunting them with the chorus to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Many an afternoon was spent pondering the deeper meaning behind Motley Crues “Girls, Girls, Girls” (ok, so maybe the time was spent ogling the hot girls in the video, but still.)

I knew the Sex Pistols, Operation Ivy and Fugazi. As a teenager I laid my long hair on the floor and let the Smashing Pumpkins panoply of sounds whirl around my head.

In college I met, and subsequently fell in love with a girl by wearing a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt. She was one of those Punker Than Thou chicks, always out to prove that her music was hipper, that she was cooler, and had more edge in her fingernail than I did in my entire body.

Without fail, every time, she beat me. Sure I knew who Jello Biafro was, and watched Gas, Food Lodging just to see J Mascis. I can name 5 Ramones albums and drove all night to see Sebadoh play at Tipatinas in New Orleans. But she walked circles around me in terms of the bands she had seen, the records she owned, and in general punk cred. I would always lose.

It didn’t help much that I also had a soft spot for Hootie and the Blowfish.

There was a break up. A long, hard break up.

Most people would have retreated into the loud angst of punk and metal, letting their middle finger of attitude kick out the hurt and loss.

Instead I found Willie Nelson’s subtle, quiet and aching album “Stardust.”

For months, every night after the breakup, I retreated to a friend’s place who was also experiencing The Heartbreak.

We would sit up well past the After Hours burning candles, lighting incense, and letting Willie sing our blues away. Often we would talk and curse and holler about the stupid whores that left us. More often than not, we would sit and think and listen.

Stardust is an album of covers, Willie Nelson’s favorite songs. Standards and classics like “Sunny Side of the Street” and “Moonlight in Vermont.” Songs that have been sung a million times, by a million voices; yet Willie sings them like they have never been sung before, as if they were the greatest songs ever sung. And we believe him.

I think I turned away from Punk music because it reminded me of the girl. The anger and the angst didn’t bring me release, only more pain. In something softer, in Willie Nelson, I found the emotional release I needed.

My CD collection is embarrassingly light on the rock and the roll. Gone are the Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, and Alice in Chains. Now the shelves are filled with Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett and Lucinda Williams.

Periodically, when those pissing matches on who is the most punked punk around get going, I get a little nostalgic for my youth. I break out my old Sonic Youth records, crank up the stereo and feel way too inadequate to jump into the argument.

Adult Alternative listeners just don’t have those types of conversations. No one boasts of seeing Bill Monroe before he got too commercial. Blood is never shed at a folk festival. Hipsters aren’t saving their sweaty t-shirts they wore when they saw Robert Earl Keen at the Tennessee theatre back in ’88.

There just isn’t the attitude with a folk audience. We bring our families, dance with our kids and talk about the weather between sets.

Whenever I start looking in the mirror wondering how I’d look with a nose ring, or a snarl begins to creep upon my lips I turn on Gillian Welch singing “Snowin’ on Raton” or Lucinda William’s “Jackson,” then settle back and tune into the Adult Alternative station.

I’ll never be punk again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Friday Shoes

One of the few things I bought for myself before leaving France was a pair of tennis shoes. European footwear is a bit different than their American counterparts. Where our tennis shoes tend to come in either white or gray, with a flourish of brighter colors in small flashes, European shoes are often very bold, bright and colorful.

I decided I wanted the most obnoxious pair of shoes I could find. So I got a pair of bright, neon yellow and green Adidas. They are fantastic!

As with many American companies, the workplace to which I am employed has casual Fridays. On this one day of the week I am allowed to dress down as it were and wear blue jeans and tennis shoes.

Being that my Converse Allstars now have a big gaping hole in the sole and that I left my only other pair of tennis shoes in France, I generally wear my obnoxious Adidas on Fridays. Everybody at work loves them. They have become my Friday shoes. Without fail, every Friday many people at work comment on my Friday shoes and laugh at how bright they are.

These shoes have become such a big deal that when I don’t wear them on Fridays, everybody is disappointed. Towards the end of Autumn I decided to wear my sandals on Friday, knowing the end of sandal season was coming soon. As soon as I stepped into the door I got a barrage of


“Mat, where are your Friday shoes?” Last week we got several inches of snow so I wore my bigger, more snow worthy Doc Martens. Once again I immediately got chastised for not wearing my Friday shoes.

There’s snow on the ground, those shoes have the thinnest of all soles, and have air holes cut into them. My feet would be soaked if I wore them. These things I tried to plead as my case.

They wouldn’t listen. Like a Texas jury they had no sympathy, but only wanted to see me and my big yellow shoes.

Looks like I’ll be wearing the same shoes every Friday for the rest of my life.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Music Reviews

Bela Fleck - Crossing the Tracks
Blind Boys of Alabama - Higher Ground
Brandfor Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr - A Duo Occassion ***
Doc Watson Family - Tradition
Jerry Garcia Band - Pure Jerry: Theatre 1839
Railroad Earth Elko ****
Neil Young - Silver and Gold
Steve Kimock Band - Eudemonic
U2 - Wide Awake in America
Various Artists - 2 Days in the Valley Soundtrack

CD Review: The Doc Watson Family - Tradition



Rating: ***

Music is all around us. Pouring out from the radio and the concert halls. Dripping from the internet stream and the pod cast. Booming from the crowded discothèque and blues bars. Music is everywhere.

Some of the best music comes from places few have ever seen. In the empty pool halls, the back yards, the living rooms and thousands of garages there is beautiful, passionate, amazing music being played. Right now, from every corner of the globe, someone is playing a tune, singing a song.

Before there was DVD audio, CDs, 8 tracks and even vinyl records, there was a caveman sitting around a fire howling out a song about his battles to his cavewoman. Through time we moved out of the cave into cozier dwellings, but we’re still sitting around a fire, singing about our lives, loves, and losses.

Years ago I had the experience of sitting around in a living room with a bunch of people and singing and playing. And it was like a spiritual experience. It was wonderful. I decided then that was what I wanted to do with my life was to play music, do music. In the making of records I think over the years we’ve all gotten a little too technical, a little too hung up on getting things perfect. And we’ve lost the living room. The living room has gone out of the music. –Emmylou Harris


In 1977 Doc Watson released Tradition, a record designed to put the living room back into the studio. It is not so much of a studio record, as a family sing a-long – quite literally since Watson uses his real family as a band. Doc is playing grandpa here, picking the guitar and singing songs older than the entire family put together. Dolly Greer is the grandmother singing silly children’s songs on the porch and lonesome fiddle tunes in the kitchen. The rest of the family pitches in on guitar and banjo singing old timey tunes while we gather round to listen.

The record is like an old photograph found buried in the back of the closet in your great grandmother’s closet. It’s not the prettiest picture ever taken, nor something to take out and hang on your living room wall. It’s a little tattered and worn, faded by the sun. Yet there is something familiar, comforting and beautiful about it.

Simple tunes like "Reuben’s Train", and "Biscuits" will surely put a smile on your face, and if they don’t make you get up and dance, you’ll at least be tapping your foot along to the tune.

There are lots of little half-songs and snippets of tunes. Dolly Greer sings a medley of four children’s songs that lasts less than three minutes in total. Her country accent is so heavy that you can hardly understand what it is exactly, that she’s singing, but she does it with such a happy zeal you can hardly fault her for any of it. There are other half-played fiddle tunes and songs that seem so spur of the moment and forgotten halfway through that the album really does feel like a family sitting on the back porch watching a lazy summer day float away.

It is definitely not an album for everyone. Fans of tightly wound, well crafted pop songs will surely find disappointment in the casual feel of the songs. I suspect even bluegrass and country music fans may find themselves looking back at the record bin through part of the 45 minutes of music here. But for anyone interested in traditional music, for a patient listener willing to wait for something special, there is a wealth of beautiful music in this disk.

Monday, December 05, 2005

CD Review: Bela Fleck - Crossing the Tracks



Rating: **

It is always interesting to revisit the roots of an innovative artist who has been around a long time. Bela Fleck has been playing professional banjo since 1982. He played with the new-wave bluegrass band New Grass Revival to start out with before creating blu-bop (an impressive mix of blue grass, jazz, funk and rock) with his own band, the Flecktones. Rounder Records just re-released his first solo album, Crossing the Tracks, originally released in 1979.

It is mostly a straightforward bluegrass album with some acoustic swing tossed in for good measure. Though you can already see the blu-grass innovator wanting to branch out. What other bluegrass musician would dare to cover Chick Corea’s masterful "Spain"? And that with a lead Dobro part!

For his first solo outing, Bela managed to find some of the premier bluegrass players around to join him. The band includes Mark Schatz, Bob Applebaum, and Russ Barenbert. Everyone’s favorite mandolinist, Sam Bush, joins the fun on fiddle, and Jerry Douglass plays Dobro on a few tracks.

All but two tracks (the spry ode to a broken heart "How Can You Face Me Now", and the mournful "Aint Gonna Work Tomorrow") are instrumentals. Often Bela lays back, allowing the other musicians to step up and shine. Though, in title it is a solo album, he never puts his own picking ahead of the song.

Crossing the Tracks is a fascinating glimpse into the beginnings of a masterful musicians journey into innovation. For bluegrass lovers, Bela Fleck fans and even jazz junkies looking for new takes on a favorite tune this should be of interest.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Three Quick Movie Reviews

Mr. 3000

Rating: **

It says a lot about a film, when thirty minutes into it I have to turn to my wife and ask,

“This is a comedy, right?”

It would be another 20 minutes before I managed my first laugh. The film, in its entirety garnered only one other actual laugh from me. Unlaughing and all, it isn’t a terrible film. The acting and production value’s are all OK. The story – retired baseball player is resting on the laurels of having made 3000 hits only to be dragged back into playing, nine years into retirement because, as it turns out, he only made 2997 hits – has a lot of potential.

Too bad it only reaches cliché. Within 10 minutes you already know that he is going to get his 3000 hits, he’ll get the girl, and he’ll learn some valuable life lessons along the way. That one of these things doesn’t actually happen, only serves to highlight how full of Hollywood clichés this film is.

To Be and To Have

Rating: ***1/2

A lovely 2002 documentary from France that chronicles the life of teacher, Georges Lopez as he struggles to instill and education into the minds of a small, one-classroom school of 4-11 year olds.

The students are mostly well behaved, so this isn’t another Lean On Me or Blackboard Jungle. Rather it is the simple story of an educator who loves to teach. It is filled with small moments with Lopez sitting one on one with his students teaching them the fundamentals of the classroom and about life.

For anyone who lives the life of a teacher, or who dreams of becoming one, this film is highly recommended.


Across the Pacific

Rating **1/2

Riding on the successful coattails of the Maltese Falcon, Across the Pacific reunites Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and director John Huston in a less than stellar tale of intrigue.

It is a pre-war story of the Japanese plotting to bomb the Panama Canal (this was changed in the story from Pearl Harbor after the Japanese actually did bomb Pearl Harbor). Bogart is a disgraced soldier who grabs a boat ride to Japan by way of the Panama Canal. Along the way he meets a mysterious cast of characters where no one is what they seem.

The performances are what you would expect from such a stellar cast, but nothing more. It’s the story that gets bogged down in its own intrigue. There just isn’t a lot for the actors to play off of, making this thriller less than thrilling.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Hot Topic: Technology

Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. This week's Hot Topic was created and edited by me. Yeah Me! Beware of the usual language, as some of my compatriates are as foul mouthed as ever.


From the fevered minds of a loose grouping of self-appointed cultural commentators comes a weekly side-swipe at the issues of the day, providing a pithy and often heated debate on pop culture as they see it.

This is The Hot Topic.

Burning it up this week: Technology


From: Mat Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

At my place of employment we have a strict rule about not using the internet for personal use at your desk. We have set up several computers in the break room for personal use. Last week all of these computers had to be taken out for repair. It was as if the second-coming had happened all over again. Employees were furious, literally and physically angry. Like we had intentionally taken the computers away from them as punishment, and not because they needed repair.

The other day I was standing in line at the local eatery. A young man is standing before the cashier, chatting on his cell phone. The girl behind the counter attempts several times to inquire as to what the customer's order might be. Cell phone guy gives her an impatient - what does this simpleton want - look and continue to phone conversate. The girl persists, and the man angrily tells the person on the other side of the phone line to hold, and then orders.

When I think upon these things, and others like them, I wonder when our lives became that important. It's not like most of us are kings and queens, presidents of the free world. Lives are not at stake here. Yet more and more we behave as if reading the newest e-mail and answering our cell phones are all important tasks that simply must be done. NOW!

Ever been on the losing end of the battle between you and a friend's ringing cell phone? There you are chatting about Arabian policies, the meaning of jacket's in Tolstoy's poetry, or the fine art of dancing with tuna fish and suddenly you are forced to sit politely - if awkwardly - while your friend laughs it up with his cell phone?

Where did courtesy go?

Now, I don't want to sound like a technophobe. I'm no hater of the new, the technological, the lights and beeps of today's age. Cell phones are a marvel. They have helped mankind over and over again. From asking the wife which of the six different types of pesto sauce she wants when sending the husband to the grocery store; to getting on the spot directions while in the car, and even saving lives cell phones can more than justify their existence.

I flippin' love the internet. I have a broadband connection at home and use it daily. Without it I wouldn't be writing this piece, wouldn't have married my wife, and would have lost, and never found many friendships. Cyberspace connects the world.

Anyone, no matter how strange, no matter how different they feel, can find someone just like them via the internet. You're a transvestive, lesbian vampire who loves cottage cheese? Come over here, joint our group and meet people with the exact same interests. Yet with all of this connecting of niche's I wonder how much of the rest of the world is being left out. Could finding sympathetic souls who understand make us less tolerable of those who just don't get it? Could connecting online keep us disconnected to our neighbors?

From: Bennett Dawson

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

Addiction, or passion? How much of our society could be summed up under one of these labels? The normal, everyday passions (great food at a tasteful restaurant, single malt scotch, live theater, a well directed movie, or a song that demands that you STOP and listen) are fundamentally different from the nervous dedication to a cell phone or internet connection, and should not be lumped together. One group is part of the creativity and enjoyment of life, the other is an addiction to being connected, and is one of the strange paths our world has taken. Is this a lasting phenomenon? Will our culture become ever more focused on immediate communication?

I don't have a cell phone, and I may never get one. I'm one of those folks that has no problem letting the machine pick up a call, whether I'm busy or not. Real emergencies are rare, and most family conversations can wait a bit. Besides, there's email now, and (no surprise) I take my time with the reply function. Why give anyone the idea that I respond quickly?

Cell phones are a mixed blessing to be sure. The example you site is outrageous, and I'd have been hard pressed not to fling a comment at the rude bastard. Driving and cell phone use is epidemic, and acts to reinforce the poor driving skills of my neighbors. If I lived in the city, where cell phone related mental lapses added up to serious congestion at an intersection that used to flow smoothly, I think I'd fall prey to road rage and high blood pressure.

Ditto trying to have a meeting or a conversation with a friend that was interrupted by cell phone calls. Who needs that? Perhaps I lack the drive; the need to talk with someone for hours about meaningless details, stuff that doesn't add anything to the relationship or my understanding of the world. Chatter, got some? It's like, y'know, like cool? Echhh! My son does this on the phone with his girlfriends and I have to leave the room...

But I love the connectivity of the internet, the opportunity to sell stuff to folks in other countries, to access places like Blogcritics and NASAWatch. Before the net, there was no way to do many of the things we now take for granted. Want to know the answer? It's a few mouse clicks away. THAT is cool!

So I guess I'm willing to ignore all the rest of the nonsense that has infused our society in this digital information age, as long as I can get at all the knowledge and photographs that are part and parcel of my personal areas of interest.


From: DJRadiohead

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I curse it one minute and hail it the next. I have had a lot of trouble getting my head around this topic because I found myself to-ing and fro-ing up one side and down the other.

I love the high-tech gadgets. I have owned five iPods. I have a home theater system. My wife has my old computer because I am typing this piece on my PowerBook whilst surfing the web wirelessly… you get the idea. I love technology. I wish I had more money for more gadgets. I have been able to keep up with people with whom I would have probably lost touch. I have been able to have conversations with interesting people I have never met. I have access to information and ideas and all kinds of shit I could never have imagined accessing- and it has all become so fucking easy.

Technology has made communicating easier but has it given us any more to say? In last week's HOT TOPIC we discussed why we create. Technology has made it simpler and more efficient to air our creative wares. It has not necessarily improved them. It is so much easier to record an album today but is the music any better than it was 50 years ago? If so, is it because of the technology? In spite of it? Has it had any impact at all?

I think technology has sped the world up more than it has changed it. Technology allows us to better understand how fucked up the world always was. Technology, in the end, is just a tool. The electric guitar does not play itself and ProTools does not write dreadful songs- Jon Bon Jovi and Scott Stapp do. Cell phones are not rude. Assholes who do not know when and where to use them are rude. People have always sucked. Technology and the spread of technology have just given us new, faster, more efficient ways to suck.

I guess I sound a lot like one of the gun nuts. They say, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." I say, "Technology is not bad, people are bad. And you know what? So are cell phones. Fuck them."

From: Aaron Fleming

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

It's interesting how technology (like so much else) can become ingrained into normal everyday activity, suddenly checking email, or checking the mobile phone for text messages becomes a regular thing.

Distracting maybe? I must confess that I waste (and I do mean waste) too much of my time sitting on the internet, aimlessly wondering around the same websites ("oh sitemeter, any new visitors? nope, aw well"), and I often feel quite dispirited afterwards (especially if it was an extra long session of nothingness). Not to say that there's always a lack of constructive use of time, many a session on Wikipedia, or posting some new masterwork on the blog, or contributing to some fine discussion such as this here.

I guess it's like DJ Radiohead says, technology is only a tool, and it's down to those who use it. A good example of this, and one I'm vocal on often, is the use of CGI in film. I always slag the excessive use of CGI in film, usually with regards to crapfests like War Of The Worlds (the remake), or some other big budget flick where the only thing it has going for it is the effects. And as we know, no story, no film. Doesn't matter how good the visual effects are, they are only a compliment (and can be a great one used properly).

And maybe we can see the pointless use of technology in cinema too. My main thinking here, and it's one that's humoured The Duke and I often, is the CGI deer in The Ring 2. They're CGI! It's not even hard to see, more obvious pixelation I've rarely seen. This is just laziness on the part of film makers.

Oh, there's something else, does technology make people lazy?

Instead of travelling to someone's house you can just call them on the phone. Then again, in this busy word, who has time for those types of shenanigans. Technology does have a rather dehumanizing effect, witness instant messaging. I use it often, and it's great for keeping in touch with people you can't see regularly, but I despise it. None of the natural human nuances come through in a box of text set within a computer screen. It's very hard to be a sarcastic bastard, or to have that added effect that the like of hand gestures brings to communication.

And how are you supposed to do that thing where you look at the person you're in discussion with and nod your head in affirming expression? Or motion towards an attractive lady and form a favorable countenance at that beheld before you?

From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology


To avoid coming across like a neo-luddite (which, believe me, may be unavoidable by the end of this bit), let me say that technological advance (or innovation) is not intrinsically good or bad. It just is. Where things go wrong is in the area of application.

On the good side, look at the world of medicine. The modern physician's diagnostic capability via technology is simply amazing. The software engineer side of me has been involved in the development of some of these machines and, even right up close, the wonder and import is not diminished.

On the bad side, there's technology for technology's sake. Let's face it, just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should. Refrigerators that keep inventory and automatically email orders to the grocer. Computers in your car that schedule appointments via the internet to the dealer. Heck, even food that's specially constructed to be 'conveniently' cooked via the microwave. Convenient, yes? Tasty...NO. Oh, and here's one of my big pet peeves: laptops at business meetings. I come across as captain luddite at meetings because I'm the only one there with a notebook and a pen. Everybody else is clacking and clicking away, supposedly taking notes but, let's be honest here...they're continuing the work they were doing before the meeting started, sending & receiving email, etc. They're not mentally present. This doesn't feel like innovation to me.

And then there's the Internet and cell phones. Again, there's no denying that both technologies have provided positive impact. But there's also the negative social consequences that Mr. Brewster brought up. As much as these things bring us together (and I am just jazzed as all hell about the fantstic collaborations, The Hot Topic surely being one, that this fascilitates), they also put around us a weird buffer of sorts. Ever see two kids driving in a car, both of 'em talking on the phone? How about a couple at a coffee shop, both staring into their own laptops?

I suppose this is some sorta new social construct that I just don't 'get'. So be it.


From: Eric Berlin

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

Technology, in the end, means change, doesn't it? In 2005 what we're seeing, I think, is change driven into our hearts and homes and minds and spirits and functional utility personal space amplifiers (or what some like to call the "soul") at an unprecedented rate. Change can be good or change can be bad, it's all how you roll with it is how I see it.

But let me posit the bright side of the technology onslaught, if I might. Sir Fleming brings up, and very rightly so, some of the downside of instant messaging a friend whereas, say, as little as 10 years ago one might take the extraordinary step of utilizing human-powered machine-units called "legs" to "walk" to a friend's house, perhaps, in an act know in some quarters as "dropping by."

Be that as it may, technology has recently brought about new universes of communication and community theaters of the mind that were not possible even in the days of cassette tapes and space shuttles and Lee press-on nails.

Let's take as an example this little band of souls we have right here, bandying and waxing and milking back and forth, straining wit off the muse and considering apocalyptic visions and ideas set forth with worthy visions of producing new understanding and meaning and social synergy.

In other words: we write about shit from disparate parts of the globe and collectively form and argue and forge new understandings about all manner of stuff, without (in most cases) ever having met one another. Which is pretty fucking cool, in my e-book!

So technology allows for people to find one another out there who wish to enter the digital fray for a little sparring and virtual grog swilling. The Duke a good while back said it very well in relating that there's no longer any shame in meeting a nice young lass online these days. What are the odds of walking into a bar and meeting a chick that liked ska punk records and, importantly, could put up with your idiosyncratic and moody and oftimes megalomaniacal crap?

I got lucky there, as Fate would have it, but pretty damned low, I'd say.

Anyway, technology now allows for an easy and efficient and cheap meeting of the minds from all points of the planet. So for that, if for nothing else, I can put up with the asshole screaming into his cell phone at the head of the line to pay for whatever.

That, and deliciously imagining beating his ass with a metal pole over and over and over again.

Cling to the clang!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

CD Review: Jerry Garcia Band - Pure Jerry: Theatre 1839

Jerry Garcia was a guitar playing mofo-son-of-a-ho. For thirty years he played 100+ shows with the Grateful Dead annually. When he wasn’t playing for his day job, he was gigging in clubs with an ever changing assortment of characters in the Jerry Garcia Band. Or he’d hit up Merle Saunders for a jam session and stop by David Grisman’s home to fiddle around. They tell tales of Garcia jamming on a few tunes for the Dead’s opening band, then sitting in with the New Riders of the Purple Sage on steel guitar; and then playing some five hours with the Grateful Dead. The man loved to play music.

In a move akin to the Grateful Dead’s release every note played policy, the Jerry Garcia estate has quickly been releasing a series of Jerry Garcia Band shows. The first in the series titled Pure Jerry is three disks from July 29 and 30 1977. Like a lot of the Dead sets from this year, these shows smoke!

The Garcia Band usually contained very little music that the Dead played. This was Garcia’s chance to play music that didn’t necessarily fit within the scope of the Grateful Dead. These disks are no different. There are numbers from Motown, Jamaica, God, and several tracks from Bob Dylan.

Garcia loved a soulful ballad. And though no one is gonna put Garcia’s voice on any all time list, he has a way of projecting emotion that reaches down, far into his very guts.

For my money, it’s the upbeat numbers that make this set worth the price of the ticket, er CD. The opening track, “Mystery Train” is a barn burner showcasing both Garcia’s talent for ruminating on a theme, and Keith Godchaux’s ability as a piano man. The two take some nice leads and dance around each other in a glorious ballroom mania.

As with the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band could jam a song out into beautiful, mysterious places. Yet this improvisational, take-it-as-it-comes approach to music could also lead into dead-ends, barren desserts and meandering trails leading to nowhere. More often than not, Garcia was able to lead his comrades into rock-n-roll nirvana, but sometimes, like here during “Russian Lullabye”, the song loses control of itself. After a lovely, melody shaking groove the song breaks down into a pointless, boring bass solo.

Nearly every song includes something of a jam, and mostly the band is able to pull it off. Whether it is the soft, rock-a-bye lilt of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, or the get off your keister and dance bebop twist to Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue”, Garcia and Co. are ready to take you out there, to find new spaces for music.

Though there are a few misses, and some all to long rambles (the 27 minutes of “Don’t Let Go” if about 15 minutes too much) these three disks are filled with so many moments of brilliance, it is a definite must have for any Rock lover. It is also a brilliant place to find one of the all time guitarists genius outside of the Grateful Dead.

And at $19.98 for three full disks of music, it is quite a bargain.

For more info on this disk, and to purchase it (for it isn’t listen on Amazon) go to jerrygarcia.com.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

You're Fired

I had to fire someone today. This was not the first time I’ve had to do such a thing, so it was not a completely new experience. Yet it is still quite unsettling.

The woman I had to fire was perfectly nice. She never said a negative thing. She came to work on time, was never tardy from break or lunches. She sat in her chair and did her job to the best of her ability. In many ways she was a model employee.

Except, she was a rather terrible collector. I’m a collections supervisor for a credit card company. My employees are paid to collect on past due accounts. The gig is all about numbers: number of calls made, numbers of cardholders contacted, payments converted, and of course, dollars collected. To survive you have to play the numbers.

This is something that this woman could just not do. You could say she was just too nice. And it’s true; to be a collector you have to have something of a dark side within you. But it is more than just being mean, there are plenty of very nice collectors who do excellent work. It’s part salesmanship, part thick-leathery skin, and mostly being able to push a little, prod a lot that gets the job done.

Besides not just having the collector instinct, this lady didn’t seem to grasp some of the fundamental concepts behind the job. Simple things that most people understand quickly and mold it into their work personality, she just couldn’t seem to get.

All of this is to say that the termination could be seen from a far distance. In fact, I had a long conversation with her a couple of weeks ago, warning her that unless things really improved, I’d have to let her go. Things did get better, she did improve, but not nearly enough to warrant keeping her on the payroll.

So, this afternoon, I pulled her aside, and let her go.

Did I mention that this lady had mentioned to my boss a couple of weeks back that I “made her uncomfortable?” Earlier, on that day, I had reached across her person and logged her out of the system, using her mouse. This is something I do often, and is only a gesture meant to expedite the process of them getting off the phone so that I may talk to them. Apparently this gesture offended her in some way, enough to make her say something to my boss.

Now, she never used the word “harassment” but this is the first thing that rang in my head when my boss told me. Holy crap! Visions of lawsuits and besmirching of my permanent record began ringing in my head.

Now here I was approaching her so that I could terminate her permanently.

I called Human Resources to tell them I was none to comfortable having that conversation. They insured me it would be ok and told me to have another supervisor with me.

It went as well as those things go. I explained it wasn’t personal, wished her well and sent her on her way. She gave me the whole “I really need this job” speech, but I had to stand firm.

I hate this. She really was a nice lady, possible harassment charges and all. And here I am throwing her out, not long before Christmas and all that.

Terminating employees is part of my job, I accept this. But it still sinks my heart.

Post termination, I hid out in the back of the office, allowing her time to gather her things and leave the office. I didn’t want any awkward moments where she was passing my desk in order to tell her workmates goodbye.

As she left, and I reentered the floor, a coworker, decides to tell me she is sitting in her car, crying.

Yeah, like I needed that.

So, here I am feeling like a heel, and there she is without a job.

This sucks.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Passion of Joan of Arc: Review


They say that the film modern audiences know as The Passion of Joan of Arc, is, in fact, not the original cut of the film. They say the original print was destroyed, and not being able to reshoot, Carl Theodor Dreyer re-edited the entire film from footage he had originally cut.

The mind mush reels wondering what the world lost, if this is what was first considered unworthy of the picture.

As masterful as the film is, it is not a movie to invite all your friends to come and see. Unless your friends happens to be very serious film buffs. It is in black and white, it is silent, the title cards are in French, and almost all of the movie is just talking. Talking, talking, talking in a silent picture. So, its not a film for a frat party, or to play drinking games along with. Though one could get pretty hammered drinking every time Joan cries.

It is a film to watch silently, in a dark room, filled with hunger, filled with pain.

The story settles not on the full, adventurous life of Joan of Arc. There are no mystic visions from the angels. It shows none of the epic battles Joan led. Instead it focuses on the end of the maiden’s life, her trial and execution.

It is hard to imagine that a silent film, that focuses on a courtroom drama could be so moving. And yet, Dreyer has managed to create cinema more moving than nearly everything that has come after it. This comes in large part from the performance of Joan herself, Maria Falconetti.

Falconetti is shot almost entirely in close up, and medium shots. In fact, only once or twice do we catch a glimpse of her entire body. She pulls a performance out of her face that is all but brilliant. It is a face that moves mountains. The passion, the pain, the unbelievable undercurrent of emotion emitting from those close ups is something of a wonder.

Behind her eyes – my gawd those eyes, orbs of passion they are – behind her eyes lie such courage and fear, such passion and fury that we are no longer viewers of a film, but jurors, judges and martyrs.

The judges and accusers of Joan of Arc are filmed from tight angles. From below so they tower over us, from sharp angular sides making them appear harsh and menacing. None of the actors used makeup, and the lighting is so acute that every flaw, every nuance of their ugly faces is brought out, spotlighted and multiplied. This villains are made evil by nothing more than the scowls on their faces.

Yet Joan is shot from above, with a softer light. To look into the camera she must crane her head, appearing as if she is in constant prayer. Her face is smooth and angelic. She is a vision of purity and soft love.

The hero of this film is not the mighty warrior seen in so many other retellings of this story. She is not the wild fighter on a mission from God. She is a small, frail child, filled only with the conviction that she is right, and therefore righteous.

To the French, Joan is a patron saint. A national figure of Christianity and of patriotic courage. I once visited the very spot where she was executed, in Rouen, France. It is a small ruined place surrounded by kitschy wax museum, and pricey souvenirs. Yet it is a singularly moving place, knowing so much history was birthed from this one small spot of earth. It is a bit like standing at Gettysburg, or in Ford’s theatre - moving, tranquil and magic.

Dreyer has created a picture, not so much about history, or its giants. But a film that reveals the passion and beauty that the cinema, and all great art is destined to be.

The Hot Topic: Creativity

Once again, this Hot Topic business is all I seem to be writing. But behold, just above this post you shall soon see, finally, a new review from yours truly. The the readers said, "Amen".

Standard warning about the cursing, and the cussing, and the bad words.


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From the composite intellectual consciousness of a mighty entity of social and cultural commentary comes the weekly sneering perusal of the issues of the day.

This is The Hot Topic. This week - Creativity

From: Aaron Fleming

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

The need, the desire, to partake in creative activity is something that is ingrained deep within the human psyche; it is an intrinsic part of human existence, or so it seems. Surely there's more justification for creativity to be an integral component of the human condition, as opposed to the sorts of capitalistic consumerist banality in which life revolves around the acquisitions that we all desperately 'need'. Here, express yourself!

Creativity is something that can give a life true meaning and enjoyment that goes beyond a superficial depth. I'm no psychologist so I won't, and can't, dive too deeply into that train of thought, I'd be drowning in orgones before I was even partially submerged.

Let's define creative activity for a moment here: writing, painting, producing music, acting, photography, inventing. There are undoubtedly more, but those are enough to set a stage for discussion.

This whole blogworld thing (the blogsphere as it's sometimes known; I think The Guardian calls it so) is in many ways a manifestation of the need for a creative outlet. It fulfills that need by providing a showcase for all us personal publishing maniacs (and also the diary need of mass narcissism).

So the question is, in this overt environment for individuals participating in creativity, what motivates you in the creative processes, any set routines or procedures, where do those ideas originate?

For me, I like to write, but why?

Catharsis, a purgation of the mind. Putting down those thoughts and ideas has an odd effect, a relief of pressure in the head, abstract or otherwise. As William S. Burroughs said: "Perhaps all pleasure is only relief."

These things get all stored up in there, bouncing around, I'd hate to see the mess in there, ya know what those little cogitations are like, bunch of fuckers. One time I caught them in a mescaline frenzy, party poppers were everywhere, and the walls were covered in sticky-back plastic, almost a nightmare vision of Blue Peter, now that I think about it.

I don't really have a set process for coming up with writing ideas. (I doubt many people have a prescribed course for this sort of thing.) Some ideas are kicked off by certain incidents witnessed, or discussions, or something I've read, or heard, or watched.

I tend to endeavour to entertain in my writing, usually trying to be funny, elements of satire and mass exaggeration. My self-deprecating way of looking at it is that I've got nothing profound and ground-breaking to say, so I better attempt to humour the world.

Sometimes I'll get an idea, often lying in bed at night in a state of petulant insomnia, and from there it will evolve and some bits and pieces will come together. Then it'll be recalled and released into the ether at a later time. Most writing comes from a stream of consciousness method when it comes to that release time. And I don't like drafting and rough versions and all that, partly to do with laziness, and also fear that I'll do nothing more than make it worse on revision.

Also I try and write with a nice expressive and varied vocabulary, I enjoy a good dip into the old lexicon. (What's with all these swimming references? I can't even swim.) This could be just pretentiousness, and it partially is, no doubt, but it's also because I enjoy reading prose that uses more than a limited number of words and forms an interesting syntactical structure.

From: Bennett Dawson

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

I wish it was like that for me Aaron, creation and release, but I'm much more agenda -driven than creative. I've reached an age where one starts looking at the ledger of accomplishment, the balance sheet of impact on culture or humanity versus time spent partying, and it occurred to me that there was great potential for having a positive impact through the net, by writing about things.

The genesis for this Hot Topic conversation was Stephen King's On Writing and his views of the creative process, and that struck a chord with me. I devoured his book, and it really pushed me to try to learn to write - to be able to use the mighty word as a lever on society.

Is it actually possible to reach across time and space to touch someone's gray matter with the words I type? Can I paint pictures of Great Planetary Journeys in their mind, from my little desk in my little house?

If so, I need to get better at writing. It's simple actually - just write a lot, and that's where Blogcritics comes in. If I can develop my questionable talent here on BC, I might be able to inspire someone to take more science classes, to excel in mathematics, to push known physics, to become the best pilot in the military, to put in an extra hour checking blueprints, to become someone who helps realize the vision of getting humanity's "eggs" into more than "one basket".

So I write about NASA and the space programs hosted by our world's sovereign territories. I report the news, post the photos, and try to convey the enormity of the potential. I want to get people to imagine, perchance to dream. I want people to want to see this stuff happen.

And I look forward to the day when I don't cringe at my own posts, three days later. Juvenile! Rushed! Shallow! Incomplete! Clumsy! Fucking Stupid! Brutal self-critique when all I want to do is write clearly, succinctly, and in a voice that taps into just a little bit of the telepathy and time travel that Mr. King describes so eloquently. I'm not greedy; all I want is to paint one picture in the right head. If I can inspire just one person to start the chain of events that has an impact on the right kid...

That kid could walk on Mars.

The process of learning to write has been great, and I see improvement over the past eight months. It's not Duke De Mondo by any stretch, but it's better than it was... I'm actually able to write a sentence that doesn't end up sounding stupid to my inner ear a few days after publication.

It's coming easier, sharper at times, and I'm beginning to think that this new path was a good idea. I know my best writing is ahead of me, and some of it might actually have an impact on someone, somewhere. All I have to do, is to keep on writing.

From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

These days, for me creativity equals writing.

Why do I write? The clichéd answer is "Because I have to." But it's the truth.

This wasn't always the case with me, as the writing gig (such as it is) didn't start happening for me until just a couple of years ago. Before that my creative outlets consisted of playing guitar in a band (instigating much improvisation, and grimacing from bandmates)) and reading.

Reading? Yes, the search for new material is never-ending. You may think of the act of consuming characters on the page as a passive activity and, until the writing thing 'happened', so did I. But what I discovered was that my seemingly passing thoughts on this stuff were building...and building and building. The mental backlog was there, ready to break free.

No, I didn't always want to write. When I was a kid much time was spent reading all manner of rock (and other) yacking: Ben Fong Torres, Dave Marsh (though I can sorta do without him now), Hunter S. Thomson and Lester Bangs. It was all 'incoming'. If pressed to write a paper in school I would get all sweaty, invoke the Procrastination Protocol and at some point scratch out a few pathetic pages. Not good stuff.

Many years after college and a sort of flatness became apparent. Two life situations that can surely foster the desire for that great and intangible "something else" are a fading marriage and a stuck 'career'. I had both. It all felt very....not sure what the word would be....heavy. An explosion of incredible ugliness solved the former problem. On my own I was left with more time to ponder things like Natalie Goldberg's book Long Quiet Highway. Yes, a person can change their life. Yes, a person can persue a life of writing.

But still, I did nothing.

Then Blogcritics happened.

Well, let's give this thing a go. Let's get over the fear of the unknown. What the hell am I going to say about this music? Do I have the words? Hmmm...I just might. Keep trying. Read more books. Stephen King's On Writing. Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird. All of it. More. More.

Now, to use another sort of cliché, I feel like I've got a freaking river running through me. It appears to be unstoppable.

Let's just hope that I can swim.

From: Duke de Mondo

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

I think my own approach to the whole writing affair has been altered beyond all sense in the past year or so. Used to be, if I watched something, it got written about, 99% of the time. What occurred was that a lot of the time, I ended up with sorta amusing at best screeds that maybe took an hour to write an then, as Bennett says, I'd spend the next week cringing at the bastards.

Nowadays that doesn't happen any more, and it's the rogue 2% of stuff that gets written about. What I sorta need to be feelin like, is like I'm attackin' the fuckin' keyboard. A man needs enough caffeine in the system to be able to batter the thing ruthlessly, 'til at the end there's fifteen pages of maniacal gibberish that I'll leave aside for a time, a day maybe, an' go back to, edit and the like. (If anyone's actually read my damn stuff, it may seem odd that any such cutting and pasting occurs, but it does, yes.)

As Sir Fleming muses, there's a need to be entertaining there. I like to assume that even if folks have never heard of the record or flick in question, or, just as likely, have heard of it, but couldn't give a half-drunk yak's wank, they still dig the waxing in question regarding it all.

But in terms of the mechanics of the procedure, I think I need to be in some sorta mindset, usually one frazzled to fuck on caffeine an' lust, and yeah, I need to feel like I'm carvin' the damn words outta rock. If I find that I'm writin' an' every line has me pausing for a while to think of a word or something, I just quit an' come back later, when the head is suitably lit.

The result of all this is that I, at least, dig the stuff that gets finished, even if the hard-drive creaks an' groans an' rattles with the weight of all the stuff on there that never got past the fifth paragraph.

And it tends to mean less output, but personally I think the output is improved, so I'm willin' to put up with that.

In times of severe writers' block or whatever, I need to go off with a book I know will send the psyche reelin', usually some Hunter S Thompson or maybe Naked Lunch, something in which the language flies off the page like rifle fire, 'til half a fella's head's on the walls behind him.

You can't read something like Naked Lunch and not be inspired to fling words 'cross screen, or notepad, or whatever.

That's another thing, actually. I find it impossible to write on anything but a computer, and it has to be my computer, also. In this back room wi' the vibes on, and then off, and then on, 'cause sometimes a great lyric (at the minute, for example, Adam Green talking bout 'My asshole in my mouth') smacks a man upside the chops an he can't concentrate.

That's as much as I know about the whys and wherefores of the procedure, least with regards my own scrawls.

From: Greg Smyth

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

Okay, here's my take on the whole thing...

Why do I write? There's two answers to this I think, or at least two questions hidden in that rather innocuous query.

1. Why do we write?
2. Why does Greg write?

The first kinda informs the second so we'll start there.

Why do we as a species, people whatever write? Because we always have. It starts pictorially with the cavemen, gets vocal sometime later and then once a proper written language is available people start recording and so it goes. It's not a giant leap from Dave Caveman drawing a picture of how he killed the wild boar everyone's eating on the wall of a cave, to "the one that got away". Add that embellishment at every level and, eventually, I'm guessing you get fiction as is. Then you eventually progress to folk tales that get (again, eventually) written down.

We write/create because it's part of our evolution as a species and because it's a uniquely human thing to do. We've got a very large brain, why not make some shit up?

Why does Greg write? The potted history goes thus: As a kid I used to make up stories for something to do and because, as a kid, it's fun to make stuff up. Keeping a slightly childish approach to life helps in that respect. About the same time I got my first part-time job during sixth year (age 16/17) I got seriously into music. Aided by the fact that a pretty decent indie record store opened up and a newly discovered love for the NME and late-night radio, I started writing some reviews.

This continues, via being music editor on the student newspaper, throughout university. I narrowly miss out on writing for the NME though washing the car while the editor rings my mobile. Nothing happens. Currently I'm doing some writing in an unpaid capacity for a couple of small but really rather good magazines.

Anyway, I don't know where the creative process happens but for me I think it's a case of letting your subconscious mind make all the connections over a (hopefully very short) period and then you sit down and write. Literally, just write it. There's very little actual skill involved. The skill is in judicious editing and the post-production.

I'm forever reading other people's thoughts on being a proper writer and really it boils down to that. It's discipline, rather than skill in many cases. If you want to be a writer, then write. If you want to write a novel, then write every day. Simple.

You may, after three months, have a big pile of steaming shit and that's when the hard work and the real art begins. Bring on The Red Pen Of Death. Cut it to bits and then write some more. Repeat until the work is Finished.

I guess it's much easier being a critic of some description because you're never really faced with a blank page. You've always got The Product to fall back on like a crutch. Being a critic is about stringing together a bunch of facts, opinions and gossip into a small, neat package. The truth is, though, that the general audience would be just as happy, if not more so, with a picture of the thing and a score out of ten.

Most people couldn't give a shit about your opinion. Your task is to make it enjoyable enough, whether the thing is good or bad, so that for a second they do.

From: DJ Radiohead

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

Why the fuck do I do what I do? Like I haven't been asked that 1,000 fucking times. I am more than a little intimidated having seen some of the fine attempts by the rest of this criminal element to grapple with the question but I will take my stab at it...

Expression has been a part of my personality from the word go. I have never been one to shut up - at least this is what I have come to understand both from my I have always had something to say (or thought I did). I almost never leave a conversation feeling as though I said everything I intended to say. I never thought of myself as much of a writer until my mom or teachers mentioned it - same thing with public speaking/speeches/etc. I guess I was blessed with at least a nominal ability and certainly a keen interest in such things. It's in the DNA.

Those of you who listened to Episode 6 of mine own podcast you know I have a compulsion to talk about the music that moves me (fucking self-promotion... you bet your ass). I can't explain it. It's just... to quote John Lee Hooker, "Let that boy boogie woogie cuz it's in him and it's got to come out."

My college years were some of the best for me in this regard. I got a gig writing and editing for the campus newspaper. I even started a 'Music' section while I was there. I was supposed to be the news editor. I was more interested in music than I was in stories about parking spaces and mascots. It was also in college I got my first taste of big-boy, professional radio. I started out as a DJ. I also got a chance to be a cub reporter and news anchor just after college. I even hosted a 30-minute business talk show. That was more an acting job than a radio job because what I knew (know) about business could not fill a thimble.

A few months after college I took the job I have now. It is a great job and it keeps the lights on and food on the table. There is just not a whole lot of creative expression. In fact there is no creative expression. I took the money. I sold out. I chose a life with the wife to whom I am married over the pursuit of a career in my field. Do I regret that decision? Not for a fucking minute. I did not think of it as a choice between two competing interests when I decided upon my current path. It just sort of worked out that way. I missed being in a situation where my talents and passions were engaged but if I had it to do all over again I would.

Those first few years were filled with some listless days. I had no outlet for my creative juices. The passion in me slowly diminished. I became surly- OK, surlier. I dabbled around with creating my own website. I got discouraged when I realized no one was traveling to it but me. I quit writing because I felt like I already spent enough time each day talking to myself. It was not worth the effort. I do not know if I will ever find a gig paying me to do what I love. That is no longer the most important thing to me. The internet, my web site, Blogcritics... they have given me an audience as well as the opportunity to be amused, inspired, and humbled by the talents of some other folks worldwide.

I realize this is bordering on embarrassing sentimentality but allow me a quick aside: Driving home from work the other night I was chuckling about some of the pieces I read here on BC (in this case in particular something by our own beloved The Duke). As I was pulling into my apartment's parking space I had a vision: The Duke, at age 90, sitting in the corner of some nursing home staring at nothing with an unlit cigarette dangling 'tween his fingers muttering bitterly about some cunt named Fay-hee or Fah-hee.

Keep this in mind; I have never seen The Duke. I could not pick him out of a lineup (not that The Duke has ever had cause to be in such a thing). I laughed until at least the time it took me to walk to my front door with that image- just one part of what Blogcritics has given me. I am now a part of 'The Brotherhood of the Bozo.'

As to where I do what I do... I have been a bit of a vagabond in that regard. I had not had a single place for to do my mad science. That changed this week when the seeds of this discussion were sewn. I heard Saleski, Berlin, et all discussing their creative spaces. It occurred to me I had no such place (some who have read my work and heard my podcast would argue I have no creativity, either)- just wherever. If I could find five undistracted minutes I would work anywhere. That is... until Monday.

I talked the ever-patient wife into buying me a small desk and re-arranging our bedroom to accommodate said desk. Last night, I penned part of my contribution to the upcoming Springsteen discussion to be featured in Mark's Morning Listen column. I now have an actual workspace.

I am tickled shitless.

PS: Don't worry Monsignor Berlin and Mr. Saleski: I did not tell the wife the desk was your idea.

From: Mat Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

I am first, and foremost a consumer of artistic endeavors. My home is literally littered with media of the things I love. Books, DVDs, CDs, and tapes are strewn from here to Valhalla, otherwise known as my bathroom. Every free moment that I have, I spend reading, listening and watching nearly every kind of art form.

I try to be a critical, educated consumer. I am eternally interested in the craft behind the creation. I am fascinated by the way Martin Scorsese creates a coke-addled odyssey at the end of Goodfellas by means of rock music and fast editing. I am in awe at the means in which John Steinbeck can both fill me with utter disgust over the depravity of man, and swell my heart at the eternal spirit of mankind; all within the same page of The Grapes of Wrath. Just why is it that I weep every time I hear Johnny Cash sing Long Black Veil?

The ability of the artist to movethose who partake in their art, in some fundamental way is nothing short of awesome.

As both a consumer of these endeavors and a student of the craft, I am often desirous to become creator.

Why do I write? In short, because it is the most accessible of the arts for me. I neither have the cash, the crew, or the equipment to make movies. I do not have either the ability or the instruments to play music. I can't draw for crap. Yet I have a grasp of the language, and the only instruments needed to write are pen and pad.

I take some amount of pride in my ability to tell a tale. I have a small amount of gift in which to take something mundane and ordinary and turn it into a grand tale of action and humor. Though, I must admit, I have struggled in transforming an oral story into the written page. The gesture of the hand, the intonation of the voice is difficult to transform into words on the page.

I must confess, I had all but given up on ever writing something worth the time of a bored gnat. The ideas were all there, but the stamina to put them down and -by gawd- edit them, never seemed to happen.

Then there was blog. My wife and I did a ten-month stint in Strasbourg, France this past year. This was at the height of the blog craze. Politicians were set spinning by bloggers worldwide. I decided to journal the experience of my time abroad through blog. At first it was diary, then I began inviting friends and family to read and see just what I was up to. In time, the newness of my days wore thin. No longer was the daily trip to the boulangerie for a baguette of any interest to anyone but the breadmaker.

The blog then became a place to tell stories, review movies, and discuss the book I had just read. Unknowingly, I had become a writer. Do I have dreams of becoming the next Hemmingway, Faulkner or Steinbeck? Do I dare to believe that my little place in the blogosphere will somehow become the mecca for all great artists? No I do not dare.

Yet, in writing, I share a little piece of myself. I become a member of a community. And in the end, that is all I need.

From: Eric Berlin

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

Looks like I'm riding in on the Hot Topic caboose once again. Great topic!

Drawing back to the good Sir Fleming's definition of creativity, I'd actually broaden it out substantially. It always pains me to hear people say, "I'm not a creative person." To me, that's the same thing as I'm saying, "I'm not a passionate person - there's nothing in the world I care about." Sure, writing and painting and acting is "creative," but I think any act of creating is creative.

Forming new ideas about the world, coming up with an inventive solution to a problem, figuring out the right words to form so that your date, instead of throwing Chablis in your face, laughs ever so slyly and runs her well-maintained Lee press-ons through her hair. You know; you get the picture.

In terms of my own creative process, I really subscribe to many of the ideas put forth in the brilliant On Writing, by Stephen King. (And anyone who tries to tell me that that cat ain't creative will have one bearded mystic figure in the West to contend with, I dare say.) Ideas come from nowhere, Mr. King states, but you have to constantly and forever more be open to receiving the transmissions from the cosmos and harnessing them, wrassling them to the Junior High foam mat with heroic will and concentration, even though everything smells like old tuna and your one-piece is shifting into areas highly uncomfortable and unsettling. That's the time to really shine, in my experience.

I also like Sir Fleming's take on entertainment. I grew up hanging about with a bunch of guys in Long Island, New York who were (and are, I'm honored to still keep in touch with every and one) smart as hell and absolutely hell-bent on making you piss your panties with laughter at a given opportunity. Conversations were zing-fests, cut-ins and cut-overs other shouted commentary and build-upons and rising inflections and chord-shifts like songs, epic songs, kicking into high gear. Led Zeppelin's In My Time of Dying, where death was laughter, if you can dig.

One day, whilst in the throes of my early 20s let's say, I tentatively and gently placed the label of writer upon my chest, the heaviest and most serious and intensely visionary thing one can do after working all day stuffing envelopes and wishing to The Lords that you were high even though you weren't into pot. Writers, the thought went, are serious folk. They write about serious shit, and blow people's minds and change the world and are associated with exotic symbology that eventually ends up on vintage tee-shirts that the hipster kids wear while buying far-too-expensive cocktails at the trendy-trashy lounge.

So that was going to be me, Serious Writer, with gravitas pouring out of me as though out of Kiefer Sutherland's pretentious lips. And a ten-year quest ensued, fraught with peril and mountainous expeditions and anxiety-extra shot sessions at local coffee shops where I sweated profusely in an agony of frustration over: talk to the girl with the glasses and pretty eyes reading the fancy-looking book or write one lousy more page no one's ever going to read, let alone care about, one or the other, man!

Now, wizened and sun-washed from years of California walks under palm trees with trusty if mischievous dog Chelsea at my side, I'm a little bit more cool with the whole deal. My creative path has taught me that I like to make the other kids laugh, and if I can't do that at the least I aspire to be clever.

Writing is an intensely egotistic activity. Take seconds from your life to read combinations of letters and symbols and spaces that I have put in front of you. Trust me to keep you interested and things place right order in the, eh? I do it in the neurotic hope that people will trail the word path and come to the conclusion and sigh softly and take that final and best sip of that latte and say: "Wow, that was really clever."

Pat me on my head - that's all I can ask of the world.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Hot Topic: Secret Pop Cult Shames!

Here we are again. I've got a couple of other things coming to the blog soon. But until then enjoy another hot topic. This one brought to you buy the Duke de Mondo. Be pre-warned the hot topic is brought to you buy adults who sling the filthy words of cursing. So if you are offended by those things, stop reading now.

From out the head-holes of a buncha self-appointed "cultural commentators" comes a weekly side-swipe at the issues of the day, the issues of the night, the issues of the late-afternoon when the telly's crap and it's too early to eat.

This is The Hot Topic.

This week - "Um, I Haven't Seen It / Heard It / Read It" - Our Secret Pop Cult Shames!

From: The Duke De Mondo

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Secret Pop Cult Shames

Couple days past, myself and Sir Fleming sat debating the in's and out's of pi to a couple hundred decimal points, sat discussin the elusive wonders of Scorpius Gigantus starring Jeff Fahey, sat discussing the whys and wherefores of Land Of The Dead (Is it shit, is it amazing, who the hell knows? Neither of us two, that's for sure, since ain't a single syllable of agreement to be found).

In the course of it all, plenty banter about Jimmy Stewart, crops up least nine or twenty-four times in any given conversation, half a hundred jokes referencing the spin a the wheelchair this way or that in Rear Window.

Rear Window, least 48% of all punchlines uttered by yours truly in the course of a day involve Hitchcock's flick about the nosey ol' bastard an the diabolical goings on.

Who knows why, or for what reason, or what ungodly voodoo mania led to it all, but all a sudden I get slapped upside the knackers with the kinda guilt most often results in grown-men fryin neath the desert sun chewin locusts an hollerin bout the prophet Isaiah.

All a sudden I feel the need to fess up.

What it is, I say, what's got me sweatin out my teeth, what it all relates to, see, is that, well…

I never actually seen Rear Window.

For shame! And you, The Duke, joking about it every day in existence, and you ain't even laid an eye on the monochrome splendor of it all ever even once!

And worse.

The other day, chat heads in the direction of Quentin Tarantino, how unless Robert Rodriguez is involved, then anything Q.T related that isn't actually directed by the uber-chinned whelp, best avoid the fucker altogether.

"Like what", asks Sir Fleming?

Like, I dunno, like Four Rooms, for example.

"Four Rooms? It was alright!"

Forced into a corner, forced to make my point about no, it's not alright, when really, when the truth of it all comes staggering into the bar-room buggered raw at five in the morning, what it coughs out the throat is, to be honest, I haven't actually seen Four Rooms.

Because this is what we do. We have all the knowledge in the world regarding a certain flick, a certain book, a certain piece a music, we could talk about the fucker all week, we could draw diagrams and pie-charts that illustrate in no uncertain terms just what effect it has had on The Society and The Consciousness and So On. And yet when we get right down to it, when the guts are torn out the poultry and inspected by moonlight, what they reveal is that we ain't got a right in the world to make these proclamations, we ain't ever even seen / read / heard the bastard!

No-one's gonna get upset about a fella never seen The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, it ain't the easiest slab a celluloid to get hold of. But what about the fella sat in the corner of the bar scared to pipe in with his thoughts on Coppola because he ain't ever seen Apocalypse Now?

We all have them. These hidden shames. Maybe we never actually seen Goodfellas, or Terminator 2, or we never read On The Road> even though we quote it endlessly, or we never heard any of Neil Young's 1980's recordings, yet we still insist they suck.

So what I wanna know, what'll get me through life even though I still haven't seen Rear Window, is the facts of the case re the following;

What's your secret Pop Cult shame?

From: Aaron Fleming

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Secret Pop Cult Shames

Popular culture discrepancies then, a topic that can only wield a plethora of embarrassing confessions, no priest or religiose could even begin to take in the admissions of gaps, holes and chasms of knowledge hitherto unseen by the masses. Luckily the Hot Topic Team far surpasses any supposed virtue possessed by the propagating and hypocritical harbingers of organized religion (although that's for another hot topic debate perhaps), and it is here to grant amnesty to those with guilty concealments.

So let the flood begin.

Movies, then. As I write this a university screening of Toy Story 2 is occurring that I would have been at, had I chosen to depart my warm abode today. The truth is I've never seen that one, although from all I hear it seems to be even more praised than the prequel, which I have seen and is great. This leads onto a number of other CGI movies
which I haven't bothered to see; Monsters Inc, A Bugs Life, Antz, Ice Age etc. I'm not too bothered about these, really. Hey, The Incredibles was great, but the interest just ain't there.

Another topical one is the Harry Potter flicks. Never seen em, never read the books, never bought the action figures, never swam the waters of synergistic marketing. I'm sure it's an interesting mythos, but I just don't care.

I've never seen The Godfather Part 2 (or 3, although I think this is less heathenish). Saw the first one, it's fine, bit overrated, but I couldn't be bothered watching the sequel. I know I probably should, I'm sure it's fantastic, but who has the time these days?

Titanic! Never saw the whole film, I doubt that'll ever be rectified, I'm not prepared to give over 3 hours of my life to that, especially when I know what happens (love story, historical ship sinking yadda yadda). I certainly won't be purchasing that mammoth new 4-disc DVD box.

Haven't seen Gone With The Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Das Boot, Singin In The Rain, Metropolis, Stand By Me, Blood Simple, to name a few big ones I should have seen (some I'd like to see, some less so).

Oh, and Top Gun and Days Of Thunder. Fuck them.

But something to remember here; everyone has gaps, no one has the perfect record. And for every big film missed there's a Porcile, or a Guinea Pig 3: He Never Dies, or a Punishment Park that has been seen.

From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Secret Pop Cult Shames

Oh my....do I really have to divulge this information? OK. Here goes...

Every so often, folks will be yammering on about all things political. The conversation will slide around to particularly brutish social situations. Then somebody will say, "Yes, just like in Lord Of The Flies." And then I will nod my head in agreement. But of course, I've never read that book so I don't know what the hell they're talking about. The closest I've come is to listen to Aerosmith's "Lord Of The Thighs" from Live Bootleg. Right. So we all know that a vinyl record is not a book and Thighs are certainly not Flies (and we will not go down the road of disgusting jokes here) so there's the truth, I've never read Lord Of The Flies. There are probably other books I haven't scanned my eyes over, though none as 'important' as this (and I'm not about to count Ulysses here as that seems more like an Olympic intellectual event than just plain old reading).

Then there's films. Let me just get it right out in the open: E.T. There, I've said it. But hey, I've seen Citizen Kane about thirty times. Does that make up for it? Probably not, since there are others: Schindler's List, Lawrence of Arabia (I did try there, but I nodded off and the back of my head whacked into the wall behind the couch), Taxi Driver, The Manchurian Candidate (I own a copy, surely that means something), Titanic. OK, I put that last one there because the snotty side of myself thinks its proximity to The Manchurian Candidate is kinda funny.

Music? Forget it. Everybody knows I own every recording ever made.

From: DJ Radiohead

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Secret Pop Cult Shames

OK... there is no way really I can come up with a truly exhaustive list. I will have to settle for naming just a few of my sins in this regard.

Most of them would come in the reading department. I am not as well read as I should like to be. I have only read Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. I never read a lot of the 'great' literature (even if it was assigned in high school or college... I just faked it).

Movies... I am missing a lot of the so-called classics here. I have never seen Taxi Driver or Citizen Kane or High Noon. I must also admit... I claim to be a Tarantino fan (and I am) but I have never seen either of the Kill Bill films or Jackie Brown.

Musically... hmmm... I don't feel like I have really missed anything or at least don't feel bad about that which I have missed. Well... let me change that. I have only heard one or two songs by the Ramones or The Clash. I am not real well schooled at all in the 70s punk movement. I am not sure how much I would like that music or not but some of that
material is considered classic so I feel out of the loop there.

From: Mat Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Group

Re: Secret Pop Cult Shames

The Duke has never seen Rear Window! Well, pluck my eyes out with a pogo stick! Look over the horizon boys, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse should be trotting by any moment.

A fella I know that's the entertainment editor of one of the newspapers in Dallas sends out an annual list of recommended movies from the first talkies to present day. It's a big, grand list and also creates plenty of discussion. It is also daunting to look at and see just how many flicks I haven't seen, nor even heard of. I added it up one time and it would take over 200 back to back to back hours of movie watching to see them all.

Truth of the matter is that unless you are independently wealthy, or it is your job to sit and watch the flickery, there ain't no way you can watch all the films out there. In college I went to the movies nearly every weekend, and usually, I got to see every film that I wanted to see. But even then I didn't see every piece of cinema released. Now I'm lucky if I get to the theater once a month.

So we all make choices as to what we're actually going to be able to see. A couple of days ago I had to decide between the more critically acclaimed Jarhead, and the completely panned, yet somehow appealing Doom. We take in what we can, lie through our teeth about what we've missed, and chastise those who haven't consumed all the things on our list.

Do I have a secret shame list? Sure. I've only made it through half of Gone With the Wind. Though I own copies, I've never seen reel one of either Rashomon or Ran, or even Laurence of Arabia. I can't recall a single John Wayne picture that I've seen from top to bottom, including Rio Bravo.

Ah, man there is just too many to list. The sense of shame barrels a man over. I can't even get into all the literature I've never read (including not a novel one of William Faulkner) or the music I've never heard (anything by the Sex Pistols, and *cough* the Clash).

From: Eric Berlin

To: The Hot Topic Group

Re: Secret Pop Cult Shames

I'm reminded of the scene in High Fidelity, where the record store troika is forced to admit they're music snobs. Once they admit it, though, they're proud of it.

And let's face it: we all want to be cultural snobs. We all want to know everything there is to know about our "area," whatever that can be defined as: books, alt rock bands, Charles Bronson films, television programs featuring children and robots, and so on.

And as I wrote the above words I wanted to stop at each mini-moment and write, I own Captain Beefheart's Safe as Milk! Does that make me a cultural snob? Not at all, it just makes me crazy on many a level, Zig Zag Wanderer that I am.

Since I'm a generalist and tend to soak up tidbits of various pop cultural arcana without ever delving into the dank cauldrons of true alchemic geekery (think There Are Some Who Call Me... Tim circa Monty Python and the Holy Grail for argument's sake), I'm constantly on the outside looking in upon cultural snobbery in fear and abject awe and, more and more of late, relief!

It's a relief when you let go of the pretensions, isn't it? If it's not in the blood, move on, my brotha, right? So I'll never read Balzac and I couldn't get through the first bloody page of any James Joyce novel I tried my mental motors at. Jethro Tull and Rush and The Mr. T Experience and The Alan Parsons Project will never be names I can summon at will in the midst of a snap-cracklin' music conversation. That's so early Jerthro Tull, bro! I'll never get to utter those glorious words. What's a fella to do?

I tried to soak myself in television for several months this year, which may have been my personal cultural Waterloo (and I can summon Waterloo but Ropespierre or James II? Not so much), but it's all too much, really.

It turns out that I don't care if Joan is from Arcadia or Pasadena or Burbank or wherever. I don't care about William Shatner's late career run on Boston Legal.

I just want to watch The Real World and Arrested Development and Rome.

And so at long last, I hope, I can rest easy in my own cultural digs.

So there you have it, The Hot Topic Team have coughed their confessions left and right cross cyberspace.

Now, it's over to you. Don't be scared, we won't tell nobody. What's your Secret Pop Cult Shame?

Thanks folks.