Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Joy of Talking Nonsense

I thought I was completely over my dogearing phase, but when I read p. 242 of the David McDuff translation of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment two nights ago I just couldn't resist. I started reading the book a few weeks ago, prompted largely by the many worshipful references it got in James Wood's excellent How Fiction Works. That, and the fact that I'd never read any Dostoyevsky and felt I was overdue.

Anyway, the book had been kinda slow going the first couple hundred pages, with the notable exception of the visceral description of the titular "crime" (which I will not spoil for those of you who haven't read the book yet). It has really been picking up of late, and it suddenly exploded incandescently (for me) during this monologue by Razumikhin. To set the stage a bit, Razumikhin (a friend of the protag Raskolnikov) had been drinking "a terrible quantity of vodka" until he was called into service to escort the recently arrived mother and sister of Raskolnikov to their lodgings. In his foggy state, he becomes instantly smitten with the beautiful women and starts passionately running off at the mouth...

'What do you suppose?' Razumikhin shouted, raising his voice even louder. 'Do you suppose I'm going on like this because they talk nonsense? Rubbish! I like it when they talk nonsense! Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over other organisms. It's by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I'm human. Not one single truth has ever been arrived at without people first having talked a dozen reams of nonsense, even ten dozen reams of it, and that's an honourable thing in its own way; well, but we can't even talk nonsense with our own brains! Talk nonsense to me, by all means, but do it with your own brain, and I shall love you for it. To talk nonsense in one's own way is almost better than to talk a truth that's someone else's; in the first instance you behave like a human being, while in the second you are merely being a parrot! The truth won't go away, but life can be knocked on the head and done in. I can think of some examples. Well, and what's our position now? We're all of us, every one of us without exception, when it comes to the fields of learning, development, thought, invention, ideals, ambition, liberalism, reason, experience, and every, every, every other field you can think of, in the very lowest preparatory form of the gymnasium! We've got accustomed to making do with other people's intelligence – we're soaked in it! It's true, isn't it? Isn't what I'm saying true?' cried Razumikhin, trembling all over and squeezing the hands of both ladies. 'Isn't it?'

Methinks it is.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Shift in the Dream Landscape

In the last couple of weeks, something unusual has been happening in my dreams. I've been in control, and they've been remarkably anxiety free. Two of the major dream paradigms of my lifetime have been, essentially, turned on their heads.

The first is the horror movie dream. Since I was in junior high (and maybe even earlier), I've been haunted by the dream where a killer (usually Michael Myers from HALLOWEEN) stands silently in my room while I lie motionless in my bed. I know that if I make even the slightest motion, the killer will know I'm there and stab me to death. These static dreams go on for what feels like hours in my sleep, and I often wake up feeling exhausted by the strain of balancing absolute stillness with petrifying fear.

I haven't had this one as often in my 30s, but I felt a strong connection to it the other night when I dreamt I was producing a horror movie out of a cavernous office space with my old colleagues from Civilian Pictures. I felt absolutely in control and excited about finally producing my own feature. The film, which we were shooting in black and white, was a modern interpretation of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, and we'd assembled the creepiest looking army of blonde children. They were milling about the set, smiling when off camera and the embodiment of evil when the cameras were rolling (incidentally, feel free to analyze what making this particular movie in my dream has to say about my childless status- I have).

When I woke up I felt empowered and refreshed- now I was calling the shots on the horror in my life.

Who's in control now?

The second major recurring dream theme has been plaguing me steadily through my 20s and 30s. The details of this one change more often that the killer dream, but the essentials are that I've been skipping a college class all semester long, and now I have to return for a big test and face the music. A common wrinkle is that I haven't been to the class in so long that I've forgotten where it's held and/or I've forgotten where the building it's in is located on campus. I ransack my room looking for the list of classes I'm enrolled in that was issued at the beginning of the semester, but I can never find it. I basically wander around the UNC campus (which always looks pristinely beautiful) gnashing my teeth, beating myself up about waiting so long to address the issue and thinking "How did I think I would get away with not going to class all semester!" (Incidentally, I was a big believer in the "if you go to every class, you don't have to study nearly as hard" school of thought, so this dream pattern isn't even really related to any real-life experience that I'm conscious of.)

I wake up feeling exhausted and depressed by these dreams too, and always deeply disappointed in myself (which as you know is one of the least pleasant emotional states).

Last week I had a dream that turned this one upside-down too. I don't recall the details that well, but the gist of it was that I was now on the faculty at UNC. I sat up at the front of the class, serene and confident, and watched the young clueless students file into my class and then hang on my every word.

This one had an even more profound effect on me when I woke up- I could physically feel that a weight had been lifted, that a chain had been broken. Of course, it's too early to say that I won't be having either of the predecessor dreams any more, but it sure doesn't feel like it.

If I had to guess, I'd say that the catalyst for this internal transition was joining Facebook about three weeks ago. I'd fought the notion of Facebook, thinking that it would a big time-waster and filled with uncomfortable small-talky reunions with people you no longer cared about and/or actively wanted to steer clear of. I joined primarily because it's constantly referred to as an outlet or destination for marketing strategies by the people I work with, and I felt like I could no longer pretend to nod my head knowingly about it.

By connecting to dozens and dozens of people who used to occupy a lot of my headspace but have since drifted away for one reason or another, and doing it all at once, I think my unconscious was forced to assess where my own life is now. More than that, I was forced to see something that I already knew but I suppose isn't all that apparent in one's own day-to-day continuum- I've grown up. I really am 37. I really have friends who have teenage children. I really am looking down the barrel at my 20th high school reunion. And so are a lot of other people... it's happening to everybody.

Thankfully, it seems, the producers of my dream life appear to be growing up too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

State of the Nation

Yesterday Mrs. Word Player and I took a walk in the park behind our house. It was about dusk, and there was a thick haze in the air that had been hanging around since I'd referred to it as fog in the morning. The setting sun looked beautiful, the hills mysterious. The horse running circles around its trainer in the Equestrian Center next door kicked up dust of its own, adding to the sense of early evening obfuscation.

I haven't been feeling myself lately. I missed a haircut appointment before going to SF two weekends ago, one that was already overdue, and my hair is too big and curly. I feel fat. I hurt my Achilles tendon playing tennis a month ago, slipping just so on the court after a match delay caused by scattered showers. I've been walking with a limpy hitch in my step ever since, and even though I haven't been on the court since and have stopped my morning walks, it hasn't healed properly. I miss the exercise, especially during the Halloween-Thanksgiving eating season. You make so many forward strides physically by playing tennis two or three times a week for a couple years, and then it feels like you lose it all with a month away.

Work has really slowed down after a pretty terrific year. Whenever this happens, my mood invariably turns darker. I've all but shelved the book, which is what I thought I would work on during the slow "paying work" times. It's not that I lost faith in the idea, it's that I lost faith in the possibility of it ever doing anything other than sitting on my shelf next to my screenplays. At my age, I feel like I need at least a fighting chance of remuneration if I'm going to invest thousands more solitary hours into a passion project.

And so, with all this in mind, we went for a walk.

Walking the labyrinth in St. George, UT

Solvitur Ambulando. "It is solved by walking." We've found this to be as true as any saying is, and yesterday was no exception. MWP is no dummy, and could see that I had little cartoon storm clouds roiling above my head. And off we went.

Just as the election was for the previous twelve months, the economy has now become the jumping off point for practically every conversation. We talked about what the dry period meant for us in the short term, and then the long term. Was it time for me to pursue full-time, on-site employment? I've been a stay-at-home freelancer since the end of 2000, and I've dodged plenty of bullets during that stretch. Maybe now, when I'm sitting relatively pretty and have amassed a decent-sized portfolio, is a good time to jump back into the office job fray? If there were any jobs available in my field these days this may have taken longer to discuss.

But then, we asked ourselves, where will we be in ten years? Let's say that we both have continued, sustained success as freelancers until 2018: will we still be hirable when we're not quite as cute or hip and our rates are exponentially higher than our less experienced but ever more cute and young and hip competition?

Will we ever be able to buy a house when the money we've invested to save for it is shrinking rather than growing?

How could anyone in their right mind start a family right now without a sizable safety net? And what kind of world will they grow up in where only the wealthy can afford to pay for college and masked gunmen roam freely?


And then we smiled. My foot was hurting a little, but we'd walked the circumference of the park and were on the road back home. There's never been any way to know what the future holds, and there's little wisdom in making long term plans with any expectations of seeing them play out as diagrammed. Hey, we've made it this far, haven't we? Our operating history; as individuals, as a couple, as wage-earners, as creatives; projects that we will continue to at least be competitive in our field, if not somewhat successful. Right?

Even though the majority of what came out of our mouths could be labeled as pessimistic, or at least moany-groany, the simple act of walking while we were talking took a great deal of the negative power of the words away.

When life gives you lemons, take a walk. Odds are you won't feel nearly as sour afterwards.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Midblog Crisis

So, like, how long are blogs supposed to go on? Until death? There's no real way to complete one, as far as I can tell, especially one with an amorphous raison d'être like this one.

I took a month off because I thought the blog was getting stale and gimmicky. I didn't want to dogear the books I was reading any longer, nor did I want to create lists or other excuses to talk about records or movies or whatnot. Most of the issues and ideas that had been rattling around in my head before the blog had now been transcribed, and they weren't replenishing themselves at the kind of rate that would keep me posting a minimum of three times a month (one of the rules I made for myself when I started things off in May of '07).

Another rule I made was no pix of me, but what the hell.
This is from a picture booth strip I took in London for my travel pass
during my brief stint working on B. MONKEY there in May '96

I wanted this blog to be spontaneous, not canned, and the last thing I wanted was to sit at my desk and wonder "Hmm, what should I blog about now?".

I was so hard up for material that I dug up my old journal, curious to see what my writing style and thought processes were like then compared to now.

Let me tell you, if you're interested in humbling yourself real quick, dig up your old journal or diary and give it a spin. "Stupid feeling" galore. That said, it felt really good to see that some of the anxieties and doubts and insecurities that plagued me in my twenties have been dealt with or overcome to some degree.

The journal was a gift from my dad for my 21st birthday, and the first entry is dated September 15, 1992 (shortly after my senior year at UNC began) and the first words are "Hello Cleveland!". The last entry is dated October 28, 1999, and the final words are "I'm going to ask (Mrs. Word Player) to marry me as soon as possible." We were engaged less than a month later, on November 24.

Reading the gory details of the seven years from 1992 to 1999 was very weird. It's not that I'd forgotten the names of some people who were apparently important figures in my life, I'd forgotten they ever existed. It was often a very pleasant jolt to read details about some people who I still think about, but in more fond, hazy ways.

From 8/23/99 entry: "Driving cross-country to move back to Georgia in the spring,
Brett (Kinard) drove too late into the night on a rainy night in Texas.
As was his custom, he wasn't wearing a seatbelt.
No one knows the specifics of his last moments, but in my mind he was singing "My Wild Love" by The Doors wearily, with a Marlboro Red dangling out of the corner of his mouth.
God we had some good times together."

BUT, it was not a treasure trove of quotables that would make for a good blog post. That leaves me with... not much. The blog has been a lot of fun to write, but in many ways I see it as a disappointment. It rarely if ever generated the kind of comment-board discussion that I'd hoped for, and the vast majority of the 14,103 site visits and 21,248 page views came because people Google image-searched some of the pix that I myself had snagged during my Google image searches... which doesn't really get me off that much, to be honest.

Me and Dodger scout Mike Brito from Mr. CFA's trip to LA in August of '95.
Mr. CFA used his Savannah, GA press credentials to wangle us amazing
submerged seats behind home plate to watch Ramon Martinez pitch.
That green Hawaiian shirt is my favorite all-time garment, may it rest in peace.

I have a big personal writing project that I've just embarked upon (writing a novel) and I wonder if the blog is something that I want to keep doing. Maybe I should throw off all the "rules" I've created for it and post only whenever I feel like it, even if that's every three or four months. Maybe I should dream up some blog stunt that I could document without much brainpower (365 Days Without Deodorant!). Maybe I should shutter this one and start fresh elsewhere when I have a stronger central concept to build around.

Honestly, I just don't know. Anyone have any ideas?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #10: Polydistortion










Ask me about GusGus!

In 1995, shortly before Easter, I moved to California for the first time. This set the stage for the last seismic shift in my development as a music appreciator. At the time, Santa Monica-based radio station KCRW was playing some of the best music I'd ever heard.

In 1997 I discover GusGus, the band that loved design.

In 1998 I discover Mrs. Word Player, the designer who loved music.

You can guess what happened next, as long as your guess involves painstakingly programmed 90-minute mixtapes lobbing in from both sides.

GusGus have a healthy self-image.

The day I first heard "Polyesterday" on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" was a very great day. I almost had to pull the car over.

Thank you Chris Douridas. What an unbelievable track. Of all the "Bend Me, Shape Me" records, I may love this Polydistortion most of all. Well, at least I do right this second anyway.

Polly yesterday,
found another way.
synthetic one way or the other.

A biggish (twelve members at one point!), rotating Reykjavik-based collective of film, design, and music types featuring crate-digger break beats, slip-slidin' robobass and a truly odd crossroad of genre influences like disco, gospel, acid-house, hip-hop, dub, and ballad.

"Polyesterday" is, as of this writing, the definitive GusGus song. It bumps to the tightest drum loop I've ever heard. I don't want to know who they're sampling- I prefer to think they found it in a volcano.

This is the album that might pour out if you dropped the previous nine "Bend Me" records in a blender and hit liquefy.

To better understand who I am, it helps to know that I was too embarrassed to introduce myself to President Bongo (pictured) of GusGus on the dancefloor of Avalon.
Maybe it was his halo...

Track 2 acid-room fave "Believe" has its percussion lifted from the album version of Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie." Hear it, and you'll believe too.

Track 10's main room peak hour "close yer eyes and gesticulate!" leftfielder "Purple" is an all-time standout in the failed genre of trance.

Since 1997, I've seen GusGus twice as often as any other musical act. Different lead singers, DJ sets, and indifferent late period albums couldn't stop MWP and I from boogieing to our pink-haired, Icelandic club purists. If anyone ever comes across the GusGus remix of Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot", pay the man and send me the bill.

Dig that gun. Blow your mind.


This was fun.

Thank you readers. I'll see you in September after a quick month off.

Cheers to those of you who do what you want to do and not only get away with it, but go to sleep feeling good about it every night.

I emulate you.

I salute you.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #9: Subliminal Sandwich

Once the volume control is set, do not readjust.
Do not readjust.

As pivotal to the shaping of my taste for funk as The Sound of Funk Vol. 4 was, so the Volume series of compilations was to my taste for beats-driven electronic music.

Volumes 1 and 2 are touchstones on my way here fo' sho.

Volume One CD + bound mini-magazine came out in 1991 on U.K.-based World's End Ltd. In-the-thick-of-it acts like Consolidated and The Orb were there, as were the well-established New Order and Nitzer Ebb, but the standout track on this outstanding comp was "Love Mad" by Meat Beat Manifesto.

If you leave, take me with you.
I want you, I need you.

"They can design future worlds."

I first heard MBM in SP's room in college. He was never afraid to play risky tracks late night in a co-ed situation (rarer than thou'd think), and I always loved it when he played "Drop" from the 1992 MBM album Satyricon. It would either clear the room, or send it into a state, and either way I was there agitating for more volume.

The same is true on a much larger scale with Subliminal Sandwich from 1996, the definitive intersection of all the best parts of MBM.

Listening to Subliminal Sandwich is like tuning into a pirate radio station for a fictional universe, or at least a fictional music scene- the album is so stylistically diverse and daring it's amazing that only one band is behind it all. This is also a rare example of a double album NOT being too much of a good thing. Dancefloor-oriented Side 1 is definitely the more traditional "album side" in terms of track sequencing, but the looser, spacier, more experimental Side 2 is just as essential as the "now, let's go thataway" counterbalance: deep left-field, aggressive ambient (until you get to track 4 "United Nations E. T. C." which rounds back to an even freakier dance-floor style... this is the song that would be playing at midnight on a Saturday if I had my own club.)

Very weird, very exciting stuff. FORBIDDEN PLANET-style space effects, echo chamber dub sensations and angry but mindful lyrics.

MBM deliver unbelievable interplay between their music and visuals when they play live.

It’s a crime,
it’s so sublime.

For me the definitive track is "She’s Unreal":

Give me love,
so that I can kill.
Love me.
Love me.

The buzzing drums coming back in after the sound-collage interlude is an epic break, and the turntable solo in “What’s Your Name?” is one of the best ever. Hyperbole is warranted here, trust me. A helluvan achievement for an operation propelled for over two decades by one guy, Mr. Jack Dangers.

See I believe in the noble, aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing
and I hope someday I’ll be in a position when I can do even less.

That sentiment, great sample though it is, has very little to do with the incredibly prolific Dangers. This is hard, circuit-driven industrial funk, there for you when yer ready and willing... if this kind of talk turns you on, that is.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #8: Dummy

In the fall of 1994, I returned to UNC for a visit and caught up with my friend MS who was just as into electronic and house music as I was (and probably more). Thanks in part to the wide variety of new music she was bombarded with at her gig late-night deejaying for our college station WXYC, she'd turned me on to a lot of good stuff already.

"Feeling so unholy"

Driving around in her car one night, she said something to the effect of "Have you heard of Portishead?", then when I said I hadn't, "You are gonna love it."

I got goosebumps when I heard the first seconds of "Mysterons", the first track from Portishead's first album Dummy. European-art-film-soundtrack-y guitar layered over chunky old school scratching?

And then those jeep beats?

And then a fucking theramin?

And then, of course, that voice, Beth Gibbons, saying those things.

Inside your pretending
Crimes have been swept aside
Somewhere where they can forget

Did you really want?

So that's how you get a smoky voice

And then the torch song of our generation (am I allowed to say stuff like that?) "Sour Times":

‘Cause nobody loves me,
It's true,
Not like you do.

And it kept going, one amazing track after another that were all indeed directly up my alley. It was one of those records that I immediately had intensely personal feelings about, and yet in a remarkably short time it spread out from the beathead fringe and BOOM everyone I knew loved it too.

One of the last times I can remember feeling optimistic about the state of pop music was following Dummy as it sold millions of copies worldwide, crossing over and over.

Then, like a candle lit at both ends burning brighter, I suddenly couldn't listen to Dummy anymore. In that year or so after I first discovered it, I heard it so many times in so many places that it'd become completely burnt. I never stopped loving it, but I stopped listening to it, and somehow even new material from Portishead hardly resonated with me at all.

1994-95 also saw me fall in love with and get sick of PULP FICTION

The band took 10 years between their uninspired live album Roseland NYC Live and their third album of new material called, um, Third. I was both excited and wary when I read that Third was about to be released, but my gut said that the long hiatus would be good for both the band and my listening ears.

Well, most everything I've read about Third has been positive, and it scores an 85 at (which translates to "Universal Acclaim"), but after three listenings it just doesn't do anything for me. The weird thing is that I felt like somehow it should, that there was something wrong with me, not the record itself. But the more I think about it, the more I feel that no matter what the new record sounded like, it would fall short for me. Intense Dummy overload may have permanently crossed the wires and made enjoyment of Portishead's future output impossible, but with the passing of the years Dummy thankfully sounds immaculate and wonderfully listenable again.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #7: The Sound of Funk 4

Since very few of the cassettes I purchased early on in life are still in my possession, my official career as a music collector began in 1985 when I bought my first three Compact Discs- Yes 90125, U2 The Unforgettable Fire and Van Halen 1984. Since then, an inordinate (to some) amount of my spending money has been utilized to grow that record collection... but there's still never enough.

"Doin' the moonwalk. Talkin' that moon talk"

I would probably buy a lot fewer Compilations if money was no object, but since it is I've found the Compilation (much like the Greatest Hits record, non-score Soundtrack Albums, Insert CDs in music mags like Mixmag and XLR8R, etc) to be a great friend of the music budget. For the price of one record you can often be introduced to a dozen or more new-to-you acts, and quite often a track that strikes a chord can lead you down a path of exploration you may not otherwise have discovered.

By far the best music compilation I've come across is The Sound of Funk 4 on the UK's Rare Groove and Northern Soul reissue label Goldmine Soul Supply. I can't easily find the release date, but I first discovered it in a record store in Brussels.

Royal Crescent Mob at the Cat's Cradle was always a special night

Like many people, I got deepest into exploring new-to-me music during my college years. The (for lack of a better term) white-boy funk of Royal Crescent Mob and Chapel Hill bands Johnny Quest and Sex Police led quickly to golden era funk like The Meters and James Brown.

And thus, the stage was set for that moment in June of 1994 in Brussels, Belgium when I broke off from the pack of dudes I was traveling with to spend some quality time in the local record shop. The selection process details are hazy, but for some reason I decided to spend some Belgian francs taking a chance on The Sound of Funk 4.

To me this is sweet-spot funk, the kind of funk that separates people who shake their ass from people who don't.

Of all the records on this list, The Sound of Funk 4 is the one I evangelize the most. I cannot imagine the house party, backyard barbecue or headphone session that wouldn't be better off with a few of these choice cuts comin' out the speakers.

Where else ya gonna find Bootsy Collins's first solo single "Fun in Your Thang (Part 1)"?

How could music from names like Little Oscar, Burnett Bynam and the Soul Invaders, and Little Joe Cook and the Thrillers be anything other than sublime?

THIS is where you can hear the lip-curling gauntlet-thrower "Funky Funk" by Big Al and the Star Treks!

But we got a thing called the funky funk.
You do what you wanna do!

THIS is where you can hear the all-time greatest theme music for strutting, "Bumping" by Tyrone Chestnut!

When Wee Willie and the Winners implores you to "Get some, before it's all gone", you have no choice but to nod your head in agreement.

One of my three favorite all-time funk songs is "The Funky Buzzard" by Little Oscar.

Funky Buzzard.
Funky Buzzard.
Do your thing.
Funky Buzzard.
Funky Buzzard.
Flap Your Wings.

Wiggle Your Tail Feather

This is the song you want playing in your car when you're on your way somewhere better.

In a final "this is probably only interesting to the blogger himself" note, it just dawned on me that The Sound of Funk 4 has an awesome track from Grady Tate ("Be Black Baby"), the same Grady Tate I singled out for his "opposite end of the musical spectrum" work drumming on the soundtrack to TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME in the last installment of Bend Me.


When you do it once,
You wanna do it some more

Mmm hmmm.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #6: Fire Walk With Me

Do you consider yourself a good person?

I consider myself a good person, yet I know better than anyone that bad exists within me. Darkness intermingles with light. However, I don't think that good and bad, that black and white, that darkness and light mixes to create gray inside me.

I prefer to think it creates blue.

"Lights start changin', and there's wires in the air..."

The universe of Twin Peaks is much like our own; only we see things there with our own eyes that we have to imagine or assume in reality (as it's strictly defined).

The 1992 film TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME is a prequel to the 1990-91 TV show Twin Peaks.


The film deals explicitly with the last days of Laura Palmer, as she finally realizes that the evil spirit Bob that has visited her bedroom and raped her for years is actually her father Leland Palmer.

Leland has been fighting the darkness within him, but he's fought a losing battle. Leland believes that he is a good person too, which may or may not have necessitated the creation of a demon who takes over his body and mind and does unspeakable things while "good" Leland is away.

I suspect that man's creation of God and The Devil are derived from much the same impulse. It's terrifying, even crippling to realize that one is capable of great good AND great evil, so why not create a supernatural being that we can blame for the evil that men do instead of looking ourselves in the mirror and accepting that that's just the price you pay for being human?

"The man behind the mask is looking for the book with the pages torn out."

I got idea man
You take me for a walk
Under the sycamore trees
The dark trees that blow
In the dark trees that blow

And I'll see you
And you'll see me
And I'll see you in the branches that blow
In the breeze
I'll see you in the trees
Under the sycamore trees

I bought the soundtrack to TP:FWWM at the beginning of my senior year of college, and more than any album I can think of before or since it wormed its way inside my head and spoke to some part of me that I wasn't conscious of before.

This is music that transmutes melancholy into beauty. This is definitive mood music. This is the soundtrack to the unconscious wanderings of someone headed somewhere.... weird.

Was it me?
Was it you?
Questions in a world of blue

When did the day
with all its light
turn into night?

To me, this is the finest hour in the long and fruitful collaboration between David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti. Both men produced the album, one or both arranged and orchestrated every song, and they assembled some amazing jazz talent in the studio.

Badalamenti (L) and Lynch (R) in the studio recording the LOST HIGHWAY soundtrack

Alongside standout tracks like the intense reworking of the TV show's theme in "Theme From Twin Peaks:Fire Walk With Me" and the otherworldly vocals of Jimmy Scott in "Sycamore Tree" is my personal favorite "Moving Through Time." This track is far more airy and dreamlike than the rest, anchored by the hypnotic vibes of Jay Hoggard and the violin-like guitar effects of Vinnie Bell. I only discovered today that the drummer on this and several other tracks is Grady Tate, whom readers of a certain age will know from his vocal work on Schoolhouse Rock faves "I Got Six" and "Naughty Number Nine". If you'd like to hear "Moving Through Time", click here.

I think I've mentioned before that this was the record that I listened to on my headphones as I went to sleep on hundreds of nights. There's something reassuring in its dark, and something authentic in its light. It's weird, and frightening at times, but, like Lynch's best work, it will never lie to you and tell you everything's OK when it most assuredly is not. And, just as Laura Palmer discovered at the end of her tortured life, we hear a light at the end of the tunnel even from within the shroud of darkness.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dog Ears #16: 361

For a while, Dog Ears #16 was going to be H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, but I was unable to even read half of the Lovecraft collection. It seemed like a natural follow-up to Screaming Mimi, as Lovecraft was discovered in pulp horror magazines like Weird Tales and only later gained literary respect.

Ah, to be able to read with 11-year-old eyes again...

I found him painfully gothic, too overblown and repetitive and not creepy enough, although he certainly had his moments of inspired gruesomeness. Maybe his work has been plundered by later-20th century masters of the supernatural like Rod Serling and Stephen King to the point where it seems retroactively trite.

From the Introduction, p.xix

At its best Lovecraft's work becomes a kind of incantation, seducing the mind into a momentary acceptance of the fantastic incidents being related. At its worst it becomes pompous and bombastic.

Too often I sided with the latter, and the book was shelved before I could even finish the titular story Cthulhu. Maybe I need to revisit the 1985 Lovecraft adaptation RE-ANIMATOR, which I remember being disgusting in all the best ways when I saw it in high school.

Title is taken from Roget's Thesaurus's numbered entry for "Killing"

Anyway, when I ditched Cthulhu I had three newly ordered Hard Case Crime paperbacks to choose from so I picked Don Westlake's 361 and dove in. 361 really hit the spot. I can't articulate why, but sometimes there's nothing like the cathartic violence in a bleak tale of revenge to make you feel a touch more alive.

I was lucky enough to meet Don Westlake (who in addition to a celebrated career as a novelist was Oscar nominated for writing THE GRIFTERS) last December at a holiday party in Ancram, NY. I was introduced and asked him a few questions about writing, mostly about the great POINT BLANK (1967) which was based on his book The Hunter (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark). Westlake recounted how the film's star Lee Marvin was in a terrible place personally during the shoot, still apparently affected by the trauma of serving as a sniper in the Marines in WWII and fighting in the Pacific. He also remarked that, as is true with most writers being adapted, he didn't have much to do with the film's production at all. He was very gracious to me and I walked away with the buzz you feel when you meet a legend.

"I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan, aren't ya?"

Here are some choice excerpts from 361, originally published in 1962 and re-released in 2005 after being out of print for over 40 years.

p37 hang fire phrase
delay or be delayed in taking action or progressing.

p42 "I got the eye from the dresser and went into the head. I washed my face and watched myself put the eye in."
- the protag Ray loses his eye early on and has to get used to a glass eye. I don't know if his wordplay here is deliberate or not, but I got a good chuckle.

p59 "Linda, the little girl, came over and started asking stupid questions. She was like her mother, interesting until she opened her mouth."

p129-30 "To begin with, every man has to have either a home or a purpose. Do you see that? Either a place to be or something to do. Without one or the other, a man goes nuts. Or he loses his manhood, like a hobo. Or he drinks or kills himself or something else. It doesn't matter, it's just that everybody has to have one or the other."

p140-41 "Aren't you gonna help him out of the water?"
"No, I wasn't playing. I don't play."
- I love that people were saying "I don't play" 45 years ago!

p173 "William Cheever's name was fourth of four on the frosted glass panel of the door. It wasn't a law firm, it was one of those set-ups where a number of unsuccessful professional men get together to share the rent and the receptionist and the futility."

p203 "I went into the first bar I came to on Lexington Avenue, but it was lunchtime and full of bland smooth people."

BONUS DOGEARS from The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

p9 cenotaph |ˈsenəˌtaf|
a tomblike monument to someone buried elsewhere, esp. one commemorating people who died in a war.

p16 mésalliancemāzəˈəns; ˌmāˌzalˈ n s|
a marriage with a person thought to be unsuitable or of a lower social position.

p24 (from the story Celephaïs)
"There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in the stories and visions of their youth; for when as children we listen and dream, we think but half-formed thoughts, and when as men we try and remember, we are dulled and prosaic with the poison of life."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #5: GodWeenSatan

(ween is in big trouble dudes)

I think that thing in the middle is a Boognish

I credit Ween's first studio album GodWeenSatan*, released on Twin/Tone in 1990, for breaking me out of the mindset that I liked certain genres of music and disliked others. Suddenly any genre could be enjoyable (and they tackle heavy metal, punk, funk, psychedelia, weasel, pop, glam, country, prog and indie here, and many many more!) as long as you listened to it through Ween's ears. Oftentimes, you could never listen to certain genres the same way again after you'd heard them interpreted by Ween. Finally, Ween created so many all-new categories (how do you describe "I'm in the Mood to Move" or "Nan"?) that pretty soon classifying music by genre seemed pretty pointless anyway.

"I'm in the mood to move my body like a weasel goddammit.
4-8-16 feet to the left goddammit"

Gene Ween and Dean Ween are, um, Ween

You like music that transports you to another place, far away from the mundane? GodWeenSatan takes you so far outside what you thought music and sanity was that you feel yourself going a touch mad... and liking it.

Ween are virtuosos of loco, blackjacks of the ditty.
Ween makes you laugh.
Ween rocks you out.
Ween is fun.

Years ago, someone close to me saw that I was reading Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho and proceeded to rip me a new one in the "how dare you read a degenerate book that that!" vein. I was so flabbergasted that anyone who knew me could think that I supported out-of-control misogyny, materialism and murder that I failed to defend myself from their judgment in any cogent way. Later, I realized that all I needed to say was "Hey, it's satire! Get over yourself!"

It's true- you can like this book AND not hate women!

The same holds true for Ween, particularly on GodWeenSatan. This is brilliant satire as can only be created by someone who loves in some way the very thing they are satirizing. Anyone who had had this album described to them, or maybe just listened to one or two songs might think that only a freak could enjoy music like this. Trust me, you have to listen to the whole thing before you can really understand what the apeshit crazy individual parts are all about.

"Don't laugh I love you"

* The official name of this record is GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, but the CD I had/have makes no mention of "The Oneness" anywhere on the cover or the liner notes, so I never include it when I'm talking about the album (which was all the time in 1990-92 and virtually never now).

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #4: 3 Feet High and Rising

"Let me introduce myself, I'm Mr. Monkey"

De La Soul's debut record 3 Feet High and Rising was released on Tommy Boy Records 19 years ago.

They cultivated, then rejected their early "hippie" image


This is one of the very few records that I loved immediately (many of my all-time favorites took several listens to warm to), never got sick of, and believe sounds as good today to my 36-year-old ears as it did to my 17-year-old ears when it was released.

Rare is the debut that instantly changes an entire genre, but that is exactly what happened to rap* when Long Island, NY teenagers De La Soul (Kelvin Mercer/"Posdnuos", David Jude Jolicoeur/"Trugoy the Dove" and Vincent Mason/"P.A. Pasemaster Mace", plus producer Paul Huston/"Prince Paul") first hit the record stores. I imagine it's what rock and roll fans felt when Jimi Hendrix released "Are You Experienced" in 1967... things would never be the same (and in a good way!).

*I say "rap" because nobody called it hip-hop back then. Well, at least nobody in North Carolina.

Native Tongue in tha house

Before 3 Feet, I had no idea what sampling was. Their sampling, like in most of my favorite hip-hop records, not only gave you instant listening pleasure but also served double duty as a "heads up" on semi-obscure records containing the funkiest of drum breaks, horn sections, and contextually relevant lyrics.

There's no counting how many records I've dug up because at some point I recognized a De La sample in a song on the radio or wherever, but here are some of my favorite discoveries:

"Rock Creek Park" by The Blackbyrds on "Ghetto Thang"
"Five Feet High and Rising" by Johnny Cash on "The Magic Number"
“I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re the Royal Macadamia Nuts)” on "Say No Go" and "You Showed Me" by The Turtles (from the underrated concept album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, the usage of which cost De La many dollars)

not to mention

"School House Rock" fave "Three is the Magic Number by Bob Dorough (on "The Magic Number") which was one of the first and most/mos deft/def) instances of applying positive Gen-X childhood memories to elicit a pleasure/purchase response.

These fellow music nerds were made cool(er) when De La used "Peg" in "Eye Know"

For me, one of the great joys in listening to/absorbing so many great hip-hop albums from the late 80s to the mid 90s is the constant process of discovering samples and influences in the music I continue to hear/buy today. When I pick up a top-shelf funk compilation like The Mighty Mellow or The Sound of Funk, I can count on a few "ah HA" moments when I finally match a song with a favorite sample usage.

Guys loved 3 Feet High and Rising. Girls loved 3 Feet. Rap fans, pop fans, dance music fans, soul fans all loved it. The stoned and the straightlaced. Hip-hop heads and hip-hop haters.

"Mmm when a D.A.I.S.Y. grows in your mind."

In the calendar year containing early 1989 thru early 1990, 3 Feet, Paul's Boutique by the Beastie Boys and Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy were all released, and for that moment all other genres of music seemed obsolete by comparison. A full album (i.e. not just a single) has rarely been as much fun to listen to alone, with friends, or with hundreds of fellow dancers as 3 Feet. It has it all- a booty, a funny bone, a mind, a conscience, a soul.

"De la Soul, from the soul"

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dog Ears #15: The Screaming Mimi

Summertime is time for "beach reading", so I picked a book from my list that I hoped had no redeeming qualities other than sheer entertainment. Fredric Brown's 1949 pulp The Screaming Mimi hit the nail luridly on the head.

Not to be confused with the NYC vintage store"Screaming Mimi's"

Fellow Cincinnatian Brown's book has been adapted for film at least twice, first in 1958's SCREAMING MIMI (starring legendary looker Anita Ekberg as the stripper Yolanda) and then as the uncredited inspiration for Dario Argento's 1970 shocker THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Particularly for a book almost 60 years old, Mimi's world of smart-ass narrators, hard-drinking beat reporters, sleazy underworld figures and psycho killers feels gritty and authentic (even during its many flights of fancy).

The writing is hard-boiled and often hilarious, and if I were still angling to produce movies I would go off to a motel in the desert, pound out another adaptation of this sucker and get it to Brad and Angelina ASAP. They would be perfect as binging Bill Sweeney and his curvy obsession Yolanda (which reminds me, the tagline for the 1958 MIMI was "Suspense around every curve!", which is pretty damn good methinks).

Starring Anita "La Dolce Vita" Ekberg (aka Anita "Va-va-voom" Ekberg)

If you decide to do that, please thank me in the credits.

p1 (the first lines of the book)
"You can never tell what a drunken Irishman will do. You can make a flying guess; you can make a lot of flying guesses."

"There's murder before the story proper starts, and murder after it ends; the actual story begins with a naked woman and ends with one, which is a good opening and a good ending, but everything between isn't nice. Don't say I didn't warn you."

p6 crease |krēs| verb [ trans. ]
2 (of a bullet) graze (someone or something), causing little damage : a bullet creased his thigh.

p10 "It's the easiest thing in the world, Sweeney. Take rich men. Easiest thing in the world; anybody can get rich. All you got to do is want money so bad it means more to you than anything else. Concentrate on money and you'll get it. If you want other things worse, you don't."

p20 "There are strange things in the world and then there are stranger ones."

There are strange films in the world, and then there are Dario Argento films.

p22 "Sweeney headed for the Blade. There's a nice pun in that, if you don't mind your puns obvious. The Blade. If you saw that pun yourself, forgive me for pointing it out. You got it, yes, but somebody else would have missed it. It takes all kinds of people to read a book."

p30 "'Well,' said Sweeney, and thought it over. He had to get some nourishment into him somehow, a little at a time, until his appetite came back and he could look at a full meal without flinching. 'Beer with an egg in it, I guess.'"

nictitating membrane |ˈniktiˌtāti ng |
noun Zoology
a whitish or translucent membrane that forms an inner eyelid in birds, reptiles, and some mammals. It can be drawn across the eye to protect it from dust and keep it moist. Also called third eyelid .

p32 "Isn't civilization a marvelous thing, Mr. Sweeney? That two men can sit around like this and insult one another, amicably but sincerely, and enjoy the conversation?"

p111 "He... knocked on a heavy door. It opened a few inches and a face looked out, the eyes–and they weren't nice eyes–well above the level of Sweeney's head. Under the eyes was a broken nose, and under the nose was a pair of thick lips that said "Yeah?" and showed broken teeth between them."

complaisant |kəmˈplāsənt|
willing to please others; obliging; agreeable : when unharnessed, Northern dogs are peaceful and complaisant.

p118 "Unconsciously, one judges others by comparison with oneself; and two people both of whom have eaten onions cannot smell each other's breath."

151 goldbrick informal
a thing that looks valuable, but is in fact worthless.
• (also goldbrick or goldbricker) a con man.
• a lazy person : [as adj. ] hardworking Amos and goldbrick Andy.
verb (usu. goldbrick) [ intrans. ]
invent excuses to avoid a task; shirk : he wasn't goldbricking; he was really sick.
• [ trans. ] swindle (someone).

156 "He strolled over to Clark Street, stopped in at Ireland's and ordered a lobster."
- i don't know what it is about that sentence, but there's something magical and transporting about it for me...

Finally, a bonus Dog Ear that I found at Brown's IMDB page. Brown is credited with writing the shortest horror story of all time:

"The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #3: Unearthed

the gateway album.

In 1988, Australian band The Church broke onto the US charts in a big way with the moody, ethereal single "Under the Milky Way". I loved loved loved it and after buying the accompanying album Starfish I started digging into the band's back catalog. Not only were they prolific as a band, but there were solo projects available by the lead singer and songwriter Steve Kilbey as well as lead guitarist Marty Willson-Piper.

Cover art color scheme prepares you for something unusual

Oddly enough, I became much bigger fans of the two solo records I bought than any Church album in my collection. I don't listen to Willson-Piper's Art Attack as much now as i did then (which was quite a bit- it's excellent), but the Kilbey record Unearthed became one of my favorite records of all time, and is still in heavy rotation at the Word Player home 20 years later.

Originally released in 1986, Unearthed is a classic example of a "bedroom record": it feels like it was made in a bedroom and it's best listened to in bedroom conditions. When I was a bachelor, I fell asleep almost every night with headphones on or music playing low on the stereo, and this album has taken me into the dream world hundreds of times.

"Otherworldly" is a good place to start, adjective-wise. The album is both stylistically diverse and thematically cohesive. Sometimes it feels like Renaissance psychedelia, then on to proto-electronica, and even dream sequence soundtrack music from a lost science fiction film.

Weaving dissolving patterns
Forming our uncertain terms
Passing into history
Going to the worms
I'll wait for you forever
In my house all white with dust
Falling into lonely hours
Let the engines rust


Makes me think of The Martian Chronicles...

He has the look of a shaman about him, no?

Kilbey's lyrics are vague, emotional and surreal, and even the instrumental tracks seem to communicate something palpable beyond simple mood. This is music to get lost to for sure.

It's hard sometimes to identify favorite songs on a favorite album, but in terms of "which songs have made it onto the most mixtapes" there are two clear-cut winners.

The first is "Tyrant", a pulsating, droning ode that seems to be saying more than it says (which, I know, isn't saying much).

Undignified, uncivilized, but always worth a thrill
There's never been a world that didn't end
Unquantified, uncategorized, until we pay the bill
Never ever borrow what you lend

The other track's name says it all, in a way. "My Birthday, the Moon Festival". It's simultaneously absurd and beautiful. What more can you ask for?

My birthday, the moon festival
My life in the sea of tears

My holiday, a misadventure
My soul, a short career
Like a lizard the road crawls forward
Into regions unexplored
By their boats the Mayans stirred
Gold and silver soon flow aboard
My birthday, the moon festival
My legs a wisp of ghost
My clothing, cotton under paper
My shoes, a sharpened post
My birthday, the moon festival

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**