Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dog Ears #12: The Third Policeman

To honor my Irish heritage and the arrival once again of St. Patrick's Day, I read The Third Policeman by celebrated Irish author Flann O'Brien (the pen of name Brian Ó Núalláin, who also wrote as Myles na gCopaleen).

The cover art feels poorly illustrated... until you hit page 52 and things begin to fall into place

Wellll... O.K., it's only a coincidence that I'm writing this two days before St. Patrick's Day. The real reason I selected this book is that I'm a big LOST nerd and a few years back one of the writers (Craig Wright) remarked, after the book was seen in Desmond's bunk in The Hatch, that the book "was selected for a reason" and contained key insights into the show.

There were some interesting echoes between the two, but the primary possible connection (which I will discuss in a moment) seems to already have been discounted by LOST honchos Lindelof and Cuse.


I'm not a big fan of spoilers, but in this case I feel I can't avoid talking about them. The reason? The Introduction to The Third Policeman gave away the twist ending.

The Introduction!

p.vii (taken from a 1940 letter from O'Brien to William Saroyan):

When you get to the end of this book you realize my hero or main character (he's a heel and a killer) has been dead throughout the book and that all the queer ghastly things which have been happening to him are happening in a sort of hell which he has earned for the killing.

How can it be OK to divulge this kind of information in the Introduction, especially for a book that isn't widely known and therefore not something that everyone pretty much has heard of before à la what happens at the end of Romeo and Juliet or Of Mice and Men? Or maybe the better question is, are we not supposed to read the Introduction until after we've read the book proper? I'm at a loss here- anyone knowing the proper reading and writing etiquette please chime in.

Since the folks at LOST have repeatedly denied that the scenario we've been watching for four seasons now is a representation of limbo or the afterlife, the "big" connection doesn't resonate. That said, there are some interesting minor connections in the dog-ears to follow.

SEE! Desmond was reading it RIGHT HERE and, and it has to mean something, right?

One more (proper?) nugget from the Intro before we smooth back the dog-ears. This bit of information completely endeared me to the author before ever reading a line of his work:

He could not face the humiliation of telling Dublin that his second novel had been rejected in two continents, so he took a desperate step. He pretended that the sole typescript of the novel had been lost and that he could not write it again. Donagh MacDonagh was the only friend to whom he confided the truth. The book was not published till 1967, a year after O'Brien's death.

O'Brien wrote what is now considered a minor masterpiece in 1939-40, but he lived with feelings of deception and shame about it until his death twenty seven years later... when it was promptly published to great acclaim!

Life's a bitch and then you die and then you get published.

With no further ado, here are my selections from this most unusual, Seussian, frustrating, Escherian, frightening, Carrollian, bicycle- and pancake-obsessed and realistically surrealist novel:

p21 "The softening and degeneration of the human race he* attributes to its progressive predilection for interiors and waning interest in the art of going out and staying there. This in turn he sees as the result of the rise of such pursuits as reading, chess-playing, drinking, marriage and the like, few of which can be conducted in the open."

* the "he" in question is the deep-in-left-field (and fictional) philosopher de Selby, who the unnamed narrator is obsessed with, committing murder to bankroll his pursuit of writing a definitive commentary on de Selby's life. It says a bit about the narrator that some of de Selby's core beliefs are that the world is not round, but "sausage-shaped," and that the dark of night is brought on by an accumulation of "dark air" from "a staining of the atmosphere due to volcanic eruptions too fine to be see." This may also be a good time to point out that the author O'Brien is described as "a natural alcoholic" and writes as though he were crazy in the coconut.

p24 "In the darkest corner of the room near the window a man* was sitting in a chair, eying me with a mild but unwavering interest."

* the description of this man Mathers is eerily reminiscent of LOST's favorite apparition Jacob.

p44 (the one-legged narrator discusses the value of life with the one-legged thief Finnucane):

Is it life? Many a man has spent a hundred years trying to get the dimensions of it and when he understands it at last and entertains the certain pattern of it in his head, by the hokey he takes to his bed and dies! He dies like a poisoned sheepdog.

p47 desideratum | diˌsidəˈrätəm; -ˈrātəm; -ˌzidə-|
noun ( pl. -ta |-tə|)
something that is needed or wanted : integrity was a desideratum.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Latin, ‘something desired,’ neuter past participle of desiderare (see desiderate ).

p48 factivity/factive |ˈfaktiv|
adjective Linguistics
denoting a verb that assigns the status of an established fact to its object (normally a clausal object), e.g., know, regret, resent.

p50 "Of all the many striking statements made by de Selby, I do not think any of them can rival his assertion that 'a journey is an hallucination'."

De Selby's theory of night bears a strong resemblance to the island's "smoke monster"

p59 "'The first beginnings of wisdom,' he said, 'is to ask questions but never to answer any. You get wisdom from asking and I from not answering.'"

p66 sempiternal |ˌsempəˈtərnl|
eternal and unchanging; everlasting : his writings have the sempiternal youth of poetry.
sempiternally |ˈˈsɛmpəˈtərnli| adverb
sempiternity |-ˈtərnitē| |ˈsɛmpəˈtərnədi| noun
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French sempiternel or late Latin sempiternalis, from Latin sempiternus, from semper ‘always’ + aeternus ‘eternal.’

p72 "It was so faultless and delightful that it reminded me forcibly, strange and foolish as it may seem, of something I did not understand and had never even heard of."

p75 acatalectic |āˌkatlˈektik| Prosody
(of a line of verse) having the full number of syllables.
a line of verse of such a type.

p83 banjaxed/banjax |ˈbanˌjaks|*
verb [ trans. ] Brit., informal
ruin; incapacitate : he said the scheme was banjaxing the tourist industry.
ORIGIN 1930s: originally Anglo-Irish, of unknown origin.

*"banjax" is offically my new favorite word. Please, don't make me banjax you.

p 105 pari passu |ˌpärē ˈpäˌsoō|
side by side; at the same rate or on an equal footing : early opera developed pari passu with solo song.
ORIGIN Latin, literally ‘with equal step.’

nolle prosequi |ˌnälē ˈpräsiˌkwē|
noun Law
a formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit or action.
• the entry of this in a court record.
ORIGIN late 17th cent.: Latin, literally ‘be unwilling to pursue.’


'And he lay looking at the map for five years more before he saw that it showed the way to eternity.'
'To eternity?'
'Will it be possible for us to come back from there?' I whispered.
'Of course. There is a lift.'


'How big is all this place?'
'It has no size at all,' the Sergeant explained, 'because there is no difference anywhere in it and we have no conception of its unchanging coequality.'

p138 "'But the secret of it all-in-all,' continued the Sergeant, 'is the daily readings*. Attend to your daily readings and your conscience will be as clear as a clean shirt on Sunday morning. I am a great believer in the daily readings.'"

*do you get the sense that Locke was a big fan of the "daily readings" before he screwed the pooch at the end of Season Two?

p158 "'Strange enlightenments are vouchsafed," I murmured, 'to those who seek the higher places.'"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Play For Me These Records Three

Tax time blows for most everyone, but especially so for the longform-filing freelancer. Since 2001 I have sorted and totaled all my receipts, bills, mileage, etc. into categories and sums that best enable accountants to do the voodoo that they occasionally do well. Being the sort of person who can get misty-eyed over an old magazine or particularly good breakfast, it shouldn't have surprised me that I was reminiscing over tax worksheets of yesteryear as I tallied up this year's hot tranny mess.

My music spending has gone way down the past few years, but in the golden age when I was deejaying a lot and generally indulging myself more freely it wasn't uncommon for me to break the $1000 mark for yearly music expenditures.

Sigh. Thank goodness they're all write-offs...

This cover art makes me think of Walter, the horse that lives across the street

This year, I made myself wait until March to buy my first records of the year, and when it was time I allowed myself three new ones. Because I've been an obsessive mixtape enthusiast since the mid-1980s and a sometime-deejay since 2001, I've been asked many times how I find the often weird and semi-obscure music that people hear me play.

There are quite a few answers, but mostly it's music magazines like Mixmag and DJ, websites and email newsletters like Pitchfork, Dusty Groove, Other Music and Turntable Lab, and personal research sparked by liner notes, producers, guest musicians and remixers of already-purchased music. There was a time when "radio" and "recommendations from friends" would have topped that list, but alas that day is long past.

Since July 11, 2000 (yes, I just checked), the tool that has allowed me to remember what music I want to buy when the opportunity presents itself has been the Amazon Wishlist. Rather than use it as a way to tell other people what I'd like as a gift (although it has certainly been used that way), I've used my Wishlist as a place for me to jot down those ephemeral notions of what I want to buy for myself.

The total number of records, movies and books now stands at 472, and on top of the utilitarian perks the Wishlist also serves as a time machine that can often (but not always) take me back to the state of mind and set of circumstances that caused me to add an item in the first place.

For instance, item #1 from 7/11/00 is Expansions (1974) by Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes, which I added after buying Smith's Cosmic Funk (1974) after hearing it played by some friends of ours at a party they threw at their Santa Monica apartment that summer. Since that night, the host couple has gotten married and had two children, and yet somehow I haven't managed to pull the trigger on Expansions.

Anyway... when I finally did allow myself some new music, I surfed the Wishlist and came up with the following three purchases:

Czerkinsky (1998) by Czerkinsky, The Sssound of Mmmusic (2000) by Bertrand Burgalat, and the 2007 compilation Milky Disco by various artists such as Morgan Geist, Lindstrom and Kerrier District.

Here's how I picked 'em, and what my favorite track is after a first listen.

For a while in the early 2000s, the "(Glamorous City) Lounge" compilations were the shiz. Paris Lounge, Berlin Lounge, New York Lounge, etc. each had two discs, one mellower for "Day" and one more jackin' for "Night". On Paris Lounge, Vol. 1 (2001), "Natacha" by Czerkinsky was the last song on the "Day" side, and for years its loopy horn sample and ultra-French refrain have bounced around in my head, often surfacing months after the last time I actually listened to the song. I finally decided to seek out more from Czerkinsky (pronounced "Jerkinsky"), and I was not disappointed. The album is a sampladelic, catchy, croony collection of pop ditties, and so far, the top track is still "Natacha", which is looping in my head as I write this and probably will be when I wake up in the middle of the night tonight.

We've all been there.

Also from France is Bertrand Burgalat, a producer/remixer of records by Air (that's Burgalat singing "Sexy Boy") and Depeche Mode who put out his first artist album back in 2000. I honestly can't remember what prompted me to jot it down in the first place, but the reviews I read the other day when trying to decide what to buy convinced me to take the plunge without ever hearing a note. I was not disappointed, and this has all the earmarks of a record that will improve with every listen. Gorgeous string arrangements, French Phil Spector/Brian Wilson-esque pop production touches, and a left-of-center sensibility that struck a chord immediately. I wouldn't hesitate to drop "Attention Amiante" during a deejay set as the moody, beat-y transition track that sets up a floor-filler.

Strange as it may seem, "milky" is actually a good descriptor for the music

Finally, the Milky Disco comp from Lo Records is an excellent collection of work culled from the so-called "Cosmic Disco" genre. Cosmic (or "Space") Disco is less vocal-driven, more psychedelic and free-form than traditional Disco, and for me is a frustrating (but in a good, teasing way) subset in that its best songs seem to promise an epic break that usually remains just out of reach. That said, it's relatively new (at least I think it is) and continues to grow in popularity among the most talented electronic musicians out there. The standout track here is "Mad as Hell (Dub)" from Black Mustang and Kerrier District (the Disco alias of one of my all-time favorite producers Luke Vibert).

This is the track I'll play for you when you come over on a Saturday and thoughts of work and taxes and mundanity have finally been banished from our minds.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Life Hyphens

I was reading an article ("Sleepy Eyed Writer, Wandering Byzantium" by Charles McGrath) on the novelist and screenwriter in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section yesterday when two things jumped out at me.

Price also wrote the video for "Bad", directed by Martin Scorsese

The first was Price's reference to Byzantium. Speaking about the Lower East Side today, he said "This place is like Byzantium. It's tomorrow, yesterday – anyplace but today." For a city that's been renamed not once (Constantinople) but twice (Istanbul), Byzantium seems to have been bouncing around in the consciousness lately. My best guess as to why is that the book/film NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN took its title from the 1928 poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats, and there's been no shortage of ink spilled on NO COUNTRY of late.

This second quote from Price, who was Oscar nominated for his 1986 script for THE COLOR OF MONEY, is the one that really grabbed my attention.

Discussing Eric Cash, the protagonist of his new novel Lush Life:

He's modeled partly on himself, Mr. Price said. "He's me if what has been hadn't been. I've always been interested in when the hyphen disappears – you know, actor-waiter, cabdriver-writer – and you have to settle for who you are."

Fabio celebrating his win for "Best Actor/Model"

This thought really touched on something that I've thought about quite a bit over the years. As a resident of either New York City or Los Angeles since 1995, I have encountered and befriended hundreds of hyphenates or "slashies". In fact, I've been one myself (screenwriter/development guy), but as of right this moment my hyphen has disappeared.

It may not last, but I have come to terms with and laid to rest my aspirations of being a successful screenwriter, and the time since 4/21/07 (the last time I modified the file of my last script) has been marked by an increased sense of well-being and peace with where I am on my lifetime career trajectory. When I think about it, the part of the decision that's the most meaningful to me is that I came to it on my own and in my own time. There was no final rejection, there was no self-imposed time limit that was reached, and there were no external forces forcing me to "give up the dream" before I was ready.

There was just the sense that I'd given it my best shot, that continuing to try was a study in diminishing returns, and that I could only continue to ignore the writing on the wall at my own peril.

I have reached the age where the hyphen is starting to disappear for more and more of my contemporaries (some, I'm happy to say, have dropped the "day job" side of the hyphenate for full time exploration of the dream side), but there are still quite a few who still toil in an unsatisfying gig primarily to provide the means to pursue the long-shot.

I think its fair to say that the odds get longer that long shots will come in the older we get, but does that mean that everyone should "do the math" and put the dream on the shelf at some point?

No one can answer that but oneself, and fortunately many people can balance the pursuit of the elusive dream with a meaningful and fulfilling pursuit of the reality until the day they die.

But what of the people who cannot find peace and fulfillment unless they achieve the fullest realization of the dream side of the hyphenate? I simultaneously root for and worry about many who occupy this category, and after some deliberation I have two tidbits to pass on from my experience that may be helpful.

1) Periodically, reexamine the nuts and bolts of what your dream career is and where you assess your chances currently stand of realizing it.

Will success as a singer or actor or novelist mean the same thing to you if it happens next year compared with how you imagined it happening at age 18 or 21 or 29? Will not achieving success in the same devastate you now as much now as you thought it would then, especially factoring in up-to-date placement of points on a graph representing your personal confluence of luck, hard work, connections, and talent?

2) Do everything in your power to find work on both sides of your hyphenate that is fulfilling in ways beyond the strictly utilitarian/monetary. No matter who you are, the day job has a decent chance of becoming the lifetime career, so maneuver as best you can to make that day job something that improves you and/or your chances for long-term fulfillment.

If you haven't already done so, Netflix FREAKS AND GEEKS

This line of thinking often brings up memories of a particularly thought-provoking episode of Judd Apatow's late and lamented FREAKS AND GEEKS. Rebellious A-student Lindsay Weir was dating spastic stoner Nick Andopolis, and as she came to the realization she didn't have the same feelings for him that he had for her, she also saw that his wide-eyed commitment to becoming a drummer in a rock band (damn the torpedoes of grades and parents) didn't come close to matching the talent level he possessed, which was minimal.

Her quandary was a difficult one: should she tell someone that she genuinely cares for that he should abandon his long-shot creative dreams in hopes of refocusing him on more attainable goals, or should she encourage him to pursue the dream that means so very much to him despite knowing in her heart that he has no realistic chance of it ever coming true?